Lost in the Light Ch. 09byBelderiever©
Stumbling, half-dragging, half-walking, naked and caked in mud and dried blood, Liam arrived at the front gates. There he stood patiently clutching a broken forearm against his chest. He stared vacantly at the doors until they slowly opened and two men dressed in the formal uniform of the Huanguard peeked out to see what he wanted.
Liam meet their gaze, and the two men immediately fled back inside.
"My lord!" Screamed a steward as he stormed into the chapel and ran Silas down. The fat monk looked as if he was about to garrote the man with the bell pull he was trying to replace. But his scowl melted when he heard the steward's message.
"The man hasn't moved, he's simply standing there!" The gate guardsman informed The Father as they walked hurriedly to the front gate. Despite his hutched posture, the old man could move fast when he wanted.
"Fetching me was wise. He would have killed you both if you hadn't." The Father grumbled.
"He looked like he was about to!" the man protested. "I've never felt something like that before, one look and a chill went down my spine. There's no reason I should be afraid of a naked, half dead man!" he complained.
"He did it on purpose," The Father chortled. "Liam can make you afraid." The guardsman wanted to ask more, but they had arrived at the gate. His partner grabbed the ring to the gate door and after the first guard followed suit to the left door, they pulled in unison and the wooden gate swung opened. The Father didn't wait for it to open all the way and squeezed through the opening.
Liam was collapsed on the ground before it.
The Father approached cautiously, and leaned down to touch the man's neck. There was a pulse and he was breathing, but there was something odd here. He looked him over; there were no visible wounds and no trail of blood.
Poison? There were very few things that could lay Liam low. The Father turned him over and started to check his body. He looked at the fingers and nails, the eyes, the mouth, and they all seemed normal. But there was a scratch on his arm that had healed, but the skin was puffy around the wound. His old mind had seen many men die, most often by his own actions. The Father recognized death in its many forms. Liam's affliction was unique -- a healthy body, yet dying inside. It could only be a poison that kills quickly but had been thwarted somehow. It had slowed down many of his internal organs, but had missed the heart. Considering the nature of Liam's last assignment, The Father had a good guess whom had done this.
"Bring porridge. With milk and honey." The Father said loudly. "And carry him to the sweat box." One guardsman saluted and ran off to the kitchens. The other picked up the prone man's body and carried him inside. As he passed The Father, the old man relieved the guardsman of a knife in his belt and fell into pace beside the body.
"He won't know where he is, and he may try to kill you." The Father said as a way of explaining.
They carried the body through the training yard, and around the side of one of the apartment houses. An unremarkable crate with a large door in it leaned against the side of the building. More of the Huanguard had come to see what the excitement was about. Many of them knew Liam, and were dumbfounded at his state of being. A steward spoon-fed him porridge from a bowl.
"One of us has been poisoned," The Father said aloud as he supervised the treatment. "This is the price of carelessness. This is why I train you so harshly. Our enemies are capable of more devious methods to kill us than a simple stab to the gut. With just a scratch a well crafted poison can kill the heartiest." He lectured. "For those that know our strength, it's their only weapon against us." He looked to the gazes of his students. "This is why I am so unforgiving. Your enemies will be less patient than I am." He paused as that lesson sank in. "In Liam's case, the poison was supposed to kill him outright, but he kept it at bay somehow. It's still in his body keeping him weak. He'll have to sweat it out, and even then he may not be the same afterwards." They fed him into the box and locked the door after him.
"Under no circumstances open this box." The Father commanded sternly. "Send his meals through the opening in the bottom of the door, but never open it or he'll kill you. If he pleads with you... summon me immediately." The Huanguard, uniformed and trainees alike nodded in understanding. "Back to your duties!" The Father snarled at them, and the men scattered. The old man folded his hands behind his back and started to walk the grounds in thought. Silas met him in the courtyard as he paced.
"You are not needed," The Father growled and ran a hand through his white hair. It never made a difference, there was not enough substance left to the whispy strands to go anywhere but where gravity dictated.
"I assumed," Silas nodded in agreement. "you would have sent for me if so. But I was curious as to what this means. Liam? Poisoned? It looks like the Elthairin King is trying to remove witnesses."
"The Elthairin King is an idiot." The Father grumbled.
