Zoya Canis hurriedly released her magic and made her way to the earth mage who had walked up to a nondescript pile of rocks. Stamping his foot on the ground, he made a motion with his hands as if he were miming pushing a double-leafed gate open. The rock parted for him, tumbling to the sides revealing a hollow alcove behind it. It had been buried under the avalanche caused by the self-detonation of the Tier 4 ant.
Her heart leapt up to her throat when the mage dragged a prone body out of the hollow. Aeryn was covered with dust. One of his wings was bent at a strange angle and one of his arms had been blown off from the wrist downwards, the end of the extremity a charred mess. Cuts, bruises and burns were liberally sprinkled all over his body; his clothing was in tatters. He was a mess.
She dropped to her knees beside him and held her palm in front of his nose. For a long moment, she felt nothing. The fear that they had come too late – that they would only be able to retrieve his cold corpse – held her in its grip. Then she felt the warm breeze of his breath against her palm and sagged in relief. He was alive. Thank the gods, he was alive.
"Captain Ceres!" she yelled. "Medical emergency!"
The short interval it took the girl to respond seemed like an eternity and she felt her irritation build. Impatiently, she watched the girl trot up to their position with a curiously flushed face, the redhead Lieutenant following close behind. Zoya shook her head, she didn't care what was up with her as long as the girl got the Chief's Doppelganger to take a look at Aeryn's condition.
The girl's eyes widened at his poor state and she immediately closed her eyes. Her chest glowed above her heart and the phantom of a cat made of light leapt out of her, solidifying before it landed on the ground. The cat took in its surroundings, wrinkling its snout when its eyes passed over her and Aeryn. Turning back to the girl, it looked at her reproachfully. The girl stared it down and finally, the cat deflated and slunk up to Aeryn, reluctance clear in its gait.
Something was strange about all this. Why was the Chief's Doppelganger acting this way? The doubts flashed in Zoya's mind for an instant before her anxiety about Aeryn's health drove them out of her mind.
Padding up to his bent wing, the cat placed its paw upon the spot of the break. Its entire body glowed a dazzling white as it pumped mana into it, making the entire wing glow. With a sickening crack, the wing straightened out as the broken bone aligned itself. Shattered bone knitted over, torn muscles re-grew, lost feathers replaced themselves and the wing was as good as new. The only difference was that the new feathers were a pure white, in contrast with Aeryn's raven black.
The cat didn't stop there, its mana flowing through Aeryn's wing into his body, lighting it up with a soft brilliance. Bruises faded, cuts healed and burns flaked off revealing smooth, pink skin. Aeryn frowned in his unconsciousness, his pupils moving restlessly beneath his lids as the mana conflicted with his own. Yet, the Tier 4 peak mana was too strong, routing his passive counterattack and healing his body. After some time, the radiance retreated and he breathed easier, sinking into the warm embrace of sleep.
The cat restrained its radiance looking more ephemeral, as though it could momentarily dissipate. Without even a backward glance at Aeryn's missing hand, it leapt up, turning into a stream of light that disappeared into the girl's chest.
"What 'bout his hand?" asked Zoya as she checked his body for any other serious injuries that might need magical intervention.
Ceres shook her head. "He is too weak right now to have missing organs regenerated. He was bleeding internally, healing from that was his body's limit. Pushing the envelope will only harm him. Besides, with his wings functional, the missing hand isn't any critical injury. Once we return to the camp, mother can have a look at it."
Zoya closed her eyes and inhaled deeply to regain her composure. These things were obvious but in her chaotic state of mind, she had missed them. That wouldn't do. As the leader of the mission, she couldn't afford to lose her cool. A botched decision could mean a dead comrade. When she opened her eyes, she was calm.
Bending down and shouldering Aeryn, careful to avoid jostling his newly healed wing, she barked out new orders, "Troops! We're movin' out. this place is apt to get in trouble. We need to double-time it till we are far away. I don't want ta be here when a Tier 4 comes lookin'."
As the squad evacuated the area hastily, I transmitted my voice to Ceres' ear through a channel of wind wrapped in shadow. It was the first and only multi-disciplinary spell I had managed to grasp – an extremely secure form of sound transmission. Ordinary methods involved either transmitting sound through a conduit of air surrounded by a thin layer of vacuum, or enclosing both parties in a casting of Call of the Dark, effectively preventing sound from leaking outside. Both methods could be intercepted by a sufficiently skilled wind or shadow mage respectively. My method was safe against anything short of a collaboration between a wind and a shadow mage – unlikely, as the tacit coordination required for it was off the charts – or another Tamer with both kinds of affinities.
"What was that back there?" I asked. "What is going on with you and mother's Doppelganger?"
"I-I don't know," replied Ceres. "I am just as confused about it as you are. I could somehow understand what it wanted and what it was doing… not the exact thoughts but it was like, like flipping through a book fast and getting an idea of the shape of the paragraphs. I got an impression that it didn't want to treat the Lieutenant because it found his mana repugnant. I somehow managed to convey how important it was that he be treated and it gave in. Then, when it was treating him, I could vaguely tell what state his body was in and how the magic was healing him. Even now that it is sleeping within me, I can tell how much mana it has remaining. It's almost like a second mindscape. It reminds me too much of the G-geas…"
She looked at me, entreaty clear in her expression as she clutched her shirt above her heart. I grasped my hair in consternation. What in the seven hells had we cooked up?
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