"Poisoned?" Gilder said wildly, floundering to a sitting position. "How the hell did she do that?!"
Aern pushed him back down on the bed. "Lie down and be still....the poison's effects will be less if you remain calm."
"Calm? How am I supposed to remain calm? I'm poisoned!" His brown eyes were wild, almost panicky.
"Mivarae females have venom on their claws, it was something that evolved as a defense mechanism....but it can be used offensively. That's why most Warriors in Protectorates are female."
"Why the hell didn't you say that before? I wouldn't have started telling her to mind her manners." He glanced at Aika, who was staring openly at his bare torso. "What are you looking at, anyway?"
She stifled a chuckle. "You're hairy."
"If I wasn't poisoned, I'd spank you."
"Isn't he hairy, Lani?"
"I'd say so, yes. I'd hate to see how his legs look."
"Aern," Gilder pleaded. "Make them stop. I'm dying over here, and all they can do is make fun of me."
"You're not technically dying, Gilder. The poison's effects are unusual." Aern was prodding at the slash marks, which were already slightly puffy.
"Unusual, how? I'm not going to sprout wings and a tail, am I?
"Or more hair?" Aika supplied, which resulted in muffled laughter from Lani.
Gilder groaned. "I think death might be better than dealing with this."
"Gilder, you're not dying." Aern repeated. "The venom...well...it just effects the victim in a certain way."
"How's that?" Gilder kicked off his boots. It was obvious he was willing to stay in bed.
"Well...how are you feeling? Warm?"
"Yeah, a bit."
"A little bit."
"And you're thinking something in particular?"
"Well, to be honest, I'm thinking of turning Aika over my knee and spanking her for saying I'm hairy. And then Lani. And then maybe they'd spank m--"
"Yes, you're definately feeling the symptoms." Aern rolled his eyes. "We'll need to keep you under lock and key."
"Wait, back up a second there; you're saying that this venom makes me feel horn--"
The tall pirate laughed. "What else is new? I'm always like that anyway."
"Trust me, you will notice a difference." He glanced up at Aika. "Why don't you stay in here with him for a few minutes? I need to get my kit. Lani, why don't you come with me?" He stood, and left the room with Lani in tow. Gilder's laughter followed them out the door.
"Right! Leave me with Aika! Because I'm a horny old dog! Muahaha!"
Aern shut the door and sighed, and motioned Lani to follow him. "This is not good. He might die."
"But you said--"
"I know what I said....but I said it to keep Gilder calm. What the venom actually does is make the endocrine system go haywire. Things like adrenaline, endorphins and sexual hormones are released, causing the body systems to speed up. If the antidote is not administered, the victim's body literally burns itself out, and they die. All depending on the victim's physical condition, the time of death varies."
"How long would you say Gilder has?"
"He's in good shape, but I still wouldn't give him much more than a few days...probably four at the most." He looked at her. "Please, go tell Vyse to meet me in the conference room. I need to discuss this with him. The last thing I'd want is for Gilder to die."
* * *
When Lani had brought Vyse and Fina into the conference room, Aern was already sitting there, patiently waiting for them. His expression, however, did not bear a particularily patient look; if anything, the Shwartzian seemed slightly worried.
"Please, have a seat. I must discuss something with you."
Fina's brow crinkled in worry as she sat down. "It's about Gilder, isn't it?"
"Yes. I must be abrupt and straight to the point about this: if not healed within a few days, Gilder will die."
"Die? What, did she poison him or something?" It was Vyse's turn to look concerned.
"Exactly. The venom on the claws of Mivarae females is fairly potent, although not poison in the context of standard terms. The next few days, Gilder will be very....moody."
Vyse folded his hands on the table in front of him, and leaned forward. "Please explain."
"Of course." Aern idly traced the edge of the table with a finger as he spoke, even though his face was dead serious. "The venom is a bit more potent in humans than it is in native Arcadians, such as Silvites and Shwartzians. What it does is send the endocrine system into overdrive. Almost every horemone, pheremone, endorphen and mood-altering chemical is released into the bloodstream at an almost constant rate. This causes the body's metabolism to speed up drastically, until it wears out. At that point, the victim either goes into epeleptic shock, or cardiac arrest. If either of these things happened to Gilder normally..." He sighed. "As healthy a man he is, he would have no defense against either a heart attack or a seizure. Either would indefinately kill him because of his state, which will weaken."
The scarred blue rogue glanced down at his hands. "I see. So...what you're saying is that for a few days, Gilder will be excitable, horny, edgy and miserable."
"And this will last until his body finally burns out and he dies?"
Vyse drew a breath, and flickered his eyes up towards the Shwartzian, steadily looking at him through a fringe of dark brown hair. "And this is where I ask you, 'Is there a cure, Aern?', right?"
