The Plain Lands: Meeting of Heroes Part 2

by Christina Anton

See Part 1 for disclaimers.

The breath was knocked out of Kayna as she landed flat on her back in complete and oppressive darkness. Dust filled her lungs as she gasped for air, forcing her into a fit of coughing. Going on pure survival instinct, the cleric ignored everything else but the need for breathable air. Scrambling to her hands and knees, she crawled forward in the darkness, intent on her goal.

She grunted as she bumped blindly into a cold stone wall and leaned against it, expelling the dust from her lungs with great hacking coughs, and pulling in gulps of considerably clearer air. She spat to get the dust out of her mouth, the old and rotten taste of it almost enough to make her gag. The cleric started breathing through her nose in order to calm herself, and after a few sneezes, she gained enough presence of mind to wonder where she was.

Concentrating, the cleric of Krystia called back her light. She appeared to be in a tunnel, its dark stone walls seeming to drink in the light floating over the palm of her hand. Several feet in front of her, broken bits of rotted wood, rusted bits of iron, and a thick rug covered in dust laid in a pile. That must have been where she'd landed and indicated the source of the dust that still irritated her nostrils.

Kayna struggled up from her position against the wall. What had she gotten herself into this time? Despite her fall, she didn't seem the worse for wear besides what felt to be a sore back and bruised shoulders. She briefly regretted not putting on her shoulder guards earlier.

Putting the sleeve of her robe in front of her nose and mouth to ward off the dust, Kayna went back to her landing point to look up at the hole she had fallen through after encountering the elven spirit.

The chamber that she had landed in had a higher ceiling than that of the tunnel she had just left. In fact, the hole was nearly twelve feet above her head, which dashed her hopes of just being able to just jump up, catch a ledge, and lift herself out. The pile of iron and wood at her feet seemed to have once been a sturdy trapdoor which had weakened with time and finally dropped her into this predicament. Face it, Kayna. You have no good luck at all. Bad situations find you like a bear finds honey.

Krystia's grace! What did she do to deserve such bad luck? Wherever she went, something always seemed to happen. One example of her bad luck was the incident at the gathering of faiths that happened every year in the city of Slorae. It had started with a disagreement between a paladin of Thalos and a priest of Talo the Great Father, which somehow turned into a drinking contest that involved twenty-seven tankards of ale and Kayna herself as the mediator. To this day, no one knew whether the paladin or the priest won the contest because an equally drunken cleric of Vayli decided that it was a good idea to summon a bright flash of light that blinded everyone until the next morning. Unfortunately, the drunken paladin of Thalos panicked and ended up smacking her in the head with the pommel of his sword, effectively making Kayna the only casualty in the incident. That event made her wish that other faiths besides the followers of Ahva abstained from consuming alcoholic beverages. As responsible as most holy men and women usually were, alcohol and a large group of people always created some sort of situation.

Come on, get a grip, silly cleric! You need to do something about this. Mentally shaking herself out of her thoughts, Kayna looked around the small chamber for any way to get herself back up to the head priest's office. Stifling another sneeze in the sleeve of her robe, she looked back up at the hole in the ceiling. She could just barely see the frayed ends of two ropes dangling from the hole, like a rope ladder had been cut away. Frowning, Kayna rummaged through the pile of debris at her feet, and sure enough, she found an old rope ladder that had been covered by the ruined trapdoor. The matching frayed ends of the rope of the ladder looked as if someone had cut it with a sharp knife, but they didn't have the look of fresh cuts.

Grumbling under her breath, Kayna dropped the useless ladder back onto the dirt floor. "Dear Mistress, couldn't You have some pity on Your daughter for once?" she sighed. Deciding that standing around the small chamber, which was still filled with a good bit of dust, wasn't going to do her any good, she looked to the entrance of the tunnel. "Well, if I can't get out from here, I'll have to get out from somewhere in there."

And with that said, she entered the darkness of the tunnel.

* * * * * * *

The stable was almost exactly like Vera had last seen it, with the exception of newer stall doors and hinges. The warrior stroked Shadow's nose as the dark stallion butted her in the side affectionately. "You like this place too, huh boy?" she murmured to the horse.

A chestnut mare nickered from a stall to their right. Shadow nickered back enthusiastically. "Down boy," Vera chuckled.

"How about we just put Shadow next to Breeze here. Looks like they'll be good company for each other," Kera laughed.

