The Sylvan Forest
Kazimier Starpetal crept in the forest undergrowth, the rest of his patrol spread out behind him. The elf was certain that he'd heard a cry of pain, faint as it was. The forest thinned out as he walked forward. The singing of birds, though, made it difficult to hear anything else. Ahead, the sun lit a clearing. Kazimier kept his pace. The cry could be genuine or a trap.
One of his fellows, Carrad, joined him, pointing at the clearing. "Something moved," Carrad said, his tone low. "Cloth, maybe."
Kazimier squinted. Carrad's vision was far sharper, but now that he knew what to look for, Kazimier found the source of the movement. "Cover me." He was moving before Carrad could reply.
Another cry of pain came, louder and indeed from the clearing. Kazimier dismissed the idea of a trap. The cry was too genuine, too soul-wrenching. Someone was in great pain, and Kazimier needed to help the unfortunate. He picked up his pace, going from walk to jog to outright running. He came up short when he saw the source. On the ground before him, the last thing he ever expected lay curled up in a ball - a dark elf woman, her long copper red hair unkempt, her clothes burning away, her ink black skin blistering under the sun. Kazimier's hand went to his sword. The dark elf moaned. Hearing Kazimier's footsteps, she raised her head for a moment before succumbing to weakness.
Kazimier knelt down. The woman had no visible weapons; a knife sheath on the remains of her belt was empty. The elf looked back to the forest. Carrad and the rest of the patrol watched at the edge of the trees. "I need a blanket!" he called. Kazimier turned his attention back to the woman. Instincts warred inside him. The dark elf was a potential threat, one that could see his entire town slaughtered. Yet, she needed help. Her skin burned under the sun's light.
With a quick prayer to the Lightbringer, Kazimier fished a flask from a pouch. "This will help," he said, hoping she could understand his tone if not his words. He lowered the flask to her lips, letting her drink the liquid, a simple healing broth. She coughed once, but swallowed the offering. "Don't move."
Carrad arrived, blanket in hand. He, too, stopped short. "Kazimier, that's a dark elf."
"What is a dark elf doing here?"
"Great question, Carrad. Ask her." Kazimier took the blanket from his fellow.
Carrad stared at the woman. "You're not helping her!"
Kazimier bit back a sigh. "She's in pain. I can't just leave her like this." He shook out the blanket, spreading it over the dark elf.
"Then kill her! Before she kills us!"
"She's in no condition to do anything to us. Look at her!" Kazimier pointed at the blisters on her skin. "If we can keep her alive, we can find out why she's here."
Carrad shook his head. "She's here to kill us. That's what they do, Kazimier. We should just kill her."
Kazimier drew his dagger. He held its handle out to Carrad. "Here. Kill a helpless woman. I won't."
Carrad eyed the dagger then the dark elf. He stepped back. "Fine. You take responsibility."
"That was the plan." Kazimier returned his attention to the woman. Her eyes were open, watching the two elves but showing no emotion. "We're going to the trees, get you out of the direct sun. That should help you." He let his head drop a moment. "Like you understand what I'm saying." He scooped the woman into his arms. She gasped, a sharp intake of breath.
Back under the canopy of leaves, Kazimier lowered the woman carefully on the ground. He ignored the grumblings of the rest of the patrol, focusing only on his patient. The woman's breathing improved. Her clothes were no more than rags. Kazimier unslung his backpack. He rummaged through the container, pulling out a spare tunic. "This will help." He set the tunic down. Taking the stylized sunbeam amulet around his neck in hand, he offered a prayer to the Lightbringer. He felt magic flow over him as a ray of sun flows over a rock, warming him. "There. You should be able to understand me now. Do you?" The woman nodded, her eyes never breaking away from his. "Good. Let's get this tunic on you. It'll cover you better than whatever you were wearing."
The woman let Kazimier help her get the tunic over her head, her arms through the sleeves. The $tunic made her look even smaller than she was. Still, it covered her from neck to mid-thigh, protecting her from the sunbeams that poked through the trees. "A little better," Kazimier said. "Can you stand?"
