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Illyris - Part III (Chapters 8-10)

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avatar Chiaroscuro
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Level 51 : Grandmaster Ladybug
This is Part III of an old(er) story of mine that I've gone back and edited/rewritten. This story is divided into parts as to not be cut off by PMC's word limit. I'll be posting this story in chapters as soon as I finish with them. You can find previous parts here.


Chapter VIII
For a moment, the entire crowd went silent. Heads turned back and forth, looking for the source of the voice. Eventually, the crowd parted, revealing a portly, jolly-looking man striding toward me with a big grin plastered on his face.

“Back to what you were doing,” he boomed, waving dismissively at the gawking onlookers. Slowly, the din returned as the man stopped in front of me.

“Illyris, right?” he asked.

“…Should I know you?” I asked hesitantly. I’d never seen this man before in my life.

“My apologies, miss. I am just a lowly innkeeper, but I had heard of your acceptance into the Academy. I am Pannonus.” He began to hold out a slightly grubby hand, before withdrawing it to wipe it off on a small rag.

I shook his nominally cleaner hand. “Nice to meet you, Pannonus. Do you follow the Academy tournaments…?”

He shook his head. “Not normally,” he started, “This one was special because my brother’s son competed. Didn’t quite make it, but I must say the level of shooting prowess was incredible and I have to commend you for that.”

I smiled. “Many thanks, sir.”

“So, what brings you here to my humble inn?” he asked, clasping his hands together.

“I have found myself in a bit of a…situation…and I am in need of a place to stay for about a week before I leave for the Academy. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to pay for a stay but I could do some work to help offset the costs.” I looked at him hopefully.

Pannonus burst out in a hearty laugh. “No, miss, you may not work for your stay here. Please, enjoy a room on the house!”

Embarrassed, I held up my hands in protest. “Really, that’s not necessary…”

Pannonus cut me off. “No, I insist!” He turned around, seemingly looking for someone else in the inn. “Daci!” he yelled toward the back of the tavern. Before long, a mousy, nervous-looking girl sidled up alongside him, looking at him expectantly.

“Please take Miss Illyris here to a room,” he said, gesturing at me.

Immediately, the girl brandished a set of keys that was almost as large as her head. Thumbing through the keys on the ring, she quickly settled on one and detached it from the ring. Wordlessly, she beckoned for me to follow her and took off at a lightning pace toward the stairs in the back of the tavern. I scrambled to follow her, bumping into a few people on the way.

The girl was standing in front of a door, motionless and as straight as a board, by the time I’d reached the top of the stairs. Slightly winded from my trip through the crowded tavern, I strode quickly to keep the girl from waiting too long. “Is this my room?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to break the uncomfortable silence.

Wordlessly, the girl brandished the key that she’d picked out earlier and held it out for me to take. “Thank you,” I mumbled as I plucked it from her fingers.

With a little bit of effort, I managed to get the lock of the door to open. I turned to thank the girl once again, but by the time I’d done so there was no trace of her behind me. I raised my eyebrows to myself, confused and slightly bemused by the way that the girl carried herself. I struggled to think of the kind of upbringing that would produce someone of this demeanor.

The inside of the room seemed homely, if not tremendously luxurious. The slightly threadbare curtains were drawn closed, casting the room in a tenuous darkness, A modest bed was pushed up against the wall, with a small, dusty-looking chest at its foot. The fireplace in the corner of the room flickered dimly with a struggling flame, which would explain the blast of chilly air I’d received upon first opening the door.

The uneven table next to the fireplace rattled slightly as I set my pack down, causing me to jump as the heavy candleholder toppled over with a crash. Embarrassed and slightly self-conscious, I gathered it from the ground and replaced it on the table, backing away slowly as to not disturb it further. Satisfied with my handiwork, I returned to the task of unpacking.

By the time I’d turned the room into a livable space, the exertion of both the tournament and my long run had finally caught up to me. As I practically fell backward onto the bed, the impact threw up an egregious cloud of dust. Coughing furiously, I attempted to scramble away from the rapidly-spreading dust, which only succeeded in throwing up even more dust. Eventually, I made it to the far side of the room, all while desperately struggling for air.

Evidently, no one had been in this room for a long time. I fanned at my nose aggressively while the air cleared. I stepped over to the window carefully and drew back the curtains. Outside the aging glass panes, street-goers rejoiced in the flickering light of a hundred lanterns, completely oblivious to the dust-storm I was suffering through.

I hurriedly threw the window open and used a nearby cloth to fan whatever dust I could out into the nippy night wind. When I was confident that I could do no more to clear out the room, I latched the window shut and relit the fire, which had gone out in the chaos.

