It didn’t take particularly long to fill the canteen, but the combined thirst of two people did warrant several refillings and the sun was already high in the sky by the time they had returned to camp.
Franz once more set about changing Viri’s bandages as she munched on another one of his ash cakes. The wound was now almost completely healed, but Viri could not help but feel immense dread at the thought of it.
“Something wrong?”, he asked, noticing her suddenly gloomy look.
Viri didn’t say anything, unable to form the words as she was afraid to speak.
“Viri?”, Franz asked, getting into her face so as to ascertain her attention. He placed a hand on her forehead, checking for a fever, fearing her wound had caused an infection despite his efforts. Gently, Viri grabbed his hand in her winged talon, slowly pulling it down and leaning her head forward.
Franz did not fight back when she pressed her soft lips to his. Perhaps because a Mamono’s Demonic Energy can put men under a spell without them even trying, perhaps he saw it as harmless, or he simply didn’t care.
Despite it being such a chaste kiss, Viri’s checks were beet red and her heart was beating very fast. She looked up at Franz with moist eyes and bated breath, subtly leaning back and tugging on his hand.
Franz grinned and gently removed his hand from hers. “Guess you’re feeling better”, he said.
“What….?”, very said breathily. “What are you going to do when it’s healed?”
“I’ll report back to the Order and in a week’s time I’ll be out scouting again, hopefully they won’t detect any corruption on me after that little kiss of yours”, Franz replied frankly.
Viri cast her eyes downwards, ashamed of herself for potentially putting her savior in danger. His words cut her deeper than the wolf’s teeth had, practically dashing away her hopes that he would forsake his duty and choose to go with her. Franz sighed again and returned to the campfire, having finished with her bandages.
The Harpy rubbed her thighs together, his touch leaving a lingering tingling sensation in her body. Franz pretended not to notice as he tended the fire, but the seeds of doubt that she had planted into his mind were already creating a conflict in his mind, helped in no small part by the kiss.
“In humans, a wound like this would certainly leave a scar, but I don’t know about Monsters”, Franz said as he removed the bandages for the last time. The wound had indeed began to scar over, any sign of scabbing or any of the unpleasantries that come with the body healing itself having vanished, but still an ugly mark on an otherwise beautiful expand of soft pale flesh.
“Thank you”, Viri replied with tears in her eyes. Franz cocked an eyebrow as he noticed this, but tried to put it out of his mind, preferring not to risk further corruption, though of course a good bit of him had begun to want it.
“It’s no trouble”, he said before standing. He looked up at the canopy, grimacing as it was too thick to allow her to take off from where they were. He sighed and cursed himself once more for he would have to escort her out himself.
“It’s about six miles until we’re out of the forest and well enough away from Order patrols. Think you can manage a walk until then?”, he asked, helping Viri rise to her feet.
“I can”, she said sadly. Franz once more offered her his hand, perhaps for the last time. She hesitatingly took it, wincing a bit as she rose up, but did not have the compulsion to buckle and fall over like she would have earlier. Relief spread over her as she took her first steps since being hurt, but of course she wanted to fly, particularly away with Franz.
They had walked for about forty minutes, Franz looking around nervously the whole time. Viri tried to figure out what was bothering him, but the only thing that stood out to her was the chirping of the birds in the trees. It was is they were disturbed by something, or someone other than themselves.
Suddenly, Franz grabbed Viri by her feathery wrist and groin, startling her as he hauled her onto his back, carrying in the same manner as he had when he first saved her. The Order scout had broken into a full on sprint, barely dodging the low hanging branches as he darted by.
“What’s wrong?”, Viri asked, suddenly becoming very panicked.
“The main force is behind us. Other scouts must have reported back early, because otherwise the dogs wouldn’t be after us right now”, Franz replied.
“D-dogs?”, Viri stammered, her encounter with the wolf no doubt implementing on her a near certain phobia of anything canine at this point.
“After scouts like myself report back, advance parties move ahead of the main force, seeking to destroy rather than report back. They use dogs to sniff out Monsters and are armed well enough to handle something as small as us, and are damn more faithful than I am”
Soon enough, the angry growls and barks of the Order’s hounds could soon be heard echoing through the first, no doubt having picked up on their scent. Sweat was beading all over Franz’s body and his heart pounded in his chest like a blacksmith’s hammer against an anvil, fear for himself and for Viri spurring him onwards despite his growing fatigue. The edge of the forest was close, but so were the Order soldiers and mongrels at their trail, and the Scout soon saw their options becoming fewer and more desperate.
“You need to take off as soon as we’re clear of the canopy!”, Franz panted, his breathing already becoming ragged. Viri tried to speak, but was cut off by the sight of a grey, slathering hound and the silhouettes of men following behind it in the distance.
Sunlight enveloped them as soon as Franz cleared the canopy, collapsing onto the ground and sending Viri tumbling off of him. The Harpy was hurt a bit by this, but not nearly enough to cripple her in even a minor capacity. Her first thought was to help him up, but Franz was already on his knee, bow at the ready.
“Go!”, he ordered her, shooting off an arrow, the distinctive whine of a wounded animal soon ringing in her ears.
“Franz I-“, she stammered.
“Go!”, he ordered once more, a crossbow bolt burying itself into his leg, the Scout suppressing his agony as best he could.
