Chapter 3: Rehab
“Tumba isn’t owned by its governor. It’s shared among its people.”
-Arqen the Gentle, 188 U.E.
Stephan opened the door to the guest room and slipped inside, tray of food in one hand. The room was dark, allowing only a sliver of light from the open door to fall on a curled-up figure on the floor. The air was heavy with the smell of sweat and vomit.
“Please… no lights…” Amaline groaned. “It hurts…”
Stephan complied, kicking the door shut behind him. The room was plunged into utter darkness. “How are you feeling today?” he asked.
“How the fuck do you think I’m feeling?” she hissed. “No, I… I’m sorry. That was mean. I’m really sorry. It’s just this… stupid…” Her words devolved into pained groans.
“No change, then.”
Stephan switched on his glasses and navigated over to Amaline by her aura. He sat next to her and slid over the platter. “Here. I’ve made you chicken soup.”
“I don’t want it.”
“It’ll go down easy.”
“I’ll just… throw it back up.”
“That’s okay. At least drink this.” He took the potion off the tray and slowly reached over until he found Amaline’s hand. With some effort, he got her to take it.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a Null and Void. It’ll dispel the magic from your system faster.”
That was all she needed to hear. She drank greedily, pausing periodically to moan, shifting on the floor.
Amaline had been in his care for a bit over two days, and the withdrawal symptoms were getting worse. She had tried to leave more than once when the cravings got too out of control, but he had hauled her back.
Just one more day, Stephan told himself, like he had yesterday. Then it’ll break.
He had spent most of his time tending to the woman despite whatever colorful insults she hurled at him. It was less out of his manly sense of chivalry, and more out of stubbornness. He wouldn’t go back on his word.
But that didn’t mean he didn’t regret giving it.
Once Amaline had drained the potion to the last drop, Stephan took the empty bottle and stood with a sigh. Leaving the tray, he made to walk out.
“Wait,” Amaline whispered, desperation in her voice. “Stay. Please.”
Stephan hesitated. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to return to work. I have to get the bar ready for tonight. My daughter can’t do it all by herself.”
“I need… to hear a voice,” she insisted. “Just for a little bit. Please.”
He sat back down. “Alright. Just for a little bit. In return, I want you to have some soup.”
Silent, breaths hissing, she contemplated. Stephan heard ceramic rattling, then slurping.
Stephan nodded, satisfied. “Good.”
“Tell me… a story,” Amaline said.
“Hmm. That shouldn’t be a problem. I used to be a pirate, you know.”
Amaline gave a tired giggle. “Liar.”
“It’s true! I rode with Quintilla Wenezian and her crew. I was their cook.”
The slurping ceased, shock stilling hands, then continued. “The Quintilla Wenezian?”
“The very same.”
“She’s supposed to be… some kind of hero.”
“I wouldn’t call her that. She was a good captain, though.”
“Where is she now? Half my customers would talk about her. Some of the girls would dress up like her, even, so that… you know.”
“She… went away,” Stephan said, unable to voice the truth. “Where to, I don’t know.”
“They’re saying she’ll come back, save us from the Concordians.”
Stephan rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’d put my hopes in someone else if I were you. She’s not coming back.”
“Oh.” Disappointment tinged her voice. “Would you mind telling me… a story about her?”
“Of course. I’ll tell you about the lakata on Dead Echo. I have a starring role in that one.”
Yin swept debris into the dustpan, emptied it in the trash, and stood back to regard her work.
That was the floor done. On to the tables.
An insistent scratching sound from the front door interrupted her. Opening it, the black cat from two days ago sauntered in.
“We’re closed,” Yin said dryly, pointing to a sign in one of the windows that repeated her sentiment. “Come back in a couple hours.”
The cat, Aegur, jumped onto the very same window and curled into a ball. I will have a Wildstar. Quickly, if you will.
“My dad makes the cocktails. He’s not here. Like I said, we’re closed.”
Then I will wait.
“Outside.” Yin lifted her broom, pointing it like a sword. “Get moving.”
The broom was suddenly yanked from her hand, lifted into thin air, lazily spinning. It set itself down against the wall next to the cat.
Easy on the threats, girl, Aegur purred. I am far more powerful than my cuddly exterior would lead you to believe.
“So am I,” Yin growled. “Do not test me, or I’ll turn you into a pair of magic mittens.”
Now, now. No need to get prickly. Allow me to nap here, and I won’t get in your way. In certain parts of the world, a maiori’s presence is considered a blessing.
Yin threw her arms up. “Whatever. You’re not my problem. My dad can deal with you.”
Yin returned to work, getting Sweet Devil ready for opening hour. Stephan still hadn’t come downstairs. He was spending almost every free moment with that woman. She hadn’t been into the guest room, but the stench of decay clung to her dad. Disgusting.
He sure has a way of collecting strays around him. She shook her head. I probably shouldn’t be so judgmental— I’m no different after all. Then again, how special does that make me? Am I just another broken little bird for him to fix?
No. He’ll always love me. I’m his daughter.
I’ve trusted before. It always ended in betrayal.
Swallowing a hard knot, Yin forced those thoughts into the back of her head and set about wiping down tables.
You seem saddened, girl, Aegur said, watching her attentively from his perch.
“What do you care?”
I am an envoy of the god of love. Sorrow is an affront to me. It is my greatest talent to bring happiness wherever I tread.
“Not interested. Leave me alone.”
Yin spun, rag clenched in her fist, and stared down the black cat. “Leave. Me. Alone.”
Aegur blinked slowly, then curled back up into a ball. His thoughts didn’t invade her mind any longer.
Everything is fine, she thought. Stephan will fix this woman back up, she’ll leave, and everything will go back to normal.