I had just sat down on the edge of the bed, ready to carefully lower myself down again, when I heard a knock at the door. Hesitantly, I walked over to the door and opened it to reveal the large figure of Pannonus.

“Yes?” I asked, slightly surprised by his presence.

“Are you alright, miss? I heard quite the commotion coming from up here,” he asked, a look of concern on his lamp-lit face.

“I’m fine, the room was just a little dusty,” I explained. “Has no one lived in here in a long time?”

Pannonus nodded. “We don’t usually get people requesting this room, it’s quite expensive normally.”

I started to raise my eyebrows in surprise but stopped myself before it became noticeable. “Oh…” I managed to get out hesitantly. That meant that the other rooms in the inn were worse than this, which was scarcely believable to me.

Pannonus turned to leave. “If everything is all good up here, then I will be taking my leave. Sleep tight, miss.” There was a bit of an edge to his voice, as if something was on his mind. I shook my head. You’re just imagining it, Illyris, I told myself.

I settled in that night to an uneasy sleep. The events from the day still weighed heavily on my mind. It was conceivable that my parents would find out where I was staying and would come to take me back home, which was an unenviable prospect at its best. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake the image of myself torturously slaving over a furnace for the rest of my life, wishing for it all just to be over. But exhausted and drained both mentally and physically, I finally succumbed to the unsympathetic grasp of a deep sleep.

I awoke the next morning to the calming sounds of birds chirping outside my window, as if nothing from the previous day had happened. Only barely rested, I pulled apart my curtains and opened the window, bathing the inside of the room with a warm, golden light. A light breeze flowed throughout the room, carrying with it the scent of freshly-baked bread and hearty porridge. For one solitary moment, it was a beautiful day.

But my momentary bliss was interrupted by the crushing thoughts of my flight from home. There was a kind of emptiness in my chest, as if I was missing something. Perhaps having something to do would close it up, as it almost felt like an unwilling boredom, but what was there to do but sit and wait?

I paced the room nervously, wondering what I should do. I needed a full complement of clothes now that all my meager belongings were imprisoned in my parents’ house. The problem was that I had barely enough money to buy a single article of clothing, much less an entire wardrobe.

And there was still the problem of my bow.

Nonetheless, I was interrupted, as often seemed to be the case as of late, by a loud knock at the door. I roused myself from my deep thoughts and stood to see who was calling, but before I could, the door swung open to reveal the mousy face of the girl Daci. Unashamed about her invasion of my privacy, she wordlessly swung a large platter of breads, cheeses, and fruits through the door, moving the candleholder aside to set the platter down on the fireside table.

By the time I managed to shake myself out of my surprised stupor, the girl was already making a dash for the door. Quickly, I got out a strained “Hey!”

She stopped in her tracks and looked at me. Though her facial expression hadn’t changed, there was an air of fear that backlit her eyes, as though she’d been training herself to suppress it.

Much more calmly, I started again. “That’s a lot of food, way too much for me. Do you want to share it with me?”

The girl stood in the open doorway, mulling over my proposition. However, after just a short while, she swiftly turned and bolted down the hallway, closing the door behind her. What a shame. I’d hoped that maybe sharing some of the plentiful food I’d been provided would encourage her to open up to me.

Nonetheless, I was grateful to have the food. I surveyed the platter. There was a wide assortment of breads and cheeses, some looking more appetizing than others, some regional and others more exotic. There was also some fresh-looking fruit, slightly underripe but better than nothing at all. Perhaps I could consume the fruit now and squirrel away some of the bread and cheeses for later. It would be easier on my wallet in that case.

My mind raced as I took down the fruit slowly. Finding a place to stay was one thing, because I could have technically worked to pay for my lodgings; buying clothes was something else entirely, because I didn’t have the option to help a tailor make clothes. If I did, hell, I could even make my own clothes. But the only skills I had were in blacksmithing, and they were hardly skills anyway.

It seemed, then, my options were limited.

I stepped over to the window once more to look outside. By now, the square was beginning to enjoy its morning rush, as the monied late risers perused through the stalls, pointing pudgy fingers at meat pies and jellied fruits. Shop vendors looked around hawkishly, searching for defenseless buyers for their overpriced wares.

There seemed to be more action than usual today. I’d been to the town square many times before, always to pick up more supplies for the forge; not once had I ever seen it so crowded. Tournament news, I thought to myself.

I turned away from the window and sat back down at the table, using the thin cloth lining the platter to wrap up the remaining food. I carefully placed the package in my pack, making sure that it wouldn’t spill its contents at the slightest provocation.

