It wasn't long before they were on the road again. This time, and with a larger group, they finally took to the forest path, leading straight into the little village of Exult. They were greeted before even reaching the gates. Through the tall trees, one could make out a large temple, rising sturdy and strong, made of bricks and wood, and looking like the one piece that didn't fit with anything else. The Rilian church. Paladins were so pompous, so sure of their own importance, that they of course had to build something bigger than life to train the clerics and priestesses, paladins and other warriors they churned out and sent away on missions from which most didn't come back.

There was a deeply dug trench and a rise of dirt almost as tall as Naya surrounding the actual village. And they were greeted by two paladins standing at either side of the path. "What business have you in Exult," one questioned, leaving Naya to look at him a bit incredulously.

"My son," she shifted her shoulders, showing the travois a bit more clearly behind her, as if it could be missed. "He was attacked by a mage and is in great need of healing."

One of the paladins grunted, as if annoyed that there had to be an answer to his question. "I'll escort you right to the temple," his companion spoke before the first could do so, turning with his sword and spear and starting off toward the huge stone mar that was the paladin's temple.

Grand marble steps were flanked by larger than life statues of womyn, one in armor, one heavy in pregnancy. Ah, but wasn't this the temple of birth, death and rebirth. The entrance was decorated with stone arches piled on top of one another, a deep, blood red circle engraved in the very top. Heavy wooden doors were pushed open at the guard's knock and they were let inside, away from the warmth and light of the suns into a cooler, more composed place. Several paladins, most of them womyn, came to wrestle the travois from Naya and Vondearan's care. However, she pushed them away with the roll of her shoulder.

"We would rather, please. He is our son, after all." They relented and led the group into a long room, cots dotting the walls, some empty, others sporting villagers and paladins with various injuries.

A nurse held her hands over Aahz, her fingers glowing with whatever prayer lit them. And she pulled back, as if she were stung. "This child has been touched by strong evil." Her eyes were wide and confused and Naya, after carefully setting the travois on top of a cot, crossed her arms over her chest.

"Of course he has been. Who else would shoot down a child?"

The lady in white, the red symbol printed over her lower abdomen, was probably about five months pregnant, making the circle bulge ever so slightly. "I... I'll have to get the high priestess. She's in devotions right now... but I think she'll want to see this." She turned, speaking in elvin to one of the guards, a simple call for backup, that they might just need a Simoin cleric too, and the paladin hurried away even as the nurse looked back to Naya and her cloaked, hidden husband. "He's badly injured, I'd venture to say he's even cooked a bit on the inside. Who did this? How... how has he managed to live..."

On cue, Naya's eyes teared. She brought a hand to her face before pulling against Vondearan's chest. "Please, just hurry with your healers. I can't bear to discuss the details, not while my son's life hangs in the balance. It's horrifying." The tears were false, something to dissuade the nurse from asking any further questions. But even as she made them fall, Naya felt them. Now really was not the time. They were so close to having Aahz back with them, healthy and energetic and, yes, even a bit annoying. The nurse nodded, her feet carrying her quickly to the exit to find her high priestess, and Naya didn't wipe the tears from her face. They might still be needed.

Vondearan was, for lack of a better word, uncomfortable. Paladins. Clerics. These were people that he was usually ordered to dispose of and yet here he was within their very nest. His arm found Naya's side and he consoled her as he knew a husband should, well aware that her tears held within truth of her own pain. It would be over soon. Aahz would be healed and they would be on their way. But first…

"I'm not sure we could repay your kindness." His words drifted down as he looked towards the dwarf, finding him having to look up as well to catch them. "But we would be more then glad to put you and your…" Vondearan paused and lifted his gaze, noticing that the mage was no where to be seen.

"Ah, the lad." Azmyth nodded, catching on to the drow's wandering stare. "He said he'd like to get ah feel for the town."

"I see." Vondearan's voice reflected the lifted brow upon his forehead, then, continued on, "As I was saying, we would be more then glad to put you and your friend up for the evening."

"Ah, that's fine, lad-"

"I insist." Vondearan pressed and the dwarf's lips puckered forward from the hair of his beard.

"If it makes yeh feel better, then, ole' right. I'll go off and find Caeliam and we'll meet ye later oot the inn. Just get tha' lad well."

Vondearan nodded, "Thank you, we'll take care of it."

Vondearan certainly played the part of a collected and strong husband. He had from the start. And Naya expected nothing less as she shivered in his hold. They were left alone for what seemed like a long while. Naya was about to seek them out before the door was cracked open. The first person to enter was the Simoin priestess, told by the falling of her white gown and the bearing of one breast. It was a symbol of their powers, that of sustaining life and assisting growth. And it was a perfect object for the job, considering that the breasts did just that when nursing a babe. One had to be a bit brash and not the slightest bit modest to rise in the courts of Simosis.

Her hair was wild, a long splash of red that fell down her back. She was, after all, the religious version of a druid. Behind her entered the Rilian high priestess, whose appearance was drastically different from the Simoin. She wore armor, glistening silver, embellished with the deep red circle of her religion. Her breasts were hidden behind the metal bodice, her hair pulled back tightly in a warrior's braid, a cold-iron sword weighing down one side of her hip. The womyn looked at Naya and Vondearan, letting them slide down to the cot and the boy lying in front of them.

