The last thing I needed was the hammerblow of adrenaline that hit me in the wake of the receptionist’s accusation.
“You killed him! Why did you kill him?” the receptionist screamed, repeating himself.
I looked at Taisen’s body, crumbled beside the table I was on, and tried to make sense of what had happened. The surge of blood through my veins fuzzed up my head for a moment, but I fought it back. I needed to think, not fight. Not that thinking helped much.
A scowl settled on my face as the gears turned in my head. I hadn’t killed him. I couldn’t have. But he’d done something, or tried something, and it obviously hadn’t worked out well.
I didn’t notice that I was glaring at the receptionist until I saw him go pale and dash away like a mouse. He wasn’t smart enough to figure out that I couldn’t have killed Taisen in the condition I’d been in, but he was clever enough to know that if I’d killed his boss I wouldn’t have any reason to leave him alive. I slumped on the table and listened to him go, the outside door slamming as he fled the clinic. Even with the healing Taisen’s spell had given me, I didn’t feel up to chasing the receptionist down and explaining what had happened. Instead I got off the table and bent down to check out how the healer was doing.
In my expert medical opinion, the verdict was “pretty damn bad”. He wasn’t moving and his arms were burnt and ugly, but he was still breathing from what I could see. That last bit was a good sign. I looked around the room for anything that might help wake him up but I was no cleric. Even with their labels still on them, there were way too many jars and bottles for me to have a chance of figuring out which ones might contain something useful.
I briefly considered trying the spell that he taught me. If I could separate my physical anima from the darkness in me, I might be able to lend some to him and make him feel better. At a very coarse level that was what healers did, at least as far as I knew.
It took maybe a half second at most for me to discard the idea. I’d never cast a meaningful spell before and healing spells were some of the most difficult to work with. There was even a decent chance that whatever I’d done when I tried to cast the spell the last time was responsible for Taisen being in condition he was in.
Instead I settled for slapping him, lightly, on the cheeks and saying “hey, wake up!” a lot. That worked about as well as you might expect.
“Where I am supposed to take you? We’re already at a clinic!” I grumbled.
On the off chance that the table had some kind of passive healing magics built into it, I picked the fallen healer up and laid him him on it. He grunted in pain as I touched his burnt arms but didn’t rouse any further.
“We can’t stay here. Your desk boy babbled something about the city being under attack.” I said. He wasn’t awake enough to hear me but I was talking for my own benefit so that didn’t matter much.
It didn’t seem surprising that we were under attack, I’d been expecting it since I heard the news report about the warp portal forming. It didn’t seem surprising, but it did feel unreal. Like it was something I’d been dreaming about for a long time. I would have pinched myself to make sure I was awake but the aches and pains that I still had made it impossible to deny that everything around me was real. I shook my head to clear the deja-vu-like feeling that had gripped my thoughts. I didn’t have time to lose myself in a daydream, however compelling it might feel.
“You’ve got to have contacts right? Other clerics you keep in touch with?” I asked the unconscious Taisen.
He’d said he run the clinic by himself but the guy must have needed a day off once in a while. If I could call one of his cleric friends they might be able to come over and get Taisen on his feet again. I headed out to the receptionists desk to look for any emergency numbers they had on file. It seemed like a long shot, given the impending attack, but if there was one sort of person it would be worth sending a cleric to make a house call on, it would be another cleric. Even if the planetary defense grid held there’d still be a need for Taisen’s services to treat the people who were invariably trampled in the rush to get into the shelters.
It was factoring in the defense grid that made me think we had enough time for someone to come and get Taisen back on his feet. After centuries of galactic warfare, only frontier worlds were set up without a fortress-like defense system to protect them from orbital bombardment or worse from potential enemies. Belstarius wasn’t rich, but as an unaligned world we were on our own when it came to defense so we’d invested in some decent enchantments from what I’d read.
They weren’t going to be enough.
I didn’t know how I knew it, but I was certain they weren’t going to save us.
I found the list of emergency contacts on a pad In the waiting room. As I dialed the holocomm for the first cleric on the list, I looked out the front window and saw the crowds in the street. The alarms had been raised. People weren’t being encouraged to go to the shelters anymore; they were being required to.
I dithered when the holo didn’t connect to the first cleric. I knew I should be in the crowd that I saw, moving to the shelters. I also knew that if I left Taisen laying on the table in the treatment room I’d be leaving him to die.
