The Vanguard infirmary, massively grown to handle the influx of hundreds of casualties, bustled with purpose.  Healers circulated constantly.  Supplies were hauled in by volunteers, distributed, used up almost immediately.  Organizers had set up shifts, inventories, everything needed, but still the efficiency ebbed and flowed as staff that hadn’t been working together for long had to adjust habits and understandings.  And sometimes there were lulls when the shift had changed and no patients were in need of immediate drastic attention.

In one such lull, two middle-aged humans walked in.  A man and a woman, both of Canthan ancestry, wearing comfortable garments marking them as lower middle class Divinity’s Reachers.  Their expressions were far less comfortable, eyes anxious, jaws tight, belying the smile lines normally graven into their features.  They held hands, white knuckled clinging to each other.  Both were slim, and of similar height to each other.  Both had salt and pepper once-black hair.  He had a small mustache darkening his upper lip.  Otherwise, though they didn’t really look like each other, they still resembled each other the way long-matched couples do.

Their eyes met.  Hands squeezed even tighter.  The man lifted a free hand to beckon to a passing volunteer.  “We’re looking for Jin Macklin.  We heard she was here.  Can you point us to her?”  Despite the strain in his face, his tone was friendly, even kindly.  Clearly he understood everyone here was very busy and he did his best not to impose.  His words came out in a Reach Commons drawl.

The volunteer didn’t know the name, but the aforementioned organization meant they could quickly check a chart.  “Bed 37, this way,” they said sympathetically, and led the pair through the ranks of cots with minimal dividers for patient privacy.  “Can I get your names for the visitor log?”

“Shen and Lian Macklin,” he said.  “Her parents.”  That gathered even more sympathy, and a discreet withdrawal once they could see Jin’s bed.  Or, rather, cot.  Shen and Lian gasped and accelerated their steps to Jin’s side, kneeling on the floor on either side as visitor chairs were at a premium.  Jin lay bandaged and pale, unaware, the blanket over her so neatly laid as to show she had not been moving since it was placed.  Shen rested a hand on Jin’s shoulder.  Lian took Jin’s hand in hers.

“Jin,” she said in the same drawl, “we’re here, honey.  We’re here.”

Mary is an unmistakable force – heavy and aging and.. that /aura/.  The big, old charr moves in behind the pair, looking over them and down at Jin. “Puts her heart in everything.  Saved a lot of lives.  Should be proud.”  His voice is a low rumble, a bit rough.  Maybe growly, but it’s obvious, at least, that he means well.

So caught up in seeing their daughter in such straits — pale, in loose white hospital garments, face slack, limp and still — the Macklins had no idea Mary was there until he spoke.  He’s seen it before, the startled human instinctive reaction to a massive predator.  Eyes dilating, breath caught in throats, a sudden crouched tension.  Not that many charr visit a Reach general store.  But then comes the more rare followup.  They meet his eyes and nod in respect.  Shen tells him, “We’ve been proud a lot of years now.  Hi, I’m Shen. Well, Frank.  Shen’s my middle name, fits the Canthan feel of our store better.  This is Lian.  Jin’s told us about the Vanguard but I reckon I’d better not assume which one you are.”

“I’m.. in between.  Something like… hrr.  In human terms, a step-cousin?”  Mary picks a stool that will support his weight, and settles on it.  It only creaks somewhat alarmingly.  “Might be changing soon.  You get older, you start thinking about different priorities.”

He waves a massive hand – “This is one thing humans have over Charr.  This.  What you have.  With her.  I am glad to see it – Vanguard, this work?  Doesn’t often get the kind of interest from people with families that easier work gets.  She’ll be alright – lots of rest.  Put everything out there to keep people safe – ran herself out of magic, took a few hits she shouldn’t.  She’ll heal.  Come back stronger.”

Lian has both hands clasping Jin’s now.  “What my husband meant to ask,” she says softly while returning her gaze to Jin, “Is what name or title you would like us to use.”  She leans closer to her child.  They are in a small bubble in the infirmary, enough to keep conversation fairly private, for no patients lie within a couple of beds despite the crowding.  The reason seems to rest in the scattering of dead insects.  Even in fully controlled conditions, a jungle hospital will have bugs.  In this rapidly set up emergency center, there are quite a few.  Except for anywhere within twenty feet of Jin.  Most densely in a circle surrounding her cot, but they dot the closer area as well.  The reason is apparent when a beetle falls from above, bouncing off Mary’s shoulder.  It could be a trick of the light or a flash in his eye, but it almost seems a miniscule speck of green light drifts from the falling beetle to melt into Jin.

