Author Topic: Chapter 50  (Read 9972 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 50
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:40:09 AM »
Chapter 50

Distant voices slowly became clearer. Arico tried to recognize them, but that recognition flitted away like an insect over the Waters. He was waking up, but it wasn’t like normal. This was a drugged sleep, so waking up was more a matter of will and determination than usual. With effort, he opened his eyes.

He was back in the keep underneath the Enclave. In one of the recovery rooms on the east side, apparently. The Hauld and Chanul were at the door, talking quietly, but he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

Arico sat up slowly, and then pulled his arms from beneath the covers. His hands—or rather, his stumps—had been expertly bandaged. He didn’t feel any pain now, but he also could remember those moments just after returning to the Enclave. Blood spurting from his wrists as soon as he’d left the threads. Endu hurriedly tying his wrists as tightly as she could, trying to stem the flow. Searing pain from hands which were… no longer there. Even now he could still feel them. His right hand itched, just between his middle and index finger, but he couldn’t scratch it.

“Arico, lad!” The Hauld said suddenly, and he and his son stepped inside. “Dinnae move too fast, lad,” he ordered as Arico propped himself up on his elbows. “Ye need time, ‘r so the healers said.”

Arico suddenly realized he was thirsty. There was a clay pitcher of water on the small table next to his bed, with an empty glass. He reached for it before remembering.

Chanul immediately stepped up next to the bed. “Let me.” He filled the glass, and then slowly raised it to Arico’s lips. To his credit, not a single drop spilled. Chanul had steady hands and a keen insight. He’d have made a good nurse, if he wasn’t destined to rule the Enclave in his father’s place.

Arico swallowed and nodded. “Thanks.” He looked back to the Hauld. “Sir. What happened? Did any of the poison reach the Waters? Was anyone hurt? Did you manage to get enough Waters stored away before any of that happened?”

He was babbling, he knew. It was just noise to fill the space and cover the awkwardness of the moment. The Hauld nodded understandingly, though. “The’re been some tales o’people getting’ sick near tha’ Waters, lad. Some o’ tha poison got in, a’ least. No signs o’ anyone dyin tho, here or elsewhere. If Jaas’ an tha’ woman Velya’re right, then ye did it, lad. Ye saved tha whole city!”

With a breath of relief, Arico leaned back on the bedframe. Even at the price he’d paid. “Worth it,” he said with a smile.

Another dwarf appeared at the door, and coughed respectfully. “Hauld.”

The Hauld grunted in irritation. He put a hand on Arico’s shoulder. “I’ll be righ’ back, lad.”

Arico couldn’t help but give a snort of derision, and raised his stumps again. “Take your time, sir. I’m of no use to anyone like this.”

The Hauld hesitated, his face blank for a moment. He glanced at Chanul. “Tell ‘im,” he ordered, and then swept out of the room.

“Tell me what?” Arico asked suspiciously. “How long have I been out?”

“More than a day,” Chanul said, taking a seat at the foot of the bed. It creaked under the extra weight. For all their limited stature, dwarves usually weighed as much if not more than full-grown men. “Endu wanted to make sure the tourniquets held, so she had to keep you in a drugged sleep.”

Surprisingly, he gave a small smile as he continued. “Word is already spreading like wildfire, Arico. Sustained patches all over the city are repeating what happened in Krellik patch! Boss Ta’anu and two of his people died on top of that tower,” he said a little sadly. “Apparently after you and Velya and Jaas took them down, they got splashed by the poison. They never woke up, so at least there’s that.”

“I didn’t even think to look for them,” Arico whispered to himself. “I just… left.”

“There was nothing you could do for them,” Chanul said firmly. “From what Alzhi heard, most of their bodies were covered with nethrit. They were doomed from the moment they tried to kill everyone. But that’s not what my father meant. Word is spreading through the whole city about what you did! They don’t know why Ta’anu was trying to kill them, or they still believe that Tellek patch was hit by the Blood Fever, but everyone is talking about how you stopped him. How you magically got rid of the poison before it could harm them!”

“Everyone?” Arico still felt more than a little suspicious of that. “How do you know?”

Chanul chuckled. “Alzhi was on duty in the Sevvas barracks when word filtered through. In virtually every Sustained patch where we have eyes and ears, they’re all hearing the same message. I don’t know how the truth made it through so clearly, in so many places all at the same time, but so far the stories have all matched what really happened!”

Arico leaned back against the pillow as Chanul continued his explanation. He had a suspicion how word had gotten out, but he kept it to himself for now. There would be no point in making accusations yet. He opened his mouth to explain, but then Jaas appeared at the doorway as well. She took one look at him, and burst into tears.

