The silence in the cave was deafening.
Well, it wasn’t completely silent, Olivia thought to herself. Petra’s wheezy breaths and occasional coughing fits were agonizingly loud as they sat in semi-darkness, hoping and praying that Jesse’s plan to break the Command Block and bring down the Wither Storm would work.
“You’re biting your nails again.”
Olivia jumped, suddenly noticing her fingers were in her mouth, and Petra was gazing at her with a faint smirk on her face (which was ashen and pale from the Wither sickness).
“You told me,” Petra rasped, gritting her teeth as she struggled to keep breathing, “You told me to tell you to stop. If you started doing that again.”
She let her hand drop, absently wiping her fingers on her pant leg.
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” Petra said, morbid amusement rising in her sunken, yellow-tinged eyes. “I am… I’m fuckin’ terrified right now. M’probably… well, it’s almost over for me, ‘Liv. I can feel it. In here.”
She gestured weakly at her chest.
“No, don’t say that,” Olivia blurted, even though the harsh reality of their situation was making her panic swell. “Just hang on, okay? Everything’s gonna be fine.”
That last sentence was meant for herself, really. Not Petra.
Petra laughed, her chuckles quickly trailing off into wheezy, choking coughs, her face screwing up with pain.
“‘Livia, you don’t need to fuckin’ coddle me,” she croaked, gingerly shifting in what was probably an attempt to get more comfortable. “I’m not as emotionally fragile as you think I am, okay? The sickness… I’m not gonna win, and I think we both know that.”
Olivia bit her lip hard, struggling to force back her tears because Petra was right.
Wither sickness wasn’t uncommon. It was usually only a threat to those who dared wander into the Nether, and it was curable, as long as the victim got plenty of rest for the next few days and drank a few glasses of milk.
This degree of Wither sickness was something else.
According to Jesse (who’d been the only one to know about Petra’s rapidly deteriorating condition at first), Petra had contracted the sickness after being wounded on her arm. It had appeared to heal at first, blood clotting like normal, but then it had started to… change. The scabs had turned a sickly greyish purple color and the wound had started to ooze what had looked like pus at first, but then it had started to spread up Petra’s arm. As it had spread, her skin had started to turn ashen and sickly, her veins growing darker and more prominent through her paling skin, and she’d gotten progressively weaker and started to lose weight, even though she’d tried every healing method she could possibly think of.
And now… well, Petra’s body was clearly mere minutes from losing the fight.
Petra’s arm, the spot where she’d been infected, was the worst part of the whole mess. Her skin was blackened and shriveled and taut against the bone, horrifically thin and skeletal. The wound itself seemed to have grown from a small scrape to a crack in her skin that went from her wrist all the way to the bottom of her bicep, oozing strange purplish-black fluid (that Petra had been coughing up lately) and the skin around it was drier than desert sand and crumbling off painfully at the slightest provocation.
Petra was dying, and Olivia felt like shit because there was nothing she could do.
“I’m not gonna just sit here and watch you die!” Olivia snapped, her throat closing up and almost making her choke. “I can’t! It’s fucking killing me just being here and not being able to do anything!”
Petra blinked slowly.
“You could leave. Go help the others. S’not like I’m gonna go anywhere.”
“Hell no!” Olivia hissed.
As horrible as watching Petra die slowly and painfully made her feel… well, Petra didn’t deserve to die alone.
Not like this.
Then Petra straightened up, and the sudden movement made her gasp in pain, and promptly start coughing again.
“Fuck,” she wheezed, grimacing as she shifted her now useless right arm.
A terrible idea popped into Olivia’s head.
The main source of the toxins was in Petra’s right arm, now shriveled and useless to the point where she could barely move it. Ivor had said that if they killed the Wither Storm, its poisonous effects would vanish with it (even if the physical damage to the world itself would remain), so that meant that Petra just had to stay alive long enough for Jesse and the others to kill the damn thing. There had to be a way to stop, or at least slow down the poison’s spread throughout Petra’s body.
