I don’t like seeing other people hurt just as much as I don’t like being hurt. Maybe it’s because I know a wide variety of pain and people shouldn’t be led to feel like they’re alone. And that’s everything, whether that pain is caused by words, actions, or something physically attacking them.
Soletus never thought a single conversation would do so much for a person. Mien was better after getting all that off his chest. He figured it was probably the reassurance he gave that he was going to stick around despite all he had done. He didn’t voice this to Brother Hickory, not yet. The man was just overjoyed at having Mien open up a little more.
“He’s a bit more comfortable around me,” announced Brother Hickory after Soletus arrived early one afternoon. He was fanning himself with reed fan and wiping the sweat from his forehead. It was a very hot late summer day and training was cut short because of it but not soon enough. Soletus followed Brother Hickory trying to ignore the stinging sun burn on his forehead.
“He’s been more talkative,” he agreed.
“He’s getting a bit bolder as well. He insulted my porridge by comparing it to brick mortar this morning.”
Soletus couldn’t help but smile. Brother Hickory saw it and grunted.
“Yes, it’s the truth, but you young people needn’t be so harsh to an old elf,” he said leading him to the back and stopped by Mien’s room. “And look, he finally knows how to fold his bed.”
“I guess he’s out back in the grass.”
“Yes. He made it clear it was too hot to train. It’s about too hot to do much of anything. It’s a good day to head out to the river to swim.”
Soletus took the hint and when out back. Mien wasn’t exactly where he usually was under the tree. Instead, he was standing by the stone fence talking to Lyndon with Doran sitting beside him.
“What are you two doing here,” shouted Soletus and marched over there. The last thing Mien needed was Lyndon talking to him. For all Soletus knew his cousin was asking Mien all sorts of questions he didn’t need to be asking. He was just that thoughtless at times. Lyndon didn’t look as if he saw anything wrong with what he was doing.
“I felt like being social,” Lyndon explained.
“Because we wanted to meet him and we knew you would come here, so we were waiting for you. Your fox-headed friend here was sitting looking bored, so I started talking to him.”.
“I wasn’t bored,” stated Mien.
Lyndon then pointed to the gift Mien received. “Well he was looking like he was doing something boring reading that thick tome over there.
Soletus looked at Mien. “Have they’ve been bothering you?”
He shook his head. “You didn’t tell me you had friends,” he said and looked a little hurt.
“Well, I was going to introduce you to them at a more appropriate time,” said Soletus glaring at his cousin and friend. “Anyway, I didn’t think you liked being around people.”
Mien started to form a lot more expressions other than shame and fear. He crossed his arms and said with a little bit of bravado, “Well, maybe I want to learn to like people now.”
Soletus held up his hands. “Well don’t let me stop you,” he said, happy to see he was trying. “You can either talk with these dunderheads-”
“I’m not a dunderhead,” retorted Doran.
“Me thinks you protest too loudly,” poked Soletus. “Anyway, you can go swimming with me Mien.”
“Or we can go swimming together,” offered Lyndon.
That was when Mien’s newfound resolve faltered a little. “I don’t know.”
“It’ll be fun,” encouraged the young monk.
Mien didn’t look convinced.
“If you want to roast out here be my guest, but Brother Hickory is probably going to start on with the ‘confidence’ speech when he sees you still here alone.”
The boy spun around without a second thought. “Let me put everything up,” he said walking over to his book and then back inside the chapel. As soon as he crossed the threshold, Soletus scowled at his friends.
“Really you two,” he hissed annoyed.
“Don’t look at me,” defended Doran. “It was Lyndon’s idea.”
Lyndon elbowed him roughly in the side. “If you didn’t want to see him then you could have marched back to dorms at any point.”
“He’s not some curiosity to be stared at,” said Soletus.
“No need go all over-protective,” said Lyndon. “You act as if you actually like him.”
“Well I wouldn’t be coming here if I didn’t,” Soletus returned and Lyndon gave him a look. “You act as if I just follow everyone’s order like a dog without a care if I like it or not,” he stated and Lyndon continued his critical stare. “Well that isn’t the sole reason,” he affirmed and spun around as Mien’s head peered out of the door.
“There isn’t a gate back here,” he said.
Soletus vaulted over the rock wall and gestured for him to do the same. Mien left the door slowly and looked at the four-foot wall as if it were something intimidating. He pulled himself up with a little effort and then planted himself on the ground gesturing to Soletus to lead the way.
Lyndon and Doran didn’t ask questions, but they were doing what Soletus feared they would do. Telling him a bunch of things they shouldn’t. They were pointing out all sorts of places that Mien should eventually visit in town. They pointed out places where he could get free food, work to get a little spending coin, and places where to spend it, which consisted of mostly sweets. They also told him things that Mien probably wasn’t interested in or would get him into trouble like who had the best-looking daughters, to watch from a safe distance of course. They even pointed out a good spot to have little fun scaring unsuspecting travelers and the places he could hide if he wanted to avoid work. Mien just nodded seemingly tucking them away in memory for better or for worse.
