Slowly, Haradeth’s eyes cleared, and the ringing in his ears faded to a dull whine.
The detonation had been bright and loud, but the destruction had been relatively contained. Where Theognis had stood was now a pool of molten gold streaked with charred, black bit that Haradeth tried not to think about too hard. Lorathor and Synit were both red on the side of their bodies that had faced the explosion, like they’d been in the sun too long. Bix was removing blast shields that had dropped down in front of her eyes.
All of them were staring at the molten pool where Theognis had died. It had been such an abrupt end that Haradeth could barely believe it had worked. Part of him still expected Theognis to come dropping off the ceiling, or emerging from behind some other pile of treasure. He wasn’t alone with that. All four of them waited with baited breath.
Finally, it became apparent that it wasn’t happening. Theognis was well and truly dead.
Haradeth let out a ragged breath of relief. He held up his hand and pressed it against the unlight cage that still surrounded him. It felt as solid as it had before. “Can someone get me out of this Shadow-damned box?” Haradeth asked as the rest of the group began to relax.
“Nope,” Bix said. “If it’s like a lumcast box, it’ll take a bit of time before it fades on its own. Probably a couple hours.” She walked over to Armin and nudged him with her foot. “Or sooner if he wakes up. He’s interesting. Think he’ll mind if I stab him?”
“Yes, Bix, I think he will,” Haradeth said wearily, sinking to the floor. “Most people don’t like being stabbed.”
“People used to like it when I stabbed them,” Bix said. She nudged Armin again. “Are you sure? I could probably get him up so he can let you out of the box. I didn’t like being on the box so I assume you don’t either. But maybe you do. I don’t know what kind of things you like.”
“Most people don’t like being in boxes.” Lorathor said, walking over towards Synit and offering her a hand. “Although there are always exceptions.”
Synit took his offered hand gratefully.
“I really should stab her,” Bix said, pointing her finger towards Synit. She pointed towards Aldredia. “Or her, although I broke a bit so it’d be harder to stab her properly. But if I don’t stab that one, she’s probably going to die.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Haradeth said.
“She has major sub cranial trauma. Massive fluid buildup. If I don’t release it, she’s going to have a fatal aneurysm.” Bix gave Haradeth an inquisitive look. “She also can’t properly reason what’s going on, so she can’t really agree to be stabbed. Are you sure she doesn’t like being stabbed.”
Haradeth gaped at her. “Light and shadow, Bix! If it’ll save her life, then yes, stab her!”
“Yay!” Bix said, bounding across the distance to Aldredia. The woman’s head was starting to droop, and Bix grabbed her by the chin. “This part might get a bit gross.”
Haradeth dutifully looked away, as did Lorathor. Synit didn’t, instead staring in what Haradeth thought might be horrified fascination. Lorathor started to go around, checking on Armin and Ossman. “They’re both alive,” he reported over the horribly suggestive sounds that were coming from where Bix was working on Aldredia. “Ossman’s going to be in a sling, and Armin…I don’t know what’s wrong with Armin.”
“He pushed himself too hard,” Synit said. She hadn’t taken her eyes off Bix. “Whatever he was doing to Theognis’s lumcasting took a lot out of him.”
“What was he doing?” Haradeth asked.
Synit shrugged, wincing at the motion. “You’ll have to ask Armin. He’s the one who did it. Haven’t you seen him do that before?”
Haradeth shook his head. “It was new to me.”
“Me too!” Bix said cheerfully. “All done over here.”
Haradeth looked back. Bix had torn Aldredia’s sleeves from her tunic and fashioned them into headbands. Aldredia was laying down, her head carefully resting on a pile of gold.
Synit spoke first. “Bix…why do you want to stab me?”
“Because you’re weird and gross and kind of useless,” Bix said, her voice still full of cheer. “Although that whole ‘I am a living arcwand raaar’ thing was pretty neat. But I can’t fix you being weird and gross. I can fix you being kind of useless.”
“How?” Synit asked, her voice sharp.
“You’re in constant pain because you have two spines,” Bix said. “You don’t need two spines. No one needs two spines. Honestly it’s pretty greedy of you. And stupid, because it hurts you lots. So I’d stab you, I’d remove the fluid sack that’s keeping your spines apart, and I’d fuse them into one. You’ll be in a lot of pain for a very short time, but then you’d be in…” Bix’s eyes whirred. “Well, you’d still be in constant pain, because you’re very poorly made even for meat, but you’ll be in much less constant pain.”
Everyone was staring at her. “Bix,” Haradeth said. “What did you say you did on the Sylvani homeworld?”
“I stabbed people.” Bix shrugged. “I’m good at stabbing people.”
“Were you a medical-”
“Nope!” Bix said. “I told you, I’m very, very good at stabbing people. And you have really known how people are put together to figure out how to best take them apart. I probably am better than most medical Lattice Minds were.”
“Do it,” Synit said, practically pleading. “Please.”
“Woo!” Bix said. “I get to stab you. Haradeth, stay in the box. Not that you can get out. Lorathor, make sure he doesn’t get lonely or start leaking fluids or something. I’m going to stab.”
Haradeth watched them walk off, his mouth hanging open, unable to form coherent words. “I think…” he finally said, licking his lips, “I think when we get back to the resistance, she’s going to be d’Monchy’s problem.”
Lorathor laughed. “Please, Haradeth. You know damn well he’s going to put her under your care.”
Haradeth groaned, then laughed. “I can’t believe we survived that.”
Lorathor chuckled with him. “If we can survive what just happened…maybe there’s a hope in hell we’ll be able to win this war.”
Haradeth stared ahead, thinking of the new possibilities offered by this treasure trove and by the portal stones and Bix’s strange Lattice Mind. “You know, Lorathor?” He finally said. “Maybe you’re right.”
So, now that we’re done with that sequence, I’d like to know – did you all like sticking the focus on one storyline for a while as opposed to hopping around? Let me know, I’m eager to see how this experiment worked out.
Also, I’m on BookBub now! Give me a follow to never miss a book, get book recommendations, and because it really helps me out.