Juri’a had a funny way of treating their saviors, thought Meira as Farren tied her hands to the horn of a saddle atop one of the horses. The morning dew soaked through her uniform, but at least she was sitting upright this time. Her horse’s reigns were firmly attached to the saddle of Farren’s horse in front of her; the fire wielder from the night before was mounted on Shadow behind her. While she was an experienced rider, they’d ensured that she wouldn’t be left with unguarded.
Kirsi was the last to mount up, not taking the lead as Meira expected. The woman’s horse was an exquisite painted mare, not one of the military unit’s horses. She rode next to the injured man who, though upright, looked less equipped for the task than Meira. They had tied him around his waist for extra security, his drooping eyes and gray face a testament to his potential return to unconsciousness.
It only took him two hours. When his body slid to the right, Kirsi immediately halted the group, giving him attention and help in the saddle until they could move again. The additional ropes didn’t help. Another three hours and the man listed dangerously the other direction. This time the group stopped entirely, Kirsi pulling him from the horse to lie in a patch of soft wildflowers beside the path.
Meira watched with interest when Kirsi removed his bandages, wanting to observe more of the healing magic the woman could weave. Her stomach soured at the angry red veins spreading from the end of his severed limb, visible even from her perch on the horse. Kirsi tried some of her wielding, unique patterns and motions arcing across the man’s arm and chest as the minutes stretched. Her movements became more rigid and sharp and she let out a Juri’a curse, pounding her balled up fists against her thighs.
“It’s infected. You need to stop it before it gets in the blood,” Meira told her. Kirsi looked up at her, the fear plainly displayed. Meira realized just how young the woman was for the first time.
“My wielding won’t fix. I do not know this!” she exclaimed, gesturing wildly at the fevered body on the ground.
The Vadek tipping of weapons in poison was well known in the Khaantul military. It was an effective way to ensure you downed your enemy with even a minor injury. Their use of bacteria and deadly diseases to do so was even more cruel. Meira paused for a moment, weighing her thoughts.
“I can help you. I know about infections like this,” she said decisively. Her head rebelled, reminding her that these people were her captors and she shouldn’t be trying to save one of them; but her conscience would not allow her to ignore someone in dire need.
Kirsi gave her a long look, seeming to deliberate the same thoughts and potential outcomes. Meira moved her hands against the ropes again, and Farren narrowed his eyes. He came forward, looking ready to strike her until Kirsi called out to him. She spoke to him rapidly in Juri’a, eyes flicking between the prone man and Meira. Farren appeared angry, gesturing broadly, but the soft voice of the willowy blonde riding Onyx broke through the discord. Whatever she said tipped the scale. Farren’s body radiated his tension and with quick, angry motions he undid the knots holding Meira to the saddle. She dismounted and walked to Kirsi and the man as quickly as her aching muscles allowed.
Up close, the injury was much worse, the stench of infection permeating. Meira examined the wound carefully, mind formulating a treatment that they could create in the middle of the wilderness.
“We need to make a poultice for the wound,” she told Kirsi, explaining the ingredients they needed and allowing her to translate to the waiting Juri’a. The wielders moved quickly, sifting through supplies and moving into the woods to find the things that Meira needed. The blonde used her fire wielding to boil clean water and the group’s earth wielder found rocks to act as a mortar and pestle.
While Meira pounded the ingredients into a thick, sticky dressing, Kirsi used her skills to draw as much pus out of the wound as she could manage. They washed the wound, and Meira placed the green compress with new bandages. As they finished, the man’s fever that had spiked during their morning ride had begun to subside.
Meira leaned against a tree, taking a long breath. Around her, the wielders began setting up camp, understanding that they would not be moving further for the remainder of the day. She glanced over to see Kirsi in her own repose, looking exhausted as she held the man’s remaining hand.
“Who is he?” Meira asked, noticing the similarities between them. Kirsi let a small smile slip without looking up from her charge.
“Mek’anee. The father.”
Meira studied the unconscious man in his late twenties on the ground before her, then back at Kirsi, who did not appear significantly younger. “He’s your father?”
Kirsi let out what Meira would almost call a laugh.
“Mek’anee,” she said again in Juri’a, trying to find Khaantul words to explain what she meant, “our keeper, our leader.”
Meira gave a large nod of understanding. Kirsi was guiding the group while their chief was ill. Perhaps now that she had saved his life, he would let her go free once he awoke.
