Mythrin looked over the destroyed campsite, surveying the damage. He stomped out a few of the scattered embers with his boot.
“I never thought a stampede could happen at night,” he muttered.
“It’s known to happen sometimes,” answered Brother Ystril, leading the two horses back to the campsite, their tails flicking nervously. “It’s all right, girl.” He reached up and stroked the mare’s neck. She flinched slightly but allowed his touch.
“Is everyone all right?” Brother Ystril asked, looking around. “Where are Brother Ptolec and Brother Kalees?”
“Over here!” called Brother Ptolec coming into the clearing, holding Kalees around the waist, his arm draped over the monk’s shoulders. Mythrin’s eyes widened and he went to them.
“What happened?” he asked, helping Brother Ptolec lower Kalees to the ground. “Did he get caught in the stampede? Why is he all wet? Kalees! Wake up!”
Brother Ptolec shook his head, standing up to stretch his full frame.
“We had to go into the water to avoid the stampede,” he said with a frown. “He got brushed by a few animals, but nothing that would cause this.”
“Help me get him out of these wet clothes,” ordered Mythrin as he tugged on Kalees’ sleeves. “He’s ice cold! Brother Ystril– build the fire back up, and quickly. How long has he been like this?”
He looked squarely at the two monks. Each one shook their heads in bewilderment.
“He seemed fine earlier today,” said Brother Ystril. “Looked a little tired, perhaps….”
“Well, something happened!” snapped Mythrin. He breathed in, calming his nerves. “Forgive me. That tone was uncalled for.”
Brother Ptolec shook his head as he tugged off Kalees’ pants.
“No, you’re right to be upset,” he said quietly. “We should have noticed this sooner. Mythrin, you’re a healer, right? What should we do?”
“We need to try and bring his body temperature up,” said Mythrin, glancing at the fire that Brother Ystril was quickly rebuilding. “I don’t think the fire will be enough, though.”
“Right,” said Brother Ptolec, taking off his robe. He sat behind Kalees, pulling the body into a sitting position.
Brother Ystril looked on in amazement.
“Brother Ptolec, what are you doing?” he asked.
“No, he’s got the right idea,” said Mythrin quickly. “His body heat should help to warm Kalees up. Here! Give this saddle blanket to him.”
Brother Ystril placed the blanket around the two naked men, averting his eyes carefully. Brother Ptolec shifted slightly, hoping to relieve the growing discomfort in his groin area. Now was not the time for such things.
“Thanks,” said Brother Ptolec, glancing at Brother Ystril with a smile. “This should help.”
Mythrin glanced over, pulling a few things out of his satchel.
“Is he still breathing?” he asked. “How is his heartbeat?”
“His breathing is slow,” said Brother Ptolec, leaning forward, his hands snaking up his chest. “His heartbeat is faint, but it’s still there.”
Mythrin nodded, hanging Kalees’ clothes over the fire. Kalees would hate the scent of smoke on his clothes, but Mythrin didn’t really care.
“That’s a good sign,” he said quietly. “Keep trying to warm him up. Until we figure out what has caused this, that’s all we can do.”
Brother Ptolec leaned back slightly and moved Kalees’ wet braid out of the way. In the firelight, he saw a mark on Kalees’ neck, red and swollen. His fingers reached up to it, touching it gently. It quivered under his touch. Dark lines pulsated from it. Brother Ptolec swallowed.
“Brother Mythrin, Brother Ystril,” he called out quietly, his voice cutting through the darkness. “Come look at this.”
Brother Ystril and Mythrin came over and looked at mark, each shifting themselves to prevent their shadows from blocking the firelight.
“What is that?” asked Mythrin, frowning in puzzlement. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Three puncture wounds close together in a triangular shape? And what are those lines radiating from it?”
Brother Ystril swallowed hard.
“That’s the bite mark of a chulol,” he said quietly. “Here, I still have the scar from mine.” Brother Ystril pulled up his sleeve. Mythrin glanced down, seeing three close-knit puncture wound scars just above the bend in his elbow.
“The chulol… that’s what almost killed you, right?”
Brother Ystril nodded.
“How long ago was he bit?” asked Brother Ptolec. Mythrin frowned.
“He complained about an insect bite before we came to the path strewn with rocks,” he said quietly. “Could that have been it?”
“Probably,” said Brother Ystril with a shake of his head. “Almost a full day. Maybe more. This isn’t good.”
