On the 15th trial of Ymiden during the 718th arc...
With his wounded leg, it was much more difficult to traverse the uneven terrain for the gentle Venoran woodland than he remembered. Ziemko, too, had made it all the slower, forcing him to take breaks along the way. He'd yet to explain why it was they were headed out into the middle of the forest, nor how he planned for them to escape. Yet, he had the creeping suspicion his brother was beginning to form a relatively accurate assumption by the manner in which his mood became all the more brooding.
The events of the past tentrial had been overwhelming. He'd thought some on Alistair, but Hidi had helped to lay his worries to rest in that regard. It was up to the man himself whether Doran remained with him or not - a new promise made to an old friend. He knew, too, what he wanted from the mage; and while he had no desire to spend more time apart, neither did he want to mix Alistair up in the whirlwind of a mess his life had become, changed in the blink of a eye.
He felt guilty, for a whole slew of reasons he'd never imagined he might have to juggle. The most acute of which was that he planned on using Alistair's portal as a mode of escape only to inform the man they would need to spend more time apart. He wasn't even certain if visits were a good idea, though he found it unlikely that their pursuers would find them so far from Rynmere with any amount of speed - as long as he and Ziemko were careful. Or, more so, as long as he was careful. Ziemko was about as reckless as the stone face of a mountainside.
For what seemed like the hundredth time, his brother held up his hand for a stop, his eyes scanning their surroundings. Doran, in spite of the frequency of their pauses, never argued and always found himself welcoming the rest. It wasn't so much he was tired as the more his heart worked to send blood through his veins, the more he was reminded of where the arrow had pierced through his flesh, more than a limp or subtle throb. He took out his waterskin and drew a long drought from it before glancing around the area, looking more for landmarks than hidden foes.
"We're almost there." He handed the skin to his brother who nodded quietly, taking a drink of his own. "Are we... alone?"
The skin was returned, and Ziemko let out a short breath through his nose. "I think so." A lack of the usual "yes" or "no" response didn't fill Doran with much confidence.
When they'd arrived back in Furdan, they had found the door to his home left open, his single chest emptied and belongings scattered, though nothing had been taken. Though it could have been anyone, neither he nor his brother had been very keen on staying in the compromised abode and had spent the night camping in the woods. While there had been no further issue, both of them were on high alert - though Ziemko was more proficient at detecting those who wished to remain unseen. Doran was mostly just nervous.
They started again and pushed through until they came upon the face-shaped boulder. "It's that way." He gestured past the ear, but Ziemko remained where he was, staring intensely at the trees behind them. "Ziemko?"
For a moment, his muscles tensed and Doran's did as well, but in the next trill he relaxed, eyes squinting before shook his head. "Let's go."
It was only a short bit to the grotto's entrance, but before Doran could explain that they'd need to sidle single file past the mossy, vine covered walls, he heard the sound of Ziemko's daggers pulled from their sheaths and the snap of twigs underfoot behind them. Catching sight of the their pursuers a trill before they launched their attack, Ziemko was ready for them. Doran, somewhat caught off-guard, quickly dropped to the ground, eyes wide and wary for arrows.
Of the two men who had slowed their advance, the element of surprise lost, both brandished a dagger each, though one was tall and lanky with the other was shorter and more lithe. Their faces were hidden behind cloth masks, wrapped about their heads and revealing only their eyes. Neither seemed to carry any hesitation. Both glanced toward Doran, but neither seemed to consider him a threat - though as one of Ziemko's daggers hissed through the air only to sink itself deep into the lithe man's throat, it seemed Doran was at least a suitable distraction.
The man's eyes widened as a small crimson trickle began to drip from the corner of his mouth. His parter, realizing that Ziemko was more dangerous than given credit for, lurched out of the way in time for the dagger to sail harmlessly past him, disappearing into the underbrush with a rustle. Ziemko, however, wasted no time. As quickly as he'd released the, new blades found their way into his hands as he shot forward with an alarming burst of speed. His eyes burned cold, a remorseless, austere chill in his face as he shoved his fist forward in an attempt to stab. The lanky man, long as he was, managed to twist his way out of danger, his own dagger plunging down toward Ziemko's exposed back.
