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Bonfires In The Rain - Written by Omicron  

 

The shingle beach was silent, save for the comforting sound of low waves coming and going. Each small black stone shone with black luster under the sun. One large rock rose like a broken sword, and on its top a huge reptile dozed lazily, small bubbles of drool popping at the corners of its maws. The waning sea uncovered seaweeds, and would soon leave them to dry in the sun. Now was the precious moment where they could be harvested; before, the water was too high to go pick them up, and after, they would be dry and useless. They had to be harvested now and put into a special brew that would preserve their healing properties. Which was why Five Peacocks was now climbing down the rocks leading to the beach, a leather bag hanging from her shoulder countaining the precious bottles.

She came to her feet down the small cliff, and looked around. There was only one spitter-lizard, and he was asleep; it did not rain, so the shingles were dry enough to walk safely across. All in all, it was a better day than she'd had in the last months. Everything was beautiful and quiet – even the wounded girl lying on the rocks.
Five Peacocks' eyes widened, and she looked around again, more attentively this time, all senses in alert in case a Spitter was around waiting for his next prey. Seeing nothing, she went as carefully as she could to the girl's side, trying not to wake up the sleeping reptile. She crouched down and took the girl's wrist in her hand – her heart was beating. Good. She immediately saw that the girl wasn't from these parts – her hair was dark and long (though the water had made it darker) but her skin was pale, and her clothes were distinctly foreign – maybe from the West? She wasn't sure. She was barely out of the water, and the waves still rushed over her legs, keeping Five Peacocks from getting a better look at her. So she took the girl carefully in her arms and carried her out of the water to the bed of pebbles. She was very light and quite small – probably little more than ten years old.
Laying her on the rocks, Five Peacocks checked her legs, confirming what she had feared: one the the girl's tighs was covered in dark, crusted blood. She could not verify the origin of the wound right now, but it seemed deep and not all that recent; the water had not washed away the blood, so she had probably been wounded even before falling into the sea. How had she even made it to the shore? That was not a question for now; Five Peacocks hastily dressed the wound, and with a regretful glance to the precious seaweeds she began the difficult process of climbing up the difficult path that led out of the beach while carrying the stranger.

Once washed, the wound appeared clearly as made by a blade. Five Peacocks' first guess would have been an arrow, as it went all through the leg in a narrow opening, but she had no idea where the arrow were, and those things didn't detach themselves from their victims without either extreme care or new, worse wounds. It was probably a day old at least, and from the look of it and the obvious bloodloss, the girl had tried to walk after being hurt. That made Five Peacocks' job more difficult, and she spent a few hours cleaning the wound and preparing various cataplasms, ointments and various such fancy names her master had taught her that more or less meant stuff to put where it hurts and stuff to swallow when it hurts. Having finished a decoction of anticemone, she sat by the side of her bed, lifted the girl's head slightly, then carefully poured the liquid between her lips.
After a few seconds, the girl's throat let out a rash sound, and she coughed. The anticemone's taste was unbearably bitter, and correctly prepared it could bring out of their sleep even the heavily wounded, if only for a short time. With a friendly smile, Five Peacocks put a finger to the girl's mouth to prevent her from talking, then gave her some water, which she sipped slowly; then she lay her down on the straw mattress. The girl tried to say something, but the sound was swallowed by a cough.

"Shhh, don't try to talk. Your leg has been wounded." Five Peacocks said in her heavily accented Riverspeak. She wasn't sure the girl would understand, but it seemed a safe bet that she wasn't a native of these parts, so the trade language seemed appropriate.
The girl seemed to understand, and she gave a weary look around her, obviously exhausted.

"You're near Ayatuna. It's close to Mixtecatla. Do you understand me? Move your head if you do."
The girl stared at her for a moment, then nodded slowly. Five Peacocks smiled in response.


"Good. You should sleep. Your wound isn't too bad, but you have lost blood. You need rest."
The girl nodded again, and her eyes began closing... Only to open again suddenly, wild and feverish. Her throat made another rash sound – and, despite Five Peacocks' advice, she whispered something.
"Someone's coming..."

