Chapter 12: Virsian

There are many ways of gathering information and only one is the blade of a torturer. — Gamastorn Fluk, A Prince and His Men, Act II

Kanéko let out a satisfied sigh as she stepped out of the steamy bathroom wearing naught but a robe. Water clung to her brown skin, coursing down the various scars, burns, and bruises. Her copper hair stuck to her back, cooling faster than the rest of her body. She peeled it off her skin and wrung it free of water. Droplets splashed down on the thick carpet beneath her feet.

The rest of the room, including the carpet, was trimmed in red and dark greens. Every wall was carved in relief, filled with grand scenes of hunting and battle. A four-poster bed with posts thicker than Kanéko’s thigh dominated one wall of the room and thick curtains hung from the canopy. A large window looked out into the back of the inn. The suite was on the third floor with a view of the dense forest behind the inn. It reminded Kanéko of home.

Kanéko returned to her trunk, leaving moist footprints behind her. She traced the lock with one finger before opening it with a key from her wallet. Hastily gathered clothes remained on top. She plucked out the first bundle, a shirt she hadn’t worn in years, and unwrapped her hammer. She smiled to herself and ran her fingers over the “K” carved into the handle.

A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.

Kanéko gasped and jammed the tool back in the trunk and slammed the lid shut. Tightening the robe around her waist, she cautiously padded up to the door of the royal suite, wondering if Garèo had caught her already. She cracked the door open and peeked outside.

On the far side of the door was a feline dalpre, a cat woman. But, where Maris was short and curvy, the woman before Kanéko was tall, thin, and elegant. Her entire body was covered in short fur, a light cream color with chocolate tips on the edge of her pert ears and nose. Her face looked angular, almost gaunt, but her rich brown eyes drew Kanéko’s attention.

To Kanéko’s surprise, she didn’t feel the same revulsion she felt when she first saw the dog people. Instead, she felt awe as she stared at the woman. Except for the ears and fur, the cat woman looked as beautiful as the women in her magazine illustrations. Kanéko trailed her gaze down, admiring the light blue dress wrapped around her hourglass figure. The dalpre’s tail waved lazily behind her; she had a ribbon that matched her dress tied to the tip of her tail.

Kanéko was blushing and she didn’t know why. She gulped and cinched her robe tighter around her waist. “Um, hello?”

The dalpre gave a bow, much like the other serving folk at the inn. “Master Falkin requested I come up and see if Lady Lurkuklan would like one of my services. I’m skilled in massage, manicures and pedicures,” she held up a small leather satchel, “and healing.”

Kanéko’s grip tightened on the door. “Magical healing?”

“Of course, one of the few in this area, though with only a minor talent.”

“Healing magic is rare.”

The dalpre smiled, her top teeth peeking past her lips. “Yes, and a valuable service to the Boar’s Hunt Inn.”

Kanéko hesitated for a moment. She had never experienced magical healing before. There was something else about the dalpre that drew her attention; Kanéko didn’t want her to leave. “Y-Yes, I’d like that.”

“Yes,” purred the woman, “My name is Virsian, and I’m your servant tonight.”

“I-I guess that’s okay,” Kanéko backed away from the door and left it open.

Virsian followed, looking at the closed trunk curiously before taking in the room. She focused on Kanéko’s dirty clothes strewn across the bed and pressed her lips into a disappointed frown. Slowly, her gaze returned back to Kanéko.

Kanéko stood in the middle of the room, unsure what to do.

The cat woman padded over to a heavily carved wooden desk. The slight sway of her movements brought her tail in a graceful arc. She returned to Kanéko and stopped in front of her.

Kanéko gulped and shivered. She looked up into Virsian’s brown eyes, afraid to ask what to do.

“Relax, Lady Lurkuklan.”

“Y-You can call me Kanéko.”

“Kanéko,” Virsian said the name as if she tasted it. “Call me Virsian, Vir, or anything else you wish.”

