Second Witch: "When the hurly-burly's done. When the battle's lost and won."
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1
Jamadigni Renuka stands with her back pressed flat against the wall and watches a gurney virtually fly by. All around her is seeming chaos as men and women of the Order of Enoch tend to the untold number of wounded who have been brought in for aid. She feels out of place, in the way, an obstacle to the proper order of things.
She shouldn't be here, she thinks, but then has to shake her head. Where should she go? Back the bridge? Brogan, Tyger, and Yiska have that well in hand. To join in with the fighting? To be honest, she's seen enough of death, battle, and Entities today. Back to XSWAT HQ? It almost goes without saying that Richard Hemelshot has that well in hand. Besides, it's not like she is going to be able to walk in, sit behind Cadbury's desk, and claim it for her own.
Actually, that's the one thing she wishes she could ask Nathan Carpenter about. Yes, Brogan has all but stated he would ensure her confirmation, but... Nathan could offer counsel, give her an idea of what Cadbury was asking of her. And advise her on what to and not to do.
But Nathan Carpenter has yet to stir.
When they'd pulled him from the bottom of the crater left by the destruction of Gurzorath, his hair and beard had gone stark white, while the Spatha Sancta was a mere hilt, the blade reduced to a few flakes of metal. He'd been barely breathing, his face pale, his skin clammy, his uniform soaked with ichor. Sister Carmen had stepped in almost immediately, calling in aid from her fellow Enochians.
Yiska's comments not withstanding, Jama had boarded the spinner taking Nathan out with a sense of dread. The Enochians had been so quiet, so reverent around the fallen Paladin. They'd treated him like a relic, as something fragile, not as the strong Man of God she remembered from the last year.
Upon arrival they'd taken Carpenter away and Jama had ended up where she was now—trying to stay out of the way. She wanted to help, but... there were so many, and they kept coming. Her skills with first aid were minimal, and right now she felt so very tired. And the nurses and doctors seemed to know exactly what to do for each and every person.
Cadbury would have known what to do as well, she thinks. Followed by: And here I am thinking I could replace her. No one could replace her, it was foolish to even consider it. Especially a mere slip of a sorceress like herself.
"Officer Renuka?" interrupts her emotional down-spiral, distracting her and allowing her current train of thought to run off unheeded.
"Yes?" She tries—and fails—to keep the emotion out of her voice. To keep her voice from cracking. "How is he? Is he going to recover?"
The man, whose name tag reads "Fisher," glances at his datapad. "I... I don't know. His condition is serious... but stable. We've been able to treat his wounds, but...."
"But what?" She fears the answers she might hear, but asks anyway. To not know is even worse.
"It's his hands." Fisher looks from her to his datapad. "They're exhibiting what seems to be advanced necrosis...."
Advanced? "Necro... what does that mean? Have Nathan's hands died?"
"Not exactly." The doctor's tone smoothes, as if speaking in purely medical terms is comforting. "It means the skin, the outer layers, have, well, died. He's also showing signs of leukopenia." Fisher holds up his own hand, stopping her next question before she can ask it. "He has a very low white blood count. Very low. Meaning Carpenter is very vulnerable to infection right now. We've cleaned and dressed his hands, given him a full suite of antibiotics, and have him in an oxygen tent. We're even considering a nanite bath... once he stabilizes."
Jama closes her eyes and tries not to shake. It is not supposed to be like this. Cadbury gone, Tyger despondent and depressed, Carpenter near death... She tries to recall some of Tyger's bluster, some of Yiska's humor, but can't. She's the Defender of Angelus and she's only twenty-four years old. She's far too young to be saying good by to dead friends.
"And once he stabilizes? What then?"
"We're trying to make sure he still has his hands." Fisher pauses, and then goes on. "But even if we do save them... I don't think they'll ever be as they were."
She wants to scream. To break down and cry. To find Gurzorath and destroy him all over again. To find Hart, stupid, foolish Hart, and force him to see, to really see, what he had done. But most of all, she wants Nathan Carpenter back, safe and sound.
"Can I see him?"
