They were quiet for most of the hike north. Tel and Anla were busy concentrating on making absolutely sure they weren’t followed. Raulin was leading them north, keeping ahead and to himself. Al lagged behind him, unable to find a good toe-hole into any conversation with the trirec.
Al had tried. Their conversation about the length of their company hadn’t gone well. He could admit that a good percentage of the reason behind that was he and Raulin had gotten off to a rough start. He had bucked against Raulin’s expertise and experience in the field far too many times and each time had been wrong, both factually and socially.
They had escaped. Not only that, they had done so with no parameters compromised. Raulin had been more or less upfront about his plans, hadn’t betrayed them, hadn’t stolen anything, and hadn’t killed anyone. Especially Al; he hadn’t killed Al, and he was pretty damn grateful for that. It was more than he had expected.
Still, the trip to their supposed splitting point wasn’t productive for the wizard. He wanted to broach the subject again, but he didn’t know how. And that was both confusion as to how he was going to convince Raulin and also not apologize for antagonizing the trirec. Al was still right about Raulin. Perhaps now he could have the time to convince him.
By the time the sky had started to blush, he hadn’t come up with a solution to either how to deal with the man or how to explain to him that he wasn’t leaving them. He gave Anla a concerned look, which she returned with a nod. “Raulin,” she said as she moved forward, “would you like to stay with us? We’re going to set up camp soon and it’s not wise to travel in the dark.”
He turned and walked backwards. “I’ll stay and help you find a suitable place, but I won’t stay the evening. That’s above and beyond our agreement, yes?”
“It is, and we thank you for staying with us, but isn’t it best to share resources? It’ll be difficult for one person to set up camp by himself, but four people making a fire and cooking a meal works better.”
“This is true, but I’ve already stayed longer than I should have. The sooner we part, the better. Not that I don’t enjoy your company, but I do need to end this at some point. Tel? Is there a cave nearby where you three could shelter for the night?” The grivven sighed and pointed heavily to the east. “Lead the way, my friend.”
This one was a proper cave, unoccupied but only because it was late spring. There were piles of scat and shredded bark that the three of them cleared while Raulin made a fire outside. “What are we going to do?” Al whispered to Anla.
“I don’t know. We’ll just have to let it play out.”
Raulin came in with his pack on, wiping his hands on his pant legs. “The fire is going and you three have a nice place to stay for the evening. The trail is cold for our hunters, though I think you should still set watches for the night. My end of the bargain is complete. Which way are you three headed?”
“Iascond?” Al suggested. “We don’t have a firm itinerary.”
“I’m heading to Kikiyan in Ashven, as it happens, so that works well. We won’t bump into each other again.”
Raulin leaned down and hugged Telbarisk. “It was good to see you again. I hope you get back to Kelouyan and everything else you love.”
“Raulin…” he began. “We’re not…”
“We’ll meet again? You already said that one once,” he said, laughing. “I doubt there will be a third time. Then again, I was wrong about the second.”
He turned to face Anla. “It was nice meeting you, truly. I enjoyed your company and our talks. I hope you find your siblings healthy and hale.”
“Wizard,” he said, looking at Al. “Yes. Take care.”
He waited a few moments. “I wasn’t expecting a thank you, but perhaps a good bye? No? Well, I hope you three have a wonderful night regardless.”
Raulin was walking back to the road when the three of them moved out from the cave and settled in front of the fire. “How long until he hits a mile?” Al asked softly, as he stared into the flames. No one answered him.
Dinner would be the rest of the cheese and bread as well as a cup of warmed vegetable soup. They moved the cold food aside and waited to ladle out the soup. Anladet sat with her fingers laced in front of her, breathing slowly. Al fidgeted, wiggling his feet.
Some fifteen minutes later, the three groaned in unison, doubling over. Their vision blurred, their head ached, and they couldn’t even think of standing upright. Al breathed in slowly through clenched teeth while Telbarisk gagged and spit on the ground next to him.
Like marionette strings, the pain and tension left and they collapsed. “Ugh,” Al said eloquently from the ground, wiping dirt and a leaf from his face. “I don’t think I’m going to get used to that.”
“I think that’s the point,” Anla said. “It doesn’t want us to get…”
It hit the three of them again for eight agonizing seconds. Al clamped the sides of his head and hugged his legs as well as he could. Anla had the smart idea of staying low and shook in a fetal position on the ground.
Telbarisk sighed when the illness vanished. Al’s hands were still shaking, but he couldn’t feel anything.
