Shackled and shamed, Therion had next to no patience by the time he stumbled his way into Clearbrook. Despite being the closest town to Bolderfall, the trek hadn't been easy, with bandits and brigands lurking around every corner, and monsters hidden behind every tree. Normally, he was able to handle himself perfectly fine (partially due to the fact that he himself was a bandit of sorts), but with his dominant hand weighed down by Heathcote's damned bangle, his accuracy with knives was somewhat compromised; even though he considered himself to be ambidextrous, he still preferred using his right hand for light weaponry, but upon the fool's bangle lay a curse of sloppiness and frustration to be feared by thieves all across Orsterra. His aim was off, his balance was skewed, and Therion was all battered up because of it.
And so, upon crossing into the Riverlands, Therion decided it was probably best to stay a little longer than he'd originally planned. Not that he was happy about it - born into squalor in the Saintsbridge slums, the Riverlands had brought him naught but misery and misfortune - somehow coming home felt more like a kick to the gut than a warm welcoming back. But he'd passed through Clearbrook before, and he'd much rather travel to Atlasdam via a route he was already somewhat familiar with, even if that meant it would take longer. Besides, he wasn't partciularly fond of monsters, and although the Cliftlands and the Riverlands had their fair share, the Woodlands to the north were something else; anyplace with a corridor of forest nickanamed 'the Path of Beasts'" was someplace he wanted to avoid.
"Gods, when I get this damned bracelet off me, Heathcote's gonna pay." Therion muttered darkly to himself, messing with the cold band of metal encircling his wrist.
He continued following the river, until he caught a glimpse of chimney smoke billowing above the trees. He picked up his pace, relieved to find signs of civilisation at last; dark clouds rolled over from the east, and Therion didn't want to get caught out in the rain. He pulled his cloak tighter around himself, and dragged his scarf over his mouth and nose, aiming to stick to the shadows. There was a chance that the people of Clearbrook had caught wind of Bolderfall's resident master thief, and Therion had no intentions of running into any authorities. He was quickly met with a tall, worn, wooden sign, painted over with bold, white letters that demanded his attention:
WELCOME TO CLEARBROOK, POP.:
BEWARE: INCREASE OF VENOMOUS VIPERS TOWARDS EAST CLEARBROOK - RISK OF DEATH
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
"Well," Therion frowned, shoulders slumping. "I'll be damned. Even more monsters." Perhaps traveling through Clearbrook wasn't the best of ideas. Not that he had the time or patience to turn around now.
The overcast weather must've sent Clearbrook's residents running for shelter, as Therion found the streets to be relatively clear by the time he reached the village's main street. Both a blessing and a curse, he supposed - nobody was around to recognise him, but there was also nobody to steal from either. He'd scrounged up enough gold and leaves from Bolderfall's aristocracy before he left, so he had more than enough to see himself right until the Highlands. He contemplated finding an inn, and settling down for the night; there was no point in stocking up on supplies now, not with the cold already seeping into his bones.
Even with the streets vacant, Therion still found himself sticking close to the shadows where he could. It wasn't until he crossed Clearbrook's first bridge that he ran into company.
A man stood out in the rain, hair plastered to his forehead in sopping, brown tendrils. He paced back and forth in front of a small row of houses, muttering incoherencies to himself. He looked troubled, and Therion sure as hell didn't want to get involved in business that wasn't his own, so he veered off as far to the other side of the path as he could get, distancing himself from the man before he picked up his pace.
Unfortunately, his cloaked figure and quick footsteps weren't enough of a deterrent.
"Good afternoon, sir- miserable day, ain't it?" The man piped up after spotting Therion, right as he was passing by. "Couldn't help but noticing, but are you - by any chance - a sellsword?"
Therion lowered his scarf from his lips, keeping the back piled up over his head into a makeshift hood. He turned on his heel with the best glower he could manage. "Mind your own damn business." He chided, narrowing his eyes. Did he look like a sellsword? He wasn't exactly going for the approachable neighbourhood mercenary look.
Now that he was closer, he managed to get a better look at the man - tall and broad, with big, wide shoulders, and thick arms - bigger than he'd first thought, and Therion surpressed the urge to take a step back. His eyes were warm and kind, and despite his somewhat scruffy, backwater-type looks, the man was at least passingly handsome, in a rugged, country-boy kind of way. Therion guessed they were around the same age, though one would never guess it, given Therion's smaller, lankier stature (a consequence of a lifetime of malnutrition and stunted growth).