"What?"

"She's coming for me."

Five Peacocks wanted to ask her what she meant, but she knew better than to rush a wounded person. Besides, the girl was fast asleep in seconds. The healer sighed, and went back to her other work. She briefly wondered if she should go to the village and ask for someone's help, but there wasn't really anyone around these parts who would be better than her at, well, keeping that girl alive.
Yes, that was actually a more pressing matter than healing her. There was a great chance that the wound would get infected, and then it would be a struggle to keep her alive without amputating.
Gods, cutting off the leg of a ten-years old girl. When her master had promised to teach her how to heal and save others, she hadn't really thought of doing it in this way.

Sleeping on the floor wasn't pleasant, but she couldn't very well take the bed when the girl needed it, and her home was composed of a single room. She heard her groan and whisper in her sleep, calling to someone. She went back to silence only after dawn, when Five Peacocks got up to work. She tended her garden, then did the daily chores of taking care of her home, thinking again that she should consider taking a husband to help her – an idle thought that she entertained every day, without actually doing anything in this sense. She was fine alone for now.
Around noon, after cooking a weird hybrid of mash, stew and soup out of stored vegerables and some salted meat that she had grudgingly decided would help the girl get better, she had her swallow it slowly, and she barely woke up throughout the meal, eyes batting and unfocused. Once finished, she let her eyes wander, with a strange look on her face – as if she were listening to something. After a few moments, the girl said:

"I need... To go."


"Yeah, that's not happening, dear." she answered. "Move, and your wound will reopen. And then you die."
Five Peacocks wasn't one for softening the truth and sweet-talking her patients. They either understood that they needed rest, or she got them to rest by force. Simple.


"There are men after me. I..."
The girl was interrupted by a new cough, of which her healer took advantage, taking a small pot of thick green-ish liquid.


"You shut up now. I'll handle everything." she said while taking the girl's chin and forcing her to drink.
The anesthetic made effect quickly enough, or perhaps she was just that tired. The girl closed her eyes and relaxed into the bed, still mumbling.

"She's coming!" she said again, and finally she went to sleep.
Well, that was a whole new batch of problem. Five Peacocks let out a long sigh and massaged her temples, sensing a headache coming. A wounded girl that she would have to heal for free was trouble enough; a wounded girl searched by other people was another thing entirely, and worse, of course. Things never got more complicated in a good way.
She never considered leaving the girl to her fate, though. That sort of thing would be the exact opposite of what had brought her into the art of healing.

Getting up, she took the basket by her chimney and went for wood. The task was tedious but necessary; fortunately, she lived in that place where the difference betwee woods and fields began to blur, and she had little problem finding broken limbs around the trees. At least, it gave her time to think idle thoughts rather than focus on the delicate process of making her various potions and brews. She came back an hour or so later with a half-full basket of small wood; as she got closer to her home, she saw that a man stood there. As she drew closer, she recognized Burnt Incense, a local farmer and one of her client. Seeing her, he smiled and waved a hand, to which she answered with a nod.

"Are you here for your wife's cough medicine?" She asked bluntly as he came to her.


"Yes. She is getting better by the day, Peacock. Thank you for your help."
She smiled slightly, and he helpfully opened the door as he saw her burden. She put down the basket near the chimney, and went to one of her many shelves to get a small sealed cup of clay, which she handed to the farmer.

"You remember the dosage? ...what are you looking at?" She said as he looked above her shoulder. Then she realized, turning around to see the girl, sleeping soundly in her bed. Damn.

"Who is this?" Incense asked, surprised.

"I don't know. I found her by the road. Look – I don't want any problem. She's just sleeping here because she's lost." Peacock improvised. "I don't want to tell everyone that she's there, do you understand me? Don't. Tell anyone."


As she spoke, she brought the cup in front of his eyes, a silent threat in her eyes.

"O-okay." Incense mumbled, before taking out a few coins. Five Peacocks took them at the same time she gave him the cup. The man then took a step back, bowed respectfully, and walked out the door with a last nervous glance to the girl.

