Worth the Candle, Ch 47: At Arm’s Length

Things were a little bit awkward between us after that. I kept wanting her to crack a joke, but she was being very serious as she took payment for the meat, and as we carted the bones over to a cleaner. It was roughly eight thousand pounds of animal, which was spread across no less than four different large refrigerators.

“So you planned this out when you knew that we were going to be going after the unicorn?” I asked.

“I have my own life beyond our little group,” she said.

“Right, but we haven’t actually divided up the money, except for Grak’s share,” I said. “So I have at least a little interest in the schemes that you’re pursuing, if there’s an investment involved.”

Fenn raised an eyebrow. “How dare you accuse me of having actually paid for things,” she said.

I opened my mouth to protest, then closed it. “I think you were perhaps the worst person that glove could possibly have gone to.”

“Or I’m the best, because I think ahead to what our needs would be,” said Fenn. “I don’t particularly like stealing, I’m more into looting, but if I see an opportunity, I’ll take it.”

“And Sable must give you a lot of opportunities,” I said.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said Fenn with a grin.

The meat market had a bone-cleaner, which turned out to be a translucent green jell in a reinforced tank. An anthropomorphic raven took our coin and dipped the bones into the ooze, which bubbled slightly and stripped them clean of any lingering meat, fat, cartilage, or ligaments before the raven pulled them out with a pair of long-handled tongs. This was the sort of thing that I had always dreamed about seeing, not the intense displays of magical power, but someone using what was probably meant to have been a monster in a dungeon somewhere for a mundane task. One of the things that I liked about Aerb was that it was settled and lived in; the first thing that I would have thought of when I came across an ooze like that was domesticating it for use in the bone trade, and someone else had already had that thought, and done the domestication, and now it was just part of the fabric of the world.

After the bones were cleaned and safely stowed within the glove (with two of the smaller ones slotted into my bandolier), we went on our way again, off to find a buyer for the alicorn. The raw magic of the glove had drawn fewer stares than I had expected, though it had drawn a few. Magic wasn’t exactly common, but it wasn’t rare either, and even if magic was distributed along a power law, that meant that the average person still knew a few people who would qualify for the title of “mage”, and few people who held at least one magical item. I imagined that the glove would be more extraordinary to someone who understood the whole of magic across Aerb better, as I was starting to, because it was really, ridiculously powerful. Maybe you wouldn’t understand that, if you hadn’t even read the Commoner’s Guide series.

“So, I hate to prod at things,” I said, “But I’m given to understand that the thing with the ears you reacted to because … because I don’t really see you as a half-elf and forget about the fact that you’re technically a different species half the time, right?”

“I guess,” said Fenn with a shrug. “It sounds dumb when you put it like that. Like I like that you’re inattentive.”

“Well, you also said that was probably worth only a point or two, not six, so I’m left wondering where the other four or five came from,” I said. That assumed that she was right at all, but there wasn’t really a point in second-guessing her own internal sense of loyalty, not if I didn’t actually have numbers to compare it against.

“I’ve already said too much,” replied Fenn. “I joke, but Grak and I really did decide that it was for the best that we keep our silence. He’d be awful disappointed in me.”

As we walked, her arm slipped into mine, and she wrapped her gloved fingers around my bicep. I tensed for a moment, thinking that she was going to send me into her glove for some reason, then remembered that it took an act of will on her part, and sometimes people used their hands for things unrelated to powerful magic. After that I tensed for a different reason, which was the closeness she was showing with me. I liked her, I really did, and it was clear she liked me back, but I’d fucked up every relationship I’d ever had, romantic or otherwise. What she’d said to me about pit fighters protecting against a blow they’d felt one too many times before rang far too true, enough that I’d first thought she was talking about me, not her.

“Well that’s why women in fiction are virgins so much of the time,” said Tiff. “It’s this purity obsession that Western culture has, where men want women to be basically untouched by anyone so that they can be the first, so that one man will just be the focus of her sexual energy for the rest of her life, and she’ll be unable to compare him to anyone else.” She held up a hand in Reimer’s direction. “And yes, I know all the evo-psych reasons for that, doesn’t mean it’s not kind of screwed up.”

(Part of the subtext here, which only Tiff and I knew, was that we’d had sex for the first time a few weeks prior, which was the first time ever for either of us. I would guess that was why the topic, ostensibly about the unfaithful Duke of Lagrange and his plot to kill the party, had turned to the concept of virginity in popular culture.)

