“Ahh, ooh,” Innu winced, “can we stop here? Yes? Okay, good.”
Cyril helped him to a tree and held his hand as he eased to the ground. Innu sighed and closed his eyes, seeming to deflate from exhaustion and pain.
“Very good. I just need a short rest and we’ll be able to continue in a wink.”
That’s what he had been saying for the past three days. Innu hadn’t been himself since he had absorbed that demon: that demon that Cyril had summoned. What Cyril would have given to be able to go back in time and just…not do that. Or do something wrong. Anything that would have made it so the demon wouldn’t have risen from the pit, or from wherever summoned demons came. How could Cyril be so stupid?
Sure, he was irritated with Innu. Sure, he wanted to start learning some practical necromantic skills, but why hadn’t he started with something less dangerous? People didn’t start archery with flaming arrows on horseback. No, they started with a little wooden bow in a practice archery range, with a close target and no one around that could get hit. Cyril had skipped all the practice and jumped straight to flaming arrows on horseback in battle. He didn’t have any skill. How the gods had he thought that he would be able to control a demon?
If only Cyril’s mistake had cost his own life. He didn’t want to die, but surely it had to be better than what it was putting Innu through. Innu looked like he was being burnt out from the inside, except the burns were spiritual and left no physical trace. But he was burning. He had gone from indestructible to nearly bedridden in only a few hours.
He kept a kind face and wouldn’t complain, but that was just the way Innu was. If Cyril didn’t know what was really going on, he would have been none the wiser.
Innu struggled his arms out of his robe with shaking hands and let them fall to his lap. Despite the frozen fog that hung suspended over the highlands, Innu was sweating. His sickly pale chest glistened with sweat. Cyril had never seen this. It was like the worst fever he could imagine, but worse. Innu tried not to show it, but he was in anguish.
Next, Innu pulled off his boots and set to struggling with his socks.
Cyril eased up from his own seat and leaned over Innu.
“Master, please,” Cyril laid a hand on Innu’s, stopping him from taking off his socks. “If you get too cold, I think you’ll still get sick, even—even though you feel like you’re burning up.”
Innu looked Cyril in the eyes; Innu’s eyes were dull and his face was moist from sweat. Finally, Innu lowered his gaze and let go of his sock.
“You’re right,” he said. “How foolish of me. This is a spiritual ailment and no amount of physical remedy will help it.”
Cyril let go of Innu’s hands and sat back out of his face. His heart and stomach were in so many knots, he didn’t know how they would ever disentangle.
“I’m so, so sorry,” said Cyril, but he choked on his voice and he couldn’t quite get the words out. “I’m such a stupid, godforsaken—“
“No,” said Innu firmly, grabbing Cyril’s arm. “Don’t say that. There will be plenty of people who will curse you. Don’t you dare curse yourself.”
“What’s done is done,” interrupted Innu, leaning against the tree. “There’s nothing for it now but to move forward. Cursing yourself will do nothing to remedy the situation.”
“Okay.” Cyril exhaled. “Okay, I’ll try, anyway, but it’s hard.”
“I know,” said Innu. “I’ve done many things, myself, that I wish I could undo. Things I did because I was naïve, because I was angry, because I was misled, because I was scared. When those things happen, you must learn what needed learning from it, and then let them disappear into the past and don’t dig them up again. If you keep them around your ankles, you’ll find that you’ll gather so many of them that your feet will be too heavy to walk.”
“Yes it is,” said Innu. “It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do, because you’re fighting your own mind. Just know that these experiences—and you will make more mistakes in your life—are only stepping stones in your story. They will teach you things, make you a better person, and make you better able to help others that are struggling with what you already came through. Maybe give them the lesson early and spare them from the entire arduous journey through the flames. That is all any of us failures can hope for.”
Cyril fidgeted unhappily with his robe. “You should get some sleep,” he said finally, dragging the remainder of their supplies next to Innu. He dug in Innu’s pack for the bowl, milk, and salt. “We’ll stop here for the night. I’ll keep watch.”
Innu was too tired to argue. Cyril sprinkled salt around the tree Innu was already asleep at and around their campsite. He poured the last of the milk into the bowl and left it on the edge of the salted area. Then he retreated to the tree and sat by Innu, watching the shadowy forest for danger.
It wasn’t dark yet, but there was no way they were going to make any more progress that day. They needed to get to a competent necromancer—to Calvean—as quickly as possible but Cyril wondered how long Innu could keep up this pace, much less any pace.
Could a person die from ingesting a demon? Cyril wished he had learned more. Would it eventually cook Innu from the inside out? Would it kill him and take his body? Every possibility Cyril came up with was more terrible than the last, and Cyril had no idea which one was true.
A/N: Cyril has been using “going to see Calvean” as a threat to keep Innu moving along. “If you’re doing this poorly, maybe we should go see Calvean–” “No Calvean.” “Alright… I’m just saying that you don’t look well–” “I’m fine! Lords above, Cyril, I’m not dead yet.”
Little does Innu know that they’re going to Calvean’s anyway.