“No. Eat your own.”
“You need it more!”
Gideon nearly stomped his foot in frustration. He stood over Isha, where she was resting against the front corner of her cell that connected with his. She was curled up, pale and sweaty and shaking. Her plate of food, if it could even be called as such, lay only partially consumed next to her.
A coughing fit wracked her body and she squeezed her eyes shut, hands clenching over her abdomen. Gideon wanted to scream, to beat the iron bars and rend them until he could get to her. But what could he do? He was absolutely useless like this.
“You need to- to eat too,” Isha rasped. Her head fell back against the bars and he could hear the wet hiss of her breath. Her eyes were still closed. “Ask Carter to back me up,” she murmured.
He glanced back and, just as he suspected, Carter was curled up on the cot and asleep. Like he had been for at least an hour now.
His eyes burned as he turned back to Isha and he had to set his plate of stale bread and mystery meat aside, so he didn’t drop it. His hands trembled so badly, and Gideon kept them clenched at his side. Isha would work herself up enough to irritate her wound further if he started punching the wall or the bars of the cell. It’d do nothing but break his fingers, and Gideon was scared to admit a small part of him wanted that.
“Isha,” he sighed. Then, he crouched beside her, the sheer weight of failure beat him into submission. Isha had opened her eyes again and tilted her head to look at him with something gentle and fretful. She lifted on of her hands and reached out to grab one of his resting on his knees. He leaned down to press his nose into her hand. His eyes stung more, and he blinked away the thickness building there. “What am I supposed to do?” he mumbled to her hand.
“Stop blaming yourself would be a good start,” she whispered. Her eyes were glazed and dark as she watched him. She let out a heavy sigh. “Getting me something alcoholic, and strong. I want to stop thinking about how-”
Whatever she was going to say drifted away as her eyes widened in surprise. Gideon raised his head just in time to feel something tingle in the hand he still held Isha’s with. Something wavered in air around her, like looking out across the horizon when the day was hot. Or the air around a fire.
Then she sighed again and blinked. She removed her hand from his to press it to her own temple. Then, she met Gideon’s gaze- still pale but there was a light back in her eyes that she’d been missing for weeks. “I… don’t feel sick anymore.”
Gideon pivoted on the balls of his feet at the sound of a noise somewhere between a whine and a groan. Carter was sitting up on his cot, legs crossed in front of him. He was blinking blearily and despite everything wrong with their current situation, Gideon’s mouth twitched, and he felt warm. Seeing Carter wake up, with curls in a disarray and eyelids still sleep-laden, had been the first thing Gideon had latched onto when they’d first met. There was something unbelievably… Gideon didn’t have the word for it.
Carter glanced over at them, then down at his hands in his lap, and frowned. “I-I don’t-?”
“They did it,” Isha said. Gideon glanced back to find her smiling and resting her head back against the bars once again. “Whisper and Shiloh. They reversed it.”
But there was still wrinkles in Isha’s expression. She had pressed both hands back over her hip again. She was so pale, her lips so cracked, and her hair so dull.
“You still need to be taken care of,” Gideon told her. “You still need your wound healed.”
Isha’s only response was to hum. Gideon’s heart twisted when he couldn’t decipher whether it was dismissive or exhaustive.
He was pulled away from worrying over her by a clamour down the hall. He stood up, as if he could somehow defend Isha and Carter is he was on his feet. He grabbed the front of his cell, pressing himself against the bars to try to see what the noise was about. It sounded like metal slashing at metal. Swords, or knives.
Just a moment later, the clamour ended. There was a long stretch of silence before the thud of bootsteps began to grow from down the hall. Gideon’s shoulders were tensed, and his fingers flexed around the steel bars.
And then he saw Malika and froze.
“Do you know how hard it’s been to find you three?” Malika said. There was a hard edge to her voice. She stopped in front of Gideon’s cell, and his stomach swirled at the defiant set of her jaw and to her brows. She held a blood-stained scimitar in her left hand, and a ring of keys on the other. When she noticed Gideon’s gaze on her sword, she glanced down. “I prefer a gun, but it’s too noisy.” She wiped it on her trousers and then stuffed it into a sheathe at her hip.
“Did you happen to see Whisper and Shiloh about-” Gideon stopped himself when he realised he couldn’t give her a real time stamp. He didn’t know how long ago it had been since he’d last seen them, since the ambush at the tower.
Malika moved to the door of his cell to his left and sorted through the keys. As Gideon turned, he spotted Carter, who had moved over closer to the front of his cell. He looked gaunt, drawn, and worn, but he had that same light in his eyes Isha had that disappeared from the sickness. Curse.
