“This is the first time in a long time that I feel like...things are good,” said Jillian. Her hand was on Bart‘s smooth chest, and she could feel his heart beating. “I mean, I know they aren‘t great. Faq‘s got our troubles. But we took this city. We took this bed. This is a very nice bed.”
It was. The mattress was pure soft luxury, in contrast to the rest of the appointments in this lumpy brown city. The white sheets were satin, but not so slippery that their playtime got awkward. Nothing was awkward about it, in fact. Not even their respective rank. In this bed, she was not a Princess nor a Chief Warlord, and he was not her most junior officer. In a bed like this, they were simply lovers. Good ones, at that.
“And you took me,” Jillian added, smiling with half-closed eyes and nuzzling his jaw.
“Not the other way around?” asked Bart.
“No. I didn‘t give you any orders, Viscount,” she scowled playfully. “I just gave you me. Remember that.”
“I will,” he promised.
“Faq has nothing like this bed,” said Jillian, stretching. She put her hands on the sheets and dragged them back slowly. “It‘s a disbanded shame we can‘t sleep here tonight. I‘d like to use it a few more times.”
The thought of it immediately made her skin flush around the collarbone. They were free of their heavy armor here, wearing nothing at all, and it felt wonderful. Defenses are necessary, but you don‘t realize how much they weigh upon you until you lay them down. She needed a moment like this. Maybe she needed a lot of moments like this.
“Can‘t we?” asked Bart.
Jillian actually considered it for a moment. Then, “Pssh. No,” she said. Her inner commander could not be seduced by the sheets. “This is a raid, not a conquest. You don‘t kick an anthill and then pitch your tent over it.”
“They‘ll be all over the place next turn. We gotta hope we can just get out now without being seen. Hopefully they won‘t know who hit ‘em. Besides, we need the money.”
“I see.” They lay there in silence for a while, curled up together. Then he slid his hand down her back to her rump. “Then when can we next...”
Jillian tensed. “We‘ll see. You can‘t tell anyone about this, Bart. It‘ll undermine discipline.”
She actually flinched a little when he called her by her name and not her title. Great. So much for “just lovers.” She hated herself for it, but she was already back in commander mode. And now the possible consequences of this moment were starting to come to mind.
“We‘ll take whatever opportunities we can, but until then we have to be very discreet,” she said, lifting herself up on an elbow to look him in the eye. “I‘m still your Chief Warlord, and we have a mission.”
If he was hurt, he did a good job of disguising it. His chin was raised bravely, and he met her eyes as a soldier. “Yes, Chief.”
“I want to,” she said, her voice softening again. She leaned in, kissing him. “You understand. We‘re in enemy territory. We just attacked what might be the biggest side in the world. If we want to get out alive, we need to focus right now on getting out without being seen.”
“I‘ve seen you,” said the mannequin.
Jillian flipped over and sat bolt upright, throwing her feet down to the stone floor. The Dollamancer‘s mannequin by the mirror had turned its head around to face her, and fixed its eyes on hers. She stared at it, open-mouthed and naked.
“You won‘t get out alive,” it said, with the force of a curse.
Its voice was female, raspy. Distant and strained. When it spoke, there was a movement where it should have had a mouth, like the burlap had been drawn over flesh lips.
Jillian dove for her sword on the floor next to her mail. She yanked it from its sheath, raised it high overhead, and brought it down on the mannequin‘s head, knocking it off its stand to the floor.
She finally screamed. She did not stop screaming until she had hacked the thing to bits, including the beautiful, incomplete dress.
WRECD was in the sky and out of the city in fifteen minutes. Jillian snapped orders at every face, trying to put the kind of fear of her into them that she felt about Haffaton. She did not explain the urgency, she just led them skyward. She ordered the city razed, looked back once to see it in ruins, and bent forward into the wind at the head of her stack.
They followed a non-navigable watercourse upstream into craggy hills. They traveled far, using all of their move, before ending turn. For what it might be worth at this point, they did not spot any Haffaton units on the way. For what it might be worth at this point, they found a dark, sheltered cave in a hex of pouring rain to hide in.
They made no fires.
They barely spoke.
Bart tried to sit beside her, and she hauled off and punched him in the lip. Then she felt miserable about it, sitting on a wet rock in the dark, trying to cry silently and probably failing at that, too.
The soldiers and warlords sat with her in the damp darkness, chewing on luxurious foods in the most wretched of settings: fresh fruits and meats they had raided from Diecast. They ate pastries, ripe pears and apricots, and bright red juicy apples, all while squatting in mud and misery.
In the morning, not one in the company awakened.