Mujjok's head spun as he finally regained consciousness. "Mmm..."
"Eh? Eya, Mujjok! Thank Amiera! He's awake. Yuin, Aela! Mujjok's awake."
He cracked one eye open. Mahmi loomed over him, concern clear on her face. She put a hand to his cheek. He opened both of his eyes and she smiled.
"Bahmeo." She sniffled and leaned forward to put her forehead against his. He reached up to touch her head but pain shot through his right arm, stopping him mid reach. She lowered it and raised his left to her head. His ring glinted above her bosom as she sat up. "I'm not dead."
"You could have died," she said, wiping away tears that had yet to fall. "I am glad you didn't. Don't you dare scare me like that again."
He smiled weakly. "I promise I won't. It's not as fun as I thought it would be."
She rolled her eyes. Yuin and Aela came rushing into the room. They knelt beside him with bright smiles. Mujjok returned the gesture.
"How are you, Mujjok-xi?"
"Now that I see you two, I feel better," he replied. "How did everything turn out? Did we win?"
"We got the girl back," Yuin reported. "A bandit had tried to slit her throat but was not successful. We got her out and the Shiera took care of the bandit using essence."
"What about you?"
Yuin looked at his hands. "I was stabbed in my hand and I used my essence again to get the girl out. My hands are even worse off than they were before."
Mujjok tried to sit up but his shoulder and side protested heavily. He grunted with effort but couldn't will himself through it. He sighed heavily. "Kalach."
"It was nothing you did," he replied. "I only care about the girl. She got out safely so there is nothing to apologize for."
Mujjok let his eyes wander and he finally took in the room around him. It was decorated in furs and blankets with makeshift cots spread about the room. Mujjok felt underneath himself. He couldn't feel the floor because several layers of fur and blankets were piled under him.
He also noticed he was very warm and lightly dressed in a fur kuip. "Where are we?"
"We are in the sacred village," Mahmi said. "The Shiera brought us inside to take care of you. They have taken very good care of all of us. Even Emtym came to thank us for saving Kujjyl."
"Erol and Kyunho won us favor with Emtym-yau. He is not so scary," Aela said.
Emtym walked into the room and they fell silent. Mujjok's body tensed, causing his injuries to react.
"I am only here to check your condition," he said. "Until you are recovered from your injuries I will allow you to remain here. It is my payment for saving Kujjyl's life."
"My brother would not allow anyone to suffer if he can help them," Aela spoke up.
He looked at her and nodded. "After speaking with those who accompanied you I have a few things to consider. Yam-me tach."
"Yam-me tach," Mahmi and Aela replied.
They looked back to Mujjok who had covered his eyes with his arm. His chest rose and fell slowly.
"There he goes again," Mahmi said. "At least we don't have to sleep out in the cold tonight."
"I want to go check on the girl," Yuin said.
Outside the makeshift room an orifice opened in the earth. Lamps dangled from the stalactite above and gave light to the cave. The Shiera had set up huts and tents from what they could find nearby for shelter inside. Yuin walked about looking high and low for the girl. Some Shiera still watched him with distrusting eyes. They were not received well when they first arrived with the returning group. After centuries of bad blood between them and humans Yuin wasn't expecting much. Emtym was the only reason they weren't attacked as soon as they were seen.
Recognizing a familiar fluffy collar, Yuin approached someone from behind. "Um, Jyaon?" The woman turned around. Her face lit up when she saw him.
She closed the gap between them and grabbed his hands. "Yuin, how are you feeling? Do your hands still hurt?"
"I-I'm fine!" He blurted out. "I was looking for Kujjyl. How is she doing?"
"I will take you to her."
Even though her voice kept just above a whisper she conveyed her pure excitement through her bright eyes and determination to drag him away by his wrists. They got stares but she was in control so Yuin didn't mind it as much. She took him to a hut further inside with a rug out front. She peered inside first, letting go of Yuin's wrist.
When she stepped back Kujjyl came running out and slammed into Yuin's stomach. Her arms wrapped tightly around his waist as she pressed her cheek against him. Jyaon smiled at his shocked expression.
He gently placed a hand on top of her head. "Behola, fehla, your wound."
"I am fine," she said as she looked up at him. Blood stained her dressing.
He quickly knelt so she wouldn't have to look up. Tears stung her eyes. She touched her bandage then looked at her fingers. "Ah..."
Yuin stood and took her back inside the hut. He was greeted with a quick nod from a woman likely her mother as she took Kujjyl away. They returned after a few minutes with new dressing on Kujjyl's neck.
"I am Ruahan, her mother. You are Yuin?"
"Thank you for saving my daughter."
"Thank you," she said, holding tightly onto her mother's hand.
"I only did what I could when something needed to be done," he replied.
"For a human to risk their life for a Shiera it is so much more than that and I cannot thank you enough."
Yuin blushed under her praises.
"I have heard from Erol of your situation. You are not sure if you should return home to your family and feel shame for your sister's involvement." She pulled Kujjyl closer. "If there was any way to let them know you are in good health, I would certainly let them know."
