Previously: Orua Session One: Awakening
Delphine held Melark close to her heart, pressing his head into her chest, wishing she could take him back inside of herself and keep him safe from the world forever. “Melark. Oh, my love. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“What’s happened?” Melark asked.
It had to be an intimidating sight, with the three adults in his life crowded so close to him. Rowan stood above them both, looking down, and Garret had nudged his way past Delphine so that he could lay a hand on Melark’s shoulder.
Delphine withdrew a bit so that she could look into his face. He looked like himself, though there was a spot of fur missing on his forehead which Garret’s magic hadn’t replenished as it had sealed the wound. She wished she stay here, cradling him like a baby, forever, but another duty had reared up in her mind, and she knew she couldn’t ignore it.
“I don’t know.” Delphine stood, pulling away from Melark regretfully. “I’ve got to go check on the neighbors, though. We have to know if they’re okay.”
“Delphine —” Rowan began, but she was already in motion, moving with purpose toward the door.
“Stay here with Melark. Keep him safe.”
Delphine burst outward into the sunlight. She didn’t allow herself to feel trepidation or regret, no matter that she wore only her sleep shirt, which barely came down past her bottom; no matter that her bottom itched and pulled, for her fur there was matted with her own feces. If some affliction had landed upon their home, someone else in the town should have come to find them — but none had, and Delphine had to know why.
She still felt weak with hunger and the oppressive fatigue that came with having slept for far too long, but fear for her neighbors drove her forth regardless. She crossed the road, headed toward the Evergrass home. Their front doors faced one another directly, and so though Delphine couldn’t say she had ever been close to the Evergrass women — nor to many, in town, for that matter — she still worried for their safety. Were they sleeping, like she, Rowan, and Garret had been? Had then been gnawed to hunger while they rested? Or would she find them like Melark, with odd stones in their foreheads?
Delphine didn’t even bother to knock. The people of the town already regarded her strangely for being different. She and her son were likely the only orose they had ever seen, even though Orosia was only a few weeks’ travel to the southwest. It didn’t matter to her if they were fine, and her actions only made them think she was even odder. So long as they were safe.
The house was small, especially compared to the one Rowan had built. It had no individual rooms. The beds inhabited the same rectangular space as the kitchen. Delphine froze when she entered. Carnelia, the mother, stood in the middle of the house, not far from the door. Delphine’s fur stood on end, though Carnelia had yet to move. In fact, it was Carnelia’s stillness which frightened Delphine, because it was not a stillness natural to someone living.
Carnelia turned to face Delphine, and Delphine nearly screamed. The woman’s face was slack and expressionless, and, like Melark, a dark stone had been sunk into her forehead. The blood around it had dried; the wound was not as fresh as Melark’s had been. Carnelia advanced, raising one hand, which Delphine now realized held some sort of club. Was that — Delphine glanced to the side; the table had been knocked over — yes, it was a leg, torn from the table.
“Rowan!” Delphine screamed. She backed up toward the door, her muscles tensing, trying to ready themselves for a fight in which Delphine was not prepared to engage. She shook, and not only from the weakness of her long rest.
Delphine closed her moment, barely the span of a blink, and tried to center herself. Then she opened them and charged at Carnelia, grasping at her with both arms. If they had saved Melark from the stone, they could perhaps save Carnelia as well. “Rowan! I need your help.”
Carnelia made no sound. That, in itself, made Delphine itch with discomfort. The woman struggled against Delphines grip. She had never been strong, but then, Delphine felt weaker than she’d ever felt, even as a child. Carnelia pushed herself away. Delphine barely managed to stay on her feet. Carnelia swung at her, clumsily, with the table leg. Delphine held up her arm, and the hard wood struck her forearm. Delphine grimaced.
Rowan arrived, then, breathing heavily. In his hand, he held his old sword, the one he’d taken with him after he’d left the Lord’s army. His grip tightened upon it. “Delphine! Why would you just charge off like that?”
“Carnelia isn’t right,” Delphine said, ignoring his admonition. “She’s got a stone in her forehead, like Melark.”
Carnelia swung at her again as she spoke. The blow caught Delphine on the elbow, making her cry out. She stepped backward, attempting to stay out of Carnelia’s reach, but Carnelia followed her, her eyes locked on Delphine’s. Delphine clenched her fists. “I’m sorry, Carnelia.”
