She fell in behind him into the lighted corridor. All was silent but for the soft patter of her footsteps on the rough stone and the hiss of breath as she panted in Kane's wake, his body moving fluidly through the intricate hallways of the cave, making no sound as he did so.
She followed closely behind, the heat of his body encompassing her, touching her. Her cheeks flushed in the warmth, holding her captive in its embrace. It lulled her into a sense of security like being wrapped in a blanket. It made her feel unreasonably safe. Heat meant home, security, safety.
She was jarred from her reverie when he stopped so abruptly she bumped into him and nearly fell backward, but he twisted around just as quickly and grabbed her. There was a shadowed nook where a door stood and he pushed her into it before crowding her and turning his back so that he faced the hall. Men passed by a second later, mere feet from where Elena stood. She hadn't even heard them coming. Their voices raked over her skin, igniting undiluted fear as they passed Kane in single file. How many were there? Ten, twenty? The file moved past him without so much as a word in acknowledgement. She could see the muscles of his back tense as the men drew closer, the single file becoming a hoard of Stygians passing by in a wave of guttural conversation. Kane's arms were crossed, creating a broader shield from their view, and yet she still felt too exposed.
She barely breathed though they made enough noise themselves to cover any sound she made. Seconds felt like hours as she waited for them to pass, her life depending on the shield Kane had created. Elena pushed herself against the wall, trying to fuse herself with the darkness, become invisible. The thunder of footsteps seemed to be winding down and the knot in her stomach started to loosen. She nearly sighed in relief, when a voice approached them.
"Kane," he said in greeting. "We're wanted in the meeting hall." The man approached, she could hear his footsteps growing louder. Her heart beat erratically, the knot curling in on itself as blood rushed in her ears. No, no, no, no...
"Why?" Kane said, sounding only mildly curious as he subtly shifted his weight and leaned against the wall, further protecting her place in the corner of the nook.
"The king's request. I don't know more than that."
She saw Kane nod his head. Elena thought the conversation was over when neither of them said anything for a moment, but the man spoke again. "He requested your presence personally. Said I was to ensure that you'd be there." There was a suggestive tone in his voice, informing Kane of his obligations.
"I'll be there," Kane said simply.
She saw movement from beyond Kane and then heard footsteps drawing away. There was a brief period of silence when neither of them moved, Elena not daring to breathe. Kane moved away from the wall slowly, looking both ways down the hall before turning around and grabbing Elena's hand to pull her out of the hiding spot, walking swiftly through the hall once more. She didn't protest the contact this time, simply grateful to be out of imminent danger and moving again.
They came upon a wooden door at the end of a twisting corridor. Kane opened it and pulled her inside, shutting the door behind him. A woman stood beside a table inside the room, her eyebrows raised and mouth parted slightly in surprise as she looked from Elena to Kane and back again.
"No time," he said, pulling Elena in front of him and extending her arm so that the forearm was outstretched before them. "I need your help," he said, gentler this time, almost pleading. It made Elena look at the woman differently. Who would demand respect of this barbarian?
The woman hesitated a fraction of a second before walking briskly to her side and peering at Elena's arm, taking it from Kane's hand with deft fingers. She traced the outer edge of the cut and Elena bit her lip to keep from crying out. The cut was inflamed, likely infected, and the slightest bit of pressure was like fire coursing through her veins.
The woman looked down at Elena, lips drawn into a thin line. "You're a healer," she said matter-of-factly.
"What happened here?" The woman asked, glancing up at Elena from beneath her brows, still holding her arm gently between her wrinkled hands.
Elena didn't know how much to divulge, but figured that if the woman was going to heal her, she was trustworthy enough. "I was attacked by witches. One of them bit me and they put herbs on the cut. It became swollen and painful shortly after and has been getting worse ever since."
"How long ago were you exposed to the herbs?" The woman asked, twisting her forearm back and forth.
"Ummm.." Elena frowned, thinking back. Time seemed to have no meaning in the days since she'd been taken and couldn't remember how long since she'd been in the witch's hut. It felt like a lifetime ago.
"Two days," Kane answered for her and the witch nodded, lips pursed.
"What did the plant look like?" she said as she began pulling Elena across the room to where a variety of herbs and instruments were placed neatly on a stone table, Kane trailing behind slowly.
"Purple, a light lavender with-"
"Thorns on the stem? Jagged-edged leaves?" She finished for her, already mixing oils into a bowl, having let go of Elena to prepare her remedy.
