Izabel got halfway back to the barracks before throwing up. Everything that had happened in the last few minutes rushed into her mind at once. Simsek was dead. Even if the building was empty, it was only a matter of time before someone came looking for him. She was covered in his blood. She had nowhere to go.
When she thought about it, she couldn't remember why she had to kill him. If she had given in and let him kill her, she wouldn't have to face the consequences of her actions. The dread that she felt surrounding her was worse than what she guessed death ever would. The more she thought, the more trapped she felt. If what she did was discovered, she would be put to death for murder. If she didn't kill him, Simsek would have killed her. Even if she never went to talk to him, she would have be reassigned in due time and killed in battle. The option she chose felt the most painful. Though she was living a few days longer, she had to live with the sense of guilt and a constant fear of discovery.
She didn't know where to go, so she continued to the barracks. Passing through the halls without being seen, Izabel reached her still empty room. The white clinic coat was lying on her bed. Izabel put it on and buttoned it all the way up to her neck, covering her stained dress. She sat on the edge of her bed, head in her hands, thinking about what to do. Astrom wasn't an option and she didn't know anyone in the city. Her home was too far away, and even if she did try to make it there, she had nothing to tell her parents. No one ever came back from the Guard and she didn't know if they would want her back if she made it there.
Crying wasn't appealing to her. Neither was sleeping. Izabel needed to do something. She got up from the bed and paced around the room. Firstly, she needed to leave. She didn't have a destination, but it would be better if she were gone. How many people in the general's army knew her? Would there be anybody to point a finger when she was gone? Izabel hoped that she would fade into the crowd, like how every one of her patients did.
She left the barracks, feeling crowded by the walls. The cold air across her face calmed her jitters. Her legs took control and led her down the path most familiar to her, the one that led back to the office. She wanted to stop, but moving was better than standing still. She told herself that she would walk farther down the street than she ever had before, past the hollowed out building shells and out into the city. Once she got there, she would find something, someone to take her away.
Izabel saw a few people walking the opposite way and she clutched her coat closer around her. Even though it covered the blood, she felt exposed, as if everyone else could see straight through her. She was ignored, the others too intent on getting home to look at her closely. Someone walked by her and scuffed her shoulder. She kept walking.
"Hey, wait." She didn't. Izabel picked up her pace and put her head down. "Izabel, stop." Footsteps clicked behind her and a hand landed on her shoulder. She flinched. She had only gotten down the street before her crime was discovered. "Are you alright?"
It was Rein. His voice was too soft, too concerned. She felt uncomfortable. "Yeah, I'm fine," she managed, shrugging off his hand.
"It's just that you looked shocked after what happened with Maryna. There's blood on your face." She ran a hand across her skin, feeling nothing. She tried not to look shocked, but she knew she didn't succeed.
"I'm fine, just an accident." She licked a hand and scrubbed at her face, her palms coming away with a brownish tinge. There was blood on her hands too. She shoved them in her pockets.
"I'm sorry for what happened," he said. "Maryna was only doing what she was told to do."
"It doesn't matter," Izabel said. "I'm not mad." She was trying to edge away from him, away from the conversation. "I have something I have to do." She pulled away and started down the street again.
Rein ran in front of her and cut her off. He didn't act threatening, but Izabel wanted to run. She only wanted to leave and he was stopping her. "I need to show you something," he said. "It's important."
"I can't." She moved to walk around him and felt wind ruffle around her. Her heart quickened.
"It's important," he repeated. She didn't know if he was purposely manipulating the air around them or if it was an unconscious reaction. Izabel hoped that she didn't cast a fire without realizing it. She shouldn't feel so scared.
"I'm going." She ducked her head and pushed through the strong breeze. Rein didn't follow her again. It was the first time he had shown her kindness and she couldn't accept it. She wondered what he wanted to show her. He seemed too at ease to have found Simsek's body, but she couldn't be sure. Even if he was happy about the commander's death, there was still a chance of him reporting it. The more people that knew, the more danger she was in.
The lines of buildings grew thicker as she approached the inner section of the city. It was growing dark and the streets all looked similar. Izabel didn't know what she was looking for. She knew that there was no port in the capital, but there had to be another way out, a highway or a trade route. Hiding within the city would be difficult with the rebels searching for anyone in the general's army.
The city was old and there wasn't much thought put into its layout. A grid would have been easy to navigate, but the roads were winding and narrow, lined with too mahy buildings for the small space. Izabel never spent much time in cities and felt uncomfortable. She was used to being able to see for miles, flat fields with no obstruction. Now all she could see was grey stone. As she moved towards what she guessed was the heart of the city, Izabel was aware of how cold it was becoming. The sun would set soon. Night would be a good time to leave if she had any idea where she was going.
Rain water pooled in the dipped down alleys and washed over Izabel's feet, soaking her sandals. At least it washed a bit of the blood off. Besides a destination, what she really needed was a mirror. Only Rein had seemed to notice her disheveled state, but anyone who took a close look at her would notice the flecks of blood that covered her skin. She was lucky that the streets were desolate.
Her foot hit something as she walked, causing her to stumble. Debris in the street weren't uncommon, but something so large would have been picked up or scavenged. Checking to see if there was anyone around, Izabel knelt to inspect it. At first, she thought it was some sort of cloth sack, but when she turned it over, she saw it was a girl. She was obviously dead. Her blood had pooled to one side, discoloring half of her face to a dark purple. Izabel wanted to feel sympathy for the girl, though she couldn't muster it. The discovery of her body was too senseless and sudden to warrant a typical reaction.
