Yutrin tiredly sat on his bed, body trembling, breath coming in quick, shaky gasps. Mijung frowned, wiping the dark brow of their patient and soaking the cloth in the small basin of water they kept by his bedside. “You are running yourself into the ground.”
“I’ll be fine.” Yutrin rubbed his arms, noting his lack of cloak and wishing for it. Despite the fire that the non-human woman resolutely tended to, he felt very… cold. “What about you? You’re the one whose fever broke the most recently.”
Mijung rolled her eyes. “Listen, I’ll look after him for the night, okay? Get some sleep for once.”
“No, no, I’m the cleric here.” Yutrin made a dismissive motion, hand giving a tell-tale tremble. “Go and rest.”
He didn’t mention the fact that he was terrified of sleeping for too long with a human and dwarf with access to weapons so close.
“You’re getting yourself sick.”
“I’m already sick.” Yutrin made another small wave of his hand. “You’ve been having backaches, haven’t you? You’ve probably been leaning over him too much. Just sleep.”
Her expression was fleeting, but unmistakable. It was distrust. She thought that he would hurt her or the dwarf if she slept too long.
Just like a human.
He scowled and looked away, rubbing his arms for warmth and voice dropping to a mumble. “Go to sleep. I didn’t kill you while you were sick; I’m not killing you now.”
Her eyes widened a little. “Wait, I didn’t… oh, never mind. Do what you want, Yutrin. See if I care.” She scowled crossly and slipped under her covers, wrapping up and dozing off.
Yutrin forced himself to stand, dizzily trying to get reoriented, trying to convince himself that fever wasn’t filming over his eyes. The non-human woman looked up from the fire, the barest of frowns flickering over her lips, and her eyes seemed to glow like coals.
After a moment, though, she looked back at the hearth, poking the burning logs gently, skin rippling with gold radiance.
Yutrin shook his head, clearing his vision and going to the dwarf’s bedside. Something in the back of his mind flickered—something he should have been attending to—but the niggling was gone in a moment. It had been happening to him a lot.
He knelt by the bed slowly, unable to support his own weight standing straight, and pressed his fingers against the dwarf’s neck gently, counting the beats of his patient’s heart.
Dark eyes snapped open, pupils zeroing in on the goblin and retracting to pinpoints.
The dwarf slammed forward, tackling Yutrin to the ground, crushing his legs, hitting the back of his head on the ground hard enough to make a gash, and curling his fingers around the goblin’s throat.
Yutrin’s eyesight went black. He felt the color of his face changing. He feebly scrabbled at the thick fingers around his esophagus, struggles getting weaker and weaker…
“Get the hell off of him!”
The dwarf let out a shout of pain, and the barest wisp of sight returning to reveal Mijung awkwardly wielding his ax, having swiped at his arm with the sharp part. “Yutrin!”
Yutrin awkwardly twisted so that he could drag himself to Mijung, wrapping his arms around her leg weakly despite their previous aversion to touching each other, his body shutting down slowly.
The dwarf recoiled from the ax-wielding woman, eyes wide and mouth open slightly to speak.
“Stay away from him. Is that how you thank a cleric that saved both of us?”
The dwarf blinked, then backed up, shame-faced.
Mijung huffed, getting on her knees so that she was eye-level with the goblin. “Yutrin? Yutrin?”
Yutrin dizzily stared back at her, trying to concentrate on breathing. It was getting hard to get air through his bruised esophagus. His eyes rolled.
“Yutrin, stay with me!”
He was unconscious.
“Do not talk to me right now.”
Mijung scowled, checking Yutrin’s pulse. “He’s gotten himself sick again. By the gods, I told him to rest for the night.” She gingerly picked him up, still reluctant to touch a goblin, and lay him out on his bed, pressing the back of her hand to his forehead to feel for a fever. “Yes. He’s sick again. By the gods, Yutrin, you had better not get a fever again when the dwarf has only just woken up. You are the only cleric here.”
The goblin curled up in a fetal position, shaking feverishly in his unconscious state, and blood oozed from the back of his head. Mijung sighed, pulling open the drawers with the few medical supplies they had been supplied.