The Simoin approached without hesitation, sitting on the chair beside the bed. But the paladin paused, ordering holy water. The pregnant nurse scurried off for that and the paladin refused to come any closer. "He was the victim of a mage, you say? The magic is very negative, very evil. What, exactly, did you come across?"

Naya looked at both for a breath, pointing at the Simoin priestess. "It can't be that bad. She's right there." True enough, the bare breasted priestess was working over Aahz, pulling away any of the remaining wrap and studying the still bleeding wound. The paladin huffed, annoyed. But her nurse returned with the water and began sponging it over his abdomen.

"Would you like to wait elsewhere? The prayers we'll have to use, they tend to leave others with headaches."

Naya cautiously released Vondearan, nodding slowly. "We can't help right now anyway." She leaned over Aahz, kissing his forehead. "We'll be nearby, sweets. We'll be here when you open your eyes."

There were great stone benches placed outside the temple and Vondearan soon found himself and Naya a place to sit as they waited. There were other people seated here, more than likely waiting for word of friends and loved ones as they were attended to by the cleric and paladins. Minutes turned long and Vondearan rose from his place at her side to pace, back and forth, his hand swallowed by the hood of his cowl as it rested against his chin. What if, after Aahz was healed, they pressed him for the cause of is injury? Would his apprentice be wise enough to keep his mouth shut?

The first hour passed, then the second, and during that time Azmyth and Caeliam joined them, the mage sporting a bundle of cloth within his hands. He smiled, his old face kind even if his eyes were sharp and piercing, and he handed the clothes to Naya, patting her hand as she took them. "I thought that the boy would need some new clothes. I guessed on his size but I think they'll fit him fine, snug, in fact."

Azmyth chuckled and fingered the ax looped at his side, "And I looked into ah inn here in town. Plenty o' room. I told em to leave two rooms empt' as we'll be comin' back weth money." The dwarf's single eye winked at Vondearan and the drow recalled that it was his money that they were waiting for.

"How is the boy?" Caeliam asked, taking Vondearan's seat next to Naya, though staying a respectable distance from her.

"They seem a little too interested in what caused the injury rather than healing it."

"Ah, well, they think themselves protector of all thangs. They be off huntin' it down right now if ye told em." Vondearan didn't press the matter, as it seemed the dwarf was pressing for information. Instead the rest of the time slipped away in silence, soon shattered by a very familiar and overly happy voice.

"Guys! Guys! Guess what?! I woke up, ok, and when I looked up there was this BOOB-!"

"Thank you, Caeliam," Naya managed with a smile. "Very kind of you to think of this, especially when we are so distracted." Naya found the pat at her hand a little patronizing, but she let it go. He had, after all, done them a favor. Now she just hoped that Aahz would be well enough to wear the clothing. She smirked over Azmyth's comment. True enough. They would be off to smite Morier and return weaker in numbers. These new travelers were entertaining to keep around, though she wasn't sure how long they'd be allowed to stay.

And she was removed to her thoughts when a joyful voice of the past came to her ears. She glanced up, still lost in thought, and her mouth dropped open at his last word. "Good Goddesses!" Naya jumped to her feet, nearly dropping the clothing in her hands as she ran for Aahz. Though, normally, she would be a bit cautious of handling him so soon after healing, Naya didn't control herself as she threw her arms around Aahz, wrapping him in her physical warmth.

She had to be sure that he was alive, that he was real. And the feel of his young muscles and body heat told her that both were true. For once, she couldn't bring words to her lips, squealing instead as she held to him. And she only pulled away so she could clasp her hands to either side of his face, studying his glowing green eyes. "I don't know how you did it," she managed before pulling him into another hug. "But I am so glad you survived. How are you feeling? Do you need more rest? Food? Are you hungry?" Naya certainly flitted and fussed about Aahz as if she were his mother, fitting the part exactly.

Azmyth bellowed with laughter and Caeliam's mouth turned into a snickering smile. Vondearan, too, smiled, though it was hidden away in the darkness of his cowl. For being nearly dead for the better part of two days the boy had little trouble reverting back to his normal, cheerful self. Aahz giggled as Naya embraced him, and his own arms wrapped around her waist, thinking to lift her, though pausing. The clerics said he would still have to be careful, he was, in fact, still a little sore.

Vondearan's hand fell heavily on his shoulder and Aahz's beaming, green eyes, filled with life, looked up at him. "Well done." Vondearan said, the simple words touching and prideful at the same time. Aahz smiled and nodded, knowing that, as far as sharing emotions with each other, it only extended about that far.

At the mention of food Aahz immediately zipped his attention to Naya, "FOOD! Yes, gods, yes. I'm starving! I could eat a horse!" Azmyth laughed again and moved forward to slap the young boy on his back, causing him to pitch forward into Naya's arms.

"What a lad! A boy after meh own stomach. C'mon lad, let's get you fed."

Aahz blinked, then, jarred a finger towards the dwarf. "Who's this guy?" Vondearan chuckled as Caeliam came to stand at his side, his thin arms folded across his chest.

"Perhaps it's time we retreat to the inn. Azmyth and I could use some rest."

"Of course." Vondearan nodded as his hand sprawled against the middle of Naya's back. "Let's be off, then."

(Here ends The Spirit Quest. Come Monday look for the new and final book, The Shattered Eastlands, which will bring The Spirit Quest and The Nightsong's Sunrise together for the build and conclusion! Thank you for reading this far. I hope you are enjoying it.)