Chapter 14: A ‘Foolproof’ Plan


The acrid scent of antiseptic solution had an odd calming effect as Adorin crept through the hall toward the familiar. The corridor curved leftward toward a place he’d spent countless hours meticulously mixing and measuring.

As he turned toward a darkened room, he saw Tauh pouring a solution into a beaker by candlelight. The old man wore his usual rounded spectacles as he worked, which always sat halfway down the bridge of his nose. The man’s eyes looked up over the glasses and a scowl crossed his face.

“Yes?” Tauh said, gently setting the vial and beaker on the table before reluctantly groaning to a stand.

The man used to intimidate him, but as odd as it sounded, being a slave felt freer than being his apprentice.

“I have come for medicine,” Adorin said. There was something different about his tone. It wasn’t his usual timidness; it was colder somehow.

“You’ll get nothing from me,” Tauh snapped, pointing to the door. “Now if that’s all, le—”

“Orders from Lord Yanth,” Adorin interrupted, crumpling an official writ in his hand before tossing it to the old man’s feet. “You can tell him that he will get nothing then.”

Adorin turned, taking hasty steps toward the exit.

“Wait,” Tauh muttered with a hiss of air through his teeth. Adorin grinned briefly before turning back around. He watched as Tauh scrambled toward his shelves lined with different reagents.

After snatching a small brown satchel, he began tossing in creams, vials and sterile bandages. He pulled the straps of the pouch before turning toward the younger man.

“Spring nettle sap as well,” Adorin said, crossing his arms.

“No.” He tossed the bag to the ground in front of the young man. “I don’t care if the beast is in pain, he will live. That sap is to stop bleeding. Is it bleeding, Rin?”

Adorin sighed as he knelt, grabbing the bag before standing and turning away.

“Or maybe you want the nettle to sell on the black market to buy your freedom, is that it?”

Adorin stopped, but didn’t look back at his former master.

“I would have never thought of that,” Adorin said, blankly. “It is a good idea, though. Perhaps your true calling as a master should have been teaching people to be criminals. You would have been more skilled at it than medicine for sure.”

He stepped through the exit and grabbed the cast iron handle.

“How dare you speak to me like that, you mud—”

Adorin slammed the door shut behind him and continued walking, muffled sounds of cursing echoing from the walls.

That should have felt better than it did, but there was a hollowness to it all. He was still Tauh’s slave, merely rented to the lord like a talyak herder would lease a beast of burden to a farmer.

Despite the heat and humidity, a coldness fell over him. When this was over, Tauh would remember today, and he began having regrets.

He pushed open the door to the menagerie and walked around the stone wall to Ralk’s pen. The door was open, and Vicco was sitting next to the G’yel’s head as he snored.

The captain glanced upward, his eyes partially glossed over as he frowned. That was the same hopelessness that seemed to take up permanent residence on Adorin’s features as well. There was no plan, no hope, no viable way out.

“How is he?” Adorin asked, kneeling to the other side of Ralk who was sleeping on his stomach. The bandages that wrapped his arm and midsection were stained in rust-colored blood from last night. He looked over at Ralk’s left hand to see the makeshift splint holding together. There wasn’t much to work with, but Vicco procured two small boards which Adorin used for support before binding the fingers and wrist.

The lord wanted him battle-ready again in ten days, but that wasn’t nearly enough time for shattered bones to heal. He could barely get them to set properly. As much as he hated using it, magic was the only way to fix this in time. At the very least, he could give the G’yel a fighting chance against his opponents if it didn’t heal.

As long as he didn’t use it directly on Ralk, he was safe, but that didn’t mean his body didn’t suffer the consequences. It took at least a day to recover his strength, and the nausea combined with dizziness would be unbearable for at least a few hours.

To heal internal damage, the magic needed to get inside of him. Adorin would enchant the G’yel’s next meal and try to hide the side effects. He’d been able to do that with Ralk’s treatments earlier in the week using very little. If he was careful, he could do it again, healing him bit by bit over the coming days.

