My master’s ears flicked, his tail bushed out behind him as he stared at Mister Valentin’s arm. “I still don’t understand how Taneh’s supposed to deal with this. Aura—”
“I haven’t time to explain,” the sage snapped back. “Taneh, air to purify, fire to soften, water to heal. Can you remember that?”
My ears flattened as the weight of obligation hit my shoulders, but I bowed my head in response. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Aura, explain,” Mister Valentin panted, his muzzle hanging open. He held one paw pressed tightly beneath his armpit, trying to stop the blood flowing from his wound. “At least tie it before you go.”
The sage’s only answer was to nod to me one last time, then clap my master on the shoulder. “Keep this one close,” she murmured. “I’ll see you in a few hours.” Then she ducked her head, shifted her bag higher on her shoulder, and dashed to the end of the alley, vanishing in the opposite direction as the guard and Mister Chelin.
The sergeant waited for Miss Aura’s tail to disappear from view before coughing and audibly swallowing again. “Pet, I don’t know what she’s thinking, but whatever it is, hurry. I’m feeling faint again.”
I took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. “Yes, sir.” I glanced to my master. “Master, please cut away his sleeve?” My master, unfortunately, remained fixed in place, his eyes still on the patch of glistening black spreading against the back of Mister Valentin’s arm. “Master?” Still he stay motionless and staring, until I finally lay a paw directly on his shoulder and hissed in his ear. “Pet.”
That snapped him to attention; he ducked his head, but his ears and tail perked. “Master?” he whispered in response.
I gestured to Mister Valentin’s arm with my free paw. “I need to touch him directly, so you need to be my fingers. Cut away his sleeve, pet.” Erik had the knife in his boot free almost as soon as I’d explained. As he worked on the fabric, I closed my eyes and put one paw on the sergeant’s neck, the other at his wrist. One light, two lights… bring water to soothe fire…. I imagined a flow of water, pouring coolly from the sergeant’s throat and down the length of his arm, bathing the angry flame of his injury.
Mister Valentin’s breath caught in his throat. “Feels… Taneh, what are you doing?” I didn’t answer; my attentions were on his wound, not his words. As soon as Erik’s paws were out of the way, I brought my own together, tracing one up from the wrist, the other down from the shoulder. Spasms of pain rippled through his injured flesh beneath the touch, and the sergeant let out a sharp hiss as I neared the arrow hole Miss Aura had aggravated. “Taneh, stop!”
“I have my orders, sir,” I replied, trying to hold my focus; this was actually harder than staying dead. “Pet, hold his other arm and shoulder. Keep him still.” Erik nodded, and I let my mind slip back among the lights. Twelve lights. Thirteen. Fourteen. Air to purify. I envisoned smoke and mist that swirled around the torn skin, a whirlwind to draw taint from the gaping wound like a chimney. One. Two. I counted aloud, whispering the numbers with every breath to help me keep the image in my mind.
For a dozen breaths, I kept the winds swirling against Mister Valentin’s arm, while the sergeant panted, pressing himself against the tavern wall. When I let slip the gyre, I paused long enough to look into his eyes. “This part will hurt, sir, but it will be quick, I hope.”
“Listen, Taneh, stop and explain what you’re—” The sergeant’s words ended in an abrupt yowl, muffled sharply against Erik’s sleeve as he jammed his arm into Mister Valentin’s muzzle to try to silence him. Fire to soften. Beneath my paws, hot coals glowed, the skin beneath my touch rippling and sagging as I poured heat through it. With the anger in his wound already, it took only a little to make the flesh pliant, and I smoothed my palms with the grain of his fur, sealing over the wound and realigning the skin beneath.
As soon as the heat of his injury became one with the fires beneath my paws, I released them, leaving only a dull red throb beneath the surface, a pain I knew how to treat. Water to soothe. This I had done before, and it took little enough to bring a calming chill to Mister Valentin’s skin. When I could feel no trace of anger left in the sergeant’s flesh, I let out the breath I’d forgotten I was holding and opened my eyes. My work wasn’t wasn’t tidy, to be sure; the arm seemed thinner than before, and his fur lay in every direction, as though I’d stirred his skin with a stick. At least the blood had stopped, though, and the sergeant’s breathing had mostly returned to normal.
Satisfied I had done as Miss Aura asked, I stepped back and lowered my head, then pressed my paws together behind my back. “My apologies, sir. I should have explained.” I wasn’t sure in that moment that I could’ve projected more than a whisper had I even wanted. I felt drained, some reserve within me tapped that I hadn’t expected to run dry.
“No, no matter.” Mister Valentin’s own words were distant. “Where did you….” His voice trailed off there as he flexed his arm and watched it bend. “It’s a little tight,” he mumbled as he tried to reach over his head, then looked quizzically at my pet still clinging to his other arm. “Erik?”
I sighed and answered the unasked question. “Watching Miss Aura, sir. I’m a quick study.” I motioned to my side with one paw. “Leave him be, pet.”
The sergeant’s eyes widened at that. “What?”
Erik cringed, but he took his place beside me, his own head bowed. “It’s too long to explain, sir. He wasn’t supposed to act up in public, but nothing else was getting through to him.” I sighed and gently tussled my pet’s ears.
Mister Valentin’s eyes went from mine to Erik’s and back again several times before he finally shook his head. “Explain. Everything. But after we’re done with this this madness.” He held both his arms straight before him; the left was a fingerswidth shorter. “Dust, Aura. She obeys every order I give her and still manages to risk my life on a gamble.” He smiled as he looked at me, but the expression didn’t reach his eyes, and his ears remained flat against his head. “She’s going to get us all killed at this rate,”
“If it’s going to be anyone, I’d rather it be Miss Datsia, sir.” I glanced to Erik and nuzzled his cheek. “Are you fit to continue?”
Erik’s ears flattened. “Yes, sorry, pet.” He put a tinge of emphasis on the word, stepping back into control. “I… I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never been that close to somebody dying before.”
“Listen, Erik,” Mister Valentin sighed. “You’re going to get a lot closer before we’re done. We need to get to Deterikh Keep, and quickly. Our best chance is that Inika’s rallied the faithful and we’re walking into a rebellion.”
Erik flinched at the word. “And our worst?”
Mister Valentin shouldered his pack. “Andor and Chelin have both been caught, and we’re walking into an ambush.”