“How far is it to the Crimson Mist Forest, from here?” asked Brother Ptolec.
“A full day of hard riding,” answered Brother Ystril. “But even then, there’s little chance of finding–”
“It’s a chance that we’ll have to take,” said Mythrin nodding his head. “Here, Brother Ptolec. Use my cloak to clothe Kalees for now. Brother Ystril, can you find the way again?”
Brother Ptolec took the cloak and gathered it around Kalees body.
“What about his clothes?” he asked.
“We’ll bring them as we travel,” said Mythrin, taking the damp clothes and placed them in the saddle bag. I’ll see about drying them when we get closer to our destination.”
“This will stall the negotiations,” warned Brother Ystril. “Your king will certainly not be pleased.”
“That is not my concern,” said Mythrin shortly. “But you do raise a point, Brother Ystril. Once we find this Kirian, I will send word with you to the kingdom of Turel. Brother Ptolec will guide us the rest of the way from there. Agreed?”
Brother Ystril nodded.
“But what of sending word to your kingdom?” he asked. “Should they not be made known of the delay as well?”
“From what I understand, King Rakin will be traveling to the western front to meet with his generals there. It will be at least a week before he seeks news of the negotiations. We have some time.”
“Your king sends negotiators to his enemy, and yet he still attacks?”
“And defends,” added Mythrin with a wry smile. “The western boundaries of Urela have been under constant attack from Turel warriors for three and a half months now.”
“That is of little consequence now,” growled Brother Ptolec. He mounted the horse and reached down for Kalees. “Forgive me, Brother Mythrin. You do not have the strength to both control a horse and keep Kalees from falling off.”
“Agreed,” said Mythrin as both he and Brother Ystril strained to get Kalees up on the horse. “Brother Ystril and I will take the other one.”
“These horses are going to deserve a good brushing, some hay, and a bath after this,” said Brother Ystril with a smile.
“I’ll feed them a bushel of apples each if they get us to where we need to be,” said Brother Ptolec, stroking the horses neck. The horse neighed.
“Let’s get going,” said Brother Ystril as Mythrin mounted the horse behind him. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and not much time.”
^ ^ ^
The men rode through the rest of the night and well past the dawn. Brother Ptolec gripped the reins with one hand and wrapped his arm around Kalees. He pulled Kalees’ back to his chest. Brother Ptolec searched for the man’s heartbeat through the cloak, his breath catching with every flutter. Kalees’ skin was still cold to the touch.
“How much farther?” he shouted to Brother Ystril.
“Just over the next ridge,” he answered back, ducking his head under a low branch. Mythrin moved, wincing slightly as the branch raked against his temple. They urged the horse up the steep embankment and reached the top of the ridge.
“There,” said Brother Ystril pointing to the dense mass of trees below them. “That’s the western boundary of the Crimson Mist Forest. We’ll find Brother Kirian there, I’m sure.”
“Yes, but how?” he asked, looking at the trees. “It looks to be a wild place. I see no trails in or out. Not even those used by animals.”
“It’s true that the plants and trees have taken over,” said Brother Ystril. “But it is said that if you call out his name, Brother Kirian will hear and come to you.”
“Is that what happened to you?” asked Mythrin as the reached the edge of the forest. Mythrin gazed into the forest, trying to separate the mass of vines, flowers, and branches from each other. He shook his head. The forest looked impenetrable.
“Kirian!” shouted Brother Ptolec, straining his neck to see into the woods. “Brother Kirian! Come out! We have need of you! Please!”
Brother Ystril glanced over at Brother Ptolec. He frowned at the desperation he heard in the young man’s voice. He waited in silence for an answer. None came but the breezes through the trees.
“Show yourself!” shouted Brother Ptolec, both his voice and face being transformed by frustration. “I know you can hear me! Answer, you coward!”
Brother Ystril frowned. He dismounted his horse and walked forward into the trees.
“Please Brother Kirian,” he said, raising his voice, allowing it to float on the breeze. “You saved my life once, those many years ago. Another life in danger, a man from Urela bitten by the chulol. Please help us, if you can.”
“Urela, you say?” came a voice from the branches. “Strange that such a person would travel this far north. Especially as the war rages.”
“His name is Kalees,” answered Mythrin, turning towards the sound. “He and I travel to the kingdom of Turel in hopes of ending this accursed war. What say you, Brother Kirian? Will you help? Can you help?”