"Ahhh..." Fisher hems and haws. Jama wants to glare at him, realizing she's come up against the Order's policy regarding patients and 'unbelievers.' Not to mention Nathan's new knighthood. Instead she takes a breath and lets it out slowly. "It would be very important to me. To all of us." 'In the 9th Squad' remains unspoken. "I don't need to go in his room, just... look in the window?"
The sounds of the emergency ward fade quickly as they enter the depths of the hospital. Jama is content to follow Dr. Fisher and quickly realizes she has no idea where she is, or how she got there. They've ascended, she knows that much, but floor and room numbers are a lost cause. But it matters not right now. All she really wants is to see him. See him safe. For she fears that this to is her doing. In sealing off the gate in Omega she not only shut out the Entities, but shut out all of the Elder Spirits. Cadbury, Gaia... all of them. Carpenter may have struck the killing blow against Gurzorath, but she was the one who cut his ties with God.
Fisher has stopped and Jama barely keeps from running into him. They are in an arcing corridor with windows looking out over the Angelus skyline. She can't see any fires from here, not even smoke, which means this part of the hospital must face away from Omega. She finds that a comfort.
As Fisher checks the door to what must be Carpenter's room, Jama grows acutely aware there are others in the hall. Priests and nuns, in severe black and white, all sitting along the walls, running the beads of their rosaries through their hands over and over. They are praying. Praying for their knight to live. For God to heal him. To make him whole and able to stand for them against the darkness.
Again Jama closes her eyes and wills herself to remain still. Some might find the scene comforting, but to her it's disturbing. As if the ranks of Enochians are there to send Nathan's soul away, not bring it back. It may be a prayer vigil, but it seems to be one of death, not life.
"Five minutes." Fisher motions to the door, breaking through yet another unwanted vision. She feels almost thankful.
Inside the room is still. She can't heard the words of the PA, the faint whispers of prayer, the cries and screams of the wounded. The only sound is the rhythmic hiss of the pumps as an assortment of machines work to keep the body in the bed before her alive. She leans forward, nose almost touching the transparent panes of the tent, and looks at Nathan Carpenter.
Jama is not very tall. It is a fact she's used to. And Nathan... Nathan (and the rest of 9th Squad), always towered over her. Strong, solid, a foundation of strength. Now he looks... shrunken. Wasted, drained physically as she does emotionally. His cheeks are thin, his eyes sunken, and his white hair and beard makes him look at least ten years older.
He is so very still lying there. Still and quiet, with only his chest moving ever-so-slightly in time with the constant beep of the respirator.
"Carpenter," she asks quietly. "Nathan? Can you hear me? It's Jama. Jamadigni." She pauses and sniffs, her shoulders starting to shake. "I'm sorry Nathan. I'm sorry for allowing this to happen to you."
She looks to his bandaged hands and then her own. Hers are young, small, and smooth—if only in comparison to Nathan's. His are the hands of a warrior, a soldier, a knight, and... a carpenter. Hers are those of a student, a scholar, a sorceress, and police officer, and... the Defender of Angelus.
Alice Cadbury healed her as she lay dying.... She can do no less for Nathan Carpenter.
Settling herself down, Jama kneels on the floor, her hands pressed together, and leans against Nathan's bed. Closing her eyes, she starts to pray.
It may surprise some to see Jama pray, as she is an admitted animist, but Jama sees Nathan Carpenter's God as the ultimate expression of the spirits she knows inhabit most things. To her, God is no different than Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Yahweh, and all the others. He is the eldest of the Elder Spirits, the creator of all life, the force that powers the Wheel, and He is everywhere, in everything, and in everyone. And she can call upon Him to aid her—as her sorceress skills have proved time and time again.
As her mind calms, her course of action becomes clear. She must see Nathan. She must open her mind's eye and see him as he really is. See where his injuries lie and what can be done to heal them.
She stands, spreads her arms wide, and enacts the Ritual of True Sight. She no longer fears what she might see, but what she won't see.
When she opens her eyes again the shock is enough to send her to her knees again. Nathan Carpenter's body is just that, a body. There's no soul, no spirit, no life force within. It is breathing only because the machines make it breath. But otherwise it is an empty vessel.
