Namaari placed a large ceramic pot near a raised stone in the patchwork of the cobbled floor.
“I think that’s the last one.” She said, wiping the sweat off her brow. She and Raya had spent the last half an hour or so searching for traps in the chamber. They’d found some torches on the walls and Raya had managed to get a couple of them lit. The flames burned low and heavy with smoke from the years of dust caked into them.
“The carvings on this wall is different,” Raya said, standing off from her. Namaari joined her, adding her own torch to the little pool of light she was standing.
“I think that one is the same as the one in the vault we found near Fang,” She pointed to the opposite wall, “But this is a river. Not a waterfall.”
“That’s the river near Fang’s island. The landscape has a lot less trees now, but I’d know those banks anywhere.”
Raya clicked her tongue against her teeth, “If the waterfall led us here.”
“There’s probably a hidden entrance to the vault we fell into,” Namaari finished for her.
“Would have been easier on Boodie’s leg if we’d found that entrance, huh?” Raya teased, nudging Namaari.
She chuckled, leaning her shoulder against Raya for a moment, "That means the other wall is probably where the third vault is." She paused a beat, "I can’t believe we found it. This is going to go a long way in helping us rebuild.”
“You did it Princess Undercut.” Raya shallowed and tried to tell herself the heat she felt from where Namaari’s skin was pressed against hers was nothing more than the remnant of their exertion from making their way into the vault.
Namaari snorted at the name, “We did it.”
“I don’t know about that. You did a lot of the heavy lifting. Take the win Namaari,”
Namaari made a soft sound in the back of her throat, “And we still have plenty of time to get you back to Heart before the wedding.”
Raya groaned, rolling her eyes.
Namaari chuckled, “That was the last one, I promise.”
Raya shot her a look that said she didn’t quite believe her. “We should go, I don’t think there’s much more we can do here. I think there could be another exit this way.” She led the way over to the other side of the chamber, “There is a draft coming from here.”
“I feel it,” Namaari said. She closed her eyes, trying to pinpoint the direction. Together, they were able to pinpoint a section of wall above their heads where the slight draft was coming from. “There has to be some mechanism to open it.” She followed a line in the stonework. It took some experimenting but they eventually determined one of the pillars in the room was actually a hidden counterweight that was connected to the hidden doorway. When they got it open a small mound of dirt spilled into the room and they still had to do more digging to get back out into the open air. But they were out again somewhere in the forest, the sound of the waterfall in distance.
Brushing dirt off herself Raya squinted to the sky, “The sun’s getting low. We should probably camp here tonight and set out first thing in the morning.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Namaari said, wiping sweat away from her face.
When they got back to the cave, Sinn is there waiting for them by the lake at the base of the waterfall. She padded over to them, licking at some of the dirt from Namaari’s face.
“Ah, hi girl.” She said, leaning into her.
“We should get that wound cleaned, Namaari,” Raya said as she dug through her things for the sack she kept her medical supplies in. “Namaari?” She called when she didn’t get a reply. She looked back and saw her frame limp next to Sinn and Raya knew something was wrong. “Namaari?” She called again, rushing back to her side.
Namaari’s breathing was short and her body was covered in sweat. Raya cursed, and pulled Namaari into a sitting position and removed the makeshift bandages she’s wrapped around her shoulder in the cave. Raya’s stomach turned into a deep pit. The skin around the wound was sickly purple, the area swollen.
“The bolts were poison,” Raya said, “Shit, Namaari, are you conscious?”
Namaari make a low groan, “I thought something felt off,”
“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
“I didn’t notice, until we stopped,” She sounded winded.
The adrenaline from finding the vault had kept her going until now. Raya emptied all her medical supplies onto the ground next to them. Years on the run, with any number of enemies after her had kept her ready for anything. She grabbed a ball of leaves, ripping some off. Under ideal circumstances, she’d pound them into a paste in a mortar and pestle, but given how long they’d been in the vault the poison had already been in Namaari’s system for at least an hour. She jammed the leaves in her mouth, wincing at the bitter flavor, and chewed on them, spitting back out the mashed greenery.
“Sorry about this,” She said right before applying it directly to the wound. Namaari hissed, gripping into Raya’s shoulder. It was too late to try to suck out the poison and Raya knew Namaari needed a doctor as soon as possible. She tied a clean bandage around her shoulder as quickly as she could and then frantically packed up their camp. She ended up just abandoning things like their bedrolls they’d laid out.
