Flying South towards the mountains Ael and I had stunning blue skies to ourselves. The giant harpy queen had beautiful plumage and shining scales that glittered in the sun so we were impossible to miss. Many times I spotted other flying creatures quickly landing or turning around and fleeing the area as the Stormqueen passed by. Ael seemed to approve of both behaviors as appropriate shows of respect.
With no wind noise or other disruptions the flight had been surprisingly relaxing. I watched the landscape rolling by under us. The forest gradually thinned into rocky slopes and scattered scrub, a forest of crags and stone spires taking its place in stretching out to the horizon.
Ael couldn’t give me any numerical distances for the world of Arcadia, only vague notions such as it taking so many days to fly between specific mountains and valleys, but even so the Cyclopean Bones were a mountain range on a scale that boggled my mind.
The tallest peaks formed a line called the Spine that swept northeast to southwest, towering over the rest as if they were mere foothills. Those lesser mountains were still as tall as any I’d seen on Earth however.
It was to the tallest spire of all that we were heading, Skycrown, rising up perhaps a third of the way along the Spine. It was there the harpies made their capital and only city, the Eyrie, from which Ael reigned as empress.
Also known as the Daughters of Nemoi, the harpies controlled the Cyclopean Bones with the blessing of the Sky Goddess. They occupied many of its tallest peaks and all other inhabitants paid homage to them, but they seemed to be far from the only powerful species living there.
Fittingly we passed over a number of villages inhabited by one-eyed giants yet I was surprised to learn that they were called ogres rather than cyclopes. Each was perhaps twice the height of a human – still far short of Ael’s size – with thick muscular frames and four powerful arms each.
Their heads were dominated by a circular central eye which left no room for a nose. Instead they had nostrils contained within each end of their imposing monobrow, the hair follicles presumably doing double duty both helping protect their eye from falling dust and dirt and filter such detritus out when breathing.
Ael confirmed my suspicion that for an ogre a cold was a serious matter. She also explained that while they were famously aggressive and warlike they weren’t unintelligent and actually had a surprising talent for mining and excavation. That much was clear when you looked at the extensive work that had gone into their small villages.
Each was sunk into the rock with simple but sturdy dwellings hollowed out in regular patterns, the excavated stone repurposed to build a defensive wall around the settlement. There was a surprising degree of uniformity that reminded me of military bases from Earth.
They were far from the only other inhabitants however; a plethora of monster species had claimed various areas of the mountain range. It made me question Ael’s legitimacy in titling herself empress but it seemed that none of the other races could challenge the harpies and so she was the de facto ruler even if there was no de jure monarch.
Ael and I reached the great mountain Skycrown late in the afternoon the day after our ‘duel’. It stood a third again as tall as its nearest rival, with an uneven shape pitted by cliffs and ridges. It was named for the needles of stone that ringed the peak like the towers of a castle, growing from a ridge that encircled a plateau in the centre that I guessed was a volcanic caldera.
As we flew closer I could make out caves in the sides of the mountain and from many of their openings figures emerged – harpies flying up to meet us! I was confused by the scale when I saw how tiny many of them were, making the mountain seem colossal beyond any comprehension.
“Ael? How big is this mountain?!” I asked, my mind struggling to reconcile the differing cues I was seeing.
Ael laughed as she noticed my bewilderment. “Hoh hoh, surely you didn’t believe all harpies were as imposing as I, Saf?” she asked, smiling innocently. She definitely did that on purpose, just to enjoy the look on my face.
“Uh, I didn’t really think about it I suppose,” I admitted.
“My people are not so unlike humans in height. Most are six to seven feet tall… larger than some humans I admit,” she explained, glancing down at my own distinctly unimpressive sub-five figure. “But only those with royal or noble blood are grander in stature than that.”
I might have objected to the dig at my height but the welcoming party was already forming up in the air ahead and I held my tongue as Ael approached them.
The leader was around Ael’s height with red and green feathers and scales. Her greatbow was thick as a tree-trunk and entirely too utilitarian in design for a member of royalty, but if anything it took after its owner. She had a handsome beauty that was reminiscent of Ael, especially the strong jaw they shared, but where Ael was voluptuous she was athletic.
The others flying up to meet us were smaller, most half Ael’s size or less, but many were armed. Presumably those were guards or soldiers.
Rather than shouting greetings midflight they fell in to either side of Ael and accompanied us as we flew down towards the plateau. There were patches of greenery there and clusters of stone buildings but the spot we descend on was a raised open space near the centre.
