To fill square one-four (caffeine failure) on my card for trope_bingo.
First: The Tod’cxeckz’ri Paper Part I
Previous in Trope Bingo: The Tod’cxeckz’ri Paper Part V
No Ao3 standard warnings apply.
Nehanani Jahnan woke with a pounding headache, her head pillowed on something soft and warm. The sound of something thudding down next to her finished the job of shaking her into wakefulness.
She was – she had – “Shit!” She opened her eyes and sat up, sending stabbing pains through her temples. A bag landed near her feet, and her doppleganger-sister waved from the rigging of her ethership.
“We just need to borrow the Maru for a couple days. We’ll be back to get you long before the food and water run out. Sorry!” She had to shout to be heard over the flapping of the sails; even the rigging was out of reach. “Have fun with your ‘temporary husband!'”
“Shit, shit, no. Covair!” Jahnan lifted her voice to a shout, despite her headache. “Covair, it won’t work! Maru won’t work for you!”
“Oh, we can be very persuasive. Thanks, sis! We’ll see you soon.”
The ethership shot away, its sails snapping in a sudden wind, leaving Jahnan standing, swearing, watching it go.
“…nice family.” Yira sounded groggier even than Jahnan felt. “They dumped us, hunh? Where are we?”
“That… that is a good question.” Jahnan looked around. Yira was lying on the ground, surrounded by the three large duffel bags Covair had dropped on them. There was a half-wall past him, and past that, more walls. To three sides of them, what looked like the ruins of an ancient city, crafted in brick and adobe, tumbled outwards. The fourth side was a precipitous drop. “So, a ruined city on a cliff. Could be almost anywhere; I haven’t explored this alternate too much. What’s in the bags?” She began digging in one bag as she asked; Yira grabbed a second.
“I’ve got coffee beans, water, food supplies. Three meters of rope and a tarp.”
“I’ve got more water, clothes – how considerate – another tarp and another three meters of rope.” She inched over to the cliff edge. It was so sheer, it might have been cut or built that way, like a giant building. “The drop is at least fifty meters.”
“Of course it is. Your sister is a real piece of work.”
“Your mother aimed a gun at us. What’s in the third bag?”
“More water, more food, no rope. A flashlight and some flares, two nice knives.” He jangled his cuffed wrists. “Unlock me?”
“Not yet, no. Where were those coffee beans?” She dug in the second bag until she discovered the bag – and a small grinder and press. Those would have to wait. She could chew beans now. “All right. Let’s find out what we’ve got.”
The bags were heavy, but they’d both hauled worse, although Yira’s bound wrists did make things awkward. They took turns carrying the third bag as they paced off the confines of their dump zone.
It was a mesa, it turned out, about a mile on a side, the whole place filled with old buildings and falling-down ruins, and every side of the perfectly-square mesa far too sharp. How the ancients had gotten up here was anyone’s guess – maybe they’d used ladders long since rotted away. How they were getting down – well, obviously Covair didn’t mean for them to. They were supposed to stay here until she came for them.
Jahnan chewed another bean. The pounding headache was beginning to fade. They had one more side of this damned place to walk, and then they could look for shelter.
“Watch out!” Yira’s warning came almost exactly as the creature attacked Jahnan. It looked like some sort of twelve-limbed big cat, all fur and stripes and anger. Jahnan barely had enough time to bring her knife and her duffle bag up to slash and to guard, and then the thing was on top of her.
She rolled, grabbing the creature by the throat, and tumbled sideways until she was out of reach of most of its claws. It took all her strength to bear down on its throat, and she had none left to provide the coup-de-grace. “Yira!”
“Will you unchain me after this?” He was already moving, finding the right angle and driving his knife into the thing’s heart. “This is stupidly awkward.”
“You did all right.” She pulled herself to her feet as the creature twitched. “Not bad at all.” She had a few scrapes, but nothing too deep. She could wash it all off when they made camp. “Let’s finish the circuit and find a roof. This place may be nearly desert but I bet it gets cold at night.”
The second creature attacked them within three hundred feet. This one was mostly lizard, although it was nearly as big as Jahnan. It got a good bite in on Yira’s forearm before they dispatched it.
They managed to kill the third one before it reached them. By that point, they’d gotten back nearly to where they started and the sun was beginning to go down. They turned inward, heading down an old road, stepping over the crumbled remains of buildings and dodging the occasional threat.
By the time they found a standing building – almost in the center of the ruined city – they had killed ten creatures, none of them the same. “Is your sister usually murderous?” Yira wiped the blood from his face with the back of his arm.
Jahnan chewed another coffee bean. Her headache was gone and her entire body felt tight. “No more so than I am.”
“Lovely.” The building had stairs circling the outside, stone or brick in the same dull buff as the rest of the city. The third floor had a door still mostly intact, and, better yet, a floor still intact. If they settled at the very back corner of that floor, they should be mostly safe.
At least from creatures. There was no guaranteeing she was safe from Yira Trembane. Jahnan chewed another coffee bean and found, deep in one duffle bag, both medical supplies and a large bed roll. It was the matter of a few moments to clean and bandage both their wounds. Nothing attacked them. Yira didn’t even say anything; he had not been chewing beans, and he looked dead on his feet.
Not dead, no. Sleeping on his feet. She didn’t want to think about dead. The sun was going down, and there were monsters everywhere. She chewed another bean and leaned against Yira. He was warm, notably and pleasantly so against the chilling air.
“She even gave us a bed,” he murmured. “How considerate. Maybe we won’t d–“
“Shh, none of that.” Her words were slurring. She closed her eyes, just for a moment. Just for a moment.
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