She got Sinn’s saddle on and helped Namaari onto it. Getting in front, Raya swallowed the ball of nerves in her throat. She couldn’t hesitate. She could only move. Thankfully they’d been travelling long enough that she’d picked on the commands for Sinn and serlot trusted her enough to listen.
She was doing mental calculations in her head. It had taken roughly two and half days to get to the waterfall, but if they traveled through the night, they could be back to Fang by tomorrow evening. But would that be sooner enough? Raya was very aware of Namaari’s weight against her back and the feverish touch of her skin.
“We need to go fast Sinn,” And she seemed to understand.
The forest blurred at the edges of Raya’s vision.
“Namaari, you can’t fall asleep.”
“Easy for you to say.”
It wasn’t easy at all. Raya put a hand over Namaari’s hands around her waist. “You asked about Dang Hai. He wanted my piece of the dragon stone. I went to talk with him like I did when I came to Fang. He offered me a place to stay the night, but he had his own intentions with that offer.”
“Sounds like Dang Hai.”
“He locked me away. Tried starving the information out of me at first. But after a couple of days passed he got impatient. He dislocated my shoulder.”
Namaari’s arms tightened around her, “Is that why you roll your shoulder whenever he’s mentioned?”
“That wasn’t even something I realized I was doing until you pointed it out.”
“How did you escape?”
“Ironically, he gave me everything I needed to escape. After he dislocated my shoulder, it gave me the idea to dislocate my thumb to get out of the chains he had me in.”
“You dislocated your own thumb?”
“I wasn’t going to stay locked up.”
“You were so young.”
“We learned to grow up fast in this world.”
Namaari’s hands gripped tighter.
“Are you in pain?” Raya asked.
“Yes, it hurts.” But Namaari never said it was the poison that was the source of her pain.
Raya tried to keep Namaari talking. Asking anything, from the plans surrounding the expansion of Fang to stories about her mother. But despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep her awake. If forced her to adjust how they were riding, using one hand to hold Namaari secure in the small space in the saddle in front of her, cradling her to her chest. Gratefully, Raya could rely on Sinn’s eyesight to traverse the dark forest.
It took most of the night to get back to the place they’d left Tuk Tuk. He was asleep when they arrived, but Raya woke him with a call, only slowing long enough to make sure he was following. The exhaustion hit her with the morning sun. The cold of the night air had kept her senses sharp, but as it started to warm with the day her lack of sleep caught up with her. She emptied half of her water skin onto her face and then she tried to rouse Namaari so she could drink some.
It got harder and harder to stay awake as the day wore on and she was starting to hear the exhaustion in Sinn’s heavy breathing too. At this point, the paths of the forest were blending in her mind and she could only hope Sinn’s familiarity with Fang territory was better than her own.
Then the trees started to thin around them and all at once they burst out into a clearing. One of the sections Fang was clearing was farmlands. The towers of Fang’s heart across the river.
“Hey!” She called, gathering attention, “We need help.”
“It’s the princesses!”
Two of the guards broke away from their group, running towards them. Sinn stopped, all but collapsing and Raya got off, trying to carry Namaari, but her lack of sleep caught up all at once. One guard got to them both just in time to catch them. “She’s been poisoned.”
“By who? Scales? Talon? Spine?” He asked.
Raya shook her head, “No, Fang. It happened in the vault. I used, Tage leaves, at the wound site, but she hasn’t gotten better.”
“We need to get her to Doctor Khamla,” The other guard said, taking Namaari from her arms.
“Thank you,” Raya tried to stand to follow, but her limbs weren’t working as she expected. The guard caught her again.
“Wow, take it easy. You don’t look good either.”
“We rode all night to get back. I’m just a little tired. I’m fine.”
“With all due respect, you don’t look it. Let me help me,”
Raya didn’t even remember when she passed out. Just being escorted to Fang’s main island and someone handing her something warm to drink. The next thing she knew was sitting up in a bed. Tuk Tuk was at the foot of the bed, looking up when she did. He came over, giving her a nuzzle. “Where are we?” She asked, looking around the room. There was a pitcher of water next to her bed, with a note to drink next to it. Raya suddenly realized how thirsty she was and poured herself a glass, drinking it down without pause.
