“Now, young lady, if you sign on the dotted line, I’ll file this and you can get ready to depart,” the older woman said, pointing to the space on the paper. Carmen eagerly grabbed the pen and was about to sign when the woman grabbed her arm to stop her.

“What now?” Carmen impatiently grumbled.

“Are you sure you want to do this, child?” the woman sternly asked, looking over the rims of her glasses. “The war in Europe is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Indeed, it is unlike anything in known history; you will be directly involved in the aftermath of some of the most barbaric instruments ever devised by mankind.”

“As opposed to the barbarity of magic?”

“Mages are far more controlled than the typical rabble that lives on the battlefield. There have been… ‘Incidents’ with other volunteers, not so very different from you.”

Carmen jerked her hand back and pressed the pen to the paper, then scribbled her name. She then set the pen down and gave a cold stare to the woman in front of her. “I’ve made my decision, ma’am. I’d rather be over there in the chaos and doing something than staying here and having my mother pester me until the end of my days.”

The woman sighed and picked up the papers, then nodded in defeat. “Very well then, Carmen Ahearn. Welcome to the American Assistants to Europe.” She stood and set the forms into a large central stack, where others were being consistently added – all belonging to those who could not volunteer for military service, but wanted to contribute in a more direct way to the 5th Mage War. America wasn’t involved in the conflict, but many people still felt a need to be involved.

“Now, where do I go?” Carmen bluntly asked and folded her arms. “I’m gettin’ tired of waitin’ here.”

The woman pointed to a line forming toward an exit. “Over there. You’re just in time for one of the ships. Do listen to the instructions from the crew; German submarines have no qualms about sinking any form of shipping that they perceive to be assisting the French. Further, there will be many men aboard the ship, most of whom are going to the front lines. I would suggest treating them with caution.”

Carmen lightly laughed and shook her head. “Maybe I can get one of them to trade uniforms with me. I can go to the front line and he can stay behind.”

“You want no part of the fighting, miss Ahearn. Trust me on this.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Carmen mumbled as she stood up. “No offense, but you’re not my mother.”

“And I’m going to guess you’re not actually 18,” the woman remarked as she folded her arms. “In which case, your contract would be null and void. Unless, of course, you were to get your parent’s permission, as indicated on the form.”

“Oh no, I assure you, I am a legal adult,” Carmen sweetly replied. “I just couldn’t stand by and do nothing while all those people suffer, y’know?”

“Whatever your quarrel with your parents, it’s not as bad as you think it is. They’re likely worried sick about you.”

Carmen narrowed her eyes at the woman. “You think so?”

The woman closed her eyes and nodded. “I can assure you that I would be, were you my daughter.”

“Good,” Carmen growled. “She should be worried. I’m not a mage like she is and I never will be. No matter how hard she tries, she will never change that fact.”

“And that’s reason enough for you to leave her behind like this?”

“Miss, I appreciate your concern, but I’m not her daughter. I belong to no one. So before I pass from this world, I want to at least say I tried to make a difference, as little as that might mean. I can’t do that with her buggin’ me all the time.”

“And what would your father say? To send his daughter into a terrifying conflict like this?” The woman sighed and shook her head. “They care for you, Carmen. More than you know.”

Carmen shrugged and turned, looking toward the line forming out the door. “Well, you’d have to go back to Ireland to find him. I suspect he’s long since worm food by now, along with his buddies.” She walked away and got into the line, not giving the old woman a chance to delay her any longer.

“No one is that forsaken,” the old woman whispered, sitting back down. She gently smiled at the next applicant and offered them to sit, trying to push Carmen out of her mind. She acts like so many of the young men going over there and much like them, will soon be forced to experience the horrors of war. Conflict is the beast that tempts the hearts of men with dreams of glory, then costs them their blood and innocence. That young woman has been tempted and she, too, will fall prey to those machinations of brutality.

“Ahearn! Pay attention, you Irish louse!” the head nurse loudly chastised Carmen as she looked over the wounded.

“Er, uh, yes miss Howell,” Carmen mumbled, trying to keep up with clean field dressings for the wounded.

“Typical Irish,” Howell muttered under her breath. “You’ve been here for 3 months now – I don’t know why triage is so hard for you. Prioritize the most severely wounded and go from there!”

“I can only go with how bad the wound looks,” Carmen grumbled back as she leaned over to remove a dressing from a man’s leg and replace it with a fresh one. The wound was clearly inflicted by shrapnel, then infected as he had apparently thought he could “walk it off,” as he likely said to his comrades. Now he’ll probably lose the leg, Carmen thought to herself as she laid the moist dressing over the wound. The man hissed as she pressed it tight, the salt likely stinging worse than the wound felt.

“Ya dun need ta press that hard, dearie,” the man mumbled under clenched teeth.

“You’ve got an infection and if you want to keep that leg, we have to sanitize that wound,” Carmen replied.

Howell walked over and looked at the man’s leg, then shook her head. “It’s as good as gone now. It’s been infected for too long – it will have to come off if we want to keep him alive.”

“Begging your pardon, miss Howell,” Carmen said, “but if we keep it clean we’ll probably be able to save it.”

“And in doing so, we’ll sacrifice the lives of 10 others,” Howell remarked. She pointed to an unconscious man with a chest wound. “That man is critical. He should be your focus, because if we do not tend to him, he will die. A life is worth more than a leg.”

Carmen looked over to the other wounded man and frowned. “Can he be saved? With that chest wound I’d think he’d already be dead.”

Howell looked back to Carmen and gave her an annoyed look. “That’s not our responsibility, Ahearn. Limbs are not critical injuries; head and torso are. Head injuries get priority, followed by torso, then arms and legs. That’s what we do in triage; it’s a difficult job, but one that has to be done.”

“A life without a limb might not be worth living at all. I can’t imagine being unable to walk.”

Howell sighed and shook her head. “You’re young and naïve. I’ve told you the priority; please do it.”

“Yes ma’am,” Carmen mumbled back, straightening herself and preparing to head to the next subject. Before she could, the man she had just worked on grabbed her uniform.

“’Ey, luv, ya doin’ anything tonight?” the man asked through broken teeth. “I heard all kinds of things ’bout you Irish girls.”

“Yeah, working,” Carmen grumbled, swatting the man’s hand away and moving on. She followed Howell’s instructions and went to a man with what seemed to be a wound in his face, then gently began to peel the dressing off of his eyes and causing him to scream in agony.

“What?! What’s the matter?!” Carmen surprisingly exclaimed.

