It’s dark by the time we get to Tessa and Jack, but no stars shine tonight.
“We buried her,” Noah says as we approach them. “And we cleaned up the house.”
Tessa just scowls. “The dead have no need for clean houses Noah,” she snaps. “Or for burials.”
Noah looks taken aback but stays quiet. Knowing we need to move quickly, I speak. “Where are we going next? You two planned the journey, right?”
She nods slowly, pulling a map from her red jacket pocket. She unfolds it and scans it for a moment. “From here we need to go to a small town. It’s only an hour away. We’ll stay there for a day or two and then move on.”
“Lead the way,” I say, feeling as if I’m trying to avoid stepping on glass. Tessa is clearly upset, probably mad too. We said we’d protect Georgia but… We walked right past as she was murdered. What kind of idiots do that? I remember thinking she was nowhere to be seen. We just walked right to the basement. How did it not occur to look for Georgia? If I had just thought for a second, I could have saved her…
Nodding, Tessa turns and begins to walk. Noah, Jack and I follow her, not speaking as we do so. It feels as though she could explode at any second; cursing and attacking us. But she doesn’t. After a while, she asks a question. “What happened with Valek?”
I’m surprised by how calm she sounds when speaking about the man who killed her friend. “We fought him but he disappeared,” I answer calmly. “We’ll get him next time though. Don’t worry about that.”
“One thing,” Tessa says, looking up at the dark sky. “When it comes to it, I kill Valek. I want to be the one to see the light fade from his eyes.”
A small part of me wants to say no, that I should be the one to kill him. After everything he did to me and the man I love, I should get to kill him, but I owe this to her. I let Georgia die and now I’ll let him die by Tessa’s hand. “Anything you need.”
It only takes us about an hour of traveling before we reach the small town. It seems rather empty, but that’s probably just because it’s night. Gaslamps are lit around the streets which tells us people do live here.
“The inn is just down this street,” Tessa says quietly. “Once we’re there I’m going to cast a cloaking spell. That’ll allow us maybe a day or two without incident.”
I smile at the thought. “A much needed break,” I say. I’ve been with these people for a very short amount of time but so much has happened already. I’ve grown accustomed to peace in the year after the war, but now I’m with new allies and peace is something we will probably never have.
We reach the inn, which actually looks appealing unlike the Three Wench’s in Dalmerton. I can’t see a name, only a wooden sign above the door that reads “Inn and bar”. The windows are clear, allowing a view into a cosy looking scene. There’s a smiling man behind a counter talking to a woman who is leaning on the desk. In one wall there’s a roaring fireplace with people sat around.
“Nice place,” Noah comments as Tessa walks in. We follow her. The inn greets us with the smell of chestnuts and alcohol. An odd, but nice, combination.
“We’d like two rooms,” Tessa says to the guy behind the bar, interrupting the woman speaking to him. The woman glares and backs away from the desk.
“She means please,” I sigh, feeling self-conscious. We’re making such a scene.
Tessa glares at me. “No I don’t.”
The man behind the desk laughs nervously. “Two rooms, right?”
Tessa nods. “Yep. And where’s the bar?”
The man hands two keys over and points to a door to the side of the desk. “The bar is through there, as well as the stairs.” Tessa gives the man the money before walking towards the door. “Drink responsibly,” the man calls after her.
“This is going to be a disaster,” I whisper to Noah as we follow her.
For now, she ignores the bar and instead goes up the stairs. When I reach the landing she hands me a key to room four. “You and Noah can share,” she says. “You should be used to it by now.” She walks to one of the doors and unlocks it. “I’m going to change, cast a spell, and then we’re getting drunk. Except you Jack.”
Jack makes a disappointed noise as Tessa shuts the door behind her.
“Don’t worry,” Noah says as he walks to room four. “I’ll sneak you a drink up later.”
I hit Noah on the arm as he unlocks the door. “We’re not getting drunk with her, are we?” I ask, frowning. Strangely enough, I’ve never really been much of a drinker.
He shrugs and walks into the room, throwing his bag on the large bed. I follow him in and shut the door behind me. “We did let Georgia die,” he sighs. “Letting her get drunk alone would be mean.” A dagger of guilt stabs through me when he mentions Georgia. I wonder if he feels it too, or has he already seen so many deaths that they don’t faze him much anymore? I doubt I’ll ever get to that point. I hope I have to.
“Do you feel bad about it?” I ask, sitting on the bed.
He nods and sits next to me. “We promised Tessa we would keep Georgia safe, and then we failed to keep her safe. Georgia was a really great person and we failed her.”