It took a moment to realize that Virsian pronounced Kanéko’s name correctly. Her shoulders tensed with anticipation. “I don’t know what to do.”

Virsian stepped closer until they were inches away. “Then let me.” She slipped her hands in Kanéko’s and drew the teenager to the bed. With delicate fingers, she plucked the clothes off the top of the bed and set them aside. A moment later, she motioned for Kanéko to lie face-down on the bed.

Heart pounding, Kanéko obeyed, and then held her breath as Virsian slipped Kanéko’s robe off.

“For the massage.”

Kanéko rested face-down on the bed. She was nervous until she felt Virsian’s hand caressing her back, and then all her nervousness slipped away as the warm hands began to massage her.

“My, are you a warrior?”

Kanéko shook her head. The dalpre traced the scars from one of Kanéko’s accidents with the water screw. “No, no, that was when I fell off a ladder.”

“And this?” A finger traced a burn on Kanéko’s hip.

“Bumped into a fire core when I was trying to tighten a bolt.”

Warmth flooded from Virsian’s fingers, delicate and sweet and tingling at the same time. It was the first time Kanéko had experienced healing magic. It felt like a tickle of fur and the rough rasp of a cat’s tongue. It seeped into Kanéko’s skin and eased away the aches of the travel.

“This is a nasty bruise,” murmured the dalpre.

“From Maris, a bit—” Kaneko felt uncomfortable and changed her phrasing. “—dalpre at the mill.”

“A brawl? I can feel knuckle prints in this, she is very strong. From nine… no, ten days ago?” Kanéko’s shoulder tensed and Virsian silenced immediately, her hands working at the knotted muscles. Kanéko melted with the relaxing of her muscles.

“And now it is gone.”

She still felt a few aches from the fight at the mill, but Garèo’s lessons left their brand on her body: a scab on her lip, a soreness on her hip, and even an occasional twinge in her chest.

As Virsian worked her hands across Kanéko’s body, the magic soothed everything away. “Tell me, Kanéko, why so many injuries on such a young girl?”

Kanéko, eyes closed, started to explain Garèo’s lessons. As Virsian massaged her, Kanéko continued to work backwards, telling Virsian about the brawl at the mill and the ruined water screw. Every time her story caused her body to tense up, the dalpre worked at the sore muscles. Virsian didn’t ask for more, but Kanéko kept on speaking, pouring out her heart and frustrations to the strange woman.

By the time Virsian finished with her massage, Kanéko felt like a puddle of mud, relieved and relaxed. Her mind was at peace, just like her relaxed body. She let out a contented sigh as her body tingled with healing energy. It flowed through every vein, and she felt as refreshed as waking up at home.

Virsian helped her back in her robe before sitting Kanéko up. “There you go, as beautiful as a princess.”

Kanéko blushed from the flattery.

“Oh, missed a spot.” Virsian ran a thumb along Kanéko’s lower lip. It tingled as the healing magic faded the last remains of Kanéko’s fight with Maris. “Perfect.”

“Thank you, Vir.” Kanéko felt liquid inside, relaxed and heated at the same time.

“I’m not done. I must get you even more beautiful for your dinner with Falkin and Mardas. We still have time to do your nails.”

Kanéko bit her lip, but Virsian stopped her with her thumb. The touch was warm, and Kanéko shivered at the closeness.

“Don’t do that, your body can’t take any more healing magic for at least for a night or two. Fortunately, you don’t have any broken bones or serious injuries.”

Kanéko rubbed her flawless finger, remembering when it bled before her trip. “I know the body can only take so much healing. I’ll try not to get in any more fights.”

Virsian’s ear perked up and she grinned. “Come on, I have this beautiful color for your nails.”

“I don’t have a dress.”

Virsian looked at the trunk. “All that and no dress?”

Kanéko blushed, thinking about how she had just grabbed random clothes from her wardrobe. “No.”