“That is to be seen,” said the voice. Mythrin looked up, and a young man crouched on a branch just above his head. His figure was thin and muscular; the shapely calves Mythrin saw told him as much. His black hair was pulled tight into a ponytail that dusted just below his shoulders. However, the most striking feature was the mask that he wore. It was white, with only a few slits to define the mouth, nose and eyes, highlighted by a brilliant purplish red. “Is that Kalees over there?”
Mythrin followed the direction of the nod.
“Yes. The one sleeping is Kalees.”
“All right, bring him into the forest,” ordered Kirian. “There is a clearing nearby. We’ll take a look at him there.”
“But you will help him, right?” demanded Brother Ptolec as he pulled Kalees down from the horse. “That’s what this means, right?”
Kirian jumped down from the tree, using the trunk to slow his descent. A branch snapped dangerously close to his groin, and both Mythrin and Brother Ystril winced slightly. Kirian landed and breathed in , exhaling slowly.
“It means that I will try,” he said simply. “That’s all I can offer at this point. Come, follow me.”
Kirian turned and led them into the forest, stepping over a few broken logs, and avoiding the tangling vines.
“Careful where you step,” he warned over his shoulders. “The vines that are blooming now are poisonous. If you crush the vine or flower, you’ll be vomiting in a number of minutes.”
“Is it deadly?” asked Brother Ystril.
“No, but you’ll wish it was,” answered Kirian. “Ah, here we are. Place him on the ground here. Face to the sky, please.”
Brother Ptolec did as Kirian requested, brushing the hair out of Kalees’ eyes as he did so. Kirian crouched down next to the body, his hands floating over it, his head tilting from one side to the other.
“Hmm,” he said softly. Raising his voice, he asked. “Does any of you have medical training?”
“I do,” said Mythrin, stepping forward.
“How is your grasp of the body’s anatomy?” asked Kirian. “Do you know where the blood flows, and where the muscles and bones lie in a body such as this?”
“Yes, I do,” answered Mythrin firmly. “I have taught many of the healers in Urela–”
“Good,” interrupted Kirian. “Then there may be a chance. But I will need your help. All of you. What are your names?”
“My name is Mythrin,” he said with a shrug. “The one over there, who first called to you is Brother Ptolec of the Brethren of Turel. The other is Brother Ystril.”
“Hello,” said Brother Ystril. “And thank you.”
Kirian shook his head.
“Don’t thank me yet,” he warned. “Mythrin, please stand next to me beside the body. Brother Ptolec, I’ll need you at the head of the body. Brother Ystril, at the feet.”
The three men moved into position. Kirian took a deep breath, straightening his spine. His voice came soft, each consonant cutting through the air with precision.
“Listen closely,” he said. “Mythrin– the problem is not the venom of the chulol. That is mild, and usually leaves the person violently ill for a few days, but with proper rest and nutrition, it is not fatal. The true problem is the parasite that travels within the venom. It feeds off the aether that lives within the host body, siphoning off the energy until the body is forced to slow down to conserve what energy is left. When that happens, the parasite feeds more to grow and breed, spreading to the portions of the body where the aether is more likely to collect. Do you understand?”
“Good. By the looks of things, we’re at that stage now. The parasite has begun to multiple and travel to different areas of the body, feeding on the body’s aether as it goes. It will be moving among the blood vessels and trying to wrap around various organs, such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. I need you to use your knowledge of anatomy to cut it away from the organs and remove it.”
“But that’s impossible!” scoffed Mythrin. “I have no surgical tools here. Nor is this place sterile enough to do surgery as you are suggesting. Furthermore, I do not have the ability to see–”
“I will lend you the sight, and help you fashion your own aether to form the tools you need,” answered Kirian quickly. “But I need your eyes and your skill to do the operation.”
“Why?” asked Brother Ptolec. “You clearly know what you are doing. Why not just heal him yourself?”
“Three reasons,” answered Kirian softly. “One, I do not have the medical expertise to do such a delicate operation. Two, Kalees’ defenses are already being overrun. If I attempt aether manipulation using my aether, it will overwhelm his system. But Mythrin using a small part should be fine.”
“And the third?” demanded Brother Ptolec. Mythrin watched as the neck of Kirian turned a furious shade of red.