“I haven’t seen any of your bloody flock,” Malika bit out as she unlocked Gideon’s cell and swung open the door. She met Gideon’s gaze and the heat of her anger cut into him. “Oh, except for the hat wearing fool.” She tilted her head to the side and pulled her hair away from her neck. Gideon let out a sharp breath at the partially healed gash.
Still. Gideon moved past her and Malika approached Carter’s cell door. He waited patiently on the other side and offered Gideon a little smile. “It’s not him. It’s not Finn,” Gideon told Malika. He glanced at Isha to see her staring out at the back wall of her own cell. “Is Elizabeth still back at the house? Isha’s hurt.”
“I took Elizabeth and Abraham back to my crew.” Malika opened Carter’s cell door and turned back to Gideon. “I took them back so they could be prepared for a proper funeral.” Gideon went still and he could feel the parting of his mouth. Carter had taken a step towards the open door, and then stop as soon as Malika had spoken. She glanced between them. “I don’t care if he’s your friend. I know it was him, I saw him, tried to catch him. It was Finn. And he will answer for it.”
“Gideon’s right,” Isha said weakly. Gideon found her twisting, a grimace pulling at her features as she turned to face Malika with a determined set to her jaw. “It wasn’t Finn. Aelina has him under her control, she’s making him do whatever she wants.” Her eyes narrowed. “If you touch him, you’ll answer for it.”
If Gideon had not been able to see Isha, he would have been one of the many who was made unsettled by the steel in her tone. Even still, there was nothing light or subtle about her tone. She was shivering, she had lost a lot of blood, and she was making an incredibly real threat and daring to be contested.
Malika did not move towards Isha’s cell for a long moment, and the two women faced off in a staring contest. Gideon felt himself bristle. If Malika tried anything because Isha had said that- she was right anyway. If anyone tried to hurt Finn, Gideon wasn’t going to let that slide. None of them would.
Finally, Malika let out a staggered breath and breezed past Gideon to unlock Isha’s cell door. “And what are you planning on doing about him?” she asked, voice low and cutting. “Are you going to ask the silver-haired doll to please stop using her magic on him?”
In the days they’d been sitting in the cells, Gideon had been thinking about that a lot. That, and what in God’s name he was going to do about Isha. She needed healing, needed it now.
He did not know how magic worked. He wished he had Whisper to consult, but Isha was dying and Finn was trying to kill them and Shiloh. Even if they managed to remove magic, who was to say Finn wouldn’t catch up?
The root of their problems all went back to the same place. Comtesse Aelina. There was something to be said about dealing with weeds.
“She’s doing a lot more than controlling Finn,” Gideon said. He turned around, following Malika’s movements as she opened Isha’s cell door. “Carter,” he called. He didn’t have to say anything more; Carter was already caught up to him and approached Isha with Gideon.
“And?” Malika asked.
Gideon and Carter managed to get Isha to her feet with minimal difficulty. Her nose was scrunched in pain the whole time, but she did not say anything or make any other outwards indicators of displeasure. She leaned more heavily on Carter, seeing as he was taller and built more solidly. Despite the fatigue that clung to Carter, Gideon found he was of little use to them and allowed himself to step away as Carter brought her out of the cell. Her feet dragged along the floor, and her steps were uneven, but Carter was gentle and patient with her.
“Don’t go into the crypts,” Gideon finally said. Once again, he wished Whisper were here. “I heard someone say the Comtesse’s chambers are in the Comte’s Hall. Is that right?”
Malika’s brow set forward and her eyes narrowed. Not suspiciously, just questioning. “The only section of the third story at the back. Why?”
He paused as he stepped outside the cell and avoided Carter’s curious gaze. “I need you to get Carter and Isha to safety. Without me.”
“Gideon-” Carter interjected, before anyone else could even open their mouth. He flailed, little noises escaping from the back of his throat as he floundered for words. He ended up staring at Gideon pleadingly instead without knowing the proper words to express his disapproval. Gideon continued not looking at him and felt guilt whirl in his stomach.
“And what are you going to do?” Malika asked. Her voice had softened, only slightly, but there was something more calculating in her gaze now.
Gideon swallowed, breathed in deeply through his nose. “Something that will either save us,” he glanced at Isha, “or get us all killed.” He meant something that would get him killed, but they didn’t need to know that.
Isha met his gaze steadily, but her mouth was pinched and her eyes dark. He didn’t know if she knew or not. He didn’t know if he wished she did or not.
“Very well,” Malika said. “I will get them back to the inn, I will attend as best as I can to Isha’s wound, and if you are not back in three hours, I get them out of the city. The sun will not quite be rising yet by then.”
