Kivvien worked the yarn in his hands thoughtfully, “So...you came up with this plan?”
Zita crossed her arms, “Emily was busy searching for Ash. Why? You don’t think I could come up with something like that?”
Kivvien held up his knitting project in defence, “No, no, nothing like that! It’s just that I didn’t realize you had tactical training, is all.”
Zita raised an eyebrow, “So you’re saying this is something you, for example, could have come up with?”
Kivven shrugged and started a new row, switching from his red to his nearly-identical one-shade-lighter red yarn, “I wouldn’t have planned it exactly like that, but everyone has their own style,” He added a few more stitches thoughtfully, “But,” He said carefully, “It could work. Of course it needs a little tweaking, no plan is perfect on the first shot-” Zita threw a pillow at him, “-HEY!,” He pointed a tied-up purple knitting needle at her, “I’m just offering some criticism, don’t go getting violent on me.”
She was tempted to tackle him, but she decided against it for reasons she could not for the life of her remember after the fact, “Whatever. So, should we go to Imani now, or after?”
Kivvien considered it for a while, his jaw working as he finished another long row of what Zita could only guess was either a sweater or a very large sock. He switched colors again, to another shade of red, and Zita couldn’t stand the silence. Not with the click click click-ing of the needles.
“Yes or no Kiv!” She burst, unable to stay quiet.
“...yes…” He said hesitantly, “But we have to be careful about it. She trusts Anders, and having your trust broken like that can be a little hard to swallow.”
Zita nodded, already panicking a little at the prospect of possibly having to comfort someone, especially someone with a heart as big as Imani’s. You’re going to fail, said a snarky little voice in the back of her head, you’re going to break it to her too harshly, then completely fail to redeem yourself and get kicked out of the stops for good. She told it to stuff it's pie hole.
“Maybe you should do it?” She said, still all too aware of her inability to provide emotional support despite the voice dimming to a whisper. They never do really go away.
Kivvien switched colors again, answering only after he’d snipped the old yarn, “I wish I could, but I wasn’t there when Emily identified the poison, and I didn’t notice Anders putting it there in the first place. You’re the only one who saw both of those things happen, she’ll want to hear it from you.”
Zita deflated, “I get it,” She admitted in defeat.
“Hey,” Kivvien said, putting down his needles to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, “You’ll do fine. Just...try to see it her way. Try to feel how she feels, then do what you would want someone to do for you.”
Zita’s confusion must have shown on her face, because Kivvien chuckled, “For example,” he picked up his needles and resumed knitting, “Say I was upset because...because I lost a war game. You would have to take into account how much the match meant to me, find your personal equivalent, then imagine losing it. Once you get how it feels you provide comfort accordingly, like, if you think you would like someone to just sit next to you in moral support, do that. Follow your instincts, you can’t be wrong if you’re sincere.”
Zita raised her eyebrows at him and Kivvien held her gaze unyieldingly.
She broke first with a sigh, “I’ll do my best,” She changed the subject, “About the spell you mentioned the other day, the double full moon is tonight, do you think we’ll still have time for it before or after the whole plan thing?”
Kivvien shook his head, “I’ll just have to wait until the next one I guess, or just cross into Chorismagia and catch the full moon there.”
“So it’ll work during a single full moon? You don’t need a double?” asked Zita.
“Chorismagia only has one moon,” Kivvien said as if she should already know that, “A single full moon there is twice as powerful as a single here. My guess is it has something to do with the gods of that dimension or something, but we can’t be sure because the Chorismagian’s are so sensitive about religions and crossers like Emily all seem to worship different gods. Like, I once met a werewolf from the Chorismagian country of America who claimed to worship a god call Allah whom she said was the only true god, while Emily will swear up and down that her gods, with names like Ra and Bast, share the seats of power with hundreds of deities from all different pantheons. It’s all very confusing.” He changed colors.
Zita frowned, “Why would someone make up gods?”
Kivvien shrugged, “Beats me. Chorismagian’s can’t seem to agree on anything, though, so it’s not too surprising.”
The conversations drifted from topic to topic for a while longer until Zita remembered that she had bad news to break. She excused herself with that excuse and refused Kivviens offer to come with on impulse, then promptly regretted doing so. Too late to change her mind, she trudged into the hallway on her own. The kids who usually filled the place with noise and activity were nowhere to be found. Silence hung thick in the air like a death sentence. She was going to get herself banished. Imani wouldn’t believe her over someone she had know for years. This was that last time she was going to walk these halls. She was sure of it.
