She had faith- complete faith- in him. She knew he was going to win. Larch dropped five hundred gold on him without a thought, and the only reason she didn’t drop more was that she didn’t want to see hungry for money in front of the others. She was, but still, it wouldn’t be seemly.
They hadn’t told her the opponent, and she was sure it didn’t matter.
Then the beast took the field.
Larch was one of the few in the crowd who knew such creatures; Numeria was a strange land and one of the few places they roamed freely. Taking one down was weeks of planning and work- making the weapons, setting traps, studying their patterns, gathering the hunters. And even then, it was risky in the extreme.
It did not shake her faith in him. Larch truly believed in his intelligence, his strength. He was their Doctor; the evidence spoke for itself.
But she found herself wishing she had given him the usual protection. The shaman had not wanted to impose or dishonor his combat by assisting him when it was likely unwelcome. Now…
….This is not his usual rational behavior. Why Is he…?
She stood, leaning farther over the railing.
It was his combat. She would not disrespect his skill by shoving her nose in, she told herself firmly. But she looked at Flower nonetheless.
“I could reach him,” the spirit said in Hallit. “He must have some sort of plan, Larch… though I do not know if it is a wise one.”
“He will be fine. He is our Doctor,” Larch said, half to herself.
“….And if he isn’t?”
“Then I will sleep the beast, if possible. But- he should know what he is doing, shouldn’t he?”
“In theory, yes,” Flower said dryly. The other half of her implied statement said otherwise.
The announcer made her scowl. Where did they get the right to call the Doctor a monster? If he had allowed it, then fine, but however she felt about it, or whatever he called himself in private, it was not for outsiders to bandy the insult about so casually.
And he didn’t have a deathwish.
The beast roared, shaking the stands. Tiny by comparison (despite all his mutagens could do), the Doctor simply shifted stance. The flare shot up into the sky, and he moved with speed that would have been startling to anyone who didn’t know him, wings beating like a wasp’s or a deadly hummingbird. Blood sprayed in his wake, the claws slashing that thick hide; his stroke was twisty and almost graceful. He missed the jugular, but the damage was enough to warrant a gasp from the crowd and a smile from Larch. He didn’t bother trying to keep range, and she approved. Better to strike hard and fast, and end it quickly-
The Rex turned, tail lashing, eyes maddened with pain and hate. He wasn’t far enough fast enough. The neck extended as it gave a little hop, twisting around.
The mighty jaws opened, dwarfing the Doctor in them. He tried to put on speed.
Teeth the size of her arm closed in on his leg and his wing. She felt the crunch of flesh and bone across the arena.
There was a cry of pain that split her heart in two. She saw, in slow motion, the Rex jerk him down then fling him back up, like a cat playing with its food. Larch saw his wide eyes, the instant of realization on his face, as the tatters of his wing wouldn’t save him and his mutilated leg sprayed blood over the sand.
The jaws closed.
The bottom fell out of her world.
Everything was too loud but didn’t register- the screams of the crowd, the hollering and jeers, the announcer saying something. None of it mattered. Even her heartbeat, thundering overtime in shock, was too slow- her reactions and the entire world was muffled, like being wrapped in cotton. Her face was bloodlessly white, frozen in shock and horror.
Flower was already moving, off the railing and winding her way through the crowd. Larch couldn’t move- she couldn’t breathe. He was- he was gone.
Just like that, just that fast.
The quiet little smiles, the damnable abdominal muscles, the way he tilted his head slightly as he pondered a particularly interesting problem, the way he was willing to risk everything for thier assistance in killing Urvine. All of it. All of him.
Something in her shattered.
I never told him how-
“Sprout! Snap out of it! Look!” Flower yowled impatiently.
That got her. When her teachers spoke, she listened, unbreakable force of habit, and her eyes snapped to the Rex, stomping and roaring in triumph.
…Under the skin of his throat, two thirds down. Movement.
Her heart lurched with terrible hope, tears at the corners of her eyes. Yes, yes, come on, please please please be what I think you are-
There was a sudden choking noise, a spray of blood from the mouth. The Rex staggered, whined, confused and in pain.
And, in a spray of crimson gore and viscera, the Doctor’s head and torso appeared in a massive ruinous hole, claws literally ripping through the flesh to create his exit. More blood drenched the area floor, intestinal stink and copper flooding the air.
Her heart slammed back home into her chest, and suddenly she could breathe agian. Larch was moving, running toward the exit of the arena, before she could think about it and didn’t even try to hide her emotions for once in her life.
He was alive. He was alive.
That son of a bitch, she was going to kill him.
He staggered upright, absolutely covered in grossness. The tatters of his wing and how he favors his leg are evident- but he is alive, alive, alive, and she shoved past Mallory to reach him, gathering power to her already.
The crowd, after a moment of utterly stunned silence, goes berserk.
She can’t look at him when she finally gets to him, her nerves run ragged, a small tremor in her voice that she cannot hide, despite herself and him and everything.
“Never, ever do that again, Amaranthe Sharpe,” she said, determinedly ignoring the way her voice shook. Larch drenched him with cold water before he could speak to wash off a bit of the blood, then began the work of shoving healing magic into him with one hand and creating a handful of goodberries with her other.
He was alive.
He was alive.
She’d deal with how much this affected her later. For now…. He was alive. And that was all that mattered.