Kyr was on his feet and moving to take Solan’s arm even before the broadcast ended, a little alarmed at how white Solan’s face had gone. Beside them Ceridwen looked as though she had been punched in the gut, her eyes wide with shock. At Kyr’s movement she snapped her gaze towards him and he saw her hand twitch towards her gun before she dropped her arm back against her side. Solan was still staring at the TV’s small, slightly out of colour screen, where the newsreader was nervously repeating what the General had said.
“Ceridwen,” Solan said after a moment, voice distant and almost distracted. “We need to get Kyr and Torin out of here before all hell breaks loose.”
“And you,” Kyr said. “No fucking way am I letting you stay here.”
Solan said nothing, only dragged his gaze away from the TV to look at Ceridwen. She looked back at him then reached out to shut the TV off in a jerky, convulsive movement. Colour had begun spreading across her cheeks in dusky red streaks, and Kyr caught the glitter of rage in her eyes as she turned towards them. He sensed Torin get up and a moment later he joined them, subtly placing himself between Kyr and Ceridwen.
“We’ll move you now,” Ceridwen said, her voice tightly controlled. “The reports will take a little while to spread, so we have some time. Best I can do is drop you off outside our lines with some supplies. After that you’re on your own.”
“It’s more than enough.” Torin’s shoulders relaxed slightly, though he didn’t move from his position. “For what it’s worth, I understand why this is such an insult, and a shock.”
Ceridwen gave him a tight smile. “No,” she said, “I don’t think you do.”
Kyr bristled, a little insulted on Torin’s behalf, but Torin stopped him from saying anything with a gentle hand on his arm, studying Ceridwen. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then said, “I can help you get him out.”
The sharp look Kyr gave him was mirrored almost in unison by Solan, but Ceridwen only arched an eyebrow slightly and Torin didn’t even twitch his gaze away from her. “All right,” Ceridwen said after a beat of silence. “And I’m supposed to believe you’re actually offering help, not attempting to get me captured too?”
“Lokan gave me the lives of my men a little while ago. I’d like to repay the favour, and I don’t...” He gestured towards the TV. “That’s fucking bullshit, war or not. You might not think a lot of me, but I do understand what they’ve done. And there’s still something I need to say to Lokan’s face.” He glanced at Kyr, but Kyr only frowned at him, puzzled and a little wary. Torin smiled at him and reached out to ruffle his hair before looking back at Ceridwen.
“You’re not suicidal, are you?” Ceridwen asked.
“Don’t be stupid. A suicide rush doesn’t benefit anyone. Accept my offer or take us outside your lines, it doesn’t really matter to me right now.”
“I think I understand why, fascination or not, you made Lokan nervous.” Ceridwen glanced towards the tent flap. “All right. Talk to me.”
“Send these two out.” Torin nodded to Kyr and Solan. “Have them fetch your truck. You think you can still control this army well enough to launch an attack?”
“Yeah, for now. I’m not the only one who’s going to be furious over this.”
“Why are we getting sent away?” Kyr demanded. “You don’t trust me?”
“Don’t start with me. Just do what I’m asking you to do, and trust me.” Torin took his face in both hands. “You can do that much still, can’t you?”
Kyr felt a shiver go up his spine and forced down the sudden powerful intuition that Torin didn’t expect to come back alive, suicide run comment or not. “Yeah. Tor...”
“Trust me. That’s all I’m asking. Now piss off. I’ll tell you what you need to do when you get back.”
“Fine. Dick.” Kyr gave him a quick, rough hug and let Solan loosely tie his hands behind his back again, taking a deep breath as they ducked out of the tent.
The Fae soldiers were grouped together in little huddles, and more than one broke off conversation as they passed, watching with cold eyes. He’d seen them in battle, but the rush of the fight had never afforded him the chance to actually study any of them; he’d been too busy just trying to survive and protect his teammates. Some of them looked barely any different from Solan himself, with their pointed eyes and narrow faces; but some looked like creatures straight out of a child’s storybook, or a nightmare. He saw something shuffle by in wet squelchy steps, its body covered in what looked like strips of seaweed; and further on, a small, slender woman with a pair of delicate purple butterfly wings folded neatly in against her back. None of the looks he saw were at all friendly, but no one approached them, which only made him wonder about Solan’s place here.
He stayed quiet until they reached the truck and he’d allowed Solan to push him into the back seat. Once the door was shut he wriggled his hands free of their bonds and leaned on the back of the driver’s seat until Solan slid into it and switched on the engine. “Solo. Do you... are you... Are you still my Solo?” It sounded pathetic said out loud and he winced, rolling his eyes at himself, but still waited for the answer.