“Mustard gas,” Howell answered, moving away from another stretcher and looking over the blinded man. “See the blisters on his face? Probably didn’t wash up like he was told to.”

“But what about his-”

“Leave it in place. We’ll have to clean him up later.”

Carmen sighed and nodded, then stood and moved over to another man, this one with a chest wound. She leaned over and pulled the dressing off, then was surprised to not find a laceration or hole, but instead the clear indications of a fireball spell. A fireball spell? There was a mage out there?

“Hey, how’d this happen?” Carmen asked as she removed the dressing.

“Some kraut tried reading out some scroll as he charged our position,” the man wheezily answered. “I thought he had to be joking, but the scroll-”

“Burned up and became a flame in his hand,” Carmen finished. “I know what a fireball spell is. Looks like a lower level firebolt, so you got lucky.”

“You a mage?”

Carmen shook her head. “No, just familiar with magic. I take it he got shot in return?”

The man nodded as much as the dirty pillow would allow him. “Yeah, gun crew riddled him. No idea what he thought he was doing all by himself out there.”

“Found a magic scroll and thought he had the power of true magic in his hands,” Carmen grumbled. “He’s lucky it wasn’t a trap scroll.”

“Trap scroll?”

Carmen nodded as she pressed a fresh dressing in place, trying to be gentle but causing the man to wince all the same. “Some scrolls are written so that the reader will suffer the effects of the scroll instead of the target. It’s easily done by anyone with talent, usually those with mischief in mind.”

“Well, it probably worked, considering he got shot for it. Would’ve been better off had he just used a rifle like everybody else,” the man remarked.

“A proper mage is something to be feared,” Carmen said. “I understand that they’re a bit more rare nowadays, especially on the German side, but they’re out there.”

“I ain’t seen one, thank God for that. But bullets don’t much care if you’re a mage or not.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Carmen mumbled as she made a few final touches to the dressing. “I take it you thought you’d just walk this off as well?”

“Eh, yeah. Lads poured a bit of wine on it – mighty big waste, if you ask me. Bargained with some Froggies for that bottle, but we drank it up afterward.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t work if you can’t keep it clean. It’s a fairly deep burn, but you’ll survive.”

“Ah, bugger. Well, at least I won’t be here with this sorry crowd for much longer then.”

Carmen stood and sighed. “Unlike me. I have to work here.”

“Better here than there,” the man mumbled, looking to the sky.

“Ahearn! Don’t dally!” Howell chastised Carmen. “You’re here to help everyone, not just your future husband!”

“I can only change a dressing so quickly!” Carmen shouted back as she shuffled the dressings she carried and moved onto the next man. “At least talking to someone helps pass the time!”

Howell was about to respond when the sound of a droning engine began to break through the clatter of the hospital. She looked to the road and nodded. “More incoming wounded!” she shouted, alerting some stretcher bearers and anyone not currently occupied.

“Again?” Carmen whispered under her breath as she leaned over another man to check his wounds. “Just what is going on out there today?”

“Looks like the offense is goin’ poor,” the man with the wounded leg remarked as he looked to the road. “Hands’ll be full now, luv.”

“Not unusual in this war,” Carmen mumbled as she changed another dressing. “We’ve only got so many doctors here and only so many rooms. It’s a wonder we can save anyone.”

Howell walked up behind Carmen and picked up the bucket containing the fresh dressings. “Go and help them, Ahearn,” she ordered. “You’re better at that than the others.”

“Yes, miss Howell,” Carmen grumbled.

“You’re a strong woman in more physical ways than mental,” Howell replied, causing Carmen to give her an annoyed look, but she chose to ignore the remark and join the gathered personnel for the next wave of wounded. As the sound of the engine got louder, she noticed that the vehicle had no red cross or markings of any kind – it appeared to be a generic military truck. Are they running out of red and white paint now?

“Must be bad,” another nurse in front of Carmen remarked. “Looks like it’s been shot at.”

Carmen narrowed her eyes and saw that the truck was severely damaged, with a thick black smoke emitting from the exhaust. Looks real bad. What is going on out there? The truck creaked to a halt eventually and a medic hopped out of the driver’s seat, moving around to the back.

“How many?” an orderly asked as he moved to assist the driver.

“Five, maybe six if he’s still alive,” the driver replied. “Had to move them into this thing because the other truck quit running. Got shot at on the way, but I think we’re safe.”

“Krauts?”

“Yeah, aircraft. Nasty bit of business, one of the new Fokkers.” The driver dropped the tailgate with a loud thunk and hopped into the bed, pushing the stretchers out one by one. The nurses and orderlies took them out and set them on the ground, carefully checking on the wounded and prioritizing them. Carmen saw one of the younger nurses – a girl likely no more than 15 – struggling to lift the last stretcher, so moved over and pushed her aside to take her place.

“I got it, Linda,” Carmen said. “Go help the others.”

“Yes, miss Ahearn,” Linda sheepishly replied as she wandered to one of the other stretchers.

Carmen grunted as she took the weight of the stretcher, feeling more encumbered than usual. Damn, this guy is heavy! A fat officer, I bet! She took a breath and pulled the stretcher out as the driver helped it down the rest of the way.

“Poor bastard is in bad shape,” the driver remarked as he jumped down from the bed and helped Carmen set the stretcher on the ground. She nodded as she looked over the man’s wounds, finding not a fat officer but instead an unusually tall cavalryman. He still had all his equipment, with a severely wounded left leg, dying his trousers a deep red, as well as several bullet holes in his chest. Despite all that, he seemed to be breathing and conscious, looking around with determination.

“Where am I? What’s happened to Oliver?” the cavalryman mumbled. “I need my horse!”

“He’s gone,” Carmen answered, taking note of the man’s wounds. “They probably pried you out from under him.”

The man looked up to Carmen and tried to focus his eyes. “An angel? Here, of all places?!” He shook his head and blinked his eyes. “Where’s your sword, angel?”

Carmen rolled her eyes. “I’m not an angel. You’ve been hit harder than I thought if you think me, of all people, is an angel.”

“An angel is required by the heavens to have their sword with them at all times,” the man growled.

“Well you figured it out: I’m not an angel,” Carmen growled back. “You’re lucky to be alive, you know.” She looked back to Howell, who had finished up changing the dressings on the less critical and had been observing the new arrivals. “Miss Howell! Critical wounded here!”

Howell quickly paced over and looked at the man, then nodded. “Agreed. We need to get him to surgery right away.” She beckoned to some orderlies and they quickly moved over and began to lift the stretcher up when the cavalryman grabbed Carmen’s hand.