"Yes," Elena said slowly and it was her turn to frown. "Do you know what it is?"
"I've seen Lavender before, but this was different. It shouldn't have reacted this way."
"It's a hybrid of Nasturtium Gambelii and Lavandula. The sun properties of Nasturtium are reacting with your blood. There's too much light for your body to contain."
"What-" Elena stopped and swallowed hard, apprehension setting in. "What does that mean?"
The woman sighed, still pouring various oils, herbs, and other items Elena had no name for, into a bowl, mashing the contents with a stone. "The light elements of Nasturtium are killing the cells in your body, overwhelming them." She paused for a moment and fear sprang up in anticipation of what she would say next. "It's destroying the healing properties in your blood."
Elena shook her head, brows drawing together, rejection forming on her lips. "That can't be. I've never heard of this," she said, her heart growing heavy even as she denied the woman's diagnosis. The idea of never being able to heal again, her entire life's purpose gone. Her eyes stung with unshed tears and she swallowed hard against them. "Can you fix it? Can you fix me?" She said, desperation making her voice strain.
"I can try. I have treated another of your kind before though not quite as severe as this." She continued mixing the concoction on the table, lips drawn into a thin line. "Inexperienced medics use Lavandula Gambelii for everything. It's a powerful antibacterial, but dangerous to those with a healer's blood." She trailed off, then, muttering something about poor training. Her words weren't making Elena feel any better, but there was one part of the story that caught her attention.
"You've treated another one like me? An Evori healer?"
"Yes, but it's been many years."
She didn't say anything else on the matter and it left Elena with more questions than answers. When and how would another Evorian be in the Stygian fortress? And more importantly, why? It drew her back to what the Stygian king had said about her mother, how he knew her. "What did she look like?"
The woman stilled her hand and turned slightly, eyes narrowing. "I never said it was a woman."
"Oh, I just assumed," Elena corrected quickly, but she was a bad liar. The woman looked at Elena for a long moment, eyes narrowing further, before looking back at Kane.
"Kane," she said slowly, suspicion lacing her voice. "Who is this?"
Elena turned, too, to see what he would say, suddenly feeling like she'd said more than she should have. Kane's face remained as stoic as ever, but his eyes weren't steady, his jaw ticking as he stood before us. His uneasiness made her nervous, wondering what could make him so edgy. "Lyra's daughter," he said finally, reluctantly.
The woman's eyes bulged, eyes shifting quickly from Kane to Elena as she drew in a sharp breath. "What are you doing with her?" There was genuine fear in her eyes as she stared at Elena, but from what, she didn't know.
Kane walked past Elena and gripped the older woman by the shoulders softly. She looked up at him, stricken from her trance. "Please, help us. I need to get her out of here."
The woman nodded, coming to some sort of decision, before turning back to her bowl numbly. "I'd heard there was a prisoner here. But this..." She shook her head, seemingly talking to herself. "I never thought he'd go this far." As she talked to herself, she became more active, once again working furiously to make the medicine. "You must leave here as soon as I put this on her." She picked up the bowl in one hand and grabbed Elena's wrist with the other, pulling her forearm towards her.
The salve was cool and tingled as it was pressed into the wound, but the sharp pain had Elena gritting her teeth and gripping the side of the table to keep herself steady. Kane had backed away when the woman began working again and now stood next to Elena, wrapping her in the warmth of his skin, soothing away the bite of the wound. She was hard pressed not to lean on him as the shock of the pain caused spots to swim before her eyes, but she blinked them away and forced herself to stand on her own. The woman looked up at Kane as she continued to smear the mixture into Elena's skin.
"Make sure you're not seen as you leave here."
The woman put the last of the mixture onto her forearm and wrapped it in a leather bandage, securing it with string. "Go now. The mixture should cure you in a day or two, but do not waste time in seeking further medical attention."
"Thank you," Kane said and Elena repeated the sentiment as he wrapped his hand around Elena's upper arm, guiding her away. Elena let him pull her away as her legs protested the movement, muscles weak and shaky from the ordeal. She was thankful for the guidance as it gave her more stability.
He stopped and turned his head and Elena, too, looked back. The woman looked at him with concern in her eyes, brows furrowed lightly. "I hope you know what you're doing." Unspoken words hung between them and Elena wondered whether she was referring to his ability to escape or his willingness to put himself in danger for her sake, but the moment was over as soon as it began.
"I do," he said and pulled Elena through the door and into the hall.