Then, a mumble of danger from down the street: five gendarmes waving pistols, shouting “Monster! Away from that woman!”
Well, that didn’t make any sense. Can’t they tell the difference between combat and surgery?
I didn’t want to argue with them though. I battered at the street with my hukuchô, scattering hovens all about. Still, the Boulevard of the Orange Pine Trees was a bad place for surgery — pine needles kept getting into my patient, for one extra problem. I could hear the howling of emergency vehicles coming towards me, too. Trying to repair Tarcuna with pine needles and bullets flying all over seemed to make a hard job impossible.
So (the Sanitarium) the next heartbeat, (the Anodyne) I didn’t do any more surgery. I just scooped (the Anodyne!) her up in my left claw, ripping deep surgically-useless furrows in her back (the Anodyne), and leapt clumsily into the sky. The shock of the takeoff worked its own mischief on her, and my best available answer for that (the Sanitarium) wasn’t much good. But we were in the sky (heartbeat) and another healing spell (the Anodyne) healed her back and kept her from dying all the way. Again.
We landed on the flat top of a nearby bank building. I set to work rather desparately. I didn’t know how much worm was left in her, or how many more healing spells she could endure.
Four more heartbeats, and I got to the end of the worm’s main body, a long tapered tip slithered up next to her esophagus. I thought for a moment that that was enough.
It wasn’t enough. A dozen long hooked probes extended from the tip into Tarcuna’s brain. That’s presumably how it had conquered her, and how it had intended to conquer me. It made the surgery that much harder, too. I’m willing to rip breasts and lungs and livers fairly casually and heal them back, but brains are much more delicate. Now I had to cut twice: a bit careless slice opening the side of her face, then a more careful slice exposing just a bit of brain, hopefully where a probe was. Then grab the worm-bit, careful not to rip her brain any more than I had to, quick before the wound killed her, and get my hand out of the way quick before the Anodyne trapped it inside her brain. I didn’t dare use the Sanitarium spell to heal such a wound, it’s just not that good. After a while, I skipped surgery on the second the Anodyne casting, hoping that the extra healing magic would keep her more alive, even at the cost of slowing the surgery down.
Nineteen heartbeats and ten probes later, the first fighter plane came roaring noise and roaring danger across the sky.
I couldn’t imagine how I was going to do brain surgery and protect myself from missiles and rays at the same time. So I skipped the spare Anodyne and breathed long lightning at the plane’s left wing. I was hoping to just cripple it, since it technically hadn’t attacked me. But that’s where it stored some of its bombs or fuel or something. It caught fire rather impressively, and bits of blazing metal splashed over the city two miles away.
Such a botchery of a day.
The other eleven fighter planes curved around a bit. (I didn’t understand at the time, but the television report said that they were waiting for orders from their sky-admiral. They knew something of our breath weapons from the Kyongsy Temple, but didn’t know about lightning.)
I rushed the rest of the surgery. The last probe was buried deep in her brain, and the eleven planes had encircled me and were coming from eleven different directions. I healed Tarcuna with my hand stuck at the base of her brain holding the end of the probe, waited for a heartbeat, and tug and the Anodyne — tug and the Anodyne — tug and the Anodyne, ripping the core of her brain and healing it as quickly and fully as I could manage. On the third tug, the probe was free, out of her brain, and I could slice the side of her face and lift it out in the usual way.
I took a heartbeat to watch and listen. Tarcuna was still dying between the Anodynes, but with most of the worm out of her and no surgery, the spells were actually making progress. I took Tarcuna in my forepaws and put the Esrret-Sky-Painted on us, and flew off the bank.
Then the fighter planes came, and circled overhead in much confusion.
I flew us to our hotel, took a hoven form, disguised us with illusions, levitated a bit so we wouldn’t leave bloody footprints, and carried Tarcuna to our room. Our bathtub was quite large. I filled it with hot water and soap, and started the laborious business of scrubbing a vast amount of hoven blood out of both our fur. I still needed to put the Arcane Anodyne into Tarcuna: every minute at first, every six minutes by the time we were clean. Lots of poison had been spilled into her, and I had left little bits of deliquescing cyoziworm all over too.
Halfway through the bath, Tarcuna opened her eyes. “I’m free? I’m alive?”
“You’re free, you’re alive, you’re still needing lots of attention to keep you that way. Rest now. Later you must explain many things to me.”
She closed her eyes again, and let me clean her and heal her.
Sometimes my hobby of sheltering small people is rather too much work.
Or maybe, rather a lot of work. I was glad to have done it.</p>