The blood gushed into her hands as she fell on top of him. There was something intimate, something lost. He was gone too quickly for words to be exchanged, regardless of how his final action left so much to be said. Micali wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but his expression was blank as he died, warm eyes shut. The rain had lightened. The taste of blood jarred her memory to her own wounds. The one in her leg wasn’t deep enough to permanently harm her, but she knew it needed to be treated. She ripped her knife from his chest with a few heaves of effort. Her head throbbed for medical attention, and she fell the first couple times she attempted to rise. The third was the charm, his body left to rest in the sand as his blood mixed with the rain. She staggered toward Cora and removed her harness. What was once a simple feat now required all of her attention, and she got lost in the action once before she recalled the correct method to attach the bow back into its holster. Her mind was scattered but the thoughts were there. She simply needed to grab them and put them together.
He let her kill him, for some unknown reason.
The stairs were hard to manage with one leg in pain and a head long gone. She slipped on the fourth step, slid back down the other three. Thankfully the short fall didn’t hurt her body too much - though any sort of movement gave an opportunity for her brain to shriek as though pins had been twisted while they ripped into it. The second time, she slipped the exact same way. The third, she caught herself, and she finally decided to shed her boots, no easy feat. It took too long. Had the rain begun again, or did it never stop? The concrete was wet on her socks, but she found smoother purchase. She ignored the horrid existence of the wet fabric and pressed onward and upward. By the top step she was on her hands and knees, but managed to rise with the help of a somehow sturdy railing. The black gate was harder to open this time, and she cursed herself for that moment she closed it behind her. With a heave of her entire body, she managed to slide it open. The woman fell to one knee but rose again, a fire inside her burnt with a desire to survive. She hadn’t felt it in years.
She continued to grip the back of her scalp as she moved, the pressure of her hand not even close to a dull in the pain, but more so an insurance that the contents of her skull wouldn’t run away. Blood continued to appear as she stumbled past the gate, every retraction of her hand from the back of her head a warm crimson portrait. The moon just barely began to crest over a breach in the cloud line as she moved from the wall to one of the six trees. She collapsed to the middle of the street, eyes locked on to her hotel, about fifty, no, sixty feet away? As she tried to discern the distance, she attempted to stand again. She made it on her first try that time, crossed the street to the next wall, and left stains of blood along it with her hand. She could only hope that the rain would fall at the right angle to wash it away. Deep down she felt the inevitability that the location of the body in correlation to- she lost the thought. Another took its place.
He could’ve killed her. She could be dead, if he had wanted it.
Forty feet now. Maybe it had been fifty. She dragged her shoulder along the wall now, her mind scattered but still. The distance morphed in front of her and she suddenly stood at the doorway to the bottom floor of the hotel, the last five seconds gone from her memory. Her mind spun and whistled as she managed to open the door and collapse inside. The clerk stood up from his seat at the desk. He had been fully asleep this time, but rushed to her side. She couldn’t make out or even recall his features. Before he could say anything, Micali’s world went dark.
Her consciousness left and visited her for short bursts. She perceived some lights and some voices.
“Nomen Nescio, early to mid thirties. Contusion…”
The air was cold on her skin when she woke, the alley she’d claimed the night before still an undisturbed solitude by some luck. She uncurled from beneath the metal sheet she used as shelter. Micali pushed aside her rusted fortress and checked through the bag she had clutched to her chest throughout the night. She never managed to get food the night before. Her stomach attempted to crawl out of her mouth at the realization. She recalled a Cura kitchen nearby. It was still dark, though just how early she couldn’t say.
Micali stood, a sway claimed her as she held a hand to the peeled paint of the building she had slept next to. Once she exited the dense enclosure, she was met with the sight she had checked before she slipped into the alley the night before. There was nobody nearby, as she had hoped. The night before she had lucked out with the find of two cramped buildings, just close enough to Pes Exis to find actual structures. It was an easy enough place to sleep with some cover from the cold evenings and colder dusks.