Breathing deeply to calm down, Peacocks refrained the urge to hit something. So many times had she welcomed people into her house to give them what they had come for. She'd just gone through the motion exactly when she shouldn't have. That was stupid. She felt bad for it.
Well, she trusted Burnt Incense. He wasn't a particularly good man, but she would know it if he talked, and no one in this secluded part of the world was willing to risk being on her black list. People knew what it meant to get her really angry. Oh, she wouldn't do anything; in fact, she would simply do nothing. Even if they came begging for her. Until she considered them absolved, which... Did not always happen.
She had power, in her own way. She just disliked flaunting it.

Five Peacocks sat by the girl's side, took off the woolen bedsheet and lifted her leg slightly to get a closer look to the bandage. The girl didn't even react when she moved her in the bed to take the leg on her knee. Taking the bandage off slowly, Peacocks got a bad feeling... Which turned into gnawing fear as she took the last thin clothe off. The wound wasn't bleeding – in fact, it seemed to close slowly. However, its borders were taking a dark shade of purple. A glance at the clothe informed her that rather than blood, they had spots of yellow taint. She lowered her nose to the wound... There was definitely a faint but putrid smell. It was not the awful smell of a leg rotting from the inside, but it was a very bad sign.
She set the girl back in place into the bed, then got up to prepare a batch of seaweeds. She was short on the stuff, having failed to take some when rescuing the girl, but she still had enough for a first treatment. She put wood in the chimney, made a small fire, and began cooking the first half of the recipe, full of mostly mundane plants for texture and an anesthetic root. Meanwhile, she took the wet seaweeds out of their bottles and began pressuring them to draw out their healing essence. It was a difficult task, as most of the time she simply got a black juice that she had to refine while trying not to destroy the elements that provided the healing properties of the plant.
After half an hour, she took the cooking pot of the fire to let it cool off, while she put another pot, this one full of water, on the fire. Half an hour after that, as the sun was passing behind the horizon, she mixed the yellowish, vaguely transparent liquid she had gotten out of the weeds with the now cold mixture. When she had finally finished her decoction, she took her main knife and went to the boiling water, in which she put strips of clothes with which she then cleaned the knife. She went back to the girl, took new strips of clothe, she covered them in that strange past, then took the knife and swallowed as she got ready to open the wound and pour the healing paste into it.

In the very moment when the knife touched the skin, the girl's body twisted and moved with blinding speed; the knife disappeared out of Peacocks' own hand as she was thrown on her back by a sudden collision. As she blinked to make sense of what had happened, she saw the girl upon her, panting, holding the knife to her throat. Her eyes were wild, feverish, and her lips shivered – but her hand was perfectly steady on the blade.

"Please!" Five Peacocks managed to say. "Don't do this. I was trying to help you."

 

The girl's eyes focused on her, a puzzled and pained look coming on her face.
"Who... Where?"

"Listen to me. I am a healer. You are lost. Wounded. Please do not hurt me. Your leg is infected."


The girl frowned and got back, rising slowly. In doing so, however, she sought support from her wounded leg, and immediatly screamed in pain as her leg gave way and she fell to the ground. Five Peacocks took this opportunity to get up, and took the sickle hanging on the wall as a matter of precaution. But there didn't seem to be much fight left in the girl.

"What happened?" She whispered, seemingly to herself.

"I don't know, but..."
The girl made a sharp gesture, as if telling her to shut up. She inclined her head, concentrating, then asked in a weary voice.
"How far are we from the Peak Of Mantcutel?"

The healer blinked in surprise, then managed to remember:
"About a week on horse."

The girl closed her eyes, then opened them again.
"You need to get me out of here."


"You already told me that. Please don't ask anymore." Peacocks answered. Then, finding renewed strength in the girl's obvious exhaustion said "Please go back to bed. I have to treat your wound."


"But I have to go..."


"No. You won't be walking anywhere in this state. Or riding for that matter. Please!"
The girl tried to answer, but Five Peacocks knew enough to see the signs of renewed fever blurring her thoughts and making her even more tired.

"My name..." The girl managed to say. "My name is Xeyata. Xeyata Ofume."


