Below is a sneak peek of this content!SebastienMonth 1, Day 18, Monday 5:00 a.m.Sebastien got back to the University before the sun rose. Most of the students were asleep, but a good number were still up, likely...
Below is a sneak peek of this content!Oliver Month 1, Day 17, Sunday 9:30 p.m. The door to the back room of the warehouse was locked, and reinforced enough that a few concussive blast spells did barely...
Month 1, Day 17, Sunday 9:00 p.m.
As was becoming routine to her, she went first to the Silk Door, where she took up the name Siobhan along with her real body. This time, she re-bleached the front section of her hair, using the color-change spell rather than an alchemical concoction, and tied it in a severe bun. She again wore the fake horn-rimmed glasses Katerin had gotten for her when she was doing the street-corner flag wards throughout Verdant Stag territory. She didn’t wear the red lip cream. Being Sebastien was out of the question for this, but hopefully, she could just be Silvia, a nondescript healer’s assistant, not the Raven Queen.
Once upon a time, her name had felt like something intrinsic, a thing that held meaning when describing her basic identity. If someone asked her who she was, she would have answered, “Siobhan Naught,” without hesitation, and meant it. It was a label that encompassed all that she was. Now, if someone asked her that same question, she would have had to check what skin she was wearing and what role she was playing before answering. The only thing left of her was her insides—her mind and her magic—and of course no human remained unchanged over time. All living, growing beings were in a constant state of slow metamorphosis. ‘There will come a time when I am different. But, I hope, never a time that I no longer recognize myself.’
She took a roundabout path to the address Oliver had given her. She slipped through the back door, which had been left unlocked, into the back room of a shop, whose normal supplies had all been moved to one side of the room. The shelves were stocked instead with potions, bandages, and a few basic medical artifacts. Two large, square operating tables sat within, and one wall was lined with empty cots.
The room was empty. Something about being alone in a strange place, in the dark, made the her feel like she was being watched from the shadows.
“Hello?” she called, her voice weak enough that it wouldn’t travel very far.
No one responded.
‘The healer must not be here yet.’ She closed the door behind her, found a light crystal, then began to set up, organizing her own potions and familiarizing herself with the prepared supplies. The operating tables both had a large Circle engraved on their smooth surfaces. One had a pentagram and pentagon within the middle, and the other a hexagram and hexagon. With those four options, the tables should be enough to cover almost all of the basic healing spells.
The minutes stretched on, and Siobhan found herself pacing back and forth in an attempt to release some of the nervous energy building up inside her.
When the distant sounds of fighting reached her, the healer still hadn’t arrived.
A few minutes into it, when she was wound so tight she felt like a string that might snap, frantic pounding on the door made her jump.
There were no back windows, so she had to open the door to see who it was.
As soon as she did so, two men pushed past her, one supporting the other.
The injured man was badly burned. The skin across his head, neck, and one arm was already bubbling up, and he smelled uncomfortably like burnt hair mixed with roasted pork.
“You’re the healer, right?” the uninjured man asked, puffing from the strain of supporting his almost insensate teammate.
Siobhan shook her head. “No. I—”
Behind them, a woman followed, her battle wand out and her eyes scanning the street for danger. “Is this the wrong place?” she asked demandingly. “We were promised there would be a healer here.”
“It’s the right place,” Siobhan said. “But the healer hasn’t arrived. I—”
The burned man sobbed pitifully. His face was badly blistered, one eyelid melted into the surrounding skin, and his ear on that side mostly burned away.
Siobhan swallowed past the nauseating smell and pushed her shoulders back. “Get him onto the table,” she ordered, pointing to the one with the pentagon and pentagram. She couldn’t cast any of the real healing spells that required a hexagram, anyway. She strode over to the shelf of potions. “I’m not the healer, I’m an assistant. I can’t do everything, but I can help.”
The man and woman worked together to heave the burned man onto one of the tables, which only drew out more pained sounds from him. “Fritz,” he mumbled.
The man grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I’m here, buddy. I’ve got you.”
Siobhan tied on a full-body apron and returned with a potion and a jar of salve.
She uncorked the potion and fed it slowly into the good side of the burned man’s mouth. “This will help with the pain,” she told him. “You’re going to be okay, I promise.”
The man swallowed obediently, shivering slightly from what was likely shock.
She followed that up with one of her newly brewed regeneration-boosting potions, letting him drink it rather than trying to pour it evenly over the huge swath of damaged flesh. This way, he could heal from the inside out.
“Turn him to lay on his good side. Someone hand me a pair of scissors and a pair of tweezers.” She fished the chalk out of her pocket and walked around the table writing glyphs. Her secret Conduit was inside the lip of her boot creating a painful indentation in her calf, but she couldn’t show it, so she pulled out the one loaned to her by Professor Lacer. It wasn’t likely to be recognized, and there was no way to track its use. She cast a simple, improvised spell to slowly draw some of the heat from the man’s burns, which would keep him from continuing to slowly cook.
The high strength pain-relieving potion kicked in as she worked, and the man let out a long breath of relief, tension easing from his body. His breathing deepened as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Fritz returned with the tools she’d requested, which Siobhan used to cut and pluck away her patient’s clothes from his burned skin. “What caused his injuries?” she asked.