“I am blind,” he said simply. “Any further questions?”
“Lots,” said Brother Ptolec quietly. “But they can wait.”
“All right. Mythrin- I’ll be there with you, guiding when I can. But it will be up to you. Do you understand, and are you willing?”
Mythrin nodded his head, thought for a moment then answered.
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. Brother Ptolec–”
“Can you draw small amounts of aether into your hands? Is that part of your training?”
“Yes. That is easy enough to do.”
“Very well. Do it for me now.”
Brother Ptolec concentrated, willing the aether from the surrounding area, and his body down into his hands. Kirian reached out, grabbing his wrists. He winced.
“Ah! Too much!” he warned. Kirian moved his hands over Brother Ptolec’s. Brother Ptolec felt some of the aether siphoning off into Kirian.
“Feel that intensity, that level?” asked Kirian.
“Good. Keep that level of intensity and when we begin, place your hands on either side of Kalees’ head. Your job will be to maintain the aether around his head, and try to prevent him from gaining consciousness too early. If you see him starting to wake up, tell Mythrin immediately. He will tell you whether to increase the intensity or not. It will depend on the progress. Do you understand?”
“What do you require of me?” asked Brother Ystril. “I’m afraid I am not skilled in aether manipulation.”
“Your job is to protect Mythrin from me,” said Kirian. “Mythrin and I will be forming a type of telepathic link through the aether manipulation. If all goes well, he will remain in control, but there is a chance that I will lose control of my aether, and it may hurt Mythrin. If at any point Mythrin tells you he his losing control, or you see that he is in trouble, I want you to do whatever is necessary to break the link between us. Do you understand?”
“Anything?” asked Brother Ystril nervously. “Do you mean–”
“While I have no desire to die, Brother Ystril,” said Kirian with a shake of his head, “Yes, I do mean anything.”
Brother Ystril swallowed hard.
“Good. Here. Take this dagger,” said Kirian, handing him a very sharp double edged blade. “Just in case.”
Kirian breathed in deeply.
“All right. Is everyone ready?”
“Yes,” answered Mythrin, looking at the monks who nodded in agreement. “I believe we are.”
“All right. Let’s begin. Mythrin- give me your hands.”
Mythrin placed his own into Kirian’s hands and noted how small they actually looked against his own. They were thin, almost delicate in their structure. He wondered how much protein and nutrition the young man had in this forest.
Kirian skated his fingertips up Mythrin’s arms, paused for a moment, and then brought them back down again. Mythrin felt a mild jolt of electricity, and he realized that the aether within, and surrounding him had begun to flow more easily through his body. He watched in amazement as Kirian manipulated his fingers, now feeling the aether extend outwards to fine points and shapes.
“That’s amazing,” he breathed.
“Wait until you can see the aether,” answered Kirian. “Left or right handed?”
“Very well. I’ll form the scalpel there.”
A few seconds later, Mythrin could almost feel the weight of a scalpel in his right hand. He moved his fingers, allowing the weight of the aether to settle comfortably into his palm.
“So this is aether manipulation,” he breathed. “How remarkable. I still can’t see it, though.”
“I’ll take care of that. I’ll need to stand behind you, though. Brother Ptolec, Brother Ystril, we’re about to begin. Please be ready.”
“Right,” said Brother Ptolec, kneeling at the top of Kalees’ head. He lowered his hands. Kirian moved and fell in behind Mythrin.
“Close your eyes for but a moment, Mythrin,” came his voice, caressing the back of his neck. Mythrin couldn’t help but inhale sharply as he did so. A moment later, Mythrin felt the thin fingertips touching his temple lightly, and then more firmly, a thumb pressing just behind his earlobe. A warmth, and then a slow pulsating energy spread across his eyes.
“Open your eyes, Mythrin,” said Kirian although his voice sounded somehow different.
After a moment, Mythrin realized what had changed. There was no more breath on his neck, although Kirian stood so close. Kirian’s voice echoed within his own mind. He opened his eyes slowly, blinking once and then again.
“I can’t believe this,” he breathed, looking around him.
Mythrin looked around, drinking in the site. Blues, reds, hunter greens, fiery oranges, and brilliant silver-whites snaked from everywhere, undulating and curving around every branch, every finger, every blade of grass. He looked down at Kalees, and watched as currents of brilliant yellows and greens flowed through his body, seeming to melt into pools of blue-silver metallic liquid.
