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Fever Dream

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Always one to accidentally go against the grain, Orym actually liked staying up for watch.

For one thing, he liked any moment he could get being out in nature. Watching the sun set or rise, sitting under the stars, it was always an experience that brought him peace. For another, he just liked the relative quiet. Yes there was the wind, and sometimes insects in the trees or animals in the underbrush, but these noises were familiar, old friends. Even when they were in a city or town, the night typically brought a different sort of noise, a low rumble, but of course he preferred the road.

If he was being totally and completely honest with himself, the thing he liked most about it was not having to worry about where anybody was, or what they were doing. Knowing they were all together and safe, and having a clear idea of what was needed from him to protect them was paradoxically a big load off his mind. He had space to think things through during those late night shifts at watch.

He was by now very used to the sleeping habits of the rest of the party. It was hard not to make a note of it, being as attuned to noise and movement as he was. So, he was well-equipped to notice when something was off. He didn’t necessarily mention to people that he’d noticed them having a nightmare, or talking to themselves, but he saw, and he remembered.

That night, Orym hadn’t been particularly worried about anyone. They’d just been travelling, and all and all it was a quiet day on the trail. It had been getting colder and threatening rain, and he was concerned about that, but at this point they’d just have to cross that bridge when they got to it. Sitting by the fire, watching the clouds as they rolled in, he heard someone’s breathing change from the evenness of sleep to the choppy rhythm of intense fear.

It didn’t take more than a quick glance around the camp to pinpoint the source. Dorian was curled up in a ball, shuddering so hard that he could hear his teeth clattering together.  Orym walked as softly as he could over to him. Before he could finish debating whether or not to wake him up though, Dorian’s eyes snapped open, and his whole body tensed up as he jolted to consciousness. He sat up, breathing like he’d been running full out for miles. As Orym got closer, he could see his face was streaked with tears.

“Dorian?” He pitched his voice as low as he could hoping not to wake the others. Approaching him from the side, he tried to move slow so as not to scare him. “You alright?”

Dorian’s eyes darted around the camp, as though confirming where he was. Orym noticed that they lingered on Dariax, before lifting to stare into the sky. Nodding, he scrubbed at his eyes with his sleeve. “It’s fine,” he said, still sounding out of breath. “I’m fine.”

Now that he was close, Orym was forced to reckon with the fact that he didn’t believe him. He wasn’t sure, before this moment, that he’d ever seen Dorian cry like that. Whatever he’d dreamt had shaken him, bad. Orym reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, then frowned when he felt the heat radiating off him even through his clothing. 

Reaching out, he placed the back of his hand against his forehead, something he could only do easily because Dorian was hunched over so much. His frown deepened. “You are burning up.” His hand slid to rest against Dorian’s cheek, then dropped down to his wrist where his pulse raced against his fingertips. “Are you sure you feel alright?”

“I...I don’t know,” Dorian admitted, which at least was better than a lie. “I’m cold. And my head hurts, but maybe that’s just from crying.”

“Do you want to talk about it? Your dream, I mean?”

Again Dorian’s eyes went to Dariax next to them, currently undisturbed by the noise, but he pretty immediately shook his head. Orym didn’t push. He needed Dorian’s trust more than he needed those particular details. “Do you think you can fall back asleep?”

“I don’t know.” Dorian shivered, and once that started it didn’t stop. His heart beat in his wrist was still racing.

“Just get in your bed roll and lie down, then you’ll be warm at least.” Orym’s mind searched desperately through options, seeking something, anything, that might fix this. “If you are sick, there’s magic that can fix that, right?” He’d seen magic heal grievous, even nearly mortal wounds, it had to handle illness too.

“There’s a spell, I’m pretty sure. I haven’t learned it, though.” Dorian hunkered down into his bedding as much as he could, and Orym helped pull it up so he was fully protected from the elements. “Fearne might know it. I think it’s a druid-y thing.”

Orym looked over at Fearne. She was comfortably asleep, with Mister curled up next to her head, facing her. He started to move towards her, but Dorian shifted and grabbed onto his sleeve. “Don’t bother her now, I’ll be fine.”

Strands of his hair were falling in his face. Reaching out, Orym tucked them behind his ear. “Are you sure?” he asked one more time, almost in desperation.

“I’m alright,” Dorian said. His voice was still weak and winded. “Hopefully I’ll be better in the morning.”

“Hopefully.” This was the last watch before sunrise anyway, and there wasn’t more than a couple hours until then. Fearne always woke early to be in nature and prepare herself for the day. He could talk to her then, if it was needed. 

Orym returned to the quietness of his watch, his head now loud with worry. He backed up to give Dorian a little space, but stayed close. It always stung a little bit to be reminded of yet another domain where he couldn’t help, but he told himself he’d done as much as he could. Mostly he believed that.  

Mostly.

#

Dorian wasn’t any better in the morning.

If anything, he was worse. Or maybe Orym could see easier in the light how sick he had been all along. The flush of the fever had colored his cheeks and nose purple, and he was covered in sweat, hair slicked to his forehead and the back of his neck. When Orym checked on him he was half-asleep, still shivering even as he was wrapped up in bedding.

Decision made, Orym went to Fearne. She was only a little ways away from the campsite, studying some bright red flowers growing on a short shrub. When he told her what was happening, she confirmed there was a spell she could do, but she needed a little bit of time to prepare it.

As he left her to her work, Mister followed him instead of staying. He went to Dorian to wake him up and tell him Fearne had the spell.  As Dorian worked himself into a sitting position, Mister watched him intently. Orym noticed that his lips were cracked and bleeding, so he got him some water. Dorian took small sips, keeping his eyes mostly closed. When he did open them, Orym saw that the rims of his eyelids were puffy, and there was just a general dull quality to their usual bright blue.

He offered him food, but Dorian only grimaced, so Orym ate a quick snack alone. By the time he’d finished, Fearne came over and sat in front of Dorian. Trying to smile she said, “Good morning. Can I try a lesser restoration on you?”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Dorian said. His voice sounded raw and hoarse.

Fearne took Dorian’s hands and Mister crawled into his lap, curling up. As she said the words of the spell, a hot light like that off a campfire glowed around her. The light climbed up Dorian’s arms, and sunk into his chest. Orym watched as the shade of his skin returned to a pale mostly-normal blue, and his shivering stopped. His breathing slowed too, to a much more relaxed rhythm.

