"Cold. C-cold." Matthew's teeth chattered as he tried again to sit up. What exactly he intended to do about it was unclear. The fire was already lit, and there were blankets aplenty piled on the bed around him.
"Shhh. You're okay, Matt." A gentle voice accompanied an even gentler touch from one of the black haired woman who tended to him, and she pushed him back against the mattress. "We've just built up the fire. You'll warm up soon."
"Don't call me that!" He snapped, not mollified.
"Matthew, Eldest." Treyp said from her perch on the edge of his bed, her dark eyes intent as she smoothed his black hair way from his swarthy face. Her hand came away wet with his sweat. "That or nothing. He doesn't like the shortened form."
"My apologies," Ytyrra said solemnly. "Matthew, then."
The assassin offered her no answer, his hazel eyes rolling unfocused and drifting shut. Treyp drew a washcloth from a bucket beside the bed and bathed his face yet again. There was no success for in her the attempt to school her expression. She was beyond worried. She was terrified. Poison, Erek had said during their fight. Treyp remembered hearing the words but did not think anything of them at the time. It was not until she felt the fevered heat emanating from Matthew's body and he collapsed that it came back to her.
“It's no use!” Frustration moved her arm and Treyp, as she lifted her voice in the language of the Dryads, threw the cloth back at the bucket she had lifted it from. Then it gave way to something else. Lifting her frightened, pleading eyes from the fevered form before her, she met the peaceful gaze of Ytyrra. “I have to help him.”
“You are helping him.” Ytyrra, using also their native tongue, answered in a soothing voice.
“You know what I mean!”
Ytyrra was quiet for a moment, considering her response and the possibilities surrounding what Treyp was saying. The slightest of frowns touched her nearly ageless face. “Little Sister, I have seen you perform miracles. But your gift has ever been unreliable. There are times when it will not even answer your call--”
“It is present now,” Treyp supplied. Lifting her hands, she allowed the tell-tale golden light to seep through her skin. “It comes more easily today than in the past.”
The Eldest Sister of the Dryad People saw her display and nodded. “I see that. But have you ever healed so grievous a wound?”
“You know that I have!” The monumental frustration returned in force to Treyp's face and voice. “My touch has repaired the ravages of torture! It has healed wounds that would have seen more than one man die if not for my intervention. Look at these injuries. Matthew was barely hurt! We wouldn't even be having this conversation if not for the--”
“Poison,” Ytyrra finished for her. As Treyp had done before, she brushed her own hand across Matthew's brow. “I have never seen you heal a poison, and this is not of the natural world. It could be too strong for your ability, or have unforeseen consequences. Could it kill you? Could it take you both? There is no way to be certain.”
It was clear then, as realization dawned in her widening eyes, that Treyp had been thinking only of the physical damages that Erek had wrought. Fear and frustration transformed into despair, and the younger Dryad's face fell. Silent sobs shook her slumped shoulders. She fought to bring herself out from the mountain of misery that had descended upon her so that she might bring her tears under control. Then Ytyrra was there, having made the short journey around the bed on quick feet, to wrap those strong, familiar arms around her.
“I have to try,” Treyp choked out at her. “I have to.”
“Little Sister, I will not stop you,” Ytyrra murmured into her dark hair. “I will even give you what help I can. My only intention is to make certain that you know what you may be getting into.”
The younger Dryad sniffed loudly, “He saved me. I can't just let him die.”
“Tell me this. Are you in love with him?”
Treyp took a deep, sharp breath, but whatever she was about to say died just inside her pink lips. She licked them and stared at Matthew. Her eyes never strayed from his sleeping, sweat drenched face. There was much activity within those dark orbs. They were wells of emotion, clouded with confusion and tinged with the same fear that had brought her to tears moments before. The wet trails running down her reddened face had yet to dry.
“I don't know,” she said at last. Her voice was small and vulnerable, and Ytyrra gave her a kiss on the side of her head.
If Treyp expected the older woman to comment further on the topic, even to offer some bit of wisdom or insight, she was to be disappointed. The Eldest Sister of the Dryad People squeezed her just a bit tighter, then let go and stood up. She walked slowly around the bed and returned to the wooden stool she had been sitting on. Resting her elbows against her knees, with her fingers steepled at the tip of her chin, she scrutinized Treyp with a penetrating gaze that made the younger woman a little uncomfortable.
