Fin woke to someone standing over him, something long and metallic pressing into his chest. It was cold, even through the layers of his uniform. He couldn’t quite make out any details about who was standing over him, the lights of the room haloed the figure in a blurry haze. As far the object pressing into his chest, Fin was pretty sure it was a gun. The end felt too blunt to be anything else. He blinked his eyes, trying to clear the sleep and to acclimate to the light.
“What are you doing in my room?” The voice was gruff.
Fin blinked. “Your room? I… We…” He glanced over to see Grace sitting on the couch. Her eyes met his and glanced from the gun at Fin’s chest to the something else he couldn’t quite see. But he could guess.
“And don’t even think about going for those pigstickers you lot like to brandish about.”
Even if Fin had wanted to, his sword was across the room. It was propped up against the wall by the door, alongside Grace’s sword. He almost spoke, but thought better of telling the man currently pinning him down with a firearm that he didn’t need his sword to use magic. True, he would be limited. But against what appeared to just be a normal person?
“I’ll ask again.” The tip of the barrel drove into Fin’s chest, emphasizing the man’s words. “What are you doing in my room?”
“We needed a place to stay,” Fin said.
The man guffawed. “Really? No shit! But in a hotel full of rooms, why’d you pick mine?”
Fin stared blankly into the man’s face. He could finally make out details: a nose that had obviously been broken before (likely several times); sunken, but very alert, grey eyes; weathered skin that was starting to show signs of wrinkling; and dark hair with a salt and pepper beard. “It was just the room we went into.”
The man sighed, glancing over at Grace who was still sitting on the couch. He waggled his hand holding the pistol at her.
“He’s not wrong, “ she said. “Most of the other rooms we tried were locked. The door to this one was propped open.”
The man titled his head at her. “You are Conduits, right?” He waggled the pistol from Grace to the swords by the door. “I mean, I imagine a lock would be pretty minor. Hell, if you didn’t want to magic a door open, you’ve got a friggin’ sword.”
Grace sighed, seemingly sinking deeper into the couch. Her wavy hair draped down her shoulders, attempting to drag her head down. “It’s been a rough few days. Frankly, we’re exhausted.”
Fin brushed the barrel aside and sat up. The man took a couple of steps back and lowered the rifle. The pistol was still pointing absently in the general direction of the door.
“I suppose that’s fair.” The man holstered his pistol and slid the the butt of the rifle to the floor. “I mean, still plenty of other rooms, but…” The man shrugged and propped the rifle by the door, careful to avoid touching the two swords. “End of the day, I guess it’s not other people we need to worry about, is it?”
Fin sat down on the couch by Grace, elbows resting on his knees. He could see the early hints of sunlight peaking through the window blinds. He felt Grace’s fingers trace along his shoulder blades before resting on his back. “I certainly hope not,” Fin said. “The Soulless out there are problem enough. Still…”
The man clapped his hands together, causing Fin and Grace to jump. “Well, how about some breakfast? I don’t have much, and obviously the kitchenette in this suite isn’t great.”
“Coffee? And something warm?” Grace’s voice was soft and low, almost injured. Like it had been pinned by a flaming bus just a few hours ago.
“I think I can manage both of those. I’ll just be a minute.”
Fin watched as the man disappeared around the corner. The clatter of cupboards opening and closing mixed with the tinkling of ceramic mugs, metal pans, and silverware. A strangely beautiful music in its normality.
“What do you mean ‘Still?’” Grace was staring at him, her violet eyes hard. They had lost their usual sheen.
Fin shrugged. “At this point? I don’t know. Nothing? Something? This just adds up less and less.” He sat back into the couch and rested a hand on Grace’s knee. He let himself feel the warmth of the sunlight peeking around the blinds. “The speed and finality of this attack. The Damp Fields failing. I dunno. It reeks of something. The Soulless haven’t been seen for decades. And then in a manner of days an entire city has fallen?”
“You’re right. It doesn’t make sense.” The man was holding out two steaming mugs of coffee to Fin and Grace. “Isn’t the whole point of you Conduits to stop this kind of shit from happening?”