After getting a very happy Shadow settled in a comfortable stall next to the mare with plenty of feed and water, Vera and Kera entered the common room of the Hardroof Inn.

Two of the three men talking at the bar were very familiar to Vera. One was Kera's large Uncle Brangus, and the other was her own Uncle Normis. The other man was one that she'd never seen before, and by his slim, almost skinny frame, light colored skin, and bright blonde hair, she guessed him to be from Drgeva. The three hadn't noticed Kera and her yet, and the both of them couldn't help but listen to the conversation.

"What do you mean, 'she hasn't come back out yet,' Hannus?!" Normis growled at the skinny man.

"I mean what I say! It's been two hours since she went into that temple and Markhis isn't letting anyone inside." The smaller man backed away from Normis' threatening figure.

"An' why isn't me brother lettin' anyone in there to go after the lass?" The rumble of the innkeeper's voice was flat with displeasure.

"Well, Sister Kayna made us promise that none of us would go in there after her if she didn't come out. She said it would be too dangerous for us if something happened to her. She said that none of us builders nor any of the townsfolk were to go in the temple. Markhis has decided to follow her orders to the word."

"Those were her exact words? None of the builders and no one from town?" Normis asked.

Brangus looked down at the nearly mirror-like shine of the bar. "Why do they have to be so damn stubb'rn? Poor lass." He shook his head.

"So if we could find someone from out of town to go in there after her . . ." Normis mused.

Kera stepped forward, ignoring the warrior's raised eyebrow. "I think ye've got yer answer right here," she said.

Normis turned on his barstool to meet eyes as blue as his own. He could hardly believe that it was his niece standing with an almost bored nonchalance on the wooden floorboards of the common room. She looked . . . older. Not much like the last time he had seen her, but even then he had seen the beginnings of shadows in her eyes. "Veriara," he whispered.

The sight of her uncle, her only living blood relation, brought a surge of warmth to the warrior's chest, filling in a hole in her soul that she hadn't known was there. This was the man that had taken care of her when her parents died in Kehat, taking her out of the war torn country and trying to play the roles of both parental entities to a ten year old child. Unconsciously, her face softened from its rock hard mask, and before she knew it, another rare smile appeared on her lips. Two in one day. I must be getting soft.

The stable master bounded up from his barstool in a show of momentarily gained youth, and engulfed Vera in a warm hug. The warrior stiffened for a moment, the unexpected embrace making violently honed instincts rear their fanged heads. With no small effort, she stamped the instincts down, and made her body relax. It had been so long since she had received a hug, or even been touched at all with love and concern. Until that moment, she hadn't even known she had missed it.

After a few comforting rubs to his niece's back, Normis eased away from the hug to take a good look at the ex-soldier. She was just as tall as he was, give or take a little. "It's good to see you, Veriara," he said softly.

The raising of an ebony eyebrow met his statement. "It's Vera, Uncle Norm. Will you ever get that through your skull?" He always had insisted on calling her by her full name. "It's good to see you too."

A cough from an ignored innkeeper reminded the two that they had an audience.

Niece and uncle moved away, both sharing the trait of being uncomfortable with showing emotion. "What're you all looking at?" The stable master drawled, arching an eyebrow. Yet another trait that Vera and her uncle shared.

"Oh, nothin' at all." Brangus waved a hand in dismissal, but he couldn't quite contain a grin.


"Umm, I don't mean to intrude, but didn't you say you had an answer to our problem, Kera?" Hannus asked, his eyes darting between Normis and Vera uneasily.

"Oh! Aye, aye, that I do. Ye said ye needed a non-townsfolk person to go after Sister Kayna? Well, here's yer answer." The redhead moved next to Vera and patted the warrior on the shoulder. "Ye don't mind, do ye, Vera?" The barmaid's eyes implored the dark woman to agree with her.

Vera frowned down at the serving maid. "But, I don't even know the woman!" The warrior had come back to the town for some rest and relaxation, not to go rescue some cleric!

"C'mon now lass, ye can't just let a Sister of the Blue Moon stay lost in there. And me brother ain't gonna let anyone into that ol' temple unless they don't fit the Sister's description of who can't go in there. Yer the best chance that Sister's got," Brangus said.

"Sister Kayna is a good woman, Veriara. I'd not like it if she passed on because no one was there to help her." Normis fixed a stern gaze on his niece. There was no disputing that he had a soft spot for the cleric.