“Fireball spell,” the woman replied succinctly.
Siobhan nodded. “Any coughing or liquid in his lungs?”
‘Probably no internal burns, then.’ “Did the fireball blow him away? Did he smash into anything?”
“No. It wasn’t concussion-modified,” the woman said. “Just heat.”
“That’s good. He’ll have scarring, if he doesn’t have enough to pay for the strongest healing spells, but he’ll live as long as I can keep his skin on his body.”
Fritz swallowed audibly. “How likely is it that you can’t? Keep his…skin on his body, that is.”
Siobhan scowled down at the sweeping burns. She couldn’t get all of the cloth and ash out of the wounds, but figured that was a job for someone more skilled, anyway. As long as he didn’t die right away, she’d done her job. “I don’t know. If the healer ever arrives, I’d say it’s quite likely he’ll come out of this with some scarring. If not, I’ll at least be able to keep him alive through the night. For the rest…” She shrugged, perusing the wound-cleansing potions on the shelf for a brew mild enough not to tear away the burned skin.
She found a bottle and poured it liberally over the unconscious man.
“Do you have any idea where the healer might be?” Fritz asked. “It’s just, it looks like you’re all alone here. Our orders were to drop off any wounded and get back to the battle, but maybe we should stay, just in case. You might need protection.”
Peering at the pieces of dirt, ash, and cloth that were flushed out by the gentle bubbling of the potion, she said. “You can stay for now. I might need an extra pair or two of hands when we get more of the injured. One of you should guard the door, in the meantime.”
Siobhan had cleaned her hands while waiting for the healer arrive, but rinsed them again in the basin of strong alcohol she’d poured in the corner. All the healing books she’d read had been rabidly paranoid about the possibility of infection, which often could not be treated without true healing potions or spells, and were a leading cause of delayed death. Infection had long been thought to be caused by bad humors, but according to Professor Gnorrish and the latest medical books, it was actually caused by tiny animal-like creatures too small to see with the naked eye, which would breed within a person like maggots in a piece of meat. Bacteria. Alcohol killed them.
Assured that she wouldn’t be infecting the man with her touch, she dipped her finger into the fresh jar of burn salve and began to gently daub the gooey substance over his burned skin. She’d only covered a couple inches when shouting from down the street drew her attention.
The woman’s battle wand was in her hand, but as she peered down the street, she announced. “Allies, carrying injured!”
Siobhan took a quick glance outside, turned around, and said, “Help me move him. I’m going to need the operating table, and he isn’t in critical condition.” Being as careful as they could not to jostle his burns, they moved him to one of the cots as the new group hurried in the door.
They brought more burns, a broken leg, and what she thought was a punctured lung from a broken rib.
Siobhan slipped into a fugue of focus, rattling off orders, questions, and prioritizing the injuries as well as she knew how.
The punctured lung was the worst, but other than her blood magic flesh-mirroring spell, she didn’t actually have any way to fix it. She gave the injured fighter a whiff of a strong anti-coughing philtre, then cast a modified version of her sinus-clearing spell on him. “Do. Not. Cough,” she warned.
The spell drew up globs of blood and phlegm, which spilled out of his mouth in a horrific, lumpy mess into the bowl she had waiting. The man tensed, holding his breath in an attempt not to hack at the disturbance to his lungs.
She held up the anti-coughing philtre again, letting him get another soothing breath. “Breathe shallowly.” She gave him a blood-replenishing potion. “Does anyone have a lung-sealing philtre?” she called. She had bought some for the Verdant Stag at the secret thaumaturge meeting, but there were none stocked on the shelves.
“I do!” a man belatedly volunteered, fumbling it from the half-stocked utility belt around his ways. He almost dropped it, but they managed to get it to the patient thanks to Siobhan’s quick reflexes.
The man took as deep a breath as he could, and the philtre did its job, coating the inside of his lungs with a seal that would add pressure to the wound and help to keep him from drowning to death in his own blood.
Siobhan sent him to one of the cots in the corner. “You’re still bleeding. We’re waiting on the healer. If you feel your lung start to fill up again, ring the bell and I’ll come clear it out for you again. No talking, no coughing, slow breaths,” she ordered, shoving the cheap brass bell she’d pulled from one of the shelves into his hand.
‘At least we’re well-stocked,’ she consoled herself.
Everyone with burns piled their affected parts or their whole bodies onto the table and she drew the heat out of the burns, then removed any large pieces of debris or cloth from the wound, repeating the same process as the first time. Those who were the worst off got enough pain-relieving potion to knock them unconscious.
She made Fritz rub down with alcohol, then put him on burn salve duty. “It’s too simple to screw up. Dab. Don’t rub. Be generous with the salve, we have plenty. Clean your hands thoroughly between each patient.”
She turned her attention to the man with a broken leg. The leg wasn’t exactly mangled, but a jagged edge of bone was jutting out of his shin, and the limb was bent unnaturally at the break. Judging by the pallor of his foot and the rotten grape-purple bruising all around the wound, she doubted blood was flowing properly past the wound. ‘He’s going to lose that foot if I don’t do something. Maybe I could knock him unconscious with a pain-reliever, take him into the main room of the shop and send the others away, and see if I can at least get the bone in place and the blood vessels reconnected with the flesh-mirroring spell? These people might be suspicious of the secrecy, but they’re not healers. I could make up a plausible excuse…’
She was contemplating the wound as the pale-faced patient stared at her.
