To tell the truth, I couldn't have said whether or not I'd deserved what I had gotten. The events that led to me trudging through the desert alone, starving, thirsty and bleeding to death could have been my own fault. More accurately, it probably had been my fault. Each step on that scorching, unforgiving graveyard was a new feeling of regret that burned almost as intensely as my bare feet on that sand. And if I could go back, I'd change absolutely nothing at all.
I'd made my way about halfway to Khlarym without noticing the jolting pain radiating from the lower right-hand side of my back. The gash, fresh from a poorly sharpened blade, still bleeding, now throbbing with the jagged rhythm of my heartbeat. I could feel myself slowly slipping under. The more I walked the closer I was to grabbing death by the cloak.
I could think of nothing more fitting for a loathsome wretch like me. What's better suited to a thieving assassin than a lonely, agonizing death in the heat of Hell's gates?
Then, I saw her. Standing there, not ten feet from me, dressed in a deep blue body-tunic lined with false silver chain-links which coiled lazily, growing in size around her body and linking into a belt around her waist before settling the remainder of the strand comfortably at her thigh. The glint of the sunlight off the links around her neck and resting on her left shoulder made me squint at her sight. She stood still, staring for a moment. I watched her cautiously, fading in and out and trying to hide that fact from her stunned, yet expressionless face.
When she finally spoke, it was almost like forgiveness had found me in waves of ice shards and madness. Her voice was soothing, like water to my dry, aching tongue and frigid like a tundra in the dead of winter.
"I'm surprised you've lasted this long on your own." She said, "I've been watching you. Observing, really."
I stood silently waiting for her to continue. It was a long moment before she did.
"I can help you." She said, "You need only ask."
A flash of anger rose, but quickly faded with a jolt of pain from my wound. Feeling myself sway, I managed to ache out the word "Please" before collapsing to the arms of a stranger. Everything went black around me and I sank into nothingness.
When I awoke, I was in somewhat of the same position as when I faded out; In the arms of this strange, cold girl. She was chanting beneath her breath with her eyes closed into somber crescents. Beneath her onyx lashes was a faint, violet-blue glow. I couldn't help but stare for a moment, at her face. Though stoic, it was graceful and beautiful. The skin unwashed by blue afterglow was a stony, yet a soft remnant of ivory. Her face was structured like the porcelain statue of a forgotten goddess and her eyes, the color of melted steel mixed with poison. She was, without a doubt, the most exquisite person I had ever seen.
When I noticed her arms around me, I felt a strange panic rise within me and jolted upward, startling her from her enchantment. I suppose, I had expected her to bark at me about how I'd frightened her or that I shouldn't sit up so quickly. But, instead, she took me by the arms and calmly placed me back in the position I'd woken in. With a small, almost relieved sigh, she wrapped her arms around me and began her chant again.
Now, I was the impatient one. I pulled myself from her embrace in a confused state of anger and opened my mouth to speak. But, before I could, she did instead.
"If you did not want my help," she began and I felt embarrassment sting in my chest. "Then, why did you ask me for it?"
Irrational fury boiled within me. I rose to my feet, only to be overcome by pain and brought down to my knees. It became painful to even breathe. Then, the anger in me was for being so weak in front of another person.
She watched me, almost carelessly, not moving from that spot on, what I could now see was a rusty, old day bed dressed in tattered, black silk. Her eyes, bright and mysterious, bore into me. I could feel them, even while I averted mine to the slight sheen of the messy, silken sheets. As my eyes followed the lacy hem back up to her legs, then up her body and to her face, I felt a hint of regret twist within me. Regret for a lot of things at once, actually. One of those things was taking my anger at myself out on her.
The pain eased up a little and I huffed out a breath of relief. When I looked back up at her, her expression had changed from careless to reluctantly concerned. It took me by surprise to see her guard drop for even just a split second like that and suddenly, she was even more beautiful. Was that even possible?
“Are you alright?” She inquired.
Her kindness was infuriating. Why would she want to help someone like me? She said she'd been watching me, so that must mean she saw what I had fled from. If she really does know what happened, it doesn't make sense for her to be so calm around me, let alone be this kind. Was she stupid?
