Chapter 19 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen had spent most of the afternoon and night unconscious, and woken up very confused in a hospital in The Avens in the morning. He’d apparently broken his left arm, which was in a cast, and he had some deep bruises and scratches, but according to the doctors, there was nothing too serious. One of the doctors had told him that although demons were venomous, the venom didn’t actually harm humans. Years of growing up with a nurse uncle and paramedic aunt had Veitlen immediately suspicious of anything that sounded too good to be true, especially since they’d given him an antibiotic.
The hospital staff had also somehow manage to contact Tjara, and she and her squad were supposed to be here in a few minutes. Veitlen drummed his fingers against his knee as he waited. He wondered if one of them would bring him some breakfast.
The door opened, and Veitlen turned his head to look at it. He immediately winced. “Good morning, Tyvokala,” said Tjara. “How are you feeling?”
Ren, Juno, and Kallinu stepped into the room after her. “Better, I think,” said Veitlen. “I haven’t actually been conscious for all that long. My medical report is here somewhere. You probably want to read it.”
Tjara shook her head. “That’s not why I’m here,” she said.
Veitlen started feeling very worried. “Oh, uh, it’s bad, then. I dropped my rifle. And I killed a bunch of demons and didn’t bury them. I didn’t even get the chance to say any prayers! I’m really sorry,” he blurted out.
“Tyvokala, that’s not why I’m here,” said Tjara. She sighed. “I’m here to apologize to you. It’s my fault you were injured and I take full responsibility for that. You have no right to feel sorry or guilty about anything.”
“Oh,” said Veitlen flatly.
“I’d also like to extend to you the offer to end your conscription now,” Tjara continued.
“What!?” exclaimed Juno. Ren and Kallinu looked equally as shocked as she did.
“I…I can’t take that offer,” said Veitlen.
“Seriously?” said Tjara.
Veitlen rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. “Yeah. I’ll finish the rest of my service,” he said.
Tjara shook her head in disbelief. “I’m going to wait in the lobby. Take it easy, Tyvokala. And the rest of you better take it easy on him, too. He needs to recover.”
Veitlen looked at the other three after Tjara left. Kallinu stepped forward and held up a cloth bundle. “Um…I picked up yer bayonet after ye dropped it,” ze said.
“I thought that was lost for good,” said Veitlen. He reached out for it, then dropped his hand back to his thigh. “But I don’t think the hospital would like it very much if I kept it with me. Can you hold on to it for a while?”
“Yeah,” said Kallinu. “You know…I really thought I let ye die.”
“What? Why would you think that?” Veitlen asked. “You didn’t even do anything!”
“That’s the problem!” Kallinu snapped. “None of us could do anything when that demon took ye. It’s not that we’re embarrassed or ashamed of ourselves. We couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t even tell if ye were dead or alive or where ye were!”
Kallinu looked like ze was trying very hard not to cry. “Do ye understand what I’m trying to say?” ze said.
Veitlen leaned forward as far as he could and touched Kallinu’s forearm with his fingertips. “Hey, it’s okay! I’m okay! I don’t blame you at all. This wasn’t your fault,” he said.
Kallinu wiped the tears out of zer eyes. “I don’t really believe ye, but okay,” ze said.
Ariana opened the door a couple of minutes later. “That certainly took a while,” Ren commented.
“You’re here too, Ari?” Veitlen.
“Yeah, I was making a phone call,” said Ariana. “Can I talk to you privately, Veitlen?”
Ren and Kallinu both looked at her quizzically. “I don’t see why not,” said Ren.
“Are you going to yell at me or something?” Veitlen asked once the other three had left. “Why’d you send everyone else out?”
“There’s something weird about you I noticed, and I don’t want to discuss it with anyone else. Just you,” said Ariana. Veitlen frowned in confusion. “Demons go straight toward you. This is the third time it’s happened. Do you have any idea why?”
“It…I…what has Nymue told you about her conspiracy theories?” Veitlen asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Ariana asked.
“A lot,” said Veitlen. “I feel like she’s told you about some things that she shouldn’t have.”
“She has,” said Ariana.
Veitlen sighed. “Tell her what you were concerned about. She’ll probably put it all together on her own,” he said. “Or we could all meet up when we get back to Tivadshy.”
“That does definitely sound easier,” said Ariana.
The door opened suddenly a couple of hours later. Veitlen had been dozing off and instinctively jolted; he regretted the action immediately. Some of the painkillers were starting to wear off, and most of his body still hurt.
Veitlen looked at the doorway and saw Temurlin with a travel bag slung over his shoulder. He looked like he’d just run here. “Temur? What are you doing here?” he asked.
Temurlin brushed his hair out of his face. “Ariana called me. I took the first bus I could find heading out here,” he said.
“She called you?” Veitlen stressed. “What? When?”
Temurlin dropped the travel bag by the bed and sat down. “This morning. I can’t believe it took so long to get here-”
“Temurlin,” Veitlen interrupted. “Why are you here?”
“To…to see you,” said Temurlin. He actually looked hurt. “Why else would I be here?”
