Marnius watched the villagers outside, plodding along the muddy road; hurrying to make the most of the brief respite before the next blanket of rain fell. In the distance he could hear the thunder of the far-off Stormpeaks, rolling down from the mountains and over nearby Wyrm’s Wood. It felt more like the cold highlands where he had been born than the warm climate that dominated Malqish.
Sipping his wine to ward off the chill, he turned back to Ethnila.
The witch-hunter was sitting sideways in her chair, back against the wall with one arm slung over the chair and the other resting on the table. Her slumped posture and hat drawn down her forehead suggested someone dozing off, but Marnius saw the truth. She was wide awake, eyes darting around; patrons, cook, fireplace, stairway; she was anything but relaxed.
“The only demons here are the ones inside your mind, Eth.”
She glanced at him; was that a twitch in the corner of her mouth? Then her gaze shifted behind him and up, toward the staircase, as she raised an eyebrow.
He turned to look, wondering what caught her attention.
The wounded elf was slowly making her way down the steps, looking thoroughly confused. Marnius waved at her to come over, but was met with only a blank stare. He grabbed an empty chair from the next table, pulled it over to theirs and motioned at her and then it.
“So, the elf has awoken.” He smiled warmly at her as she carefully made her way over, sinking into the seat with a pained grimace. How was he to communicate with her, he wondered. To his knowledge the forestfolk spoke neither Charran nor any other language common to the Lesser Kingdoms. And he most certainly did not speak the tongue of the faeries.
“I can assure you I am neither flighty nor aloof. Or did you mistake me for one of the Fair Folk themselves?”
He stared at her, opening his mouth a few times to respond before shutting it when he had none. Ethnila let out an amused snort, but made no move to help him sort this out. Marnius gave up with a self-deprecating smirk and a chuckle.
“Apologies, my lady. I did not mean any offence and meant to imply no such thing. ‘Elf’ is used in my homeland to refer to…” Marnius paused, uncertain how to define the vague term. “Those who appear as though kin to humans, yet carry an air of magic. Forestfolk, Laerinn… even whisperlings.”
Marnius conceded the point with a nod to Ethnila before turning back to his patient. “I am Marnius, a priest of… Well, that matters not, as I am sure it would mean nothing to you. Suffice to say that I have been helping the lady Loriana take care of you. This is my companion, lady Ethnila.”
“I am Imaerla-” She hesitated, though out of mistrust or uncertainty Marnius could not tell. “Of the Wyrm’s Wood. Are you a caretaker, then?”
“Not… exactly. I do, however, possess a small amount of healing magic…” It was Marnius’ turn to hesitate. “Forgive me, but… I did not expect you to survive. My skills as a healer leave much to be desired, I am afraid, and your wound… Bloodrot was spreading through you, far more than I could overcome.”
“Bloodrot?” Her confusion was written on her face as much as it was apparent in her voice.
“When a wound festers, spreading disease through your body. You were beyond my ability to save, and I could do naught by ease your passing. And yet…” He motioned at her, trying to gather his thoughts. “You seem to have recovered remarkably; you are not sweating with fever, not shivering, healthy skin colour… Forestfolk must have an exceptional ability to heal from ailments.”
She smiled and gave a graceful nod.
“I thank you for your aid… Marios?”
“I surely would have perished without it. Tell me, what of Loriana? I tried to wake her, but she would do no more than stir.”
“She is asleep then? Good. She has been worried for you and has had no proper rest since she got here. I have been concerned about her health. With the bloodrot gone, I should be able to treat your wound to speed your recovery.”
Imaerla offered an appreciative bow of the head. “I wish to leave here as soon as possible, and would appreciate your aid.”
“Lady Loriana mentioned you were seeing her safely to human lands, but would be eager to return home now that she was somewhere safe.”
“No. I have promised to escort her to… the city of ravens?”
“Raven’s Nest? Why, pray tell, is she going there?”
“It is our hope that she will find there some clue as to who she is.”
“Ah, I see. While speaking with her, I have learned that she knows a fair bit about the Church of Light and our traditions. She mentioned also memories from her childhood, describing what I believe to be the Brighthill cathedral. As I and Ethnila are already heading that direction, I was intending to invite her to come with us af- hrm, when the time to travel arrives.”
“No. We are going to continue to this Raven’s Nest. There is someone there who knew Loriana. Before… something occurred. Once we find this man, he should have answers.”
“Find him? Then you do not know where he is with certainty? Nor do you know he will have the answers you seek? Surely it would be wiser to go where you know there is something?”
Imaerla shook her head, her strange ‘hair’ rustling. “You said yourself that while you believe this Bry-till is somewhere she visited as a child, you do not know if that is the case. We are certain this ‘Ky’ has answers; our path is clear.”
Marnius fell silent, moving his jaw to loosen the muscles while lost in contemplation. It would fit with what he knew, and a fortunate coincidence was to be expected; lucky was an understatement.
“Either way, it’s the same road.” Ethnila commented from under the brim of her hat.
Marnius chuckled. “Indeed. This is a matter we can settle later; for now it is a moot point. Let us instead prepare ourselves. We shall need to find you some new clothing, too, as my magic will do nothing to mend that.” He indicated the large tear in her dress with a nod. “Once Loriana awakens, it would behoove us to head out before the rain resumes. This storm keeps steadily growing worse, and the sooner we get out from under it the better.”
Imaerla nodded and silently rose to her feet. Her gaze had gone out the window; she turned and made her way toward the front door, reminding Marnius of a wounded deer limping across a field after escaping her hunters.
She paused at the door, examining it with her hands before figuring out how to open it. She stood there, door slightly ajar, looking up at the heavens.
Marnius rose and strode over to place a large hand on her shoulder, though if she noticed she made no move. “Come, I will treat your wounds.”