If Ralk knew, he’d put a stop to it, and Adorin didn’t want to argue with him.

“Better than most humans would be with his injuries,” Vicco said, laying his hand on the G’yel’s head. He wasn’t wearing plate today, only a stiff uniform with the captain’s colors, red, black and gold.

The red coat he wore hid most of the white tunic underneath. Golden tassels hung from his broad shoulders, and a red and black captain’s braid looped down under his right arm. His pants were solid black, but what really stuck out was the cape. It was odd seeing the man so dressed up.

“A uniform?” Adorin asked. His face felt hot as he studied the man. It didn’t matter what the man wore, he always wore it well.

“I’m to attend the lord’s feast this afternoon,” Vicco muttered. “As much as I dread this, I need to know where we stand. Lord Yanth is rather unstable, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now.”

“That is an understatement,” Adorin said, as he untied the bandage around Ralk’s midsection. He began gently unwrapping from the back before tugging the bandage out from underneath the heavy G’yel. “He is a monster.”

“The man’s depravity is well-known throughout the city. Even the other lords keep him at a distance, well those that can.”

Adorin tugged the last of the bandage out from under Ralk before applying salve to the stitched up stab wound in his lower back. The area around the sutures was shaved to the skin. “I never see much of the other lords,” he said, stroking the stitches with his fingers. “I do not know who they are.”

“That’s because Yanth holds the most influence. His wife’s father is Lord Hammash, who controls all temples and churches, and the church makes the laws. Yanth controls infrastructure, airship travel, and building permits.”

Ralk stirred under Vicco’s hand as he continued to rub the G’yel’s head. “The coliseum is a relatively new monstrosity.”

“What about the others?” Adorin asked, pouring a bit of antiseptic solution on the sutures before leaning back.

“Lord Rhosh controls all commerce and trade, and Lord Thanadil enforces the law and controls the military. I was assigned to Yanth’s guard, but I ultimately answer to Thanadil’s charge when it comes to matters of military.”

Adorin began removing the bandage on Ralk’s arm, being careful not to wake him up.

“Surely the one who controls the military has more sway,” Adorin said, rubbing the salve over the stitched wound.

“You would think that, but no. You cannot run a military without funding, which comes from Rhosh. You cannot move or house a military without streets, airships or barracks, which Yanth controls.”

“What is to stop Thanadil from taking charge of the money and infrastructure?”

Vicco grunted. “Common sense.” He pulled his hand away from Ralk and stood, stretching his arms. “The only way a military coup has any chance of working would be if Thanadil and Rhosh worked together. But when most of your military is loyal to the church, he would roll the dice of a possible mutiny. Everything could quickly devolve into chaos.

“Plus, no lord will work with another. Hammash barely tolerates Yanth, and that is only because he is his son-in-law. But his daughter’s union with Yanth makes the powers uneven.” Vicco shook his head. “Everyone believes Nau is the most powerful city in the world, and that is true. But it rests on an unsteady fault line. If one section breaks, the entire city and all the colony islands will collapse under its weak foundation.”

Adorin held up a vial of antiseptic solution as though he were toasting. “Here’s to the collapse of Nau, then.”

“The web of influence is too wide. If that happens, the entire world will be set back centuries.”

The Alacian doused a bandage in the solution before wrapping Ralk’s arm. “That is fine with me. I grew up in the wilds of Alacotl, and our village relied on nothing.”

“And how did that end?” Vicco asked, crossing his arms.

Adorin grit his teeth but remained silent as he tied off the bandage. After a moment of contemplation, he sighed. “There has to be something better than this. If it falls, it will be deserved. Perhaps something better will take its place.”

“Or something worse,” the captain said. “I know you never went to school, but were you ever told stories of anything that occurred more than a thousand years ago?”

Adorin shook his head.

