Alyssa stumbled over her words again and again. Every mess-up only served to make her more nervous, resulting in more and more mistakes. She wasn’t even sure if she was still intelligible, but the prince hadn’t interrupted her so she hadn’t stopped.
When the Black Prince had first turned to her and asked what had happened, she had nearly fainted. It was like being addressed by Darth Vader. He had such an imposing presence. An aura of terror radiated from his armor, filling her with a dread that she hadn’t even felt while captured. Bercilak and his cronies were just regular people in bath robes compared to Brakkt, the Black Prince. Even now, she could just picture him stretching out a hand in a pincer grip and saying, ‘I find your stuttered explanation disturbing.’
A flash of light behind him made Alyssa pause and wince. Tenebrael and Iosefael were still at it. Alyssa had been trying to ignore it. It wasn’t like she could intervene even if she wanted to—which she kind of did, she definitely wanted Tenebrael to win the battle if only because Tenebrael didn’t want to kill her. But monstrous didn’t even begin to describe their fight. Trolls and goblins were at least bound by the laws of physics and a mortal coil. Those two were… not. According to both angels, they were forbidden from harming mortals, so Alyssa could theoretically get between them. However, that on its own was a problem. They were moving around so fast that they might as well be teleporting.
“Impressive,” The Black Prince said, deep voice resonating from his helmet. “Most impressive. Unfortunate that you could not capture the others as well, but one will suffice.”
Apparently, he had taken her pause for the conclusion of her explanation. How far had she even got in the story? Far enough for him to know that Morgan escaped, at the very least. Oh well, that was close enough to the end for her. Alyssa was just glad that he turned his helmet away from her.
The raptor—The draken snorted out another blast of hot air. Laughing? Alyssa just glared, glad it was on the opposite side of the small plateau. It could probably cross the distance in an instant and eat her whole before she could blink, but it was too busy keeping a moaning Bercilak pinned to the ground.
“Fairy,” Brakkt said, picking up the cage and rocking it back and forth. The poor creature inside crashed from wall to wall even though he wasn’t using much force. “Remove the—” He cut himself off with a “Gahk!” and staggered.
A low ticking noise came from the depths of the draken’s throat. Its yellow eyes narrowed, looking at the Black Prince.
Closing his fist, Brakkt partially crushed the cage. “Do not try your tricks on me, fairy.” His words came out in a low growl, even deeper than his normal voice. James Earl Jones had nothing on this guy. Even without his words being directed at her, Alyssa still shuddered. “Remove the shadow assassins from the city. Send them to the river and drown them. Do this and I’ll consider letting you live. Disobey or try to mesmerize me again and I will crush your skull.” As far as she could tell, the fairy didn’t respond. None of its movements indicated that it understood. It just cowered from its partially collapsed cage. But apparently it managed to satisfy the Black Prince. He nodded his head, moved back to the draken, and placed the fairy into one of the saddle’s side bags.
When he withdrew his hand, he pulled out a small golden coin. Not like the monetary coins, which were rectangular. This was circular with a few holes in it, creating the pattern of… Tenebrael’s eye tattoo. Someone must have described that tattoo in one of Lazhar’s sacrifices—or his predecessors—and it had spread far and wide, becoming a symbol of both her and the royal family. He held it up, showing it off for a moment before he held it out.
“A commendation. Perhaps less than what you deserve, but there is little time. I must return this scum to the palace. Find out what he knows and whether there are more attacks on the way.”
“Ah, no, that’s perfectly understandable,” Alyssa said, watching as he slung Bercilak over the draken’s back, not caring that the robe probably barely protected him from the spines. He jumped up into the saddle immediately after.
“I am sorry for your friends, though I did not sense any bodies at the bottom. Perhaps they survived?” Leaving her with that rhetorical question, he gripped the handles at the front of the saddle. As soon as he did so, without kicking his heels or any verbal commands, the draken took off, leaping from the plateau as if it wasn’t a million miles high.
There was no sound of the creature landing in the distance. It left nothing behind but a slight rustling in the otherwise still air. As soon as that died down, Alyssa was left entirely alone.
But no bodies? He probably hadn’t been specifically looking for them, but still, maybe they were alive. Kasita wasn’t even human. A fall from the cliff wouldn’t hurt a shotgun shell. If she turned into one, she would survive… probably.
First thing first, Alyssa moved around the toppled table and picked up her pistol. The drop scuffed up the metal ever so slightly, but guns were hardier than that. With the flashlight from the satchel, she collected as many of the scattered bullets as she could find. Most had been left in the pouch, so there wasn’t too much to grab. Some had surely gone off the edge. Recovering them would be impossible even in the bright of day, not that she intended to return here anytime soon. Both Bercilak and his henchman’s deck of spell cards went into the satchel. Even if Tenebrael didn’t return her phone soon, at least she would have those to look over.
Alyssa glanced up to the sky again. Did those two even have endurance? Would they stop any time soon? What exactly constituted as victory between two beings of such a power? Maybe she should try to intervene. Somehow. Maybe a fireball blasted in their direction would catch their attention long enough for… something.
