A Curse of Tooth and Claw: Chapter Eight
In which Kiki makes an impulsive choice.
Kiki found her Slayer gear, fresh from the Attendants on wash duty, laid out neatly on her bunk in the barracks. She peeled off her drenched green uniform and tossed it into the nearest wash basket. Not that she’d be coming back for it.
She tugged on the tight black leather of her gear and pulled the straps around her chest tight. Once she secured her machete to her belt, she slipped from the barracks and ducked into the shadows.
Kiki wasn’t sure how she planned to get out of the camp, exactly. She knew she’d have to scale the Wall again, but doing so at night was a harder task to accomplish than during the day. She supposed she should have left while she had been in the no-go zone, but she’d decided against that plan. After all, she couldn’t just traipse into the Cicatrix without so much as a single weapon on her. What she was about to do was ridiculous and borderline insane, but she wasn’t entirely stupid.
Kiki crept around the edge of the camp, keeping to the shadows and keeping her footsteps light. She didn’t want anyone seeing her and wasn’t in the mood to come up with a plausible cover story.
Kiki wove a path through the green tents and cut a path towards the supply hall. She didn’t have any belongings to speak of, but she needed a bit more in terms of gear if she was going to last more than a few days in the Cicatrix.
Reaching the supply hall, Kiki crept along the outside of the building as she didn’t dare use the front door. The goal here was covertness. Instead, she slipped through the back door and walked straight into the storage room, which was perfect for her particular needs anyhow.
Crates of supplies lay stacked one atop the other in the back room. Kiki perused their contents in search of additional weaponry. She contemplated taking a bludgeoning mace but decided against it. The mace, while a fantastic close combat weapon capable of high damage, she knew that, eventually, she’d regret taking something so heavy with her. Kiki found some tlazons, not freshly made nor as sharp as she would have liked, and wrapped them in some canvas cloth. She wouldn’t have an Attendant picking up her tlazons for her and would need to keep a healthy supply on her at all times.
Kiki was bent over a crate when she heard the whisper of boots against the stone floors.
Kiki spun, a tlazon in her hand ready to fly through the air when she recognized who stood before her.
Turi Artchete held a soldering iron in one hand and a piece of bread in the other. His mouth fell open at seeing Kiki and before he could say anything, Kiki rushed him, knocked the iron from his hand, and pressed a hand over his mouth.
Turi’s blue eyes widened as Kiki shoved him against a stack of crates, his eyes begging for an explanation.
“I’m leaving,” Kiki said, her voice hushed. “Tonight.”
Turi tried to respond but couldn’t get a word out with Kiki’s hand over his lips.
“Promise you won’t sound the alarm.” Kiki hesitated a moment as she watched Turi’s head nod in agreement.
She released her grip and Turi let out a breath. “What are you thinking?” he asked. His eyes quickly scanned her, taking in the extra weaponry she’d secured to herself.
Kiki pressed a finger to her lips to remind him to keep quiet. “I’m going after Yari. She’s still out there. I’m going to find her and bring her home.”
Turi was speechless for a moment as her words slowly sunk in. However, his silence quickly shifted into a storm of confusion. “The Commanders will charge you with desertion. If they catch you—”
Kiki ran a hand through her chin-length hair in exasperation. “I don’t care. Doesn’t anyone get that?”
“Why are you doing this?” Turi’s eyebrows knitted together in concern.
“Because my best friend is alive. Because she’d do the same for me if roles were reversed. Because — because — I promised. I promised I’d always look out for her,” Kiki said in a torrent of words.
“I know you’re grieving,” Turi said, his voice a comforting hum. “But you have to accept the truth. Yarixa is—”
“Don’t you dare say it,” Kiki said, pointing an accusatory finger in his face.
“Please don’t do this.” At this point, Turi wasn’t even bothering to hide the fact that he was pleading with her to see reason.
“I have to.” Kiki stepped back from him. “I can’t let her go without knowing for sure.”
Turi’s shoulders sagged in defeat. Shaking his head, he said, “If you’re going, then I want you to have something.” He left Kiki in the storage room and returned a moment later. He held the set of claws he’d been working on the day before. “Take them. You’ll need them where you’re going.”
Kiki pulled the claws onto her knuckles and made a swiping motion in the air with each one. Despite their size, the claws were perfectly balanced and felt like an extension of her own hands than a cumbersome addition.
“Thank you,” she said as she tucked the claws into her belt strap. She hoped Turi knew how much she truly meant it. “I never deserved you. You’re a good friend.” With that, she gave Turi a kiss on his cheek and slipped from the supply hall.
Kiki had one last stop before she left the camp. She made her way toward the infirmary where she was sure to find Luna. She owed her friend an apology. She couldn’t leave things the way she had in the no-go zone.
As Kiki slipped from shadow to shadow, she felt the unnerving sensation that she was being watched. Kiki paused and searched the darkness for any sign that someone was following her. But the camp was a constant hum of activity and no one seemed to notice Kiki lurking in the shadows.
Kiki shook the feeling off and continued towards the infirmary. It was probably nothing. Just nerves. After all, she was committing the highest form of treason there was in the Corps. It wasn’t something she did lightly and the nagging feeling in her gut was probably from her own sense of guilt gnawing at her.
Kiki ducked into the infirmary tent through the back, much the same way she’d done to get into the supply hall. A sheet of linen was hung on a line to dry and provided the perfect cover. Kiki peered from behind the sheet to get a better view. Luna tended to the wounded Slayers and Attendants who’d been injured in the recent breach of the Wall.
