The sorcerer lay wrapped in gauze, hooked to an IV to replace fluids seeping out through his ruined skin. The room smelled like a Sunday roast.
There had been no choice for the Police but to let him go. "I can't submit paperwork to the DA that says the murder involved magic," the Sergeant had said with a shrug. "They'll reassign me to vice." The City's policy is to deny that magic exists. She wondered if the fool knew he was writing her a blank check.
Standing there watching the sorcerer's life leak out of him was less satisfying than she had imagined. The burning had been wonderful, but her vengeance felt empty, somehow hollow.
Aulia eased the door shut behind her, careful not to alert the duty nurse to her presence.
He must have been awake, heard the rustle of Aulia's clothing; his eyes opened, fixed on her. There was no fear: he knew the issue was no longer in doubt. "They don't come in, they stay away. They know there's nothing to be done." His voice was raspy, broken. "It'd be worse if they hovered."
"Why Feathercane?" Aulia asked, her rage under strict control: a fire alarm would end the interview. "Why him in particular?"
The sorcerer shook his head slowly. "Did I need a reason? Did you have a reason when it was Porfney, years ago?"
She was silent. The concert hall had come down red-hot around Porfney, had burned for days, leaving no body to speak of. She had come to the new world soon after that. "There has to be more to it that that. You stalked Feathercane."
He turned his head to look out the window. There was a yellow-brown stain where his cheek had rested against it. "What does it matter?"
"He was my friend."
He turned back from the window. "Porfney was mine." There was a gurgle of blood in his throat. When he coughed, it speckled his chin. "You know the bathroom door is open."
There'd be standing water in the toilet bowl, and more in the tank, and all the City's water waited just behind the valves on the sink and the bathtub. "We're in a hospital. Anyway, you're too weak, and you're not getting stronger."
He laughed. "You're probably right. I have a hard time even feeling that it's there, now. I probably couldn't even get it to slosh. But the others are coming."
Aulia shrugged. "We're still in a hospital."
"I'll make a deal with you, Burner. Feathercane, me: it ends there. That's what I'll tell the others."
Aulia cocked her head to one side. "There've been truces before. They never last."
"They last for a while." He coughed again, closed his eyes. "Longer than me. Anyway, that's what I'll tell them. What you do is up to you."
She stole from the room quietly. The sorcerer; Feathercane; before him, Porfney; before him, who knows. A truce might hold for a while. Perhaps if the Airheads would arbitrate…