The captain suddenly slammed his palms down on the tabletop, startling them all. "Dammit, Aern! There has to be something you can do about this! We can't just let him..." He cleared his throat, calming down a bit. "We can't let Gilder go."
When he spoke, Aern's voice was weak, almost coy...as if he couldn't bear the responsibility of what happened. "There is a cure. It just don't know if it still exists." He closed his vermillion eyes as he resurfaced the memory of training he had received long ago. "One of the things all Clerics must learn is the cure for Mivaeria venom, just in case there is a Shwartzian that reacts a bit more violently to it than usual. Normally, it only effects our pheremones. In any case, there was a particular plant that grew under the Green moon. I don't know if any of you have heard of it...
"It's called "maiden's breath", and it's a small sort of flowering bush with fragile little white flowers and small, fuzzy leaves. It used to grow in an area in what is now Ixa'Taka that...well, that was maintained by my people specifically to rear that crop. It was a native plant, altered slightly by the Shwartzians. However, that was thousands of years ago. There is no telling how the plant has evolved, or even if it still exists anymore. For all we know, it was destroyed in the Rain of Destruction and the Gigas Wars like so many other species." He opened his eyes. "That is why I'm apprehensive about it, Vyse. I don't even know if it exists anymore."
A small airy sound came from Fina's direction. She had a hand put to her cheek, her head shaking to and fro in a negative motion. "So much happening in so little time...first Drachma's letter, then that storm and the thing with Aika, then the Shwartzian problem, and then Ramirez's sword...and now Gilder's ill." She sighed again. "Unbelievable."
"This is the worst things have ever been, I agree." Vyse said gravely. "It makes the days of shooting torpedoes at a Gigas seem like a carnival. Too much grief sits on all of our shoulders; it's making us all exhausted. But still...we have to still try. I refuse to let a friend slip away from us."
"I do too." She settled her hands down on the tabletop in front of her, and gave a short, humorless laugh. "It's just, it's kind of ironic that all these things are dropped into our laps at about the same time. It's so overwhelming....almost makes you feel like you're small and helpless."
"Fina, I think I speak for all of us when I say "this sucks.". Right now, I want to smack my head against a wall for a good hour straight." He gave a small smile of encouragement. "Don't worry. I for one am not giving up on Gilder."
"I didn't think you would, either." Lani put in. "From what I've heard, and what I've seen, you're not the kind of person to cave in or give up." She turned to Aern. "And I'm with them...as are you, I hope."
"Of course." The Shwartzian gave a bland smile. "Do you think I would let one of my patients die on me? I am a Cleric after all, and I took an oath to help the sick and injured at any cost." His face returned back to one of rapt seriousness. "How fast is this metal ship of yours, Vyse?"
Despite the grim discussion, the blue rogue smiled in pride. "It's the fastest there is...faster than the best ships of Valua, even faster than the warships of Yafutoma. If we head above the High Cloud Fringe and into upper sky, and then keep travelling between 700 and 1,000 miles south of the equator, we can catch the planet's upper air currents and use them to help push us along. We can be in Ixa'taka within a day and a half. Not even South Ocean's twisters will slow us down." He paused and seemed to consider something. "Can you use your power over gravity to help us if we do slow down? Like you did when we took the Belleza back to Crescent Isle?"
Aern's expression looked doubtful. "I'm not sure....the Belleza was a smaller ship, and one made of wood. This ship is probably made of metals such as aluminum, steel and titanium. As light as it is for a metal ship, it still is massive. I don't think I can push it along without exhausting myself...especially if I have to help push it for a third of the world's circumferance. Besides," he added mildly. "Would you have me stand on your deck when we're in the upper atmosphere?"
"True, and sorry...I didn't think of that. You'd be better off inside taking care of Gilder, anyway. I don't know if we can trust him around Lani."
"I can take care of myself." the Yafutoman scientist said stiffly. "I don't think he'll try anything funny."
"See if you'll say that tomorrow, Lani." Aern said. "By tomorrow, you'll be so tired of fighting off his attentions, you'll want to jump out of the ship and help push us to Ixa'Taka."
* * *
"The world is rotten." Gilder complained. It was the fourth time he had said it since Lani had entered the cabin that morning to see how he was doing. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"That sounds strange, coming from you. I thought you were the kind to enjoy life." She put a hand to his forhead, and pursed her lips. "You're warm."
"If you want to see how warm I really am, let me pull you under these blankets with me."
Lani ignored him, and offered him a mug of a suspiously steaming liquid. "Drink this, Aern said it will help."
He glared at the mug as if it offended him somehow. "What is it...?" he ventured.
"Yafutoman green tea, with some herbs that Aern put in...things like camomile and willow bark. I'm not absolutely sure what some of the things he added are, but they're probably good for you."
