In the moments before battle ensued, when her feet had grazed the familiar ground of Fregurd camp, Naomi had wondered if she owed the warrior Kane an apology.
For years, she had prided herself in her emotional restraint, it was the quality Asburro always told her was unique, and what made her one of Fregurd's most talented healers, calm in the face of grotesqueness and conflict, performing with unnatural precision and dedication. But around Kane, her anger was as uncontrollable as a tide in her veins, and secretly as they'd travelled on, Naomi had recoiled, unable to recognise who she'd become; who he'd made her. But was he to blame for the hatred she had carried for so long? Was he responsible for the behaviour of all of his kind? Was it truly wrong of him to love his people enough to kill?
She'd decided to apologise once she'd spotted Fregurd's towers rising above the hillocks and heard the hum of her people, almost feeling it vibrating in the soil, and had tried to think of what to say. She'd glanced at him to see if he showed any sign of guilt - there was none to see on his strong yet weary face - and had looked away quickly. She had conjured one syllable, his name, at the camp gates before he'd charged past her in a fury, shouting out and raising his sword, his eyes set alight.
Confused, she'd looked on to see his sword clash with an axe seconds later, belonging to a man just as large and overpowering, distinguished by clothing as a Drakos-El, an enemy to his eyes. Zethenia joined the fight seconds later, whilst Naomi's peers came together in a surrounding crowd, consisting of those as anxious as those irked.
The same feelings surged inside her, as did the temptation to leap onto Kane's back and clobber him on the head, but the timid voice of propriety in her head told her no, that it was no longer her problem. They were breaking Fregurd law, and they would damn well be told by somebody who they would listen to.
She gestured for the other healers and Dynios members to continue as instructed, paying no heed to the battle that was unfolding in front of them, made up of nothing but the swishing of cloaks and the ringing of metal, or so it seemed. One eye on the fight, the other on the path in front, Naomi hurried to the smooth, stone building that she knew well, the one adjoining her favourite training room, bursting through the door and finding him, just as she remembered. She'd been afraid he'd change in just the few days they'd been apart, but he was the same Asburro, his loosening skin painted white with Holy marks, the same colour as his long hair that was, in places, braided with wooden beads. His clothes were almost the same as hers, the navy coloured robes of healers, only his was fashioned more practically, sashed around the waist and cut off at the sleeves to show off more of his marks.
He was preparing in the meeting room, accompanied by a couple of assistants and cleaners, and he had turned around with raw instinct, one he always tried to hide, and the same that made his hand fly to a side no longer holstered with a blade. His eyes were hard, narrowed on the doorway for a moment, until he recognised her and his expression softened. His flatlined mouth lifted into a smile as he took in Naomi's unchanged mop of curls and large, dark eyes.
"Naomi, you're -," he said jovially,
"Asburro, you must -," she began to say, but gripped the doorjamb tightly as she struggled to catch her breath. She'd run with such urgency, she hadn't realised how fast or how far she'd come.
"What is it, child?" Asburro came to her side quickly, hoisting her up straight, at the same time pressing his forehead to hers in their traditional greeting.
"The - the Dynios..." she panted, "the Drakos -," she needed to say no more. Asburro's expression tightened, once again becoming the proud, stringent leader that the Fregurd trusted in to protect them. He slipped past her, though she made sure to keep pace with him, followed by assistants who held onto the hilts of daggers at their hips that were probably rusted after so long. The five of them hurried into Fregurd's centre, where there was now a three-tiered crowd surrounding the fighters, now six with the inclusion of another Dynios that Naomi still wasn't sure she liked or not. Moving the crowd apart with one look, Asburro broke into the circle and charged forward, Naomi standing back as he said in a thunderous voice,
"All of you, cease this senseless squabble immediately! Or answer to me!" With those words, he grabbed hold of the arm of the Drakos-El in a garrotte-like grip, seizing the handle of another's axe and sending it spinning across the ground out of the circle with a strength unlike anything they'd seen.
Like reprimanded children, they all stopped and turned to Asburro, the heat of the fight ebbing away with each moment of passing silence as the disarmed warriors looked disbelieving at the intruder. Naomi caught Kane's eye, either irritated or disheartened, she couldn't tell, his chest heaving as his blade became one in a swift click.
"Sir, I do apologi -," the apprehended Drakos-El began to say, probably the oldest of them all, but Asburro interrupted, his anger seeming to twitch his nerves as he released.
"Speak no more, Mr Feloine," he snapped. "All of you shall continue this ...altercation," he said, waving at the scene disdainfully, "in private. The next combatant to draw a weapon under my supervision will feel it in their own throat, is this clear?" Nobody uttered a sound, not even the crowd, and the air was frozen bitterly among them. Asburro turned away, gesturing Naomi to walk beside him, and the clan representatives to follow like convicts awaiting sentence.