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By The Tenth Muse

"Are you all right'"

Tao didn't turn to look at his friend's voice. After a long moment he shrugged but remained silent. He felt Dar kneel behind him then the warmth of the warrior's hands on his shoulders. They didn't move however. The strong fingers simply lay there, a connection for which Tao was grateful. A short time later, Dar closed the remaining, slipping his arms around to Tao's front and pulling him close. It was as close to full body contact as they would be able to manage for a while, which Tao knew, and he was grateful for this, as well.

"I don't understand," Tao said at last.

Dar pressed his forehead to Tao's neck and murmured, "They were fanatics, Tao."

"But this, this slaughter, I don't, I can't understand it. These people were completely defenseless! It's just, it's madness!" Tao said, voice shaking. He'd spent the day helping with the wounded while Dar struggled with the remaining men to fight off the attack. It had been brutal. He'd seen battles before, witnessed the bloody struggle, and even been right in the midst of it. This was completely different, though. Women and children, old people and men alike had been slain without mercy.

Finally, the battle, if it could even be termed as such, had ended. Dar and the men had beaten off the attackers. Tao's heart almost stopped at the amount of blood on his friend's body but Dar had assured him that very little of it had been his. He knew that killing took a lot out of the warrior, that Dar strove to merely disable or incapacitate his opponents but this time had proved the exception. Killing had been the only option and yet, despite what he had to be going through, he was now offering comfort to Tao.

Tao turned slightly, looking up at Dar and said, "I'm sorry."

Smiling faintly, Dar replied, "Nothing for you to be sorry about. We all did the best we could."

Sighing deeply, Tao said, "It's over now. Let's get you cleaned up."

Dar stood then held out his hand to help pull Tao to his feet. They walked towards the mid-sized stream and Dar stepped into it to his knees. Splashing himself with the cold water helped take away some of the grogginess that seemed to have lodged in him. He moved slowly, feeling the cuts and bruises he'd gotten in battle. None of them were serious but he would probably carry scars from the encounter; visible and not.

Finally getting out of the water, Dar sat on the sandy bank and waited patiently while Tao's knowledgeable hands checked him for injuries. He wound up covered in bandages though he thought more than one of them unnecessary. Looking at his friend, Dar said seriously, "I think you missed one."

"Where'" Tao asked in concern.

"I was joking, Tao," Dar assured him.

"Oh. Sorry."

"It's all right. I shouldn't have teased you," Dar apologized.

"I think we're both tired, we should get some sleep," Tao said, standing. This time it was he who helped Dar to his feet.

"I promised that I'd take a watch, just in case," Dar said.

"You need to rest, Dar," Tao countered firmly. "You'll be no good to our defense if you're exhausted."

Dar had to concede the point. "But someone needs to keep watch."

"I'll find some of the walking wounded and we'll take shifts," Tao said after a moment. "That way the fighters can get some sleep."

"None of them are fighters," Dar sighed. "They're just struggling to live."

"They are peaceful, yes, but Dar, we're all fighters if things get bad. If someone threatened you, if you were in trouble, I would do everything in my power to save you. That's what these people are doing. Protecting those they love," Tao stated quietly.

Dar looked at him silently for a moment then clasped his shoulder. He didn't have to say anything to that because Tao already knew that he would fight to protect the Eiron as well, had done so numerous times. They moved towards the rest of the people in the makeshift camp. Dar stretched out on the blankets Tao set out for him. Though was exhausted, Dar didn't actually fall asleep until his friend had returned to sit near him.