“Well, if my part in the conversation can just be assumed, then good, I don’t have to say it,” said Reimer with a smile. “But men and women have different evolutionary reproductive strategies and everything you see is part of that.”

“I don’t think that’s why women in fiction are usually virgins,” said Arthur, setting his can of pop down on the table, “Tiff’s thing, not Reimer’s. I think it’s the same reason that young protagonists are orphans.” He sat back in his chair just a bit without continuing.

“Oh,” said Craig, “That reminds me, I made bingo cards.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out a sheaf of papers, each one printed with a five-by-five grid with words in each space. “You can all put an X in the square that says, ‘Arthur sets up obvious bait’.”

“This had better not be why you were late,” I said.

“This is amazing,” said Reimer, looking over the sheet and making a few marks. “Does that one count for ‘Joon complains that Craig was late’?”

“Obviously,” said Craig with a smile my way.

“‘Tiff says that she’s not a feminist’, do I really do that?” asked Tiff. “I mean, I don’t consider myself a feminist –”

“Count it,” said Craig.

“– I didn’t think that I said it that much,” finished Tiff with a kick under the table in Craig’s direction that hit me in the knee.

“The Duke of Lagrange looks at the four of you in incredulity as you consult these sheets of paper,” I said.

“‘Joon tries to get the game back on track’, this literally has everything,” said Reimer.

“Arthur, why are virgins like orphans?” asked Tiff. “I’m not okay with leaving that dangling.” She glanced at me. “Sorry Joon.”

“I’m glad you asked!” said Arthur with a gleeful smile. “Well, the reason that you see so many orphans, besides setting up the various orphan plots, is that if you’re writing a book or screenplay you always have to deal with the parents question somehow, at least if your protagonist is a teenager or young adult. Parents are inconvenient to a lot of plots, because the audience is left with this question about why the parents aren’t important or being brought up, and conservation of detail means you can’t just say, ‘oh, well he didn’t like his parents, or they kind of sucked’, because then the audience starts to think that’s important. So, writers just do the easy thing and kill the parents off. That can either tie into the plot somehow, or just allow the character to start as a blank slate, without having to take up screen time. And in this analogy, prior relationships are like the parents.”

I looked around the table and tried to think about character backstories. No one but Arthur had defined parents, siblings, or prior love interests. There was some baggage, quests that stemmed from their backstories, falls from grace, things like that, and for Tiff and Reimer, explicit dead parents, but it was all stuff that could reasonably be expected to be resolved, if the game actually went on long enough.

“And you don’t think it has to do with a culture that places importance on purity, innocence, and naivete, at least in women?” asked Tiff with her arms crossed.

“That’s a bingo,” said Craig. “I think I made these too easy, version two will be better.”

“I think that’s part of it, certainly,” Arthur said to Tiff. “But I also think that if I were a screenwriter faced with making a 90-minute movie, and I had the choice between having a one-line, ‘I’ve never done this before’ or having this whole long thing where I explained what both parties were bringing into their new relationship, I know what I would choose. Virgins are narratively convenient.”

“Wait,” said Reimer to Craig. “Let me see your sheet, how’d you get bingo?”

“There and there,” said Craig. “Arthur and Tiff have a long disagreement on gender, sex, — see, I made them different things, just for you — race, or socioeconomics. And the other one was ‘session goes for 30 minutes without even tangentially engaging with gameplay’.”

“I tried,” I said.

“Yeah, I marked that,” said Craig with a grin.

It was only after the session, when Tiff was driving us to her place, that Tiff picked the thread of conversation back up, this time with just me and her in the car.

“It kind of bugged me, what Arthur was saying,” she said. “About relationships being baggage.”

“Yeah?” I asked. “I think he was mostly talking about narratives, not real people. For people, the narrative starts when you’re born and ends when you die, and usually it’s not very compelling.”

“Disagree,” said Tiff. “For other people, the narrative starts when you meet them, and then you have infodumps with each other to get them up to speed on the plot thus far, which basically boils down to where they are in whatever plot threads they have going on. In that context, baggage is all the existing plot threads that everyone just has to acknowledge will never get solved, because there’s no way to solve them. So Arthur is looking at these past relationships as not being character defining arcs that happened in the past, but unresolved threads instead.”