“What?!” Treyp cried out, wiping the wetness from her eyes. “I don't have a better answer! Not right now.”
“My apologies. It isn't that. Your answer was more than satisfactory,” Ytyrra offered the other woman a small smile. “I was remembering your ability, and what I know of it. What I've seen of it, and what our Sisters have told me.”
“Oh... I see. Well, does anything stand out?”
“Yes. Do you remember Ymara?”
“I think I do,” Treyp was still trying her best to regain her composure, and was making some small progress at it. She frowned a little at Ytyrra's question. “She wasn't the very first person I touched, but I think she had the first really bad injury I dealt with.”
“Injuries, Treyp.” Ytyrra corrected her. “She was attacked by a bear, if you would remember. I saw you take on her injuries one at a time. I think that helped your own body deal with the trauma you were visiting on it by getting involved.”
“I don't remember that part of it.”
“I do,” the Eldest Sister assured her. “I also remember the time you saved Amiendyn.”
Treyp winced in acknowledgment of the memory as Ytyrra went on. “The two of you were hiking further from our trees than you were supposed to be, and she got caught in a rock slide. If I hadn't been following you already, I don't think you could have saved her.”
“There was no way that I could have dug her out on my own,” Treyp agreed readily. “But where are you going with this? When I healed her, I don't remember doing anything different from what I did for Ymara.”
“And yet it was different. You were tentative with Ymara when you applied your power, and took only a little bit at a time. When you tried to do the same for Amiendyn, you took everything all at once. The shock of it nearly killed you both.”
“I know. Well, I know that I laid my hands on her,” Treyp amended quickly. “Then I was waking up under our leaves, and you were telling me that several days had passed. Eldest, those two were years apart though. Maybe I've just grown stronger.”
“That is a possibility. However, my thought is, and has long been, that you panicked with Amiendyn, because you knew her better and she was especially dear to you, and so you instinctively tried harder because of it.” Ytyrra's hands folded , drooping between her knees as she turned her attention to Matthew. “I think you can do as you did for Ymara, and that it is the safest way for you to save him.”
Treyp was shaking her head, her dark, dark brown mane of hair swaying to and fro. As in most settings, it may as well have been black in the firelight. “Eldest, I don't have that kind of control! I never did. It is there when it is, and it does what it does. That is all.”
“Little Sister, it is my belief that you lack control only because you have not yet learned it.”
The younger of the two Dryads' ears burned with shame at Ytyrra's gentle admonishment. There was some truth to it. She lifted her hands and watched again the golden glow flare to life beneath her skin. “You could be right. It doesn't always answer when I call it, but even when it does I've never spent much time trying to understand it.”
“This will not be easy,” Ytyrra warned, watching as the younger Dryad kicked off her boots.
“No. But I have to try,” Treyp repeated herself again. She twisted with one lithe motion to bring her long, supple legs onto the mattress beneath herself and face Matthew more fully. Her knees were roughly even with his lower rib. Leaning over him, she collected his hot hands and folded them neatly beneath her own over his sternum. The assassin was lightning fast and as physically powerful as a man his size had any right to be, but Treyp thought that she was a little strong than him. She hoped so, at any rate, or she would not be able to restrain him if he lashed out while his body was being restored. It was with that thought in mind that she raised up and tossed her left leg over him, straddling his belly.
“Good thinking,” Ytyrra told her. There was both approval and the smallest measure of relief in her voice, as if she had been about to suggest Treyp reposition herself so and was glad that there was no longer any need to do so. Then the younger Dryad's hands began to glow ever more brightly. The Eldest Sister added, “Remember to focus. Hold it back. Don't take anything until you've got it under control.”
Treyp could only nod briefly, and her long hair fell forward in a curtain about her face. Her eyes drifted closed beneath it. Suddenly she grunted, and stiffened her spine. Every muscle in her strong, young body clenched. Then she gasped, and panted, “I've got it!”
“Good. Little Sister, you are doing very good,” Ytyrra did not hide that she was impressed. She took pride in Treyp's little victory, having been prepared for the worst. “Now focus. Feel the heat. The fever. That is the most immediate danger. Try and--”
“Draw it out,” Treyp finished for her, answering with a tight voice in the Dryad tongue. Then she lapsed into common. “Gotcha.”