Olivia winced. Theoretically, if she cut off the original source of the toxin from the body, she could lessen the effects to some degree. She’d seen it done with cave spider bite victims before, using tourniquets to staunch the spread of the poison long enough for an antidote to be prepared and administered.
“Petra,” she blurted, before she could lose her nerve, “I know it sounds crazy, but you might live a little longer if I amputate your arm.”
Petra arched an eyebrow. “Really?”
She’d been expecting a vehement refusal and terrified rambling, but then again, Petra was so close to death that she’d probably lost fear in literally everything.
“I think so,” Olivia said, trying to hide her surprise. “It’s kinda like a cave spider bite. The toxins might’ve spread through your body already, but your right arm’s pretty much dead anyway and if I amputate it, it might slow down the effects. It’s gonna hurt, though. A lot.”
Petra smirked. “Oh, yeah. I once had to help amputate this guy’s hand after he got trapped in an avalanche. Gross as fuck. He screamed the whole time.”
Olivia winced. Well, at least Petra knew what she was doing.
“Okay,” she said, sucking in a deep breath. “Mind if I use your shirt for a tourniquet? I don’t have anything else other than the little medkit Soren left with us.”
Olivia heaved a sigh and opened the medkit as Petra slowly inched her shirt off (panting and coughing from the effort). There wasn’t much, just some antiseptic, some gauze, bandaids, cloth bandage and alcohol wipes, a pair of rubber gloves, and a sterile needle and thread.
“Great,” Olivia muttered. “Fucking spectacular.”
She didn’t really have a lot of medical training to begin with. Ellegaard had started giving her lessons before, but then the whole Formidibomb incident had happened and cut those lessons short, thanks to the engineer’s untimely demise (that fact still made Olivia want to cry).
This definitely wasn’t going to be painless for either of them.
With a sigh, Olivia checked through everything they had that she could use to cut with. All they had between them were a Swiss Army knife (too small), Petra’s hunting knife (too dull), and… oh, shit.
“Hand me your sword,” Olivia mumbled.
Petra cackled hoarsely, now leaning limply against the wall—naked from the waist up except for her bra—grinning blearily. “Good choice. Miss Butter’s sharp enough.”
“Can’t believe you’re laughing at a time like this,” Olivia grumbled as Petra kicked her sword towards her. Then she hastily ripped Petra’s shirt into strips, using the fabric to tie off her arm just below the shoulder joint.
“Tighter,” Petra goaded her, coughing and wiping her mouth. “Tight as you can, sweetheart. If I flinch, that means you’re doin’ something right.”
“Stop calling me that,” Olivia huffed, yanking the tourniquet tight and grabbing a stick from the pile of kindling Axel had left for them to finish it off. They wouldn’t need it anyway. The campfire had long since gone out, and they wouldn’t need to cook anything for hours ever since Petra had stopped eating. With her body slowly shutting down, she’d just stopped feeling hungry at all.
Petra yelped in pain, but then she chuckled. “You’re cute when you’re pissed.”
“Then I’m about to get real fucking adorable,” Olivia snapped, hoping she wasn’t blushing as she grabbed Petra’s sword and started to wipe it clean with the alcohol swabs.
“Here,” she decided after a moment of deliberation, passing Petra one of the leftover strips of her shirt. “Bite on this so you don’t crack a tooth.”
Petra gave her a weak thumbs-up.
Olivia bit her lip and took a deep breath to compose herself and come to terms with the fact that she was about to cut off her friend’s arm, carefully propping the limb on a nearby rock.
“You ready?” She asked.
Petra nodded, squeezing her eyes shut as she huddled against the wall.
Olivia couldn’t help hesitating out of sympathy. Petra looked… dramatically different from when they’d first formally met, not cocky and confident and uninterested in the affairs of everyone else.
For the first time since they’d met, Petra looked truly, genuinely scared.