Despite Therion's standoffish response, the man smiled brightly. "Well, shucks, you know I didn't mean to pry! I'm sorry. It's just, I'm desperate, y'see." And the man took a step closer. He was at least a full head and shoulders above Therion, and although Therion was on the shorter side for a man of his age, he wasn't... well, short. "The name's Alfyn," the man introduced himself, smiling sweetly. "And I'm th' apothecary in these parts. There's me, and my buddy, Zeph, and we look after this here town, but lately there's been an increase of snakes in Clearbrook, and Zeph's darlin' little sister got bit pickin' flowers for her brother, and-"
"Stop right there." Therion insisted, holding his hands out in front of him. The guy was a chatterbox, he could already tell. "Why are you telling me this? I'm busy, I've got places to be."
"You look like a guy who knows his way around a sword. More than anyone else who lives round these parts, anyway. I don't recognise your face, and we don't get many travelers, y'see." Alfyn tried, eyes gleaming bright with hope. "An' I need all the help I can get- please."
Therion rolled his eyes. "Right, you got me. Maybe I know how to fight. But I have places to be- so, if you'll excuse me."
He started to walk away for the second time, disinterested in Alfyn's tale of plight. He didn't want to have to slow down for anyone, he didn't like others relying on him, or the risk of having to rely on others himself, so traveling companions were out of the question. All he had to do was find the dragonstones, and return them - how hard could that be? He didn't want or need this lumberjack of a doctor following him around. Besides, how could a man built like Alfyn ask for sword help from a lanky thief?
"I've got cash." Alfyn pitched, one last desperate attempt at securing help. "I can pay you for you time, and give you a place to stay for as long as you're in town, free of charge. And I'll fix ya up with some potions."
The rain thundered in Therion's ears, growing heavier with each passing minute. If he stayed out much longer, he'd definitely catch a cold, or a fever if he got unlucky. But the prospect of a roof over his head - free of charge - plus some extra cash, and healing remedies that usually cost a fortune for their ingredients alone... well, it was a promising deal. "I'm listening." Therion relented, stopping in his tracks.
Alfyn straightend up, eyes shining. "So you'll help?" He asked, fists clenching in excitement.
Therion turned slowly. "For the right price." He confirmed.
He ended up following Alfyn back to his home - a small shack of a house, close by to the terrace they spoke in front of earlier - and immediately, Therion scanned everything within his immediate vicinity, looking for valuables and trinkets, anything he could palm off from this overtrusting, niave apothecary. But the house was simple and mostly bare, aside from necessities. The kitchen and living area occupied one shared space, illuminated by a small, crackling fireplace. In one corner lay a washbasin, full of dirty, half-soaked clothes, and in the centre of the room a tattered, green rug had be laid in front of the fireplace, next to two armchairs in equal states of disrepair.
"It's not much, but it's home." Alfyn declared as he held open the front door. It wasn't like Therion could judge - or would, for that matter - he'd grown up on the streets of Saintsbridge, and had never had a home. Alfyn's place seemed cosy enough. "There's a bed upstairs, but as you can take it for as long as you need! You're my guest, an' all that."
Therion shook his head. "...That won't be necessary." He muttered. "So how long do you reckon this is going to take?"
Alfyn peeled off his soaked overcoat, and offered to take Therion's damp scarf and shawl, but Therion recoiled, unwilling to part with the shapeless cloak that secured his identity and hid his fool's bangle. He pulled down his haphazard scarf-hood. "Well, I was thinkin' of setting off tonight, after we've prepared properly. Poor Nina ain't got long, so we need to be quick. I reckon we should be back before daybreak."
"And what is it we have to do, exactly?" Therion asked.
"We gotta' get that snake's venom." Alfyn explained, sounding rather blunt. "I know, I know it sound crazy, but it's the only way." He led Therion over to the armchairs and gestured for him to take a seat. Therion was cautious, but sat down anyway, grateful for the warmth of the struggling fire. He debated clicking his fingers and tossing a few of his own embers in to help out, but he didn't want to show off all of his cards just yet.
"Right." Therion drawled, studying Alfyn carefully with his one visible eye. "And how come you can't swing a sword for yourself?"
