"Tell me about demons,"
He sat across from her, the small fire they had constructed earlier burning brightly between them. He had argued against a fire, concerned that it might attract attention, something he did not particularily want, especially if the demon rider was on their trail, but she would hear nothing of it. "I told you before, the fiend wasn't looking for us. If he had been, he would have trailed us down hours ago. There isn't another creature around for miles, and the nights get chilly in this part of the Outlands." When he had mentioned the 'lions' that she had told him of earlier, she had shaken her head. "We're out of that section now, cutter. Hardly any lions range this far south. There's almost no wildlife around here."
It was true that the terrain had changed markedly during their journey since earlier in the afternoon. They were still tracking through vast fields of grass, but the ground here was much rockier, and the grass itself was different, shorter and scruffier, and of a different texture and color than the grass they had marched through earlier. Here and there scraggly and stunted trees sprang up from the ground, twisted into odd shapes, and rarer but also present were a few jagged rocks thrusting heavenwards, towering overhead.
Unconvinced by her argument, he had nonetheless helped to gather firewood, deciding that she knew more of the area than he but resolving notwithstanding to be on his guard.
She glanced at him over the fire, still chewing on a piece of dried beef. Gwydion of course had no supplies, so she had been kind enough to share some of hers with him. A few dried bisquits and some beef jerky was all she had to offer, along with water, but it had made for a satisfying meal, hungered and tired as he was after the long day of walking, and he had lived on far less in times past. "You mean fiends?" she finally responded.
She gave a wary look around, as if the mere mention of the servants of darkness might cause them to appear. And indeed, how was he to know but that it might in this strange place. Night was coming on quickly. Twilight had passed and darkness was gathering, lending the distant rocky outcroppings an eerie aspect. It was also getting a little cooler, just as she had earlier predicted, and a gentle night breeze stirred the nearby clumps of grass. "An evil subject. What do you want to know about them for?" she asked at last.
He shrugged. "It's always better to know your opponent, and it seems likely that I'll be running into them from time to time."
She considered. "What, exactly, do you want to know?"
"Everything you can tell me."
She shook her head. "That's not much, really. I'm no expert." She gave him a level stare. "I know enough to stay as far away from them as possible. Knowing more than that is generally bad for your health."
"Surely you know more than that," he said.
She shrugged. "Maybe. But explaining it to someone as clueless as you... well, it's going to take some time."
"Than take the time."
She sighed. "All right. But first off we've got to get straight what your idea of a 'demon' is. You called me one, remember?"
He was properly abashed. "I didn't know you then. Or what a demon looked like. And I still don't, aside from the one we saw today. Do they all look like that?"
She shook her head. "No, hardly any. There's almost as many kinds and shapes of fiends as there are... but we're getting ahead of ourselves. When we talk about fiends, I assume you know that there is more than one kind of fiend, right?"
He shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure. You said they don't all look alike. You mean that they come in lots of different shapes and sizes?"
She gave him an exasperated look. "No, that's not what I meant at all. Although," she interrupted herself hastily, "they do come in different shapes and sizes, and levels of power - you have got that much right in your head at least. I was talking about the different races of fiends."
He gave her a blank look.
"Great gods above," she said disapprovingly, "even most primes know the different fiendish races."
Gwydion was apologetic. "I don't, I'm afraid," he pointed out.
"Right. We'll start with the very basics. You know where fiends come from, don't you? I mean what planes they come from."
Gwydion shrugged helplessly. "Not really. I always thought they just always existed, from the beginning of time."
She shook her head again. "That's not what I'm talking about. Who knows whether fiends always existed? That's something for sages. Look, I don't want to get into that. I'm talking about their home planes. You've heard of the lower planes?"
This phrase seemed faintly familiar to him, and he picked through his memory. "The... planes of evil? Universes dominated by the darker forces, right?"
"Sort of. What do you know of them?"
"Not much," he admitted, "except for their names. Hades, the Abyss, Carceri, Acheron, the Nine Hells, Limbo, Gehenna-"
"Good enough," she interrupted him, "although Limbo's not one of the lower planes. But don't worry about that. Right now, let's just simplify things and talk about three different planes, and the three major fiendish races."
"There are others?"
"Other fiends? Of course. But I told you not to worry about that right now. We're dealing with basics, remember?"
"Right. So, there are three fiendish races, and they come from three different planes. The three planes are the Abyss, Baator - you called it the Nine Hells, and Gehenna. Do you know about the different alignments of the planes?"
