It was the third day since Sylin passed out that night. As he predicted, nothing else came to disturb them over the next few days. Besides maintaining the fire, and fetching materials from Sylin’s crates, which were miraculously undamaged in spite of the exchange with the creatures, she did her best to stay quiet. The last incident, with her brother, only confirmed her belief that sleep was crucial to his recovery. She had to do her best to ensure that she didn’t disturb him.
She put a hand to his forehead. He was hot again. With his recent injuries, and with his wounds kept inaccessible by the rotting the carcass on top of him, she could only conclude that it was an infection. She couldn’t move it without the risk of waking him. She sighed. Her best bet, at the moment, at keeping him alive was keeping the fire going. There had to be a reason that he asked for one. And with the way that he recovered from the fire with the first creature encounter, she suspected it might benefit him in ways that she didn’t understand.
At the very least, his hair was back at its normal length, and the illusions weren’t fading in and out this time. From what she could observe, besides his high temperature, nothing seemed irregular. His condition was relatively stable, remaining consistent over the past few days.
A groan caught her attention. In spite of the limitations in his movements due to the mass above him, he was obviously stirring. Was he going to wake up this time? As he moved, she caught sight of something she didn’t notice before. Pointed ears? Didn’t he only have that when his illusions were totally off? Didn’t he only deactivate the illusion over his eyes? She kneeled closer to him, trying to get a better look. It didn’t seem to be fading in and out.
“Good morning.” He said, as he opened his eyes, breaking her train of thought. His voice still weak. “Thanks for keeping the fire going.”
“How are you?” She asked, flustered and nearly jumping backward. “Does the fire help? I couldn’t get you out from under the thing, and figured that you would probably recover faster if I didn’t accidentally wake you.” Part of her expected him to crack a joke that never came.
“I’m okay.” He answered instead, putting his hand over hers. His words, coming between labored breaths. “You … might be able to … pull me out now… It’s kind of wet down here… There should be less friction.”
She tried yanking at his arm again. He was right. Though he grimaced, likely from the pain of her doing so, she was able to pull him out this time. He coughed as she set him against a tree. Somehow she had imagined that he would be all healthy again after waking up. The way that he was last time. But, the pallor of his face told her otherwise. His eyes were partially lidded, unlike the alert expressions she was used to seeing.
“Are you cold?” She asked, noting that alongside his labored breaths, he was shivering.
“A bit.” He admitted. “About the fire… it helped. Thank you.”
“How does that work?” She asked, wetting a cloth.
“Releasing all that much light at once consumed a lot of stored resources within me.” He explained. “Any light source helps me to regenerate that. If not for the flame, I probably wouldn’t have lasted quite as long in these conditions.”
Walking up to him and without warning, she started unbuttoning his shirt.
“You don’t need to.” He said, doing his best to resist, despite his sluggish movements. He was definitely feverish. She started to peel off his clothes, slowing when he winced. The cloth stuck to the forming scabs. Pouring water on the area, and cutting away any clinging fabric with the edge of her sword, she did her best to clean his injury.
Once she was certain the wounds were free of physical contaminants, she began wiping them. They didn’t have alcohol, but water was better than nothing. At least, it could clean off the liquids left behind from the decaying creature. It was only then that she noted that she’s never seen him without a shirt on, despite their years of training together. Despite his generally indecent behavior, it was a line he’s never crossed.
Fading scars covered his shoulders and back. Was this from a time before they met? If so, who could do this to a child? On impulse, she gently traced a finger over one of them. He flinched from the contact. Flustered she looked away.
“I was going to suggest that my immune system could handle it.” He said, quietly and without animosity. Looking up, she noted that he too was averting his gaze, staring at the ground beside him. “I’ve been through worse.”
The puss oozing out of the injuries confirmed her suspicions. “You have an infection.” She answered, resolute. “You need treatment.”
“I’ll be fine.” He argued, his voice nearly a whisper, as she bandaged the injury. Unfortunately, there was little more that she could do for him. Even if she wanted to. Without any antiseptics, she couldn’t properly clean the wound, and with the distance to civilization, she couldn’t exactly tow him to the hospital either.
“Listen, while fighting, I noticed something.” He said, breathing heavily, as if each breath required significant effort. His eyes were focused on the carcass. “Look at it’s paw.”
“Petrification Symptoms.” She realized, when observing the creature up close with the assistance of the shaded daylight. Their brown fur was perfect camouflage for the fossilized bark that decorated their flesh. She had been too focused on Sylin’s condition to pay attention to the carcasses littered around them. “Is that why we couldn’t cut through them?”
Sylin nodded. “The bark covers all their skin, and with it’s thickness, it would be difficult for a sword to cut or pierce anything. But the thing that baffles me is their mobility and survival.”
“All of the other creatures and people that have been affected by petrification, in the past, experienced stiffening, paralysis, and eventually death with the hardening of their body.” Xiyana observed, her eyes widening at the realization. “If not for you, my brother wouldn’t even have survived it.”
“But these creatures are not only able to survive with such severe symptoms, their agility suffered little adverse consequences, if any at all.” He breathed. “If anything, I’d argue that their movement patterns don’t differ much from what we could expect from a healthy non-petrified bear.”
“Does that mean that we’re a step closer?” She asked.
“Yes.” He answered, without hesitation.
“So then, they’ll be back won’t they.” She inquired, knitting her eyebrows in worry. In his current condition, he wasn’t fit for travel, let alone fight.
“Yes.” He replied, with a sigh. “Unfortunately, they’ll eventually get used to their blindness and come to rely on their other senses.”
“How long will it take for you to recover?” She questioned.
“It should be a bit faster now that I’m awake. Any light sources would help.” He responded. Noticeably wincing from the effort, he reached forward and smoothed her brow. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine in a day or two.” He added, with a smile.
Still, she couldn’t help but fret. She had a bad feeling about these coming days that couldn’t be shaken. Though Sylin recovered faster than the average person, his historic recovery speed wasn’t exactly superhuman either. She forced a smile to her face, in response to his. She only hoped that he wasn’t just saying things to ease her worries.