The weird woman at the fireplace hadn’t looked up once. She just kept poking her fire as usual.
“You’re nursing him.”
Mijung looked back at the dwarf, soaking a cloth in the water basin next to Yutrin’s bed. “He dealt with me when I was sick and moaning for my husband. He had no reason to.” And I’m a part of a species that’s been trying to kill him since birth, so he had special reasons not to. “The least I can do is return the favor.”
“You’re touching him.”
“I know.” Mijung gently dabbed at the back of the goblin’s head. “It’s not that I want to, it’s a simple matter of the fact he’s going to be hurt if I don’t.”
The dwarf was silent for a while. Mijung wiped the blood away, soaking the dirty cloth in water and taking out bandages, wrapping the goblin’s shaved head gently. She wondered quietly. Yutrin had been right to be afraid of the dwarf and his ax. And she saw how he flinched every time they touched each other, even if it was just an accidental brush of the shoulder. He was terrified of her.
Mijung liked to think that she was open-minded and accepting of everyone, yet she felt disgust for the person who had tenderly cared for her when she had most needed it.
Her husband might have killed a few of this goblin’s relatives. Had a goblin ever hurt Soon or herself? No, but…
He hadn’t done anything to her personally to earn her disgust. He didn’t deserve to be attacked in this place. Mijung couldn’t help but feel angry at herself—touching and caring for him shouldn’t be a chore. It should be just as much of a gift as she considered touching and caring for other humans and elves and dwarves and halflings and gnomes to be.
“Are you Soon’s wife?”
Mijung froze, her thoughts imploding where they sat. She snapped around, forgetting Yutrin momentarily and staring at the dwarf, eyes wide. “You know my husband?!”
“You… you were unmade by the Snarl! You’re the reason he went to seal the rifts!” The dwarf came forward a little, eyes just as wide. “I… I thought that I was unmade too! I’ve been traveling with him since you died!”
“I’m not dead! I’ve only been here.”
“Well, that’s news to me. Your soul is supposed to be destroyed.”
Mijung ran a hand through her hair, shaking her head. “No. No! I still exist! I was just with my husband in the elven forests and I saw a hole in space… and… and then I woke up here with a terrible fever and Yutrin was tending to me even though he was obviously sick himself.”
At the mention of his name, Mijung remembered that she was supposed to be taking care of a patient. She turned again, making sure the bandaging was on correctly before checking his breathing rate. “We can’t have been here for longer than a few months. Soon must be so worried…”
“He’s broken up, more like! He thinks you don’t exist anymore!”
“Well, we shall simply need to go and tell him that he is wrong once we are all well.” Mijung stood straight, frowning tightly, and wrapped Yutrin up in his blanket. “But in the meantime, you must tell me all about what my husband has done in my absence and why he believes that I am non-existent. It seems like there is a story.”
“A long one.”
“We have until Yutrin wakes up, when I need to try to make sure he isn’t so scared of you that he stops sleeping again. Tell me your name and let’s start.”
The dwarf fingered the slice at his arm, frowning at Yutrin, still a little ashamed-looking. “My name’s Kraagor. Get yourself comfortable. This story is longer than a few months.”
Yutrin hadn’t woken by the time Kraagor’s story was finished. Mijung had many questions, especially regarding how long the dwarf claimed it had been since her ‘death,’ but Yutrin’s worrying state of health took precedence. The few times he opened his eyes, they were glazed with fever and he would murmur for someone named ‘Jalyamir.’
When Mijung first heard the name, she frowned a little. Her reaction was the same each time he murmured it.
Kraagor watched Mijung with interest while she cared for the delirious goblin, mouth fixed in a frown and eyes never shifting. She didn’t ask him to stop. She hated herself for it, but she was glad for non-goblinoid company.
It wasn’t long until Kraagor’s illness forced him to sleep. Mijung was left with the odd fire-tending woman and two unconscious patients.
Yutrin continued to moan for Jalyamir and Mijung dwelled on Soon.
The woman tending the fire looked up, eyes glowing like coals, and the barest hint of a smile graced her lips.