She feels panic and despair. Anger and helplessness. To see Nathan taken just when the chance for peace had been achieved is almost enough to break her, then and there. She turns her head, unable to even wipe at the tears, and freezes, eyes wide, mouth agape.
Nathan Carpenter is standing by the door to the outer hall, as whole and healthy as he as ever been, dressed not in an XSWAT uniform, but a full suit of metal armor. He looks resplendent, a true knight of the church, his harness marred here and there by the wear and tear that only combat can bring. He is glowing brightly, illuminating the room and her face, and she can just see the faint outline of wings fanning out from his shoulders. He is looking not at her, but the door, lost in contemplation, as if regarding something she can only guess at. His eyes are distant, focused on something far off in the distance.
As she kneels there on the floor, unable to move, to speak even, Nathan turns, as if he's only now become aware of her presence. His eyes meet hers, and he smiles. His expression is caring, but sad and wistful, and Jama's heart nearly breaks to see it. Nathan then looks beyond her, to where his body lies, and he sighs, the sound clearly audible over the machines.
It is clear to Jama now. Nathan Carpenter has a decision to make, and she can only guess what it may be.
Jama closes her eyes for a moment and tries to calm her mind. She doesn't have Carpenter's way with words, nor Yiska's, but she needs to speak clearly now and not stumble. She will not beg, or plead, and she certainly will not compel Nathan's spirit to do anything, but she can at least speak to him. Let him know she is there and that she understands. Or, at least, she hopes she does.
"Nathan," she says, speaking apparently to an otherwise empty room, "I know you have a choice to make... and only you can make it. Just as Alice Cadbury had a choice, and she made it." She swallows and then continues. "We have been through much this last year... but regardless of what has happened we have always stood by each other. We have fought for each other, bled for each other, and depended on each other. We have a bond: you, I, and the rest of the 9th Squad. We trust each other, and I trust you."
Jama pauses and closes her eyes for a moment. Nathan seems to be listening, his head cocked. She looks to the ceiling, and then back to where his wispy spirit stands. "I trust you to make the right decision here and will accept it... whatever the outcome. And I promise..." She swallows again, considering what she is about to say, the oath she is about to make, "I promise to fulfill your oaths if needed—to bring back Michael Hart from Omega, and to see your wife and children safe through all that may happen."
She pauses again, trying to will back the tears she can feel beginning to fall. "And before you decide, please consider this last request. Put down the sword and take up the hammer. Help us rebuild Angelus, for we will have need of carpenters."
Carpenter's spirit sighs again and gives Jama a look that speaks volumes. I'm sorry. I'm too tired to keep going, you don't need my help.
Before she can react, protest, forget her promise not to plead, Nathan's head swivels as if he has heard a sound. Jama herself can faintly hear some sort of commotion outside. Without hesitation, the spirit leaves the room, going through the door as if it wasn't there.
Rising to her feet, she stumbles after him, almost falling in her haste to open the door. She almost runs into Dr. Fisher as well, pushing him away with one hand she she dashes past the rows who still sit in prayer for a soul that is leaving them. Her True Sight has become a form of tunnel vision. The hallway, the people in it, even Dr. Fisher, have all become compressed, faded, unreal. Only Nathan, aglow with inner light, is truly visible to her. He is the only thing that shines in her sight, hurtling down the hall with almost supernatural speed towards the source of the noise.
There is a gurney, toppled on its side, blocking the hallway. Amid the tangled sheets and straps a young girl convulses, her body twisting too and fro, her face a drawn into a rictus of pain. Two orderlies are trying to hold her down, administer a sedative, but her thrashings of preternaturally strong and she is able to resist their efforts with ease.
With hesitation, Nathan thrusts his translucent arm into the girl's chest, passing through her flesh with the same ease as it had the door to his room. When he stands, a writhing form is held in his hand.
Jama arrives breathless. She is fairly swift of foot, but Nathan seemed to move at the speed of thought while she needs to dodge doctors, nurses, and other patients. At least her uniform is sufficient warning to allow most to get out of the way in time.
