Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Chapter 10: The Dead Man's Mess
Turning around, she continued to cough as she hobbled out of the water, feeling the exhaustion of the fight and the use of her magic starting to hit her.
"No, no, no," she wheezed between coughs, knowing things couldn't end here.
There was something she was forgetting. Even with the fire out, and the horses nearby, she knew she had to check on Matt. But there was something--
She froze. One foot in the water, one foot out.
She heard a faint groan down the stream. Looking up, her eyes began to adjust in the darkness. In the faint light of the slivered moon and the stars, she could see a shadow of a man lying at the edge of the water.
He was alive?
Panic drew her towards him instead of away.
If Alexander was still alive, there was a very good chance he'd try to attack again. Especially now that he knew she was a mage, too.
But as she hobbled down the creek towards him, he didn't move. His shadow stayed still in the water, and all she could hear was the sound of her own footsteps and the trickling of water over him.
Time was ticking, and she knew it. Matt needed attention soon - she remembered smelling blood - but she couldn't tend to him if Alexander was still a threat.
As she stopped at the edge of the creek, looking down at him, she had a sinking feeling that... he wasn't.
She couldn't see his face. But now that she was closer, she could hear his ragged breathing.
She swallowed, knowing that she had to be sure before she turned away.
Pushing through the exhaustion and the fog of her waterlogged head, she held out her hand, trying to focus on her magic once more.
If Alexander was alive and was going to try anything, she needed to have something to defend herself. And she needed something to see.
Looking down at her hand, she reached for her magic again, setting her focus on procuring a flame.
At first, all she felt was a draining of energy. But then there was a spark, and a small flame sputtered to life.
She held out her hand like it was a lantern and stared.
Alexander was bleeding out.
He was stretched out with his upper body partially upright. His shoulders leaned against the dip at the water's edge, and he held his side with one hand. Even though her light was dim, she could see the steady dark stream flowing out of his side into the water, despite Alexander's attempt to control it.
Though she'd been temporarily unconscious for the rest of the fight, she understood what must've happened.
It looked like a gunshot wound. Matt must've shot him.
And judging by the placement in Alexander's gut, Alexander didn't have much time left.
She couldn't help but wince at the sight of the wound and the pang of guilt that hit her.
But Alexander was still conscious. And he looked up to meet her eyes with the most hateful stare she'd ever seen.
Even if she wanted to, she couldn't help him. She wasn't a miracle-working surgeon. She didn't have healing magic, and that was the only thing that could bring someone back from a gunshot wound like this.
Silently, they both came to that same understanding.
She swallowed again, feeling frozen in place as she helplessly stared at him and he stared back with daggers in his eyes.
She glanced back towards Elliot and Billy, where Matt was lying, also injured. She hesitated. It felt wrong to just walk away, but--
"They'll come for you," Alexander said weakly.
Clandestine blinked and turned her attention back to him.
She... she wasn't sure who they were supposed to be. Was he referring to mage hunters, because she was a mage? Or was he talking about the Moonlight Kingdom coming after Matt again? Would the latter pursue her if they found this fire and thought it was a mage's fault?
She clenched her jaw, brows furrowed.
"Good luck... running. For the rest of your life," Alexander said with a rueful laugh, which turned into a blood-choked cough.
Clandestine winced and looked down.
Even if Alexander was just trying to scare her, she knew he wasn't wrong.
The fire was huge. There was a good chance it was seen from Bone, and if people looked into it, someone would find Alexander, too. Or... what remained of him.
What had she gotten herself into?
Her stomach sank even more, and she glanced back at Matt but quickly looked back at Alexander. His whole face was pinched with pain.
"Go to him," Alexander said with another weak cough. Blood coated his teeth. "I hope he's worth it."
For a moment, his breaths turned to shaky heaves. Then his breaths slowed, getting weaker and weaker.
Her heart dropped into her stomach when she couldn't hear it anymore.
Something inside of her snapped.
No. She wasn't about to have two people die today. Not if she could help it.
Dismissing her flame, she shook her head and ran. It was through the water, at first, and it splashed up around her in a small wave, drenching her pants. When she broke out onto the grass, she sped up and was back alongside Matt in moments, half-soaked, but there.
She reached out to feel for a pulse first, pressing her fingers against his neck.
She waited a moment for the feeling to process. But he was still there. His blood was still flowing. He was still breathing. He wasn't gone yet. But she needed light to see what was going on, and she'd need both her hands, too.
With a small grumble, she pushed herself back to her feet again, feeling the ache in her muscles grow stronger. She huffed as she walked over to Billy and grabbed her saddle bag to bring it over. She dug inside it as she walked back and pulled out a dagger.
Not wanting to risk another disastrous fire, she started ripping out the grass around him, slicing at it until there was at least a two-foot circle around Matt that was cleared of flammable material.
Then she pulled out her torch - because she did actually own a torch - and dug it into the ground. Forcing out one last spark from her fingers, it caught alight, and she was able to set it next to Matt so she could finally see what she was working with.
It wasn't pretty.
