Vayne ran out behind the pair and stopped dead. He took a deep breath of the cool, crisp air. I've lost it again. He thought to himself. He dropped his head to his chest, then lifted his head toward the stars. He took another breath.
He snapped out of the daydream- or nightdream, rather- and noticed the guard he'd spared while in his own version of intoxicated. I don't spare people. He shook his head. What stopped me here? He lifted his hand and put his palm out toward the stumbling soldier. A spear of lighting shot out of his palm and hit the soldier in his back, killing him.
"Boy! Come! Quickly!"
Vayne lowered his arm and looked toward the man shouting out to him. He flapped his wings strongly once and landed near them. "I have no need for a horse." He said to the man. "I'm just here as an impromptu escort, if you will." Vayne gestured with his arm out toward the city. "Lead the way" Vayne paused for a second, trying to think of something else to call him. He came up empty handed. "Just lead it, actually."
After Ciel gave her rather weak order, she looked up to gray, momentarily confused eyes. That look, at least, was familiar. Only one person back home had truly understood her explanations. Describing the abstract, rare power was nigh impossible, just as continuous, crippling, and unyielding pain was near impossible for others to fully comprehend.
“Right,” the wolfish man, shaking himself.
Grateful for his efficiency and trust, Ciel smiled even though every second her power continued its work, her energy dissipated just that much more. She didn't have much to begin with, not after traveling so long to arrive at this blasted city. Closing her eyes, she attempted to escape into a more serene mind even if just for a few seconds.
Chilly night air hit Ciel, snapping her back into awareness. “Careful now,” he murmured, and all thoughts fled her mind as even the gentle movement of being lifted onto the horse caused sharp, painful waves to wash through her. Dizzy and lightheaded, Ciel swayed, reaching out a hand to grasp the horse's steady mane. Slowly, she let out a trembling breath, and with it let out all feelings of pain-caused trauma that only made the physical pain worse. Another technique she had learned much too young.
A flash of purple startled Ciel, forcing her eyes to open. Her head swung involuntarily toward the source, but her view was blocked as the wolfish man swung up onto the saddle behind her. The man yelled for the boy again, and Ciel could just make out a silver encased corpse on the ground before the boy landed beside her in a flurry of feathers. Regret stabbed at her heart for the death of the soldiers just following orders.
“I have no need for a horse,” the boy said. Ciel blinked, then belatedly, truly realized she sat upon a horse. This is new, she thought, sparing a glance below her. She had flown on top of Skeirn, true, but never had she needed a horse. Suddenly glad for the wolfish man's presence behind her, Ciel gazed up at him, again entering the conversation.
“Just lead it, actually,” the boy said awkwardly. What a wonder he was, she realized with conflicting feelings. For someone so young in appearance, he could kill in cold blood and still speak so light-heartedly.
Sound familiar? she asked herself cynically.
Shadows stirred passively beside her, subtle, but unnatural. How long have they been doing that? she wondered with cold alarm. “The shadows,” she exclaimed, the words a rush of horrified air. Her worried eyes turned to gray ones, wincing as the panicked movement triggered more pain. “We need to go. Now. Stick to the light as best you can!” She instructed the boy, making sure to meet his eyes as well. Trust me, please, she urged silently. She would urge the horse to move, too, if she knew how.
"Boy. My ship. We need to run for it. Can you hold off the queensmen-"
The man's instructions were interrupted by the sound of clattering armor and footsteps of the guards pouring out the door. Vayne turned towards the men as they assembled into their ranks. Such a little force left. He thought. He counted the number of guards. Fifteen. He began to run through who to kill first and how to kill them. Let's not make this loud. "Leave!" He shouted to the man and woman. "They stand little chance against me."
Vayne locked eyes with one of the guards. He took several steps toward the guards. One charged him, sword raised as to strike a fatal blow. Silly boy. You've no place here. He thought. The guard's sword came down. The sound of a clattering sword was all that was heard. "Know who your enemy is." He had the guard in a headlock, threatening to snap his neck. In a swift movement, the guard went limp, and Vayne dropped him. The work begins. He began taking on the soldiers all at once, hoping one didn't get lucky. As he struck another soldier down with darkness, he glanced around to see where the man and woman were, and if they were moving.