“An angel is required to have their sword at all times,” the man mumbled.

Carmen jerked her hand back and narrowed her eyes. “I told you, I ain’t an angel.”

The man opened the flap on his holster and pulled out a pistol – it was French-made, their new automatic service pistol. Carmen lifted an eyebrow at why a English cavalryman would have a French pistol, but it wasn’t unheard of.

“I’ll lend you my pistol ’til you find your sword,” the man clearly said, twisting the pistol around to hand it grip-first to Carmen.

“How many times do I have to-” Carmen began, then was interrupted as the man shoved the pistol into her hands.

“I want it back when they’re done,” the man whispered as he laid into the stretcher. The orderlies nodded to one another, then quickly jogged the man into the surgery tent.

Carmen looked at the pistol and frowned, reading the crudely stamped letters in the slide. “Poulain Cal .44” huh? I guess they rushed this one out the door, because that doesn’t tell me much about it.

“Strange behavior,” Howell remarked, looking at the pistol. “He must have been closer to death than we thought.”

“If that had gone any longer,” Carmen said, “I think he would have lived just to argue with me as to whether or not I was an angel.”

“For most of these men, women are a rare sight. You should be flattered he considered you an angel.”

Carmen passed an annoyed glance to Howell. “I don’t like angels. Never have.”

“Perhaps that is why he saw the resemblance. God could be trying to tell you something.”

Carmen looked back to the pistol. “No god would allow this to happen on their watch. Especially not to children they love.”

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Howell said, moving away to help with the other wounded.

Carmen let out an annoyed sigh, running her fingers over the pistol. God. Heavens. Hell. Sanctimonious bullshit to keep us all in lockstep. The one angel I met certainly didn’t meet the definition of an angel. With everything that’s happened in this war, how can anyone even believe in that stuff? All just a fairy tale. She looked up to the sky, noting the brilliant blue it was in comparison to her dreary surroundings. If there is a God, then curse him. Curse the Heavens that he created. Curse them all for putting me here, through this existence, this life.

Carmen closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to drown out her frustrations. The pungent smell of iron infiltrated her nostrils, the scent of blood mixed with carbon, followed by the bitter chemicals of the field hospital and the lingering disgust of infection. She suddenly felt her heart stop for a moment, causing her to flash her eyes open and frown. What’s that? I-

The explosion hit her a moment after the feeling, the shock wave sending her off of her feet, followed by the spatter of dirt and the sound of a shell flying through the air. Bells went off in her ears and she shook her head, trying to focus, but soon more blasts echoed out and drowned out her conscious thoughts as she felt shock wave after shock wave compress her body. Blackness enveloped her vision and she felt as if everything had stopped, giving her no time to form a coherent thought before drifting off to nothingness.

“Hold her down!” the surgeon shouted as Carmen struggled against the team rushing her into the operating room.

“How much morphine should we give her?” a nurse asked as she prepared a syringe of morphine.

“As much as she can handle! We’ll have to amputate close to her hip!” the surgeon replied.

The nurse nodded and grabbed onto one of Carmen’s arms, trying to keep her steady enough to insert the syringe.

“Do-don’t… Poke… Me!” Carmen shouted, twisting and kicking as she attempted to free herself from the bed.

“Your leg has to come off, miss!” the surgeon shouted in return. “You’re going to bleed to death if we don’t do something!”

“Let me die! J-just let me die!” Carmen screamed. “I-I was s-supposed to die!”

Another nurse grabbed Carmen’s arm and held it tight, allowing the first one to stick the syringe into her arm. She pressed the plunger and expelled the contents, then swiftly removed it and set it aside.

“How much did you give her?” the second nurse asked.

“Uh, 30 or 40 milligrams, I think,” the first nurse mumbled.

The second nurse looked at the syringe and frowned. “30 or 40? Which is it?”

“Maybe 60.”

“Lord have mercy,” the second nurse whispered. “If she doesn’t die from the bleeding, the morphine might just do her in.”

The effects of the morphine began to take effect, causing Carmen to relax and quit struggling. Her heart rate began to slow and she drifted off, causing the surgical team to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Let’s get to work,” the surgeon said, beckoning for some tools. A nurse nodded in response and brought over a tray containing all the tools needed for an amputation. He hesitated for a moment, then grabbed a scalpel. “We’ll start by cutting the tissue around the bone, then follow with a saw. Let’s move quickly.”

The surgeon began to start cutting the muscle around Carmen’s leg, even as the nurses and assistants applied pressure around the wound to keep the bleeding manageable. He felt a tinge of regret for having to make the cuts, but knew if he didn’t then she might die. A poor young girl, being forced to live such a life. Perhaps with the Lord’s wisdom, she’ll persevere. God forgive me. He let out a sigh, steadying his breathing and carefully but quickly cutting flesh with the scalpel around the leg. He set the bloody scalpel back on the tray, then grabbed the bone saw and stared at the nasty serrated edge.

“Doctor?” a nurse asked.

“Yes, yes, I’m getting down to it,” the surgeon mumbled, then slid the saw down into the cut he had made, resting the blade against the bone. He shivered as he wondered if there was still no other way, then briefly glanced at the blood pooling on the bed. No. There is no other choice. I’m sorry, young woman. He began to thrust, with an blood-curling chatter echoing over the room as the saw began to cut into the bone.

“Doctor, wait!” another nurse shouted, causing the surgeon to suddenly stop. He frowned and looked at the nurse.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Her hip. Look at it,” the nurse said, pointing to Carmen’s hip.

The surgeon looked over and gasped at what he was seeing. The battered and bruised flesh was seemingly regenerating before his eyes, almost weaving together as it came around and turned from a deep, dark purple, to a healthy red and pink. He stepped back and set the saw aside, pushing his mask down and blinking his eyes over what his eyes were showing him. Magic? Is it possible?

“Is this woman a mage?” the surgeon whispered.

A nurse shook her head. “No, they found her wandering on the outskirts of Arras. A nurse from a field hospital, the only survivor.”

“Wandering?”

“Yes, she was dragging her foot behind her while carrying a pistol, mumbling about angels and swords.”

The surgeon gasped. “An angel?!”

“No, most certainly not. A volunteer. Irish. Probably from America.”

“I see,” the surgeon mumbled, leaning in to observe Carmen’s leg, watching it heal the damage. One muscle fiber attached itself, then another, one by one, slowly but surely regenerating, until finally the cut he had made was healed and a working musculature had returned. Skin grew back and in a matter of minutes, Carmen’s leg was healed, with no damage or scarring whatsoever.