Imani was in the dining hall. It was nearly empty except a few regular people who served to remind Zita this was still a hotel, not just the base of an illegal utopia with limited resources and hundreds of allies and, it seems, enemies. Zita couldn’t swallow the lump in her throat.
When Imani spotted her she looked up from the papers with a tiered smile, “Hello Zita, is there something you need?”
Zita forced her mouth to form words, “Um, sort of…” She cleared her throat, “Could we talk?”
Imani’s smile dimmed, but she gestured to the seat in front of her and closed the three books that were taking up the space in front of her, “Sit.”
Zita did as she was told as quickly as she could manage, which was about a quickly as a, overweight dragon just after hibernation.
“What is it my dear?” She asked, giving Zita her full attention.
That makes this so much worse, Zita shoved her inner voice aside, “It’s about Anders…”
“Oh?” Imani looked curious, but there was something else. Something just behind her eyes.
Zita ineffectively convinced herself that she was seeing things and plowed on, “I saw him put something in you food the other day and I asked Emily what it was after I switched our plates and she said it was poison so we asked Anders about it and he admitted to trying to kill you and yeah-” Zita tried to catch up on the forty breaths she missed right then.
Imani watched her closely with an unchanging expression. The seconds ticked by. Zita’s hands fidgited and her mind reeled. Was she supposed to say something? Did Imani believe her? Was she right before? Was she about to be kicked out? She wasn’t sure if she was breathing.
Finally, Imani pulled the book on the top of the stack to her right and flipped it open, scanning over the rows of words or numbers in a language Zita didn’t recognize as she spoke up at last, “You’re smarter than I could have guessed,” She mused, crossing out a word with a pen Zita didn’t notice before.
It was a trick, said two parts of Zita at once, one as it compelled her to drop to her knees and beg for mercy and the other as it carefully examined every little movement Imani made.
“Wha…” She couldn't even finish the word.
Imani looked up at her, “I’ve suspected a spy for a while now,” She said, “I just never thought it would be Anders. You said he tried to kill me?” Zita nodded stiffly, “Hm, didn’t think he had that in him. Regardless, I assume you have more to tell me?”
Another stiff nod, then a long pause as Zita failed to compute that that meant she was supposed to talk. “Oh, yeah, um, Kivvien, Emily, Ash and I have this plan to get inside the warehouse where they’ve been taking our supplies,”
Imani put down her pen and folded her arms over her book, “Go on then, run me through it.” And Zita did.
“It’s very risky,” Imani said as noon approached and the hall began to fill with the odd tenant who decided to eat lunch there, “But doable if you have the right supplies. I’ll set you up with some Chorismagian tech so you can talk to each other during the mission. It’s much simpler than a com spell and a lot less likely to be hacked into should one of you be discovered. I think I’ve got some in the file room, come to think of it,” She tapped her chin thoughtfully, “I’ll check, you go gather up your team and meet me in the meeting room, you know it, where we had that first meeting?” Zita nodded, “Good, now run along, we’ve got work to do.”
Ash flicked her hair over her shoulder in annoyance, “Hey Em, what’s going on?” She asked Emily after ignoring Zita’s explanation of what was going on.
Emily, who had just walked in the room with Kivvien in tow, happily explained everything almost identically to how Zita had done it. Could the little-
“Protectors!” Imani walked out of one of the tunnels with a black box cradled in her hands, “I’m sure you all know the rough plan, but I’ve revised it so listen up!” They listened up.
“These-” She held up the box, “are wireless headsets. Each of you will get one to put in your ear. They pick up the sound of your voice and convey it to the other headsets so you can talk to each other over long distances. You can turn them off on off by pressing this button on the side,” She picked on of the little devices out of the box and turned it over to show a barely visible button on the side.
Imani passed out the headsets and showed everyone how to put them on properly, except Emily, who didn’t seem to need a demonstration. As soon as everyone was geared up the woman waved them after her down one of the tunnels, her usually fluttery gossamer wings lying unmoving against her back. Zita’s own wings fluttered with nerves.
