A Red Rose (part 2)

An old story, written a very long time ago. Published for the Repository, so that I can collect all the old writing in one place. Sequel to A White Rose.

You can read Part 1 here.

Ereptus looked at the sleeping form in the bed from where he sat on a chair by the window. She was in an uneasy sleep, tossing and turning, now and then mumbling something under her breath. As if bewitched he stood up and walked over to the bed to get a better look at her. He hunched down by her side, stroking an errant lock of hair away from her fair brow. She was so beautiful that it almost hurt him to look at her. He couldn’t help but wonder how he had ever been able to leave her all those years ago. But of course, she’d only been a teenager, even if she had already shown the promise of the beauty she had become.

Suddenly she sat up, still half asleep, looking around the room with sleepy, yellowish eyes.

“Ereptus?” she mumbled.

“I’m still here, pet,” he said softly, stroking her cheek with his hand.

She seemed to accept that and settled back down, a soft smile on her lips as she went back to sleep. Ereptus watched her while she slept, his mind trying to figure out what was going on. He’d returned because of what he had explained away as a nightmare, but he’d come just in time to save her from some thugs planning on taking her to someone. He simply couldn’t figure out to whom; the young woman in the bed didn’t look like she could have any enemies.

After some time he finally gave up and settled down in a corner of her room, leaning against the wall to get a few hours of sleep before dawn.

*****

“Ereptus?”

He jerked awake, staring up at Rain who was standing before him, dressed in a pair of leather trousers and a soft leather bodice. Her hair was loose, falling over her slender shoulders. The light green eyes seemed more yellow than he remembered them as she narrowed them at him.

“How did you get in here?” she asked pointedly. “I’m quite certain I locked the door last night.”

Ereptus stood, running a hand through his dark hair. “Locked doors have never been much trouble for me.” He gave her a charming grin, but it appeared to have no effect.

“I should have known,” she muttered.

“Yes, you should,” he happily agreed.

Rain ignored him, walking over to the door to go downstairs. “I want to find out who those thugs were yesterday. If they’re planning to come after me again I’d rather find them first.”

Ereptus got up and followed her. “I would suggest you visit the inn,” he said casually.

Rain stopped and looked up at him, her yellowish eyes narrowed. “Why would you suggest that?”

“I heard them speak before you came outside yesterday. They mentioned that they were staying there.”

“And you didn’t think it would be a good idea to tell me that until now?”

“Not really, no.” He grinned at her.

Rain muttered something incoherent and continued down the corridor, Ereptus following her with a big grin on his face. As she opened the door to walk out on the street something small and blue grey snuck inside and climbed up her leg, to finally make its way to her shoulder.

“Peeves!” Rain smiled. “Where have you been all night?”

“So you still have your pet lizard,” Ereptus commented dryly.

Rain glared at him, her eyes shooting yellow sparks, but not bothering to remind him that Peeves was a little dragon. Ereptus looked at the little beast perched on her shoulder. He wasn’t much larger than last time he’d seen him, only about the size of Ereptus’ hand. Blue grey scales covered its lean body and two small horns protruded from its forehead. It had a long, slender tail which was wrapped around Rain’s neck.

“Let’s go to the inn and look for those men,” Rain muttered while absently stroking Peeves who let out a sound which sounded strangely similar to a cat purring.

They reached the inn a little while later and Ereptus quickly found out from the innkeeper which room the two men had rented.

“How do you do that?” Rain asked, awed, as they were walking up the stairs to the right floor.

“Do what?”

“Get information from someone who really shouldn’t be giving it to you.”

He chuckled. “It’s a skill honed with years of experience.”

“What do you do?”

“I just confuse them. They never realise they told me what I wanted to know.”

Rain shook her head. “I’ll never understand you.”

They had reached the correct room and Ereptus pounded on the door, but there was no answer. Rain tried the door, and to their surprise, it opened. Looking up at Ereptus to see him nod to go ahead, she swung it open completely, and Ereptus stepped inside. Before he could stop her, Rain walked in after him and let out a loud gasp at the sight.