She wore a tattered brown jacket, and black pants that were barely on through the rips and scrapes they’d sustained over time. There was a boot on her left foot and a slip-on flat on the right. She was tired. So tired. She stared out at the morning as she leaned against the building, just next to the mouth of the alley. She could go back to the Insidiis. The headquarters weren’t entirely burnt down. But no, there was next to nothing there for her now. Pitiful stares and conspiracy theories, that was all she’d find. She could go find Dom, but no. He probably thought she was dead now, and it was probably for the best. She basically was, and she’d have to explain everything to him. She couldn’t relive it. She couldn’t.
She could just end it. Find a tall enough building and leap on a whim. Take a blade to her skin. Piss off some keepers, or the wrong gang. Walk out of the city and into the wilderness. Starve. She wouldn’t. She didn’t know why, but something in her persisted in existence, a refusal to succumb to her conditions. Somewhere in her was the fight for survival, though it loved to elude her in the cold nights.
She stalked down the path she had come from the day before. It was gang territory, not that she knew any of them by name at this point. She’d been out on the streets for about a month, and naturally enough, she found her way to the slums. At one point in the first week she’d been offered an opportunity on a gang. She simply walked away. She tried to avoid that neighborhood for fear of the insults and threats they hurled at her in her silence. But they controlled the area that surrounded the meal kitchens; there was a charity group in Lucrus, the Cura. They operated out of a small base in Pes Exis, though they had food kitchens in the slums and held fundraisers at the border to Estro Boris.
The neighborhoods passed her and she kept her head down. Something she had learned in the first few days. An hour or so passed before she was near the kitchen. Micali was lost. She didn’t know this specific neighborhood, only remembered a block or two out from the kitchen and not much else. She wandered for some time, but eventually decided to attempt to retrace her steps. She was alone in the cold morning, though she felt fourteen eyes on her back. Her blood was heavy as she walked, and her organs screeched inside her with every step. She was tired, hungry, dehydrated, and sloppy because of it. So when three people came up from behind her, she didn’t realize until she was already pinned to the ground of the tight backstreet, stuck between two sheet metal huts. She struggled as best she could, the fabric of her pack caught on her four fingers, then three, two, one, and it was gone. She curled up as they attacked her. The kicks to her ribs didn’t hurt as much as they were just impacts. At one point they started to strip her, and she felt her body kick into overdrive. They managed to rip the jacket from her, and she flailed and struck out with bruised eyes shut, cornered unlike she ever had been before. Her arms were soon restricted, and they took the last of her possessions. She thanked whatever higher power there could be that they didn’t take more than her items.
She pulled together what remained of her clothing - her pants and an undershirt far too small for her - and walked barefoot. She didn’t have a destination, just an aimless wander. Her body was too much to carry, though she thanked the cold for the gift of numb limbs, a suitable substitute for the pain she hoped not to feel. Micali found a building, a real one, and collapsed. She curled in on herself as the sun peeked over the next building, some forty feet down. Blood oozed from her lips. She heard bells in the distance. The laicar couldn’t even groan in pain as she huddled into a ball, waited for the dark of unconsciousness or the cold grip of death, whichever came first. She didn’t know how much time passed before someone approached, her body too cold, too sore to pay attention to anything aside from how much it all hurt.
“Hello? Miss?” A voice. Micali uncurled, and watched as a pearl-white velen approached her, a middle-aged woman. The velen was lithe, her hair black but threatened to turn grey. She approached, and Micali shrunk back as far as she could against the building. The woman pointed to a patch on her arm, a white square with a black circle in the center. The Cura symbol. Micali recoiled as the hand that pointed changed to reach out to her.
“Don’t fucking touch me.”
The woman shook her head as she looked down. “C’mon, we’ll get you inside.” She reached down, and she brushed along Micali’s bare arm.