Vera massaged the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache creeping in. It wouldn't hurt to do this, would it? After you get this done, you'll have every right to snap at anyone for disturbing your leisure time for the next month, at least. Feeling the pleading gaze of the four Little Haveners decided her. "All right, I'll go find the Sister." Brushing black bangs from her forehead, she cast a glare at the four. "But after I bring her back, you'll all leave me be for a good long while, got it?"

A chorus of agreements answered her.

* * * * * * *

A short time later, Vera and Normis were walking down the path towards the old temple of Haven. The midday sun of early spring shone down on niece and uncle, making ebony hair shine and bronzed skin lighten. A light breeze ruffled their hair, bringing with it the smell of rain. Normis explained to Vera what had happened that morning, from Hannus' encounter with the spirit in the temple to Sister Kayna's entrance into the temple.

"Sister Kayna is a capable woman, Veriara. When you find her, don't go thinking that you're the only one capable of handling whatever is down there." The stable master calmly walked beside the warrior, fully expecting a wave of indignation from his niece.

"And what do you mean by that?" Vera's voice was soft, with a slight edge to it. It was a dark voice with a definite undertone of danger.

Her response, or rather the way she said the response, surprised him. Before she'd left, Vera had been hot tempered and had bristled at criticism. Not that she hadn't taken the criticism well after she had gotten over it. Maybe the change in her was for the best, but Normis didn't like the way the change had come about.

"What I mean, is that you've been commanding soldiers for the last few years. It'll take you a while to get used to not being in a position of power. I have a strong feeling that Sister Kayna won't take well to orders if you try to give them." He looked over at the dark woman, noticing the set jaw and eyes that were fixed on the ruins on the path ahead. "I'm just warning you, Veriara. I know you don't want the job to be any more difficult." It was times like these that Normis wished that he were better with words.

Vera shot a quick glance at her uncle, thinking about saying something that she shouldn't. What's wrong with you! This is your uncle for Kayos' sake, and he's no better at sensitive conversations than you are. She knew what her uncle meant by his comment on her tendency to order people around. She was used to getting what she wanted. "I understand, Uncle Normis. I'll try to keep that in mind."

"I know you will. It's just . . . I haven't seen you in quite a long while, Veriara. I know you've changed from the wild girl you used to be. Not that you might not still be a little wild," he added at Vera's raised eyebrow. He continued when she gave him a satisfied grin. "I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I need to get used to how you are now. Even though you look different, and even act a little different, I'll do my best to treat you as I always have."

"I appreciate that," Vera said softly. And she did appreciate her uncle's acceptance of her. On the way back to the place she had called home, and still did call home in her thoughts, she had known that some of her old friends and acquaintances in the town might not appreciate her coming back. Vera knew that she had changed from her six years in service to the Chaen army, and she had known that there had been a strong possibility that some people could not accept the change. It was a comfort to know that her uncle would accept her no matter what changes had occurred in her appearance or personality.

The pair walked in comfortable silence for the rest of the walk to the temple. When they got to their destination, they were met with Markhis, who eyed them warily.

"I'm not lettin' ye in, Normis, and I thought ye'd had more respect for me than this!" the man jerked his head towards Vera. "If ye'd had a mind to get past me into this 'ere temple I'd 'ave thought ye'd face me yerself instead o' bringin' a warrior with ye to do yer work for ye." Markhis grabbed the handle of the work hammer at his waist, prepared to fight if needed.

A little taken aback, Normis nevertheless stepped forward and held his hands out in supplication "Now, now, Markhis. You know I've got the most respect for you that a man could have. I'd never attack you unless you gave me good cause to." The stable master looked back at Vera, who just stood silently, lazily looking at Markhis. Despite the short time that Normis had had to study the new mannerisms of his niece, he recognized her current look and stance to be that she was on the verge of some sort of violence. Normis looked back at Markhis, who had relaxed a little but still had his hand to his hammer. "I guess you don't recognize her, do you Markhis? You remember Veriara, my niece, don't you? Well, this is her."

Markhis, whose eyes had widened as Normis explained, just gaped at the dark haired warrior. This was Vera? Veriara Linshaw? Completely without thought, he said, "Damn, ye must've had the soldiers all over ye, didn't ye, Vera? I can see how ye kept 'em in line."

"It wasn't only my beauty that kept them in line, Markhis." Vera's lips quirked in a small grin.

Markhis' blush could be seen even though his thick beard. "Sorry about that. It's good to see ye, Vera. I've heard some good things about ye."

"And some bad, I'm sure."