All thoughts of the tactical situation fled from Arico’s mind. “Hey,” he said reassuringly, and tried to get out of bed to go over there.

Chanul held him down easily, though. “Healer’s orders,” he said with a twist to his lips. “You stay put, you hear?” Arico nodded a bit glumly, and Chanul stood up again. He gave a nod of deference to Jaas, and then left them alone.

Jaas was still in tears as she took his place. “Your poor hands,” she said, her words slightly mangled.

“Hey, hey,” Arico continued, reaching up and wrapping his arms around her. “I’m fine, you hear? This is nothing. Besides, I’m used to dealing with hardship. When I was six I broke my wrist, and was in splints for more than a month. I will be just fine. Trust me.”

“If I hadn’t brought Velya to you though, none of this would have happened! It’s my fault!”

Arico snorted. “If you hadn’t brought Velya, most of the city would be dead or dying by now. You did the right thing; you have to believe that. And remember, I was there! I saw you pull out that gun and start shooting. You fought, Jaas! You were brave on top of that wall. Don’t blame yourself for me getting hurt. We all knew the risks of getting anywhere near that stuff, didn’t we?”

Sniffling, Jaas nodded and wiped at her eyes. She examined his stumps one after the other. “Are you in pain?”

“Not at all,” he lied. In fact his wrists were starting to hurt again, if slowly. “Endu gave me a tonic for the pain as soon as I woke up. She’s got some pretty powerful concoctions in that lab of hers. But then you know all about that, don’t you?” He teased her, remembering that vial she’d threatened to use against him.

“I know,” she answered humorlessly. “I was there when she knocked you out. Or rather, kept you out. You were pretty weak from blood loss.”

“I still am,” he grumbled. “Chanul shouldn’t have been able to hold me down like that. Don’t worry about it, though. I’ll be up and about in no time, you’ll see.”

Jaas shook her head. “I still don’t understand how you did it, though. How could you cut both of your hands off so cleanly and quickly?”

“I used the threads to do it,” Arico explained. “If a body part is outside of the threads and the navigator chooses to go to another patch, that body part is left behind. Navigators have been using the threads for amputations for years now. Still, if Endu hadn’t been here waiting for me I probably would have bled to death as soon as I left the threads.”

“There’s some magic in the Outside world,” Jaas said hesitantly, still focused on his wrists. “I don’t know how to do it myself, but I know people who can. They could regenerate your hands completely. You’d be whole again! All I have to do is figure out a way to get you out of this damnable city first!”

There was actually hope on that front. A project that he, Endu, and Jaas’ friend from the Outside, Lem, had been working on for a while now. He wasn’t about to tell Jaas, though. Not until he was sure it would work.

“Hey. Look at me, Jaas.” He waited until she did finally meet his gaze. “I’m fine, d’you hear me? I don’t need hands to talk to stra’tchi patches, or to use the new abilities you helped me develop. All I need to pull on the threads is skin, and I still have plenty of that.” He hesitated for a moment. In all the bustle, he’d forgotten about his sha’haln meeting with his sister for a while. Their exchange of information had been cut short—most likely because she had woken up from her nap, but it was still encouraging. They could continue tomorrow, or the day after.

“I was never a very good swordsman, so there’s no great loss there,” he went on conversationally, “and my hands were never all that steady, as you know. So all in all, it’s not that bad.” He held her head between his arms. “Maybe someday I will get my hands back, thanks to some trick or other from the Outside, but for now at least, I am content. You should be too.”

After a few moments, she nodded and then sniffled a bit more. “How can you be so calm about this? Why aren’t you yelling and cursing the gods—or Aquun—in anger?”

“Well, I’d like to say it’s because of my calm and level personality, but I think it has more to do with the herbs they gave me,” he said with a smile. “Besides,” he added, “there’s a pretty big upside to all of this, isn’t there?”

Jaas gave him a puzzled look.

“At least now you can’t make me write any more of those ridiculous notes for your bosses Outside.”

That at least got a slight smile from her. “Hey, those notes are helpful,” she reminded him, drying her eyes. “Don’t think you’re off the hook on those either, by the way,” she continued. “You’ll dictate, and I will write.”

-.-

It had been more than an hour, with Jaas talking softy nearly the whole time. She’d mostly just been filling the empty spaces in conversation, when Arico was obviously overcome with his new circumstances. Eventually he’d dropped off. Jaas wasn’t sure if that was because of Endu’s medication or her own, hopefully dulcet, tones. She rose quietly, blew out all but one of the candles near his bed, and closed the recovery room door behind her.