“A miracle,” an orderly whispered, making the sign of the cross over his chest. “Thank you, Lord, for showing me your mercy and compassion.”

“Had I not seen it for myself, I would never have believed it,” a nurse whispered.

“We have others that need our attention,” the surgeon loudly said, his booming voice interrupting everyone’s thoughts. “Move her to the recovery ward and let’s get back to work. The good Lord has seen fit to save one of His children. Let us pray that our skill can match His.”

Carmen gasped and shot up, grabbing at her right leg, then was surprised to find herself in a recovery ward, filled with wounded men recovering from their various treatments. She frowned as she tried to piece together her memories, only able to think back to the first artillery shell. What happened? Was it that damned truck? Did they zero in on that? But this… This isn’t Arras? Where is everyone?

“Hey, another one’s up!” a young man in the bed next to Carmen’s shouted. A few weak cheers echoed out over the halls, along with a few broken smiles. “Hey, it’s a girl!” Even more cheers and some whistling followed.

“What happened? Where am I?” Carmen asked, scratching her head.

“Paris. You don’t remember anything?” the man asked.

“Paris? What happened to Arras? The field hospital there-”

“Arras? Took a big artillery strike four days ago. Krauts messed it up pretty good.”

“What? What about the 74th Field Hospital? Is there anyone else?”

The man rubbed his chin, then shook his head. “Sorry miss, not familiar with that unit. I was in the trenches.”

Carmen felt the pang of a headache beginning and unconsciously rubbed her forehead, trying to figure out what had happened. I was close to the truck, so maybe they were shooting at that? Then the hospital likely would have moved. But why not take me and treat me there with the others? I took a hit to my leg, but it feels fine now. She peeled the sheets aside and looked under the gown placed on her, seeing no scars or injuries whatsoever to her leg. Strange. Why am I in a hospital? I’m not injured. I should be helping. She pushed the sheets aside and hopped off the bed, slightly stumbling but quickly steadied herself.

“Hey, where you going?” the man next to her asked.

“Back to the field hospital,” Carmen bluntly answered. “I’m not sure why I’m here, but I feel fine so I should be helping.”

An orderly noticed what Carmen was doing, quickly pacing over to steady her. “You should be in bed resting. It’s OK,” he whispered.

“I feel fine,” Carmen replied. “Where’s the 74th Field Hospital? How did I get here?”

The orderly glanced around, looking at the clipboard on the front of her bed. He looked back to her and frowned. “You’re the girl that almost lost her leg. Are you a mage?”

Carmen laughed and shook her leg. “You’re fibbin’ me. My leg is just fine, see? And I’m not a mage.”

“No, your leg was almost gone. I was there when you were brought it. The nurses said your leg healed on its own. You were mumbling about angels and swords when they sent you into surgery.”

Carmen frowned and looked at her hands. Angels? I only- Oh, that cavalryman and his pistol! “Yeah, there was a cavalryman who said I was an angel without a sword and handed me his pistol. He was in bad shape, kept insisting that I had to be an angel.”

“Well, are you? An angel, I mean.”

Carmen passed an annoyed glance to the orderly. “Did I suddenly sprout wings and fly?”

“Uh, no, not that I could see.”

“There you go. Not an angel.” Carmen twisted to show her back to the orderly. “No wings. And no sword.”

The orderly rubbed his chin in a vain attempt to dissipate his confusion. “So how did you heal like that? It was so bad, they were going to amputate your leg.”

“Guess it wasn’t as bad as they thought. Can I go now? I need to get back to my field hospital.”

“You said you came from Arras, right?” The orderly let out a tired sigh. “There’s nothing left of the field hospital there. Everyone is dead.”

“I’m still here, so if I made it out, others did too. Surely there’s someone else around?”

The orderly shook his head. “No, that’s it: there is no one left. You’re the last. The field hospital in Arras – the 74th Field Hospital – it’s gone. They were hit by an artillery barrage that was walked up the line to break the offense.”

Carmen closed her eyes and shook her head. “I refuse to believe that. If I made it out, there had to be others.”

“I’m sorry, but there’s no one else. Some French soldiers found you on their way to reinforce the line at Arras, due to the losses suffered there. They sent you back here due to the extent of your injuries.”

Carmen felt her breath get short and her legs began to shake. She held her chest and sat back down on the bed. I… I don’t understand. Everyone’s dead? But I should be dead too, shouldn’t I? I can’t be the only survivor. If everyone else is dead, then there’s no way I could be alive.

“What… What do you mean with my injuries?” Carmen whispered, feeling the weight of the situation press down on her. “My leg is fine. And-and other than feeling like I’m going to be sick, my body is… Is OK.”

The orderly leaned over and rested a hand on Carmen’s shoulder. “You weren’t when they brought you in. You were fighting against them until they gave you morphine, then you calmed down. After that, your leg began to heal. I was told it was the Lord’s miracle.”

Carmen flashed a momentary face of anger to the orderly. “No god would kill so many people and then just save one, especially not one such as me.”

“You’re not an angel or a mage, so how do you explain it?”

Carmen looked aside and let out a deep breath. “I’m the daughter of a mage. But I don’t have any magical talent. So maybe something related to that.”

The orderly frowned and straightened himself. “I may not be well versed in magic or mages, but I was under the impression that magical talent is passed from parent to child.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know how it’s supposed to work. You said they gave me morphine; maybe that was it. Something in a particular batch of morphine. Maybe it could help others.”

“They tried; others had no response to that particular lot.” The orderly let out another sigh and shook his head. “I think you should rest for a bit longer. It’s a lot to take in and you’re not as well as you think.”

Carmen nodded in defeat. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Is there anyone from the American Assistants to Europe around?”

“I’ll see if there’s any points of contact. You’re from America?”

“Yeah, volunteered. I just got here 6 months ago.”

“I’ll give you my personal assurance that we’ll find someone. You just rest for now, OK?”

Carmen silently nodded and looked out the window. What happened? Did I actually die and this is me imagining how things might’ve gone? Or- She gasped and held a hand over her mouth. I remember now: I cursed the heavens. I cursed God – or gods – for doing this. For putting me here. I killed them.

“Hey – you OK?” the orderly asked.

Carmen shook her head, feeling tears forming in her eyes. “No. I am cursed. And those around me are paying the price for it.”

“I’ll give you the whole vial of it for 250 francs. Take it or leave it,” the shady man whispered, holding the small vial between his thumb and index finger.