“Can you fix it?” he asked.
“Of course I can!” a man barked from behind her.
She turned to see the Healer Nidson, the same man Oliver had taken her to when she got Will-strain.
Nidson was guarded by three men with wands. His white shirt was splattered with blood, his hands, knees, and shoes covered in what looked like a mixture of mud and blood.
Siobhan almost collapsed with relief. “Thank the stars above,” she muttered.
Nidson looked around with a critical eye, then turned his gimlet stare on Siobhan. “You’ll brief me while assisting. Go get the wound cleanser! Strength five. And I need a sink and some alcohol. Find me a clean apron. And be quick about it!”
Siobhan pointed him to the wash basin in the corner, gave him a fresh bottle of alcohol, then scurried around to retrieve the rest of what he’d requested, explaining as thoroughly and succinctly the injuries she’d assessed and what she’d done to treat them as she went.
He was ready and up to date a few minutes later, just as another wave of injured people arrived.
There were people from the Stags and the Nightmare Pack, but also unconscious men wearing the red of the Morrows, and even a few civilians. The wounds were worse.
“Morrows were prepared,” one of the men gasped. “Half of them had overpowered blast wands. Took down the side of a building on us. Civilians got caught up in it. We grabbed who we could. There are more there, some dead. There’ll be—” He stopped to cough violently, then croaked, “There’s more wounded on the way, as soon as they can get here on their own or we can fetch them.”
Nidson did a quick diagnosis of that man, using an artifact that sent out a pulse of light and sound and then reading its dials and knobs for the result. “No obvious internal bleeding. You’re good to go.”
The latest batch of people were wounded in ways that were beyond Siobhan’s ability to help directly. She could deal with cleaning wounds of the pieces of wood and stone that had been blown up and embedded in flesh by the concussive blasts, and she knew enough to give the proper basic potions. But she couldn’t do anything about caved-in abdomens, shattered skulls, pelvises, broken spines, disrupted internal organs or internal bleeding…not even simple concussions. For those, she gave pain potions, blood-replenishers, and revivifying potions, just trying to keep them all alive long enough for the healer to see to them.
It was honestly amazing to watch Nidson in action. He had been brusque before, but seemed quietly competent. Now he was like a snappish, efficient whirlwind. He used telekinetic spells to move bones and flesh into the proper position, tossed around minor healing potions like they were water, and even broke out some components from the Plane of Radiance to cast a specialized healing spell on the particularly grievous wounds.
He bossed her—and anyone else who stood nearby for a little too long—around with rapid-fire instructions, sending uninjured men back out into the fight. Their cots quickly filled up, and anyone who was conscious or stable enough to move was relocated to the main part of the shop, laid on the ground.
In this way, they worked through the wounded, even as more arrived.
Some died, or were already dead when they arrived, carried by people who were exhausted and often injured themselves.
Siobhan took a spurt of blood to the face, and if not for her fake glasses would have been sprayed in the eyes.
There was a fire spreading from one of the battle sites, caused by carless use of a fireball spell. They were getting more civilians with burns or smoke inhalation, until Siobhan worried that the previously excessive stock of burn salve would actually run out.
It was worse than Siobhan had expected. Not worse than she could have imagined, but it still rattled something deep within her when a grandmother with a mangled stump for a hand begged her to save her grandson, whose legs had both been blown off. The woman had tied the stumps with strips of her own clothing, using just her good hand and her teeth, then ran the whole way to them with the boy on her back, following directions from the Nightmare Pack members who had been fighting in the street around her.
Siobhan thought the boy was dead, to look at him, but Nidson pronounced his heart to be still beating. “He’s lost too much blood, though. I don’t have any of the more powerful healing potions left, and anything else will take too long.”
“Humphries’ adapting solution!” Siobhan cried, lunging over to the shelf where she’d placed the large bottles earlier that evening. She shoved two into his hands.
“Are these still fresh?” he asked.
“I brewed them myself just yesterday,” she assured him.
Nidson wasted no time placing the boy on the operating table. Using a fountain pen with a thick ink, he drew out the modified piercing spell that would allow him to push the liquid directly into the boy’s veins, centering it precisely over his pale arm. He used a tiny needle to barely prick the skin at the center of the array, then pressed the wax-covered mouth of the bottle over it and began to cast, forcing the liquid directly into the boy’s bloodstream.
Five minutes later, three liters of liquid were inside the boy, with minimal waste, and he was breathing normally. His color hadn’t recovered from the deathly pallor, but that was because the adapting solution wasn’t red like blood.
Nidson moved on to boy’s leg stumps, but Siobhan took an extra moment to look at the unconscious child’s face. ‘He’s alive because of me. I did better, this time.’
Nidson was almost finished sealing the boy’s stumps when the guard at the doorway screamed in alarm, shooting a spell from her wand and then leaping out of the way.