“Do you see the currents running through his body?” asked Kirian from inside Mythrin’s head. “And where the currents pool and reside?”
“Yes,” answered Mythrin out loud. He blushed as he felt Brother Ptolec’s eyes on him.
“No need to answer out loud if you don’t wish to,” said Kirian softly in his mind. “Just think your answer.”
“All right,” thought Mythrin that time.
“The pools of aether should be his various organs. The currents you see should correspond to his flow of aether and the flow of blood.”
“Yes, I can see that now,” answered Mythrin in his mind. “Is this how you experience the world, Kirian?”
“Not exactly,” he answered. “My experience is much more tactile and auditory in nature. But we are wasting time with such talk. Please. Look at the wound area. What do you see?”
Mythrin moved his gaze up to Kalees’ neck. He breathed in quickly. Somehow he could see through his neck, the various veins, bones, and muscles, all the way to the back of his neck where the bite was located. He looked bent forward to take a closer look.
“There is a darkness there,” he thought. “An unnatural darkness.” The site of the insect bite, Mythrin saw a small undulating mass of dark, purplish blackness.
“Is the aether going toward it, or away from it?”
Mythrin looked closer still. He watched the flow of the aether, saw it getting pulled into the mass.
“It’s getting pulled into it,” he thought.
“All right. That’s a parasitic mass,” said Kirian. “Look throughout his body for other masses like that. There’s probably more. They tend to gravitate to major blood vessels or organs if my understanding is correct. You’ve got to remove each one.”
Mythrin scanned the body carefully. Sure enough, there were more. Six to be exact. The one in his neck, another at the side of his right lung, a third nestled between his stomach and small intestine, the fourth and fifth ones near his liver, and the sixth one near the kidney on the other side.
“Which one should I remove first?” he asked, manipulating the aether tools in his hand.
“I leave that to your judgment healer,” said Kirian quickly. “Trust your experience and instinct.”
Mythrin felt a small wave of aether push at him from behind, trying to gain further access to his thoughts. He glanced back.
“I go for the throat first,” he thought quickly. “Kirian, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Sorry about that little surge. I’ll keep it in check. Please proceed.”
Mythrin breathed and felt Kirian match it. Mythrin brought the aether tools down toward the neck. He used the scalpel to cut a small incision on the side of the neck and then used the forceps to slowly push aside the muscles and blood vessels until the mass in question was clearly visible.
“I need clamps,” he thought quickly. “Something to hold back the tissue while I work. And surgical scissors by the looks of things.”
“All right,” said Kirian. “Give me one moment.”
In his periphery vision, Mythrin saw Kirian raise his hand, and slowly begin to move it in the air. The nearby aether began to gather around it, dancing and swirling amid the delicate fingers.
“Think of the tools you need,” said Kirian. “Quickly. I need an image to model them after.”
Mythrin closed his eyes, bring up an image of a pair of clamps and the surgical scissors that he had recently used in the ward.
“Thank you,” said Kirian, placing a pair of tools in his hands.
“Of course. Please continue.”
Mythrin set to work, slowly and carefully isolating the mass in the neck. It was connected by eight small threads.
“There are threads,” he thought.
“Yes,” answered Kirian. “Once the mass is removed, those connecting threads should dissolve. Without the source, they can’t survive.”
“All right then,” thought Mythrin. “Here we go.”
Using the clamps and scissors, Mythrin methodically and slowly cut the threads that were tying the mass to Kalees. The forceps pulled the mass away and out from his neck.
“Where should I put it?” he asked.
“Put it on the ground away from the body,” answered Kirian, his voice a little bit slower. “The parasite cannot travel on its own. He’ll be safe.”
“Please, move on to the next one,” echoed Kirian’s voice in his mind. “Time is important.”
“Yes of course,” answered Mythrin in his mind. He felt another mild push and then a pull back on the aether from behind him.
Mythrin moved his attention to the mass near Kalees’ lungs.
He moved tissue out of the way again, watched in amazement as the aether seemed to shift easily with his movement.
Kirian’s breath became ragged for a moment and then steadied again. Mythrin slowed his own breathing down, willing himself to concentrate.
The mass pulled free easily now. Mythrin breathed. Two down, four more to go.
“Almost halfway there,” he announced out loud. He grinned for a moment. Brother Ystril looked at him.
