Chapter 26
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Time moved slowly as the trio tromped through the grass lands. The sun was not ready to set quite yet, but it would start its downward journey into darkness soon. The buzzing of insects, and the gentle sway of grass in the breeze provided a gentle lullaby that rocked the little elf girl to sleep as she held onto her beloved champion.

As the little girl slept, she began to dream. It was not the pleasant dream of sunshine and fresh, green, grass. No, it was a twisted remembrance of the town of Kaasvalia.

The streets of the sea port were empty, save for a howling wind that blew trash and debris about the area. Tiny, and alone, the small girl cried out for her mother. She fought the wind with her voice, but the words barely escaped her mouth.

No one heard her. No one came. Lost in a world she knew little about, the girl could do nothing but wrap her arms around her tiny body and cry.

The nightmare, grew worse. Someone finally appeared, but not her mother. Three large men with hateful smiles stalked toward her from three different directions. She tried to move, but her body was frozen in place. All she could do was cry out in fear.

The next thing she knew, she was chained to a wall. One of the men forcefully used his hands. They roved in places that no man's hand had the right to rove. His sinister laugh echoed disgustingly in her ears, "Lil' slut's not ripe, but I like mah fruit bettah when it's green," just before his tongue slipped out and slid sickeningly along her cheek.

Thankfully, they did little else before they left save torment her about how she would fetch a fine price at market. The words, "Hot little slut'll make some fat aristocrat happy for a day or two," echoed in her ears before the disgusting man gripped her tight by the hair and pulled her head back. His scraggly beard scratched her cheek as he whispered in her ear, "Then again, maybe we'll keep yah longah."

His hands roved in places they should never go as he continued, "Might be fun to breed a few more pets for mah pet shop. I'm a propah business man. Gotta think about mah long-term investment strategy, after all."

The degenerate released her from her torment after a while, and moved away from where the trio left her chained to the wall. All they needed now was for her family to pay the ransom so they could get it both ways. Bored with their crying toy, the sinister men complained about the fact that she did not struggle at all. It was not fun for them if all their pet did was cry. So, with the rising of the sun they left.

In her dream, she remained chained down in the dark. There was no champion to save her. She had nothing more than her bitter tears and plaintive sobs to keep her company.

Suddenly, a voice pierced the darkness. A soft masculine voice sweetly sang out, "Softly in the breeze at dawn, my true love comes with flag unfurled..."

Her twisted nightmare of half-truths and mixed memories disappeared in a flash as she was rudely awakened. Groggy from her recent slumber, it took her a moment to recognize the sound of singing.

“My love did not fail to be... The hero of my last memory. Though he lay there on that hill... his heart is with me beating still..." sang the soft masculine voice.

The little girl felt powerful arms tighten around her as he began to rock back and forth. It took her a moment, be she realized that she was wrapped in her champion's arms. For some reason he rocked her gently and sang to her like a small child.

She could smell the zombie onion nearby, and listened to it for a moment as it wandered aimlessly through the grass. She seemed to be uninjured. The onion was alright, for a zombie. Why did Blackthorne stop and begin to sing?

"Is everything alright?" she asked softly, her head pressed to his armored chest.

He stopped singing, but continued to rock her gently. He even began to stroke her hair. The motion was far too familiar for her to be at ease with it, and yet it was also quite soothing.

"Are you alright now?" he asked her gently while stroking her hair.

"I— Yes. Was I not alright before?" she asked.

"You were crying... I tried to wake you, but I guess you were too exhausted from all of this to awaken," he said softly. "You didn't wake up, no matter what I tried. So..."

"You chose to embrace me and sing to me like a child?" she asked, a curious tone in her voice.

"Sorry..." he said. She felt his chin press down atop her head. "I've never been good with this sort of thing. Whenever my little sister cried in her sleep, I would give her a hug and sing to her."

He offered a slightly amused snort then said, "I was a little bigger than her so she felt safe from the monsters that like cute little girls. She always threw that bit about cute little girls in there."

The little girl suppressed a sniffle, but soon tears tracked down her cheeks despite the cloth over her eyes. "You have a younger sister...?"

"Yeah..." he said, a slight catch in his throat, "She was about your age... Well, your size anyway..."

She mouthed the word, "Was," quietly to herself before asking, "Your sister meant a great deal to you?"

Blackthorne nodded his head, an action that lightly pressed his chin against the top of her head. "We were inseparable, and pretty much only had each other after my father died."

"Pretty much? You had no other relatives?" she asked.

He snorted then spoke in a cold tone, "We did, but I would hardly call them family after everything that happened."

"I see," she said. Curious to know more about her massive protector, she could not help but ask, "Would it be hurtful, or rude, to ask how you lost her?"

Blackthorne took a moment to collect his thoughts then said, "I failed to do for her, what I did for you."

She sharply inhaled a breath then slowly released it. Her curiosity died with the passing of that breath. Continuing to ask about such a situation, especially when they barely knew each other, would be beyond rude. It would be nothing short of hateful, in her opinion.