"Ugh." Gilder scratched at the short, curly hair on his bare chest. Despite the previous day's comments from Lani and Aika, he wasn't really all that hairy. He had a bandage around his lower torso, and was told not to scratch at it. Thus, he did the next best thing and scratched at his chest. Not that it made him feel any better. "This is unbelievable." He complained, making a face that mirrored discomfort. "I've never had a hard-on for this long. I feel like my--" Then realizing who he was talking to, he coughed apologetically. "Er, sorry. That falls under the "I don't wanna know" catagory."
"Exactly. I know you're sick, but I still don't want to know what your penis is up to. Now drink your tea."
He pushed the preoffered mug away. "Thanks, but no thanks. I think feeling sore, hot and horny is better than drinking whatever mystery beverage Aern made for me." He groaned in frustration and scratched at his chest again, absently noting that he was sweating profusely.
"Gilder, you drink your tea this instant. Can't let it get cold." Her look was one of disapproval.
"I told you no, I'm not interested. Moons, this bandage is itchy..."
"Oh right, what are you gonna do about it? I don't think it matters anyway. What could possibly happen to me if I don't drink it, anyway?"
Lani sighed and waved a hand. "Oh, not much really...just your overexcited genitals will fall off."
"What?!" Gilder's eyes widened to show the whites all the way around.
"Didn't you know? That's what happens to men who have an erection for too long....the male body wasn't made to "keep it up" for more than a few hours. Usually the testicles are all right, but the penis--"
She was interrupted by Gilder, who groped for the mug of tea, and gulped it down noisily. He coughed. "Hot...burned my mouth..."
"Shall I get you a glass of water?" Lani offered.
The pirate stuck his tongue out, wiggled it a bit and popped it back in his mouth. "Nah, I'll be fine. Unless you want to kiss it and make it better..." He looked at her hopefully.
The Yafutoman woman made a sound of barely disguised disgust, and went to look out the window. "If you weren't sick, I'd slap you for that." She laughed softly as she watched the clouds roll past. "Besides, do you have any idea how horrible you look? You're fairly pale, not to mention sweaty...and your beard needs trimming."
"Heh, I guess." He scratched at his chest again, this time a bit closer to the bandage, but didn't respond in any other way.
"I don't mean any offense, though." She added hastily while searching for a means to open the window to let some air in. There obviously was none, the Delphinus being a Valuan military vessel. "Normally you are a very attractive man Gilder, not to mention charming..even though you do have some questionable habits. Although, I suppose even blue rogues are rough around the edges...but still, you aren't that bad. I'm surprised there aren't more women out after you...or at least you haven't found a permanant one by...what, how old are you?
"Thirty-two." His voice sounded a bit more subdued, no doubt from the medication in the tea he drank.
"You're a year younger than me...but I'm not one to talk. It's not like I get to see Ilchymis often." She sighed. "I miss those days years ago when I could see him more often..."
"I didn't know you two were..."
Lani gave a short laugh. "Well, yes and no. We used to be together...we still are in a way. It's somewhat hard, though, being half a world apart. I never really thought much of it at the time, but now, years later, I realize that I never really appreciated the time I spent with him. Sometimes I wish--" She stopped suddenly, her expression suddenly mildly alarmed from the noise coming from the man on the bed. "Gilder? You all right?"
When she turned her head, she found the blue rogue pressing the back of his arm against his face, rocking back and forth as he produced hoarse sobs. He seemed oblivious to her question, aborbed in some mournful reverie that had been sprung by something said in her ramblings. She sat on the edge of the bed, touching his arm gently. "Gilder? What's wrong?"
He let out a low keening sound, a grown man weeping like a broken-hearted child. "...I hate...I hate to think about it."
"Then don't think about...whatever it is. Try to think of something else."
"I c...I c-can't." he stammered. "What you were saying about you and Ilchymis made me think about what an asshole I am."
She chewed at her lower lip, a bit uncomfortable about the situation. From what Aern had told her, she was to expect outbursts. But like this...? The man half-sitting, half-laying on the bed next to her seemed like his heart had been cruelly ripped apart. "You're not an a--...uh, a bad person, Gilder." She stared at the wall, not wanting to look at him in the eye. "If you want to be left alone..."
"No!" Gilder gripped her arm almost desperately, his brown eyes fixed on hers with a pleading look. "No..." he repeated a bit more quietly. "...I don't. I feel like such a loser right now...I just need somebody to hang out and listen..." A tear rolled down his cheek to disappear in his beard. "Please."
"All right." She took his hand in hers and patted it kindly. "I think I understand where you're coming from, so I'll listen."
