Kayla froze. She locked her eyes on my stump as I limped up to the line of defenders, who still fought off the occasional wave of carvers. The sounds of battle weren’t nearly as intense as they had been earlier. It looked like the supply of Carvers had finally run out.
“That’s a terrible injury,” Kayla said, stating the obvious.
At some point she’d taken her head and face coverings off. Her mouth worked, no doubt trying to come up with something comforting, or acerbic, or gloating, anything except standing there mute.
“Oh, this old thing?” I asked, waiving my leg stump at her. “This isn’t anything to worry about. I’ve had worse.”
Beside me, Kan’on rolled his eyes. We’d agreed not to mention the state he’d found me in, which had arguably been much worse than just the loss of part of my leg. There was no reason to get people worked up over the little things, at least not right at this moment.
I found a seat for myself and plopped down, heedless of the nearby fighting taking place. I looked up and down the line seeing many casualties I guessed were the result of the shadow attack.
“Lots of injured here,” I said, looking at Kayla.
She averted her eyes, perhaps in guilt that this section of the barricade had been where she’d engaged the shadows. They’d baited her away, after all, and then jumped in to chop down our soldiers like wheat.
“Yes. I will take responsibility.”
“No point in taking responsibility. It’s war, not bodyguarding. You just need to learn from your mistakes and do better in the future. Anyway, start bringing me the worst of the injured. I’ll sit here and heal people until I’m out of power.”
“Are you sure that’s the best use of your abilities right now?” Kayla asked.
“I’m currently crippled. I’m out of the fight, at least for the time being. It’s probably the best use of my time. Just do it, stop asking me not to heal the people you just tried to take responsibility for.” Irritation peeked its little head into the back of my mind. I’m not sure how much nagging I’d be able to handle.
She looked away, shame in her eyes, but nodded. She was young. I wouldn’t blame her for taking it as a personal failure on her part, the early lessons were some of the hardest, after all. But she couldn’t be any older than twenty-five, if my memory of her as a young girl hadn’t failed me.
Of course, the worst of the injured couldn’t be moved without causing them even more trauma, so I limped my way around with my crutch, carefully casting basic healing runes on them, making sure that my efforts didn’t cause them more harm. Since Carvers caused most of the injuries, there were many lost limbs and punctures. For the former, all I could do was close the wound to keep them from having to tie them off with a tourniquet. For everything else, the basic healing rune would be enough to bring them back to a condition to be transported later.
I worked diligently, keeping Orleander in mind as I tried to use the least amount of power to the maximum effect. Inevitably, I ran out of power, even after my recent upgrade. I’d revisit the wounded some time tomorrow, as I doubted there were many healers on hand in a town like this, if anyone meaningful at all.
Clyde came and checked up on me. Conflicting emotions chased each other across his features. He pulled Kayla aside and had a brief, but animated discussion. Based on the sideways looks they shot me, they both doubted that I’d be able to do anything about my leg. Neither of them dared address me directly about it, though. The irritation in the back if my mind grew just a bit more, coloring my thoughts.
The night carried on and the battle wound down. Kan’on gathered our horses, and we mounted up. Before leaving, I threw my senses out into the Flow, scouring the forests for any signs of approaching enemies. Aside from a few Carver stragglers, I sensed nothing. It was late enough at night, or early enough in the morning depending on how you looked at it, that there shouldn’t be anything else coming.
Satisfied, I urged my mount forward, falling into a comfortable trot, with Kayla on one side and Kan’on on the other. Figured, they’d let me be the conquering hero only when I appeared to be permanently crippled, like giving me a consolation prize. I snorted, amused at the imagery that evoked. It wouldn’t make a very good returning hero tale.
We reached the estate a couple hours before dawn. The Baron laid across his desk, pass out, while his attendants continued to work and watch over him. Maybe I’d misjudged the man, just a little. I didn’t know where the loyalty of his people to him came from, but it wouldn’t have been from neglect or mistreatment. Maybe he had just been a benevolent leader of a sleepy little logging community and the adversity had temporarily broken something in him.
Regardless, I instructed his servants to get him inside to bed. The sight of my leg caused a stir, and soon enough Orleander emerged, fresh faced as ever, to escort me indoors. His face didn’t show any emotion, his noble mask in place.
He settled me into my room, then stood by. I looked at him. He looked at me.
“Depths take us, just say what you want to say already,” I snapped, my already inflamed irritation getting the better of me.
“How are you going to continue, with your leg amputated. I can’t imagine that you are the kind of man to sit on the back line and let everyone fight on your behalf.”
