“Give me your arm.”
He didn’t need to look up to know which of them had spoken. Zayne, as he had learned the other bounty hunter was called, had left over an hour ago just before the sun began to set. Camp had been made and surprisingly they had been fed something of reasonable rations. They could have ridden longer but the knife still stuck in his forearm made riding infinitely harder.
The exact reason as to why it had been left there had been debated briefly between him and Daniel. Of course, he knew it was likely to keep the amount of blood spilled to a minimum when removing it would mean only making matters worse. However, some part of him still believed it was purely spite that kept the knife still wedged in place.
“Why?” he muttered. “You’re the one that put it there in the first place.”
“Wasn’t my fault you went for him. We wanted this clean,” Aazyra replied, still crouched in front of him.
“We,” Aurora mocked. “He’s only using you to get what he wants. The moment he’s given his reward is the moment he forgets the two of you even met.”
She snorted. “You’re giving Crossvale too much credit. Give me the arm or you can keep the knife there for all I care.”
“Why should my wellbeing matter to a bounty hunter?”
“Because I’m not a bounty hunter,” she replied, reaching up for the blue scarf around her neck. “I’m Dravara…or something.”
“What’s the difference?” he scoffed, nose wrinkling.
“One of us is paid to kill you and I just don’t like you because you’re a bastard. Start being nicer to me,” she paused then, reaching down to draw a second dagger, “stop taking my knives from me, and that might change.”
Glaring still, he gingerly held his arms out towards her. “Don’t expect me to thank you.”
Bandages, as awkward as it was, had been wrapped around the knife itself earlier after the better part of his sleeve had been cut away. Aazyra was careful, fingers peeling back the layers of white fabric until the blood crusted skin of his arm was visible.
“I’ll need to stitch this, but I can’t give you anything for pain.”
“Bash my head against the tree. That usually does enough,” Aurora huffed.
She looked up, mouth twitching. “Tempting.”
“Aurora,” Daniel called from beside him, “please, just let her help you.”
He smiled, rolling his head sideways to rest it against Daniel’s shoulder. “I had almost forgotten you were there. You’ve been so calm through this.”
“I don’t have a choice,” Daniel shot back coldly. “Please, behave.”
With a roll of his eyes, he was silent.
“Try not to yell,” Aazyra warned. “Grab your friend’s hand if you want.”
“That would be rather difficult with how short these ropes are,” Aurora hissed.
She just shrugged. “Fine, doesn’t matter to me.”
Daniel cleared his throat, one hand tugging at his still intact sleeve. Reluctantly, Aurora took it with a grumble and a vague sounding growl. It didn’t slip free right away and in fact, there was a rather great deal of adjusting the angle of the blade before she even tried to pull it out. His head fell back, jaw clenched to the point where his teeth should have shattered, and for a moment he was concerned his grip would break every bone in Daniel’s hand.
Eventually, the knife came free and Aurora’s head spun.
His eyes closed as he swallowed back the taste of bile, head slumping sideways against Daniel’s shoulder again. “No.”
“You, blond one, hold that there and don’t let him faint-“
“I won’t faint,” he sneered. “And his name is Daniel.”
Although, he had to admit the spinning of his head and the pulses of black in the corners of his vision betrayed the statement. Daniel squeezed his hand then, bringing him back from his thoughts.
“Silas is going to get to the resistance soon. We’ll be out of here-“
“Please, don’t make me think about any of that right now.”
Daniel nodded, tilting his head up towards him. “Would you rather focus on the blood rushing out of your arm?”
Aurora gagged. “Don’t make me think about that either.”
“You’re calm,” Daniel stated plainly. “I’m glad you haven’t-“
He scoffed, shifting uncomfortably. “Haven’t lost my mind? Oh, don’t worry, I’m positively raving on the inside.”
