Reene was dying. Kalir knew that much. Red Fever wasn't a quick killer, but it was almost always fatal.
As he watched, Reene coughed softly in her sleep. It was a pitiful sort of sound, as though she barely had enough energy to push air back out of her lungs. Her forehead was beaded with sweat from the fever and her skin was beginning to show the blotchy red patches that gave Red Fever its name.
His sister. That was his little sister, lying there dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.
There is one thing you could do
A small voice in the back of his head whispered. But no, he couldn't. That was blasphemous.
There was one good thing about this if anything about something so terrible could be good and that was that the healers' base was in one of the sunniest parts of the steep twisting canyons the Jaiseti called home. The large open space was one of the few places in the canyons that got direct sunlight for more than an hour each day.
Everyone knew that sunlight was the best thing for the sick. Sunlight was the best thing for anyone. Sunlight made you stronger, faster. It helped heal injuries and disease. Your body just worked better when you got light. Even from sitting beside his sister's pallet for a half hour, Kalir already felt more energized, more alive. It seemed a terrible sort of irony that he should feel so wonderful at the same time he felt so miserable. Perhaps Elumis was shining especially brightly, punishing him for his heretic thoughts.
A short distance away, his father stood, softly murmuring a prayer to Elumis, the sun. Kalir couldn't hear him, though he knew what his father would be saying. Asking Elumis to heal her, praying for him to shine brighter to give her more light, hoping that it wasn't his will to take Reene from them so quickly. She was barely in her fourteenth year, just a few years younger than Kalir himself.
There were tears in his father's eyes. As the Daiem of Jaiset, he was one of the most powerful man that Kalir knew, and he was crying. It was a bit unsettling. The Daiem had always been in control of every situation, taking crises and guiding his people through them, always making level-headed decisions for the good of the tribe. He looked so frustrated and confused, but there was no order or edict that would save his daughter.
Not that that would stop him from trying. Giving commands was simply what the Daiem did.
"Varine," He called. The last person nearby, a young healer looked up as the Daiem said her name.
"Yes, Daiem?" Varine asked. She and Kalir were around the same age, and had even been friends when they were younger. He hadn't spoken to her in a while; her healer's training and his work with his father kept them from seeing each other very often. Absently, Kalir wondered if she'd had to ask special favors to oversee Reene's care.
The Daiem looked pained, as though he already knew the answer to his question, but couldn't help asking it. "Is there any chance we will find this cure of yours in time?"
"There's always a chance, Daiem." Varine said, but her light blue eyes were sad. "Though, it would be remiss of me to leave out how small that chance is. Feversbane is the only cure we know of, and it's very rare. We've scoured the canyons, but it's very possible that there aren't any feversbane plants growing right now. Even if we did find some, they would have to have already bloomed in order to be potent."
She paused, as if she were afraid of what she would say next. "Elumis may still provide, but I believe you must prepare yourselves that he will not. I'm so sorry."
Kalir watched as the strength evaporated from his father's posture. His head bowed forward and his eyes closed, tears appearing again. It was the look of defeat; the Daiem had given up hope. There was no answer to their problem and no cure for Reene.
But there is
that treasonous little voice whispered again. Kalir had been fighting his dangerous idea for days, but it had only grown stronger as the week went on without a cure.
And he was tired of fighting it.
"Varine," he said quietly. "Does feversbane grow outside the canyons?"
Across the pallet, his father stiffened, but Kalir refused to look at him. He focused on Varine, who looked both shocked and terrified.
Her eyes flicked to the Daiem, as if afraid of what he might do if she answered, before returning to Kalir. "I-I suppose. I mean, it's possible that it does." Her hands were shaking and her voice was small. "If there was enough shade somewhere, it might."
"Kalir," his father said, his voice tight with barely held anger. "Please tell me that I did not hear what I thought I did."
Kalir was silent.