I have a pretty strong self-preservation instinct, but the thought of abandoning someone who was in bad shape because of me made me feel sick. I tried the next cleric on the list, but the holocomm said they weren’t available either. I punched up the next three with the same result. Probably because they were heading to the shelters or the emergency care wards. Just like Taisen should be.
“Maybe I can carry him there.” I said to no one but myself.
I’d lifted him on to the table, so I knew I could hoist him up. It was one of the advantages of the martial training I’d done. That plus being on the tall side for a human girl, had given me more strength than people assumed I had. I had stamina too, since my teacher was an absolute nightmare about the training regime I had to keep up. If I hadn’t been beat half to death, I wouldn’t have had a problem with throwing a lightweight like Taisen on my back and hauling him to the next nearest clinic. The idea of trying to carry him through the crowds that were on the street, while I was feeling only half recovered, was not an appealing one though.
Giving up on the holocomm, I stomped back into the room to consider what other options I had.
“I can’t leave you here.” I told him. “But we can’t stay either.”
I felt a shiver pass through me. It started in my chest and ran down my left side to the tips of my fingers.
“Something’s coming. The city…” I trailed off.
The city was going to die. I saw it, like a hallucination, or a dream, but more solid and clear. I saw the clinic, grey and empty. I saw the streets outside, steel grey dust covering them as well. Even the shelters. Empty and grey.
A frosty anger yanked me out of the vision and back into the clinic. I stumbled and caught myself on the edge of the table feeling light headed for a moment.
“I can’t go crazy.” I ordered myself. I’d never had a vision before, I didn’t have the Aethereal anima needed for them. Very few people did. So what I’d seen couldn’t have been a real glimpse of the future. What it could have been, what it most likely was, was a sign that I was losing it. Between the head trauma and having a really rotten day, some people might even have found that reasonable. I wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t afford to be crazy, and some part of me knew that I wasn’t.
It occurred to me that might be the crazy part speaking but, one way or the other, I had real things I needed to focus on.
“Need to call this in.” Taisen muttered.
I spun to look at him and saw that he was starting to stir, but he was only half conscious still.
“Call who? I tried calling your emergency contacts but none of them are answering.” I said, hoping he was awake enough to hear me.
“Not them.” he said, forcing the words out through the haze of fatigue that held him down.
“Who, just tell me who to call!” I demanded.
“You can’t.” he said, his words slow and slurring as he dragged himself back to consciousness. “Give me a moment.”
I didn’t have any healing skills, but I knew what it was like to get knocked out, so I went and grabbed him a cup of water. Juice would be have been better, but I had to work with what was available. By the time I got back it, Taisen was sitting on the bed and cradling his arms over his lap.
“Here.” I said and passed him the cup of water.
“Thank you.” he replied, and then poured the water over his arms. Instead of falling to the ground though it clung to his burns and began to glow with a pale light. He shuddered and slumped forward but I managed to catch him by the shoulder before he tumbled off the table.
“Wow. I haven’t felt like this since my first year in school.” he said, his expression pained and his face almost as pale as the light on his arms.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Anima drain. How are you feeling?”
I’d heard of anima drain. It was what happened when someone cast spells that drew out too much of their personal magic. If the vids I watched were to be believed, it could have a wide range of effects, from a headache at the low end to death or even disintegration at the worst extreme.
“Better. Or better than I was. What did you do?”
“Believe it or not, I just tried to a simple mending spell on you.” Taisen said. He was focusing on his arms, which I noticed were looking much better than they had been.
“And that damn near killed you?”
“No. You did.” he said. I jerked back at that and he pitched forward without my support. I was able to catch him before he fell, I didn’t want to hurt the poor guy any further, but I was still stunned.
“Don’t worry. It wasn’t your fault. I’ve studied this. I just didn’t think I was ever going to run into it myself. Especially without any warning.” he explained as I helped him get back onto the table.
“What’s ‘this’. What did I do to you?” I asked. I knew I hadn’t done exactly as he’d instructed, but I’d never thought it could kill him. I felt a flash of anger go through me. If what he was doing was that dangerous the jerk should have warned me.
“It’s not something you did, it’s something you are. Or maybe something you have. Ugh. I’m not doing any good here. Let me ask a question instead. How many anima types have you been tested for?”
“All four. Physical, Mental, Energetic and Aethereal. Zeroes across the board.” I said.
“Four. Right. So you were never tested for all the animas then.” Taisen said, and laughed. It was a short chuckle but it made me want to hit him all the same.