The dark elf worked her legs, bending her knees, before nodding. "Yes."
Carrad joined Kazimier and the woman. "The patrol isn't happy. We need her tied." He handed a length of rope to Kazimier. "It's for our safety. Even if she's weak now, she'll regain her strength."
Kazimier took the rope. He turned to the woman. "I need your wrists. If you resist, my fellows won't hesitate to kill you."
The woman stared at Carrad for several long moments. She then held her wrists out, crossing them. Kazimier wound the rope around the woman's wrists, making sure she could still move her fingers. Satisfied with his handywork, the elf draped the blanket over the woman's shoulders, giving her more protection from sunlight. "I'll make a salve for your burns when we rest for the night. We must go."
Carrad signalled the rest of the patrol to move out. He took the lead position. Kazimier helped the woman get to her feet, then guided her to the centre of the loose formation. The other elves in the patrol kept glancing at the prisoner, nervous and wary of what she could do. The party returned deeper into the forest.
The patrol kept quiet as they retraced their steps back to their home. As the sun set, Carrad kept watch for a safe place to set up camp. The patrol set up the small tents and a campfire, keeping the flame low. Kazimier led the dark elf to a fallen log, helping her sit. He examined her, checking her burns and making sure she hadn't made any injuries worse. For her part, the woman remained silent, watching, showing no emotions. Kazimier ignored the woman's stares as he prepared a greasy concoction for her burns.
He glanced back at his compatriots before leaning in closer. "This should help with the pain and speed healing." He dipped his fingers into the salve, scooping a dallop out of the dish. "I'm Kazimier."
The woman offered her arms. "Jyslyn."
"How are you feeling now, Jyslyn?" Kazimier slathered the concoction over the burns on the dark elf's arms.
Kazimier stopped applying the salve for a moment. "Why am I asking? Or why am I helping you?"
"Yes. Both. Why? Why heal me when you will kill me later?"
"Killing you isn't up to me." Kazimier glanced back again at the rest of the patrol. "Or them. That's up to the Council." He finished rubbing the salve on the woman's arms and began with her legs. "Why help?" He shrugged. "You were in need."
Jyslyn snorted. "Your fundamental nature."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I had the choice of just letting you lay there or letting the others kill you."
"A choice where you had one clear answer. Not much of a choice, really."
"What about you?" Kazimier pointed at a burn on Jyslyn's leg. "You came out during the day."
"You're assuming a choice."
"We all have choices, Jyslyn. It's not even what we choose that defines us, but why. For all you know, I want you alive to rip all your secrets from your head."
Jyslyn stared at Kazimier. "I doubt that. You would just leave me in pain."
Kazimier finished rubbing the salve on the dark elf's legs. "For someone who has severe sunburn, you're not showing much pain."
"No, I'm not."
"Doesn't mean you aren't in pain. Let me see your back." Kazimier waited as Jyslyn shifted around on the stump. "What happened to your clothes? I assume you were wearing something when you came out to the surface world." He applied the salve to the woman's back.
Jyslyn stiffened at his touch. "I thought they would last longer."
"My turn to ask why. Why did you come up here?"
Before Kazimier could ask another question, a brutal shriek shattered the quiet of the forest. The patrol burst into action, grabbing weapons. One of the elves stumbled, fell, his legs torn open by a crude sword. A gnoll stepped on top of the fallen elf and plunged the sword through his chest.
"To arms!" Carrad called.
Kazimier dropped the salve as his hand went for his sword. Jyslyn turned to face him. "Wait!"
"What?" Kazimier snapped as he turned to face the attacking horde.
"Give me a weapon."
"I am not dying without taking some of them with me. Give me your dagger."
Kazimier met Jyslyn's eyes then looked over at the fight. "Fine!" He cut the rope binding Jyslyn's wrist, then handed her his dagger. "Attack any of us and I will kill you myself."
"I expect no less."