“Oh please. Even if it was permanent, something like this wouldn’t keep me down for long. I’d figure something out.”
“So, you are claiming you can heal this then?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
“No offense, Ardashir, but I find that hard to believe.”
“I don’t give a shit about what you believe, I’m going to do what I’m going to do regardless. You all turn into a bunch of nagging housewives at slightest little injury.”
“Fine. I’ll just assume that what you say is true, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. You still plan to enter the Labyrinth?”
“Yeah. It needs to be soon. It won’t be tomorrow, but the next day at the very latest. I’ll need you to put together enough supplies for four people for a week.”
“How do you plan on carrying so much with you?”
I pinched my nose. Patience. Why couldn’t they just do what I asked?
“Please, just get what I want. I know what I’m about. While you’re at it, find me some pain killer that won’t cloud my mind when I take them.”
Orleander stood there, unspeaking. I stared him down until he finally gave in with a sigh.
“As you wish, Your Grace.”
Finally. I laid back on my bed against the wall, looking at my leg. I could fix it, but it would be a harrowing experience, to say the least. I’d need to set up some complex runes, ones I’d not thought of in a while. It would take me some trial and error to set them up correctly.
I continued to think about what I’d need, both for the Labyrinth and for the leg, until I was interrupted by another nosy presence.
“Damn it, what do I have to do to get some me time around here? Stop lurking in the door, Jass, and come in.”
Jass, back to his mundane self, stepped through the door. His breathing didn’t sound good, but it sounded clearer than it had. His features had cleared up too, his posture more certain. Maybe the healing had done him more good than I’d thought, after all I doubt he’d ever gotten a boost like where he’d come from.
“I heard about your leg. The rumor spread throughout the manor like wildfire. You don’t look concerned though.”
“Yeah, it’s not as bad as it looks.”
“That’s it? That’s what you’re bugging me for?”
“No that isn’t really why I came. I figured you’d be able to handle whatever had everyone in a fuss. I came because I want to go with you into the Labyrinth.”
“What do you mean you know.”
“I said I know, didn’t I? I already asked Orleander to gather enough supplies to include you with us when we go.”
Jass looked taken aback. He’d probably pumped himself up, getting himself ready to argue his case, trying to convince me that he was needed, that he just had to go with us.
“Just like that? You’re not going to try to convince me to stay?”
“Listen Jass, I’m not your depths taken babysitter. I can offer you all kinds of choices, but you’re going to live your life however you want. Spend your life however you want. If you think you’ll be well enough to come with us, I’m not going to tell you not to. I’ll be glad to have you. I’ll be sad when you light a torch to your life and burn to a crisp, but that’s your decision to make.”
“Well, that was easier than I thought.”
“Go rest up. I’ll come around later and dose you with some more tricks to see if I can’t bolster your health a little more.”
“Ok, I will. Good luck with your leg.” Jass waved as he walked out, not even having the common courtesy of shutting the damned door.
I took a second to let the frustration wash through me. I purged myself of all the nagging and bothersome people and just let myself think about nothing for a while.
I needed to sleep, but the thought of my leg kept my mind working too fast for me to easily let my consciousness go. So instead, I started working on the runes that would be necessary to make it work.
It was a nasty combination. No doubt about it. I’d pieced them together from a combination of old healing philosophy texts, some experience in a warlike cannibal tribe that practiced some crazy rebirth rituals, and then some experimentation. All completely ethical of course. I’d been the test subject after all. Losing a few fingers and part of your hand was good motivation to learn all kinds of things.
I spent the remainder of the early, predawn morning drawing the runes from memory and piecing them together. After a few errors and some test runs, I finally landed on the correct configuration that would allow me to torture a new limb out of myself. For that’s exactly what it was; torture.
I wiped the runes away, my memory renewed, and slumped back on my bed. Thinking about my leg created some dread deep in my stomach, but the thought of going into Labyrinth balanced it out with some excitement. Even though I’d only ever had horrible experiences in the deep dark, there had always been an underlying sense of adventure that tempered all the bad with some good.
Of all the times I’d decided to take the dark tunnels toward the deep, there had never been a time when things didn’t go completely sideways. I’d asked Orleander for supplies for all four of us for a week, and that wasn’t even me being especially conservative. Things happened fast, down there, and the caves and caverns turned delvers about on themselves until they had no hope of retracing their steps.
I’d often suspected some type of confounding energy, but never been able to sense anything that convinced me it was really there. One thing was for sure though; I fully expected every single thing to go wrong when we descended into the deep, and I wanted to be as prepared as possible.
But first, it was time to sleep, then I had a leg to regrow.