Solan was silent for a few moments, his fingers curled tightly around the steering wheel. “No. I mean... it’s not possible. But if you’re asking if I still love you... Yeah, Kyr, I do.” He held up his hand, showing the silver ring around his finger. “But I’m not done here yet. So if you’re asking if I’m going to run off with you and go hide somewhere, like in Arian Mawr, then the answer’s no. You can leave; actually, you need to. You and Torin can go to my mother and she’ll protect you. I want her to. But I’m not going with you.”
“What’s so important here? You were dragged in against your will, weren’t you?”
“It’s complicated, Kyr. It got complicated.”
“So when exactly did you become a soldier?”
“I don’t know, about the same time you did?” Solan sighed. “Look, I don’t think this is the right time to be talking about it.”
“Funny, ‘cause I think it’s a perfect fucking time, since my commanding officer has apparently lost his goddamn mind and is going to throw his life away rescuing the enemy leader, who should have just had his fucking head blown off a long time ago.” He saw Solan’s eyes narrow in the rearview mirror and felt a flash of impotent rage. “He’s fucking brainwashed you or something.”
“Shut up, Kyr.” Solan put the truck in reverse and backed out of the spot, swinging it around to drive back towards Ceridwen’s tent. “Stop running your mouth for once in your life, because I don’t want to hear it.”
Kyr opened his mouth then shut it again, slumping back against his seat, suddenly too exhausted to continue the argument. He felt sick at the sense that this Solan was nothing like the Solan he remembered; and that if he hadn’t yet lost him to Lokan and the Fae, he would soon. He scrubbed a hand across his face and closed his eyes for a moment, wishing they could all go back to before this war, then sat up when Solan parked the truck in front of Ceridwen’s tent and got out, leaving the engine running.
“I’m sorry,” Solan said when he came around to open the door and give Kyr a hand out. “I’m really stressed and scared, and I’m sorry for taking it out on you.” He leaned his forehead against Kyr’s for a brief moment, making Kyr wish his hands were free to pull him into a hug, then stepped back and lead the way back into the tent.
Torin was leaning over a map with Ceridwen, tracing out a route for her, and barely acknowledged them when they entered. Kyr resisted the urge to pull him away and ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, glad just to get his hands freed and stretch.
“You two are coming with me,” Torin said without looking up. “Kyr, can I trust you?”
“I think this is bullshit.”
Torin glanced up and gave him half a smile. “Is that a yes?”
“Yeah. But you owe me big time. I’m talking dinner for life, doing my laundry kind of owing.” Kyr forced a smile he didn’t really feel. “And I think this is the dumbest thing you could ever do, so I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass too hard.”
“Noted.” Torin straightened up and looked at Ceridwen. “Everything clear?”
“Yes.” She rolled up the map and secured it with an elastic band. “We’ll roll out within half an hour.” She offered a hand. “Good luck, Lance-Corporal.”
Torin’s grin this time was a lot more natural. “Sergeant. I got promoted.” He took her hand and shook it, then turned to Kyr and Solan as Ceridwen ducked out of the tent. “We’re moving too. Solan, you drive, I’ll tell you where to go.”
“Where are we going?” Kyr asked as they let Solan herd them out of the tent and into the back of the truck. The camp was swiftly beginning to break up around them as the Fae soldiers readied themselves to march, the steady growl of multiple engines drowning out all other noise. “Don’t send me in blind, Tor.”
“We’re going to take a back route to camp and wait there until Ceridwen brings her army screaming down on the weak points I laid out for her.” Torin’s mouth twisted slightly and for a moment he looked sad and tired. “Not a great feeling, knowing you just sold out your own people.”
“Then why do it?” Kyr dropped his voice, glancing briefly at Solan in the driver’s seat. “I don’t understand why you’re turning traitor like this.”
“Because...” Torin hesitated, looking out the window as Solan maneuvered the truck out of the camp. “Because treason or not, it feels more right than sitting back and letting them put Lokan down like a dog. He’s lost, they all have, and I guess it just seems like a waste.”
“He’s not a puppy you need to rescue,” Kyr growled. “He’s the king of the wild Fae, a soldier, and oh yeah, the guy responsible for thousands of human deaths, including Yao’s. And you’re waltzing in there to set him free to kill more people because, what, you think it’d be too bad if he was executed like he should be?”
“How many Fae would say exactly the same thing about us?”
“That’s not the point.”
“It’s exactly the fucking point.” Torin drove a fist into the back of the passenger seat, making Solan jump and swerve a little. Kyr saw him glance at them in the rearview mirror, green eyes worried, but he didn’t comment. “This whole thing has gone on way too long. And if you want to get all patriotic about humans versus Fae, Kyrianos, your boyfriend here is half-Fae too. You had no problem with getting him out, even though he’s killed human soldiers as well. At least be consistent.”