The light emanating from Treyp's hands began inching it's way up her arms. Every bit of her exposed skin was suddenly covered in little beads of sweat, and flushed so abruptly that not even the glow of the power she used could disguise the change in color. Seconds later her sleeveless white blouse was soaked and clinging to her back. Treyp coughed, and her breath became ragged. Ytyrra looked on with mute fascination and concern, and when she seemed just on the verge of reaching out to intervene, to ask Treyp to let go and recover herself, the younger woman's breathing eased and she sighed.
“Did it. I think,” her words were short. The majority of her focus was still in maintaining her tenuous control over the incredible healing ability she was born with.
“Very, very good,” Ytyrra answered with relief. Treyp seemed determined to speak in common, and the Eldest Sister obliged her. “Can you continue? You look like hell, Little Sister.”
“I have to try,” was Treyp's unforgiving mantra.
Ytyrra sighed past the lump in her throat. She was unsurprised. “Then find the poison. Hurry! If you don't it will reduce him to the same state again, and more quickly this time.”
“Oh, I see it.”
A small, almost cute growl crawled forth from the back of Treyp's throat, and behind the curtain of hair she mouthed 'Come on, come on!' again and again. The light in her hands intensified, blazing like a small sun, and the entirety of her arms were dimly aglow with it. Ytyrra could hear her grinding her teeth against the effort she was putting forth. Little, wispy tendrils of shadow, at first so faint that they might have been a trick of the light, began writhing upwards from Matthew's body. They grew steadily darker and began tearing at the bed clothes and mattress on either side of him. Each one that reached for Treyp, however, fell apart and was obliterated on contact.
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!” Matthew howled. The sound of it was only barely human. Treyp's head snapped up, tossing most of her hair aside to expose her face as she stared at the man she was trying to save. His eyes snapped open and he met her gaze. Gone was everything human within them. Purely black orbs had been left in their place, lit from deep inside by an ugly, ruddy glow. Erek, wearing the assassin's face, bared his fangs at her.
“You can't have him!” The demon spat the words at the Dryad sitting astride the body it inhabited. “Bawo was stolen from me! Charis was stolen from me! No more! This one is mine now and you can't have him!”
Terror warred with, and lost to the determination in Treyp's eyes. She hissed back at the thing that had become the star of her every nightmare. “Let. Him. Go!”
The horrific, multi-toned roar that erupted from Erek's borrowed mouth struck pain into every mortal ear that was close enough to hear it. Then it bucked, arching Matthew's back and throwing the Dryad off of him. Treyp was airborne for one incredibly disoriented moment, and then landed on her shoulders just past the foot of the bed. Her feet did not quite clear the mattress with the rest of her and so she lay at an awkward angle, seeing stars. Then the demon followed, leaping atop her in much the same position that it had just ejected her from. Cackling through Matthew's distorted fast, it drew back it's claws to strike at her once again.
Ytyrra hauled back against the demon's attack, with hands and arms that were stronger even than Treyp's hooking under it's arms and wrapping around Matthew's shoulders. Stretched across the bed as she was, she did not have the leverage to pull him completely off of the younger Dryad. “Little Sister, finish your work!”
No further invitation was necessary. Treyp lunged her arms forward, locking her fingers against Matthew's distorted face. That strange golden light from within her, having faded when her concentration was shattered, blazed forth with new life. Erek howled, first in protest and then in pain and, with a triumphant expression every bit as vicious as the demon's own, Treyp cried out in a voice that rose steadily into a scream, “I said LET HIM GO!”
“Treyp!” Ytyrra called out. The light blinded her, and the maddened demon she held nearly deafened her. She could feel something, like the reverberations of some great, physical force, building upon itself. Then it exploded. The Eldest Sister of the Dryad People, along with the limp assassin she held, were flung back onto the bed behind herself. She could taste blood, and felt it spill from her nose. It did not matter. Laying stunned and still for a long moment, all that she could do was bring her fingertips to Matthew's neck. He was alive. His pulse was strong. Good, she thought.
Finally, still a bit addled and with ringing ears, Ytyrra rolled the assassin aside and moved toward the foot of the bed to check on Treyp.