"Thanks." He hugged himself with his free arm, knees half-drawn up, eyes fixed somewhere on the bedsheets. "Her name is Clara. She's a blue rogue that I managed to get into bed once. That one time got her hooked on me, and she always chases me around, like I'm some great questing beast." He paused. "It's strange, too...she drives me crazy, but I let her catch me...sometimes I do, anyway. Sometimes I run, because I think she wants to marry me. Other times I run, because I think she's nuts. But usually I run because it makes her happy to chase me." Pressing his hand to his brow to cover his eyes, he let out a dispairing moan. "I know I'd do anything to make her happy...but she doesn't know that. She's young, thinking that she's playing some great sort of game, but she has no idea what it does to me..." Another sob escaped Gilder's lips. "I care about her, but I'm rotten to her. I try to drive her away, but I don't really want her to go either."
Lani wrapped her arms around his bare shoulders, trying to give him some comfort until this unusual behavior subsided. While his words seemed to be genuine, as did his tears, she knew that Gilder normally wouldn't cave to extreme emotions like this...especially not over a woman. Not any woman: the woman that hunted him like some great prize animal. Aika had told her the story of Gilder and Clara, after the whole rose rogues incident in Nasr...but it seemed to be more of the usual playboy garbage that Gilder enjoyed. The fact that a woman wanted him that badly probably in truth flattered him, or so Lani had thought. Perhaps Gilder was an excellent liar, very good at hiding the truth, even from himself.
"And now you're away from her, just like I'm away from him...and you wish that at some point, you had said or did something different, right?"
Gilder nodded, not saying anything, but returned her embrace. Despite his recent behavior, this hug in particular didn't have any sexual undertones to it.
"I do that too." She sighed a bit ruefully. "I get the "what ifs"...things like "what if I had never left Valua?" or "what if I asked him to come with me?"...and I wonder: would things be like this? Would they have changed? I know it's silly, but I pray to the twin gods of the blue moon, hoping that they can change our fates and bring us back together."
"Does it make you feel any better?"
"No, not really. Neither does my research." Lani rested her cheek against his, not really caring what he thought. She doubted that he would remember this exchange of personal demons anyway. "Then again, I'm a fool. I sit and I mope about it...and not tell anybody...but at the same time, I don't do anything either."
"Like me," His voice was distant, his thoughts going through a total revolution.
"Yes, like you. I suppose I'm rotten too for not persuing it anymore."
"I suppose I'll have to think through it seriously for a change...maybe not run away as much." He sighed and wiped at his face.
"Never forget, Gilder....nothing begets nothing."
Lani went to pull away, but Gilder didn't unclasp his arms from around her torso. "Gilder, you should rest now." She said, slightly annoyed.
"I don't want to." His arms gave her a squeeze. "You made me feel better."
"Well I'm glad that I cheered you up a bit, but Aern said that you should rest after drinking your medicine."
He raised his face to examine hers closely, his nose a mere few inches from her own. "But I don't want to rest...not after that little exchange." He brushed his lips against hers. "You make me feel so good, Lani..."
She stiffened, her back going stock-straight as she pulled her face away from his, trying to push her hands against his shoulders defensively. "I shouldn't make you feel that way, especially after what you told me about Clara. Now let me go."
His arms tightened and he pulled her closer. "Clara's not here.." he whispered a bit huskily. "Just you and me."
"Gilder, knock it off. You're not yourself." She squirmed a bit, trying to free herself.
"You don't know me...you don't know how good I can be to a woman...to you. Just let me show you..."
Lani's eyes widened in fright as he began hungrily kissing her face and neck, even as she struggled to break loose of his crushing embrace. Despite his weakened state, Gilder was still much stronger than she was. Before she even knew it, he had somehow managed to pin her arms at her sides, and had begun pulling her against him on the bed, easing his weight on top of her. She began flailing her legs wildly, and started to scream, but he covered her mouth with his own, almost oblivious to her protests.
When she bit his lip, however, that got his attention. He snapped his head back to look down at her, his eyes confused. It was almost as if he couldn't feel the blood welling up on his lip. "I don't want to force you...I want to make you feel wonderful..."
She spat in his face, almost sobbing. "Do you have any idea what you're doing, you idiot? Are you really going to force yourself upon me?"
"I don't rape..." He sat up, allowing her to worm her way free, and watched as she darted to the far end of the room. "...I don't rape.." he repeated, almost in a self-mocking tone. Gilder then wiped at the bleeding toothmarks on his lower lip, and shuddered. "I..." He raised his face to look at her, new tears having sprung to his eyes. "Go. Before I do something else stupid."
She nodded silently, and slipped out of the room, adjusting her shifted clothing and mussed hair as she closed the door behind her. As he heard the latch click, the blue rogue felt a surge of disgust that wasn't a side-effect of the poison. He had come so close to doing the unthinkable, and yet it would have been so easy to keep going. But that wasn't him...this strange venom was making him somebody else...somebody who had no control over their own actions. Somebody who would not pay any attention to concience or morals, but instead to their raw instincts and needs.
After the Yafutoman woman left the room, Gilder bowed his head and wept.
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