Yutrin’s return to health was slow. Mijung didn’t know why—how could he get so sick again so fast?—but it wasn’t for a long time until he opened his eyes again and saw her.
Mijung turned around to see him, crossing her arms, scowling and immediately launching into what she had wanted to say since the moment he fainted. “I told you to sleep. Did you listen to me? No. You did not. Now you see why you should do what I tell you to.”
Yutrin blinked, then his chest shook a little, a laugh escaping, followed by several more. “Mijung!” He tried to sit up, but he was hit with a dizzy spell that forced him to lie back down again. “I’m the cleric here!”
“And everyone knows that clerics make for horrible patients.” Mijung sat on her bed, trying to get closer to eye-level. “The dwarf is asleep again, so you don’t have to be worried. His name’s Kraagor, and he has quite a story.”
Yutrin frowned warily, instinctively drawing away.
“Look, I know that you were right to be afraid and to want that ax taken away. I was wrong.” Mijung’s smile faded and she ran a hand through her hair. “But he told me that he won’t attack you again. That’s the best guarantee you will get until you get to know him more.”
Yutrin was quiet, eyes still wary.
Mijung sighed in exasperation, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. “I know that you have reasons to be scared of him, but could you ignore it until we get better? He’s hardly in a position to try to kill you!”
“It doesn’t matter if he’s in a position to kill me. You don’t know what it’s like to have every species but your own try to kill you on sight.”
“He’s out with a fever! He can’t hurt you!”
Yutrin seemed to shut down. He curled up in a fetal position, glaring at his knees. “It doesn’t matter. Fear is a defense mechanism. It doesn’t need to be rational.” He turned so his back was to her. “It’s better to be safe than dead.”
“Mijung, please don’t go on.” He curled up into a tighter ball, blocking her out. “I’d prefer it if you just told me that story of his.”
Mijung frowned, huffing softly. She lay down in her bed and decided to fall asleep instead of sharing anything with the goblin.
It was a long time before all three of them were well at the same time.
Yutrin was noticeably wary of Kraagor, a favor the dwarf gladly returned. The presence of Kraagor seemed to push Yutrin and Mijung closer. Where they used to hold painfully civil conversation and avoided any other sort of contact, Yutrin now looked to her as a protection from Kraagor. He kept close to her, a condition she quickly learned to accept.
Yutrin was scared of humans, yes, but he was less afraid of unarmed human women than of ax-wielding barbarian dwarves.
But despite the racial rifts between them, they had all agreed that they wanted to leave when they were healthy.
Kraagor stood from his bed, lumbering towards his ‘companions.’ Yutrin ducked behind Mijung instinctively. The woman didn’t even flinch anymore, resigned as she was to her fate as a glorified meat shield.
“How are you all feeling?”
“Like going back home and bashing some skulls.” Kraagor happily put his recently reacquired ax on his back.
“What about you, Yutrin?”
“I’m much better, thank you. You?”
Yutrin warily edged away from Mijung, keeping an eye on Kraagor, and slowly approached the non-human woman at the hearth. The human and the dwarf watched him curiously, waiting for him to finish what they all needed him to do.
The non-human woman looked up, eyes glowing softly and gold radiance rippling in her skin. Her lips turned up ever so slightly in a smile, but she seemed… sad.
“I want to thank you for helping us.”
The woman cocked her head slightly, light rippling again.
“We have to go back home now, but we’ll repay our debt somehow, someday.”
The woman smiled, then slowly stood up, her gold-colored dress swirling at her feet like fire. She made a gesture towards the window, encouraging them to open the curtains.
Yutrin frowned. They had been here for so long, yet they hadn’t thought to look out the window once? They were sicker than he had thought.
Mijung frowned, apparently realizing the same thing Yutrin was, and walked to the window, throwing the curtains open.
She gasped in shock and jumped away, and the men in the room backed up, eyes widening.
Outside, there was nothing but writhing cords of purple, red, and blue reality, snapping and whipping at the air, roaring. They all knew what they were seeing.
This was the Snarl.
“I have someone I think you should speak with.”
Everyone spun around, eyes focusing on the non-human woman. She smiled and slowly walked out of the room.
The hearth fire she had so loyally tended went out with her departure.