An hour later, Niqi’s terrified scream pierced the peaceful quiet within the cottage. “Please! No!…Don’t….” she cried out before waking alone in the dark. She wailed into the pillow, trying to stifle the sound.
Mehe bolted upright in bed, his Gloomblade condensing in his hand. He leaped onto the floor and ran to the door, peering around for whatever was causing the commotion. Niqi was sitting up against the wall. She had the pillow crushed to her face as she cried. Her whole body shook and her tendrils lashed out frantically.
Mehe stepped closer. “Niqi? What is it?” he whispered. “Did someone attack you?”
The tiny Ren’dorei pulled the pillow down just enough to look in his direction. “I keep…seeing…” she sobbed. “Over…and over…” He allowed the dagger to vanish before stepping closer. He sat down beside her and hesitantly placed his discoloured hand on her shoulder. “I…Mehe…he’s there. Every time I try to sleep. I…I close my eyes….” she shook harder, her tendrils grasping at his hand.
“What can I do to make you feel better?” he asked softly. Niqi looked at him searchingly. Very slowly, tentatively, she moved closer and grasped his arm. She leaned on his bare shoulder and tried to stop crying. Mehe blinked at this sudden proximity. Hesitantly, he draped his arm around her. One of his tendrils curled up to gently brush away her tears.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
He shook his head as his tendril coiled around his arm once more. “I heard you crying earlier,” he said quietly.
Her eyes went wide. “I…I didn’t mean to…” She hung her head. “I’m being so much trouble. Anas needs rest and you should be with him.”
“You’re no trouble at all, Niqi.” He sighed. “I want you to feel safe in our home at least. You’ve my word that I’ll protect you as long as you remain here.”
She curled into him. “I can still smell him on me. Feel…feel his hands… Mehe? What if he finds me?” She started shaking and pulled her knees to her chest.
“Then I’ll kill him,” Mehe said calmly as though discussing the weather.
“Yes.” He leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. Niqi closed her eyes as well and tried to take the deep breaths the way she’d been taught. After a few attempts, she managed to still herself a small amount. “That’s good,” Mehe said softly. “Just breathe.” She continued the exercise, her small body eventually relaxing enough that her tendrils released Mehe’s hand on her shoulder. Mehe cracked an eye open, peering at her. “Feel better?”
“A bit, yes.” She sat up, giving him some space. “Thank you…for sitting with me. I…” she flushed purple.
“You what?” Mehe opened both eyes and turned to her curiously.
“I am scared….by myself.” She answered him sheepishly, immediately regretting the words coming out of her mouth. “I’m sorry, I’m foolish….ignore me.”
His brow furrowed. “You mean you don’t like sleeping alone out here?”
Niqi shook her head, looking at the floor. “Just forget I said it….” she whispered.
Mehe glanced at the door to the room he shared with Anas. “You could sleep in our room if you want,” he offered. “That way you wouldn’t be alone.”
She looked up at him then to the door. “I…would I disturb Anas? Mehe, what happened to my brother?”
He sighed, his eyes sliding shut again. “He was kidnapped by the tidesages in Boralus. They wanted to harness his power in the service of their dark masters.”
Niqi’s eyes went fully round. “They kidnapped him? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Oh Anas!” She pulled the blanket back over herself. “I’ll…I can…can manage. Take care of him.”
“You wouldn’t be disturbing him. He’s fast asleep.” He stretched lightly, stifling a yawn. “If you’d feel safer, you’re welcome to sleep in there with us. I know he wouldn’t mind.”
“Are you certain?” Her voice was muffled under the blanket.
“Very certain.” Mehe smiled. “He’d want his little sister to be as comfortable as possible.”
She smiled faintly. “All right,” she yawned. She scrambled out of the covers and picked up the belt and pillow. She arranged the pillow under her arm and started to reach for the blanket to gather it up.
“I’ll get it,” Mehe said. He climbed to his feet before picking up the blanket. Leading the way into the room, he set it down and refolded it into the makeshift sleeping bag. “There.”
“Thank you, Mehe.” She set the pillow down and belt aside. “This…is very kind of you.” She knelt down and climbed back into the warmth of the wool.
“Hmm.” He knelt and tucked her in gently. “I’ll be right here if you need anything,” he said.
“Ok.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. “Please don’t come back, please…” she whispered pleadingly.
“What is it?”
Niqi shook her head. “I just don’t want to…to see him again…”
Mehe pondered for a moment. “I have an idea,” he said. Without further ado, he lifted Niqi along with the blanket and carried her over to the bed.
Niqi gasped as he scooped her up. “Mehe…are you,” she quivered.
Carefully laying her down beside Anas’s sleeping form, he climbed in next to her with a weary sigh. “Feel better now?”
“Yes.” She curled against Anas and studied his face. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes and tried to figure out how she would repay Mehe for this kindness.
“Hmm. Goodnight, Niqi,” Mehe mumbled, already drifting off.
“Goodnight,” she murmured.