I almost wanted to ask who he was and what he had done to Rai, I was that surprised. After we had saved him for the first time, he had acted as if he was entitled to it and the world revolved around him. Now, in a situation that he easily could have blamed on us, he turned courteous and grateful? Something had prompted a massive change in him, but I was unsure what. If it was the torture, maybe I should keep it in mind, a way to unspoil brats would be useful to be aware of.

For now, I would take care of his wounds and watch the situation develop. Sadly, with the fact that Rai knew about the conflict between us and the Jonari, there would be no time to do possible follow-up quests after the fight against the nymphs.

The healing was easy; a simple, channeled Rune-triangle allowed me to scan his body and fix the cuts and bruises he had. There were a lot of them, but none of them were infected so there was no problem. As I took care of them, Sigmir and Rai started to talk.

“It’s good that you are alright, Rai. Can you tell me what happened?” she asked.

“Yes, sure. I was staying close to the cave and was waiting for you to come back when a member of their hunting party saw me and their group joined me. They introduced themselves as a hunting party of Jonari, led by Jongarn, their chieftain’s son, someone I had met before, when my father brought me on meetings with the leaders of other groups around us. When I knew who he was, I recognized him and, when asked, explained where I had seen him before. He was quite happy and offered to help me back to Adernas, if I wanted to.

I told them no, that I was holding down the fort for a hunting party, something to do with my training. By then, it was evening and they asked if they could share the camp, something I did not mind, at that point, I was pretty sick of being by myself.

During the evening, they were rather nice, if a little boisterous, talking about their great skills and their kills. Part of me wanted to join in, but what would I say? That I had failed on my first hunt, that I was utterly unskilled with a spear and that I would most likely be banished from my tribe? I considered lying, but I had spent the time alone thinking about the lies I had told, mostly to myself, and felt that it would be foolish to add to them.

The next morning, during breakfast, Jongarn and one of the others, Horgar, talked about a hunt they had been on and how they failed, due to, as they called it, the tiny witch and what they would do to her, if they ever caught her and Sigmir. I must have reacted to the name Sigmir, causing the whole group to pounce on me, they knew that it was unlikely that I had ever met Sigmir before she left the tribe and wanted to know why I had reacted.

After I had heard their ideas what to do with the two of you, I knew that I should keep quiet. The two of you, especially you, Morgana, have helped me a great deal and I have been a spoiled child, I realise that now.”

By now, I was done with the healing and looked up, to saw a sad, self-deprecating smile, on his face. When we left him in the cave, I would never have believed him to be capable of such a smile but apparently he had done some soul-searching out here. Well, sitting in a solitary cave in a quiet, frozen forest might just be the best spot for soul-searching, no distractions, just time to think and reflect.

I was too startled to actually react to his revelation and the change in behaviour, and he continued. “When I did not tell them what they wanted to know, they got nasty. At first, it was more intimidation and coercion, they told me that you had been banished from your tribe, even after their previous story, the story how they had hunted you, it just didn’t add up. I kept quiet and their attempts got physical. At first all of them were in the cave, but soon, Jongarn sent the rest out and his behaviour changed. He still asked about you, but it seemed that getting information was secondary to him, his main goal was to cause as much pain as he could.

At one point he… he slowly and carefully showed me where not to cut, because cutting at those points would easily cause great damage without causing any extra pain.” there was an obvious shiver running down his body, as he quieted, clearly remembering the torture and pain. Adra had listened from a small distance away and was now offering him a waterskin, letting me realise that Rai had been tortured the entire day. Somehow, I doubted that Jongarn had cared about getting him something to drink or to eat.

“Don’t worry, he can’t hurt you any longer. Why don’t we leave the cave and have some supper?” I suggested, thinking that if I had been tortured in a cave for hours on end, I would rather leave the cave. I doubted we would sleep in the cave, not with the smell in here, a smell that got more penetrative and odious by the second. Rai looked grateful when I suggested it, so I turned to Sigmir and Adra, asking them for help with the two corpses. I doubted that the air would clear enough to sleep in the cave, but maybe it would.

As we left the cave, I finally looked at the skill-levels I had gained during the encounter.

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Darkness Rune-Mastery [59/100]

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Blood Rune-Mastery [46/100]

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Dual Blade-Mastery [20/100]

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Darkness Magic [40/100]

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Stealth [30/100]

Outside, I started to prepare a meal for the four of us, no need to let the fire go to waste, while Sigmir and Adra moved the corpses we had created out of the gorge. For once, I did not mind that Rai simply sat close to the fire, without doing anything to help.

“You saved me… Again. It’s strange, when I first saw you, I was scared of you. As if you were something from another realm, here to devour me. But when you acted like all the others, helping me, I felt as if it was my due, as son of Giro- Silly of me, I know. I had a few days to think about it, about my behaviour. Father and mother have always done their best to accommodate me. When I had trouble learning the spear. due to my size, father simply let it go, he let me try out various weapons and when I liked to fight with two knives, he just let me train on my own, as there was nobody in the tribe to train me. I fought against other children and won, my smaller size and high speed letting me dominate them. So, when I was fighting against the other children, I was so sure of myself, so sure that I could take on the world. I could never fight against adults, not as long as I was considered a child. Once I had been on my first hunt, I would join an experienced hunter as his apprentice, getting training and guidance from him. But the one who was supposed to become my master died, he died on my first hunt and I was named a coward.” I listened to him, but it was as if he did not really talk to me as a person and more as if he was confessing, simply talking about his problems to get them off his soul. Whatever the reason, I felt that I had to listen. It was the least I could do, after he had kept our secrets, kept quiet for us.

“When we fought against the nymphs, I quickly learned that fighting against a single opponent is entirely different from fighting alongside another and that I could not even get close without leaving my position. I was so useless and they easily separated me from the others and when I realised that I was all alone, I ran, what else could I do? Try to fight against multiple nymphs on my own? I’m not that strong. So, I ran. Not that I’m proud of it.”

He sounded contrite and I could understand it. In a way, he and Sigmir were on opposite sides of an extreme, Sigmir’s father had relentlessly drilled her, forcing her to become a strong warrior, but she had lacked in love and care, while on the other side, Rai had been spoiled with affection but had lacked in appropriate preparation for his adulthood. And when the adult world had forced itself onto him, he had not measured up and the consequences were those of the adult world.

A note from Tsaimath

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