She’d think about it when it came up.
For now, the real people mattered. Tzheitza and Kasita. Grabbing Tzheitza’s potion bandoleer and slinging it over her shoulder, Alyssa took off in a careful jog. She used the beaten trail, the one she and Tzheitza had left behind upon finding the soldier’s body. It was a much safer trail and a much less climby one, so no risk of accidentally crushing the orbs against the hard rock.
She continued down the path, past the body, until she heard a pained moan above her. Whipping around her flashlight, she found her. “Tzheitza?”
The older woman sat atop a rock, leaning against another. Her face and arms looked a lot like Bercilak after she had finished with him, bruised, swolen, and bloodied, though also covered in gravel. A large gash on her forehead leaked blood all down the front of her face. The leather apron she wore was torn in several places as were the rest of her clothes, but considering the damage to it, it had to have protected her a great deal. Her fingers were the worst. She must have clawed into the weather-worn rock face in an attempt to slow her fall, but hadn’t managed to touch the stone until she had already been falling. Three of the fingers on her left hand were twisted and broken. Two on her right hand were missing their fingernails entirely.
“Are you… You’re not alright. We need to get you to a hospital.”
“Potion.” She spat a lob of blood to the side. “Rejuvenation potion.”
A healing potion. Of course healing potions existed. Why should they not? But, looking down at the myriad colors, Alyssa had no idea which one was which.
“The blue one,” Tzheitza added.
That narrowed it down a bit, but there were still a couple of blue potions. One a frosty blue that was cold to the touch—probably not that one—another in a deep royal blue shade and finally a lighter sky blue.
“The lighter one.”
“Right.” Now that she looked at it a little closer, she noticed that its cap was a bit different than the others. The hooks that attached the orbs to the bandoleer on the others looked like they pulled off. Maybe starting some sort of fuse given how they seemed to explode by shattering the glass rather than because the glass shattered. This one clearly had been designed to twist off. Which Alyssa promptly did. Letting Tzheitza try to uncap it with her broken fingers just made her shudder at the thought. “Here you go.”
Instead of drinking it, as Alyssa had expected her to do, Tzheitza accepted it with her less broken hand and dumped a few droplets onto her twisted fingers. The effect was instant. Her fingers twisted around on their own with a sickening crack that made Alyssa wince. The torn skin mended as Alyssa watched. Skin on one side latched on to the other in thin sinews. They slowly widened, thickening and fully healing the wound. As soon as her hand was back to normal, Tzheitza poured a few more drops on her leg, which Alyssa hadn’t even noticed until now. The bone in her thigh jutted out, not breaking the skin but creating a large and plainly obvious lump. Apparently the potion did not need direct contact with the bone as the liquid soaked in.
Tzheitza let out a pained groan as the bone audibly snapped back into place. Once there, she experimentally kicked her leg a few times. Apparently satisfied with the healing job, she slowly and carefully—far more so than any other movement she had made since Alyssa met her—slid off the rock to land near Alyssa. She groaned again at the impact, doubling over as she half-collapsed against the wall. After a moment of rest, she put her weight fully on both feet. She didn’t stand up completely straight, but she was standing.
The whole time Alyssa couldn’t help the grimace on her face. On one hand, Tzheitza was back on her feet only a minute or two after taking the potion. On the other hand, everything Alyssa knew told her that the older woman needed splints, disinfectants, casts, bandages, probably several shots, and maybe even surgery.
Alyssa was glad that she had come out of this ordeal with nothing more than a few scrapes on her elbows. They stung, yes, but she would live.
Though she might need to dab some disinfectant on her wounds back when she got back to her gear.
To her surprise, Tzheitza apparently had enough of the magical healing cure. She grabbed at the cap for the potion, screwed it on, then took her bandoleer back from Alyssa.
“What happened?” she said through grit teeth, still obviously in pain.
“The Prince showed up. Took Bercilak to the palace. I assume the woman disappeared?” Recall sounded like a teleport spell of some sort. Given that Alyssa couldn’t see any bodies lying around the area, she probably hadn’t been killing herself.
“Ye had a mimic in yer bag.” Tzheitza said the word with significant derision. Maybe it was just the pain speaking through the clenched teeth, but it almost sounded like she snarled.
“I didn’t know!” And that was the honest truth. “But are you really going to argue about it? She freed us. We probably would have both died and they would all have escaped before the prince showed up.”
Tzheitza reached out, grasping Alyssa’s shoulder with her renewed hand. “Ye can’t trust mimics. They’re deceitful by nature. Even with how weak they are, they can be dangerous as ye saw.”
“I don’t trust her. I only just met her today at a whorehouse—” As soon as Alyssa spoke, she winced, realizing how that must sound. “Look, it’s a long story. But I need to find her—or her body—if only to find my gun. I can’t let that out of my sight for long… Shouldn’t you take more of that potion?” Alyssa asked, trying to change the subject for a moment. “You still don’t look so well.”
