First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
He had plans. Aran had plans to take down the Mountain. She really had slept a while.
“Plans. Right.” She looked at the tray and mopped up the last corner of a roll. “Let’s – where do you have everything?”
“Office. It’s this way.” He looked guilty, again. “Do you think you can-?”
“I’d better find out fast.” She lifted the tray and offered it to him. “Thank you for breakfast. And uh, who made the bread?”
“Donnal. He’s with Ford. He figured out the whole like, wild yeast? I don’t know, anyway, it was some doing but we made it happen.” He took the tray from her, shifted to hold it one-handed, and offered her his other hand.
She decided she could stand to take it and used his support to stand. She wasn’t all that surprised to find herself wearing very little – a shirt she didn’t remember owning and panties that, likewise, seemed new to her.
“I washed everything.” He shifted as she looked down at herself. “But uh. After that whole thing with the – the thing-“
“Well, if she comes back, whoever she was, she can fight me for this shirt. It’s really comfortable.” It was amazingly comfortable, if she was being honest, softer than anything Nikol remembered owning. “But I probably need to clean up. Uh. If I don’t stink too badly – wait.” She closed her eyes, because the world was still spinning just a little, and did a Working to clean off sweat, dirt, and anything else still on her that didn’t smell proper. “Okay, I can wait to do the bath ’till after the plans.”
“I could – I could wait. It’s not that urgent.”
“You’ve waited three days. Come on, show me this office, okay?”
He grunted and started walking. Nikol swore.
“Fuck, that wasn’t an order, sorry. But can we, now, yeah?”
“Yeah. Urgh. I’m not sure’s what’s worse, the part where you’re not awake and I’m worried or when you’re awake.”
“Yeah, well, it could be worse. I could be awake and cranky and bedridden.”
“Hrrmph. Not sure that would be worse or not.” He’d led her into the small hallway and now he pushed open the door across that hall.
Someone here had been some sort of planner, although Nikol was unclear on the words and terms. There was a big drafting table, and on that Aran had taped down a couple big sheets of paper.
“All right. I didn’t bring other people in here – this is your home, right now. I’m not just gonna bring strangers in while you’re sleeping -“
“You’re the person, I’m the Kept, let’s not argue, I went out and Ford and Connal and Reetha and I talked about everything we could remember about the Mountain. And we drew up what we knew, that’s the piece. And then on this piece is everything we’ve seen them do versus rumors. It’s mostly rumor, but I think you know more about them, so there’s some blanks. But uh. This plan relies on what I can do and what you can do. So you getting better all the way is obviously really important.”
Nikol snorted and laughed. “Right. So it is very important that I get better so that your plan functions as written and there are no monkey wrenches of, say, me being laid up in bed any longer.”
“Exactly.” He eyed her sidelong, like he was trying to figure out how she was reacting to that. She smiled – so he smiled, too.
The bond really was getting to him. She wondered how hard it had been for him to sit and wait and watch her sleep – and take care of her body, too.
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” she assured him. Okay.” She looked down at the diagram. “You’ve got some big holes here, but I can fill in… maybe a quarter, maybe a third of them. Might help if we had more refugees. I know some of my old unit is probably out there-“
“For intel, sure,” he agreed. “This plan is really predicated on the idea of you and I and – really not using soldiers. Unless we want to count rodents as soldiers.”
She stared at him. “You couldn’t talk to those things!”
“No, but I might be able to steer them. And they’re just the distraction. The idea is that we get someone – like Longtail here, if he’s willing – small and able to slide through places that a human would be noticed in, and we create an animal-based distraction in three, four directions while our someone slips in through another direction and, well-” He frowned. “This is why I don’t want to use Longtail. Because I have some really good ideas for explosives and some really good ideas for poisons, but even Longtail is not so good that I could explain setting a timer to him. That means we’d have to set the timer ahead of time and have him just push a button, and that means either a test run – risking him twice – or we guess at the amount of time it takes and hope he has enough time to get out and clear.”
“So it’s – it’s better if we can find another animal that’s smart and capable of – you want to – to send in an animal with some sort of-” She blinked at him. She wondered if she just wasn’t processing everything because she was still tired, still hungry – but she didn’t actually feel tired or hungry.
“It only works if we can use your power, because an animal, even a very smart one, wouldn’t be able to scout out an area. They don’t think about space the same way we do. But if I could connect you with the animal, then we could, well.” He cleared his throat. “We’d have to be really close, but it could work. I have, ah, four different ideas for what to send an animal in with, the question, the problem, is really what sort of animal we send-” Longtail headbutted his hand and knee and he paused to scratch the cat behind the ears and down the spine. “I don’t want to risk you, buddy. If I’m not risking myself-” He stole a guilty glance Nikol’s way.
“I get it,” she assured him. “All right, what are your ideas for things to sneak in?”