"Okay, so you don't. Like you said earlier, all the lower planes are evil in nature. That's part of alignment. The other part is how chaotic they are."
He didn't understand. "What?"
"How ordered they are. How much structure they have. Some places are havens for order, others are havens for chaos, and still others are neutral, falling somewhere in between."
He considered this. "You mean it's part of the plane itself? I can understand a place being evil in nature, I guess, but that's a little strange."
"Nonetheless, that's the way of it. So, anyway, each fiendish race is aligned along the same lines as its home plane. Some are lawful, others are chaotic, and still others are neutral, depending on which plane they're from. This is a generalization, of course, but it holds true for the most part."
"What are the demon races?" asked Gwydion.
"Let's get that straight right now," said Brianna. "You've been labeling all fiends as demons, and that's just not right. The word 'demon' has a specific meaning, and it refers to only one of the three major races. Your traditional demons come from the Abyss, and are chaotic evil in nature. Devils, on the other hand, are lawful evil in nature, and come from Baator... er, the Nine Hells, as you said. And the neutral evil fiends are called daemons. They come from Gehenna, or at least that's what everybody figures, since nobody knows for certain. Anyway, that's the gist of it," she concluded. "That's putting it in prime terms, of course," she added a moment later. "The words 'demon', 'devil', and 'daemon' are racial slurs. Each race has its own true name, but I don't want to get into them now. Certain words have power and attract attention, and it's not important anyway, so let's leave the real race names alone for now. Just remember that the members of the various fiendish races don't appreciate being referred to as 'demons' or 'devils'. It's usually best to just keep quiet."
"So there are three different kinds of fiends," said Gwydion, following her, "and they're divided by what plane they come from and what their alignment is."
"What plane they come from determines what their alignment is," she corrected, "but yeah, basically that's it. Now these demons and devils and daemons, they don't get along well with each other."
"Strife is the nature of evil," he offered.
"Yeah," she said hesitantly, "something like that. But I don't mean they just fight with each other sometimes. They hate each other. In fact, for as long as anyone can remember, they've been engaged in an unending war. That's called the Blood War."
"Blood War?" he asked.
"Yeah. Why it's called that is anybody's guess, so don't bother to ask. Now the major players in the Blood War are the demons and the devils. The common chant is that because one's chaotic and the other one is lawful, they each want to destroy the other, but nobody really knows for certain. No-one knows when exactly the war started either, so most people just assume it's always been going on." She shrugged off the question as silly. "Another subject for sages. As to exactly why the war is being fought, not even the fiends themselves seem to know that, at least not except for the really high-up fiends."
"What about the third group? The... daemons, I think you said. The ones who are neither chaotic nor lawful."
She held up a hand to forestall him. "Don't jump ahead. I'm coming to that. First you've got to understand the nature of the Blood War. Did you get everything I said before?"
She was a little surprised. "And you haven't got any questions? Most bloods at least a little surprised that such a vast war is fought over so little a thing as differing alignments - after all, most humans with different alignments can get along pretty well."
He shrugged. "I've seen wars fought for less reasons, and with less logic. It's not surprising that creatures born of pure evil would revel in strife."
"Well, don't get the idea that just because they're fighting an endless war for no particular reason, that they're stupid. The last thing fiends are is stupid. Some of the high-up's would give a power a run for its money."
"You've mentioned these high-up's before," he interjected. "Tell me about them."
She shrugged. "Well, like I told you before, every fiend isn't alike. Just because there are three races of fiends doesn't mean there's just three kinds of fiends, you follow?"
He nodded and she continued.
"There are different types of demons, different types of devils, different types of daemons. They're all divided up according to power level. The lowest levels are sometimes as stupid as animals, but the higher ones... well, some of the Princes of Hell and Lords of the Abyss are nearly powers. See?"
He wasn't sure he did. "I think I follow, but I'm not sure. Princes? Lords? Is there a nobility among them, then?"
She shook her head. "No. Well, yes, after a fashion, but... Look, it doesn't matter. Suffice it to say that some fiends are more powerful than others - wield greater magics, are harder to kill, that kind of thing. It's immaterial to what we were talking about, which is the Blood War."
"Right," he agreed. "The Blood War. You were going to tell me about the third group."
She nodded. "The yugol- er, the daemons. They have a role in the Blood War too. They're mercenaries, hiring on to whichever side is willing to pay them, switching back and forth and double-crossing one side and then the other."
