Beauty & The Beasts

Part Two

"doesnthurtdoesnthurtdoes… not… OWWL!" Tenya yowled as the boot was yanked from her foot. Gritting her teeth, the teenage priestess fixed her fierce gaze on the fair haired elven woman responsible. "I will choke you to death with your own ears!" She growled.

"Uh-huh," Aerie acknowledged while feeling around the wounded ankle. "Try to stop flinching," she'd found a stable to hide in, which they had to themselves. Either the horses had been let out, or… well… anyway, they seemed safe, for the time being.

"You had better know what you're doing, you dumb blonde harpy…"

The elf rolled her eyes. She knew she wasn't perfect; she failed often. But being nice definitely was very hard at times; she sometimes wished she could snap and fail and not have her own conscience whip her badly for it later… but then she wouldn't be herself anymore. And anyway, it wasn't really Tenya's fault she was how she was; the poor girl had lived alone with her cruel mother her whole life. Before Imoen, no one had ever been nice to her. There had never been a single person she could talk to, nor friend to play games and tricks with… maybe… maybe there was another way…

"Oh," Aerie uttered weakly, looking again at the swollen ankle. "Oh, my…"

"What?" Tenya demanded.

"It… i-it's nothing. Don't worry… e-everything will be fine. I promise."

The priestess narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "No… you're being all furtive and fidgety, which means there is something you are not telling. Out with it. Now. Before I club you on the head with your own thigh bone."

"No, really… i-it will be fine…"

"When then, hurry up and do the healing thing!"

"I mean… y-you never really liked morris dancing anyway, right?"

"Stupid bells and handkerchiefs," the girl hissed, "I won't rest until every one of them is drowned!"

"That's good," Aerie patted her on the shoulder, "b-because, you don't need it. Just like, y-you don't need both your legs to live a full and healthy life…"

"Wha… what?!" The teenage priestess blinked, her aggressive demeanour being replaced by fear as she slowly caught on.

"I'm sorry, Tenya," the elf said, hiding her face. "The… t-the leg's infected. The only way to save you, is to cut it off."

"You can't cut off my leg! I need my leg!"

"It's the only way. Now, y-you stay still… I need to find a saw and start heating a poker. You'll probably also want something to bite down on, like a stick or piece of wood…"

"You stay away from me!" The girl cried. A straw cloud shot up around her as she shot backwards across the floor of the stable.

"Trust me; i-it really doesn't hurt that much. M-most of the excruciating agony you'll be in will come from the shock…"

"Back! Get back!" Tenya growled, throwing bits of mud at the elf. At least, hopefully it was mud… in any case, Aerie avoided it quite easily. "Moron! Imbecile! Harpy! This…" the priestess suddenly stopped her mudslinging, looking down at her ankle and slowly moving her leg. "This is fine," she felt. She looked back up at the elf, her eyes wide, like she was in shock. "You… you actually lied to me…"

Everything you did had consequences. Tenya seemed hurt, and Aerie actually felt a little guilty. "I'm sorry," the elf sighed, "I already said a prayer. Your ankle will be as good as new in just a minute."

"You lied," the girl repeated, still struggling with the concept. She slowly pulled her knees up to her chest, and turned away from the avariel.

"Are… a-are you okay?" Aerie asked, leaning forward, confused. Tenya was like that; always find some way to be frustrating. "D-don't tell me I actually hurt your feelings? I-I didn't think you would really fall for…"

"Shut up," the girl said, shrugging her off, "not talking to you…"

The avariel thought it over for all of two seconds before figuring it out. "You… you trusted me, didn't you?" Aerie asked. Tenya snorted, said nothing. "A-and then I tricked you. I'm sorry. Look," the elf knelt down, "I've felt the same way toward Imoen… l-lots of times. But, like her, I-I really wasn't trying to hurt you. It's just… y-you've got to learn to be less sensitive… i-it's just… part of life, I suppose... a-and really, would you have preferred if I wasn't lying?"

Still didn't speak. Aerie didn't know what else to say either. Outside, the storm was dying down a bit. That allowed her to hear more clearly the beasts, snorting, growling, prowling aloud… hadn't found them yet. Aerie doubted they were even looking, but it may only be a matter of time before one of them caught their scent.

"Ten," she said, "look… it may not be safe to stay here much longer, a-and I won't leave you alone. So, i-it would really be good for both of us if you could start trusting me again…"

Aerie blinked, and suddenly the girl was up on her knees, her nose right under hers, her dark eyes piercing deeply into the elf's blues. "You won't?" She asked. Aerie stared back, not blinking a second time.