Alfyn's laugh chimed throughout the room, hearty and light. "I ain't no sellsword, or fighter. I'm just an apothecary. Though, I can swing an ax like nobody's business, mind you. But I ain't never tried it on anythin' other than wood, and wood don't fight back."
I bet you can, Therion thought to himself, somehow baffled at the thought of this gentle giant picking daisies and herbs, instead of putting himself to better paid work, like fighting tournaments, or signing up to a mercenary group. He had the arms for it, clearly. "Alright. I can swing a sword, but I'm much better with knives and daggers, and throwing weapons." Therion admitted. "And I want payment upfront."
"I can give you your pick of my medicine cabinet tonight, but the money'll have to wait until we're done." Alfyn smiled, all sunshine and kindness, but there was something off about his unwavering positivity.
And then Therion realised the extent to which he'd fucked up. He'd followed a man he knew next to nothing about into his home, willed by the promise of good payment and a bed to sleep in, for the completion of a fairly simple albeit dangerous task. And now, Alfyn sat in the armchair closest to the door. He wouldn't have any problems with trapping Therion in, and sure, Therion probably had more wits and street smarts and speed than this airheaded doctor, but if Alfyn discovered the true nature of Therion's line of work, he'd have to leave Clearbrook sooner than he expected. "Fine." Therion growled through gritted teeth. "How much are we talking, anyway?"
"A thousand leaves? That'll get you far enough on your travels, right?" Alfyn suggested.
"It'll give me four nights in an inn at maximum. Call it two thousand." Therion bartered.
"Done." Alfyn agreed. He paused for a second or two, looking briefly confused. "By the way, I don't think I caught your name earlier?"
"It's Therion." Said the thief. The light from the fire danced in his eye, emerald and gold. "Now, about that snake..."
They set off for the Caves of Rhiyo at dusk, armed to the teeth with a variety of concoctions and vials of healing potions to see them through the night. Earlier, Therion sifted through Alfyn's stockpile of pre-made medicine, and picked a few things out for himself - a concotion to keep his energy up, three glass beakers of health-restoring potions, and a container of golden liquid that would supposedly bring him back from the brink of death - what Alfyn didn't know was that Therion had also slipped himself a few extras here and there, and he planned to go back for more. He'd take all he could carry and run to the Sunlands, but for now, Therion kept his thieving on the low-down. He kept his right arm tucked into his still-damp shawl, careful not to arouse suspicion. The fool's bangle would give him away immediately.
Alfyn talked his ear off for the entire hike to the caves, gabbering on about Zeph, and Nina, and their shared childhood in Clearbrook. He told Therion his life story, about his parents and their too-soon passing, and about how most of the kids in Clearbrook lost their families at some point due to poverty and disease. Therion fought the urge to scoff - it was nothing like Saintsbridge, he deemed - or even Bolderfall, that didn't have a lush, clean river flowing through it, or game hunting grounds on the forested outskirts. But who was he to judge another's poverty? To tell the truth, Alfyn didn't exactly seem well-off, and that troubled Therion.
No matter. If he didn't pay up, Therion would simply have to take matters into his own hands.
"And by the time we'd gotten back, Nina had pulled the whole vase o'er herself! What a mess- we spent all afternoon cleanin' her up." Alfyn recalled, throwing his arms about for exaggeration as he retold his many stories. Therion hadn't been listening, and he didn't intend on starting now. He carried on trudging ahead, leading the way even through Alfyn was supposed to be directing them both. "So... what's your story? How'd a guy like you end up a traveler?" Alfyn asked, closing the distance between their strides easily.
"Sorry. I don't do backstories." Therion scowled, messing with his scarf. He hoped that would be enough, but in the little time he'd had to get to know Alfyn, he'd figured it wouldn't be. The man was an unsufferable chatterbox.
"Oh, come on now!" Alfyn whined. He even had the gall to throw an arm over Therion's shoulders. "We're on a quest together! Least ya can do is lemme know a bit more about yourself."
Therion froze, and flinched away. He slipped out of Alfyn's grasp, and immediately turned to him, knife drawn. "Back off!" Therion yelled, eyes blazing.
"Woah, woah!" Alfyn laughed nervously. "Easy now! Didn't mean no harm!"
