The infirmary was emptying rapidly.
Most of the injured had recovered but a select few of the soldiers were forced to leave because of Kate's orders, even though they shouldn't have been moving at all. Kate was a good leader and strategist but her compassionate side could be somewhat...lacking at times. Nobody could really blame her either, what with the madness that had transpired in the last fortnight alone.
Kiara finished redressing the last few soldiers' wounds for their journey and, washing up, exited the room to witness the clatter arising. The soldiers were gathering in the clearing in preparation of their exodus, the fire reflecting off of their armor in the darkening sky. Each of their expressions was painted with disappointment, a few with anguish and the Marshall...well he looked like he was just about ready to either kill something or collapse into sobs.
Kate was a few yards away, a composed look on her face. What betrayed any emotion whatsoever on her part was how tightly she was holding her own arm-Kiara could already see the glitter of blood where nails had cut through skin.
That would most definitely need disinfecting.
Sarah was busy passionately embracing one of their former enemies, whispering sweet nothings into his ear while keeping back tears.
Lia was clutching her stomach with one hand and covering her face with another, trembling as an older Hawk comforted her.
Rowan was forlornly watching a flaxen-haired soldier with heartbreak and sadness in his eyes. So that was why he hadn't mixed with any of the Night Hawk women.
"Sundown is approaching, men," Kate said with a decisively cold voice that echoed across the village, "I suggest you make haste."
Sarah reluctantly let go of her lover, watching him walk away with bleary eyes.
Lia breathed sharply and promptly strode into a nearby tent.
Rowan suddenly became fascinated with the ground beneath his feet and sighed loudly.
The procession of metal-clad men moved slowly to the outskirts of the village, the silence quickly breaking as cries and wails of grief filled the air.
Kiara looked on with a lamp in her hands, as if standing vigil.
It seemed that the soldiers had left nothing behind except for loss and took nothing but the hearts of the mighty Hawks.
And how eager had the Hawks been, too, in becoming infatuated with their brief allies. Almost disgusting, how little self-control they had. How easily they took the weightlessness and utter drunkenness of love without stopping to realize its price.
Love was a sickness. One worse than any that inflicted the body. It was weakness, where logic was strength. Your enemy could use emotion against you, but science was a one-sided weapon, only usable in the hands of one that knew it. Where feelings were suffering, knowledge was a sanctuary.
It was safe.
And Kiara was likely the only Hawk that realized that.
The last of the soldiers filed out, their chain-mail clanking to the tune of regret.
Twynam was at the end of the party, turning briefly to look at Kate before joining the end of the dejected parade.
In that single moment thousands of unsaid words and thoughts passed between them like a wave building in the crescendo of utter melancholy.
His expression twitched with something of a sad smile and he blew Kate a kiss.
And then the Marshall had turned away, and the wave crashed to shore.
Kate dropped to her knees instantly, as if her soul had been ripped from her as the sounds of the soldiers grew more and more distant, and buried her head in her hands.
Jem ran to comfort her and the rest of the Hawks turned away in respect, allowing their leader privacy as she mourned.
Kiara felt a dull ache at the sight of such emptiness and walked over the ground that had been bustling moments before to put a hand on Kate's shoulder.
"Water?" Kiara offered, getting the canteen from her shoulder.
The Hawk shook her head blankly, but Jem took the bottle anyways.
"I'll get some food and water in her if it's the last thing I do." she said quietly, a steely determination masking her concern.
"Good," Kiara replied in an even quieter voice, "I'll mix up something that'll help her sleep."
Kiara was glad to return to the safety of the infirmary, where only hanging herbs and pots and cots surrounded her rather than the pool of emotions outside.
Here, she was calm.
No pain, no memories to deal with.
A few hours later most of the Hawks were in their tents, sleeping or doing whatever it was that people did after the kinds of events that had transpired.
Kiara had shut off most 'normal' reactions to situations a long time ago. Recalling them was difficult. It made her inefficient.
So there she was, awake in the infirmary, and staring at the small knee-high Fae creature she'd sneaked in and tied to a long wooden board.
It still hadn't quite gotten up. That or it was playing games with her.
She stared a moment and poked it with one of her surgical instruments.
The thing didn't move.
Kiara sighed and cut its cheek with the thin knife, hard enough to draw its dark purplish blood.
It yelped and she fell back, getting back up only to see its similarly-colored eyes open and its sharp-toothed mouth cracked open in a wide smile.
"For a human you're awfully easy to scare." it cackled, long ears twitching.
"For one of the wild and dangerous Fae you're awfully tied up." Kiara retorted, pointing the knife at its neck.
"Not for long." it laughed, before its ears started growing longer.
Kiara stared in fascination as the rest of the creature began to grow rapidly too, bones popping and clicking as its features morphed and stretched. Soon enough she was looking up at another one of the merman-like Fae except with the same indigo eyes and malicious smile.
"What in blazes-"
"I happen to be what you humans call a shapeshifter. Your human friend caught me when I had just become an imp. I decided to wait rather than escape, and here I am."
The rope was useless now, and the cut on the thing's cheek was closing itself up as if by magic.
"I'm afraid you're going to die right about now." it grinned, flexing its bluish fingers and causing talons to slide out of them.
Kiara stepped back as it advanced, looking around for an adequate weapon.
"Who are you, anyways?" she asked lamely, hoping to buy time.
"An animal to you, probably," it chuckled in reply, "Some call me Puck. Others, not as 'pleasant' names."
Puck. A revolting name for a revolting creature.
"Tell me, Puck, what is it that you hope to gain from killing me?"
The Fae shrugged as its bones shifted again, becoming a monstrous black wolf before leaping across cots to flatten her onto the ground.
"Nothing. But it's also what I gain by letting you live. Funny, isn't it?"
The wolf laughed a rumbling, barking laugh and closed its jaws around her neck a moment later.
Kiara braced herself for the pain and drove her fist into the furry underbelly above her at the same time, the sound of sizzling flesh meeting her ears as the weight on her shoulders disappeared.
Puck howled in pain and stumbled back as she stood, knocking over a cot in its haste.
"Iron." Kiara grinned, holding up her hand to display the ring, "Wonderful isn't it?"
An angry growl was the only reply.
"Thought you would agree. I wasn't quite sure that there was any scientific backing to the theory but now that I know..."
Her expression grew darker as she ran the same hand through the beast's fur, chuckling.
"I have absolutely the perfect prison for you, darling."