The horse galloped away, leaving the young boy against more than a dozen silver men. From what Ciel could barely make out, the boy was holding his own with surprising force. The jarring movement of the horse, however, aggravated her condition ten fold. The wind tore her hood from her head, silky hair escaping its confines. Her scarf stayed in place, and helped to tame her hair against the wind. Ciel cared little for her disguise at this point, and instead she bent over the horse, bracing herself against each painful gallop. Her hands twisted in the horse's mane, and she distantly hoped that she was not hurting the poor animal.
His ship, she realized silently, relief flooding through her. They'll be safe from the Scathé there, but not if I'm with them. Her mouth pressed into a grim, determined line. Forcing her muscles to twist, she turned, ignoring the pain for now. Her power still burned in the background, holding off the man's pain. She shot him a warning look, then snaked her arm around him, her fingers meeting congealing blood.
Ciel had little experience in healing, since the war had demanded most of her attention. But she had little slaughtering experience before the war, too, and that hadn't stopped her. She let go of her hold on his pain, then quickly, so as to minimize the shock of returning pain, Ciel began to heal the stripe. Her power worked astutely and quickly, reordering the human body to do its will. Its draw on her energy, however, was egregious. As the man's wound healed, her body multiplied its protestations. Breathing became a chore, her muscles shook, her mind clouded, her vision waned, her head throbbed. As soon as the wound was healed, Ciel let go of the power, breath coming in gasps.
"Time to go," she whispered between gasps to herself, carefully squinting around her to see if they were close to his ship. Seeing, however, was getting increasingly difficult with her darkening vision. Ciel looked up at the man again, studying his condition through straining eyes, hoping she hadn't messed anything else up in her attempt to make things right.
Sevastian could feel the Water Woman trembling against him. Why such pain? he wondered, spurring the panting horse into a sprint. They were almost to the ship, almost to Old Dag. And while Old Dag wasn't the most skilled of surgeons, surely he could ease the woman's pain somehow.
A forest of masts began to materialize in the distance. Sevastian was scouring the fog for his flag when he felt the woman move--she looped her arm around his back and embraced him.
Sevastian's mind went blank. Is she frightened? he thought, wondering if she expected him to do something. Should he tell her it was going to be alright? He could try to wrap an arm around her, but then he'd have to--
Pain tore through his back. Sevastian buckled, grunting. She's stabbed me, he thought, reaching behind himself to grab her arm. But the moment his hand locked around her wrist, a prickling warmth--the same warmth he'd felt in the tavern--began to creep over his back, subduing his pain, clearing his thoughts.
He stared unblinkingly forward. Is she healing me? he wondered. Is this what being healed feels like? Did she try to heal me in the tavern? Why doesn't she heal herself?
The horse's hooves thundered against the dock, and creaking ships of every size and color streaked by. The pain in Sevastian's back was completely gone, and the Water Woman was near convulsing--her breaths were ragged, and her heart pounded frantically against her ribs; Sevastian could feel it through her back. Healing pains her, he suddenly realized, a mixture of gratitude and concern washing over him. He let go of her wrist--he'd forgotten he was holding it--and wrapped his arm around the front of her shoulders, holding her against him. She'd become so weak he feared she'd fall otherwise.
The Karkinos. Sevastian reined to a halt beside it. "Jengo! Gangplank!" he shouted, holding the woman steady as he dismounted.
He glanced over his shoulder. "Hurry, boy," he muttered, easing the woman from the saddle.
Vayne turned in circles, staring down each one of the five remaining soldiers surrounding him. As the horse continued to ride into the distance, it occurred to Vayne that he would have to finish the remaining soldiers swiftly.
Vayne looked at the soldier right in front of him. He fired darkness at him, knocking him back into the wall. He slumped over, dead. The rest of the soldiers charged him after he killed their comrade. With a flap of his wings, Vayne shot above them, then killed each of them from above. He began gliding toward where the horse was headed, but then something changed.
Vayne tried to flap his wings to gain altitude, but to no avail, his wings wouldn't move. He landed on the ground and stumbled, falling to his hands and knees. What's happening? He thought. His mind turned to the woman's warning. The shadows... Vayne looked around, and what he saw frightened him. The shadows, their- their circling around me! He tried to stand up, but nothing would move.