She can see Nathan's catch is some sort of Entity. It is small—small enough to be held in one hand—and seems to be all writhing tentacles and snapping fangs. Behind the ghostly Paladin, the girl's thrashings subside, the orderlies are able to stand the gurney back up, and she is quickly wheeled away. No one it seems, can see Nathan and his catch, except for Jama herself. And if anyone notices the slightly-built XSWAT officer apparently starting at nothing, they make no comment.
There is a moment where Nathan regards the squirming ball of hate in his hand. Jama can see his expression is grim, his posture tense, his eyes narrow. The aura about him flickers and flames and then Nathan slams the Entity against the wall. With merciless determination he clenches his fist, crushing the creature. Jama can almost feel the crunching of alien bones, hear its death shriek as it shudders, convulses itself, and then like all other slain Entities, dissolves into shapeless sludge.
Nathan's face twists with disgust as he shakes his arm, attempting to dislodge the ichor staining it. Jama can see the smears on the wall slowly fading, and wonders if the Entity was something physical, or something like a Soulstealer. She feels strangely disconnected, as if herself and Nathan are the only two people in the whole world, and everyone around them are mere phantoms and figments, shades who disappear once her back is turned.
His arm clean, Nathan turns to her, his face hardened into a resolute mask, his eyes gleaming with a here fore unnoticed light. She can see a change in him, a decision has been made, and she must steel herself to abide by it. I was wrong. The battle is not over. Our work is not done. I have a lot to do yet.
Her heart almost leaps as his intent becomes clear. A fierce grin splits Nathan's face. Jama recognizes the look; it has carried her through many a hopeless battle when all had seemed lost. The sight of it fills her heart with joy and hope. Gently, he steps over to Jama and kisses her forehead. She feels a cold fire touch the sigil there while a nurse across the hall looks up at the sudden flash of blue light. She sees only a young woman, dark of hair and skin, in the uniform of an XSWAT officer, her eyes bright with tears. Puzzled, she thinks to ask if anything is wrong, but the woman turns away before she can speak. Shaking her head, the nurse returns to her duties—the hospital has more injured than it can handle, and there is nothing new about seeing tears. Not this day.
Jama's eyes close at the feel of Nathan's lips and her whole body shudders for a moment. There was power in that kiss, the power of love, healing, and friendship. When her eyes open the hallway is empty and she is alone. Nathan is gone—gone back to his room. She can feel it. Turning around she leaves almost as quickly as she came, the excitement and elation in her chest giving her wings. Nathan was going to recover. He was going to endure.
She pauses at the door to Nathan's room. Outside nothing has changed. There is still the silent and stationary vigil as men and women of the cloth pray for his recovery. Dr. Fisher is there, looking a little rattled, but then, she had dashed off rather suddenly.
No... it's not that. There is something else. Something new. Yes, Nathan would be showing improvement, but not now, not yet. And besides, if Nathan's vital signs had improved, Fisher would be elated, not disconcerted.
Her True Sight is fading, almost gone, which is a blessing. Most people look fairly normal, even under the gaze of her spirit seeking True Sight. But here, now? In this place? You never can tell who might be truly pious, truly holy... or truly evil. And that is something she'd rather not come upon unexpectedly. But still, there is a sense, a feeling, of deep sadness and pain. And it's not Nathan Carpenter.
Fisher sees her and raises a hand. She pauses for a moment, head cocked, her expression questioning. Then he turns away and shakes his head, as if giving up on ever controlling the unwanted comings and goings of impetuous sorceresses.
She opens the door, hoping to find Nathan already on the road to recovery, and instead sees Tyger, kneeling on the floor, head bowed. She is staggered slightly by the sight. She has no idea how he got here, or even when. And for a moment, just a moment, she sees herself there, overcome with the grief she felt when she realized Nathan Carpenter might be no more.
There is a moment of indecision. Tyger had nearly attacked her over the death of Cadbury. Would he even listen to her now? She could see blood staining the white fur of his hands and dripping onto the floor as he rocked back and forth, keening his grief.
Jama steps inside softly, letting the door close behind. She closes her eyes and offers a prayer, a small prayer, to Nathan's God. She offers thanks for Nathan's return to help and politely asks for the chance to speak to Tyger before he does something rash.
