The wounded were arriving as Illya and I walked out of her transport ship prison. I’d been worried that she’d try to escape once she had the chance, but she followed me into the triage room without a word and got to work. She was quiet and spoke only to ask brief questions. It didn’t make for the best bedside manner, but under the circumstances it was exactly what was needed to sort the patients out and get them to the right areas for treatment.
I stayed with her and the wounded, rather than retreating to the command room to “stay on top of things”. Officially I’d report that it was to “ensure her behavior and the safety of the other people at the aid center.” That was a small part of the reason why. The truth was, I was fairly certain she wasn’t going to attack anyone at that point. I’d given her too much to think about. The revelations about Major Vunthar had shaken her despite the fact that they didn’t surprise me at all.
With a hundred years of bloody war behind them, the people on Hellsreach had a lot of issues to work though. As an outsider, it was easy to see the patterns of the harm they inflicted on each other and the atrocities they were capable of. Major Vunthar’s anger and thirst for revenge were present on all sides of the conflict. Given what I’d done to the Karr Khan when he showed up after killing my home town, I wasn’t sure I was in a position to condemn Vunthar, but that wasn’t going to prevent me from stopping him either.
For Illya it wasn’t an issue that Vunthar had betrayed the peace process and was threatening the safety of the world at large. With the pain she carried, I didn’t think she cared about things as grandiose as that. His actions hit her harder than I could gauge because they were a much more personal betrayal. In the face of all she’d lost, Vunthar had been the one force that seemed to on her side and paying attention to the needs of her people.
It didn’t take a lot of empathy to know that she shouldn’t be left alone after learning that wasn’t the case. Work would help give her some distance from the news. Keep her mind off processing it until the raw power of her emotions drained away a little. After that though she was going to have a lot to deal with.
On top of all that however I had one other reason for staying with Illya, and it was the simplest of all of them. Even without healing magics of my own, I was still able to help care for the wounded. Carrying people on stretchers, acting as a runner for medicines and water, or helping people fill out medical history forms to help with diagnosis and treatment plans. In the chaos of the recovery efforts, there were plenty of opportunities for me to be useful, which was more than I could say for the last couple of months.
I dove into the work and lost myself in it for a while, happy to be getting something done rather than waiting to heal for a change. We’d been working on the wounded for a few hours when it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Darius since he went in to the Garjarack family’s tent.
“How are things going with Kallak?” I asked on the telepathic link that Fari had setup.
“Still working on him,” Darius said and I could hear the weariness in his mental voice.
I felt my pulse accelerate. It shouldn’t have taken hours to heal Kallak’s injuries and Darius wouldn’t have spent that long on one patient if Kallak’s condition wasn’t serious.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, bracing myself for the answer.
“I don’t know,” Darius said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Have you contacted Chief Jallo?” I asked. Jallo was the senior healer at the aid center. I’d seen her handling some of the cases that came in, but she was also managing the rest of the staff too, including Illya and I. I looked around and didn’t see her, though that wasn’t too surprising since the last of the wounded were being moved to the recovery rooms and the next batch wasn’t due in for over twelve hours.
“Yes, she’s here with me now,” Darius said. “I called her over before and she couldn’t make out what was wrong with him then so she had me stay to apply a low level regeneration spell to him while she helped the rest of the wounded.”
“What’s happening with him?” I asked.
“His anima’s leaking out of him, but he’s unwounded,” Darius said. “He collapsed because he literally ran out of energy. The regeneration spell is keeping him going but none of the anima staying within him.”
I shuddered at that thought. I knew what it was like to have your anima ripped out of you. I’d been hit with a planetary weapon systems that did just that. I’d been able to save myself but only because I was kind of a freak and doing so had still cost me months of recovery.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I said.
I looked around and saw Illya reading over the medical history of her last patient. I’d helped his father fill it out. It was a single sheet and the man’s injuries hadn’t been severe or complicated (which was why he was one of the last who was treated).
“I think we’re done here,” I told her, putting a hand on her shoulder to get her attention.
She startled when I touched her and that broke her from whatever daze she’d drifted into.
“Back to the transport?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” I said. “There’s another patient I need to check on.”
“Did another batch arrive?” she asked.
“No, this one came in earlier,” I said.
Illya looked around the room for the mysterious patient, but settled in beside me as I gently pushed her forward. We got to the door out of the primary aid center before she realized who the patient had to be. I could see she wanted to freeze in place but I wasn’t about to let that happen.
“You did good work in there,” I said, holding the door open for her. “How long have you been a medic?”
“Since I was fourteen,” she said.
“I thought the minimum age for service was sixteen for the human forces?” I said.
“Its eighteen for offworld troops, the ones recruited from the homeworld,” Illya said. “My family is support services though, so I’m native born. They’ll take us as soon as we can cast reliably.”