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t really have a dog in this fight,” I said. Maybe it was just who we were as people, or because I was a guy and she was a girl, but everything had changed for me the night we’d first kissed, not when we had sex. It wasn’t a non-event, at all, but the kiss had actually felt transformative.

“Yeah, I know,” said Tiff. She tapped her hands on the steering wheel. “Just venting. I kept thinking about you, and this thing between us, and how it feels like I’m more the person that I’ve always wanted to be now, you know? And I don’t want that diminished as mere baggage.”

I’m worried that I’m going to fuck things up with you. No, too direct, maybe too heavy. I’m worried that as soon as we start dating, or whatever the local equivalent of dating is, or whatever resembles courtship for two people who are inextricably bound to each other and together pretty much all the time is, whatever you’d call that, or whatever that would be, I’m worried about fucking it up basically as soon as that starts. And I’m worried that if I don’t make a move soon, then you’ll think that I’m never going to, and that would constitute fucking it up too.

“Did Grak actually agree to a pact of silence?” I asked, instead of saying any of that.

“Sure did,” smiled Fenn, squeezing my arm.

“And why would he have agreed to that?” I asked.

“Well, you’d have to ask him, but he wouldn’t tell you, because that’s covered by the pact about pacts we made,” said Fenn.

“I don’t believe you,” I said.

“It wasn’t my idea, I’ll have you know,” said Fenn. “He’s a warder, their job is to think about what kinds of threats a person might face, not just to put up wards where they’re told, though some of them do that too. So when he agreed that it was better to just not talk too much about all the things that you and Mary said, he also covered his bases and said that if we weren’t going to talk, then we shouldn’t talk about why we weren’t talking. Which, now that I think about it, is probably what this is.”

“No,” I said, “You’re talking about why you made a pact about a pact, that’s totally different. And you broke your silence before, so …”

“Oh, but Mr. Smith, I feel ever so guilty about that,” replied Fenn with an innocent expression. Then her face changed from playful to serious and she squeezed my arm tight. “Deep breath.”

I took in a deep breath and then I was in the void of Sable once more, this time without a breathing apparatus to give me more time. The ones we had were too bulky to fit in my messenger bag, and I had thought that preparing for the specific scenario where I didn’t have enough time to have Fenn get one out of Sable was too fringe to justify me putting one in a backpack.

So I waited in darkness, holding my breath, wondering whether it was something she had seen, her elf luck pinging, or just a joke she was playing on me. Life-or-death jokes didn’t seem like her kind of thing though. I could get out at any time, but since I didn’t know what was going on in the outside, it was better to stay in for as long as possible.

I shaped the Anyblade into a longsword and grabbed Ropey out from the messenger bag, trying to make my movements as slow and economical as possible. Ropey curled around me, with one end trailing down each arm to provide either combat or climbing support. I touched my off-hand to one of the bones in my bandolier, again using languid movements, readying myself to drain SPD from it for the increased reaction time as soon as I was out. I used blood magic to give myself some light, mostly so my eyes wouldn’t adjust to the dark, and then I waited, still holding my breath and trying to fight down the panicked feeling of needing to take a breath.

I came out into an alley, burning the bone for speed as hard as I could and whipping back and forth to get my bearings while I took deep, gasping breaths that left me lightheaded. It was just Fenn, who had backed away from me. She was wearing a hat that covered her ears. There were people walking by on the street, but they gave us only the occasional interested glance before moving on, and not even that as soon as the Anyblade shrank down and back into a bladed ring.

“I saw a guy I assume was Larkspur,” Fenn explained. “My sense of luck pinged first, that’s why I put you in the glove, and I spotted him just after, quite far away. Tallish guy, red armor, sword, shield, cloak, short red hair, serious look just like our Mary, and three other people with him, similarly looking like they were about to start something.”

“They didn’t see you?” I asked.

“Nope,” said Fenn. “Unless they were clever enough not to show it, and had some reason not to try to snatch me. But no, they went into the building we were headed for, the Medicinal Magic store I was hoping to unload the alicorn at.”

“Okay, do you have a disguise for me?” I asked.

Fenn gave me a disappointed look. “You think I wouldn’t?” She held out Sable and produced a wide-brimmed hat with a black veil. “This is mourning garb for the altek,” she said. “Just pretend to be sad under there.”

