The Forgotten Hero

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IV - The Folly of Faith

Jerrim appeared more alert in the morning. Leaving her small room, Liana was pleased to see him sitting up, thick blankets over his legs. His clean bandages looked clean fresh and covered less of his torso now.

“You look better,” she told him.

Jerrim’s grin was almost at full strength. “Elias fixed me up this morning with some creams and new bandages. Feeling much better.”

His eyes were still dark, and she could see he was hiding the full extent of the pain. That was typical of him, always trying to show a stronger appearance.

“Good. And where is our gracious host?” She asked wearily, wondering if they were being overheard.

“I think I heard him outside a while ago.”

Liana knelt beside Jerrim, lowering her voice. “I don’t think we should stay here long. We don’t know who this man is. You saw what he did to that thing on the beach.”

“I know, but... he did save our lives,” Jerrim told her. “He’s taken care of us so far. He seems to mean well.”

Liana frowned in thought.

Just then the front door opened and in walked Elias, shrouded in heavy cloaks of browns and greens.

“Morning,” he said, his gruff voice sounding hoarse. He cleared his throat. “How are we today?”

“Better,” Liana said, standing. “Thank you. For... everything you’ve done for us.” She realised she hadn’t thanked him nearly enough for saving their lives, despite not fully trusting him yet.

The old man studied her a moment, then nodded. “Think nothing of it.”

He collected a few trinkets and tech off a shelf, packing them into a woollen rucksack which he slung over a shoulder.

“I will gather some food for us. Make yourselves comfortable here.”

“May I come with you?” Liana was surprised she had asked this, but knew it was the right thing to do.

Elias paused, his cold grey eyes penetrating her again. He ran a hand over his scruffy beard, the scratching sound audible in the silence. “It can be dangerous out there.”

“I’ll be by your side,” she told him. “Would just like to be outside. See the jungle.” She gave a quick look to Jerrim–he could be sensitive if taking someone’s words the wrong way–though his eyes were on Elias, his expression unreadable.

Elias finished collecting his supplies and turned to them. His bushy brows seemed constantly furrowed. “Very well,” he said, and reached into a box by his feet. He withdrew a metal object and tossed it to Jerrim.

He studied the metal cylinder in his hands. It consisted of several rows of wheels, which he saw could be rotated and spread apart.

Liana recognised the children’s puzzle, and wondered how something from the Crown had made it all the way out here. Perhaps it was part of some salvage from a crashed ship.

“To pass the time,” Elias told him, his voice softening. “An old child’s toy.”

“Ahh... thanks,” Jerrim told him, raising an eyebrow.

“If it’s too easy I can rework it to make it harder,” Liana told him. She smiled at Jerrim, but the severe look from Elias sent a chill through her.

She knelt and put a hand on Jerrim’s shoulder, avoiding the old man’s gaze. “Try not to overwork yourself.” Though her voice was light she couldn’t hide the concern in her eyes.

“I’ll be fine here,” Jerrim said gently, laying a hand on hers. “Be careful.” His face softened, the way that made Liana uncomfortable.

Seeing Elias stepping through the door, she gave Jerrim a weak smile and followed the old man out.

The jungle heat smothered Liana soon after leaving the hut. The air was moist but had a refreshing purity to it.

She walked with their host through the vibrant jungle, shafts of light piercing the thick canopy of leaves high above them. Countless birds and insects sang their songs, along with dozens of gnats spiralling around her head.

“I wanted to thank you, again... for helping us,” she told the old man, feeling the need to speak to him now she had the chance.

Elias nodded, though did not respond.

A series of bird shrieks cried out in the distance. Their feet crunched on the leaves and twigs that littered the muddy ground.

After some time Liana made another attempt at conversation. “Have you lived here long?”

Elias regarded her. “Aye,” was all he said.

“It’s a wonderful place,” she told him, trying to keep the conversation going. She thought she sounded foolish.

He nodded. “Never cared much for the outside world. This island provides me all I need.”

Liana thought of herself living in such a place, and inadvertently shook her head.

A shimmer caught her eye. She stared at the bird that hovered ahead of them, darting and stopping as if teleporting to and fro.

The long beak of the yellow and blue bird cawed as it saw them, its luminous round wings beating faster than the eye could see.

Liana’s heart skipped at the sight, for a second thinking she was seeing a godly vision.

Her exclamation must have been audible, for Elias turned to her.

“A Tissiq,” he told her.

Liana swallowed. “I... I thought it was something else there, for a second.”

“Oh?”

She knew his cold eyes were on her again. The smothering heat did not help her sweaty face, and she rubbed her hands on her shorts. “It’s nothing. Just...” she laughed. “Just thought the gods were looking at me. As my ma used to say.”

Elias seemed to consider this. “The Spyra Fyre of Iselda,” he said, his deep voice lost in thought.

She stared at him wide eyed, unsure of how to respond.

“You are a Halitae, of course,” he said to her. “And no doubt you’ve gathered I am a Halitae-Magus. Though it should not alarm you. The ancient conflicts of the Halitae and the Magus have never concerned me.”

It took her a moment to search for a response.

“What did it mean to you?” Elias continued. “Thinking you saw the Spyra come to you?”

He knew the legends of the Spyra Fyre appearing to those it chooses, it was clear. “I thought.... For a moment I thought it meant my ma was praying for me. And it had somehow answered her prayers to bring me back home.” She was surprised at her own honesty.