He nodded, but as he opened his mouth, Carter was already speaking, “Gideon.” There was a near horrified look across Carter’s face as he stared at Gideon, and then shook his head. “You can’t just- what are you going to do? We need you. I-” He cut himself off with an incomprehensible noise and shook his head again.
Glancing down at Isha and the way her head tipped forward, even as defiant as her stare was, Gideon sighed. He cast his eyes downwards. “Do you have a spare dagger on you?” he asked, tilting his head towards Malika. She only hesitated a moment before pulling one out that glinted in the torchlight. It was small, not much for fighting, but Gideon didn’t need a blade for fighting. If he got into a fight, he’d probably get himself killed.
“Gideon,” Carter said again. This time, Malika grabbed onto his arm. She gave him a shove down the hall towards the entrance, but Carter wouldn’t turn his head away from Gideon. “Gideon,” he pleaded again. Now it was Isha who patted his arm wrapped around her torso.
“Come on, Kitten,” she croaked. She gave Gideon one last look. It was somewhere between a glare and something shut off. Then she rested her head against Carter’s shoulder and patted his chest this time. “Come on.”
Gideon glanced down at the dagger. He ran his finger along the edge, light so as not to cut himself but enough to tell it was sharp. He swallowed, hard, mouth twisting into a grimace without his intention.
“I’m going to do something really stupid,” he murmured to the empty place Carter had been standing. “I’m going to do the only forsaken thing I’m good at.”
* * *
The only section of the third story. Why did the Comtesse have to choose the third story? What was wrong with the second? Or better yet, the first?
Probably to stop people like Gideon, who was hanging off a second story window ledge and resolutely not looking below himself.
The Comte’s Hall wasn’t as fancy as the White Cathedral, but it had lots of decorative metal. Fool’s gold, or at least something fake, if Gideon had to guess. There was no way the metal caging the hall was real gold. Île D'or might have been the Island of Gold but it hadn’t been ever since mining became a health hazard due to the coteries.
But it made scaling a wall with no rope easier than trying to scale something more like the Spiral Tower. Or the Spire itself.
Gideon pulled himself onto the window ledge, the flowerbed extending past it wobbling in warning. Gideon took it slow, as slow as he could, and prayed that he was compact enough not to disrupt the brackets that attached the flowerbed to the windowsill.
He peered into the window once he’d made his perch. H could see two guards, patrolling separate ways, and a few lit candles. No other lights on. He kept himself to the side of window. It would do him no good to be caught now. He could slip in the window now. Fewer guards to take care of, and then just climb the stairs to the Comtesse’s quarters, take out any remaining guards.
But he wanted to attract as little attention as possible. With a knife like the one Malika had given him, he was in just as much danger climbing a wall with no support system as he was trying to fight fully armed, fully trained guards. Not that he hadn’t before, but he didn’t prefer archery for no reason.
Reaching up above the window, Gideon began to pull himself up. Halfway up, he reached up with his other hand and grabbed one of the mock gold stones partially sticking out of the rest of the brick. He put his boot on another, and there he was. Partially suspended in mid-air, holding onto barely anything.
This really was a stupid idea.
He reached up to grab the flowerbed attached to the windowsill of the third story. As he pulled a leg up and transferred his weight to pull up on the flowerbed, the right bracket snapped, and the flowerbed swung down.
Gideon lost his footing and reached up to grab the swinging box with both hands. His heart pounded against his ribcage as he swung there. The second bracket squeaked like rusted metal.
The windowsill was right above him. The flowerbox swung precariously against the wall, and Gideon with it.
Tensing his muscles, he took a deep breath. Then, he hauled himself up and let go of the box. He reached up to grab the ledge and caught it before he could slip right back down the wall. The rough stone of the window ledge bit into his fingers and Gideon hissed. The flowerbox still swung beside him, and Gideon let out a breath.
He could have just climbed up it, if it was still going to hang there threateningly. It would have been safer, easier-
The bracket gave a final creak and then the flowerbox came free of the wall. Gideon went absolutely still as he watched it fall all the way down to the ground. It splintered with a crack! that likely wasn’t as deafening as it sounded to Gideon’s ears. Then he got the blood rushing to his head, to his ears, and it didn’t matter.
So much for attracting as little attention as possible.
He pulled himself up to the ledge and worked his fingers under the window frame. He gave it a tug and found that it slid open noiselessly. He breathed a soft sigh of relief, and pushed it open just enough that he could slide in.
Gideon landed on the floor gently and quietly. He stood up and turned.
Comtesse Aelina was sitting on her bed and watching him with a tilted head and a curl to her mouth.
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