That won’t do you any good, you know, said Tippi in her mind. Concern-love washed over her times three, echoed by Cindy and Joey. Cindy, in the middle of gorging herself on nuts, just nodded. She’d used up a lot of energy reserves, shooting fireballs at a horde of demons chasing them not a few hours earlier.
“I know, I know, but- I can’t help it. It’s pace or go insane.” With only a slight effort now, because of months of practice, she sent them her concerns: mental images of the poor orphaned marsuul, wasting away, dying slowly of gangrene or not being able to adapt to the losses it- she– suffered.
In an ICU unit, under the tentlike awning that housed Zen’s field laboratory and some mechanical Zenterns, lay a small, still form. A marsuul; a baby, still, grievously wounded. Half her tail was burned off by felfire, the rest bandaged. She had only little uneven stumps for limbs, except for the back left, only missing a paw; these too lay covered in sterile cloth. One eye was swathed in white, the ears shredded ragged. Green druidic magic glimmered around and glowed there, a strange but effective coupling with the machinery that only her boss, Zenruid Fateshifter, could manage. And together they were the only thing keeping the poor baby alive.
“Just…. look at her,” the young hunter said softly. She herself was covered in soot and splashed with blood, a little hers but mostly not, and her cloak was missing a third, singed off. Doryn looked tired, dark shadows around the eyes. Even the S.Q.U.I.R.R.E.L B.O.T.S looked a little ragged. “Had to amputate to contain the fel infection… she’s lost her eye- and she’s still so young.” That voice cracked a little. “But-“
Emotions swelled in her: determination-rage-howdarethey-NOSTOP-killthemforthis, and she felt it through their mutual connections, three minds absorbing her sick worry and sorrow and trying to soothe it away.
Of course we couldn’t leave her. She’s just a little one, isn’t she? A juvenile. We found what they did to her nestmates, her mother, Joey said gently, wrapping her in understanding-care-itwillbefine-wewillmakeitfine and shoving his little furry head under her hand. She snuggled him to her chest. And remember, Zenruid is the Creator. He can do almost anything. And you have learned so much, Doryn! You have been getting better! I have seen it, he added, seen it every day you study and work. If we all work together, all of us, we will be able to find a way to help her.
“Almost wonder if we should have just… been merciful.” Ended it, her, instead of this- this half life as a crippled being. “She’s so hurt.”
Prosthetics are a thing! Tippi insisted.
They are, Cindy agreed, pushing mental images at Doryn, of dogs and cats and creative gnomes. And Zen made us, after all.
But could she? Doryn knew, instinctively, that this was her responsibility now. She was her responsibility now. A tiny life, dependent on her. Not thrown together by ignorance and fine print and mad science and desperation, but choosing to be responsible for another living being. “Light, this is going to end so badly,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes.
No it won’t. You’re scared, because you don’t believe in yourself. The Justicar told you that you need to do better than that. We love you and we will support you always, we’re your family, Doryn, Tippi told her gently but firmly as she came to sit up on her haunches in front of her. But we can’t make you love you, even if we love you.
Doryn stopped. Blinked. “…O-Oh,” she said, a little strangled with emotion.
All three embraced her, and she felt their love-care-warmth-unending as much as she felt her own tears carve little tracks down her dirty face.
We will be her family too, added Cindy.
“It- it’s my fault. If I hadn’t slipped-” Doryn couldn’t talk anymore, sitting, burying her head on her knees. A flash of memory: routine scouting mission, one misstep, a scatter of rocks drawing the attention of demons, a marsuul head popping out of her burrow, the fight and slaughter that followed, poor animals caught in between, the recon mission gone so very very wrong.
Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But what matters is what we do with it. Right? Tippi squirmed under her arms and licked her tears off her face. Joey came to sit on her shoulder. Cindy, finished with her nuts now, sat on the other and each mrrkmrrkmrr’d at her, reassuring soft squirrel noises.
They accepted her myfaultmyfault-ohgodwhatdidido-ikilledthem and sent back unending love-faith-hope-determination.
Sniffles. A choking sob. A cough, a swallow, heaving breaths as she tried to get herself under control. A small metallic nose touched hers, as Tippi nibbled it softly. There. It’s ok to cry, Doryn. Argus is hard. You’ve been so stressed lately, running patrols, not eating properly, not sleeping well. Don’t deny it! You can’t from us. Doryn grimaced and nodded, grudging and very tired. It’s ok to cry. We’ll help you cry and then we will talk to Zen about the new member of the family, ok?
Now, you need to sleep. It has been thirty two point two hours since your last sleep, and you lose efficiency exponentially when you go this long. I know you do not wish to, but you need to, Doryn, Joey told her with the preciseness that characterized his logical mind.
Exhausted wooden movements rolled out her bedroll there under the awning. He was right, they all were, and she knew that. Mind to mind communication took away the pretty white lies humans told themselves; it was something she still wasn’t used to. But she knew they were right. Now relocated to the outskirts of the main camp, and with three mechanical yet lifelike squirrels sending reassurances that they would keep watch, Doryn stripped off her boots and slid in between the covers.
Zen would help. He was an asshole boss, but he was her boss, and she couldn’t help but respect him even as she wanted to strangle him at times. He was brilliant, madly so. There would be a way to help. Somehow, they’d find it.
The ICU unit pulsed faintly green in time with the heart and breathrate monitoring, and eventually, Doryn fell asleep under the watchful gaze of her scurry.