I felt her gaze on my face, waiting for an answer she already had. After a moment, she closed her eyes and crossed her legs, as if to meditate.
“You know,” She began, finally breaking the silence, “I could have left you there in the sand if that was preferable to you.” She sounded calm, but there was a hidden tinge of annoyance there in the back of her comment that boiled my blood.
“If I'm such a burden,” I said. “You shouldn't have bothered with me.”
She opened her eyes, but stayed sitting the way she was. “I don't recall saying you were any such thing.”
The calm nature of her voice was like the smooth side of a flint stone and was sparking a fire inside me.
“Listen, lady,” I sounded harsh, but I meant to sound cruel. “I don't recall asking for you help. So, back off me. I don't even know you and I wake up to you cuddling me? That's just disturbing.”
Her face switched from calm annoyance to masked fury and she said “If you'd like to for me to put you back where I found you, bleeding wound and all, just say the word.”
“You think you could fight me and win?” I asked mockingly.
Her eyes took on that blue-ish glow again and I found myself gasping for air as my wound began to reopen, gushing blood down my leg to the dirty wooden floor below.
Her voice sounded distorted, like I was under water when she said, “I don't have to fight you to win.”
After the pain caused a whimpered grunt to pass through my teeth. what felt like several minutes passed, she let up right as a tall, dark-skinned man walked through the door. He looked sort of like her, but his skin was a deep, faded green color and his tunic was tan with a bronze chain. His pants matched the color, but not the metallic quality of his chain. She didn't have pants with her tunic. Hers was was more like a leotard, meeting between her legs the same way underpants would.
His concerned, orange-eyed gaze drifted from me, writhing in agony on the floor, to her. She sat on the edge of her bed and glared at me before turning her attention to his, obviously repulsed face.
“I thought you brought him here because you wanted to save him!” His voice was calm, but angry. “Why have you reversed your progress after healing him for two and a half days?”
A look of shame fell over her face and she shrank a little. “You're right, Vatuha,” She said. “I'm sorry.”
“”Sorry” isn't enough, Suende.” He sounded calm, but upset. “You need to spare your energies for those who are counting on you. You cannot do much if you are using up everything you have to heal an ungrateful mutt like him” He motioned his head toward me, but kept his gaze on Suende.
“Hey!” I shouted at him. The sudden movement sent a pain through me that was nearly impossible to ignore. “Who do you think you're calling a mutt, you foul-mouthed ingrate?!”
Vatuha turned toward me, fist clenched and ready to strike when Suende bolted in front of him to stop him in his tracks. As he stared her down with a bewildered look on his face, I dropped back to a lying position on the floor. My arms, sore from holding my upper body up to speak, had finally given out on me. Suende and Vatuha turned their attention to me. They each took me by my arms and lifted me onto the bed where she had been sitting moments before.
It was difficult to hear what they were saying to one another after that. Their muffled chatter in my ears was enough to make me crazy on the inside. I heard Suende say something that sounded like “water”? Or maybe it was “bother”? As in “why bother”, I'm sure. How could I blame her after the way I acted. I had already lost plenty of blood when I met this girl and at that moment, I had been rapidly losing more because of my own pride. I was in this sinking ship because I put myself there and there wasn't much I could do or say now to fix my mistakes or save my own life. So, I decided to ask, once again, for her help. And this time, I'd mean it.
I could feel myself mouthing the words and exhaling into each sound as I spoke, but I couldn't hear myself asking for her to help me. I began to think she couldn't hear me either until she turned around and put her hand on the back of my head. Was she checking to see if I was breathing? Or was she responding to my request? Soon after putting her hand there, she let me go and Vatuha was lifting my torso, giving her space between me and the bed for her to sit down. He placed me down on her, gently and she wrapped her arms around me once more and began that mysterious chant that I, at that moment, couldn't even hear.
