They’d met like this: He was a crumpled, sad-looking heap on the floor, covered with bruises and cuts, and she… was not, and was, in fact, a little amazed that anything this pathetic could exist. The man was practically a skeleton — eyes hollowed, arms bony, lips dry. If this were Mort Myre, no doubt he would have been a ghast by now. But instead, they were in a cave that glittered with rune essence and echoed with the stomps of the suqahs up above.
She checked his pulse. Still alive… somehow. The enduring ferocity of the human spirit never ceased to amaze.
“Hello?” she said. The man let out a withered groan but otherwise didn’t reply. She felt a pang of guilt.
Food , she thought. She dug around in her bag — Lunar staff, diplomatic seal, sacred clay axe, burned meat (damn that troll cook)... swordfish. She dragged it out of her pack and shoved it to his lips.
Cold fish wasn’t an offering that anyone would appreciate on a good day. The path of this particular man’s fortunes, however, couldn’t be construed as anywhere near the word ‘good.’ Wordlessly, he took a bite.
She breathed a sigh of relief. One greasy fish later, and he was already looking better. She grabbed another and held it up to him.
The man… turned away, refusing another bite.
Really? She thought. Here you are, starving, halfway to Death’s door, and if it weren’t for me you’d probably be just another sad background skeleton in a dungeon, and you’re choosing now to be picky?
She tried again. No bite.
She let out a frustrated groan. Ye gods above… She put the body back down again and left through the crevice.
Five minutes later she returned, with her pack considerably heavier.
“Ok,” she said. “I did the best that I could, but no complaining about the seafood medley.”
She wasn’t lying. Tuna, lobster, swordfish, salmon… all the leftovers of a particularly vicious skilling session that took several hours and left her with approximately 4903 or so assorted seafood-themed catches in the bank. Ah well. Protein was protein.
She proffered a lobster, which he took with much better grace than the swordfish. Next was a tuna. A second lobster was rejected, the salmon was not. She tried offering another swordfish, experimentally, and to her surprise he accepted it. When she offered him another he refused yet again.
I suppose he wants variety, she thought bemusedly. She dug around in her pack for something non-seafood-y. Ah, rat meat. Not exactly prime steak, but everyone had their low points.
To her surprise, he refused to even touch it. We have a gourmet on our hands, she thought dourly, as she switched the rodent for a tuna.
As he finished it the man groaned again, and opened his eyes. Green met brown, the latter being considerably more unfocused.
“Can you hear me?” she asked. The man gritted his teeth.
Images of spinal injuries flashed through her head. The dragon platelegs she was wearing probably didn’t make for the best headrest, either.
“Don’t move,” she said. “You’ll be ok. It’s gonna be ok.”
The man’s eyes flickered, and they rested on her, bleary, searching.
She went through another half a dozen assorted fishes before he had the strength to speak again, the colour slowly returned to his face.
“Will things turn out alright?” he muttered, as he deliriously nibbled on a trout. It struck her as odd, him asking that: He didn’t ask who she was, or where he was, or what had happened; just a request for reassurance. Will it be ok?
“Of course,” she said. Absolutely. I can certainly drag your half-conscious body out of a little crack in the wall, past a bunch of angry troll-things lurking up above, and maybe get you a third of the way to the bank before you kick it.
The man seemed to take this to heart, and he sighed. “I hope so.”
She gave him another lobster and listened to the noises up above, wondering if her strength was great enough to lift him. Her abyssal whip was maneuverable enough for her to use one-handed, but without a shield, she wasn’t sure if she could get them both back to the Moon Clan unscathed.
“You’re looking better,” she said, trying to fill the silence. The man shook his head.
“You’re lying,” he said. “I look dreadful.”
You do, she wanted to say. You look like something the cat dragged in, played with a bit, then ate and vomited up all over the sitting-room carpet.
Instead she said: “No, honest.”
“Really?” he asked, brightening a little. “In what way?”
You’re not dead, for a start, she thought. “You look and sound more lively.”
“That’s promising,” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Maybe I’ll make it out of here…”
And so it went on. She would feed him, and reassure him now again. Yes, this cave was too small for any suqahs to get into. Yes, he seemed like a nice person. Yes, he’d probably get out soon.
It was funny. She was used to stroking male egos — that came in line with her work, whether it was to get a jail key or find information or stop a war between two dinky, idiot kingdoms. But this didn’t feel like ego stroking, probably because he had no ego to speak of. He acted like a kicked dog, almost as though he was waiting for her to reaffirm his belief that he was, in fact, a worthless sack of rubbish.
Somehow, she felt even sorrier for him than she did before, if that was possible.
“Thank you,” he murmured, after several more pieces of food. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“You're in a cave on Lunar Isle,” she said. “My name is Teiran.”
“Teiran,” he echoed. “Thank you. My name is Cyrisus.”