"I won't," she affirmed.

Tenya tilted her head, eyes heading to the ground as her nose and brow wrinkled in confusion. "Very well," she said at last, slowly rising to her feet, "I shall accept your apology."

Aerie breathed, and started to rise as well… before Tenya grabbed her collar and pulled her back, the girl's eyes piercing much more fiercely. "This time…" she hissed.

Inside the cottage, Imoen was fretting, her cheeks flushed from worry and exhaustion as she refused to sit down. The green woman was curled up in a corner, staring blankly into a fire. Captain wouldn't let her leave; said it wouldn't do any good, and there were too many of his crew crowded in here for her to sneak out. Hawk was trying to get the woman to talk, but she wasn't responding. He hadn't even got her name.

"That's it!" Imoen had had enough of just standing around. She stepped up on a chair and leapt, crossing the room in the blink of an eye. Before anyone else could react, she had the green woman against a bookcase, her forearm pressing down across her throat. "You better start talking n'explaining right now, or so help me, then I won't let those animals kill 'ya… because I'll wanna make sure yer alive when I start to gut 'ya…."

"Y-you… y-y-you wouldn't…" the woman, almost frozen with fear, managed to whimper. Well, at least she'd said something.

"Honestly, I don't know," the thief admitted. "If anything happens to my friends out there, then I don't know what I'll do…" the blood… she didn't know if she could be strong enough to control it herself…

The green woman gasped for breath, as she was released. Imoen felt herself being picked up around the waist and carried back across the room, before been thrown against the opposite wall.

"This does not help!" Hawk spat. "Look," he said, controlling himself, "I know you're friend, Aerie, isn't dumb. She'll be holed up some place… and if not, then, she's dead, and there is nothing you can do about it.

"Then I'll go her," she said, slowly shaking her head, "I won't be able to stop it…"

"Think!" The captain slapped the wall very close to Imoen's head. "You are not an animal. It might be too late to help your friend, but you can help everyone else still alive on this island by helping me get to the bottom of this. And if your friend is alive, then that's the best way to help her as well."

A part of Imoen really wanted to just let go… and it wasn't just the part of her that was the god of murder. But… she realised, that would mean she had given up on Aerie, on everyone. She was a smart kid; Tenya too, sometimes. They'd be safe. "Alright," she sighed, "what do you want me to do?"

"Well," Hawk dragged a hand down his face, "I had thought that she'd be more likely to talk to you than me, because you're a… well…"


"Yeah. In any case, there doesn't seem to be much chance of that, now."

"Right," she had acted impulsively, again. Didn't think things through at all. What would Aerie say? Right… she pushed off and made her way slowly back across to the corner. "Look," she said to the green woman. "I'm… I'm sorry."

There was really no more corner left for the woman to shrink into. Didn't stop her trying. Imoen sat herself down just a couple of feet away. "I guess I didn't realise how really attached I've become… even Ten. She's a real brat, but… even though she forced herself on me… I guess I've come to think of her as my brat."

"A-a child?" The woman gasped. "You brought a child to this island?"

"She'll be grown up in just a few years… but right now, yeah. She's definitely still a kid."

"Fools," the woman shook her head, and buried it between her knees. "You're all fools…"

"Listen," Imoen leant over, "will they be alright out there?"

"Don't know. The beasts… the men… some are gone. Some hold on for longer. Some turn on themselves, on each other…" she kept muttering, becoming gradually less and less coherent.

The thief shifted her position again, facing the woman on her knees, gently getting her to lift her head. "What's your name?"

"L-lynda. Lynda with a Y."

"Lyn… the… the people, outside, they seem to think that you're responsible somehow…"

"I'm not a witch!" Lynda cried out. "I… my grandmother. She was a witch. They called her a wise woman. But not me… never wise. Mother, she was Amnian… she hated magic. Said it was evil… she hid all the books… I'm evil."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because," Lyn suddenly scurried forward, looking a surprised Imoen in the eye, "I did it. I turned them all into beasts."

"A-aren't you thirsty?" Aerie asked, sipping from the stream. Tenya shook her head.

"If we stay on this island," the priestess asked, leaning on a staff and looking up at the moon, "do you think we'll start to turn into animals as well?"

