Korotir’s face smashing into the bar was a jolt to her system; Atarah whipped around, the drinks she’d been ordering abruptly forgotten. That guard captain, the one who had it out for all of them, apparently, was holding her shieldmate face-down against the floor. The half-orc warrior growled, fighting off the disorientation from the blow to get free. Righteous anger boiled over into action.
“You’re under arrest -”
“Oh no, he’s fracking not – .” Atarah shoved away from the bar and slammed into the captain’s shoulders, knocking him back and away from her friend. The Captain overbalanced, tripped over a stool with Atarah still tangled with him, sending them both crashing to the ground and half into the circle of guards behind him. Her armored knee ended pressed to the Captain’s throat. “What do you think you’re doing?! Arresting someone who’s done nothing- .”
“Nothing! Lies, you’re a fecking liar – you and him and that blasted tiefling you came in with-”
Atarah heard the other guards hitting Korotir behind her, but she could spare no attention for anything else while the Captain pitted his strength against hers. The ground shook as the half-orc stomped to his feet, shoving a guard flying across the room with a vicious front kick.
“Nobody leave,” Korotir said from behind her. His voice was a snarl around his tusks, full of the promise of proper violence. “I’ll be back.”
“Caught your tiefling, we did,” the Captain was saying as he thrashed beneath Atarah’s weight and choking knee. She heard Korotir move off – did he leave her alone? Had he left, just like – She couldn’t look, couldn’t take her attention away from the fight – “Arrested him for murder. Done nothing! You’re all lying-”
“I am a Paladin,” Atarah said, wrapping her fingers in the Captain’s forelock and thunking his head good against the wood floor a couple of times for emphasis. “We do not lie!”
There was a yelp and the kind of death-rattle gurgle that Atarah had heard one too many times from her own throat lately. She turned involuntarily, looked, caught a flash of Natalia’s silvery blue healing light before she was flipped, flat on her face against the wood floor. Captain Strog was strong - he wrenched her arms back and pinned them.
“And now you’re under arrest – for disturbing the peace, accessory to murder and obstructing justice-”
“I am Justice-!” something fierce and hot blazed behind Atarah’s eyes, something frustrated and restless, flowing under her skin until she thought she might combust. She twisted to get free and Strog recoiled from her; when she rose all the guards were staring at her. In fact, a quick scan showed the entire room was staring at her. Good, let them look. Let them see how a godstouched acted in the face of… well, she wasn’t sure what exactly it was, other than bad.
“No one touches my team-” There was a very discreet, very proper throat-clearing sound from her left, where Natalia knelt. Atarah amended hastily. “-Lady Natalia of House Cuvelier’s Company. You want to arrest somebody, you come back with a warrant. And proof. And you come to me… to Lady Natalia… first.”
Firelight, brilliant and gold, flickered over the faces of the guards and their Captain, and for a second Atarah thought the fight wasn’t over. That they’d come at her. A clatter on the staircase and the thud of Korotir’s boots, the now-familiar creak of iron and wood from the half-orc’s iconic shield reported his presence, and Atarah felt a little easier, ready for the fight again. He hadn’t left her-
The inn’s doors bounced open and Father Ellardin strode through, full of civil authority. “Captain! What in the name of Blessed Chauntea is going on? What are you doing here? Have you completed the increased city defenses against giant attack — as ordered?”
“No, sir, we were arresting this trouble-maker-”
“Oh, is that what you were doing? Certainly looked like an unprovoked attack to me-”
Ellardin and Natalia took control of the situation with the kind of deft maneuvering and honey-coated words Atarah had witnessed a thousand times before and never been able to mimic. She was happier with a sword, anyways. In the morning became the watchword – we’ll attend to this accusation in the morning. We’ll have a trial for the tiefling in the morning… Atarah let it pass over her, confident they’d find nothing against her shieldmate.
One of the guards – the one with a dusty boot print marring his armor – had an ugly gash across his throat; closed, but still bloody and angry. As he passed her, heading for the door, Atarah clapped a hand on his shoulder, murmuring an invocation to Papa Summerheart. Light flared from beneath her palm, soaking through his armor to the skin beneath, pooling up to the wound. It healed over completely, leaving only pink, new skin. “Sorry about that.”
“I… buh… Sure—” the guard backpedaled hastily into the cluster of his fellows. The light went out in her hands and the inn seemed somehow darker and less welcoming.
“Right!” Atarah said cheerfully, once the Captain and his goons were definitely gone. Time to dispel a little of the gloom that had settled on her. She tossed down too much gold onto the polished wood bar. “Where were we? Drinks!”
She woke from nightmares again, fingers spasming closed around the chunk of quartz gravel she’d picked up from the Dripping Caves and kept. Atarah sat up and tried to calm her heartbeat, to keep from gasping in air like a drowning man. She’d been drowning, far out to sea beneath a black storm and an angry ocean, darkness so thick she could hardly tell what was sky and what was water. She turned towards the wall, away from her friend, and bent over her knees.
It was too dark. Too dark in the room, it was going to close in on her, suck her away – Atarah willed and the stone in her hand flared with light, streaming out in thin bands beneath her white-knuckled grip. Just enough to pin the shadows back against the walls where they belonged. Atarah breathed, slowly, deeply, waited for the panic to subside.
One of the bands of light caught on a piece of grubby white, stuffed into her belt pouch where it lay discarded beside the bed. Atarah fished it out with her free hand and stuffed the rock under her blanket where it wouldn’t be quite so blinding. Scrawled in what looked like charcoal on a worn torn-off piece of paper was a note, delivered to her by one of the city children earlier that evening (“from your friend in the jail”). She unfolded it and read for what seemed like the hundredth time:
The Left Hand are
in the city. Find them
before they find you.
T. T for Titan? He’d been right there with them in the Inn, not in jail (though not for lack of cause, sometimes… and she wasn’t even sure if Titan was literate). Or T for Tiefling… for Tranled. It’d explain a lot about the Captain’s… distress. The Left Hand though…
The Left Hand had featured in the stories about papa, one of his primary adversaries. She’d been convinced they’d all died with him, twenty years ago. It was why he’d been sent back, after all. Surely she didn’t have to keep fighting papa’s battles. She’d get her own, right? Maybe this was a different group, or copycats with the same name…
It’d keep. Till dawn, when she’d be getting up anyways. She’d go down to the jail at dawn, figure out what was going on. Why the note was sent to her. Why now. Atarah leaned over, put the note away, and started to settle back down. To nightmare-free sleep.
“Attack! Attack! We’re under attack— Ogres!” A fist pounded on their door; Envar’s voice called down the hall. Atarah was already scrambling to her feet, to her armor. Natalia took a little longer but then she was up too, both girls rushing for their gear, out the door -