I barely even saw her. Did I even directly talk to her? I don’t think so, but that doesn’t matter. Georgia meant something to Tessa, and maybe to Noah. Now she’s dead. Gone. Just like that…
“Does death ever scare you?” I sigh. “We don’t know what’s on the other side. Do heaven and hell even exist?”
Noah interrupts me before I ramble too much. “No, death does not scare me. It’s kind of exciting. Something completely unknown,” he says. “And I feel like heaven and hell exist. The real question is, who decides which one you go to?”
I look at the floor, feeling queasy. All we can do now is hope that there is a heaven, and that Georgia is there. “Let’s just get drunk,” I tell him. “We probably have a day before we need to be on the road again, let’s have some fun.”
He grins, standing. “I’m betting Tessa can outdrink us both,” he laughs as he walks to the door. I follow him, mumbling in agreement. I doubt there’s anything that girl can’t do.
When we get to the bar there are very few people. Behind the bar is an attractive looking bartender with short blonde hair and a very sculpted face. And body.
“I might drink him later,” Noah says, smiling at the bartender.
I sigh. “You can do better than that.”
The rest of the bar is pretty empty. One girl in a right black dress sits at the bar, sipping a martini. Two guys sit at a table drinking beers and leering at the girl. A small part of me wants to tell them to leave her alone, but who am I to judge her bad life choices?
We sit at the bar beside each other. Noah smiles at the bartender as he walks over. “What can I get you?” He asks with a smile.
“Your name would be nice,” Noah says.
The bartender smiles. “Matthew,” he tells Noah, completely ignoring me. I can’t help but to feel offended. Am I not worthy of his attention? “So what can I get you?”
“Nothing yet,” I snap. “We’re waiting for a friend. Come back then.”
Noah glares at me while Matthew leaves.
“Damien what the hell,” Noah snaps.
“Georgia died earlier,” I say. “On the same day you got… Intimate with her. Isn’t getting it on with the bartender a little disrespectful?”
He sighs and puts his hand on my shoulder, giving me a patronising look. “It’s what she would have wanted.” I don’t doubt that.
Before I can reply, Tessa walks down the stairs. She’s wearing a short, strapless red dress. It’s a good colour on her. She walks over to us, spinning around when she reaches us. “Do I look hot enough?” She asks with a grin.
“Definitely,” Noah laughs, looking her up and down. “Probably hot enough to turn Damien on.”
“Not quite,” I mumble, wishing I hadn’t dismissed the bartender. I really wish I was drunk right now. “But close. That must be compliment enough for you.”
She sits down and waves over the bartender. “Give us your strongest whiskey and three glasses,” she commands. He nods and walks away. “Noah can pay, he’s probably rich with all the things he steals.”
“I’m not rich,” Noah says. “But I’ll happily pay.” The bartender returns and sets down a large bottle of whiskey and three glasses. “Thanks Matthew,” Noah says with a smile. Matthew just leaves, probably due to me being rude earlier. Such a shame.
Tessa takes the bottle and pours copious amounts into each glass. She takes one and necks it, some how.
“I’m pretty sure whiskey is a sipping alcohol,” I sigh as she pours herself another glass. “And I’m also pretty sure you’re not supposed to put so much into the glass…”
She rolls her eyes. “Don’t be such a buzzkill,” she snaps. “And try to keep up…”
Considering how small she is, Tessa can drink a hell of a lot of alcohol.
“Okay I think I’m drunk enough,” she says suddenly, her words only slightly slurred. It’s a miracle she isn’t passed out. She drank most of the first bottle, and we’re almost done with the second.
“For what?” I ask, wishing I could just go to bed.
Tessa spins around on her stool and looks at the two guys who earlier leered at the sad looking girl. Now there’s just one guy. When did that happen? Maybe the other left with sad girl… “To get with that pile of shit,” she laughs. Before I can advise against it she stands and somehow walks over to him without falling.
Noah smiles at me. “And then there were two.”
I’m horribly aware of how drunk I sound. “That is correct Noah,” I say, smiling despite myself. “Should we continue drinking or should we just go to bed?”
He laughs lightly and stands, pulling a few coins from his pocket and throwing them on the bar. “I think the latter sounds quite appealing. We’ve made it up to Tessa, so now it’s time for bed.”
I nod and stand, tripping as I do so. He catches me, giggling slightly. “Sorry,” I say. “I think I’m a little drunk,” I realise as I regain my footing with some difficulty.
