Leopold used Midas’ knife to carefully slice through the slimy substance that encased Raven and tore it open, revealing her face. Her eyes were closed and her skin was pale and clammy, but at least she was breathing. He continued to remove the substance until the girl was completely free of it.
“I still don’t get it,” Midas said. He gestured to several other mucus covered forms lying on the ground. Opening these cocoons had revealed several swamp creatures and even a deer. Leopold wondered absently how a deer had made it this far from its natural habitat.
“It’s like a spider,” Leopold explained to his brother. “You carry Raven and I’ll explain on the way back to camp.”
“You can find the way?” Daniel asked. “Even out here?”
“Tracking an animal may be difficult in a swamp, but I can always backtrack, no matter where I am,” Leopold answered. “I can most certainly find the way back.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Midas asked. He threw the limp form of Raven over his shoulder. “Which way do we go?”
Leopold didn’t answer but instead headed into the marsh. To anyone else it would have been difficult or even impossible to find the way but not for him. He had spent his life navigating cities, much of which looked exactly the same. Compared to that, the natural variety of the marsh may as well have been a massive yellow arrow showing the way.
“I’m with Midas in that I still don’t understand,” Daniel said after several minutes had passed. “You said that the creature was like a spider?”
“Exactly,” Leopold answered. “The thing would capture animals and, based on the condition that Raven is in, inject them with some sort of poison.”
“So Raven’s been poisoned?” Midas asked. “Shouldn’t we be doing anything about that?”
“It’s not bad enough to kill her,” Daniel interjected. “Her vital signs are strong, and there does not appear to be any fatal injury.”
“Right,” Leopold agreed. “Maybe the word poison was a bit strong. Think of it more like a knock out drug. I don’t know if the creature bit her or what, but the poison only served to knock her unconscious. Once she was out, it wrapped her in a mucus cocoon and hung her up with the rest of its prey. It would have come back later and eaten her if we hadn’t come along.”
“Then it’s a good thing we did,” Daniel commented. Midas nodded in agreement.
Leopold shook his head in disbelief at how quickly his brother could forget. Not long ago, Daniel had been arguing that they should leave Raven to the beast and save their own skins. Now he swept in to take credit for her rescue and Midas didn’t even notice the inconsistency. Well, Leopold was certainly not going to be fooled by this. He didn’t blame Daniel, after all this was a cut throat business and not one that you survived in by playing the hero, but he would make a note of this. Clearly his own life was more important to Daniel than the life of anyone else.
Leopold led the group back to the camp without much trouble at all. By the time they arrived, the sun was setting, or at least he assumed that it was. The trees blocked the view of the sky and the varying amount of light was the only thing that indicated that the sun even moved. Midas laid Raven beside the fire ring and headed out into the marsh for wood, taking Daniel with him. After the events of the day, he was not taking any chances. Leopold made sure that Raven was comfortable and covered her with her bed roll. Then he turned to his own injuries.
The adrenaline rush during his fight with the swamp monster had prevented him from feeling the many injuries that he had sustained, but there were quite a lot of them. His limbs and torso were beginning to ache and dozens of bruises were darkening. Actually, there were so many of them that the argument could be reasonably made that his body was one large bruise with a few spots in it. Leopold unsheathed his sword and tossed it on his bedroll. Next came what was left of his shirt. The fight had turned it into little more than a collection of rags roughly maintaining the shape of the garment it had once been.
Now it was time to deal with the actual injuries, an activity that Leopold had been studiously procrastinating against. The provisions that they had to patch up gashes were certainly not top of the line though they would do the job. He retrieved them and sat cross legged near the fire ring using the remaining light to examine his skin. It was a given that he would have small cuts and abrasions everywhere, so he tried to ignore them and their blood as he worked. His legs only boasted two major gashes which he quickly cleaned and stitched up. His chest was an entirely different story. Having taken several brutal beatings, it was almost entirely purple with bruises. He was fairly certain that he had several cracked ribs and half a dozen nasty cuts presented themselves immediately to be taken care of. Leopold sighed inwardly and began to clean and stitch. He had finished two of them when Raven finally spoke.
“You look terrible.”
“You’re awake,” Leopold said, turning to look at her. “Yes, I imagine I do.”
“We match now,” Raven said and reached to touch the large scar tracing across her face. Leopold felt his face and found what she was talking about. It was bloody but not deep. It might scar but certainly not as much as Raven’s.
“Yes, I guess we do match,” he said.
“What happened?” Raven asked. She tried to sit up but was unable to do so.
“Don’t try to move,” Leopold cautioned. “You’ve been poisoned and aren’t exactly in great shape at the moment. I can help you sit up, but I’ll probably get blood on you.”
“That can’t be any worse than whatever else I’ve been covered with since we got out here,” Raven countered.
“Fair enough,” Leopold said. He laid aside his medical supplies and stood, flinching at the simple action. The stitches pulled at his skin but the real pain was in his chest. He’d have to do something about the ribs eventually. Painfully he crossed the short distance to Raven and crouched beside her. Ignoring the pain flaring through his body he helped her to sit, bracing her for a few seconds to make sure that she wouldn’t fall.
“You’re probably thirsty as well,” Leopold said. He looked at the canteen, the water from which he had been using to clean his wounds. It was only a handful of feet away but in his condition, it might as well have been a hundred yards.
“I am parched,” Raven agreed.
Leopold retrieved the water as well as his medical supplies. He certainly wasn’t going to be making that trip again.
“So what happened?” Raven asked after a long swig of water.
“How much do you remember?” Leopold asked.
“We were fighting about something,” Raven said. Her face indicated that she remembered what it was, but if she wanted to forget it, Leopold certainly wasn’t going to bring it up. “I went running off into the swamp. That’s the last I remember. There’s also a large shadow running around my head, but nothing concrete.”
Leopold was about to answer when Midas came blundering back into camp followed by Daniel. Each had a load of wood in their arms which they carried straight toward the fire ring.
“You’re up,” Midas exclaimed when he saw Raven. “How are you feeling?”
“Like crap though I imagine not as bad as Leo does,” Raven answered. “What exactly happened while I was out?”
“He saved your life,” Midas answered, dropping his wood. “I mean, Daniel and I helped, but Leo did most of the saving.”
“Well, I’d better thank him,” Raven said.
“If you feel up to it, you could just stitch up a gash or two and we’ll call it even,” Leopold said. “I think I feel one on my shoulder blade and I obviously can’t get it myself.”
Raven took the needle and thread from Leopold, and he rotated so that his back was to her. There was the cold of water running over the wound and then the sharp prick of the needle piercing his skin. Raven leaned forward far enough so that he could feel her breath on his ear.
“I’ll stitch up this gash,” she said in a low voice that only he could hear, “but don’t think that this makes us even.”
Leopold didn’t know whether to be afraid or to smile. With Raven you could never tell.