The shadows, they must be living. Then pain. Excruciating pain. In his chest. Vayne forced his head up, looking toward the horse. I did this for you two. Make it...
After his last thought, Vayne's entire body gave up. He fell face down, he body refusing to move. To get up and move, run, fly, anything! His body wouldn't respond. Here... here is where I am finally overpowered. He kept his eyes open, trying to stay conscious, but to no avail. His eyes closed, and soon after, he became unconscious.
Her vision left her completely just as the man steadied her against him. Ciel drew in a shaky breath, hoping to calm her breathing. It didn't work all that well, but it helped her psyche at least. The horse stopped, and her head spun from the sudden stillness. She felt the man carefully dismount behind her. As he eased her from the horse, Ciel blindly fumbled for a hold on the horse.
"Hurry, boy," the man muttered.
Ciel's feet jarringly hit solid ground, and she nearly fell--her two-handed grip on the horse's mane the only thing keeping her upright. Her arms and hands shook from the effort of supporting half her weight, and her legs burned from the exertion. Blinking sightless eyes, Ciel turned toward where she thought was the direction the boy should be coming from. But Ciel heard no running of footsteps nor flapping of wings.
Though she was loathe to use her magic again, Ciel knew that she must use it. She would not have others harmed or implicated because of her. Her blood lowly simmered again as she quickly sent her awareness outward. She searched the writhing shadows around the town, retracing their path. The active shadows did not move toward her or the man; they were distracted by something else. The boy.
Her eyebrows furrowed as her awareness returned to her failing body. Ciel turned her sightless eyes toward the man, staring in his general vicinity. "The shadows have the boy," she informed him, her voice raw as if from overuse. "If you will take the boy with you, I will light your path so the shadows will not harm you."
Letting go of horse with one hand, Ciel determinedly stood still and waved her hand--bo staff clutched tightly in her grasp--in the direction of the boy. White, heatless fire flared to life, lining and guarding a clear, bright path toward the boy. Ciel let her magic find the boy as the protective fire surrounded him, burning away the living shadow's ties to his heart and body.
"I--" Ciel's breathing hitched uncertainly as her magic began to eat away at the last of her energy. She knew she would be unconscious soon, probably before the man returned with the boy, so she had to ask the question now. "You must leave me here. Please, take the boy and go?" Ciel ended somewhat uncertainly. But the man had done so much already for such little cause. Did she really have the right to ask more of him? For the boy, I must, she thought, her mouth set in a determined line.
Ciel let go of horse completely, leaning fully now on her bo staff. Her shaking muscles and knees begged to buckle, but with great effort she refused them their respite. She gazed blindly in the man's general direction with a pleading, determined expression.
Sevastian stared at the Water Woman as Jengo lowered the gangplank. His stomach churned. She looked horrified, nigh on haunted, as if she'd seen something the gods never intended her to see. Her pale, unfocused eyes could have belonged to Blind Ragnar, Sevastian swore it. Had healing him robbed her of both her strength and her sight?
"The shadows have the boy," she croaked, tone flat. Sevastian closed his eyes. "If you will take the boy with you, I will light your path so the shadows will not harm you."
Sevastian heaved a sigh, burying his fingers in his hair. We'll not survive this, he thought, eyes still closed.
A roaring filled the air--Sevastian's eyes flew open, and he cursed. Pearlescent white flames poured from the end of the woman's ornate staff, snaking along the dock and into the shadows of the city. They seemed to create a path back to the tavern. Back to the boy, Sevastian realized, following the fire with his eyes.
Once his mind accepted he wasn't about to be burned alive, he huffed, slamming his sword back into his scabbard. (He hadn't even realized he'd drawn it.) He opened his mouth to speak, but the Water Woman beat him to it.
"I--" The woman paused. The poor creature could barely breathe, let alone talk. "You must leave me here," she finally managed. "Please, take the boy and go?"
