Previous Chapter: 1.5 – They
When Anroma finished healing Ace, he finally was able to sit up. I limped over wanting to discuss our next course of action.
“This scepter sure takes it out of a man,” Acetate sighed, giving his head a quick shake. “Who is hurt the worst?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, wondering how the scepter had sapped his strength.
“I’ll check down near the front lines,” Ace straightened himself and hurried towards the now-broken barriers.
Anroma spoke for the first time since the healing, “We can check on those around here.”
The three of us coordinated using An’s mind as a hub for communications. The two boys who had been on the front line, Rosen and Druen, were in bad shape. Their condition was grievous enough that An didn’t feel comfortable waiting to heal them. We ran down to them on the battlefield and I watched as An began to heal the boys. If Ace’s scepter utilized energy from his body, then it seemed An’s power was based on redirecting energy from an outside source. Once she had stabilized the two village boys, the three of us were able to carry them into the closest hut, where the villagers had set up a makeshift infirmary. An had called upon several villagers who knew medicine to watch on Rosen and Druen.
Before getting the chance to track down the next victim, we spotted Vaynen walking from the forest. Though his armor was redder than when the battle had begun, he looked unharmed for the most part. He moved slower than usual but healthy enough. We set off in Hyde’s direction. Hyde was in and out of consciousness when we found him. The arrow had pierced completely through his shoulder.
“Remove the arrow, then alert me,” An began to walk toward other fallen villagers, “I’ll keep my mind open, but I can’t do any healing until that arrow’s out.” We carefully moved Hyde to the makeshift infirmary. After almost half an hour, Vaynen was able to remove the arrow. An arrived soon after to stabilize Hyde.
As they finished wrapping Hyde’s shoulder, I suddenly remembered my crow savior. I cursed myself and sprinted out of the hut to where I had last seen the bird. I picked him up, cradling him in my arms as I ran back to the hut for help.and almost bowled An over as she walked out.
“Can you heal him?” I inquired as I placed gingerly him on the ground.
“I can try,” An got on her knees, placing a finger carefully onto the crow’s leg which was hanging at a grotesque angle. She closed her eyes and set her other hand on the ground. The grass once again withered at her touch as the bird’s leg twitched, but didn’t heal.
“I need more energy,” she said, opening her eyes.
“What kind of energy? Does it matter?” I asked quickly.
“I’m not sure. This is still new to me too…”
“Try using me as a source,” I said as I held out my arm to her, remembering how An had transferred the claw marks from my back to hers earlier on the balcony. She nodded, grabbing my wrist.
A tingling sensation flowed from where she held my wrist, up my arm and through my shoulder. It continued down my side and through my quad. When it reached my lower leg, I felt as if the energy had locked onto something and suddenly the flow reversed. She was drawing from my healthy leg. My leg felt like it was being sucked through a straw. I gritted my teeth as my body began to shake, not wanting to distract An with my increasing pain. The crow jerked and cawed, it’s broken leg quivering in place. I watched as the leg straightened and finally snapped back together. At that moment, I too felt a snap and fell to the ground.
I woke looking up at three people – An, Ace and an unfamiliar face hovering above me. The face reached a hand down touching my chest, “Sledg,” he said, pointing to himself with his other hand.
“That’s your name?” I muttered in response as I looked down at my foot – it was swollen.
The boy nodded. He was dressed in a coat that was too large for him, paired with trousers that were too small. “You’re the crow?” I smiled despite the pain.
“Yes,” he said.
“You’ve saved me… saved us, thank you.”
Sledg let loose a wide, genuine smile and nodded once again. “Talk soon,” he said, as he mimed sleeping with his hands, bringing them to the right side of his head. He walked towards the infirmary beds, probably exhausted from the ordeal. Ace helped me sit on a nearby bale of hay, asking how I was while An bent down, checking the status of my ankle.
“It looks sprained,” she said.
While she tended to my ankle, I thought back on how this battle had awakened powers in her and had allowed Acetate to demonstrate the extent of his. But I didn’t understand how his worked so I looked to him to explain.
