The rough gravel dug into Kai’s back, sharp enough that he could feel it even through his coat. He coughed and gasped for air, body shuddering as he did. The wind had been knocked out of him and every inch of his body ached dully, as though he had been thrown to the ground.
He shifted, trying to push himself up on his elbows, blinking up at the dark sky. Perhaps he had been thrown to the ground.
A pain throbbed just under the surface of his skull, and he raised a hand to his head, grimacing. There was a harsh cerulean light flooding the otherwise unlit area around him, casting tall shadows on the walls of the buildings on either side. He squinted at the source of the light, and suddenly he was pushing through the pain; he scrambled to his knees, desperately reaching out for the small brass device. He closed his hands around it, and at his touch, the light faded.
White spots danced in Kai’s vision, and he quickly tried to blink them away as he tried to piece together what had happened and how he’d gotten… wherever he was.
Moments ago, he had just been in their study—and with that thought, he felt his heart leap into his throat. Nausea flared and he covered his mouth with the hand that wasn’t holding the brass sphere, gritting his teeth as he swallowed down the bile. He closed his eyes, but instead of seeing the remnants of the blinding light from just moments before, he saw red—a deep, rich crimson that spread in every direction. He was afraid to open his eyes—afraid that if he did, he’d see that same red on his hands.
“No,” he murmured under his breath, a desperate plea to the heavens. “No, no, no—it can’t—not him—it can’t be real…”
He moved the hand with the brass object up to his face, using his wrist to scrub away the wetness suddenly on his cheeks. He tried to take in a deep, shuddering breath in an attempt to calm himself, as though it would be enough to steady the erratic beat of his heart. His hand fell from his mouth to his chest, grasping at his shirt and what lay atop it—a shard of obsidian on a leather cord. He slumped forward, forehead meeting the ground in another spark of pain, clutching the pendant in one hand and the strange device in the other.
“Oi! You there!”
The voice was unwavering, strong and solid as it cut through the dark of the night. Kai felt an undeniable certainty that the voice was addressing him, but he didn’t respond, didn’t move. His body quaked and trembled in grief, still desperately trying to register what had happened before the device lit up and he’d gone to it—before he ended up like this.
He could still see it so clearly, could still feel it—
“What the hell are you doing?” the voice asked, gruffly, closer this time. “Are you drunk, mate?”
Kai couldn’t respond, just shook his head, forehead still pressed to the gravel.
“All right, come on now.”
The voice was gentler now, somehow even closer, and before Kai could register what was happening, he felt strong arms around his shoulders, hoisting him to his feet. Kai knew that he wasn’t helpful in the endeavor, his body feeling sore and far too heavy, but still the hands on him were there, sturdy but kind, holding him up.
“Oh, hells!” the voice gasped. “Are you hurt?”
Finally, Kai forced his eyes open. Before him was a half-orc, skin the color of fresh rosemary. Their tusks were poking out between their lips, and their black hair had been arranged in a mohawk of braids that fell past their shoulders, the color of it so dark that it seemed tinged blue in the lack of light. Their concerned eyes were a pale gold, a beautiful color that Kai felt so painfully familiar with.
“No,” Kai said at last, his voice an odd croak that he didn’t recognize. “No, I… I don’t think so.”
The half-orc raised an eyebrow at him. “Don’t sound that convincing, mate,” they said with a sigh and a shake of the head. “Come on, then. I’m not a healer, but I have one or two tricks up my sleeve.”
Kai was half-tempted to argue, but his remaining energy was fleeting, and what little fight he had had already left him. The half-orc nearly dragged him out of the alley, muttering reassurances as they went. As they passed under the warm orange glow of a streetlamp, Kai glanced down and could see the dried rust of blood smeared on his hands. He forced his eyes up, forced his gaze back on the deserted street they were taking.
They passed buildings in a haze, and it was easy enough for Kai to recognize where they were. Of course, it looked significantly different from the last time he had been there, but that was to be expected. It had been a number of years since he’d been there last, after all, not since—
Not since Enfys had found him.
“I don’t travel to the outskirts if I can help it,” Enfys had said, looking grim as he did. He had been explaining what work Kai would take on, now that he had been given a home—given a purpose—by Enfys. “I’d feel better if you didn’t, either.”
“Why?” Kai had asked. It was a simple question, really, out of sheer curiosity. But Enfys had sighed as though it was something that truly pained him.
“I have enemies there.”
Kai had nearly laughed, sure that it was a joke; but the look on the dark elf’s face betrayed how serious he was. “You?” he had asked instead, astounded. “You have enemies?”
This question made Enfys chuckle drily. “I do,” he had admitted. “And… honestly, they’d probably like to see me dead.”
The weight of the remark felt so different to Kai now. Before, he’d taken it to be an exaggeration or some grim sort of expression, just something figurative to dissuade Kai from venturing too far from the central citadel. Before, it was easy to write it off and not think about it again, to simply do as Enfys requested.
Before, Enfys was still alive.
He stumbled a little at the thought, the half-orc steadying him. Kai muttered an apology and focused on the road ahead once more.
“No worries,” the half-orc said. “We’re almost there.”
Sure enough, they didn’t have to walk much further before the half-orc stopped. They led Kai to the front of a long, stone building, the front of which was lined with a half-dozen doors. The half-orc shouldered open one of these doors, and Kai immediately realized this must be their residence—one that shared its walls with others’ in an effort to save space in the poorer parts of the city. Admittedly, the sight was foreign to Kai; the two homes he knew were nothing like this—from the small thatch-roofed cottage in the countryside of the Western Kingdom, to the brilliant yet intimidating tower here in Dyandra that Enfys had constructed.
He didn’t have time to really consider the living arrangement; immediately, the half-orc led Kai into what he assumed to be the kitchen, lit by orbs with enchanted golden flames, strung from the ceiling. They sat him down on a wobbly three-legged and then went to the cupboard, fetching a cloth and dipping it into a bucket near the fireplace. They came back to Kai, kicking another stool in front of him and seating themselves on it.
And then they got to work.
“I’m Roszondas, by the way,” the half-orc said, wiping at Kai’s hands with the wet rag with a gentleness that Kai still found he wasn’t expecting. “Roszondas Dold. Or Ros the Infernal, to some.” They gave a small smile at the nickname.
Roszondas glanced up at his face, still cleaning his hands with the rag. “Just Kai?” they asked.
He hesitated for just a moment, thinking back to Enfys’s warning, how he had enemies here in the outskirts of Dyandra.
Roszondas didn’t press, nodding as they lowered their gaze back to Kai’s hands, now scrubbing the other one clean. “Well, Kai,” they said. “Should I be asking about the literal blood on your hands and what happened?” One corner of their lips quirked up in a half-smile, exposing more of the tusk on that side. “I’m hoping I didn’t let a murderer into my house.”
“I didn’t kill anybody,” Kai said, voice nothing more than a whisper.
“Good to know,” Roszondas said. “But that doesn’t quite answer the question. What happened to you, mate?”
Kai furrowed his brow, looking down at his hands, fingers still curled around the device, even as Roszondas wiped the dried blood away. The question itself seemed simple enough, but as Kai tried to find the words to formulate an answer, nothing seemed to fit. He swallowed.
“I… I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m not sure.”