She knelt beside him, setting her bag at her side, and stared at the giant syringe sticking out of his arm. The needle looked like it'd been pushed in further than it should've gone, and she knew that it was going to hurt when she inevitably had to pull it out.
She borrowed light from the torch, letting a small flame flicker between her fingers as she held it closer to get a better look.
She knew what that was. There was only one drug in Nye that she knew of that was an undeniably saturated purple color, and it was lumshade.
But lumshade... that was used to control mages. At least, that's what she knew it for. It knocked out mages so they couldn't use their magic. It was what she'd been hit with from Alexander's darts, though in a dramatically smaller dose.
Why had Alexander used it on Matt? She thought Matt didn't have magic.
She squinted. The tiny bit of lumshade in the vial was so insignificant compared to the rest that was gone if it'd been full when he'd been injected with it. She didn't know enough about the drug to know what kind of side effects there could be if he'd been given too much, and she had no idea how long he'd even be out.
Hopefully, it dulled some of the pain, at least.
Shaking her head, she carefully pushed Matt's shoulder so she could see under him, and there was, indeed, a growing pool of blood from his shoulder. It didn't look like he'd been hit by anything back there, so she had to assume it was just his former wound re-opened.
She sighed tensely through her nose.
This was going to be a really, really long night, wasn't it? And she was already so exhausted.
But she took in one last deep breath, steeling her nerves as she reached into her bag and pulled out her blanket, laying it next to the torch. Getting to her feet once more, she - as carefully as she could manage, all things considered - grabbed under Matt's arms and moved him so he was on top of the blanket. She had to adjust his legs so he wasn't in a really weird position, but she wondered how much he could even register in his current state.
"Okay, tough guy," she said, kneeling beside him once more with her bag. "Just bear with me here. I've only ever stitched myself up after some rough run-ins with monsters, but I'll do my best here. We're going to get you better."
She didn't know why she was talking to him when he probably couldn't even hear what she was saying. But maybe he could. She didn't know.
She pulled out the small first-aid kit she had in her bag. There was a roll of bandages, some healing salve, some pins, needles, stitching string...
The needle had to go first.
It was going to bleed, though, so she'd have to act fast.
She unbuttoned Matt's shirt so she could get under it to put pressure on the insertion wound, and she pulled out a wad of clean gauze. Taking one last deep breath to steady herself and focus, she slid the gauze under his shirt and jacket, feeling up to his shoulder where the needle pinned everything down.
Right up against the needle, she pressed down, gauze against it, and after counting down ten seconds, with her other hand she began to tug up on the syringe.
She'd dealt with a lot of bad scrapes, bruises, and injuries in her years, but for some reason feeling the needle sliding out of the layers of skin made her cringe. She had to push the feeling down, though, to keep her hand steady as the tip came out. The moment she saw it she pressed the gauze over the insertion point, pressing down.
She flicked the syringe over into the dirt beside the torch.
"We're gonna play this safe and put some pressure on this for a minute."
As if he wasn't already bleeding elsewhere. But it wasn't like he needed to bleed more.
She sighed, leaning over him so she could just let her body weight add the pressure.
For a moment, she just sat in silence, looking up at the night sky. Looking out at the open field, and the shadow of the burnt tree by the water. Elliot and Billy still stood close by, dipping into the creek to drink and cool down.
She wasn't ready to think about Alexander again, yet, but she knew his body was still there.
She sighed, looking down at Matt's face.
She wondered if he knew she was coming. Then again, how could he have known? She'd been so far behind, it's not like he would've seen her... especially with his eyesight.
Clandestine couldn't help but feel bad at the thought. She really shouldn't have teased him for that, as it was something he really couldn't help. But there was a lot he couldn't help, at the moment.
He only had her. Which felt strange, seeing as they were still, by any reasonable assessment, strangers.
She found herself wondering what she was going to do if none of this worked out.
Finally pulling her hand away, she left the gauze where it was for a moment, knowing that now she had to continue working fast, especially if she wanted to get the bleeding under control.
At this point, she had a feeling that putting pressure on it wasn't going to work fast enough. And she couldn't move on to stitching until it stopped bleeding. So that left the only other option she could think of, which was cauterizing it.
"It's a good thing you're out cold," she muttered softly, reaching around him to pull him upright.
She found it easiest to lean his head into her shoulder while she took his jacket off so it was out of the way. The shirt was harder to get off because it was practically glued to his skin from all the sweat, and despite how strong the smell of sweat and blood was, she couldn't help but hope that maybe all of the sweating meant he sweat out some of the lumshade, so maybe it wouldn't affect him as much.
She peeled the sleeves off his arms and threw the wet, smelly shirt and jacket to the side.
"You know," Clandestine said. "This would be weirder if you were awake."
She started to lay him back down and flip him on his back.
"It's probably better that--"
She hadn't really paid attention when she was getting his clothes out of the way, but she found herself staring with wide eyes. Her hand went up to her mouth as she sat frozen for a moment.
She'd been expecting to see blood. She'd been expecting to see the wound on his shoulder that she knew was there.
But she found herself staring at a back covered in scars.