Carmen scoffed and shook her head. “That small a vial? 50 francs is all it’s worth. You’re askin’ a king’s wage for somethin’ like that.”

“You see anyone else selling morphine like this, no question asked? 200 francs.”

“How about I just call for the gendarmarie and get a piece of a reward for turnin’ in an illegal dealer? I can always go to a hospital and find some.”

“Then we’ll both be enjoyin’ prison! Think I won’t roll over on you, either?”

“I’m a woman, they’ll go easy on me!” Carmen growled.

The man narrowed his eyes at Carmen. “Yeah, once ya let ’em have their way with ya. 150 francs. Final offer.”

“125 francs. And I won’t even need to let ’em. Just flash my eyes and they’ll do whatever I want.”

“The kinda flashin’ they’ll be expectin’ ain’t gonna be from yer eyes. 130 francs.”

“Done. 130 francs.”

The man grinned and held the vial out. “Let’s see the francs.”

Carmen returned the man’s grin and pulled out a handful of coins, then sorted through until she had the amount. One by one, she dropped the coins into the man’s open hand, then quickly swiped the vial from his fingers. He shifted his grin into a smile, then carefully counted the coins and nodded.

“Say,” the man began to ask, “why do ya need this anyways?”

“None of your business,” Carmen grumbled as she carefully stuffed the vial into her jacket pocket.

The man pointed at Carmen’s pocket. “You a good lookin’ gal, though. Ain’t no need for this stuff.”

“Looks don’t have anything to do with it. It’s the only stuff that seems to help at this point,” Carmen replied while shaking her head.

“Well, I like that yer bringin’ me business, but most of my buyers aren’t young ladies looking for a hit. Jus’ soldiers tryin’ to forget.”

“There you go,” Carmen whispered. “Same thing: tryin’ to forget.”

The man frowned as he tried to understand Carmen. “Forget what?”

“Artillery,” Carmen curtly mumbled in reply, then turned and left the man behind before he could ask any more questions. I don’t mind answering exactly why, but is it really so hard to believe that I have the same problems as anyone else? At least the morphine gets my mind off of it. And maybe it will stimulate something, like whatever happened in that operating room. She quietly made her way through the streets, then found a secluded alleyway, dimly lit. It should have given her chills, but instead made her feel comfortable. She carefully looked around, then ventured down the alley and leaned against an old brick wall. Digging into her pocket, she pulled out all the morphine vials she had managed to acquire from the evening; she counted at least 10, which she figured made about 100 milligrams. 50 for now, then 50 tomorrow. An even split.

Carmen dug around in her pocket again and pulled out a syringe with a needle, something she managed to pilfer from the hospital before she was discharged, then pulled off the cap. She twisted off the caps of 5 morphine vials, then sunk the needle into each one and filled the syringe with the contents. Her estimation was about right, with approximately 50 milligrams of morphine showing in the syringe. She bit her lip, carefully lifted up her jacket and shirt sleeve, then stabbed the syringe into a vessel in her arm. She momentarily winced as pain rippled up from her arm, but pushed it aside as she jammed the plunger and expelled the contents into her body. I loathe needles, but it’s the fastest way to get where I’m going. Just a little bit of pain to stave off something far worse. She withdrew the needle and cradled her arm for a moment, then put the cap back over it and stuffed the syringe and empty vials back into her pocket. She clenched her fists and shivered, feeling the cold liquid drift from her arm to the rest of her body. She folded her arms and leaned forward for a moment, then began walking out of the alley. Just need to get some blood flowing. Twenty minutes or so. Then it’ll hit me.

Carmen walked along the sidewalk, staring at the ground while rubbing her shoulders. The air was getting colder than she had anticipated and the morphine wasn’t making her feel any warmer. The full weight of it had yet to hit her, which caused her mind to wander far more than she liked. I wish it worked a little faster, but I’m not willing to risk dyin’ from the stuff – at least, not yet. That amount I took is right around the limit of what I can endure. She started feeling the effects a bit sooner than she anticipated and felt her heart slow, which caused her to feel even colder. She tried to move faster to warm up, but felt more as if she was stumbling through the night. Yeah… Heh… That’s it… Relax. Her foot caught something on the ground, causing her to twist around and reach out to grab something, but missed entirely and fell to her knees. The shock would’ve normally caused her pain, but the effects of the morphine caused it to not register. Hah, I… Need to be… Careful… Clumsy, like… Mother always… Said.

Carmen giggled a moment as she awkwardly stood back up and brushed off her knees, then continued to stumble further along the sidewalk. She had no idea where she was going and at the moment, didn’t even care. So as long… As this feels… Like it could… Last forever, that’s… That’s all I care about… Where I go, what happens to me… Doesn’t matter. She chuckled at her own scattered thoughts, knowing that a lingering sense of concern and worry was back in there somewhere, pushed away by the bliss brought on by the morphine. Good… Keep my mother’s… Mother’s voice quiet… Back there. She… She doesn’t need… To bother me… Me here in France. “Get married,” she’d… She’d nag me. “Have kids!” she’d say… Yeah… Goals for a modern… Modern woman! Hah… Me… A wife? A… Mother? She stumbled and let out a laugh, remembering her mother’s words the day she decided to leave. “You’re running… Running out of time… Dear!” Haha! So… Naive! Time… Time for… What? I… I was… 17 and I didn’t… Didn’t have any… Future. I still… Still don’t. She let out another laugh and steadied herself on a bench looking over the street. Fighting is all… All I was ever… Good at! Imagine… That kind of… Kind of… Marriage! There’d be no… End to all the… Arguments!

“Ah… Mother… You just… Just don’t… Get it,” Carmen mumbled, moving around the bench and crashing down on it. She chuckled and gently sobbed. “Look at… Look at what… I did to my… My friends.” She began to cry as her thoughts drifted into everyone at the field hospital. All of them… Dead… Dead by… My curse. Why… Why make them… Pay for my… My mistake?! She slammed a fist on the bench, the sound of it echoing along with her sobs. “It’s not right! I didn’t… I didn’t mean for… For them to… Get hurt!” She rolled off the bench, trying to stifle her sobs as she laid on the ground. Why me? Why… What did… I do… To be this… This way? I didn’t… Didn’t ask… To be born. My mother… Mother wanted me. What did… She do… Do to deserve… Such a horrible… Horrible daughter?

“Easy there miss, it’ll all be fine,” a man whispered as he came over and knelt down, then lifted Carmen back up to the bench. She shook her head and tried to clear her vision, looking over the man in front of her but still unable to make out his features.