They passed many doorways and passages opening in all directions, including upward and downward with trapdoors that Imani leapt nimbly over on light feet, and Zita barely avoided stumbling over. She heard a snicker behind her as she once again tripped over what was either a crack in the ground or her own feet, then she was barely avoiding accidentally punching a certain vampire in the face.
Finally, they turned abruptly into a circular green doorway. Zita was momentarily distracted as they went in by the brass door knob, located in the exact center of the door, as she tried to avoid it banging her arm. It hit her elbow anyway. Thankfully, she didn’t have time to dwell on her minor injury as she finally had the sense to look up at the room.
Rows and rows of weapons, ranging from rune-covered delicate daggers to nasty looking clubs wrapped in barbed wire and embedded with spikes, lined the walls upward and upward until they faded from sight along with the idea that there might be a ceiling on the enormous room. The floors were covered with large colored mats like the ones they sometimes used in brawling practice, arranged in a checkerboard pattern between red and blue from wall to wall in the rectangular room, with a hot pink circle in the center outlined in duct tape.
Ash looked like she had just entered the first underworld with a look of childlike wonder on her face that turned to joy so pure so quickly that Zita would never have thought it was because she spotted a particularly wicked looking jagged blade with a red tassel on the end hanging about eight feet from the ground. Meanwhile Kivvien looked unnerved, even a little nauseous, as his eyes scanned the weapons one by one as if he was taking inventory. Emily looked like she was in a convenience store as she strolled casually into the middle of the pink circle next to where Imani was waiting with what could have been either patience or impatience, but even with her skills, Zita couldn’t tell which. She hurried forward anyway, not wanting to take chances.
The others joined them in a rough circle after a bit more wandering around and Imani spoke, “Now, you kids will do what I say as I say it. If you have the need to change anything about the plan, you will use your coms to communicate with the rest of your team. And you will be working as a team,” She eyed Ash and Kivvien, “This is a simple observe and report mission. You will go to the warehouse using the crates of supplies Anders will be delivering tonight and get the location back here, where we can organize a more effective assault. I hope you won’t need them, but Ander tells me you all are competent with any of the weapons on the walls here,” She gestured to the walls with both and arm and a wing, “You can each take your pick of a lightweight concealable weapon. We don’t know where you’re going to go yet and it would be best not to raise an alarm.” a murmur of agreement rippled through the group and Imani went on to explain the basic plan, and the backup plan, and the backup backup plan, and the backup backup backup plan, and so on.
Zita tried to memorize every word, but by the time they reached plan E, Zita’s brain had ceased trying. Little details were the only things that seemed to stick. She didn’t remember how they were supposed to get out of the warhouse, but she did remember that there were most likely guards around every exit that they would have to distract or neutralize somehow to get passed. Her mind was already running every which possibility for how they could hide their weapons in plain sight, and she had figured out, very thoroughly, what persona she would use in a dozen increasingly unlikely situations. She still didn’t know what she was supposed to do if she got caught, though.
It seemed like mere seconds later that Zita was being shooed toward the walls to pick out a weapon. As her eyes surveyed the weapons, her brain began to show an unnerving side to itself. Calculations. Numbers and pictures whirred before her mind's eye. That small dagger? It could be hidden under the waistband of just about any piece of clothing, but that was too easy to find. Zita would hide it in plain sight, a bit of twisted wire would make a lovely sheath and make it into an ornate neck or headpiece. If she needed to use it, the neck was usually a good bet for a kill shot, if she couldn’t hit the neck, a well placed strike between the ribs would do quite nicely as well.
Every weapon got a profile like that, until she had figured out how to use the traditional Krinian billowing robes that they incorporated into everything from royal garb to military uniforms to hide even the most bulky of weapons with a little creativity and the guise of a bad hair day. She scared herself a little.
Finally, after a few minutes of just staring, a single weapon stood out to her. It was a sword, not very long and divided into sections along the blade about two inches long each. She jumped up and, with a little help from her malformed wings, managed to grab it from its place on the wall.
Further examination revealed a button on the hilt, protected by a magnetic lid she could easily pry open with her thumb. She pressed it. Clickclicklclickclick. The sections disconnected from each other and turned the sword into a bladed whip. Something clicked into place in her mind as well, just as the last of the sections disconnected. She had a feeling she could...whooshclick! The sharp edges suddenly retracted into the whip, the gaps between the sections filled out, the hilt flattened. It was a belt. A silver belt, nothing sinister whatsoever. She willed it back into a blade. Instantly it was stiff and sharp again. Bladed whip? Yep. The button was gone, the only thing left was her mental commands. Oh, the pranking potential!
