Memories of the twinkling fountains and perfumed air of Clementia drifted up to tease her, reminding her of what she sought. But the delicate fragments of her visions kept getting demolished by the more powerful memories she was accumulating with Severance.
Even as she said his name in her mind he stirred again on her lap. She touched his forehead again and began to worry in earnest. He was far too warm. The wound must be infected. That thought left her feeling helpless. There was no way she could guide a wounded, sick man through the jungle. They would be easy prey.
Perhaps Severance carried other medicine in his utility loop. Trying not to disturb him, she began going through the pouches one by one. The contents were varied and curious, covering everything from the utility knife to a spare set of Free Market cubes. Sometime she would make a point of asking him why he carried the extra cubes. The explanation, Cidra was sure, would prove interesting.
She found a packet of tablets that had long since lost its label. No point speculating on what they might be. But other than the antiseptic and the adhesive bandages, there was nothing else that appeared medicinal.
Severance turned on his side, clearly fretful and uncomfortable in his sleep. Cidra hesitated and then decided to get some water from the stream. She could soak his shirt in it and use it to cool him down somewhat. Gently she lifted his head off her lap and pillowed him on the ground cover. She opened the lightweight bag and hurried to kneel beside the stream. The water felt cool against her hands, and she hoped it would have the same effect on her patient.
She was getting to her feet when she realized that Severance was trying to stagger erect. Alarmed, she went back to him. In the moonlight she could see that he wasn’t focusing on her. His eyes were fevered and restless.
“Lie down, Severance. I’m going to cool you off.” She tugged coaxingly on his arm.
H§ reacted as if he weren’t even aware of her. Pulling free of her grasp, he leaned against the wall of the safehold and began making his way along it toward the entrance. Cidra suddenly realized where he was going.
“Severance, no!” She raced forward and caught his arm again, this time much more firmly. “You can’t go in there. Lie down. You’ll feel better when I bathe your face. Lie down, Severance.”
Again he shook free of her and started toward the entrance. Cidra became frantic. If he got inside and activated the illusion trap, she would never get him back out, not in his present condition. There was no telling what the terrifying images would do to him while he was burning up with fever. They were hard enough to deal with when one was feeling normal.
He was almost at the entrance when Cidra acted out of desperation. Smoothly, swiftly, she moved against him with the dancing patterns of Moonlight and Mirrors. Given his current condition, the motions should have folded him gently to the ground.
But when he felt her touch, Severance reacted as if he were under attack. He swung around, blocking her with a swift, violent throw that caught Cidra totally off-guard. She was flat on her back before she even realized what had happened.
It was too late. He had vanished inside the safehold.
Severance was out of his head with fever. But even as she reached that conclusion, Cidra had to wonder where he had gotten the strength to toss her aside so easily. The next question was what had made him, even in a delirium, want to go back into the safehold?
She scrambled to her feet and raced to the vaulted entrance. There she braced one hand on the wall beside her. Touching something solid as she leaned into the chamber gave her a small sense of security. Inside, she could see nothing at all. The walls that allowed light to pass through them during the day produced no illumination during the night. There wasn’t any sign of either the Ghost narrative or the illusion trap.
“Severance? Come back, Teague. Please. You don’t want to be in there. Turn around and walk back toward me.”
When there was no answer, Cidra darted over to where the quartzflash had been left. She picked it up, flicked on full power, and swung the beam around inside the safehold entrance. The light fell on Severance almost at once. He was crouched beside the heavy stone Cidra had tried to use against the apparition of the bloodsucker. His large hands were curved around the smooth surface.
“What is it?” Cidra asked, cautiously taking a step into the safehold. She had to talk him out of here if she could. If both of them got trapped inside by the illusions, she wasn’t sure she would have the strength to lead him out. ‘Tell me what you’ve found, Severance.”
He was totally oblivious to her. His whole attention was on the stone. Cidra took another step inside, wondering at what point the illusions would be activated. Perhaps not until she tried to turn around and walk out. She studied Severance’s crouching form in the light of the quartzflash and knew she wasn’t going to be able to talk him out of the safehold. She was going to have to lead him forcibly back to safety.
Counting her steps in the hope that she could retrace them even through a hail of illusion, Cidra advanced slowly into the darkened safehold. Her cautious movement didn’t trigger any images. When she reached Severance, she touched his shoulder. This time he looked up at her. Cidra was shocked to see the raging fever in his eyes. She put her arm around him, and her voice instinctively slipped into the gentling, hypnotic cadence Harmonics used when they sought to soothe one of their own.
“Come with me, Severance. All is safe with me. Let me lead you to safety. Outside, the air is cool and calm. You’ll feel better outside. Come with me and be safe. Outside, all is serene.”
She felt him tremble and sensed that somewhere in his fevered mind he was trying to understand. Cidra also had the impression that he was torn between conflicting needs. She saw the way his hands rested on the stone.
“Is it the stone you want? Bring it with you, Severance. Pick up the stone and bring it with you. Let’s go outside where it’s cool and clear.”
His shoulder muscles flexed beneath her arm, and he picked up the stone. Cidra straightened, relieved when he stood up beside her. When she tugged on his arm, he followed her docilely. Warily she guided him toward the doorway, fully expecting to find their exit impeded by anything from a giant bloodsucker to a wall of light.
Nothing happened. Using the quartzflash, Cidra made it back outside with her patient in tow. Breathing a sigh of relief, she guided Severance to the wall and eased him down onto the $ ground. He was still astonishingly docile, willing to go where j she led as long as he had the stone.