Veitlen shrugged. Temurlin’s expression hardened. “You look like shit,” he said.
“Well, I feel like shit, too,” said Veitlen. He drew his legs up to his chest so Temurlin had more room. “It’s too bad you didn’t get here earlier. I’m really tired now. And hungry.”
“Sorry. I didn’t think about bringing you any snacks,” said Temurlin.
Suddenly, he had an idea. Veitlen held his right hand out to Temurlin. “Help me get up. I want to go to the cafeteria and get something to eat,” he said.
“Is that really the best idea?” Temurlin asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine! I can do this,” Veitlen said. He wiggled his fingers. “It’s just pain. I can push through it.”
Temurlin got to his feet with a sigh and took Veitlen’s hand. He pulled Veitlen up to his feet roughly. Veitlen’s entire body tensed up and he clenched his teeth, gripping Temurlin’s hand as hard as he could. “That hurt a lot more than I thought it would,” he said weakly.
Temurlin rubbed his shoulder. “Do you need to sit down again?” he asked.
Veitlen stepped back and let go of Temurlin’s hand. “No, I’m fine. Let’s go.”
They got to the cafeteria after Temurlin pointed out that Veitlen needed to put on his hospital slippers. It was now past noon, which meant that the cafeteria was no longer selling breakfast food, so the only appetizing thing he was able to make Temurlin buy him was a sandwich.
“I can’t believe you made me do that,” Temurlin muttered under his breath.
“I didn’t make you do anything,” said Veitlen. “And you owe me a lot of food for bringing you dinner twice a week.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Temurlin. He looked away. “Ariana didn’t tell me what happened when she called. She just said you’d been injured and were in the hospital, and that I’d better get here quick if I wanted to see you.”
Veitlen inhaled a bit of his sandwich and started coughing. “That’s what she fucking said? That makes it sound like I was gonna die,” he said hoarsely. “And she called before she even came in to see me. What the fuck? That’s not fair to you at all! She could have at least talked to me and given you a report over the phone! It’s not okay that you had to waste your day like this.”
“Veitlen, it’s Saturday,” said Temurlin gently. “I didn’t waste any of my time.”
“That doesn’t make what she said okay!” Veitlen protested. He attempted to cross his arms, but couldn’t, so settled for resting his right hand on his left forearm. “How panicked were you when she called you?” he said, much gentler this time.
“I had to sit down for a while,” Temurlin answered. “And remember how to breathe. For a moment, I actually thought I was going to faint.”
“It was that bad?” Veitlen asked in astonishment.
“I never should have said that,” said Temurlin hurriedly. “Forget it, please.”
“Nooo! How could I forget something like that?” said Veitlen. He grinned and leaned back in his chair, then winced. “Do you think if something worse happens to me you’re gonna faint for real?”
Temurlin rubbed his face. “You say that like you have no regard for your own safety,” he muttered.
“I’m just kidding!” said Veitlen.
“You sure don’t sound like it,” Temurlin said into his hand.
Four days later
“Once we find Nym and Ari, we’ll go to the room I reserved at the library,” said Veitlen. They’d just finished their last pre-lunch class.
“I’m surprised you thought that far ahead,” said Temurlin.
Veitlen raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m capable of planning, thank you very much,” he said. He awkwardly adjusted the strap of his bookbag.
Temurlin pointed down the hall. “There they are,” he said.
The two of them hurried over to Nymue and Ariana, Veitlen slower than Temurlin as he was still having trouble walking quickly. “I already got us a room in the library,” he announced.
“So soon?” asked Ariana. “But I wanted to eat lunch first.
“So did I,” said Nymue.
Temurlin raised his hand. “I can go get some food from the canteen,” he said.
“Sounds good,” said Ariana.
She and Nymue handed him a couple of coins. Temurlin looked at Veitlen expectantly, who grimaced. “I’m not giving you money. You still owe me a lot of dinners,” he said.
“Right,” said Temurlin. Veitlen thought he almost looked disappointed.
Temurlin headed off toward the canteen, and the other three continued walking toward the library. “Our room’s only reserved for half an hour, so I want to get through this quickly,” said Veitlen.
“So we won’t have that much time to eat,” said Ariana.
“Nope,” said Veitlen.
The room was a small, private study room that barely fit four people. Veitlen awkwardly dropped his bookbag next to his chair and tried to find a way to sit down that didn’t hurt too much.
“Are you going to elaborate on why you did this?” Nymue asked.
I will when Temurlin gets back,” said Veitlen.
Nymue frowned. “I need to know what this is about, Veitlen. I do have other things that I could be doing.”
“Yeah, Veitlen. Why are we here?” Ariana asked.
Veitlen sighed and rubbed his forehead. “It’s because we’re both witches. Me and Nym,” he said.
“Yeah, I know that,” said Ariana.
“You do!? Why?” Veitlen demanded.
“Nym told me,” said Ariana calmly.
Temurlin opened the door to the study room a couple of minutes later. “I’m back,” he announced.
“That was quick,” Nymue commented.