“Who are… Who’re… You?” Carmen mumbled out.

“Me? No one, really,” the man replied, sitting down next to Carmen. “Though I clearly have a better grasp of my situation than you, Carmun Saoirse Ahearn.”

The man’s words caused Carmen to jolt back and eye him with suspicion. What… What the… Hell? Who is-

“Yes, you detect some magic, even if you can’t put your finger on it,” the man remarked, leaning back into the bench. “It is confusing, yes? Having some understanding of it, but no apparent ability to use it.”

“What… Are you a… You a-” Carmen stuttered out, being stopped when the man held a hand up.

“I will be honest with you, Carmun. I am not a man; I am a demon.” The man sighed and looked around for a moment. “I am a Satyr. Or so my parents told me.”

“Satyr?” Carmen mumbled back as she tried to collect her muddled thoughts. Satyr aren’t… Aren’t French though.

“Yes, we’re actually Greek,” the man answered with a smile. “Not exactly a pleasant place with everything that’s been going on.”

“Lyin’… Lyin’ to… To me,” Carmen growled, staring angrily at the man. “You a… True… True demon.”

The man leaned forward and chuckled. “I suppose that morphine blocks some of your usual inhibitions. Yes, I am a true demon, born from the depths of the burning hells. But I did have a mother and father, for what it’s worth.”

“What kinda… Kinda mis… Miskef you tryin’… Tryin’ to start?” Carmen grumbled.

“Me? You misunderstand; I am trying to end this war.”

Carmen blinked and frowned. “Say… Again?”

“I am trying to end this war. The 5th Mage War, as you call it. Although I am unsure as to why you call it that, given that mages have little to do with it now.” He waved a hand toward the nearby lamp post. “These used to be fire. Then they were magic. Now they’re generated electricity. Based on the simple physical laws of this world. No talent needed; just knowledge. The war is about who can kill the most with their own jealously guarded knowledge. No talent. No skill. Just killing. Pure, unbridled war.”

“That… That is… War… Though,” Carmen mumbled.

The man shook his head. “Not this kind of war. This is something else. Machine guns, artillery, gas? That’s not even war. That’s murder. That’s genocide. Millions of souls, all extinguished, all discarded… And no one will win it. Everybody loses.”

“But you… You demon… Like war.”

“Against humans?” The man chuckled. “No. Humans are great. Better than angels, better than demons. You’re better than us and our petty conflict. What you’re doing to yourselves is a disservice and I’m amazed you’ve let this go on as long as you have. Then again, with you and your quarrel with your mother-”

Carmen reached out and tried to punch the man, but he grabbed her fist and leaned aside.

“That wasn’t very nice,” the man grumbled.

“You… Stay outta… My business… Business with mother,” Carmen growled in return. “I ain’t… Ain’t havin’ no grankids… For… For her!”

“Do you really hate her that much? After everything she sacrificed to bring you here?”

“It ain’t… Ain’t hate! Not for… For her anyways,” Carmen whispered, then cried. “I… Horrible… Horrible daughter.”

The man sighed and put an arm around Carmen. “So it’s yourself you hate. Why?”

“I ain’t… I ain’t got… Magic. She… She does.” Carmen sniffled and rubbed her nose.

“Perhaps you understand why I want this war to end, then,” the man whispered. “If it continues, the power of magic will be turned into disarray. Your experience, but more widespread. Mages and what they bring to humanity would be forever gone.”

“But that’s… That’s it!” Carmen grumbled. “I… I’m proof that… That magic… Is already… Disarray.”

The man smiled and shook his head. “You’ve got more magic than you think. You just don’t know it yet.”

“But I… Can’t… Can’t cast spells.”

“Magic goes beyond spell casting, Carmun. Remember what your mother has taught you, for your sons and daughters will need that knowledge.”

Carmen laughed at the man. “I ain’t… I ain’t draggin’… More people… To this shoddy world.”

The man pulled Carmen’s chin up and stared directly into her eyes, making her feel as if he was glancing into the darkest recesses of her soul. “Carmun Saoirse Ahearn,” he began, “you will be the beacon of light for many entities in this world, for those that exist, those that will exist, and those that you will create.”

“I already… Told ya… You… That I ain’t… Draggin’ people… To this… This shoddy world.”

The man smiled and carefully pulled his arm back, letting the back of the bench hold Carmen up. “I suppose that is your choice, in the end. Please don’t destroy yourself before you get a chance to see how it all plays out, Carmun. Those who reside in this world deserve the light that your beacon provides.” He stood and began to walk away, causing Carmen to frown.

“Hey!” Carmen shouted out. “Where ya… Goin’?”

The man turned and lifted an eyebrow. “Me? I plan to blow up a munitions plant. First a French one, then a German one. Perhaps without any ammunition, the wholesale killing will stop – if only for a little while.”

Carmen blinked her eyes and thought for a moment. “Why tell… Tell me?”

“Because I think you should know. For some reason, fate has put you in my path tonight. Perhaps, in some way, we have helped not only ourselves, but others as well.” He turned back around and continued walking across the street. “I’d like to think so, anyways. Wouldn’t you?”

Carmen lazily stood up and stumbled forward, intending to follow the man. Demon? Ain’t… Ain’t no demon like… Like that. More like… Like angel. But… Felt like… Like demon.

“Stahp… Stahp!” Carmen mumbled. “You can’t… Do… Do that!”

The man ignored Carmen and continued walking away, even as she stumbled across the street. The world span around her eyes but she was determined to catch him. Ain’t… Ain’t right. Gotta… Gotta get gendarmarie…She tripped on the curb as she got to the sidewalk on the other side, grunting as she fell and landed on her wrists. Dammit… Dammit… What a… A time to… Be loaded up… On morphine! She took a deep breath and slowly picked herself up, then continued moving in the direction she thought she saw the man going.

“Get… Get back… ‘ere!” Carmen shouted out, bumping up against a wall and using it to support herself. “H… Hel… Help! Gendarmarie! Uh… Aidez-moi! Démon!” She tried to move faster, but her legs felt like anvils, delaying her motion and putting the man further out of reach. She tried a lazy, ungainly jog, but the only result was to make her look even more awkward than she already was. I… I need… Need to… Be loud… Louder! “Hey! H-Hey! Gendarmarie! S-sa… Saboteur! Le saboteur!

The sound of rapid footsteps came through to Carmen’s ears and she twisted her head to see what looked like a pair of gendarmarie coming to assist her. Finally!

