Midnight burst out onto the Rosaline Star's deck, bow in one hand, arrow in the other. She turned left and right, but apart from the screaming Whisper chained up in the hold below, she was alone. Midnight took a moment to slam the hatch to the hold closed, and the Whisper's protests abruptly became inaudible. Hopefully Vaneer and Jason wouldn't execute her or torture her or both for what had just happened, but even if they did, it wasn't Midnight's lookout.
She hadn't put her helmet on, just her armor. She basked in the feeling of the chilly night wind on her face, billowing off the harbor with just a touch of sea spray in it. She drank in the smell of salt.
"Luna," she whispered after a moment. "Luna, Luna." She glanced around. "I have to..."
The file, though - and MacTavish! Midnight swore. There was too much. Too many things she had to...
"Camilla!" a voice shouted, and Midnight froze. She spun around to see two figures approaching up the gangplank, each one in White Hand uniforms. "Camilla, how's the-"
They recognized her. She should have put her helmet on. Midnight dove to the side as both men raised crossbows, and bolts soared through the air where she'd been. Out came her bow and she fired, taking one in the shoulder with a snapshot. Both White Hand discarded their crossbows in lieu of reloading, and on they charged, drawing swords-
Midnight parried with her bow, once, twice. She ducked under a strike and flipped her enemy past her, then went head to head with the second one for a moment. One end of her bow took the man in the face, and he nearly spun all the way around. Midnight jumped, legs coming up as she whirled in the air, and her spinning kick sent her foe flying almost ten feet into the foremast. He slumped in ruin.
"Gotcha!" shouted the other one, his sword coming down mere inches from Midnight's nose. She lurched backward, then spun into a hook that sent her enemy staggering. She clutched her bow-
She cried out as he drove a knife into her thigh. It punched through her armor with some difficulty, and she felt the sense of violation as he abandoned the knife and left it sticking in her. She stumbled a step to the side, but it was only pain.
Only pain. The White Hand's smile faltered as her eyes snapped up to his.
An instant later, with six cracked bones, he soared over the rail and into the harbor below, unable to scream as he clutched his broken larynx.
Midnight clutched the hilt of the knife in her leg. She spent a moment going back and forth on the wisdom of ripping it out and flinging it away very dramatically, but the blood flow didn't seem arterial.
"Leave it in," she whispered to herself. "If you can. Take it out if it gets in the way."
Destination. She needed to go somewhere she could look at the wound, assess its seriousness, and get moving again.
"Home," she muttered. "Kui can fetch Belthor if needed. I can secure the file and warn MacTavish while I'm at it."
There. A plan. She had a plan. Midnight inhaled sharply, testing her leg. Even with the knife sticking out of it, it would bear her weight...even if it hurt. Even if it was stiff.
"It doesn't matter," she muttered to herself. "It's pain. It's only pain." She drew a grapple arrow from her quiver. "Home."
She swung off into the darkness an instant later.
Midnight clambered over the rail onto her balcony, setting her bow against the wall as she entered her room. She dropped to a seat on her bed, grabbed her nightdress, and leaned down to stick a hand underneath where she sat.
"Oh, thank the gods," she said as she pulled the Plan Thirteen file from where she'd left it. She dropped it by her side. "Kui? Kui!"
He wasn't here. Midnight swore. She'd have to go looking for him. There was simply too much for her to do - she had to give him the file and send him to warn MacTavish, and then she could go to Belthor and get healed...and then Luna...
"Luna," she whispered. "I'm coming."
She took the hilt of the knife and breathed for a moment. Before she did anything, she plucked the chocolate basket Luna had given her from her bedside table, and put the handle between her teeth.
"Ah!" Midnight grunted as she ripped the knife out. Immediately, she popped her armor open - not just her leg, all of it. She drank in the air on her body as she examined the incision. Against all the odds...it was a flesh wound.
"No artery damage," she whispered to herself happily. "Bind it and be on your way." She took her nightdress and ripped it in half, then repeated the process a few times. In moments, she had a long white strip of fabric, and she wrapped it around her thigh, bundling more material on the wound.
"There," she muttered, testing the leg. "That'll-"
"Kui?" Midnight asked. She stood. "Kui, if that's you-"
"Estelle, you're awake?" That...was her mother. She sounded very surprised. "I was just..."
Okay, her mother. Her mother could warn MacTavish. "Come in, come in," Estelle said. She slid her armor down out of sight. "Have you seen Kui-"
"He left a little while ago," Andromeda said, entering. She held a purse in one hand, and Estelle frowned.
"Are you going somewhere?"