"Touch me again and I won't give you a warning next time, got it?" Therion practically hissed, his blade firm and steady in his left hand, still pointing in Alfyn's direction. The taller man nodded, sweat trickling down the side of his neck.
It'd stopped raining at some point during the afternoon, leaving the night somehow warmer and humid. Therion's hair was starting to curl at the edges, but still he refused to unravel his layers of cotton and felt. He tucked his dagger back into his shawl, a look of disgust etched upon his face.
Alfyn breathed a sigh of relief, and stayed a pace or two behind Therion when they resumed walking. "Quick fuse, huh?" He dared to accuse, with an expression somewhere inbetween mischief and fear.
"Spend a week on the roads by yourself and try to be any other way, I dare you." Therion countered. "How much longer til we reach these damned caves?"
"We're almost there," Alfyn promised. "...I sure hope we make it back in time."
"Idiot- look out!" Therion screeched, forcing himself into a dive to shoulder Alfyn out of the way of the snake's jaws. He wasn't kidding when he said he wasn't a fighter- gods, he hit hard (when he managed to hit at all with the bleeding ax of his), but he was much too slow, and soaked up hits from the smaller asps instead of jumping out of the way.
Therion's style was entirely different. In fights, he preferred not to be hit at all, thank you very much. Something which Alfyn failed to grasp entirely.
"Sorry!" Alfyn wheezed, lugging his weapon overhead. "Get a load of this!" His voice bellowed throughout the cavern as he cut down one of the smaller snakes, completely cleaving it in two. Therion grimaced, turning to their much larger target - the gigantic blotted viper that could probably eat him whole - and with three flicks of his wrist, he launched three flimsy-looking knives into the monster's underside.
"You have to concentrate." Therion instructed, his voice impatient and gruff. "Otherwise you'll miss- every damn time!" He distanced himself from Alfyn and the snakes, with all the grace of a professional dancer, and twice the speed. "Get back!" He ordered. As Alfyn shoved himself to the side, Therion reached a hand to the sky, outstretched, and summoned a plume of fire and smoke, seemingly from the depths of the Earth.
"Shucks!" Alfyn gawked, eyes wide. The blotted viper hissed and thrashed, it's tail whipping around amongst the flames. "Looks like I better up my game! Time to cool off!" Alfyn held his hands out in front of him, aimed at the viper, and a tall pillar of ice speared through the beast's entire head. With one final thrash, the viper's head lulled against the ice, and it fell limp and lifeless, scorched and impaled. The remaining asps had slithered off into the darkness as soon as Therion's flames flickered into life.
Therion braced himself, one knee on the ground, eyeing the snake cautiously.
"We did it..." Alfyn exhaled, breathless. "We actually did it!"
"We almost didn't, thanks to your clumsiness." Therion frowned, but Alfyn flashed him his winning smile anyway, and took out two empty vials he'd previously tucked away into his satchel.
"I'll fix you up as soon as I've collected the venom." He promised, uncorking one of the vials. He stepped over to the dead viper, ready to inspect it's mouth and fangs, but something wasn't right.
Therion moved with instinct. For the second time that night, he was over to the apothecary's side in an instant, muttering idiot as he shouldered him out of the way of the viper's final strike. Alfyn cried out in surprise, dropping his vials.
Something had pierced itself into Therion's shoulder, and the world suddenly went black.
"Wait!" Therion shrieked, arms outstretched.
He felt smaller, and colder. Somehow heavier. The corners of his vision were inky and blurred, and it was hard to see.
In front of him, standing tall, was Darius - his beloved partner - no older than eighteen, barely a boy, but still, not a man, hanging at the collar as a man twice his size held him aloft. Therion brandished his blade; a small, pathetic excuse for a capentry dagger. He couldn't remember where he'd picked it up from, or who it used to belong to. "Let him go!" He seethed, all rage and unchecked fear, bottled up into the form of a wayward, threatened twelve-year-old.
The man looked away from Darius for a second, before dropping him onto the cobbled street. He took a long, hard look at little Therion, before drawing his own weapon - a sleek, silver sword, the mark of a Knight - he pointed it at Therion. "And who are you to give orders to a guardsman? Ignorant street rat!"