“Faith can be a powerful thing,” he said softly. “I’m sure if your mother is praying to the Lady, she will be heard.”

Liana was surprised at the grunt she made, and quickly explained. “I should agree. I used to be a Priestess of Iselda, when I was very young. Though I... was never much of a follower. Haven’t practiced for many years now. It’s funny how old habits come back without you realising.”

Elias nodded thoughtfully, his brows as furrowed as ever. “Maybe you did see Iselda’s pet, and I just saw a Tissiq.”

She was not sure what he meant by this.

They came to a flat section of grass within a group of trees. From the crops of various vegetables in the moist soil, Liana recognised the area as a garden of sorts.

She heard the squeals of Hooky before seeing the furry creature.

Hooky held a dented tin can over a row of roots, tipping water onto the soft soil. He was squawking random sounds to himself; what could have been a song of some kind.

“Welcome to Hooky’s garden,” Elias told her, raising a hand out to the crops.

“It knows what it’s doing?” Liana asked hesitantly.

Elias shrugged. “He can be surprisingly resourceful, in some areas. Particularly those involving food.”

“He is a pet?” she asked, unsure of what to make of the alarmingly alert golden eyes watching her.

“Of a sorts. Though more of a helper. Hooky has proven to have his talents, despite his... eccentricities. Here.”

He crouched over a crop of muddy potatoes that had already been dug up. Liana helped load his rucksack with the other vegetables around. She recognised the carrots and turnips, although was not familiar with what looked like spiked peppers and scaled onions.

They collected some fruits from the trees also, and when Elias spotted a critter scuttling in the undergrowth further away, he dropped the rucksack.

Hands half raised, Elias watched the shifting of the tall grass as the furry critter scrambled.

In an instant he threw an arm out, as if punching the air. A puff of dark mist exploded in the grass, followed by a squeal and a soft thump.

“Some meat for tonight,” Elias said, heading to retrieve the animal.

Liana noticed Hooky watching her still, though the monkey-creature attempted to hold his focus on the crops and took up his chiming squeaks once again.

“Let’s go,” Elias said to her, shouldering his rucksack. What looked like a long rat was hanging in his hand, though no injury showed on it. “The jungle is no place to linger.”

***

Jerrim was asleep when they returned to the hut. Liana smiled when she picked up the puzzle by his hand and saw it had been solved.

“Looks like I will have to make it harder,” she muttered to herself. She looked around the messy hut, realising she was feeling somewhat at home among the clutter of tech. A chill ran through her at the thought.

The sounds of Elias chopping the fruit and filling bowls eventually caused Jerrim to stir awake.

“How’s my hero?” Liana asked, sitting onto a cushioned stool.

“Tired,” Jerrim answered. His voice did sound weak. “I’m feeling better, I think. I just... feel like sleeping a lot.”

“You should listen to your body,” Liana told him.

She stretched an ache in her back, a groan escaping her. She noticed Jerrim’s eyes on her without looking at him, and lowered her arms, suddenly feeling exposed.

In the silence that followed, Jerrim keeping his away eyes from her, she said, “You don’t want to overdo it before you’re ready.”

Before he could respond, Elias returned with the bowls of fruit, handing them each one.

Soon after they had begun eating, the familiar cacophony of crashing pots and pans came from the kitchen. Hooky burst in, shouting ’My mouth! My mouth! Yap yap!” in a melodic yelp that almost sounded like another song.

“In the kitchen,” Elias barked. “Hooky’s in there!”

Hooky regarded them, blinking, before darting back in the kitchen.

Elias shook his head and threw a melon piece in his mouth. “It’s the food that drives him crazy. Yet also what inspires his assistance.”

Jerrim chuckled, and they continued to eat, making some pleasant conversation.

The rest of the day went by in a dull blur, with Liana tinkering with the puzzle for Jerrim, and then helping Elias cook dinner.

Jerrim attempted to stand, and with Liana’s help he achieved the task. He managed to take a few steps before light-headedness took him, though Liana saw it as a good sign.

***

At some point in the middle of the night Liana was awoken by a clanging pot. She stirred, mostly asleep still, listening to pattering footfalls. She opened her eyes and focused, and saw the faint outline of Hooky scurrying through the gloomy front room.

She watched him go back and forth a few times, the sounds of rummaging and falling objects filling the silence of the night.

When she heard the kitchen window open and close, her curiosity brought her to her feet.

In the cool outside, she followed the patters of feet and Hooky’s soft grunts to the back of the house.

Hundreds of Firebugs did what they could to light the jungle, though the area was almost completely shrouded in darkness.

Liana snuck up to a tall tree, the bristly bark cold to her touch, and leaned out to where she thought Hooky was. The creature was not there, however, and she wondered if it had flown off into the night.

Turning, she studied the area, seeing the nearest trees curving upwards towards each other, becoming lost in the darkness above. Their curving nature gave the impression of a large cage, and she shivered at the thought.

Her weight tilted the tree as she leaned back onto it, an unseen frown crossing her face. She decided the night was no place for her, and then the tree moved again, without her shifting her weight.

The solid tree sprouted from the earth and move up into the darkness, and from the corner of her eye she saw another tree move further on.

She stepped back, her heart racing. A third tree moved, its curving top swaying.

Two gleaming green orbs looked down on her, and she froze at the sight. Suddenly she realised what she was seeing, but it was too late.

The giant spider moved towards her.

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