AN~ Holy crap, guys! I'm number ten in the top number of reviews in the whole category! That's saying something! Holy- MAN, thanks so much! I'd hug you all if I could.
QotU: That being said, why am I getting less reviews now than I have been since before my hiatus? Is it because I left, or it is a sitewide thing having to do with the approach of summer? The most rational answer wins.
Old QotU Winner: SilSha, who had a cool answer.
Titania was supposed to arrive today. Actually, Sabrina was pretty sure she'd been scheduled to be there two days ago, but nobody was saying anything about that. It was just her grandmother's worried looks that fed her suspicion.
She'd been learning a lot about war these last few days. It was boring, for one thing. Boring and tense by turns. They were depending on letters from people at the edge of things to learn about the battle, and between letters there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Sabrina's heart broke a little with each death she heard about, though she didn't show anyone. She was a queen. She had to be strong.
There hadn't been any real battles yet, just small skirmishes. The army of Magica was still marching towards the border of Sneak, for the most part, and because they couldn't cross it easily, they were waiting there. The Sneaks were just trying to keep their journey from being too easy. Small fights over the border were the only battles so far, but they'd lost some people already.
She wanted to go out and fight, wanted it so much her breath caught in her throat and she clenched her fists so tight her nails dug into her palms and left red lines on them when she worked her fingers back open. But no, her job was to sit with her grandmother and listen to the messengers and the generals advise people. Even Puck got to do something!
Puck had been put in charge of defenses for the castle, and designing traps for the Sneaks on the battlefield to use. He was loving his job, and had tested some of his new inventions on Sabrina.
She'd mostly forgiven him for linking them together, now that they were loose again, but those traps- Well, she wasn't too happy with him, to say the least. She missed the camaraderie they'd developed over the tour of Sneak. Back then, she'd almost thought that it might not be too bad to marry him. Now, though, he was as bad as he'd been when they first met, and she was pretty sure he was working so hard just to make sure this war got finished before either of them were eighteen, so they could cut the marriage off.
Right now, she thought she might want that, too.
Still, she'd miss him... Those eyes, not really blue or green, shifting between the colors like a mystery she needed to solve; his crooked smile with teeth that were ridiculously white, considering his eating habits; the way he actually liked Sneak food; his fingers drumming on something when he was nervous or uncomfortable-
She cut herself off. There was no point in thinking like that. He most certainly wasn't in love with her, and any marriage between them was bound to go horribly wrong. She'd hate to marry him and be the only one who wanted it. Better to finish this and go back to Bradley. He was nice enough, and he still wanted her, it was obvious. Then Puck could go off and do his own thing.
First they had to win the war, though.
And they couldn't start really doing that until Titania arrived.
She sighed and slid down against the wall of the training room she'd been leaning on. The training room of the castle was a big open space with lines painted on the floor in rectangles or circles or just crosspieces, to mark places for people to perform different exercises. In one corner there was a stack of mats for rough exercises, and along the back wall there were racks of practice weapons and protective gear. The short wall next to that had dummies and targets for single-practice use. The room was normally dominated by Snow, but since she'd left, people had just been coming in to train on their own, without keeping to a schedule.
Right now she was the only one in the room- most people were using the city's public training room or the school's, both of which had people to coach and egg on the practitioners. She'd already destroyed one practice dummy and worked herself until she could shoot an arrow at any target from however far away she wanted and hit at least close enough to the bullseye that she'd do some damage, if not make it to the actual center. What she wanted was to actually fight someone. Even just a sparring match would be enough, though she'd like to kick some Magica behind into the afterlife.
The door swung open, and Jonas came in. He was wearing a heavy set of practice armor over a suit of clothes the color of mottled bricks. He'd been training.
"Where have you been?" Sabrina demanded, pushing herself back up into a standing position. "I looked all over the palace for you!"
"I was at school," Jonas said, not rising to her itch for a fight. "I'm almost ready to move up to a class for nine-year-olds!"
"Congratulations," Sabrina said sarcastically. "What are they going to do when you're ready to move on to stage two and learn about careers? They can't exactly send you to Artisa when we're in the middle of a war."