A moment of dizziness; Aerie must have been thirstier than she thought. Of course, she had thought about the question. "I don't know," she answered honestly. She just didn't have enough of the pieces; didn't really have any pieces right now.

"I suppose it might work out for you if we did; you might turn into an eagle."

"H-how… how would that work out for me?"

"You'd be able to fly, see your home again, and all that sort of thing you seem to care about."

Aerie shook her head. "I wouldn't just want to see it," she explained, "I-I would want to be there, with my family… and them to be with me. Like it was…"

"If you say so," Tenya shrugged, "can't say I understand it at all."

"No… I-I don't suppose you would," the elf sighed, "but, it doesn't matter; nothing can ever be like it was." She closed her eyes, and started to pray.

"You know something's in that tree, watching us?"

"Yes," Aerie's eyes opened as she spun around, electricity crackling and sparking and leaping from her fingertips, shattering the branches. A high pitched wail, almost like a baby's cry, as something man-sized thudded to the ground. Tenya raised her staff as it got up, and twitched it's whiskers.

"Wait!" It called, raising a paw to shield itself. "I mean you no harm!"

"Well, I mean you a lot of harm!" The priestess growled back. "I do not like being watched like that!" She was about to swing, but Aerie caught her.

"I'm sorry!" The creature cried. "It's just… there have not been any visitors, since this started…"

Tenya squinted, and noted the fur and the ears. "You're a… cat?"

"I… am the blacksmith. I mean," the felis sapiens lowered its arms, looking mournfully at his paws, "I was a blacksmith."

"What is your name, blacksmith?"

"It's… its Felix. But, i-it is just a coincidence; most of the transformations seem quite random… um, can I… can I speak to the grown up, please?"

"Who, her?" Tenya looked about in disgust, pointing her stick at Aerie. "Hmph… you can speak to her, but she's no grown up… sheplayschildishtricksonpeop le… besides, good luck trying to get anything out of her."

"Um," the fair haired elf coughed, "this is Tenya…"

"Tenya Thermidor," the priestess proudly said her full name, as if it should mean something to them all. It didn't.

"Right… a-and I'm Aerie. Just Aerie."

"I am pleased to make both of your acquaintance," Felix purred. "But, it is not safe for you out here… come; I will take you to see the sheriff," he said, hobbling and beckoning for them to follow.

Tenya whispered through the side of her mouth, "you don't seriously think we should?"

"I-I don't think we have a choice," Aerie answered, "besides," she shrugged, "h-he seems trustworthy to me." The elf smiled, and followed.

Tenya shook her head disdainfully, "You trust far too easily…"

"Forgive the stares," Felix gestured. Green eyes followed their every step from deep within the vegetation. "Like I said; we have not had any visitors. Plus, it's a small community. Even before all… this, the boys here weren't used to seeing someone, well," he turned and looked at Aerie, "someone so pretty."

The elf was taken back, a little. Still, enough people had told her she was pretty by now that she was starting to believe it herself. She still blushed. "Um… th-thank you…"

"Apart from Lynda. She was the… the woman, your group tried to save. We don't blame you. After all, you just got here; you couldn't have known what you were doing."

"What are you talking about?" Tenya asked.

"She did this to us," he hissed loudly, "using some kind of sorcery."

"Why?" The priestess asked, and Aerie nodded since it was a very good question.

"Spite… hatred," he shrugged, "she and her family have always been weird; always lived in that cottage away from the rest of the town. You," he looked back at the elf again, "you're a witch too. Is there any way you can use your power to… fix us?"

Aerie knew he hadn't really answered Tenya's question; she suspected because he really just didn't know. But she had no reason to suspect he was lying when he said he meant them no harm. "I… I would have to know how she did it, first," she said; it was the best she could do to assure him.

"I'm afraid I can't help," he turned away, sadly, "all I know is, one day I woke up, and people started to change. By the end of the day, the entire town was… well, what you see."

Felix moved on, with a very un-cat like lack of grace; he still hadn't gotten used to his changed body. Aerie followed, something not sitting right. It may have just been all the eyes still on her, but she tapped Tenya on the shoulder anyway.

"Um… c-can you ask how he knows it was Lynda?" The elf asked sheepishly.

"Why don't you ask him?" The priestess asked back.

"I'm… r-really not good in front of a crowd…"

Tenya rolled her eyes, sighing. "Wimp. Suppose I'll have to take care of everything… hey! Catman… how do you know this 'Lynda' person is responsible?"

