Kelt's eyes flinched as he listened to her explanation, seeing the pain and feeling guilty that his father's teachings had saved him that blow to the back. He'd have taken it on him if it saved her from more pain. The reminder that she still hadn't recuperated from Demetri's keep only shamed him more. He helped Ninaste to lie down and began searching their bags, finding a fresh herb that seeped a healing balm when broken. His rough warrior hands became gentle as he attended to her, slipping his fingers between the bandage and her skin, wiping the clear gel into the wound and pulling back hands smeared with her blood.
"That will... help. You should take a bit of rest when we get to Exult. I'll find a priestess to heal you up." A thought lit the back of his eyes and he turned to face her, looking away from her wound. "I'll bet this will be the first time in years that you can be attended to by a healer. Morier no longer has sway over you, at all. They may be able to take away years of aches, pains and- that- cracking of your spine you do every morning." Even through all they'd been through in the last few hours, he smiled. It was that habit, of needing to crack her body awake, that made him think she was an older human, not the half elf beauty she really was.
Kellis was standing at Dark Ninaste's side as she was placed on the ground near the fire, heating her cold skin. Demetri made a wide, almost swimming gesture as he walked, snagging a metal blade from the nothingness around him, probably spelling it into his hand. He was almost stomping in his approach, his glowing green orbs burning with what might easily be described as annoyance. His hands began to twist the metal, forming it far from the sharp blade it once was. His robes wavered around him as he demanded a raised altar from Kellis. And she did it, quickly and without fail, like a talented, obedient apprentice. The structure formed right under Dark Ninaste, pushing her up and at the lich's level, one comfortable for him to work around.
Mina took a step back, removing herself as Demetri pulled up Dark Ninaste's shirt, his boney fingers surveying the damage. Her muscles were torn up. He'd be sure that didn't happen again. "Stun her, remove those. And be prompt. There are rangers crawling all over this forest, like roaches in a crevasse."
Kellis brought a hand to Dark Ninaste's forehead, pinching her temples and casting to put her in a stasis, so that shock couldn't take her away before her master could finish his work. Her fingers grew sharp tips and she began to cut away the destroyed muscles, working with expert drow fingers and the attention of a mage. And it wasn't long before Demetri worked over Dark Ninaste, putting the newly changed metal into her stomach.
Kelt sat nearer Ninaste, putting his hand to her face, blocking the sight of the lich from her. "He's not touching you again," he whispered a promise, his arms protective around her.
Ninaste was glad that Kelt covered her eyes, not wanting to see his sister work so expertly over her dark twin, ripping flesh and muscle destroyed in the attack from her midsection so that the lich would have a clean, bloody slate to work on. At least they had allowed her the peace of being numb, Ninaste didn't think she could handle hearing her own voice scream and cry in pain as the lich performed whatever he was doing.
Ninaste's hand found the wrist attached to the hand at her eyes and she removed it with just a simple tug. "It's alright, I'm not afraid. It seems as though he's more interested in her than me. Besides…" She smiled and examined the wound he treated, laughing gently, "What use do I have for him, when I have such a talented healer of my own? You heal more than just the wound, you know."
She took his hand and pressed it to her chest, to her heart fluttering brightly beneath his fingers. "You heal so much more." But, even as she spoke, Ninaste felt the effects of losing so much blood from an already weakened body. She was tired, her movements lethargic as she leaned back into his arms and she sighed, closing her eyes to the approaching dawn. "At least we're all alive and well. We'll be in the city soon and I believe I'll take you up on the offer of a healing."
Her sweet words were tarnished with her exhaustion and his fingers danced over the side of her face, taking in the curves and lines that gave her her increasingly healthy visage. "I don't think we'll be going anywhere for a while. Rest for now." He pulled blankets up around her body, tucking her comfortably tight and sitting on his hip at her side. This was the second such vigilance he took over her. And he just hoped that this time her wound would allow her to be up and moving soon. His fingers plucked a blade of grass from the ground, slipping the fresh end between his lips. "Kellis will be walking tomorrow. Zing is your mount; you'll be riding her when we start for Exult again. And don't argue with me about it or I'll tie you wrapped around her long neck."
Mina watched the suns rise, the rays of light breaking through the leaves and falling on her face, warming her often cold skin. She was concerned. She hadn't anticipated an attack by the warlord. And they'd have a long day ahead of them with no rest and no food, her hunting cut short when the first of the drow ran past her into her campsite. They didn't see her coming. After all, what does a hunting panther have to do with the humanoids they meant to attack? Everyone was distracted. She'd best walk a perimeter about camp until they were ready to move again.
Demetri worked furiously over Dark Ninaste, giving Kellis orders that seemed curious but always worked out. And it wasn't long before he could loop an arm behind her back, lift her shoulders, and watch her now metal abdomen bend and fold, as if flexing and contracting. It was beautiful work, hooked directly up to the rest of her body, moving in response to her thoughts and the stimulus around her. Another perfect addition to his latest creation. He didn't give her time to rest before waking her, the stitches still bleeding slightly.
Several hours had passed. And Mina tore into the campsite with a startle. "Paladin. Demetri! Several paladins are heading this way, probably attracted to your aura."
The skull snarled. "Clean up," he ordered of Kellis, turning to himself, his fingers working through his rotting robes. His skin grew tanned flesh, his ears sharpened and lengthened, his jaw line clean and long. Features appeared. And it wasn't long before they were looking at an elf, dressed in the clothing of a ranger, leather bands on his wrists, unprofessional boots on his feet, slightly baggy clothing fitted to his thin build. His hair fell long and brown down his back, free and wild but for the leather band around his forehead.
