The man charged forward, into the mist, and was met with the sound of combat. Quio had not been expecting him to jump forward in an attack-- rather, he'd thought the pirates would come at them.
It was too late to stop the other or hold him back. The man had vanished into the mist, more voices had joined him in battle, and Quio stepped forward, hatchet raised as if to help.
"Get behind me!..." the voice rang out, and Quio, not certain where the man had gone, felt himself hovering uncertainly in place. Hesitation had no role in battle, but Quio did not know where the other was. His voice sounded far away. "On your left!..." and he took a step to the side but there was no one there. Only then did he realize the man must not be talking to him. But then, to whom?
Allies. More of the escort. From Etzos. He hadn't even considered that there might be more than just this man.
Relief hit him, strong enough that it seemed to steal the breath from his chest and make him weak, and he held still when a new order barked out, "Stay there!"
He stayed where he was like he had been told, and when the sound of fighting died down and the four forms appeared in the mist before him, he finally began moving forward as if to greet them--
--only to recognize an altogether uglier face.
There was a beat where the lead pirate said nothing, just stood there, and Quio simply stood as well and looked at him. Then, though it felt like his heartstone had gone dead in his chest, he managed to take a step back, then another. The hatchet in his hand automatically came up, but there was no longer that sense of grim determination driving him on. He had thought it might be over and it wasn't, he had hesitated when he should have fought, and because of it he had likely gotten his allies killed.
With a smirk the lead man said, "Takee," and the yludih didn't even turn to acknowledge the shadows he could feel stepping up beside him. They were pirates, and instead of facing them he looked up and kept his eyes fixed on the man's gloating face before him, struggling to summon up the strength to fight.
He would be taken. He had tried and failed and he had caused harm to others who had come to help him, but maybe--
If he could, he would take this man down with him.
Perhaps the man saw the sudden focusing of intent in the yludih, or perhaps he didn't. Quio was looking at him but the man wasn't looking back; no, he was looking at something else. The other pirates, it had to be, but they weren't attacking Quio. They were flanking him. The smug look had fallen from the lead man's face.
It was suddenly clear that the odds of the encounter were in an entirely different favor.
The pirates had been slain without sound or protest and the lead man knew he was outclassed. Begrudgingly he allowed himself to be put into chains. "Happee, Loodee?" he asked and spat, and Quio felt his fingers curl around the handle of the hatchet.
The man was brought before him and Quio looked upon him with flat contempt. His mouth curled just slightly, not a sneer, more a baring of teeth. The others had given no indication they'd even heard what the man had said, but Quio would have to go on with the assumption that they had.
His eyes remained fixed on the pirate as they all took a little walk through the woods. Watching the man and the others, Quio tried to remain on guard.
The escort led him to a roadway, unexpectedly close, and whatever was going on in his mind momentarily fled when he saw Butcher and Valance there. The hound was hurt but not dying, Valance was alive and conscious even, and there was another of those moments of weakness where relief threatened to overcome him.
The man from the escort approached him and Quio held up a hand for the other to pause for just a moment. Should the others allow it, he would approach Valance and kneel for a trill next to him, just long enough to reach out to touch his shoulder and murmur, "Thank you." He glanced at Butcher and nodded his head as an acknowledgement. Then he stood, letting the ranger and his hound rest.
He took a deep breath.
The man who had approached him before was introduced as Klendon along with a variety of the others, and Quio said, "My name is Korim Nji'ra. Thank you." They knew he was a yludih, or so he had to assume; he could not give up any of his other names. The man spoke about the post, and he still had no idea what that was. Some sort of military station, he guessed.
The question came directly, "So now, what do we do with you?" and Quio looked at Klendon, then glanced towards their prisoner, silver eyes at last settling to a duller hue, though not the usual warm brown-- they became matte black.
Should they want to take him into custody, he would not fight them. They were too many, too well-trained, too well-armored, and he didn't want to hurt the people who had helped save him. Neither did he want to become an enemy of the Black Guard.
He looked back at Klendon, dark eyes shuttered, and he considered not doing what he was about to do.
Then Quio moved.
The hatchet he swept up from his side in an arc, hard. Hard enough, he thought, to split both skin and bone. For an instant Klendon might have thought the yludih was attacking him, though he wasn't. No. He aimed for the enemy's throat, the damned pirate, a diagonal slash that would cleave deep into the side of his neck and leave a gaping wound.
Whether or not he killed the chained man or merely wounded him, or was stopped by the Black Guard before he could do either of those, Quio would drop the hatchet to the ground and leave his hands empty.
His heartstone was beating very very fast.
Quio had spared the men from Ne'haer-- he had had the opportunity to kill them, and he had not. Soon after they had attacked and captured him, but not only him-- they had hurt someone who had tried to help him. Her name was Tei'serin. He didn't know if she was still a captive somewhere. He didn't know if she was still alive.
Trial-last in the night, when he had made the decision to spare the lead pirate in favor of escaping, in favor of saving his own life, Quio had known he had made a mistake. The man had led the rest of the pirate scum to harass and attack him, and not only him-- the pirate crew had shot Valance. Another person who had tried to help him who had been hurt. Valance could have died.
He looked again at Klendon, black eyes fading to a tired grey-brown, and answered what he had been asked before.
"I would like to be taken to safety," Quio said calmly enough, though when he spoke he was slightly out of breath. "To Etzos, not the Landing." Valance had told him to seek out a person called Captain Segrille. Not one of Vuda's. He didn't think that applied now. "Or just let me go."
He doubted either of those things would happen.
The last of the spite and adrenaline were wearing off now, and Quio could no longer ignore the pain of his body, his wounds. His torn-up forearm hurt and bled, his bad shoulder felt as if many days of slow healing had quickly been undone, and he was just plain exhausted.
But it was over, at least for now. He'd done what he must.