And then it all went to hell. Sometimes, things don’t go anything like you planned, and all you can do is keep moving.
I don’t like this memory very much.
Ajax refused one of the beds in the infirmary when he was herded there by Laurel. Instead, he sat in a chair and let one of the doctor’s assistants clean and stitch his arm. Laurel stayed beside him, her hand on his shoulder. She was probably trying to be reassuring but Ajax didn’t like it.
He watched the organized chaos in the infirmary after the Cambion attack. It looked like the Prowler that had come back with Natalie was the most injured, although there were bruises and broken bones from others’ brief encounters with the Cambion. Natalie was asleep, still on her stretcher. Even relaxed in sleep, she had dark smudges of exhaustion under her eyes.
Ajax looked away, at the thread and needle pulling together his lacerated skin. “So. Laurel. Nightfall.”
Laurel pursed her lips. “Could be tricky, with the Cambion out there. Has anybody explained to you what usually happens?”
“Storms, aggressive animals. Kentigern made it sound like no big deal, but if that’s true I’m not sure why he’d keep warning everybody about it.”
“Storms get kind of crazy sometimes, and it’s really hard to predict when that will be. Also, sometimes the teachers take the kids to the perimeter to get some live combat experience against the wildlife.” Her mouth crooked up briefly, then turned down. “And then there’s the mist. That’s always a little creepy.” She squeezed his shoulder. “But we’re all used to it.”
“How long does it last?”
“It varies, just like the days. Sometimes it’s not much longer than an Earth night. Sometimes it goes on for a few days. Weird, huh?” Laurel flashed him a grin. “Kentigern usually knows.”
“What about the Cambion, though? Will the animals outside attack it, too?”
“Maybe,” she said slowly. “The animals outside are — odd. Some of them are very like Awakened. Some aren’t. I think they’re leftovers from the pre-human history of this place. Created by Kentigern and the other towers.”
“Wait, what? Pre-hu— other towers?”
Before Laurel could do anything else other than give him an amused look, Seth appeared at the infirmary door, towing Jehane behind him.
“Please keep your arm still,” said the medical assistant sharply. “I’m almost done.”
“Oh, I’m glad they’re okay,” said Laurel happily.
Seth brushed off his father’s greeting and went to Natalie’s stretcher, where he passed his hand across her hair. Then he turned around, inspecting the rest of the infirmary.
The medical assistant snipped off the thread and sat back. Ajax sprang to his feet, ignoring the other’s protests as he strode across the infirmary. Up close, he could see that Jehane was a wreck, with red eyes and a tearstained face. He instinctively put his good arm out to steady her as she swayed, and she leaned into him.
“Great timing, big guy,” said Seth. His eyes were very bright but he otherwise seemed normal. “Why don’t you take Jehane back to her place? She’s all worn out.”
Ajax didn’t move, although he let Jehane lean on him. “So is Natalie. What happened over there?”
Jake, looking at his son intently, said, “Where’s Tanist Kiley? Is she still on the hunt?”
“No, we’re not,” said a woman standing at the entrance, who Ajax vaguely recognized as the person in charge of the Tower. “Jehane had a headache,” she added, sourly.
Seth smiled at the Tanist, and the woman added, “And I’m considering busting Seth back to unranked, because he’s demonstrated that much responsibility and accountability today. Both of you, return to your quarters and stay there.” Then she turned her attention away, as if turning them off.
“Kentigern, how is the Tower?”
There was a pause, longer than it normally took Kentigern to answer a query. “Damaged. The structural integrity is mostly solid, but there’s some functional damage. My own resources will be stretched with the upcoming trouble.”
“Is a serious storm expected?”
There was another pause, as if the Tanist was waiting for more details. Then she said, “Where did the Cambion go?”
“I last saw it at three-three-ten, heading out. I expect it to cause more trouble before the night is over. It should be able to organize some of the creatures much as it could the Awakened.”
The Tanist blew out her breath. “I wish the Nightlights from the roll-call hadn’t returned to duty already. But no use crying over spilt milk.”
“I’m still here,” said Laurel brightly.
The Tanist gave Laurel a little smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m glad. Make sure the ranging Prowlers are warned about the Cambion, Kentigern.”
“It’s very dark out already,” said Kentigern matter-of-factly, as if this was a response to the Tanist. The little silence after his words gave them an ominous weight, though.
Jehane pulled away from Ajax. “Thank you. I’m going home,” she whispered. “Before the doctor has time to notice me.” She vanished out the door, moving slowly.
“Unless you need the doctor, you’d better get home as well, Seth,” said Jake.
Seth raised his eyebrows. “But Dad! The Tanist just said she wished there were more Nightlights around. You’re going to need me.”
“You’ve done enough damage already,” the Tanist snapped. “If you hadn’t set a bad example, Jehane would have done as I ordered.”
Seth smirked. “Oh yes, I’m a bad example. Of course, I’m not the only one.”
“Tanist, the Reader Carta Lab would like to see you as soon as you have a moment,” said Kentigern, in a rather timely save, Ajax thought.
The Tanist pulled off her gloves and stuffed them into the pockets. “I’m on my way. Ward, debrief your son and get him out of here. I don’t even want to see his shadow until the night is over.”