Vhalla stared in horror, wondering if she’d damned her friend. She swallowed, trying to follow Elecia’s train of thought. Grahm was dead from the moment the taint set in. This was their only chance to save him.
She ran over to the tavern’s bar, locating a long rag. On the way back she scooped up one of the major’s swords.
The Empress silenced the major with a pointed glare. She didn’t really give a damn that it was his. It could’ve been the Mother’s for all Vhalla cared. The man realized it and silenced himself. Most of the majors took it as the cue to flee the room.
“Wait, you can’t possibly mean to . . .” Fritz gaped in horror as Vhalla began to tourniquet Grahm’s upper arm.
“This needs to go in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue.” Vhalla twisted up the other rag, placing it between Grahm’s teeth.
“Freeze him, hold him still, and say nothing else.” Elecia’s breathing was heavy, nerves beginning to take over. She was a good cleric, but this was going to be a test for the woman. “Vhalla, push over that bench, spread his arm across it.”
Aldrik helped Vhalla accomplish Elecia’s order. It had become the most makeshift operating table the any of them had ever seen, and it was all that stood between Grahm and certain death. Elecia drew the sword and adjusted her stance a few times, pushing the benches into just the right spots.
“Vhalla, hold his arm. Fritz his shoulders. Aldrik be ready with the fire,” she commanded.
Vhalla gripped Grahm’s wrist. Her fingers compressed against the rotted flesh and bones that squished and slid like pond scum on a rock. She ignored the chilling sensation and held the arm as straight as possible.
“Can’t we rethink this?”
“Keep him subdued, Fritznangle!”
“Fritz, trust Elecia!” Vhalla pleaded with her friend.
Fritz turned his head away as Elecia lined up her mark with the sword. Vhalla saw her plant her feet to the ground. She felt the tingle of magic through the air as the Groundbreaker made her arms as heavy as rocks in order to create as much momentum possible.
The blade whizzed through the air, and Fritz flinched as it connected with bone. Vhalla felt the crack reverberate through Grahm’s arm. The man screamed into the rag in his mouth.
Elecia was undeterred. She freed the blade with a small jostle, and raised it again for a second swing. Marrow oozed from the wound, blood pooling on the benches and dripping to the floor.
It took two swings to sever Grahm’s arm from his body.
“Aldrik, cauterize it, lightly,” Elecia instructed. “I only want to help the clotting along, I may need to remove more later once I see what the taint or infection is doing.”
“Remove more later?” Fritz swayed weakly.
“Hopefully when we have proper medical supplies,” Elecia murmured.
Grahm moaned in agony as wisps of flame sealed his wound. But his pain seemed to be lessening due to Fritz’s numbing of the spot, a makeshift sedative. Vhalla prayed that, when he woke, he would barely remember what occurred.
Elecia quickly bandaged the wound. But she didn’t release the tourniquet until the blood stopped seeping through the cloth. Fritz hadn’t let go of Grahm; he stared in dumb shock at his lover’s face.
“I’m going to go find something for him,” Elecia announced. She swayed slightly. Vhalla knew the exhaustion was just as much mental as it was physical. “Some cleric in the rear guard must have something . . .”
“Will he be okay now?” Fritz whispered.
“I hope so.” Vhalla cringed as she picked up the severed arm, enough meat left above the elbow for it to wag uncomfortably. She deposited it in the alleyway behind the tavern. Vhalla ran her hands over her pants legs all the way back, trying to remove the feeling of liquefied tainted flesh and a limp severed limb.
Grahm groaned softly. Vhalla quickly kicked away the bloody bench upon her return. It was bad enough what had happened to him. She didn’t want him waking up and having to see the remnants.
“Grahm?” Fritz breathed.
“Fritz?” The Eastern man began to rouse.
“I’m here. I’m here with you,” Fritz reassured.
“I need, I need to bring updates . . .” he murmured, almost delirious.
Shock did incredible things to the body, Vhalla reasoned.
“Hush, it’s all right.”
“No,” Grahm refused Fritz’s consoling, squinting his eyes open. “I need to tell the Emperor . . .”
“What?” Aldrik stepped into Grahm’s field of vision so the patient wouldn’t have to turn his head.
“Silver Wings,” Grahm fought for every word. “My Emperor, they fight for you.”
Vhalla stood, taking her place next to Aldrik. Grahm’s eyes widened a fraction, as though he was struggling to see her.
“Lady Empress, it’s true?”
“Grahm, thank you for your service,” Vhalla soothed.
“It-it was our honor.” He swallowed thickly. No doubt his mouth still had the cotton taste of the rag. “We have one hundred men and women who escaped the palace. They fought with me.” Grahm looked up at Fritz. “Did they make it?”