Alyssa blinked her eyes open, not quite understanding how she had wound up in bed. Bed was nice, but not so at the same time. As if she had just awoken from a great nightmare. Clouds covered her vision, making it blurry. It wasn’t anything to be alarmed about. Every morning started like this. As soon as she took a shower, she would be fine. Alyssa rolled onto her right shoulder, trying to reach the phone on her end table to check the time.
As soon as she moved, fire burned through her arm. She bit down on a shout as she tried to grab whatever stabbed into her arm only to find her entire hand covered in a thick gauze. Wiggling the fingers of her left hand didn’t work. The gauze was either too bulky or too stiff. Alyssa lurched forward, using her left elbow to help get her sitting.
This wasn’t her room. Her eyes cleared enough to see the handcrafted wood walls and floors, the large brass door handle, and the scratchy blankets made from actual fur. This was the potion shop. Alyssa squeezed her eyes shut, groaning as she recalled everything that happened. That’s right. The Taker. This wasn’t her bed. This was that stupid world with that stupid angel.
Alyssa hissed as she inspected her shoulder and arm. More gauze and wrappings bound her shoulder tight. Two stiff rods, maybe wood or maybe metal, braced her arm from the shoulder to her elbow, right where the break had been. It didn’t actually hurt much, so long as she didn’t put weight on it anyway. Which was probably a good sign.
The aid had to be from Tzheitza and Oz. This was her potion shop after all. But… were they alright? The assassin!
Swinging her legs out of bed and standing, Alyssa wobbled. Her head swam with a sudden bout of nausea. Squeezing her eyes shut, she braced herself against the wall. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if she passed out again.
As soon as the wave of dizziness passed, she pulled open the door. It was a bit awkward with all the bandages, but the handles were handles, not knobs, making them much easier to use. Alyssa froze one step outside her room.
Bacco sat on the floor, curled up in front of the smoldering fire. Asleep. Much like Alyssa, he had several bandages wrapped around his hands and face. He wasn’t alone in the shop’s back room. Oz leaned against the wall near the door, looking as if he had nodded off while standing. A light bump might send him toppling to the floor.
Alyssa scowled at Bacco. Leaving him to that maniac would have been a monstrous decision. That didn’t mean she wanted him hanging around her. He made his choices. Turning him over to the city guard would be more than he deserved. Though, she supposed that didn’t need to be done at this exact moment. He probably wouldn’t receive proper medical care in a medieval prison; Alyssa didn’t want to see him dead.
Cid on the other hand… Her thoughts turned to a far more sinister tone as she thought about that despicable waste of space. Ugh. Just thinking about him boiled her brain. He was as bad as the Taker. Even leaving poor Bacco in the underground cells. Weren’t they supposed to be friends? One thing was for sure, the next time she saw him… She didn’t know what. Maybe she would even shoot him. If he knew what was good for himself, he would stay far away.
Pushing the thoughts of Cid and Bacco out of her mind, she quietly approached the dozing Oz.
She didn’t make it halfway across the room before Oz’s eyes snapped open. His fingers tensed, reached for his sword, then relaxed all in the span of a second. “You’re a whole lot more trouble than you’re worth,” he said with a sarcastic smile. “I can’t believe I let Tzhei talk me into shadowing you for old time’s sake. Not really supposed to take jobs without the guild’s approval. Don’t make it a habit.”
Alyssa just sighed. “You look alright. I can’t believe I worried for nothing.”
“You worried? About what?”
“Nothing, apparently.” Alyssa winced as she leaned up against the wall next to him. “I thought an assassin was after you.”
“An assassin? No, just… Oh. Ahah! Is that what the kid is supposed to be?”
“We thought she was just distracting us. Which she did, tossing enchanted daggers from the shadows, but an assassin? Ahahah… Oh, that’s a good joke.”
“It isn’t supposed to be,” Alyssa said with a frown. “The Taker said he sent someone after Tzheitza. An assassin.”
“Feels to me like he had an annoying and untalented protégé that he wanted to get rid of and thought that Tzhei might kill her.”
“But you didn’t?”