Half a second later, the doorway exploded.
The open door was blown off its hinges, and the blast edges caught those closest, tossing them off their feet and peppering them with shattered pieces of brick and shards of wood.
Siobhan reacted in time to cover her face with her arms, flinching away from the blast and shrapnel. She was far enough away that it only rocked her balance and left her with a handful of bruises where she’d been hit.
Nidson had reacted even faster than her, pulling the boy off the table onto the floor and shielding him with his own body.
A mixed group of Nightmare Pack and Verdant Stag fighters had been by the door. Some of them had reacted in time. Some of them hadn’t, and were lying on the floor, injured or unconscious.
The concussive blast spell had been a little off-center, impacting more against the side of the building than directly through the doorway, which had probably saved their lives.
Siobhan’s ears were ringing from the pressure of the shockwave that had passed through the room, and people were screaming in fear and pain, but she still heard the female guard who’d gotten off a return shot shout, “Morrows!”
‘They must have followed some of our own people,’ Siobhan thought. “Get away from the doorway!” she screamed. “If anyone has a shield, raise it now!”
People were crawling or being dragged away. The female guard stepped past them, falling to one knee in the doorway with her fists, wrapped by knuckle guards, held in front of her.
Another concussive blast hit, this one more on target, but a circular shield flared out from the woman’s fists, wider than the doorway and almost as tall, blocking the blast and allowing the injured to make it further into the safety of the room. The woman let out a grunt past gritted teeth from the strain of the impact and absorbed a second attack, this one a fireball that spilled around the edge of the shield, licking at the ceiling and the walls and singing the woman’s skin.
“Give back our men!” screamed one of the Morrows from the street. “I want Andrews and Jacob or I’m going to collapse that building on top of you!”
Siobhan grabbed one of the stone operating tables by its leg and heaved it toward the doorway. “Step back!” she screamed at the woman.
The woman shuffled back, her fists still raised with the faintly glowing shield.
Out of the corner of her eye, Siobhan saw one of their attackers release another spell. With another heave, she tipped the table over in front of the doorway and fell to the ground in front of it, knees to her chest and her arms around her head.
The table cracked with the impact of the attacking spell, another concussive blast, but didn’t shatter completely.
The woman was kneeling over Siobhan, her fists still raised. She’d reinforced the table with her shield artifact, keeping it from breaking, but the table also protected her from the brunt of the blow.
Siobhan crawled to her feet. ‘We’re trapped in here, like rats in a box.’ She popped her head up above the edge of the table for less than a second, taking in the attackers scattered on both sides of the street, some peeking out behind doorways or the corners of alleys. She scrambled for her bag.
Some of the civilian patients were running into the front of the shop, hoping to escape out the main door, but many more were unconscious, or weren’t stable enough to move.
Some of the enforcers still well enough to fight headed that way, too, and Siobhan hoped they were going to circle around and attack the Morrows from the side or behind, not simply escape. She hoped, but she couldn’t depend on them. She’d run scenarios like this through her mind several times since Oliver asked her to help with this operation.
She didn’t have any effective long-range attacks except for the makeshift slingshot spell she’d used against the Morrows last time. The problem with that was, the Morrows were scattered, not grouped together under a single shield spell, and if she moved to the doorway to attack them, they were much more likely to hit her than she was to hit them. The barrier of the operation table would only hold for so long. It would be suicide.
She could slip out the front of the shop, circle around, and do a surprise attack, but it still left the problem of one against many, with them scattered about and difficult to hit.
No, she needed an attack that could cover a wide area all at once.
And she had prepared just the thing.
She carried her bag back to the doorway, fishing out a philtre of stench. There wasn’t enough wind to push the debilitating cloud toward their attackers, but she had a solution for that problem, too. She selected one of her paper utility spells.
The table, reinforced by the woman’s knuckle-guard shield, which was beginning to falter, took another hit.
Three other fighters were now helping the female enforcer, ducking down to shelter from attacks and then popping up to send out return fire. It seemed to be helping.
The building around the doorway had taken several more blows as the Morrows’ aim deteriorated under the pressure. None of the Morrows seemed eager to come closer and make themselves a more obvious target.
Siobhan threw the alchemical bottle into the street, where it shattered. The stench expanded outward in a vaguely visible, sick-looking cloud.
As quickly as possible, she ducked back down and placed the paper spell array for her gust spell against the inner side of the table, using a bit of moderate-strength glue to paste it on. The Circle bound a spherical area under her command, which in this case meant that she also controlled a section of air on the other side of the table’s surface. The side facing the street.
She realized belatedly that she needed a power source, and as she turned to look for one, the healer said, “Here!” and tossed her the beast core he’d been using to perform healing spells.
Siobhan wasted no time extracting energy from it. It was her first time channeling power from a beast core, and she was exhilarated by the deep well of potential she could feel within such a small container. It was like holding a miniature sun, or a bolt of lightning, or all the crushing power of a the world’s largest waterfall.
She only needed a fraction of that power, and she used it to create wind. The Circle for this spell was small enough that she was able to create some real force from the gust.
The philtre of stench blew down the street, and though some of the Morrows had been smart enough to pull up their scarves or cover their face with an elbow, it wasn’t enough to save them. The particles were small, easily filtering through cloth, and no one had thought to cover their eyes.
