“If it’s in his blood, that means it’s physically and magically anchored,” Lucinda said in a tone that almost sounded like swearing in its intensity.
Mark laughed tiredly, dropping his head back against the headrest bonelessly and letting his arm sink back down to his lap. “Well, that sounds lovely. Do I get to try bleeding it out now?”
“No,” Riordan broke in quickly, “Doing that for snake bites doesn’t work and just makes it worse. I can’t imagine it will do anything good here. Who knows what having a rush of your shifter life magic rushing to replenish the blood might do to the life magic in the blood spell.”
“What do you suggest then?” Lucinda snapped at Riordan. He heard a quaver to her voice though and he realized that her irritation masked her genuine concern for her fellow apprentice. This might just be the way she kept herself from falling apart in emergencies, going even colder and sharper than normal. At least it meant she was still functional.
Riordan paused to consider the options from a physical and magical point of view. The spell was aggressively spreading through Mark’s blood, which reminded him of snake venom. Given his main exposure to that was Arabian cobra venom, that was not a heartening analogy, especially given the hours between then and actual help.
“For snake venom, first aid includes trying to keep the affected portion below heart level and to try slowing the victim’s heart rate as much as possible to buy time for an antivenom to be administered,” Riordan thought out loud, trying to get it all straight in his head, “I’m not sure how antivenom works-”
“By binding to the venom and neutralizing it,” Daniel cut in. Riordan had almost forgotten the ghost’s presence in this rush. He glanced up at the ghost, gesturing for him to continue. Daniel did. “Modern antivenoms work off the same principle as vaccines, except they use a different creature to produce the antibodies rather than your own immune system. They induce a response to the venom in a host animal, harvest the antibodies produced from fighting off the venom, and then distill them into a serum that’s administered to the bite victim. Each antivenom has to match the specific venom for the antibodies to work.”
Riordan quickly relayed that for Lucinda and Mark. Lucinda looked surprised. “How does he know that?”
“He was getting his degree in biology, for pre-med,” Riordan explained offhand. That information hadn’t been relevant to the investigation and hadn’t come up in the public interviews. He didn’t bother sharing how much Daniel hadn’t liked that life path overall.
Considering the information, Riordan tried to translate that to the current situation. “We can’t make a magical antivenom without knowing the venom, so we need to see about slowing it down. Since the spell has both physical and magical components, we can use both methods to slow it down. Ideally, I’d suggest a form of medical coma, both to slow heart rate and to reduce how much Mark is suffering, but he’s also the one maintaining the armor. What are our magical options?”
Unsurprisingly, Lucinda fielded that question instead of Mark. She both had more advanced training and wasn’t distracted with terrible pain, which really wasn’t Mark’s fault. “The spiritual armaments are fairly sustainable under normal circumstances, but combating the spell constantly is going to drain him. A containment field could give a more directed effort.”
Riordan equated that to applying a tourniquet to a snake bite victim and frowned with worry. He couldn’t be sure it was the same, but he voiced his concern, “Wouldn’t that concentrate the effect in the contained area? That could make the damage to his arm significant. The amount of blood used to trigger this spell was small and the casting fast. That reduces the strength of a spell, right? Would the effect be more diffuse if spread or does it have,” Riordan struggled with the words he was looking for, “some sort of self-multiplying thing? Like, could this spell get stronger if it spread out over more of his body or would it get weaker?”
The look Lucinda shot Riordan was pure venom in its own right. She clearly disliked the suggestion of letting an unknown blood magic spell spread further through her colleague. Riordan wasn’t thrilled at the idea either, but Mark had already pointed out that the intense pain was at least in part due to the very effort of fighting it.
The physical infection signs seemed like an odd choice for a spell on someone Helena had been trying to grab. Riordan hadn’t gotten the idea that death was her goal, not immediately anyway. She seemed more like she wanted more information. She had wanted him to go with her, but had responded with this spell after Mark had armored up. He was an unknown threat to Helena. She would have wanted more information. It could be a poison, something she would threaten him with while she questioned him, but that seemed very crude and too fast acting for a good interrogation. Whatever else she was, Riordan got the impression that Helena had some sort of military experience.
He was pulled out of that new rabbit hole by Lucinda answering his last set of questions. “I’m not an expert on blood magic, obviously,” Lucinda was saying, “However, self-propagating spells usually require more set up. It’s possible the blade was enchanted ahead of time-”
Riordan fished the bag with the blade from between the seats and held it out to her. “Is it?”
“What?” Lucinda cut off, blinking and staring at the reusable shopping bag with the blade inside like she’d never seen it before.
“Is the blade enchanted?” Riordan repeated, “I grabbed it when we were leaving, just in case we needed to get a closer look at it.”
