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Hard Priorities

Chapter Text

Filtering down through the thick canopy of golden mallorn leaves, the late summer sun danced across the wild underbrush. The light was turning a dusty orange, signalling the end of the day.


Purple blood dripped into dead leaves, each new splatter accompanied by a quiet, frustrated sniffle.


“Ach, I dropped another one! Just had to hit me on the nose!”


“You’re worried about a nosebleed!? What about all of these!? Again; is your leg okay!? It’s still bleeding!”, the speaker motioned broadly at the elf’s bruised figure, “Rayla seriously, can we just make camp? There’s a clearing, it’s the perfect place!”


When the assassin didn’t react, the prince took another approach, “Look at Zym and tell me if he looks ready to keep walking!”


Rayla turned to face her accoster, walking backwards comfortably, her right hand still raised to her face.


“Don’t you dare use him as an excuse, Callum. He’s been zapping people, I’ve been kickin’ butt all day – what have you done?”, she razzed.


“Watching you get sliced up, mostly”, he said, angrily.


She stopped, smile fading. “Are you alright?”


“Bah! I’m fiiine!”, he snarked, “I just had half a mountain fall on my head today! Oh, and let’s not forget that I was in that landslide for a good half hour until you could pull me out! Meanwhile I’m pretty sure we were gonna just die! You know, rosy! Perfect! Amazing! Wonderful trip, this! Not dangerous at all!”


She first frowned and opened her mouth to say something, then sniffled, rolling her eyes. The constant flow annoyed her. “Ugh, I just wish I could go back to breathin’ normally. That’d be helpful!”


“Okay, well, you bleeding all over the place is so helpful to us right now. How about we find a log, sit you down and shove some gauze up your nose at least?”


She looked at him, similarly covered in all kinds of minor cuts and bruises, at the sleeping dragon whelp in his backpack and finally examined her bloodstained hand. She sniffled again and there was the taste of copper and iron in her mouth.


“Ew”, she spat, “alright, fine, let’s camp.”


She was surprised by how tired her own voice sounded once she stopped moving, “But next time, use air quotes with the voice - else I might miss the sarcasm !”


Callum started making camp. Rayla, after indeed stuffing some gauze up her nose, managed to find some berries and mushrooms that she knew were edible. Ever so often, she’d pop a berry in her mouth. As she foraged further, she felt her adrenaline levels drop. She started feeling herself, and immediately wished it wasn’t so. The long, shallow cuts in her calf and arm were still bleeding, the rub of her tight-fitting undersuit breaking them open regularly.


“Oof, I’m beat”, she told her friend, slumping into a bed of moss he had piled up for her. While he put together his own, the elf watched.


The bounty hunters who had waylaid them had sprung an elaborate trap that had failed somewhat, the landslide meant to crush the three of them had released a bit too late and missed her entirely.


The dragon had simply shaken off the dirt and gotten to work on the bounty hunters. The prince on the other hand had gotten pretty scratched and banged up, pinned under the dirt, which had kept him from helping her fight at first. Once free, he had managed to stay away from all the sharp points and edges that had come their way this afternoon.


“Who would’ve guessed that carrying around a bright blue dragon would attract this much attention? No less from people whose idea of a civilized conversation contains enough iron to make a cauldron”, he quipped.


She groaned with a short, pained laugh, “Why would you feel the need to say somethin’ so stupid?”


He gave her a cheeky smile that turned to bemused concern when her stomach growled audibly.


“Well thanks for your input I guess”, she smirked, patting her midriff. Small clouds of dust separated from her punctured clothes, prompting her to wince.


“Ah, I’ll trade you. While you fix dinner, I’ll go wash myself and your clothes.”


He slipped off his overcoat and handed her his pants. “Really appreciate it. I think there’s sand in my boxers... I’ll shake that out while you’re, uh, not here, heh... But! Once you’re back, we should put some bandages on you.”


“How many do we have left? I don’t wanna be wasteful with them in case somethin’ worse happens.”


“Worse!?”, Callum exclaimed, “Look at your leg! I can see... stuff! It looks really bad!”


Rayla shrugged laxly. “It’s just a bit of fatty tissue. Nothin’ you haven’t scraped off the odd piece of steak.”


His face contorted into an expression of total disgust. “Yeah but... steak isn’t super recognizable once it’s on the table. Plus, I don’t often dream of s...”, he coughed, “I DO often dream of steak, I mean, uh, we, uh, don’t ever eat meat anymore!”

A suspicious look from Rayla followed this obvious slip on his part.


“Bandages”, she said, pointedly, “How many?”


“Uh, like, around fifteen? I kept a stock”, he shrugged, “not like they go bad as fast as food.”


She nodded, then the assassin walked off in direction of the river.


As she was trotting along, his sheepish remark bounced about in her skull. Was he hiding something from her? It wasn’t like that was strange, she had plenty of secrets. Come to think of it, less so, with him.


Her culture was big on appearances and secrets had a deep meaning. She was really sharing a lot with him, more than she probably should.


The river interrupted her reverie, shallow and tepid as the flow was, she still despised the idea of messing with it. She should’ve traded making dinner, but Callum had developed into an amazing chef over the past few weeks. No matter what she handed him, it seemed to turn into deliciousness.


With a deep sigh, she started pulling off her clothes. There was nothing for it. She was beyond dirty with blood and sweat and her wounds needed cleaning.


Meanwhile, Callum had finished putting up his moss bed, then started collecting firewood.


“Alright, you do your thing while I go check around”, he affectionately told the smouldering kindling.


Tracing back the path they had arrived on for some distance, he carefully picked up any purple forest debris he could find. He spent some time erasing their tracks and when he was satisfied, he walked back to camp.


When his foot caught a root, it came as such a surprise that he yelped, falling not just on his face but rolling down the river’s embankment. The bloodstained debris, caked together, flew off into the water and drifted off as he watched.


“Ow”, he mumbled, sitting up against the trunk of a massive nearby tree. For a moment, he sat disoriented, watching the sun kaleidoscope on the river’s surface.


Suddenly, he heard quiet, quick steps, crunching the odd dry leaf, approaching from behind the tree. He hugged the tree and froze. If the headhunters had decided to come after them after all, he would have to take them on alone until Rayla caught wind of the fight.


A crouched shape zoomed past him, swords drawn. It was Rayla.


“Hey!”, Callum called out and Rayla tripped over her own feet, falling face-first into the mud.


Cringing, Callum walked over to help her up.


“What’s your problem!?”, she sputtered furiously, “Why did you scream?! I thought you were in trouble!”


“I didn’t scream, I yelped! I stumbled over a root and… sorta… bumbled down here.”


The elf was apparently very embarrassed, a light purple flush in her face. She was patting herself down to remove the dirt that clung to her.


He understood her annoyance, seeing how she wasn’t wearing her armor. It wasn’t an optimal dress to run into battle with, she looked rather vulnerable and uncomfortable like this.
Then the prince realized with a shock that this was the first time she was not wearing the rigid chest guard in his presence. For some reason, his face felt hot.


“What are you doin’ out here, anyway? I thought you were putting together a fire!”


“I was. Oh. Yeah, I should probably get back to that before our stuff catches.”


She shook her head at him. “I told you before; don’t leave an open flame, Callum!”


Under her annoyed glare, he scrambled up the river’s bank and was soon gone from view.


She sighed. Being in a state of relative undress was bad enough, but falling on her face like this in front of him annoyed her greatly. It made her wonder whether he’d think less of her and for obvious reasons, this would be a problem.


Those feelings were rather inconvenient, given that she needed her wits about her.


This was a very dangerous game.