The philtre was more than just stench, it was also an irritant to any of the more delicate mucous membranes, and a minor emetic.
Siobhan adjusted the angle of the breeze several times on the fly, using only her Will to change the spell’s output in this simple way. She kept her head below the edge of the table for the most part, only popping up occasionally to readjust her aim.
The Morrows were dropping. Some vomited violently in the street. Some were blinded by their streaming eyes, and hacking out mucus. Some decided that attacking the emergency healing center wasn’t worth it after all and ran away.
The shielding artifact the female enforcer had been using gave out, and a spell spent some chips broken off the table flying at Siobhan’s face. Her fake glasses protected her eyes, once again.
Some of the enforcers who had escaped out the front of the shop did indeed circle around, and they took some shots at the escaping Morrows.
Siobhan tried to be careful not to send the magical stench at her allies, but it was hard to control, and they couldn’t get too close without being affected.
The philtre ran out after a few minutes, letting out only a trickle of fumes rather than a billowing cloud, and Siobhan released her gust spell.
“Guard the doorway,” she said to the fighters still inside. She went to the wash basin in the corner, wetted some bandages, and then tied them around her face, covering her mouth and nose like some kind of partial mummy.
She grabbed a battle wand that shot stunning spells from one of the unconscious patients on the cots.
The overturned operating table was mostly broken by that point, so it was easy to drag one side of it away from the doorway.
Siobhan stood in the doorway for a minute, clearly visible and ready to throw herself out of the way with every bit of reflex that Professor Fekten had managed to drill into her body.
No one attacked her.
Still ready to drop to the ground or lunge out of the way at a moment’s notice, Siobhan stepped into the street. The lingering stench was horrible. She swallowed down a gag. She’d never been particularly squeamish, but there was a reason this part of the process of brewing this potion required a protective barrier around the mouth of the cauldron.
Quickly and methodically, she stunned every Morrow she could see until the wand ran out of charges. A few more tried to escape, but the enforcers from the Nightmare Pack and the Verdant Stag that had circled around stopped them.
She picked up the closest unconscious Morrow and dragged him toward the makeshift infirmary.
Her allies picked up on the idea quickly, and helped her drag the others in. Oliver wanted hostages, after all.
Inside, Healer Nidson was already on his feet and working again, using the second table.
Waving to the enforcers to follow her, she dragged her prisoner into the main part of the shop, dropped him, and used a spell to remove any extra liquid from his mouth, throat, and lungs. ‘I don’t want any of them to die from choking on their own vomit.’
She repeated the process on their other new prisoners, then did a quick check to make sure none of them seemed likely to die in the next hour. Her fingers were trembling around her Conduit, and the room swayed a bit when she stood.
One of the Nightmare Pack enforcers, a man with two curling goat horns springing out of a mop of tangled hair, caught her elbow.
Siobhan nodded her thanks to him, clumsily pulling the damp bandages away from her face and wiping her streaming eyes. “Check them for weapons, then tie them up securely. Re-stun them if you have to. We can’t afford to waist pain-relieving potions keeping them unconscious,” she croaked.
She returned to the back room, blinking away tears and suppressing the urge to cough. She felt like she’d rubbed her eyeballs and throat with a slice of onion. Staring around at the wounded lying on cots, and on the floor, those still waiting for treatment, and those already dead, she felt a buzzing sense of detachment for a moment. ‘This can’t be what Oliver had planned, can it? Something must have gone wrong. Is it even safe for us to stay in Morrow territory? What if they win the fight and come to kill us all?’ She pressed her hand to her chest, where her heart was beating too hard. She hadn’t thought she was afraid, but the burn of terror was undeniable in her veins and the lifting of the hair on the back of her neck. She looked around wildly for a moment, sure that something dangerous was in the room with her.
Nidson barked, “Girl, are you listening?”
Siobhan jerked back to awareness, turning to him belatedly as the irrational fear receded.
He fished in the pocket of his jacket under his now-filthy apron, tossing her a small bottle. “Take that and get back to work. I need three lung-sealing philtres and some liquid stone.” He turned to point to some of the patients. “When you’ve done that, dose those three with a regeneration-booster, and him with a mild healing potion. I’m worried about cot number three, he didn’t move when the first blast went off. Check his heartbeat and his eyes for dilation. And I need my beast core back.”
The healer continued to rattle off instructions, and one part of Siobhan’s brain catalogued them while the other focused on the vial he’d prescribed her. The scribbled label on the side named it a wit-sharpening potion.
Wit-sharpening potion did not in fact make you any smarter, but it could make you temporarily more aware and improve performance in situations that required multitasking, as long as you didn’t take too high a dose and become overwhelmed by sensory input. It was also addictive.
She took the single swallow remaining in the vial and tossed the empty bottle in the box where all the other empty jars, bottles, and vials were piling up. Almost immediately, she felt her focus tighten, her brain organizing the steps she needed to take to complete all her tasks as efficiently as possible.
