Varra sprang to her feet and ran towards him. He was wearing the simple clothes of a commoner. No, ‘commoner’ was too elegant a term. Even the servants of Upper Terrace were more fashionable. His clothes were little better than rags, and in their condition, rags would serve better. They weren’t shredded, as she expected to see with so much blood, but they were drenched.
She took a breath to steady herself, and probed his body, looking for any wounds. His own breath was shallow and uneven, but his condition didn’t seem to be getting any worse. She tried not to touch the blood, cursing herself for not bringing others to do this for her. Not that she expected this to be a rescue mission, of course. In fact, this boy had to be a criminal. He obviously wasn’t from the upper city, and sneaking through the Meadows, at night no less, would more than likely lead to an immediate death sentence. The Hand of Justice would see to that. If that was the case, she might as well leave him here. He would probably die without medical attention, or if he didn’t, well, the constructors weren’t the only dangers of the Meadows.
There was undeniably something odd about all this, though. This boy would be an easy target for a constructor, so why had it been rampaging for so long? And if the constructor was here, which seemed pretty irrefutable, how had he survived?
He coughed again, and despite her quick reflexes, a spatter of blood hit her arm, a cold wetness where it touched her skin.
She continued examining him, careful to avoid his face now. None of this made sense. He didn’t seem to have been attacked, and the only sign of struggle was the constructor’s wall. Nothing about the guardians of the Meadows involved significant amounts of blood, and no predator in the forest would interfere with anything a constructor was hunting.
A chill ran down her spine. Was this boy simply sick? What if his mother or father couldn’t find anyone that could help him in Lower Terrace, and decided to try their luck braving the Meadows to seek a better doctor? If that was the case, was he contagious? Despite her best efforts, she was now covered in blood herself. Was she now in danger, too?
Varra rose to her feet. She should leave him here. He probably wouldn’t survive the journey back to Upper Terrace, anyway. What’s more, if he was contagious, it was better to describe his symptoms to Xan and have him treat her rather than bring a corpse to the infirmary and risk the entire city being infected.
She got a good look of her surroundings, trying to paint a picture of what happened. The young man had stumbled from one area of the wall that had two more walls jutting out from it. He was halted in three directions, with nowhere to run except back towards the constructor, probably. How, then, had he survived?
Something loose moved when her boot kicked it. Stooping down, she picked up a small glass vial. It was completely empty, with no stopper to be seen. The glass was thick and sturdy. Good quality. She pocketed it.
Continuing her investigation of the scene, she found no other clues. There were no bodies or tracks anywhere to be seen. In fact, there was no evidence of anyone else having even been in the area. It was as if the boy appeared in the Meadows out of nowhere, deathly ill, managed to outrun a constructor for over an hour, and when it finally caught up to him, it lost interest instead of finishing him off. How did the vial fit in? Perhaps Eathe would have some ideas. As new to his station as he was, she had named him Guard Captain for a reason. He had a quick mind.
Varra returned to the young man, who had found the strength to bring the crooked staff to his chest and was holding it in both hands. A low mumble and short cough later proved he was still alive, at least.
Curious, she grabbed the staff and tried to pull it from his grasp. Even in his sorry state, however, he gripped it tightly and would not part with it. Instead, she crouched down and felt the wood. The top of the staff seemed well worn, as if it had been burned thoroughly. Embedded in the twisted bark, however, she spotted a small stone.
Carved into the stone was an intricate symbol she had seen once before.
“Change of plans,” she murmured. “I suppose you are coming to Upper Terrace with me.”