The swimming hole they went to was more secluded than the one everyone used. Mainly because there was a group of boys there already and they were having a game of keep away at some poor tod’s expense. Instead, they walked further down the road to a place that wasn’t as large as the previous hole and the river current was a little stronger with a steeper bank. The easy way to get into it was to swing into it by a rope suspended from a thick branch of a maple tree.
Soletus became worried when he saw the nervous boy studying the rope and then the water.
“You know how to swim right,” asked Soletus.
Mien focused on the buttons of his shirt. “I’m a good swimmer.”
While Lyndon and Doran worked to braid their hair up, Soletus worked on getting undressed as his hair was always braided. He did have to take off the beaded clasp he wore around it. Mien undressed behind a brush and placed his clothing off the ground on a rock. His shot hair was convenient in that he was first to the rope.
Soletus stopped him. “Have you ever done this sort of thing before?”
The boy gave him a rather expressive flat look that said, “really,” before he backed up, ran to the rope, and latched on swinging out. He plopped down in the water effortlessly coming up a foot from where he landed shaking the water from his hair.
“That’s an affirmed yes,” laughed Lyndon.
Soletus would have felt silly worrying about such a thing if it wasn’t Mien. He was still learning what the boy could and couldn’t do. Then again, from what he told him, it should have been clear he had no fear of water. He had very little fear of the river’s current. He even answered Lyndon’s dare to swim out and touch one of the large smooth boulders that poked out of the water and then swam back. Soletus watched him as he started swimming upstream a little and then tackled the current. Any new boy would have dived in the faster current without a thought.
“He’s not dumb,” whispered Lyndon.
“He isn’t,” said Soletus watching getting to the rock without any trouble.
“But he’s as shy as a cottontail. I got very little out of him other than one word answers until you came.”
When the boy started to return, Soletus had to stifle a shout to tell him what to do. He needed to learn to let Mien alone a little. Not to mention he figured he might be on the receiving end of a Lyndon joke if he kept telling Mien what to do. The boy was tapping his chin with his fingers contemplating a moment before he just kicked himself from the rock and let the current carry him down to where the water slowed, and swam his way back. However, about midway back, he glanced over his shoulder and then did a double-take. He bobbed in the waterwith his attention fixed on the opposite bank.
Soletus left Lyndon’s side and swam up beside him. “What is it?
Mien’s eyes narrowed and Soletus saw the green color drain from his irises that became backlit with gold.
“I saw felt something and then I saw it.”
“What did you see?”
“It looked like an animal, but felt like a shadow,” he said and pointed to the trees.
Soletus then caught sight of something dark moving in the high brush. In fact, it wasn’t just one thing; it was three sinister forms about the size of Onyx.
“Start swimming slowly towards the bank,” he said.
“Just do it,” Soletus urged and he swam to Lyndon who was jeering Doran for his slowness. “Lyndon,” said Soletus keeping his voice hushed. “There’re three drass beasts in the woods.”
The young scout in training snapped his head in attention. “Where,” he demanded.
Soletus motioned with his eyes in the direction trying not to give them any more attention than he had too. If they ran to the river, they would be slowed down by the water and they would as well. He waved to Doran to come over to them as Lyndon studied the three dusky forms that stared at them through white eyes.
“We need to get out of here,” said Lyndon.
Doran started splashing his way towards the bank where Mien was at holding on to a tree root.
“Hey, don’t go splashing getting their attention more,” hissed Lyndon harshly. “Glide like a fish. Tell Mien to start climbing up, slowly though.”
Soletus had never seen an actual drass beast out in the wild before. The masters would capture one or two for training purposes. They were often weakened so they wouldn’t harm trainees. From what he did knew the small compact size of the beasts were skulkers, the smallest of drass beasts, and they had all their claws, teeth, and spines. He glanced back to the bank seeing Mien’s boney body sliding up the bank and into the brush without a lot of movement.
Lyndon pushed him forward. “Go,” he said.
The young monk left him swimming slow to the bank and made it in time to see Doran making too much noise clambering up. That was the thing about drass beast, they became agitated with movement and noise. Lyndon kept an eye on the opposite bank as they dressed very quickly pulling on pants and boots. However when it came to shirts, Lyndon hissed. “They’re coming, let’s go.”
Soletus looked over his shoulder to see the three skulkers were already in the water and were making a beeline towards them.
The four of them ran from the brush going back towards the road.
“We need to get to the nearest signal tower,” shouted Lyndon leading.
Soletus followed his cousin making sure that Mien was keeping up with them. The tower they were headed to was close, but they were sprinting fast through the brush. He was afraid the boy would lag or trip, how Mien kept up and had good footing. That was surprising as well as the fact he wasn’t panicking. Most untrained elves would be. That was a good thing because it left the young monk the ability to focus on what was chasing them. What he saw glancing back as they ran towards the visible wooden tower visible, were the beasts gaining on them.
