Infamous throughout Wendimoor for her skills in combat as the toughest mercenary in the land, Bart Curlish is used to being untouchable. But, beyond the tough outer layer she's haunted by her past in another world, with the debt of being rescued from her demons by Prince Panto Trost on her shoulders.
Desperate to repay her debt to him, she agrees to aid him on his quest to rescue the Dengdamoor heir after he disappears. Along the way, Bart finds herself with a real friend for the first time in years.
In Bart's absence, Rapunzel had chewed up her favourite boots. Her dog now sat smugly on the remains of the worn brown leather. The chunk she had been attacking before Bart had come inside hung out of Rapunzel's mouth. Unashamed of her act, Rapunzel tilted her head, blinking up at her innocently.
"Really girl?" Bart asked, shutting the door with a heavy slam behind her.
Rapunzel stood up and trotted over to sit at her feet, dropping half-chewed boot heel at Bart's feet, her tail wagging proudly.
Bart stripped off her long coat, throwing it on top of an uneven pile of similarly blood-stained clothing. Her current boots were balanced on a shelf, away from her dog's reach. Her sword was hung on a peg, close enough to the door she could grab it in an emergency. (Not that Bart relied on it, her bungalow was full of secret stashes of weapons.)
Bart unwrapped two burgers from a vine creeping into the corner of the ceiling, offering one to Rapunzel and scoffed her own. Not the best meal, but fighting always made her feel starving.
Bart curled up on the soft mattress in the corner, pulling a thick blanket around herself. As much fun her quests were, Bart missed her home comforts, like her nest of blankets and Rapunzel, no matter how determined her dog was to chew her way through her possessions.
Meal over, Rapunzel trotted over, lying on her pillow, stubby legs in the air hopefully. Bart rubbed her belly affectionately - until her fingers touched something cold and smooth amongst Rapunzel's warm fur.
Paper. Slightly creased but carefully tied to her collar.
Bart opened her eyes again and pushed herself up, untying the letter from Rapunzel's collar. It was written on fancy paper and addressed to 'Lady Bartine' , her name written in neat, cursive script. There were few people who referred to her as 'Bartine' and only one who knew her current hideout. Hopes of the letter being from an old friend vanished. (He never wrote but she kept hoping that one day, she'd hear back from him.) Flipping her letter over curiously, her suspicions were confirmed with the signature pink Trost house crest carefully used to seal the letter.
So, her debt had caught up to her then.
"This is why I hate talking to people," she grumbled to Rapunzel, who licked her hand, oblivious to the weight of the long-promised favour on her owner's shoulders.
(One year ago)
Bart had always been fast. She had always been a good fighter. It was her livelihood, fighting, and no matter how many of the Mage's army she faced, she always came out victorious.
She never stumbled during battles, never hesitated, never got hurt.
Despite this, she found herself cradling a bleeding arm as the lazy smile of Priest hung over her.
"Marzanna," he crooned her not-name over and over, "oh, sweet little Marzanna-"
Just as she began inching her injured hand towards her knife, Priest grunted in pain and fell heavily, landing sideways besides her, eyes unseeing, mouth never to say her not-name again.