It was still early evening when Balrog returned to the bunks where his companions had been quartered. That Lois had wished to rest so soon after a day such as this did not surprise him very much at all. He would have been far more shocked had the ermine insisted on extending the day. As it was, he had little reason to worry about disturbing those who were resting, since their number was so few.
He found his commander crouched by their bunks, rummaging through the pack of supplies that he had carried during their previous patrol. Little remained of the consumables, and many of the other contents would need to be thoroughly cleansed before they could be used. Whatever the wolf was searching for seemed to be eluding him, but he still managed a genuine smile when he saw the lutin's approach. "Balrog, good evening! How fares the patient?" "He fares well enough. His memory remains badly damaged, but his mind is clear and I have seen some progress. I have no doubt that he will recover fully given sufficient time." "What sort of progress have you seen?" Nathan asked. As his commander closed the pack and returned it to its place under the bunk, Balrog replied, "He is beginning to recall small pieces of his past. They are fragments at best, but they are still something – a bit of encouragement amidst a difficult struggle." The black wolf nodded, sitting on the edge of his bed as he listened. He cocked his head curiously at Balrog's explanation of the ermine's progress. "How large are these fragments that he is recovering?" he asked. Balrog gave him an odd look. "They are very small, perhaps a few moments of time. He recalls them well, however. I asked him about one of the events that be recalled, and he was able to easily recount even his own thoughts during that time.” He shifted and eyed his commander warily. “Why are you suddenly so interested? I thought you were opposed to the idea of him recovering his memory." The wolf gave a conceding nod before explaining. "I worry about what he might remember, and how he might react to the memories when they return to him. That does not mean that I do not wish him well during his recovery; quite the contrary, I expect I have more reason to be curious about his progress than do any of you." He shifted his seat, allowing his tail a little more room to move. "Now, you say he is recalling brief periods in good detail? That strikes me as odd. Memories rarely return in detail unless they are part of a larger epiphany. Memories are so interconnected that one rarely returns without bringing others with it." Balrog shrugged. "I know too little about memories to truly say. What I will say is that I trust Lois, and I trust that if he says that he does not remember, he truly does not remember." Nathan waved a paw and rocked back on the bed a little bit, removing himself from anything that could be misinterpreted as a confrontational posture. "I do not mean to question your friend's truthfulness by my observation. I was merely making note of an anomaly I perceived in your retelling. As we both know, this entire situation has been a maze of such mysteries, and we should consider any further oddity as a potential key to unraveling all those mysteries. If he has deep memories, but only of very specific events, we should consider the possibility that someone is very specifically choosing what they will allow him to recall." "The only one I would suspect of having any motivation for such a thing is you," Balrog noted. "And yet, if it would serve my purposes, you cannot discount the possibility of another party being similarly interested," Nathan countered. He gave a smile, the same predatory one he loved to use as he whittled through an opponent's defenses in combat. "The concerning issue is that they may have other directions for their efforts. I do not wish him to recall his past because I am afraid that he will recall being an assassin and seek to return to that occupation. Another interested party may instead direct their efforts at accomplishing exactly what I fear, stripping away any part of Lois that would resist such a task until he is just a pawn in their hands." Balrog scowled at his friend's presentation of the disturbing possibility. Nathan was frustratingly good at playing Devil's advocate. "The one who cast the original spell on Lois is dead," the lutin finally responded. "Perhaps, but the loss of his memories could make him a tempting target to a sufficiently skilled opportunist. Provided only that they could come by the information that Lois had been crippled in this way, it is not unreasonable to propose such a person could execute their designs on the man despite not having caused the affliction themselves." "I saw no signs of such interference when I examined him earlier today," Balrog offered "And likewise, nothing when you examined him while he was trapped as an animal," Nathan pointed out. "We are dealing with something