“You all right?” asked Brother Ystril.
“I’m fine,” answered Mythrin. “I’m still in control.”
He felt Kirian shift slightly behind him, the fingers pressing more firmly into his temples.
“Kirian,” he thought quickly. “Are you…”
“Concentrate on the task at hand,” snapped Kirian, the sound slicing into Mythrin’s thoughts.
“Ah, right,” muttered Mythrin. “Let’s go after the two at the liver next.”
“Sure thing,” agreed Brother Ystril. “You’re doing great.”
Mythrin smiled, feeling a small trickle of sweat traveling down the side of his face. He wasn’t sure who it belonged to exactly. How long had he been at this?
“One hour and 10 minutes,” Kirian said in his mind. “Like the monk said, you’re doing fine. Breathe and stay focused.”
“You sound like someone I knew before,” thought Mythrin. “Tell me, can you hear all my thoughts?”
“Yes, technically I can. Listening and understanding, however, takes skill and energy. I concentrate on what I need to. Nothing more than that.”
“I see,” said Mythrin as he exhaled, sliding the edges of the scissors between an artery and a parasitic thread. He watched as the artery throbbed with life and blood. He inhaled slowly, willing his hands to remain steady, his mind to remain calm.
Mythrin exhaled, pulling the aether scissors out from Kalees’ body. He looked down- the two masses near the liver will be removed easily enough now. He quickly made the cuts needed, and removed the two undulating masses, placing them beside the others.
Mythrin swallowed, feeling the aether behind him change slightly. It felt as if it was pushing, testing his boundaries. An image of a panther pacing back and forth, back and forth, sprang to his mind.
Now to the kidney.
“Lots,” came his answer, softly in Mythrin’s mind. “How are your instruments?”
“The scissors feel like they need to be cleaned,” said Mythrin. “They feel slick in my hands.”
“Give,” ordered Kirian.
Mythrin handed the scissors back to Kirian. He saw a silver-blue flash for a moment, and Kirian handed it back.
“Should work now,” he whispered in Mythrin’s mind. Mythrin nodded, moving on to the mass attached now to the kidney.
The scissors felt firm again in his hand. Mythrin shook his head slowly. No, they were an extension. Just like the forceps, now pinching the mass and slowly, slowly pulling it away.
Mythrin felt a surge of energy from behind, and then it was quickly gone.
“Concentrate!” snarled Kirian, this time, his voice echoing both in Mythrin’s mind and the monks’ ears. Brother Ystril looked sharply, placing a hand on the dagger’s hilt.
“Brother Mythrin…” he said quietly.
“I’m fine,” said Mythrin quickly, thrusting a firmness he did not feel into his voice. “Just one more to go.”
“Very well,” said Brother Ystril, his hand relaxing.
Mythrin looked at the final mass of darkness before him. Something within it swirled and twisted. Mythrin could almost feel it pulsating, the beat matching Kalees’ heart. He watched, mesmerized for an instant.
The beating became faster. Mythrin inhaled, glancing at Kalees heart.
It was accelerating, bit by bit.
Kalees was starting to wake up.
“Ptolec,” he said quietly. “Increase your aether intensity slightly.”
“Right,” answered Ptolec. “How much?”
Mythrin turned to his mind. How much? Kirian, how much?
Kirian’s voice came, firm, but distant.
“Tell him to take an eighth increase.”
“One-eighth,” said Mythrin. A few minutes later, he watched as Kalees heart rate decreased. He sighed.
Good. He had a little more breathing room.
Mythrin isolated the first thread.
He eased over to the second one, snaking its way to the walls of the small intestines. He snipped it as well, watching the tendrils dissolve as Kalees’ blood attacked the isolated thread. The mass shivered slightly, the dark, swirling mass almost glowing.
Was the parasite now in its death throes? Mythrin wondered. It was a living thing, after all.
The third attaching thread dissolved under his scissors. Almost there. Just one more….
“Careful!” warned Kirian, his voice sharpening. “May be one behind.”
Mythrin looked again, leaning in closer. Kirian’s aether snapped at him, the edge of the whip cracking near his temple. Kirian’s hand tensed, then forcibly relaxed. Easy now.
Sure enough, a thin thread, strong and twisted was wrapped around the small intestines. Mythrin frowned. Cutting it wasn’t an option.
“Kirian,” he thought. “Please. I can’t cut this. It’s too tight around his organ.”
