“Understood,” the messenger agreed and raced back out into the night.
Vhalla massaged her shoulder, looking out into the darkness past the main entry of the government building. She wondered at the extent of the carnage. She wondered if her friends were all right.
A soldier stumbled in, hunched over.
“If you can walk, head to the right,” Vhalla instructed absent-mindedly.
“Good to see you, too.” Jax raised his head with a tired grin, his presence pulling Vhalla from her thoughts.
“Jax!” Vhalla sprinted over to the man. “Are you all right?”
“I’ve had better. I’ve had worse.” He slumped against her.
Vhalla caught sight of his back. It was in tatters. A deep gash ran from shoulder to waist, two others framing it on either side.
“I need a cleric!” Vhalla called, helping Jax into a chair in a nearby room.
Her order was heeded; a man quickly rushed in, assessing the state of Jax’s back. Vhalla quickly helped by cutting Jax’s shirt off his shoulders.
“Lady Yarl, I had no idea you held such affections.” Jax waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Cutting off another man’s clothes isn’t becoming of the future Empress.”
Vhalla rolled her eyes. “Oh, hush.” She gave a small glance to the cleric that she hoped conveyed the silent request that any of Jax’s jests were not to be repeated elsewhere. The man seemed too focused on assessing the wounded Westerner to give much heed to what they were saying.
“How did this happen? What’s it like out there?” Vhalla wasn’t sure if she wanted the answers to her questions.
“A mess.” Jax grimaced as the man packed some salve into the wounds. “We may have had some of Mhashan’s might, but the soldiers were far from ready for an attack.
“We’ve taken down three beasts so far, but the bastards are nearly impervious to magic. The crystals give them some resistance and heal them at the same time. Takes three powerful sorcerers to bring them down.”
“Sorcerers are one thing we should have,” Vhalla hopefully thought aloud.
“We do, but not many at the level we need, and it has been slow communicating that the other soldiers need to protect our sorcerers exclusively.”
She knew what Jax was saying. Aldrik was one of those sorcerers, one of those skilled enough to take on the beasts. Vhalla didn’t know if she wanted to ask her next questions or not.
“Aldrik? Fritz? Elecia?”
He didn’t torture her. “All fine.”
“Were they injured as well?” Vhalla asked as the cleric worked on the last of his stitches.
“Not as of when I left.” Jax grinned. “I was the only one foolish enough to be willing to throw his life away to save a lovely lady in distress.”
“Well, I’m glad you were unsuccessful in throwing it away.” Vhalla patted his shoulder, standing. “Go to your room and rest when the cleric is finished.”
Jax looked utterly exhausted. Vhalla rubbed her own eyes tiredly. However worn she was, it was nothing to what the soldiers were facing at the front.
As the battle outside slowly began to quiet, the noise within the government building grew. The cries and groans of men and women, engaged in a different sort of fight for their lives, filled her ears and punctuated Vhalla’s every order. These people were in her care, and she would do everything she could to protect and save them.
Fritz was the next to return. Vhalla caught sight of him instantly as she had keep one eye on the door. She crossed over to him quickly, weaving through the men and women arranged on the floor of what was once her orderly medical station.
“Fritz,” she breathed in relief.
“Vhal.” He tiredly returned her embrace.
“Thank the Mother you’re all right.”
“You too, Vhal.” Her friend released her. “I was nervous something broke through.”
She shook her head. “The army held the line.” She’d been asking messengers all night for reports on the state of the city. They hadn’t even lost one building. “What’s the status?”
“The abominations are all dead. Aldrik is passing judgment on the remaining sorcerers now.”
Vhalla glanced at the room. If the battle was winding down, there wasn’t likely to be another influx of people to attend to. The clerics had developed their own systems based on her original suggestions as the night had waned, and Vhalla felt confident leaving them to it.
“Do you have a horse?” she asked her friend.
“Stay here, get cleaned up.”
He stopped her. “Where are you going?”
“I should be there.” Vhalla shifted her arm to take his hand rather than gripping his wrist. “I need to be with him for this.”
“Vhalla, do you understand—”
“Of course I do.” She squeezed his fingers. “That’s why I must be there.”
Her Southern friend smiled tiredly. “Go on then, Miss Empress.”
Fritz let her go, and she was off. Vhalla appreciated that he hadn’t insisted upon going with her for her protection. She borrowed a sword from a soldier who would no longer need it, strapping it to her back. Even if the fight was over, she knew better than to charge unarmed into a battlefield. She had too much training now to even think otherwise.