‘There is no time to waste, and I won’t leave these people to die.’ She felt the battle wand she’d taken from one of the captured Morrows, tucked in an inner pocket. It was filled with only stunning spells, nothing more powerful, but she was pretty sure there were a few charges left. ‘If more enemies come, we’ll fight them off, too.’
The Bonus Omake Poll winner: “Thaddeus POV from chapter ‘Sirens’ Aberrant incident (exploring a low-level Aberrant and the workings of the Red Guard more directly)”
I’ll be brainstorming the idea over this next week, and writing it the next. The short story will be available, at least at first exclusive to patrons, by the first or second week of October, depending on how quickly the process goes.
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Author Note: In case you missed it, two bonus chapters have been posted between this and last Thursday’s regular chapter. You may need to go back and read from Mid-Terms & Tournament.
Month 1, Day 17, Sunday 9:15 p.m.
A trio exited the Morrow’s main warehouse near the docks, illuminated only by the crystals of the streetlamps.
Oliver waited to assure himself of their identities, then moved to intercept them with a couple men of his own. He recognized the slightly wide gaits of those who were more used to the pitch and roll of a ship’s deck than the steadiness of dry land. Even if the Morrows did know that they were surrounded and being watched, and were trying to trick him and his people into letting someone important escape, he doubted they would be good enough actors to fool him.
The short man at the front of the trio drew a battle wand as soon as Oliver stepped from the shadows, sinking into a fighting stance. His companions did the same.
Oliver’s wand was in his hand, but he didn’t lift it. “Captain Eliezer,” he greeted. “I mean you no harm.”
The man and his companions had just left a meeting to inspect the latest shipment of delivered goods with Lord Morrow. Captain Eliezer had, some time before, agreed to smuggle certain items for Oliver, but apparently didn’t recognize him by voice alone. “What is the meaning of this?” Eliezer demanded.
With a pop of suction, Oliver removed his mask.
Eliezer recognized him then, but did not seem comforted. “Lord Stag,” he said, his wand still pointed at Oliver. “This seems a rather inauspicious meeting.”
“Does it? I hadn’t hoped for that to be the case. You and I have mutual interests, after all.”
Eliezer’s eyes narrowed, his wand dropping slightly as he peered around into other dark shadows and past curtained windows, where more of the Verdant Stag and Nightmare Pack forces were gathered. He seemed to realize he stood little chance in an altercation, even with his backup. “I don’t suppose you’re also here to warn me off? No more work with the Morrows, if I know what’s good for me? Things seem to have taken a much more antagonistic turn since the last time I berthed in Gilbratha.”
Oliver smiled at that freely offered piece of information about Eliezer’s meeting with Lord Morrow, knowing it was deliberate. “No. That is not my purpose here tonight. You may deal with who you wish. However, you may have trouble completing future business with the association of people formerly known as the Morrows.”
“Soon to be formerly,” Oliver amended.
Eliezer squinted sun-wrinkled eyes at him. “You are quite confident.”
“I am extremely confident.”
Eliezer paused, assessing the shadows once more. “The majority of my business is with this ‘soon to be former’ group…”
Oliver nodded easily. “I’m aware, but don’t worry too much, my good man. There may be some transition pains, as I’m not sure my organization will need the same things as theirs did. You may need to take a few oaths of secrecy for the sake of our security measures, but rest assured that you will have continued business, no matter the name of those in charge. You have a reputation as the best smuggler in the city for a reason, after all.”
“Why the ambush in the middle of the night, then?”
Oliver smiled, not bothering to moderate the expression.
Eliezer tensed, unsettled.
“If I am correct, you haven’t taken any oaths of secrecy yet. I’m interested to know about the shipment they just received.”
Eliezer hesitated, but Oliver just kept smiling at him, and the older man gave in soon enough. “You’ll keep me out of this? I’m in the business of shipping, and that’s all. I’ll have no truck with your power struggles.”
Ten minutes later, Captain Eliezer left with his men, and Oliver knew more details about the internal layout of the building, the number of men within, and the weapons delivered in the shipment than his people had been able to gather on their own. “What a stroke of luck,” Oliver murmured, putting his mask back on.
Oliver sent a couple of his men to tail the captain, just in case the man didn’t want to stay out of the power struggle as fully as he’d proclaimed.
Just a couple minutes later, spark-shooting wands sent up thick showers of bright green and yellow sparks from high points all around the city. They were clearly visible against the dark night sky, and the Verdant Stag and Nightmare Pack launched their simultaneous, joint attack on a dozen-plus locations and high-value targets at once.
As they closed in on their target, everyone pulled out the battle potions that had been prepared. They only had a few protective bark-skin potions, so the enforcers who would be in the vanguard and mostly likely to take spell-fire had been assigned those. Everyone had a potion diviner’s sight in their utility belts, specifically created by another alchemist to counteract the philtre’s of darkness that Siobhan had brewed for them over the last few months. They also had one-use mask artifacts that would protect against Siobhan’s philtres of stench, which had already proven their effectiveness.
An trio of overpowered concussive blast spells broke open the reinforced doorway, and the men beside it tossed in the philtres of darkness. Clouds of black, light-devouring particles exploded within as soon as the delicate vials shattered, accompanied by surprised, confused cries of alarm from those within.