To her surprise, Velya was approaching as she left the room, flanked by a pair of dwarven guards. She had vanished just after dropping Jaas off at the Enclave, most likely to meet with the other Thornes.

If there were any other Thornes left, that was. They would have tried to stop this mad plan of Ta’anu’s, which probably meant he’d wiped them out first, just to be sure. Jaas had inquired, but Velya hadn’t said anything definitive.

Velya glanced at the guards with a frustrated look on her face. “I helped save the entire city, Enclave included. You’d think the Hauld would show a little more trust!”

“Give it time, Velya,” Jaas said diplomatically. The dwarves glanced at each other, but were otherwise expressionless. “You may not be a Sustained exactly, but you’re not quite a Fishbowler either. Let them get used to the idea of humans who aren’t on one side or the other.”

“I suppose,” Velya shrugged uncomfortably. She glanced at the recovery room. “Is he-”

“Arico’s asleep, and he’ll stay that way.” Jaas cut her off in a firm voice. The last thing Arico needed right now was to be woken up with whatever news Velya was bringing.

Actually, Jaas was surprised Velya had been let back into the Enclave at all. Her last appearance had been an emergency, and Arico had vouched for her, however reluctantly. The Hauld must be getting soft on outsiders. But then, she wasn’t exaggerating in her claims. She had helped save them all. Jaas supposed that would have bought her a little goodwill.

On that very topic… “Arico had a few interesting observations before he nodded off,” Jaas said conversationally, gesturing up the tunnel. Velya fell in step with her, and the dwarves kept pace behind them. Jaas led them out into an anteroom, where there were places to sit with at least some privacy for their conversation. The guards would undoubtedly tell the Hauld everything they said, but out here they could at least pretend to be alone.

“We just got an update from our sources in several Sustained patches,” Jaas said after they’d taken a seat. “It’s very strange, but for some reason all the rumors they’re hearing are true! They seem to know that Ta’anu was planning a mass poisoning, and that Arico stopped him. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

“I’ve been hearing the same rumors,” Velya said evasively, but it was clear Jaas had hit on something here. Or rather, Arico had. It had been his theory first.

“The Council and the Lord Ascendant took control of the scene immediately, from what I’ve heard,” Jaas continued, thinking aloud. “They would want to control the story, to make it into some kind of victory for the Sustained, or at least a defeat for us so-called ‘rebels’. The only way the truth could get out from under their net of lies would be if someone else was spreading it. And these rumors went far and fast, much faster than normal. It’s almost as if another group of people—people who want the Council gone as much as we do—has been helping spread the story!”

“What an amazing supposition,” Velya said with just a hint of a smirk. “I’ll give it further thought, of course.”

Jaas smiled in response. It wasn’t much of a confirmation, but it was enough. The Thornes had survived Ta’anu’s treachery. It seemed their means of retaliation was to spread the story to as many Sustained as possible, and to make sure it was the truth.

“Arico got me thinking, though,” Jaas continued. “Back there in Krellik patch, we were at least half a league away from the Retreat you told us about. Even if the Sustained revelers heard my gunshots, it would have taken them ten minutes, minimum, to get close enough to see the tower. Yet there were at least a dozen of them there, mere moments after the tower broke open! What were they doing there, I wonder?”

Velya shrugged. “There aren’t any rules keeping the revelers from leaving the Retreat in Krellik. They often go for walks around the patch. It’s a Retreat, not a prison. Those onlookers must have just been out enjoying the view.”

“So many, though? I could believe one or two, but not that many people at once. No, you warned them, Velya. You were the only person who knew where it would all go down. You may not have known exactly what would happen, but you told them that something would happen, and where to be to see it. You wanted an audience, didn’t you?”

Velya just gave her a long, evaluating glance at first. Then she sighed. “I won’t deny that having people there helped the Thornes. The more people who can see what the Council is, and what they’ve done, the better it is for us. But by the same token, you can’t deny that it’s good for your movement either!” Her eyebrows furrowed as she looked away for a second. “I will miss Ta’anu, despite what he tried to do, but having people witness his actions—and how he was stopped—was much more valuable to both our organizations than us just taking care of it in secret!”

“Why didn’t you tell us, then?” Jaas exclaimed quietly. “It’s not like we would have objected!”

Velya shook her head. “I had very little time, and I didn’t know when Ta’anu’s plan would take place, or even precisely what that plan was. I also didn’t know that Arico would be hurt! I tipped off a few of the revelers in Krellik patch, and then went straight to the Enclave to warn you and Arico. If I’d told you then and there, it would have been a distraction. Maybe not to Arico, but definitely to you.”

