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Reaver’s Hunt: Chapter Six

Maisie

Holy crap, was he messed up!

There was no doubt, he didn’t know where he was going. His eyes were misty half the time. That arm—what a nightmare.

We had to take care of that. Otherwise, Bashful would probably die.

It’s funny how things can get old, even being carried by a guy with wings through the skies of an alien planet. But I’d had just about enough. If I couldn’t talk sense into him, I would have to find a way to escape and find help.

But where?

I didn’t want to leave him. He needed me, and even with him like this, I felt safe around him.

I sighed. There was no way out but through.

I just didn’t know where through was going to lead us.

“Bash, honey,” I tried for the umpteenth time. “We’ve got to go find some other people. A doctor, anything.”

If I hadn’t lost everything from my escape pod, I could have helped. There was a medkit in there, complete with an anti-toxin.

In the long months I’d worked by myself, I’d thought about it often. A broken leg could have killed me, out there by myself.

But now it could save my Bash.

Except I’d let it get taken from me, like everything else.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured.

Bashful responded by hugging me for a moment.

It felt good, but it didn’t assuage my fears. If we kept going like this, eventually whatever had infected him was going to crash him to the ground.

Me with him.

Even now, I felt his body temperature rising. As he flew, he shouted oaths at the sky in his language. There was nothing up there, no birds, dragons, other guys with wings, clouds. Was he shouting at the moons?

That seemed like the very definition of lunacy.

A final squint from the third moon drove his flight lower, to search the tors and cliffs. Shadow-colored, but limned with a greenish glow, he swooped to a narrow cliff in the rock face. A cave angled inward.

Awesome. Another cave.

I shook myself. I could work with a cave. Shelter, a chance to rest.

We needed all the help we could get.

I really needed to get him healed up, to try and get whatever had infected his arm out.

My knowledge was as limited as my resources. One thing I knew—heat could draw out infection.

I had a waterskin from the first cave tucked away in my backpack, and fire we could manage.

It was just a matter of getting him to sit still for it.

Other than the zig-zag entrance, we were in a large chamber. Brightly glowing moss or lichen revealed the space. Where the floor and ceiling sloped downward together, a slow waterfall filled a pool.

Stalactites and stalagmites surrounded the water, natural columns. The floor had been smoothed by centuries of water. As far as caves went, this one was pleasant.

Bashful leaned against an uneven wall, panting as if he’d run a marathon.

It hurt my heart to see him like that. Such a strong figure, so proud, fighting hard against the infection.

But I was worried he was losing.

And then I’d lose him.

“Sit down.” Dry grasses filled a depression in the floor. Nearby was a firepit, disused and dusty.

I tried to lead him there but he pulled away, pacing, ranting in his language. Taking the waterskin from the pouch, I held it to him. He drank, swiping at the perspiration immediately springing upon his brow. I encouraged him to drink it all.

Finally, I managed to coax him to the nest, motioning for him to take the weapon from off his back.

Reluctantly, he did, but kept it nearby.

Even now, I couldn’t get him to relax.

From the pool, I filled the skin. Previous occupants had left sticks for a tripod, and a small pile of fuel. Boil the water, make a compress—that’s all I had.

I hunkered next to him. He looked at me, dreamy-eyed, bronze cheeks flushed. Saying something in his language, he touched my hair, then he buried his face on my shoulder.

Mama always said that men turn into children when they get sick.

After setting up a tripod and hanging the skin over the low flames, I touched his cheek. A fire still raged in him. His wondrous golden eyes shone brightly but didn’t indicate that anyone was home.

My chest hurt. How could I miss someone who I’d just met?

We’d had just that moment after he rescued me from the bear, when he’d been so worried for my safety.

But that wasn’t right.

I’d felt him near me for weeks now, a warm, steady presence that wrapped around me.

And now I could lose him.

“Lay down.” I pointed to the dry nest. Then I held my palms together, leaned my head, and put my hands under my cheek. Was this a universal gesture for sleep?

He did it for me. Head bobbing, lids heavy, his ravaged body sank into the grasses. Then, the wings wrapped around him. So adorable!

