The ride back to Tortall seemed longer than usual. The beaten down dirt path stretched on for miles with the city walls nowhere in sight. Birds chattered from the leafy branches as they filled the two travelers in on what had been happening in the city. The wind blew gently through the trees, sending a welcome breeze to the travelers. Daine wiped a bead of sweat from her brow. Shielding her eyes, she glared up at the sun, its rays seemingly mocking her on the return trip home. Her well-worn tunic seemed like a potato sack scratching and irritating her skin. Her eyes burned and no matter how many times she closed her eyes, no tears would come to relieve the ache. Over the past few days, the aches and pains had gotten worse. She had been on the verge of complaining but she didn't want to seem like an untested, spoiled maiden, so she bit her tongue and endured the pain. As Daine rode past the birds, they fell silent, sensing that something was amiss with their friend.
Beside Daine was her mentor Numair. Numair looked the same as always; his tan was deepened from his time in the sun, and his hair had recently been trimmed. His shirt flowed easily over his muscled body, his large hands gripped the reins tightly. The only thing that had changed between teacher and student, mage and magelet, was a deepening of their relationship. Over the past years, they had grown closer, no longer was their relationship one of teacher and student, but one of an undeniably deep friendship.
Unaware of Daine's hardship, he was deep in thought about a recent spell he had mastered. Already, he had turned his attention to another that he had recently discovered. Daine scowled fiercely over at him. Was he so lost in academia that the sun refused to bother him? Or was she being too sensitive? Cloud, her companion these many years turned her head and cocked it to one side as if to ask a question. Daine slightly shook her head as they spoke to each other in their secret way. Their conversation flowed effortlessly as Daine convinced Cloud that was perfectly fine.
In the midst of their silent banter, Daine was quickly overcome by a wave of nausea and the earth tilted. The ground flew up to meet Daine as she slid sideways off Cloud. Cloud, sensing something was wrong, whinnied in alarm to alert Numair. Wake up stork-man, she cried! His concentration broken, Numair swung his body to the right and deftly caught Daine in his strong arms before she tumbled to the ground.
"Daine?" He called to her. "Magelet?" Numair brushed her wavy hair away from her face as he looked over her with his dark brown eyes, the colour darkened with his worry and concern.
Daine's face had a slick sheen of sweat that glittered in the sunlight. Her eyelids fluttered with her eyelashes beating softly against her cheek. Her skin burned with a fire that threatened to sear Numair's hand as he brushed his palm gently across her cheek. Daine's pulse raced as if her heart was fighting a losing battle.
Numair recognized enough of the symptoms to know what new foe they both faced: unicorn fever. His skin turned pale despite his tan. He had never known the fever to be so accelerated. If Daine had complained to him even a day earlier, he could have stemmed the illness from spreading. Softly he cursed Daine for being so stubborn as to think nothing was wrong. He was never going to forgive her if she died on him.
Numair called upon his Gift and closed his eyes. In no time at all, he was back in his wing of the Tortallan palace, carrying his student and his friend's limp body through the stone halls.