Teiran cracked a smile. “Well, Cyrisus — How did you get here?”
He thought for a moment. “I… was exploring the north end of the isle. There were a bunch of monsters… they attacked! I ran… I ran and ran, and I crawled down here.”
Poor bugger, Teiran thought. Probably some under-trained sap thinking he could go for a sojourn among overpowered enemies for a laugh.
“You’re safe now,” she said, reassuringly.
Cyrisus shifted, trying (and failing) to sit up. “Ow,” he said. “My arms… my head…” He sighed. “I’m so tired, Teiran. Just leave me. My body is a ruin.”
Earlier she would have agreed with him, but something made her bite back on her normal pragmatism.
“No, no,” she said. “Trust me. I’ll get you out of here.”
It took another half a dozen pieces of food, but he was soon sitting up, leaning against the wall and nibbling on a biscuit. His mood was still dampened, but he seemed to be growing more optimistic with every bite.
“Tell you what — I’ll buy you a drink after this,” she said, half-joking. If there’s even an ‘after this’ for you.
“Really?” Cyrisus said, his eyes lightening.
“Naturally,” she said. Has anyone offered to buy this guy a drink before?
“What kind?” he asked.
“Anything you like,” she said. “Blue Moon ale, Drunken Dragon, banana rum… my treat.”
“That’s really appreciated,” he said, smiling for the first time. “Thank you.”
He ate in silence for a bit, before trying to rise to his feet.
“Don’t rush it,” she said, readying herself to catch him.
“I’m fine,” he said, his knees shaking violently. “I think I can…”
WHOOMPH. He landed on his bum, hard, and he muttered a curse.
“Told you not to rush it,” she said, offering him another biscuit, which he took. “Wait until your strength is up.”
“Ugh,” he said, rubbing his sore behind. “I never should have gone exploring the north side…”
“What’s done is done,” Teiran said, sensibly.
Cyrisus was able to stay up the second time he tried standing; his eyes seemed less sunken, and his face had more colour to it.
“There you go,” Teiran said. “You probably can’t do an agility course, but you’re much better.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’d be dead without you.”
“Think nothing of it,” she said. Just don’t get greedy and start asking me for red mahogany logs . That never ends well. “What are you doing on this part of the island, in any case? Lunar Island isn’t a place for newbies, you know.”
“I was exploring,” he said. “I greatly enjoy travelling the world and taking in all the experiences available.”
She smiled. “I can relate. The snowy peaks of Ice Mountain, the foggy downs of Relleka, the forests of Lletya…”
Cyrisus nodded, grinning. “Baxtorian Falls. Karamja. The pyramids of the Kharidian Desert. The wastes of the Wilderness.”
“It’s nice to meet another adventurer,” she said. “You must have picked up a lot.”
“You could say that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I could smith you a full rune set, farm spirit trees and still have time to cook you a summer pie for tea.”
Her eyes widened. “You’re kidding me.”
“Then...” She tried to comprehend his previous statement. “Are you like one of those skilling pures, where you don’t work on combat at all? I mean, props to you, but it’s rather a bad idea to head into suqah territory when you’re not the fighting type…”
At this point, she noticed that he was avoiding her gaze, and his face had turned to an embarrassed shade of red.
“Can we talk about something else?” he said. “Please?”
“If you insist.” She rummaged around in her bag. “Another tuna?”
“Actually, if you wouldn’t mind…. I could do with some armour,” he said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
“Sure. I could loan you some.” Do I still have my old bronze set? Maybe. I’ll find something that’ll fit him. Or at least, something he won’t fall over in.
“No! No. No need.” He waved his hands. “I should have some in the bank.”
He dug into his pockets with a quizzical expression on his face, and pulled out a couple of astral runes and a choc-ice wrapper, the latter of which he scrutinized.
“Odd,” he said. “I don’t recall going to Nardah… erm, do you have any paper?”
“Here.” She pulled a pencil and a small notebook, from which she tore off a sheet.
“Thanks.” He wrote something down on the paper and handed it to her. “I have a friend working at the bank. Show this to him, and he’ll be able to help you.”
“What’s he look like?”
“You’ll know. He’s not from around here.”
“Ok.” She turned to leave. “You’ll be fine down here on your own, right?”
“Ah…” he looked around the small cave. “I will. Won’t I?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” she said hurriedly. “I don’t think anything can get down here. Nothing bigger than a kebbit, at least.”
“Oh. Alright, then.” He seemed to consider something. “One more thing — you have the Lunar Spellbook, right?”
“If you need to ask me anything, just cast Contact. I should be in the book.”
“Ok. Good to know.” She turned to the crevice leading out of the cave. “I’ll be back soon. Er, try not to die.”
“Um…” He paled. “I’ll do my best?”
“Good.” With that, she exited.