Chapter 12: Family Ties
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Lotte grimaced as she gingerly pressed her fingers against the wound on her face. She was channeling her magic into the injury, trying to force it to seal up quickly. At least it wasn’t bleeding anymore.

She was on a small couch in her cousin’s home. It was probably ruined, soaked in her blood and covered in grime. There was a bath in the house, but Lotte didn’t feel ready to move just yet. At least the smell of fish from the docks nearby was blocked out by the scent of the plants that Regina had insisted on raising.

Regina herself was arguing loudly with Herbert over what to do with Lotte. She was adamant that they were not going to throw her out. Herbert went on and on about Regina and baby Senta’s safety. Senta herself was contributing by crying loudly from the other room. Lotte might have had something to say herself, but she was just so exhausted.

Finally, the shouting died down and the couple separated. Regina went to the bedroom to console their baby while Herbert started cooking something in the kitchen. He returned carrying a small bowl of soup, which he placed on the floor before helping Lotte into a sitting position despite the protest of her wounds.

“You look like you haven’t eaten in days,” he said, offering Lotte a spoonful of soup.

After swallowing, Lotte replied, “It got so hard to keep track of time in there. I don’t think they fed me every day. They might have fed me twice a day sometimes to throw off my bearings. I can’t be sure.” She continued to eat for a while before saying, “You want to kick me out.”

Herbert glanced away before answering, “I’m not going to do that.”

“But you want to.”

“I… I want to help you, Lotte.”

“Thank you,” Lotte said. “For feeding me as well as housing me. I know that I’m putting you all in danger by being here. As soon as I can walk again, I’ll find somewhere else to stay.”

“Please stay a few days at least,” Herbert told her. “We need time to treat your injuries and make sure you’re okay.”

“Alright, but I have to leave soon. Alena is waiting for me somewhere and I need to show her that I’m okay. And… I’m grateful for the help.”

Herbert had to leave for work shortly after that. Lotte was feeling a little stronger and was able to sit up on her own. She tried channeling magic into the couch to clean it, but to no avail. After a while, Regina came over to Lotte with a large number of bandages and a bucket of warm water.

“Can you remove your shirt for me?” she asked.

Lotte looked down at the tatters she was wearing and forced herself to strip them off. Even the breast band she was wearing was a little torn, but it was at least holding. Regina looked pained to see the state that Lotte was in underneath her clothes. She brought up a wet cloth and started trying to wipe off the grime and dirt that had built up.

“Thank you,” Lotte said weakly, “for standing up to Herbert for me.”

“Oh, Herbert. He means well, I promise, but he’s never been…” She fell silent for a moment. “I’ve always been the more empathetic partner in our relationship. It was something he loved to compliment me on when we were courting, but I guess living with someone who’s constantly aware of the pain of others is a bit much for him. And I was never a very assertive person, so I just stayed quiet most of the time. But seeing you in the state you’re in… I don’t know, it seemed too important to give up on, and I knew that he wanted to help even if he was lying to himself about it.”

Lotte didn’t have a response to that. The two of them continued to make small talk until Regina had finished dressing Lotte’s injuries and given her a fresh set of clothes to wear. These were actually womens clothes, for a change, and they fit much better than what Lotte had been wearing. It was a little surreal to be in a skirt, though. After that, though, exhaustion started to take her and she needed to lie down again.

Over the course of the next day, with magic flowing through her to heal her wounds, Lotte started to feel much better. She was able to sit up and feed herself, and even played with Senta for a bit, dazzling the little babe with magic tricks. Zisald stood by the window the entire time, watching for guards. Lotte tried to walk several times, but only managed to make a few laps around the room before tiring herself out. It was frustrating; all Lotte wanted to do was find Alena.

By the time she could stand for more than a few minutes, Lotte had decided it was time to go.

“Goodbye, little Senta,” she told the baby in Regina’s arms, giving her a little poke in the stomach and making her laugh.

Sharing a quick hug with Regina, even though it made her wince from pain, Lotte said, “I’ll never be able to repay you for this.”