“You said the scepter takes a lot out of you, what do you mean by that?” I asked.
“While An draws from other sources, I generate the wind through my own energy; the scepter draws its strength from me. With extended battles it proves a problem; however, I’m trying to extend my limits each day,” Ace explained.
“Simple enough,” I turned my attention to An who was now wrapping my ankle. “Could you share what you’ve learned about your powers so far? We might be able to help you develop them.”
“I didn’t know what I was doing on the balcony with your back, I just ran forward and placed my hand on your back,” she paused. “It only worked after I had wished it had been me who’d received the attack. Very unlike me, I know – I don’t know where it came from…,” she flashed a smile. “It’s just what you do for your older brother, I guess.”
“Oh jeeze,” I blushed at her, rolling my eyes.
“Did I miss some quality balcony bonding?” Ace asked.
“No, no,” I answered, turning back to An, “Why did Sledg’s broken leg heal but I only sustained a sprain? I’m pretty sure his leg was hanging on by a thread there…”
“That’d be hard to explain,” she shrugged, “I siphoned your legs energy and did my best to take only what I needed. I brought it through me and I’ve been noticing that if I filter the stolen energy through my heart, it amplifies its strength,” An said.
“So you need an outside source but you’ve been able to magnify that source through you?Interesting.” Ace added.
“Have you tried anything besides healing? Anything offensive?” I wondered.
Having finished wrapping my ankle, An stood up and moved a few feet away. She picked up an abandoned bow and held her other palm out, pointing to the woods. She closed her eyes and I heard the bow’s wood crack. The string on the bow snapped and a spark of blue lightning fell to the ground. Then the bow exploded, shattering into hundreds of pieces; a bright flash coming from her palm, followed shortly by a large ball of blue lightning materializing. The glowing orb of lightning glided through the air, scorching the grass in its path. An looked at her palm and turned around, wide-eyed.
“Well then, needless to say, there might be a bit more about your little sister we’ve yet to discover,” Ace patted my shoulder as he walked back into the infirmary.
The aftermath of the attempted raid was less frantic than expected but not everyone could be saved. An had tried to use her magic on an injured villager, but he was too far gone to be revived. I shuddered when I thought what the death count could have been if Sledg and his crew hadn’t shown up to assist us. They had taken some serious casualties and I couldn’t help but feel like it was my fault. Sledg himself had almost killed himself saving me, twice. They had lost Vanderjoy, who had been the mysterious avian to disable the other eagle archer. Moab, one of Sledg’s crew who had fought in human form; and Bot, the knife-throwing rhinoceros rider had also been lost. The village itself had lost several villagers, so it was only a matter of time until everything became too overwhelming for me to process; I cried. Ace had sent me to fetch more supplies for the patients, but I had to duck into a corner to collect myself before returning. I had spent six years of my life a slave, but I had never felt such an overwhelming numbness. Only Patterson’s accident had come close to eliciting this feeling from me, but I always had faith he would pull through. Back then, I was terrified of life without Pat, but now I just felt empty. This raid solidified my decision to join the rebellion; it gave me purpose. As my resolve strengthened, I felt the numbness in me transform into anger. I felt passion for the first time in years. I returned with the supplies once I had dried my eyes. I gave them to Ace and turned to walk out.
Wanting to be alone, I walked away, later finding Sledg lying in a pile of hay, staring up at the sky. From what I experienced before, he didn’t seem to be much of a talker – his company sounded perfect now. I approached and gestured to sit on the ground in front of him. He nodded and I sat.
“Hey, I just wanted to thank you again. I’m sorry about your friends,” I spoke. He didn’t reply besides a polite nod so I continued, curious about his history, “Can I ask where you were going when you saved me the first time? Were you coming here?”
“Yes – protect,” he gestured to the village around us, “And those friends… new friends. It’s okay,” Sledz replied.
“Do you mind if I ask you something else?” I wasn’t sure how to phrase it, I didn’t want to bother him if he’d rather be left alone.
