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Drinking Is Bad For Your Health! (Part Deux)


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Continues on from Rotting From the Inside Out (Part 1)


“Have you ever been in love?

Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable.

It opens your chest and it opens up your heart

and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.”

– Neil Gaiman



Finding a comfortable position in which to sleep had proven impossible, though that alone was not the cause of Ely's fitful rest. After a few hours of fighting her blankets, she gave up, passing the time until dawn alternately reading, and writing in her journal. She'd been thankful to have the room to herself under the circumstances; the last person she'd shared with having been reassigned to new duties with new quarters. The privacy was a blessing.


As soon as it was light enough to qualify as 'morning', she'd taken herself back to the infirmary. Common sense dictated that it would be as well to get the unpleasantness out of the way, and further her enquiries in one fell swoop. Which was how she found herself perched on the well scrubbed, wooden surface of a heavy treatment table while the CMO checked over her wound with diligent fingers. Air hissed through Ely's clenched teeth every few seconds. The man was being gentle, to give him his due, but the flesh was tender and every touch hurt.


"It'll do," Engerran muttered absently, reaching for fresh cloth to replace her binding. "Stand up so I can wrap properly." He waited until she found her balance and began to pass the cloth around her middle, angling it to take in the upper curve of her hip and then pulling it taught. "It's a minor miracle that you haven't re-opened it. Two of the others who were injured in that attack were back in here before the day was done yesterday."


She barked a short laugh at that. Soldiers of any stripe didn't make good patients but she was tempted to lay odds those men had been Infantry. Sitting around doing nothing would be sending them all up the walls. The medic fastened off his work, peered into her face and spoke knowingly, "Hmmm, sleep proving elusive, is it? Or did you overdo things? Likely both given your pallor. Make sure you have a good meal soon. It'll help."


"Probably both, as you say," Ely allowed, sighing as she pulled her shirt back on. "There was a lot happening."


"Including those young cavalrymen you sent me, no doubt. That was a smart call. The corenroot. How did you come to know the signs?"


"It's a long story, sir, one I prefer not to talk about... if it's all the same to you," she replied as politely as she could. "But there was more than corenroot in there to cause so strong a reaction. Were you able to find out more? Did they both survive?"


"Thanks to your quick thinking, one of them did. The other didn't see the sunrise. I'm still running tests but I suspect they took different things. Your dead man had all the signs of grey fennel. You know about...yes, I see you do. You're an interesting young woman!" Engerran growled at her, looking her over with undisguised, though purely academic, interest. Ely offered no explanation. "Hmmpphh, well... the lad with the nose bleed... I'm certain he'd ingested sheepstongue root too."


"I suspected something along those lines, sir. Did he say where they'd been drinking?" The man nodded and she considered him seriously for a moment before deciding to take him into her confidence. If he'd been involved, he wouldn't be confirming her own educated guesses. "May I speak freely, sir?"




Minutes later, Ely exited the building and set off on a twisting, complicated route through the city towards the infantry encampment, ensuring to the best of her ability that nobody was following her. There was no way to know whether any suspicion had attached itself to her or not during yesterday's events. She was taking no chances.


Trusting Engerran had been a calculated risk but one that had proven invaluable. Not only did she have the next location to check but, having shared her own information along with a brief assessment of the situation, the medic had further justified her decision by mentioning the matter of escalating death and disappearance tolls over the previous weeks. He'd elaborated substantially on the overheard conversation of the previous day too and the figures had chilled Ely's blood.


The man had then agreed, albeit reluctantly, to leave matters in her hands for the time being. It had taken some fast talking but by the end, he'd seen the difficulties intrinsic to approaching anyone else with their combined findings. Compelling as they were, if this was an internal issue such as a leadership coup rather than an external attack, anyone along the chain of command could be involved. Exposing their own knowledge could mean anything from being hailed as saviours to being killed for their trouble. Neither of them wanted to add themselves to the current statistics.


Now, she needed to find out who had taken on Sergeant al'Darin's responsibility for B Company. He'd been her immediate superior after all, and someone must have been assigned his workload. At least temporarily. Whatever was going on, it was dangerous, and that meant she needed Infantry back up. But she couldn't just go straight to her own Company. They'd be willing to pitch in alright, but if she circumvented authority completely and anything went wrong... it wasn't worth thinking about...so a Sergeant it would have to be.




