Chapter 11: Beans and Bruises
Clandestine hesitated even longer this time. That had James worried.
"It's been... a day," Clandestine said.
A day. That meant James had been out for 24 hours.
He found himself staring at Clandestine, but his stare went through her, losing focus as he considered the gravity of their situation.
Clandestine hadn't moved him - or hadn't been able to move him - which meant they'd been sitting ducks for a whole day, waiting for someone else to run into them out in the plains surrounding Bone. For all they knew, someone could be out looking for the source of the sudden, massive fire that erupted with the former sunset.
Unless, somehow, they were lucky enough that nobody noticed.
He still didn't know how long the fire even lived, or how far it spread.
Had Clandestine managed to put it out so soon after it started?
"How much do you remember?"
Clandestine's question ripped James out of his own thoughts. He blinked, his eyes snapping back into focus on her. She looked like she was watching him carefully. The concern showed in her furrowed brow.
James looked down.
"Most of it," he said quietly. "I think."
Well, that wasn't exactly true.
"At least, before I was..." James trailed off as his gaze flicked down to his shoulder where the syringe once sat, impaled in his shoulder.
It still felt like it was there.
"That was lumshade, wasn't it?" Clandestine asked.
James glanced up at her.
"Yes," he answered.
"I thought people only used that on mages to knock them out and keep them from using their magic," Clandestine said.
James clenched his jaw briefly.
"It has several uses," James said stiffly.
"I know people use it to get high," Clandestine said. "And it used to just be a sedative."
"They really should come up with a different name for all of its variants," Clandestine muttered, letting out a sigh. But then she looked back at him with full attention. "So you got hit with the sedative, then."
James didn't think he had to confirm that. He'd been out cold for a day.
"I wonder if he meant to use all of it," Clandestine thought aloud. "Or if it was just..."
She bit her lip, sticking a spoon into the pot to stir.
"What happened to the fire?" James asked after she trailed off into silence.
Clandestine glanced up from the pot for only a moment.
"Oh," she said with a nervous laugh in the back of her throat. "That. Yeah. I don't know if you'll believe me on that one."
James stared at her.
She was quiet for a moment like she'd assumed that was enough for him to drop it, but he simply waited. When she looked up again and saw he was still watching her, she let out a weak laugh.
"The wind wolves came back," she said.
James's eyes went wide.
"But, uh. It didn't go how you're thinking. They didn't spread the fire. They actually... helped me put it out. I kept the fire from spreading, and they were able to siphon water from the creek up into the air, turning it into a spray. It... put the whole fire out."
"I thought you said they weren't...?" James started to say, but he couldn't think of a way to finish that sentence.
"Clearly, their sentience comes with some measure of empathy," Clandestine said. "I should add that to my monster book. Wind wolves care about putting out fires."
James didn't know what to think of that. All he knew of wind wolves were the stories where they caused people trouble. But maybe there was something different about this.
Or maybe there was something different about Clandestine. Maybe the fact she'd played with them endeared them to her somehow, but it required a higher level of intelligence for an intangible beast to deduce that Clandestine needed help putting out a fire.
Though he didn't think his primary concern was to consider the implications of intelligent beasts at the moment.
If the fire was out, that was one less problem. Alexander was buried. But that still left a lot of collateral damage. The fire undoubtedly left its mark, and it would be discovered eventually, along with Alexander's body. Even if Clandestine buried it, he highly doubted she'd been able to bury it deep, and it especially wasn't inconspicuous. Anyone would be able to tell that the hole matched the dimensions of a human grave.
They had to get out of here.
Clandestine abruptly turned around. James hadn't even realized she'd reached around for something behind her, but his attention returned when he found himself staring at a poster she held up in front of him.
He was looking at his own face.
Granted, it was a younger depiction of him. The wanted poster looked like it was one that had been issued five years ago when he was in his first year on the run. Instead of the more rugged variations that had been issued in the later years, this one had a drawing of him when he was 23, fresh-faced, clean-shaven, and still wearing the official armor of the Moonlight Kingdom's palace guard.
James swallowed, knowing that Clandestine must have found that poster among Alexander's things.
"I think they got your angry eyes down," Clandestine said, holding the poster beside her so she could look at it as well. She began to imitate the generally intimidating expression, though her version was far more exaggerated.
"They didn't quite get your chin right, though," Clandestine said. "Then again, maybe they did. Maybe it looks different under your beard. The beard's a good idea, by the way. People can look so different with a beard."
James wasn't sure what he'd been expecting when Clandestine held up the poster.
Interrogating questions, maybe. But not teasing.
"People still recognize me regardless," James said distantly, and at that, Clandestine's amused grin quickly faded.
Though she didn't seem angry. She just looked saddened.
"Right," Clandestine said. "I guess Alexander used it to find you."
"I suppose so," James said absently.
James did wonder about that. Why was Alexander carrying one of the old posters? If he really was connected to the kingdom as he'd said, then he'd have access to the posters that were up to date.
Unless Alexander had it just to use it at some point to taunt James with his past. Somehow, that seemed to make sense, even though James had only known the man for a brief few moments.
James let out a small sigh as he stared into the crackling fire. Clandestine took the beans off the heat, and James found himself observing her.
Her face looked bruised. A little scraped, but cleaned up, already starting to scab a little. It looked like maybe she'd fallen on her face. It was more likely she'd been pushed or thrown to the ground.
But it didn't look like she was severely wounded. At least, not in a way that showed.
She seemed tired, and a little slow, maybe. But he wouldn't know for sure until he asked.
"Are you alright?" James asked softly.
Clandestine paused as she reached behind her again, pulling out two bowls as she turned back around. She looked at James like she was surprised at the question.
"Me? I should be asking you that question," Clandestine said. "I wasn't sure if you'd make it. You were completely unresponsive until just a few minutes ago."
Well. That was the power of lumshade. James was just glad he didn't die of what was probably a borderline overdose. But also she didn't answer his question.
"Did you get hurt?" James asked instead, not letting her evade.
Clandestine sighed as she started scooping beans into a bowl.
"Of course I did," Clandestine said. "Not much when I caught up to you since he hit me with that dart pretty quickly. But I did catch up to him for a moment when you got away before all of this, and we fought. It didn't last that long, and he got away. He wasn't very nice."
Obviously, that was an understatement.
But it did make James feel guilty that she'd gone out of her way to help him for very few reasons, and that all she got out of it was bruises, pain, a dead man, and a wanted criminal she was now an accomplice to.
Though- perhaps now for the first time - it was possible that she could become wanted too if anyone was able to trace the fire back to her. But it would take some time for that to play out, and if they left before anyone found it, there wouldn't be much evidence pointing to her aside from a fire with mysterious origins.
James could feel that the following silence was more tense than previous. Clandestine seemed to sense that James was getting his bearings. Now that she'd openly admitted to following him all this way - going so far as to interfere in Alexander's pursuit - James could feel the pit in his stomach growing, and the anxiety tightening in his chest.
He didn't know if he was ready for this conversation, but he owed her an explanation.
"I..." he began, feeling trepid, as this was not something he'd ever had to do before.
Not like this.
Sure, he'd given bread crumbs here and there, but never the full story. He'd never been forced to explain everything - and he'd never wanted to relive it, either.