A Curse of Tooth and Claw: Chapter Three
In which Kiki takes a trip to the infirmary.
Kiki walked away from the Wall with a firm hand pressed to her side. Her breath hitched with each step but she refused to let her face show the pain. She passed a pair of first-year Attendants on washing duty and gave them a nod of acknowledgment. The Attendants were getting younger and younger each year. This group couldn’t have been older than eleven years old.
“Look, it’s the Sicario,” one of the Attendants whispered to her friend.
The Sicario. A nickname Kiki had earned in large part due to the rows of stars tattooed along her wrist. Each star was a kill. Back in the day, the sicarios were hitmen sent to eliminate a threat to the crown. The name now meant much the same except that, now, the enemy was demon-possessed and a lot harder to kill.
The other Attendant looked up at Kiki only to drop the pair of bloodied trousers she’d been scrubbing into the washbasin. Brown water splashed over both her and her friend.
“Stop staring,” the first said with an elbow into the second’s side.
“Did you know the Sicario took down five demons with one tlazon?” the other said in awe as she plunged her hands back into the soapy water.
Kiki couldn’t help but snort. The stories were getting wilder and wilder. Not that she did anything to stop them either. She had a namesake to preserve after all.
“No! I heard it was ten,” the first Attendant said her eyes wide.
Kiki pretended not to hear them as she continued on toward the infirmary. Though she did push her shoulders back and pulled her hand from her wound. Looking weak didn’t suit her reputation. Plus, it would do no good if the yearlings didn’t fear her just a little bit.
Kiki passed another group of Attendants who were on their hands and knees picking pebbles from the ground. A Drill Slayer stood over them with her hands on her hips and a look of displeasure smeared across her face.
“I don’t want to see a single rock near my tent,” the Drill Slayer barked. “Clean faster!”
The Attendants panicked and dropped more pebbles from their hands than those they picked up.
Kiki sighed at the sight. She did not miss the Attendant days that was for sure. The four hours of sleep she could handle. Even the washing duty and latrine duty, while disgusting hadn’t been entirely awful. At least she’d been with her friends. No. It was the unusual and useless punishments that Kiki hadn’t been able to stand.
Once, Kiki had failed to pass the fitness test and been made to bear crawl everywhere for a week. Kiki still had the dirt stains on her green trousers to prove it. She also had never failed another fitness test afterward. Begrudging, she could admit that the punishment had at least been effective.
Kiki made it to the infirmary tent, a large green structure that looked more like a circus tent than a proper infirmary. The tent was made from old Slayer uniforms too worn and damaged to continue to be issued out. Still, the Demoncorps wasn’t one for wasting and had found a new purpose for the material.
Kiki pushed back the tent flap to the infirmary and found a quiet scene. Healers walked between cots lined along both sides of the long tent. There weren’t many Slayers being tended to tonight, so Kiki meandered between the beds until she reached her friend’s section.
Luna was finishing up with a patient when Kiki approached. Her midnight black hair was tied back into a messy bun. Her Healer’s apron was starched so rigid that the creases looked razor-sharp.
Luna took one look at Kiki and the bleeding gash in her stomach before her features turned sour. “You’re bleeding on my floor.”
Kiki looked down at the bloody footprints that trailed behind her, lining the path she’d taken to get to Luna. “Sorry,” Kiki said sheepishly.
Luna pointed to a nearby cot. “Over there,” she said, her tone expectant and bored as if this was a regular occurrence. Which, in all fairness, it was. There was a reason Kiki was the top in her class. Being the best also meant taking a wound or two. Sometimes three.
Kiki sat on the practical grey linen of the cot. She ran her hand along the fabric, rough and scratchy from being washed too many times. Stains of old blood splashed across the sheet. Still, the supply officers wouldn’t dream of tossing the sheets just yet. To the Demoncorps, the sheets had plenty of life left in them.
Everything in the Demoncorps was used until it was practically rotting. Even then, unless an item was completely useless, the Corps would find something for which that item could have renewed life and a new purpose. Waste not. The unofficial motto of the Demoncorps.
Luna washed her hands at a washing station and poured the soiled water into a basin to be repurposed later. She grabbed a jar of clear liquid from a nearby shelf lined with herbs and mixed pastes before turning towards Kiki.
“Let me see it,” Luna said, her voice a sweet melody that was in direct conflict with her obvious annoyance with Kiki.
Kiki lifted her shirt for Luna to see the wound to which she earned a disapproving grunt.
With medical precision, Luna opened the jar. The sharp scent of fermented agave wafted into the air making Kiki wrinkle her nose in disgust. It wasn’t that Kiki didn’t enjoy tequila as much as the next person, it’s just that she’d enjoyed it a little too much one night after her watch and had spent the following day in training puking her insides out. After that, she’d sworn off the stuff.
“Brace yourself,” Luna said and she tilted the contents onto Kiki’s wound.
Kiki winced in as hot fire seared through her skin and the alcohol washed away any impurities that could cause infection. Fresh blood sprang to the surface, poinsettia red.
“Where’s Yari?” Luna asked as she finished cleaning the wound. She needed the entire would clear of anything that could cause infection for the healing to take hold and not become septic.
“Solana made her stay,” Kiki said, not bothering to hide the disdain in her voice. How she hated Solana Ramirez. The girl was only a year older than her, but she’d risen through the ranks of the Slayer academy so quickly that when she was only sixteen she had graduated and became a ranked Slayer in the Corps. Solana didn’t let anyone forget that fact either. She was arrogant and cruel with the ice of the Lobo Mountains running in her veins.
