Her eyelids as heavy as an anvil, opened with a lot of effort and what seemed like an eternity of concentration. A blurred—something—hovered over her. She tried to strain her focus but as soon as the face of the man sharpened, her body jerked back and forth. What in the name of the Magic’s was going on?
Okay, she had some control of her body. But . . . she wasn’t the one moving it. Lusa blinked when the violent shaking stopped. She attempted to say something but her words were lost in another earthquake of movement. Blast it, she was trying to talk.
“Stop.” The word tore at her throat, not as harsh as she’d planned.
The shaking stopped to her relief. Her senses came flooding back to her. Soreness cramped her shoulder, a sharp pain pulsating there, and sweat had soaked through her clothes. She groaned. Maybe waking wasn’t such a good idea. She went to sit up, hissed at the searing sensation in her shoulder, and crumpled back to the earth.
“You really shouldn’t do much movin’.” The man propped his pack next to her to keep her from swaying and knelt down. His bronze ponytail fell somewhere behind his shoulders, dark almond eyes worn a bit around the edges, but he didn’t seem much older than she, maybe by a few years.
Her chest tightened as she realized she was in no shape to defend herself. The humming of the Magics was weak which only peaked her anxiety more. What exactly did this man want? Lusa tried to gage her location, but the sun beating down on her made her squint. Her eyes adjusted to the intensity of the light and she saw nothing but green. Beside her, above her, below her, swamp everywhere. They weren’t on the main path anymore, the one she’d created.
“Drink.” He handed her a waterskin.
She frowned, eyed him, and apprehensively took the bladder. Lusa peeked into the narrow hole of the mouth and sniffed. Smelled fine. Her tongue felt like it had swelled two times its size at the thought of fresh, cool water.
“What, you think I healed you just to kill you again? Drink.”
She didn’t like the tone of his voice. Who was he to start commanding her around? But he did have a point. As soon as she took a drink, she regretted it. The water stung her cracked lips before scalding her throat. She gagged, winced, and fell into a fit of coughs.
The man placed a firm hand on her back. “Woah, slow down, water ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
Lusa swallowed the last cough and wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
“You took a nasty bite out there. The venom is out now, but not without any lingerin’ symptoms.”
What was he, a healer or something? Tying the bladder closed again, she sighed. She needed to get back to her journey. “Why did you save me?”
The expression that crossed his face caught Lusa off guard. He laughed, running a hand over his face as if it would mute out the sound.
“What, you’d rather I left you for dead?” He rubbed at his day’s worth of stubble. “I’m no saint, but I ain’t a monster either. ‘sides, it wouldn’t hurt to have a mage on my side while travelin’ the rest of the way.”
So that’s what this was all about, she knew he’d have some alterior motive. He was looking at her funny. Lusa sat up a bit straighter and tried not to wince. “What makes you think I’d agree to that?”
“Well, if we’re headed the same direction . . . “
Lusa narrowed her eyes. “I don’t even know you.”
“Name’s Kaden.” He held out his hand.
She stared at him hard for several seconds, chewing the inside of her cheeks. She liked to travel alone, but couldn’t shake the obligation to pay him back for what he’d done. Of course, the Magics tried to convince her she owed him nothing. Maybe they were right. She never asked for his help to begin with.
Based on what had happened last night, though, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a swordsman at her side. At least she was pretty sure only a day had passed. Reluctantly, she stuck out her hand. “Lusa.”
He smirked and shook it. “See, wasn’t so hard, was it?”