I knocked on Michael’s door.
“You may enter. It is not locked.”
I went inside. “Michael, can we have a discussion?” I asked.
“Illyana, you are my closest friend. Should you require my attention, you have it. What do you wish to discuss?”
“A few things,” I said. “First of all, I want you to promise me you won’t use another suicide spell against Sadow.”
“Is it not too early to concern ourselves over that confrontation?” he asked.
“No,” I kept my voice firm. “I do understand why you want justice so badly, but I also want to know that all this work we’re doing… it’s not just going to be used so you can take him with you. I… I want you to fight to live.”
I heard a deep sigh. “He is very powerful. It may not be that easy.”
“Michael, I’m serious,” I grabbed his arm. “Please don’t make me be party to you killing yourself. I couldn’t bear it.”
He gently placed his hand on top of mine. “If it will make you feel better, then I will vow to not cast such a spell unless I have already been dealt a fatal blow and I still have time to do so. Is that acceptable?”
I smiled. “I’ll take it. Thank you.”
“There was something else,” he observed.
“It’s about Aiko,” I said. “Did you notice that she’s in love with you?”
There was relative silence for a while, although I could hear his wings fidgeting.
“I had not,” he answered. “What do you wish me to do about it? Show her some romance?”
“I don’t want you to lead her on,” I said. If you don’t feel the same, don’t try to force yourself. It’s not fair to either of you. Just… just be a good friend to her, okay? She could use the kindness. I know you don’t warm up to people quickly, but she is our comrade and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to treat her as a friend at this point.”
“Then I will endeavour to overcome my general aversion to socialising and I will treat her in a friendly fashion,” Michael said. “You have my word.”
“Thank you,” I said. “It shouldn’t be as hard as it might’ve been at one point. You have gotten more in touch with your emotions lately.”
“Have I?” Michael asked. “I had not noticed.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. The trolls had Larick on their side. There were very few in history who had possessed Apollo’s gift as strongly. I shouldn’t have been surprised…
The Inn had over two dozen troll soldiers stationed around it. The Innkeeper and his wife looked like they hadn’t been hurt, thankfully. They also didn’t look happy. Their fur was standing on end and they looked very agitated.
The trolls didn’t seem concerned. They had set up tents nearby and were occupying their time with merry making . They were also stopping every traveller who went near the Inn to look them over.
“Damn,” I muttered. “How are we going to get past them without being seen?”
“Why bother?” Tynan asked. “If each of us kills five it’ll be sorted.”
“And if one of those soldiers manages to get away and bring reinforcements?” Callie asked.
“I’m also worried about collateral damage,” I added. “When Michael was injured, Wolfgang and Heidi came to our aid. It’s because of them that we were able to get to Callie safely. I don’t want to harm them or their livelihood by getting into a major brawl outside their home.”
“Maybe we could arrange for them to get some poisoned supplies,” Gabriel suggested.
“That is unlikely to work,” Michael said. “Very few poisons are effective against troll physiology and none of those are readily available in this area.”
“Then what do you suggest?” Tynan asked. He sounded annoyed. I didn’t blame him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything.
“If only we knew what they’d been told to watch out for…” Callie said. That was a good question. If they’d been given our descriptions, we could sneak past them in disguise. But would Larick have made things that simple?
“There is a potential solution,” Michael stated. “If we ignite the Inn with a powerful enough flame, they should be forced to move away from it. We can cast protective spells on ourselves in advance and take a direct route for the escape tunnel. At worst, we might end up with some minor burns.”
I was shocked that he could suggest such a thing so impassively. “We can’t!” I declared. “I just pointed out how much Heidi and Wolfgang helped us. If we did that, they and their children could be killed.”
“Maybe we could send a message warning them to get away,” Callie suggested. “You and I could compensate them to allow them to not only rebuild but build a more spectacular Inn than before.”
“That is not possible,” Michael stated. “Even if the message were not intercepted, their evacuation would be noticed.”
“Are you actually suggesting we sacrifice them?” I demanded. “That’s too cruel.”
He looked at me. There wasn’t a trace of emotion on his face. “Would you prefer to sacrifice them or to sacrifice your own people through inaction? Remember, this is a gambit to win the war for the elves and to bring an end to the man who slew your father and brothers.” His emotionless stare sent chills down my spine. “I see. Your personal issues with your relatives has rendered their loss unworthy of action in your eyes.”
I felt my chest tighten. My vision blurred. I didn’t know what to say. That’s when I heard a loud thud followed by a crash.
“Shut the fuck up!” Callie cried out.
I looked over. Callie had her fist extended and Michael was on the ground. His jaw looked dislocated. She was livid.
“You think Lyn isn’t bothered by what happened? You think she doesn’t want to make that bastard pay? Just because she cares about not dragging innocent people into this? Well, you’re wrong!” She knelt down and glared at him. “And I challenge you to say anything that horrible to her again because I can promise you I won’t be that merciful with you again.”
Michael calmly moved his jaw back into place with a sickening crack. He spit blood. He tested his ability to move it around before speaking. “Clearly, I went too far,” he stated. “I suggest we take a moment to calm down and consider another possibility.”
I nodded. “Okay. That’s fine.” My voice was cracking when I spoke and I knew I looked a mess as well.
Callie put a comforting arm around me. “It’s okay to cry,” she whispered. “Just let it out for as long as you need.”