“Better?” she asked, and when he nodded the light around her faded. She squeezed his hands, then moved away to get some breakfast of her own. Mister got up and followed her.

Dorian stayed sitting, and even though he looked much better, he was visibly tired. His eyes were still dull and puffy, and marked with deep bags. There was something else too, something Orym couldn’t quite put his finger on. He just seemed off still.

Opal was up now too, getting ready for the day. She looked over at Dorian, taking in his general dejectedness and disarray. Then she asked, “You want me to fix your hair for you?”

It seemed to take a little while for her words to reach him. Then he nodded. She came and sat behind him then, with a distinct sense of care, began unsticking and gathering his long hair up to brush.

Looking up at the sky, Orym frowned at the dark clouds crawling slowly but surely in from the west. The air already felt heavy and wet. It was definitely going to rain on them today, and it was probably going to storm. He regretted then that they hadn’t pooled their money for a new wagon when they’d had a chance. There was supposed to be a town coming up, but what if it wasn’t big enough to have an inn? Or a place where they might buy supplies? Already he worried about  how the rest of the day was going to go.

Ordinarily he’d have hurried everyone along with breaking camp, so they could hopefully beat the weather. Today though, he looked over at Opal comforting Dorian with the simple work of braiding his hair, and decided it would be alright if he got started on his own, for now.

Dariax, as usual, had managed to sleep through the early morning rustle of activity. Orym started rolling up in his own bedroll  and gathering his belongings, now with a decent amount of clattering and nudging in Dariax’s direction until he finally roused himself. “Pack before you eat,” Orym told him. “Looks like rain.”

“You got it,” Dariax said, and he started rolling up his blankets. Orym thought about telling him what had happened with Dorian, but he didn’t want to slow him down anymore than was inevitable. So for the moment he kept to himself, finishing his own packing and putting on his bad weather cloak. 

It turned out he didn’t have to say anything, because even Dariax only took about five minutes to notice something was off. While scrounging about for breakfast after packing, Dariax looked over at Dorian and stopped. After watching for a moment as Opal patted him on the shoulder and hurried off to finish her own packing and preparations, Dariax went over to him. “You alright there, Dorian?”

“I’m alright.” Dorian’s voice didn’t have that broken sound to it anymore, but there was still a sense of weakness to it. “I slept terribly last night.”

“Sorry.” Dariax frowned, still looking at him. “Bad dreams?”

“I don’t remember,” Dorian said, and his eyes flicked away like they did when he was trying to lie. “I just felt sick.”

Fearne came up next to Orym with her own packed bags. Noticing how bundled up he was, she got out her own cloak and put it on. “It’s looking rather dreary, isn’t it?”

“Afraid so.” The two of them watched as Dariax found Dorian’s cloak and pushed it into his arms. Then he started helping Dorian pack, over Dorian’s increasingly frequent (though good-natured) assertions that he didn’t need help. “He’s better, then?”

“I think so.” Glancing over at Orym, her fingers knitting together nervously. “It’s not a spell I’ve done a lot, but it’s supposed to completely cure a creature of a disease. When I did it though, I felt like...I don’t know, like there was a part of it the spell couldn’t quite restore? I don’t know though,” she added, “like I said, it’s not a spell I’ve used very much.”

“I understand,” Orym said, even though he knew he didn’t. It was troubling information that didn’t change what he was planning to do in the short term, which was to get everybody moving at enough of a pace that they were able to find some sort of shelter before the storm hit. “Well, you cured his fever, and that counts for a lot. Thank you.”

“Of course,” she said, as though she would never dream of not helping. For Dorian, that was probably true. Not everyone in the world could count themselves lucky enough to be in Fearne’s good graces, but at least the four of them could.

Once everyone was packed and ready with their bags, Orym reminded Dariax and Opal to put their coats and cloaks on, wool layer on top. Then, later than he’d hoped, they set off on the road.

Orym fell to the back of the group, as he often did when they were on the move. It happened naturally because he was notably shorter than most everyone, but it was also a good place to take the wide view for potential threats. From that vantage point, he could see that Dorian was walking at pretty much his normal speed, though his reactions were slower than normal, and he seemed more in his head than usual. Opal and Fearne were in front of him, and Dariax was doing his best to keep up with him.

The rain didn’t come as soon as he’d been afraid it would. They were able to travel a good six hours, and have a nice meal break in cold but not unpleasant weather. It was not long after they got moving again though that the storm came, and it wasn’t just rain. It was high winds and thunder, and flashes of lightning. Orym kept count of the space between the rumble and the flash, making sure they weren’t ever in danger. At one point, he had them take shelter underneath a rocky outcropping though that was as much to have a chance to rest as it was to guard against the lightning.

Overall, the party handled travelling under inclement weather with relatively mild complaints. They still made good time even with their slower pace. He could tell it was taking a lot out of all of them though, and the longer it went on the worse it would get.

Fortunately, they ultimately wound up moving out of the storm, and spent the last couple hours of their trip under only light rain. Orym noticed that Dorian was much slower than he’d been that morning, and that he frequently slipped and stumbled in the slick mud. Again Dariax stuck near him, and now he was having to slow down to stay with him.

When Dorian got swept into a conversation with Fearne and Opal, Dariax dropped back to walk next to Orym instead of joining in. Orym stayed quiet, waiting to see what he wanted. It didn’t take long before he asked, “Do you think he’s alright? Dorian, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” Orym said, and he regretted saying it because Dariax’s eyes immediately went wide. “I mean, I’m sure he’s fine. He had a fever last night, but Fearne cured it with some sort of spell.”

“Oh.” Dariax’s eyes stayed focused on Dorian, where he walked between Opal and Fearne. “Well, that’s good. That she cured it, I mean. He just seems a little off, you know, and even with the cloak on he’s shivering. He’s probably just really tired though, right?”

“Probably.” Orym hadn’t caught the shivering, but he’d also been trying to give Dorian some space so he didn’t feel hovered over. “Town should be coming up in just another hour or so here, so hopefully we can all get some rest.”

That satisfied Dariax well enough, and he jogged to catch up with the other three. He must have told them about the town they were nearing because their spirits seemed to brighten as their conversation turned to the possibility of hot meals and warm baths. Orym just hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed.