"But if he butchers his own people to remove dissention, it stands to reason he would use such crude means to eliminate those that helped him achieve his crown." Silas offered.
"You have a point, Silas. That baffoon has no idea who he is fucking with." The Father's dark mood was only getting worse with Silas's words. "We gave him a throne, we can take it away."
"Indeed," Silas dared to smile wickedly.
* * * *
Stumbling, half -dragged, half --walked, naked and caked in dried sweat and dirt, a delirious Riyarra was pulled through the camp by the two scouts that had found her. A lady Elthairin scout with twin tattoos of vines wrapping up her bare, muscled arms parted the curious onlookers with an icy glare. Her companion had a less than enthusiastic, almost embarrassed look about his lean features. The two of them made a point not to look at their captive as they presented her before a tall oak. Riyarra instinctually fell to her knees and waited there. There they waited, and discouraged the curious, as an old figure in a green robe made of leaves slowly descended by means of an uncoiling vine. He landed gracefully and the vine retracted back up to the heights above.
"Thank you my friend," he said lovingly and touched the tree's bark for a moment, and again with his forehead. He was old, very old for an Elthairin. Shallow cheekbones, sunken eyes, wisps of silver hair defiantly clung to his scalp, and yet despite his obvious age his demeanor was youthful and vigorous. He took one long at the bedraggled Riyarra and shook his head.
"Oh no, this is embarrassing." He gasped and put a hand over his mouth in mock shock. "Where are your clothes my child?" he asked sincerely and leaned close to her. Those elves that had come to observe were warned off by the fierce glares of the two that had brought the captive before the old elf.
"I must have left them behind," Riyarra admitted woozily. Instinctually she held her arms across her chest in an attempt to cover up and pulled her legs together.
"Oh my," The old man said regrettably. "That is unfortunate. Why are you so dirty, my child?" He squatted down before her, and rubbed her head affectionately. "you've been playing in the dirt it looks like." He smiled at her in a fatherly voice.
"I'm," Riyarra started to say, but then scowled and looked around as if unsure of where she was, or if this was even real. "Gayne? Are you here Gayne?" she called out. "I'm dreaming again. I'm having that dream again." She muttered sleepily. For the first time, she looked up at the old elf and met his gaze, but she couldn't figure out who he was. "Who are you?" she asked casually.
High above the odd spectacle, from inside her tree tent, Lysia poked her head out and looked to see what the commotion below was. When she spied Riyarra, she drew in a sharp breath, and she was about to scream a greeting before a silent hand rushed over her mouth. Valel poked his head out next to hers.
"Remember your training," he reminded her in a quiet, kind voice. She replied with a bashful and embarrassed smile. Valel removed his hand, and Lysia thanked him by touching her forehead to his. She leapt from the tent edge gracefully and plummeted to the ground, The wind whipped her long ponytail behind her, but the rest of her body remained firm and agile. At the last moment, right before she would hit the ground, her decent suddenly slowed and she touched down silently. Magic, it seemed, she had a talent for. But Lysia knew it was more because of Valel's patient teachings that she had finally been transformed into the person she had always wished to be -- useful and capable. Her bare feet padded silently over the ground, and her leather leggings made no sound as she walked. Not magic, but careful training and a good tailor. Her green vest was a bit out of place from the fall, and she repositioned it to better hold in her troublesome bosom. She was built for the city, and the athleticism of the wild hadn't yet finished sculpting all the parts of her body. Lysia came to stand next to one of the scouts, Amel -- a boy just a bit younger than her, but one of the first to welcome her into their fold.
"Iala and Yyolun found your friend," he smirked at her.
"I can see that," she nudged him in the ribs. Amel was the closest thing she had to a friend here. Socializing was practically forbidden here -- the leaf knights didn't spend their off time chatting, but working and resting. It had been difficult for her to restrain her curiosity, she wanted to know so much about them and their order, but she had resigned herself to letting her imagination fill in their stories. Valel, her Master and partner, who instructed her in the skills a leaf knight would need, was the son of the Cleric Twenyl, and who came from a long an ancient lineage of leaf knights. The last part she imagined.