Cool it, you’ve got a job to do, dummy! The killjoy side of her said, reasonably. While the other side of her found a corner to sulk in, Zita willed the sword into a belt and wrapped it around her waist. The silver looked very nice with the purple.
“Nice belt,” Emily said with a smile, “You name her?”
Upon seeing Zita’s painfully obvious confusion, Emily elaborated, all the while trying to strap a hidden sheath to her arm one-handed, “It’s a tradition I picked up over the years. People name their weapons, it’s just a thing. I don’t really get it, but it seems to help in combat if there’s that kind of connection between weilder and weapon,” She growled at the mess of leather straps she had somehow managed to tangle up on her arm, “Why do these have to be so complicated here!”
Zita stifled a laugh and helped Emily untangle the straps, then braided them together correctly, “Are they different wherever you’re from?” As she said it, Zita became painfully aware that she didn’t know where that was. Her fingers paused for just a second, then resumed what they were doing as if she had just lost her place for a second. What else don’t I know about her?
Emily huffed, “Yeah, they have buckles, or elastic, or velcros, or literally anything that would work better than this. Why are you guys so obsessed with style? Everything has to look good above all else, because who cares how functional it is to have the sheaths on your arms that have to be put one one handed fastened with more straps than a goth kid’s boots!”
Zita chuckled as she secured the last of the straps, “You’re supposed to have someone with you,” She said, remembering the forgotten history book she had found shoved beneath one of her siblings dressers, and how the little voice that sounded as soon as it was open read the words to her so she didn’t have to read them herself, “These were designed for the Troclovenk spies during the Regallia Wars. they require another person to put on because the spies were required to travel in groups. The way it was set up ensured none could betray the others and still return wearing the armor. If a spy returned alone with their hidden blades attached, the king would know they was a spy in their midst.”
Emily rolled her eyes, “Geek.”
“You’re one to talk with all your chorismagian history,” Zita snickered.
“Naw,” Emily brushed some hair off her shoulder, giving Zita a glimpse of red, but then it was covered and Emily was talking, “That’s my life story, the history books they’ve got leave way too much out. It’s shameful really.”
Zita’s mind strained to remember dates, years, what was she had described? The American Civil War? The fall of Rome? Zita could remember something one of her siblings had said what felt like a lifetime ago, “Wasn’t the fall of Rome like, thousands of years ago?” She asked.
Emily shrugged. Zita guessed it was supposed to be nonchalaunt, but it came off as much too stiff for Emily, maybe it’d have worked for someone else, but not her, not with Zita, “Yeah, time flies, I guess,” She tried for a laugh, but it came out too forced and she cleared her throat in a poor attempt to cover for it.
Zita opened her mouth to say something but before she could Imani called everyone to the edge of the circle. They gathered in rising tension as the weight of what they were doing began to dawn on them. This isn’t going to go well. Zita squeezed her eyes shut to block out the little voice, you know I’m right.
Imani looked the group over with an overwhelming mix of emotions swimming in her eyes, “I’m sorry you have to be the ones to do this,” she said genuinely, “I wish I could go for you, but, seeing as that can’t happen, all I can do is prepare you,” the emotions were hidden behind a business-like mask once more with a sigh and Imani stepped inside the circle.
“How about a quick lesson.”
Zita’s hands mimicked Imani’s in a much closer imitation than she could have hoped for only a few weeks ago. Her opponent, a dummy Imani was puppeteering from the sidelines, took a blast of magic to the chest. Zia expected it to fall down in defeat, instead, it grazed her with its sword as Zita barely managed to duck out of the way.
“Never assume your magic will be strong enough to take your opponent down with one blow,” Imani called helpfully.
Zita grumbled something about ‘cheater’ and ‘unfair’ under her breath as she started the spell over again.
“Use those big wings of yours!” Emily yelled from somewhere up the walls.
Wonderful idea, why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just flutter up into the air, just like that. She thought sarcastically and thrust her hands forward. The second blast ripped through the dummy’s chest, spilling straw and stuffing everywhere. There was applause from Imani’s side of the ring, where the others stood to watch, and some that could be heard faintly, presumably from the rafters.