A handful of other Healers that Kiki didn’t recognize moved from cot to cot as well. They wore the pressed grey uniform of ranked members of the Healercorps. Their white aprons were a horror story of wounds too much to overcome and lives that had been lost.
Luna’s face was lined with worry as she placed her hands on a Slayer laid prostrate in a cot. Luna’s lips were pressed tight and her hair was a mess of curls and stray hairs escaping from the bun she wore high on her head. She looked like life had been leeched from her.
A tingle of fury pricked Kiki’s skin. It was clear that Luna had been drawing on her own life force to heal these Slayers. Kiki couldn’t help but feel that Luna shouldn’t have to do that. Sure, it was her job and Kiki knew that Luna did it willingly, but damn the Corps for not having a better solution than this.
Kiki tried to catch Luna’s attention but was afraid to do something too noticeable. The last thing she needed was the other Healers in the tent to take notice of Kiki as well.
Luna stood from the cot and wiped her hands on her apron. She whispered something to a nearby Healer and walked toward the back of the tent where Kiki lurked.
Kiki dove back into the shadows and pressed herself against a wobbly wooden table. Glass bottles of healing salve and poultices clinked together at her sudden weight. Kiki winced at the sound and hoped it wasn’t too loud for anyone else to hear.
Luna ducked behind the sheet and before Kiki could announce her presence, Luna said into the darkness. “Whatever you’re about to do, I hate it already.”
Kiki cursed under her breath. Did all her friends have to know her this well? Kiki slowly stepped into the light.
Luna crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you up to now?”
Kiki had the sense to cast her gaze to the floor. Now that Luna was here, the shame of having yelled at her friend was washing over Kiki in waves. “I came to say I’m sorry.”
Luna unfurled her arms. “I know.”
Kiki crossed the space between them and opened her arms. Luna returned the embrace and after a few seconds let go. “Don’t do it,” Luna whispered.
“You don’t even know what I’m doing,” Kiki said, annoyance dripping through her voice.
“I don’t have to know exactly what you’re about to do to know that it’s probably very stupid and most definitely dangerous.” Luna pierced Kiki with her firm gaze.
Luna wasn’t wrong, Kiki could accept that much. “Then you won’t be surprised that I’ve come to say ‘goodbye’.”
Luna shook her head, the lines on her face deepening. “Please don’t go. Stay. We’ll go to the South. Like we always planned. Just—” Luna swallowed the lump in her throat. “Just don’t do this.”
Kiki hugged her friend again. “I have to know the truth.”
Luna’s shoulder’s shuddered as she began to cry.
“I’ll come back for you,” Kiki whispered into her friend’s hair. “I promise.”
Luna broke away. “The second you leave, they’ll charge you with desertion. You can never come back here.”
Kiki had thought of that. Of course, if she returned with Yari in tow and the story of her retrieval, surely the Corps would reverse the charges. At least, that’s what Kiki told herself. It was either that or live the rest of her life regretting not following Yari’s trail and never knowing what really happened.
“I will return,” Kiki said and gave Luna one last hug. “I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Luna sniffled.
Kiki broke the hug off and stepped back into the shadows. “I always keep my promises.”
Kiki looked over her shoulder one last time before leaving the infirmary tent. Luna’s eyes brimmed with unshed tears that she refused to let flow. Kiki felt a tug at her heart. This would be the first time they’d be separated in the eleven years of knowing each other.
Kiki gave her friend an encouraging smile and ducked out of the tent before she lost her nerve. But Kiki wasn’t expecting something, or rather someone, to be standing right outside the tent flap. She collided full-bodied into another Slayer dressing in full battle gear.
An apology died on Kiki’s lips as she recognized the eyes that stared down at her.
Solana Ramirez’s face was a mask of righteous furry. Kiki felt her stomach drop into her feet at the look on her Commander’s face.
Before Kiki could make a run for it. Solana grabbed Kiki by the collar of her Slayer gear and took Kiki down with a swipe to her ankles. Kiki fell to the cold hard ground with a grunt.
“I knew you were up to something,” Solana said as she pressed her knee into Kiki’s back. “You’re always up to something, Quirera. I just didn’t expect treason out of you.”
Kiki turned her head just enough to look into Solana’s cold gaze. “I’ve given my life to the Corps. This doesn’t change that.”
Solana sneered at Kiki. “We’ll let a court-martial decide that.”
Luna burst from the back of the tent at hearing the commotion but stopped short when she saw Kiki being detained by Solana. Luna seemed as if she was contemplating stepping in, but Solana stopped that too before Luna could incriminate herself. Solana drew her machete and pointed the tip at the center of Luna’s chest. “If you know what is good for you, you’ll turn around and go back to your job.”
Luna opened her mouth to speak but Kiki stopped her before she could incriminate herself. If Luna admitted to knowing Kiki’s intentions, she could be court marshaled too. “It’s okay,” Kiki said as she pleaded with her friend. “I’ll be fine.”
Luna stood there for a moment, seeming to consider her options. Her eyes traveled down the length of the machete and the murderous gaze of Solana at the end of it.
Without a word, Luna backpedaled into the tent, letting the flap mask her from view.
Solana disarmed Kiki in a few quick motions, taking the tlazons, machete, and iron claws from her.
Solana inspected the claws. “These looks like Artchete’s work,” she mused.
“I stole them,” Kiki said quickly. She couldn’t let Turi be dragged into this too. She cursed herself for putting her friends in danger. But more than that, she cursed herself for getting caught.
She should have paid more attention. She could have sworn someone was following her. She should have doubled back and made sure. Now, she’d put herself in prison, put friends in danger, and would never be able to help Yari.