The fall happened fast. Usually, time kind of slows down when you have a dramatic fall, but when you’re falling in complete darkness, I guess your brain can’t really process what’s happening. As we were falling, I needed to position Tilly on top of me. I knew that my orc frame could handle the fall much better than her tiny gnome one.
“What are you doin?!” Tilly yelled at me when I put my hand on her to usher her in my direction.
“Trying to save your life!’ I screamed back, continuing to push her.
“Who said I need saving?!” she countered.
“No one needed to say it! We’re falling down a dark pit, I have no idea what’s at the bottom. Your little body and you have to admit that it is little won’t be able to take the fall the way I can,” I explained to her.
“I can see down there, it looks like just flat stone,” she said as I smashed into it. It definitely stung, but I’d spread my body out enough to even out the impact across it. Tilly scrambled off of me as my eyes began to adjust to the darkness. She began examining the wall.
“Are you guys o.k.?” Gin’s voice emanated from the hole at the top.
“I’ll live,” I responded.
“Do you see a way out? Maybe a button or an emergency ladder?” Dara asked.
“No, it looks like a sheer rock wall the whole way,” Tilly shouted up.
“We’ll figure something out,” Dara said, less reassuringly than I’m sure he intended. “Maybe I can figure something out with Gin’s barrier magic.”
“Sounds good,” I said. “I could use a few minutes to rest.”
Tilly turned in my direction and rushed to my leg. My head followed her, and I could see what had worried her. My leg was covered in blood. I felt pain there, but it wasn’t any worse than the pain running through my whole body from the fall.
“Karuk! You have to let me patch you up!” She said urgently.
“Go ahead,” I said. “I”m not exactly in a position to stop you.”
Tilly pulled out a candle and lit it. She lifted my leg and examined it all over.
“It looks like it’s just a really bad scrape. You should be fine, but I need to clean you up and cover it, so it doesn’t get infected,” She diagnosed.
“How do you know first aid?” I asked.
“I was always an accident-prone child, and my grandma taught me what she was doing every time she took care of me,” she explained.
“I never needed to know that kind of thing. My tribe doesn’t let us travel alone if they can help; we always have a healer with each group. That allowed people like me to focus on hunting,” I said. I hadn’t talked about my tribe out loud to anyone since I’d left.
“I get that,” she said. “But if we’re going to be traveling together, you really should learn a bit of first aid yourself. Someone needs to be able to put me back together if I go down.”
“I wouldn’t let any of you get hurt,” I said. I was a bit surprised that I’d actually meant it.
“And how is that working out for you?” Tilly asked as popped open a bottle of whisky and poured it on the open wound.
“Ahhhh!” I wailed.
“That’s what I thought,” Tilly said smugly.
“Hey, that’s cheating!” I retorted.
“There is not cheating in love and war,” she laughed.
“And which one is this?” I asked. “We weren’t really fighting anyone when we fell.”
“Working with you always feels like a bit of both,” Tilly said thoughtfully.
“I’m not always like this,” I said apologetically. “I just don’t trust easy. It is hard to forget you trapping us in that net and talking about killing us.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Tilly said. “I get it; I’d feel the same way. And honestly, I don’t want you to change around me. I kind of like feeling like the thrill of worrying that you’re either going to punch me or kiss me.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy,” I jested. “I’d only punch you if you deserved it.”
“Don’t you kink-shame me!” Tilly said. “I’m just tryin’ to tell you that I like you the way you are.”
That did something to me. I never felt like I fit in with my tribe. They were all about preserving the jungle, and they would never have understood how much I wanted to see the world. I knew Gin cared about me, but I always worried he was just putting up with me because we were the only ones that understood each other. Tilly telling me she liked me the way I am was something new. I felt something warm on my cheeks.
“Thank you,” I managed to get out.
“Don’t mention it,” she said. “Don’t go getting mushy on me, we’ve got a lot of land to travel before we deliver the gwiber.”
“Right,” I replied.
The room began to brighten as a pink spiral staircase began crawling down the walls of the hole.
“Is that you Gin?” I yelled up.
“He can’t really talk,” Dara shouted back down. “He has to concentrate and play really softly.”
“He must hate that,” I yelled back up.
“Shut up, Ruki!” Gin screamed quickly.
The pink staircase stuttered out of existence for a second.
“Maybe don’t bother him right now,” Tilly said.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said, chuckling.
“Race you up the stairs?” Tilly challenged.
“You’re on,” I said, rushing in front of her to be the first to start climbing.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!