Kevin woke sharply, heart pounding, with images in his mind of glass breaking overhead. It took him a moment to sort out that it wasn't his own dream; his coven-mate Flynn was still asleep, and dreaming, and was reaching towards him in fear. He felt Flynn jolt into consciousness, with no lessening of the sense of dread.
*Kev! Shield Bane! Heavy!*
Confused, but willing to trust the seer, Kevin scanned the area for Bane, got the mental echoes of creeping up carefully on a trio of sleeping male mallards, tension and anticipation. That was enough for him to pour sunlight energy into a bubble around Bane, one that would keep any kind of outside magic from reaching him.
The ducks sensed it and exploded into a flurry of escaping feathers and alarm quacks; so did Bane, who threw a wordless, irritated question at him.
Before Kevin could explain, pure raw energy slammed into the shields with dizzying force. Bane yelped, more in surprise than fear—not much frightened Bane—and crouched where he was, instinct telling him to get back to his coven-mates to defend them against whatever was attacking, reason telling him that if he moved it would be harder for Kevin to protect him.
Kevin threw more of the power he'd absorbed from the sunlight into the shields to reinforce them. Without Flynn's warning, his normal shields and the ones built into the tent would all have shattered like an egg under a hammer, but this one held, deflecting the attack away and scattering it harmlessly. Just in case, he poured more power into the shields woven into the framework of the tent. A second blow against Bane, the third targeted the tent…
“What on earth…” Deanna began sleepily, aware of the fluctuations in ambient energy levels even if she couldn't track them directly, and then her tone hardened. “Rebecca?”
Carefully, Kevin searched outwards, holding the shields steady; this was a lot harder than multiple butterflies, and could be a lot more devastating if he dropped any of the balls he was juggling. Anger surged—that was Rebecca, all right. Why couldn't she just leave them alone? Why did she have to wreck their peaceful camping trip? He pulled up whatever power he had left, shaped a window in the shields around him and Deanna just for an instant as soon as the fourth blow had been rebounded, and furiously flung everything he had back in the direction from which the attack had come, targeting it on Moira's very visible energy signature and Rebecca's unmistakable presence.
He didn't think it actually reached them; something else absorbed it before that. But the blows stopped, and right now, that was good enough.
He reached to Flynn, hoping the seer would have a better idea what was going on.
*In the forest,* Flynn said. *Get moving before he dies! I'll find one of the healers so you can use me as an anchor. Find him!*
Kevin winced. Running around a forest in what was, to him, utter darkness punctuated by heat images really wasn't going to be a lot of fun. Well, Deanna would help. *Dia, Bane, not sure if you caught that,* he said, mentally instead of out loud, so he could send it to both. As the only telepath in the coven, he tended to find himself the centre of communication. *Flynn says there's someone who's going to die if we don't find him.*
*Stay there until I get back to you,* Bane commanded. *I don't want you wandering around a night-time forest without me if Rebecca's in the area.*
*Already on my way.*
Kevin called just enough light along the ribs of the tent that he could see to find his shorts and running shoes; Deanna had already rolled to her feet, not needing the light so much, and was ready to go. By the time Bane ran out of the trees, they were out of the tent and Kevin had an approximate fix on which direction. If it weren't that he would have to create a gate to get Flynn and one of their healer friends there as quickly as possible, he'd have let dryad and werewolf go alone. Arguably, he could let them go, then gate himself to them, then gate the healer in, but two gates without even much moonlight would leave him too exhausted to walk. And creating light while in the trees would only cause disorienting moving shadows and interfere with Bane and Deanna.
So, instead, he gave his coven-mates what information he could about the direction of the lingering traces of power, and trusted them to keep him from walking into a tree. He wasn't expecting it to be all that far; there'd be too much power loss over long range.
It certainly felt like an awfully long way to go.
*Here!* Bane barked sharply, mentally and aloud both.
“Clearing, about eight feet ahead,” Deanna murmured.
They finally stepped out of the trees, and with intense relief Kevin called a floating sphere of light to hover in the air and give them all a reasonable view of their surroundings.