“Tzhei… doesn’t like killing kids.” A moment of uncomfortable silence passed before he realized what he had said. “Don’t get me wrong! I don’t like killing kids either. But if one is coming at me with a poisoned blade, I’m not going to feel too bad if I have to run them through.”
The door to the storage room creaked open on its hinges. “Ozheim yer weakarm blithering ninny,” Tzheitza stepped out from the darkened room, slamming the door behind her. She passed right by Bacco, ignoring him completely as he snorted and jerked on the floor at the noise. He didn’t actually wake up. “If yer were stronger, ye could afford some mercy.”
“Yes, well, not all of us can be like your old team. Some of us are just regular humans.”
Grabbing the neck lip of Oz’s scaled vest, Tzheitza pulled him off the wall and right up into her face. “I’m as human as you. Train harder.” She held him there, glaring before releasing him with a light shove. Oz just smiled and brushed himself off, taking the manhandling in stride. Tzheitza didn’t seem to care, already turning her attentions to Alyssa. “What happened?”
Alyssa swallowed under Tzheitza’s glare. She was far too good at it for having only one working eye. Or maybe the milky white of her scarred over eye just added to the effect. Knowing that Tzheitza wouldn’t be happy with what went down only made it worse. “The Taker is… probably still alive.”
The potioneer snorted. “Not surprised. I warned you. I told you not to approach him on your own. Was I not speaking clear enough for you to understand.”
“He said an assassin was after you. I didn’t want to be a distraction. I didn’t know it was some kid. Besides, he had Kasita. I couldn’t just leave her there.”
“It’s a Tenebrael-damned mimic! Who cares?”
“I care!” Alyssa shouted back. “She has feelings, thoughts, and desires just like anyone else. I don’t know why you people can’t see that. Maybe there are some truly monstrous monsters out there. I won’t deny that. But so many more probably just want to live in peace.” Her experience with the monsters of the Waterhole proved that well enough. Enrique and Pho had been more than happy just to leave. Rizk had been more violent, but Alyssa had a hard time blaming her for that considering what she had to have gone through as a slave to the people at the whorehouse.
Tzheitza leaned away from Alyssa as soon as she stopped speaking. The potioneer stared for a moment before flicking her eyes toward Oz. They shared a brief look. One that Alyssa had trouble discerning the meaning of…
It probably wasn’t good. Alyssa clamped her mouth shut, remembering how Aziz had reacted when she mentioned the possibility of befriending or taming monsters. Forbidden. By whom? Not Tenebrael, surely. Alyssa couldn’t imagine a reason why the angel would seek to prevent humans and monsters from interacting. The pharaoh then. Or perhaps not even him but his predecessors. It could easily be a policy that hadn’t been changed in hundreds if not thousands of years.
She wanted to ask if Kasita had returned, given that the mimic truly had been one of her main reasons for not rushing off to find Tzheitza. That and a worry that the Taker would vanish into the night if she had let him get out of sight for long. However, the air didn’t seem right for asking. Besides that, Kasita didn’t like Tzheitza much. The former probably would have avoided the latter rather than announce her presence. If Kasita was around, she would undoubtedly show herself the moment it was inconvenient for Alyssa.
“I almost had him,” Alyssa said through grit teeth, changing the subject away from monsters. “I’m so stupid. All I needed to do was to shoot him before fixing my shoulder. He was trapped, unable to move. But I panicked and rendered both my hands useless before finishing him off.”
Tzheitza snapped her eyes back to Alyssa. Or… to Alyssa’s shoulder. “Ye call that rottymix fixed?”
“Blood was gushing from the wound. I had to do something.” She winced just remembering how soaked her shirt had been. Really, it was a surprise that she hadn’t passed out and died then and there. Now that she thought about it, her shirt was gone. Tzheitza must have dressed her, given that she was wearing one of the tunics from this world rather than her modern clothes. Thinking about it gave her a bout of depression. Her supply of modern clothes was limited in number and that shirt was almost certainly ruined beyond use. Sewing up the holes might be possible, but blood didn’t come out of things that easily. Alyssa winced as she remembered what she had done to stop the bleeding. The cloth on the shoulder would be scorched beyond any sewing kit’s ability to repair.
