Chapter 2: Interruption

Though frequently dismissed as just nerves, those in constant threat of battle share many common traits when forced to deal with the relative peace outside of war: nightmares, heavy drinking, and depression. — The Hidden Costs of War

Karin woke up with a start. Her heart pounded in her chest as she looked around for a monster about to attack. Her hand reached down for her sword, but only brushed against bandages and dried blood.

With a whimper, she grabbed her other side, clawing for her backup weapon. She must have dropped it. Half-blinded with exhaustion, she leaned over to find it. When her knuckles brushed against the wooden floor, reality came crashing in and she remembered that she was in a pubic hall.

“F-Fuck,” she gasped and sat back up.

In front of her, her glass had a healthy measure of caramel-colored spirits. The heady scent of whiskey told her it had been freshly poured.

She smiled and grabbed it. Reflexively, she leaned over to Roal to enjoy drinking it but when she didn’t feel his body, she lurched forward to avoid falling. Her drink splashed against the table and she swore in annoyance.

Afraid that she had missed an announcement, she looked around sharply. Everyone remained where she remembered before she had passed out. No one had gotten up. No one was crying or cheering. There was no hint of any news among the slumbering and snoring hunters. A few of them were shuddering with their own nights; she didn’t need to know what they were seeing in their dreams.

With a sigh, she leaned her head back and took a long, deep breath. Surrounding the main room, there was a single shelf of bottles that ringed the walls. They were too high to reach. She wondered if there was something special or if it was just decoration.

She shook her head and pushed herself away from the table. There as no reason to announce it, no one was awake to see her. She hesitated with guilt, they were staying up for the announcement but there was a doubt that it would take days or even overnight before their friends stabilized… or didn’t.

Karin sighed and held her half-filled glass tighter. She swayed as she got to her feet and staggered back toward the stairs leading up to her room. Her nightmare swirled on the edges of her vision, she was only a few minutes away from plummeting into horror once again.

She heard Roal’s voice before she saw him. He was whispering in his low voice, he thought it was seductive.

“No one else is going to know, they are all passed out. Even the bartender’s already to bed. You are just hanging around for a bunch of snoring assholes.”

Karin came around the corner.

“And what happens if they wake up and no one is there?” It was the waitress.

Karin looked down the hallway.

Roal was leading against the wall near the stairs. His bad leg leaned against the stairs, the bandages were stained dark from his effort to hobble even this far. His hand shook with the effort to remain upright. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

Standing on the bottom step was the waitress. She leaned against the wall with tray resting against her hip between the two of them. She had an expression of annoyance but also disinterest.

Karin waited for a response.

Then the waitress looked up. When their gazes met, her face brightened.

Roal continued speaking.

Karin leaned against the wall for a moment and then came down the hall. “Hey, Roal.”

Roal turned with annoyance. “What are you doing here?”

Karin glanced between the two of them. From the waitress’ face, it was obvious that she wasn’t interested in Roal but she was being polite. However, her friend was probably too tired and exhausted to see it. Painting a smile on her face, she headed over to them. “Are you sure you are up to this?”

Roal’s eyes narrowed.

“With your leg, I mean.” Karin yawned. “I mean, most of your favorite positions all require lefty.”

“You claiming her after all?” His voice was low and he was blinking, he was struggling to stay awake just like her. Even if he did lure the waitress to bed, he’d probably be passed out in less than a minute before he even got her dress off.

“Just taking care of my partner,” Karin said as she slipped her arm around his waist and pinned her half-empty glass of whiskey against his hip. “Come on. You need sleep, old man.”

“You’re older than me,” Roal said as he leaned into her. His voice lowered into a whisper. “Changed your mind on that peach?”

Karin glanced at the waitress and smiled.

The waitress returned the smile. Her freckles caused Karin’s body to grow flush but Karin knew she was also too tired to do anything.

“Maybe but neither of us are in any shape to do anything about it.” Karin used her free hand to dig into her pocket to fetch out some coins. She had a few crowns which she handed out to the waitress. “Sorry about him,” she mouthed.

The waitress took them gratefully, her fingertips caressing against Karin’s. She stepped around the two and headed back down the hallway toward the main hall.

When Karin got Roal to his room, she was sweating from the effort. Every second felt like another weight being thrown on her back. She almost shoved Roal onto his bed.

“Night,” he said before rolling fully-dressed and face down in his blankets.

She sighed. “In the morn—”

He was already snoring.