"She's the only person who hasn't changed," Felix shrugged, "and, she confessed, before holing herself up in that cottage of hers."

Well, that didn't help. If anything, it just made things even more confusing. "Why would she turn the town into monsters, confess, then not even bother to try and hide?" Aerie whispered to herself.

"Yeah," Tenya nodded and said out loud, "why would she do all that and not hide herself?"

"I'll admit, her behaviour has been strange," Felix murmured, "maybe she just wants to relish all the suffering she's caused? Otis, the sheriff's son, might have understood her better; he and she were seeing a lot of each other before this happened… but, he's pretty far gone."

"Far gone?"

"With each passing day it becomes harder to remember what it was like to be human. Some have already lost the gift of speech and, I fear, soon will lose the power of thought and of reason, while others of us struggle to hold on to our humanity," he said, then remembered the elf. "Er… no offence."

"Oh… n-none taken," Aerie bowed her head slightly.

"For now, all still carry their respect for the sheriff and will do what he demands of them. As for the witch… she's made herself quite secure up there. That light she has burns like red hot iron when it touches us, but a lot of folk are losing patience. It's only a matter of time before they try to rush…" Felix went on explaining things, but Aerie drifted away. She squeezed her eyelids together; thought she saw the second sign. But she hadn't started talking to herself yet, had she?

"Ten… T-Tenya?" She whispered. "How do you feel?"

"Like I want to kill," the girl answered.

"So… n-normal, then?"

"Here we are," Felix said, leading them to the mouth of a cave. Although Aerie could see quite well in the dark, she knew that Tenya couldn't, so she gently took the girl's staff, placing a mage light at the end of it before looking to the cat, who nodded his acceptance and bid them to enter. The cave was large, with crates and barrels piled inside. But no people…

"Smugglers used to hide their wares here," a deep voice, much deeper than Felix, growled at them. It was coming from above, sticking to the stalactites. "I put a stop to that," he said, letting go and turning head over heels in the air, arms outstretched so that he glided down on the flaps of skin stretched between his wrists and his ankles. He landed in front of them, twitching his snout and grinning to reveal his sharp incisors.

"Batman," Tenya nodded. He wore a pouch and a shield on his belt, presumably to denote his status as the town sheriff.

"And here," he sucked, swinging his sharp nails around, "primitive men used to worship the beasts…" paintings. Crude, ancient paintings of fish, some antlered creatures, bear and wolf…

"I-I'm not sure they really worshipped them," Aerie observed, really quite enthralled; it wasn't often you stumbled across a link to such an ancient, primordial past. "They would have been very important, to sustain their lives… this was their world."

"It's rubbish," the teenage priestess scoffed at the wall, "I could draw better than that when I was five."

"But… I-Isn't it amazing to think you're standing in a place where they lived, l-looking at something your own ancestors might have created thousands of years ago?"

"Couldn't have been my ancestors; they had no talent."

"What this island needs," the bat-sheriff-thing hissed, "more witches…"

"They mean us no harm, Sherman," Felix insisted, rocking back and forth on his feet like some hunchback servant, "they could have killed me, but they didn't."

"Well, so long as it stays that way you are welcome to stay," the sheriff grinned hideously, "see the sights…"

A howl from the mouth of the cave; a huge wolf-man, hunched over like an old beggar. Sheriff Sherman spun around, arms stretched again… Aerie caught a whiff of something awful… her nose seemed even more sensitive than usual.

"Ah… Otis," the Sheriff hissed, lowering, "my son. No doubt you see the family resemblance, hmmm?" He said again, like these events did nothing more than amuse him.

Otis, the wolf, hopped into the cave, pausing and staring at the fair haired elf. Aerie tentatively moved back; it was a hungry, predatory gaze that sent a jolt to her heart.

"What is it, boy?" The sheriff drew the wolf's attention away.

"Men… from ship," Otis growled, "up there, with witch!"

"M-men?" Aerie hurriedly stepped forward. "I-isn't there another woman with them?"

Otis snarled, batting his huge forearm, forcing her back even though he didn't touch. "Yes," he growled. The elf's heart settled again, as she bowed her head and saw her hands… her nails were getting longer…

"Hawk," the sheriff croaked, "yes… I think I should pay a visit to my old friend. As for you two," he turned to the girl and woman, "as I said; so long as you mean us no harm, no harm will come to you," he paused, and slapped Otis on the snout. "Understood?" The wolf beared his teeth, but then lowered his head and nodded several times. "Good."

