The story wound to a close as Flare stared off into the distance. I watched the fire dance. Solange pulled Flare into a hug.
“That sounds awful,” Solange said.
“It was just pain,” Flare said. “Nothing special, just an annoyance.”
“I mean the people.”
Flare turned to look at Solange.
Solange continued, “They just didn’t listen to a word you said. Why do people just not listen? I don’t get it.”
Solange continued even more, “If I hadn’t listened to you, I’d be frozen right now. I would never have begun to think about monsters, or charms, or whatever. I’d just have been some harvester girl right up until the town went cold.”
Agreement drifted around my mind. Listening was how you made yourself better than you were. If I’d never listened to anyone, I wouldn’t know how to dispel charms, probably not even how to cast them in the first place. I wouldn’t know what witches were, who Flare was, what she’d done for Scorched Rock. She might not have even done anything for Scorched Rock, if I hadn’t been listening as much as I could.
“They weren’t even the worst,” Flare said.
Solange stared at Flare until Flare said more. “Some towns don’t know anything about witches, or regard us with suspicion. If a monster is in a town like that, the people there make dealing with it much harder.”
Solange looked away. “It just seems strange to me. Wouldn’t you want to try anything if you had shadow worms in your skin? Or whatever the monster was.”
Curiosity overtook my mouth, and I asked, “How do you get infected with tapeshades?”
“I was more inexperienced then, and wasn’t watching the places the starlight didn’t touch,” Flare said.
“You’ve gotta give us more than that,” Solange said.
Flare leaned back onto her elbows, staring up at the stars. “There are patches where it’s slightly darker than starlight should be. Tapeshades sleep there. If you rest close to them, they’ll crawl inside and start to breed.”
I made a face. Solange said, “Ew.”
“They’re annoying, but it’s only life-threatening if you’re unprepared. I was, then. Now I keep myself better stocked.”
I recalled a while back, when Flare kept us moving for a while after we usually would stop to rest. She kept scanning the terrain, looking for something I couldn’t see. “Was that tapeshades?” I asked, then realized I hadn’t said the rest of my musings.
“Hm?” Solange said.
“No, we didn’t stop then because there was an enthalope on the horizon.”
“I remember you talking about those!” Solange exclaimed before I had the chance to ask. “Once they charge, you’re stuck with ‘em, right? I haven’t seen one myself yet, but I’m curious.”
“Don’t let it charge. Just leave it behind,” Flare said.
“I know, I know, I’d just like to see one, that’s all,” Solange said.
“Um,” I started, not wanting to cut in too much. “Can you show me how to spot tapeshades?”
Flare gave me a quick nod. Solange said, “How much have you taught her, anyway? What cures does she know?”
“I don’t know any,” I said. “Except for the cure for tapeshades, now. And for Fool’s Pyre.”
“Fool’s Pyre, wow. I’ve never seen that one either.”
“It’s not exciting. Just a rock,” Flare said.
“Rocks can be exciting!” Solange said. “Did you even see the collection I had back at my cave?”
“They weren’t exciting. Just rocks,” Flare said.
“How could you?” Solange said, voice dripping with fake offense. I could tell it was fake because she was grinning ear to ear. “Come here! You must answer for your slander!”
Solange dove on top of Flare, and Flare began to make little embarassed protesting noises. I looked away. That was something for them. I should just try to sleep. I could hear Solange giggling, and Flare making small sounds to try and get her to get off. Flare didn’t sound particularly distressed by it.
I pulled my bedroll up around my ears and slept. Their business was their business.
I woke up feeling only half-rested. Looking over at the two of them, I saw that they hadn’t crawled into Flare’s bedroll. Solange had simply fallen asleep on top of Flare, and both of them were now breathing sofly. I looked at the state of the fire, already starting to burn low, and then back over at the two of them. Then I groaned, and crawled out of my bedroll.
I had a spare blanket in my bag, from Crownsbreak. It would probably be fairly inconvenient for the two of them to catch a chill as we traveled. I draped it over the two of them gently. Then I crawled back to my bedroll and returned to sleep.
The next time I woke up, I was properly rested. Solange was wearing her coat again, and Flare had packed her bedroll up. My blanket was back in my pack. There was a little pack of rations sitting next to my bedroll, as well. I crunched my way through the bland foodstuffs and packed up my bedroll.
Flare placed the witch-stone into her lantern, and we began to walk again. Solange was already talking again, going into detail about her rock collection. The rocks were gathered from all along the mountain range, and every so often as we traveled Flare would stop Solange and ask her how she managed to get out of where she’d been alive, and Solange would just gesture at her coat, and that was answer enough.
I wondered how robust that coat was. From how Solange talked about it, the thing had survived cave-ins, monster attacks, falling trees, all kinds of punishment. It boggled my mind how she made it work.
When she hit a lull in her rock collection, I asked her about it, and she was happy to elaborate. With her chattering happily away about her craftsmanship, I found it easy to ignore my legs as we traveled and simply focus on the ideas it drew into my brain.
It was barely any time at all before Brink was on the horizon.
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