I put the hat on, which made it difficult to see but would hopefully obscure my face. With a whisper I told Ropey to head back into the bag, because he was also distinctive. I stripped off both bandoliers and put them into the bag as well, then handed the bag to Fenn, who quickly disappeared it into her glove. That left the Anyblade ring as distinctive, and I quickly switched which hand it was on, changing its shape and color as I did so.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll follow the plan, hire someone to send a message to the hotel for the others, then move around and hide out while we wait to regroup.”

“Or,” said Fenn, “Or, we know where they are, and if Larkspur ever saw me, it was in a black and white photo in a dossier, and you’re covered up, so I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be hard to sneak up on him close enough to at least eavesdrop. We know that they’ve got some way to track us, for certain now that I’ve seen them, but we don’t know exactly what that method is, and I would rather figure that out than spend the rest of our natural lives running.”

“Sounds dangerous,” I said. “Especially if we’re at only partial strength.”

“Well then I’m glad I didn’t go with my first suggestion, which was that I could snipe him, then hop into the glove and have you make a run for it,” said Fenn with a grin.

“Was there a big guy in full plate?” I asked. “Because he’s soul-linked, you’d kill him instead of Larkspur.”

“Still probably worth it,” said Fenn. “But this is a good opportunity for the eavesdrop plan, and maybe the only one we get, because we can’t guarantee when we’re going to see these guys again, or whether we’ll have cover from them.”

I hesitated. Killing Larkspur was one of my quests, and maybe this wasn’t on the docket, but it was an objective that seemed easy, and enough to get me within spitting distance of the level up, if I wasn’t already.

“Alright,” I said. “We’ll do it. No offensive action.” Though I was waffling on that, and wanted to add some qualifiers, like ‘unless we can kill Larkspur and then get away’. I halfway thought that was just my desire to level up talking though. (I shoved down some half-panicked thoughts about whether or not I was addicted to leveling up for later examination, but that was a worrying prospect if true.)

I checked her over to make sure that the hat was properly hiding her ears, then we moved out of the alley and toward the store, Medicinal Magic. There was no one stationed outside, which I took to be a good sign. We went as close as the entrance, on the side of the door without a window, then started a casual conversation in quiet tones that neither of us was paying any attention to (Fenn was talking about a book she’d read and I was saying ‘uh huh’ at regular intervals).

“– short-term losses for long-term gains,” Larkspur was saying. “But given those long-term gains, and the long-term losses we might suffer if the target isn’t recovered, I do think it prudent to continue on this course for as long as feasible.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” came a female voice, one I didn’t recognize. “At this juncture, it’s no longer feasible. You’re taking time away from your duties as FSD and spending money as though it were a resource we weren’t constrained on. This is starting to look like the sunk cost fallacy in action.”

“She has the entad,” replied Larkspur.

“She might. It seems that way given the distances involved. And what good does the recovery of it do you?” asked the female voice, with a touch of exasperation. “It’s a political coup, but one that you can’t capitalize on, because it would raise too many questions about what happened to her, not to mention how you found her. We’ve spent too much political capital and reputation on this already, more than we wanted or agreed on at the outset.”

Larkspur gave a soft growl. “Eight days before the councils are back in session,” he said. “We have until then, at least.”

“You do,” the woman replied. “I’m going home. Good luck on your second time in the EZ.”

“I’ll need you there,” said Larkspur. “If Doris –”

“I know,” said the woman. “And that’s your burden to bear.”

Fenn pulled me along, back the way we came, just a few seconds before a woman swept out of the shop, dressed from collar to toe in a frilly red dress. The veil offered me some leeway in looking at her, and I could immediately see the family resemblance to both Amaryllis and Larkspur, both the red hair and pretty features, but also the seriousness of her expression. She wore a circlet on her head with several gemstones of different colors, all set in a line. She didn’t give a second glance at us, for which I was grateful.

As soon as she had gone off through the crowds, we stopped again to speak casually, me with my back to the store and her with her eyes peeled to it.

“I think that was enough,” Fenn said in a low voice. “We should take off.”

“No,” I replied. “We still don’t know how they found us. My guess is that they have precognition of some kind, but we need to know the details, whether it’s probability based or has some kind of limits that we can work around.”

“Fine by me,” said Fenn with a shrug. “They’re leaving.” She moved forward, at a casual, steady pace, and I followed after.

Larkspur was in his familiar red armor with black at the seams. Beside him were the two others I had seen at the library, the massive man in full plate who was meant to take the hits, and the horned woman with a staff (not, as yet, spinning and glowing). We kept our distance, far enough back that we couldn’t have heard what they were saying, if they had been talking. It didn’t look like they were though.