The door opened and someone vaguely familiar entered the room. “I thought I heard movement. Good Morning,”
“Morning?!” Raya’s head snapped to the window, wincing at the light for a moment, but it only took her a few moments to confirm that the sun was in the east. But it had been later afternoon when they’d gotten to Fang. “Where’s Namaari?”
“She’s one room over. She’s asleep.”
“Is she okay?”
The woman didn’t answer right away, taking a heavy breath, “The good news is Fang’s poisoning techniques haven’t changed in generations. We looked up the poisons most prominent in Akito’s time and we had the antidotes on hand.” She stepped closer, “May I examine you. You fell unconscious before I could talk with you yesterday. I just want to confirm you weren’t poisoned or hurt either. You weren’t showing any symptoms, but I’d like to confirm.”
“Namaari was hit with a poison bolt when I set off a trap, but she saved me from getting hit. I’m fine. And you haven’t answered my question. Is she okay?”
The woman took Raya’s hand, checking her pulse. “We got her the antidote, but we won’t know if it was too late or not until she wakes. Her fever is down, which is a good sign, but it hasn’t broken yet.”
Raya felt like a stone dropped into her stomach. “I should have realized sooner.”
“What ifs aren’t going to change what’s done. Seems like you pushed yourself to get her back here as quickly as you could. And tage was a smart idea. It slowed the poison in her system.” She pulled down Raya’s eyes lids, and there was something very familiar about the whole thing.
“Do I know you?”
The woman smiled, “Don’t remember I suppose. We met once before. I reset your shoulder and then you ran from my examination room.”
The memory flooded back to Raya.
“I supposed I didn’t get to properly introduce myself that night. Khamla. It’s a shame neither of our encounters have been under better circumstances. You’re dehydrated, but otherwise fine.” She poured her another glass, pressing it into her hands, “I’ll have some food sent to you.”
“Can I see Namaari?”
Khamla nodded, “Just be quiet. The chief is in the room and she was finally asleep the last time I checked on the princess. She’s been awake by her bedside all night.”
Khamla showed her to the room, but Virana was awake when she stepped inside.
“Oh, I didn’t think you were awake. I can…” She gestured back to the door.
“You don’t have to leave Raya,” Virana said, not looking away from Namaari. She was sitting next to her bed, one of her arms clasped in both of hers, “I can never sleep well when worried about her.”
“Chief Virana, I’m so sorry. I let this happen. If it wasn’t for me, Namaari wouldn’t be like this.”
“It was my daughter’s choice to go on this search. She might have gone on her own if you hadn’t agreed to go with her.” She finally looked at Raya, “And you brought her home. You have my thanks for that.” She turned back, pushing Namaari’s hair off her forehead. “She’s too stubborn to die when she’s proven me wrong,” Vriana’s voice cracked slightly.
Raya pretended to not notice the quiver in her shoulders. She took the seat at the foot of the bed.
“Did you really find it?”
Raya nodded, “Namaari was over the moon. It was all her. Finding it. Getting us there. She wants Fang to be in the best position possible. It was her only concern while we were searching.”
“Oh, my morning mist,” Virana bowed her head so her forehead touched Namaari’s, “Fang could only be worst off without you. You hear me, Namaari.” But of course, there was no response.
A short while later, someone came in with two trays of food, placing one on the small table next to Virana and handing the other to Raya. They also took away a tray with a barely touched meal. Raya’s stomach grumbled and she didn’t hesitate to eat. But Virana didn’t even acknowledge the food. There were some instances when she lay her head down and Ray thought she’d fallen asleep. But it was never more than a few minutes at a time. She didn’t move aside from changing a rag on Namaari’s forehead.
Atitaya came in at one point, her eyes quickly taking in everything in the room. “No improvement?”
Virana shook her head.
“My chief, please I’ll ask you again, to get some sleep. Or eat something, please.”
“That lie wasn’t even convincing. Please, I’ll keep the vigil. And Raya is here too.” Atitaya moved to her side, “Please, allow yourself an hours rest at the very least.”
Atitaya sighed heavily. She looked to Raya, “Have you eaten, at least?”
“I’ll be back in an hour. Virana, please, eat.” She gave Namaari one last look before taking her leave.
Raya, unable to stand her own feeling of uselessness left the room around midday. She went to find Tuk Tuk, giving him a cleaning just to keep herself busy. Someone must have been keeping an eye on her because her lunch was brought out to her. But she as she ate, she could only see Namaari in her mind.