The two men from last night were lying on their beds, both dead with a wound in their chest. A thin, silvery dagger protruded from the chest of one of the men. As Ereptus saw the dagger a cold shiver travelled down his spine. It was the same dagger he had seen in his dream, he was certain of it.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said roughly, pulling Rain with him outside and closing the door to the room.

“Who could have killed them?” Rain whispered, obviously shaken by what she’d just seen.

“My guess would be whoever hired them,” Ereptus said. “The person who wants to see you dead.”

Rain stared up at him. “Wants me dead? What makes you think that?”

Ereptus looked down the corridor. “Let’s not discuss it here. We’ll go somewhere and then I can tell you.”

“Ok,” Rain nodded. “We can go out to the forest. I have the day off today. Another girl is working in the bar.”

They quickly left the city and went into the forest lying close in the west. Rain led Ereptus to a little glen where they could sit down and talk in peace.

“So, tell me why you think someone wants to kill me,” she said, sitting down in the grass to lean against the trunk of a tall tree.

Ereptus paced the little glen for a while without responding before stopping to look down at her with his dark eyes, making her feel a little uncomfortable. “This is going to sound crazy,” he said, raking a hand through his dark hair.

“I’m sure it will,” Rain agreed, receiving a scathing look as reply.

Ereptus sat down next to her, leaning against the same tree trunk, sighing deeply.

“I had a nightmare before I came here. As a matter of fact, it’s the reason I came here.” He turned his head to look down at her. “In the dream, I saw you lying in your bed sleeping, but you weren’t alone in the room, there was someone else there as well.”

Rain shivered. “Who was it?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t know.” Ereptus looked away, frowning, trying to remember his dream. “The person was dressed in a dark cloak, covering the face. All I could see was a hand holding a dagger. A dagger that looked exactly like the one stuck in that dead body at the inn.”

“I guess I won’t be so lucky that it was just a coincidence,” Rain muttered.

“Not likely.”

“I just don’t understand who would like to kill me.” Rain gave Ereptus a bewildered look. “I don’t even know all that many people, how could someone know me enough to want to kill me?”

“I don’t know, pet,” Ereptus said, absentmindedly stroking away an errant lock that had fallen down her brow. “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to hurt you.”

Rain made a face. “As if you haven’t wanted to strangle me yourself on occasion.”

Ereptus grinned. “That’s another matter entirely.”

“This all makes no sense!” Rain burst out, standing up to start pacing the little glen in irritation.

Ereptus remained sitting, watching her as she walked around, muttering curses under her breath, making him smile. They weren’t words one would expect to come from a beautiful, young woman.

The attack came so quickly that neither of them had the chance to react. A dark shadow came out of nowhere and threw itself at Rain who fell with a yelp, the shadow on top of her with a dagger, identical to the one that had killed the men at the inn, in its hand.

Ereptus scrambled to his feet and ran towards Rain and her attacker, she was fighting to keep the dagger away from her throat, but the shadow was a lot stronger. Throwing himself at the shadowy figure, it fell off Rain and dropped the dagger, and Ereptus got a better look at it. It was definitely something alive, a man dressed in a dark cloak covering him completely except for a pair of black boots showing beneath the hem of the cloak.

As Ereptus reached for the dropped dagger a sound came from the man on the ground, and the dagger magically moved back into the man’s outstretched hand. Ereptus cursed, pulling Rain to her feet and putting her behind his back to protect her. The man attacked again, struggling with Ereptus to get to Rain who had moved a few feet back, staring at them.

“How about giving me a hand, pet?” Ereptus grunted, kicking the man so that he fell.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Ereptus!” Rain seemed to have snapped out of her fear and started working on the words to cast a spell, and soon a blue shimmering shield enveloped her and Ereptus protecting them from harm.

The man had gotten to his feet, but didn’t attack them again.

“We will meet again,” the voice was barely more than a gruff whisper, but they could both hear it as clearly as if it had been shouted at them. Then he lifted his dagger in a salute, and with a strange noise the man disappeared in thin air.

Rain, drained from her protective spell, fell to the ground and their shield vanished. Ereptus picked her up, holding her against him.

“You’re still not strong enough for such spells,” he admonished.