"'There's little bad in every good,' as I've heard." Markhis folded his arms over his chest and blocked the entrance to the temple. "Ye two are 'ere to get in this temple? Well it's not gonna work. I'm not lettin' ye in, just as Sister Kayna asked."

"I know, 'none of the townsfolk are allowed in.' I am not the one that's going to go in there. Veriara here is," Normis explained.

"But I've known Vera since she was just a wee lass! O'course she's one o' the townsfolk!"

"Markhis, Veriara hasn't been 'one o' the townsfolk' for six years. Ever since she left, she hasn't been a part of the affairs of Little Haven." Normis cast an apologetic look at his niece, who nodded in acceptance.

The Chief Builder wasn't quite convinced. "Well, I don't know . . ."

Normis wanted to growl in frustration. He wasn't a very patient man, especially when he wanted something done for someone he cared about. The stable master turned back to Vera, who just shrugged and gave him a look that said 'I may have agreed to this, but you'll have to get me in there on your own.'

Whoever said that family was always reliable had been full of horse dung.

"Look, Markhis. We may be hedging this a little, but you can't deny that Sister Kayna might need help in there. Letting Veriara in there is her best chance, and you know that my niece can take care of herself." More than take care of herself, actually. "You know I don't like violence, but I'm not above doing harm to another if I have to."

Markhis sighed. The threat from the stable master was unneeded as the Chief Builder knew that the dark man could knock him into the next phase of the silver moon if he wanted to. He had been looking for an excuse to let someone in to search for the Sister anyway, but hadn't wanted to go against his word. "All right, ye can go in, but only Vera, ye hear? And ye'd better find her, Vera, or ye'll have me to deal with when ye come back." Despite his shorter stature, he made an intimidating figure.

"Don't worry, I'll bring her back, one way or the other," Vera said. Since everyone cared about the Sister so much she would rather bring her back alive, but if the warrior found her dead she would bring her back for a decent burial.

"You have everything you need, Veriara?" Normis asked.

The leather clad warrior shifted her shoulder and patted the backpack strapped to her back. "All here. Even the food Lerus gave me."

"Good. You be careful in there, okay?"

"I didn't survive six years of fighting by not being careful, Uncle Norm."

Normis snorted. "Just get in there then. When you get back with her, I'll have the best table waiting for you and buy the both of you the most expensive thing on Brangus' menu."

"I'll remember you said that." Vera murmured. After settling the backpack more comfortably on her shoulders, and making sure that it hadn't gotten caught on her sword, she confidently entered the temple.

"Ahva's section," she muttered. Walking into the main hall of the temple, she spied the green tree of Ahva's symbol above one of the six arched doorways. Sharp eyes noticed everything in the main hall: footprints in the dust on the floor, scattered tools, broken statues, old and dried blood in the corners and on various spots in the room. Guess they hadn't gotten around to really cleaning this place up yet.

Sunlight came in thick bars from the high windows, bathing some spots in gold and keeping others in pale shadow. The warrior walked into the Mother's section of the temple and stopped to examine the greenstone vines inlaid into the white marble walls. Interesting . . .

There were two pairs of footsteps in the dust leading to a dark door in the back of the room. The ones that went completely into the darkened room must have been from the cleric.

Taking out her flint and steel, Vera lit a torch from her pack. She cautiously peered into the room, immediately noticing the hole in the floor and the area free of dust around it. Must've fallen through. Hope she didn't break her neck.

Kneeling down next to the hole, the warrior angled her torch to cast a as much light down into the darkness below. "Anyone down there? Sister Kayna?" Silence was her only answer, and from what she could see, no one was down there.

I'm gonna have to go down there, aren't I. Vera sighed. Why couldn't the cleric have just stayed where she landed and made her job easier? Nooo, Vera thought, that would be too easy, Vera. Taking a rope attached to a grappling hook out of her pack, she hooked the edge of the hole and let the rope drop down. More than enough rope to go down there. After she smoothly swung down into the hole she saw two cut pieces of rope tied to a metal rod right beneath the edge of the opening. A rope ladder? Oh well, it was none of her concern. It didn't look recently cut anyway.

She landed in a cavern-like room on a pile of rotten wood and rusted metal. A dusty carpet was in a pile off to the side. The cleric must have fallen when the trapdoor broke, taking the carpet with her. That would explain the lack of dust up there.

Luckily, since the dirt of the floor was so soft, Vera could track where the cleric had gone easily. "There's one thing in my favor," she muttered. The tracks lead her to a tunnel cut into the wall of the room. Adjusting her grip on her torch, the warrior followed the tracks.