Sevastian said nothing, emotions numb with overuse. He stared at the woman's face (as he was so inclined to do), and then turned toward the city, imagining what it would be like to go back. "Gods damn it all," he muttered under his breath. Was he honestly considering diving back into that hellhole? A wise man would simply turn around, sling the troublesome Water Woman over his shoulder, board the Karkinos and have done with it, never looking back. After all, it was a miracle he and the woman had made it this far alive. Why not cut his losses? Why risk all three of their lives for the sake of one?
And yet, here he was, leaning flat against the mare, wind tearing through his hair as he thundered toward the tavern at a dead sprint. He didn't even remember making the decision to go back. Perhaps the gods had made the decision for him. Perhaps this was fate.
It was a quick journey, lit on both sides by celestial flame. Strange sounds touched Sevastian's ears as he bolted--hisses, moans, discordant whispering, all emanating from unnaturally dark corners and deeply shadowed alleyways.
The fire path ended where the winged boy lay, face down in a pool of shimmering blackness; Sevastian didn't allow himself to wonder whose blood it was. He leaped off the mare and threw the boy over his shoulder, chills running down his spine as the shadows outside the fire twisted into strange shapes...
They were back to the docks in no time. Sevastian could see the Water Woman in the distance, eyes squeezed shut, quivering like a tiger lily in a hurricane. "Leave you here my arse," he growled, leaning over the mare and spurring it faster. The moment the woman came within reach, Sevastian reached out, snatched her up by the waist, and veered the mare up the gangplank, shouting orders as he boarded.
"You're taking a trip to the surgeon," he told the woman, voice firm. How she could honestly expect him to leave her behind in her condition was beyond him.
Vayne's eyes shot open. He was panting, feeling out of breath. But he wasn't running. He was over someone's shoulder. He looked over, seeing the back of the wolf man. The nervous feeling left his body. I'm alive. He thought. I shouldn't be, though. He must have saved me.
The sound of the horse's hooves changed, the sound of cobblestone no longer dominate, the sound of wood replacing it. His ship? He thought. As the horse boarded it more, the scene of a ship unfolded in front of him. Indeed.
Well, time to go. Vayne thought. He jerked his body to the side and rolled out of the wolf man's grasp and off his shoulder. He landed face down, catching himself with his hands, where his broken wrist was then revealed. His right side collapsed, and he hit his face on the deck, where his cut cheek was then revealed. Not the smoothest dismount. He thought.
He pushed himself upright with his left side, barely maintaining balance as he stood up and faced the wolf man, still mounted on his horse. He grabbed the wolf man's wrist in an attempt to get his attention. "All I need is time." He said. He looked up at the top of the highest sail, where a small, round, bowl-like wooden platform waited for him. He let go of the wolf man's wrist and pointed at the platform. "I'll be up there." He said.
And that was it. Holding his right forearm, he flew up to the platform and landed, not wanting to be bothered at all.
Horses hooves thundered toward her, though they sounded distant as if muffled. Beyond grateful of the man's selfless generosity, Ciel held out as long as she could, her forehead beading with sweat, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Ciel's head pounded with each frantic heart beat, and she felt her knees buckle, her determination no longer enough to keep her upright. Her white, fiery power receded, and just before she collapsed, something solid slammed into her waist, pulling her up off of the ground.
Acute pain shot through her every fiber, and for several seconds, her lungs couldn't find air. Ciel tried to hold onto whatever held her captive, but her muscles were no longer responding to her urging. Finally, breath forced its way into her lungs, shallow, but there nonetheless.
"You're taking a trip to the surgeon," the man's gruff voice ordered. Muffled though his voice was, Ciel was alarmed by how close it sounded. He's carrying me, she realized, panic setting in yet again. If he took her, the Scathé would hunt him, assuming his connection to their Slaughterer. They wouldn't leave him alone until she was found.
Ciel tried to shake her head, open her unseeing eyes, yell, anything. All that she could manage, however, was a flutter of her stiff fingers, still enclosed over her staff, and two words. " . . . too dangerous . . ." Her words were piteously wispy and weak, and despair twisted her heart. How could she be at once so powerful and yet so helpless and weak? Ciel had thought her frustration and grief over this fact was behind her. But grief, it appeared, never went away. It was a constant ebb and flow she would have a hard time escaping.
Her capacity for even self-pity was cut away as complete blackness set in. Her consciousness fled, and painful, fitful sleep finally took her.