Ael touched down gracefully atop a stone platform ringed with free-standing pillars atop which braziers burned. The white rock of the platform had been hewn level and polished to reveal its natural luster.
The other harpies landed around us bowing their heads in turn. “Welcome home sister, I’m glad to see you’re safe,” spoke the largest, the archer, her voice rough and sharp. “We worried when you didn’t arrive last night. Travelling alone when you fly North is a needless risk. Next time at least allow me to assign you a flight of Valkyries.”
“The Stormqueen has no need of protection,” Ael replied sternly. “But it is good to see you too, Arawn,” Ael placed a hand on her sister’s shoulder.
Arawn seemed to have expected that. “There have been disturbing developments in your absence,” the archer went on.
Still sat in Ael’s free hand and dressed only in bound together feathers I felt very out of place. Thankfully everyone seemed to be ignoring me.
I’d expected a queen as powerful as Ael to have a grand castle and throne room but it seemed that the open air there atop the mountain was where she held court, in view of the many caves that lined the inner sides of the ridge ringing the mountaintop.
Perhaps for monstrous species like the harpies seeing their leader was important, but it also made me worry about how advanced harpy society was if even the government met in the open air on top of a mountain. My fantasies of a soft silky bed and a well-cooked meal were growing increasingly unlikely.
Ael ascended a series of steps at one end of the platform to a dais where a huge obsidian throne stood with its back to the spectacular stone spires of the mountain’s ‘crown’. She deposited me rather ignominiously at the top of the steps then took a seat. “Now,” she spoke after a moment to settle herself, “what is the situation?”
The archer hesitated, her eyes turning to me, as did many others. I could feel myself blushing. “Your report, sister,” Ael commanded. Talk about arrogant! But the harpies seemed to expect that from their queen and I was grateful as they stopped staring.
Arawn bowed her head once more as she approached the foot of the dais to speak. “While you were in the North… resting from your duties, we received word of trouble in the South. Many villages have been destroyed and Southtown is lost.”
“The ogres gave up one of their largest strongholds?” Ael asked, frowning.
“They report that it fell to an attack from below the surface. They had no time to organize a defense or gather their warriors. Those who could not fight evacuated while the rest remained behind. We are told they died bravely.”
Ael lowered her head. “How many lived in Southtown?”
“At a guess three thousand, maybe more,” Arawn spoke solemnly.
“How many escaped?”
“We don’t know yet, but there is a report of a group of around a thousand refugees travelling north into the valleys and making for Hightop.”
Between the regular, boxy building style and their attitude towards place names I was getting the impression that ogres were not very imaginative creatures.
“I commanded a wing of Valkyries to protect them and take charge of the evacuation,” Arawn went on.
“The ogres will object to that,” Ael remarked.
“I sent Thanya to see to it they wouldn’t resist.”
The Stormqueen nodded her approval from atop her throne. “Will the ogres have enough food for the refugees?” she asked.
“Your majesty, I’m told that Hightop has a large erdroot reserve,” spoke another of the harpies, the first time anyone beside the sisters had piped up. The new speaker was an older woman with grey hair, standing around half Ael’s height.
“Then our chief concern is gathering information on the attackers. What word have we on the enemy?” the Stormqueen demanded.
“We know they are as skillful as the ogres in tunneling but not much else is clear. The reports so far are from those who left without confronting them directly but there are rumors they’re dwarves, survivors of ancient Dweomer. Others think driders or even some plot by the demons.”
The queen shook her head. “Speculation is useless. What of our own investigations?”
“I sent a flight of scouts to Southtown and more to other settlements that were attacked. We’re waiting for their return.”
“Very well,” Ael collected a marble goblet as big as I was, carried to her by two smaller harpies. They looked relieved as she lifted it out of their hands and took a sip. “For the present command our subjects to gather their forces and send warnings to any settlements not yet aware of the threat. In the morning we shall convene to discuss matters in greater detail.”
With that there was a pause as someone was sent to start distributing messages. Ael glanced at me and winked. I was impressed she could stay so relaxed with the dark news they had greeted her arrival.
“Now,” she said, looking back up at the others, “you mentioned my late return, sister. High time I introduced the cause.”
The Stormqueen’s tail gestured towards me lazily as she sat imperial on her throne. “Give your greetings to Safkhet.”