"Tyger?" she asks in a quiet voice.
Silence greets her query. Silence followed by the faint sounds of whimper. She fears for Tyger in those long moments. Fears that it has all been too much for the clade to bear and now he has broken. She reaches for him, tentatively, as one might for an object you suspect is hotter than it looks. He quivered under her fingertips, his soft fur bristling.
"Who else?" he asks, his voice a mere murmur wrought with despair. "They already took my past from me. Took my ship, my crew. They took Alice... Mom from me. Marcy is half a world away, not even sure if she can come back.... And now Nate. Who else Jama? Dick? You? How much more do I have to give? How much more has to be taken from me? I have given all I've got an' it wasn't enough. How much more do I have to give up and sacrifice Jama? Why do they take everything from me?"
Again, she kneels beside Nathan's bed and slowly slides her arm over Tyger's shoulders. "No one took Alice Cadbury from you," she says slowly, "she chose to go. And in her final moments she looked happier than I have ever seen her." She pauses for a moment, thinking back to that moment, with all the elder spirits gathered about her, placing their energy into the Seal—and making it possible for man to make his own way in the world.
Tyger doesn't respond, but only opens his hands, gazing on the bright red stains with unseeing eyes.
"And no one has taken Nathan Carpenter from us, either," Jama says, gesturing to the hospital bed before her. "He is here now, and will be here tomorrow. He has made his choice, and he has chosen to remain by our side.
"I am still here Tyger—and so are Richard, and Yiska, and Malachi. We are still together, we are still friends, companions, and comrades in arms, and none of us have given up. I know we will not be together much longer, but it will not be death that causes us to go our separate ways, but our choices for the future."
Tyger sighs heavily, still looking at his bloodstained hands. "Even if Mom sacrificed herself, was murdered, or simply just decided to leave for good... I... I still did not get to say goodbye to her. I wasn't able to tell her what she meant to me... or even tell her 'thanks.' Shh... she left without saying goodbye.
"Alice was the closest thing I ever had to a mother Jama... I... just wanted to say goodbye. And tell her I loved her."
There is another long sigh, and Tyger clenches his hands. Not as tightly as before, but still, it is enough to bring fresh blood. Jama is having a hard time reading his expression, but there is a brief moment where she feels he is actually enjoying the pain.
Tyger is stronger than her, far stronger, and her arms still smart faintly from the pressure of his grip. But that doesn't matter now. She will not see this clade... no, this man, who had stood tall and strong in the face of innumerable and unguessable horrors, who had been the last to leave Rutger Bridge, who had been there when Gurzorath fell, destroy himself so.
Placing her hands on either side of his face, Jama turns Tyger's head to face hers. She now close enough to kiss him and can easily smell the sweat and blood staining his fur and clothes. Her green eyes lock on his blue-green ones as her brow furrows.
"When I left Bali two years ago, I said goodbye to my mother and father and told them I loved them. And had I died today, or on any of our other missions, they would still have that memory. So perhaps I am the lucky one. But I saw the bridge you held. I saw the dead there. How many of them had that chance? How many of them were able to say goodbye before they were taken?
"Alice Cadbury loved us more than we will ever know, even if it wasn't readily apparent. And before she left she gave us a gift greater than we could have imagined. A moment of Perfect Grace. Do you think she granted that gift idly? Do you think she would have given that gift to just anyone?"
She pauses and waits, as Tyger bites his lip, he eyes welling with tears. She can understand his pain, she felt the same way when she thought Nathan was going to pass on. But she was there when Alice Cadbury submitted herself as sacrifice to the Ordinus Seal. She saw how Alice Cadbury had stood and spoken, what she had said and how. She knew what she was doing and what it meant, both to her and the world. No, Tyger never had a chance to say goodbye, but then, neither did many others, and while Tyger might call Alice Cadbury mother, she wasn't really. His mother would be found somewhere on Castaway Cay, while his father—so to speak—was dead, slain in front of the Omega Sector wall.
His forehead touches hers they are so close, as Tyger closes his eyes. "I know she loved me Jama... despite how horrible of a creature I am... she loved me. If she did not, she would not have done the things that she has done for me... for any of us. I... I just never got a chance to tell her.