“Neither were we. All recorded human history only goes back eleven hundred years. It’s like we popped into existence with no explanation. The scriptures of Sa’itz claim that human society existed for tens of thousands of years, and as the world came together, all cultures merged into one. Instead of following the gods, humanity learned their secrets through cruel and terrible means.

“The god Sahn reforged the world to punish humanity. The ones that still worshipped were spared his hammer and lived on pieces of land untouched. But the majority that didn’t fell into the burning wastes.”

“Do you actually believe that nonsense?” Adorin asked, sitting back against the wall.

“I did,” Vicco said. “But even if I didn’t believe anymore, something terrible happened to the world. All you have to do is take a walk along the edge of any island to see the scars.”

Adorin lifted his hand. “What does this have to do with anything?”

“I don’t know. But maybe there’s something to the scripture. What if society was so depraved—so evil that the gods’ only course of action was to start over?” Adorin looked at the man and cocked his head to the side. “Okay, maybe that was an extreme example, but I’m just saying, there could be something worse if Nau were to fall, and then where would the world be?”

“Where do you draw the line with depravity?” Ralk asked, startling the other two. “Enslaving one another obviously does not go far enough, neither does making them fight to the death for entertainment. So surely sacrificing children for the same reason would approach the line to anger your ‘gods’, does it not?”

Ralk whined as he sat up, crossing his legs. Adorin grabbed more bandages before scooting up behind him.

“How are you feeling?” Adorin asked, reaching around his waist for the other end of the cloth, but stopped as Ralk caught one of his hands.

“Better,” he said, slipping his fingers in between Adorin’s. “I survived.”

“You did.” The man leaned in and embraced him with his other arm. “I hated watching it.”

Vicco took a few steps over to Ralk before sitting in front of him.

“I’m glad you lived,” he said, resting a hand on the G’yel’s knee. “I couldn’t stay because I had other matters to attend.” His eyes narrowed on Ralk’s. “But what I did see was the sloppiest swordsmanship. Where the hell was your head?”

Ralk grunted and frowned. “Those men…” He trailed off and cleared his throat. “I will need more training, but not in ways of combat.”

“I saw your eyes,” Adorin said as he resumed wrapping the bandage around Ralk’s trunk. “You felt something for them.”

“It nearly cost my life, Adorin.” Ralk swallowed and glanced back at the smaller man. “Something is wrong with me. I have never thought twice about taking a human’s life, but now when it could mean my survival, I am second-guessing every step.”

“Never? I remember you thinking twice about taking my life. It means you are not a monster,” Adorin said as he tied off the bandage. “It means you are a person, not a beast.”

Ralk turned and grabbed Adorin by the arm with his right hand. “I have to be a monster. I do not want you watching me fight anymore.”

“No,” the Alacian jerked away. “No. You will not.” He looked over at Vicco. “If you fear for your life, then flee, but I will gladly die with him being a person rather than a monster.”

Vicco clicked his tongue. “You make it sounds like I want him to kill children, but there’s no—”

“There is always a choice,” Adorin cut in. “This has to be illegal, right? Are you not a man of the law?”

“Yes,” Vicco muttered through his teeth. “I am a man who enforces the law, but those laws are written by the church. That child was the son of a whore. Prostitution is illegal, and the boy was illegitimate. The one who actually broke the law was Yanth for not putting the child to death immediately and consecrating his corpse. But that obviously doesn’t matter, considering his marriage to Hammash’s daughter. Do you see how incredibly messed up everything is?” Vicco’s voice rose the angrier he got. “Nothing is as easy as you seem to think. Some laws are not those of common sense, but of interpreted religious dogma.”

“And knowing this, you still choose to serve it,” Adorin’s voice rose to match the other man’s. “You are a living contradiction, Vicco. You enforce laws that would have you yourself killed.”

“Stop,” Ralk said, holding his good hand up. “Both of you. Ne’ak comes first, always. If it means I must kill, then so be it. Neither of you can make that decision for me.”

The three sat in silence for a minute, neither one looking at the other. Ralk shifted away from Adorin and turned to lean against the wall.

