West Orden, 1115
Not for the first time, the Regicide found himself scrambling in the fallout of a botched plan. It was supposed to be simple. Locate the target, learn their habits, get them alone, finish the job. Simple, clean, no need to show Cymaria had anything to do with this.
Every sprinting step down the alley came with the crunching of gravel, and his breath bounced off the narrow walls to fill his ears again. He turned corners and scanned for markers, all the while keeping the map he’d memorized in his mind’s eye. He’d have to intercept the target before they got to their residence and risk an assassination in the street. Then of course, he’d have to leave the scene and evade the city watch, to say nothing about locating the reason for all of this spontaneous improvisation.
Why were things never simple?
Pascal would take the rooftops - he always preferred higher ground - but Din had the advantage of planning his route beforehand. He should have known his brother wouldn’t have the patience to stay and wait . He muttered a curse under his breath and shot around another corner. It would be some time before the dark hour, but the solid walls of the buildings on either side casted the alley in deep shadow. The light from the sun shone at the end, reflecting off the street.
With another burst of speed, Din raced to the street. He skidded to a stop just before he stepped into the sun and ran a hand through his hair. Stay calm, stay calm; he was just another pedestrian out on a stroll. He stepped out, blending into the flow of foot traffic. An attractive gentleman gave him a questioning stare, and Din flashed a disarming smile. The man said nothing.
Alright, now to scout for the target. He’d been given a name, of course, but the nature of this job required that he never use it. Simply, the target. A physical description had been given as well, and the past few days of observations had made it so Din could recognize them on sight. He scanned above the heads in the crowd. Although his height gave him a distinctive feature unideal for an assassin, at least it had its uses.
A flash of color on the other side of the street snatched his attention, and he swivelled his eyes to look. Sauntering with a cape and cane, making no effort to be discreet, was the target. Din smothered the grin at the corner of his mouth, and wove in between bodies to intercept.
There were just enough people out today to take the Nobleman hostage if he played his cards right. Twist their arm behind them and put a knife to their back, pretend to be an old acquaintance. No one would bat an eye when Din led them into a secluded place. And certainly no one would notice when either of them didn’t come out.
Din turned over the armory stone in his hand and imagined the knife for the job. Don’t summon it too early, it’ll raise alarm. He stalked closer, filling his lungs with calming breaths. He settled into the Nobleman’s blindspot and prepared to make his move.
The first move that never came.
Just as Din’s aura danced around the edge of his armory stone, his attention was stolen by movement above. He looked up, just in time to see Pascal falling from the rooftops above, dagger brandished for the kill.
Panic clawed up his throat, and before he could stop himself, it left his throat in a shout.
Regret stabbed through his gut as soon as the words left his mouth. The target spun on their heels. Their cane flashed in the sun. A blow knocked Pascal to the side before he could land, and the target lunged forward. Pascal’s face twisted in a grimace of surprise. His dagger dropped from his hand.
The target yanked back the cane, and Din saw a metal point, coated in scarlet. Sword Cane.
“My liege!” Din cried out.
With a flick of his hand, he sent a gold-colored wave toward Pascal, knocking his brother back before he could attack again. Gasps filled the street behind them, and people immediately rushed away from the sudden display of magic. A twinge of guilt took root in his heart, but he ignored it for now. He could apologize for bruises later.
The target snapped their head around to see where this new attack came from. Before they could get more than a second’s glance, Din gripped them by the back of the head and made them duck. The two of them ran into the crowd together under the guise of seeking cover. They hugged the buildings lining the street, and Din dragged him into the first alley that opened in front of them.
Din kept running, letting the adrenaline of the situation move him through the shadows, turning corners, not letting the target pause long enough to question him. Once they’d lost sight of the street, Din’s aura glowed at his fingertips, and a long, slim dagger appeared in his palm. He tightened his grip on the target’s shoulder. One jab in the side of the neck. One thrust forward. A horrid gurgling sound, followed by a torrent of crimson.
With a shove, the near-lifeless body slumped to the ground in a growing pool of its own blood. It was messy, but it was quick. Din’s dagger, soaked and dripping, disappeared back into his armory stone. He could clean it later.
Din stood for a moment, catching his breath. An iron smell clung to the roof of his mouth, overpowering. He couldn’t stay here much longer. His blatant show of magic earlier would call the city watch from miles around, probably a court Magician too, if they were unlucky. Between his fingers itched where the Nobleman’s blood dried in the exposed air. His hand curled into a fist as his eyes dropped to the abandoned sword cane lying next to its owner.
