The Mind’s Armor – Chapter 24

Even with the support of a Pact Spirit, there are beatings that a body can only partially endure. In the wake of trauma, recovery requires rest. A Pact Spirit won’t knock their partner out during a battle, or while danger is imminent, but afterwards, when it’s safe, they won’t do anything to keep the Pact Warrior on their feet either.

Dae knew that. She was familiar with the sort of post-battle coma that accompanied serious injuries from direct and repeated personal experience. The one bright side to the period of extended helplessness was that Kirios was able to share some of his magic with her while she slept. He was able to allow slightly more of his power to flow through her while she slept than he could while she was awake, though it was still only a trickle compared to the raging current they drew on in their transformed state.

Among other benefits, the small drops of power that Kirios fed her allowed her to heal quicker and more thoroughly than an unbonded human, elf or dwarf could manage. “Quicker” however was very relative.

“You don’t look half as bad as you should feel,” Kael said from a fat, comfortable chair beside Dae’s recovery bed.

“Comes from all that clean leaving I do,” Dae said and blinked her eyes open. As a Pact Warrior she had a private room, but certainly not a lavish one. The bed she lay on looked like it had been in use for the better part of half a century. On the bright side, the sheets had been washed at least once in that time period, which was better than her usual flops could manage.

The Duke’s generosity was limited to the projecting the appearance of gratitude more than the pricier substance of it. Dae was neither surprised nor disappointed. She’d slept on finer sheets in her life and she’s slept in places she didn’t care to (or in some cases have the capacity to) remember. A private room was better than the shallow grave she’d anticipated resting in.

Glancing at herself under the covers, Dae noticed she was still in her traveling clothes. Despite the violence of the encounter with the Berserker, her mundane clothing showed little sign of the blows she’d taken. Lifting the top of her shirt up from her chest, Dae saw that the same couldn’t be said of her torso. Her body wasn’t literally one giant bruise but the black and blues were winning the war for real estate on her torso over her normally lightish brown tone.

Testing her lungs with an experimental breath yielded the sort of pain that said she’d either badly bruised or mildly fractured a few ribs. Flexing a few muscles, she could still feel pain everywhere down to her toes which was reassuring after the beating she took. Pact Spirits could compensate for a lot of things but full paralysis was more than even an experienced Pact Warrior wanted to contend with.

Dae tried to sit up and felt a stabbing pain scream up her leg.

“The Chirgeon said you broke your leg,” Kael said without looking away from the stack of reports he was reading. The slight smile on his face betrayed the joy he felt at getting to mention that after she discovered it for herself.

Dae indulged in some choice cursing before adding “did she leave any other gems of wisdom?”

“Yeah,” Kael said. “She splinted you up. Said to stay off it for a few weeks. It was Gunnelle though so she knows you. Said when you don’t stay off it, you can hop off to hell on stick because, and I quote here, ‘she’s not going to fix your hide up again if you’re going to keep breaking it like that’, unquote.”

“Wonderful,” Dae said. “I’m gonna have to hobble over to Hentel’s place when we get back to Nath and pick up a keg for her.”

“Hentel’s?” Kael said. “You never get the good stuff for me!”

“You should try being useful sometime,” Dae said.

“This is the thanks I get for guarding you in your hours of weakness?” Kael asked.

“You got my coin pouch,” Dae said, not bothering to check if it was still on her. “That should have covered the first hour. How long have I been out and why are you still here?”

“You’ve been out for the better part of a day and I’m here because of the Commander’s orders,” Kael said. “Seems the Duke was impressed with how you jumped in on that Berserker. Wanted you properly taken care of.”

“And I’m still alive?” Dae asked.

“Through no fault of your own, yes,” Kael said.

“What kind of line did they sell the Duke?” Dae asked.

“What do you mean?” Kael asked.

“About the Berserker,” Dae said. “You were in position to see it. You know I didn’t have a choice there.”

“There’s always a choice Kor,” Kael said. “From where I was sitting there was plenty of fodder you could have thrown at that monster to slow him down.”

“Aside from the Duke, there wasn’t anyone else on that mountain that had a better shot at surviving that Berserker than I did,” Dae said.

“Didn’t look like your shot was all that great really,” Kael said. “Might have been a bit better if you’d tripped him up with a soldier or two.”

“Might have been a bit better if another Pact Warrior had helped out,” Dae said, frowning.

“You’re too beat up to be that naive Kor,” Kael said.

“Didn’t say I was planning that they would,” Dae said. “Just pointing out that March’s fine tradition of courageous service is looking a little yellow these days.”

“Can’t say I mind yellow,” Kael said. “Best gold we get paid’s got a nice yellow tint to it, and with the combat bonus on this little outing, we stand to gain a hefty pile of it.”

“Huh,” Dae said, a half formed thought bubbling up into her mind.

“Aww, we were having a nice little conversation here and then you had to go and start thinking, didn’t you?” Kael asked.

“Just wondering about something,” Dae said.

“Stop,” Kael said. “Don’t wonder about anything. The Commander keeps ordering me to keep you out of people’s hair. You’ve got a busted leg now. Take that as a clue and stop stirring up a nest of trouble.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Dae said. “Just trying to figure out which got hurt more in the attack; the Duke or his purse.”