“Just get back to your fiancee safely.”

“She’s not… Alright, I will.”

Herbert was standing by the door, holding one of Regina’s old beaten cloaks. He wrapped it around Lotte's shoulders and did the clasp. Then he handed her a small bag of Regina’s old clothes that they were giving her.

“Stay safe, Lotte,” he said quietly.

“I will. Thank you for taking me in.”

“We’re still family. No matter what happens to you, that won’t change. Regina was right. I was letting my fear of change keep me from seeing that you needed my help.”

“I forgive you,” Lotte told him.

Herbert nodded, then his expression hardened and he said, “I hope that bastard Torben pays for what he did to you.”

“He will, I promise. The Resistance won’t allow him to hold his power for much longer.”

The two shared a tender hug before Herbert opened the door for Lotte.

***

Alena was so tired. She hadn’t eaten, bathed, or slept for more than a wink since the meeting with Torben. Worst-case scenarios played back to back in her head. She’d signed Lotte’s death warrant, hadn’t she? Alena should have just taken the deal. Even if she was stuck with Torben for the rest of her life, Lotte would be safe, if not happy.

She’d stopped working, too. Alena didn’t do anything but lie in bed anymore, except for when Ursel dragged her to the dining room to force her to eat something small, not that Alena ever finished what she was given. The people she was supposed to be leading had completely taken up her slack. Alena felt guilty, but didn’t have the energy to do anything about it.

At least her meeting with Margarete had yielded results. Irma had met with Claus and he’d turned over the code Margarete had broken, as well as a mathematical sequence they could use to generate their own codes. The Resistance could intercept messages between Torben’s followers again.

As Alena stared down at her cold soup, mindlessly picking up the spoon before dribbling the broth back into the bowl. She could hear footsteps approaching the dining room, but didn’t look up from her food. Whoever it was stopped right next to her.

“Miss Alena?”

She finally looked up to see a man with very ruddy skin watching her with a frown, and mumbled, “Hell, Ortwin.”

Ortwin was Ursel’s husband. She’d seen him around the house every now and then, but he remained mostly uninvolved with the Resistance. Seeing him and Ursel together was always a little surprising: he was about a full head shorter than his wife.

“Ursel asked me to come talk to you about what you’ve been feeling.”

“I’m not feeling anything.”

“Alena—”

“I really don’t want to talk.”

Ortwin sighed and continued, “There’s not much I can do to help the Resistance with my role on the council, but it still has occupied a large part of my life. The work that Ursel and I have put into fighting Torben had a significant impact on our relationship. It’s been difficult even sleeping in the same bed knowing the danger that we’re in if Ursel ever gets caught.”

“This isn’t helping,” Alena muttered, giving up on her soup entirely.

“My point is that this lifestyle takes a toll on relationships, and that can really affect us. You’re feeling a lot of things right now, Alena. It’s going to help you to be honest with someone who understands the position that you’re in.”

“You understand?” Alena asked, glaring at him. “My girlfriend is imprisoned and it’s my fault! How can you understand what I’m feeling, Ortwin?”

“You can’t blame yourself,” he replied, placing a gentle hand on her arm. “This is going to eat you alive and you’re going to completely lose yourself to the pain. Lotte doesn’t want that to happen to you.”

Alena didn’t respond. Ortwin sat with her for a while after that. Eventually, Alena pushed her bowl away and buried her face in her arms. She was such a wreck. Nobody could blame her, after what she’d been through. But it wasn’t productive. Did she have to be productive? That seemed like a lot to ask of her right now.

This state had consumed her. Ortwin had been right about that much. She had to do something. Alena wanted to get Lotte back. If she was still alive, then Torben was keeping her from Lotte. The only solution, then, was to get rid of Torben.

She was going to kill him.

“I have to go,” Alena said, standing up. “Thank you, though.”

“I’m here to talk if you need it, Alena.”