Both pieces lay where they’d been dropped, still separated. The exposed tip of the blade showed it had gone at least a full finger’s length deep. A blanket of dread, cool and suffocating, wrapped around his ribcage. The labeled diagram from his mother’s medical textbooks flashed in his mind’s eye, accompanied by a memory.
Pascal sat on Din’s back, squishing the air out of his brother’s lungs as he lay on his stomach in the room they shared. All he wanted was some quiet with this anatomy book. With Mom busy in the clinic, he’d have to settle for moments in between getting smacked in the head by his brother. Pascal leaned forward, breathing too loud for being so close to Din’s ear.
Din took a deep breath and winced. “It’s what’s inside your belly. Now stop squirming.”
Pascal shifted to get a better look at the illustrations, and his elbows dug into Din’s shoulders.
“Looks like WORMS!” He started to bounce up and down. “Worms in your belly!”
Din grunted and shoved the book away. “They’re called intestines , and I’ll strangle you with yours if you don’t stop!”
Din shook his head to clear it and forced the memory to snap shut. Any wound deeper than your second knuckle would hit any number of vital organs. Organs that could bleed or rupture and spell all kinds of disaster for the poor sod they belonged to. Organs that needed medical attention.
Spinning on his heels, Din took off back the way he’d come, leaving his latest victim and the growing pool of blood behind him. He took a different route this time. He didn’t think he’d been followed, but in this business, one could never be sure. As he ran, he shut his eyes, reaching for the voices of weeds between the cobblestones and flowers in window boxes. Pascal was so much better at this, no matter how much he studied the theory of magic. Still, his skill was just enough to get a few snippets of thoughts.
Nice day. Sun good.
The crease between his eyebrows deepened, and Din sharpened his focus. Brother. Red Magician? Where?
The daemons whispered amongst themselves, like the sound of grass rustling in the wind. Din started to think it hadn’t worked until he heard a dandelion shout:
Over here! Friend-brother here! Hurt!
An icy spiral of panic added speed to his limbs.
Pascal hadn’t gotten far.
There he sat, slumped in the shadow of some abandoned crates with his back against the brick wall. He pressed a hand to his abdomen, just under his ribs, and bent double. His shoulders moved irregularly in response to his ragged breathing.
Din ran over and dropped to his knees. His hands moved to brush the hair out of his brother’s eyes, feel the side of his face. The skin was cool. The eyes wouldn’t focus.
And the blood.
Din could worry about that later.
“Pascal!” he breathed. “Thank the Gale. I’m here - its - it’s going to be alright now.”
“Din…” Pascal said the name as if it were something of a surprise. An ugly red mark showed where he’d been hit on the face with the cane, and it was already starting to bruise. “I...I think...I got into trouble this time.”
“Young man, you don’t even know how much trouble you’re in.”
Hands on Pascal’s shoulders, Din slowly eased him down on his side. Pascal winced, letting loose a squeaking whimper as his arms tightened around his stomach. Keep the wound above the heart, or at least, not below it. Blood had already soaked through both shirt and vest and stained the ground beneath him. Spatters marked his path from the street to where he’d slumped against the wall. Anyone who glanced down the alley could easily track them from the street.
Your fault , said the voice in his head. You alerted the target.
Din reached into his armory stone and summoned the stash of emergency medical supplies he kept there. Rolls of bandages and gauze fell into his hand, and he set them aside to peel back Pascal’s bloodied hand from the wound.
“These are supposed to be for me, you know,” he said.
Pascal swallowed hard, his ashen face pinching. “Nice of you...to share.”
Blood welled up from the tear in fabric as soon as the pressure was lifted off. With a sharp inhale, Pascal yelped and his stomach tensed. Din cursed under his breath. He shot a tense look over his shoulder, paranoia of being seen or heard from the street making his heart pound. Upper right quadrant, by the looks of it. Stomach, intestines - thank the Gale it wasn’t his liver, otherwise he’d have bled out by now.
Pascal groaned and knit his eyebrows together. “M’sorry about...about forgetting th’ plan.”
Din summoned a knife to cut away the layers of clothing. The plan? Oh yes, the plan for their mission. The one that had him approach the target first , with Pascal following for backup. Right now, that was the last thing on his mind. He could save the lecture for his brother later.