Daniel didn’t answer, only sighing softly and leaning his head back against the tree. Aurora stopped himself from saying anything else, staring down at the crimson slowly bleeding through the fabric Daniel held against his arm. It hurt, enough to where he considered just how much of a nuisance it would be when he was already healing from one injury. However, he didn’t intend on dying from a wound to the arm.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.”
He looked up, smiling. “Oh?”
“The Dravara, they talk about you still. Tell stories,” Aazyra paused, “that sort of thing.”
Aurora sat up, tugging Daniel with him. “I assure you that you know nothing about me, not a thing.”
“I know enough,” she answered, kneeling down again.
He grinned. “How much?”
“Enough,” the woman repeated, looking down at his arm. “I know you’re dangerous. Some are saying you’re the most dangerous one there is. I know you killed a whole patrol once, shot them down and nearly killed your friend too.”
“T-that’s not true,” Daniel cut in.
She raised an eyebrow. “Well, guess I don’t know as much as I thought, but I still know some things.”
Aurora cleared his throat. “Are you sure your master would want you speaking so much to the prisoners?”
“Crossvale is not my master,” Aazyra growled.
He smiled. “I’m curious just what you think you know about us.”
“Aurora,” Daniel hissed warningly, “enough.”
Aazyra leaned back on her heels. “Crossvale says you, Norton, were one of the best officers Dravara ever had. You left him then, the angry one, after that attack I mentioned. Don’t know where the girl came from, but I know she’s not yours.”
“My cousin, Sarafina’s mother, worked in a tavern-“
“One of those whores?”
Daniel stiffened beside him. “No.”
“Heard some of them are to die for-“
“You know about us,” Aurora cut in, “but we know nothing about you.”
Looking over, the woman smiled again. “You know my name. You know I’m Dravara and that’s all you need. It won’t matter soon once Crossvale gets back and you get taken east.”
“Do keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep at night. I know how terrible it is to go without sleep, just what it does to a person-“
Daniel nudged him. “Aurora.”
“Attack hound,” Aazyra chuckled, “Crossvale was right about that one too. You know for a couple of fugitives, you’re awful sweet on each other.”
Aurora ignored her. “You never did tell me what you know, what stories you’ve heard about me.”
For a moment, she was silent. The woman stood, stepping back and collecting a hunk of wood from nearby before one of her knives was slid from her belt. “While I’m waiting for your arm to quit bleeding, I guess it won’t do any harm.”
“Speaking to the beasts, the ones over the Rift,” Aazyra said, looking up after slicing a thin bit of wood away. “Can you do that?”
“The faeloren? Anyone can,” he answered stiffly. “It’s not difficult.”
She smiled, intrigued.
“What about you being one of them?” she asked. “A beast in the body of a man.”
He laughed. “Ridiculous…please tell me the Dravara don’t sit around making up stories about me. Do they honestly have nothing better to do?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Aazyra answered, looking up again.
“I thought you said you were part of the Dravara,” Daniel interjected.
Shaking her head, she continued. “Crossvale says you’re one of the cruelest things to exist. Says you’d kill any man, woman or child without batting an eye.”
The smile fell from his face.
Daniel coughed. “He’s lying.”
Aurora was silent.
“That arm still bleeding?”
Daniel brought the cloth away and Aurora winced, looking off into the trees.
Aazyra slid forward, setting her knife and the carving aside before her hands went to dig in the bag at her side. “Only done this a few times. I can’t say it’ll look pretty, but it’s the best I can do. It’ll hurt, sorry to say.”
“I can handle it,” Aurora assured.
“Figured you’d say that.”
A bottle was the first thing pulled, reeking of alcohol the moment the cork was undone. Aurora’s nose wrinkled, face scrunching further and teeth gritting when the contents were poured over the wound.
“Don’t have much, this’ll have to do.”
She wasn’t what he would call an expert by any measure, but it was better than leaving a bleeding gash in his arm. Aurora tried his best not to look, swallowing harshly and finding himself staring back into the reassuring flicker of a smile on Daniel’s lips. He didn’t understand the expression and the fact he could be anything but miserable was all but lost to him, but Aurora only let his head drop forward, biting his lip and breathing in a gasp when the needle dug into his skin.