Delphine stepped forward, moving inside of the range at which it would be easy for Carnelia to swing the table leg. She punched, aiming straight at Carnelia’s jaw. The woman’s head jerked to the side. Her auburn hair, which had been bound messily into a bun, fell from its binding.
“Delphine,” Rowan said, his voice low and dangerous. She glanced at him with her stalk eyes. His grip tightened on his sword.
Delphine shook her head. The thought formed in her mind — “We have to try to save her” — but it didn’t make its way to her lips, not before Carnelia tackled her. Dephine gasped as Carnelia’s hands gripped her upper arms. The woman’s legs twined around hers, and they both fell to the ground. Delphine landed on her back, with Carnelia’s full weight upon her, driving the breath from Delphine’s lungs.
“Delphine!” This time, Rowan’s voice held more urgency.
“Don’t hurt her!” Delphine insisted. “We can save her!”
Then Carnelia did something entirely unexpected. She vomited. Black, bloody chunks spewed forth from her open mouth. Delphine turned her head to one side, scrunching her eyes shut. Carnelia’s grip on one of her arms released. When Delphine’s eyes opened again, Carnelia held a blad, faceted stone in one hand. Delphine screamed.
With her free hand, Delphine reached up, fingers clawing at the stone in Carnelia’s head. Carnelia sat upon her, her own arm outstretched in a mirror of Delphine’s, though she was trying desperately to press the stone against Delphine’s forehead. Delphine writhed, twisting her head back and forth to keep it way from Carnelia’s questing hand. Carnelia made no effort to avoid Delphine’s own end, but Delphine couldn’t find a grip upon the stone.
There came a clattering of metal upon the ground, and then Rowan was there, his hands upon Carnelia’s shoulders as he tried to pull her away. Carnelia twisted, lashing out at Rowan. She dropped the stone, and like the others from her vomit, it crumbled when it hit the ground. Delphine wove her fingers through Carnelia’s hair and gripped. Abs straining, she raised herself from the ground. She growled in determination. Her fingers found the stone, finally, and she dug her nails into Carnelia’s flesh. She pulled.
The stone came free. Relief flooded through Delphine. She collapsed backward to the floor. Rowan held Carnelia up. Her head lolled, rolling freely upon her neck. Rowan heaved, shifting Carnelia’s weight off of Delphine, and Delphine pulled herself free.
“Go get Garret,” Delphine said, pulling her legs beneath her to stand.
“Delphine, I…” Rowan hadn’t let go of Carnelia. His hand moved to the base of her skull. He cradled her head as he laid her down. He leaned forward, pressing an ear against her chest. “I don’t think he can help.”
“What?” Delphine’s voice came out as a whisper. “But it… We saved Melark this way.”
“She’s gone, Delphine.” Rowan shook his head, withdrawing. He looked tired. No, he looked exhausted. Delphine felt her own exhaustion multiply just looking at him.
Delphine moved to Carnelia’s side. She took the woman’s bony hand in her own. “I’m sorry, Carnelia.” Delphine brushed a tear from her eye. “Maybe we can save your daughters.”
“We should go back to the house,” Rowan said. “Back to Garret and Melark. We can bar the door again and think more about what we should do next.”
Delphine, reluctantly, nodded. She wanted to see the other people of the town. She wanted to know if anyone else was safe. But to do that, she had to keep herself safe. She had to keep her son safe.
They stood, together, leaving Carnelia on the ground. Rowan bend down to close her eyes. As he did, Delphine regarded the house, turning her head to look with both her main eyes and her stalk eyes. There had been a scuffle here, for certain. The table was knocked over, and things had been knocked from some of the surfaces. The Evergrass’s altar to Maela, though, stood undisturbed against the wall. Delphine tilted her head at the sight. It was not blackened in the slightest, not like Rowan or Garret’s altars to their deities. Indeed, it seemed to positively gleam. And the incense in front of it burned like a bright candle, though it didn’t seem to be depleting at all.
“Let’s go, Delphine.”
Delphine nodded. She followed him out of the house and back across the street. Their own home had become a place rife with mysteries and death. For the first time in years, she did not want to be in Orua.