“Try not to talk,” Din said, “And keep your voice down. We are not very well hidden.”
Whatever Pascal had been about to say, he cut himself off with a strangled noise as Din slipped a wad of gauze onto his stomach and pressed down. His mouth opened in a noiseless scream and he curled in on himself, nearly kneeing Din in the ribs. He bit down on his lower lip to keep in his cries. The skin under his teeth went white, but the rest of his face reddened as he strained to hold his breath.
Din shoved aside the sickening feeling pulling at his stomach. He ached for a free hand to grip his brother’s shoulder. “ Stop talking and hold still.”
Pascal let out his breath in a hiss. Tears fell from his eyes and made his voice thick. “Don’t talk to me like a Noble,” he spat.
Din snapped his mouth shut and swallowed the resentment clawing up his throat. That was hardly fair. He was the older sibling, wasn’t he? He had a right to use however many imperatives he wanted.
Instead of throwing back a sharp retort, he busied himself with stuffing bandages between Pascal’s wound and his shirt. He couldn’t pack it, and they didn’t have enough time for him to sit here and hold pressure until the bleeding stopped. So, this was the next best thing. Until they could get help.
...If they could find it.
“Shhhh, it’s alright,” Din said in a hushed voice. “Everything will be fine.”
Pascal closed his eyes and let his head fall back to the ground, shivering. Sweat darkened his hair and made it stick to his forehead. He still had an arm wrapped around his middle, his hand balled into a white-knuckled fist and trembling.
Din used up the last of his bandages and reached into his stone for more, only to remain empty-handed. Nothing of his remained but for the tiny vial of laudanum.
He tapped the side of his brother’s face. “I need you to drink this.”
Pascal’s eyes fluttered. He squinted up at Din, slowly focusing on the vail in front of his face. His expression darkened, and his eyebrows drew together. He shook his head.
“Pascal, please . I promise, it’s-”
“Can you promise it’s not yours? ”
Din blinked in surprise. A different kind of guilt took root in the pit of his stomach, the kind that made his cheeks burn and the back of his neck tingle. Shame .
Impossible, Din must be misunderstanding, Pascal wouldn’t know about... that. Len didn’t even know, and she had nearly caught him once or twice. It wasn’t like it was a habit , just a...necessity. It was better than a command to stop thinking. Still, he supposed his brother knew about plenty of things he wasn’t supposed to.
Din shook off the feelings clinging to his shoulders like stray daemons. “I only keep this in the armory for situations such as this, I wouldn’t…”
His words had no effect on Pascal, who narrowed his eyes in a glower.
“ Please . It will help with the pain, I promise.”
Pascal winced, but didn’t stop glaring at his brother. “I don’t need it.”
“ Fine, have it your way.” With a huff, Din dropped the vial back into the armory. “This isn’t going to be very comfortable.”
Din slid his arms underneath Pascal and lifted him off the ground. One arm went under his legs, the other around his back. Pascal’s breath hitched in his throat, and he gripped the fabric of Din’s coat in tight fists. He buried his forehead into the crook of Din’s neck as a whimper eeked through clenched teeth.
Thank the Gale for his brother’s slight frame. Din adjusted the weight in his arms and settled Pascal against his chest.
“Where are we…?”
Din strengthened his grip to spite the burning pain behind his eyes. Pascal sounded so weak . “Come on, you need a doctor.”
Don’t think about it.
“Try to relax. Promise - promise me you’ll stay awake.”
Pascal moaned in reply. Casting one last look to the street, Din began walking deeper into the alley. Somewhere in this city there had to be a pyregarden, and who better than the recently deceased than to ask for a doctor?
Din only hoped he wouldn’t add another flower there instead.
The weight in Din’s arms had grown nearly unbearable by the time he found the closest pyregarden. Pascal slipped through his hands, and he stumbled, just barely fixing his grip before his brother fell to the ground. Pascal gave a whine of protest.
“I’m sorry,” Din panted. “We’re almost there, I promise.”
It was hard to tell from so far away, but the flowers seemed to be in agreement: Dr. Barre was the closest doctor. Not only that, but the woman didn’t hold a license with any guild and never asked questions. Din had crouched behind the far wall to reach out to the individual daemons, letting himself rest for just a few moments. Some of the flowers even gave a street name, though it took some gentle coaxing.