“What else is there?” I demanded instead.
“Nothing. By which I mean, the anima of emptiness. I know that doesn’t make sense. Bear with me for a minute.” he said and shifted around on the table. The glow faded from the water on his arms and he directed the liquid back into the cup. The burns had faded to where his hands and arms looked like he had a mild sunburn.
“Ok, analogies don’t work well here, and I haven’t studied this in depth, so take this all with a grain of salt. The simple version is, the anima in us is tied to various aspects of who we are. Big guys have a lot of physical anima and so on, like we talked about.” he explained.
“So this Nothing anima is tied to something we’re missing then?” I asked, trying to guess where this was going. I should have been more surprised at the idea, but I could still feel the darkness that I’d gathered into my left hand.
“Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it.”
“Great. And healing me nearly killed you.” I stepped away from him. I knew I wasn’t hurting him by holding him up but I felt unclean somehow. Like this thing in me could lash out and kill him at any moment.
“I was unfair before. I’m sorry about that. It’d be better to say that I hurt myself by being careless. When I tried to cast the mending spell on you, I didn’t hold back on my anima at all. I’m used to encountering resistance and with you there was none.” he said.
“Resistance?” I asked.
“Yes. People resist spells, even healing spells. Even when they’re injured, most people’s bodies won’t accept foreign anima easily. One way around that, is to put more energy into the spell than it needs. It makes for a faster treatment regime at the cost of caster spending more of the anima on each spell. I’m lucky, I replenish my anima quickly, and with the clinic being as busy as it is I’ve gotten into the habit of treating my patients as quickly as I can.”
“And since I have basically no anima, there was no resistance and you dumped too much into me?” I asked.
“Not at all. You have quite a bit of anima from what I could tell. The problem in this case was that what I touched on was the Void anima.”
“Let me guess, that’s like opening a water bottle in space.” I said.
“Exactly. I’d only planned to feed you a small amount of anima but when I touched the Void anima in you I wasn’t holding back at all and it pulled all my power out through my hands.”
“And that’s what burned you?” I said.
“Yes. So, you can see how it’s my own fault. If I’d been casting the spell properly I wouldn’t have been in any danger.”
I’d had a lot of people lie to me over the years, with the Sisters being the masters of the lies meant to spare my feelings. I probably didn’t need it from a guy I’d almost killed, but a part of me wasn’t sure of that. The idea that there was something dark and evil inside me was almost worse than the beating I’d taken.
“I don’t think I should try any magical healing again.” I said.
“That’s ok. You should be fine for now. I need to call this in though. I know this is unusual but I’d like to ask you to stay here while I do. I think I’ll be able to offer you the help you need if you do.” Taisen said.
I wondered what kind of help I needed that he could offer. He had to have more important things to work on than a street rat like me. Then I remembered that we both had something more important to worry about.
“No! We can’t stay here. We have to get to the shelters!” I told him.
“The shelters? Why?”
“The city is under attack, or its going to be.” I said and started pulling him towards to the door to the treatment room.
“Wait, attack? When did this happen? How long was I out?”
“Five or ten minutes. A new warp portal formed, big enough for a warship to get through. They’ve been evacuating people to the shelters for the last half hour or so.” I told him.
“Why didn’t Daske tell me?” Taisen asked and then yelled for his receptionist.
“He took off already. He came in right after you collapsed. Thought I’d killed you.” I said.
“You’ll have to chew him out later. We have to get to a shelter. I think this is going to be bad.” I said.
“No, he’s an idiot because we have a shelter here.” Taisen said.
“You do? But there’s no signs for it.”
“It’s limited use.” Taisen said.
“Oh, do all clinics have it for their clerics?”
He lead me to the other side of the room and placed his palm on the light switch for several seconds. A series of glowing glyphs appeared in a circle around the light switch and he tapped them in a sequence that was clearly a password. When he hit the last number a section of the floor beside me moved to reveal a ladder leading down a room below.
“I’m not just a random cleric.” Taisen said. “I’m also an agent of the Crystal Empress. I have access to resources that can help you.”
I pulled away from him. I couldn’t tell if he was crazy, or I was, or everything was, but going down into an enclosed room with a guy I’d just met did not seem like a great idea to me. I’d done my part. He was awake and could look after himself. I didn’t need to buy into anything else he was selling. Not when it was way outside anything I was supposed to be involved in.
I’d just turned to go when the spell bomb went off that killed the city.