I wondered, then, if it might not be better to just allow myself to fade away for good. Maybe I was just too corrupted to deserve life anymore. As I fell unconscious, I thought I was dying. And, if I'm being honest, I had truly hoped that I was.
This time, when I woke, I was in a different place than before. The dirty, dimly-lit room I had fallen under in was gone and replaced by a cave-like dwelling. The ceiling was lined in translucent, crystal-like spires that hung at least 5 feet or so from their root. It was like that all across the top of the room, starting from smaller, and less abundant amounts at the top of each rocky wall, all the way to the middle, where a chandelier of moving, wavy liquid hung. The piece was large in size and the water-like substance it was made of flowed endlessly into a pool carved into the cave floor beneath it.
Suende was asleep beside my bed. Her lovely, black hair poured down the sides of her face and melted off her pale shoulders. Her tunic seemed to hang from her and she suddenly looked incredibly fragile. A guilty pain crept up my spine and through my chest, as I knew that her healing me caused this taxing drainage of energy and life.
I sat myself up with surprising and painless ease as I began to panic at the sight of her. She was so frail-looking like this.
What can I do to fix this? I thought to myself.
“She is going to be fine, mister.” Said a brawny, familiar voice. I turned my head to see Vatuha standing near the end of the bed. His eyes were blazing and intense. I could tell he wasn't entirely sure of his own promising words.
“She just needs some rest,” He continued. “Can you stand?”
I pondered on his question for a moment, wondering what he may want of me if I could, in fact stand up. But, I quickly decided to try standing anyway. The sooner I could stand, the sooner I could leave and maybe that's what he wanted as well.
Trying my best not to disturb Suende, I turned myself, slowly to the right-hand edge of the bed and let my legs dangle from it for a brief second. Then, cautiously, I touched the cave floor with my feet and began to put the pressure of my body weight on them and my legs. Once, I felt confident enough in my seemingly painless movements, I brought myself to a complete standing position.
Vatuha gave a proud smile, “Good.” He said.
I wanted to question his happiness in the fact, but then realized, his pride was in Suende's accomplishment. So, I let it go and asked him something else instead; “How was she able to heal me so quickly?”
His smile disappeared and was replaced by a distrustful scowl. “I don't like you,” He said. “You put Suende in danger by asking for her help. Your wounds nearly destroyed her.”
Not knowing what to say, I silently stood watching him with a heavy weight in my chest that I couldn't understand at the time. This was more than guilt.
“She cannot say no to a dying, lost soul, “ He began to speak again. “And you were already dead when she found you.”
His words stunned and confused me. I was dead when she found me? I though. What does that mean?
I could clearly remember those moment before I fell into her arms. I could remember her words, her presence. The memory of the scent of lilac and burning wood that wafted through as I went unconscious. How could I remember those things if I were already dead?
Seeing the troubled look across my face, Vatuha let out an exhausted sigh and said, “Come with me, mutt.”
“Don't call me that again,” I commanded. I was not as angry as I sounded this time, but I was still angry.
He turned to me, his eyes piercing, hot blades and was right in front of me in three broad strokes of his legs. “I will call you what you are,” He spoke through gritting teeth, “Until you're not anymore.”
I'd have fought him if I thought I had a chance to win. But I didn't. Especially not as I was. So, instead, I simply asked him; “Why not call me by my name?”
“I don't know your name, mutt.” He said, “And I don't find you worthy of such trust yet. It's bad enough you know hers.”
“I know yours too, you know?” I provoked.
He backed away from me, unafraid and exhausted by my foolish behavior. “I could care less if you know mine or not,” He said. “But hers...” He turned to look at her and paused.
The silence after his voice stopped rumbling through was enough to cause your ears to bleed. From the angle I was standing, I couldn't see his face, but I could feel a shift in him when he looked at her. He loved her. But, there was a pain in his heart, too. Which told me that she didn't love him back.
“She is important.” He said after a long, uneasy silence. Then, he turned back to me and said, “If you threaten her safety in any way at all, even for a second, I will split you in two.”
Vatuha turned away from me again and began to walk. I thought I was safe to find my clothes and leave, but he gestured for me to follow.