“Stand up,” Petra suddenly blurted, her eyes still squeezed shut. “Miss Butter’s sharp enough that I can decapitate a zombie’s head in one swing. My fucked-up arm won’t stand a chance.”
She had to do this.
Petra’s life was on the line.
She didn’t want to, though; the thought of doing something wrong terrified her, what if something went wrong—
She had to do it.
But what if—
“Okay,” she stammered, raising Petra’s sword. “I’m gonna count to three.”
But what if—
“No,” Petra suddenly growled, her eyes flying open, something dark and violent and desperate in her sunken eyes. “Stop stalling. You’ll never actually do it if you count because I saw you in Soren’s fortress. You always panic and back out right before you commit to an attack.”
“I don’t—“ she started to snap (even though it really stung because deep down, she knew Petra was right), but Petra cut her off.
“Yes you do! Now cut my fucking arm off, you fucking coward!”
That was the last straw.
With a furious snarl, Olivia swung Petra’s sword with every ounce of strength in her body.
There was a loud, sickening SHINK.
And then Petra let out a guttural scream, jamming the scrap of fabric into her mouth in an attempt to muffle it.
“Oh my god!” Olivia spluttered, and the sword clattered violently to the floor as she dropped down next to Petra and hastily grabbed the medkit, yanking on the rubber gloves.
Blackened, poisoned blood was dripping everywhere.
“Shit,” Olivia gasped, suddenly realizing the tourniquet wasn’t quite tight enough. “Shit, shit shit. Hang on hang on hang on.”
She wrenched the bandage tighter.
Petra let out an agonized, furious wail around the piece of fabric in her mouth, tears streaming down her cheeks as her chest heaved for breath.
Well, at least she was still breathing.
Olivia forced down a gag and tied off the tourniquet again, snatching up the cloth bandages and the gauze. She started off using what was left of Petra’s shirt, forcing herself to press the fabric against the stump and staunch the flow of tainted blood until it was soaked, repeating the process over and over until the bleeding had slowed to a trickle. Petra’s breathing had slowed, and she looked like she was about to pass out.
“C’mon,” Olivia mumbled, numbly wrapping the bloody stump in gauze. “Stay awake. Stay awake just a little longer. Can’t have you dying now.”
“C—c—cold,” Petra moaned.
Olivia gritted her teeth. Great, Petra had lost a considerable amount of blood.
“Uh… shit,” she muttered, digging through her backpack. “I have some orange slices. Eat these. It’ll help.”
Petra gave her a withering look, but complied, taking an orange slice in her remaining hand—which was shaking wildly—and chewing it slowly. To Olivia’s surprise, although Petra was still incredibly pale (probably from the blood loss), some of the greyishness was already gone. Her eyes looked a bit brighter, too, and her breathing, albeit labored, was slightly less congested and raspy.
Olivia heaved an exhausted sigh, slowly peeling off her gloves.
“What now?” Petra croaked weakly, clearly barely able to lift her head as she gazed at Olivia with an expectant look on her face.
Olivia glanced outside.
She couldn’t see much, but the sky was still a dark, sickly purple, and the roars in the distance sounded… well, much louder. Jesse must’ve succeeded in getting the Wither Storm riled up, just like he’d planned.
“Now…” Olivia sighed, pushing the rest of the orange slices into Petra’s hand, “All we can do now is wait.”
Defeating the Storm came with a price.
Petra had felt the second the beast had been killed when suddenly the invisible ropes tightening around her chest had snapped, letting the throbbing agony in the stump that had once been her arm take its place.
The thought made her snort.
Olivia had been right, she thought to herself, gingerly carrying the burlap sack that held the diseased appendage at arm’s length. Had she not amputated it, Petra would’ve succumbed to the Wither sickness and died long before the Storm had been destroyed.
She would’ve been another casualty to add to the list.
Well, it wasn’t really a list of casualties, as there was only one… well, being that had died in taking the Wither Storm down.