He looked a little dubious. "If they're that unreliable, why would either side hire them in the first place?"
She gave him an exasperated look. "How should I know? I told you I'm not an expert. I'm just giving you the common chant. I've never been within a plane or two of the Blood War. You asked, and I told. Look, I'm getting the tired of the subject anyway. It's irritating to have to talk with all these clueless terms."
"You were the one who chose to use the clueless terms," he pointed out. "Can't you tell me anything more?"
She sighed, weary of the subject. "I don't really know much more than that. You want to know more, ask an expert. There are plenty of them in Sigil. I'll be happy to point you in the right direction when we arrive."
He was a little disappointed. He wanted to know more about these fiends, especially the 'Princes' and 'Lords' she had mentioned, and he sensed that she had more she could tell him. But if there was one thing he had learned about her during their long walk earlier today it was that she was stubborn. When she got tired of talking about something, she stopped talking, and no matter how he questioned her, she wouldn't go on. Still, it was frustrating to have the subject dangled tantalizingly before him and then snatched away before he could more than scratch the surface.
Resigned, he decided to change the subject. "How long do you think it will be before we arrive in Sigil, then?"
She chewed her lip thoughtfully. "We've made good time so far. I don't know... Probably we'll arrive sometime late tommorrow evening. Maybe the next day. We've still got a little walking to do."
"We'd make better time with horses," he commented wistfully.
Brianna shot him a wry look. "Yeah, right. 'If wishes were horses', and all that."
He didn't understand the reference, but kept his silence.
She got to her feet and dusted herself off, going to her pack and rummaging through it. Her hands emerged with a bundle of cloth, and she tossed it to him.
A little surprised, he caught it and unfolded it, discovering that it was a weathered-looking blanket. He gave her a questioning look.
"Get some sleep," she instructed. "I'll take first watch."
"You don't have to," he said. "I can do it."
She snorted. "You wouldn't know what to be on the lookout for. Besides, the last person I want watching over me is a green prime who's been in the planes less than a day. You'd probably kill me with that oversized sword of yours, jumping at shadows."
A brief smile flickered across his features. "I promise I wouldn't."
"Whatever. Just shut up and get to sleep."
He shrugged and rolled over onto his side, pulling the blanket over himself.
She watched him lay down with a tinge of surprise. She had expected more argument. "Hey cutter," she said after a minute. "You asleep?"
He looked over at her. "Not yet."
She was silent for a moment. "You really trust me to guard your back?" she asked at last. "You hardly know me."
"I trust you, Brianna," he responded, and rolled back onto his side. "Wake me when it's my watch," he said. and with a soldier's knack for finding his sleep whenever he could, he dropped off almost immediately.
The flames were burning a little lower by now, and making a long, slow hissing sound as they consumed the firewood. Brianna sat crouched, looking at his back for a long time.
"Be at peace, cutter," she said some time later, when she was certain he was asleep. There was a curious catch in her voice.
* * *
Gwydion started violently, surging upwards from his bedroll and nearly knocking the blanket Brianna had loaned him completely off. As it was, it hung akimbo from his shoulders, still draped over the lower half of his body.
He had started up onto his forearms, and for a moment he remained, listening.
The night was quiet. Over to his right he heard the soft, rythmic sounds of Brianna breathing. He glanced over at her, and saw that she was asleep, slumped over where she sat so that her chin was resting on her knees. Whatever it was that had jolted him awake hadn't bothered her.
The fire had died down until it was nothing more than a few glowing embers. In spite of this, the darkness which enclosed their little campsite was not absolute, and Gwydion found he was able to see fairly well. He gazed about him.
Nothing. There was nothing out of the ordinary. No sounds, no movements of any kind. Nothing to justify concern.
Then what would have caused him to awake so forcefully? He reflected. Perhaps it was merely the unease of finding himself in a foreign place. Or a nightmare he had been having.
Still, a growing sense of unease was settling on him. He was not a man to distrust his instincts, and his instincts told him something was wrong. Very wrong.
He reached down slowly, feeling for the hilt of Tylith-senshai, remembering he had laid the great sword beside him beneath the blanket before retiring. Perhaps he couldn't put a reason to the uneasy feeling that possessed him, but if Brianna had fallen asleep at her post and he was awake anyway, he might as well take the watch. She might have insisted that there was relatively little danger here, but this was a strange place to him, in another universe, and there was no sense taking chances. There was no telling how long they had slept unguarded already. Besides, he was a fighting man, no stranger to battle, and had acquired the soldier's ability to catch his sleep where he could, and as a result could go without for long stretches of time. At the moment, however, he was not weary, and even if he had been the prickling sense of danger he felt would not have allowed him rest.