“Same,” he tells me quietly, “but I’m not going to blame what I do next on the alcohol.” Noah steps closer to me so our bodies are almost touching. He smiles with one corner of his lips and looks at mine. As he leans in for the kiss he puts a hand on the small of my back, pulling me against him.
All rational thought is gone. I wrap my arms around his neck, running a hand through his soft black hair and pushing his lips onto mine. He moans suddenly, a deep moan of pleasure. It’s been a long time since I’ve caused such a sound…
“Let’s take this upstairs,” I whisper, pulling away.
He grins, taking my hand and eagerly leading me. I trip a little on the stairs, giggling as I do so. It’s a small reminder of how drunk I am, and of how this isn’t something I would do sober. That’s not my problem though. That’s for me to worry about tomorrow morning…
We reach the door and he quickly opens it.
I cast a light spell and walk into the room as he locks the door behind us. He kisses me again with a passion that could burn me alive before pushing me onto the bed.
“You look good like that,” he tells me, climbing onto the bed and staring into my eyes. “Laying on a bed, all defences down.”
This is nothing like it was with Daniel. This isn’t love. This is nothing but drunken lust.
Two emotions greet me as I wake up; pain and regret.
Groaning quietly, I sit up and put my hand to my head. How much did I drink last night? Judging by the headache it was a lot…
Beside me, Noah opens his eyes and sits up slowly. “Last night was quite wild,” he says tiredly. I make a disgusted noise and get out of bed, finding my clothes as quickly as possible and dressing. “What’s wrong with you?” He asks, frowning at me.
What is wrong with me? Could it be that I just had sex with him after getting drunk? Could it be that this will make things very awkward with Daniel if I succeed? Could it be that I’m on a futile mission to raise the dead? All of the above and so many more.
“What do you think?” I snap, glaring at him. He hasn’t even made an effort to get out of bed. The blanket is barely covering him, showing his muscled abdomen, arms and most of his legs.
He shrugs nonchalantly. “Maybe you’re worried you wasn’t good?” He laughs.
Now would be the perfect time to murder him… “Why did you possibly think it was a good idea to seduce me?” I snap.
He laughs again and stands, wrapping the blanket around his lower half. “You think I seduced you? That’s bullshit Damien. That was just as much you as it was me.”
Oh, the audacity! “I was vulnerable,” I snap in my defence, not exactly buying it myself.
“And I wasn’t?” He snaps, growing angry. “I was just as drunk as you were.”
I don’t even know what to say, so instead of saying anything I grab my bag and storm from the room. It’s hard to blame him, I had no objections last night. Admittedly I was drunk and alone, but so was he. Georgia died yesterday. He would probably have done anything to rid himself of the guilt…
When I get downstairs I see Tessa and Jack sat at a table, both with food and drink in front of them.
“Morning Damien,” Tessa says chirpily with a giant smile.
How can she possibly be cheerful right now? The weather outside is awful and dull, she should be hung over and also her friend died yesterday. “Nice to see one of us is happy,” I say with a weak smile. Sitting down, I look at Jack who just seems to be eating. “You don’t have any magic, do you?” I ask. He shakes his head nervously. “Then why are you coming with us?”
“Damien,” Tessa snaps, glaring. “He’s coming with us because he needs the book just as much as we do.”
I sigh. “All I’m saying is that it’s a risk. Even for us, with magic and fighting experience, it’s incredibly dangerous. The chances of survival are very slim.”
Jack looks me in the eye, probably for the first time. “Then teach me something. Teach me how to use a weapon or teach me a spell or two.”
Tessa looks at me and nods ever so slightly, urging me on. “Sure,” I say. “I can teach you to use a sword. Tessa can probably help too.”
“What about Noah?” Jack asks. “Doesn’t he fight with a sword?”
I sigh, this was supposed to keep my mind off Noah. “He uses a bunch of different weapons, I think. So far I’ve seen that magical sword and a bow. I doubt he’ll know how to properly use a sword. He probably just swings it around and hopes for the best.”
Tessa laughs lightly. “That is pretty accurate. I doubt he ever has any idea what he’s doing,” she says with a slight smile. “Where is he anyway?”
“Still upstairs,” I say. “He’ll probably sleep through the day since I’m assuming we’re setting off again tonight.”
She nods. “You’re correct. As soon as the sun sets we’re leaving. Until we get to Asherton and then back to Dalmerton we’re never staying in the same place for too long.”
“Good call,” I say with a smile. We don’t want a repeat of what happened with Georgia. “So, should we teach Jack a little something?”
