Flower screwed up her nose. “Approved for transport to – what? Oh.” She lurched to her feet and tore the paper in two. “I’ll give them containment centre. You just wait till the king hears about this!” She marched over to the door and flung it open.
A Moon Trooper standing on the other side turned and barred her way. “Remain where you are.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to bother you,” Flower said. “I just wondered when the other one was coming back? I’ve got an appointment and I don’t want to be late.”
The Moon Trooper glanced down the hall, which he shouldn’t have done. If Flower had seen one of her muses taking their eye off a prisoner during the Vampire Wars, she’d have had them bumped down to cadet so fast they’d have forgotten their own family tree. She grabbed the burning torch she’d left by the door and jammed it into his face.
The Moon Trooper yelled and stumbled back.
Flower seized the lightning rod right out of his belt, and with the still-smouldering torch in her other hand, bolted back down the hall to a half-forgotten anthem of raised voices that would soon become pursuit. Honestly, the indignity of suddenly finding oneself a fugitive in one’s own city could not be understated.
She ran from the precinct unmolested and ducked around a corner to catch her breath. A decent soldier would have caught her before she’d even got this far, but –
A pack of Moon Troopers ran down the street right past her, shouting. She caught the word champion. Oh, well that made more sense. Nikifor must have woken up high on Vibe and started a fight. This night just got better and better.
She sighed, stalked back to the precinct, closed the double doors on whoever was left inside, and shoved her smouldering torch through the handles to lock it. That should take care of any reinforcements for a while. She presumed they had a back door to escape through when it caught, but at least they’d be distracted.
Then she headed down to the thoroughfare, following the sound of shouts and blows, now sticking close to the shadows she’d avoided earlier.
Nikifor cut a ragged figure, alone on the cobblestones, brandishing a naked sword to the black, moonless sky while a ragged ring of Moon Troopers closed in around him, lightning rods already sparking in anticipation of their victim.
Flower supposed he’d been approved for a containment centre too, but she didn’t think it would do the Moon Troopers much good. After all, this was the Muse Champion. High or not, they hadn’t the slightest hope. She wondered if Nikifor’s shouting bothered them as much as it bothered her. Probably. She couldn’t understand half of it, and didn’t want to think about the rest, that same old claptrap about lightning and ghosts. He was going to have to give it a rest when they got out of here.
She hadn’t realised, until that moment, that she knew exactly what to do next. Sure, she’d settled in very well to her life as a diplomat, but she’d spent too many decades at war to shrink away when the need for flight became apparent.
The Moon Troopers attacked. Nikifor met them with the same ferocity he’d once turned on a battlefield of a thousand vampires.
Flower ran her finger along her lightning rod until she found a round metal button that made it spark. With one sharp nod, she walked to the back of the line and the nearest Moon Trooper waiting his turn to attack. “Excuse me,” she said, and jammed the lightning rod into his rib cage.
The Moon Trooper convulsed violently and fell. Flower confiscated his lightning rod too, jammed that one into the gut of the next one to turn his blank silver mask her way, and then attacked another.
The field had thinned considerably. Bodies littered the street, and Nikifor engaged in a ferocious battle with the last three left standing.
Flower waited politely for them to fall before she cleared her throat. “Nikifor?”
He turned to her with a shout, sword raised, eyes wild.
“Nikifor it’s me. Lower your sword.”
“Flower?” The sword lowered, and his eyes focused behind her. “What’s that light?”
She turned in time to see a warm glow one block over burst into a wall of flame with a sound like a sonic boom. “Ah.”
He came to stand beside her. He shook all over, but otherwise seemed to have regained his senses. “Is that the Council Hall?”
“No, it’s the Precinct.”
“Why would they-” He looked at her, and his eyes widened. “Did you just set fire to the precinct?”
“Honestly Nikifor, you make me sound like quite the vandal. Come along, we have to go.” She hurried down the thoroughfare.
He sheathed his sword and kept up. “You’ve had your moments. I mean, there was that time you snuck behind enemy lines and set fire to the trebuchet, but they were the enemy.”
“The Guild are the enemy, Nikifor.”
A short silence. “I know.”
“And you are back on Vibe. What have I told you about that stuff?”
“Sorry’s not good enough.”
“Where are we going?”
She hadn’t actually thought that one through. They should probably go home and get some supplies, but that was the first place the Moon Troopers would look for her once they’d put out the fire. Best to make a clean break. Yes. “We’re going to get you some help.” She picked up the pace, eager to reach the gates and put as much distance between them and the city as she could.
“Nobody can help me now.”
The words, loaded with utter misery, made Flower scowl. She turned to him, right in the open gate, in the night, and pushed him in the rib cage. “Now you listen to me, Nikifor of the Rolling Backbeat with the Deceptive Cadence, you’re our Champion. It’s your destiny to protect the Muse Nation, and do you know what? You haven’t done your job. The entire Muse Nation is missing, except for us! So when I say I’m going to get you help, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, because once we’ve sorted you out, then we’re going to find the king, and find out what’s happened to everyone else, and fix it. Do you hear me?”
“I hear you, Flower.”
Even in the dark, she could tell from the grey and faded words that his burst of being in his own senses wouldn’t last much longer. He’d either be ill soon or go off again.
“But who can possibly help me?”
She softened her tone. “The Freakin Fairies.”
She put her hand on his arm to stop him walking right back into the city rather than go and face a bunch of Freakin Fairies. “Yes. We’re going to find the Freakin Fairies and ask them for a cure. Now come along, we need to get out of the city.” Without waiting for an answer – or letting go of his arm – she plunged into the night.
Want to know what happens next? Look out for Shadow Book 2: Shade Struck, out late 2022.