“Oh.  Sorry.  Maritalis … formerly Flamewalker.  That’s changing.”  He chuckles, a low rumble. “Call me Mary.”

“Ah, the guardian,” Frank realizes.  “She’s talked you up something fierce.  Didn’t do your mane justice.”  He lifts his hand to gently back-knuckle Jin’s hair off her temple.  The hair itself is straw colored, the vivid gold dye and black tips alike faded away some time between Mary getting Jin to the cot and now.  “Jin honey.  We don’t want to be rude, talking about you in front of you like this.  You in there?”

Mary watches, thoughtfully – “It may be a bit of time – she exhausted her magic, as well as took more than a few injuries.”

“We’ll wait,” Lian says quietly.  Frank adds, “As long as it takes.”  Another beetle falls to the ground nearby, proving the wisdom of not leaving patients where dead bugs can fall on their faces — or life get pulled from them.  This time Mary can be sure.  A tiny green mote floats to Jin.  Yet nothing pulls from him or the human couple, though they each possess far more life energy than any one insect.

“You’re welcome to.  I’ll see about getting you rooms – at least until the Infirmary gets a little less… this.”  Mary inclines his head. “I’d do the same.  At least yours won’t throw you out when she wakes up.”  That comes with a wink.

Frank looks puzzled by this.  “You said charr don’t have family love.  You mean if you had a kid they wouldn’t appreciate you helping them when they were hurt?”

“… ‘don’t have’ is a strong phrase.  Kept an eye on my cub through the Fehrar – tried getting involved when she got older.  Made a mess of it.”  He shrugs. “She’s got reason to be bitter.  Big mess.”  He stands, carefully – “Jin takes after you two?  Same kind of magic?”

Frank smiles, though sadly.  “Not at all.  We’re regular folk.  Something just sparked in her.  She was about six, and a real handful with getting into everything.  She got outside the shop when we weren’t looking, found a mostly-dead puppy bleeding.  I mean anyone looking at it would say it was full dead, but Jin, she shouted it was alive — first clue we had she wasn’t in with us — and we hustled out to find her putting her hands on that little thing and it started breathing again.  She made us take it in, nurse it back to health, with her involved every step.  She got a bit peaked herself from shoving her own life into it, but they both got better and that dog was with us ten years.”

Lian speaks up.  She seems quiet by nature, but she needs Jin to hear her voice.  “She didn’t show such major power a while after that.  Just in case, we hired a tutor.  He was … very eccentric, but somehow it worked.  Haven’t heard from him in a good while.  I hope he’s ok, surely do, but he hasn’t poked into Jin’s life since he nudged her towards the Vanguard.”

“Heh.  Sometimes we outgrow our teachers.”  His eyes flare blue… and he focuses on Jin. “… Wake up, kid.  You got people to see.”   His aura /flares/, phantom flames washing over this end of the infirmary.  The old char chuckles, softly – “Best I can do.  here’s hoping it helps.”

Nothing happens right away, but after a minute Jin’s chest rises higher with her breathing.  Another minute and her eyeballs flick behind her eyelids, Frank and Lian riveted, murmuring encouragment.  Another, and her right eye flutters open, squints shut, slowly opens a crack.  She swallows, though only the right side of her mouth moves.  Lian says gently, lovingly, “Jin.  Hello.”  Both Macklins are leaning over her now, putting their faces in her line of vision.

Jin looks blank, then focuses a little.  “Mm?  Duh?”  Her voice has very little inflection.

“I think they’re planning on camping here.”  Mary offers, gently.  “I should go find ’em cots.”

The eye swivels to Mary, looming past her parents’ shoulders.  “Mm.  Wh.  Huh?”

“Nothing.  Just glad you’re among the living.  Take some time.  Be back in a minute.”  He moves away, with a chuckle – giving Jin and her parents some space… true to his word, tracking down a pair of cots, too. No mean feat when most are occupied.

