“Astrid!” I called out as I entered the norn’s clinic. It was a small location, barely enough room for a few patients and some medicine, of course like any other Secro hideout it had hidden rooms underneath. The norn came into view, tying up her hair and jumping once she saw that I had the two ravens draped over my shoulders and Argus being pulled by Simon.
“Spirits, Anavari!” She said as she ran over to take one of the ravens from me. “Did you do this?”
“They wanted to give me to the fringe.” I said. “So, I knocked them out.”
“They what?!” Astrid said as she unceremoniously dropped the raven onto a hospital bed. I moved over to the next bed over and dropped the one I was holding. Simon dragged his master to the last bed in the row and Astrid aided in the final step. I sat down on a nearby seat, and waited as she diagnosed their injuries. “No sign of necrotic energies on them,” she said. “Large and wide bruises.”
“I hit them with the flat end of my sword,” I said. “Punched them a few times, but I didn’t use magic. I didn’t want to kill them.”
“Bastards,” said Astrid, as she finished tying her hair and reached for her staff. “Did they ambush you?” She waved her hand over the raven and a sphere of water manifested in the air before her.
“I wouldn’t say ambush,” I replied. “They had the decency to at least tell me if I wanted to turn myself in. Obviously, I said no.” The norn threw off the cloak of the raven, revealing him to be a sylvari. With a gentle hand she took the water and began to move it across his face. Bruises began to vanish and the unconscious body gave out a sigh of relief.
“I shouldn’t even be healing them for what they did,” grumbled Astrid. “Did they hurt you?”
“A few punches, but nothing that’s going to slow me down,” I said as she finished up and moved on to the next patient. “Their hearts were in the right place, I can’t exactly blame them.”
“You’re being easy on them,” said Astrid. “Want to try? Might as well see how you’ve progressed.”
“Sure,” I said then took the cloak off the next raven. Human. I lifted her shirt and revealed where I had thrown my fist at her. Swift punch to the gut and knocked the air out of her. Took her out by slapping my blade across her face. I focused my energies into my palms, gently I traded them across the girl’s stomach. Slowly, the bruise began to vanish. I moved my hands to her face, I winced as I realized that maybe I struck her too hard. “Fractured jaw.”
“You can handle that,” said Astrid. “Mend the bone and check for any tissue damage.” I nodded and allowed my magic to gently restore the bone I had damaged and diagnosed the surrounding flesh to see if she had other injuries. I realized how far I had progressed in my ability to heal others. Strangely enough it had many parallels with hurting others, the principles just needed to be applied backwards. I already had extensive knowledge in biology, chemical reactions, processes of decay and decomposition, how different poisons killed. This was simply restoring cells instead of destroying them, undoing the damage of a disease until it was completely purged from the system. It reminded me of when I practiced magic with Mara, while our magics were not the same we found a common ground between them. For Mara it was attrition, for Astrid it was restoration. I stared down at my completed work, no one could even tell that this girl had been injured moments before, which was a relief, she would be just fine. Now all that was left was Argus, I didn’t even need to diagnose the norn, I knew what I did to him. Kick to the side breaking a rib and follow up punch to the jaw which knocked him out. As good as he was being a raven, he was no fighter. I began to restore the norn.
“What he did is equal to treason,” said Astrid. “Other members have been executed for less.”
“We’ve never been targeted by an organization of assassins before,” I said. “Everyone is scared, they just wanted the chaos to stop. I think a bit of leniency for this this situation wouldn’t be too much to ask for.” I finished with Argus and moved to a nearby chair. So much had happened today that it had left me lightheaded. Astrid and Simon joined me moments later.
“You’re a natural,” said Astrid. “Pretty soon you won’t need my teaching anymore. You’re getting better at handling the arm by the way.”
“I appreciate you taking the trouble to tutor me,” I said leaning back and idly patting Simon on the head. The boar gave a satisfied snort. My eyes travelled to my gently clacking arm, there were now days where I forgot I had a prosthetic. There was still some calibrations needed, and I would never go into a serious battle with it. Every morning when I fastened the brace I was reminded that I was incomplete, in severals ways. No heart and no arm. “I wanted to talk about my condition, the possible side effects with it to be precise.” Astrid pulled up a chair and sat next to me.
“Well it definitely makes you harder to kill in certain situations,” thought Astrid out loud. “When I was treating you, it was as if your blood pressure was regulating itself so you wouldn’t bleed out. My guess is that this can also slow down the transfer of poison through the bloodstream. Other than that, I’m not sure.”
“Well the one who is heartless needs some form of magic,” I said pensively. “That or they would need a constant supply from something or someone to be able to maintain the blood channels from collapsing. But it seems like a steep price for being able to regulate your blood flow and being slightly more resistant to poisons.”
“Perhaps,” nodded Astrid. “Unless they’re a magic user or lead a life of combat then I don’t see why a civilian would subject themselves to a process like that. You said you’ve been like this since as long as you can remember, so I’m assuming it was done immediately after you were born. The ethics of that alone troubles me. They must have had a good reason for doing it to you.”
“Keeping me away from the fringe,” I said. “Being heartless somehow makes you harder to be tracked by the fringe.”
