Lunessa woke to the increasingly familiar sight of Rosalynn's slumbering form. It was probable, Lunessa mused as she watched her raven-headed friend sleep, that she herself was not the best bed-mate. It happened every time. They had started out, quite primly, on opposite ends of the large bed. But sometime during the night, Lunessa had wriggled her way across, and upon waking found herself pressed up against Rosalynn. Her leg was entangled among the other girl's, her arm draped across her ribcage. Lunessa thought to rouse herself, but she feared waking Rosalynn.
Body heat had done the job of the covers in warding off the chill of the night, and thus they had been thrown to the foot of the bed. With the lightest of touches, Lunessa traced a finger around the yellowing edge of the bruise on Rosalynn's ribs. She wondered if it still pained the girl; she didn't complain, but then she hardly complained of anything.
Slowly, by inches, the girl woke. She turned her head to smile sleepily at Lunessa. “Good morning, milady.”
“Good morning, Rosalynn.”
They had been staying with Edenion for four days now, not counting the night spent unconscious after Falling Through. Lunessa supposed that it was nearly time that they made their way back to their home Realm, to face that which they had fled to here from, but Lunessa couldn't work up the enthusiasm. It was all too easy to rely upon Edenion's apparently boundless hospitality. Especially since they had hammered out a deal regarding the jewelry that had gone missing from her dress.
She could tell, however, that Rosalynn was getting impatient. There was a faraway look to her that was growing more and more common, and Lunessa knew just how far away and in which direction, so to speak. If distance and direction actually meant anything when it came to Midway and the Realms. Lunessa was still having trouble grasping how it all worked, and Edenion's lectures on the topic were no help at all.
“Milady, I think...” Rosalynn began as they dressed.
Lunessa felt like she knew where this was heading, and, not particularly wanting to have that conversation right then, deflected. “Rosalynn,” she interrupted, “I really think that all this formality is just too much.”
Rosalynn blinked, her mouth half open. Her jaw worked for a second as she brought herself on to the new path the conversation was taking. “Just...” she said, “just what do you mean, milady?”
“Just what I said,” Lunessa retorted. “There is no need for you to be flinging 'milady this' and 'milady that' at me all the time. I am not even sure that I really count as a lady here.”
“But, Milady...” Rosalynn seemed to flinch even before Lunessa felt herself frown. “...it would hardly be proper. I mean, what else am I to call you?”
“By my name, I should think,” Lunessa said as gently as she could. “Rosalynn, my dear, we have been sharing both a bed and personal space for the best part of a week now. I think propriety has already seen its way out.”
Rosalynn flushed red, but she smiled. “If that is what you wish, Lunessa.” She seemed to savor the name as she said it. Lunessa thought it sounded a little funny, even as it set a little shiver in her core. They returned to dressing without saying anything further – they had grown more accustomed to Midway's fashions, but the clothes still required some concentration to get into – until Rosalynn broke the silence with a deep breath.
“Mi- Lunessa, I really do think...” Rosalynn started again.
“That we should go home?” Lunessa said, and at the same moment: “...that we should go home,” Rosalynn finished.
The raven-headed girl stared at her for a second. “Yes.”
“Oh, Rosalynn, I know you are right,” Lunessa said as she smoothed out the skirt of her soft lavender dress. “But it is so nice here! No one to bother us. No dancing lessons....”
“But, Lunessa, your family...”
“”I know! I know.” Lunessa sighed. “I said you are right. When do you think we should leave?”
“Today would be best, I think.” Rosalynn finished tucking her shirt into her trousers, did up her belt, and regarded Lunessa earnestly.
“Yes, why tarry any further?”
* * *
Downstairs, Edenion stared at them. “Dis is kinda sudden, ain't it?”
“Yes, but we believe we have imposed upon you for long enough, Master Edenion. We would like to return home.”
Edenion set down his coffee, and gave them a long look. When neither backed down, he put up his hands. “Alright, alright. Sure, I'll take yez back ta yer portal.” He stared down at his cup for a moment. “But... yez gonna want supplies and such, right? Yez ain't gonna get too far without some food, at least.”
Lunessa had to concede the point. Edenion gallantly offered to gather things for them. ”Sit yezselves down, have a cup a coffee, and I'll get yez the stuff.”
He was gone for over an hour. In the mean time, Lunessa and Rosalynn laid out their plans. The journey, once they were back in their Realm, should be fairly uneventful. After several days, any pursuit was certain to have died off. Money was still a problem, but Lunessa was confident that she could convince Edenion to assist with that as well. That bracelet with the sapphires had been very very nice, after all. Not that the scraps of bright cloth the Midway populace used for currency would have much value back home, but there was enough gold and silver around to work something out.
Edenion returned with a satchel for each of them, and the problem of money was brought up and indeed resolved quickly. And generously too. Lunessa was surprised at that. She'd expected to have to spend many minutes haggling with the elf. He buzzed about, setting them on their way with almost unseemly haste. Lunessa hadn't thought that they had been such terrible guests as to need ushering out so quickly, but it worked in their favor.
“Alright, the two a yez ready?” Edenion asked, fidgeting impatiently by the front door.
