Thirteen. Jungle Haunts
Not knowing what kind of poison was used left Red at a disadvantage. She'd been trained well as a healer, but going into a healing blind could be just as dangerous as the poison itself. Pulling a knife from her boot, she cut through Nikko's shirt, which fortunately wasn't the new one she'd bought him.
The arrow was embedded past the arrowhead, and the shaft moved up and down with each beat of the sorcerer's heart. Red cast a quick spell over Nikko's chest.
"I've got to pull the arrow out. You shouldn't feel too much pain, that spell should help. But I can't... just be prepared," Red told him, biting her lip. He gave a short nod and held his breath. Red grasped the exposed shaft, took a deep breath, and yanked. With a sick squelching noise like a hoof pulling out of mud, the arrow came free, bring with it a whole slew of blood. Nikko gasped in pain, his hand coming up reflexively to clutch at the wound.
"You.. need..." he gasped. Red leaned in closer.
"I need to what? Don't worry, I can help you," she quickly assured him.
"You need to... suck out the poison," he whispered seriously. Red grinned, strained though it was.
"Well, you'll be just fine," she told him. Nikko flashed a tired smile, even as the blood crept through his fingers. Red quickly dug through the magically bottomless pouch at her side and pulled forth various herbs. Pinching a violet leaf between her thumb and index finger, she spoke in the language of magic. The words were sticky and held fast to the tongue, reminding one of a spider's web. She spoke quickly despite this, and her fingers moved rapidly in just the right patterns to properly execute the spell.
Blue threads shot from her fingertips and roped together, zooming into the wound left by the arrow. As this happened, Nikko's eyes widened and he arched off the ground slightly. Beneath his pale skin, Red could see the blue magic pulsating. The sorcerer was breathing very heavily now, and Red believed it was from the magic burning away the poison in his veins.
"The magic will work, Nikko. It may take a little while, but you'll live. But the magic needs to run its course." Red brushed his sweat-dampened hair from his face as she spoke to him. He nodded shortly. Leaning back over him, she quickly cast another spell. Small white lights, not unlike bits of the stars, fell over him.
"Sleep now, Nikko. I'll watch over you. Let your body heal," she said quietly. And not long after she spoke those words, Nikko's eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. Red flopped onto the ground and exhaled loudly. The spell she had case was one of her own invention - she called it 'Search and Destroy', an it was useful for ailments such as the one Nikko was afflicted with. It was, however, rather complex and required much energy.
She picked up the arrow and examined it. As she held it in her hands, she could feel it tingling. So it was an enchanted arrow. She snapped it in half, and it began to smoke. She flung it from her and watch with hard eyes as it crumbled to ash. Red pushed herself to her feet and gazed grimly down at Nikko.
"They really want you dead, don't they?" she murmured.
She then turned to her Hippogryphs. Being of the Lunar variety, they were not handling the humidity of the jungle very well. They looked wilted, and Pryce was leaning on Daiki for support. She walked over to them and embraced them.
"You were both magnificent today," she said. "We owe you our lives." Daiki nibbled at her sleeve affectionately, and Pryce chirped proudly. "But you two can't stay here, you know that." Pryce clicked his beak dolefully. "Head up to the Arkene. We'll be a few days, but we'll meet you up there. Take whichever route you like - they know we're traveling anyway." She kissed each of their beaks, and they swished their tails in affection. "Be safe."
The Hippogryphs departed with a rush of warm air. Red began to put up protective barriers around them, but she did not remain alone for long. Hyperion landedd silently at the edge of the clearing, shaking himself out and folding his stunning wings at his sides. Red dashed over to him and threw her arms around his bejeweled neck. He chirped softly, shifting at the contact.
"I'd be dead without you, big guy," she said. She scratched behind his ears. "Looks like we'll be grounded for a while." As she spoke, she circled her companion, checking for any injuries. Unsurprisingly, she found none. Hyperion was incredibly strong and hardy - he was very difficult to injure. She rested a hand on his neck. "Would you stay with us?" The crystalwing 'skree'd' gently in agreement. With a satisfied smile, Red moved back over to Nikko and sat close to him. His eyes were rolling beneath his eyelids and he was muttering nearly incoherently in his restless feversleep. Red leaned in closer, holding her breath, hopingto catch a word or two.