“How bad is it?” Alyssa asked, looking down at her right arm. Flexing her fingers didn’t cause any pain and there wasn’t any discoloration in her skin. Burning major arteries and veins in her shoulder could have stopped blood flow to the point where she would have needed an amputation even in the modern world. “I didn’t even consider the damage I could do when I burned my shoulder.”
Oz jerked. “You burned it?”
“Of course! I was bleeding uncontrollably and couldn’t think of a better way to stop it than cauterization.”
Alyssa blinked, glancing between a confused Oz and an equally confused Tzheitza. “Right. Of course. You people can’t even light fires without magic. I shouldn’t expect you people to know medical techniques that came about during the middle ages.” She shook her head. Some things in this world seemed so advanced thanks to magic, but then things like this would pop up. “How do you stop bleeding if you get cut?”
“What if it is too deep, too large for bandages or you don’t have any? And what if you have no potions? It’s bleeding too much for you to run and get help, but there’s a big fire nearby. Fire burns closed the wound and stops the bleeding.”
“You… what, grabbed a burning log and put it against your shoulder?”
Alyssa shifted, frowning. “Well, no. I lit my hand on fire and pressed it into the wound.”
“Of all the haberin whooperups…”
Tzheitza continued on, spouting several other words that Alyssa didn’t even bother trying to comprehend. Her exasperation came off clear enough in her body language and tone that words were unnecessary. Still, Alyssa didn’t think that she had done anything wrong. She had been bleeding out and hadn’t been able to think up a better way of stopping it. Even now, not panicked and not stressed out, she couldn’t come up with a better solution given the resources she had at hand back then.
Barring the whole plan to let Tzheitza and Oz into the tunnel so they all could deal with the Taker part. In retrospect, Kasita might have been better off had Alyssa not gone down to deal with it herself. But that hadn’t been her fault. Irulon’s instructions had specifically said that nothing that happened during Infinite Regress would affect the real world. But they had. Desecrate Spells clearly had a bad interaction. Had Irulon known that? The latter spell wasn’t one that she had written down, it had been part of Bercilak’s deck of cards, but Irulon had been the one to help her go through and figure out what some of those spells had been, surely she had seen it.
Had been. They were gone now. There probably hadn’t been too many useful ones left in that deck, but it still rankled that she had left them behind.
“So the Taker is still alive.” Oz went back to leaning against the wall. “I can’t imagine he’ll be happy with how you managed to escape.”
Alyssa couldn’t help but scoff. “I think he’ll be more angry about his hands. Rigor Mortis broke all his fingers before I left. And his jaw, for that matter. Hopefully more than that.” With his hands out of commission, Alyssa was hoping that he wouldn’t be able to act anytime soon. Maybe he would even think that she wasn’t worth the effort anymore… though that might be a bit much to hope for. Unless… Alyssa turned to Tzheitza. “How likely is he to have access to that healing potion you used?”
Hesitating, Tzheitza furrowed her brow in thought. “The reagents required to make it can only be found south of the Fortress of Pandora. However, Waters Street almost certainly has a potioneer capable of making the potion. I don’t doubt that they have fingers lifting supplies from merchants or other cargo shipments. That is if they don’t have a way of sourcing the needed materials on their own.”
“The answer sounds like a definite maybe then,” Alyssa grumbled. Back on Earth, if someone got even half as injured as the Taker, they would have been sitting around with both their hands in casts for months. And that wasn’t even accounting for the lacerations that Desecrate Spells had inflicted on him. Was it too much to ask that he die of an infection?
Really, shouldn’t her body be a walking pestilence? When Europeans had first visited the Americas, hadn’t they brought with them a bunch of diseases? It hadn’t been on purpose, at least not initially, there were just diseases that the Europeans had built up resistances to that the natives hadn’t ever been exposed to beforehand. Even if Alyssa wasn’t sick, she should still be carrying diseases from a whole different world.
But that was for the best. As much as she wanted the Taker to die of the common cold, being the cause for a planet-wide genocide seemed like something that would weigh on her conscience.