Kyr glared at him but kept his mouth shut, slumping back against the seat behind him and crossing his arms over his chest. Silence settled over the interior of the truck, broken only occasionally by the crackle of the radio and once by the whine of a military plane overhead, low enough to cast a winged shadow over the entire truck, and by Torin’s quest directions to Solan. As they approached the human camp, Solan slowed down, checking his mirrors nervously, his fingers tightening on the steering wheel. Kyr wanted to tell him to turn back, to at least protect himself, but he had an idea that he was the only one in the truck who would be perfectly happy to leave Lokan to rot.
He could see the attack happening even as Solan parked the truck in the shelter of one of the tall hills bordering the back of the camp; the Fae army splitting into fiercely controlled sections and hitting the camp rapidly and viciously in the dying light of the sun. They retreated before the humans could organize properly to meet them and hit another part of the camp as soldiers scrambled to protect themselves. Kyr had to grudgingly admire the sheer audacity of the attack, and the obvious guiding hand behind it that caused chaos throughout the human camp but kept the Fae under control. He glanced at Torin, wondering just who had come up with the exact steps of the attack, but Torin was already climbing out of the truck and accepting the rifle Solan handed him.
“Here.” Solan handed Kyr another rifle, nervously shouldering his own. The whole action seemed so surreal that Kyr could only stare at him for a moment before automatically checking the rifle’s ammo.
“This way. Stick close and stay quiet.” Torin nodded to them and started towards the camp, taking a roundabout route to avoid the worst of the fighting.
In the chaos it was surprisingly easy to move towards the center barracks, where Lokan would be kept close to the General’s command tent. The shadows were growing long and someone had already taken out the electrical grid that powered the majority of the camp’s lights, judging by the way they stubbornly remained off. In the rapidly growing darkness it was hard to tell who was friend or foe, though more than once Kyr felt a bullet whine past him, and once Solan made a muffled noise of pain. He shook Kyr off when Kyr asked if he was all right, mumbling something about a scratch, but returned a moment later to bump his shoulder against Kyr’s, as though for comfort.
They reached the barracks without challenge, but the first soldier they encountered inside took one look at them and started to raise his rifle, opening his mouth to yell a warning. Torin took him out with a single hard blow from the butt of his rifle, visibly wincing when the soldier crashed to the floor, though Kyr wasn’t sure if it was from the noise or from having to hit a former comrade. They ducked into one of the side rooms and Torin gestured them in close to listen to him, keeping one eye on the door.
“This is the trickiest part. If we’re caught here, it’s all over, and I don’t think we have a lot of time left. You two both need to follow my lead and don’t hesitate.” He met Kyr’s eyes. “You and Solan, your job is to get Lokan out. I don’t care what else happens, once we have him, you get your asses back to that truck.”
“And you?” Kyr asked.
“Hopefully I’m going to be right behind you.” Torin glanced up at a particularly loud crash outside and added almost conversationally, “I think Ceridwen is even scarier than Lokan is.”
Kyr heard Solan laugh a little, a sound he had missed even if he didn’t see anything funny in their current situation. His chest felt tight and angry as he followed Torin out into the hallway, and the sick feeling in the pit of his belly had only grown worse as they moved. He swallowed hard and told himself that he trusted Torin, even if he didn’t understand why he was doing this; and that he had both Torin and Solan to protect. It didn’t do much to ease the heaviness in his heart but it kept him going.
Torin held up a hand to stop them at the door into the cells, waving them back to either side of the hall before he opened the door and stepped inside. His bark of command was so strong that Kyr felt himself straighten up automatically, and when he swept into the room with his rifle held ready a second later, he could see how confused the guards still were. They were too slow in reaching for their weapons—sloppy, Kyr noted, especially considering who they were guarding—and they stopped reaching when Torin told them that he really didn’t want to have to shoot anyone.
As they moved down to the cells with Solan, Kyr heard one of the guards—cuffed neatly to the table in the corner—almost plaintively ask why they had turned against their own people. He paused a moment and met the guard’s eyes before dropping his own and continuing down the stone steps.
Lokan was upright inside the cell, though the tension in the knuckles of the hand gripping the cell’s bars turned his skin white and made his tendons stand out like cords. His other arm still hung uselessly at his side and he was streaked with blood and dirt, looking more wild and more dangerous than ever, even without his antlers. He watched them steadily as Torin unlocked the cell door, expression unreadable, and stepped out as though he owned the building and everything in it, straight-backed and regal despite the pallor to his skin and the dark shadows under his eyes. Kyr itched to put a bullet in him, especially when Solan went to his side and wrapped an arm gently around his waist to support him.