Fin hesitated grabbing the offered mug.
“Hey, no offense.” The man forced the mugs into their hands. “But it makes you think, right? The Conduits, the Damp Fields. All made to keep the Soulless from coming back. And then BAM!” He slapped his hands together again. “Everyone and everything I know and love is gone. A smear of blood and ash.”
Fin sipped his coffee, glancing at Grace who was doing the same. The man had a valid point. And he wasn’t sure how to respond. Based on Grace’s blank stare into the her coffee cup, she wasn’t sure either.
“Look,” the man sat down on the coffee table and leaned in toward them. “I’m not blaming you. I know how this stuff works. Hell, I was there when New York fell.” The man leaned back, his gaze shifting to look past Fin and Grace. Seeing something neither of them could. “Never thought I’d see two cities fall in my lifetime…”
Grace had shifted forward. She was reaching toward him, as if to comfort him. But her bottom lip was caught between her teeth, eyes uncertain This man had clearly been through a lot, and Fin knew Grace well enough that she wanted to offer some comfort, however small it would be. Grace let her hand drop. The man hadn’t seemed to notice. Fin thought he saw something dark cross the man’s face, but his eyes glanced toward Grace. A smile touched one corner of his mouth and then was gone. His eyes glistened, but he swallowed hard and looked past them again.
“At least last time we had more warning. The Soulless had to build up then. Now, they’re already a legion. Where the hell did they all come from?”
Grace tilted her head. “That has been bothering me. How could they hide numbers like this?”
Fin took a long sip from his coffee. It had already cooled substantially. Grunting, he stood and walked over to the window. He peaked through the blinds into the morning sun. “From one in a neighborhood to thousands upon thousands and a razed city in a manner of days. This reeks of being planned.” His eyes adjusted to the light and he saw a mostly intact courtyard. Several of the fountains even worked still, spraying misting rainbows into the sky. He tried to ignore the red, muddy water. He could almost pretend the woman on the ledge was dipping into the water to make a wish. Or wash her face. Almost. Her torso was twisted just a little too far and one arm was in a position that suggested she had landed on that ledge. He slipped his fingers from the blinds, letting them snap shut. A glimpse of something white flashed just at the edge of the courtyard. Probably the blinds catching the sunlight. “That first attack I was at. The destruction was all inside the Damp Field.”
Grace set down her cold and ignored coffee mug. Her eyebrows pinched together as she looked up at Fin. “Are you saying you think the Soulless was already in the Damp Field?”
“I don’t see how it couldn’t have been. Unless it managed to break into a Damp Field before launching its attack. Which…”
“Doesn’t make a damn lick of sense,” the old man finished. He suddenly stood. “Ah damn, I forgot the eggs! Probably burnt to hell now.”
“We have some field rations in our bag.” Grace reached back to grab the bag by the couch.
“Eh, I’ve got more eggs.”
“By the way,” Fin said, “I just realized we didn’t introduce ourselves. I’m Fin and this is Grace.”
“Carl,” Carl said from around the corner. He hadn’t waited to make good on his comment about having more eggs.
Grace turned back to Fin. “So you really think the Soulless were already in the Damp Fields?”
“I don’t know where else they could have been. Of course, it’s not like it makes more sense for them to have been there already. Where would they have been hiding?”
Their conversation was interrupted by Carl returning with three plates heaped with eggs balanced in his arms. Before he could hand out the plates, the phone on the coffee table buzzed, chattering across the table. Carl plopped the plates down onto the table, their clattering competing with the phone. He snatched up the phone and swiped the lock screen. His face was blank as he looked at the message.
“Phones are still working? I would have expected…” Grace started.
“Yup,” Carl muttered. “We’ve still got intermittent power. Cell towers are mostly up, but texting is the most reliable form of communication. And speaking of, we’ve got a fucking problem.”
Grace and Fin stared as Carl turned the phone to them. The message was only two words: Dragon event.