“Dusan is also my brother,” Kirsi continued.
“Can he, ya know…” Meira waved her hands in an imitation of Kirsi’s wielding movements, “… with water too.”
The woman nodded, but pain crossed her features as she explained, “Dusan wields water. But he is a warrior, not healer. Now he cannot wield.”
“Without two kezets,” the healer wiggled her hands as she forgot the Khaantul word, “no wielding.”
Meira had no response. The women sat in the silence of their own thoughts as the afternoon stretched into evening. Dusan stirred briefly in that time, talking to Kirsi lowly. She helped manage his pain with the moves Meira had seen the previous night, and he slept deeply. When they changed the poultice again in the evening, Meira finally had the courage to ask the questions burning in her mind.
“Are you taking me back to your village?”
Kirsi’s surprise at the question was etched on her face as she looked up from rebandaging Dusan’s arm.
“No,” she said simply. Meira's forced calm broke.
“Then where are we going? You said I was going to save you all, but I don’t understand it. I saved your brother, isn't that enough? You still won’t let me leave and I have no idea where I am. Why am I here?”
Meira’s questions tripped over each other as they fell from her mouth, two days worth of anxiety barely tempered. While Farren hadn’t tied her up again after she saved his leader, Meira had not been left alone since she had dismounted. She couldn’t have escaped easily anyway. She knew they were heading south due to the direction of the sun as they traveled, which meant they were likely still in Juri’a territory. Beside this fact, she had no idea where she was. Her distress must have been clear because Kirsi held out a placating hand. It only spiked Meira’s frustration further.
“We go to Palat’a Virna,” Kirsi said, watching Meira’s expression as she took in the information about their trip to the Juri’a capital.
“Why are you taking me there,” Meira asked. Kirsi seemed to have more trouble with this question, needing to think about her words before she answered.
“You are Spirit Wielder. Verena is to teach you how to save the Juri’a.”
Meira let out a laugh of disbelief, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Kirsi’s expression made it clear that she wasn’t and Meira’s the last vestige of control vanished as the panic crested over her.
“I’m not a wielder, why would you even think that?” she gestured to her uniform, “I’m not even Juri’a.”
“You killed a Vadek with air,” Kirsi was matter-of-fact as she said it. The crumpled form of the Vadek blasted into the tree flashed in Meira’s frantic mind.
“I didn’t do anything of the sort,” she said, replaying the event; but even as she said it, doubt niggled. Her anxiety settled near her core, along with something she couldn't name. A murmur that grew stronger, pulsating against her skin with the need to get out.
Kirsi seemed frustrated that she didn’t have the Khaantul words to explain what she meant, but Meira wasn’t hearing anything anyway. She began to pace, moving in small, brisk steps between the trees that she and Kirsi stood near. She stopped quickly and faced the other woman.
“I put my hands up to stop him from killing me, that's all. I don’t even have powers. See!"
Meira put her hands up in the same way as she had the day before, expecting nothing to happen.
The crest of water from a cask sitting near Meira's feet pushed Kirsi back a few steps, but she volleyed easily, moving the swell around her body and back into the container in an easy motion. The wielders around the campfire had stopped their conversation at the rushing sound. The healer reassured them in Juri'a before looking back at the stunned brunette staring at her own hands.
Meira's vision spun as her mind swam with possibilities she didn’t want to explore. Her shaking hand went to the locket that had survived the tumult of the last few days. There was a new dent in the front as Meira’s thumb crested over the surface, but she rubbed soothingly at her reminder of love. Voices murmured but they sounded far away, the thrumming of her heart in her ears overtaking any other sense. The need to talk to Dorian overwhelmed her, bringing tears to her eyes. She looked up at Kirsi, seeing compassion for the first time in days. She despised it.
"You did that," Meira declared, her voice matching her hands' tremble, "I don't know how or why, but it wasn't me. You have the wrong person."
Kirsi stayed silent but held up a hand to stop Farren as he rose from his spot around the fire at Meira's quick steps into the forest.
Edging into a place around the fire, Kirsi asked Krys to keep an ear out for the woman's movements through the forest. The earth wielder's ability to sense and hone in on the vibrations would help in case she went further than they expected. The warm light dancing in the center of the circle let her forget the hatred and fear on the Khaantul's face, even as the bitterness of the familiar sight continued to burn.