It took a little longer than he’d predicted, which seemed to be the theme for the day, but they made it to Solshire before the sun had fully disappeared from the sky. To his relief, it was a solidly medium-sized town. It had a small shopping district just beginning to close up for the night, a temple, and an inn with a cheerful “Rooms Available!” sign in the window.

The group gathered around a table in the tavern part of the inn while Orym went to speak to the proprietor about accommodations. The most cost-effective deal was to go for two two-bed rooms, which also offered a discount on meals and access to a private bath. He’d been learning more about bargaining and budgeting, but it seemed to be something of a steal, maybe due to the town, despite its size, being semi-remote.

Everyone ordered food and Dariax called for a round of drinks. Orym put in his request, then went quickly to check out the rooms. It had been awhile since they had stayed anywhere nearly this nice. He wondered if the others would want to stick around town for a little while, and if he should push them away from it. They’d certainly want to go to the shops in the morning, and the comforts of a bed and bath would be hard for some of them to give up. Maybe one day to rest wouldn’t be so bad, yet he couldn’t help counting out the threats they still  faced.

Resolving to come to a decision by morning, he returned to the table to eat dinner. For the most part, spirits were high. A roaring fire in the hearth and warm food eased the cold gloom that travelling in the rain had put upon them, and the drinks kept the mood light and easy. The only exception was Dorian whose general posture spoke to exhaustion, though even he talked and laughed more than he had most of the day. Orym noticed that he didn’t eat much more than a few bites of his stew and bread. Thinking back on it, he hadn't seen him eat much at their earlier meals either.

He wasn’t the only one who caught it. Fearne turned to him and asked, “Dorian, aren’t you hungry?”

“Oh.” He glanced down at his bowl, where he’d been idly stirring his spoon. “I don’t know. I guess not.

“You really should try to eat something,” Orym said. “Maybe even just the bread.”

Somewhere along the way, he’d earned his way into being someone Dorian listened to. He nodded and picked up the bread to start nibbling on it even as he pushed the stew in a grateful Dariax’s direction.

A second round of drinks was ordered, which Orym declined this time. Dorian also shook his head at the idea of another ale, pushing his dishes away from him. “I’m just going to go lay down, I think. I’m ready to sleep.”

There was a quick conversation about who would take which room. It ended up splitting with Dorian, Dariax, and Orym in one room, and Opal and Fearne in the other. Orym gave him one of the keys, and off he went with his bags. Hopefully he would sleep, he needed plenty of it.

In the end, no one ended up being out too terribly late. A day of slogging through mud was not exactly conducive to a night of partying, even for them apparently. Orym did go for a short walk, just around the block, to look at the moon and stars, while the other three finished their drinks. When he got back, Opal declared that she desperately needed a bath, and Fearne said she’d go up to their room and finish drying off. That left Dariax, who often stayed up late and managed to find trouble regardless of what the others were doing. To Orym’s surprise though, all it took was a mention of not wanting to wake Dorian to sway him into going to bed early.

In the room, Dorian was in the bed farthest from the door, bundled up in blankets. Orym didn’t know if he was asleep, but he only stirred a little bit when they entered, so he assumed that he was. Dariax took the other bed, while Orym laid his bed roll out on the floor near the wall by the window. They were used to him doing this by now, though he knew they still thought it was odd. They accepted his explanation that he’d grown up outdoors and was more comfortable sleeping this way, but there was always more of a question in their eyes.

Dariax fell asleep almost immediately, if his snores were anything to go by. Orym lay with eyes closed focusing on his breathing, reminding himself of all the good things that had happened that day, until that peace came for him.

Everything was fine, at first. That was how it always was before a storm, unnaturally quiet. It didn’t last. Orym half-woke a couple times to Dorian murmuring or crying out in his sleep, but that didn’t fully jolt him to consciousness. It was the sound and vibration of something --someone-- hitting the ground hard that did the trick.

Scrambling to his feet and hurrying over, he found Dorian collapsed on the floor next to his bed, looking around and blinking. The noise had been bad enough to even wake Dariax, who looked at him wide-eyed and said, “Dorian, buddy, you all right?”

Dorian was still looking around, and the sense Orym got from him was that he was in that just-woken-up state of not being entirely sure where he was. Maybe he was even a little bit in shock. Walking closer, he put a hand on his shoulder. Just like last night, he felt the intense body heat even through the fabric of his undershirt. Dorian’s eyes moved to him, then to Dariax who had climbed out of bed and was now standing in front of him, and he seemed to settle better into where he was and what was happening.

“I…” He sat all the way up and coughed a couple times, a wet, wrenching, sound. “I’m fine, I think I just...I don’t know how I fell, I...I was having a nightmare.”

He was hyperventilating, and it was hard to tell in the darkness if he was sick like he was last night, but he sounded it. “Dariax,” Orym said. “Could you do that light thing?”

“Oh, right, yeah.” Wrapping hand around the compass rose, Dariax whispered a few words. His necklace began to glow and the room  lit up as though it were day. In the new brightness they could see the flush in Dorian’s cheeks, which now also ran down his neck. Even with the light his pupils stayed big, and the muscles in his back trembled against Orym’s hand. Dariax stepped closer and laid the back of his hand against his forehead, frowning. “Are you hurt?”

Shaking his head, Dorian coughed again, hard. Hopefully whatever he had wasn’t contagious. Dariax’s brow furrowed, but he didn’t pull away. “Must have been a bad one. It wasn’t spiders again, was it?”

Dorian looked away from Dariax, his eyes going up above his head. “No,” he said, and his voice wobbled dangerously close to breaking. “It was y-I mean, people were hurt and I couldn’t fly or run or walk, I could only crawl, but I wasn’t getting anywhere and the distance kept getting longer and I couldn’t...I just couldn’t get there in time.” At those words, tears started to stream down his face.

“That sounds awful. I’m sorry.” Dariax threw his arms around Dorian’s neck, and pulled his head against his shoulder. Orym stayed where he was, rubbing his back, even though he suddenly felt as though he were intruding on a private moment. His sense was that Dorian wouldn’t have told him the full contents of his nightmare if it were just him here. Then again, maybe his fever was bad enough now that it wouldn’t matter.