Iala, his former partner, the tall foreboding female with the twin tattoos on her arms, was a walking army. She was harshest when it came to camp discipline, and was peerless and utterly unforgiving in combat. The only time Lysia had witness Iala show compassion was her first night here. But deep down Lysia knew the lady's stern, fierce exterior was due to her unyielding love and protection for this group -- for they were her family now. And, if Lysia's imagination was true, they were the only family Iala had left as her once noble heritage was brutal slaughtered in a Zecairin attack. Despite her imagination, Iala had the regal composure of one of Elthair's ruling families -- when she was scornfully criticism an errant knight.
Fryak and Frell were twin brothers from the countryside, remarkable archers, but mischief makers. The were the exact opposite to Captain Iala. Slightly older than Valel they had been the more recent recruits before Lysia. But they kept mostly to themselves. They would prented to nap and pull their blond bangs over their eyes when they did, but were secretly waiting for you to walk by before they grabbed your legs suddenly. When they first pulled that trick on Lysia, she had shrieked so loudly, they had to move camp immediately. The need for silence was her harshest lesson. But despite all their strict training, the leaf knights were forgiving and patient, and for that she was very grateful.
Amel, was friendly, and liked to pick on her during her training lessons. But his criticism was meant to help as well as motivate her. They rest of his identity was a mystery. As were the others in the camp, whose names she hadn't learned yet. There had not been time with her constant training and practice to get to know them. The group was in danger so long as her skills were so far below theirs, she needed to work constantly to keep from embarrassing herself. Amel was the only one she left a mystery, he was more fun that way if she could keep changing why he picked on her so much.
"She reeks," grumbled Amel.
"shssh, you." One of the twins muttered, and nodded towards the cleric. Old Twenyl was looking directly at her. Lysia bowed apologetically, and touched her forehead with her fingers -- their silent sign for apology, and vigilance. But took a moment to elbow Amel hard in the ribs -- he refused to give her the pleasure of a pained grunt. The cleric turned his attention back to Riyarra, who stared blankly at the ground.
"Yes, this is our long lost runaway princess." He concluded after long last. "However..." and he let loose a long profound sigh. "She has been corrupted." The mood around them grew dire. The emotions were sullen, depressed, sorrowful, and pitying. Hardened eyes could only look on; Lysia knew this was a death sentence.
"There is an old ritual that could purify her," Twenyl mused thoughtfully and massage his scalp as if to regrow his lost hair. "If I knew what possesses her it could work. There is an old spring in the mountains, it can purify most taints... " he trailed off that sentence as he looked up to the sky to think for a moment.
"Wise Master," Lysia spoke softly and pushed her way past. "I know what it is." Twenyl looked to her and smiled.
"I thought as much, tell us Lysia." He stood up slowly and stretched his back. "Please set my old heart at ease."
"Before we parted, she told me the Zecairins made her drink something when she was a prisoner. A red liquid. It makes her crave bloodshed and... lovemaking. She has been fighting it. But the longer she resists, the worse she becomes." Twenyl's eyes closed slowly and his whole person sank as if he had just learned his mother had died. He stumbled for a moment, uncharacteristic for his agile self, and collapsed onto his hind end - defeated. Iala was almost afraid for him and moved to help him up, but the old cleric waved her away.
"I do not know how, but she has been infected by a demon's blood," The cleric gasped and dared to touch Riyarra's face. "There is only one cure..." Twenyl pulled his hand back and sobbed. "Oh my child, I am so sorry"
"You're not Gayne." Riyarra scowled at him, uncomprehending her situation.
"She is very dangerous like this," The cleric announced grimly as he wiped away the tears. "She can go berserk and may not know friend from foe. We should bid her farewell first, but..."
"I'm a good girl," Riyarra said with a bit of a feverish smile. "I'll be quite." She tried to rise, but firm hands on her shoulders held her down. Riyarra looked up at them accusingly. "Is this how you treat your queen?!" she said indignantly.
Call me Your Queen! Those words haunted Lysia, and the horror was clear in her face. Those words were said when a naked, blood covered Riyarra butchered Lysia's old squad of Yvarna. Many Elthairins died brutally at the hands of their runaway princess. She moved swiftly to pull Iala's hands away. The noble lady scowled, knowing this girl wasn't strong enough to do so, but she relented -- she knew Lysia meant well and decided to trust the girl.