“I can’t decide if that is brilliant or idiotic,” Lucinda replied, “Personal items can have spiritual or magical links to their owners that act as focuses to tracking spells.”
Her reprimand didn’t stop her from opening the bag and staring intently at the blade inside it. Through the bag, Riordan could see threads of shadow and glimmers of green, the magic types on the knife, but he didn’t get the kind of detail he’d get seeing it directly. Physical impediments didn’t stop his sensing exactly, but it did interfere with his ability to interpret the data, leaving him with just knowing the affinity traces on it.
“It’s not pre-enchanted,” Lucinda finally diagnosed, setting the bag aside. “Which means that the spell is likely to be less intense if spread over a larger area, but I don’t understand the spell well enough to know what other effects might happen. I don’t think pain was its primary purpose.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Riordan put in, “I don’t think Helena was trying to kill Mark. I would assume the spell had some sort of effect to either disable him for easy capture or to compel him to obey them, either via mental manipulation or threat.”
“And I’m not going to gamble Mark’s life on a guess!” Lucinda countered, glaring at him and fist tense by her side. Her teeth sharpened and she grew claws briefly before she controlled herself enough to pull back the partial shift. From the bits he’d seen, Riordan was pretty sure she was some sort of bear. She felt similar to Mother Bear in that moment anyway.
“Um,” Daniel put in, “I know magic isn’t my thing, but couldn’t you put shields around the most important bits of Mark rather than around the spell? That would spread it out, make it weaker, but keep it from being able to do something really nasty? Right?”
Honestly, Riordan wasn’t sure. He relayed Daniel’s suggestion to Lucinda and they both watched her try to come up with an answer. Mark surprised all of them by answering first, even with his eyes closed and body strained from holding the spell back.
“Protect my well, core, mind, and spirit. Physical can regenerate,” the effort of talking was clearly taking a greater toll on him the longer they waited and the more his well drained, “Combine protection with unconsciousness?”
“You just want the good drugs,” Riordan quipped, startling a genuine laugh from Mark.
“Not feeling pain would be great,” he agreed.
“Once you’re feeling better, we are totally teaching you how to dodge better.”
“Yeah, good. Never want this again.”
Lucinda tossed her hands in the air, temper frayed with worry and stress. “Fine, let’s do this. If you die, Mark, I’m not forgiving you. I’ll make Riordan find your ghost and force you to sit through endless hours of football games.”
As threats went, it was mild, but got another weak chuckle from Mark. “Don’t want that,” he promised, “Won’t die.”
“I’m holding you to that,” Lucinda informed him, pointing a finger at him emphatically. She switched her attention to Riordan. “Get him leaned back and strapped in. I’ll set up what I can with what we have. I’ll likely need your help for the actual casting to give it enough of a boost to hold until the specialist gets here.”
The idea of being part of an active casting, even as a secondary caster, terrified Riordan, especially with Mark’s wellbeing on the line. He didn’t dare balk from the duty though, not if that’s what it took to help Mark. He just needed to focus and get through this. He had to trust that Lucinda would know how to guide him through his role.
That would have been easier if they didn’t get along like oil and water.
Settling Mark in physically didn’t take long. Riordan let Mark’s affected left arm dangle off the side of the chair after buckling the man into the seat properly. That would keep the limb below the heart. Reclining took some of the stress off the heart in general and unconsciousness would slow the body processes even more. Riordan thought that even those measures helped reduce Mark’s symptoms, but it was hard to tell as his energy flagged.
Shaman had stronger wells and porcupines are solitary creatures, meaning Mark had a deep personal well, but his youth meant he hadn’t developed it much past that starting point nor learned the kind of efficiency that came with years of practice. He probably knew meditation stuff even more than Riordan, but wasn’t likely in shape to use it. Most people didn’t practice such skills under extreme duress, even if that’s when they were often most needed. Then again, most people lived safer, more settled lives than Riordan did.
Lucinda was sorting through the various bottles and baggies in the back of the van, muttering things about wishing for fresh herbs and space she could draw proper circles. She contemplated her options and then snapped out another order for Riordan, this time to take off Mark’s shirt.
The apprentice was just wearing a loose pastel orange t-shirt and long khaki cargo shorts. Riordan grumbled about having to undo the seatbelt to wrestle Mark’s shirt off, the young man helping as much as he could, and then having to rebuckle him in. It was an awkward process, though it did show that Mark was freckled everywhere, even his soft pale belly.
A moment later, Lucinda joined them, sliding into the space between the two middle seats. She had a small dish of brownish paste in one hand. She reached into her mage bag and came up with a paintbrush. “Can’t draw the circles on the van right,” she complained, “So I’m drawing them straight on you, Mark. Sorry, it’ll probably be cold.”