The sheriff stepped and glided away, leaving Aerie and Tenya alone with the wolf and cat, for a moment. Otis stared at the elf, just like he was doing before. Her nose wrinkled, her lips peeled back… she could feel his heart beat, could taste the blood in his veins, the ones in his neck, the thick fur couldn't hide them… she could almost hear the vertebrae snap already… Aerie gasped, fell to the floor, head spinning… had to hold on… she could fix this, but she had to hold on…

"Are you okay?" Tenya asked, peering down at the writhing elf. "Your eyes are weird," she said, her head tilting curiously, "like… the pupils have gotten longer," it took only seconds then to realise what was happening. "You're starting to change," the girl gasped.

"I-I'm sorry," Aerie said, leaning back, grimacing.

"Well, that's just not fair," the priestess sulked, "how come its happening to you, but not me? If anyone deserves to be a bloodthirsty killing monster, it's me."

"You've never… k-killed anyone," Aerie reminded her. "I have. I-it's exciting, when you fight… frightening and exciting. B-but… it hurts after. And it's wrong."

"To hurt… people?" Otis snarled. "Why fight? Beasts have… no remorse. Give in, to… instinct… no more pain."

"I am not an animal!" Aerie snapped, snarling. She swallowed, her arms wrapped tightly around herself as if trying to hold her body together. "I… I don't belong in a cage," she whispered. She had to solve all this. Figure out why and how and why it happened… then she could fix it. Maybe. She remembered smelling something earlier… something awful. At least, it was to her. She looked up at Otis, focusing. "You and… Lynda. Y-you were lovers?"

"No. Not love," he sniffed. But what he was really feeling; it was very hard to read a wolf's expression. "Tried to tell… she… cried and ran."

"Where did she run?"

"Shed… behind… my house. Last saw. Went… drank… this."

"That… t-that's all?"

The cave roof suddenly trembled as Otis roared. "No more questions!" He snapped, then suddenly turned and ran out. After a moment blinking in surprise, Aerie stood up. The pain was fading; she was holding on, for now.

"Let's go," she said.

"Go? Go where?" Tenya asked.

"Oh… t-the sheriff's house. To solve this."

"Solve it? It's obvious even to me; the little witch couldn't take being rejected, so she decided to punish the whole town."

"I-I can understand her being upset… it's natural, if you've invested your emotions in something. I-if it were me, I'd have cried for a while, but then… t-things would go back to normal… more or less. This is… a little extreme, don't you think?"

"It is?" Tenya's face scrunched. "Well… if you say so."

"Hmmm… now, that I think about it," Felix purred as he continued to hobble around them, "your friend does have a point…"

"She does?" The priestess arched a brow.

"Lynda was a strange girl… emotional. But, no one ever thought she was deranged before. Certainly, not enough to do this. But, why do you think the answer would be at the sheriff's?"

Aerie shrugged. "Just… following my nose…"

"The girl is deranged," Hawk hissed, nursing his hand from where Lynda had scratched it when he tried to get close to her.

"Got that right," Imoen muttered. Lynda was on her feet, stalking from one end of the room to the other, her hair dishevelled and her eyes wild. "Okay, Lyn… so, why'd you do it?"

"Because… they are beasts," she explained, twirling a finger through her hair, "all of them. I just showed them what they really were inside."

"Well then, turn them back."


"Simple enough; if you did it, then you can undo it. C'mon; even the gods ain't that stupid. They always leave a way to turn back anything they've done."

Lyn looked through her, head tilted, mouth open slightly as she thought. "Maybe you're right… yes… maybe you're right…" there were several howls outside.

One of the younger, more brash men in the crew stepped forward. "Maybe killing her is the way is to fix it, eh?" Murmurs of agreement all around. "We should hand her to those beasts…"

"And what are we? Hm?" The captain asked. "Are we beasts? No; we will not allowed someone to be murdered, especially if there's a chance she may be innocent."

"But you heard her!"

"Her minds a mess… she doesn't know what she's saying."

"She seemed pretty lucid when she led us up here," a crewman said, followed by several ayes.

"True," Hawk had to concede, "but… maybe it was just instinct. Just reacting to the situation..."

Imoen pursed her lips and pinched her lower lip. That was her thinking expression. It was strange; Lyn definitely had an… aura, about her. Not one you could see, but she felt it in the room. It flickered, shrinking and growing seemingly at random. Chaotic, or at least, unrefined… maybe just reacting…

Another howl came from outside, but this one carried a name. "Hawk!"