Jonas shrugged and said, "I dunno, maybe I'll skip that."
Jonas sighed and said, "Sabrina, if you want to spar, just tell me."
"Yes, I want to spar!" Sabrina snapped. "I've been itching for a fight all day, but everyone is avoiding me!"
"That's because you're scary," Jonas said. He put up a hand before Sabrina could give him a retort and said, "I'll fight you. Just let me put on some lighter padding."
Sabrina gave him a chilly, excited smile, then headed with him to the training gear. This was going to be fun.
They'd just begun to fight, and Sabrina was swinging her practice sword down at Jonas' knee, when the door burst open and a servant came running in, panting, a large red gash in his shirt dripping on the floor.
Hit with a sense of deja vu, Sabrina lowered her sword and turned to the man, demanding, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Magicians attacking," the man said with a gasp. "Coming for- you!"
"Oh no," Sabrina said, a sense of dread overwhelming her. "Not now, not this soon. You have to be wrong."
The man shook his head. "Run," he whispered. He held a hand to his side, covering the gash, and Sabrina realized what it was: blood.
"We have to get him someplace safe," Sabrina said, pulling off her padding and ripping it open with the sword. She converted the padding into strips faster than she thought she knew how, and yanked the man's tunic up. She hissed when she saw the wound, a bubbling gash that showed a black streak of rib- this was no sword wound, this was from magic. She fought past the urge to let her lunch loose into the world again and began wrapping her newly-made bandages around the man's waist, packing the wool from the center of her padding in between layers of bandaging to stop the blood.
"Where?" Jonas asked, his voice shrill. "If they're attacking the palace-"
"There are more bolt holes in this place than there are bubbles in Swiss Cheese," Sabrina said, not looking up from her work. "You want to be a Sneak, find one. I'll get us to a healer from there."
"Where?" Jonas asked. "Through the city? That won't be safe, either-"
"I'll make us safe," Sabrina said, and her voice was so intense that she scared herself, a little. "If you can't find us a way out, at least find Puck. He can help me get him out of here, and I can take us straight to the tunnels."
Jonas gulped, then nodded, running for the door. Sabrina watched him for a second, then turned back to the servant. He was youngish, one of the students on his last legs of training, by the looks of things. Handsome enough, with a dark complexion and thick, curly hair over a round face. His breath was coming shallow, and he looked pale under his brown skin.
"You're going to be all right," she promised him. "What's your name?"
He shook his head, gasping.
He couldn't speak. That was a bad sign. He might be getting poisoned from the inside. She needed a way to stop the spread of the injury, a way to- No. She couldn't do anything. She could barely even get his wound closed.
The door opened again with a slam, and Jonas came back in, panting, with Puck in tow.
"It's insane out there," Jonas said between gasps. "They're everywhere. I don't see how they got in so fast, without anyone noticing. I don't- I'm not sure we can get out."
Puck didn't say anything. Normally that would have struck Sabrina as odd, but at the moment she was a bit busy trying to keep this man alive.
"Help me get him upright," Sabrina told Puck and Jonas. Turning back to the man, she asked, "Can you walk, you think? If we help you?" He was fading so fast. He'd been able to run a few minutes ago, and now he couldn't even talk.
The young man nodded, still gasping. Sabrina gave him a tight smile and began lifting him. Puck and Jonas surged forward to help, and they lifted him to a standing position, then limped their way to the door. Sabrina disentangled herself from the servant and told Puck and Jonas to stay put while she scouted ahead.
She poked her head out the door, making sure there was nobody else around. The corridor was empty, but she could hear the buzzing sound of magic growing louder and softer in the next hall over, and the clang of swords hitting each other or rocks. Occasionally there was a burst of light, or a scream, or a grunt, or the sickening sound of tearing flesh. She could smell blood and burning.
All right, so taking that passageway was out. Were there any secret passages in this hall?
She tried to think. The training room wasn't someplace she had to sneak to very often, so she wasn't as well acquainted with the secret ways there as she was with the ones to, say, the kitchen. But there was a statue in an alcove right at the T where her passage met the dangerous one, and that particular statue looked very superfluous, unless it was hiding something. The fact that there were no other doors on this passage made her think she was right.