"I will not allow this." His father firmly. "You would forsake your homeland? You would leave the gifts of food, water and shelter gifts Elumis has given us? We must be grateful for what we have, not covetous of what we lack!"
Kalir stood up, facing his father, fury plain on his face. "'What we lack' is going to kill her!" He yelled, pointing to the still-sleeping Reene. His father had a tendency to bring out the worst temper in him.
"Elumis gives us all we have including our lives and we know that one day he will take everything back. If he decides not to give us the cure, then we must accept his decision!"
"Maybe he already has given it to us! What if there are feversbane flowers growing just outside these canyons, ready to heal, and you're too stubborn to use them?"
A desperation entered the Daiem's voice behind his anger, as realized that his son was serious about this choice. "I will not let you risk your soul for this. I am already losing my daughter. Do not take my son from me as well."
"I'm sorry," Kalir said, voice hard. "But I won't let my sister die."
With that, he walked away toward the canyons' nearest exit. He was terrified of the outside, but as he'd spoken, he'd become more and more sure that he was making the right decision. He half expected his father to try and physically stop him, or send men after him, but he walked alone for nearly an hour.
He was only a few minutes away from the Redstone Arch, which marked the southernmost end of true Jaiset, when he finally heard footsteps behind him. He tensed, his hand going to the hunting knife at his belt, ready to fight if need be, but the voice that called out was one that he knew.
Kalir turned, and was surprised to see Varine running after him. She must have run the whole way to keep up with him, but she didn't seem out of breath. Working in the sun all day had strengthened her, he supposed.
"Kalir," she said as she finally caught up. "Are you sure about this? This isn't something to choose lightly, and you're emotionally compromised at the moment."
His expression was hard. "There's nothing you can say to make me turn back. My mind's made up. I'm not going to let her die, Varine."
She nodded. "I expected as much. In that case-" She looked up quickly, her eyes determined. "-I'm going with you."
"Forget it." He said, turning and beginning to walk away again. "You're not coming. There's no reason we should both be damned."
She hurried to catch up with him again. "Oh really? And what were you going to do on the outside? Where were you going to start?"
He paused for just a second, before continuing again, even more determined. "I'd figure it out."
"Do you have any supplies?" She was persistent. "Food? Water? Anything? You're not going to last long out there without all this." She hefted some sacks she was carrying, which Kalir noticed for the first time. Some were the over-the-shoulder waterskins that the healers used to carry water from patient to patient, while others were simple carrying sacks, bulging with the outlines of fruit and flatbread.
He stopped and gave her a flat look, realizing she had a point. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to just give those to me?"
"Of course not." She said, smiling as she gained the upper hand. "My supplies go where I go. Besides you'd need me anyway. Do you even know what feversbane looks like?"
"Sure!" He said defensively. "It's got
well, white flowers
"That's a 'no.'" She said, satisfied. "You have no idea. And you wouldn't know what to do with them even if you did find the right plant. Admit it, you need me."
"Fine," he said, rolling his eyes. "You can come, Varine. Though why you would want to is beyond me."
She blushed, and ducked her head to try to keep him from noticing. "I just knew you'd need help, that's all."
He lifted the two of water satchels over her head, and slipped them on. He took one of the sacks of food as well. He adjusted the straps of each until they rested comfortably on his shoulders. They set off walking again, neither speaking for a while. Finally, the Redstone Arch came into view, a great wind-carved monolith, noticeably darker than the surrounding rock.
Varine paused for a moment, looking up in wonder. "I've never actually seen it before. It's beautiful. Aren't there guards here to keep people from wandering out?"
"Yeah, there are," Kalir said absently, staring at the arch as well. He'd visited the arch before with his father, but it seemed bigger, more imposing now that he was thinking of crossing it. Maybe his father was right; maybe he should just turn back...
He shook his head quickly, clearing his doubts and regaining his resolve. He glanced at her, a wry smile on his face. "But I'm the Daiem's son. What are they going to do about it?"