“Emily is right, my dear,” Imani said instead of congratulations, “your wings could be a great advantage, even if you can’t use them for flight. Think of them like another set of limbs you can use, and powerful ones at that,” She added with a smile.
Zita flexed her wings in consideration. Ideas flooded her head, what if…
Emily tumbled down from wherever she had been perched and rolled to her feet, “MY TURN!”
Emily squared off with the dummy, nearly twice her size and sporting a crudely drawn on snarl from one of the kids in the protector training. It struck, she dodged, she struck, it fell. She bounced on her heels as she gave a dramatic bow and opened her mouth to say something that was probably just as dramatic, but Imani cut her off.
“Alright! Everyone gather around and listen up!”
As soon as everyone had scurried over, she spoke again, “In case of an emergency,” She began, her face showing a rare bit of anxiety, “there are places in both realms where you can find help. Emily and Kivvien, I believe, know about a few of these such places an Chorismagia?” She raised a questioning eyebrow at the two. Once she received a nod, she continued, “I’ve given Ashley the locations of one stop in each district and their rotations for the next few days, so you should be good to go,” She sighed, “Please, be careful,” She begged.
Emily threw her arms around the director’s neck, “We will,” she promised. Zita and Kivvien exchanged a look.
Ash cleared her throat from off to the side, “Shouldn’t we be getting into position?”
Imani gently pushed Emily away, “Yes, you should,” she said, once again all business.
A few more winding passageways through space that probably didn’t exist later, the four of them were nicely packed away in boxes under a layer of packing straw and food rations, some more comfortably than others. As in, everyone a whole lot more comfortably than Zita.
She cursed her busted wings, not for that last time, and tried to shift into a more comfortable position. Somehow, she got less comfortable. She decided right then that she hated going on missions.
She got a faceful of feathers as the box shifted to the side, then was lifted up and knocked around a few times as if the person moving it wanted to ensure she could breathe as little as possible through the bulky mass of pain-in-the-everywhere that made up her wings. She assumed it was Anders, so that could very well be the case.
What felt like an eternity later, the steady rumbling of an engine cut off and the vehicle they were an jerked to a halt. There was the muffled sound of a conversation, then the loud rumble of a door being opened upward, then the slightly less muffled sound of what was probably the same conversation.
No amount of straining she could put on her ears would make the words any more clear through the many layers between her and the speakers, so she settled for focusing on fighting back the sneeze brought into existence by her own wings being shoved into her face. She felt like a burrito. A feathery burrito, COMPLETE WITH PACKAGING! That image deepened her frown exponentially. Quite a feat, considering it already rivaled the deepest trenches of Krin.
Her box was suddenly being moved, once again, and, once again, every movement shoved her face deeper into her cramping wastes of feathers that were her wings. She spit out a mouthful of fluff and resisted the urge to growl at the world. Another bump put the fluff right back in her mouth.
Suddenly, she was put down and left alone. Suddenly remembering the comms, Zita worked a hand up to her ear to press the ‘talk’ button.
“Have you guys been moved yet?” She whispered, not knowing if anyone was close enough to hear.
There was a too-long moment where no one said anything, then she got the slightly warped sound of Kivvien’s voice in her ear, “Yeah, they just put my box down a minute ago.”
“Same here,” said Emily.
“I haven’t been moved yet,” Ash said.
“Okay, I’m going to see if I can get a peek outside my box,” Emily said, receiving an immediate reply from Kivvien.
“No, I am, you stay down. I have less packing than you do, less noise.”
“Don’t tell me what to do young man!” Emily retorted, voice rising to a stage whisper.
“Tate, stay down,” Not even Zita would consider disobeying that order.
She heard the sound of voices draw nearer and she tried to tune in, but again, there was too much stuff muffling the sound. She shifted her wings in an attempt to fold them behind her back, but she only succeeded in pinning them more firmly in their place. This time, she did growl.
In a last effort to free herself, Zita gave her wings a tremendous yank. With much more noise than she would care to admit, they came free and folded neatly but uncomfortably behind her back. After briefly reveling in her small victory, Zita moved the packing on top of her as quietly as possible.
