First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
In the front of the room, a man stood, taller than everyone else, taller than people ought to be and made mostly, it seemed, of leg, and he was speaking, but she couldn’t hear him.
He was still speaking, even though the floor was shaking. He looked straight at Nikol and glared. Even though she had no idea what he was saying, his presence seemed to surge through her.
She sat down. She didn’t pay much attention to where, just in the nearest chair. Clearly he was saying something very interesting. If only Nikol could hear it.
She opened her mouth, but she realized she didn’t want to talk. She wanted to sit quietly, yes, and listen, but listening would require talking, because she would have to reverse the Working on her hearing. And if she did that, she would be interrupting.
She shifted, and her seat creaked and crunched beneath her; something jabbed into her; the sudden pain cut through the fog, just barely. But it was enough to make her leap to her feet, and that was enough for the image of the cat to flash into her mind.
She glared at the man at the front of the stage and drew her sword. He kept talking, or his lips kept moving, but she looked not at his eyes but at his chest and strode forward.
She had killed more terrifying things than him. She had killed things she didn’t want to kill, people she didn’t want to kill.
But the force of his power still made the few steps between her seat and his low stage some of the most difficult in her life.
Then, a moment later, there was a hand on her hip and, when she glanced, Aran standing there, his own knife out. He met her eyes and nodded at her.
Nikol relaxed a little. The creature on the stage hadn’t realized they were a threat yet, or perhaps it knew they weren’t one. Maybe it had no sense of threat. Nikol could imagine that, with some of the stories she’d heard.
She strode forward, Aran at her side. They made the short hop onto the stage. Aran’s hand slid off her hip and they flanked the creature.
Then, it noticed them. Then, it hissed. Its lips – such as they were – moved in shapes and ways that didn’t seem like speech anymore.
Its head was too high to reach its neck. Nikol chopped it off at the thighs. The creature grabbed her with talon-like hands and scrabbled at her arms, attacking her. She felt an urge to sit down and listen, stronger than any she’d heard before. This thing, she should mind its dying words, shouldn’t she?
It clawed against her arm and she remembered the cat.
“I promised.” She couldn’t hear her own words, but she knew what she was saying. “I made a promise.”
Aran stuck his knife in the thing’s back and, while it was distracted with the pain, she beheaded it. It fell down with a thump, bleeding ichor all over the stage.
She cleaned her sword on its jacket while Aran cast a Fire Working on the heart, burning the chest out of the thing. With that done, she grabbed his hand and they fled. She could feel, as if from a long distance, pain in her chest, in her legs, in her arm, but she didn’t have time for it. They had to leave. They had to get the rescuees out.
The rescuees were waiting in the stairwell. Maybe not so much waiting as drooping, but they were there, although one of them, one clearly hadn’t survived being moved. Moving quickly and soundlessly without need for discussion, Nikol and Aran got the three surviving people up the stairs and out of the alleyway, into the empty street.
Behind them, the building made no noise, no rumbling, no threats of falling in. It ought to have, she thought. It should collapse into dust. Maybe before they left she’d burn it to the ground.
First, she repaired her own hearing. The world felt strangely loud after her time in silence.
Then she regarded their patients. She had no idea how they’d been kept alive and thus she had no idea how much time she had to work before that magic failed utterly, or how long before their bodies just gave out on them.
She looked at Aran, who was looking at her uncertainly. “Water, then come back here. I – Sorry. I want to see you after every step, because-“
“I got you. Thank you.” He rubbed his arms. “Water, got it.” He headed into the nearest building – the nearest building on the other side of the street from the place she’d just been.
She kept him going back and forth for several trips, while “their” cats paced up and down the street, occasionally bringing them presents of dead birds and rats. She was going to have to go find that cat soon and pet it. She’d made a promise. She was going to have to keep it. But first —
Aran made a stew of rat and bird, lighting a fire in the middle of the street. They should move their patients, but on the other hand, the three of them were exhausted and limp and Aran and Nikol weren’t much better. That thing – that thing had seemed to leech the energy out of them. She shuddered. She could imagine being left there, listening to the creature, his droning voice making no sense, going on until it did make sense and–
“It-” The patient nearest her coughed. Nikol put water to the person’s lips and murmured a Working to soothe their throat. “It-” the patient tried again. On the third try, they managed a shaky laugh. “Like the worst pastor ever, but you just couldn’t get up and leave. It would be rude. How did you–“
“Made myself deaf,” Nikol admitted. And then she twisted her lips in amusement. “I’m not sure that would’ve worked on its own. I mean–” she shook her head. “Pretty sure it wouldn’t. But I-” She hesitated stupidly; she was obviously using magic on these people. They had to know she was fae.
“You saved my life.” The patient patted her arm weakly. “You couldn’t have done that if you were just human. So – thank you.”
Nikol knew her smile was weak. “I made a promise,” she admitted, “and that pulled me. I told this alley cat I’d come back and pet it. I promised it. Foolish, usually. Foolish even now – now I have to track down a single alley cat somewhere in this town. But.”
“Mmm.” The patient tilted their head in what could have been a nod in other circumstances. “I wouldn’t question it. God works in mysterious ways. Like you here. Showing up when I thought I was dead.”
Nikol wasn’t sure she believed in God or in a hand of fate, but she was not going to question what was keeping her patient going. She nodded and smiled a little and went back to repairing systemic damage. She wasn’t a healer by trade, but this much she could do. This much, somehow, she felt like she had to do.Want more?