Murmuring and an exchange of glances moved around the platform, but Ael ignored it. “She is a friend so I expect her to be treated with respect and courtesy… even if she is not entirely capable of returning it.” She smirked down at me but this was definitely not the time for arguing.
“Nice to meet you all,” I said after a moment of awkward silence.
What followed were an awkward and tense series of introductions to the various members of Ael’s court. I tried my best to internalize the names and corresponding faces but I could tell it wasn’t going well. I’d always been lousy with names and Myr’s mental attacks disguised as education had done nothing to change that.
Most of the court seemed uncertain of how to react to me but the general of the Valkyries Arawn and a few others with martial-sounding roles and airs appeared hostile.
When the introductions were over Ael called over two of the human-scale young attendants who were waiting at the edge of the platform. “Saf,” she said as the duo knelt before us, “Chione and Agytha shall serve as your handmaidens while you are with us.”
The two girls looked as surprised as I was at that, the taller and heavier of the pair grimacing. Her face was downturned enough that Ael couldn’t see it but I certainly could. The thin smaller girl just pursed her lips and nodded, her grey wings drooping slightly.
With that it seemed that the royal court was adjourned and people began to filter away or group up in smaller discussions.
The first task Ael had given my attendants was to help me find something more appropriate to wear so the large girl, Chione, gestured with her brown-feathered wings for me to follow them. Hopefully appropriate meant modest.
It was a little worrying to be separated from Ael given that she was quite literally the only person I knew in the world, but I had to trust her judgment. I certainly couldn’t expect the queen herself to go clothes hunting with me when she’d only just gotten back.
As I was walking with my new handmaidens Ael waved encouragingly at me, the Stormqueen going in a different direction. I grinned as I waved back. The angular young Agytha looked confused at that but didn’t speak as she led the way down off the platform.
We headed towards one of the caves behind the throne, one of many openings surrounding the central plateau atop the peak. The walk took longer than I expected as what seemed like an entrance about twice my height turned out to be ten times that size! It made sense though, Ael wouldn’t even fit otherwise.
“What is this place?” I asked as we stepped into the cool dark tunnel.
“The royal guest quarters, mistress” Agytha replied as if it were obvious.
“Is this whole place Ael’s palace?”
Chione glared down at me. The harpy stood two feet taller than me, her pudgy cheeks puffed out in open irritation. Agytha shot her a look and she held back whatever she might have wanted to say.
Instead Agytha answered. “Stormqueen Aellope of Zephyrus reigns from our capital the Eyrie atop the great mountain Skycrown, greatest of the Cyclopean Bones. You are in one of the Thirteen Spires which ring the Great Basin where the empress holds court.”
Chione chimed in, “You oughta be grateful to the queen, human, none of your kind ever been let up here before.” Her word carried a deliberate tone that belied her calm.
Internally I wondered if Ael had given me these two as some sort of prank. They would have made a great double-act. Outwardly I just asked; “Haven’t there ever been other humans who befriended harpies?”
“If they did it were to stab ‘em in the back later,” Chione muttered darkly.
“Chione.” Agytha shot her an icy look that made even me feel cold.
The chubby taller harpy stiffened. “Er, I mean, maybe. I dunno.” The way her tail curled guiltily was all too honest.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, extending an olive branch. “But I’m curious. If I’m the first human to come here are you going to have any clothes that fit me? Even if you girls have any ceremonial outfits I’m… a bit small for a harpy.”
Although saying that, Agytha was almost my height. For the first time in two lives I felt a sense of camaraderie with a fellow short person.
“Harpies do not wear human clothing, mistress,” Agytha replied with her deadpan voice. “We’re going to the vault to search for anything suitable that may have been seized as spoils of war or given in tribute in the past.”
I had a vision of turning up to see Ael the next day in full-plate armor. I wasn’t sure if that would be more or less embarrassing than the feathers I was currently wrapped in.
Continuing on the tunnel branched and we took a path that curved downwards and grew ever darker. Even with my impressive eyesight it was hard to see. My former self would have been totally blind by now.
“Do harpies have good night vision?” I asked, presuming the answer must be yes given the lack of torches or other lighting.
“Ah, I’m sorry, mistress!” Agytha looked upset with herself. “I was negligent. Since it’s too dark for humans to see please take my hand,” Agytha said, holding her arm out stiffly.
“Ah, actually I can see well enough, thanks Agytha,” I said proudly. Chione probably thought it was bluster given how I saw her roll her eyes.