Quel est le problème, mademoiselle?” one of the officers asked Carmen, placing a hand on her shoulder to steady her.

“Uh, uh… Saboteur… G-German… Uh, allemand, trying, er… I, I don’t… Know… Word,” Carmen mumbled, her brain slowed by the morphine.

“Ah, you English?” the other officer asked. “I speak. Poorly, but speak.”

“Oh, oh… There’s a-a… Demon,” Carmen said, pointing toward the direction she last saw the man. “He-he said he… He was… Was going to… Blow up… Plant.”

“Ah, le saboteur. Yes, you think demon?”

“Ye-yes… Yeah.”

“You have been drink, no?” the officer asked, eyeing Carmen suspiciously. “You must sleep off. Is very late. Cold this night. Have family in Paris?”

Carmen shook her head. “No, no… I-I volunteer… Volunteered… American… Assist-Assistance… Europe.”

Qu’est ce qu’elle dit?” the first officer asked, looking to his companion. The second officer held a hand up and smiled at Carmen.

“Please miss American,” the second officer said, taking Carmen’s arm. “We go hospital. You not well.”

Carmen jerked her arm back and slammed against the wall, then tried to run along it, but apparently was not successful as she heard the two officers chuckling behind her back.

Elle est maladroite, n’est-ce pas?” the first officer remarked, passing a grin to his comrade.

The second officer nodded. “Oui, mais pas ivre. Autre chose.” He narrowed his eyes at Carmen. “Le narcotique. Morphine.

Carmen’s understanding of French was poor, especially with her addled brain, but she recognized the word very clearly, causing her heart to stop for a moment. If… If t-they… Search me… They’ll find… Find out.

Elle ne ressemble pas à un toxicomane,” the first officer said.

Elle a récemment été soignée à l’hôpital. Je reconnais le parfum,” the second officer replied. “Elle prétend qu’elle était volontaire. Volontaire Américain.

Carmen tried to quicken her pace, but only felt lazy footsteps on the cement beneath her feet. M-my hearing… I-is rusty… But if I… I had to… Guess… They know… Hospital. The sound of the officer’s confident footsteps slowly approached from behind her, until she felt a pair of hands on her shoulders, stopping her in place.

“Please, miss,” the second officer whispered. “Let us go to station, no? More comfortable.”

“J-just… Check down… Down… There,” Carmen mumbled, pointing to the alley entrance in front of her. “H-he went… D-down… There.”

The second officer sighed and looked to his companion, then tilted his head toward the alleyway. “Jean, voudriez-vous regarder là-bas? Je suis sûr que ce n’est rien.

The first officer nodded and walked past Carmen, then looked down the alleyway. He glanced around for a moment, then looked back and shook his head.

“There. Nothing there, see?” the second officer said to Carmen. “Look?”

Carmen sighed and nodded. The officer took her hand and gently led her to the alley entrance, then pointed down. She looked around and strained her eyes, seeing nothing in the dark. I-I was… Was sure. Maybe… Maybe morphine… Messed with… With me.

The sound of something clinking in the alley caused the three of them to look again. Carmen narrowed her eyes and grit her teeth. I… I knew… It!

Qui est là?! Montre toi!” the first officer shouted out, pulling a revolver out of his holster. He waited a moment, then carefully walked down the alley, pointing his revolver into the darkness. Carmen strained to see him as he drifted further down the alley, but he stopped and looked around, apparently finding nothing.

Qu’est-ce que c’était?” the second officer asked, still holding onto Carmen’s hand.

Rien. Peut-être des rats,” the first officer replied, stuffing his revolver back into its holster.

Carmen lazily frowned and found herself with a clarity of thought that had seemingly vanished as soon as the morphine hit her. No. There was something. I heard it. Magic. Invisibility spell.

“Spell. Invisibility,” Carmen whispered.

“What?” the second officer asked Carmen. “You are mage?

“No,” Carmen answered, shaking her head. “But… I know… Magic.”

“How you know?”

Carmen knelt down, steadying herself on the wall, then pointed a finger to a thin puddle near her feet. It had a dull glow to it, as if some light were refracting off of it. “Not… Not all… Invisibility… Spells a-are… Equal.”

The second officer frowned and looked at the puddle, then glanced up and motioned for his companion to return. As he did so, the man appeared out of thin air and pushed the first officer aside, running toward Carmen and the second officer.

Arrêtez!” the second officer shouted, digging into his holster and trying to pull out his revolver. Carmen sank back and pressed herself against the wall, steeling herself for a gunshot. Instead, the man charged the officer and crashed into him, sending the revolver clattering across the alleyway floor. The two men struggled, each one trying to wrestle into a position of advantage over the other.

Carmen looked over the scene and momentarily felt frozen, then pushed herself forward, tripping over the men and crashing down, then crawled over and grabbed the fallen revolver. She swung it around and pulled the hammer back, locking it with a click and pointing the muzzle at the men.

“Th-that’s enough!” Carmen shouted. “S-stop it!”

The man stopped and looked up, then held his hands up. The officer squirmed out from under him and stood, then waved his companion over.

Jean! Appréhender cet homme,” the second officer ordered. The first nodded and pulled out some handcuffs, restraining the man.

“You know this won’t stop me,” the man said, looking to Carmen. “Open your eyes. Don’t you want your true power revealed?”

Carmen shook her head. “I’m… I’m n-not… Mage. I’m not… My mother.”

“Yet you saw through my spell. A demon’s spell, no less. You are magic, and magic is you, Carmun Saoirse Ahearn.

Soyez silencieux!” the first officer ordered, pushing the man into the wall. He smiled and looked over to Carmen, then gave her a polite nod. The second officer looked over to her, then calmly walked forward and put a hand on top of the revolver, pushing it down.

“Thank you, American,” the second officer whispered, carefully pulling the revolver out of Carmen’s hands. “Go home. Get help. Not morphine.”

Carmen looked at her hands and shivered. Can anything… Help me? I c-can’t… Be saved.

“You don’t need to be saved, Carmun,” the man whispered, his face still in the wall. “Your existence is to save others. I am sorry.”

The second officer carefully lowered the hammer on the revolver, then stuffed it back into his holster. He put an arm around Carmen’s shoulders and led her out of the alley, briefly looking back to see his companion bringing the man along. He led her across the street, then sat her down at the bench she had vacated earlier. He bent over to look into her face, giving her a gentle smile.

“You go home, American,” the officer said. “War not for you.”

Carmen looked down and sighed. “Then what is?”