Ziemko's right arm bent, pulling his second dagger close then springing his hand forward, blade forcing its way past the fabric of the man's cloak and shirt to plunge deep into the soft flesh of his stomach. The lanky man's strike faltered, and Ziemko wrenched his dagger free, rolling to the side as the man's blade scraped along Ziemko's shoulder, rending a hole in his shirt and scraping through the skin. No wasted movement, as Ziemko popped back up on his feet, eyes flaring with focus, he loosed his left-hand dagger. It whirled through the air, handle over blade as if it were a circular thing, but just missed its mark. The lanky man, hand gripped tight over the blossoming bloom of red that had begun to spread out from his stomach lurched forward once more, but his foot caught on a root and instead he stumbled.
Straight into Ziemko's waiting hands.
With a quick, fluid motion, he jabbed his remaining blade up and into the man's throat then out again as quickly as it had entered. A wet gagging escaped him before he slumped to the ground, dropping his dagger and both hands rising in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of his dark, red life from leaving his paling body. As Ziemko took a step back, he glanced toward the lithe man, who had fallen to his knees, dagger still in his throat. It had missed the man's spine, and the tip of it cold be seen poking out of the back of his neck.
In two quick steps, Ziemko was beside him, drawing his dagger out as he shoved another deep into the soft flesh the the man's lowerback, puncturing his kidney before he twisted his blade just slightly and withdrew it as well. The man let out a hoarse scream before he too fell forward, his blood disappearing into the dusty earth and grasses beneath him as the light began to fade from his eyes.
All the while, Doran stared with eyes wide, unable to look away. The efficiency with which Ziemko had dispatched the two men was chilling. The shock of seeing men killed before him had left him as pale as the man who still sputtered uselessly upon the ground, his partner now still. He felt sick - in fact, he was sick. Without much time to move at all, he barely was able to turn his head before he retched, then and there, the scent of bile mixing with the gentle aroma of warmed leafs and sickly sweet copper.
Ziemko quickly gathered up his weapons, unveiling one of the men to begin carefully cleaning the blood from the blades of those that had drawn it in the first place. He said nothing as Doran panted on the ground, spitting out the vile contents of his stomach that remained. Instead, he cleaned and cleaned and cleaned, allowing Doran time to find his legs and wash out his mouth, back turned to the scene and tears falling unbidden. He had been afraid; he had been useless; but more than that, he'd found he'd wanted the men to die and for Ziemko to live.
It felt dirty, disgusting. No about of purging could remove the heavy weight that had settled into the pit of his stomach. The guilt this time was tenfold what he had felt before - at the campsite he had neither seen nor desired such an outcome. When faced with true targets for his panic, not merely an unknown set of hands and bow, he'd wanted those targets eliminated, wiped off the face of the world. It rattled him, the strength of such a desire, and he said nothing as he spat out a mouthful of bitter, tainted water after swishing it around for a trill or two.
To his surprise - and perhaps Ziemko's as well - his brother was the first to speak, after what felt like arcs. "Are you alright?"
His turn to play the tacit sibling, Doran only nodded his head, back still turned. He couldn't look upon the corpses - or the soon to be such. He just wanted to leave, to get away from it all. To escape.
There was a sickening popping, cracking sound followed by a gentle wheeze. "I'm... done here. If you want to lead the way. When you're ready."
Again Doran nodded. Without saying a word, he advanced towards the grotto, keeping his eyes focused ahead as he squeezed through the opening. Ziemko followed without question, a step or two behind him. Once they were both within the little cavern, the pond as still and beautiful as ever, vines familiar but little flowers since fallen, Doran slumped to the ground. He could barely feel the quiet protest of his leg as he did so, but he couldn't remain standing any longer.
In a quiet, airy whisper, he finally explained how he and his brother were going to escape from Rynmere, from everything that had just happened. "When the portal opens, we go through."
"When the what-" Ziemko's question was interrupted by the loud, booming eruption of space being torn into, a dark swirling void with a glimmering indigo border appeared as if out of nowhere, and Ziemko's normally unflappable features grew pale and panicked.
"It's alright," Doran muttered, shaking his head. "It's just Alistair."
But Doran hand already pushed himself back up to his feet, drawing some odd strength from his brother's mounting confusion and break in composure. "I'll explain- tell you everything, after we're safe. After we're... out of here." Without wasting any more time, Doran gently took his brother's hand in his own, purposefully avoiding looking down at the cleaned but stained color of his skin. "In we go." Though his brother resisted at first, Doran stepped through and pulled him right along with him - and in a blink, there were in Na'haer.