"I have an errand," Andromeda said. "Luna and I. We're off to see one of the Lords...oh, she's probably waiting for me at the carriage already, I just wanted to see if you were awake-"
"Mother," Estelle said, blinking. "Mother, Luna's not waiting at the carriage, and you don't have business with her tonight."
Andromeda blinked. "Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to lie." She seemed to deflate. "It's just hard since your father died-"
Oh. "Oh!" Estelle raised her hands. "That's fine, that's fine." She forced herself back on track. "I need to tell you something. It's important."
"Me too," Andromeda said. Midnight shook her head.
"No, listen to me. Someone's going to kill John MacTavish. They're going to try and spark a war between the Clans and Nurem."
Andromeda blinked as Midnight passed on the information. That was the thing: her mother had always been very hard for her to read. Blinked was about the only reaction Midnight could see.
"Of course," Andromeda said as Midnight finished. "I'll go to him, I will. This...how did you get involved in this?"
"Later, I promise," Midnight said. "There's something else I have to do, though. And I have to go now. I need Kui."
"What?" she asked. Andromeda almost seemed to have tears in her eyes.
"You're so much like him," she finally whispered. "I love you, you know that, Starchild?"
"Of course," Midnight said. "Now-"
"Say it, please."
She blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Please, just...say it," Andromeda urged. "Just so I can hear it. In case..."
Midnight felt herself loosen just a little. "I love you too, Mother. And I know you love me. I always have. I've never doubted."
"My baby." Andromeda was definitely crying now. She extended her arms, and Midnight paused her preparations for one quick hug. "I missed you so much. All those years you were gone."
"I'm here now."
"I know. And that's why..." Andromeda inhaled shakily. "All those years...and I hoped you'd never come home."
"What?" Midnight paused. "Wait, you mean-"
"You spent your life tossed around back and forth," Andromeda explained. "Betrothed on my whim, rushing to the altar with a man you'd never met, twice your age...it was horrible for you. I hoped you'd found freedom and peace somewhere out there, and that you were happy, but that you'd never come back. That way, you could be what and who you wanted to be, my love."
"Mother..." Midnight shook herself. "I need to-"
"And...that way..." Andromeda seemed to brace. "That way I..."
Estelle staggered as pain lit up her midsection. She clutched her stomach, and she felt blood pour between her fingertips. Smoke rose for the ceiling, and her mother's arm wrapped around her tighter. Something hard pressed into her chest, a little higher now.
Estelle couldn't scream. She just gasped, blood dripping from her mouth. She stumbled backward, her mother's arm still around her, with two bullet holes in her stomach and chest, her blood soaking through her shirt and dripping to the carpet...
"Shh," Andromeda whispered, stroking Estelle's hair. "I'm sorry, Starchild. I'm so, so sorry." Those tears ran down her cheeks still, and Estelle's eyes widened as she saw a purple tint to her mother's.
"Vaneer," she gasped, glancing down at the silver lantern-shaped necklace around Andromeda's neck. Why hadn't she noticed it before? Why hadn't she...
Estelle collapsed on one knee, clutching at her mother's dress. She wasn't strong enough, though, and she fell next on her back, staring at the ceiling worlds away. Her fingers held only the carpet as she grabbed for purchase.
"The will of the Messiah is unstoppable," Andromeda said, and now her voice sounded deeper, harsher - more like Vaneer's. Estelle coughed blood as her mother stepped over her in a rustle of skirts, casually claiming the file on Plan Thirteen from her bed.
"Let her go," Estelle ordered, managing to catch her mother's ankle. "Let her go, Vaneer. Her and Luna."
"He won't," Andromeda said, holding onto her necklace with one white-knuckled finger. "This world is his...and I'm still sorry. I wish you'd gone to school like I wanted." Her tears redoubled. "I never wanted this, Starchild. Never. But his will is eternal. And you are in his way. It was inevitable."
"Help me, please...for Luna..."
"The only way I can save Luna is to let you die," Andromeda said. Her face worked with some kind of unimaginable pain. Her fingers released, and Estelle saw the gem on her necklace glowing purple to match the tint in her irises. "And the choice is no longer mine, love."
She shook Estelle's grip off with the tiniest of motions. She watched her mother sweep to the door, pausing only to light the lamp hanging in the center of the room.
"It seems a shame to let you die in the dark," Andromeda said, as she turned the lock. She glanced back at Estelle once, a hand on the door. "I hope you find peace, Estelle. Tell your father I love you both."
Estelle raised a hand with all the strength she had left. It didn't matter.
The door shut behind Andromeda, and Estelle was alone in the suffocating embrace of the light, staining the carpets red as her heart beat her blood straight out of her body.