“You know what you need?” Oz said. When Alyssa didn’t respond save for a glance in his direction, he smiled. “A sabbatical!”
“I heard you the first time,” Alyssa said. He opened his mouth, but Alyssa cut him off. “And before you define the word, I know what a sabbatical is.”
His smile slid off and he looked at her in a far more serious manner. “You need to get out of the city. I can’t believe you walked up to the Taker and survived, but it was mostly luck, wasn’t it?”
Yeah, bad luck. But she didn’t say anything out loud, merely nodding her head. The Infinite Regress attempts were plenty clear that she could have died at any moment.
“What you need is to get away from the city for a while, let the Taker get distracted with something else. While gone, you could train up a bit. Learn from some more experienced mercenaries just what to expect from fighting. And wow, what a coincidence! There just happens to be an excursion through the northern desert that has room for one more!”
“I’m not going to help you kill fairies. Even if I wanted to, all my spells are gone. And my guns…” Alyssa reached back only to hesitate. “Where are my guns?”
“Yer weapons are back in yer room.”
Alyssa didn’t wait, moving right back to the room she had come from. Throwing open the door, it didn’t take long to find the guns. Both her pistols were still in their holsters, which had been unbuckled and set down at the base of the bed. She reached out her bandaged hand to her shotgun, right in between the two pistols.
A gash the size of her finger bit into the barrel, nearly taking off a half foot of the end. As it was, what was still attached was bent off to one side. The pump underneath seemed untouched, but the grip extended past the gash. Even if she broke it off and tried to use it as a sawed-off shotgun, the shot could still damage the pump.
She stared, wobbling as a wave of nausea hit her. It broke. Her best defense, her best weapon broke. She had three pistols still, but they wouldn’t stop a troll.
“Can it be repaired?”
Alyssa jumped at Oz’s voice, but shook her head without turning. “Not by me. Not by anyone else I know of either.” Perhaps it wasn’t wholly lost. Firing it as it was would only damage it further, but a shotgun was fairly simple. It didn’t need a rifled barrel. Just a metal tube that could withstand the forces of firing the gun. The real question was how good the blacksmiths were here.
And how much it would cost to commission a tube.
Regardless, it was worthless right now.
“It probably saved my life,” she said, moving her hand up to her shoulder. If the Taker’s sword hadn’t caught on the shotgun, her head could have come off. Or the sword would have just gone deeper into her chest. Glancing over at Oz, she wondered how much his leather scaled armor would protect from a sword. Perhaps getting some proper gear wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Though how much would that cost?
“Regardless, Oz, I can’t draw spells with my hands as they are. Nor can I shoot anything. I’d be dead weight.”
“Yer gonna mend fastlike,” Tzheitza said from behind her. “Scar a little. Serket venom can be used for burns such as yers. Plenty o’ serket up in the northern desert.”
“Burns? But what about the gaping hole in my shoulder?” It was covered in thick wrappings. Alyssa couldn’t see it at all. The lack of pain was suspect however.
Tzheitza just scoffed. “Our guests need feeding,” she said, turning and leaving the room.
Oz stayed behind, offering a small smile. “She used three drops of her healing potion. I think she’s a bit embarrassed about it.” He flashed a grin, but frowned a moment after. “Don’t tell her I told you. She’d probably kill me.” Shaking his head, he stepped toward the door. “Think about coming with us. You survived an encounter with the Taker, alone, and it sounds like you did more damage than he did. The others will be impressed with that. We’ll give you time to make some spells and you’ll be with a proper group this time. We’ll make sure you don’t get too hurt.”
With a hardy wave, Oz slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him, leaving Alyssa standing frozen where she was.
Tzheitza had been in so much pain the other night yet only used her healing potion on her broken bones to ensure that she could walk. She had been cut up and in pain after, but just bore with it. Yet she used some of that potion on Alyssa?
Alyssa slumped down on the bed. Terrible feelings welled up within her. If only she would have gone back to grab even one of them, the Taker would be dead, her shotgun would be whole, and she would have been uninjured.
What a piece of garbage.