With heart-wreaking sorrow, Viri obeyed, tearing her gaze away from Franz. Time seemed to slow down to mock her as she spread her wings and crouched, forcing her to endure the pain of her wound and of her separation far longer than she wished. She thought for a moment to stay behind and die with her savior, but knew that it would only render his efforts pointless. He intended for her to live despite it all, else he would have killed her when he had first found her. Tears flowed down her checks as she flapped her chestnut wings and kicked herself off the ground, the normal feeling of exhilaration that came with taking to the air drowned out by the pain in her thigh and in her heart.
“Goodbye….”, she whispered as she took off towards the horizon.
Franz knelt before the Knight-Captain of the Order, razor-sharp spear points pointed at him from his flanks. The Scout breathed deeply before raising his head to meet his interrogator’s faze, his jaw clenched as the pain from his crossbow wound flared up again.
“Tell me, Franz”, the Knight-Captain began, his voice lacking the malice that Franz had suspected from a veteran commander such as him. “What possessed you to aid a Monster?”
“In the contest between my faith an my honor as a soldier, the latter one in the end”, Franz replied frankly. The Knight-Captain closed his pale blue eyes and nodded, running an armored gauntlet through his short grey hair.
“I can respect that, Franz. As it was my men that found you, the General has yet to claim his right to pass judgement, and so for now your fate is in my hands, and I cannot bring myself to put you to death. Yet you have committed a crime that you indeed must atone for, lest the Order’s Holy Inquisition suspect us all of corruption for my leniency”
“I doubt their dungeons counts as leniency”, Franz retorted sarcastically. The Knight-Captain frowned a bit but merely sighed in resignation. He understood Franz’s motivations, or at least he hoped he did, preferring to believe it indeed was his honor as a soldier that won over his faith as opposed to the feminine wiles of a Harpy corrupting him.
“Bring him to the Inquisitor”, he ordered.
“Yes, m’lord”, the guards replied in unison.
Wrapping their arms under his armpits, they pulled the disgraced Scout to his feet and marched him out the door, shoving him down and out the door as he tried to hobble on his own.
“May the Goddess forgive your sins, soldier”, the Knight-Captain muttered aloud to no one.
“Hey, look at this one”, one of the Inquisition guards said in an overly cheery, sadistic tone.
The Inquisition guards wore hooded masks not unlike those executioners wore, leaving only their beady, little eyes exposed, as the rest of them was clothed in dark chain mail that rattled like the chains Franz was held in.
“Oh? A scout turned traitor?”, his compatriot asked, his voice nasal in the extreme.
“Aye. Seems he got charmed by a Harpy of all things”
“Heh. Wouldn’t surprise me if he liked to touch little kids. Damn birds ain’t got more ‘an a ‘handful of ass an’ no tits ta’ speak of”
A swift punch to the sternum soon landed itself on the bound Franz, the chains suspending him by his wrists rattling from the impact, soon followed by another to the face. The guards chuckled like schoolyard bullied as Franz sucked in air through his teeth, only to start smacking him around with renewed vigor.
“Whaddya think they gonna do to ‘im?”, the first one asked.
“Reckon it’ll be the rack first, then tha hot pokers”, the nasally one replied, taking the opportunity to smack Franz across the face wight the back of his hand.
“Heh. Always liked those the best”, the first one replied. “Best we leave ‘em alone fed a bit. Don’t wanna ruin the Inquisitor’s fun now”
The guards left after that, chuckling all the way as they did.
Franz spat out a small mouthful of blood, the irony taste of which remaining in his mouth as he panted, desperate for more of a reprieve. Yet not for a moment did he regret what had brought him to this dungeon. It was indeed as the Knight-Captain had thought and what his teacher, Lawrence An Faros had taught him. He was indeed a soldier first, last and always, even to his detriment.
The burns from the hot pokers and strikes of the whip had begun to scab over, though Franz expected them to son be reopened the next day. He didn’t bother trying to measure how much tie he had spent in this hell the Order had created. It would do him no good. All he could do was retreat into his mind and remember who he was a hove all else, as it was his only means of remaining sane. He doubted the Inquisitors intended to make him repent, thinking they were more interested in making an example of him or simply using his for sport.
In the end, he accepted he was destined for a lot of pain for a long time.
Franz was awaken from his dreamless, and restless slumber by the sounds of clashing steel, of the shouts of men, and the screams of delighted women.
He had thought he was beginning to lose his mind, but soon the door to the dungeon exploded into a storm of splinters, the sound of armored boots and padded feet echoing throughout the stone halls, yet there was no more sounds of fighting.
“There!”, a familiar voice directed. There was the sound of iron creaking and bending, the bard of his cage being ripped out by their hinges and tossed aside. There was a bovine snort, but again the voice spoke up.
“Please, leave me with him”. There was a grunt of compliance from whoever had ripped out the iron bars and the heavy clopping of hooves echoing as they left.
Franz mustered enough strength to begin raising his head, his first sight was that of a pair of talon-like feet, and a single ugly scar marring a perfectly sculpted pair of thighs. Franz blinked in disbelief as he finally met the violet eyes of his chestnut haired guest.
“Viri?”, he groaned weakly.
Viri approached him slowly, placing her talon-like hands on his chest, which felt incredibly soft despite their appearance. Franz winced a bit in pain, but did not avert his eyes away from Viri’s own moist eyes.
“My savior”, she whispered.