"Yeah, I don't care, darling. Here, let me get you back into bed."


Lifting the girl was easy, and she was already half asleep when Peacocks began tending her wound. Unfortunately, piercing the infected skin was not a painless endeavour; the healer gave her more anesthetic, but even then she saw her wince in pain and open her eyes irregularly as she worked. Covering the wound in paste was thankfully quickly done, but correctly bandaging the wound took longer. At the end of the process, Xeyata was shaking and shivering with all her body. A hand to the forehead informed Peacocks that her fever had increased.
Well then. She was in for a rough night, but there wasn't much more to be done for her at the moment. Five Peacocks went into an uneasy sleep on the floor as the girl mumbled and groaned in pain above her.

In the morning, Peacocks awoke surprisingly well rested. Xeyata had found a more comfortable sleep too, though she was still feverish. Ironically, the bloodloss might be the best thing about her current state; though it threatened her life, it made her too weak to stay awake and suffer the constant pain of her infected wound.
In any case, more – and harder – work awaited the healer. Having breakfasted on dry bread and some honey Five Peacocks readied her leather bag full of bottles waiting for their seaweeds. She took her sickle, and a second bag, full of various interesting bottles, vials and pots. She gave one last look to her patient, then went out.

By the time she had reached the shore, there was a small but irritating rain. This meant that the rocks would be slippery, but more importantly the spitter-lizard liked the rain.
Sure enough, when she reached the cliff, she saw a dozen of spitters lazily lying on the rocks all around the beach. The waves, stronger today, let her see the plants she was looking for. But to get there... Well, it would be somewhat suicidal, to tell the truth. The spitters did not specifically seek out human flesh, but they certainly didn't mind if it threw itself into their maws. And so many of them at the same time... On any other day, she would have waited. But Xeyata did not have the time.
Then again, Five Peacocks was not defenseless. She searched her bag and took out a small glass bottle containing a yellow liquid. She evaluated the direction of the wind, aimed carefully, then threw it to the east. The bottle flew and crashed down a bit behind the farthest of the lizards. The healer waited a few minutes, and soon enough, the spitters showed sign of nervosity, turning their heads around and walking around the beach. After a few moments, the majority of them walked slowly into the waters of the beach. Only the oldest ones – usually the less likely to be scared by anything, and made evident by their silvery scales – remained.
Few animals dared stay around a place that smelled of Tyrant Lizard urine.
Peacocks descended carefully towards the beach. She was trying to be as silent as she could, but the nature of the place meant that she made various sounds as the pebbles creaked beneath her feet. It wasn't long before one of the remaining spitters threw a lazy glance at her. Bubbles of drool popped by the sides of his mouth, and Peacocks barely had time to bring up her leather bag before the creature spit a long trail of greenish liquid, which hit the bag squarely and immediately began hissing. Luckily, the spit wasn't much of an acid, and it couldn't go through the whole thing; it was only dangerous when in direct contact with the skin or thin clothing.
But a second lizard had chosen this opportunity to scramble in her direction, visibly willing to attack in the old-fashioned, bite-your-face-off way. Cooly, the healer took another bottle that she had put in her belt for easy access and opened it with her second hand. Its content immediately let out smoke and sparks, and she threw it between the beast and her; the bottle cracked and blazed, throwing small tongues of sparks and long files of smoke that scared away the beast. Turning on her heels, she caught another spit with her bag.
She had managed to reach the water. Eyes still on the reptiles, she took her sickle and immediately began cutting the precious seaweeds...
Of course, that was the moment a young spitter chose to come out of the water and throw its weight at her. Reflexes honed by years of solitary search in the woods and the beaches allowed Peacocks to escape the bite, and she immediately answered with a slash of her sickle, drawing blue blood from the beast – which mooed, before rushing back to the water.
There were much easier and more interesting prey than such an opponent, and most of the reptiles on the beach stepped back, throwing glances at her but not trying to attack anymore. She hastily finished packing the seaweeds, then walked cautiously out of the beach. Only when she was hundreds of yards away from the thing did she stop to put the plants in their bottles.
Sighing, she went towards the house.

 

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