A light clicked on in Drina’s mind, and her eyes shot wide. Was I her first lover? The rush of wind against her face registered in her mind. Filled with urgency, Drina ran down the halls. Drina needed to confront her. Her feet carried her against her will towards the main room. Looking towards the door, she felt a tug at her side.
Pivoting her heel, she flew down the rest of the hall towards the bed area. Stopping short at the entranceway, Drina scanned the room and spotted Hestar. She sat on the bed they slept in earlier, facing away from the door. A flood of relief hit her. Thank god she didn’t leave the building.
Taking two steps forward, Drina paused. What should she say now? Does she need to apologize or thank her? All of her emotions were jumbled and unorganized.
“I know it’s hard to believe. That after all this time, it was only you.”
Drina stood still in silence, allowing her to continue.
“It’s silly; this ruse of mine. I wanted to be confident. To invoke desire and be something people wish they could have. It felt good to have the ability to walk into a room knowing you could take anyone home.” Hestar huffed, shaking her head, “Maybe this is my punishment for-.”
“No,” Drina interrupted, taking a few steps forward. “Nothing you did deserves punishment.”
Finally, Hestar turned to face Drina, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry for pressuring you. For dragging you into this. I’ll keep my distance from you to keep you safe. I won’t try to pursue you-”
Drina’s body moved on its own towards Hestar. Before she knew it, Drina had whipped around the bed to stand in front of her and grabbed her face. To stop the words spewing from Hestar’s mouth, Drina forcefully kissed her with everything she had. Pulling away from the kiss, Drina refused to let her face go. Looking dead in her eyes, she snarled in a weak whisper.
“Bullshit. I’m not going anywhere and I won’t let you leave me.”
Drina’s anger caught up with her. Her hands shook and her breath was ragged. Whoever was haunting Hestar was going to pay.
“We are going to find this sicko and save you. I’m not afraid; I’m not going to hide. Until the end, I will be here with you. Nothing will keep me from being with you.”
Kneeling in front of Hestar, Drina ran her thumb across her cheek, removing the tear stains. “You are my first, too. If I didn’t want any of this, I wouldn’t have joined you on the bottom bunk the first night I met you.”
Hestar was speechless. All she could do was stare deeply into her eyes, her lip quivering at her words. The shame and fear shrouded her face. With a hard sniffle, Hestar slowly broke into a smile. “Look at you being all valiant.”
In return, Drina smirked. “Only ‘cause you give me courage.”
It was the cheesiest thing Drina had ever said. Even Hestar blushed before bursting into laughter. Drina’s face burned brightly, fighting to keep her composure. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Hestar didn’t laugh this hard. In her embarrassment, Hestar grabbed Drina’s face and returned the kiss. It was sweet and passionate. Pulling away, Hestar kept her face close. They locked eyes, unwilling to let go.
“What do we do now?”
It was a good question with an answer Drina didn’t have. She reached up and clasped her hand over Hestar’s. Drina was ready this time to deal with the answer.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but we need to find the son of a bitch. Think of all the guys you have had a fling or a spark even, that would do this to you.”
The smile on Hestar’s face faltered. Although she disliked the idea, Hester understood. They weren’t going to get anywhere without talking about it. Removing her hand, Hestar helped Drina to sit on the bed beside her. Unsure where to start, Hestar fidgeted with Drina’s fingers.
“Over the last few years, guys would stray into town. Some were merchants and others amateur adventurers. Because I didn’t want to ruin Lulu’s reputation or the Hostels, I never pursued anyone who stayed here. Instead, I would spend my time at the pub on the outskirts of town. One merchant who frequented our town stayed there, so I got to know him. He would introduce me to his companions, and we’d see each other here and there.”
Drina bit at her tongue, trying to focus on the story she was sharing. Hestar felt the tension and raised her hand to kiss it. “It’s not like how I met you. They would try to court me, take me for dinners or out for a drink, but none took my breath away. When I saw you, I took a risk.”
It was thoughtful of her to try and cheer Drina up, even if it didn’t work well. Grumpily, Drina questioned her further. “After they courted you, what then? Did they stay in town?”
Hestar shrugged with a frown. “That’s it. They would visit week after week, then just stop without notice. The farthest I would generally get with them would be a make-out session or light petting. Nothing super risky or consequential.”