In retrospect, Jaas had to admit she had a point. She’d always been nervous around crowds. She had been getting better when it came to using the matchlock gun provided by the dwarves, but she was no sharpshooter.

Not like Velya, anyway. “Where did you learn to shoot like that, anyway?” She inquired, still impressed. “You had one crossbow with what, four or five rounds—each tipped with that sedative. You took three shots in a row, and hit each time! The only one you didn’t take out was behind the tower and out of sight. Ta’anu was barely out from behind it, for a split-second, and you still took him down. You’re good!”

Velya nodded in recognition of the compliment. “The Deathwatchers don’t train much with guns, but we have an aggressive bow and crossbow training program. It makes sense, given how most of us end up being all-purpose Bonded guards for the Sustained Houses. I may have been born as a Thorne, but I had to learn how to fight like a Deathwatcher, so I could fit in.”

She looked out the anteroom’s east doorway, to the lightening sky beyond. “Speaking of, I’d better get back there. Bloodeye may not notice if I’m missing for a few hours, but there are definitely other Deathwatchers who will.”

She turned to leave, and then paused. Surprisingly, she quickly embraced Jaas. “Thank you, Harbinger, for convincing Arico to help. I have no doubt he would have refused if you hadn’t vouched for us.” Another moment and she was already walking out towards the nearest tunnel leading to the threads. The dwarves seemed just as taken aback, and scurried to catch up.

-.-

“There ya go, lad,” the smith, a particularly hirsute dwarf named Yenetash said, with a grunt. Just as he finished equipping Arico with… a new right hand.

It had only been two days since he’d come back from Krellik patch, and even with the high caliber of the Enclave’s metalworkers, this was impressive work considering the short time. Though he supposed they had made similar fake limbs—or prosthetics as they were called in Sustained territory—to this one in the past. That at least would have provided them a template.

Arico rotated his wrist, observing the new metal hand on the end of it. He didn’t feel any different, of course. Although the hand itself was lighter than he would have guessed. He pressed the fingers against the table aside his bed, and they moved with the pressure.

“Ah, y’see, tha fingers’ll stay put where ye press ‘em,” Yenetash continued animatedly. “If’n ye wanna keep ‘em where they are, jus’ press down on tha metal pad on tha back o’ yer hand there. That’ll lock ‘em in place. If ya need ta move ‘em again, jus’ press tha pad again.”

Bemused, Arico tested out the functionality. Sure enough, the fingers locked in place when he pushed the pad down. He pressed harder against the table, trying to see just how much movement he could pry out of a locked hand. Not much, apparently.

This was pretty good, actually. It’d never be a match for his old one, but with practice he might eventually be able to hold a cup, or even possibly an inkpen someday. Though his handwriting would no doubt be unreadable at first. Still, that could wait for another day. “How durable is it?” He inquired softly, compressing the fingers into a fist and locking them that way.

Yenetash hesitated. “I wouldn’a wanna get inta any fis’fights, Arico,” he warned. “Na with tha’ hand. Besides, I gotcha covered here.” He pulled a cloth off of the rest of the tray he’d brought in.

Chanul was in the doorway, and suddenly chuckled. “Sheesh, Arico,” he said lightly. “You’re gonna need a specially designed pack just to sort through all your hands. On the upside, if you wear gloves, people might not even notice!”

He wasn’t exaggerating. In addition to a left hand of the same design as the one he was currently wearing, there was a sword-hand he would have to practice with, several smaller and more simplistic claw-hands, graspers and… he couldn’t identify the last one.

Yenetash noticed his interest though. “This one’s special, lad. Ye know tha chemists downstairs’ve been experimentin’ with sparkpowder, righ’? Well, they’ve made a new flametongue. One tha’ can fire mor’n one bullet withou’ reloadin’. Tha Hauld gave me permission ta put one on yer hand.” At Arico’s nod, he detached his current hand and replaced it with this strange gunhand.

It was much heavier, understandably. Now that he was wearing it, he could see the muzzle and chamber where the bullet(s) were apparently loaded. But how they could fire more than one was a mystery to him.

Yenetash demonstrated for him, though there were no bullets or sparkpowder in it for now. “Jus’ press there, lad,” he pointed to another metal plate on the heel of his prosthetic. Curious, Arico did so and the chamber itself moved! It… spun like a wheel, just a bit.

With a widening smile, Arico did it again, and again. Each time the chamber moved a little more, enough to move another bullet into position! “Well, isn’t that handy?”

Both Yenetash and Chanul gave him wry glances. “I work’d hard on this, lad. Ye could show a litt’l gratitude.”