She stands, stretching. “Yeah, we can go in the inns backyard and train. I’m sure they won’t mind.”
Tessa begins walking through the inn, Jack and I follow her without much thought. She leads us to a nice little area outside surrounded by a wooden fence.
“I think we should duel, Damien,” Tessa tells me, plucking her sword from thin air. “It would show Jack a little something.”
“Good idea,” I say, “but I don’t even have a sword. Since I fight with my magic and daggers I don’t tend to carry one.”
With her other hand she plucks another sword from the air. Unlike her rapier, this one is a little bigger, probably more suited to me. She hands it to me and I spin it in my hand, liking the weight.
“There are three basic elements to sword fighting,” Tessa begins. “Parrying, attacking and dashing.”
I frown. “I was taught differently.”
She glares at me. “Who taught you?”
“Well what he knew obviously didn’t help him, so let's go with my teaching, okay?” Tessa snaps, smiling while she does so.
Jack doesn’t look phased by her outburst, but I’m shocked. With some difficultly, I mask my outrage. I did let her friend die yesterday. She’s allowed to throw a fit or two. “Valid point,” I force out. “Back to what you were saying…”
She smiles and twirls her sword in her hand. “The three basics are quite simple. Attacking is obviously attacking, parrying is blocking an attack and lunging is repositioning yourself, whether for a good attack or a good parry.” I have to resist the urge to correct her, but I doubt I could handle another savage comment. “Damien, attack me and I’ll parry.”
Doing as I’m told, I lazily strike her with my sword. She easily parries it, knocking it away. Had I tried I’m sure it would have stunned me for a second.
“Now I see why you don’t fight with a sword,” she comments. I strike again, harder this time. She still blocks it but with more difficulty. “Still quite bad,” she laughs, “but better.”
I lunge this time, surprising her. She’s forced to step back, parrying, she’s struggling. She attacks now. Her attacks are rhythmic, easy to predict and block. She attacks again. I parry, staggering her. Using the opportunity, I attack, swinging with all of my might.
She smirks suddenly, making me wish I could stop but it’s too late! She side steps my attack and my momentum carries me forward. She whips the back of my legs with the edge of her sword and causes me to fall, dropping my sword.
“Another lesson for you, Jack,” she says, sheathing her sword and picking mine up from where it fell. “Fight according to your opponents. I knew Damien would pick up on how rhythmic my attacks appeared to me and so I was able to catch him off guard.”
I stand, scowling. “So you read my mind?”
She smiles with a mocking innocence. “I didn’t have to. Most of sword fighting is knowing what your opponent is doing and acting against it.”
“See this is why I use daggers,” I tell her. “All I have to do is stab them and it’s over.”
Tessa hands my sword to Jack, who lets it clang to the ground. Tessa rolls her eyes. “You get used to the weight,” she comments.
The last thing I want to do is witness the disaster that is going to be the rest of this lesson. “Well, have fun with this,” I say, walking away. “I’ll meet you tonight when we’re setting off.”
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rest of my day. Talking to Noah would be awful, to say the least. Maybe I can just find a library in town and read the day away. That’s always fun.
The sun is setting as I get back to the inn. It bathes the street in a nice light. I walk straight to the bar, assuming that’s where they’ll be. I’m right, to some degree. Noah sits alone at the bar. I don’t exactly want to talk to him, but I know I have to. We’re still going to be traveling together. That is, unless I can change his mind.
Sitting next to him, I begin to speak as he looks at me. “I don’t think it’s wise for you to carry on with us. Things are just tense now and we don’t need that on our mission. It endangers us all.”
“Then let’s not make it tense,” he snaps, looking away. “Tessa and Jack don’t know what happened between us. We never have to mention it again. That’s what you want isn’t it? To forget it ever happened…”
I frown at that comment. Do I want to forget? I’m not sure. Since I met Noah it’s been hard keeping track of what I want. I need Daniel. I need to get him back and continue my life with him, I owe it to him. But do I want that?
It doesn’t matter. Without this mission I’m nothing. Without Daniel I’m nothing.
“Fine,” I say, avoiding the question. “Let’s just never mention it again. Let’s just get the damn book and then we’ll never have to see each other again.” It hurts to say. It hurts to think about never seeing him again but this is what’s best for both of us.
He nods, smiling bitterly. “How long do you think Tessa and Jack will take? I want to get out of this town.”
As if on que, they walk into the bar. “Ready to go?” Tessa asks.
Ready to move on from that horrible mistake and get to Daniel? Definitely.