“Can they sense heartbeats?” Wondered Astrid. “That would… be really complicated. Even with magic.”
“Augmentation of the senses would be inconvenient at best,” I said. “Maybe some other magic to be able to sense a target’s blood flow, but most of the fringe assassins I’ve encountered didn’t have use magic. At least no magic to the degree of a spell caster.”
“Then it’s a skill,” said Astrid. “One that can be trained.”
“Then maybe it’s safer to assume that being heartless can counter this skill,” I said. I was a bit excited to finally have a moment to consider this side of the problem, I felt as if I had made much more progress. Now there was one more issue I wanted to tackle, however I honestly didn’t want to confront Garfas with it today. Maybe it would be better not to, I could just check and see how Daniel was doing on his end of the investigation. “Thank you for the talk Astrid. I must be on my way now.” I stood up and started towards the door. “Oh, and tell Argus that if he tries to pull an ambush on me again that I will kill him.”
“I think he’ll know that as soon as he wakes up,” said Astrid. “But don’t worry, he’s known for being a snake, but I think he’ll learn his lesson. If not, I’ll drill it into him.” I smiled.
“See you tomorrow.”
“No leads,” I mused. “No whispers, no stories, or even rumors.” I leaned back on the recliner in Serenity’s house and allowed my body to slide down.
“I think the heartless are better at hiding than the secros and fringe combined,” said Daniel tossing his stack of reports aside.
“Well, to hide from the fringe they must be I suppose,” I said before yawning. “That leaves me as the only link we have. I need to induce more memories.”
“Not today you aren’t,” said Daniel gently tugging my horn. “One is enough for today, we’re not supposed to force these things, remember?”
“But we’re pressed for time,” I replied. “The sooner we find the heartless, the sooner we can find a way to get the fringe off our backs.”
“And we’ll handle that at its own pace,” said Daniel sternly. “I already have one workaholic to worry about.” We both glanced at Serenity who was intensely focused on her stack of reports.
“Serenity!” I called to the human, tearing her out of her trance.
“Wha?” she shook her head, a partial blank stare in her eyes. “What’s up?”
“We’re convinced we won’t find anything in these reports,” I said. “We need to try a new approach.” Serenity nodded and tossed aside the report, almost as if backing away from it once she realized how much she had read.
“What do you suggest?” Asked Serenity. I righted myself up on my seat and leaned in as I considered our options.
“That boy we captured knows next to nothing,” I mused. “What we need is the traitor, we’ll be able to get information out of whoever they may be.” I could tell Daniel was uncomfortable with the notion of going after the traitor. I simply smiled to reassure him. Just then I heard the door to the drawing room open. We saw a disgruntled Slim stride in.
“I take a nap and wake up to find that a handful of ravens tried to kill you,” Said the asura as he walked up to me and crossed his arms. “Care to explain why you tried to hide this from me?” Daniel and Serenity’s eyes widened.
“More importantly,” Daniel jumped out of his own seat. “Why did you keep this from me?” All eyes were on me now, Daniel’s especially.
“I didn’t want to kill them,” I began. “And I didn’t want them to be killed by any of you. So I took them to Astrid and patched them up after knocking them out.”
“It was someone we knew wasn’t it?” Asked Daniel. “Navai is too indifferent over such things, that only leaves Argus.” I should have expected Daniel to figure it out right away.
“It was indeed Argus,” said Slim.
“You didn’t kill them did you?” I said raising my voice.
“Watch the tone Anavari,” said the asura. “I stuck my neck out for you, but I’m still your boss and this still affects me.” Serenity on the other hand looked conflicted. At least she wasn’t adding to the argument. I took a moment to relax then continued speaking.
“Can you really blame Argus?” I asked. “He had the organization’s wellbeing in mind, in fact I’m more surprised that others didn’t act sooner. Everyone’s been on edge and the tension is making them snap.”
“Regardless that doesn’t give them an excuse to kill one of their own,” said Slim. “We are a family for those with no home, that’s the cliche I told you when you joined, and it will continue to be the one I tell future recruits. I cannot use it however if we have our ravens trying to kill you.”
“Can we at least do something about everyone’s stress?” I said. “At the very least to give them a false sense of hope. I can’t stand the fact that everyone here is too scared to go outside because of me!” This gave the group pause, then Slim smiled his wide grin.
“This gives me an idea,” he said as he began to pace the room. “The secros need to unwind, and we have a traitor to catch. We can take out two moa with one bullet. We need a party.” That was something none of us expected.
“A… Party?” Asked Daniel. “Out of all times to have one you chose now? While we’re under the eyes of the fringe?”
“No better time,” said Slim. “Our members get the respite they so desperately need and we’ll use Anavari as bait. Given all the assassins he’s survived, I’m certain that he’ll either attract a high ranking one, or the traitor. Either way we’ll be able to get some information out of them, and hopefully enough to find the fringe and hit them where it hurts.” The plan was ludicrous, insane, unreasonable, yet it could work. A party seemed like the perfect place for me to have my guard down, and the tension of the past few months would be a good enough excuse to have it.
It was crazy, but it was the Slim brand of crazy. Which meant that it could just possibly work.