“It was the only thing I could think of in the heat of the moment,” Rain admitted with a weary smile.

*****

Ereptus brought her back to her room above the bar where she lived, Rain barely able to walk by herself in her current state. “Are you sure you are ok?” Ereptus asked her as he put her down on her bed.

“I’m just tired, and I think I bumped my head.” She winced as she touched the back of her head with her hand. “Ouch. Yes, I definitely bumped my head.”

“You better lie down then. It can be dangerous to be up and about if your head took some damage.”

“I think I will,” Rain yawned.

“Get some sleep, pet.” Ereptus caressed her hair, watching her drift into sleep, and then he went over to the window overlooking the street beneath.

He was glad that he had come, strangely enough his dream had proved to be real. Now he must decide what to do to protect Rain against this mysterious man who wanted to hurt her. He cast a quick glance at Rain as she mumbled something in her sleep, but she seemed to be ok. Silently he walked toward the door, he had to run a couple of errands, and then he knew what must be done.

*****

Rain awoke slowly, stretching like a cat. Her head was still aching, but not as bad as it had been before she went to sleep. Looking out the window she could see the early morning light, which meant she must have slept all through the night.

“Ereptus?” She looked around the room, but he wasn’t there. Frowning, she stood up, almost stepping on something lying on the floor. She looked down and started cursing loudly. It was a rose; a single, red rose. He had done it again!

She picked up the bloom, glaring at it, but not able to bring herself to throw it away. Instead she put it on her bed, looking at it, and not sure whether to cry or scream. She pulled her boots on with jerky motions, still annoyed at Ereptus’ habit of leaving her without saying fare well.

Then she stopped suddenly, a thought hitting her. Say what you will of Ereptus and his habits, he would never leave her alone when she was in danger. Frowning, Rain finished getting dressed and left her room. He would not have left unless he knew she was safe. Or if he was planning to make sure she was safe.

The last thought had Rain running down the stairs and out into the street. She had to find him. He couldn’t take on a man like the one they had encountered in the forest. The man knew magic, probably a lot more than she did. The only reason he had left the day before was that he had been toying with them. He could easily have gotten through the shield she had conjured.

How had Ereptus known where to go? Rain stood in the middle of the street feeling lost and uncertain of what to do. What had Ereptus noticed that she had not? She bit at her lip in frustration. Then she remembered. When the man had fallen she, and certainly Ereptus, had seen his black boots beneath the cloak. What she hadn’t registered at the time was that the boots had been covered in something white and sticky. Cobweb!

Rain started running. There was only one place she knew where there were large cobwebs, and that’s where the man had to be holed up.

She reached the forest with the entrance to the webs later in the day, looking up into the tree crowns where the thick webs spanned between the limbs and tree trunks. Spiders had never bothered her, but she knew that the ones living in these webs were a lot larger than just regular spiders. With a sigh, she heaved herself up into the cobwebs, looking around wondering where she might go.

The cobwebs were treacherous, and if one stepped in the wrong places there was always the possibility of falling through to an immediate death, or getting caught in the sticky webs and unable to get away. Rain walked carefully, trying to make sure that she stepped only where it was secure, while scanning the surroundings for a trace of Ereptus of her dark assailant.

After having walked around in what seemed like hours she finally heard some noises and could sense Ereptus’ presence. Worried about his safety she increased her pace and soon came into a piece of the web next to a treacherous hole where one could easily fall in. Terrified she saw Ereptus lying bloody on the floor, the man in the dark cloak standing over him, nudging his limp body with a foot.

“Ereptus?” Rain shouted, causing the man in the cloak to notice her, while Ereptus didn’t react.

“Well, well, well,” the man said. “If it isn’t the brat. I’m glad you’ve decided to join us, it saves me the hassle of having to go and get you.”

“What do you want from me?” Rain asked warily. “I don’t know you.”

“Are you sure about that?” the man asked slowly, removing the hood of his cloak.

Rain felt sick to her stomach. He was older now, but she could still recognise him. “Father!”

Her father’s cold eyes looked at her in disgust. “Do you still believe that lie?” he said, his voice taunting. “I’m not your father, never have been and never will. My wife took care of you when you were a wee baby.”