* * * * * * *

"Damn it!"

Jessic blocked a blow by the scruffy bandit with his sword, the blade only inches from his face. A sharp rock dug into his lower back from his position on the ground, and he strove to maneuver himself to kick his opponent. The battle between him and the bandit came to an abrupt halt as a large hand grabbed the back of the bandit's collar and flung the unfortunate man into the trunk of a nearby tree. Slightly amused blue eyes looked down at him.

"Thanks, Brock." Jessic grasped the large hand of his big friend and allowed Brock to pull him to his feet.

"Not a problem," Brock answered. "I hate these guys." The brawny man gestured towards the six unconscious rogues scattered about the pathway.

At the motion of Brock's arm, Jessic noticed a small cut on the younger man's suntanned bicep. A trickle of blood was slowly trailing down Brock's forearm. "One of them nicked ya."

The giant of a man looked down at his arm and frowned. "It's not the first time it's happened, and probably not the last. I don't even remember it happening." He took a piece of clean cloth from on of his pant's pockets and dampened it with the leather water bottle at his waist. "It's not bad," he said as he wiped his arm clean.

Jessic nodded absently and scratched the back of his curly blonde head. "We better get going before these guys wake up. Ya ready ta go?"

"Yeah, we should be in Little Haven soon. You'll be able to relax there. They don't have anything against what you are there," Brock said as he put the dampened cloth back into his pocket.

Jessic looked down at his green and black tattooed hands. "I've heard that myself, and I'll take your word on it." He then made sure that his hair covered his ears sufficiently. "But I'll cover my ears all the same. They may be tolerant of the Woodsmen there, but I know enough that the magistrate won't be able ta stop everyone that wants ta take their anger out on a half-elf."

"Don't worry, Jess. You've got me to knock some sense into anyone that would want to do that." Brock clapped the smaller man on his back, careful not to hit the bow strapped there. "Come on, let's get going."

The pair walked off, leaving six groggily stirring road bandits and an unnoticed bloody knife streaked with a brownish substance.

* * * * * * *

Kayna estimated that she had been traveling through the tunnels beneath the ruined city for two hours or more. She couldn't count how many times she had run into dead ends.

An hour earlier, she had started to get tired from maintaining her ball of light and had used her flint and steel to light an old torch she'd found. The flame didn't provide as much illumination, but it was better than draining her energy.

The cleric was starting to feel lonely. She hadn't seen a living thing in the tunnels at all, not even a rat. That struck Kayna as a little odd. After three hundred years, surely something would have claimed the tunnels as its home.

Unless it was something that preyed on rats.

And was looking for something else to eat now that the rats were gone.

Kayna shuddered. If she kept thinking like that, she'd be nothing but a quivering mass of blubbering holy woman. That wouldn't help her if something actually did come along to eat her.

She stopped as she got to a fork in the tunnel. She could either go straight or go through the tunnel going diagonally to her right. She'd just go through the tunnel closest to the left first, like she had been doing ever since entering this place. If it was a dead end, as most of the tunnels were, she would just double back and go through the other tunnel.

A soft noise in the nearly perfect silence nearly made her jump out of her boots. Her eyes wide, the blonde cleric gripped the handle of her mace and moved her torch to look around her. The noise came again, something that sounded like rough rocks tumbling or grinding together. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, her body's way of telling her to get the hell out of there.

"It's probably just the walls settling. The ground is soft enough for it," she rationalized aloud, both needing to reassure herself and needing to hear the sound of another human voice, even if it was just her own. Hearing the sound again, she decided to go with what her instincts were screaming at her to do, and hurriedly walked into the tunnel straight ahead of her.

* * * * * * *

Three dead ends later, Kayna came to a large rectangular room. Several sarcophagi lined the walls, engraved with, what looked to her, to be elvish script. There were four exits to the room being doorways in each wall.

On top of each sarcophagus was an engraved silver candlestick, the metal tarnished from the passing of time and the perpetual damp. Curious, the cleric approached the sarcophagus of an elven woman, the gender indicated by the carving of the detailed form of an armored woman. The engravings on the candlestick intrigued Kayna, and she thought she might have recognized a little of the elvish script from religious texts in the library of Slorae.

This word, washae . . . awaken? Yes, it's awaken. But awaken what? With a short-nailed hand, she turned the candlestick to see more of the script.