we do not understand, Balrog. Vigilance is of the utmost importance. Just because you do not see any sort of conventional magic affecting him does not necessarily mean that he is free from any sort of taint. Until Lois is completely returned to his former shape and completely recovers his memory, or until we discover some satisfactory answer to our questions, we must assume the worst though we hope for the best." Balrog heaved a frustrated sigh, but he was forced to nod his agreement. "I don't suppose you have any suggestions for how we might exercise appropriate caution?" Nathan shrugged, his expression and bearing suggesting that he was enjoying the discussion, if only because it frustrated his friend. "You are the mage, my friend. If anyone is equipped to answer that question, I am certain it is you." The lutin mage scoffed. "I have no more idea than you," he complained. Chuckling, the black wolf stood from his bunk and stretched. "I will leave you to think on it, then." The lutin raised an eyebrow. "Are you going somewhere?" he asked. The tall, lupine man nodded. "I wish to take a run around the grounds to keep up conditioning," he answered. He turned to the stout man and gave a chuckle. "I don't suppose you would be interested in joining? After our last patrol, I worry I might outpace you by so large a margin that I will lose you completely next time!" Balrog gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes before shaking his head vehemently. "I have had my exercise for the day. I am well satisfied with leaving you to your own." "Suit yourself." The wolf grunted as he stretched out his muscles carefully. "By the way," he continued, "I think Victor was looking for you. It did not seem urgent, but you may wish to see what he needs. I would have tried to help him myself, but we both know that he is more comfortable in your company." Balrog gave a nod, looking at his friend with some concern. “Is he all right?” The wolf shrugged as he grabbed a few things from where he had arranged them on his bed for his run. “I cannot say for certain. He has been a bit detached since we came here.” “He is very concerned for his family. They are all still within the walls of Metamor, and he worries that something will happen while they lie beyond his reach.” The large man sighed, rubbing his jaw with one of his large hands. “I cannot imagine what it is like to have someone you care for that much separated from you. He may relate to me better than to you, but the only family I had is now dead, and it is hard for me to mourn his passing.” Nathan nodded. He fidgeted uncomfortably, like he wanted to leave as soon as possible. “My family is all in the south.” “You said that you were trapped here during the Three Gates?” Balrog asked. The black wolf waved a hand in the air. “It wasn’t exactly an accident,” he clarified. “The Curse was, but I came to Metamor to aid in the defense against Nasoj. When the Curse was cast, that mission became slightly more of a permanent relocation. I have had some contact with my family since then, but they’re not keen on the idea of a ‘werewolf’ coming down from the north, claiming he is their son.” Balrog gave a sharp shake of his head and a chuckle. Looking back at the wolf, he asked, “Wouldn’t you have been rather young at the time of the Battle?” “My family asked similar questions at the time,” Nathan noted with a mirthless chuckle. “It was something I felt needed to be done, however, and I do not regret having done it.” He sighed and shook his head. “Few people came to the Keep’s aid during those dark days. Whether they failed to take Nasoj seriously or thought that allowing him to weaken the Keep was politically expedient at the time, the Midlands was happy to let things play out without intervening. I take no small amount of pride in having been one of the few to go against that decision.” “I am glad that you did. Now, we both have tasks to tend to. You need to take your run, and I should go see if Victor is all right.” He kicked at the floorboard with one of his thick boots. “And then, perhaps, I will take a look to make sure Lois is all right.” “Not a bad idea,” Nathan confirmed with a smile and a nod. “I will see you later. And don’t give Victor TOO much to drink, all right?” Balrog smirked and waved a hand dismissively. “I’ll make sure he behaves himself. I’m more worried about you.” “I never drink and run,” Nathan said matter-of-factly, and then he was gone before Balrog could say another word. The large man shook his head and grinned for a few moments as he watched the wolf retreat. Once he was out of sight, the lutin left to find Victor. While he would not have the assistance of Kyia in this effort, he doubted that his young friend had wandered far from the barracks. --- This email has been checked for viruses by Avast antivirus software. https://www.avast.com/antivirus
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