"Not... leave... Jessa... why... family..." She only caught a few words, the rest was lost in his mumblings. Red smoothed his hair back away from his face again. He was now covered in sweat. Pulling a small cloth from her pack, she dabbed the sweat from his face. The blue magic was still visible beneath his skin. It hadn't moved much, but it still pulsated with power. It was working, but slowly. She cast a dreamless sleep spell over him, and the creases in his forehead flattened, his expression relaxing.
"Thank the Gods he can't see my playing nursemaid to him. I'd never hear the end of it."
For two days Nikko slept. By the morning after the attack, the blue magic had crossed his chest and worked its way into his stomach. His fever was gone, and he now appeared to sleep peacefully.
When Red was not tending to her patient, she was practicing dueling with Hyperion. Most spells bounced right off his scales, and so he made an excellent dueling companion. She also practiced her swordplay - with the proper protective spells placed on him, not even Red's fiercest attacks hurt Hyperion. At night, Hyperion slept curled around Red and Nikko, alert and almost expecting an attack.
On the afternoon of the second day, Red was playing with Hyperion, sprinkling water over his head and giving him a good rub down when she saw Nikko sit up out of the corner of her eye. He blinked several times and looked around, clearly confused as to how he came to be there. And then suddenly his eyes widened and he looked down, clutching at his chest.
"It was a close call, you know," Red said. Nikko unwound the bandages around his chest and brushed his fingers over the wound. It had healed quickly with the help of magic, but the new skin was still pink and slightly tender. When he looked up again, Red was kneeling next to him. "I think you'll live," she said with a smile.
"How long was I out for?" His voice was dry and came out more like a croak. He scowled at himself.
"Two days," she answered. "Don't panic," she soothed when his eyes widened. He openen his mouth to say something, but Red cut him off. "We're not on a time limit, and with any luck, they'll think you're dead," she said brightly. Nikko groaned, his head falling forward into his hands. A moment later, he looked up at Red.
"You didn't get hurt, did you?" he asked quietly.
"No, I didn't. Hyperion came just in time. I talked to Raistlin with that mirror. He said that not long after we left, that man on his dragon followed us. Raistlin sent Hyperion after us, and it's a good thing he did." The Crystalwing walked over to Nikko and leaned in close to him, blinking curiously at him. Nikko smiled weakly at the bird.
"So, you were pretty great, huh?" he askeed. Hyperion chirped and ruffled his multiple wings with pride. Red rested her hand companionably on his neck.
Nikko moved to sit up, but his legs failed him, much to him chagrin. With a smirk, Red gently pressed him back down onto the makeshift cot she'd fashioned.
"Sorry, chief. You're not going anywhere. We'll leave sometime tomorrow, after you've had a proper night's sleep. Your body is too exhausted from the healing process." Red pulled more bandages from her pack. "Sit forward, I need to dress your wound again." Nikko grinned wolfishly.
"Anything you say, love."
"That night, Red built a small fire for the two of them. Hyperion had caught them a few rabbits, and Red was roasting them over the fire. Nikko was sitting up properly now and was wearing a shirt, despite his own fervent protests. His rabbit was rarely cooked when he began eating it. Red left hers on the spit a while longer, as she preferred hers blackened to a crisp.
"I've got a question for you," Red askeed, cutting through the relative silence.
"Fire away, love," he said distractedly.
"Who is Jessa?" Perhaps Nikko had been expecting an inquiry about his hair colour, or the exemplary state of his chest and abdominal muscles. Whatever he was expecting, it was not this. He looked at Red as if seeing her for the first time.
"You talked in your fever-sleep," was the only explanation she offered. The sorcerer set his rabbit back on the spit and sighed.
"My youngest sister, Jessamine," he said. He paused for a moment. "My younger brother Judah killed her years ago." Red looked shocked. She
had been expecting an ex-girlfriend or an illegitimate daughter: Instead, she'd unlocked a grisly past.
"My brother was always interested in the dark side of magic. Dark sorcerers aren't very common, however. The being that swell within our soul stones are... repentant, if you will. Nearly all of them are striving to do good to make up for their arrogance in life. But a few of them... feel that they never did any wrong. Over the millennia, their continued arrogance turned into anger at their prolonged entrapment. The sorcerer unlucky enough to make a pact with that particular one eventually became corrupted as well." As he spoke, he kneaded the flesh on the back of his hand. "My brother was one of those unfortunate few."