It did not take long for her to piece together the facts that he did share with her. Given his sister's mentioned age and size, and how long ago he made this sound, he would have been a child at the time. "Carrying such a memory, some would not be able to do it," she finally said.

"If I don't carry it, no one else will," he said in a cold tone of voice. Slight warmth returned to his words a moment later, however. "Thank you for your concern."

"Interesting. Should I be the one to speak those words?" she asked him curiously.

"Some things don't need to be said," he replied softly.

She pressed her cheek to his armored chest once more. "Those are the words that need to be spoken most of all."

He barked out a deprecating laugh that startled her a little, but his following chuckle warmed her a little. He said, "Are you sure you're a little girl?"

She smiled shyly, "In my fashion."

Unable to restrain himself upon witnessing a cuteness overload, Blackthorne rubbed the top of her head rapidly and mussed her already bedraggled hair.

She cried out, "Hey!" before she pushed at him a little then tried to smooth her hair back down.

He laughed obnoxiously at her indignant expression then released a slow sigh, "Yeah. Little or grown, you're a girl alright."

"Such barbaric cruelty," she said in a heated tone, before she struck him repeatedly on the chest plate with her tiny fists of justice.

After a moment they both shared a soft, thoroughly amused, laugh. They spoke of simpler things for a time. Eventually, coming to a strange topic of conversation.

"Reincarnation?" asked Blackthorne. "People talk about it, but I don't really know if it's a thing."

She nodded her head lightly then spoke in a sober tone of voice, "Some debts can never be repaid."

"What do you mean?" he asked her.

She leaned back so she could approximate looking into his eyes. "What you did for me, there's no way to really repay that sort of thing."

"That sort of thing doesn't require repayment," he said, his eyes narrowing. "It just needs to be done."

"My family will offer you trinkets, perhaps whatever on-hand money they might have. Please take them, even if it seems to be shallow recompense. No matter what it is, it won't be enough. It can't be enough," she said, before she bit her lower lip and chewed on it a little.

"That... I don't need anything like that," said Blackthorne. "I'd feel weird taking something for helping you out of a situation like that, and it's not like anyone hired me to do it."

"Do you hate rewards?" she asked, her little mouth hanging open.

"No, but some things shouldn't be done just to get something else in return. You're not a bundle of herbs that I'm delivering to an alchemist," said Blackthorne.

She made a soft moue then whispered, "Do such foolishly naive people truly exist?"

"Hmm?" he asked.

She leaned forward, head still tilted back. "My family will take me from this world. You are destined to grow old, die, and become dust long before I will be of age to exert my will and return to these lands."

"Well, thanks for that bit of cheerful news," he said with a quirk of his lips.

"I do not care if it takes a thousand years, or a thousand lifetimes. I vow in the name of Saelil Lothuialeth, I will find a way to repay this kindness," she said in a strange resonant tone of voice. "Be it to the dust of your ancient forgotten remains, your shade, or even if it must be in your next life. I will repay my debt to you."

Blackthorne tilted his head and looked at her sideways for a moment. The little girl in his arms breathed heavily, her tiny chest rising up and down as though she were on the urge of hyper-ventilating.

The concept of such a sober little girl pronouncing what seemed to be an important vow was beyond bizarre for him. He did not know what to say, so he let his body take over. Unbidden, his hand rose up then fell atop her tiny head. "Thank you," he said just before he rapidly mussed her hair once more.

"Hey, no!" she shouted before grasping at his hands. Her cheeks were puffed out in annoyance, and red as a beet, as she tried her best to fend off the ridiculous antics of her beloved champion.

"Muss! Muss! Muss!" he cried while he mussed her hair. "Cute little girls need to know their place!"

"So cruel!" she cried, before she smacked his chest plate with her tiny hands.

"By the way, who's Saelil Lothuialeth?" he asked her after he spent several minutes playing with her hair and referencing her as an adorable little girl.

She stopped smacking him long enough to unleash a disgusted feminine, snort. "That is my name, of course. Who else would I invoke in such a vow?"

"I see. So, your name is Saelil then?" he asked her in a gentle tone.

Saelil ceased her huffing at him long enough to offer another shy smile. "Yes. I am Saelil Lothuialeth, the beautiful and prodigious daughter of house Lothuialeth. You may worship me if you wish. I will allow it."

"Tempting," he said lightly. "But I've seen you with your hair mussed so it'd be weird."

"Do not say such a thing!" she cried.

She struck him on the breastplate with her tiny hand and said, "It would not be weird. Worship of my beauty and intellect makes perfect sense whether my hair be mussed or perfectly styled!"

"Confident little thing, aren't you?" asked Blackthorne, just before he released a playful laugh.

Saelil placed her hands to her hips then lifted her chin and offered a beatific smile, "I know my own worth; all others should accept their place beneath me and act accordingly."

Blackthorne tried to fight it, but he could not. He immediately laughed and mussed her hair a little more. The beautiful and prodigious daughter of the house Lothuialeth was forced to continue to playfully suffer such cruel indignities for quite some time.