Agytha nodded and led on. “Please let me know when it becomes too dark to see, mistress.”
So even she thought I couldn’t see, huh? This was definitely Ael’s idea of a practical joke, saddling me with these two!
“What about you girls?” I asked back. “Can you see okay?”
Chione cocked her head at me. “Obviously, we live here,” she declared. If Agytha hadn’t been there I was confident Chione would have added the ‘moron’ she had clearly held back on.
“That must be handy! I only met Ael a couple of days ago so I guess we haven’t really exchanged biology notes or anything,” I said trying to lighten the mood before Chione blew a gasket.
“By-oh-lo…,” Chione began, looking confused, but Agytha cut across her. “You have known the Queen for a few days?” the severe young harpy asked incredulously. It was the first time her mask of professionalism had slipped.
Ael hadn’t said it was a secret or anything so it should be fine to talk about what happened – or so I thought. “Yeah, we ran into each other in the Bloodsucking Forest and had a bit of a misunderstanding. One thing led to another and we ended up settling things with a duel.”
When I saw how Chione’s feathers ruffled and her fists clenched at the word ‘duel’ I worried that I’d made a mistake telling them. Seeing Agytha’s lips whiten I knew I had. Neither girl said anything this time.
The silence was starting to get uncomfortable so I tried to diffuse the situation. “I mean obviously I couldn’t beat the Stormqueen – Ael’s incredible and absolutely terrifying. The best I could manage was a draw. Her royal magic almost killed me!”
There was a thud as Chione’s fist hit the wall. From the look of hate in her eyes I was sure she would have preferred it to have hit me. Wordlessly she turned, storming off, her tail thrashing in her wake.
Behind her she left stunned silence. Great, Saf, you’ve only just got here and already you’re making enemies of your own handmaidens and bragging about punching the queen.
“Mistress… shouldn’t lie about such things,” Agytha spoke after a few moments. She looked hurt rather than angry. That felt much worse.
“I’m sorry Agytha, I’m not lying but that probably sounded really rude. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful to the Queen. She and I just got quite close after that and so I kinda got used to being casual with her.”
I thought that would have at least helped smooth things over, but Agytha turned her back to me. “Yes mistress. The vault is right this way, mistress,” she said lifelessly.
After my screw-up earlier I’d just held my tongue as we walked. I still didn’t understand exactly what I’d done wrong, although at least in Chione’s case I could probably hazard a guess.
I was relieved to see that Agytha was back to normal by the time we reached the vault, if ‘normal’ was really applicable to Agytha in the first place. She wasn’t refusing to look at me at least. Of course there was no sign of Chione.
In keeping with the theme of the harpy ‘empire’ the ‘vault’ we had come to was a disappointment. Perhaps I had been foolish to imagine a big metal chamber with a round door and a squad of guards at the entrance but the musty cave we were stood in was pretty tragic. The tunnel we’d been following had simply leveled off and opened into a huge cavern with a concave floor littered with stalagmites and stalactites.
I couldn’t deny that the contents were impressive however. There were literal piles of gold heaped up anywhere the floor was level enough to support them. At the bottom of the bowl-like floor a variety of other spoils stood.
The space held bronze and marble sculptures, great tapestries hanging on frames from the ceiling, piles of silk, armor and weapons, even what looked like a solid silver horse-drawn carriage. Numerous other trinkets and relics littered the space, most of which I couldn’t even identify.
Even if the vault itself was low-tech the collection was breathtaking. “Uh, Agytha, how long have your people been collecting these things?” I asked after I’d finished just staring.
She had already started walking down towards the center of the room, weaving her way around various piles of coins with some difficulty. Had I not been there she probably would have just flown.
“The vault was established by Stormqueen Safkhet… whose name you have taken, mistress.” They way she put it made it sound like I was a thief. “The treasure here goes back thousands of years.”
“It sounds very valuable,” I said, trying not to step on any more landmines with the harpy. “so… how come there’s no door? Couldn’t anyone just sneak in here and take these coins?”
If it hadn’t been for Agytha’s presence I would have already been jumping into one of those piles of gold like an old cartoon character so surely others around here were at least tempted to take some for themselves.
“Harpies don’t use gold, mistress,” Agytha sounded almost disappointed in me. I was starting to feel like ‘mistress’ was a term of abuse!
“Anything with value is given out to the Queen’s loyal followers. What are left are things that we had no use for, mistress.”