Yuin nodded. He waved to Kujjyl then took his leave. Jyaon smiled at him as they started to walk back. "Emtym will want to speak with you and your companions. We do not know what he may say."
"Do you think he will let us return home?"
"I cannot say but, you can always ask." She pat his shoulder. "Rest for now. We will worry about that when the time comes."
As much as Yuin would have liked to put it out of his mind, the thoughts continued to plague him. Their wounds did not heal for a long time. It was long enough for the Shiera to start being curious. Their trust wasn't won easily but a crack in their cold, fearful armor was visible.
Kujjyl often came to visit. They were likely the first group of humans she interacted with well. The bandits were scary but after learning everything Yuin and Mujjok went through for her she couldn't hate them. Emtym seemed to soften as well.
When the day finally came to hear what Emtym had to say, they gathered in his hut of wood and stone. They sat on the floor in a line facing him.
He sighed heavily and they knew it wouldn't be good news. He looked into each of their eyes before speaking. "Shiera and humans have not had peaceable relations in centuries. The war broke us in a way that we still have not recovered from. That is why we live this way, far from human towns and away from paths that we know attract humans.
"I recognize your risks and once again thank you for both aiding my people and saving a life. This does not, however, give you immunity to the laws of our community which is shared among the sacred places and gatherings of our people no matter where we are in the world."
His tone was forewarning of what he would say next. They braced themselves.
"Our laws state that humans who have seen or know the location of a sacred meeting place are to be killed. You have both seen us and know our location. For our safety we are required to end your lives." He watched their shoulders tense. "There is another option that I have considered. It may be worse yet."
"Do what you must, Great Chief." Mahmi said, lowering her head respectuflly.
He nodded. "My second choice is to keep you here for the rest of your days."
"You cannot return to the life you once had. It is your choice to make."
They looked at each other. They knew their answer. Emtym watched as they lowered their heads. "We would be grateful if you would allow us refuge in your village," Mahmi said. "We are in your care."
Emtym acknowledged their decision with a nod. "Very well then. Kyunho and Wehqui will help you adjust. Know now that if we suspect ill will against our own, either one will be ready to cut your lives short then and there."
"Yes, Great Chief. We are in your debt."
Kyunho and Wehqui escorted them to another hut behind Emtym's. it was modestly decorated with furs of every color and texture. A divider sat against the wall to provide privacy. There were wooden chairs and a table.
"This is where you will live from now on," Kyunho said. "Get use to it. Some of us are already used to your presence, it's been a month now, but that doesn't mean they like you. Be careful when you go out."
"We will be following you whenever you leave this hut," Wehqui said. "We are on your side. We want to keep you safe. You have saved two of our own and I will not let anyone take that from you."
"Thank you," Mujjok replied. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."
"Could I ask something of you?" Yuin took a piece of paper from his pocket and offered it to Kyunho. "Could you see if this can be sent out? It's important."
He took the paper from his hand. "I'll do my best to see that it is. Anything else?"
"My sister's body is weak and she needs medicine to help her regain her strength. What can you do about that?"
"There are plants that grow inside this cave that have strong healing properties," Wehqui said. "I believe our medicines will be better for her than what you will find anywhere else. I will see that she gets it."
"We have to report back to the Chief but I will stay." Kyunho looked to Wehqui and he started back. He smiled at Yuin. "I didn't think we would meet again like this."
"Neither did I. I'm sorry but we'll be in your care from now on."
"Yes, you will be. Just keep your heads down, make it easy for me, okay?"
Mujjok eased himself into one of the wooden chairs with much grunted effort. "Well... Here we are. You might not want to hear this, but I couldn't be happier. No more wandering in the cold or turning tricks to get money. No more entitled pricks."
Kyunho chuckled. "Yeah, only the threat of death if you offend someone here. Let's not forget constant babysitting."
Mujjok waved him off. "That's nothing. I don't think I'll be doing much moving around anyway."
"Your friends are strange but they obviously have good hearts. I will see about sending this letter out for you. Behave yourselves until one of us returns."
Kyunho left and they finally relaxed. All of the furs were soft and well taken care of. It was a nice layout with winter only a month in and expectations for days of frigid cold. Yuin hugged Aela and she wrapped her arms around his middle.
They were in a strange place now with new customs, different mindsets and nothing to remind them of their lives before they helped a stranger. They only had themselves and the wanderers. The last thing Yuin wanted more than anything was for that letter to reach its destination.
-xi (shee): an honorific for an older male denoting closeness; equivalent to calling someone "faxi"
Yam-me tach (yah-meh tah-k): pleasant rest
yam-me (yah-meh): to rest/sleep
Kalach (kah-lah-k): I'm sorry
Behola (beh-huh-lah): be careful, to take care
A/N: I hope you all enjoyed this story and meeting some new characters from my canon world. If you enjoyed them I can asure you they will return one day. I hope you all look forward to when that happens. Thank you so much for reading!