"You don't have to tell me all of this if you'd rather keep the past in the past," Red offered. Nikko shook his head, his slightly unkempt hair falling into his face.
"It's not in the past, so there's no point hiding it, love.
"Judah joined the Black Hunters under false pretenses. He believed they hunted down rogue magi and sorcerers alike. He figured it was the perfect opportunity to use his dark magic. To make a very long story short, he was eventually ordered to kill Jessamine. My parents and I were lured away from her by the other Hunters, and he completed his mission, all too eager to appease the leaders." His voice was bitter now, his eyes filled with malice and contempt. His hands were balled into tight fists.
"I fought him when I learned what he did. I should have died - he was stronger than I was. His soul stone had fully matured, mine hadn't. But I dueled him anyway. And my Ancient One fought with me, fought for
me," he said. Unclenching his fists, he lifted his soul stone and watched it gleam in the firelight. "We forged a bond that night, and I haven't lost a magical duel since. Unfortunately, my brother got away that night." Red was confused at this point, and held up her finger.
"What do you mean by maturity and bonds?" She knew more than most about sorcerers, but her knowledge didn't extend to the finer points.
"When a sorcerer makes a pact with a soul stone, the stone is immature - its maximum powers haven't been tapped into yet. Maturity is usually reached during a turning point in the sorcerer's life. My brother's matured faster than mine because of his involvement in the Black Hunters. For a long time, he was far more powerful than I was. Then during our fight, mine matured and took on this shape. The soul trapped within this stone is ancient - older that my brother's, older even than the souls in my parents stones."
"So the age of the Ancient One determines the power of the sorcerer?" Red interjected.
"That's part of it. The older the Ancient One, the more power you can store. But the skill and determination of the individual also plays a large part. I was always more skilled in magic than my brother, but because his stone matured before mine, he was stronger."
"So why is all of this still not the past?" Nikko smirked.
"You miss nothing, do you love?" Red stared expectantly at him, eager for him to continue his tale. "He's in the Black Hunters, isn't he? We've duelled twice since I've been on the run. He was the one who found me at the fishing village. He's become a monster that I don't even recognize as my brother anymore," he finished, shaking his head. His face was obscured by his hair, but Red could see his fists shaking with silent, repressed fury.
"You didn't have to recount the entire tale, if you're bothered," Red said. The sorcerer waved it off dismissively.
"It's probably better that you know, if we're being chased by them."
"You've had a rough life," the magi said sympathetically. Nikko grinned.
"I nearly died when I was a baby, too. Would you like to hear about that?"
"That's quite all right. I've heard enough about death and negativity tonight," she said, holding her hand up.
They lapsed into a slightly uncomfortable silence. The fire had died down considerably, so Red tossed another log into it and cast another fireball at it. Hyperion lounged comfortably behind Red, his large wings fluttering every so often to keep himself cool. Red stretched out on her own cot, staring up at the green canopy of the trees above them. Moments later, Nikko broke the silence.
"How are we going to get to the Arkene now? Our mounts are gone." Red jerked a thumb in Hyperion's direction.
"Crystalwings are magnificent creatures. The weight they can carry is immense, and they can travel anywhere comfortably. Hyperion can take the both of us to the Arkene. We'll meet up with Daiki and Pryce there."
"And we're leaving tomorrow morning, right?" Red nodded.
"If you're feeling up to it, yes. I'd reckon you're fully healed, you just need sleep. Which we should probably get underway, if you ask me. Hyperion can get us to the Arkene by midday if we leave early enough," she said. Behind her, Hyperion chirped in agreement. Before Red closed her eyes, however, Nikko spoke to her.
"Would you mind casting that dreamless sleep spell on me again?" he asked quietly. "I'd rather not fight ghosts tonight." Despite her somewhat callous opinion of the sorcerer, Red felt her chest hurt for him in that instance. Without a word, she cast the spell. With a grateful smile that said more than any spoken words, Nikko rolled over on his cot and went to sleep.
So that could be confusing. If you've got any questions, let me know and I'll ask Nikko to clarify. I wrote that in a record-breaking two days, but it took forever to type up, because I'm lazy