It had only been a couple of hours but each minute seemed to drone on and on. As I watched over the others, I rubbed my hands along my arms to keep either one from going numb in the cold. Even if the snow couldn’t get down there, the cold most certainly did. Just a couple more hours and I'd be able to rest in one of those warm bedrolls and stare at the inside of my eyelids for the rest of the night.
A bit sick of looking at everyone else in their warm beds, I softly sighed and looked back up at the dirk. It was still sitting there, jammed in the cave wall, just as we had found it. With any luck, one of those spells in Jasper’s thick tome would be able to remove it. If not, it wouldn't be a huge loss. I could always replace my rusted dagger back in town, especially with the money that the viceroy had promised. Still, it seemed like everyone else had claimed a bit of loot back in the ziggurat. Even Roma had been given that wand and she was…was… damn.
Right on cue, Roma jolted out of her uneasy sleep, giving a small shout before getting a hold of herself and looking around. Just as always, I put on my most diplomatic smile and put a single finger to my mouth as she looked in his direction. Instead of going back to bed like always, though, the human kept looking around the cave with a wierd expression on her face. She looked a bit spooked. Well, more spooked than usual.
When the human calmed down a bit, she slowly squirmed out of her bedroll and walked over, towering above me as I sat there. It's not that she's shorter than me when I stand but... you normally don't notice such things. In my old caravan, you only even met with large folk when the two of you have some sort of work that needed doing. Right then, down in that cave, there was nothing to keep my mind on, nothing that had to be done. For one of the first times ever, I really felt... small. Strange as it may sound, I felt a bit relieved when she finally sat down.
The two of us sat in silence for awhile, just staring into the last glowing embers of the fire. “Are you gonna take your shift early, then?” I asked at last, staring directly at a dying ember. No response. Peeking to one site, Roma was still staring directly into the fire... or at least towards it. I couldn't even tell if the huan had heard me. Roma... didn't seem to understand people sometimes. Broff had told us once that she had been wounded when he first found her a few years ago. In my humble opinion, not much had changed since then.
When I turned to face her and repeat the question, I could see that her cheeks were red. Did she have some sort of cold or... something glimmered softly on her cheek. She was... crying? I was kind of at a loss here. I had dealt with her night terrors. I had worked around her bad hearing. I had even managed to keep most of her delusions from getting in our way. Crying, however, was new. What on Urth did it mean when somebody like Roma started crying?
It was Roma who finally broke the silence, asking, “What are you doing up, Flouzer?” No response to my question, then. Well, at least she was speaking.
For a second or two, I considered telling her the truth; reminding her that I had always taken the first night shift. In the end, though, it just wasn't worth the effort. Instead, I pointed back at the dirk in the wall and joked, “I’m guarding the dagger.”
Roma looked at the dirk for a few moments, seeming to take my joke at face value. Then again, maybe she understood the joke but didn’t find it funny. Whatever the case, we fell back into silence for a few more minutes.
“Should I put some more wood on the fire?” she finally asked. Like most of Roma’s behavior, I found it troubling that she hadn’t noticed the lack of wood in the cave. Was she suggesting that we go out into the snow and search? It was a cold night to be sure but the others would hardly freeze to death in those warm bedrolls… probably. Wait. Was Roma trying to make a joke of her own? Her tone remained as flat and emotionless as ever and her expression was hard to read.
“The cold isn’t that bad,” I lied, giving her what I hope was a warm smile, “so I suggest we let the flame die an honorable death.”
The silence returned and I was left to wonder once more if I'd even been heard. In the depths of this silence, I began to wonder why I was even standing guard. Nobody knew where we were. Nobody had any reason to follow us. Broff had searched the cave for tracks and found nothing at all. There weren’t any savages living out there and certainly weren’t any caravans. Jasper had even hidden the cave’s mouth behind an illusion. There was only one real reason that anyone might have been looking for this cave. I turned to face the dirk and could almost here Jasper’s nasally voice. “Don’t touch that, Flouz.” “It seems to be magical, Flouz.” “I’ll remove it in the morning, Flouz.” Even after a month of tutoring, Jasper still wouldn’t let me try the simplest of tricks. It was tempting to just steal the old goat’s spellbook and try casting the spell myself. Then again, there was not telling as to how Roma would react.
I was distracted from my thoughts as a soft, warbling moan found it’s way out of Roma’s throat. As she rose one sleeved arm to wipe away her tears, I gave her another small smile and a couple light pats on the back. It was all that I could think to do. Maybe Broff would know what to do if he had been awake but I wasn't much of a people person.
Roma managed to calm down a bit and asked yet another question, her voice a bit choked this time, “My… my wand makes light… so… can I use that?”
After slowly absorbing what she had just said, I slowly nodded towards her and replied, “That… sounds nice.”
Roma drew a small wooden stick from out of her robe and muttered a single word under her breath. With that, the entire stick glowed as brightly as the fire once had. To my credit, I did not chose to question this. I didn’t question when or how she’d learned how to use the wand. I didn’t question why she had slept with it inside of her robe. I didn’t even bother questioning why she hadn’t handed over her wand to begin with. Roma was just… Roma. After a certain point, you learned to adjust and stop asking questions. At the moment, I was just glad for the bit of light and heat. Though only half as warm as the fire had once been, I was still far warmer than I had been when Roma had first awoken.
“I had a new dream tonight,” said Roma. A new nightmare, she probably meant. Well, she wasn’t the only one. I had my own share of nighttime horrors to haunt my. Unlike Roma, I could rarely even fall asleep anymore; maybe once or twice a week. Still, if this was about what I suspected it might be, Roma probably needed someone to talk to her. For her, choosing the one friend unable to banish his own demons must’ve seemed perfectly natural.
“Was it about Broff?”
Another small moan escaped Roma’s throat as she nodded, turning to truly face me for the first time that night. I turned to her in turn, looking her directly in the eye. I had to make this clear to her. “Stop beating yourself up over that, Roma. None of us knew about that pit and things would’ve been far worse if you’d jumped after him like you wanted to. You saved Jasper’s life and my own more times that day than I can count and we made in time for you to save Broff’s life as well. Hells, you fed the man healing potions until he heaved. Besides, we both heard what Jasper said. A good healer could regrow his arm and leg without breaking a sweat. You didn’t do anything wrong, Roma. You didn’t do anything wrong” As I looked into her eyes, I could swear that I could see comprehension in her gaze. Suddenly, tears started welling anew in her eyes as Roma grabbed me off the ground and held him in a tight embrace, finally crying in earnest on my shoulder.
“Can… I… guard that dagger… with you... tonight?” muttered Roma between sobs.
“That… sounds nice.”