Veximarl wasn’t having the best day. His time with Macestar squad was certainly... Enlightening. They had chosen to assist the barracks’ vet with their rounds about the farms. It was around that time that one of the dairy cows had chosen to give birth. He had spent his day pulling as hard as he could on a rope tied to a calf’s ankles. The calf had gotten stuck in the birth canal, and they needed to pull it loose before it suffocated. After what seemed like an eternity to save a life, he was relieved to be finally heading back.
Next to him was Tish, whose white uniform was tarnished with blood. She was the lucky one. He felt as though he would never be clean again. No amount of bathing or washing his clothes could get out the wretched odor of what he had to roll around in, yet Tish smelled sweetly of mint.
Lady Saryu Blu, the head of Macestar, was waiting to greet them on the road. She smiled at them sweetly and congratulated them on their hard work. The members of Macestar were happy to have an exciting first day. Especially Chester, who had entered Braytons worrying that growing up on a farm wouldn’t amount to anything useful here.
As they rounded the road that led to Braytons, they were forced to step out of the way of a mule that was charging down it at full speed. It came to a sudden stop next to them as the rider flailed about in a frantic manner. The mule’s mane and neck were covered in blood, which had leaked through the hastily made bandages wrapped around the second rider.
“Lady Blu!” Emery called out to the teacher. “She’s injured!”
Evan reached up to pull her down, and he was careful to place her on the road. Veximarl’s stomach sank when he saw who it was. Sybil’s armor had been ripped open, and it appeared as though some poultice had been used to patch up the wound. The remains of a shirt had been wrapped about her torso tightly as well. Veximarl knelt down and touched the side of her neck. His eyes closed as he attempted to sense out the full of her injuries.
“She’s lost a considerable amount of blood. Several of her ribs are broken and her left lung is punctured. I am also sensing… Miasma poisoning?” It reminded him of the creatures of the north that came into the swamps each winter, whose poison could easily take down a full grown man. He couldn’t fathom what sort of beast in this area could do such a thing.
Lady Blu called out her orders quickly. “Chester! Some water! Evan, run to the infirmary and get us a stretcher!”
Chester popped open one of the flasks on his belt and pulled the water out of it. It steamed slightly to sterilize it, and both Blu and Tish pulled off their gloves. They used the orb to wash their hands. From there, they went about removing Sybil’s bandages.
Tish looked up at Veximarl. “Vexi, are you able to help?”
“Ah…” He also pulled off his gloves and washed his hands. “I haven’t my staff with me. My casting abilities are limited.”
It was a lie. He wasn’t really a healer. The only ability he could use was to transfer the wounds to someone else, and that wouldn’t help anyone at the moment. A pang of guilt rang through him as he helplessly watched.
“Help Evan when he returns with the stretcher.” Blu frowned when she saw the mass of ill colored blood that was clotted underneath the bandages. “Chester, more water! Vex, you are familiar with purifying spells? I agree with your assessment that she may have been afflicted with taint. We’ll test it just to be sure.”
“I am able to do as much, yes.” Veximarl held his palms close to each other and a red light started to move between them. “It will be quickest to add the spell to a source of water, and use that to draw out the miasma.”
Chester discarded the previous ball of water and opened another flask. He placed this orb on top of Sybil’s chest, and Veximarl dipped his fingertips into it. The color of the ball shifted from clear to red, with strings of purple and white floating about. This made Blu inhale sharply between her teeth at the sight.
“There really is corruption in her. By Mart, how did something like that get here?” Blu began to examine the wound as Chester lifted the bubble away. There were four sharp claw lines ripped through her flesh. “Do what you can to stabilize her, Vex. Tish, do a soothing spell. Her muscles are locking up due to shock and it will make my work difficult. Chester, make sure to keep the air still around us.”
Veximarl took Sybil’s hand. His eyes shut as he began to concentrate. Her pulse began to slow, and he did what he could to preserve her. Normally, these spells were used to on those who were dying because necromancers wished to preserve their corpses. He planned to draw her close to death and keep her there until surgery was complete. It was possible that Blu might understand what it was he was doing, but wasn’t saying anything. Either way, she didn’t react oddly to him casting such magic, and now wasn’t the time to worry about it.
“The mass of her injuries are located in her chest. There is nothing else I sense that is life-threatening,” he whispered.
Blu carefully dug about the wound with her fingers so that she could see how deep it went. “Your diagnosis is on point. Tish, that is enough on your end. Vex, continue to cast. Don’t let her wake up. I’m going to stop the bleeding, then we’ll transport her to the infirmary for further surgery. There is a medicinal pouch on my waist. Tish, grab the disinfectant from it.”