As I paced the inside of my room, dreaming up a plan for how to finance a new wardrobe, I heard another knock at the door. This time, however, instead of the forceful knock of earlier, it was much weaker, hesitant almost.

I froze in place for a moment, half-expecting the door to swing open on its own. Slightly relieved that it didn’t, I strode over and opened it to reveal someone I hadn’t expected to see for another week.

“Hey,” Raetia began simply, arms outstretched like some long-lost family member coming home for the first time in years. Acquiescing, I practically fell forward into her hearty embrace, lingering just long enough to wipe my worries clean.

“How have you been?” I said quickly, trying to hide the stress I was sure was present in my voice.

Raetia looked concerned. “I’ve been fine, but what about you? I heard what happened. Are you alright?”

I tilted my head in confusion. “What happened?” I questioned.

“Between you and your parents?” she replied.

I took a deep breath. “How did you hear about it?” I said after gathering my thoughts.

“News travels quickly in a small town like this,” she replied quietly. I looked out of my open window at the rush outside, then back at Raetia. She nodded knowingly.

I pursed my lips and shook my head. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do about it, to be honest. I’m a little scared to go back right now, and I don’t have any money on me. There’s no work to be had around here that would get me enough for everything I need except…” I trailed off. I didn’t want to entertain that thought.

Raetia shook her head. “You don’t have to. I’ll provide it for you.”

I looked up at her, surprised yet hopeful. “Really?”

She nodded confidently. “Yes, really. Why don’t we go today?” She peeked around my shoulder into the sparse room. “Is this…it?”

“There’s not a lot of furniture to fill it,” I commented as I stepped aside for her to get a better look. She stepped tentatively into the room.

“No, I meant…you really don’t have anything…” she trailed off, staring at my pack but lost in thought. Quickly, she snapped out of it. “We’ll have to get quite a lot for you.”

I nodded in silent agreement.

“Where’s your bow?” Raetia asked suddenly, looking around the room.

“It’s ah…well, it’s broken,” I said quickly, ashamed.

“How did it—” Raetia began to ask but stopped herself short. “I see,” she said quietly to herself. She stood still for a moment, seemingly trying to grasp at something that was just escaping her.

Concerned and not wanting to overstay my welcome, I was quick to interject. “You don’t need to get me anything for that, I can handle it for myself.”

“You don’t have to,” Raetia said after a short pause. “It’s the least I can do anyway. Look,” she said as she gestured around the room, “You don’t have anything, really. Let me help you, please.”

I sighed. “I feel bad asking so much of you,” I replied simply. “Really, I mean it Raetia. I appreciate all the help you’re giving me. But you already offered to completely refill my wardrobe, and I just can’t take more than that.”

“Wait,” she said, finger up as if to shush me. “I still have that thing from the competition. The voucher, yea?”

I looked at her, puzzled. After everything that had happened, the tournament seemed so far away, like some faint cloud on the horizon. Still, she paused there expectantly, waiting for me to say something in response. I could only manage to tilt my head in confusion.

“The special prize from the tournament, the voucher for a free bow from the Academy, right? It was given to me by the director of our tournament as the bonus prize for winning. You can have it.”

Truth be told, so much had gone on in between the tournament and now that everything had seemingly blown over, it was strange to reflect on things that seemed so distant it could’ve been another life entirely.

I sighed. “You really don’t have to, Raetia. It means a lot to me, but…”

She cut me off with a finger over my lips. “No. You don’t have anything right now and I have everything. This is the least that I can do to help.”

As much as I felt guilty for letting her do all this for me with no evident repayment, deep down I was immensely thankful to have someone like Raetia. It was strange to think how strongly I mischaracterized her at the very beginning—I was even beginning to doubt whether she had actually said what I thought she had, or if it was just a product of an overactive imagination that wanted to find someone to hate. Either way, the Raetia I knew now was nowhere near the Raetia that I’d known at the very beginning.

As much as I felt guilty about doing so, then, I relented. I wasn’t sure how I would make up for such a selfless act; although admittedly I was more than a little selfish from time to time, even I recognized when it went too far, and this was one of those times.

She continued to stand there, waiting for my response. As if noticing my return from a sort of contemplative trance, she raised her eyebrows almost imperceptibly to egg me into making a response. Finally, I nodded wordlessly. I had already said all that needed to be said.

A smile crept across her face. She made a motion for the door. “Why don’t we get started right now?” she asked, hand poised over the doorknob excitedly.

When Part IV is released, it will be available here.

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