The high horse had decided to be a bright yellow today, almost as if it sensed how much Jillian missed her gwiffons. Or even that dwagon. Anything that flew. This thing just walked, and it was an uncomfortable ride. With the bulky torso in front, she could hardly see where she was going.
The Chief dismounted outside the city garden, and cracked open the ornate wrought-iron gate. There wasn‘t a delicate way to interrupt afternoon meditation. She poked her head in, scanned the cross-legged figures, and found the Healomancer‘s‘ black hair. “Betsy!” she stage-whispered.
It earned her one disapproving, open eye from her father. But Sister Betsy Murgatroyd looked up, took the intent of the order, and rose to her feet.
A few moments later, they stood beside Jillian‘s mount, and the gate was shut again.
“I need to ask you something,” said Jillian, keeping her voice low. “I think it‘s the kind of thing I can‘t just order.”
“Mm.” Her lips were tightly closed, her mouth a tiny dot.
“I talked to Charlie this morning,” Jillian said, which caused the Healomancer to raise one eyebrow, just a twitch. Anyone who‘d taken the Deal had a hard time with the topic of Charlie, but Jillian figured she could do all of the talking. “That Flower Power thing that‘s wrong with Wanda, he can do something about it. I told him if he cures her, I‘ll sign his thing.”
Betsy‘s mouth managed to stay tiny and tight, even as she spoke. “That would be an unexpectedly harmonious development.”
Jillian rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, he can‘t really cure her, though. He can keep her alive, but it‘s not a cure. It‘s just...it‘s better than nothing.”
Betsy stared at her.
“Anyway, he‘s gotta link up with a Healomancer to do it. And...y‘know, I know how you feel about Wanda. And me. If you don‘t want to do this, it won‘t work. So I can‘t really make you, I guess.”
The Healomancer‘s stare went even colder. She sniffed in a long, deep breath. “Chief Warlady, you have managed to offend me more with these few words than with all your violent deeds combined.”
Great. She‘d broken another brittle one. “What does that mean?” she asked. “You won‘t do it? Fine, sorry I asked.” She turned to the horse and reached up to grip the saddle. “We‘ll get someone from the Magic Kingdom.”
“I certainly will do it. Lady Firebaugh will have my utmost attentions and skills. Healing is what I do.”
The Chief turned around. The little caster stood there, her fists clenched and her voice quivering. “I would heal the whole world, if I could. I‘d cure everyone. I‘d gladly fix whatever‘s wrong with you, that makes you want to put swords through healthy bodies. Yes, I will do this. You needn‘t have asked.”
Jillian licked her lips, going through three or four unhelpful replies she could say. She decided to put her foot in the stirrup instead of her mouth.
“Meet us in the Wizard‘s Hall.”
She clucked to the horse, and rode off.
“Let the Healomancer take the altar!” boomed the enormous green head. “The subject must keep her distance until the link is formed!” Pillars of flame shot up to either side of the dais.
“Whatever,” Jillian told it. “It‘s not his real face,” she muttered to Wanda, whose arm she was steadying. The Croakamancer nodded weakly.
The great apparition hung in the air and scowled down at them. “Silence! You‘ll soon raze this city. This is my final chance to employ this apparatus and appear as...the Wizaaaaard!”
More flames shot up. Jillian sighed.
It took a little under two numbingly dull hours to complete whatever it was they were doing. Jillian stood around until it became uncomfortable, then sat on the marble floor until that became uncomfortable. Repeat, repeat.
Betsy and Wanda were in a trance, and the big green head had vanished. It appeared only once during the procedure, to glare and shoot warning flames when Jillian dared to go over and look inside the little room behind the curtains where Judy had been hiding.
When Wanda and Betsy finally stirred, Jillian sprinted over to help Lady Firebaugh to her feet. Immediately overhead, the menacing green face materialized again, and intoned, “It is done!” A gong sounded somewhere.
“About disbanded time,” said Jillian, taking the Lady Firebaugh‘s hand as she sat up. “How d‘you feel?”
Wanda shook her head, eyes closed. “Sleepy...”
“We‘ll get you to bed. C‘mon.”
“No!” boomed the great green head of Charlie McWizardface. “The link is still active. It is your turn, Jillian of Faq!”
Jillian looked up at it. “I can see up your nose,” she said.
“Regardless, I‘m not doing it until I‘m sure she‘s okay. C‘mon, Wanda.”
The head scowled at them.
“Sensible!” it declared.
The flame pillars diminished and went out.
Wanda slept for the rest of the day, and long into the night. Jillian dozed beside her, bringing her water twice, taking her chamberpot away once.
At times, Jillian lay on her back and stared up into the darkness. She could see phantoms up there, faint images that remained from flower dreams. A bridge, a doorway, the branches of an impossibly complicated tree...just random scenes that would flash for a moment and vanish.
Some calculating, dispassionate, professional part of her was asking why she was going to this much trouble to preserve one Caster unit, especially when the side was so caster-heavy. What specific asset did this one represent? As Chief Warlord of a mercenary side, did she imagine taking this Croakamancer out on missions in the future?
Well, maybe. Slaughtering for a client side would pay more if they could return from the battlefield with uncroaked units. Or they could keep them as spoils, strengthening them and replenishing their numbers for the next fight. They could stay out in the field longer, travel farther.
But that really wasn‘t it. There was something else about Wanda.
She‘d felt it before they‘d ever met. Wanda was her charge. Hers to rescue. Jillian was compelled to find her, save her, and bring her home. That message from the Predictamancer–Delphie Temple–was absolutely right.
And she didn‘t even resent it. Easy way or not, Prediction or not, this was the right thing to do. She was going to save Wanda. She chose to. It was all she wanted to do.
“Get better,” she whispered.