Tzheitza glared, but released Alyssa’s shoulder. “Too expensive. Even for me. Don’t want to waste the rest unless I’m immobile or dying.” She tried to stand up straight again, but failed, clutching at her side with a grimace.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m fine!” she snapped. “Just need some rest.”
“Okay,” Alyssa said, keeping her voice calm. “Go ahead and take a seat. I need to…” If Tzheitza had fallen here… Glancing up, Alyssa nodded her head. This was directly under the side of the plateau. As Kasita had fallen from the opposite side, she shouldn’t be far away. “Kasita!” she called out in a whisper-shout. There weren’t any goblins or trolls around and she didn’t think that any would show up anytime soon, but she didn’t need to go around yelling at the top of her lungs. The flashlight was bad enough as it was.
Sweeping said flashlight around the area, Alyssa moved until she was where she thought Kasita should have fallen. Then she began her search in full. There were a number of sagebrush bushes and patches of dry-grass making the search much more difficult than it needed to be. At the very least, there wasn’t a body anywhere. Had Kasita been a human, Alyssa would have said that she had survived the fall and wandered off. But as a mimic, her human body wasn’t her real body. For all Alyssa knew, her real body was the size of an ant. Changing tracks, Alyssa started searching less for people and more for impact sites. Disturbed dirt or broken branches on plants. Something along those lines.
She finally found it. It took ten minutes of searching, but she spotted it. One of the sagebrush bushes was a wreck. Whereas most branches were pointed toward the sky, a large chunk of them on this bush were bent to one side. It had taken so long because it was actually a fair distance from where she had expected Kasita to have fallen. Now that she thought about it, the mimic had been knocked pretty far back to have fallen off the ledge in the first place. Still no body, but right in the middle of it all was a shining metallic glint caught in the flashlight’s beam. Alyssa reached past the brambles and pulled out her pistol.
The safety was off. It was the first thing she noticed. Trying to flick it back on didn’t work. It wouldn’t budge. Damaged in the fall? She just about holstered it anyway—the gun shouldn’t go off accidentally with the holster protecting the trigger—but she hesitated. This seemed all too familiar, too suspicious. Even more suspicious was the fact that she couldn’t remove the magazine either.
Leaning in close, she whispered, “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and I’ll toss you into a meat grinder.”
Cold metal twitched in her fingers. Alyssa dropped the gun, taking a step back as she moved. The gun shimmered. Just as with the shotgun shell, Kasita took its place an instant after. She had her lips pursed into the biggest pout. Crossing her arms, she stared.
“I was hiding for a reason,” she said, still pouting. “I don’t think she’ll take too kindly to my existence.”
Alyssa glanced back. Tzheitza was out of sight, slightly around a few rocks, hopefully taking a rest or applying more of that blue goop. “Uh huh. Where’s my gun?”
“Oh yes! You’re very welcome for saving your life. What’s that? Am I okay after that fall? A bit scraped and scuffed, but I’ll be fine, thank you for asking. It really shows you care.”
“I’ll thank you for returning my gun. If you’ve hidden it and were just going to let me leave it here, thinking you were my gun, I’ll—”
“Ufu~ Such a single-track mind. I have it right here.” Kasita pressed both hands against her chest. And she didn’t stop there. Her skin and clothes shimmered as her hands reached beneath the surface. Gripping the barrel, the mimic withdrew the gun from inside herself.
As soon as Alyssa had it in her hands, she flicked on the safety and placed it securely into her holster. But she couldn’t help but stare at where Kasita was now rubbing her chest. There were no holes or blemishes on the woman’s skin or clothes. She looked just as she had the moment Alyssa met her. “You had it inside you?”
“Of course I did. Have you ever held something heavy with your arms stretched fully out? It’s easier to carry if you hold it closer to your chest, right? I just take that logic one step further.”
“But inside you? How does that… How does that even work? It was inside you when you were appearing as the gun, right?” Maybe it was a fool’s errand, asking about how a magical creature works their magic, but really, who could resist? The danger had passed and Alyssa had all her possessions back on her. Even the noise of battle was lessening in the distance. The Black Prince must have ordered around the fairy some more. With all that out of the way, Alyssa found herself curious once again about the specific workings of the world around her.
“I’m a mimic,” Kasita said with a shrug, as if that answered everything. “My body is an illusion. A tangible one, but an illusio—”
The very ground shuddered underneath them. A light flashed across the sky so bright that, even with her back to the source, Alyssa found herself blinking away afterimages burned into her retinas. Turning with a snarl, Alyssa stared up into the sky. She had relaxed too early. Of course it wasn’t over until those two idiots stopped fighting. What were they doing anyway? That had been an earthquake. It wasn’t like the sights and sounds that only Alyssa could see. It had been a real honest earthquake that people had felt. If it was just her, she might have been able to ignore it as another thing that only she could perceive, but Kasita had been able to feel it too or she wouldn’t have stopped talking.
They were forbidden from killing people. What if some poor person tripped, fell, and broke their neck because of that? What if one of the towers crumbled and crashed down on a city block!
They needed to stop. They needed to be stopped.
The question was how?