Therion looked for Darius, but he was already scrambling away, halfway down the street by the time the guard had drawn his weapon, leaving Therion to tremble under his enraged gaze, alone. Without thinking twice, Therion lowered his blade and ran faster than his feet had every carried him, in the opposite direction of the guard, who came barreling after him, screaming.
"Gods, Therion- we've gotta' get you back to Zeph's! Come on, up you get- that's it- it's alright, I've got you!"
The scene changed, and Therion was lying on a moth-eaten blanket, staring straight up at the ceiling. Darius had left their safehouse furious, and for what? Therion wasn't sure.
He was fourteen now. He'd grown quite a bit, but he was still on the meagre side. Darius had laughed at him one night, and said something about him needing to put on weight, otherwise how was he supposed to take a hit?
Therion had brushed him off, and claimed he liked his size. He was quick, nimble, and needed less food - that probably wasn't true - but his aim was to not get hit at all.
He didn't know where Darius had stormed off to, but being left alone in a secluded cabin in the middle of the Frostlands had Therion on edge. There'd been rumours circulating the North, about kidnappers and human traffickers stalking the Frostlands, looking for easy prey: impoverished households with one too many mouths to feed, lost travelers wandering aimlessly across the tundra, directionless children with no guardians. In his developing years, Therion often wondered what it would be like if he'd grown up to have a normal life in Saintsbridge. What if the church had taken him in, and he'd been fed and clothed and loved? What if he didn't have to steal apples and bread from the local market to live?
If that were the case, maybe he wouldn't be in this mess, cold and alone, wishing for Darius to come back.
All of a sudden, the flimsy wooden was thrown open, and Darius stumbled in. No longer awkward teenager struggling to fit into his own skin, but a man with a fierce glare and a horrendous temper.
"Therion!" He boomed, and Therion bolted upright. "C'mere, you little rat!"
Fearing the consequences of disobediance, Therion pushed himself off the floor and padded over to Darius, all bare feet and aching chills as the howling wind pierced through the shack. Darius slammed the door behind him. Standing opposite his mentor, Therion could smell the alcohol on his breath, and immediately knew what was about to come.
"The copper's are on our trail." He spat. "An' it's all your fault! If you had've just let me kill that last cop in Stillsnow-"
Therion's brow furrowed. "But that would've put a bigger sentence on our-"
"Quiet!" Darius roared, and Therion was in the floor in an instant, backhanded and red-faced, his cheek stinging. "Now, to make it up to me- you're gonna stay here until the cops arrive, and you're gonna be a damn good diversion whilst I get away. I'll meet you in Atlasdam to the East in two weeks."
"Alone? You're leaving without me?" Therion gawked.
"Where's the problem? You're quicker, ain't you? You'll give the coppers the slip in no time." Darius scoffed, striding past Therion. He started to roll up the blanket on the floor.
Ten minutes later, Therion was left alone in their compromised safehouse, embarrassed and panicked and hurt.
"Just hang in there, buddy. Hold on- hold on, we're almost there. Can you still hear me?"
When he was sixteen, he fought back for the first time.
Darius was drunk again, absolutely off his trolley, and after a stupid argument about how they were going to split their treasure Darius took a swing at Therion. Instead of taking it, Therion ducked, ready in a fighting stance to swing back if need be. Darius' eyes widened, and his cheeks flushed red with anger. "Eh? And what're you gonna do, punch me back?" He challenged. Therion wavered slightly, refusing to speak, but keeping a steady, weary eye on his partner. Darius took a second swing, but Therion was always too fast for his partner.
"Darius, you're drunk." Therion insisted. "Please. You win, we'll go seventy-thirty, just stop this."
But Darius just laughed, cracking his knuckles. "Oh, no." His grin was cold and sinister."You decided how we'd settle this as soon as you opened your damn mouth!" And he charged at the boy, aiming his swings to hit hard. "This is a lesson you'll have to learn the hard way!"
Therion sidestepped most his attacks, slowly understanding that Darius was trying to hurt him. This wasn't some game. He grunted, stooping under a well-aimed right hook that otherwise would've collided with his jaw. He held his arms up in a block, shielding his face as Darius continued to back him into a corner. It wasn't until his back hit the wooden wall behind him that Therion snapped, and as Darius pressed on, the smaller thief countered one of his punches, slugging his partner right in the mouth.