“Hey,” Petra finally forced herself to say. “You okay?”
Down the hill, in a meadow filled with marigolds and red spider lilies, Jesse was standing in front of a freshly turned patch of earth marked by a cairn of stones, his face blank.
Petra heaved a sigh.
“Look, man,” she sighed. “You got the shit beat out of you by a literal world-eating monster. I get you’re sad, but you need a shower.”
“Fuck off,” Jesse mumbled.
Petra winced in sympathy. Emotions had never been her strong suit, especially dealing with grief and death. Usually she buried everything under a stoic mask, until her anger exploded and she ended up punching something.
Well, her main punching hand was no longer attached to her body, now wrapped in a burlap sack and waiting to be disposed of.
“I’m… I’m sorry about Reuben,” Petra said, trying to tread lightly around the subject. “Look, I haven’t seen you since you left to kill the Storm, and I wanted to ask you a favor. I would’ve asked the guys to help but Olivia’s too tired, Axel wanted to help but he was clearly about to puke, and Lukas just straight up fainted when I showed it to him.”
That obviously got Jesse’s attention, because he turned around, somehow looking furious, exhausted, and intrigued at the same time. “What do you—oh, shit.”
Petra grinned awkwardly.
Jesse stared at her in alarm, his mouth hanging open as he pointed weakly at her arm and then at the sack.
“Is… is it in the—“
It was uncomfortably silent for a moment.
“Olivia, uh… had to amputate it,” Petra supplied awkwardly. “I was gonna die. She… she kinda treated it like a cave spider bite, but a tourniquet wasn’t gonna cut it so…”
“Christ, Petra,” Jesse mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Damn. I didn’t think… wow.”
Then he chuckled, probably out of disbelief. “Hell, my mind’s just blown by the fact that Olivia had the balls to do it. She’s usually so… hesitant.”
“She stalled,” she confessed. “I kinda had to goad her into it in the end.”
It was silent again.
“So, uh,” Petra continued, meeting Jesse’s eyes and holding up the sack. “Mind if… can you help me bury this thing? I’m down one arm and nobody else wants to.”
Jesse smiled faintly, the hollow, shattered grief in his eyes fading a bit.
“Sure. I guess.”
Fifteen minutes later, there was a new freshly turned patch of earth in front of them, but instead of being marked with cairn of stones, there was a simple wooden sign staked into the ground next to it that simply read, It’s easier to amputate at the shoulder. It’s twice as much work to cut off forearms.
“I feel like Olivia would yell at you for that,” Jesse remarked.
“I’m fascinated that I survived at all,” she replied. “I’d pretty much accepted my death at that point. I think Olivia’s stubbornness and inability to cope with defeat is the only reason I’m not under a pile of rocks next to Reuben right now.”
Jesse scoffed. “You sure are perceptive for someone so emotionally inept.”
“You sure talk a lot of shit for somebody who’d cry if I pointed out even one of his flaws or insecurities.”
They both snorted in amusement, watching the morning sun making its slow crawl into the sky, freshly cleared of the poison that the Storm had spread.
“You should really go to the hospital,” Jesse finally piped up. “Like, seriously though.”
“Fine,” Petra grumbled, awkwardly shifting her weight. “But only if you take a shower. Honestly you reek.”
Jesse huffed in amusement. “I know.”
Petra grinned halfheartedly.
She felt weird and off-balanced without her right arm. So far she’d managed to ignore it, but the fear and dread of how she was going to recover, how she was going to keep living her life was slowly sinking its claws in.
She was the resident go-getter. She made her living fighting and traveling and punching things.
How the hell was she going to do all that one-handed?
The mere thought sent a cold rush of terror flooding through her veins.
But that was a problem for future Petra. Right now, she was just happy that she was alive at all, watching the sun rise over the forest, and maybe, just maybe, the worst was behind her.
Maybe things would start to look up.