Kota rushed into the Inn’s common room from the kitchen, out of breath and red in the face. He stopped and stared before asking, “What’s going on?”
Erin looked up from bandaging her arm and shrugged. On either side of the table where she sat, Terra and a young woman that Kota did not know were yelling at each other so loud that it was impossible to hear what either one was saying.
Terra turned on him and yelled, “This tamer woman–”
He stopped when he saw Kota flinch and cleared his throat before continuing, in his inside voice, “She came here with some shadow creatures tailing her, and one of them bit Erin.”
“What?” Kota did a good job of feigning disbelief as he stepped closer to look at Erin’s arm. “When did this happen?”
“Just a few minutes ago,” Erin said.
“When you say shadow creatures…” Kota started.
“Shadows,” the rider said. She looked Kota up and down more than once as she explained, “Of the fair folk. Their master sent a few to make sure I kept my promise to leave their land.”
“Ah,” Kota said, but Erin doubted he was listening. He tilted his head and said, “I think I might have something in the kitchen that can help that bite, if you don’t mind waiting a minute.”
“Thank you,” Erin said, for more than one reason. Her eyes had teared up a few times already from the pain, and she would take anything to dull it.
Kota walked back into the kitchen and opened and shut a few cupboards, just for the look of the thing. The herbs he’d gathered from the edge of the forest were already sitting on the counter, but he had to wait for the pan on the stove to come to a boil.
He could hear the others talking in the common room. but he only really started to listen when he heard his own name spoken.
“Kota? He’s my partner, we run this inn together,” Erin said, in answer to some question the tamer had asked. “Were you really in the land of the fair folk?”
“Just passing through,” the woman said, followed by what Kota could only assume was a snort from Terra.
“Bit more than that, if those shadows have anything to say about it,” the hunter said. “Look, lady, believe me when I say I’m sorry you came all this way, but your services won’t be needed here.”
“What?” Terra said.
“My name is Lani, and I don’t plan on going anywhere without that wolf,” she said, and in the kitchen Kota buried his face in his hands. Two of them?
The sound of water boiling on the stove presented a welcome distraction, and Kota spent the next few minutes washing and cutting up the herbs before dropping them into the bubbling water. He stared intently at the water, doing his best to focus on it and tune out the rising voices in the common room.
Soon the kitchen was full of a bittersweet smell, and Kota took the pan off the stove and carefully drained away the water in the sink until only a dark green mass was left at the bottom, which he spread over a cloth before returning to the common room.
“Try putting this on the bite,” he said, handing the cloth to Erin while trying to ignore the raging argument going on.
Erin nodded and unwrapped the bandage around her arm. They both winced at the sight of the set of puncture marks surrounded by blackened skin, and Erin quickly draped the cloth over the wound so she didn’t have to look at it anymore.
She sighed and gently added pressure to the cloth, smiling at the spreading relief. “Thank you, Kota.”
Kota smiled, briefly, before the tamer, Lani, turned her attention on him again.
“Where did you say you were when the shadows were attacking?”
“I didn’t,” Kota answered with a shrug. “I was down in the cellar, moving some barrels around. The only reason I came up was because I heard all of the yelling going on.”
“Which needs to stop,” Erin filled in for him. “If it bothers you two that much, then why don’t you go and see Geld about who he hired?
Terra and Lani both did not seem too thrilled with that idea, and after an awkward pause during which they stared at each other, daring the other to speak, Kota sighed.
“Honestly? He probably sent out requests to more than one hunter or tamer or whoever else Elzwig told him about. You two are either the only ones who responded, or the first ones to get here.”
At that, Terra and Lani crossed stares again before turning to the door.
“I’ll be back later,” Terra said, making it out of the door before Lani only because she held back to say, “I told my horse to go on ahead to the stable, so if you could make sure he’s well provided for that would be great. I’ll pay for my room and board when I get back, okay?”
Without waiting for an answer, she ran out the door which slammed shut behind her and left Kota and Erin alone in the inn.
“Do you really think there’s more coming?” Erin asked.
Kota pulled out a chair and sat down across from her with his legs sprawled out. “Probably not. Madame Elzwig seems like the sort of person who doesn’t like redundancy. One job, one tool.”
“So that means one of them isn’t working for Geld?”
Kota shook his head. “No, it just means he did a little recruiting of his own. Can you blame him? There was no guarantee that the person he sent out for would show up, even if he or she did come with your Judge’s recommendation.”
“Huh.” Erin sat back in her chair and looked at her arm as if just now noticing that the pain was gone. She removed the cloth to reveal a few small punctures, but otherwise normal, healthy skin. “Wow, what was in this stuff?”
“Just some plants from the forest,” Kota said, shrugging again. He closed his eyes and sank further into his chair as if he might fall asleep right there and then.
Erin remembered Lani’s horse and started to go and check on it, but another thought occurred to her and she asked, “Do you really think it was a good idea to tell them that though? Now they’re out there and in an even bigger hurry to track down the wolf.”
“Fine with me, as long as they stay out there,” Kota answered without opening his eyes. He did not see Erin shake her head and walk out, but after a while he gave a deep, contented sigh in the quiet, dark inn.