He wondered if Dariax had caught how close Dorian had come to saying, “you” when he talked about who was injured in his dream. It had probably gotten pushed aside in his mind by just how sick Dorian looked now, and who could blame him for that?

Trying to take a deep breath, Dorian started coughing and couldn’t stop. Dariax eased up on him but didn’t fully let him go. He did look over at Orym, with an expression he interpreted as Please, help, do something. Taking a step back, Orym found Dorian’s canteen of water and pushed it into his hands. Then he said, “I’m going to get Fearne.”

He made it about three-quarters of the way to the door before Dorian managed to gasp, “No, wait.” Dutifully Orym stopped and turned around. Dorian coughed for another agonizing thirty seconds, then cleared his throat and took a couple sip of water. After he swallowed, he said, “She doesn’t need to waste a spell on this.”

“It’s not a waste--” Orym began, but Dorian shook his head so he cut himself off. Taking a few more sips of water, Dorian said, “She did the spell this morning, and now it’s just back, bad as it was last night. Worse.” Again, he coughed. “It is a waste.”

“But you would feel better, right?” Dariax cut in. While he was no longer holding onto Dorian’s neck, he’d moved one of his arms down around his shoulders. “For a little while, at least? That’s worth it.”

“And we’re not going back out on the road tomorrow, not right away,” Orym said, having just come to that decision in the moment. The three of them at least, especially Dorian, were going to need the extra rest. “So she’ll have time to recharge.” That was how it worked as far as Orym’s understanding, anyway.

Though he expected further argument, Dorian apparently didn’t have it in him. He just nodded, head bowed and shoulders hunched. Taking the silent “yes”, Orym hurried out and knocked on the room next door.

When Fearne answered, sleepy with messy hair cascading over her shoulders, Orym just said, “He’s sick again.” Eyes going wide, Fearne followed him without asking any follow-up questions. That was all she needed to know. Dorian wanted so badly to stand on his own two feet he forgot that the people who cared about him were not just willing, but happy to help carry him if that was what was needed.

Back in the room Dariax held Dorian’s arm and helped him back into his bed, propping up his pillows so he could sit up against the headboard. When Dorian started to cough, Dariax held the water so that he could drink. Fearne came up beside them, taking Dorian’s hands like she did last night. “I’m going to do a divination spell first to try to figure out why it came back, alright?”

Dorian nodded, only looking at her for a moment before his eyes darted away. Briefly her eyes glowed like embers as she looked at him. When they faded, her frown had only deepened. “I don’t know, it doesn’t read like any disease I know, so perhaps it's a magical effect? The restoration should have worked though. Do you want me to try again?”

His eyes went from her, to Dariax, then over Dariax’s shoulder to Orym, who nodded in what he hoped was an encouraging manne. After another glance at Dariax who was also nodding intently, Dorian said, “Please, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind.” Again that campfire glow surrounded her hands, spreading up and into Dorian. Closing his eyes, Dorian sighed, and a visible wave of relief came over him as his shoulders dropped and his muscles relaxed. This time though, the flush of the fever didn’t retreat from his face.

Noticing this, helplessness flashed across Fearne’s face, but she kept her voice gentle and calm as she asked, “Any better?”

“I don’t feel like I’m about to cough up a lung,” he said, opening his eyes. “So, thank you.”

“Well, that’s good at least.” Touching his cheek she said, “Try to get some rest, alright?” Then, with a nod to Dariax and a pained glance over her shoulder at Orym, she headed back to her own room.

Running his hand up and down Dorian’s back, Dariax said, “So, you’re alright now?” He sounded very hesitant about it, reasonably since Dorian was still visibly ill.

“I’m a little afraid to go back to sleep,” Dorian admitted. “But I feel better.”

He might have been lying, or he very well might have felt a lot better than he did before, while still being sick. Dariax looked worried but said, confidently, “Sleep is what you need. I can sit with you, if you want?”

“You don’t have to--” 

“Or we could sleep back-to-back like we did in the jungle?  I know it’s not the same dream, but then you won’t wake up and feel alone.”

Dorian lifted his head and looked into Dariax’s eyes, and again Orym felt that charge in the air of a private moment he shouldn’t be involved in. After a moment, Dorian nodded and said, “Alright.” 

Smiling, Dariax patted him on the shoulder then climbed carefully up next to him on the bed. Gaze traveling around the room, his eyes came to rest on Orym again. “Thank you, Orym.”

“Don’t mention it,” Orym said. In his mind, Dorian had nothing to thank him for. Fearne had done the magic, and Dariax had stepped in and comforted him. Orym had just stood there and watched.

Dariax dismissed the light, and the room went dark again. Clambering up on the bed Dariax had abandoned, Orym tried to sleep. Mostly he didn’t, though. Mostly he listened with his eyes closed for signs of trouble or distress, and thought about what he was going to do if Dorian wasn’t better in the morning. If Fearne couldn’t fix it, someone more powerful had to be able to. The question was, how quickly could they actually find someone more powerful who worked for relatively cheap. The temple seemed like a good option, but he had little idea how a temple of that size actually worked. He’d just have to find out, he supposed.

At one point he heard a loud gasp. Then there was some rustling, and Dariax whispered, “Dorian, it’s alright, it was a dream. It was just a dream.”

“I hate it,” Dorian said, voice broken up and raspy. “I hate it so much.” 

Orym turned his head to look over at the other bed. Dorian was sitting up, face buried in his hands. Dariax was also up, back to Orym, arms wrapped around Dorian hugging him. Breath catching in his throat, Dorian started coughing again.

#

As early as he could justify, Orym got up and dressed. Time to start figuring out what to do. Looking over at the other bed, he noticed that Dorian and Dariax had shifted positions in the night. Instead of back to back, Dorian lay curled around Dariax, his head resting on his chest. Because of their height difference and the intensity with which he was clinging to him, Orym was pretty sure Dorian had Dariax pinned down and at least semi-unable to move. Dariax didn’t seem to mind though, lying with his cheek resting against the top of Dorian’s head as his one free hand rubbed Dorian’s arm.

There was enough daylight that Orym was sure that Dorian was still very sick. He was flushed and sweaty, shivering, and his breathing was fast and heavy like he’d been running. Dorian whimpered, and Dariax shifted his head whispering, “You’re alright, you’re okay.”