His fingers brushed the hilt of the great sword, nearly closing on it, before he snatched them back in shock. The sword was thrumming again, and this time it was warm to the touch.
Danger! he thought, his premonition confirmed, and reached for the sword again.
A fiercely cold, vise-like grip suddenly closed on the back of his neck, and almost before he had time to register what was happening, he found himself snatched up out of his blanket, raised into the air, his arms and legs flailing reflexively.
What? he had time to think, bewildered, before he was thrown forward, shoved by immense force.
He sailed through the air about fifteen yards, and landed hard in the grass at the edge of the campsite, the air whooshing from his lungs.
Agony tore through his neck, and he wondered faintly if he might have a pulled muscle there, or even possibly something worse. He also realized he was unable to draw breath, and was dimly aware of a stabbing pain in his knee. But he had no time to waste on these concerns.
Attacked! he realized. Danger! Under attack! Get up! Get up! GET UP!
His attempt to spring nimbly to his feet and meet his unseen opponent met with little success. Instead, he managed to roll over on his side, looking back in the direction from which he had been thrown. Still he could not seem to force air into his lungs.
For a moment he could see nothing but the two glowing green orbs hanging in the darkness, and then, as it approached, he made out the outlines of its body.
The demon rider! It must have backtracked and trailed them down. Of its unearthly steed, there was no sign. Get up! Must get up!
Still, when he tried to rise the most he could manage was to sit halfway up and gasp painfully.
The demon didn't smile, at least anymore than its skeletal teeth always smiled, but it approached him slowly, striding almost arrogantly. It was taller than Gwydion had earlier estimated, standing at least nine feet in height, and it still clutched in one hand that enormous bone-white polearm which it had wielded earlier.
It halted a few feet away from him, watching in amusement as he struggled in vain to get to his feet, and pointed the weapon at him. The blade came to a stop within inches of his face, and Gwydion saw that its edge was serrated, with jagged bony spurs protruding up and down its length. There were blackened spots which must have been old blood and little withered pieces of flesh still clinging to it.
"Come to me, mortal," it rasped. "Let us play."
The voice was unearthly, and though quiet, it was perfectly distinct. Although it had clearly issued from those dried and withered lips and that eerily skeletal mouth, it sounded to Gwydion as if it had come from the air surrounding him. The language the demon spoke was nearly indescribable. The syllables were harsh and grating, and each one seemed chosen especially for its ability to offend, disgust, and frighten. Though Gwydion understood each word as if he had been born to the tongue, for such was his gift, they were more than mere words. Each consonant painted a different, horrible image upon the mental canvas of his mind. Here was carnage; there was despair. These were feelings, nameless dreads that were inspired by each word and impressed upon Gwydion's soul. And the words had power; a power so terrible and terrifying that Gwydion suddenly feared that if he understood the meanings and roots of the demon tongue better he might have slipped into madness, his mortal mind scarcely able to comprehend the depths of evil to which the language alluded. The feeling was so vivid that his spine tingled and he sat, momentarily rooted to the spot in horror. He had never heard anything remotely like it before. It was the language of pain, of misery, of death and desolation. If pure evil had a sound, than this was its tongue.
But another sound suddenly came to his attention, a sound that he had subconsciously been aware of but which had grown louder and louder until at last it demanded his attention. It was Tylith-senshai, emitting an angry high pitched whine. The sword was awake and eager for battle. It seemed to Gwydion that it was calling on him in frustration. If the demon rider heard, it showed no sign.
With a shriek of fury Brianna appeared suddenly behind the demon's right shoulder, hurling herself at it armed with only a small dagger.
She connected solidly, sinking the blade several inches into the creature's neck. For all the effect her sudden impact had on it, though, she might have hurled herself at a rock. The creature stood unmoved for a moment, its head swiveling until its luminous green eyes rested upon her.
Then, as if the girl were no more than a minor irritant, it reached over with its free hand and swatted her away. She tumbled down with a muffled cry, landing hard on her back, but started to roll back to her feet.
Lightning fast the demon swung its polearm in a tight arc, the jagged butt of the weapon catching Brianna in the forehead as she tried to rise.