She hovered over Sybil and began to work. Tish reached around her to get the pouch and sprinkled a white powder over the wounds. It melted from the heat and blood before vanishing completely. Blu then told Tish to told to take a pill out from a different bottle and place it under Sybil’s tongue. It would help prevent her from waking up while they moved her.
A string appeared between Blu’s fingers, attached to a fishing hook-shaped needle made of mana. Her hands began to move at an astonishing speed. Threads began to bind the flesh long temporarily so that Sybil could be easily moved to the surgery room.
The doctor looked up part way through her work. “Emery,” she frowned as he did a startled jump. “Please stop pacing about. It’s distracting. Get back on your mule and tell Mister Oceans you that she will be fine. Ah, wait, not here. Take her down the road first, or you’ll kick up dust.”
Evan returned with the stretcher and set it down next to Sybil. He, Chester, and Veximarl took care to move Sybil upon it. Chester and Even moved to either side and prepared to move her, but Blu held up a hand to stop them.
She produced a short wand made of a reed with inset gems and metals and began to draw in the air above Sybil. “Blessings of Mart, grant us protection from injury. Purify the taint and ward against death. Prayers to Tria, restore the stones of the flesh to their proper order and restore broken bonds.” The wand created light above Sybil, which turned into an arcane circle that shed glittering snowflakes upon her. “Keep her steady and let’s be along.”
They moved her quickly to one of the beds. Evan was asked to put the stretcher away while Blu reopened Sybil’s chest to continue surgery. Broken bones need to be adjusted or removed, and her injured lung had to be addressed. Tish was nearby to cast any soothing spells that may be needed, but Veximarl was told he wouldn’t be needed any longer. He remained present, if only to watch the process.
Chester summoned another ball of water upon Blu’s request. This was forced down Sybil’s throat, and he carefully drew up some of the blood that was within her lungs. Blu continued to manipulate the rib bones, mending what she could while discarding the smaller fragments. Once she had closed Sybil up again, and when she was breathing on her own, Blu declared the operation a success.
“She’ll need a few days for the bones to properly set, of course. It takes time before they stop being soft. Only bedrest, but she should be able to attend the less physical classes by Eathaday.” Blu smiled at her group and Veximarl. “Good work, all of you. Your reaction speeds to an emergency were exemplary. It’s an unfortunate way to end our lessons for today, but I am proud of your efforts. You are all dismissed, and please be sure to inform everyone that she won’t be able to take visitors today.”
As they turned to leave, she stopped Veximarl. “Please ask someone from your squad to watch her in the morning while I teach classes. She will need to take medicine if she wakes up around then... Also, tell Hugo that he’s responsible for my squad tomorrow afternoon. There is still a chance that she may become unstable during that time.”
Veximarl promised to do so, and left in low spirits. As a necromancer posing as a paladin, he should be avoiding casting magic whenever he could. He was especially at risk around clerics. They would be the first to notice if something went wrong. Sybil knew his secret, and she knew that he had the chance to fix her wounds in a single instant. Then again, they would have needed a victim to do so.
Seeing someone who accepted him despite his flaws suffer in such a way… To be useless as they laid there dying, and to not be able to repay them at all for their kindness… This isn’t why he was putting on this masquerade. He was doing this so he would have the power to help people, not so that he’d be desperate for the chance to hurt someone else just so he could save his friends.
And now he was the one that had to pass on the grim news. His heart sank all the further at the sight of their celebratory meal. The other members of his squad had decorated the room with streamers and signs to congratulate themselves on finishing their first day. Veximarl smiled at them weakly, though he felt his heart sinking.
“Hello everyone,” he wrung his hands together and let out a nervous laugh. “I begin by telling you that everything is fine, but something has happened to Sybil.” That guilt within him only grew as everyone turned to look at him, and as he explained the situation as he knew it.
The response was a mix of confusion. Chickadee’s face was blank, while Zaniyah couldn’t stop pacing back and forth. No one had heard of something like this before. There weren’t signs of monsters in the Gilded Region since Tyrtain’s time, and that was over eight hundred years ago.
Veximarl raised a hand as Alton made his way to the door. “I doubt Lady Blu will allow us to see her. She was quite adamant about it.”
“I’m going off to clear my head. Don’t worry about it.”