Deciding to leave them to the little rest they could get, Orym went downstairs. The tavern area was empty, and there was a fairly young-looking human woman (the proprietor’s daughter perhaps?) behind the bar putting dishes away. Looking up at him, she smiled and said, “Good morning sir, I’m afraid breakfast doesn’t start for another hour.”

“That’s fine,” Orym said, immediately uncomfortable being called “sir”. He climbed up onto a bar stool so he could look her in the eye. “I had a question about the town actually, if that’s alright?”

“Oh, of course.” She put the glass she was holding away and gave him her attention. “I’ll do my best to answer, I’ve lived here all my life.”

“Thanks.” Even though he’d spent half the nights coming up with the words, he still struggled suddenly when it came to actually getting them out. “It’s...one of my friends is very sick, and I just wanted to see if there was anyone in town who might be able to help with that?”

“Oh.” An expression of concern came to her face. “Well, when we get sick or hurt we always go to the Temple of the Light. I’m sure one of the clerics there would help your friend.”

“Good. That’s good.” He thought about asking if the clerics charged a fee, then decided it didn’t matter. Whatever it took, he’d pay it. “Do we have to go to them, or would they come here or...sorry, if that’s an ignorant question.”

“No, it’s not ignorant.” Her fingers tapped on the edge of the stack of plates in front of her. “I know a lot of towns our size aren’t lucky enough to have a temple. They usually prefer you come to them because they have all their, I don’t know, stuff there? Materials? If your friend can’t walk though, you could run over and ask if they’ll come.”

“I still have to see,” Orym said, half to himself. Realizing she was still looking at him, brow furrowed, he said, “Thank you, again. Would you be able to help me reserve another night of rooms?”

She got out the ledger and wrote them down to stay for a second night. He gave her the payment, and she held it in her hand like she was going to have to go back somewhere to lock it away. Thanking her for what he knew was the third time, Orym hopped down and hurried back upstairs.

Back in the room, he closed the door then turned to bed and noticed that, while Dorian hadn’t moved, his eyes were open, and he was looking at him. Walking over, Orym asked, “How are you feeling?” even though he was pretty sure he knew.

“Bad,” Dorian said, and he coughed a couple of times. “Very bad.”

“This town has a temple of clerics that will help you,” Orym said, confidently stating something he still felt shaky on himself. “I hate to ask, but do you think you might be able to stand up and walk?”

“Maybe.” He closed his eyes, grimacing. “I don’t know.”

Squeezing Dorian’s arm, Dariax spoke up. “How about you just try sitting, see how you feel?”

“Alright.” Taking a breath, Dorian nodded. “Alright.”

Dariax sat up with him, keeping his arm around him as much as he could. Once he was upright, Dorian didn’t say anything, he just put his face in his hands and groaned unhappily. Looking very worried, Dariax turned to Orym and asked, “Can’t the temple-people just come here?”

“I can go try to find out,” Orym said, “But it probably would be faster if we could just go now.”

“I think I can do it,” Dorian said, lifting his head. “I might need some help, though.”

Already doing the math on him and Dariax trying to support Dorian, who was multiple feet taller than both of them, Orym said, “I’m going to see if Fearne is awake. Get dressed, warm as you can, it looks cold outside.”

Knocking on the door again, he found to his relief, Fearne was indeed up, and had just been about to go for a walk. When she saw him she asked immediately, “Is Dorian alright?”

“Still sick,” Orym said, and her face fell. “I talked to one of the tavern keepers and she said the temple here treats diseases, so we’re going to take him there.”

“I’ll come,” Fearne said, before Orym could even start asking the question. Glancing over her shoulder, she added, “Opal’s getting dressed, so I think she’s coming too.”

Opal joining was probably for the best in case things got bad, with her also being closer to Dorian’s height. Knowing there was approximately zero chance of Dariax staying back, Orym wondered if all five of them really needed to go to the temple, and if they were going to cause a scene. It was just going to have to be what it was. They had stuck close together ever since meeting, and there was no reason to stop now.

Leaving the two of them to finish getting ready, Orym went back to the other room. Putting on his own cloak, he watched Dariax hold out his hands to a heavily bundled up Dorian and pull him to his feet. Dorian coughed and shook, but walked slowly forward with Dariax holding his elbow. Orym let them pass him and exited the room last, closing and locking the door behind him.

Fearne and Opal were waiting out in the hall. Moving in beside Dorian, Fearne put her arm around his back while bringing his arm over her shoulders. He said quietly, “Thank you,” and she replied, “Don’t worry about it.” Dariax stayed at his side, holding his arm, and Opal fell behind them, at one point reaching out a hand to his shoulder to steady him on the stairs. Orym quickly checked to make sure the door to the other bedroom was locked, then hurried after them.

Once they were outside, Orym jogged around the group so he could get in front and lead the way. Every few feet he glanced behind him to make sure everything was okay, always catching the eye of at least one of his friends, who all looked varying degrees of worried and scared. Eventually, he forced himself to stop looking back, and focus on navigating them through an unfamiliar town.

The Temple of the Light was at the center of town, as though it had come first and the town had built up around it, supporting and sustaining it. They had to wind their way through a housing district to a main square, then follow the path leading up to the temple steps. Around them was a light bustling as shops began to open, and people awoke for their morning chores. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, Orym let himself finally turn around again.

He’d gotten ahead, but luckily not by much. Mostly, probably, because his legs were so much shorter than the rest of theirs. Dorian was leaning heavily on Fearne, more hunched over than when they’d started. As they came up beside Orym, his eyes lifted slowly from the ground to the building in front of them, then up more to the face of the two statues on either side. From inside, they could very faintly hear the sound of singing. Morning prayers, perhaps? Looking to Orym Dorian half-whispered, “Do we just go in?”

“I guess so.” Orym didn’t much like the idea of the five of them rolling in and disrupting a worship service. Also, Dorian didn’t necessarily want them all crowded around him while he was talking to a cleric. Or maybe he would, rather than being in an unfamiliar place all alone. “Do you want to pick someone to go with you?. We could all go, but it looks like it might get a bit crowded.”

Frowning, Dorian glanced around the group. His eyes rested on Dariax the longest, before shifting away and staring up at the statues again. Finally he said, “Orym, would you come with me?”

