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  1. 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?" -x-x-x-x-x-x- 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. -x-x-x-x-x-x- 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. "Ely..." 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.
  2. Hope is the thing with feathers —That perches in the soul —And sings the tune without the words —And never stops at all — A soft groan issued from somewhere under the pristine sheets as Elynde attempted to right herself. Choice words, interspersed with more groans as well as a considerable amount of squirming, followed. Her whole body felt as if it had been lying in the same position for days which, in reality, it had because they had to let her back heal. Any pressure at all on the wound risked re-opening it. Still, whomever had thought this brick she'd been stuck on was deserving of the name bed, needed their head examined. In truth, she was still in a considerable amount of pain but, for the first time, her head was entirely clear and her boredom outstripped her lack of energy. She was determined to get up. The only problem with fulfilling that wish, was that her limbs were aching and stiff, and sitting up was causing a multitude of smaller aches to make themselves known. With a little perseverance, or sheer bloody mindedness as her mother would have said, Ely eventually managed to roll onto her side and push herself up enough to swing her legs over the edge of the bed. Upright at last, she placed her bare feet on the blessedly cold, stone-flagged floor and breathed slowly, recovering from the exertion. She could feel the skin along the wound pulling but, thankfully, it seemed to have knit enough that it wasn't going to pull apart. She wasn't quite sure how many days had passed since their return to the Citadel. She'd spent most of it in a haze, probably due to those herbal concoctions the Sage had provided that the medics kept dosing her with. Her memories of being at the Tracker Lodge were practically non existent after being hit. A mild fever brought on by whatever had been on the blade that Light forsaken creature had cut her with, so the medic said. "Trollocs," she shuddered at the idea, closing her eyes briefly against the memory of remembered pain. She'd felt the skin slicing, the metal biting into muscle and tissue. The burning had been agony. If it hadn't been for the Sages.... well, no point following that line of thought. It hadn't been her time and that was that. It troubled her more than she liked though; the idea of dying alone, far from home and her beloved ocean, with nobody to miss her passing. She shook herself, and muttered under her breath, "You signed up for it, girl. Wanted to make your mark on the world, didn't you? Do something important. There's always a price, a trade off. You knew that going in. You made that choice. Too late for what ifs now." Ely stood with care, allowing her legs to take her full weight bit by bit until she was sure she could stand, and looked about for clothing. She could feel the soft waft of air across her back where the shift she was clad in had been cut from hem to neck. The medic had explained it was important to allow air to get to the wound for the first few days to aid in faster healing. Once it had closed, they'd bound her midriff tightly to prevent infection. They seemed to know what they were doing, these healers, but she was blasted well not going to be seen walking around like this. She located her own belongings on a chair behind the door and set about making herself respectable. The process of dressing without causing herself too much pain took most of her concentration which meant it was a few minutes before the low voices outside the room impinged on her awareness. The speakers couldn't see her, tucked behind the door as she was. "...I told you, that's another 5 come in...to be reported he said....too many now...," the first voice sounded Cairhienin and Ely leaned enough to see round the door before ducking back. Two men, assistants most likely, had their heads together in a way that, if they'd only realised it, screamed secrecy to anyone watching. "6 dead last week, another 8 this week. Medics reckon it's a bad batch. Fermenting gone wrong." A second man chimed in trying to sound knowledgeable. The first replied with something Ely couldn't quite make out and their voices began to fade away as footsteps moved into another room. Something about that conversation wasn't right and she tried to pinpoint what as she tugged her shirt over her head. It was forgotten moments later, however, as tightening her belt caused a wince just as the medic, an older man whom she'd seen yesterday, appeared in the doorway. He insisted brusquely on checking her wound and rebinding it with a fresh dressing before agreeing she was well enough to go back to her own quarters. "But you come back if that wound opens up and nothing too strenuous for the time being. You're excused duty until I say otherwise," he gave her a hard stare to drive home that he was serious so Ely nodded hasty compliance. "How many days have I been here?" Ely interjected when he paused, only to have him look her over carefully. "Days is it? Nay, lass. You've been in here almost 3 weeks." Ely blinked. "Did