Izabel hesitated a moment before searching the girl's pockets. The Guard didn't pay her and she had left all of her personal belongings on Astrom and though she felt a bit of guilt over ransacking a corpse, Izabel needed something to barter with if she was going to get out of the city. The girl had a few coins in her pocket and a dented locket around her neck. Izabel was disappointed that the locket was empty, but she pocketed it anyway. It could still be valuable.
Another thought crossed her mind and she looked at the girl again. They were about the same size, albeit the girl was a bit bloated in death. Izabel looked down at he own bloodstained clothes and forced out a shaky breath. She took off her coat. There were already rusty bloodstains on the inside of the coat hat hadn't soaked all the way through yet. Her dress was crusty and stiff. A dark smear of blood ran down her front. She stripped the girl of her damp dress and put it on herself. It was cold and wet, but it was inconspicuous. Izabel wanted to redress the girl, but she didn't have the time or the will. She felt sickened touching the cold skin and wanted to move on as quickly as possible.
She threw her coat on, needing the warmth regardless of the dried blood on the inside. She left her dirtied clothes draped over the girl in an attempt to conserve her decency. Izabel moved on. Her nerves calmed as she walked. The more distance she put between her and the office, the better she felt. The lights that grew closer as she walked set her on edge. Lights meant people and people meant suspicion.
People started to appear in the streets. Most of them walked with a drunken stumble or a determined pace, people set on getting out of the rain. She was still ignored. It was an odd feeling. City people were wrapped up in themselves, never reaching out to anyone else. At least back home, people would greet each other as they passed on the streets. Here, no one said a word. There were no apologies when getting pushed off of crowded streets. Though it was convenient, it made Izabel feel distant and lonely.
A surge of warmth hit her from the side. She stopped and looked at a building that radiated with warmth. Izabel could feel the roaring fireplace through the stone walls of the small house. It was attractive and frightening all at once. She wanted to be inside, but found herself resisting. It would be a stupid move. There would be people inside, and somehow, they would know.
"Don't stand out there in the rain." Izabel's head snapped first up at the sky and then to the woman who addressed her. She couldn't recall when it had started to rain, though the sky had been threatening it all day. "You've been standing their gawking so long that you're soaking wet. You're going to catch your death." Before she could protest, the rotund woman stepped out of the doorway and pushed her inside. Izabel wanted to describe her as motherly, though the woman reminded her nothing of her own mother. Rather, she was the perfect caricature of what she expected a mother to be.
"You must be freezing, the woman tutted, grabbing a blanket and draping it over Izabel. She led her across the small kitchen and sat Izabel down on a wooden bench. "I'd offer you a change of clothes, but I'm afraid nothing I have would fit you!" She laughed and Izabel cringed. Simsek was the one who laughed at her. "What are you doing out on a night like this anyway?"
"I need to go somewhere," she said. She wanted to stand up, but the blanket was heavy, her feet were heavy and she could feel the world rocking around her. "So I really can't stay. It's urgent."
"Urgent?" The woman took another look at Izabel and her eyes lit up. "Oh, are you one of those soldiers with magic powers who've been tearing through here?" Izabel stiffened, not sure how to react. Her affiliation could sway the woman's favor. "It's fine," she continued. "Ever since this fighting business has started up, I've been trying to help out all I can. Doesn't matter which side you're on, dear. I just want to give you a place to rest."
"You've helped others?" Izabel asked. "Do you know who?"
"I don't ask for names, but I've had least a dozen kids like you pass through here. You'll be fine." She stoked the fire and it struck Izabel that she was doing it wrong. The fire shrunk back and was unreceptive to her touch. Izabel prodded the fire with her mind. It spread over the bare firewood and the woman smiled to herself. "You look a bit shaken up. Been through some hard times?"
Izabel didn't want to answer. Her jaw shook. She played with her hands. "You don't have to tell me," the woman said. "War is tough. We've been lucky, avoiding it was long as we have." Izabel held her tongue. Even though she had no proof to what Rein or Lukas said, she knew there were other wars. This woman was blissfully unaware of the systematic slaughter around her. She'd said they'd been lucky when Izabel had been anything but.
"Are there any trade routes around here? Ports?" Izabel watched the woman completing chores; washing dishes, sweeping. The normalcy of it made her ache with longing. She wanted to be able to change into a starched apron and scrub her family's chipped plates.
"No ports. We're not even on the water." She hummed between her words. "There is a main road that leads south though. I don't know if you'd want to take it though."
"I don't care," Izabel said. "I need to leave."
The woman frowned, but didn't press her. "It goes through some disputed territory, though if you are a soldier, you'd know how to handle that."
"There are forces stationed around here?" Izabel didn't know if she was more afraid of being attacked by the rebels or being caught by her own side.
"They drift in and out. The farther you go down this road, the more there are. Some heated battles have happened right outside this house." Izabel thought of the girl in the alley and she understood. She was the single, unbloodied corpse left from a guerrilla attack.
"Thank you for letting me stay," Izabel muttered, "but I have somewhere I have to be." She stood and shook the stiffness from her legs. As she left the house, she could feel her skin burning hot through the drizzling cold. She couldn't let herself stay comfortable.