The withered crone grips the mug in both hands, raises it to her thin and bark-like lips, and takes a sip. A sound that might be a pleased sigh follows. Yrax furrows his considerable brow; she didn’t check to see if it was poisoned, didn’t even ask. He notes then her ice chip eyes on him again, and he realizes: she doesn’t need to, she would know. The thought chills him.
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, grandmother?” Yrax asks lightly.
The crone snorts in response. “Cut the skeltershit, Yrax. I was waylaid by your idiot abomination. And there’s only one reason I ever trudge these miserable wastes.”
“Mm,” the old woman replies. “Have to make sure my little clockworks is still clockworking.” She titters wheezily at her own joke.
“And I’m to believe Iantor just… what, caught you with your britches down? As you say, venerable lady: cut the skeltershit.”
The crone’s ice chip eyes seem suddenly to shine with cold fire, and her voice snaps like a whip: “You’ll watch your tone with me, boy.” Yrax recoils, fights to keep his gaze on the witch’s eyes. There is, he is surprised to discover, a bit of a lump in his throat. The frigid blue eyes hold him, and its feels like rays of fire sweep across him. He wants to shrink a little.
Just as suddenly, she breaks into a gnarl-toothed grin, and laughs. “Always so serious, you are. As it happens…” She bends over with a tired huff and begins rifling through a bundle of leather of furs that has until this point been indistinguishable from the folds of her tattered and layered dress. “… I do have a gift for you.”
“Well, sort of. Where is… I know I… aha!” She straightens, pulling free a large roll of snow-white fur. “I need you to hang on to something for me.” She unfurls it and lays it on the ground between them: the hide of some strange beast, bigger than a man and with a great, shaggy head. Its claws, still attached to the hide’s outstretched paws, are obsidian black.
“Am I to—”
“Just hang on to it. It’ll look lovely in front of your hearth there.”
“Just… hang on to it.”
“Yes, boy. Keep it safe. I’ll be back for it.”
“It is… some sort of device? Or charm?”
“It’s a rug.”
Yrax’s brow furrows again. “I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t ask you to.” She settles back in her chair and takes another long sip of tea. She smiles at him again, and again he feels like shrinking. “Just be a good lad and do as you’re told.”