Day 71 of 100 Word Prompts: Border
Gwen’s heart raced in her chest as she pushed herself to run faster. She knew she could make it if she ran quickly enough. The inn wasn’t that far away, but the smoke rising from it cast a large shadow on the city. She finally rounded the corner and skidded to a halt as she saw the flames licking every inch of the building she called home. People gathered along the road while the fire brigade attempted to put out the blaze.
“Excuse me,” Gwen said, running up to one of the onlookers. A poor looking woman she had seen frequent the inn when they had performances. “Do you know if anyone was in there?”
“I don’t, I’m sorry,” the woman replied, not recognizing her at first. “You’re Gwendolyn!”
“Yes, I am. I’m concerned about my friends that lived there with me. Could you help me look for them?” Gwen asked.
The woman nodded in agreement and turned to start questioning others.
Gwen spent the next few hours speaking with everyone in a two-block radius, attempting to find any information on the fate of Joy and Germain, but found no solace in her search as it continued to turn up nothing. The fire eventually was controlled by a wizard who arrived, forcing the flames to go out long enough for the brigade to cool the structure with water. Gwen paced back and forth until the men and women putting out the fire stopped. As the crew gathered, she saw that everyone looked to one individual, a goliath covered in soot holding a canteen that she had seen spray water continuously onto the blaze. As he turned to speak to the wizard, she rushed up to him.
“Did you find anyone in there?” Gwen asked.
The goliath turned to look at her with a shocked expression at first, followed quickly by a confused expression. “Who are you?” the goliath asked.
“I’m Gwendolyn Meadowheart. This was my home,” she replied, her stomach clenching as twisting. She felt like she may be sick or pass out. “I need to know if the other two who lived there with me made it out safely. Joy and Germain. A blue-skinned tiefling and a human with a big beard.”
“I haven’t seen a blue-skinned tiefling,” the goliath replied, raising an eyebrow at her. “We are still conducting our investigation. We aren’t sure what started the fire yet.”
Gwen had the sudden sensation of being judged, not for the first time in her life, but for the first time in such a long time that it stung more than she thought.
“I didn’t do this,” Gwen said, pointing to the smoking husk of her home. “I saw the smoke from across town and came running.”
“I didn’t say you did,” the goliath replied, crossing his arms. “Why are you so defensive?”
“Hugh, leave the girl be,” the wizard said. “She wasn’t here when this blaze started.”
“Do you have any magic to see how it began?” Hugh, the goliath, asked, turning his head toward the wizard, but keeping his eyes locked on Gwen.
“I don’t,” the wizard replied, looking to the charred building, “but perhaps a cleric or something might be able to get more information. My abilities are quite limited to that scope. We should continue searching inside the building. Perhaps we will find more clues.”
“I don’t want you disappearing on us,” Hugh said, squaring himself up in front of Gwen. “Should I have the guards detain you?”
“I only care about my friends,” Gwen replied as she set her jaw. “If possible, I would prefer to help you sift through the inn. I want to make sure they are okay.”
“I don’t want you inside, you may destroy evidence,” Hugh shot back. “Will you wait here until I return?”
“No,” Gwen said pointedly. “I will not wait here. I will find a cleric, or a priest, or some divine way of knowing if my friends are okay.”
“I may be able to help,” a gentle voice said from behind Gwen.
Gwen turned to see a dark-skinned woman wearing what looked like living plants as clothes. The woman’s hair was a wild, tangled mess of knots as her amber-colored eyes looked at her with a sad expression. She held a long staff in one hand that curled into a ball at the top, upon which a chipmunk sat upright.
“Who are you?” Hugh asked.
“Abelia of the Northern Forest. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she replied, turning away from him to look back at Gwen. “If you could describe one of your friends to me, I may be able to ask some of the surrounding plants of their fate.”
“Joy is a blue-skinned tiefling, about this tall,” Gwen began, holding her hand a little over her head. For the next couple minutes, Gwen described everything she could remember, from the specific curls in Joy’s horns to the way Germain’s belly moved when he laughed. Tears came only when she stopped talking, a sinking feeling growing that something had happened to them.
“Give me a few moments, please,” Abelia replied, turning away from Gwen and walking up to a tree planted in the square a few yards away.
“Will you be here when I get back now?” Hugh asked as four more people that had helped put out the blaze arrived to receive orders.
“I’m not going anywhere until I find out what happened,” Gwen spat at him. “You can count on that.”
“Keep an eye on that one,” she heard him say to one of the gathered brigade members as the other three, as well as the wizard, followed him into the building.
Gwen shook her head and turned her attention to Abelia, who had her hand on the tree now, muttering so quietly that she couldn’t hear. After a few nods, Abelia frowned and turned away from the tree before returning to her.
“Did they make it out?” Gwen asked as she rushed up to Abelia.
“They were not inside the building,” Abelia said, still frowning.
“Why don’t you look happier then?” Gwen asked. “That’s wonderful news!”
“They were taken before the building was set ablaze. A group of men came and bound them before a halfling, or perhaps a child, arrived and lit the fire,” Abelia replied.
“Taken? By who?” Gwen practically begged.
“The tree can’t see people, but knows when they are near. This one, in particular, has noticed some interesting things in its time here. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” Abelia said.
“I need to speak to the town guards,” Gwen said, looking around for the familiar leather armor and insignia. “I need to tell them that they were taken. I need to find them!”