“What’s the plan?” I asked.

“I could shoot the meatshield in the head or chest,” said Fenn, leaning close to me. “My bow can puncture plate fairly easily. But then again, I’d assume that’s magic plate, and without knowing what kind of magic plate, it’s hard to say how wise shooting him would be.” She paused. “Probably not a great time for an artillery shot, given all the people around.”

I’d been thinking the same thing, and I was relieved to hear her say it. Her casual disregard for others when stealing had worried me a little bit. This was plausibly a time for the sand bow; all we’d have to do is wait for them to stop moving, she could line up a shot, and then we could hoof it while the arrow was still suspended in time.

“They went to that store because they thought we would be there,” I said. “We would have been there if your luck sense hadn’t twigged. So where are they going now? And why?” We’d only spent a few minutes, at most, getting to them; what information were they working on, that they would just leave the shop in relatively short order, rather than waiting in ambush for us to arrive?

We followed them for several blocks, with every intersection seeming to have been given a new angle at random, until we were into the true heart of the city, where there were buildings twenty or thirty stories tall towering over us. Larkspur stopped once or twice to consult something I couldn’t see, and those moments were always tense, because I worried that his goons would look around, or that he was using the magic item that was tracking us and would spin around to catch us. Those things didn’t happen though; that was the thing about paranoia, most of the time you were preparing for things that never ended up occurring.

Larkspur was bleeding information with every step he took, so far as I was concerned. I didn’t have the full picture yet, but I had enough to start making some guesses. The conversation we’d overhead meant that the Larkspur problem was likely to solve itself, at least insofar as he was actively hunting for and attempting to kill us. There were still travel restrictions and warrants to look out for, but true border control seemed like a game that the cities and nations of Aerb had long since given up on, at least if magic was in play. He really was burning non-negligible resources to find us, and this current plan couldn’t last. We knew that his divination (or whatever) was highly imperfect, and my guess from the way he treated the medicine shop was that he had a lot of false positives.

“This is boring,” Fenn whispered to me after about twenty minutes. I shot her a look of disapproval. “What, it is, you can’t tell me that it’s not.”

“It’s important,” I said, though she was right, the tension had nearly evaporated, and now it was just drudgery. They weren’t leading us into a trap, they weren’t on the lookout for anyone following them, and if any of them had been trained to spot a tail, they sure weren’t showing any sign of it. Fenn, for her part, occasionally popped us down a side street for a quick costume change, which was easily accomplished given that she had apparently stolen an entire frickin’ clothing department. (She looked adorable in glasses.)

We did catch occasional snippets of conversation, though we were too far to make out much. The multi-syllable words were actually a little easier to catch, because I could infer missing sounds: “probabilistic”, “triangulation”, “candidates”, “duration”. It was frustrating not to be able to get a clear sense of what they were actually talking about. All I really wanted was for someone to say, “as you know” and then describe in exacting detail what they were actually doing, was that too much to ask? I did get a few glimpses of the thing he was consulting; it looked something like a pocket watch.

“Shit,” said Fenn, as Larkspur looked down for another consultation, something he was doing more frequently. “Luck is twinging, we should … oh fuck.”

I saw it too; our travels through the city on the trail of the Prince had brought us to a place with restaurants, and coming out of one of them was a red-headed girl in a pink ‘Princess!’ shirt, followed by a green-skinned woman with a cloak of leaves and a long staff. Amaryllis and Solace seemed to be in high spirits and were talking animatedly with heads bent together, and I could see that it was only going to be a matter of time before Larkspur or one of his people saw them.

There were too many people around for a fight, and we were under-strength given that neither Amaryllis nor I were wearing armor. There were two cars and a flatbed truck loaded with barrels making their way down the street, moving slowly because of the people that seemed heedless of jaywalking laws (if this place even had any). A full battle here would be a shitshow, especially if we were at it for long enough that the local equivalent of the police showed up.

“Give me the bag, take the shot,” I said to Fenn after only a few seconds of deliberation, hoping that we could end this quickly.

My messenger bag popped out of her glove and she tossed it over, then the bow appeared in her hand, and an arrow after that in short order. I slipped on my bandoliers while this was going on and Ropey slithered over my body to provide protection and support. The Anyblade was expanding to a full, heavy greatsword as Fenn loosed her arrow, which zipped across the hundred feet of distance with a twang of her bow.