It was fully dark when they got back outside and the camp was a mess of running soldiers and chattering gunfire, undercut by the sound of yelling and the occasional scream. Torin hustled them towards the truck, muttering something about Lokan’s height that Kyr just caught the tail-end of. Something exploded nearby, sending a fireball twenty feet into the air, and in its fiery light Kyr saw more than one human soldier turn towards them. He turned without thinking and grabbed hold of Lokan’s arm, hauling him towards the truck as fast as he could. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Torin drop back, obviously to guard their retreat, but as they reached the side of the truck Lokan pulled himself free, raising his good hand.
Thunder cracked overhead, sudden and startling. It was followed by a sudden torrential downpour that put out the fire almost instantly and reduced visibility to little more than a foot. Kyr swiped cold water out of his eyes and scrambled into the driver’s seat as Solan helped Lokan get into the back of the truck, switching the engine on and squinting out into the rain in an attempt to see Torin. An instant later Torin appeared through the deluge, tossing his rifle into the truck’s passenger seat and quickly following it, snarling at Kyr to get moving.
The rain had quickly turned already mucky ground into a sea of sticky mud and Kyr had to fight to keep the truck on a straight course, desperately trying to avoid crashing into anything. In the back of the truck he could hear Solan speaking in Fae, a nervous edge to his voice, but Kyr didn’t want to risk taking his eyes off the windshield for even a few seconds. He was only vaguely aware that Torin had twisted around in his seat and was hanging halfway into the back, bracing himself with one arm against the bumpy ride.
Within seconds the rain began to ease and faded away into a drizzle, allowing Kyr to see that they’d left most of the camp behind them. He risked a glance into the back and saw that Lokan seemed to have passed out, his face an unhealthy gray colour in the little light that leaked in through the truck’s windows. Solan was stroking his hair with shaky hands, favouring one arm slightly; Kyr could see the dark stain of blood on his sleeve.
“Keep driving,” Torin said, giving Kyr’s shoulder a squeeze before he climbed into the back with Lokan and Solan. A quiet argument got Solan to take his place in the passenger seat and Torin stripped Lokan’s shirt off, inspecting his wounds with practiced hands. Even Kyr had to admit they looked bad, no longer bleeding but crusted with dried blood and swollen.
Ceridwen met them at the Fae camp, wet and muddy, her own face streaked with blood from a gash just over her eye. She helped them haul Lokan into the command tent and away from the curious eyes of the nearby soldiers, bringing lamps over to turn the cot in the corner into an impromptu medical center. Kyr and Solan were both waved away and after a protest that was ignored, Solan drew Kyr over to sit at the table in the center. Silently Kyr put an arm around him, watching Torin help Ceridwen dig bloody bullets out of Lokan’s chest. When they’d finished Ceridwen spread her hands over Lokan for a few moments, murmuring something singsong and eerie in Fae, then together they wrapped him in bandages.
“What’s she doing?” Kyr asked softly, leaning in towards Solan’s ear.
“Uh, healing magic, I think.” Solan scrubbed a hand across his face. “I know she can, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her actually do it. Think that’s what she used on me though.” He shifted over, a little uncertainly, and rested his head on Kyr’s shoulder. “Thank you. For helping us even though you think it’s all bullshit.”
Kyr only made an ‘mmm’ noise and ran his fingers through Solan’s damp hair. Torin came over to them after a moment and slumped down onto the bench beside Kyr, rubbing at his forehead. He pointed to Solan’s arm and asked him if he needed anything, and nodded tiredly when Solan said he’d just clean it out himself later. Kyr put his other arm around Torin’s shoulders and gave him a brief hug, looking up when Ceridwen approached them.
“We owe you,” she said, mostly addressing Torin. “Consider it a blood debt on my part, though,” she smiled a little, “I really doubt Lokan will allow you to claim a blood debt on him. Anything you need from me, just ask.”
“Just supplies and a way out.” Torin smiled slightly. “Kyr?”
Kyr opened his mouth to ask Ceridwen to order Solan to come with them, then thought better of it. “Supplies. Weapons. Safe passage and not a bullet in the back.”
“People like you are why we’re at war in the first place,” Ceridwen said mildly.
“Fae like you—” Kyr started but Torin clapped a hand over his mouth to cut him off.
“Knock it off.” His glare included Ceridwen, who inclined her head slightly. “If we can leave tonight, that would be best. In all the confusion we can probably get quite a way out of the line of fire before anyone figures out what’s going on.” He looked at Kyr. “Where did you say you wanted to go? Arian Mawr?”
“No.” They all looked towards the cot at the sound of Lokan’s hoarse voice. He pushed himself up unsteadily with his good arm, ignoring Ceridwen telling him to lie down and rest. Even in the glow of the lamps his violet eyes looked dark, and there was something in his face that sent a shiver down Kyr’s spine and made him wish he hadn’t put his rifle down. “Neither of you are going anywhere.”