Completely caught off-guard, Orym said, “Of course.” He’d fully expected Dorian to pick Dariax, and he’d been very sure that he would have been his last choice. It wasn’t something to argue about though, so he just came up beside him and put a hand on his arm.

Fearne helped him up the small set of eight stairs, then hesitantly let go, waiting to make sure he was still able to stand on his own. He was, at least for the moment, though he seemed shaky and fragile. Glancing over his shoulder, Dorian said, very quietly, “You guys don’t have to wait. Go have breakfast, or something.” Then he let Orym lead him into the temple.

Glancing back one more time, as he so often did, Orym saw Dariax look over at the others then, unnaturally quiet, sit down on the steps. Following his lead, Opal and Fearne sat as well. Keeping vigil. Dorian didn’t understand how much they all cared for him, did he?

The temple facade was bright white stone, and they passed in the entryway a statue of Pelor, the Dawnfather on the right, and Sarenrae on the left. It was imposing but, once they passed the threshold, the interior felt much more comfortable. The floor was a beautiful tile mosaic of the sun, brightly colored and almost glowing. Tapestries depicting various scenes and symbols hung on the walls.

In front of them the temple opened up into a wide room facing a huge stained glass window and filled with natural wood benches and tables. A group of about six people stood in a circle in front of the window singing, with a few more sat reading or listening. There were two hallways leading further off into the building, one to the right and one to the left.

Seated in one of the pews, looking up at the big glass ceiling, was a half-orc woman dressed in a pale blue robe with gold trimming. Hearing footsteps, she looked over her shoulder, then rose and walked to meet them. “Good morning, and welcome to the Temple of the Light. Do you seek healing?”

“Please,” Dorian said, hoarsely. He swayed, and she offered him her arm, which he accepted. As they were led towards the left hallway, Orym started to let go and tried to move back, but Dorian grabbed onto his hand hard so he went along as quickly as he could.

The hallway opened up into a circular chamber, lined with small rooms. The woman led them into one of them, where there was a bed, a table, and a couple of chairs. She brought Dorian to sit down on the bed, then turned to Orym and said, “Are any of these chairs alright? I can find a smaller one.”

“This one’s fine,” Orym said, pulling a redwood stool up next to Dorian and sitting down on it. On the edge of the bed, Dorian was hunched over, breathing heavily with his arms wrapped around himself. 

“Alright, good.” She walked to the table and got a box out of one of the drawers. Setting it down, she looked back to them. “My name is Alvina, I’m a cleric of Sarenrae. Tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll do what I can to help.”

Dorian didn’t say anything right away, he just sat there, shivering. So, even though he hadn’t wanted to step in, Orym broke and spoke first. “I’m Orym, my friend’s name is Dorian. He’s been sick for about two days.”

“Like this for two days,” Dorian said, “but I’ve been feeling bad for a while. A month, maybe.” He shot a glance at Orym, who kept his face carefully blank. Suddenly, it was a little clearer why he had been chosen to come with him.

“That’s a long time,” Alvina said. “What are your symptoms? And did something specific happen to trigger the larger illness?”

“I was just tired,” Dorian said. “And I would sometimes get just a weird, heavy feeling in my chest. But we’re travelling and camping outdoors a lot, and I wasn’t sleeping well, so I figured it was just that.” He paused, taking a moment to catch his breath after speaking so much. “Two nights ago I had, I think the worst nightmare I’ve ever had in my life and when I woke up I felt just awful. My whole body and my head hurt, and I was freezing, and Orym said I had a really bad fever.”

“Did you do anything to try and treat the symptoms?”

“My friend Fearne, she’s a druid, she tried a spell in the morning and it made the fever and most of the pain go away, but by the time we got into town I was feeling pretty sick again. That night I had that same awful dream and woke up with another fever.”

“He was coughing too,” Orym added, because it seemed important. “Very bad for a long time.”

“Hmm.” Alvina’s fingers tapped on the edge of the table. “You’re genasi, yes?” Dorian nodded. “What kind, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Air.”

“Interesting,” she said, and that was when Orym realized that it was strange that Dorian, who could hold his breath indefinitely if he wanted to, was coughing and overall just breathing weirdly. “And have you been able to sleep since?”

“I feel like every time I close my eyes a little too long, I start to have that dream again.”

“I see.” Alvina was quiet for a moment, thinking. “It sounds like your friend tried lesser restoration, which should have cured any natural or mundane disease. So it seems likely to me that there’s something magical going on here. I’m going to do some divination, to see if I can figure it out. You can lie down,” she added, “if your head is hurting, or anything, your choice.”

Dorian did lay down, curling up on his side facing the room. His eyes stayed open, watching Alvina as her hands moved. As she finished the gesture she looked back at him, and after a moment her head tilted to the side, and her brow furrowed. Orym did not like seeing someone who was supposed to be an expert at this look confused.

As she went into another hand motion, she asked, “Would you tell me about your dream? You don’t have to, but it might better help me understand the context.”

“Oh.” Grimacing, Dorian seemed very hesitant, and Orym thought he wasn’t going to say anything about what it was. Eventually though, Dorian surprised him by nodding, and said, “I’m in a space that feels in between, I don’t know if that makes sense, but like a space that isn’t anywhere on this plane, and I see--I see one of my friends hurt, bleeding and dying, and I try to get on him but…” Dorian trailed off, coughing hard. It took him a good thirty seconds to get his voice again. “Sorry. Um, in the dream I can't get to him, I feel like the air itself is heavy, and pinning me to the ground, and I’m crawling but I just can’t get to him, and…” Shuddering, Dorian shook his head and buried his face in the pillow. “...and that’s the dream.”

In the name of not making Dorian feel stared at, Orym was looking at the cleric instead. She had this way about her, of looking compassionate and interested without looking like she was hearing anything that worried her. At the same time, watching her as the details of what Dorian had been struggling with unfurled, he noticed the way her hands didn’t quite stay still. A couple of times, her fingers went to her necklace, a simple cord hanging with a pendant and a silver ring. 

When he finished, her hand fell back to run along the edge of the table. “That sounds very frightening, I’m sorry.” Glancing up at a window that was just the right height to let a shaft of morning sunlight in, she said, “I apologize if this seems like a very strange and specific question but, did you at some point in your past make a promise to a god or other divine entity that you didn’t keep?”