It must have been Fate’s doing that she went unheard, because as soon as she had thinned out the top layer of food who’s ‘stolen’ status landed firmly in the ‘it’s complicated’ section, the voices grew much clearer. Unfortunately, what Zita had believe before to be the result of the muffling from her wings and the food, was indeed the fact that the people who were speaking were doing so in a different language.
“I’m in some kind of storage room,” Kivvien said over the comms so suddenly Zita almost yelped, “There are other boxes around, but it looks pretty full and there aren’t any people I can see.”
“I hear people,” Zita whispered, sending out prayers to Fate that she would continue to go unheard, “Their speaking a different language, though.”
“I hear them too, and that would be Spanish,” Emily said, “They’re discussing Anders’ payment...wait, no they changed topics, one minute….okay, so one of them might be Anders, so probably-Anders is talking about someone he’s calling ‘the boss’ and the other guy is saying that the boss is making him work more...yeah, that’s Anders, he just said he wants to be paid in US dollars instead of ‘magical currency’, I guess he doesn’t want to just say uvi like a normal person. Anyway, the other guy is saying that that can be arranged...they moved, I can’t hear them anymore.”
“That’s fine Em, I’m going to guess you guys are in a different room than me so we’ll have to re-work the plan a little. I’m going to try to find you without getting caught, but if I do I’m going to ditch the comm so they can’t use it to find you guys. Stay where you are for the time being until you know you’re alone, alright?”
A chorus of “yep” and “okay” assaulted Zita’s ears all at once and she pulled the comm out of her ear to soften the blow, then replaced it when the others quieted down.
Zita carefully shifted the packaging in front of her face until she could see the wooden slates of the box’s lid, then she searched for a crack. When she could finally see outside, she tried to memorize whatever was in sight. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much.
Giant boxes, seemingly made of molded sheets of metal, were stacked up high in neat rows as far as she could see. The ceiling was a barren expanse of metal beams dotted with harsh white bars of light. Everything else was obscured by the edges of the box. Zita, in an impulsive move she would fail to explain forever afterward, pressed the button embedded in one of the walls. The lid popped off.
As quietly as she could (about as quietly as a dragon covered in bells), she wriggled her way out of the box. She resisted the urge to stretch her wings once she was free of her cramped prison for fear of being seen over the tops of the boxes and instead took in the rest of her surroundings. Boxes, everywhere, stacked onward and upward as far as the limited space allowed, all of them meatal save the little stack that Zita now realized she was lucky not to have ended up at the bottom of.
She was in an alcove in the middle of a maze of painted metal and concrete, with only a small gap between two crates revealing itself as any kind of exit. She peeked through the opening and saw a door like the one on the vehicle Anders had used to transport them, but much larger. She slipped through the gap and tiptoed around the towers with her ears and eyes open for any sign of life.
Suddenly, if suddenly could happen gradually, she heard the sound of footsteps. They echoed closer and closer much faster than she liked. Her heartbeat pounded her ears as she frantically searched for a hiding place. Her eyes locked on a little forgotten corner just between the walls of two giant metal crates. She desperately rushed to her possible salvation and tried to wriggle out of sight.
Just as she was about to give up and take whoever was coming on in combat, an alarm sounded. She almost screamed when the jarring sound rammed against her eardrums. Her first thought, once she had slammed her hands against her ears to muffle the sound, was that Kivvien was caught. Someone had found him and, if an alarm was going off, he might need her help.
Ignoring the little voice reminding her that he was a much more competent fighter than she was, she ditched her attempt to squeeze between the boxes and climbed up them with surprising ease. She watched the people who had previously nearly sent her into a panic now ran past in a frenzy of their own. As they went by she had to do a double take because they were human. Really, fully human. She filed that under ‘freak out about later’ and crept stealthily along the uneven tops of the colored metal crates. It was probably only a few minutes before Zita spotted anyone she knew, but it felt like forever with the constant sensation of eyes on her back.
Below her was a rather odd scene. Humans were everywhere, a fact Zita had gotten used to in the few minutes of constantly seeing them walking about below her, just, casually, like there was nothing weird about them at all. But, not only were they there, in real life (maybe she wasn’t used to it quite yet), but they were shooting guns at Kivvien while they freaked out about...something. They were speaking at least two different languages and those guns were loud.