Distant sounds of impact and screams from the left side of the warehouse told him the same was being done there.
The philtres of darkness were followed by philtres of stench, and the cries from within changed tone to include horror and disgust.
Satisfied that the enemy within was mostly neutralized, Oliver gave the signal to enter, but before the vanguard could do so, a shimmering barrier popped to life over the doorway and shuttered windows.
Someone within had activated a building-wide ward.
Oliver raised his wand and tried a concussive blast. The ward rippled from the force, but held. He switched quickly through all the spells in his battle wand, but none penetrated. It made sense, as most wards were created to block at least the most common assault spells. Remembering Siobhan’s workaround for that, he tried to toss another vial of darkness in. It shattered against the ward, spilling a huge cloud of darkness out around the door and covering their group.
He could still see through the magical darkness, though things were greyscale and a little distorted under the effects of the diviner’s sight potion. It might have actually been a good thing, as it concealed them further from any enemies.
He picked up a rock off the street and tried that next. No luck.
He stepped closer and touched his pinky finger to the barrier, which was rippling and shimmering under similar attacks by the rest of the attackers. The ward didn’t repulse him, or dissolve his flesh, or anything truly nasty, but it didn’t let the finger through, either.
That was alright. They hadn’t come unprepared. Stronger, comprehensive-purpose wards could either be broken by an exact counter-spell, or overpowered through brute force.
His people knew this, and had already started to barrage the ward with battle spells, hoping to bring it down through overwhelming power. That was wasteful—he’d paid for every charge of spells put into their battle wands—and who knew how long it would take?
“Stop!” he called. “Bring out the augers! One on each wall!”
One of the support team members rushed forward with the device. The auger was a drill artifact that he’d had imported from his home country, Osham. The drill itself was physical, a spiraling, razor-sharp piece of hardened metal, but its movement was powered with magical energy. This allowed more power and greater efficiency than a purely magical drilling spell. Osham used the drilling artifacts for mining and other difficult excavation, but he was sure they could be utilized in non-traditional ways as well.
The enforcers used a liquid stone potion to anchor the augers to the ground, then activated them. Silently, they began drilling into the ward that surrounded the building like a skin.
The ward rippled violently around the tip of the drill, which kept pressing inexorably deeper.
The clouds of darkness within began to dissipate one minute after they had been released, leaving the Morrows able to better see and navigate.
People appeared on the edges of the roof above and began to shoot spells down at the anti-Morrow alliance without hesitation.
Oliver’s people quickly poured out large, half-dome barriers of liquid stone, which hardened enough to protect small groups from the weaker offensive spells. They shot back from behind the hastily-created shields. Bright flashes with the colors of magic lit up the night, throwing ever-moving shadows about.
Oliver took out a fleetfoot potion, a wit-sharpening potion, and a bark skin potion, using all three in quick succession. Being well-supplied was one of the perks of being the leader. He flitted around, shooting spells at those above with much greater accuracy and avoiding their return attacks. He blasted one Morrow back, sliced deep into the chest of another, and tripped yet another as he was trying to escape.
That man fell off the edge of the roof, slamming into the ground below with a meaty crunch.
The Morrows had known something was coming, and this warehouse, where they brought most of the newly-smuggled stock before redistributing it, had been well-protected.
But there were still more of the alliance members than there were Morrows, especially after the philtres of stench had done their job on those unlucky enough to be in the main warehouse area.
A few of his men made it to nearby rooftops, setting up liquid stone battlements to shoot out between and negating the height advantage of those on top of the Morrow warehouse.
All the while, the augers drilled away, unperturbed.
Under such strain from multiple points, the ward dropped in only a couple minutes, which seemed like much longer than it really was. That was a fifth of the time even the most competent ward-breakers would have needed to bring down such a powerful barrier, and had required maybe a twentieth of the magical power that overwhelming the ward with spells would have taken.
Osham had its own problems, to be sure, but they didn’t stymie non-magical advancements for fear of disrupting the established industries. In Lenore, the results of so much industry being controlled by only thirteen powerful families became obvious. Many of them were impeding the advancements that could come from a freer market due to either complacency or fear of diluting their own power, and it wasn’t just hurting the lower classes, it was weakening the nation.
As soon as the ward dropped, the alliance members threw in new philtres of darkness, but some quick-thinking Morrows within managed to cover and stifle them before the light-absorbing clouds could fully expand, leaving only a dark grey haze over a good portion of the warehouse.
Oliver gritted his teeth and cursed, but there was nothing to be done about it. Delaying further would only put them in a worse position. The vanguard had been prepped for this, and the head of his enforcers didn’t even need Oliver’s command to enter.
Mr. Huntley had a shielding artifact of his own, which he, as the point man, held up in front of the front door to shield others entering behind him, but it could only absorb a couple spells before failing.
Oliver slipped in, moving quickly to circle around the edge of the room with the others. It smelled fishy inside, as if new seafood had been layered over old, crusty and sometimes putrid remains, and there were still half-processed fish and sea creatures strewn about the tables and floor within.
The alliance members on the left side of the building were entering, too, but they had the cover of darkness.