“I know. I am grateful, and sorry about the bad joke,” Arico said sincerely. “I just don’t know how useful it’ll be for me. My aim will be terrible.”

Surprisingly, Yenetash smiled in turn. “Ah, but ye can always aim along yer arm, no? I made tha hand tha’ way on purpose.”

Arico swung his legs out of bed and started standing up to test the idea. Yenetash and Chanul both made moves to stop him, but he just gave them a stern look. “What? Do you think a little more rest will grow my hands back?”

After a shared glance, they both relented and Arico stood up. He ‘pointed’ his arm at the doorway, at Chanul. He held the gunhand steady and pressed the plate with his left wrist. Chanul raised his hands in mock surrender. “Not bad,” Arico said in a slightly more respectful tone. “Thank you, Yenetash. I’ll try these out on my own time.”

Yenetash bowed. “Jus’ go easy on ‘em, lad. I’ll make backups in time, but fer now the’re tha only ones around.” With a respectful nod to Chanul, he left the room quietly.

Chanul looked over the others with interest, tapping his finger on one, and then lifting the adaptable finger-hand and pointing with it. He shook his head. “Sometimes I think I missed my calling, Arico. I should have been a smith. Even Codi Farrier would have a hard time making something like this!”

As he tried the plate-wheel gun again, Arico grunted. “Well, tell your father you want to open a smithy, then. There’s no real need for you to take over running the Enclave for him. He can just… live forever.”

That elicited at least a chuckle from Chanul. “Sometimes I think he will, you know. He’s been this unstoppable force ever since I can remember, and time has done very little to diminish that.”

That was a sobering thought, at least for Arico. Chanul only saw the best in his father, as any son would. Arico could relate—after all, the Hauld had practically raised him as well, alongside Durhu. But the Hauld was by no means perfect, as evidenced by his most recent written request. It was there on the table by his bed, and almost simultaneously, both he and Chanul glanced at it. It seemed great minds did indeed think alike.

“I think you should consider it,” Chanul said, with a not-quite-teasing tone in his voice.

“I am not getting a damn attendant, Chanul!” Arico said fiercely. “It would go against everything I’m trying to be here!”

Chanul sat down next to him, seriously. “All right, explain it then.”

Arico sighed. “Having some… servant following me around would undermine me in front of the stra’tchi patches we visit. It’s the kind of thing a Sustained Lord would do!”

“You are a Sustained Lord, Arico. At least by blood, anyway.”

“That’s not my fault, and you know it. I can’t be anything like them. Not if I want to reach out to any more stra’tchi, or keep favor with the ones I’ve already met!”

“I understand, I really do,” Chanul said, and he sounded like he meant it. “I’m not talking about parading a chained slave around in front of them. We could find someone discreet. You just need an assistant to help you-”

“Help me do what, exactly? Wipe my ass?” Arico responded heatedly.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“Frankly, yes,” Chanul said bluntly. “You have no hands, Arico. As good as we are, we can't remake flesh! You must face that you have a disability, like it or not. I mean can you even open a door alone? Or put on one of those metal hands? How about shaving? Are you comfortable holding a razor next to your throat with two stumps instead of hands?” Arico was taken aback. Chanul was like a brother to him, so he supposed this confrontational tone made sense. He’d just never spoken this way before.

Ever since he’d first come to Tellek patch, Arico had always been independent. As a farm kid, he’d been doing important chores almost as soon as he could walk and talk. Add in Durhu’s deafness, and it had been all the more necessary for him to interact with the villagers for his father as well. He’d trained with the others, under Otrul’s stern eye, but he’d always strived to be better than his fellow dwarven trainees. To be able to do whatever task he was given alone, if necessary.

It wasn’t that he liked being alone. It was more that he liked that he could be, if there was no other option. Even with Nouma he’d always had one hand on the doorknob, just waiting for the day he would have to leave and be alone again. One part of his mind had always been separate and independent. Now that wasn’t an option anymore. Chanul was right. He’d recovered enough to get out of bed, but even opening a closed door was a challenge to Arico these days.

“All right,” he finally responded, and Chanul let out an audible breath, “but it’ll have to be someone smart, you hear? I won’t be… waited on… by some simpleton. I want someone who I can talk to, and who won’t hesitate to talk back.”

“I’m sure we can find someone suitable, Arico,” Chanul said soothingly. “As it happens, I have a list of names you might want to look over.” He pulled out a parchment and flattened it on the table.

Arico gave him another angry glance, but this one was more reflexive than upset. Of course he’d thought ahead. Chanul may be young by dwarf standards, but he was pretty bright. Shaking his head, Arico turned his attention to the list.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:39:05 AM by Daen »