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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Elisandrya sat on a boulder and stared. She had done all she knew for Quin-bandaged his wounds, mixed healing herbs for poultices as the Ghedia had taught her, and collected rain water for him to drink when he stirred. He'd slept peacefully the entire day. Night was once again dominating behind the clouds, banishing the misty, veiled light of the sun. In the flicker of the small campfire, she studied him and wondered if he was the one-if Savras had led her to him. The implications of that possibility boggled her mind in light of Sameska's prophecy. She saw no symbols of Hoar on him, no sign that he followed the fickle lord of justice. He was attractive in an odd way.

A pervading sense of goodness surrounded him, but something else lingered in his strange eyes, something dark. That curiosity held her gaze for a long time. Eli had seen and heard of aasimar before, people touched by the blood of a celestial ancestor, but she had never come face to face with one or known their names. He had fought with an unexpected fierceness, a lust for battle that went far beyond mere necessity. She had not gone so far as to touch the screaming blade he'd wielded in battle, having wrapped it in his cloak and carried it carefully out of the temple through a secret passage beneath the altar. Quin coughed in his sleep, disrupting her thoughts as he finally awoke. Groaning, he rolled away from the fire, shielding his eyes. His hand went to his side and he looked about, searching for the sword absent from his hip. "Not to worry, stranger, your blade is safe." Quin turned and stared at her for a few moments before recognition dawned. Their introduction had been interrupted so abruptly. She wasn't surprised he didn't know her at first. Though the events afterward had felt like days, he still knew her name.

"Elisandrya." "Yes. You've been asleep for quite some time. I'm surprised to see you awake after the beating you took, and had obviously taken before. You lied to me when you said you were all right." "I never said I was all right, just that I would survive." His wan smile belied the pain in his aching body. "I guess I was right, eh?" "Just barely," she murmured, and leaned forward to check the bandages on his leg. Quin's hand shot forward and grabbed her wrist, holding it inches above the injury. He looked at her in confusion and alarm. Eli froze, shocked by his reaction, but his grip relaxed as he realized her intent. He waited quietly while she inspected the wound.

"I don't think it's fractured, but the skin was broken and the bone is surely bruised. You were lucky. If the mastiff had held a moment longer, it could've been much worse." An awkward silence came between them as Eli sat back and stoked the fire. Quin looked away, and she felt sorry for him. Though they were strangers to one another, despite fighting for their lives together, he seemed more vulnerable than she'd imagined. It did not seem a trait he was comfortable with. She knew herself that independence breeds a tough skin until broken by circumstance or injury. Not wanting to rely on others seemed a trait they shared. "I'm sor-" he began. "No need for apologies. I'd have reacted much the same had our situations been reversed." She turned to look at him. "Trust is a hard thing to come by." "Indeed," he answered quietly. Returning her attention to the fire, she changed the subject.

"How did you know how to seal the temple like that?" "I've seen its like before." He pushed himself to a sitting position as he spoke, wincing. "Demon cults, usually. Their priests are fanatical about recruiting new followers into the fold, but not very attached when it comes to enacting suicide pacts for their unholy masters. When the time for poison, bleeding, or flames comes, measures are taken to ensure the souls reach their intended destination. "Stone blocks, or locked or guarded doors keep the followers inside, while the priest himself escapes, extolling the virtues of spreading the faith."

Elisandrya shuddered, shocked that such practices occurred in the lands she knew so well. "I gather you've traveled in many lands, then?" "I've seen my share, yes." His answer was guarded, but he seemed more comfortable speaking to her. She sensed a common liking for the freedom of the open road. "You're traveling south now?"

"Possibly," he said, narrowing his eyes. "Why do you ask?" She looked at him then, confused about how to answer. She had not thought about explaining Sameska's prophecy before that moment, or how to explain such a thing to someone outside the Hidden Circle's faith. She had witnessed unpleasant reactions before, in Derlusk a few times, when people were confronted with the idea of divinations and her faith's confidence in their knowledge of the future. There was something in Quin, though, that she could not describe, a feeling bordering on contradiction that made him hard to place. It intrigued her, unlike most of the gruff men she had known throughout her life. Somehow, deep within, she knew Savras had guided her, but the implications of that feeling only disturbed her more. She dreaded what the future might hold for her people. Taking a deep breath and trusting instinct, she chose her path and forged ahead with the truth. "Two evenings ago, my order gathered at the Temple of the Hidden Circle in Brookhollow, south of here, to heed the prophecies of the high oracle. Recent events, such as plague and this unseasonable chill, made the gathering an event surrounded by ill omens, but when the high oracle began to speak" she hesitated. "We were told of a man like you." She poured out the tale that had set her to riding through the storm. Quin did not so much as blink as she spoke. She considered it a testament to his self-control that he took in the story of prophecy, plague, and dark magic without renouncing her as completely insane.



***** | Bloodwalk | *****