Drina blinked at the news. It explained why Hestar was extraordinarily talented with her tongue, but something was missing. “Wait, they just stopped visiting the town?”
“Yes. One adventurer I was smitten with, named J’oulin, was planning to move here. He was sure he’d marry me, and I believed him. He left town to return home to prepare. Months went by while I waited for him. He never came back.”
Hestar turned her head to stare at the ground. Drina believed her feelings were real. A strange feeling crawled up from her back to her neck. There’s no way a man who’d admit such intense intentions for a woman like Hestar would turn on his word. The pain in Hestar’s eyes confirmed that she thought the same. Knowing what they did now, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots.
“Hestar… I’m so sorry.”
With a shake of her head, Hestar smiled solemnly at her. “No, don’t be. I got to meet you; imagine if I’d married him instead. It would’ve been a messy breakup.”
The mischievous smile on her face made Drina’s eyes pop. Did she imply that she would still chase after her even if she married him? Drina felt the sweat drip down her neck. How did it get so hot in here? Stammering, she continued the conversation.
“Then, T-there must h-have been someone watching, someone who could see this happening over time for their jealousy to worsen.”
Hestar chuckled at Drina, enjoying how flustered she was. “Naw, no one I knew went there. It’s not a secret that I did, though. Because the pub was close to the edge of town, townsfolk avoided it. Why go there when you could go to the bars and pubs near the market? It’s probably the reason I’m to blame for various misleading things. Of course, the only person who believed me was Alps.”
Shaking her head, Hestar laughed at the memories. “Oh, the stories that man has heard. People would gossip to him often, and he would give me long-winded lectures. ‘I heard you were at that pub again!’ Yadda, yadda.”
Drina chuckled, leaning her weight on her arm while listening intently. She was caught up in her story that she’d forgotten why they were talking. Even Hestar invested herself into her tale.
“Every time I told Alps about a new guy in town and their attempts to court me, he would…” Hestar paused a moment when it dawned on her. Her smile faded while her eyes widened and unfocused. A shiver trickled down Drina’s spine; she knew that look.
Hestar turned from Drina, grabbing the edge of the bed with her hands to stare at the floor with disbelief. “What did Kent say about Marcus? The day we were talking to him at the market?”
Drina straightened her back, frowning. “Kent? The boy who was obviously in love wi-”
Widening her eyes, Drina gasped. Hestar glanced over, wearing the same look. “Drina, what if the person we are looking for isn’t an adult.”
It took a moment for Drina to recall the boy. Kent was too nervous, innocent, and insecure for a murderer. Although, the way he was infatuated with Hestar matched the criteria. Looking up at the room, Drina tried to focus on the whispers of the ghosts around her. It was hard to hear them anymore since she began to loosen the restraint on her power. Hardly did they pester her for attention.
The calm demeanor of their whispers gave no further reason to suspect him either. The careless bodies floated around them in white sheen glimmers. The puzzle irritated Drina.
“No. We would have spotted him right away. Every contract with gods, traveler or not, gives off a trace. Using power taken and not given; it taints the soul.”
Drina looked down at her hand, the blue veil covering her left eye to show the swirls of her power. Hestar watched, understanding now what she meant.
“Do all travelers have… This taint?”
The blue smoke vanished when Drina closed her hand. Scanning Hestar’s face, she was unsure of what to say. Instead, she changed the subject. “Are there a lot of boys around the same age in this town? They all must be friends with each other in one way or another, correct?”
Hestar glanced at the bunk in front of them. “Yes actually. There are a few.”
“Do boys tend to share the same interests?”
Hestar didn’t respond. Instead, they made eye contact.
“Who are they?”
Hestar’s eyes softened. The idea that any of the kids would be capable of murder stung. Drina sympathized; if Jeta was ever a suspect… Drina couldn’t finish the thought.
“Most of the boys who know Marcus and Kent are all kids of most of the shop owners on the market. Commonly they would spend a lot of time together when their parents throw parties or festivals.”
Drina’s gut dropped. “Does Alps have a kid?”Before Hestar could reply, the room went cold. Both of them felt the drastic temperature change, stiffening with alertness. Suddenly, a shadow swirled at Hestar’s side. Catching Drina’s attention was the void-less face of the specter began to take shape, its face wide with an evil grin. Well, Drina frightfully thought, that answers my question.