Siobhan pressed her back against the wall and used it to help lift her to a stand. Goddess she was tired. Too tired for the simple use of two totems back to back. Something was wrong and she didn’t like it. Totem abuse made her feel exhausted, but the sensation normally passed within minutes. This was worsening by the second.
Her legs ached as she stumbled down the hall toward the farthest room. The hall swayed. If she’d had a few more glasses of mead she could understand the constant motion of the fictional ocean surrounding her. Two mugs wasn’t enough, she didn’t feel anything until at least four. Her hand trembled when she reached the door to the rented room she shared with Elias.
“We need to leave,” she said as soon as she entered. Her mouth was numb, drying as she spoke. “Now.”
Elias was a swirl of color and bright lights hallowing his lengthy form. When she was a child, Siobhan once thought he was a giant. As a woman, he still dwarfed her, but he was no giant. She tried to straighten up, as much as her weak limbs would allow. He’d carry her to the horses if she didn’t pretend there was nothing wrong. And being as tall and strong as he was, she wouldn’t be able to put up any fight in her current state.
“Make use of the moron and gather the horses. We’re going to sleep in the tunnels by the river tonight.”
“I don’t understand,” Elias said, stepping closer. He reached for her. She gripped his forearm and released a breath.
“I think . . .” She closed her eyes, fighting back the nausea. “I’ll take care of our tab and meet you at the tunnels.”
“M’lady, please. Your skin is paling as we speak. Allow us to help you.”
“Dammit, Elias!” She stumbled and fell into his arms.
“What’s going on?” Wren asked.
“Take our bags to the stables out back. Our wagon is parked at the far end and our horses are in the stalls next to it,” Elias said. He propped Siobhan against his shoulder, using one hand to hold her upright. “Go now, Wren. We’ll meet you there.”
She couldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t speak. Numbness was taking her entire body and pulling it into a deep chasm. The last time she felt this terrible was . . . Goddess. That Vanguard General had safeguards after all, but they didn’t come in the form of the charms or ink on his skin. The bastard had ingested crystillium and his blood was on her fingers from her clawing his skin.
Siobhan stumbled alongside her companion, dragging each foot as if they were made of stone. Elias wouldn’t carry her until there was no choice, he was wise enough to know she’d have to faint or be a statue before she’d allow herself to be carried by anyone. But she also knew she couldn’t walk without him. It was a compromise, albeit not much of one in her eyes. She hated having to rely on anyone for any reasons. Least of all when it was her own damn fault she needed the help.
Her eyes finally allowed themselves to be forced open. They barely focused on Wren ahead of them. She blinked in hopes of clearing the blur shattering his form. He looked like a mule with their bags slung over his broad shoulders. As much as she wanted to make a crack at him, she couldn’t. Her body was barely functioning.
“I need to settle things with Ivan,” she mumbled when they reached the bottom of the stairs. Sand was filling her mouth. She knew it wasn’t real sand, but it was as rough and dry as any desert. The worst part, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to stop it.
“I’ll take care of it,” Elias said. His hands released her when he directed her to sit on something. Was it a stool? Were they at a table? Goddess she couldn’t see straight. The entire tavern was a blur of color mixing with harsh light, worsening with every struggled blink.
“The ring . . .” Her heart was racing, sweat dewed on her brow. It wouldn’t be long now before the paralysis set in. She could only hope they were to the stables before then, otherwise she’d be a rock in Elias’ arms. Useless and just heavy.
“I know where it is, M’lady.”
“What’s going on?” Ivan’s voice was loud, screeching in her ears. Her arms wouldn’t listen when she commanded them to rise and cover her ears.
“I believe our Vanguard General was guarded with a certain substance.”
Something shifted against her clincher. Her useless eyes saw only streaks of silver and teal and light. Goddess the light was bright.
Siobhan kept a ring hidden in a secret pocket inside her clothes; it had to be Elias taking the ring. The ring with the dragon eating it’s pronged tail and forming a sideways figure eight pattern with its body had once meant a lot to her. Now it meant more to others who knew what the symbol stood for. One day, in a drunken stupor, she’d thrown it into a river in hopes of completely leaving her past behind. Elias wouldn’t allow it. He retrieved the ring and returned it to her. It was her heritage, her birthright, even if it was a curse to her.
“You know what to do with this letter?”
“Aye. I’ll take care of it. Thank you, Elias.”
The voices were loud. So loud. They were screaming at her. Taunting her. She wanted to curl into a ball and die right then. Death would be a lovely compromise. Her eyes, her arms, nothing listened to her pleas to move. Blinks were impossible, breaths were shallow and fast, and she could feel nothing but fire burning through her veins.
“May we meet again.”
“May the Goddess watch over you. I don’t know what she did to the crimson-cloak.”
There was a deep laugh, but Siobhan didn’t know who it belonged to. She could no longer tell one sound from another. It all blended into a single, obnoxious screech in her ears.
“Don’t worry. She didn’t kill him. I’m sure she used the thorn totem.”
“Ah. Yes that would explain how she might have gotten crys. . . the substance . . . onto her skin. If there are any other debts of ours to settle . . .”
“Get her out of here, Elias. This letter will more than cover any debt to me. I’ll do my best to make sure they stay off your tails for a few hours should any more come.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
Something wrapped around her waist. She wanted to scream and punch the invading force as it lifted her up and tossed her like a bag. Damn her body for not listening to her. Damn it to hell and the Goddess both. Both arms hung as limp as her long hair over the back of her mule. It was embarrassing to be carried like a sack of potatoes. This was all Wrens fault. That moron was going to get her killed and she only had herself to blame. She should’ve slit his throat when she had the chance.
Time was irrelevant. Not when she had no functioning appendages and the most she could do was drool out of the corners of her mouth. At least she’d had minimal contact with the crystillium. Mixed with the Vanguard General’s blood, it diluted the effects. Though her body would argue with her over how diluted they were. If she’d come in contact with the pure crystillium inside the vial the crimson-cloak carried, she would’ve dropped like a brick the second it touched her. At least she had a chance to get out of the room. It could’ve been ugly if paralysis set in before she returned to Elias.
“What’s happened to her?”
Was that Wren? She couldn’t tell. When her body flopped onto a hard surface, she at least knew she was in their cart. A hand touched her forehead before it swept against her eyes and closed them for her. Goddess was she grateful to that hand. Darkness was a gift after the lights piercing her eyes through the colors.
“Thank you for hooking up our horses. Do you have a horse?”
“Aye. In another stable by Stone street.”
“Good. We’ll gather it on the way to the tunnels. Cover her up with these skins and do your best to make sure there isn’t a part of her seen. We don’t need anyone to question the marbling of her flesh.”
“Was she poisoned?”
“Something like that. Cover her up please and sit with her. I’ll guide the wagon. I assume your horse is at the blacksmith? That’s the only stable I know by Stone street.”
Too many voices, there were too many damn voices. They needed to shut up and stop yelling at her. How she wished she could holler. Hell, she wished she could wiggle a finger.
“Did she fart and burp at the same time?”
“When you have no control of your bodily functions, you’d do some interesting things as well. Trust me, she will not be pleased when she wakes up and see’s what she did without her consent.”
Hell no I won’t be pleased, she thought. And I’m going to make Wren pay for it if I soiled myself! Stupid useless moron.