The arrow struck the armored man almost precisely in the center of his chest, puncturing all the way through, and I heard a grunt from Fenn beside me. She was bleeding from her chest, in the exact same spot, and staggered slightly before spitting up blood and materializing a dead fairy in her hand. She pitched backward slightly and caught herself only by resting her weight against the bow, then stuffed the fairy in her mouth.

I wanted to stay with her and heal her with bone magic, but the horned woman was spinning her staff, setting it glowing, and Larkspur was running to close the distance, which meant that I really didn’t have that option.

I pulled my throwing dagger from my satchel and threw it at him as I moved. He slowed down slightly and put his shield in front of him; the convex metallic surface shimmered and then disappeared, showing a left-right flipped version of the street. My dagger sailed through it and came right back out, having (apparently) passed itself. It landed right back in my hand, painfully hard, having accomplished almost nothing.

Skill increased: Thrown Weapons lvl 17!

Then Larkspur and I had closed the distance between us, him because he wanted to kill me, and me because I wanted to keep him from killing Fenn. The first screams of alarm had started up from the people on the street as we clashed, my greatsword against his longsword.

I shifted the Anyblade down after the first clash of swords into something thinner and lighter, more maneuverable. He had armor, a shield, and was soul-linked to a meatshield who was surprisingly still on his feet, which meant that I was immediately on the defensive. I was actually a pretty legitimately good sword-fighter at this point, but Larkspur went at me like he had been training from the day he’d been able to hold a sword, which probably wasn’t far from the truth. I was able to parry against him, knocking his sword off the line of attack and occasionally taking a hit on the flat rather than the edge (still painful, but not limb-lopping), but I was doing basically nothing against him, only retreating step by step. Past him, I could see the horned woman spinning her staff, which was glowing brighter all the time and nearly at the point where it was nothing more than a glowing circle, at which point I knew it was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

I grabbed at a bone in my bandolier and drained it of SPD in an instant. I saw the opening that would let me get a strike in, but with the two transference effects going on (from him to the meatshield and from the meatshield to me, if it worked like that) I wasn’t going to risk it. Instead, I used the moment of clarity to knock his sword to the side and yell for Ropey to sic him. My favorite-ever sentient rope was already waiting, loosely gripping my sword arm, and shot forward to wrap around Larkspur’s wrist.

From there it was, at the very least, no longer a losing battle, because his mobility was so restricted that he couldn’t properly swing his sword. He was left trying to shield bash me, which was partially effective, but we were at a stalemate.

I was feeling the adrenaline rush hard, that frantic energy that came with life-and-death. My heart was thumping hard and I pushed Larkspur back with a rush of blood magic, yanking his arm again and nearly sending his sword flying. I heard the twang of Fenn’s bow again, then again, with screams of pain from her. An occasional burst of automatic gunfire came from the other end of the street, and in the background I saw the twirling staff falter and then stop altogether as vines grew up from the cracks in the street and grabbed her by the feet. I had no idea where Amaryllis was, but it seemed like if I could hold Larkspur just a little bit longer his minions would be dealt with, and then all Fenn would need to do was put an arrow through his eye.

He must have realized that, because he dropped his shield and moved in toward me, quick and unexpected. He brought his left hand up and his sword vanished from his captured right hand to appear in his left. I tried to step back or get up my guard but wasn’t quite fast enough, or skilled enough, and the sword came down hard on my shoulder, slicing halfway through the joint. I screamed in pain and fell backward, dropping the Anyblade in the process. Larkspur yanked his right hand, still connecting us by rope, and pulled hard at my partially severed arm, tearing flesh, skin, and ligaments in a moment so blindingly terrifying and painful that I blacked out for a second.

When I came to, what must have been a fraction of a second later, my arm was dangling by a half-inch of muscle and a thin layer of skin, twisting around when I moved and so incredibly agonizing that all I could do was scream. I was vaguely aware of Fenn stepping over me with a sword held inexpertly in her hand, and a blur of pink shirt and red hair moving to protect me, but I was screaming and crying, bleeding all over the place.

Leroy Castillo defeated!

I don’t know how long I was down on the ground, but eventually I felt myself falling, whipping through the wind, then a warm glow at my shoulder which erased the pain, and after that, a bird’s beak tapping on my head sent me straight to sleep.

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Worth the Candle, Ch 47: At Arm’s Length

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