“I am alive,” the G’yel said with a grin. “Surviving such a battle fills me with vigor, and I do believe you made a promise to me, Adorin.”

The G’yel had an interesting way of changing the subject. Vicco turned and cocked an eyebrow at the way he spoke.

“I—I did, yes.” The man’s stomach fluttered as he thought back to two nights ago. “And—and we will, when you are well.”

“You will what?” the captain asked, his tone rising with worry.

Ralk turned to Vicco and grinned, his sharp teeth glistening. “Mate.”

“Absolutely not,” the man shouted before pushing himself to his feet. “That is where I draw the line, Ralk.”

“And why is that?” the G’yel asked, unfazed by Vicco’s reaction.

“Because I—” He glanced down at the nervous Alacian. “This is too soon.”

Ralk chuckled. “And when would it not be too soon?”

“When the wastelands freeze.”

The two glared at one another in silence before Adorin spoke. “I made a promise, and I will not take that back. Ralk could die during the next fight, and I want neither of us to leave this world without experiencing it at least once.”

“And you think I have experienced it?” Vicco asked. “I have waited this long.”

“Then why keep waiting?” Ralk’s question made the captain visibly shudder. “Three would be more fun.”

“Is there no end to your indecency, G’yel?”

Adorin held back laughter as he watched the man’s face turn an awful shade of red.

Ralk inhaled deeply through his nose, and Adorin knew what was happening. The G’yel pushed himself with his one hand to his feet and looked around the menagerie before his eyes landed squarely on Vicco. His claws tapped along the floor as he padded over to the man.

“Do you truly believe this is indecent?”

Vicco pushed the G’yel away. “Do not try what you did in that shed unless you want a broken nose to go with that hand.”

Ralk sniffed the air again, and his grin widened. “Give me your hand.”

“No,” Vicco said, looking away from the G’yel. Adorin expected the captain to walk away, but he didn’t.

Ralk grabbed Vicco’s right hand, and despite his struggles, he pulled it close to him, placing the palm against his chest.

“Feel,” he grunted, pressing the man’s hand harder into him. “It throbs fast for you.” Vicco rolled his eyes and looked away. “And so does this.” Adorin watched in horror as Ralk slid the man’s hand into his loincloth.

The noise Vicco made was a combination of a shriek and a furious grunt as Ralk burst into whooping laughter before letting him go.

“You disgusting beast,” the captain shouted, but Ralk continued laughing, all the while taking slight breaks to sniff the air.

“Your t’kirr gives you away every time,” he said, ducking as Vicco swung a fist at his face.

“Stop,” Adorin said, rushing over to push Ralk away. “You will open your wounds moving like that.”

“Good. Maybe he’ll finally bleed to death,” Vicco shouted before opening the pen door and stomping through it.

“You are leaving so soon?” Ralk asked as he stepped up to the barred entrance. Vicco didn’t look back as he continued walking toward the menagerie door. “Should you get lonely, give your fingers a nice sniff to remember me by.”

The captain was out of sight, but Adorin could hear a disgusted groan before the door opened and slammed shut.

“That was truly repulsive, Ralk,” Adorin said, glaring at the G’yel. “Now it will be harder to get him to agree to that.”

Ralk pointed to his nose and shook his head. “Not at all. If we had been alone and in a private place, I could have easily been on top of him and he would have let me.”

The man crossed his arms. “You are very cocky. Vicco would never do that.”

“We will see,” Ralk said, rubbing his lower back. He moved his hand to the front, which glistened red. “Do not be angry, but I think I may have opened the wound.”

“Gods,” Adorin mumbled, grabbing his surgical kit. He sat the kit on the ground next to the bedding before untying the bandage. “I just dressed you too. Be more careful from now on or this will never heal.”

“I am sorry,” Ralk said again. His tone was that of a child who was caught sticking his fingers in a cooling pie. He carefully lay across his bedding on his stomach. “At least I have a skilled healer to mend me.” He looked back at Adorin and grinned.