Temurlin set the bag of food on the table, and he and Ariana started handing out the cartons. Veitlen rubbed his knee and looked up. “Temur, we’re here because Nym and I are witches,” he said.
Temurlin almost dropped the carton. “WHAT? You mean a real witch? The kind with dangerous magic?”
“Basically, yeah,” said Veitlen. He turned to Ariana. “The demons told me that they’re attracted to witches. That’s why they’ve constantly gone toward me and ignored everyone else.”
“Can you elaborate on that?” Nymue asked.
“They actually said that they didn’t know why it happens. They wanted me to tell them,” said Veitlen.
“What did you tell them?” Nymue asked.
“That I had no idea what they were talking about! I don’t know the answer to that,” said Veitlen.
“Makes sense,” said Nymue. “It’d be interesting if we could figure out why that’s a thing.”
“Well, next time there’s demons around I’ll point them in your direction and y’all can figure it out together,” said Veitlen irritably. He attempted to pick up his fork with his right hand.
“So it’s not just you that the demons are drawn to. It’s everyone who’s a witch, including Nym,” said Ariana.
“It’s not like Nym’s going to be putting herself in demon territory,” said Veitlen. “She’ll be a lot safer than I will.”
“Don’t you remember that demon that got into Tivadshy a couple months ago?” said Ariana.
“And the one who talked to me in November?” said Nymue.
“Wait, what?” said Temurlin. “I’ve clearly been left out of the loop here. You’re saying that Nymue talked to a demon while we were all out rejoining ghosts. And that both of you are witches, and demons go straight for witches for some reason.”
“That’s exactly what’s happening. I don’t know what you’re confused about,” said Nymue.
“I’m not confused. I’m angry that you kept this from me!” said Temurlin.
“It’s not like I thought it was okay to talk about this shit! I wasn’t even planning on telling Ari anything until today!” Veitlen shot back.
Nymue held up her hand in an attempt to calm things down. “Temurlin, don’t get angry at Veitlen about this. And don’t tell anyone about it, either,” she said.
“I won’t,” said Temurlin.
“You too, Ariana,” Nymue continued.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Ariana said.
Veitlen leaned in closer to Temurlin. “I didn’t realize you’d be so angry about this,” he whispered.
“Yeah, me neither,” said Temurlin. His words didn’t sound genuine, and he still looked upset.
Veitlen briefly wondered if he should have mentioned Lillin. His thoughts were interrupted by an alarm. He jolted, and most of his body started hurting immediately afterward.
“Looks like our time’s up,” said Nymue.
“Shit. Is there anywhere else in the library we can finish eating?” Ariana asked.
He decided to confront Lillin that day after classes. He had no idea what her schedule looked like, but if it was anything like the other members of Daidlis’s squad, she wouldn’t be too hard to find.
Veitlen found Lillin close to the entrance of the military academy. He made his way over to her and grabbed her shoulder. Lillin raised her shoulders and spun around, her eyes wide.
“Lillin! Can I talk to you for a little bit?” Veitlen asked.
He moved his hand away from her shoulder. Lillin looked wary, and clutched the straps of her bookbag. “Do you need something?” she asked.
“I need to talk to you. In private,” said Veitlen.
“Why,” said Lillin flatly.
“It’s about what happened last week when the demon attacked us,” he said. “I know why it happened.”
Lillin raised an eyebrow, looking skeptical. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Veitlen walked her over to a semi-secluded corner. Lillin had her arms crossed and did not look happy. “You’re a witch. Both of us are,” said Veitlen.
“Excuse me?” said Lillin.
Veitlen rubbed his forehead. “A real witch! Not the insult. It’s because of our magic. Demons are attracted to witches. That’s why it went directly toward us and no one else,” he said.
“Can you slow down and, you know, actually explain what the fuck you’re trying to say?” asked Lillin.
Veitlen sighed. “You, and I, and another couple of people who I won’t name at the moment, are witches. It’s just a word that means our magic is stronger than everyone else’s.”
“Yeah?” said Lillin. “I already knew I was better at magic than other people.”
“But it’s a bad thing, too!” said Veitlen. He gestured vaguely into the air with his good arm. “Demons are attracted to witches.”
“I heard you the first time,” said Lillin.
“You need to be careful!” said Veitlen.
“Don’t tell me something I already know!” said Lillin.
Veitlen’s shoulders slumped. “So you heard I got kidnapped by demons, right? Well, they were asking about you,” he said.
Lillin’s eyes widened in shock. “What?” she said.
“How’s that for something you don’t know?” said Veitlen. “But yeah…they were demanding to know where you were.”
Lillin narrowed her eyes at him. “What did you tell them?” she demanded.
“That I had no idea where you were,” said Veitlen. “But it’s okay! I killed all of them. They’re not going to come after you.”
“Thanks for telling me this, I guess,” said Lillin. She turned to leave.
“Don’t tell anyone. They probably won’t take you seriously anyway, but…you don’t want word getting out that you’re a witch,” said Veitlen.
Lillin glanced back at Veitlen as she walked away. “Yeah. I know that.”