“From how he looked after the fight?” Kael said. “I’d say his purse had to hurt at least a dozen times worse than he did.”

“Interesting, don’t you think?” Dae said. “How many did we lose?”

“A couple dozen,” Kael said. “Nobody special though.”

“They’re all special Kael,” Dae said. “Doesn’t matter if you don’t believe that either. You know the commander will sell it like that to the Duke.”

“That true I suppose,” Kael said. “Death benefits for the ‘best and brightest among us’. March’s coffers should be filled to overflowing after this.”

“Doesn’t seem like the kind of expedition the Duke should feel happy about financing,” Dae said, the pieces of her idea falling into place as she spoke. “What’s he been up to since the battle? And where are we?”

“We made it to Pell’s Gate while you were snoozing away,” Kael said. “Turns out Lorenzo’s family got in just after us. The Duke’s been with them ever since.”

“That must have been a fun meeting,” Dae said.

“They’re swearing at him through a translator,” Kael said.

“How long have they been talking?” Dae asked.

“A few hours now,” Kael said. “Probably get blind drunk and wake up best friends tomorrow.”

“Their son’s dead,” Dae said.

“You or I might care about that, well, ok, you might, but these are Inchesso nobles,” Kael said. “They’re not just foreign, they’re alien.”

Dae snorted. The Inchesso were no more alien than anyone else. Plenty of them worshipped the same golden coins that owned Kael’s soul and plenty of them had the same naive noble ideals that Dae had held dear in her youth. Different features, different colors, different races and different languages, but otherwise so very similar to their Gallagrin neighbors than you could barely squeeze a sheet of paper edgewise through the gap that separated them. Dae knew exactly how deaf Kael’s ears were to any explanation of that so she didn’t bother fighting him on it. Instead decided to use Kael’s views against him.

“So the Duke is fraternizing with aliens who hate him and paying out a wagon load of gold, and managed to stumble into the one fight that might make it look like he was legitimately in trouble.” Dae said.

“Hasn’t been his week I guess,” Kael said.

“Yeah, guys like him are known for bungling things so badly that they cause an international incident and wind up paying in blood and gold to fix it,” Dae said.

“I don’t like what you’re insinuating there,” Kael said. “You make it sounds like the Duke doing the right thing was wrong somehow.”

“Nah, I’m sure this was all about doing the right thing,” Dae said. “The Duke is such a generous and giving sort of fellow.”

“Always has been when it comes to keeping us flush,” Kael said. “And anyways, he’s not even the one who caused the international incident.”

“Is there a better candidate?” Dae asked.

“Your friend their Biago? Yeah well, his story got out, so now everybody knows the Queen’s involved with this,” Kael said.

Dae closed her eyes and sighed. She wanted to leave Biago outside the March’s control but her own option had been to put him Kael’s charge and as soon as the lucrative recall order had arrived, Kael had dragged Biago back to the barracks and made him repeat his story before locking the Inchesso assassin in chains in the March’s prison.

“The Queen’s not…” Dae started to say but Kael cut her off.

“..not behind this,” he finished for her. “Yeah, you made a great argument in favor of that. Problem is, no one’s heard it and even if they did, they’re happier thinking about the Queen two timing the King.”

“That’s idiotic,” Dae said, her words hotter than she meant them to be, especially since she knew Kael’s words were true. She’d said something similar to him herself before they left Nath. Part of her spirit still rebelled at the notion though. “She sold herself for Gallagrin. We just celebrated the anniversary of her killing her own father.”

“That was six years ago,” Kael said. “No royal heir in six years has plenty of people thinking the Consort from Paxmer maybe isn’t “consorting” like he should. Or maybe he is and the Queen’s the problem. Whichever it is, if there’s a scandal to be had, people will just eat it up.”

“Do the Inchesso know about that rumor?” Dae asked.

“Who knows?” Kael asked. “And honestly, who cares? Let’s say the Queen did kill off one of her pages. What are they going to do about it? Inchesso’s got a Senate, so they don’t have anywhere near the power she does.”

“They’ll have enemies too, people who are all too happy to use any loss on their part to cut them down,” Dae said.

“Right, so what are they going to do? Send assassins after her?” Kael asked.

“She’s Pact Bound to Gallagrin,” Dae said. “Even Telli couldn’t stand against her in combat. No one in Gallagrin could. That’s what doesn’t make sense about any of this. With this kind of setup, someone would have to be planning a lethal strike against her, because she will certainly respond with lethal force of her own when she uproots the problem. But Telli’s not in a position to lay claim to Gallagrin’s Pact Seal and without that, any attack on her person will fail.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Kael put his papers down. “Even if all your crazy ideas are right, the Duke can’t be part of this.”

“I’m afraid that’s not correct,” Teo said as he glided into the room like he was skating on air. There was a renewed vigor to the vampire’s features, a vitality which Dae had never seen in him. A moment later she discovered its source as the Duke’s youngest son, slid into the room and closed and locked the door.

“The Queen is in terrible danger,” Ren said. “And my father is going to bring ruin to us all.”

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