Poisonwell Page 2

If they returned.

The doubt’s whisper was so soft, he almost didn’t hear it. It made his knees quaver and nearly start clacking together. If was a terrible word. It was the hinges of a door leading to thoughts that, once contemplated, the mind could never abolish. He was never one prone to other men’s fears. In his heart, he had believed he could defeat the Scourgelands. Losing half of the party already had begun to fill his mind with the seeds of doubt.

Their Romani Finder was the first to die.

The three Vaettir Bhikhu from Silvandom. Dead.

The brutish Cruithne warrior named Glebbon was still alive, still as deadly as ever. He was a menace with sword or pike, shrugging off the Weir as if they were merely feral street cats. Tyrus was grateful he was still alive.

Then there was Declan Brin, the Preachán. He avoided combat when he could and was helpful to analyze the situation afterward, pointing out symmetries to the attack. Where was Declan? Tyrus looked around, not seeing him.

“Declan?” he called.

“Over here, Tyrus!”

That was Mathon’s voice, and it was hard-edged and frantic. Alarm swept inside of Tyrus. He turned and found Mathon kneeling over Declan’s body, fingers working deftly to try to save the Preachán’s life. Declan moaned and gurgled, his head thrashing one way and then the next. Mathon was a Rike and one of the best healers in the city. He was young looking, nearly the same age as Tyrus. He had short, dark hair, a slightly bulbous nose, and an expression that was perpetually sad, except that at the moment it was frantic with desperation.

“I’m working as fast as I can,” Mathon gibbered, “but he’s losing blood quickly.” He jerked loose his belt and then fastened it like a strap to the Preachán’s arm, twisting the leather viciously to try to stanch the bleeding. Declan groaned with pain, digging his fingers into the clutter of leaves.

“I’m losing him!” Mathon said, panting. He leaned close and listened to Declan’s breath. He cinched the strap tighter, causing another groan of pain from the injured man. Mathon was full of scrapes and scratches himself, his black cassock soaked with blood and sweat. His own wounds were untended.

“Tyrus?” Declan said with a quavering moan.

Tyrus dropped to his knees next to the man. “I’m here.”

Declan shuddered fitfully, his eyes opening wide but with a blank look, as if he couldn’t see. “There’s something you should know. The trees . . . I’ve been noticing that when . . . I’m seeing that . . . what I can’t say is that I don’t recall . . . or remember . . .”

“Declan, I don’t understand you,” Tyrus said, grinding his teeth. “What have you seen in the trees?”

“The trees,” Declan breathed. His head lolled and he looked at Tyrus, though his expression was still blank. “I can’t remember . . . the trees.”

“What trees?” Tyrus said, placing a calming hand on Declan’s shoulder.

Mathon pressed his mouth against his own forearm, shuddering with emotions as he watched his friend dying. Blood seeped from the arm, draining away the Preachán’s life.

“Declan,” Tyrus implored.

Mathon clenched his teeth and began working again, jamming a stick into the knot of belt and twisting it around, tightening the knot more. Declan let out a scream of pain and began thrashing.

“Hold him down,” Mathon ordered Tyrus.

Tyrus did, surprised at the wiry man’s sudden strength. It took more effort than he expected to pin him still, knowing the suffering he was causing to his friend.

Merinda wandered up. “Can I help?”

Mathon shook his head. “Not unless you can summon a Shain spirit.”

“There are no helpful spirits in this forsaken place,” Merinda said with despair. “We are at the mercy of the Scourgelands.”

“What mercy,” Mathon mumbled, torquing the stick more. The bleeding began to subside. He gazed at Tyrus deeply. “Nothing could have prepared us for this place. What little lore we got from Possidius was absolutely useless.”

“I’ll remember to tell him that,” Tyrus said darkly. “This is not a place for scholars.”

“This is not a place for the living,” Mathon said, scanning the trees surrounding them. “This place repels life.”

Howling started again. Tyrus looked up, experiencing the shiver all the way down to his toes.

“They are coming again,” Merinda said with dread. “We must go.”

Mathon hung his head. “I may have saved him . . . but for what? We won’t last another wave from those beasts. My healing orbs are all spent, Tyrus. They were spent the first day we arrived. I only have my hands and skein threads to make stitches. We were not prepared for this!”

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