He visibly thought about it, “Just not practiced. So, questions… are okay.”
“Where are you from that you didn’t need to talk?”
“Around trees mostly. Before that…,” he shrugged, “I left home a while ago.”
“Makes sense, I guess trees don’t talk much,” I said, with an encouraging smile.
“Only a bit,” he returned my smile, connecting his thumb and forefinger in the okay gesture.
“What will you do now?”
“Not sure, continue killing bad guys,” he said with a shrug.
“Is that what you’ve been doing the past few months?” I asked.
“Yep. It much easier when you get healed after a fight, though,” Sledg grinned, “Who was she?”
“Anroma. My new sister,” I chuckled lightly.
Sledg’s face contorted with confusion. “She is much darker than you.”
“That is true! I’ve only actually know her for like two days.”
“She is cute,” he spoke, taking me by surprise.
“I’ll be sure to put in a good word.” I got up, heart a little lighter than it was just 10 minutes ago. Sledg’s face went blank, mentally calculating whether he actually wanted me to put in a good word or not. I spoke up, “I’m kidding, I will if you want, though. Just let me know.” The blush slowly faded from his face as I started to walk away, feeling better. I could make myself useful. I mentally kicked myself for forgetting to ask about his force changing. How was that not the first thing I asked? The next morning we were up early and putting the final touches on the caravan to leave the village for Ikalga. Anroma was the first on her horse, I hopped on the one next to her.
“Hypothetically, if I had a friend that had broken his back and was permanently paralyzed, would you be willing to consider using your power on him?” I mentally crossed my fingers, hoping healing Patterson was a possibility.
“I’d consider it, although I’d like to do a bit more research so I don’t end up breaking my own back,” she replied.
I’d take that for now. For the first time in years, Patterson could need me again. I nodded and kicked my horse away, managing to trot over to Acetate.
“What’s going to happen to the village?” I asked, bringing the horse to a stop.
“They should be free from raiders for a while,” Ace said, “We can probably protect them best from Ikalga with legislation and sending some reinforcements that actually obey me.”
“So we did well?” I asked hopefully.
“For the position we were put in, we did well. Anything that ended with us recovering An would have been a success.”
“She’s starting to develop a better understanding of her power, too,” I added.
Ace nodded. “If we can keep her and the kingdom standing for the next few years, we might make it through but we’ve still got a lot to accomplish. When we get back to Ikalga, we need to address Rayon’s Acts and pushing society forward.” He hopped on his horse, “Remember that. For the rebellion to succeed we need to take the walls down Rayon built to confine us, literally and figuratively. Once those walls do come down, we will be ready to strengthen Ikalga. But for now, let’s just make sure we have a city to return to,” he said as kicked his horse to the front of the caravan.
I steered my horse towards the back of the procession. Acetate and Hyde rode in the front, the cart followed next with An and I pulling up the rear. We began to move out through the village “walls” to begin our journey back home. I felt pretty good about our chances on the way back, with the addition of the scepter and An’s powers.
I looked back at the nearly destroyed village one last time. Vaynen waved us goodbye, along with the two boys who had fought on the front line. I smiled, knowing that we had helped them find some sort of peace. As I began to turn back towards the road ahead, I saw a tiny boy wearing an oversized coat and just a rag for pants running towards us. I yelled for Ace to stop the caravan so we could wait for Sledg to catch up.
He came to a stop along the side of my horse. “I was thinking you might need more protection and I might need more healing… You also could use a younger brother…”
“Well, I have needed you twice so far, what will I do if you’re all the way back here next time?” I laughed, looking toward Ace. He shrugged with a smile that said I don’t see why not. “I hope you’re ready because I’m pretty chatty. Ever ridden a horse before?” I asked.
He held up his hand and briefly smiled, “No horse, I will run.” Sledg Sledg took off his coat and threw it to me as the caravan started down the road again.
“You know you’ll have to start wearing clothes where we’re going, right?”