They found a cave to take shelter in for the night. Though it was surprisingly warm inside once the fire was lit, their clothes were already soaked from the biting rain. It left AsaHi with a deep, bone-chilling coldness that even a fresh change of clothes couldn’t mend.
It was a good thing Kudako was such a skilled tracker. After the attack in the hills, she was sure that they lost all of their supplies on the frightened rhawn. Somehow, the Dragon had no trouble finding the creature and all of their packs in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, that put them nearly at sundown. Traveling the mountain passages at night wasn’t the most desirable means of making distance, so, they found the nearest cave and scouted it out. Deeming it safe, they set up camp within.
AsaHi wasn’t quite sure what happened during the battle earlier that day. She knew that there was an ambush in the foggy ravine and that Zento and Kudako had overthrown it. AsaHi also remembered that she and SoYa waited on top of the hill, and some of the Marked attacked them there.
But beyond that, I don’t know how we survived.
AsaHi remembered the void-black eyes of the creatures as they leapt upon her. She remembered screaming and dropping to the ground. But the next thing she knew, she was peering up into Zento’s concerned face. After that, SoYa became even more distant than he was before.
None of it makes any sense.
It could be possible that the Apprentice was shaken at the thought that the Marked were once people from Nefol. She couldn’t blame him for being shocked and afraid.
But still, something’s not quite right.
He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t speaking. He didn’t even change out of his wet clothes. SoYa just sat there, eyes fixed upon the dimly burning blaze in the center of the cave.
AsaHi crouched next to the fire, spooning out some broth from the kettle that hung over it. She stirred it slowly in the small earthenware bowl, letting it cool. Being careful not to spill it, the girl inched over to sit next to SoYa.
“Eat,” she demanded, presenting the bowl, only an inch in front of his nose.
SoYa blinked, giving the broth a cross-eyed stare.
“Eat,” AsaHi ordered a second time.
He choked softly.
“Come on, I’ve tasted Kudako’s cooking. It’s good enough,” she pushed the bowl even closer to his face.
“If you shove it up his nose, then there’s no way he’s ever going to eat it,” Zento churred from across the cave.
AsaHi gave him a flat look.
The winged man simply shrugged.
“SoYa, lookit you. You’re going to get sick,” she turned back to the Apprentice, words gently scolding. “At the least, get a change of clothes. You can’t sleep in your bed sack all wet like that. It’ll never dry out. And if it never dries out, it’ll get–”
SoYa held a hand up slowly, finally speaking, “Okay…”
“Okay?” AsaHi persisted. “Okay what?”
“I’ll get a change.”
He stood up slowly. His knees wobbled as he made his way towards the packs. It took him longer than usual to rummage through the bags and pull out a change of clothes. Without a further word, he stumbled toward the shadowed back corner.
The girl watched him with concern, “What’s wrong with him?”
“He drained himself,” Zento murmured, leaning back against the wall while using his wings as a feathery cushion.
“What do you mean?”
Kudako’s golden eyes shifted in hue through the light of the fire, “You do not know.”
It was more of a statement than a question, but AsaHi understood the indication.
“No, I don’t really know what happened,” she shook her head slowly.
The girl waited silently, twisting one strand of hair around her finger. Finally, when she realized she wasn’t going to get a better answer, she pressed on, “So?”
“Hrm?” the Dragon lifted one eyebrow at her tone of voice.
“What did happen?”
Kudako shifted his glance over to Zento. The winged man looked half asleep.
“Well?” she huffed.
“SoYa used his power,” Zento answered quietly.
“Athrylith,” Kudako added curtly. As if it was common knowledge.
“I’m not sure what that means,” she admitted slowly.
She had heard the word before. She knew it was something that was feared — a person found to be Athrylith was sometimes slain on sight. However, she didn’t really know what it meant. Not completely. Not enough to understand why SoYa was acting the way that he was.
“Why don’t you… talk to… SoYa about it..?” Zento’s voice was hazing off into a muted slumber.
Great… he falls asleep after all that happened today?
One hand tightened on the grip of the little bowl. Her eyes turned to Kudako.
“Not my business,” the warrior grunted. He quite promptly rose and strode towards the mouth of the cave to keep watch.
AsaHi found herself alone.
SoYa returned after a short time, soggy garments held at length in one hand. His expression was dull, and sorrow weighed under his eyes.
She got to her feet and walked over to meet him. Just out of habit, AsaHi took the clothes from one hand and pushed the food into the other. “Now get some food in your system and go warm up by the fire.”
The Apprentice gave her a bewildered frown, but he didn’t seem in the mindset to argue. He took the bowl and settled down next to the reddened embers.
AsaHi made her way to the other side of the cave where she began to hang up the clothes to dry. Her green eyes flickered over to see if he had taken any interest in the broth. So far, he hadn’t.
“It’s going to get cold,” she warned him.
He turned his head and peered up at her. His face was a questionmark.
“You know. Food? You eat it?” AsaHi pointed one finger at the bowl.
I swear, he’s about as bad as Kaze was. Have to teach these guys everything.