But once I made compresses, the water near boiling hot to try to pull out the infection, I didn’t think he would remain adorable. In his delirium, he might even hurt me.

No, I thought looking at his tormented face. Even in agony, I didn’t believe he could ever harm me. I couldn’t say why.

Now, it was just a matter of getting the water to boil without setting the leather bladder on fire.

Bashful thrashed in the bed of grasses, talking in his sleep. I didn’t know what he was saying, but his tone was frantic.

And then there was a second voice.

I spun, heart pounding in my ears.

What wan light of sunrise made it through the twisting opening cast a stranger in silhouette. Broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, winged, another of Bashful’s people, stared at me.

“Get away!” I shouted, grabbing up the bladed spear. Baring my teeth, I stood between the interloper and my fallen Bashful.

Was this right?

I knew we needed help, but now that someone was here, could I trust him not to take advantage of Bash’s weakened state?

I didn’t need to know much about weapons or fighting to have realized that Bash was a trained warrior. Which meant there was someone to fight.

Was this a friend, or an enemy?

Whoever he was, the stranger spoke in a low growl. I shook my head, not understanding. Lifting the weapon, I wanted to make sure he moved no closer.

Holding up both palms, the second angel-man took a step back, then looked carefully at where Bash lay thrashing about.

No harm, I thought. Then, the stranger made a claw of one hand, and pantomimed the blue bear’s attack.

“Yes! He was clawed,” I said, nodding. Then I made the claw motion myself. My grip quickly returned to the spear haft.

The stranger’s expression softened to thoughtfulness, studying Bash, then moving his attention to me.

Specifically, my chest.

Blushing, I covered myself, then snapped. He wasn’t staring at my breasts. He was looking at the necklace Bash had made for me.

With a nod, he turned. In a moment, I heard the drumbeat sound of wings.

“Now what?” I asked Bashful. He moaned in response.

My plan still seemed like the only possible solution. Poking the waterskin, I moved it slightly before the leather could char.

How long would it take to boil? We were at a high elevation, so not long. What could I use for a compress? Other than leather and roughly woven material, there wasn’t much that would work well.

I studied the glowing moss that lit the cave. It was already saturated. Boiling water would probably destroy the stuff.

Well, the softest material on this planet, as far as I knew, were the clothes I wore. My leggings probably had too much stretchy stuff to be absorbent. My top, however, was good old-fashioned cotton.

As I cut a strip from the hem of the blouse, I heard the dull thud of wings. The stranger’s shadow cut what light entered the cave.

He spoke, nodding his head, then he lifted his hands. They were full of flowers, twigs and leaves, blue needles. Gesturing, he pretended to drink from his hands. The stranger pointed to the hanging waterskin.

“Like a tea?” I asked, mimicking pouring out the skin into his cupped hands.

He nodded, excitedly, then he took his own skin, dumped out the water and opened the lacing just enough to put in his herbal concoction.

Trying not to burn the crap out of myself, I removed the skin from over the fire. Dumping the hot water into his waterskin produced a minty, astringent steam.

At least, it smelled medicinal.

I paused.

Friend or enemy?

Medicine or poison?

Bash groaned.

Did I have a choice?

I swallowed hard. If there was a chance to save him, I had to take it.

And if it killed him…

I glared at the stranger, who just mimicked drinking, pointing at Bashful.

Sure, I got that part. The question was—how to get it down his throat?

Taking the hot skin, I moved into the nest. Lifting Bashful’s head onto my thighs, I opened his mouth. Dripping just a trickle, he managed to swallow without choking.

The stranger spoke in their tongue. Bashful responded, opening his mouth. Slowly, I fed it to him. His shaking hands rose, tilting the flow. When he coughed, I took it away from him.

“Vandath?” the stranger’s voice rumbled.

Bashful turned to face him, but his golden eyes did not focus.

Was that his name? Vandath, I tried on my mind’s tongue. Sounded better than Bashful, anyway.

The stranger moved away from Vandath, folding his arms and wings. His posture was one of “wait and see.”

I stroked Vandath’s hair. He didn’t stir.

If not for the slow rise of his chest, I would have thought he was dead.

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