It wasn’t long before Master Hykel came to find Barrett. Nilima heard him calling Barrett’s name from a distance. It woke her up, and she rolled away from Barrett as quickly as she could. That hurt her leg… but it was actually beginning to recover. At least, now it was at the point where it was just extremely painful and recovering instead of extremely painful and getting worse.
“Barrett!” Master Hykel called out once again as he reached him. Like Nilima, he placed a hand on Barrett and likely found no pulse. “Can you explain what happened here?” Master Hykel turned to look at Nilima.
She was pretty sure it wasn’t directed at her, but at that moment Master Hykel exuded a terrifying aura. She was clearly aware that he could tear her to shreds in a moment- even if she was fully recovered. “Umm… he… tore out his heart…” Nilima’s voice trailed off, “…to save me…” Nilima felt Master Hykel was looking through her, just for a moment. Then all the feelings of hostility faded.
“Is that so?” Master Hykel sighed loudly, “I sure picked a crazy disciple.”
“He should be… he…” Nilima found it hard to form sentences, even with the pressure from Master Hykel gone. “He… should be able to survive, right? He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t think he would live.”
“You think so?” Master Hykel looked down at Barrett, “I don’t actually know if he thought about that part.”
Nilima didn’t know what to say. She didn’t much talk with anyone anyway. She just waited around as people gathered together. Barrett was loaded up on a wagon next to some other people who couldn’t walk. Nilima walked along behind it because there wasn’t anywhere else in the group to really go.
She probably could have gone on a wagon herself, but she didn’t really need it. She could still walk. Sure, pain shot up her leg every time she took a step but it wasn’t making her leg worse… at least not much.
Besides, that wasn’t as bad as the pain in her chest. Ever since she woke up it had been constantly aching. This wasn’t some stupid emotional pain. This was physical soreness. That was strange, because since she had woken up again it had seemed healed. If she didn’t pay close attention to the size and how her ribcage was slightly distorted, she wouldn’t have known the heart wasn’t hers. There was some scarring around where her chest had been torn open and where the arteries and veins connected… but that wasn’t where it hurt.
It hurt everywhere, like someone was stabbing thousands of needles into her whole chest. It almost felt like fighting Barrett. While she could deflect most of his berserk energy there was always some that made it through and injured her. Then she had to go around to root it out. In fact, it felt exactly like berserk energy… coming from the heart?
Nilima had recovered to perhaps a fifth of her new energy capacity. That was enough to go rooting around and driving out the berserk energy. It was deep enough it was hard to get out without causing more damage but she eventually managed to drive it out. She thought that would be the end of it until the next morning.
When they stopped for the first night, Nilima felt hungry. It wasn’t like she hadn’t eaten anything. She’d eaten the normal amount of rations plus the amount she ate when she was recovering from injuries. Even so, it felt like she hadn’t eaten all day. She ate another helping and went to sleep.
In the morning, she woke up feeling like she was starving… and with the feeling of berserk energy back in her chest. She started off by eating triple the normal amount of rations. Mistress Joshi had always tried to get her to eat more, but she just wasn’t hungry normally. She hadn’t been this hungry since before Mistress Joshi first found her.
Inside Nilima, she could see there was indeed more berserk energy. It didn’t make any sense unless… the heart was producing berserk energy. However, it also didn’t make sense because without her actively fighting it off it should have just dissolved her heart… except it wasn’t her heart. It was Barrett’s, so it would be fine… but in that case the rest of her body around it should have been torn to shreds, and her lungs would have been a bloody pulp when she woke up- if she did. There were traces of blood in her lungs which she expelled… but the overall damage wasn’t that much. When the alliance started moving again, she noticed her leg was healed more than it should have been. “… Dammit Barrett, what did you do to me?” Nilima muttered to herself.
Doctor Stieber had come with the alliance to the Bicentennial Conflux. He watched as Shanta looked over Barrett. “Well, what do you think?”
“The same as yesterday… more or less.” Shanta shook her head. “It’s clear what’s wrong… but I haven’t ever fixed a removed heart. At least, not without another one being ready. Could we just… put another heart in there?”
“What do you think?” Doctor Stieber asked, “Would you stick a hand in there? Would the heart be rejected by the body?”
Shanta tapped her chin. “I don’t know whether his body would reject it… but I wouldn’t want to risk disrupting… whatever’s happening in there.”
Stieber turned towards Master Hykel, who was watching nearby, “Assuming we found a donor… I am sure I could sew a new heart in there quickly enough to cause minimal disruptions. Then he would either live or die.”
“… isn’t that always the case?” Master Hykel asked.
The doctor shook his head, “As he currently is, I do not know whether he will live or die. There are some signs that he will not be able to keep this up forever, but it may be momentary fluctuations. If I insert a heart and it works he will live, otherwise the disruption will almost certainly cause him to die. He has settled into some sort of a rhythm with that blood flow and I doubt there is any conscious thought to it now.” Doctor Stiber tapped his fingers on the nearby wagon as he thought. “If the heart is too weak it won’t be able to pump sufficient amounts of blood. Too strong and it is more likely to be rejected. The good news is… there’s no berserk energy in there to worry about.”
“And yet his heart isn’t recovering…” Master Hykel shook his head, “It should be for any number of reasons…”
Doctor Stiber nodded, “The medicine isn’t doing anything. There are stronger organ recovery medicines, but I think the problem is his body’s limits. He’s just barely able to keep up what he’s doing with nothing spare for anything else… and he may even be a bit short. If he were conscious then we could hope for him to improve his technique’s efficiency, but in this state that’s unlikely.”
A throat cleared behind them, “Excuse me,” a man behind them bowed to each of them in turn. “Doctor Stieber, Master Hykel… Shanta.” He seemed unsure of how to address Shanta. She was still Doctor Stieber’s apprentice, but she could also be considered a master by martial cultivation standards. That was also true of himself. “I am Einar Hale. Your disciple Barrett seems to be a magnet for prophecy.”
Master Hykel frowned, “What does that mean? Is it good?”
“It is just… a phrasing. However, most people don’t have a half dozen or more prophecies made about or related to them… including the one I have now.” Einar’s face transformed as the two vertical eyes appeared and the rest of his facial features faded from view. His eyes glowed and he spoke, “The one with the greatest concern for Barrett Ravenhall must journey to the Valley of All Souls. There, they might learn to bring peace and life to him.” Einar’s face returned to normal and he turned to walk away.
“Is that it?” Master Hykel called out after him.
“Do you want more?” Eintar turned and raised an eyebrow.
“Will it disrupt the prophecy?”
Einar shrugged, “I have no idea. Probably.”
“… Thank you for the prophecy.”
Einar bowed, “Of course. Mistress Ismene sends her regards.”
Master Hykel shook his head, “Now I have to find where the Valley of All Souls is.”
Doctor Stieber shook his head. “I am afraid I have not heard of it either. It is just as well that you watch over Barrett until he reaches Stredo. At this point another day or two will be fine, and if there are issues of berserk energy it would be good to have you.”