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Quarter-Hour Difference

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“Damnit Libertus,” Crowe cursed under her breath even though there was no one nearby to hear her, let alone the man himself.  She’d asked him to fill up the bike’s tank before she left and he didn’t. So now it was sitting at a quarter of a tank and she needed a full one just to get to her first stop. That’s what she got for thinking he’d change a lifetime of habits.

She was pretty sure that if she asked him to wash his pits he’d say he would then wouldn’t. Idiot.

She checked her watch. It as fifteen minutes until the appointed time for her to head out, but what difference would it make if she went to get gas? The difference between completing this job and not, is what it would amount to.

She waved to the delivery van driver and popped the helmet on her head. There should be a gas stop about an hour beyond the walls. She started the bike’s engine and peeled out. If she got lucky she might just make it and not be too far off her mark in catching up with the Princess’s convoy. She wasn’t supposed to make any unauthorized stops, but who would know?

She noticed the van within five minutes. Another five had her wondering if it was following her, and by the time both pulled in at the station (Hammer head, it proclaimed itself, complete with a shark in the middle of the desert.) she was sure of it. She filled up the tank, greatful for the steady stream of people who were coming and going out of the shop.  There was safety to be had in numbers and since the driver hadn’t budged from the van, she could only hope that whoever it was would keep being a pansy long enough for her to go pee.

No such luck, and the last thing Crowe remembered clearly was the damp bathroom air flipping the ends of her hair as her assailant raised his arm to bring the butt-end of his gun down on the back of her head.

***

“Whaddya mean she’s gone?” Libertus was getting louder as anger and fear clawed their way out of his chest. “People don’t just disappear into thin air!”

He shoved the box of Crowe’s things away roughly, causing Nyx to have to catch it before it slid off the table.  Nyx reached in and pulled out the cracked phone, eerie small smear of dried blood on the back of it and her Marlboro-kun missing an arm.

“What kind of mission did you really send her on? People don’t go missing on standard escorts,” Libertus spat at Drautos, demanding answers where there clearly were none.

“Listen, we can find her later,” Nyx said after Drautos had left with the uncomforting promise of a full investigation that he wasn’t so sure would actually happen.

“You don’t get it do you? They aren’t going to find her, they don’t care. Just like Lucis never cared about Galahd.” Libertus’s face twisted in pain as he headed for the door on his broken leg. “I’m sick of it. None of us are second-class citizens. Not me, not Crowe. See you around, hero.”

Nyx watched him go before picking up the box of Crowe’s things and heading home.

***

“She isn’t dead,” Nyx said with a bit more force than was proper or necessary.

“I’m sorry,” Lunafreya faltered, her brows knitting together. “I was given to believe that…” She trailed off, nothing having prepared her for this precise conversation. There was only so much one could anticipate, and ‘being informed that her escort had died only to discover that was not the case via information from a bodyguard’ wasn’t high on the list of common social situations.

Nyx sighed and straightened his shoulders. “There’s no definite information available either way. Not yet.”

Lunafreya’s face remained a mask of mild confusion as she nodded, fingering the gold hair comb in her hands until she was called away to speak to the King.

It wasn’t until he was home that night  and almost asleep that Nyx wondered who had told her Crowe was dead.

***

Luna put it together the moment that she was installed in her ‘room’ on the Imperial warship. Not completely, of course, but enough that she knew what was happening when Nyx arrived and told him as much.

“We have to get back to the Crown City. You’ve left the King unprotected. I’m the bait.”

And Astrals bless the boy if he didn’t ask questions and just followed along. But they were still too late to save the King or his Shield. Too late to turn the tide that had already rolled over the city, destroying everything in it’s path.

And the more they ran the more Lunafreya put together, matching what she knew with what she saw. The Ring of the Lucii had no qualms about taking lives, but it did not take Nyx’s. Not right away though she knew that it would. That was how they worked, those kings of old.

The drained lives just as they had King Regis. Sucking their own dry in exchange for power. Destroying lives offered willingly and ruining those that were left behind as well. And as Libertus drove, fast as he could, for the edges of Insomnia, his heart breaking as he kept up the lie of how he would go back for Nyx after he’d delivered her, she snapped.

“Turn the car around,” she demanded as morning light begin to fill the sky.

“Princess, I…,” he didn’t get any more words out because he looked at her and was met with the look that, passed down from mother to daughter for thousands of years, made the very Gods of the world bow to their will. Libertus never stood a chance.

He turned the car around.

***

“You can’t save him,” there was a ragged edge of Libertus’s voice and he felt like someone had shaved off the last of his skin, leaving the whole of his body and soul exposed to the smoky, dusty air. Everything hurt and nothing mattered.

Nyx wasn’t breathing. There was no heartbeat to feel in his good arm, his other was a charred mess looking like it would blow away in the next breeze.

“There’s no hope!” Libertus wanted to tell her to stop, tell her it was pointless, tell her that there was nothing even her powers could do – the dead couldn’t be brought back. The emptiness in his chest was starting to fill up, the the filling was a hurt like he had never felt in his life, so bitter and cold.

But the Princess, with blue eyes wide and wild, was frantic. Looking everywhere for something, who cared? Whatever she needed it wouldn’t help anyway. Libertus sat beside his friend – childhood playmate, business partner,  fellow Glaive, family. He was gone. Crowe was gone. Two homes were gone. Everything was gone, so what was the point.

A sharp shout of happiness came from behind him where the Princess seemed to have found what she as looking for followed by the sound of breaking glass and of her fancy shoes over the wreckage. Libertus had next to no time to take in what she had in her hands before she broke it over Nyx’s still chest and waited, panting from the exertion.

“What the hell is that Nif grape juice going to do for him?” Libertus sniffled, offended and half convinced that she’d lost her mind. He was dead. Dead was forever.

“Shh!” she demanded, putting her head down to Nyx’s chest and taking his charred hand in hers.  “it’s a shot in the dark but…,” her whisper was cut off as her breath caught and she shot upright. “Roll him over!”

Libertus was not at his best just then and would maintain for years to come that his sitting there dumbstruck and unhelpful was because of her command and his own heartbreak over the loss of everything that he’d loved. But the fact remained that his doing so forced Luna to be the one to shove Nyx’s suddenly breathing and definitely vomiting self over which earned Libertus a lapful of bloodstained sick.