“Wh. Huh.” Jin repeats, this time to her parents.  They glance at each other in concern.  Frank tells her, “Ok, honey, you don’t need to talk.  You got plenty of Vanguard friends here who can fill us in.  But we know you were brave, and you did what you had to, and we are so very, very proud of you.”  He holds his fingers in an L to his chest.  Jin’s mouth quirks, just the right corner turning up, and her right hand makes an L on her blanket.  Lian, holding the left hand, breathes in sharply.  For that hand remains dead limp weight.

Jin’s eye rolls around, spotting the golden ceiling.  “Wn?”

Lian pats Jin’s unmoving hand.  “I don’t know what you’re asking, Jin-Jin.  So let’s guess.  First, the Vanguard’s all home again.  I’m sure Maritalis can tell you how everyone is doing.  Second, Frank and I are here and we’re staying here.  The shop can be closed a bit, you matter way more.  The person that came to tell us about you said it’s safe here, so I guess the shadows you were talking about got taken care of.  Third, Annalee’s watching Blotch and she’s ready to bring him here if the healers ok it.”

Mary draaaaags a cot in. “Who’s Blotch?”

Frank tells Mary, “Her dog.  A really great beagle.  Middle aged gent, thinks he’s still a puppy.  She used to bring him to Vanguard meetings a lot but once you guys put in a stable, well, she felt he was too snack-sized for a lot of the riding animals.”

A healer’s aide, a sylvari, trails in after Mary.  “Sir.  Sir.  Um, sir?”

“Heh.  Makes sense – and it’s sensible.”  Mary blinks, looks at the aide. “Yeah?  Just Mary.  It’s okay kid.  Spit it out.”

“Mary.  As you wish.  You mustn’t put cots this close.”

“… uh-huh.”  He considers. “She dyin’?”  He points at Jin.

The aide tosses hands up.  “No.  But they might be.  Have you seen the bugs?”

“Yeah.  That’s her magic putting her back together.  Comes down to it, she can pull on me.  But I don’t think she’s gonna eat her parents.  They’ll decide how close they can be.”  Pointed, and with a /lot/ of teeth. “Anyone has a problem with it, take it to the Commander.”

The aide backpedals.  “Justbeonnoticethatyouareinthevicinityofanunconsciousnecromancerwithinstinctivelifedraincapabilities, ok, warnedyounowIhaveroundstodo.”

Jin’s right eyebrow draws down.  She makes the L twice more.

“Go do  ’em.  And if this cot gets moved, I’m going to be /very annoyed/.”  Mary grumbles. “/children/. Honestly.”

Frank shakes his head.  “I do appreciate them worrying about it.  But Jin’s been training at this over twenty-five years.  She’d die before she’d siphon off someone she loves.”  Jin’s right forefinger gives a definitive single tap.  “Or even someone she only sorta knows.  Thanks for the cot, Maritalis.  Floor was getting a mite hard there.  Would it be imposing to ask for a chair too?  We can take shifts.”

The two Macklins creak up to their feet, reluctantly and briefly letting go of Jin, before pullng the cot into position to Jin’s right to sit on it side by side.

“Hardly.  I’ll get one.”  He pauses.  “Jin, you know I’m not like most people.  Take what you need.  Just.. not all at once.”  He grins – a more friendly version. “I can spare a bit.”

Jin makes the L again.  “Mrr.  N.”

Her eye is drifting closed again, breathing going shallow.  And in another moment, all is slack again.  But her parents know she’s in there now.  They know her magic still works at least a little.  Just the tiniest amount of strain leaves them.  They will be staying here, only one leaving at a time for calls of nature or to collect food.  And they’ll take over spoon feeding her.  This is their child.

Mary arranges a chair – and food.  And… he gives them room, and space… but the big, old charr checks in regularly, and ensures Jin gets an hour or two each day of his attention, and his magic.  Mary seems to have made her into a personal project – for whatever reason.  Oh, he doesn’t stay like her paernts do, but there’s something about /all/ of that that has him coming back.  Perhaps it’s Jin’s heroism, and it is – in part.  But there’s something wistful in the old charr as he checks in on them.  A little sad, perhaps.

(Things Mary will learn in occasional chatting during his times there:  Frank’s a morning person who likes to cook.  He’s the talkative one.  Lian tends to only speak when necessary, but isn’t so much taciturn as serene.  She’s a people watcher who makes up stories about passersby — and she does this when Jin is awake, to draw out that one-side smile.  She also has a fantastic ability with numbers.  If medication amounts are mentioned once, she remembers them precisely).

Author Donari
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