Duran felt as though he were on a runaway horse headed towards a cliff. Tears burned his eyes. He watched Alora walk over to the storage area and pull out her saddlebags. She squatted down and began to dig through them with an intense look of concentration. Duran's hopes rose. The noise outside the Livery was beginning to build into a continuous drunken roar.
"What are you doing?" He asked. The sound of his own voice surprised him. He was rewarded with a brief glance.
Alora yanked a wad of tangled leather strips out and tossed them aside.
A cookpot landed on top of the leather.
"...where is it...come on..."
Rolls of parchment were impatiently heaved over one shoulder.
"A spell! She's going to cast a spell!" Duran thought with utter delight. Of course she could call down Old Scratch Himself followed by all his screeching, thrashing minions as long as the Livery still stood afterwards. Duran felt a fleeting moment of remorse for his lack of loyalty. But it was...only a moment. He'd worry about his soul later. He watched as Alora pulled out a package wrapped in stained white cloth. Fear and something close to awe rolled slowly through him.
Alora carefully unwrapped the package and pulled out some brown, crusted strips. All of the strength drained out of Duran's legs and he sat down,hard.
"It's...it's...skin. Human skin." He thought and felt physically sick.
"What is that?" He whispered.
(But I don't want to know, not really, no, nosiree,not at all, to be honest).
"Dried fish. You want some?" Alora held out her hand. Duran scuttled backward as though she'd aimed a crossbow at his head.
(Wait. Dried fish??)
"What kind of spell can you cast with dried fish?" He asked. Alora felt the corners of her mouth twitch. He could not be serious...could he? She stood and put a piece of fish in her mouth and contemplated Duran long and hard.
A wierd set of circumstances personally selected by Brede just for her always came into play at times like these.
"Let's see...drunken assholes, one terrified girl, and a boy waiting for me to cast a spell using fish. Anything else?" She thought as she put another piece of fish in her mouth. It was oily and bitter. She walked over and sat down on a haybale next to the wall.
"If I was going to cast a spell, it would be to turn this into beef." She replied, her tone short.
Life stopped for Duran. The reassuring flow of days and moments gone by had come to a shattering halt. He could hear his own heart, something he realized he'd taken for granted for far too long. And he learned something in that moment. True fear didn't show its face often. It wasn't clammy palms or a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Fear was undefined. It was heavy. It weighed your bones down. And a tiny voice you've never heard in your life speaks up out of some secret crevasse and says, "Wait."
No more running, or crying, or begging The Twiceborn to be what everyone thought she was. Just...wait. Wait for people you've known all your life to drag you out into the road and end all your thoughts, hopes,feelings, and desires.
Wait. For death. True fear was being at a point where you had nothing left to do but wait and hope that death, when it came, would lean hard and pass through quick.
Tears ran unchecked down his face and he was silent. Alora watched him and her black eyes took on a deeper glint as fear poured off him like sweat. She started to smile.
"Admit it, you like this." She thought as she watched Duran squirm. It was her own shameful, guilty pleasure. She simply couldn't help herself. She took a deep breath. He smelled like an animal dead and gone to rot. Or maybe the scent was more bitter. The smell of crushed hope. She couldn't resist. A huge grin stretched from cheek to cheek. It was so very sweet, just like candy.
It was simple. The fear wasn't caused directly by her. It was between Duran and the drunken assholes on the other side of the doors. It was a free meal and there was nothing to stop her from pulling up a chair and digging in. When Duran glanced her way, she dropped him a quick wink.
Red flooded Duran's cheeks and he quickly turned his head and looked at all the filled stalls. Horses and 'stags shifted uneasily in the growing darkness.
"They're drunk." He thought as he listened to the noise building outside. "They'll burn the place before they even think about the animals."
The best he could do was open the Livery doors and start untying ropes and opening stalls. He choked back a sob. That would be the final straw that drove all of this home. He'd been so stupid. It didn't matter now what stupidity hid behind, love, passion,or need. It all came down to this. He had to untie them. He had to let them go.