"Mr. Whitehorn, what is the meaning of this? Bringing feral Naguia upon our peaceful town! Unleashing them upon our citizenry!"
The mayor waved his arm over the villagers that had crowded into the common room of the tavern, jeers of agreement rising from among them. He had hauled his considerably large self onto a considerably small podium the tavern owner Wendy had scrounged from a storage closet. It made an audible quack every time he shift his bulk, plumes of dust rising when he settled his pot belly with a pat. He offered the crowd a pitying grimace, fueling the growing unrest.
Unrest he was sure to capitalize on thought Rowan. Not for the first time today, Rowan cursed his body's inability to get drunk. Faster healing, but no buzz. It hardly seemed fair at this particular moment. He settled for grinding his teeth as the mayor continued to enumerate his team's disgruntled antics.
"My dear townsfolk, at this rate there won't be much of a town left to save!"
"Mayor Laxduff, I would kindly remind you that I have paid the herbalist and the baker for all their destroyed property," Rowan cut in and to himself mumbled "twice".
He had paid them handsomely for the handful of meat pies and flower pots destroyed in his brigade's growing pains. But Rowan had wanted to smooth out any hostilities between the villagers and the band, and nothing tramped down anger like coin.
The cart and stall had been an easy fix, nothing compared to the damage caused to the villager's collective psyche. The whispers had traveled fast. An assault by men, beasts they said. The very men hired to save them. They had already been afraid, helpless against the assault before them, goblins and Nyx. Easier to confront the known enemy. Fury was a useful tool in the face of fear, fury turned toward him. Toward the feral Naguia he had brought to save them. Feral. He spat. The word disregarded the suffering his people had endured for years. The word feral turned them into animals.
"Tell the beasts to leave," a faceless hackler called.
"AYE, we don't need them!," Came an answering reply.
"Now friends," the mayor soothed. "We should expect them to protect us! Protect us, and return the hard-earned coin we have paid them."
The mayor turned an expectant gaze on Rowan, glee twinkling in his eyes.
"Surely, Mr. Whitehorn, you wouldn't want the reputation of the Vagabond Arms tarnished by the activities of your mercenaries. A respectable gentleman…" The Mayor drew out the word until all that rang in anyone's ears was "man". He meant a respectable man, not a beast like him. "Would ensure his customers are satisfied," the weasel finished.
No, thought Rowan, I'm not a man.
Sinette woke to the throbbing in her temples and a muffled ringing penetrating her ears. The high-pitched note spiraled in and out as she turned her head, like a fog horn off the coast. She felt sick, but couldn't manage to push herself off the small cot, arms buckling beneath her. It had happened again. She had gotten lost in the darkness. A third time submerged in a mire of fury, only to awaken with no memory of it. The panic began to set in, the pressure building in her chest and holding her down. Her lungs cleaved from trying to catch her breath. What horrible things had she committed this time?
Large hands cradled her shoulders, Rowan appeared from a chair behind her. He looked ruffled and less kept than when she had left him this morning.
"Slow, now. Your body is trying to protect you. But you're okay now. Everything's okay." He spoke slowly, each word deliberate, like he wasn't sure she could hear him.
Sinette tried to focus on his face, but the pain pushed him in and out of focus. Closing her eyes, she willed the suffering away. The soft energy of the earth lay just beneath her fingertips, its gentle rhythms calling to her. With a sigh, she opened herself to it. A gentle quickening and the warmth of power suffused her, dulling her pain. But it didn't stop the tears from cascading down her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry for whatever I've done," she choked. Sinette couldn't bare to look at him. There would be judgment, loathing, and worst of all fear. She knew that other people's fear could take things from you. There was so much to lose. A warm meal. A safe place. A friend. "I can leave. I won't stay."
"I don't want you to leave," he confessed. "I want you to tell me what happened".
She stifled a sob. "I don't know. I got angry and now I don't remember."
"You and I both know there is more to that story," Rowan replied. He pulled the chair forward and sat, folding his hands patiently in his lap. "Why don't you tell me what you do remember."
Sinette took a steadying breath, opening her eyes to focus on the ceiling. Rough-hewed beams braced the room, her gaze drawn to the cracking plaster along their length. The last person she told about the darkness was Ward. Now her brother was dead and she had killed him. Fresh tears dribbled down her cheeks.
"I was arguing with Brandy. She was testing me. Testing me to protect you, I think." Sinette raised her eyebrows at Rowan, but she was met with a brisk nod to continue.
"It doesn't matter why, I guess. But I was angry and then I heard them," She barely breathed, the last word hung heavy between them.
"My brothers," she whispered. "They were calling for me again. But I couldn't save them." Resignation stained her voice and her puffy gaze met Rowans. "I killed them, and now I hear their screams." She bit her lip to drive back the agony, glassy eyes pleading with Rowan to understand. She missed them so much, her sadness driven deeper by the guilt of knowing she killed them. She had done everything to save them, called every spirit she could muster. But the energies of the earth had forsaken her.
Rowan sat back, the chair groaning under him. He crossed his arms, considering her words before asking "This kind of episode has happened before?"
Sinette nodded in reply. "Three times now. Once when I was little, then again about 3 months ago. Now today." In a sudden burst of strength, she clasped his hand and drew it back to her.
"It’s the maddness, the feral maddness that comes for every Naguai. I'm what every human fears, and I can't be allowed to hurt anyone else. Please, Rowan." Her nails clenched onto his fist, as she pleaded with him.
"Please end this".