“Magic. Magic is for you,” the officer whispered, then stood and joined his companion as they led the man away.

Carmen adjusted her dress and let out a sigh, unsure if she was ready to see her mother again. Has it really been a year? I guess so. If she lays into me too much, I can just leave. But she deserves another chance. She steeled herself, then reached out and gently knocked on the door.

“It’s open!” a voice shouted out from within; Carmen knew by pure instinct that it belonged to her mother. She reached down and twisted the knob and walked in, seeing her mother’s shop and storefront the same as she had remembered it. She closed the door behind her and saw her mother, Mary, looking over a large book, one seemingly on offensive spells.

Mary set the book down then looked up and gasped. “Carmun? Is it… Is it really you?”

Carmen looked down and held her hands together. “Yes, mother. It’s me.”

Mary paced over and wrapped her arms around Carmen, quietly sobbing as she did so. “I thought I had lost you forever! My dreams of you were so dark and depressing, I feared the worst.”

Carmen returned her mother’s embrace and sighed. “I… I’m sorry, mother.”

Mary shook her head. “The important thing is you’re back and safe.” She pulled back and tearfully smiled. “Let’s sit down in the meeting room. I have to know where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing.”

Carmen nodded and followed her mother into the meeting room, one she normally reserved for clients looking for advice on magical affairs. Mary sat down on the large couch and pulled Carmen down with her, holding her hand close while smiling at her.

“Right, well, I, uh” Carmen mumbled, “I kinda… Ran off. To France.”

Mary frowned. “France? Why?”

“Uh… Volunteered. I volunteered. The American Assistants to Europe. I was assigned to a field hospital. Near the front lines.”

Mary pressed a hand to her lips. “Artillery. You were hit by artillery.”

Carmen closed her eyes and sighed, then nodded. “Yes. If you knew, why did you ask?”

“Clairvoyance doesn’t always give a clear picture, dear,” Mary lamented. “And meanings can be lost when the mind is unconscious. I dreamed of a pistol, a sword, angels, cavalry, then artillery followed by blood. And then I saw a tree, cut almost completely through and bleeding, then watching as time passed and it healed. I knew something had happened, something terrible, but I also felt as if something was healed. Then discovered.”

Carmen shivered as her mother’s description reminded her of the experiences she had. I don’t think I’ll ever understand her ability to see things like that and yet still be a mage. How can I at least not have some of that power? What is wrong with me?

Mary put a hand on Carmen’s cheek, causing her to open her eyes and look at her mother. “What happened to you, my daughter? Please tell me.”

Carmen looked aside. “I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t talk about it.”

“Please,” Mary whispered. “Tell me.”

Carmen shook her head. “They, uh, were cutting and, uh… They said it was a miracle. That God was healing me- mother!” She stared at her mother accusingly, knowing that she was using a little bit of magic to try and relax her mind.

“What? I can tell it is still painful for you; some help will do you good. And maybe the God of Abraham was involved, dear. You can’t be certain.”

“Yeah, please don’t,” Carmen grumbled. “And you’re well aware from experience that he doesn’t get involved.”

Mary frowned. “You can’t be sure. And the pistol?”

“Is it really that important?”

“Is it such a big secret? And I wouldn’t have dreamed of it if it weren’t an important detail.”

Carmen let out a defeated sigh. “At the hospital, a cavalryman was brought in. I helped get him off the truck and he grabbed my arm, told me I looked like an angel, said I needed a sword, and handed me his pistol until I found a sword.”

Mary closed her eyes and chuckled. “I suppose he was injured very badly. Angels seldom involve themselves in the conflicts of man.”

Carmen let out a light laugh and nodded. “Yeah, he was. I was going to argue with him but realized he probably would stay alive just to argue over it, so took the pistol and they got him into surgery.”

Mary pointed to the bag Carmen had brought with her. “May I see it?”

Carmen raised an eyebrow, then nodded. She loosened the cord holding the bag shut, then dug through and pulled out a holster containing the pistol. She handed it to Mary and sheepishly smiled.

“My, it’s quite heavy,” Mary mumbled, opening the flap and sliding the pistol out. “It has seen much. And yet, it will see much more. A modern sword for my modern angel.”

“Mother,” Carmen grumbled while rolling her eyes, “please don’t read anything into it. Unless you know something about my fa-”

“He wasn’t,” Mary snapped while trying to conceal her anger. “Your father was not an angel. I can assure you of that. For one, it would have been against their code, for two, they would not have been so weak as to die from a simple lightning spell.”

Carmen folded her arms. “Maybe if you would tell-”

“No,” Mary growled, “I am not going to ruin a joyous occasion with bad memories of the past. My assault stays there and the only beacon of light I want to remember of it is that I got a daughter from it. That is all that matters.”

Carmen let out another sigh. “Fine. Then don’t call me an angel if you know it’s not true.”

“You were – are – my angel, and so apparently you were for the man who gave you this.” Mary slid the pistol back into the holster and closed the flap, then handed it back to Carmen. “You will need it more than he ever did. Always keep it by your side.”

“That’s odd, comin’ from you, mother. I would’ve figured you would recommend I keep a lightning scroll by my side at all times.”

“That weapon may as well be lightning in your hands, dear,” Mary remarked while pointing at the pistol. “No one else will make it sing as you will.”

“Sometimes you confuse the hell out of me,” Carmen whispered, taking the holster and sliding it back into her bag. “Is that enough for you? I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Mary nodded. “For now. But you must tell me everything one day. It’s important for you to be able to heal.”

“Yeah, but that ain’t today,” Carmen remarked. “Can we change the subject? It’s still too close for comfort. Everyone’s go- not there anymore.”

Mary smiled and squeezed Carmen’s shoulder. “Yes, we can. Shall we go out to eat tonight?”

“Uh, any place within walkin’ distance now? I dunno how much has changed.”

“Oh, I know of many places,” Mary answered, standing up and pulling Carmen up with her. “We shall have a grand celebration: the end of the war and the return of my daughter.”

“I’m not so sure many people will be happy to see a mage and her daughter celebrating,” Carmen mumbled.

Mary chuckled as she led Carmen out of the meeting room. “Have you forgotten how much I’ve done for this community, Carmun? We will be welcome anywhere here – and probably all of Philadelphia. You needn’t worry.”

“Yeah, I guess I kinda did. And please, call me ‘Carmen’; the other way just confuses people.”

“Allow me the simple pleasure of referring to my only child through her proper name, at least for this night,” Mary remarked.

“Fine, fine, whatever that makes you happy, mother.”

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