Don't forget to read the interlude below!
Table of Contents
"What were you thinking, challenging that monk?!"
When Kieran had first woken up, his friends had been delighted. There had been some confusion as they sorted out exactly what had happened since he had been injured, after which Khory had spent some time looking over his wounds, only to pronouce that it was a nearly miraculous recovery. For a time, Elena was so happy to have Kieran back that she didn't do more than fuss over him and make sure that everything was alright.
Apparantly, that time was over.
Kieran rubbed the back of his head nervously, and shrugged. "Well, he didn't really seem so tough when I first looked at him." He paused, and looking down at the ground, passing by as the wagon rolled onwards. "I don't know. Maybe it was just the adrenalin rush off of beating that spirit. When I saw, uh... what was his name... Lodaris? Yeah. When I saw him there, I just knew I couldn't back down from him." He sighed, and shrugged again, wincing as a torn muscle in his shoulder registered its protest.
Elena raised her fist to bat Kieran across the back of the head, then lowered it again as she thought better of it. "That's no excuse! You have to stop charging into things, Kieran, or you really could die next time." She frowned, looking over at Khory, who was stoically holding the reins of the wagon's fine horses. They had remained well-behaved despite their theft from the Dynasts, and were helping speed the party on their way. Although he had claimed the injury dealt to him when he slammed through the anima of the Dynast had been minor, there were still burn marks across his arm. "It was pure luck that we could help you this time."
Kieran nodded slowly. "I know, Elena. And that brings something up." He looked over to Khory and Nia, who was sitting on the back of the cart, watching the road behind them, her legs lying still against the side of the cart. "At the very least, that woman survived, and the Immaculate may well have handled the fall; I didn't hurt him much. Either way, if they have my trail, there will be more Hunts, better organized, against us. It could be dangerous for you to stay with me." Elena glared at him, and he raised his hands defensively. "I know you're sticking with me regardless, Elena. I'm not going to try and make you leave. But you two..."
Khory laughed, and shook his head. "I mind your concern, boy, but I can handle myself. Anyway, everyone dies some day. Long as it's in a straight fight you can see coming, I'm not scared of it." He grinned, and patted the hammer lying on the cart next to him. "Give me that over the darkness any day. At the very least, this is history in action."
Kieran smiled, touched despite himself. "Thanks, Khory. It means a lot." He looked over to Nia, who was watching the road silently. After a few moments, he stepped backwards, balancing himself carefully, to look at her. "Nia?"
There was another pause, and then she wiped at her face with a hand, hastily brushing her eyes. She looked back, with a faint smile. "You're really worried about me? About..." She trailed off. "It might be best if I..." There was another pause, and she looked down at her lap, tears welling in her eyes again.
Kieran looked at Elena and Khory, who looked back, equally mystified. After a moment, he turned back to Nia, putting a hand on her shoulder; she flinched, but didn't otherwise move. "Nia. Do you want to stay with us?"
Nia paused again, and then nodded briefly, looking away. Kieran sat down next to her, with a faint smile. "Then do."
"I'm nothing but trouble." Her voice was barely over a whisper.
"Compared to me? I doubt it." Kieran chuckled, and looked at the horizon behind them. "Trust me, Nia. If you can handle the sort of trouble you get hanging around a Solar, we're glad to have you."
Nia just looked down, and Kieran sighed, but didn't speak further. For a few minutes, the cart was silent, and then Nia nodded slowly. "Where are we going?"
Kieran shrugged. "It's dangerous to stay this close to the Realm. We'll curve north, and come at the Haslanti League from that angle. Once we're there, I doubt we'll see any Wyld Hunts for a while. After that, well... who knows? Further west, I suppose." He grinned, and shrugged. Nia managed a faint smile, before looking down at her lap again.
Elena laughed, turning her attention back to the road. "As long as we have a plan."
"Actually... there's another reason for going north for a bit." The others all looked up from their tasks, with various degrees of confusion; Khory only smiled.
"Greyhyssop." Kieran nodded, and the large man chuckled, flicking the reins. "Thought that might have somethin' to do with our course change."
"If Beneficent Poison was driven away from the area, other spirits might be as well. I'm not going to just barge in, don't worry, but I should be healed by the time we get there." Kieran smiled at Elena's expression of disbelief, and forged ahead. "It used to be our job to do this sort of thing. Heck, worst case scenario, we lead the Hunt through an area of spiritual corruption. Should work out okay."
Elena chuckled, shaking her head. "You're absolutely incorrigeable, kid. Alright. That's our next stop." She looked back at the mountains, trailing into the distance behind the wagon. "I just hope we make it without any more trouble."
At the back of the wagon, unnoticed by the others, Nia flinched.