By Dark Ice Dragon
“Ugh. Finally.” Lan stomped over to the giant beetle she and Gui had just beaten, her dao out in case there was another mob lurking in the shadows. A couple of times, she nearly slipped on the uneven ground and the blood that was all over the place. She’d dodged out of reflex when it started spraying blood all over the place after she’d landed a good hit on it, but Gui hadn’t been so lucky, getting smacked right in the face. It had taken far too long to beat too.
When she didn’t see anything else moving between the trees or in the undergrowth, Lan proceeded to loot the monster, trying to assess whether a part would be useful, or could be sold for a lot of gold. Wolf, or anyone else in their team, wasn’t with them at the moment, the rest of them offline for one reason or another.
When Gui didn’t follow after her, or even attempt to make a comment, Lan glanced at him over her shoulder suspiciously. Was he planning something? Gui smiled back at her weakly, looking a little paler than usual. That could have been because of the contrast between his skin and the blue blood that he hadn’t been completely able to wipe off.
“Don’t worry about me, Your Highness,” he assured her, raising a hand to placate her before Lan could say anything. “I think the beetle just hit me harder than I expected.”
“Dammit,” Lan groaned, rubbing her forehead with the back of her hand. “I just used the last potion.” And the entire point was that Gui wasn’t supposed to be hit.
Gui shook his head, his smile already a bit stronger. “I haven’t lost that much health, and,” –the smile brightened and turned cheerful- “Your Highness will protect me!”
Lan hid a laugh by huffing, shaking her head. He really wasn’t going to change, but if she responded positively to what he said, it would only encourage him.
When she finished with evaluating the beetle and getting what she thought was useful, Lan shoved the pieces in her pouch, wiping her hands clean on her clothes. She nodded to Gui to signal that she was done, and they moved on to find the next mob.
They didn’t seem to be in the territory of the giant beetles anymore – Lan and Gui kept stumbling across some armoured squirrels instead. The stumbling was literal; there hadn’t been one fight they’d had with them that hadn’t been started first by the squirrel – Lan and Gui either never saw them coming, or had only set their eyes on it for a second before they were attacked. They could be anywhere: hidden in the massive foliage surrounding them, around the trees or even, as they had found out once, in the trees, dropping on them from above.
At least Lan knew that their hides were valuable, and while there didn’t seem to be an end to them either, they were easy to beat, so she was happy. Stuffing the latest loot in to her pouch, she glanced at Gui, then frowned in worry. He wasn’t moving like he normally was, all energetic and exaggerated movements; he was currently leaning with his back to a tree, taking deliberate deep, steady breaths.
As she approached him, Lan could see the small sheen of sweat that was collecting on his brow and upper lip. Something wasn’t right. “Gui…?”
He started at the sound of her voice, eyes flying open. “Ah, Your Highness, I hadn’t realised you’d finished.” He looked even paler than before, and was he actually using the tree to keep himself standing?
Lan merely crossed her arms, not letting him distract her or change the subject. “What’s wrong?”
She waited, gaze unwavering.
Gui’s look of innocence faded, and he ducked his head, looking away. “I think I may have been affected by something in the beetle’s blood,” he admitted, leaning even more on the tree. “I feel like I keep losing my health, no matter what I do, or what buffs I cast on myself.”
Lan blinked; she hadn’t expected that, but she hadn’t been expecting anything in the first place. “Wait, you’ve been poisoned?”
Gui shrugged, his clothes rustling as he moved. “I never played an MMORPG long enough to find out what it felt like.”
Oh, great – they were miles away from Star City and Lan didn’t have an antidote on her either. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Your Highness seemed happy and having fun, I didn’t want to interrupt.” He paused, face concentrated. “And status ailments don’t last for long, do they?”
Lan covered her face with a hand and groaned. “Some don’t; others stay with you until you get the proper treatment.”
“…Ah. I didn’t know that.”
It had to have been about an hour since they’d fought the beetle; the longest a status ailment stayed with you until it faded (if it did) was about half-an-hour. Dammit. “C’mon,” she said to him, turning away, “we need to get back to Star City.”
Lan looked over her shoulder at him. Gui hadn’t moved and was pointing to the right. “Star City is that way.”
…Right. “Okay, you lead us back.” Because if she did it, they’d probably end up in the sea or something.
Gui was beginning to stagger, his legs not lifting as high as before. Lan bit her lip as she watched. He was walking even slower than he had been and it worried her. He’d probably been cursed in one way or another, and she wondered if him dying would fix it. She wasn’t sure if it would, and she’d rather not find out.
When Gui stumbled, Lan grabbed him before he fell, and then threw one of his arms over her shoulders. “Don’t get comfy,” she grumbled, when he looked at her questioningly. “And don’t get any ideas – we’ll be faster this way.”
“Of course,” he said quietly, his voice slightly strained.
Lan wasn’t quite sure if Gui leaning in to her more was on purpose or not, but she didn’t call him on that.
Gui… was heavier than he looked. He didn’t look it, but damn Lan was aching by the time they made it to Star City. Maybe she should put her next skill point into strength the next time she levelled up.
Wolf was there when they got in, and when he spotted them, he came over instantly, looking at them anxiously. “What happened?”
Lan pointed to Gui with her free hand. “Gui got cursed or something by a giant beetle.”
“‘Giant beetle’?” Wolf echoed, an ear twitching as he peered at Gui, before taking his other arm. “West of here?”
She turned to Gui, who nodded. Lan stretched a little, rolling his shoulders, grateful that Wolf was helping with carrying Gui.
“You didn’t pass by some Iron Squirrels on the way back?”
“Yeah, we did.” And they’d been too busy hurrying back to skin them, Lan thought woefully. All that gold, lost!
“Oh – they sometimes carry the remedy for that particular poison.”
Lan gaped at him. What?