There was a terrible crunching sound and a spray of blood as the tremendous blow connected. Brianna was flung like a ragdoll, her body arcing bonelessly through the air in an almost-graceful backflip. She landed face down several feet away, and lay still, a puddle of blood forming.
"No!" cried Gwydion, energized with terrible urgency. The demon was still turned away, towards Brianna. He had to get to the sword...
He lurched to his feet, lunging past the demon towards his blanket. The sword was louder now, its call urgent.
He half-ran, half-stumbled towards it.
Abruptly his feet were ripped from beneath him, and a searing agony erupted in his knee. He was dragged backwards, the vice-like grip of the demon creature numbing in its strength on his ankle.
Abruptly he was hoisted aloft, upside down. The demon swung him back and forth, as if playing with a toy.
"You are amusing, mortal. Do you think you can escape your fate? I wonder how strong you are. You will take a long time to die, I hope, and provide much amusement." Again the harsh and evil language assaulted Gwydion's ears, painting horrific pictures. The demon thing intended to tear him to pieces, a little at a time, to see how much pain Gwydion could take before dying. The blackened and whithered pieces of flesh on the demon's serrated blade would be replaced by fresh ones torn from his body, and what was left of his body would either be eaten by the demon thing or worn as mementos.
These were the images that the demonic words inspired in him, among other more horrific things and Gwydion felt a sickness and revulsion sweep over him so strongly that for a moment he forgot his pain.
He was hefted even higher, until he found himself staring into the demon's eyes. The demon rider scrutinized him for a moment, as if hoping to read something within Gwydion's face.
"You are weak," it said at last, a tinge of disappointment in its terrible voice. "I do not know what they fear in you. It is an easy task to dispose of you, mortal."
He was cast aside suddenly, as if the demon had lost interest in him for the moment. He struck the ground head first, and was momentarily stunned, laying there flat on his back.
When his vision cleared, he saw that the demon was standing over his blanket, looking at him. "What were you seeking here, mortal?" it asked.
By this time the sword was roaring in impotent fury, and it seemed to Gwydion that it must be glowing brightly as well, for waves of light were spilling out from under the blanket.
It reached down, and was suddenly bathed in light as it flung the blanket away from the sword. Tylith-senshai shone like a beacon, emitting a light so brilliantly white that it stung Gwydion's eyes and made them tear.
The demon rider looked down at it and laughed, a terrible and grating sound. "Is this little toy what you were seeking? Foolishness!"
It reached around with its free hand and pulled Brianna's dagger from its neck. The dagger emerged clean; there was no blood, and before Gwydion's eyes the wound sealed itself. "Foolish one," it repeated, "your ordinary mortal weapons cannot harm me."
Ordinary weapons? In a flash, it dawned on Gwydion. It can't see the light, or hear the sound. It doesn't know the sword for what it is! In this, perhaps, he had the advantage of surprise. If only he could get at the sword!
The demon rider cast the dagger aside. "Know fear, mortal!" it cried suddenly, pointing a skeletal finger at him. "Your hour has come!"
Gwydion rocked back, physically buffeted by the sudden outpouring of energy. He was aware that the creature was directing its awesome fear-weapon at him, hoping to destroy him with it. However, the waves of fear flowed around him as if they met some sort of resistance, and though he was aware of them peripherally, they did not affect him. Some connection with Tylith-senshai must be shielding him, as it had earlier this day. He edged backwards slightly, trying to get to his feet. The demon thing was quick, impossibly quick, but perhaps if he could get it away from the sword he might have a chance. In his state, he had no chance of outrunning the demon for any real amount of time, but perhaps a quick burst would be enough to get him past it and to the sword.
The demon mistook his movements for panic, assuming that its attack had prevailed, and it laughed again, a terrible grating sound which showed the thing plainly took pleasure in the despair of others. "There is nowhere to run, little one. I will grind your bones for meal and use your skin for paper!" It glanced down at Tylith-senshai again, and grinned. "I will use your own toy to dismember you, foolish mortal!"
The sword's shriek had turned to a roaring scream, and the light it emitted was like a miniature sun. Gwydion covered his ears. The sound! How can it not hear it?
The demon reached down and took hold of the sword's hilt. There was a sound like the crackle of a lightning bolt, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air.
Immediately, its expression changed from leering arrogance to frightened agony. Crying out, it jerked back, but the sword came with it, glaring more brilliantly than ever, and roaring now in triumph instead of frustration.
