The wounds didn’t let Kan and Vlada walk far, so they camped as soon as they left the Burnt Region behind them. Making a fire so close to the bandit territory was a bad idea but they needed hot water to wash the wounds, so Vlada decided to risk it.
They made their camp at the foot of a bare hill near a chatty cold rivulet snaking between the stones. Vlada left Kan with the chargas and went to fetch water. While she was away the good-natured beasts licked the boy’s wounds as well as their own. He didn’t protest. He was unable to, being barely conscious with fever. Hyena bites are nasty.
The travellers were lucky that burngrass, a field medic’s best friend, grew in abundance around that hill. It makes an excellent antiseptic when boiled in water. The chargas sniffed suspiciously at the cauldron with the burngrass potion. Obviously, treating them with it was out of question.
Kangassk’s leg, the one bitten by the hyena, swelled so badly it barely fitted into the boot now. Vlada, too, hadn’t come out of the battle unscathed this time. She got a stray bullet to the shoulder. Her kevlar cloak did help a lot, but the nasty piece of lead went through it anyway which resulted in a shallow but painful wound surrounded with a darkish bruise.
Their wounds treated, the travellers ate a cold supper and tried to sleep. It wasn’t easy. Kangassk could only guess what his companion might have been thinking about; as for him, he couldn’t close his eyes without seeing the battle again, the old man crying over the dead boy, or a dark shadow of Sasler the punisher walking through the mist, the bulging eye on his rifle glinting with every step.
“Why did he do that to the boy? Revenge or not, that was over the top.” Kangassk muttered, his gaze wandering among the early stars in the sky.
“Snipers are like that. They’re cruel,” answered Vlada in a strangely knowing way.
“Who?” Kan asked again. The word was unfamiliar to him.
“Snipers. That man invented a scope to aim and shoot from afar. He is a sniper, the only one in the world for now.”
“How the heck do you know all these things?”
Kangassk decided not to pursue the matter further. He felt weird. Something was definitely wrong here but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Vlada seemed as young as he was yet knew a good deal more. Was she older than she looked? It’s not that you can safely ask a girl such a question… Was she a mage? That would explain a lot. No, she didn’t look like one. A warrior’s daughter then? Possibly the only child, papa’s girl that had been given a sword as soon as she could walk.
“Experience!” Hah! Kan would have known a thing or two about the outside world as well had he travelled instead of breathing ash and dust in his master’s workshop.
So, nothing was wrong with Vlada after all? The weird feeling was just the fever getting into his head? There was no way to make sure.
They stayed in the camp that day to let the hyena bites heal enough to allow the injured to walk again. While Kangassk got just one bite, chargas got at least a dozen. For the moment both were as helpless as kittens. Vlada shared the dry wayfarer meal with the brave beasts and brought them a cauldron of water from the stream. Chargas lapped up the water like cats and looked grateful.
With three of four being in such a sorry state, it took the little group two days to reach the nearest town, Tammar.
The locals took them for Crogan’s bandits at first. Kevlar cloaks and guns kind of suggested that. The fright quickly turned to cheer when they heard the news, though. One Crogan dead, the other retired! Unbelievable! Praises, songs, and a shower of rose petals followed. Neither Vlada nor Kan was happy about it, though.
They gave their guns and kevlar cloaks to the town’s mayor for safekeeping. The grateful local ruler offered them food, meds, and shelter. That night Vlada and Kan slept under a roof again. Their rooms were small and simple but after all the nights they spent outdoors with mosquitoes anything with a roof seemed good enough.