“What would you do normally?” asked Kirian, his voice surprisingly calm.
“Slowly unwind it,” said Mythrin. “Loosen it enough to get it away from the small intestines. Cut it then.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” said Kirian.
“Is there any way to magnify the vision?” asked Mythrin. “Make things look bigger?”
“Possible,” said Kirian quietly. “I’ll allow more aether into you. The connection will be stronger, harder to break. Brother Ystril–”
“Don’t worry,” answered Mythrin with his thoughts. “He will do what is necessary when the time comes. Go ahead.”
“All right. Tell me when to stop.”
Mythrin winced as the connection between Kirian and himself intensified. Flashes of blue and purple crackled across his vision. Slowly everything in his field of view began to become larger. Three times, five times, ten, then twenty times larger.
“A little more,” he thought. He felt Kirian’s grip shift slightly, and a flash of purple blasted across his vision. The magnification increased to approximately twenty-five times.
“Mythrin, please…” said Kirian in his mind. Mythrin felt the aether shift and undulate behind him, pressing against him. The panther paced faster now, it’s tail flicking back and forth. Mythrin steadied his breathing and bend to the last thread. Slowly be used the forceps to unwind it, little by little.
Kirian growled softly behind him, the image of the panther flashing forward in his mind. Its claws slashing at him, the sharp tips scraping against an invisible cage.
Just one more. Just a little bit more…
Mythrin unwound the next segment. He focused his concentration. There should be enough room. He slipped the edges of the scissors into place. He felt a soft rumble behind him. Felt a flash of pain. Tasted blood, just for a moment. He steeled himself to ignore it.
“Brother Ystril,” he said quietly. “When I move both my hands away, break it.”
“Understood,” said Brother Ystril, drawing the blade.
Mythrin nodded. He breathed in, and exhaled slowly, making the final cut. The mass glowed for an instant, and lunged at Mythrin, surprising him. He pulled back, almost releasing the mass from the forceps. Mythrin tightened his grip once more and quickly tossed the mass onto the others. He brought his hands quickly up.
“Kirian!” he said in his mind. “Let go!”
The pain came swift and strong this time, echoing down from Mythrin’s eyes to his jawline. The hand next to his temple shifted again, and lessened the grip, but did not let go. He heard Kirian grunt softly behind him, and his periphery vision caught Brother Ystril moving in, blade drawn.
Brother Ystril slammed the hilt of the dagger into Kirian’s arm near the bend of the elbow, and a crunching sound echoed in Mythrin’s ears. Kirian let out a strangled cry, somehow sounding more animal than human, and his grip slid down to Mythrin’s shoulder. Mythrin felt a wave of aether blast against his shoulder blade, biting into him with hungry fangs. Brother Ystril frowned, turned the dagger and used the hilt as a ram against Kirian’s masked face.
Once, twice, three times he hit Kirian. With each blow, Mythrin felt a jerk of pain, and finally by the time the fourth one came, Kirian finally released him and staggered back. Kirian dropped to all fours and growled.
The man actually growled.
Mythrin turned to look, the aether sight fading from his eyes. He blinked in amazement. Kirian’s body was still human, that was clear enough; the aether coursing through his body, however, mimicked that of the panther he had seen in his mind. Kirian’s hands were overshadowed by the aether panther’s paws, his face was snarling and transformed, the fangs of the cat now dominating his features. A powerful tail of aether flicked behind him, angry and defiant.
“What the….” asked Brother Ptolec. “What has gotten into him?”
“I have no idea,” answered Mythrin softly, trying not to draw attention to them. He looked again. The aether vision was fading now, but he could still “see” the panther in the way Kirian moved. “Brother Ptolec, has Kalees woken yet?”
Brother Ptolec glanced down at the man cradled protectively in his arms. His breathing was steady, his skin beginning to warm. Kalees’ eyes fluttered.
“He’s starting to,” Brother Ptolec answered, his eyes searching for another sign of consciousness.
“Take him and Brother Ystril away from us,” Mythrin ordered quietly. “Keep Kalees away from here for now. It will take two of you, trust me.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Brother Ystril
“Try to coax the panther back into his cage.”
Brother Ystril and Brother Ptolec looked at each other, an exchange of puzzlement flashing in their eyes. Still, as quietly as they could, they obeyed.
© 2016 – 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.