Darius stumbled back, surprised that Therion had lashed out at all. He looked up, all that malicious delight gone from his face. Now, he was angry. Now, he was going to make Therion hurt. "How dare you-" he started, eyes blazing.
The guilt was already creeping up on Therion. He was such a damned, sentimental fool. He lowered his guard, the look in his eyes softening. "Darius, I'm sorry." He pleaded.
When Darius came for him the second time over, Therion didn't try to stop him.
He could barely see for all the light.
Someone hovered over him, a looming shadow, stark against the brightness. Warm hands held his shoulders, whilst a voice murmured something he couldn't quite make out.
Therion woke up, startled. He was sent hurtling into a panic, confused and afraid, unsure of his surroundings. He immediately latched onto the stranger's collar, forcing him away in an attempt to free himself from their grip.
"Hey- hey- slow down, it's just me! Therion? You're okay, you're okay-"
And everything flooded back to him. He was in a warm bed, someplace in Clearbrook, and Alfyn was holding him steady. "It's just me," he repeated, in his kind and caring apothecary's voice, trying to reassure his patient. "Take it easy, buddy. Settle down- you're alright."
Therion fell back against his pillow, breathing heavily. "We're in Clearbrook, right?" He asked.
Alfyn nodded. "Yeah. We're back at my place."
"And the snake venom?"
"We beat the viper, remember? All thanks to you." Alfyn smiled. "Do you remember much else from the caves?"
Therion shook his head. Alfyn sat on the end of the bed, and brought him up to speed on everything that happened since he blacked out - how he saved Alfyn from a nasty snake bite, but ended up poisoned and delirious for his troubles - Alfyn had to rush back to Clearbrook with Therion on his back, two vials of venom secured for him and Nina. Two days of broken sleep and nasty hallucinations, and Therion finally woke up.
Alfyn shifted in a stangely skittish manner. "You talk in your sleep, you know." He started, glancing at Therion.
Therion's blood ran cold. He looked down, and found himself dressed in too-big clothes that weren't his. An oversized green tunic, that dipped low enough to show off some of his nastier scars, amongst other things. The fool's bangle clanked around his wrist, no longer hidden by his shawl. "I need to leave." He declared.
"No, you don't." Alfyn insisted. "You need to rest. Another day, at least. I can't go lettin' one of my patients walk away without fully recovering."
But Therion was already clambering out of bed. He was somewhat unsteady on his feet, and his head was killing, but still- he turned tail and fled the room, ignoring Alfyn's protests. He stumbled down the stairs, and started searching the living room frantically. "Where are my cloak and scarf?" He demanded, as Alfyn followed him.
"I'm in the middle of washing them." Alfyn crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against one of the walls. "They're hangin' out to dry, at the minute."
"You went through my things?" Therion hissed, closing in on the apothecary.
"Don't worry." Alfyn reassured, flashing a toothy smile. "All your things are safe and accounted for. Except the extra potions you slipped out of my medicine stockpile."
Therion bristled. "So, now you know the truth."
Alfyn nodded. "It seemed strange that someone like you travels alone, but I get it now."
They stared each other down. Therion contemplated bolting- finding a nearby window and escaping before Alfyn could turn him into the Riverland authorities. He'd heard tall tales of the police in the Riverlands taking petty criminals to Riverford, where they'd face a court trial, and if found guilty they'd be hung or burnt at the stake. He wasn't going to end up like them. But to escape Clearbrook, without his shawl or his daggers, or any cash to get him by...
"Don't worry." Alfyn stepped forward and placed a hand on his shoulder, and Therion had to remind himself that he really wasn't in any position to be able to make threats. "I won't turn you in to the police, or send you off without proper treatment. You saved my life, and Nina's, too, so I figured I owe ya one now."
Therion pulled a face. He hated the idea of being indebted to someone else, or of someone else feeling indebted to him. It was extra baggage he didn't need. "Don't think too hard about it." He frowned. "You promised me two thousand leaves, and although I'm a thief, I won't say no to easy cash. Besides, how do you know I wasn't planning on robbing you blind?"
Alfyn shrugged. "I guess you already tried."