Din readjusted his hold on Pascal and hugged him closer to his chest. They were almost at the back door of Dr. Barre’s clinic. So far, no one had spotted the two of them, but sounds of the city watch calling to each other and rushing through the street reached through the dark alleyways.
In his arms, Pascal shivered violently. Sweat dripped down his temples, but his skin had lost more of its color and grew cold. The faintest of red light glowed at his fingertips. His eyes roamed behind fluttering lids, and a spike of panic nearly made Din trip over his feet.
“Hey.” Din nudged his brother with his shoulder. “Wake up. Don’t you dare fall asleep on me, young man.”
Pascal groaned, brow pinching.
“Din..?” he asked. “Am I...am I dying?”
Din’s heart squeezed in his chest. “ No. No, you’re going to be just fine. I promise you . All you have to do is stay awake.”
Saints, just stay awake .
An eternity’s walk later brought them to Dr. Barre’s doorstep. Din kicked against the door, unable to free a hand to knock.
“City watch, open up!”
A few seconds later, and the door opened, and Din shoved himself inside before being invited.
“Clear a table, he’s been stabbed.”
He pushed past the short woman who’d opened the door and ignored the incredulous look she gave him.
Din turned to face her. “I was told you didn’t ask questions. This boy is bleeding out, and you are a doctor. I trust you know where your conscience lies.”
Dr. Barre glared at him a moment longer, her back pressed against the door, her jaw flexing as she clenched her teeth. Din shoved down his own apprehension and stared her down. He thought he’d properly judged the risk, but could he have made a mistake? Pascal gave a weak moan in his arms, and the doctor flicked an anxious glance toward him.
Dr. Barre pressed her mouth into a firm line. She shoved away from the door and strode away from Din.
“Table’s in the other room. Remove his shirt and vest while I take care of the other patients.”
Din did as instructed. As the doctor disappeared in the front of the clinic, he maneuvered through the back room and into what was clearly an examining and operating room all in one. A single table sat in the center to serve both purposes, and the familiar array of shelves and supplies sent a sharp pang through Din’s chest. He ignored the leather restraints bolted to the sides.
As carefully as he could, he set Pascal down on the table. His arms went weak without the heavy burden. Pascal let out a sharp cry as his body straightened, and he tried to hold on to Din’s coat collar. His lips pulled back in an awful grimace.
“Shhh, it’s alright now.” Din brushed the damp hair off his brother’s forehead. “We’re safe - you don’t have to be quiet anymore.”
Pascal screwed his eyes shut. “It hurts .”
“I know, I know. It’ll be over soon, I promise.”
Din put a hand over his ear and stroked the side of his face with his thumb, wiping away the tears at the corner of Pascal’s eye. “Just hold on. Be brave, I know you can.”
By the time Dr. Barre returned, rolling up her sleeves, Din had stripped Pascal of his bloody clothes. He’d taken the liberty of grabbing fresh gauze and pressed it against the ones that had already soaked through.
“I need his age and how long ago he was wounded,” the doctor said. She stopped at a basin against one of the counters to wash her hands.
Din swallowed. “Seventeen. It’s been - it’s been about twenty minutes.”
“What caused it? How deep?”
“A knife.” Din indicated a length on his finger. “About...that much.”
“So it’ll be a clean wound, at least.”
Dr. Barre opened cabinet doors and pulled out handfuls of supplies. Flipping open a pocket watch, she pressed her fingers to the soft underside of Pascal’s jaw. She counted to herself under her breath. Din watched, the ache in his chest growing more pronounced with each passing moment until she snapped the watch shut.
“Heartrate’s too fast. He’s on his way to losing too much blood. Here.” Dr. Barre tossed something to Din. “Ensure he takes all of it.”
Din caught it, the guilty feeling from before returning as he looked down at the vial of rust-colored tincture in his hand. Laudanum. He popped off the cork and brought it to his brother’s lips.
“Pascal, I need you to drink this for me.”
Pascal’s face immediately pinched at the bitter taste. He turned away and shook his head, breathing hard. Din’s fingernail’s dug into his palm.
“We don’t have time for this. ”
Before he could react, Din and grabbed his brother by the nose. Pascal jerked underneath him and tried to thrash away, but Din pinned his head with his forearm and clamped a hand over his chin. When he opened his mouth for a breath, Din poured out the contents of the vial and stepped back.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Pascal choked and coughed, but he swallowed and let his head fall back with a grimace. Stinging pain burned behind Din’s eyes, and he looked away. Dr. Barre unrolled a bundle of surgical instruments on the counter, each one polished and wickedly sharp. The two of them exchanged glances. The doctor tore her eyes away almost in a flinch, and she pushed up her spectacles with the back of her hand.