Aurora wasn’t sure which of them said it.
“Why did you lie to the other bounty hunter?”
“The bounty hunter,” Aazyra corrected. “There’s only one of them. I’m not with him.”
Letting his head drop forward further, Aurora groaned.
“You are awfully insistent on that, aren’t you?” he mumbled.
“If I wanted money, I wouldn’t go about it by preying on unfortunates like yourselves-“
“And yet, you’re toting around two prisoners, preying on us right now, aren’t you? Or are you somehow excused because you aren’t affiliated with the bounty hunter?”
She looked up, tugging harshly at the thread.
“That’s my business, not yours.”
“Why did you lie?” Daniel repeated. “You can tell us that much, can’t you?”
Aazyra snorted, shaking her head. “Persistent, aren’t you? Good to see someone cares about it.”
“Are you saying Zayne doesn’t?”
“Crossvale’s the most selfish thing on two legs. He cares about himself, that honor of his he talks about-“
“Then why do you stay with him?” Aurora asked, raising his head.
She was quiet for a moment, frowning as the needle was pulled free from his skin again. Shifting where she knelt, the woman smiled unsurely. “You’re asking why I lied to him about being a lady?”
Her shoulders rose in a shrug. “I didn’t lie. He didn’t care to ask, I didn’t care to correct him. It’s not like it matters to someone who doesn’t care.”
“That seems petty,” Daniel cut in.
“Petty,” she laughed, “I’ve done pettier. Got my horse from being petty…or something like that.”
“Do tell,” Aurora mumbled.
“Bastard who owned him was beating him, told him to quit, and when he didn’t, I said I’d take the damn horse from him.” She paused, clapping a hand over her shoulder. “Cracked me with his whip and went on his way, but he didn’t make it far. I saw him get jumped, took the horse and left him there.”
“Is that petty or just cruel?” Daniel asked. “You watched a man get hurt-“
“Oh, Daniel,” Aurora cut in. “Are you really one to talk? Isn’t hat how we met?”
The thread was cut, knotted and Aazyra got to her feet before moving across camp to dig through one of the packs. She came back, frowning and carrying a worn looking shirt.
“Figured you’d want the bloody one gone,” she paused then, looking around. “Guess I’d need to untie you to give it to you, wouldn’t I?”
“I won’t move,” he mumbled.
Aazyra came closer then, kneeling once more and drawing one of her knives to cut through the ropes that bound his wrists. Even if his hands were free, his feet were still bound, tied to Daniel for added measure and he was almost certain of another tether that went to the tree they sat against. Freeing himself, while possible, would likely only spell trouble for his brother and Sarafina.
That was the last thing he wanted.
He pulled the shirt carefully from his shoulders, wincing and watching as Daniel’s gaze followed his movements. It was tossed aside, more tatters than it was an actually article of clothing anymore. Aazyra frowned, pointing with her knife towards the still bruised skin of his abdomen.
“What happened there?”
“I was shot,” Aurora answered simply, pulling the clean shirt over his head.
She shook her head. “If they wanted you dead, they weren’t too nice about it. Never known the Dravara to be so messy about a kill. Would have bled out a lot faster if they aimed just a little higher.”
“It would have saved us all trouble if she had.”
“Leave him alone,” Daniel called, clearing his throat.
“Relax, I won’t stare for long. Was just curious is all,” the woman jeered. “Don’t worry he’s all yours.”
Daniel cleared his throat. “Do I know you? I know…now, I do, but did we meet before? You look like an officer-”
The answer was instant, firm. “No.”
Aurora, despite the pain, perked up, something of a grin slipping across his face. Focusing on something, anything, was better than moping about the newly sewed knife wound in his arm.
“Were you an officer?” Daniel pressed. “I remember your face now that I’m thinking about it, but I don’t think I ever spoke to you.”