We’d covered half the ground to the tent without her rabbiting on me, so I decided to dig a little deeper.
“I’ve heard that there wasn’t much promotion for the support services. How did you manage to get on the medic track?”
“I had a sponsor,” she said. “I actually learned how to cast healing spells really young. My family was assigned to a hot camp, one of the ones off the front line but still in the strike area for the Gar’s long range attacks. So I had a lot of practice.”
“How did you wind up in Salmon Falls?” I asked.
“The unit I was assigned to got transferred there just after the cease fire,” she said. There was a catch in her voice that left me a few guesses as to what was being left unsaid.
“Major Vunthar was the one who transferred your unit there wasn’t he?” I asked.
I’d already talked to Imperial command and asked the two actual Guardians on the planet if we could put out a warrant for Vunthar’s arrest. All of them had agreed to it without reservation when I explained the situation. Predictably though, Major Vunthar was nowhere to be found. He was also not responding to official communiques from his Exxion IV superiors.
With the disaster recovery still underway and my impending job as an Imperial Overseer (approved by Master Raychelle, to my surprise), I couldn’t afford to make Vunthar my top priority, but there was no way I was going to let him get away with what he’d done.
I filed that thought as a “future problem” though as we stepped into the tent.
The Garjarack family turned to look at us when we entered and Illya’s breath caught in her throat. Guilt? Shock? Anger? It was probably all of them and more.
Cadrus recognized me at first glance, and from his expression also recognized Illya as well.
“Guardian, this is not the best time for visitors,” he said.
“We won’t be long, I just wanted to see your son,” I said.
“He is not well,” Cadrus said.
“I know, I want to see if his affliction looks familiar,” I said.
Cadrus looked back and forth between Illya and I, and then nodded and moved aside to allow me to get closer. I stepped into the circle of family members and saw that both Chief Jallo and Darius were tending to the young Garjarack boy on the bed.
Darius’s eyes were closed and I could see a soft light pulsing from under his hands were he had laid them on the Kallak’s chest. Chief Jallo was more active, peering through a series of observation spells that provided her with all sorts of enhanced information. I could see from her expression though that the data she had wasn’t adding up to anything sensible.
I didn’t know the anima and life sensing spells that Chief Jallo did, but my Void anima vision did let me see magic in a way other spells couldn’t replicate. I called up an erg of it and felt my face grow warm with the casting.
In my altered vision I saw Darius suffused with an electric yellow light. Ripples of blue raced through him too, with the two colors representing his natural talents at Energetic and Mental animas. Chief Jallo by contrast was almost entirely lit in red. She had a great capacity for healing magics due in part to being unbalanced towards Physical anima similar to one other healer I knew.
Then there was Kallak. There was barely any light running through him at all.
I looked underneath him, expecting to see Void anima spikes plunged into his body as they had been in mine but there was nothing there. No Void anima spikes. No lurking spells at all. Just a trickle of physical anima pouring out of him and into the ground below.
“He’s not injured?” I asked.
“Clearly he is, we just haven’t found the location of the wound yet,” Chief Jallo said.
“It’s not a Void anima attack,” I said.
“I know, that was one of the first things I checked for,” Chief Jallo said.
“Then what could it be?” I asked.
“I’m working to determine that,” she said. I heard the annoyance in Jallo’s voice clearly that time.
I turned away from her and spoke with Cadrus in a low whisper.
“One of your other children was also afflicted by this weren’t they?” I asked, thinking back to the child who’d been in the other bed the last I was in the tent.
“Beneda, my youngest daughter,” Cadrus said. “She had similar symptoms but she responded to treatment better than Kallak has. Your friend was able to restore her before Chief Jallo got here.”
“Was they exposed to something that the rest of your family wasn’t?” I asked.
“No,” Cadris said. “Not within the last day. We’ve been together the whole time since then.”
“How long were they as frail as they were at Salmon Falls?” I asked.
“Weeks,” Cadrus said. “We haven’t eaten full rations in weeks. It wasn’t as bad as it was today, but Kallak has not been healthy since the cease fire.”
“Did something happen then?” I asked.
“Kallak collapsed then too,” Cadrus said. “We thought we were going to lose him but the next morning he was recovered. He never lost consciousness like this though.”
“Were he and his sister close?” Illya asked. It cost her to talk to the Garjarack. I could see that it was about the last thing in the world that she wanted to do. Cadrus didn’t seem to be able to read her expressions like I could though. Humans were probably as skewed in their body language to him as Garjarack were to me.
“Yes, they were always together,” Cadrus said.
“I know what’s wrong with your son then,” Illya said. “We need to get him out of here. He can’t stay on this world.”