Chapter 12:

A Blossoming Mystery (Part 1)

Afflicted by Snow

     The rest of the ride was in mild silence excluding the few times Revi entertained herself with her own voice and stories. Linias on the other hand desperately tried to ignore his Master nuzzling further into his pecs in an attempt to focus on the road ahead.

In what felt like an excruciatingly long journey, they eventually reached the town right before the soldier’s encampment. Though…something was off. Like Revi’s home, this town was exceptionally and eerily quiet. Not a person in sight.

“Do you think…?” Revi began to say, then Linias immediately refuted the idea.

“No, look around. There’s still light coming out from beneath the windows and doors, some people are even peeking through the cracks. They’re here, they’re just not too accepting of travelers I imagine.”

“So what, we pass through?”

“No.” He gestured with his head into the far off distance: an inn with the door still open.

Although he inherently suggested the idea, he didn’t like it himself either. Everything about this village was off. The residents, the lone accepting door. Up and down it felt like a trap, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the encampment had soldiers set out here as well to intercept travelers that passed through just to screen them in an attempt to find Haetia.

Right when he was about to retract the idea of investigating the inn, Revi had already hitched Oliver and headed inside. Almost sighing from Revi’s instinctual and thoughtless attitude, he rushed to go after her.

After fastening Summer’s reins beside Oliver’s, he helped Haetia down and the pair headed on inside with Linias keeping Haetia as close as possible, tightening his Master’s robe and lowering the hood as far down as he could.

Revi was already at the counter talking to the innkeepers: a man and a woman.

“Oh, welcome, welcome! These must be the two friends you mentioned! Please, sit down! I know that you’re probably off-put from the outside but I promise it’s for good reason.”

Not easing his skepticism in the slightest, Linias begrudgingly sat down beside Revi. Haetia though sat beside Linias, even scooting his stool over a bit.

“This is my wife, Joan, and I’m Gideon. It’s been awhile since we’ve had travelers settle here especially one’s a little more humanlike, and quite frankly I don’t blame them with how the town’s been acting lately.”

“Honestly we were going to skip on by too but I’m wayy too tired for that hah!”

Linias lightly kicks Revi in response, trying to signal her not to divulge any more information than necessary but all she responds with is a lipped What??

“More humanlike?” Haetia is the only one to question.

“With how rare humans are these days I mean. You only really see our types on the main roads in tiny towns like these since mythicals occupy anything and everything else. You’d be asking to get killed to take anything but the main road! So quite frankly we’re glad for any business. Even guys like you are few and far between.”

Linias finally decides to ask to assess whether staying would be wise or not, “What happened?”

“Ah, um…Our daughter…” Joan begins to say but stops herself as mourning takes over.

So, her husband Gideon continues for her. “Our daughter Elena got sick after some stranger passed through here. Gave her some drink and we have no clue what was in it, all we know for sure is that it had to have been when made her this way! She’s the only one in the village that had it and she–” Gideon sighs mid-sentence, “The only reason we still let in travelers after that is for the hopes that any of them can cure her or know anything about her infliction since our village physician couldn’t help with anything but some of the pain. A passerby had once tried healing magic as well and it didn’t work either. You look like the capable sort of people. Perhaps you might know something?”

Revi, having fallen in sympathy for their story right away replies, “I’m not sure about that since we’re still new to this traveling thing, but we can try!”

Whatever it was Linias knew with undeniable certainty that he’d be able to heal their daughter, it was just more of a matter if he should or not, but he wouldn’t know unless he checked what ailed her in the first place.

As they climbed the steps and walked through the halls, the couple pointed out the rooms they would be residing in and then headed on past to where their daughter was resting.

Joan creaked the door open and in a hushed voice spoke, “Elena dear? We have guests, would you like to meet them?”

Even without seeing her, Elena’s enthusiastic tone could be heard, “Please, please!”

Her parents opened the door wider to let the three inside, sitting on the bed beside their daughter. The moment the group’s eyes laid upon their daughter, their expressions shifted to the same emotion: shock.

Elena’s skin was as pale as the sheets she was buried under; her hair white as snow and irises maroon. Almost exactly like…Haetia.

Whatever her parents were conversing with her was nothing more than mumbles on Haetia’s ears until that…thing…laid eyes upon him and pointed in joy.

“Ah! They look like me!”

Frozen stiff in the doorway Haetia had unknowingly removed his hood in disbelief in order to verify for sure with an unobstructed gaze what he was seeing and what it meant or could mean.

The innkeepers opened their mouths to speak as that same twisted joy seeped into them as well and before a single syllable could come out the ‘ivory prince’ had turned on his heel and sprinted in the opposite direction, letting the waits and calls fade off into obscurity, not even knowing that his retainer had chased after him.

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