She would take a look. If it turned out not to be something she could use, they could always take the windows out. It would be difficult with an injured person, but they could probably manage.
She tiptoed her way forward towards the statue, which was of a ridiculously dressed girl pouring water onto a bunch of rocks. Completely pointless, and it made Sabrina feel particularly glad that she was wearing a practical dress, simple and grayish brown with a thick leather bust that she'd placed some heavy twine and two small knives into. Much better for running around in than that voluminous mass of ribbons the stone girl was wearing.
She pulled out one of the small knives now, cursing herself for not grabbing the practice sword when she'd left the training room, and crept closer to the statue. There was a deep alcove behind it, and she was almost positive she saw a small rock in the statue that could be pressed down and open a passage behind it. The problem was that to get into the passage they'd have to go into the other passage, and she was feeling exposed enough right where she was.
They could do it. Maybe.
She turned to head back to the training room, and took two steps towards it, when someone stumbled past her, arms flailing. As the man went by, his eyes opened wide, locking in on Sabrina.
"Dangit," she muttered.
She turned back and ran for the door to the training room, not worried about being quiet any longer. That man did not look like a Sneak.
She burst through the door, as it seemed was becoming a popular thing to do today, and said, "We'll have to take the windows out."
"What?" Puck and Jonas demanded simultaneously.
"You heard me," Sabrina said, leaning hard against the door and pulling the twine out of her dress. "There are too many people in the hall- one of them saw me. We have to go out through the window."
"They saw you?" Jonas hissed. "Aren't you supposed to be one of the best Sneaks out there?"
"Oh, like you could have done any better," Sabrina snapped. "Just take the rope and go down."
"That's not a rope," Puck said, looking doubtfully at it. "That's a string."
The door bucked against Sabrina's back, and she pressed herself harder against it. "I don't care, just go!" she hissed. "I'll hold them off as long as I can!"
Puck grabbed the twine, and he and Jonas walked off, the servant still between them. Sabrina watched them until they were on the ledge beneath the window, then she grinned and ran away from the door, grabbing her practice sword from the floor. Finally, she'd get to fight someone.
Puck and Jonas crept their way across the ledge six feet below the window, keeping the servant between them. They'd thought about climbing down, but the drop was too far, and there were people fighting in the courtyard, so they were working their way to a gradually sloped rooftop about fifty yards away and four feet down. It was safer there, and since Sabrina was obviously not coming any time soon, they could wait there.
"What are we going to do?" Jonas hissed at Puck, shoving the groaning servant man back against the wall when he threatened to crumble.
Puck shrugged, hoisting the man up so that his arm was tight around Puck's shoulder. He didn't say anything.
It took them way too long to make it to the rooftop, and by the time they got there, the servant man was practically passed out. They laid him on the shingles, and he rolled a few feet, then stopped. Puck and Jonas, too, laid back against the hot black slates. There was no way they were making it out of this.
He wasn't even sure Sabrina could make it out of this. Or that she could make it to this point. What if she-
There was no point thinking about that.
How had they gotten in, though? That was the question. He'd set up all sorts of things to keep anyone from making it into the palace without sounding alarms. Nobody should have been able to get in. He'd made sure of that.
At least, he'd thought he'd made sure of it.
He must have- No he couldn't have. But there was no other solution. He must have-
"Sabrina!" Jonas hissed.
Puck's head snapped around. Sabrina was climbing out of the window, looking bedraggled but very much alive. He saw some red blotches on her, and his heart tensed up, but she was moving normally. His muscles loosened and he almost collapsed on the too-hot roof again. She was alive. Thank the heavens.
She wasn't turning towards Jonas' voice, though. She looked like she was getting ready to climb down to the courtyard, actually.
That would be a very bad thing.
"Sabrina!" Jonas called again, much louder this time.
She heard. Her head whipped around and she gave a big smile when she saw them- much bigger and more relieved than Puck would have expected.