Ely's energy was flagging by the time she got to the mass of tents belonging to the Infantry, causing her to halt and catch her breath. She grimaced in disgust. The effort it was going to take to get back on form would be ridiculous. She was just about to continue on her way when three familiar figures made a beeline straight towards her.


"Ely!" the cry issued from Tris as she came running towards the older woman, a delighted smile on her face. Ely in return slung an arm companionably around her shoulder and ruffled her hair. 


"Well, short stuff, are you keeping Saira and Danus busy?" Ely grinned down at the girl. "I swear you've grown in the last few weeks."


"That she is and that she has," Saira's voice responded. "And now she has training. Off with you, kid." Tris grumbled, extracted a promise of a proper visit later, and hugged Ely briefly before racing off in the direction of the training yard. Left alone, the adults swapped news, bringing Ely up-to-date with recent happenings and grilling her on events at the Tracker Lodge. Saira and Danus may have been assigned to a different Company all those months ago, but bonds forged in the fire of basic training still held between them. If not friendship, then a certain kind of respect and camaraderie existed. Without these two, Ely wouldn't have progressed her sword skills so quickly. 


"You have to get better, Ely, and come back to duty," Saira was complaining loudly a few moments later, only a twinkle in her eyes indicating that she was teasing her friend. "Danus is cheating worse than ever without you here to call him on his conniving ways. Folks have actually refused to bet at all until you come back! We need you here with that blunt tongue to keep him straight."


Ely cuffed Danus across the shoulder, "Danus, I stood surety for you after that last fiasco. The Light blind you, if you make a liar out of me I'll kick you round the Citadel until you beg for mercy!"


"Pah! to that. Everyone knows how honest you are, they wouldn't blame you for my failings! By the by, we should all have a drink together soon," Danus said, his tone becoming solemn, "toast our fallen comrades..."


"We will," Ely replied agreeably. "Speaking of the fallen, tell me who's in charge of my Company now and where to find them?"


"A Sergeant Roald," Saira informed her. "You'll find him in that tent right behind you, as it happens."


The trio took their leave of each other soon after, and Ely stretched, in an attempt to ease her shoulder muscles before turning to look at the tent Saira had indicated. There was nothing particularly special about it, except for the people coming and going with official looking paperwork and files. And the sheer size of the thing. Definitely the Company HQ. She took the few steps to the entrance, pushing aside the heavy canvas flap, and found a clerk seated just inside.


"Sergeant Roald?" she queried. The clerk indicated an open doorway opposite his desk, and answered without even looking up, "That room there." Rolling her eyes at the dismissive tone, she strode across the tent into the other partitioned room, crossing the floor to a broad desk, and came to a dead stop...


...face to face with Arinth. A familiar prickle of awareness crawled down her spine while she took in the scene in confusion. What was he doing here? Her gaze landed on the piles of paperwork first. Then she noted the folder in his hand that he'd clearly been reading. And realised how at home he looked. Behind the desk. As if it was his desk.


Truth hit like a punch to the gut, air leaving her lungs in a silent whoosh. He'd never said a word. But he'd had the gall to question her veracity?


Rage came. It burned through her, clearing all before it, blowing all thought of the mission out of her head. Dark eyes blazed like peat fires against the pallor of her complexion as she glared at the man before her. Had she been right after all? Had this been a stupid wager? A game with her as the target? She couldn't breathe. The urge to hit something was powerful. And growing. Her fists curled into tight balls, tension holding her rigid.


Time stretched, but finally she pulled herself together long enough to look away, staring fixedly at a random spot on the wall behind him while she snapped to attention and threw off a carefully precise salute. She wanted to spin on her heel, to get out of his vicinity, but found she couldn't take the necessary steps. If she walked out now, she'd be repeating the action she'd berated him over. That hypocrisy wasn't something she could bring herself to enact. 




The voice pulled her; held her.


"Sir," the word was toneless. Anyone looking at Ely in that moment would have seen nothing but a respectful, attentive soldier. Nothing until they noticed her piercing glance. The blaze was banked, but there was no mistaking that it burned still.



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