Today wasn’t the best day of the vacation, really.
Tarcuna had been a bit odd all morning, glancing at me and looking a bit twitchy and smelling a lot anxious. I don’t know that much about hoven moods or needs. I asked once or twice, and got vague little answers that didn’t mean anything to me.
In midmorning, we were strolling down the Boulevard of the Orange Pine Trees, nearly deserted at that hour, and Tarcuna turned to me. “Spotty … hold me. Please, please, just hold me…” and tried to grab me in her arms without waiting for me to answer. She smelled terrified and ashamed. I don’t much like to be grabbed that much, especially not for a small person’s convenience, so I stepped back.
She had worn a low-cut green tunic with buttons down the front, and had left the lower buttons open. A forked grey-pink spiky grey appendage squirmed out of the open slit, writhing around blindly. At first I wondered if it was some odd part of her, but I didn’t have any such appendage in my hoven body and at the time we were the same shape. Hoven blood joined the smells, and something else complicated and musky that I didn’t recognize.
And it proclaimed, “I can conquer you in your hoven form” to dangersense. Making it far and away the most dangerous thing I have seen on Hove that I’m not engaged to.
I didn’t particularly feel like being conquered, especially not by something small and ugly. So I spat a bit of tightly-woven lightning at it, and it died. That made it stop being dangerous, though it was even uglier half-scorched.
Tarcuna didn’t die. She just staggered and started laughing and crying at the same time.
“Tarcuna? Could you explain yourself to me?” I asked her. “Maybe in a way that doesn’t make it look like you tried to attack me, so that I don’t have to kill you?”
“Cyoziworm. They’re real.” She hiccuped a bit, and scrubbed tears from her eyes. “I’m wormridden … I was wormridden. You killed Bopo. Now I’m free. For like ten minutes.”
Which made just about no sense to me. “So this cyoziworm thing was attacking me, and you weren’t?” Polite fictions are very important to dragons.
“Yes,” she said.
“That’s fine, it sounds like I don’t have to kill you. But why was it inside you?”
“You did kill me though. It poisons me when it dies. I can feel it burning in my blood. … Thank you. Really. I wanted to die for a long time, but I couldn’t, the worm wouldn’t let me.”
That sounded like something Osoth would do if he were in a very bad mood. “Hey! I didn’t give you permission to die either! I hired you for another week!”
She started falling over and hugging herself. “Ow, that hurts so much … sorry for dying on you … sorry for living at all…”
Well, that was frustrating. I was so careful not to kill her twice in two minutes, once with the lightning and again by giving her an excuse, and here she was dying anyways. So I put the Arcane Anodyne in her. It filled her and flooded out, like it had for Churdle, and she straightened up and blinked at me.
“What was that?”
“A healing spell. I really didn’t give you permission to die, and I really am going to enforce that if I have to.” I hate having my friends die on me, especially when they don’t have me do it and don’t have a proper suicide party or something.
She looked at me with huge watery eyes. “OK, you can rescue me.” She looked at the dead cyoziworm hanging out of her udder. “What can you do about that?”
I took off her tunic and undershirt, and looked. The cyoziworm had protruded some two feet of its body out of an often-opened cut on the underside of her udder. More of the worm was inside. The worm was covered with little retractile hooks and spikes, all extended in death. Pulling it out would rip Tarcuna’s chest to shreds, but the Arcane Anodyne should fix that.
So I tugged it gently. Tarcuna screamed in agony and fell unconscious. The worm broke in half right where it left her body. The broken bit whimpered its danger to me, that it was covered with an oozing poison.
This was very awkward.
I put the Arcane Anodyne into Tarcuna again, and she woke up again. The spell wasn’t overflowing her much this time, though. “Please, Spotty, just let me die.”
“Shan’t,” I snapped.
“It hurts, it hurts!” she wailed. Here and there along the boulevard, hovens were coming out of their shops and cafes to see what the commotion was.
“It’s going to hurt more, I’m afraid.” I don’t know how to render a hoven unfeeling. I know three useless spells that are supposed to do the opposite and never work on me, and with a week’s work I could probably turn one of them backwards. “I’m going to try to knock you out so you don’t feel much.” I wrapped my hukuchô around her unendurably tight, and held her arms and legs, and she screamed a few times and her mind fled. I hoped I hadn’t broken it too much.
Well, she was dying from the poison again, so I put the Arcane Anodyne into her again. Hoven fingers aren’t much good for surgery, and I don’t like surgical weapons any more than martial ones. So I turned into a horse-sized, gracile verson of myself, with short sharp-edged claws. This caused some incoherent screaming and yelping from the watching hovens.
I started slicing her udder, from the bottom, trying to open her up enough so that I could lift the rest of the worm out. Her flesh parted quite nicely under my scalpelsome claws — I’ll have to remember that if I’m ever fighting something scaleless.
She started dying again at my first incision. So I put the Arcane Anodyne into her. Then she wasn’t dying very much, but her udder had healed. Catching my fingers partway inside, even. This was very awkward.
Well, if her body was going to do that, I would just have to work fast. I sliced a deep valley in her flesh with one hand. Tarcuna started to die again; I’m not sure whether the wound or the poison was worse. I cut off a chunk of cyoziworm with the other hand, and scooped it out as quick as I could, ripping a big hole in her left lung by mistake. I poured the Arcane Anodyne on her as fast as I could, and her wounds closed.
All around me, hovens were screaming.
Beneath me, Tarcuna started dying of poison again.
Time for another incision, another slice, another Arcane Anodyne. That time I didn’t get the whole bit of cyoziworm out of her, and as her flesh closed over it I knew it was pouring out more poison into her. I wanted to cast Arcane Anodyne again, but I had cast it three times already this heartbeat, and didn’t have enough force for a fourth. I could cast the Great Titan Sanitarium with what was left, and I did. It didn’t do very much good.
Then my astral heart beat again. I have never, ever been so glad.
I started in on a horrible rhythm. A deep incision, wiggling my scalpelly-clawed right hand which had been trapped in her often-healed flesh. A quick grab for a bit of worm with my left hand, trying above all to get it out of her. The Arcane Anodyne so she wouldn’t die. Another incision, another grab, another the Anodyne. A third set. Hold still a moment, my right hand still buried in her breast, and cast the Sanitarium and hope that it would stop her from dying for a bit longer. A regret that I didn’t have the strength in my thezô to cast the Anodyne again. A heartbeat, filling my not-quite-adequate thezô, and time to start again.
It wasn’t quite enough though. Tarcuna’s vitality rose eleven lengths from each round of spells, but fell twelve from surgery and poison. I hoped I would get to the end of the worm soon, or she’d die despite all my work.
Then, a mumble of danger from down the street: five gendarmes waving pistols, shouting “Monster! Away from that woman!”