“Doesn’t matter what I was,” Aazyra mumbled, rocking back on her heels. “Shut up about it, and move on.”
“I was an officer too-“
Aazyra snorted. “You’re saying that like I haven’t heard it a dozen times already, but I don’t want to talk about the Dravara, and I’m sure you don’t either.”
Daniel sat up straighter. “Wait, were you-“
“That’s enough questions,” she snapped. “I left that place so I could stop thinking about it, and not about to get stuck on it out here.” She paused then, standing slowly with a disgruntled huff. “Yes, I was an officer, short while, but I wasn’t in the stronghold, never talked to either of you. Think you were both on your way out when I was there.”
There were few voices he could claim to know, even fewer that stuck with him after he and Daniel escaped. Something about hers was faintly familiar, a memory shoved behind walls that had likely been built in his head.
“Where were you stationed then?” Daniel asked carefully.
“Outpost,” she mumbled, “again, not very long. We were keeping a prisoner. Got my title taken away after the place was attacked and…shit, what’s there to lose? You, hat bastard, lost my rank because of you.”
Daniel blinked, surprised. “Is that why you’re helping Crossvale?”
Aurora was on his feet, wide eyed and staggering as she drew her gun. “You were at that outpost?”
With memory, came panic.
“Sit down before you get a hole in your head!” the woman warned.
His fingers scrabbled to take hold in her shirt. “L-Lucius, did you know about him?”
“What are you babbling about?” she demanded, driving the barrel of her gun into his chest. “Step back, or I’ll pull it.”
“Aurora, calm down!” Daniel called, straining against his ropes.
“There was a boy w-with me, Lucius, did you know he was there?” he demanded. “He was there! Did you know?”
Aazyra shoved him away and Aurora’s back struck the tree.
“You were the only damned prisoner there,” Aazyra barked. “There was no boy. What are you talking about?”
The only one, a lie.
“Lucius was there!” Aurora yelled back. “T-this is your fault if you ran that vexing place! You let him die!”
Truly, if his mind had been clearer, he would’ve seen that her confusion was genuine, but he couldn’t bring himself to, not then. Wide-eyed, just like him, but for a very different reason, she shook her head.
“I didn’t let anybody die. Shit, never even saw you when I was there. I kept my men in line, and didn’t ask about you,” Aazyra snapped. “Running that place was my responsibility, not you and definitely not some boy.”
He couldn’t focus, could barely breathe as he pushed forward again only to be struck down when she swiped one of his legs out from under him.
“I said, sit down!”
Things started to hurt again, but not just his arm and the stitches that had been pulled moments earlier. There was a stabbing sharpness that had gone straight through his chest, some agony that couldn’t be caused by one of her knives. He lay there, breathing out gasps that rattled and were broken apart by sobs.
His strength was gone.
Daniel’s voice was faint, even if Aurora knew he too was yelling. “Stop it, he’s not well! Untie me and let me help him.”
Hesitating, Aazyra instead reached down, grabbing him cautiously under his arms and dragging him back to the tree. His body slumped against Daniel’s chest, exhausted and still shaking just as harshly as he had been before. An arm wrapped around him as best Daniel could manage with his hands still bound by a short length of rope.
Aurora was still.
“Shit, I just sewed that arm up and you tore it,” Aazyra mumbled.
“It’s not his fault,” Daniel cut in, words harsh despite how soft his voice was.
She leaned down, binding Aurora’s hands carefully. “Listen, didn’t try to spook him or anything-“
“I can hear,” Aurora whispered.
Aazyra nodded. “Alright, wasn’t trying to scare you. For all I know, there was another prisoner. I didn’t ask questions back then, mistake, I know, but I wanted to keep my rank.”
“Aurora?” Daniel called gently.
He elected not to speak again, eyes closing.
“His arm needs sewing again,” Aazyra muttered, reaching for her bag again. “Should I just do it?”
Whether she did or not, Aurora couldn’t tell.
He never, nor could he, feel the needle.