your visitors not tell you?" Another blink. "Visitors? More than one? Who else would have cared enough to check? The Sergeant? No...no...he died, I saw him." She frowned, and her confused thoughts must have shown on her face, as the medic spoke again. "A young girl, two or three times. And a man, infantry I'd say. Been here regular like. Looked fairly beaten up himself. Late on in the day." He nodded absently to himself, "You might have been asleep at that. Only been with us properly these past few days. Nasty fever so it was. Now, you can do some light training if you feel up to it, but don't be a cork brained idiot and overdo it, you'll just end up back in here. You can get a fresh dressing each morning." With that he bustled off to tend his next patient, leaving Ely with one name and a very particular pair of eyes burning into her brain. She remembered Tris visiting. The earlier visits were rather blurry but yesterday's... that wasn't one she was likely to forget. The kid had described Arinth's actions with relish and no small amount of glee, making him sound like some kind of avenging saviour. It wasn't far off the mark in Ely's estimation. Hearing of the severity of the injuries he'd taken and fought through, had caused a very strange sensation in her stomach and when Tris spoke of him carrying her into the Lodge, the flash of heat had taken her voice for several minutes. She'd been half scared to ask how he was but Tris volunteered the information that the Sage, Aislyn, had finally put her foot down and insisted Arinth be treated in case his broken ribs had punctured a lung. Ely knew she couldn't afford to read anything into it. The man, however impressive, was only doing what any member of the infantry would do for another. What any Bander would do for another. That's all it was. Wasn't it? But if that's all then why come to visit, and so often...and why not when she was awake? His behaviour spoke of someone who didn't want their actions known. "Or who wasn't sure of their welcome..." her inner voice pointed out insidiously. Her common sense reasserted itself. "Or maybe he was just working late duty and he visited all of the injured soldiers!" Exasperated by the immediate feeling of disappointment that thought engendered, Ely shoved her thick fall of hair out of her face, and began making her way out of the building that was reserved for the most serious cases. She walked haltingly past the other general medical and triage tents, and on into the city proper. The streets got busier as she went and she kept to the very edges of the thoroughfares, avoiding any bumps or collisions as best she could on her slow progress. She had a destination in mind, having made Nowal's inn a regular haunt since first finding it. The food was good, the inn clean and the ale met Ely's high standards. Food was the first priority. She was as weak as a day old kitten. Then...then she had some people to thank and some questions to ask.
  3. With a bounce in his step, Arkin trotted towards the Citadel after a day of scouting out the surrounding area and more recently, exercising horses with his mates. He had settled into the Band quite well, his heart and mind still quite unused to settling anywhere. He had friends now that he could actually get attached to without having to explain why he would be leaving the next day Sending a grin over his shoulder to Arinth, who was plodding along behind him, Arkin began to pull out the wraps he kept in his pocket for scouting shifts. He had refined his walking peddler's wagon appearance, stripping it down to the bare essentials for his sentimental collector's mind, but he still had a fair amount more colour and noise than was a good idea to be shifty with. As an experienced thief in his early life, Arkin was quite skilled at ensuring that his stealth was complete, that no-one would hear him when he approached from around the corner, but in the colourful foregates and big cities that he was used to, Arkin had not had to make use of camouflague. And so, he had begun to re-invent his old stealth systems. When he'd first begun to wear bells, Arkin had immediately developed wraps that he could don quickly to dim their bright tinkling, and now he used those wraps, dyed in the colours of the forest. One covered part of his hair as a bandanna, successfully holding his bells silently in place. As for the colour on his arms and legs, Arkin had wraps that wound up his trousers, and his best invention to date, a coat. He had dyed the inside of his coat as camouflague, and sewn the pockets into both sides, so all he need do for perfect camouflague, was to turn his bright coat inside out and quite literally wrap up. Arkin was broken from his ritual preparations by a large mound of fruit that caught his eye, piled carelessly beneath a tree. Looking around for an owner and seeing none, Arkin flitted over and gave a sniff. Yep, the fruit was off, and it smelt quite bad, but only if you breathed through your mouth. Turning and shrugging at his friends, Arkin pulled out a knife and gave a swift cut to a mango that was within arm's reach. A grin taking over his features, Arkin spun to the men with him and felt a glint of mischeivous glee enter his eye. "Ok, we can't just leave this stuff here. We have to do something with it."