“Neither of you were my real parents?” Rain asked, stunned by the admission.

“Of course not you stupid girl!” the man snapped. “I’m human, and so was my wife. You’re at least half elf.”

“I don’t remember moth…” Rain stopped herself, reeling for a moment from the realisation that nothing in her life was as she had thought. “Your wife. I thought perhaps she had been an elf.”

“She wasn’t. I’d never have married her if she was.” He glared at her, disgust and hatred obvious on his face. “It was a pain having you around, glad I was to get rid of you when I left you in that city.”

Rain’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you here now?”

A cold grin spread. “Oh, but don’t you know, brat? It’s your heritage I want.”

“My heritage?”

“I didn’t know your true heritage until a few years ago. Once I found out I began searching for you.” His eyes were glossy as he stared at her. “I want your heritage, it will bring me great powers.”

Rain had been moving closer to Ereptus as they spoke. She was now able to bend down and check if he was ok. His breathing was laboured, but he was still alive, allowing her to let out a relieved sigh.

The man had gone on to rambling about her heritage and how he deserved it after taking care of her for so many years, paying no attention to her as she tried to wake her friend.

Ereptus’ eye lashes fluttered and then he was looking up at her, a mixture of tenderness and chagrin on his face. “You should not have come here, pet.”

“You fool,” Rain whispered. “I had to come. I couldn’t leave you to your own foolishness. You’d have died.”

“And now we both may die instead,” he pointed out.

“Maybe I don’t want to go on without you,” Rain said, a small catch in her voice.

Ereptus lifted his hand slowly, caressing her cheek, a soft smile playing on his lips. “Yes, you do, pet. You have a long life in front of you and you will live it and have lots of fun.”

A tear fell from Rain’s eye, running down her cheek until Ereptus caught it on his finger.

“Now, get out of here before it’s too late.” He tried to usher her away, but he was too weak.

“No. I won’t leave you.”

“Get away from him!” the other man suddenly shouted, and a bolt of energy suddenly threw her across the room, away from Ereptus.

Before she could recover he was above her, staring down at her with fanatic eyes.

“Your heritage will be mine now,” he hissed, leaning down and pressing his hands against her forehead. She could feel him draining her energy, but was too weak to fight him off, he was so strong.

Before she could see what happened he was thrown off, and she could sit up, although very dizzy from the loss of energy. She looked up to see what had happened, and caught sight of Ereptus struggling with the other man on the treacherous cobwebs, rolling precariously close to the gaping hole.

“Ereptus! Watch out!” she screamed, trying to get to her feet to get to them.

“Stay away!” Ereptus yelled at her, and she stopped, but only for a moment.

The man who she had once believed to be her father had wrestled out of Ereptus grip, and was kicking him towards the edge of the hole. As Rain ran closer the man looked up to see her and mumbled a spell that knocked her back. Scrambling to her feet, Rain tried to move, but her breath was coming in short, painful bursts and she found herself unable to move further. The moment of inattention had been enough for Ereptus to get on his feet. Tired to death he grabbed on to the other man and held on with all his remaining strength, and hurtled himself towards the hole.

Panicking, Rain pulled herself together and ran to the edge, ignoring the burning feeling in her chest. The hole seemed bottomless, with no obvious sides, going much deeper down than one could see. No one could have survived that fall. Some said the holes in the spider forest were magic and truly bottomless. Anyone who fell into them lost in the void forever.

“No,” Rain cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please, by the gods… no…”

But there was no reply from the gods, and the hole was still empty and dark, not a sound coming from it. Feeling as if her heart had been wrenched out of her chest Rain forced herself up and left the cobwebs.

She didn’t know how long it had taken her, or how she had managed, but she found herself back in her room. The red rose still lying on her bed.

Walking over to the bed with heavy steps she picked up the flower, staring at it. It seemed she was bound to be left a single rose and then lose Ereptus. Only this time she had lost him for good.

Using her last ounce of energy she put an enchantment on the rose to keep it from withering, so that she could always keep it with her. Then she collapsed on the bed, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the rose clutched tightly against her chest.


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