A Choice and A Compromise (Not What She Expected XXV)
Sylin glanced backward, Xiyana was no longer in sight. However, he wasn’t worried. Even from this distance, the ward’s stability told him that she wasn’t in immediate danger. But even without the ward, with her brother by her side, he was relatively confident that she’d be safe until his return. Even so, he’d added a ward to each member of her brother’s party, just to be sure.
Although none of the wards were quite as strong or intricate as the one that he’d placed on Xiyana, they were still strong enough to reduce the likelihood of petrification worms detecting their presence for some time. As much as she’d done for him, he’d preferred not to take her directly into a lion’s den anyways. At least, this way, she’d have a better chance at to make it safely back to the city.
He let out a sigh. She’d probably be worried for him. She’d probably also suspect her brother for his disappearance. But he couldn’t go back without risking the mission, delivering her into the jaws of danger, or both. Possibilities that he didn’t want to consider or make a reality. Looking up at the gnarled purple tree, he inched forward, toward a certain danger.
“Do you seriously suspect me of going through all this effort to reach this depth of the forest, just to kidnap your boyfriend?” Her brother asked, casting her a droll stare.
She had to admit, under normal circumstances, she’d probably also find the entire suggestion preposterous. But this was her brother and Sylin after all. Barring her brother tendency to be exceptionally judgemental toward any of her pursuers or love interests, her brother’s hatred toward warlocks wasn’t anything new. His mental identification of Sylin as a warlock would only mean the amplification of whatever punishment or torture he already had in store.
Furthermore, judging by her brother’s reaction to learning of Sylin’s magical abilities in the hospital, she couldn’t be sure that Xev wouldn’t straight up kill Sylin. Especially now that he had a legitimate reason to do so. “Sylin-the-warlock” had not done anything to stop her from traveling with him toward a certain hell, if not death.
“I expected better of you.” Xev continued. “What were you thinking entering the forest like that? Don’t you know that there’s a reason that it’s a restricted land?”
“I know what I’m doing.” She answered, as calmly as possible.
“I don’t know what lies that warlock has been feeding you.” Her brother seethed, throwing his hands into the air in frustration. “But there is nothing that a novice like you should be doing this deep in the forest. Let’s get this clear: You don’t know what you’re doing, and if you stay here you will only get yourself killed.”
“If I was really as clueless as you say, then do you think you would’ve had the chance to find me still alive?” She retorted, despite knowing that he was right. She was lucky to have survived this long, especially with how long Sylin was out of commission. She could only attribute her survival to luck, but her brother didn’t need to know that… Not yet at least. “From what it looks like, your men haven’t fared much better than our party of two.” She added, scanning over the wounds covering the men surrounding her brother.
Though she might come off as a little arrogant or ungrateful, she had to do anything that she could to buy Sylin time. If he was held captive, she needed to give him enough time to find a way to escape, or otherwise buy enough time to give herself a chance to locate him. If they had somehow separated, she needed to give him enough time to find their party, or possibly return from wherever he went, if he’d already entered the worm den.
“I know that you’re here because that you’re concerned for me, Xev.” She continued, lowering her voice. “But there are some things that we came here for, some things that I think would be better if you knew.”
“I don’t care about any of the ideas that the dumb warlock planted in your mind.” He answered. “Regardless of what they are, you’re leaving this instant.”
“It has to do with you.” She answered.
“So you’re saying that the warlock used me against you?” Xev demanded.
“He didn’t force me to come with him.” She said. “And it’s not just you. It’s about the recent rise in the petrification cases.”
“I’m listening.” Xev answered, crossing his arms and squinting his eyes. Despite his words, it was clear that he didn’t plan on believing a single word that came out of her mouth.
“We’ve determined the cause for the increase in petrification cases.” She replied. “We know how the petrification worms infected you, despite your skill.”
“Is that the best that you could come up with?” He snorted.
“No, it’s the truth.” She answered. “The petrification worms have determined a new way to spread their eggs.”
“Okay. I’ve had enough of your attempts to waste our time.” Her brother answered. “Don’t think that I haven’t figured out your plan. Unfortunately, buying time for one of their kind isn’t enough to make them enter a net knowing that it’s a trap. He’s not coming back for you, regardless of how long you wait.”
“They’ve developed an ability that give them power over the local fauna.” She exclaimed, as her brother reached to grab her arm. “If we don’t do something about it, then who knows how many more innocents will die?”
“Die?” Xev scoffed. “Why are you so sure that your boyfriend didn’t fabricate the entire threat himself?”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” She exclaimed. “He’s just a childhood friend. A friend that has been there for me when you left!”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t have run off with him, would you?” Xev asked, still showing no sign of believing her.
“I already told you that we’re here because of the petrification worm problem!” She exclaimed. Since when did her brother become so frustrating to deal with? He was worse than Sylin, even when the other man was being intentionally difficult. “We’ve discovered that the petrification worms are able to partially infect, without fully petrifying some animals.”
“Take her.” Her brother said, turning away. “She’s just stalling for time.”
“No!” She shouted. “I’m being serious. The partially petrified animals can petrify humans too!”
“What did you say?” Xev asked, immediately spinning to face her.
“I said that the petrification worms can now spread petrification without their victims being aware of the danger that they’re in!” She shouted.
“Are you absolutely certain?” He asked. She could tell that he was absolutely serious now. Was he concerned about the innocents that would be affected? Or did something click for him? Her brother hadn’t indicated that anything was unusual about his petrification infection before…
“Sylin said that the most crucial factor toward getting an infection is whether the potential victim has an open wound.” She added. “We were going to collect some evidence… something that could prove our findings.”
“How did he find out?” Her brother asked.
“After treating you, he got in touch with the hospital staff and realized that the infection trend was abnormal.” She explained. “He wanted to come investigate, but I’ve heard how dangerous the forest was.”
“So you volunteered yourself?” Her brother asked.
“Yes.” She answered.
“Are you insane?” Xev asked.
“I couldn’t let him go alone.” She answered.
“And so you thought that you joining him would somehow help with that?” He demanded, visibly getting angry.
“But the thing is, it did.” She answered. “Perhaps not totally in a good way, but it helped us reach our conclusions sooner. By protecting me, he got infected.”
“And you said, he went to collect evidence?” Her brother inquired.
“Yes.” She answered.
“Then I’ll give him till the end of tomorrow.” Xev declared. “Not a moment more.”
“That’s fair.” She replied, clenching her hand into a fist be. She could only hope that Sylin could make it back by then.