Raulin tried once more, this time for just two seconds, before he stopped testing the distance of the spell. “Oh, I hope he doesn’t do that again,” Anla said after wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“I hope not, either,” Al said, holding his stomach. “I’d like to eat dinner soon.”
They sat and waited. When fifteen minutes passed, they gingerly nibbled on their bread and dipped their cups into the soup. A fourth plate meal was set aside and they waited for Raulin to return. Al and Telbarisk ate his portion when Raulin failed to show.
Anla and Al slept first under the cave whileTelbarisk took watch. Al was in that twilight sleep, drifting but not quite focused on any dream, when he felt the tip of something sharp against his throat. “Take it off, Wizard,” said a hollow voice.
His eyes snapped open and he could just see the orange glow of the fire on Raulin’s mask. “I…”
“Or should I say ‘priest’? Skethik? Iondika? I should have known you had a secret.”
“I’m not a priest,” Al said, whispering as if it would help keep the knife from opening his artery.
“Then how did you place this curse upon me? I can’t move beyond a certain distance without feeling violently ill.”
“We know,” Al whispered. He heard Anla sit up next to him and he put his hand out very gingerly to stop her from moving. “We got sick, too. You did it three times. We tried to tell you. What I said earlier was true.”
“What was?” Raulin said.
“May I sit up?” he asked. “I just want to get two things from my pack. Neither of them are weapons, though actually you used one as a weapon. But! I mean, I won’t…use it as a weapon, that is. I just want to show you.”
“What’s happening?” Anladet said.
“I think Raulin has returned,” Tel answered.
“He has,” Al said. “Thanks for the warning.”
Raulin moved his knife down to Alpine’s ribs when he sat up and grabbed his backpack. After fishing around for some time, he pulled out his stole and the chalice.
“See? Wizard,” he said, handing him the stole. Raulin held it closer to the fire to examine it. “I’m .rd Alpine Grey. I graduated about eight years ago from Amandorlam. And this,” he said, holding up the chalice, “is a deitic artifact. It binds people together when they drink from it. Which is why I was trying to check your fingers after you drank the rainwater in jail. You had blood on them, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
“It’s a blood oath. You fill the cup with liquid, hold it here,” he said, pointing to the indentations near the bottom, “smear the area with a few drops of blood, and drink. You and whomever else drinks from it are bound together. I’m sorry, Raulin, but we tried to stop you.”
“One year?” he said, dropping the chalice. “I…no, I cannot have this. This will make it impossible…” To Al’s relief, he also dropped the knife. “How do we remove it?”
“It’s deitic, Raulin. You can’t remove it. The spell has to run its course.”
“Raulin,” Anla said softly. “I understand you have things to do. We don’t. It’s not a huge problem for us to journey with you. Would it be so terrible if you had help or at least company?”
“Yes!” The fire continued to glint off his mask, now turned towards Anla. “You don’t understand. I have a full docket of contracts I need to take care of and one year to do them. I have to do them. And I can’t do it with dead weight attached to me.”
“How many is a docket?” she asked.
“And how many have you done?”
“One! And look what happened with that one.”
“Raulin,” Telbarisk said. “I know it won’t mean much right now, but I am happy to have you in my life again. We can help you, work with you.”
“You two can. I’m staying out of it,” Al said. Anla gave him a sharp look. Perhaps it hadn’t been wise to goad Raulin, but he wanted to be sure he understood his involvement up front.
Raulin moved to the fire and sat with his hands on his knees.
“We cleared an area for your bedroll,” Telbarisk said. “You can sleep next to me.
“How will this affect us, though?” Al asked. “Are you two going to be okay?”
Telbarisk shrugged. “This is kouriya and I’m happy to go along with it. I have my friend back in my life, who can help with some questions I have.”
“I don’t really have any leads on my brother or sister,” Anla said. “I suppose going with Raulin is as good as going anywhere else.”
“Well, I’m bothered. How am I supposed to enjoy my vacation if I’m stuck with him? And I need to return home at some point. How is that going to work out?”
Raulin suddenly stood and walked away without a word. “Great, this again,” Al said.
“Tel, you know him better than anyone here. What is he going to do?” Anla asked.
Tel considered this for a few moments. “He needs time to think. He’s smart and he works around most things.”
Telbarisk sighed. “Smaller things. Disappointments, obstacles, changes in plans, things like that. Bigger things he burns with anger over.”
“Things from his youth. I do not know what, but there is something that happened when he was younger he keeps close to his heart. He thinks of it often and he grows in anger.”
“So, is this a small thing or a big thing?” she asked.
“I do not know,” he said.