“No matter,” Virsian purred cheerful, “let’s see what you have.”

“I-I—” Kanéko reached out to stop Virsian but the dalpre slid over to the trunk and opened it up. Kanéko felt a blush rising in her cheeks as she got up to stop her. When she saw Virsian pull out her hammer, she froze.

Virsian peered over her shoulder. Her ear perked up, and she set it aside. She pulled out Kanéko’s clothes, picking and sorting through them until she made three piles: clothes to use, clothes to return to the trunk, and a stack of tools. When she turned around, her smile had two teeth peeking out from her lips again. “Now, let’s make you stunning.”

It took Virsian surprisingly little time to turn a random selection of Kanéko’s clothes into a dress using nothing but a pair of scissors, a few threads, and a handful of pins. When she finished, she brushed Kanéko’s hair and braided it. She painted Kanéko’s nails and dabbed perfume on the teenager’s throat. When she finished, she stepped back with a purr and a smile.

Kanéko looked in the mirror and felt like a queen. She didn’t recognize the face and body she grew up with. “I’m beautiful.”

“Yes, you are,” breathed the dalpre, “But, it is almost time for your dinner.”

“Vir?”

“Yes?”

“Is Falkin really just doing this for more business? The hair, massage, the room?”

A nod.

“He seems so kind and generous.”

Virsian shrugged. “Falkin and his family have always considered themselves teachers for the titled youth. I think most of the bartims, covins, and even some ducolins have visited the inn during their younger years. The Silver King spent a summer here, in this room, but that was when he was still a prince and the Puzzle King reigned.”

Kanéko had trouble picturing a world when the Puzzle King—the Silver King’s and Golden Queen’s father—was still alive. It was before the civil war that almost tore Kormar in half over a century before. “Really? I never realized that the inn was so old.”

“Thirteen generations in Falkin’s family.”

Kanéko looked down at her fingernails, admiring the blue color tipped with white. It matched with the dress Virsian had pieced together and set off her darker skin. She smiled and shifted her body so the fabric would slide along her skin. “Thank you, Vir.”

“I am your servant,” came the purred reply.

Kanéko carefully replaced her tools, wrapping each one in fabric, before locking the trunk. She bashfully explained her actions. “I don’t want anyone to know.”

“I will never tell anyone anything that happens in private, but we have about ten minutes before the ninth bell and your dinner.”

Kanéko finished up, took one more admiring look of herself in the mirror. She reached up to tug on the hair that Virsian coiled up on her head, but one look from the dalpre and Kanéko let her hand drop.

“Okay,” Kanéko sighed dramatically, “I’m ready.”

They managed to get halfway down the hall when Pahim and his friends came around the corner. Pahim walked in front, a bottle of lager in his hand, and laughing loudly. When he spotted Kanéko, he came to a halt and his jaw opened.

“Kanek?”

Blushing, Kanéko turned around for him, loving the rapt looks he and his friends gave her. “You like?”

“Y-Yes, but why are you so beautiful? I mean, why are you dressed up like that?”

“I have a dinner.”

A strange look ghosted across Pahim’s face. “Dinner with who?”

Kanéko felt a sudden need to explain herself. “Falkin, the owner of the inn, and a merchant. It’s, um, why I got the room.”

“Oh.” There was something darker in Pahim’s voice. He lowered the bottle to his side. His eyes flicked back and forth with his thoughts. She watched as his eyes lifted up to look at Virsian and his face darkened again.

Kanéko felt a prickle of annoyance at the sudden change in his attitude. “It’s going to be a couple hours.”

“Um, can we use the room?”

Her initial response was to say no, but Kanéko nodded after a second.

Pahim turned and headed straight for the doors.

Kanéko waited for him to give thanks, but he quickly became focused on inviting the others into her room. Her heart stung from his behavior. She worked her jaw and glared at him, but he didn’t look back.

When Virsian tugged her arm, Kanéko reluctantly turned away and followed the cat woman.