Orym’s gaze snapped from her to Dorian, right as Dorian took a sharp inhale and looked directly back up at him. Eyes locked, the two of them shared one of those moments people share when they’re thinking about the same thing at the same time. He wished then, like he often had in the past. That he could see into Dorian’s mind, know what was actually going on inside his head. He didn’t say anything though. It wasn’t his place.

Breaking the stare first, Dorian said, “I didn’t realize I was until it had already happened but yes. Yes, I think I did.”

“A promise made under duress isn’t a fair promise.” Again, her hand went to her necklace, to the symbol of a woman with a halo and arcing wings.  “And a promise made before you truly understand the conditions is barely a promise at all. Still, even the hint of such a thing can hold power when divinity gets involved.”

“Can you help me?” Dorian asked, and his voice bled with desperation. “Can you make it go away?”

“I can help you.” Taking out a key, she unlocked a drawer in the table, and took out a pouch that was pale blue like her robe, with a sun embroidered in gold thread. She dipped her hand into it, and when she pulled it out her fingers were covered in a fine dust that glittered in the sunlight. “I need to touch you for this spell, is that alright?”

Dorian nodded, and she reached down, placing the hand she had coated in sparkling sand over the hand and wrist she could reach. Making a gesture with her free hand, Alvina began to speak the words of a prayer.

The white glint reflection of sunlight in her dark eyes grew brighter, and the light around her hands wasn’t like the orange and red fire of Fearne’s magic, but a radiant yellow and white glow that was warm, and nourishing, and also a little painful to look directly at. When Orym averted his gaze, purple and green spots danced across his vision.

The light spread up Dorian’s arm and out over his whole body before sinking in. The purple flush of the fever faded as it had the first time Fearne had done her spell. Then his skin, which Orym hadn’t realized was quite gray and pale, brightened up to its former healthy blue. The tension in his muscles released, and the pain that had been held in his face shifted to an expression of solace. There was something in his eyes too, some more ineffable suffering, that fell away as well. His breathing deepened and slowed

The last of the light faded, and Alvina pulled her hand away. The glitter that had previously adorned her fingers was gone, perhaps consumed by the spell. “How do you feel?” she asked.

“Better,” he said, and Orym was relieved to hear his voice at a normal volume and tonality. “Tired still, but much better, like a huge weight was lifted off my head and chest.”

“Good,” Alvina said, nodding. “I can’t fix the sleep deprivation, unfortunately, but now you should be able to rest uninterrupted. I can’t promise the nightmares will go away forever,” she added, “but I believe you’ll have relief for a little while, at least.”

“Thank you.” Dorian closed his eyes, and let out a long breath, “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, and her hand touched her holy symbol. “I assume you are travelers? You can rest here to recover, if you need to.”

“We have rooms,” Orym said, “and our friends are waiting, but that is a very kind offer. What kind of payment do we owe you?”

“Oh,” she shook her head, “I won’t ask any payment from you.”

“Really?” Dorian asked. He sat up, pushing hair out of his face. He didn’t shake or waver at the sudden movement.

“Yes.” Her mouth curled into a smile. “Healing and helping people is how I serve Sarenrae, and Pelor. Solshire is very kind to us in helping us subsist here, and that allows us to help all who need it, regardless of station or means. We are very happy you found your way to us in your time of need.”

“Thank you,” Dorian said again. He looked over at Orym, who noticed his eyes were still heavily bagged and puffy, though no longer bloodshot. “I’m very ready to sleep.”

“Let’s go back to the inn”

Alvina led them back down the hallway towards the entryway. Bidding them farewell, she walked back into the sanctuary where people were no longer singing, but mostly sat reading, or writing, or silently praying. Sitting down on a pew, she closed her eyes, and her lips began to move.

On the way out, Orym saw a large locked box sitting on a pedestal. It was a very light wood, with a sun carved on the lid and vines of flowers cascading down the sides. A carved metal sign said, in multiple languages, Donations Appreciated.  Going up to it, he reached into his pouch, and put in a couple gold. Even if they did not ask to be paid, it certainly seemed they deserved to be.

Dorian also stopped at the box. He stayed looking at it for a moment and, once Orym walked a little ways ahead, he also put some coins in the receptacle. Then he caught up to him, and the two of them stepped out into the now-bright morning sun.

The remaining three members of their party, to Orym’s relief, were still seated on the steps. Fearne had her hand on Dariax's shoulder, saying, “I’m sure he’ll be fine, in the end. Besides--” She stopped, her ears perking up, and she looked back over at the two of them, smiled, and got to her feet. Opal and Dariax turned to follow her eyes, and jumped to their feet as well.

As Dorian and Orym stepped onto flat ground next to them, Dariax suddenly closed the distance and grabbed both of Dorian’s hands in his own. Looking up at him, his brow furrowed as he studied his face. “You look better, do you feel better? Did they fix it?”

“I want to sleep for a day, but I feel better,” Dorian assured him. “A lot better.”

“Good,” Dariax said, and then he wrapped his arms around his waist, hugging him. 

Surprised, eyes wide, Dorian dropped his arms around his shoulders. Looking back and forth between Opal and Fearne he said, “You didn’t have to wait for me.”

“We did, though,” Fearne said. Opal nodded. “Besides, now we can all go get breakfast together.”

“As long as it’s back at the inn,” Dorian said. Looking down, he patted Dariax on the back. “Thank you. All of you.”

As they started walking, Orym fell to the back and collected his thoughts. While he was left with many questions, there was a lot to be grateful for. For the sun and its nourishing warmth, for healing magic, and powerful clerics who offered to perform it seemingly out of the goodness of their hearts. Luck had been on their side here, and he was learning to take note of such occurrences.

Back at the inn, the breakfast service was on, and the group got a table. Orym was relieved that Dorian didn’t slip away to sleep immediately, but sat down to eat with the rest of them. While the rest of them got bacon, bread rolls, and eggs, Dorian had a bowl of porridge and a slice of toast. When he’d finished he rose to his feet, thanking them all one more time and said he was ready to go to bed. Orym handed him one of the keys to their room and he left, heading upstairs.

The rest of them sat there, finishing their own meals, and one by one Orym felt each of their eyes turn onto him. They wanted to know what had happened, wanted to understand. He wasn’t sure he could explain anything that happened in words, and even more he wasn’t sure how much was his to tell. Still, it was probably best to give them something, rather than let their powerful imaginations run wild. “I sense you have questions, I won’t promise that I can answer all of them, but I’ll try?”