Regardless, Zita focused on one target, a shooter who kept hitting way too close to Kivvien for comfort, and quickly choose a spell. Hands in front of you, pointed at the spell’s target, she resented Anders’ voice in her head, bring your right hand up to lock the spell on the target, then thrust your left hand out with your intention alone in your mind. The sequence for a weak stunning spell. Not ideal, but enough to buy some time to get closer. Zit’s hands preformed the spell without a thought, freeing up her mind to shout FREEZE. A flash of orange and the one guy went down while half a dozen others aimed up at her.
Zita ducked down and tried to flatten her wings against the tops of the containers. Suddenly, one of her wings flared up in pain. She screamed and yanked the wing to her on impulse. There was another flare of pain, white hot and blinding. She grit her teeth and pushed backwards as far as she could against the surrounding walls of crates. One look at her wing made her dizzy, and maybe a little sick, she wasn’t sure. The glossy red feathers on the top of her wing were already matted down by thick blood seeping out and dripping off the rest of her wings in beads. She didn’t want to touch them, but there was a dull memory at the back of her head. Something Titin, or maybe Foy, had said a long time ago. Guns had bullets. Bullets were little bits of metal. There was probably one or two smashed up bits of metal in her wings.
The thought made her wing throb even more than it already was. She took a steadying breath. In, out. In, out. Her heartbeat slowed. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought she saw the blood flow slow down. She didn’t think that was something you could actually see. A single, pitiful laugh choked its way out of her throat. Enough stalling.
She tentatively reached out for her wing, not daring to move it. She clenched her teeth and, with a sudden burst of what was either bravery or stupidity, she dug her fingers into one of the wounds. She sucked in a sharp breath and resisted the urge to squeeze her eyes shut. Finally, she felt something. It was like a pebble, misshapen and, unfortunately, lodged in her equally misshapen bone, right next to the twisted fusion of two pieces of bone that were now re-broken. Oh joy.
She dug it out and dropped it onto the metal with a clink. As it sat there in its own pool of her blood, she dug out the other one out and put it next to the other. She stared at them for a second, then slipped them into the pocket. These two bullets will lose them the war, she thought.
Feeling confident, are we? Asked the realist in her.
“Absolutely,” She mumbled under her breath. With a single smooth motion, she pulled the sword out and willed it stiff and sharp. This is a bad idea, warned the realist. “I know,” said Zita as she crouched in a runners position. You’re going to die, like, actually die, the realist pleaded.
Zita listened for the sounds of voices over the gunshots. Kivvien wasn’t one for banter with his enemies as they fought, but maybe...nothing. She didn’t know what she expected. Either way, no one was shooting at her anymore, and plenty of people were still shooting, so Kivvien was probably still alive. This is a- she cut off the realist before it could talk sense into her.
Her hands moved in an unfamiliar formation. Anders hadn’t gotten to shields yet, “Magic is a thing of action and movement, stopping and preventing are not things it will do for you willingly,” he had said before showing them how to dodge instead. Fortunately or unfortunately, Zita would know if she survived this, she had been watching closely when the more experienced students sparred with each other. And he was right, a shield was not as easy to conjure as a blast of energy or a stunning spell.
Right up, left down, twist to paralel, no, that wasn’t right. She tried again, left up, right down, both forward, then twist to parallel, and back to first position. Her magic followed the steps, clearly following her intentions as a guide. Shield, shield, shield. It gathered before her in a shaky oval of interwoven sparks. Well, it would have to do. A person could only dodge so many bullets.
Before another thought could cross her mind, Zita lept. Her wings spread instinctually to catch her while one hand held the unstable shield below her and the other clutched her sword in preparation for the fight. Her injured wing immediately retracted halfway back to her body, but her other one did a wonderful job sending her into a tailspin all the way to a crash landing atop a pile of now-unconscious gun wielding humans. There was a moment of hesitation among the humans as they tried to wrap their minds around her stupidity, which gave Kivvien time to conjure the spell he had likely been trying to cast between defenses.
His arms moved faster than she had ever seen them, weaving bits of green magic that presented themselves not as sparks, but as strings of pure light. They wove together like a loose knot in front of him in seconds, then he threw his arms backward with an end of the string in each palm. Light blasted outward, slamming into everything, and everyone, in its path. When the light hit Zita, her vision went green, then black. The last thing she felt was the searing pain in the wing that had tried to catch her.