Axel hurried over to the tent where his daughter had been taken. Velvet was sitting near the entrance. Axel noted, with pleasure, that the half-dwarf was fully aware of his surroundings and could respond to any attack quickly. He had always liked that about Velvet, his ability to look completely harmless and unaware while staying vigilant.
“Keep up the good work,” Axel said. Velvet gave him a half-hearted salute, maintaining the illusion.
Inside, Axel found Twila and Lilly. “W… we we…” Lilly stammered.
“We were just keeping watch,” Twila whispered. “Making sure her wounds were okay and that she’s comfortable. Please excuse us.” Twila took Lilly’s hand and the two shuffled out.
Axra was fast asleep, her chest bandaged and her sword left by her side. The bandage was clean, at least it looked like the bleeding had stopped. Axel took his daughter’s hand, gently.
“I should have never let you wander around on your own,” he whispered. “I thought it would be a good experience, but look at where it’s gotten you. And what good has come of it?”
He felt her hand squeeze his and snapped from his reverie. He took a good look at her. Her eyes were open and focused. “Don’t cry, Papa. I’m okay.” Her voice was low and weak. She looked around. “What happened to Twila and Lilly? Were they hurt?”
“They’re fine,” Axel said. “They just left.”
Axra let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the Gods. If either of them had been hurt I’d never forgive myself.” She closed her eyes and went back to sleep, her hand dropping away from his.
Lennard brushed his horse. It always took a while, but his charger had carried him through some tough battles.
“What do ya want, Lulu?” Lennard asked, not bothering to turn around.
“I won’t tell you not to come on this mission,” Lulu said. “But it might be better if you stayed back during the heavy fighting.”
“My daughter always tells me the same thing,” Lennard muttered. “Don’t you worry, I have no intent on dyin. Not on my last adventure.”
“Last?” Lulu asked.
Things were quiet for a moment. The sound of the brush momentarily dying down. “My wife’s been wantin me to retire for a while,” Lennard said. “I hate to admit it, but she has a good point. I’m gettin old, can’t move as fast as I used to. Can’t go as long either. Funny isn’t it? I’ve fought and won so many battles against fearsome enemies. Always thought I’d meet my end that way, takin on the greatest enemy yet but I’m gonna be done in by old age.” He put down the brush and turned to Lulu. “What about you? Ever think of settlin down and livin in peace with your beautiful wife?”
“My problem isn’t age,” Lulu said. “Even if I do decide to stop fighting, exploring and going out into the world I’ll still run out of time at the same pace.” He burst out in a coughing fit, spitting up a mixture of blood and saliva. He continued once his body’d settled. “I used this orb’s power and that’s what’s going to do it. If it’s going to kill me anyway I’d rather spend my last years going out in the world.”
“Last years?” Jayko asked. Lennard turned harshly, he hadn’t heard the rogue creep up. “Just how long do you have?”
“Anywhere from two years to a decade,” Lulu answered. “No longer than that.”
“Far too short of a span for a half elf,” Lennard muttered. “Dammit, there’s somethin in my eye.”
“Who else knows?” Jayko asked.
“Elaine, Reira,” Lulu said “and the other clerics who have been working with me.”
“You haven’t told Isaac?” Jayko asked.
Lulu shook his head. “He was the one who sealed this thing inside of my eye. If he found out just how much time it’s stolen from me he’d never forgive himself.”
“I think he’ll notice in ten years when you…” Lennard stopped, unable to finish the sentence.
“He won’t,” Lulu said.
“You’re going to disappear on an adventure?” Jayko asked. “Is that your intent?”
Lulu nodded. “Let whatever dangers I might face on that journey take the blame from him. He can still have many good years ahead of him with Moira and the kids. So, keep this a secret, okay?”
Lennard and Jayko nodded.
When the morning came around the group ate a hurried breakfast and prepared to go. Lennard, Jayko and Florence all went ahead, taking separate routes out.
“Take care of yourself, Twi,” Shin said. “Don’t do anything reckless.”
“Unlike some people, I think before acting,” Twila said. “I won’t be reckless.”
“I’m counting on you all to take care of my daughter,” Axel said. “I’ll be counting on all of you to insure that she doesn’t wind up in this kind of state again. Oh and Bonnie, remember your secondary mission.”
“Yes Sir!” Bonnie declared.
“Secondary mission?” Lysara asked.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Bonnie stated.
“Well, we’ll be going information gathering,” Lulu said. He, Shin, Axel and the troops that they’d brought hurriedly headed out.
Moira and Isaac were the next to go.
“I look forward to hearing all about your trip when you get back,” Moira said. “We’ll be at the academy.”
“Be sure to dress warmly and don’t stay up too late reading,” Isaac added. The pair hugged their daughter and started their trek towards the academy.
“Stay put for a few days,” Reira said. “Give Axra a chance to rest and recover. After that she should be fine. If she should strain herself and re-open her wounds then head to the nearest town as quickly as you can. ”
“We will,” Twila said. “You two be careful. I look forward to hearing about what kinds of adventures you have.”
“And I look forward to telling you,” Lexine said. They went on the road, waving goodbye. After they’d traveled for a good ten minutes Lexine turned to Reira. “Do you think she suspects?”
Reira shook her head. “I think she would normally suspect something, but she’s a bit distracted right now.”
“Distracted?” Lexine asked.
Reira nodded. “Strong emotions will do that to you, after all.”