They looked at each other, then back at him. Opal said, “So he’s really alright? Because he still looks a little...” She trailed off, gesturing at her face with her hand.

“He just needs to sleep,” Dariax said. The confident facade smeared off like wet paint when he added, “Right?”

Orym nodded. “In the temple, there was this cleric who helped him. She did a spell that looked a little like yours, Fearne, except the light was very white and bright, and afterwards he was better again.”

“And it won’t come back this time?” Fearne asked.

“She said it wouldn’t.” Orym shrugged. “I believed her, but I guess we’ll just have to see.”

“Did she say what it actually was?” Looking down at his plate, Dariax pushed some food around. “Are the rest of us going to get sick?”

There it was, the question he didn’t think he could answer, not fully anyway. “She said it wasn’t an illness with a physical cause.” Trying not to sigh, he continued, “I don’t know, you know I don’t understand all of this magic stuff. Whatever it was, I think she really did get rid of it”

Maybe he was just saying what he wanted to believe, but Dariax and Opal both bought it. Fearne didn’t, if her eyes narrowing was anything to go by, but she didn’t push with any further questions. They all finished eating, and started deciding what to do the rest of the day. It was then that the tiredness finally started to catch up to Orym. He wasn’t as exhausted as Dorian or maybe even Dariax was, but he had only gotten maybe four hours of sleep himself.

Opal wanted to go shopping, and Fearne agreed to go with her. “What about you, Dariax?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Dariax said, and he looked back in the direction of the stairs going up to the second floor. “Maybe we should wait for Dorian, he’d probably want to go, right?”

“I’m going to go later,” Orym said, “so he could come with me if he wanted. If you want to go, go. Just please, please try not to get arrested or anything.”

“No promises,” Fearne said, but the way she winked at him, he knew she was going to do her best. Dariax smiled weakly, and finally let Opal and Fearne talk him into coming along. Ultimately, Orym was glad they were sticking together, and thinking about something that wasn’t Dorian for a little while.

The three of them walked off toward the shopping district, and Orym went upstairs. In the room, Dorian lay under the covers. His eyes were closed, his breathing slow and even. By all appearances, he was peacefully asleep.

Orym pulled his bedroll out of the sunlight that crept in through the curtains, and laid down on it. Again, he counted out what he was grateful for in his mind, and slowed down his own breathing. Soon enough, a restful sleep of relief came to him as well.

#

“Could I ask you a question?”

It was early evening, the sky going red to dark around them. They were in between shops, stopped on the street as Dorian put away the spell components he’d bought. Dorian looked down at him and after a moment said, “Sure?”

He had to have known this was coming. Orym let things go, but he didn’t forget. He always came back to them, though. “I’ve just been wondering, why did you pick me to go with you into the temple?”

“Oh.” Dorian glanced around. It wasn’t crowded by any means, though there were certainly people trying to get their last minute shopping done. He started walking away from the entryways down the street, and Orym followed. “Well, to be completely honest, I think I knew that I was going to have to tell them everything and..I don’t know.”

“You didn’t want to scare them?” Or let them know that you lied?

“I guess so.” He fiddled with his cloak. “I knew you’d probably ask me about it later, but I didn’t think it would freak you out as much and at the moment I just could not handle the idea of even more questions. I knew that you would just be there.”

“I see.” Orym looked up at the darkening sky, wondering if he should push, if he should ask the questions he actually wanted to ask. Finally, he said, “I assume you also didn’t want Dariax to know you were dreaming about him.”

Dorian was quiet even longer than he had been before. Then he sighed and said, “Yeah, you got me there.”

“Maybe you should just tell him.”

“You think so?” Orym nodded. It’s just...Dariax is…” Trailing off, Dorian shook his head.

“What is it you’re afraid will happen?” He looked up at him, studying his face, searching for an answer. He didn’t find it. “He stayed awake with you all night, it’s obvious that he cares for you.”

“What’s to be gained from telling him, though?”

“It’s your choice.” Orym shrugged. “I’m just saying you don’t have to hide so much of yourself from the person who was glued to your side the moment he knew you were sick.”

“I guess. You’re probably right.” Pausing, he said, “Thank you, by the way. For everything.”

“You’re welcome.” Orym didn’t know what he’d done that was worth being thanked for. “I mean, I’m just the one who was awake to notice. But I’m happy to help, and happy that you’re better now.”

“You did more than you know. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you I wasn’t feeling well before.”

“I understand why you didn’t.” He really did. Nobody wanted to be the one slowing the group down, whether the group actually cared about that or not. Plus Dorian had the whole Spider Queen complication gnawing at him even still. “Next time though, tell someone. It doesn’t have to be me, but someone.”

“I will.” Looking around, Dorian added, “Do you need anything else? Stores are starting to close.”

“I’m good if you are. Shall we head back to the inn?”

“Let’s go.”

There was more he wanted to ask, like what exactly the promise Dorian had broken was. The chance of it becoming relevant in the future was not at all lost on him. Instead though, he just walked next to him in companionable silence. He felt like he’d asked enough, and didn't want to push past what might be wanted. Besides, he had a pretty good guess as to the particular moment. He’d seen all those spiders fall out of Myr’atta’s mouth. 

Back at the inn they had dinner, then settled in for a much needed peaceful night of rest. Having napped earlier in the day, Orym spent part of the night studying their maps, planning their route for the next day. They had distance to make up, but he tried not to worry about that too much. They’d get as far as they could get, and that had to be enough.

That morning, as they packed, Orym thought that Dorian looked better than he had in weeks. Not just better rested and healthier but brighter and more focused. He wasn’t sure how he hadn’t noticed before, but it was often easier to see such things in comparison rather than in isolation.

Though they all watched Dorian closely in the following days, the illness or corruption or whatever it is didn’t reoccur in the immediate future, at least in any visible way. It certainly never faded from Orym’s mind though, plans for what to do if it happened again constantly bubbling up into his thoughts.

A few days later, as they made camp, Orym saw Dorian pull Dariax aside to talk. Afterwards, they were closer than ever, like some barrier between them had broken, or at least significantly thinned. 

Orym hoped it was because Dorian had finally taken some of his advice.