Almost immediately, the lid of the sarcophagus that the candlestick was resting on started moving. Startled, the cleric jumped back, her heart nearly in her throat, and backed away hurriedly when she saw the skeletal hand moving the lid. She was even more startled to realize that every lid of every sarcophagus in the room had a skeletal hand of its own moving it.

By the time she had backed into the center of the room, slender boned skeletons dressed in everything from tattered robes to rusty armor had come out of every sarcophagus.

Oh, great, she thought. I'm about to be mobbed by a group of ancient elven undead. Krystia have mercy on me! With a determined resolve, Kayna unhooked her mace with her right hand and concentrated her energy into creating a light that would serve to repel the yellow-boned undead that had started to stalk towards her in her left.

As the first skeleton, armed with an oddly unrusted bastard sword, got within range of her mace, she simultaneously swung at it and released the energy she'd gathered in a burst of light that caused the animated skeletons to move back a step. The expelling of the energy and he jarring impact of her mace on her opponent's sword made her grunt, and she became concerned when her spell didn't cause nearly as much of an effect as she'd hoped.

"In Krystia's name, leave me be!" the cleric yelled, hoping that the name of her deity would cause an effect. The skeletons didn't even falter, and she barely dodged an unarmed skeleton's clawing hand.

She was in trouble.

* * * * * * *

Brock's arm wasn't doing too great. The cut that the bandit from earlier in the day had gifted him with had become red and swollen. Even more to the big man's consternation were the ominous-looking purplish streaks that flowed from the wound beneath his skin.

"Hey, Jessic?" he asked the green cloaked Woodsman a little ways ahead of him.

That tattooed man turned around to face him. The half-elven Priiten frowned when he saw his friend's face, and his eyes widened in alarm as he caught sight of Brock's swollen arm. "Mother, Father, and Children! That doesn't look good at all." He walked back towards Brock for a closer inspection.

"That blade that the bandit got me with must've had something on it," Brock mused, and then hissed as Jessic gently prodded the edge of the wound with an index finger. It was the equivalent of shoving a hot poker into the swollen appendage. "Hey!"

"Sorry," the blonde man said, giving the warrior an apologetic look. "I don't know of any poison that causes symptoms that look like this . . . do ya know any?"

That earned the Woodsman a wry look. "If I knew, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now."

"True. How are ya feeling other than the obvious?" He reached up and placed a hand on the big warrior's forehead. "Ya feel a little warm."

Brock took a moment to catalog the aches and pains of his body. There was a small ache in his thigh from a broken leg years before, which always ached a little in the damp, so nothing abnormal about that; his body felt just a little bit harder to move than usual, like lead were slowly replacing his muscles; a throbbing ache had developed in his temples within the past hour. In general, all Brock really felt like doing was laying down and taking a nap. He told Jessic.

Jessic sighed. He knew all sorts of natural toxins that were harmful to both the human and elven bodies, but he was at a loss as to what sort of poison was in his friend's system. It frustrated him. "Well, buddy, we're gonna have ta rush it ta Little Haven. Maybe someone there'll be able ta help ya better." The Woodsman eyed his big friend critically, noting the small signs of fatigue. "Bet ya wish we had a horse now, don't ya?" he teased, trying to make light of the situation.

Brock gave a low growl that turned into a chuckle as he swiped playfully at his curly-haired friend. "You know I don't like horses. The last time I tried to ride one, the beast bit me."

The two resumed walking. "Ya just don't have a way with animals, Brock."

"I have you for that. Animals are your department."

"Hey, just because all the squirrels love me, doesn't mean that ya have ta get snippety about it." The two laughed, this conversation not being an uncommon occurrence in their travels.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm sure you've had an animal bite you before." The sandy-haired warrior rubbed his chin in thought. "There was that dog in Tordisa."

Jessic's face contorted into a grimace of remembered pain. "That dog just didn't like anybody. I didn't have time to reason with him before he started chasing us."

"Uh huh, and when you actually did get a chance to try that, he ripped the seat of your pants off while you were trying to climb that tree."

A wince. "Please don't remind me of that, it's painful to my pride." In truth, the half-elf didn't mind being reminded of the rather painful and embarrassing incident as long as it kept Brock's mind off of their current predicament. He quickened his pace from a leisurely walk to a brisk one, satisfied when his bigger friend unconsciously did the same.

* * * * * * *

The two men arrived in Little Haven an hour before midday, just a half hour after a female warrior entered an old temple on the western side of town. But, of course, the two didn't know that.