"Took what I could carry, and what you wouldn't immediately miss." Therion explained. He backed away slightly from Alfyn, fingers itching to play with the hem of his scarf, which he no longer had wrapped around him for protection. "Look, I appreciate that you took the time to fix me up and everything, but I'm fine and ready to go, and if you'd just pay me already, I'd be on my way. So-"
"Oh, but, y'see, I had something else in mind. Since you did try to steal from me and stuff," Alfyn waved his hands in dismissal, once again stepping closer to Therion, who slunk away.
"Personal space." Therion chided, deadpan.
"I want to go on my own journey." Alfyn announced. "Travellin' back and forth, helping people in any way I can- what's the point in bein' a backwater, country-bumpkin apothecary if your town can be fixed up by just one person?"
Therion clicked on immediately. "No." He shook his head, stern. "No- this wasn't the deal."
"But we make pretty good company, don't you think?" Alfyn pushed, his evergreen eyes sparkling. "We fill in each other's gaps! You're fast, and I'm strong- you're clever and calculating, and I'm caring- we could have each other's backs!"
"I don't think so, doc." Therion growled. "Just give me the money, and I'll be going, thanks."
Therion paused for a moment. "You can't be serious."
Alfyn laughed, becoming somewhat sheepish. He reached a hand up to scratch at the back of his neck, choosing now to avert his otherwise steadfast gaze. "I'm not exactly loaded, y'know..."
"You lied to me?" Therion accused, taking an aggressive stance, fists clenched.
"I figured I'd be able to make it up to yer somehow!" Alfyn insisted, arms up in surrender. "C'mon, I can get you the money! Just not now! But if you let me come with you-"
"In your dreams! I don't need extra baggage!" Therion spat, insulted.
"But wouldn't it be useful, having your own apothecary followin' you around?" Alfyn offered. The desperation was written on his face.
Therion's brain betrayed him for a minute or two, as he allowed himself to consider the possibility. No more filthy bandages, no more pus-filled infections, no badly-healed scars. He thought about what it'd be like to get a horrible cut, and not have it mar his body permanently. Maybe Alfyn could be useful... he'd already proved his worth. He was handy with an ax, if not a bit reckless and inexperienced, and he'd already brought Therion back from the brink of death. So why not?
"No further than Atlasdam." Therion stated, his voice blunt. "And I want that cash. We'll have to have boundaries, too, because I'm not thrilled about this-"
"Yes!" Alfyn cheered. "I'll go pack up!" He threw an arm around Therion's shoulder in a quick show of affection, before ducking upstairs to presumably collect his things, and Therion had to bite his tongue, lest he already retract the offer.
At Alfyn's insistence, they spent another two nights cooped up in his tiny home. Alfyn let Therion have the bed, saying that it was his duty as an apothecary to ensure his patient's comfort. Therion didn't argue much- he was still recovering from the poison, and his dreams were distressing enough for him to appreciate the softness of a bed. Even so, it was uncomfortable sharing a room with somebody else- Alfyn slept on the floor of his bedroom, on a small pile of blankets and fabrics. He snored loudly, and Therion could already tell it was going to take him a while to adjust to having a traveling companion. He wasn't happy about it, to say the least.
But he supposed it was his fault, to begin with. It'd been a while since he helped someone out, and even though he did it for the promise of money, he shouldn't have stopped to listen to Alfyn's troubles anyway.
Sentimental fool, he thought. What would Darius think of him now, marked by his fool's bangle, sick and injured, under the wing of an idiot medicine man?
For the umpteenth time since waking up from his poison-induced sleep, he contemplated escaped. With Alfyn asleep, he could find his scarf and the rest of his belongings, and be gone without his host even stirring. He could even get another shot at his medicine cabinet- Alfyn was way too gullible. Who on Earth would learn the the truth behind his occupation, and still choose to house him? What a fool.
But Therion continued to stare up at the ceiling, waiting until his eyes grew heavy and tired. He could manage babysitting Alfyn until they hit Atlasdam. Perhaps it wouldn't even take that long- he'd be able to chase him off before then, he reckoned.
In his dreams, he heard Darius laughing. So sinister and cold, it pierced through his very being, simultaneously making him want to run for the hills, and stand and fight.
"Such a fool, ain't you?" He crooned. "Ah, but some things never change, do they, Therion?"
Darius stood above him, taller than he ever remembered, taunting him with every word.
"We'll see how this ends," he told him. "I wonder how he'll try to kill you- the unkillable, master tea leaf, still just an idiot boy at heart. Good to no one, no good at all."