"My Queen!" Lysia said quietly and came to sit in front of Riyarra. "You're sick. We want to help. Do you remember me?"
"Lysia!" Riyarra sighed and put her hands around the girl's neck. "I missed you. I do feel sick. Have you seen Gayne?"
"Gayne," Lysia's heart sank. "He died, my Queen. He died protecting you." She touched her forehead to Riyarra's, the naked girl's skin was burning up.
"He did, my poor Gayne." Riyarra bemoaned. "But I took him in..." she was about to say more. But the sight of a curious Twenyl made her shy away. "Are you going to put the mark on me too Cleric?" Twenyl balked and rose to his feet.
"No, my child!" he defended himself. "We will take care of you." He reached down and patted her shoulder. With a deep, steadying breath he looked to the sky for answers and let his mind wander a bit. Lysia tried her best to brush some of the dirt from her queen's face, but a bath was what the girl needed. "There is a place we should take her." He said after a long thought. "The mountain spring is our best hope. It is very old, but I cannot say for sure if it will cure her completely. It may well be corrupted itself and that would be a great loss." He paused and glanced to Iala, she was one of the older knights, as well as their Captain, and she nodded approval. Iala was a rationalist; she knew the costs sometimes did not justify the results. But she was also the most devoted to Elthairin tradition and the most outspoken against the new direction the King was leading the Elthairin people.
Twenyl turned to his son, Valel, who had joined them. He too understood what was at risk and nodded his silent assent. This troupe of Leaf Knights had been searching for the lost princess -- not to return her to Elthair, but in the hopes she could rally the dissenters against her brother and dethrone him. It was a dangerous line they walked between treason and patriotism, and some decisions needed the understanding and consent of those that believed in the cause. With the rest of the elders' consent, Twenyl looked to each knight and asked them with his gaze. Each one nodded in agreement -- even the more youthful members that may not completely grasp all the complications of the question.
"I will escort her," Lysia spoke up. "I have traveled with her this far. And I would cause less trouble for everyone if I was not here." Iala shot Valel an accusing glare, to which he shook his head in bemused denial, and the lady smiled demurely and shook her head likewise.
"Not a single one of us was born with our skills. We all had to learn them." Iala said sternly. "You are no burden to us. Not if it is your heart to become one of us."
"I will take her. Alone." Twenyl overruled her. "This ordeal will be very painful for our princess. It would not do for her subjects to see her so tormented. They would loose faith. What I am about to ask of her will burn her soul as it purges the corruption within her. It may succeed, but leave her and empty shell. Like any cure, the results depend on the will of the diseased." Iala didn't object. She had learned not to argue with Twenyl when the old one made bold statements like that. "There is another reason." He admitted at long last. "If the demon claims her, her body will need to be destroyed. I cannot ask anyone but myself to be responsible for that."
"Besides," his loving, fatherly tone ceased. "We have another mission. The human Monastery... You have orders." He reminded them.
"We'll await your return, unless a Zek patrol makes contact. Then we move in." Iala repeated to all.
"Only if their connection is clear." Twenyl reminded her. Iala understood and turned to see to the preparations of the troops. The group dispersed, all except Lysia. Valel waited patiently out of earshot for the two girl's reunion to run its course. He had come to appreciate Lysia's ordeal as well as Riyarra's. When he had found her -- captured by Zecairins and being savagely beaten and raped -- he expected the girl's spirit to fade from her body, or her mind to break into madness. But she was strong. She never spoke of it afterwards. It was almost as if she had survived such treatment already. That particular secret, Valel respected, and gave her space.
"I should clean her up first. She needs some clothes." Lysia offered and stood up.
"No my child," Twenyl argued. "Can you think of why?"
"She smells very... strong!" she wanted to say horrible.
"Precisely...?" The cleric prompted her. Lysia thought about it for a moment.
"Anyone following that scent would wonder why it ended here." She sighed, defeated.
"That is why I will take her alone." The cleric said as he helped pull Riyarra to her feet. "I want you stay here, and watch. And to kill what ever is following her." He said gravely. It was rare for the Cleric to be so cruel. But he had his reasons. He knew more than she did, and Lysia accepted this. They would stay and be the trap.