She broke. She changed. She lost. Micali’s mind wandered to the past, present, and future. She didn’t feel the woman fall, now beneath her weight. She thought of the Seven Devils. Her hands tightened around the stranger’s throat. She thought of him. Micali’s hands pressed hard, and the woman below her struggled down, her hands a frantic, scrambled mess of attempts to free herself. Was it one second or ten? Fifteen? Thirty? Micali stared down into the woman’s ice-blue eyes. The light faded from them.
Micali gasped for a breath as her eyes opened to the hum of medical equipment.
“Ow!” A hand retracted from hers. She looked over to see Rosa sat there, her light pink complexion pulled from a pained frown into a gleeful smirk as she noticed Micali’s awakened state. “Mickie! I’m so glad you’re okay.” She attempted for a hug, but Micali shirked her off, curled up toward the corner of the bed. Her body ached as she did so. Her other hand held something - a flower. The painted heart in her hand bursted with her heartbeat. She tossed it further down her bed - an indigo sheet laid over her body, sterile and crisp above her movement. She was clad in a plain white robe, and her hair clung to her forehead from the passage of time and the lack of a shower.
“Rosa. What-- where am I?”
“We’re in Estro Boris, a Cura clinic.” Ah, yes. In the last year or so, Cura had expanded into the central residential district.
“The-- Pallorus, the body. The keepers. What day is it?”
“Calm down, hey, calm down. It’s all been taken care of.”
Micali furrowed her eyebrows at that.
“I paid off the keepers. The body’s still there. They got your boots too.”
“My...my boots?” She recalled the moment she had taken them off and left them. Stupid. The pressure on her head caused her to raise a hand - the gauze wrapped there alarmed her, but she calmed as the pain was just a dull twinge. “How long have I been asleep?”
“According to the doctor? Four days.”
“How did you even find me?” Micali’s eyes narrowed as she spoke. “Did you follow me?”
“No! Vis no, nothing like that. I know the man that runs this clinic; I used to volunteer with Cura. They heard you say my name in your sleep, and came and found me at Dom’s. I’ve been here since yesterday morning.” Rosa’s hand rested nex to Micali’s. “Obviously you’re not okay, but are you okay?”
Micali tried to comprehend everything that Rosa said, but barely managed to keep her eyes open. She caught up at some point, and responded in turn, “I don’t know.”
A silence came over them as Rosa moved her hand around Micali’s. The latter almost retracted, but allowed the contact. Someone passed by the room, and the pink velen stood and followed them. In the brief moments, the laicar let her mind wander. Rosa paid off the keepers, but on her pay, that couldn’t be true. The reward money that came from turning in a murderer whose whereabouts were unknown for four days would be good for her. Too many details didn’t line up. She decided not to act on it yet - she trusted Rosa. There was no reason not to, but the nag in the back of her mind was insistent. The velen returned after a short time, but Micali couldn’t help but feel that something was off. The air was thick with tension, the kind that’s bred from secrets and lies.
“Rosa, are you going to turn me into the keepers?” The words shocked them both, and Micali blamed her inability to hold them back on account of the likely dent in her skull.
“What!? No. I just told you that I paid off the keepers. Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine.” Micali decided it was now or never, and that while the subject had come up, she may as well lay it all on the table. “How did you afford to pay off the keepers? You’re a waitress, and half your pay is housing. How did you really find me? Because I know there’s no way you just coincidentally knew someone here.” Her throat dried out after the words were spoken.
The silence buzzed around them, real enough to sink teeth into. After what seemed like endless time, Rosa stood and moved to take her exit. “I hope you feel better soon.” Her voice threatened to crack as she left.
Micali let out a heavy breath through her nose then turned in her bed to face the wall. The cream paint-job peeled back at her. She heard heels retreat from the room. She wanted to get up and leave, but knew it wasn’t really an option with her injury; she felt pain even just as she laid there, a dull thump in her head. At some point the anger wore off, and Micali’s eyelids fell heavy over her pupils.