By nature, portable wards were much less powerful than fixed ones. Huntley absorbed a fireball, a stunning spell, and then a maliciously shaped spell that might have been a hemorrhaging curse. The foggy concussive blast spell that finally overpowered the artifact slammed Huntley into the side of the doorframe behind him. He bounced off and fell to the ground, ribs broken.
One of the others dragged Huntley out, shoved a lung-sealing philtre down his throat just in case the broken ribs had punctured them, then sealed him in a quick layer of liquid stone to prevent him shifting around and causing further damage as they retreated with him toward the nearest medic center.
Oliver narrowly dodged a glowing piercing spell that gouged a deep wedge out of the stone wall behind him, then hopped over a puke-green spell that he didn’t recognize. He almost slipped on a slimy octopus tendril, and would have fallen painfully if not for the fleetfoot potion. His eyes flitted about the large room, searching for dangers and the most important targets.
Toward the end of the room nearest him, furthest from both entrances, was the door to the other half of the warehouse. A large, hefty man was crawling toward it, eyes and nose streaming with tears and snot, and vomit splattered down the front of his flashy red suit. Another large man in much less ostentatious clothing was trying to support him with one arm while waving around a battle wand in the other.
Oliver smiled. “Well hello, Lord Morrow,” he murmured, his voice too low to be heard over the sounds of battle. He shot a stunning spell toward the duo.
The man with the wand, probably one of Lord Morrow’s personal guard or a high-ranking member of the gang, adroitly switched his wand’s output to a half-domed shield that sprung from the tip of the wand just in time to block Oliver’s sizzling red attack.
He shot back a concussive blast spell, but his aim was high.
Oliver lunged forward, throwing himself onto his hands and knees as the spell passed overhead, then springing back up to sprint toward them. The spell whumped into the wall behind him, shattering stone and blasting out shards that hit Oliver in the back, but not hard enough to injure him.
He was too close to completely avoid the next blast, and it caught him in the arm with enough force to spin his entire body around. He didn’t resist, switching the output on his wand as he went through a full spin. He pointed the wand at Lord Morrow and his bodyguard as steadily as he could, time seeming to slow under the combined effects of the wit-sharpening potion and adrenaline. He stumbled to right himself, hunching down to brace as the third concussive blast exited the bodyguard’s wand.
He couldn’t dodge the next expanding, foggy blast, but he kept his wand up, activating the personal shield at the last possible moment.
The concussive blast threw him off his feet and wrenched his shoulder, but rather than the the spell simply being absorbed by his shield spell, it bounced back at the enemy duo.
They weren’t prepared for that, and it caught them straight-on, slightly weakened but still plenty to knock both of them off their feet.
He switched back to the stunning spell setting on his wand before they could get up or defend themselves, then shot both of them. Twice. Not to be vindictive. Just to be sure.
Oliver moved to take the bodyguard’s battle wand, but as he was searching Lord Morrow for hidden artifacts or weapons that could be a problem when he woke, the hefty man jerked forward.
Oliver snapped back, barely fast enough to escape the crushing headbutt that Lord Morrow had tried to give his face.
Oliver’s eyes widened beneath the mask, and punched Lord Morrow in the face before even taking the time to analyze the situation.
One of Oliver’s rings released a bright red pulse upon impact.
Lord Morrow fell back again, his eyebrows sizzling.
Oliver looked appreciatively at the ring artifact that held a pressure-triggered stunning spell. He was so distracted that he almost didn’t dodge the slicing spell that came from the side. He took out the Morrow that had sent it with an idle returned stunning spell, then turned back to the gang leader in front of him warily. Oliver was not a small man, but Lord Morrow was built like a bear, broad and with a layer of winter fat covering his muscle.
Oliver nudged the man with his foot.
He stomped down on the man’s knee.
That caused a frown, but Lord Morrow didn’t seem to wake, or try to get away from the pain. The stunning spell didn’t put its victims into a coma or keep them from feeling, so a little response was normal under extreme stimulus, just like one might have when experiencing a nightmare.
Keeping his wand pointed toward the man’s neck just in case, Oliver crouched over him again, his freehand rifling through Lord Morrow’s clothes. He found the cause of the discrepancy soon enough.
The man’s leather-lined jacket was a warding artifact. It must have absorbed the first two stunning spells that hit his body. He had only pretended to be unconscious to take Oliver by surprise.
Moving as quickly as he could while still being wary of the men before him, and the fighting around him, which was quickly dying down as the alliance gained control of the room, Oliver stripped Lord Morrow all the way down to his underpants, and inspected even them to make sure no more nasty surprises were lurking. He even removed Lord Morrow’s shoes.
Then, he did the same with the bodyguard, who was actually unconscious.
By the time he was finished, the other Morrows were also subdued, and his people were searching them, tying them up, and inspecting the rest of the warehouse.
They had won.
This was one of the most important targets, but hopefully, the distant sounds of fighting throughout the rest of the city told a similar tale for the others.
In a single night, the Verdant Stags would go from a small, insignificant organization to controlling one of the largest sections of territory within Gilbratha.
He wasn’t averse to the trappings of power and wealth, and the life that afforded, but it wasn’t his main goal. He felt happy just imagining all the good he could do. That particular feeling of satisfaction was hard to get anywhere else.
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