The demon shrieked, trying to release its hold on Tylith-senshai's hilt, but discovered it was unable to do so. The hilt had fused with its palm - its fingers looked melted. The creature flashed incandescent as the energies from the artifact raced through it, its clothing smoking and catching fire. It shrieked again, staggering backwards and dropping its hold on its weapon. to claw at the arm which held Tylith-senshai.
Its blackened fingernails scored deep wounds in its forearm, and Gwydion wondered for a moment whether it was trying to tear its other arm off so as to get away from the sword.
The sword had reached the height of its fury, however. There was a sudden flash. For a split instant that seemed forever frozen in time the creature was filled with light and nearly transparent, and Gwydion realized that he could actually see straight through the demon. Then, the light grew too brilliant to look upon with the naked eye, and he was forced to shut his eyelids.
There was an abrupt sound, like a crack of thunder but shorter, and suddenly the shrieking stopped, replaced by silence.
The silence was absolute, and, after a slight pause, Gwydion allowed himself a sigh of relief. It's gone, he thought, with some relief.
His eyes fluttered open at once. Brianna! he thought, alarmed.
For a moment Gwydion could see nothing in the sudden darkness, blinded by the afterimage of the sword's brilliance. Slowly his eyes adjusted.
Tylith-senshai stood a few yards away, the tip of the blade embedded in the ground and the hilt standing proudly up in the air. The sword was dark and silent again. Of the demon, there was no sign.
Brianna lay still farther away, face-down where she had landed and unmoving.
Gwydion made his way to her, half-crawling across the crushed grass, grabbing clumps of it to pull himself forward until he reached her.
Still she was inert. He reached over to feel for a pulse.
Faint, but unmistakable. She was alive.
Gingerly he turned her over.
Blood and dirt was smeared across her face, although otherwise her expression was of one asleep. The wound was higher up, just at the point where her forehead met her hairline.
He felt a wave of despair as he saw it. The mighty blow had not staved in her skull, but it had cracked it. Blood flowed freely from the gaping wound, and he could see little bits of bone protruding from it.
Instantly he saw that the blow was mortal. How she could have sustained it and still lived was a mystery. Regardless, she was fading quickly and likely had only minutes left to live unless he could do something.
And there was nothing he could do.
He was no healer. The little he knew of herbs and poultices was confined to those aimed to help minor scrapes heal and avoid scarring. And even that was worthless here. He had no supplies, nothing other than the clothing he wore and Tylith-senshai. He had not even had a blanket or bedroll; Brianna had loaned him hers. And he knew nothing of which plants growing in this strange new universe would help to heal her, or even if her physiology was similar enough to his that something which might help him would also help her. She was, after all, physically different from him, and though she had said she was as human as he...
A wave of hopelessness swept over him. She's going to die, and I can't stop it.
"No!" A sudden thought occured to him, and he left her momentarily, scrambling over to her pack. If he didn't have any supplies which might help, perhaps she did. A balm or an ointment or something.
If she does, how will you recognize it? You're as likely to poison her as heal her. He fought down the disquieting thought as he dug through her pack. There was no choice, no time for second guessing himself. He would have to hope against hope that she had something, and that it would help.
There were a few articles of clothing, some rope, a knife, a mirror, a letter, a small sewing kit including a needle and thread, a flask of water, and more of the tough rations she had shared with him earlier.
And there was nothing else. No herbs. No ointment.
He sat back on his heels. Your fault, he thought. She's going to die and its your fault!
He shook the thought off angrily. Stop it! You don't have time for self pity! Do something!
He rummaged through the pack's contents again, spilling them out on the ground in his desperation. There must be something here, something... anything...
Suddenly he looked at the items again. Fresh clothing. Clean water. Bandages! Something to clean the wound and stop the bleeding!
He snatched up the water flask and a clean white blouse which he had discarded earlier as useless, and scrambled back to her side.
Quickly he tore the blouse into several long strips. Then he regarded her again, a little uncertainly. He had never attempted anything like this before, and was a little uncertain how to proceed. It was a head wound, after all. What if he did more damage than good?
Stop it! Do nothing, and she dies. Do something and she probably still dies, but at least you'll have done something! You've seen medics bandaging the wounded after a battle. Do what they do!
He was uncertain where the thought came from, but it galvanized him into action. After dampening one of the strips of cloth, he upended the water flask over her, letting some of the water trickle onto her forehead. Gently he used the dampened cloth to dab at her forehead and face, cleaning away most of the dirt and blood. When it was soiled, he took another strip and continued.