“Oh,” SoYa looked at the broth. His face registered surprise, as if it was the first time he noticed he was holding something.
The girl wiped her damp hands on her slacks and tucked in the front of her over-sized shirt. With slow, measured steps, she came to sit next to the Apprentice. “Don’t let it go to waste. We don’t have a whole lot to spare.”
As if finally making up his mind, SoYa began to slowly drink the broth. She could see it working wonders for the color in his face almost instantly.
That’s exactly what he needed.
When he was done, he lowered the bowl to his lap. Happy to see he was finally eating something, AsaHi refilled his bowl and presented it to him again. This time, when she came to sit next to him, purpose was written on her face.
His eyes slid towards her though he was still very much engrossed in the broth.
Guys and their food… sheesh!
“SoYa, what’s an Athrylith?”
She watched as his eyes dilated. His cheeks puffed up as he struggled not to spit every last drop of broth out. It took him a while to gather his wits and swallow instead.
AsaHi waited silently, leaning forward with her palms on her knees.
It seemed as if the slightest mention of the word had worked wonders in bringing SoYa out of his stupor. His mouth worked soundlessly for a time before he finally found his voice. “You mean you don’t know?”
The girl huffed at him, “I wasn’t trained in Nefol to know all the funny words you magic-types use, remember?”
“I… I… didn’t mean that as an insult or anything…”
“I know,” her voice wavered.
“I was just surprised. I thought for sure that everyone would know that I was…”
“Was what?” she prodded, frowning as he trailed off in thought.
“Yes. And that means?”
“Mind Mage,” his voice intoned heavily.
She peered over at him, “Mind Mage?”
“Yeah,” SoYa stared down into the bottom of his bowl.
“What do Mind Mages do?”
“I… I… it’s hard to explain,” he spread his hands.
“Do you read people’s thoughts?” she mused, giving him a suspicious frown.
“Er, I’ve never tried.”
“I don’t know. I can mindspeak though, if that counts?”
SoYa looked like he was grasping to find the right words. “You know, send mental thought-messages to other people. And they hear it in their mind.”
“You’ve never done that to me,” she blinked at him.
“No, of course not!” he answered quickly. “I don’t use it at all if I don’t have to. Besides, it requires a mindspeak sensitive person to receive it.”
“Oh, and what are you trying to say about me?” she chided, trying to be playful.
It was such fun to watch him squirm.
“What else can you do?”
“I… don’t… really know,” his eyes fell on his bowl again.
“Why not?” she asked.
“I don’t use it.”
AsaHi frowned, “What do you mean you don’t use it?”
“It’s not something people like me to use.”
“Because I can… manipulate things,” he stated.
“You sure ask a lot of questions,” he furrowed his brow.
“Only the ones I don’t have answers to.”
“Well,” she poked him in the side. “Out with it…”
“I can control people’s minds. That means… what they think, what they say and what they do,” his face was very grim.
AsaHi found herself suddenly without a retort. This wasn’t the sort of power that she imagined SoYa could command.
“I thought… you were a healer?” she said slowly, trying to make sense of it.
“It was a cover-up,” his voice was weak as he stared into the fire. “If anyone found out I was Athrylith, they would have hunted me down.”
Silence filled the cave.
SoYa? Control people’s minds?
She fidgeted nervously.
They would have hunted him down? Is he really that dangerous?
AsaHi took in a deep breath.
But he’s never hurt anyone before. Why should I start to doubt him now? I don’t want to doubt him…
“I understand if you hate me and want to break it all off,” SoYa’s voice cracked with pain. “I lied to you. I let you think I was something I was not. And I was never going to tell you the truth unless it was forced to come out.”
She peered over at him, sucking on her lower lip, “I… don’t know what to say.”
“I’m sorry, AsaHi.”
He really was. AsaHi could tell. She could always tell. She could hear the pain and the shame in his words. Something inside of her wanted to push aside all the mistrust and reach out to him.
I can’t keep balancing this relationship on the edge of a knife blade. Either he’s my Promised, or he’s not.
AsaHi’s face grew firm.
After what we’ve shared all these years, as kind as he’s always been to me… right now, I think he needs me.
“It’s okay,” she finally said.
I don’t know if it really is okay. But if there’s a chance to fix this, then I want to try!
SoYa turned to stare at her, dumbstruck. “What did you say?”
“I said,” she met his gaze eye to eye, “It’s okay.”
“How can it be okay? I just admitted that I li–”
“It’s okay because I say it is,” AsaHi retorted sharply. “So, don’t argue with me.”
He closed his mouth with a click.
Fear battled with devotion in her heart, though she refused to let it show on her face. AsaHi still didn’t completely understand everything. Yet…
I know who SoYa is and what his nature would lead him to do. Until he proves me wrong, I want believe in him.
“I think I understand why you hid it from people,” AsaHi’s voice strengthened slowly as she fought to become more certain of her choice. “And I trust you, no matter what you say. Now, let’s get on with our lives. Okay?”
SoYa’s face was still dumbstruck. He managed to stutter one word in reply, “Okay?”