Unfortunately, several people in the courtyard heard, too, and they all looked up at the roof.
"Shoot," Puck muttered, eyes widening.
"Run!" Sabrina shrieked at them, not bothering to be quiet. She started shimmying across the ledge as fast as she could.
Puck and Jonas tried to take her advice, but it was hard when they were carrying an unconscious man and scrambling up a smooth incline. They made it across the roof to the back side around the same time Sabrina did, sending a flurry of tiles down to the ground below.
"Now what?" Jonas asked.
"Now we make for the tunnels," Sabrina said grimly.
"Where?" Jonas asked.
Sabrina nodded across the roof, and Puck and Jonas looked where she was pointing. The back side of this roof led fell onto an alleyway. Behind that alleyway was a thick castle wall, and not twenty feet beyond that were the tall cliffs that were the border of Sneak. Puck could see the crags that were the entrances to the tunnels from here. They just had to get there.
"How many people can you carry flying?" Sabrina asked.
"Two, at most," Puck said, understanding her plan. If he could fly them, they could make it to the tunnels. They would survive! "And they'd have to be light people."
"You'll have to make two trips, then," Sabrina said grimly. "Is that okay? It's putting you in more danger. Someone could see you."
"Of course it's okay," Puck said. After all, if this was his fault, he ought to do everything he could to get them out. He should fly every single Sneak in this city to safety.
"No you won't have to," Jonas said grimly.
Sabrina and Puck turned to stare at Jonas.
"Why not?" Sabrina asked.
Jonas took a deep breath and said, "I'm staying here."
"You can't!" Sabrina protested. "You're just a kid, you've barely had any training, you'll-"
"There are kids younger than me out there right now," Jonas said. "I'm doing better than anyone thought I would at training. They need all the help I can get." He looked at them both imploringly. "I ran away from one country. Now I've found one worth fighting for. Let me prove it."
Sabrina glared at him and whispered, "I should knock you out and drag you along with me."
"You don't have time to do that," Jonas answered.
"I know," Sabrina said. She wrapped her arms around Jonas and said, "Be safe. I'm proud of you."
Puck and Jonas looked at each other, and Puck gave him a lopsided smile. "Try not to die," he said. "I actually kind of like you."
"Same to you," Jonas said. He turned, then, and slid down the side of the roof to another ledge below that.
"Convenient," Puck said to the air, "All these ledges and things on the walls. Almost like someone planned this place for climbing on the outside of."
"Oh, shut up and fly us out of here, fairy boy," Sabrina snapped.
Puck gave her a grin that wasn't as big as it normally would have been, and the two headed for the hills.
AN~ This chapter was shorter than it should have been. Sorry 'bout that. Did it come across as dramatic, though? I'm always afraid I don't do a good job working tension into stories.
Feature: "Earth and Fire" by emowriter
An introspective thing about Sabrina and Daphne. It's awesome.
Some Review Replies:
Guest 1: Oh, I enjoy that more, too. It's just weird that people bugged me for one and when I gave it to them they bugged me for the other. However, telling me the characters are boring IS kind of rude. If I told you your family was boring and added 'no offense' after that, you'd still be offended, right? Well, it's kind of like that. At least tell me why and how to fix it.
Guest 2: Well, thank you so much for that encouraging review! I didn't get as many reviews as I normally do for this chapter and the previous one, so it was nice to get something that enthusiastic. :)
Guest 3: Umm... Seven-ish. Maybe six, maybe eight. Less than ten more, I think. If all goes as planned.
mindblowingfact: I was never considering that. Glad you like it. :)
Nello Orella: QotU: You know, I'm not really a hot chocolate fan, so that doesn't add much for me, but it's a good reason. Chapter: Well, self preservation is a strong instinct, and she wants to get out of those handcuffs.
SilSha: Holy crow that's a long review. I've only read the first two Skulduggery Pleasant books (library never got the others), so I don't know who Darquess is, though I can guess. QotU: That's a pretty cool answer. Chapter: Yeah, Sabrina's cool. Reading suggestions: yeah no I don't have time. Sorry. I'd already read all the books and the other things just... meh.