As the blood was cleared away, the wound became more visible. It was smaller than he had originally thought, though just as serious.
Having cleaned the wound, he tossed the second strip aside and lifted a third. This one he kept dry, and folded it carefully, placing it directly over the wound.
Then he hesitated. This next part would be the most delicate part. He had to avoid moving her head as much as possible.
Gently he took the fourth and fifth strips, and, tying them together, began to wind them about her head. Around and around he went, tying the bandage in place. She was limp in his hands, and made no sound.
He sat back after he tied off the makeshift bandage, regarding his work. What now? He looked around for anything else which might be of use and momentarily came up empty.
He looked back at Brianna. With the blood cleared away and the bandage hiding the gaping wound, she looked almost restful, as if she were merely sleeping instead of dying.
Should I raise her head? he wondered. It should help stop swelling, though so far there wasn't any. Still, he wasn't certain it was wise to move her any more than he already had.
He wrestled with the problem for a few moments, then decided to act. He gathered up a few of her other articles of clothing, wrapping them into a makeshift pillow. Then delicately he lifted her head and slipped them underneath.
He sat back again. What else? What else?
He pondered for several moments, but could think of nothing. Finally he decided he had done all he could do.
Not enough, he thought bitterly. You've slowed the process, given her maybe a few hours longer to live, but no more. She's still going to die, and it's your fault.
Another wave of guilt washed over him. He had known this person for less than a day, and she had been a traveling companion and a guide to him. More than that, she was the only link he had to this universe which he now found himself trapped in. And, though she might not have realized it, when she had become a traveling companion and offered to aid him in his quest, he had had a responsibility to safeguard her. The demon had been after him, not her, and she would not be in this condition if she had never met him. He had failed to protect her.
He bowed his head. Prayer was the only thing left. Please God, please don't let her die. Preserve her life, I beg of you. I know I am unworthy. I ask this not for myself, but for the sake of the sacred quest on which you have sent me.
The prayer was a simple one, not grandiose like some of the rote prayers written in the Book of the Prophets, and perhaps some of the priests back on his homeworld would have disapproved of the lack of formality and the simplicity of the language but at the moment it was the best he could manage, and he poured his whole soul into it.
And then he waited for an answer. It was not long in coming.
His eyes fluttered open, and he looked over to where Tylith-senshai stood.
Quickly he made his way over to it, hardly knowing what he should do.
He halted before the sword, regarding it, and realized he was feeling some trepidation. The sword was dark and silent now, as normal-looking as any other weapon its size, but he had just seen what it could do when awakened. He had always heard that the touch of the sword was death to the unworthy, but having seen it in action, he realized how dangerous this weapon could be.
Take the sword. You will need its power.
The thought was not his own, he knew. It was like a small, calm voice, whispering in his ear. He obeyed, reaching out and taking hold of the hilt-
-And was suddenly rocked back by the sudden outpouring of energy that rushed into him.
He may have cried out in surprise as the raging energies engulfed him, he could not be sure, but it was not in pain.
Had he been weak a moment ago? He found the thought unfathomable. Power surged and coursed through every part of his body. The searing pain in his knee, the aching of his neck, the pain in his chest and difficulty breathing which probably indicated broken ribs, suddenly all these things were gone, lost in in the rush of energy and power. They were trivialities, hardly worth noting. Tired? Had he been tired a moment ago? It seemed impossible to him that he should ever have felt in need of rest. He felt like he could run a thousand miles without tiring! And he was alive, more alive than he had ever been! His senses seemed more acute, more aware. The night air suddenly seemed more vibrant and exciting, filled with sounds and scents which dazzled his suddenly more sensitive ears and sharper sense of smell. And the subtle shades of color of the night sky threatened to mesmerize him with their startling beauty. How could he have seen these things before and failed to note them? He was amazed.
It was exhilerating beyond words! Surely no man had ever felt this strong, this powerful! And yet, even with the excitement of the sudden strength, Gwydion was aware of a subtle but dark edge to the power.
The demon! he realized. The sword had absorbed the dying fiend's power and stored it, and now was passing it to its wielder. He wondered briefly that this thought should bother him so little in the face of the sudden rush of power.
As the tide of strength filled him, he gradually became aware of himself and his position once more. He found himself on his feet, holding the sword in front of him as if it were a divining rod. His arms were shaking, not with weakness but with the power surging through them.