He left the room before anyone could object and went to walk about the perimeter. Soon he found himself wandering on top of the rampart. There was a benched spot in one of the corners that overlooked the road leading to Carapace. It was oddly comforting to stare off into the distance. A wave was given to Lydia as she floated up to meet him.
“She’s still sleeping,” she said with a sigh of relief. “Everything is going to be alright.”
“Sure it is,” he muttered back.
“Of course I don’t blame you, Alton. It’s simply a matter of scheduling, after all. I don’t expect you to be able to be her knight at every possible moment, and severe injuries may happen at any time in a place like this. That’s why they have someone as skilled as Lady Blu on staff.”
Alton shot her a look. “I understand that, but…”
He was stuck in singing lessons when it happened. Songs about celebration, of dancing, of love. While he showed off his voice, she was fighting for her life. Why should he be happy with what he was doing here if he wasn’t able to protect her?
“You’re the one who came up with that little marriage arrangement,” replied Lydia in a gentle voice, “because you plan on watching over her the rest of your life… Or at least have her chase after you. Both of you have separate commitments at Braytons, but it will only last a few years longer before you two can spend the rest of your lives together.”
Alton grimaced at the thought. A lifetime with the cold-hearted core kid. “I’ll have an eternity to look after her, I know.”
“And you’ll have me to help you out as well. After all, I can go just about anywhere without anyone complaining!” She spread out her arms, and twirled about to emphasize her point.
“Which reminds me,” he muttered, “there are times you shouldn’t follow me around... Like the showers.”
“Oh, I’m not looking at you. I’m not even in the same building half the time. Despite being such poor fighters, many of the men in the third year are quite something to look at.” Lydia placed her hand on her cheek and tilted her head. The grin on her face made him want to slap her.
“As long as it isn’t me... I’ve had enough of Chi and Zan gawking at me as it is.” The sound of a cart trudging on the road caught his attention. It was being towed by a mule and four people. There was something massive in the back, which was the reason why such force was being used to pull it. “That’s Moontear Squad.”
The beast in their cart was large. It had stiffened up some time ago, and it barely fit in the cart. Alton couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He leaned against the edge of the rampart so that he could get a better look.
Lydia’s face became serious, which was a rare thing for her. “Something like that shouldn’t be around here. They never make it past the Crimson Range.”
Alton couldn’t bring himself to look away. “I’ve never heard of something like that reaching the mountains. What is it supposed to be?”
“Hmm…” She tilted her head to the side. “I suppose it could be called a mist mutation. At least, it’s a very rare form of it. There’s a form of mist called miasma that’s more powerful than regular mist, but it’s quite harmful to the living. Mutations like this are common in areas of heavy miasma, but the swamplands keep them trapped on the northeast peninsula.”
“The caves?” Alton frowned as he tried to think. “ During our exam, we had to go to a fort that was near a cave. This area is also close to the geyser mist region. It’s possible that the caves below us are flooded with the stuff?”
“I wonder. I’ve never heard of it happening here before. At least, there are measures in place to prevent miasma from spreading. Even if it was here, mist cats cannot compete with wolves or bears outside of the mountain range. It wouldn’t be able to travel here on its own, but I doubt that creature mutated from a simple house cat.” Lydia tightened her arms about her torso. “Yet Sybil managed to defeat it on her own.”
Alton turned his head towards her, eyes went wide at the news. “There was a whole squad with her and a knight. Wouldn’t they had to have helped?”
“I don’t know. The only weapons that can pierce a tainted beast’s flesh are made from other tainted beasts. Galwen has one, but I doubt he was the one that was able to outmaneuver the beast and land a killing blow. Do you believe you would be able to do it?” She waited for Alton’s answer, but he looked away in silence. “It doesn’t make you a failure if you can’t, but perhaps you should rethink what it means to protect someone. It’s not always about strength.”
He didn’t want to think about that now. Instead, he cupped his hand against the side of his mouth. “Do you need any help?”
“Ah, yes, ah… Who...” Oceans looked over to Emery, who muttered something back. “Alton! Sorry! I’m terrible with names! Please fetch Ira Knut and tell him we have leather and blood iron that needs treatment immediately!”
Alton made his way down the steps and to the forge. Their shouting already had others showing up, and it wasn’t long until a group was helping move the beast. As the sun began to set, Lydia faded away, and Alton chose to step aside rather than get in the way. He returned to the squadroom, where no one greeted him. They were all silent, working on their own tasks until one by one, they had retired to their beds. All of them were fearful of the same thing.
A monster had come to the barracks, and each was filled with worry that it would not be the last.