"I..." Tyger pauses and swallows some of his grief. His hands and arms are wrapped tightly around her waist, not as a lover, but as a small child seeking the solace of his mother. "...I don't even want to think about how many didn't get to say goodbye. But most of 'em got to tell their loved ones that they loved them. Even if they didn't do it before they died...they at least got to tell them. I never got the chance to ever tell Mom...."
Tyger is crying openly now, the tears staining the white fur of his face. "She gave me the only thing that I ever wanted Jama. So did Nathan and Marcy..." He hugs her to him as he speaks, no longer seeming as a child, but as someone who has only now discovered what was like to feel wanted, needed, and cared for. Jama returns the hug, once again feeling the love Nathan had spoken about before. The love for one's friends and companions. A love brought about by the sharing of hardships, of standing together in the face of adversity, a bond that goes beyond mere words.
"...and all of 'em have been taken from me." He is speaking into her shoulder now, while she strokes his hair with one hand. "Everything I've ever cared about has been taken away. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Mom or tell her I loved her. Marcy ran off to another country... she said she'd be back... I wanna believe her... but I just don't know. Now Nathan's gone too. I've got nothing left to give Jama...why do I have to suffer? What did I do wrong? Why do I have to be unwanted, unloved and hated? Why aren't I allowed to be happy like everybody else?"
Now it was her turn to sigh. Tyger was so caught up in his grief it seems he hasn't heard her words. Feeling a sudden sense of deja vu, she kisses his forehead, the fur a soft prickle against her lips. "You're not listening, Tyger. Nathan Carpenter is not gone. He has chosen life, to live, to stand with us and continue the tasks Alice Cadbury gave us. He is not dead, not yet, and he will be there to stand with you on your wedding day."
She pauses for a moment, wondering, hoping, that her words are being heard. And having an effect. "As I, and the others. You are not unwanted or unloved, if only you'd open your eyes and see."
There is a fire building within her now, one brought about by the exultation of Nathan's decision. Of his acknowledging the needs of his world. And by Tyger's words. Of his need, for all his bluster and boasts, for guidance. She has her own choice to make as well, and now is the time to make it. For better, or worse, she has decided. "Alice Cadbury charged me to take her place, Tyger, and I will. And I will have need of you. Your knowledge, your skills... and your smirking grins in the face of adversity. Both as Defender of Angelus and Director of XSWAT."
There, it is done. The gauntlet has been thrown, the die cast. What is done is done, and she will have to accept the result, come what may.
Tyger looks at her incredulously, his pain and sadness washed away by the sound of her words. His jaw works for a moment, but there are no words yes, as he tries to come to grips with her declaration.
"You... wha... huh? You have got to be kidding me. You're just a kid, still wet behind the ears!" The smirking grin she knows all-to-well is back and she wants to hug him for it. Or slap him, she's not sure which. No, he's not serious about his words—she can sense the happiness in him now. Things were going to be all right. For a time anyway.
"Am I? I'm the spirit-caller, who completed the spell Van Goren could not." Jama takes a deep breath and leans back, holding Tyger by the shoulders so she may look him in the face. "Will you have me then? As Director, and as a... stepmother perhaps?"
The smirk becomes a crooked grin as Tyger rubs the back of his neck with one hand. "I dunno...I still kinda think of you as my little sister. But if you are taking the Director's chair, I guess I have no choice but to stick around Jama. After all, someone's gotta keep you outta trouble."
She laughs, "Now that's the Tyger I know."
They rise and look to Nathan, who seems warmer and younger somehow. They stand there for a time, quiet in their contentment, for as both of them know, it will not last forever. Eventually the door opens, and Dr. Fisher hustles them out, so he may see to his patient. Finally they prepare to depart, each with much to think about over the days ahead.
As Jama turns to go, Tyger suddenly stops and reaches out, to tug on her sleeve.
"Hey Jama? I just thought of something... if you're director and you need me around, does this mean I'm going to be stuck behind a desk? Cause you know how much I hate paperwork."
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition
King Henry V