“Hold his shoulders,” she said. “I’ll take care of the rest.”
Breathing deep to settle the nausea in his stomach, Din settled his hands on his brother’s shoulders. His skin was slick with sweat but so cold. Dr. Barre hurried around the table to rearrange Pascal’s limbs.
Pascal’s chest spasmed as the tightening of the restraints made panic set in, and his breathing turned shallow. “What’s-?”
His eyes darted around the room before latching onto Din standing behind him. He craned his neck, aura turning his gaze red and betraying the pleading terror beneath.
"No,” he said. “No - Din, don’t let her-!”
The doctor shoved a roll of leather between Pascal’s teeth and cut off the rest of his words. His breath came in whistling gasps, and he choked back a sob.
Din’s fingers dug into his brother’s shoulders, and he bowed his head. He couldn’t stop his arms from shaking. “It’s alright. Everything’s alright.”
In the end, Pascal was conscious for less than a minute of it. He screamed his throat raw and struggled against both Din and the restraints, but either the pain or the laudanum won before long. Most likely, a combination of both.
Dr. Barre snipped the last of the catgut stitches with a steady hand.
“I’ve done all that I can,” she said. “I’ve stopped the bleeding and repaired the damage to the best of my ability. The biggest worry now is infection.”
Din stared blankly into space, head bowed below his shoulders. The smell of copper hung in the air as the doctor cleaned her hands with a bloody cloth. She wiped at Pascal’s stomach and around his fresh stitches, then freed his wrists and ankles from the leather straps. She draped a heavy blanket over him.
“He’ll be in pain for quite a few days,” she said. “Most likely feverish as well...should he survive.”
Din snapped his head up. Dr. Barre avoided his gaze and walked to the corner of the room, her back to him. She dropped her instruments into the water basin to clean them. A frigid hand wrapped itself around Din’s stomach, and for the first time, the anxiety of the situation crashed through his walls. He sank down, leaning his elbows on the table and resting his head against Pascal’s.
You did this... you did this.
The doctor continued cleaning up in silence. Some minutes passed before she cleared her throat, and Din looked up to see her standing at the door, eyes down.
“I-I know you’re not the city watch,” she said, fear hardening the edges of her voice. “And I know something has happened in this city. Normal humans... don’t glow. ”
At that, every muscle in Din’s stomach tensed, and he slowly lifted his gaze to his hands. From his fingers to his wrist, his skin lit up with the gold light of his aura, uncontrolled in his anxiety. A knife of dread plunged into his chest. He looked to the doctor, lungs constricting.
Dr. Barre flinched to the side to avoid looking Din in the eyes. Her jaw flexed, and her brow pinched with some half-hidden war of emotions. She took a breath and tipped up her chin.
“I need to look after my own,” she said. “When I return, I expect you to be gone.”
She turned to leave, but Din found control of his voice enough to call for her to wait. He summoned a small pouch of coins from his armory stone and tossed them to Dr. Barre.
“Thank you,” he said.
She left without another word.
Din looked back down at Pascal. He was still so pale, but his chest rose and fell with each of his breaths. One after the other. Steady. It would stay like this; it had to.
As gently as he could, Din wrapped Pascal in the blanket and bundled him into his arms again. His brother’s slight frame seemed even smaller, and he ignored the awful tugging deep in his stomach. Pascal shouldn’t be moved this soon, not when he’d lost so much blood, not after what he’d just gone through. But with the city boiling into chaos around them, they were running out of time to hide. He’d have to risk a few ripped stitches.
“You’ll be safe soon,” he said, more for his own comfort than anyone else’s.
Din approached the back door where he’d come when a squeaking voice piqued his attention from behind.
“Maman, what’s going on? Was somebody hurt?”
Despite himself, he turned, and saw Dr. Barre crouch down to pick up a small girl, her hair the same auburn color as the doctor’s and done in thick braids.
“Yes, but they’re alright now. I need you to listen very close to me, alright?”
Dr. Barre settled the child on her hip and carried her down the hall. The girl looked over her shoulder and locked eyes with Din. Dark brown eyes, lit with a soft blue ring.
He stared after her until she and her mother disappeared behind a corner. Then he slunk back out into the street.