Dechar circled around the spring to find Ylva in tears. Upon noticing him, she hid her face against a tree, but she could not stop sobbing. Dechar only knew how to comfort Oliana, not someone who he never would have expected to see crying. He just stood there wordless until she caught her breath and could tell him what had happened.
She had regained her strength and had seen that Dechar had found his friend, so she had left, seeing no reason to stay. Ylva had teleported back to her tribe… or where her tribe had once stood. She had known the attack on the Rinnek had been brutal, but she had expected only that the warriors had been killed or captured, and that those who did not resist had been left alone.
That was normally how the king operated; he would locate a tribe, remove its threats, and then perhaps offer the tribe back one of their people if they managed to deliver him a member of some other tribe. If the tribe did not manage to capture replacements for him after a certain time period, the king would see the prisoners hanged in the midst of the capital city. If an especially powerful mage was found, as was the case with Ylva, and if said mage was not overly resistant, he or she would be kept around a bit longer. This was so that they could be released at a newly discovered tribe’s location.
There were no alliances between tribes; they had split so many years ago for reasons many of them could not remember, and they were not about to unite against their common threat. This meant that, when the powerful mage was thrown into the grounds of an unfriendly tribe, he or she had no choice but to fight to the death, destroying as many of their own kind as could be managed before being slain in the midst.
This was Gillireth’s way of having revenge on the Dechi; he would pin them against each other as much as he could until, bit by bit, he hoped to see them destroy themselves. But things had happened differently for the Rinnek tribe; so powerful were the warriors of this people that the king saw them as a large enough threat to burn their homes to the ground. By the time Ylva had arrived, there was no trace of life, and she had no idea whether or not there were any survivors.
“I don’t understand it,” she sobbed. Dechar’s eyes widened as she ran up to him to cry on his shoulder. “I might not have been captured, you know. But my Liekos was being taken, and as much as he tried to tell me to not worry about him, I couldn’t leave him. I allowed my capture. You see, Liekos and I were betrothed. We were going to be wed a year ago, but I told him that I wanted to spend more time learning about magery, so we waited. He supported me and I failed him. He will never know the happiness we might’ve had together.”
Dechar could not find words. He held her close to help her try to relax, but she seemed inconsolable.
She continued to explain. “Liekos was in your cell before you. He was strong, the strongest in our tribe; he managed to break free of his chains for a moment and attack our captors, but they injured him badly, and he too was caged. You have him to thank for our escape. That metal shard was scraped off by Liekos in the struggle. But they hanged him; they hanged all the prisoners, and then they killed everyone,” she whispered. “I had young brothers and sisters. They had such promise….”
“Who’s to say they didn’t escape before the burning?” Dechar asked. “I thought Oli might be dead, but here she is. I believe there’s still some hope, Ylva. Maybe Oli and I can help you find the rest of your tribe.”
The mage laughed cynically, then fell to silence for a moment. “I guess that’s why I came back. I’ve never been much of a team player, you know--”
“We’ll work on that. Welcome to the team. I’m sure Oli will be happy to have you as long as you mind your manners. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve half a mind to go swimming in those pools. I need to stretch my wulfen legs, anyway.”
His smile was so infectious that Ylva managed a small one of her own. “That sounds nice.”
They stood behind trees and stripped themselves of clothing, both emerging in their wulfen forms.
“That’s better,” Dechar said, feeling much more at home in this form. He locked eyes with a she-wolf covered in silver-white hair and bearing bright blue eyes. He had never seen anything like her.
She shook her head at his expression. “You’re a strange one, Dechar.”