28-12 | 29-1

“Now,” she continued, as if she hadn’t just summoned items out of the fucking air, “pack a bag and be at the sally port in twenty minutes. We can spare the catboat – Barrach, I presume you won’t have any trouble refueling.” Rin filed away ‘catboat’ in the long, long list of words she had no idea the meaning of.

“Oh, so you only want me for my body, I see.” They grinned. “Yeah, no problem.”

“Good. Any questions? Keeping in mind that your timer has started.”

“Yeah,” Barrach said. Rin braced herself for another burst of secondhand humiliation. “What about the other person?”

“The other… ah, from the school, the veiled one.”

“Yeah, them. You mentioned the others, but nothing for the person who can put up a veil like that? Not to gas myself up, but it ain’t just anyone who can put up something I can’t see through at all.”

“Your priorities are as listed already,” Khoura replied neutrally. “That is all.”

Barrach squinted at her. “Wait, seriously? Three random kids are a big deal but a random stranger with enough skill and experience to veil themself – and, I should note, paranoid enough to do it even when they had no way of knowing they were being watched – just goes unremarked?”

“Technically,” the doctor noted, “it’s only two random kids. Auclair is a fully initiated member of the Blackguard; despite his demeanor, he is not to be taken lightly.”

“Great, fine. That’s not actually an answer.”

“Correct. Well observed of you.”

“…so, it’s like that, then.”

“Another excellent observation. Any questions?”

Rin started to raise her hand, then caught herself and hastily lowered it. “Will we be able to contact the ship, ma’am?”

Khoura nodded approvingly. “Not over comms, but the catboat has a radio transceiver that should be able to reach us under most circumstances. If it can’t, assume we’re simply out of range.”

Rin nodded. “And- excuse the bluntness, but is this the sort of thing that my superiors- er, my normal superiors, should know about?”

“No.” Coleridge gave her a stern, disapproving look. “…bare minimum information, at your discretion.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Rin said, relieved. For a second there, it seemed like her split loyalties were about to be tested- and if she was honest, she wasn’t sure which side she would fall on.

“But,” she continued, “your highest operational priority is now avoiding any public incidents. Discretion needs to be your watchword, so no additional manpower, no law enforcement.”

“Wait,” Barrach protested. “You seriously expect the two of us to take on two burners, a Blackguard and a dog? No offense, Yso, but a baseline cyclops doesn’t inspire much confidence.”

Well fuck you too, buddy.

“Hm,” Khoura allowed. “Good point. With Fallow’s limited capacity… hm.”

Coleridge nudged the doctor in the side, a smile tugging at the edge of her mouth. “Doesn’t it just so happen that we’ve already got a sergeant on non-standard duties?”

The expression that stretched across Dr. Khoura’s face, on the other hand, was only a smile in the most technical of senses. “So we do.”

“Yeesh,” Barrach muttered under their breath, “I’m not sure if I feel worse for the sergeant, or for those kids.”

Third option, Rin only barely stopped herself from saying.


Chapter Twenty-Nine: Bleed On (in which the trail grows warmer and the twins face an uncomfortable decision)

(Read the entire chapter at once)

Zarah shook the last few drops out of the water bottle into her mouth, grimacing as they failed to wash away the sharp, acrid taste at the back of her throat.


She looked up to find Orae standing in front of where she sat leant back against the wall.

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