  4. Arinth was tired. He was hungry. He was sweaty. His wounds were not yet fully healed and with each step they felt like they were going to rip wide open again. He was miserable and it put him in a bad mood. To make things worse, they had promoted him to Sergeant after the incidents in Tanchico. The last thing he wanted was more work to do. The area they marched through was wooded. They had passed the last town the day before and according to the scouts it would be several more days before they reached the next town. They were following a stream. It was calm, and peaceful and boring. He walked in silence as memories flashed one after another. His most recent skirmish with the Seanchan where he had run his sword through a man and watched the life bleed out of his eyes was his first thought. Time had failed to fade earlier memories. The battle with the Aiel where he had seen friends and soldiers die by the scores against the Aiel and their spears came vividly back next. Hed come close to losing an eye that day. He felt the scar under his left eye. He had turned at the last moment. Songs and training, drinking and barfights all swarmed around him. He saw happy faces and angry faces from his foes and friends alike. Someone spoke at his side. Arinth blinked. For a moment he thought it was Daruun but that man had disappeared years before. In any case they were stopping to make camp. He glanced at the sun and realized it was getting late in the day. He took a drink of his water and forced down a gulp. He grimaced at the reminder that he was out of alcohol and there was no tavern nearby for even one mug of ale. He heard voices and looked around to see what was going on. The trees and the stream all looked the same to him. He had no idea where exactly they were, just that it was some place between Tanchico and the Citadel. He left the maps to likes of Arkin and the scouts. They knew how to do their job. He followed the voices until he found two soldiers arguing. “What is going on here?” He demanded with a scowl. The two men stopped talking and regarded him. Neither looked too pleased to see him. They had known him when he was a private which made it harder to accept his authority but that was their problem not his. “We found tinkers down by the stream.” The first said and spat. “Its too late in the evening to find another place to make camp.” The second responded. “I don't want to camp next to tinkers. They are thieves and liars.” The first cut in. Arinth raised his hand to silence them. “We aren't saints ourselves. The fact remains that we have to make camp, there is no point in fighting over that. If you don't want to sleep next to them, you can stay up all night.” That silenced the two men, who left to see that the march was called to a halt and camp made. Arinth looked around. He would have to find Arkin and see if the man knew anything about these Tinkers or just go and meet them himself.
  5. Arkin briefly considered just leaving Arinth a message and heading straight to the tavern, but friendly courtesy prevailed, so he let himself into Arinth's tent instead. He wasn't there-maybe on the training grounds or doing whatever it was that Infants did with their spare time. Arkin himself had just got off duty training some newer Scouts. They were all a bit rubbish when they started off. He'd spent the last two hours lying in a tree and singing, yelling out the names of prospective Scouts as they attempted to sneak up on him. A few had managed to disguise their identities well enough that he just had to point at them, and call out, "Ooh, very good. Behind the beech tree." The two hours before that, he had been sitting in a different tree wearing his reversed coat and his bandana, occasionally crawling over to another tree or ghosting behind the Scouts who were looking for him. Only one of them had found him. He had high hopes for that kid. Arkin understood that he was very good at vanishing-he was almost a graduation challenge; Scouts were allowed out on real patrols once they had found Arkin really attempting to hide from them-but he had been hoping for a higher success rate.They weren't completely new and he'd been training them. They knew exactly what to look for to find him. But they'd get there. Maybe tomorrow. He really hoped he hadn't been that rubbish when he started. He remembered doing a similar exercise. He'd started ghosting the other scouts-in-training and picking their pockets instead of whatever the actual task had been. They hadn't appreciated it at the time, but his trainer had thought it was brilliant and moved him up to the next training bracket. Master Gabbon would have smacked him for ignoring orders and disarming his allies. But the Scout trainer had loved it. And now Arkin was helping to teach. When had that happened? When had any of this happened? Who had thought it was a good idea to put him in a position of responsibility? Well, whatever they'd been thinking, it had to have been worse for them to have Arinth a Sergeant. Arkin grinned to himself and had a drink from one of his flasks. That was yet another reason it was perfectly ok for him to be here rather than skipping the tent and heading to the tavern-he had plenty of drinks right here. And he was really keen for company more than he was for drinks right now. He'd prefer them both at the same time, but he could settle for one or the other for a while. From the trunk in his customary spot in Arinth's tent, Arkin could see the reports scattering Arinth's desk. Grinning to himself again, he took a longer swallow and swapped hands, getting to his feet and walking over to the desk. He picked up a paper and squinted at it for a moment. Miri and Arinth had done their best to help him learn his letters, and had succeeded, to a large extent, but Arkin was still fairly slow to read. He was working on it. After a bit of brain power, he registered that the report had something to do with infantry numbers in the third company and put it back down, the aim more to read the letters than get any information from them. Finally, there was the sound of footsteps outside. Arkin waited a moment for Arinth to actually near the tent-sometimes having scout ears was more annoying than it was useful.
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