Slowly he lowered the sword, retaining some measure of his former self. The energy still filled him, buoying him up, but he recalled Brianna's desperate condition and became sobered again. Quickly he strode over to where she lay and knelt beside her, checking her wound again in concern.
She appeared much the same as before and he had a momentary feeling of frustration. What should he do now? Power and energy filled him; was there nothing he could do to aid her? Should he touch her hands to the hilt of the sword, so that she would recieve the same rush of energy and power he had?
No, he couldn't chance that. The touch of Tylith-senshai was death to those not specifically instructed to wield it. He had seen the sword's power in action, and was nervous about wielding it himself.
What then? Surely there must be something he could do...
Heal her. The thought surprised him. It was the same calm, reassuring voice as before.
What? At first he didn't understand. He had already done all that he could to help her. What more could he do? He hadn't any more power to heal her.
Heal her, the thought returned. You hold the keys.
Keys? What keys? Gwydion was confused.
Heal her, the thought came again, more insistantly. Lay your hands on her and call upon the keys of your priesthood.
Understanding flashed into his mind. He did technically hold the keys to the priesthood. All servants of the Holy Church did. In his case, before the three day fast required of all cavaliers who aspired to the Order of the Holy Templars, he had been vested with the 'keys' - a term he had always thought symbolic. It had been a small ceremony wherein in exchange for a solemn covenant to serve his God he had been extended the keys of the priesthood, or the power to act in his God's name, so long as his desires were righteous. It had never meant much to him before, and if he thought of it at all, he considered it merely a formality which was required of all who were called to be servants of the Prophet.
He had heard stories of miracles wrought in the ancient times by exceptional priests and holy prophets, but they were only legends, myths of a time long past. Miracles didn't occur, at least not any more.
And who was he to attempt to perform one? He was no prophet, or even a high priest, but only a lowly templar. A soldier who was no stranger to battle, and one who was often possessed of temporal cares. No spiritual giant he.
He shook his head. I cannot!
You must, came the quiet answer.
Gwydion was immediately humbled. Who was he to doubt the will of his God? But how shall I proceed? he wondered. I do not know the words to such a blessing.
But he didn't have to, he realized. It was not his power to heal, it was his God's. He was merely the instrument. "Let the Lord guide you, my son," the Prophet had told him. The thought returned to him now, and he realized that it was his only course. He would trust his God.
He bowed his head. Give me strength, Lord.
His hands seemed to move forward of their own accord, until he was resting his palms upon her brow. For a moment he sat frozen like that, filled with uncertainty on how to proceed, or what to say.
Then he relaxed, and instantly he realized that no words needed to be spoken aloud. He could feel a warmth building within him, springing from some unseen source. He let it fill him, and for a moment he basked in its glow. Then, as if releasing something, he commanded it.
It coursed down the length of his arms, passing through through his palms and fingertips and into Brianna.
Live! he commanded, and in that moment they were suddenly one.
For one instant that seemed to stretch an eternity he could not tell where he ended and she began. He felt every part of her body as if it were his own, including her terrible wound. It was not an unpleasant feeling at all, strange as it was. If anything, he was exhilerated by it.
He directed the main force of the incredibly powerful healing energy which had been generated within him towards the wound, and almost before he had assigned it its task, the job was finished.
The moment passed.
Gwydion reeled back as if he had been struck, collapsing on his side in utter exhaustion. Tiny points of light danced before his eyes and there was a great rushing in his ears. The healing had drained him of every reserve of strength he possessed. It had taken all the energy which Tylith-senshai had provided, entirely depleting it in one burst, as well as taking a substantial part of his own reserves.
He realized that without the extra energy the sword had granted him, he would have died in the healing.
He turned his head to gaze over at Brianna. He did not need to see the rythmic rise and fall of her chest to know she was alright. He had been, for the space of a heartbeat, more intimately connected with her than any other person he had ever known. He knew every part of her physical body, inside and out. The wound had been healed. She was whole again. He knew it as surely as he knew himself. In all likelihood, there would not even be a scar to signify the place where she had recieved the terrible wound.
She slumbered on, engulfed in a deep, dreamless sleep. The miracle had been as taxing for her as it had for him.
Miracle, he thought in wonder, struggling to keep his eyes open. I performed a miracle.
A moment later he lost his struggle, and, exhausted nearly beyond the limits of endurance, slipped into the realm of dreams. His last conscious thought was if he fell asleep he would be leaving them both unguarded, and though he knew he should be concerned by this, in his present state of exhaustion he simply could not bring himself to care.