“Yes, yes.” Adorin poured antiseptic solution over the wound, and the smile on the G’yel’s face immediately turned to a toothy grimace as he took in large hisses of air. “Last time I had spring nettle. So remember this pain the next time you decide to overexert yourself.”

Ralk groaned low and loud as Adorin began hooking the surgical needle through his skin.

“Vicco is not a terrible person for wanting us all to survive,” Ralk said through his teeth as another whine left him.

“He should leave.” Adorin hooked the needle again, his hands trembling slightly as he tied off the suture before re-threading. “He is the only one of us that can.”

“Would you leave?” Ralk asked, still staring at Adorin with sad blue eyes.

“I would have never chosen to uphold unjust laws to begin with.” He tied off another suture before moving onto the next.

“You do not know his reasons or his past. But he made the decision to be a soldier. If you were him, would you run after befriending a slave and a G’yel?”

Adorin tied off the last suture before rubbing soothing ointment over the G’yel’s bare skin. Seeing the bald spot was odd. His flesh had a grayish color to it and was slightly wrinkled. The man wondered if Ralk would look terrifying or hilarious without fur.

“I suppose I would stay,” he said. “Sit up slowly so I can dress you.”

Ralk sat in the position he was in earlier, his back to Adorin.

“You seem to think this is easier for him, but that is not what I see. He suffers just as we do.”

“I know he does.” The man wrapped the bandage around Ralk until his midsection was covered. “I can feel it. I do not know why I am so angry.”

“Because you want him to save us.” Adorin tied off the bandage and froze before pulling away. Ralk turned to look at him. “Do you believe he has that power?”

“I did,” the man replied, wiping an eye with the base of his palm. “Until last night.”

“I do not know what the answer is going forward, but I do know that if I were in Vicco’s position, I would struggle as he does.” Ralk lifted his right hand and stroked Adorin’s cheek. “I want to be with you both, and I will be. Vicco will not need much prodding, especially since he also wants to be with you. We have needs, and we can only repress them for so long.”

The man felt a familiar twisting in his stomach as he thought about the fantasies he’d been having. They had become more vivid last night during sleep, so much so that he even felt Ralk. He felt pain as if it were really happening. Adorin desired to feel that again, but Ralk would be too injured for at least a few days if he stuck to the plan.

However, he could heal faster. If he wanted the G’yel better by tomorrow, he would have to give more.

Adorin pondered it for a moment, but he barely needed that long to consider. The temporary pain and lack of strength would be worth the reward. Remembering something he overheard from the kitchen last night, he got an idea.

“It is predicted to rain tomorrow afternoon.” He couldn’t contain the smile as his thoughts went crazy. “We should all go for a walk.”

“In the rain?” The G’yel scratched his head.

“Yes,” Adorin said. “We will get caught in the rain, like last time. You will accidentally fall into the mud and I will panic and tell Vicco we must get you cleaned or you could get an infection.”

“I think I see where you are going with this,” Ralk said, his face brightening.

“The coliseum is too far, so we will have to make a stop at Vicco’s house.” His grin got more devilish as he continued. “And of course, we will need to undress.”

Ralk laughed. “Where is this coming from? You are more devious than I,” he said. “But what if it does not rain? And of course, what of my wounds? I cannot be careful in the heat of the moment.”

“I will make sure the wound stays closed, and the weather…” He looked up at the ceiling as he thought. “I am sure Aldui would give me some of his lidoberry sauce. It is dark red. We can bring it along in a bag, and you can spread it on your bandages while he is distracted. An open wound is serious enough to stop at his house first before walking all the way back here.”

“Lidoberries have a distinct smell,” Ralk said. “And so does blood. I do not think this will work.”

“Humans do not have sensitive noses like you. So maybe he will not notice if I keep him at a distance.”

Ralk snorted. “It will be harder to get his clothes off.”

“Let me handle that.”

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