After threading past stacks and towers of various other goods we reached a corner of the horde that was mostly fabrics. Agytha started searching through them for something that would fit me.
I hesitated to help in case that somehow pissed her off too, but just letting her do all the work would have definitely been rude to me at least, so I joined in, moving a few heavy chests and barrels for her. Agytha said nothing and just kept working.
There was some sort of magic at work in the vault that kept the contents from degrading with time and so anything suitable was still good as new. That said, the search had turned up a meager haul of clothing.
I’d tried to find something masculine, or at least gender-neutral, but what clothes there were like that were so much bigger than me I might as well have just worn one of the tapestries.
The only clothing that might actually fit a human girl of my height had been a few highly ornate items that looked like some fairytale princess was missing them and a small leather trunk like an overnight bag that had probably belonged to a young noble girl. I didn’t like to think about how she came to lose it.
I reminded myself to be glad that there was anything wearable at all given that harpies didn’t value clothes. Even the prim and proper Agytha was wearing nothing but a necklace over her light grey feathers and sky-blue scales.
Agytha had insisted on carrying everything that might fit me and so I just walked obediently behind her as she took me up to my personal room. I’d tried to get her to give me the trunk at least but I quickly gave up seeing the look on her face.
The room was surprisingly normal, a chamber up in one of the Thirteen Spires with a ceiling only ten foot high. Ael would have barely even been able to use the porthole-like window as a peephole but I could stick my head right out to enjoy the impressive view of the Great Basin and Ael’s throne.
Agytha set the clothes down on a small wooden desk and lit an oil lamp that hung over it to illuminate the room. A fire was already burning in the large hearth near the bed, making the room hot and smoky. There was a small opening in the wall over the fire up near the ceiling to let the smoke out but apparently chimneys were beyond harpy technology.
“Is the guest room to your liking, mistress?” Agytha asked.
“Yeah, it’s the nicest room I’ve ever stayed in since I came into this world,” I replied, grinning at my own joke. It was of course also the worst room I’d stayed in. I really wasn’t too unhappy with it though given that it was warm and it had a bed.
Agytha apparently decided to take my words at face value. “These rooms are kept for important non-harpy visitors. Please treat it as your own for the duration of your stay, mistress. Chione or I will be to hand in the servant’s room next door if you need anything at any time.”
“Thank you Agytha, I appreciate it,” I nodded. The harpies really were giving me the best treatment they had to offer by the sound of it.
That made me all the more aware that even if I’d washed myself in the streams in the Bloodsucking Forest I was still quite a sight, grimy and wrapped in sticks and feathers. Was it any wonder the harpies hadn’t reacted too well to me? “Um… Agytha, would it be possible for me to shower somewhere?” I asked, feeling stupid.
Agytha looked back blankly. “I guess you girls don’t use showers. Is there somewhere I can wash myself?” I clarified. “I’ve not had a chance to clean up and I should look my best if I’m going to be spending time with the Stormqueen, right?”
The handmaiden nodded her approval at that. Finally something we agreed on. “I’ll fetch Chione and prepare a bath, mistress… I apologize for my mistake not noticing sooner.”
I gave a sigh of relief once the girl had left and sank down onto the surprisingly fluffy fur rug laid out in front of the fire to warm my hands and feet. This social stuff was hard work.
The sun had set by the time Agytha returned with Chione. The plump harpy avoided meeting my eye but at least she had calmed down.
They were hauling a huge wooden bathtub between them which they set down in the middle of the room. It was a surreal sight to see the thin Agytha carrying one end of something that would probably have taken half a dozen grown human men.
I thought they would have to haul up hot water too but Agytha stood over the tub and pressed her hand to the silver necklace she wore. I had a hunch I knew what was coming and I didn’t want to miss it so I watched closely.
“Water.” It didn’t carry the same suffocating weight as Nemoian, the language of Ael’s Stormqueen incantations, but it definitely wasn’t Cycloan she was speaking.
A blue gem shone at her throat as her clawed fingertip touched it and was dimly aware of ripples of energy flowing around it. From her other hand I saw a blue splash of what must be mana, then as if it were gushing forth from her palm a flow of water emerged, pouring down into the bath!
Ael had talked about a lot of complicated-sounding things you needed to do to cast a spell, but as I observed Agytha I felt like I was starting to understand something of what she’d meant. I could see – or maybe just sense – some sort of energy moving inside her body. When it reached her palm something happened to change it, and it emerged not as mana but real physical matter. Earth’s scientists would have been floored by this!