Lunessa glanced at Rosalynn, who was shrugging her satchel in to place. The girl nodded, and so Lunessa turned to Edenion. “We are.”
Edenion led the way through the streets. The omni-present mob was not lessened by it being early in the morning. Or Bright Time, or whatever it was they called it here. Lunessa looked all about her. They had spent all of their four days here making Edenion show them around the city; he had taken them to little cafes and markets and even to a playhouse where they had seen an odd, very philosophical play about a man who couldn't die. And yet Lunessa felt as though she hadn't seen a fraction of what even the Rat Warren had to offer, let alone Midway at large. She realized that in her short time there she'd fallen in love with the city, and now leaving it was heartbreaking.
She turned her head this way and that, trying to take in as many details as she could in her last moments in the city, and was nearly kicked in the head by a young sylph man for her trouble. He flew off, shouting back either a curse or an apology.
And then, without warning, they were there. Edenion waved them into an alley mouth, and he took up a position behind them. “Ta watch yez backs,” he said. “Don't worry. Jus' go dataway.” Lunessa picked her way carefully through the rubbish of the alley, holding her skirt up out of the muck. She saw Rosalynn make a face, and Lunessa didn't blame her in the least. The smell was terrible. Edenion directed them down one turn after another, and Lunessa quickly became totally lost. Without the sun to guide them, it was difficult to even know which direction they were facing. She could only hope that Edenion had some way of keeping
It was a dead end. There was no huge floating, translucent thing here, but perhaps the portals worked differently on this side. She turned to ask Edenion about the matter, then stopped when she saw him standing stock-still, arms raised and eyes closed.
“Look, I'm sorry,” he said, quietly, as if he didn't really intend for them to hear.
“I got a job to do, y'know? Here in Midway, yez gotta look after yezself, see?”
Lunessa had just enough time to realize what was happening. Her whole body felt like someone had tied lead weights to it, and they drug her to her knees. Drowsiness flowed through her head, blotting out her thoughts. She heard Rosalynn cry out her name as the girl fell to the ground. Gritting her teeth, she held on to consciousness just long enough to snarl at the elf. “You sodding...”
Then she was gone.
* * *
Lunessa was cold. And the ground was hard. For just a second, she wondered why she was sleeping on the ground, and then it came back to her. She felt like a cursed fool for being so thoroughly taken in by the elf. She opened her eyes, and regretted it immediately. Her head throbbed, and she groaned as she rolled and pulled herself up to her hands and knees.
“Rosalynn?” She located the girl a few feet away. Still unconscious, she didn't so much as stir.
Lunessa looked around to see where they were. The room was dimly lit by what little light could squeeze through the bars of a small window high on one wall. The walls and floor were the same rough stone, which was rarely a good sign, she thought. Then she looked toward the other end of the room, and realized two things. They were not alone, and they were naked. Lunessa, pain forgotten in a sudden jolt of fear, scrambled to her feet, covering herself as best she could.
“Rosalynn!” she hissed, trying to inject as much urgency as she could. It seemed to work, because the girl woke and quickly pulled herself to her feet.
“Hey, don't rush yourselves on my account,” the person at the other end of the room said, stepping forward so they could see her better. It was a woman, a little older than the two of them with a dusky face, wearing black leather and a sneer. “Trust me, I'm not going anywhere.”
“Who are you? Where are we?” Lunessa demanded. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rosalynn slowly edging away. Lunessa moved a little bit herself, trying to keep the woman's attention occupied.
“Who I am ain't important,” The woman said, cupping an elbow in her hand. “Neither is where we are. What is important is you know who you belong to. You are both now the property of the Baron, and your purpose in life is to please him. I suggest you get good at it. Quick.” She gestured at Lunessa who stood rigid with shock. “Now c'mere, darlin'. Let's see what kind of product Ed got us this time.”
Lunessa hesitated. Rosalynn slowly, silently crept around behind the woman, and so Lunessa did as she was bade, in order to give Rosalynn her opening. The woman's arm came out like a snake, grabbing Lunessa's chin and turning her head back and forth. The woman made a satisfied sort of humming noise. “Ohh, Ed did good.”
Rosalynn made that her moment to move. She came up behind the woman quickly, reaching her arms around the woman's neck. And then the woman let go of Lunessa's chin, and slammed her elbow back, into Rosalynn's midsection. Then she stepped neatly out of the way as Rosalynn fell to her knees, gasping for air. Lunessa jumped as the woman pulled a knife from somewhere and held it to Rosalynn's throat.
“Not a good idea, sweetheart.”
Lunessa, far too slow, reached out helplessly. “Please don't hurt her!”
The woman hmphed, and put the knife away. “I'll give you that one, but try it again and I'll gut you.” Without warning, the woman grabbed Lunessa's wrist and drug her to the room's only door. “C'mon, darlin'. The Baron'll want to see you right away.”
“Wait, no! Rosalynn!” Lunessa extended a hand toward her friend. The girl, still coughing, reached back toward her.
“Hah, I'll be back for her soon enough, never you fear. Now let's go.”
The door slammed shut behind them.