The captain nodded to his crew, and followed the voice outside. Right were the wolf-man had stood before, was an equally large bat. The captain studied it, and noted the shield.

"Sherman?" Hawk blinked, still scarcely believing it.

"Old friend!" The creature laughed. "Been, what… six years? Been a few changes made, as you can see."

"I'm… sorry…"

"Sorry?" It laughed again, then stepped forward, right to the very edge of the light. "Well, if that's true, then you know what you have to do, hm? Hand over the girl."

"What will do with her?"

"Well, y'know, despite everything, I am still the sheriff. I'll hang her, of course."

"Can't let you do that, Sher. She should at least have a fair trial."

"A trial?" The sheriff scoffed in disgust. "Give her a chance to twist our heads? Deceive us with green eyes and pretty lies… I think not, friend. No; she already confessed, and the town voted and found her guilty. You know the law here; give her to me." Hawk said nothing, but stood his ground.

"Well," the sheriff went on, "you have until morning. After that, we're burning this place, with you inside if need be. Whatever you do, captain, don't fall under her spell," he warned them, and went, just like the wolf before.

"What, exactly, are we looking for?" Tenya sighed in frustration. The seemed to just be wandering around the sheriff's house aimlessly.

"I-I'm not sure," Aerie explained, "but, the pouch he was carrying… i-it was empty but had a sweet smell… it reminded me of something…" she sniffed, and her head snapped to the side, to a bedroom. She hurried in, and sniffed more, closing in on the bed itself. Overturning the mattress, she found another, larger pouch, which she unbuttoned and crumbled between her thumb and forefinger.

"Lotus petals," she scowled. "I-it's an opiate…"

"Oh?" Tenya blinked. "Now, how would such a goody two shoes know so much about illegal substances?"

Aerie sucked in some air, steadying herself. "S-slavers use it, sometimes… w-when slaves don't cooperate."

"On… on you?"

"No… I was lucky," the elf growled.

"Look there!" Felix held out a paw. As well as the pouch, there was also a square piece of green cloth, rough and torn around the edges.

"That's a piece of her dress," Tenya observed, completely confused by it all, "you know, the one the lady was wearing…"

"Yes," Aerie agreed. She was still confused, but suspicions were beginning to form in her mind… but with them, she felt her grip slipping. She turned, sat down on the bed, her hand going up to her teeth… her sharp, pointed teeth.

"Fangs, eh?" Tenya peered curiously. "Not an eagle, then…"

"Ten," the elf started rocking. She felt a great heat rising through her body, into her skull. "Y-you… you should go…"

"Nice thought, genius. And where, exactly, can I go?"

"Anywhere," Aerie said, wrinkled and growling. "You just need to get away from me…"


"Just do what I say!" The elf, or whatever she was turning into, narrowly missed as she slashed at the girl. She jumped up, across, landed on feet and turned around, snarling. "I-I… don't want to hurt you…" she said, struggling.

"Then don't," the priestess spat, "hold on, like Felix."

"Y-you don't understand," Aerie said, wearing a pained expression as she shook her head.

"You said you wouldn't leave," the girl reminded her, stony faced.

"I'm not; you're the one who has to. Re-remember… remember, you asked if I ever got mad? You want to know the truth?" Tenya didn't say, but she didn't back away either. The elf slowly crawled forwards. "I-it hurts inside, all the time… and I'm angry, all the time. Over the years, I've learned to control it, direct it where it's useful… but, i-if I become just a beast, no thought or reason, I-I…"

"That's dumb… even for you."

"What?!" Aerie asked, startled.

"Look," the girl rolled her eyes, "in the woods, when you saved me, did you stop and think about it?"

"There… t-there wasn't time…"

"Exactly. Don't you see? Even if all you are is instinct, your instinct is always telling you to be good. Face it; being nice is just a curse you have to carry. You can fight it, but it'll always win in the end."

"So… you… you still trust me?" Aerie smiled. It was cooling down.

"Well… don't get all fuzzy about it," the girl huffed, "I just… haven't any choice right now, have I?"

"I guess not," the elf got up, marched across and picked up the green cloth.

"So… you solved the crime yet?"

"N-not exactly," Aerie said, feeling the soft fabric between her fingers. "But… there might be a way for me to see what happened…"