By the time Brock and Jessic passed the dividing line between the ruins of Haven and the town that the citizens of Little Haven lived in, Brock was barely standing on his own two feet. Jessic, with his hood up to cover his ears, had to keep a steadying hand on his friend to make sure that the big warrior kept his balance.

Almost every townsperson doing their business in the dirt and cobblestone streets of the town eyed the pair curiously, the big man's garments of fur and leather, and the smaller man's tattooed hands marking the two as different from the norm. A few of them made themselves scarce in case whatever the bigger man had was contagious.

"Good lady, could ya tell me where your healer is? My friend here's been poisoned," Jessic asked a passing woman.

Fortunately, this woman had a good head on her shoulders and noticed the red and swollen wound on the unsteady man's arm. "Our local mage 'as gone to a sect meetin' and won't be back for five days yet. But if ye go to the Hardroof," she gestured up the street towards a large two-story building, "Normis might be able to help ye. 'E's got a bit o' knowledge about 'erbs an' such."

Thank the gods. "Thank ya, good lady. We'll be forever grateful to ya." Jessic immediately steered Brock towards the building that the woman had pointed him to, filled with an urgency to get there now that he knew a place to go where his friend could get help. By now, he had Brock's uninjured arm over his shoulders and he was half carrying the man down the street.

"I'm not feelin' too good, y'know that, Jess?" Brock's voice rumbled in his ear, the usually clear voice slurred with pain.

"Ya, I know, buddy. Just hang on for a little bit."

* * * * * * *

Brangus Fargur's morning had been a worry-filled one so far. It had started out fine with the Sister's breakfast, but just went downhill from there.

He had had a bad feeling about telling the cleric about his brother's problem at the old temple of the gods, and he apparently should have given heed to that feeling. He'd had mixed feelings about Vera Linshaw going after the Sister of Krystia because on one hand, someone was going to make sure that the cleric was all right, but on the other he stood to lose two people he cared about. No matter that he had only just met Sister Kayna that morning or that he hadn't seen Vera in six years.

"Anything ye need me to do Uncle Brangus?" Kera set her serving tray on the bar, done serving the few patrons in the inn. Business would be picking up in an hour or so at midday, but at the moment Kera had nothing to do.

"There's some o' that Drgevan wine down in the cellar. Been meanin' to have some o' that brought up for a while now. Bring one o' the smaller barrels up--" the innkeeper broke off as two men entered the main entrance of his inn, one half carrying the other.

The man being carried wore the clothing of a warrior south of the Fairywood, where Ulaymae and it's residents held reign. Most people in the Plain Lands considered the Ulaymae barbaric because of the mixture of fur and leather they all wore, with the exception of the few items of cloth they traded for. The Ulaymae were also known for being bigger than average, and the sandy-haired man half slung over the shoulders of his smaller companion was a prime example.

Brangus instantly recognized what kind of man carrying the Ulaymaen was. A Woodsman. No one else would have the runic, green and black tattoos on his hands, and, as Brangus knew, on his whole body. The hood of the Woodsman's cloak was up, most of his face cast in shadow except for his sharp nose.

Brangus was a little surprised when a Priiten voice, albeit much more polite than what he usually heard, issued from the mouth of the green cloaked man.

"I need some help for my friend. A good lady told me that the stable master here might be able ta help?"

Day just keeps gettin' more interestin'. The innkeeper could see from all the way back in the room that the man the Woodsman was carrying looked deathly pale. "Come wi' me, this isn't anyplace to have a sick man," Brangus said, not wanting to have his customers scared away. Kindhearted he was, but he was also a business man. "Keep an eye on things here, will ye Kera?" His niece nodded, her worried eyes tracking the Woodsman and Ulaymaen.

After offering to help the Woodsman with his burden, and getting a polite refusal, Brangus led the tattooed man and his charge into the corridor that led to the Hardroof's stables: Normis Krite's domain. The stable master had come back from taking Vera to the temple just ten minutes before, peeking his head into the common room and giving the innkeeper a nod.

"What's yer friend got, Woodsman?" Brangus asked. If the hooded man was surprised at Brangus' knowledge, he showed no outward indication.

"Poisoned by a bandit's blade. Don't know what kind, I'm afraid," the Woodsman responded. The man's voice was a little lighter than most men's, not containing a low pitch that every man that Brangus had ever known had. It wasn't feminine, just . . . lighter. Different.