Luna shook her head as she wiped the wound clean one last time. She tossed the dirty linen into a bucket full of linen scraps that she’d have to scrub clean later. The Corps couldn’t afford fresh linens all the time.
“It’s because she can’t do anything to me so instead she picks on Yari. It’s not fair,” Kiki said between gritted teeth.
Luna placed her palms on Kiki’s wound and the air became thick like molasses. The world seemed to slow and Kiki felt suddenly light-headed. A warm golden light radiated from Luna’s palms as she called on the Healer magic within.
Healers were rare in Ozero before the Cicatrix had split the kingdom in half. They’d become even rarer and harder to find since the darkness had swallowed up entire generations of families and their homes.
Luna was technically an apprentice in the Healercorps, but with her innate abilities as a magically gifted Healer, upon graduation, she’d likely be promoted to captain and be given command of a regiment of healers.
Kiki felt like a thousand fire ants were eating at her wound. It made her both squirm and wince with pain. Not to mention that Luna had learned how to redirect her magic to take strength from her patient rather than from her. Magic always had a price, and often there were too many for Luna to heal to warrant her being the one to pay that price every time. Instead of having to give up some of her own strength, Luna had learned to draw strength from the patient she was treating, reserving her own strength only for those who had none of their own to give.
In a few short moments, the light faded from Luna’s hands and she retreated to the washing station to clean her hands once more.
Kiki, on the other hand, felt the world tilt sideways. It was as if her head were full of cotton and she suddenly felt ravenous. She’d do anything for a bowl of pozole. Right now, it didn’t matter that the dining hall staff put more hominy and chiles into the stew than actual pork. The smell of cumin and oregano reminded her of home and of her wela. She’d watch her grandmother’s wrinkled hands peel the onion and chop it so fine, it was almost a paste. Wela had never used a recipe for any of her dishes either, she’d done it all by the way it felt, how the food smelled, and most of all, how it tasted.
The memory of her wela made Kiki’s eyes water. That was a long time ago and there was no use in dwelling on the past. She brushed the corners of her eyes and slid off the cot.
Luna turned as she dried her hands on her apron, now stained with splotches of Kiki’s blood. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Kiki started to walk away, determination marking her every step. “I’m going back to the Wall. Someone has to keep an eye out for Yari.”
“You won’t always be there to look out for her,” Luna said, disapproval heavy in her voice.
Kiki blew out a frustrated breath and spun on her heel towards her friend. Luna’s face was one that could have made kings cry if she’d lived in another time. It was hard for Kiki to stay made at Luna for long, not just because she was beautiful and her very presence seemed to create a sense of calm, but because Luna was kind and only said honest, and sometimes harsh, things because of how much she cared for a person.
“Speaking of,” Kiki said, as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Have you put in your assignment request yet?”
Luna’s eyes darted to the ground before she turned and busied herself with rearranging the glass jars of salves and poultices. “No, I haven’t had a chance. Things have been busy around here if you haven’t noticed.”
Kiki glanced around the mostly empty infirmary. “Clearly.”
Luna put a jar down too hard, making the glass clang loudly. “You know what I mean.”
“I don’t actually. We’re graduating in three days. We’re about to be free of this hell hole and if our requests get approved, which there is no reason for them not to, then by this time next week we will be sipping frozen margaritas on the southern Wall.”
Luna bit her bottom lip as if contemplating whether she should say what was on her mind or not. She seemed to decide on the latter. Luna shrugged and said, almost in defeat, “I’ll get the request to my Commander in the morning.”
Kiki knew Luna was hiding something and she wasn’t about to let Luna stay tight-lipped about it. Not this time. “Don’t you want to keep the group together?”
Luna fiddled with the lid of a jar of green sludgy paste. “It’s not that,” she said, her soft voice even quieter than usual.
Kiki huffed in annoyance and took three long strides towards Luna’s side. She grabbed the jar and put it back on the shelf.
Luna shifted her gaze, refusing to meet Kiki’s stare. “I think I am more use to the Corps if I stay here.”
Kiki’s mouth dropped open. She hadn’t been expecting this from Luna. The same Luna who had nursed her back to health when Kiki had come down with the sweating sickness. The same Luna who still cried at night for family and snuck into Kiki’s bed just so she wouldn’t have to be alone.
“You’re joking,” Kiki finally said. She searched Luna’s face for any sign of jest but found none.
“I know we always said we’d stay together, but there are more people who need me here. The southern Wall already has enough magicked Healers. Not enough stay here in the north.”
Kiki threw her hands in the air. “Because the north is the actual worst!”
Luna’s shoulders slumped as if the weight of the world lay across them.
“Fine,” Kiki said, anger boiling in the pit of her stomach. “Stay here then. But when you’re tired of freezing to death at night and your stomach is empty, feel free to join us in the south.”
With that, Kiki turned away from her friend, the heat of Luna’s glare boring through her shoulder blades.
“If you go back out there, Solana will put you on latrine duty for insubordination,” Luna called after her.
Kiki waved a dismissive hand in the air as she pulled the flap back to the tent. “We’re graduating in three days. Solana Ramirez can make me cut the grass outside her tent with my sewing shears for all I care. After graduation, I’ll never have to see her stuck up swine face again.”
Kiki stepped out of the infirmary tent and made her way towards the armory to replenish her supply of tlazons and jade-tipped arrows. Come to think of it, she could pick up a sharpened machete while she was there. Maybe even grab a sharpening stone if she was lucky.
Of course, when was Kiki ever that lucky.
Next, we will read Chapter Four.