As for me, well magic was still amazing but this was a very different type of show to those I’d seen in the past. This was a technical demonstration as opposed to Ael’s terrifying wind and storm spells or the menacing lightning and arrows of the human adventurers.
When the tub was sufficiently full for me Agytha took her fingers from the necklace and the flow seemed to dry up. The tub was only a quarter filled but I was getting used to be treated like I was tiny in this world.
The water didn’t seem to be any better than room temperature but I’d just have to live with that – or so I thought. Chione was up next. She had no necklace or other magical implement; she simply stuck her hands in the bath and chanted. “Essence of flame, act through this vessel, suffuse the water.”
OK, what was up with that? Magical girl Chione was a hell of a lot more articulate than the normal version! Maybe like Ael and her storm magic most people actually didn’t understand the languages they used for incantations?
But whether she knew what she was saying or not it was highly effective. Her hands glowed with flickering red like firelight that spread out through the water. Soon the surface was steaming and she pulled her hands back out. “Bath’s ready,” she said simply.
Her tone was dismissive but I barely noticed – I wanted my bath already. Back in highschool I’d have been totally pissed off with Chione at this point. Even after I’d started university I would have been running out of patience for her, but perhaps I’d changed more than I realized since then.
That didn’t mean I was some sort of saint of course. I was still definitely going to get my revenge on the evil god Myr somehow. Not just for me but for all the other people he kidnapped.
I suppose when you’re comparing an annoying servant to a kidnapping probable murderer who recently hurled you headlong into a new body and world it’s easy to overlook a bad attitude.
Distracted by that thought I had been about to get undressed to enter the bath when I realized the two handmaidens weren’t leaving. I stared at the two for a second uncertainly but they weren’t budging so I had to speak up.
“Do you want to… go back to your rooms while I wash? You’d be pretty bored just standing there.”
“We wouldn’t just watch you, mistress,” Agytha said, reassuring me, “of course we are here to wash your body for you.”
I tried to object but Agytha’s plumage bristled and Chione looked ready to blow her top so I could only surrender to my fate. I felt myself turning red as I took off the feathers I was wrapped in. Chione gave my naked body a disdainful look that made me want to reconsider my previous magnanimity.
What followed was a bath scene from my nightmares. It was the classic ‘turned up to school naked’ one except now with the twist that the two girls who hated me the most were washing me like I was some sort of baby! How did royalty ever get used to it?!
One silver lining was that the girls did at least do a great job with my hair, Agytha unpicking all the tangles with a deft hand. Neither of us trusted Chione with that task it seemed. Once the wash was over I stood, feeling tiny as they helped me out of the huge basin then conjured warm winds to dry me off.
Putting aside the humiliation of the bathing process it felt great to finally be clean. My hair shone in the firelight with a lovely sheen and softness.
That just left trying on clothes, but I decided to put that off until the morning. I didn’t need clothes to sleep.
For the moment I just wrapped myself in a fur blanket and watched the harpies cleaning up. Agytha couldn’t just un-make the water it seemed; instead she commanded it out the window to flow down the side of the spire. It felt a bit dirty to me but from the faint stains I could see under a few other windows I guessed it was the normal practice for the people of The Eyrie.
“Agytha, Chione, uh thank you for everything today,” I said once they’d removed the bath.
“It’s our duty to serve you, mistress,” came one prompt reply. Chione just gave a curt nod. Both felt objectionable in their own ways but I just wanted to rest.
Once the duo had departed I made for the table, where a large wooden bowl held a variety of exotic-looking fruits. I would have preferred something meatier but this way I didn’t need to ask the handmaidens.
None of the fruits were quite as good as the bloodfruits I’d been surviving on until now but they were welcome variety. Some were crunchy like peanuts and others were tangy or refreshingly bitter. They also weren’t cursed. At least I was assuming they weren’t, I didn’t think even Chione hated me enough for that.
After eating my fill it was time for bed. The mattress was bigger than even a double bed, made with a simple cotton-like fabric stuffed with downy feathers. It was wonderfully soft and I groaned in delight as I stretched out on it. I’d needed that.
There were more animal pelts to sleep under. It felt odd curling up under what appeared to have once been a relative of a bear but it was surprisingly soft and very cozy. I fell asleep in seconds.