They found the stable master checking the hooves of a stallion as black as a shadow during the darkest hour, his strong build and aggressive attitude naming him a warhorse. Expert hands calmed the aggressive stallion, but didn't stop him from giving the three newcomers a glare and a snort for daring to enter his territory. Normis rose of his kneeling position.

The innkeeper reached out to steady the Woodsman as his companion caused him to overbalance in his semiconscious state. "This un 'ere needs yer help, Normis."

After getting the Ulaymaen settled on a makeshift pallet of saddle blankets, Brangus got a good look at the warrior's face, which had been shrouded by the big man's shoulder length hair. A face that the Chaen recognized from seeing it in his inn some time previously. "I know this lad. Brockino, isn't it?" he asked, looking at the Woodsman.

Pale eyes peered at him from beneath the hood. "Yeah, this is Brock. He did mention coming here before."

A nod. "Aye, he's been through 'ere a couple o' times. Never seen a man eat four bowls o' Lerus' stew in one sittin'."

That brought a chuckle from the Woodsman. "That sounds like Brock." A tattooed hand was held out for the shaking. "I'm Jessic Averom. Of the Woodsmen, as you know."

"Brangus Fargur," he responded after shaking the proffered hand. He looked over at Normis who had been looking over the Ulaymaen with a grim expression. "What've we got, Normis?"

The tanned man cursed under his breath. "It isn't good is what I'll tell you." He pointed to the purple lines running in all directions from the wound on Brock's arm. They had gotten much worse since the first time Jessic had seen them. "See these lines? This is what a wound looks like when the blade has a certain poison on it called lunakrine. It's a poison native to Kehat. Old Kehatan word for 'moonbite'."

Jessic made a small sound of displeasure. "Ya have anything for it?"

A nod from Normis. "I do, but there's no medicine that can cure poison from lunakrine. You'll have to find a cleric if you want him to survive."

"But there's no cleric around for a day's ride!" Brangus exclaimed, and sighed as he caught the look in his friend's eyes. "Ye mean Sister Kayna, don't ye."

"Who's Sister Kayna?" Jessic asked.

"She is a cleric of Krystia that came here early last evening. Unfortunately, she's gotten . . . lost. However, my niece is looking for her now, and you may be able to catch them on their way back here," Normis responded, and then had a depressing thought. What if they don't come back? I'll be losing my niece and a young woman that I barely know, but have somehow come to think of as a daughter. He looked down at the pale, sweating man lying on his extra saddle blankets. And this one here won't have a chance.

The Woodsman's answer was prompt. "We'll meet them."

After a short nod, the dark-haired man got up and went to a door in the back of the stables, a place that Brangus knew was a sort of storage shed for the Kehatan stable master. A short time later he came back with a wooden cup full of a dark liquid. "This'll slow the poison for a few hours which should be more than long enough for you to get him to the Sister. I've added a little something to perk him up a little too so you don't have to carry him everywhere." Normis lifted the prone man's head up and coaxed the Ulaymaen to drink. The effect of the concoction was almost instantaneous.

"Works fast," Jessic commented as his friend stirred from his previously catatonic state.

"Be glad of that, because you'll need to get him up and moving quickly. You need to get him to Sister Kayna as fast as possible."

"I'll make sure ta get him ta her as quick as I can." Jessic put a hand on Brock's back to help him sit up. "Hey, how ya feeling?"

"Like I've been into father's home brew," the big man groaned. He put a hand to his head, his movements stiff. "What's going on?"

"Ya've been out of it for the past ten minutes. We need ya ta get up and movin' so we can get ya to a cleric nearby." At his friend's questioning blue eyes, he clarified. "There's no medicinal cure for the poison. Normis," the Woodsman inclined his head towards the Hardroof's stable master, "gave ya something ta give ya a little more time, but it won't last forever."

A jolt of fear pierced through the haze that both the poison and the herbs had wrapped around him at the grave expressions on the faces of the three men around him. The innkeeper and the stable master. Hardroof Inn. I don't wanna die. Brock had the horrifying image of Jessic carrying his body back to his village to his family, and his friend having to tell them that their warrior son had died from a poisoned scratch on his arm. It was a disgrace for a Ulaymaen warrior to die in such a way. Ulaymaen warriors either died as old veterans that had survived their trials of life, or in the midst of battle, fighting for the cause that he or she believed in.

With a steely determination, Brock heaved himself to his feet with the help of Jessic and the two other men. He would not die this day. "Let's get going."

Part 3