And Mina scowled back at him. "That's not going to work! They will still sense you."
"Somehow you think I can't trick overconfident paladins. Call me- Lathien." Mina made a gesture at Ninaste's double.
"And her? She's a creation of your black magics. We certainly can't call her 'dark Ninaste' anymore. What do you want? Estanin?" It was Ninaste backwards, with a twist of the s and t inside. Something Mina did to entertain herself at times.
"You don't concern yourself with her. I'm staying because of your incompetence with her in the first place."
Mina's mouth dropped open. But the sounds of cloven hooves trampling ever closer caused Mina to turn, facing the paladins as they entered under a banner of importance. They paused, looking upon the group, and a female paladin looked down on them, temporarily confused. "We sensed great evil here. Is everyone okay?" The grass and trees around them were trampled, blood still staining the ground. Obviously, there had been a battle. And the paladin was looking for answers.
"We were attacked- by Warlord Kelt," Kelt spoke from beside Ninaste. "The clouds must not have lasted long enough, though. We survived, much to his annoyance, I'm sure."
"Warlord Kelt? It's true the demon is evil. But, the evil in the air is stronger..."
"We are all that is left," Kelt continued. "They took even their dead..." He wavered, realizing he had no proof of the attack, until Lathien pulled something from his vest.
"I found this. I believe it is a medallion of Azztokrah." He tossed it to Mina and Mina handed it to the paladin, who now eyed her suspiciously. Of course, Mina was inherently evil, considering the vampire in her. But she was not unknown and another paladin whispered to the first, causing her eyes to waver off of Mina and onto the medallion.
Ninaste sat up next to Kelt at the sound of the paladin's approach and her eyes drifted amongst their group. Aside from Kelt they were all in danger of being attacked by the paladins, each of them holding some part of a lingering evil essence. Demetri and her twin, of course, were probably the focal point of the oncoming paladin's attention, Mina, with her vampire nature, was also sure to be giving off some sort of vibe. Kellis, having dabbled in the dark arts with this temporary master and even Ninaste, herself, the sins of her past life still fresh within her mind, too were cause for concern. They would have to think fast to talk themselves out of this one, and lucky for them, as the paladins' mounts stomped forward and their eyes looked out for the evil they had sensed, the one without crimes upon his soul decided to speak.
Ninaste folded into Kelt's side as her twin, now named Estanin, stayed close to Demetri, looking at the paladin with an untrusting, hard stare. Her new metal abs rolled beneath her quickly tied and torn bloody clothing and she crossed her arms over them, trying to hide the injury less the paladin's seek out to try and heal her. That wouldn't be good. Her twin noticed her actions and understood silently what the evil half of her was thinking, something would have to be done quickly to sway the paladins from finding out the evil and Ninaste knew what she could do.
Ninaste laid her hand on Kelt's shoulder and used it push herself up to stand, giving a small, hardly noticeable, smile before she approached Estanin who stood between Demetri and the mounted paladin, her hand placed purposely against her injured side. She opened her mouth to speak, to say something either helpful or harmful to their situation, but she suddenly pitched forward, hissing hard as she pushed her bleeding side against Estanin, letting her catch her with instinctive hold.
To anyone, it looked as if a twin helped to steady her injured sister, just as Ninaste planned. The heat of the fire that she had laid so close to forced sweat upon her brow, and she panted as she looped an arm around Estanin's neck. It was uncomfortably too close, but something necessary.
Estanin seemed to understand her twin's intentions, and looked expectantly first to Lathien then to the paladins. "She's hurt."
Kelt knew what she was doing. And he was unsure if he was playing into it with thespian perfection or was caught up in the lie, concerned that Ninaste was actually so damaged. He stumbled over himself to come to her side, Lathien stepping up behind the three to put a hand on her shoulder. "She does need healing. We'd appreciate if we could get some help."
The paladins studied Ninaste hard, sensing the damage on both twins and assuming it came from the one in obvious pain. "Gather her. We'll take her to the temple."
Lathien backed away, Kelt took Ninaste's weight, allowing Estanin to step away as a paladin dismounted and helped Kelt support her to a larger horse. She was shifted carefully up into the saddle, allowed to rest her back on the mount's master's chest. And Kelt was right behind her, insisting that he come along to watch over her. His sister would be safe enough with- her own kind. And there was very little travel left to the day. "I'll make arrangements for Zing and rent a place to stay. See you all in town shortly."
A paladin turned to Mina, beginning his words with a gesture. But, before he could speak, she nodded, answering the unasked question. "I have the antidote, as promised."
"Let me have it. I can make it back and put it into the well."
"I think not. You might have honorable intentions, but this is my ticket into Exult without the harassment that normally comes up. I'll follow behind." They weren't happy about it. But the paladins started away, turning from the inherently evil group, and Mina shook her head lightly as she followed. Lathien's fingers curled around Estanin's shoulder, digging hard into the flesh. And he hushed a curse at them as their mounts swung their tails in their wake.
Truth be told, Kellis was feeling physically ill, holding to her stomach with both hands. "I'm not sure I can take standing too near the temples." She approached Zing, casting one more spell over the beast so it would take directions under her charming. And she reached for the reigns until Demetri's smooth voice snapped at her.
"Walk, Apprentice. That thing will be carrying Estanin." She followed his commands and they started for the town.