She nodded and started walking away. Alena had a good idea of where Ortwin’s office was. Fortunately, it wasn’t locked. She stepped inside and locked the door, looking around. There had been more furniture in here at one point, but now it was just a desk and a portrait of Ortwin’s father on the wall.

She started rifling through Ortwin’s desk. There were a lot of documents in there, but it wasn’t too hard to find what she was looking for. A map of the Prefecture Estate. Alena didn’t have experience reading architectural maps like this, but it would do. She folded it up and placed it in her cloak before quickly exiting.

Next, Alena made her way to the kitchen. There, she picked up a long knife and started swinging it, then making stabbing gestures. She was shaking. This plan was absurd. There was no way she’d be able to get out undetected. If it were this simple, the Resistance would have already done it.

A knock on the doorway made Alena jump and drop the knife, which clattered on the floor. Quivering, she turned to see a tall man covered in freckles watching her with confusion. Alena gulped and walked over.

“What is it?” she asked.

Kurt cleared his throat before telling her, “Ursel wants to see you in her office.”

Alena’s heart started thumping. Ursel had figured out what she was planning. How? She had literally just come up with it. How many steps ahead of Alena was Ursel? If she was this much of a chess master, the Resistance should have won already.

She made her way toward Ursel’s office, the map in her pocket feeling like a lead weight. How was she going to defend her decision to Ursel? There was no way she’d approve of Alena going off plan. Didn’t she understand how important Lotte was to Alena?

Shaking, Alena knocked on the door to Ursel’s office. After a moment, Ursel told her to come in. Alena walked in, mouth open to defend herself, and froze.

Standing there was a woman with shaggy brown hair, one blue eye, and one red eye. She was wearing a casual shirt and long skirt beneath a light cloak. A long, raw scar stretched along her face, but she was smiling.

“Alena!” Lotte cried, running forward and grabbing her in a hug.

Alena didn’t even realize that she was crying until she started to sob. Her legs gave out and she dragged Lotte to the ground with her. Lotte was petting Alena, softly whispering to her.

“You’re all bandaged,” Alena said, sniffing.

“Yeah, but I’m healing quickly,” she replied, wiping tears away from Alena’s face.

“I’m never letting you go again.”

“I appreciate that, Alena, but I’m actually pretty badly bruised right now.”

The two climbed to their feet, Alena still holding on tightly to Lotte. Ursel stepped forward, finally getting Alena’s attention.

“Lotte explained everything to me while we were waiting for you,” she said. “It certainly puts things into perspective. You two have been through an awful lot.”

“That we have,” Lotte muttered.

“I’d like to house the two of you here in secret,” Ursel continued. “You’ll be safer from Torben that way. Lotte, once you’re fully healed, I’d appreciate it if you could use your magic to help the Resistance.”

“No!” Alena cried just as Lotte replied, “Of course.”

Alena told Lotte, “I’m not willing to put you in danger again.”

“I’m going to do it,” Lotte said. “Torben is determined to separate us, and I’m not going to stand aside and let you be the only one to fight him.”

“I love you, Lotte,” Alena said, placing her hand on Lotte’s cheek.

“I love you too, Alena.”

The two retired to the little bedroom that Alena had been sleeping on and curled up together on the little mattress. Alena’s stomach growled, but she didn’t want to leave the safety of Lotte’s arms. For a while, they just laid there quietly, listening to each other’s breathing.

“Where did you get these clothes?” Alena asked.

“After being thrown out, I found my way to Herbert’s home. He and Regina took me in for a couple of days.”

“Herbert? After what he did to you?”

“He’s got a good heart, deep down.”

Alena grunted, but didn’t say more.

Lotte added, “We can’t stop. Not until Torben and Gunter are out of power for good.”

“After what they did to you, they deserve to be thrown in jail for the rest of their lives. This was too far. If this is what Torben did just to upset me, I can’t imagine what he has in store for the rest of the vulnerable people in this town.”

They fell silent after that, deep in thought. Lotte fell asleep first, no doubt exhausted after everything she’d been through in the past week. It wasn’t long until Alena fell asleep next to her.

Things might just be looking up.

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