When the four made it to the tower, Mien was sent up first. The boy knew how to climb a rope ladder. He was swinging badly, but kept going. As soon as he was right above their heads, Doran was sent up next. Soletus looked behind him and saw the skulkers getting too close for comfort. “Aren’t there supposed to be a bow and arrows around here,” said Soletus.
“Up top,” answered Lyndon now realizing how close they were.
The young monk did the only thing he could do. He called forth Khodi. Once the bear took shape from a translucent blue outline, he started impressing Khodi with his thoughts of hold them off as long as he could. The bear affirmed with a rumble and bowled into the middle of the skulkers. The situation they were in, was was Khodi’s specialty. He didn’t give Soletus any magical abilities as most consorts did for an elf. Instead, the consort had a strange ability that many an elven warrior would have loved. The consort was immune to pain and it gave him immunity to pain if the consort was near him. Usually any damage inflicted on a consort was felt by their summoner.
Mien was already at the top when Soletus was able to get on the ladder. He was the last to go up. He was the tallest and heaviest of the four of them as well as the slowest to climb. He always found rope ladders difficult because the way the ladder swayed and felt as if the ladder would give. He was trying to ignore it then.
A horn blasted above him. Doran let out a long note signaling immediate danger. At the same time, Khodi sent an impression in Soletus’s of danger before he felt teeth sink into his calf. His fingers nearly slipped from the ladder rung from the monster trying to yank him down. He tightened his grip on the rope rung and spied down to see the drass beast daggling from him. He took his free foot and kicked it in the nose. The beast wouldn’t let go. It took hold of the ladder in its claws to provide more leverage and started shaking its head like Onyx would playing with a scrap of fur.
“Shoot it! Shoot it now,” he cried.
Lyndon came to the side of the tower with a bow and an arrow already notched. However, from the angle, Soletus knew he couldn’t get a clear shot. He kept kicking and trying to pull himself away. However, the muscles in his arms were straining and the palms of his hands were sweating and keeping his grip harder and harder.
“I can’t get a clean shot,” shouted Lyndon.
Mien’s head appeared at the edge looking down at Soletus with eyes wide with fear. That was the last thing the young monk saw as his hands slipped from the rung he was holding on to and fell. The breathe was knocked out of him as he landed on his side and he lay there stunned for a second before he felt himself being dragged. He tried to reach for the bottom rung of the ladder, but it escaped his reach as he was pulled away. He searched for something to grab hold and saw a loose fist sized rock. He grabbed hold of it then twisted around and tossed it square into one of the monster white eyes. The skulker squealed and released him.
Soletus scramble to his feet, but his right leg protesting and sent up a stab of burning pain up his leg and he fell to the ground. If there was a perfect shot, Lyndon had it. His cousin let loose an arrow that clipped the drass beast in the side of its head. It let out a yelp. The young monk wanted to strangle his cousin for missing.
He tried to get to his feet again and got within range of the ladder before he was tackled down. Soletus remember his training and guarded his face and neck. Instead, he offered the monster his arm. He felt teeth stab into his flesh, but didn’t feel much pain. Khodi was still near him. It allowed him the clarity he needed to reach his side to the hilt of his tao stone hunting knife. However, his hand grasped nothing. He didn’t feel the handle or the sheath. The only place it could be was in the bushes where they had undressed. He was in trouble. In an act of desperation, he balled his fist up and started slamming it into the side of the skulkers head. It continued to chew his arm as if he was doing nothing.
“Shoot it,” he cried with desperation in his voice.
No arrow came. Instead, something bright and hot struck the drass beast in the in the side of the neck. It let out a terrible squealing wail. A chunk of its flesh had been burned and was sizzling. Soletus scooted away from it just as another golden ball crashed into the same spot this time, exploding when it popped. The force of it knocked the drass beast clean to its side. It didn’t move after that. It lay there with its head smoldering at an odd angle.
Soletus looked over his shoulder to see Mien on the ground. His eyes were lit to a bright gold, his face determined, and in his hand hovered another sparking ball of hot death. The boy closed his hand and the sun globe snuffed out. He then ran toward Soletus’s side.
Doran was shouting something. The drass beast that Khodi was dealing with had finally broken away from him and he chased it. He saw arrows trying to hit it, but Lyndon kept falling short of his mark. Soletus impressed on him to come back. However, his consort shimmered out of existence before he could make it to him. Soletus was too exhausted to keep him manifested and then all the pain of his injuries hit him at once. He cried out and curled up in burning agony.
“Are you okay,” asked Mien trying to pull Soletus into a sitting position.
The young monk pushed him away.
“No,” he rasped and closed his eyes to the world that started spinning violently.
“He needs help,” shouted Mien to Lyndon. “Soletus, you’re arm, it’s bleeding very bad.” He tried to take hold of it but it made the burning worse. Soletus would have shared it if his jaw didn’t become stiff along with his tongue becoming dry and wooden. He couldn’t move. He was poisoned.