First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
“Urgh.” She sat in the sun a day later, chemistry books stacked around her, glaring across the street at the town’s little library. “None of this is useful.”
“Well, it’s not magic.” Ford Tejas-Dottir had turned out to be an amazing woman, someone who had at one point been stout, from the looks of her, but carried thinness comfortably. “I’m not sure how you expect it to translate over, exactly…?”
“Magic is just moving around things that exist in the world. Well – well, mostly. So if there’s a chemical compound that exists, it can be created with magic. The problem is, all of these chemical compounds are pretty indiscriminate. There’s no science to evil.”
“Wait. Wait, hold on.” Ford, too, was still recovering, so she didn’t run into the library, but she moved with as much haste as her body would allow.
And then was gone for an amazingly long time before she came back with a couple scientific journals.
“Okay, so there’s one thing that says that a lack of empathy can leave specific marks in the brain, and here’s another one about how serial killers – I guess our monster down there counted as one of those, ha – have different brain activity – low brain activity- in the orbital cortex. Okay, here’s another one. And here’s this, but I’m not sure it’s really science, about the smell of evil.”
“Ford, I could hug you.”
“You already saved my life.” Ford smiled crookedly. “I’d say that’s better than a hug.”
“All right. This is going to take some… reading. But this is amazing, thank you.” She pursed her lips. “Nazis. Do you remember Nazis? Did anyone ever study their brains?”
“I don’t know, but after you eat your 10 o’clock snack, I’ll go look into it.”
“Is everyone here in on this conspiracy to make me eat?” She wrinkled her nose but accepted the covered plate of food.
“Well, considering ‘everyone here’ is four people, three cats, and two horses, and you saved at least the people’s lives — Yeah, I think we are. I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy, though.”
“I’m pretty sure conspirators usually don’t.” Nikol winked at Ford. “I have eaten better here than I have in years.”
“We’re doing a pretty good job; people here had a lot of stored food and they didn’t get a chance to use it, or to riot, or — well, anything.” Ford sighed. “I feel like there ought to be something I can do for them. A monument. Something. And I don’t like knowing that thing is still down there.”
“How about…. We fill that place with concrete, right up to the top, and then we make a plaque about what happened? If you want,” Nikol added more slowly, “I can go back down there and see if there are, uh, old style wallets, IDs, on the bodies.”
“Not alone, you won’t.” Ford glared at her. “And besides, don’t you have an attack to plan?”
“That’s not the sort of thing you do every minute of every day,” Nikol protested. “You need some time to think about other things, let the ideas percolate – I mean, I assume,” she muttered. “I’m not a planner unless there’s an enemy directly in front of me and the plan is who hits the enemy how.”
“Everyone has skills. You managed to take down a creature that had enslaved a whole town. “
“With help,” Nikol protested. “Aran – and the cat.”
“Give yourself some credit. Also, finish your snack. I’ll go get some books on Nazi brains, but first, you eat.”
Nikol finished her snack and, unprompted, went into a set of very light stretches. If she followed it up with sword drills, well, she did that after Ford had left, so there was nobody to yell at her.
She was getting her body back, but it felt like she had been out of commission for a lot longer than the three days she’d been out. She could feel all of her magic again, but it was still being slow to respond to most Workings, and she was hungry all of the time.
Ford had a theory that it had something to do with how the creature had been feeding off of them; Aran, too, had been eating a lot, and he’d been under the creature’s control for only a brief moment longer than Nikol. Ford and the others had already started planting late-season crops and had turned someone’s very nice solarium into a greenhouse with a little aid from Aran and Nikol, and Donnal and Reetha had been going out in long sweeps, looking for livestock, and had managed to pull in three cows they were keeping in an ad-hoc pen that had once been someone’s very decoratively-fenced front yard.
They were going to need all of it. The food Aran was hunting, the stuff they were growing, all of it – they were going through three times as much food, even the humans, as a normal active fae went through in any given day.
She fumbled her stick-sword and swore, picked it up and tried again. Her grip was all wrong. Everything was all wrong. Her body was stupid. It had never been this stupid, even when she’d lost half her leg in a battle.