The clearing was small, and mostly empty. There were lingering traces of illusion, still strong enough that Kevin could see what it had been. Why had Moira created the illusion of a campsite? The only things real were the remains of a fire, which still shimmered with mage power—created by, extinguished by, and he thought manipulated by an elvenmage—and an impression under the one person still present that suggested a blanket woven by a mage out of light and then left to dissolve when no longer useful.
Deanna crouched beside the black-clad figure that lay on the grass, curled into a tight fetal ball, breath coming in rapid ragged sobs of pain.
“Oh gods,” she whispered, reaching out to run her fingers down his cheek. “Oh, Rebecca, what have you done this time?” She looked up at Kevin, and he didn't need to read her mind to know what she wanted him to do. No one should have to experience that much pain. Gently, Kevin wrapped his mind around the stranger's and thought sleep at him. His breathing slowed and evened out somewhat as he lost consciousness.
*Yes,* came the prompt reply.
Reaching to Flynn, using him as an anchor to spin a doorway of light and energy linking here and there, was one of the most tiring things he'd done yet tonight. Pixie-slight Gisela, her long honey-brown hair dripping wet and a pale summer dress clinging to her damply, darted through on bare feet. Flynn, his ever-present cards in one hand, followed her, and the gate imploded, leaving them in twilight. Not that Kevin really needed to see the redheaded seer, whose mother's Scottish blood showed in every line of his body.
Gisela dropped instantly to her knees next to the stranger, laying a hand on his cheek—about the only skin accessible with his arms and hands clenched tight against his chest. Her eyes closed as she concentrated on what healer senses could tell her about what was going on in his body right now.
Kevin studied him as best he could while waiting. Young, slender, probably no taller than Flynn. Black hair that didn't look like it had been cut or even washed lately, pulled back in a rough tail with strands escaping to frame his face. Dark skin, maybe Native, with one silver crescent stud bright through his ear. Features slightly delicate, very sensual... attractive, even streaked with drying tears and dirt, but not strong enough to be handsome, Kevin mused.
“I don't know everything that's happening, there's too much all at once,” Gisela said worriedly. “He's been ripped wide open psychically, and I think it overloaded his whole nervous system. He's already in shock, and even before this, he had an awful lot of stuff going on. Flynn's right, he's going to die unless I can do something...”
“Do what you can,” Flynn said softly, toying with his cards without actually pulling any out to look at. He wouldn't have gone to Gisela if she had no hope of saving the stranger, Kevin thought; he would never do that to her. So he must see a reasonable chance.
Gisela nodded, and tucked her hair back behind her ears. For a moment, by magelight, she looked less like the seventeen-year-old mostly-trained dryad healer she was, and more like she'd be in another couple of decades when both she and her gifts reached full maturity. She moved so she was sitting on the ground with her legs crossed, the stranger's head on her lap, and closed her eyes again.
Bane prowled, agitated but lacking a target, circling around them in wide loops—practically daring anything to attack again. Kevin, Deanna, and Flynn settled themselves near Gisela, not close enough to interfere, and Kevin let the light fade away, in case he needed that power for something more urgent. In the mostly-dark, his heat-vision came back into play, and unless the stranger was a dryad, his body temperature was definitely cooler than normal.
Gisela cried out, wordlessly; it sounded like denial.
Without a thought, Kevin scrambled closer to her, laid one hand on her shoulder to feed her whatever power he still had from his day in the sun, grabbed the stranger's hand in his other one and reached inside, tracking the mind/spirit/self that was preparing to leave. Jesse, that was the stranger's name. Rebecca should never have done this to Jesse, should never have used him like this, and Kevin knew far too much about Rebecca's charm and ruthlessness. That was something Kevin and Jesse had in common, even if there was never anything else, and it was something he could use to connect to that fading sense of self and call Jesse back, keeping him there while Gisela threw everything she had into healing the damage at least as far as non-lethal levels. He didn't have enough left to do this, and he knew it, but there was no time for anything else, and he was not going to let Rebecca kill someone who should never have been involved in their problems.
“Got it,” Gisela whispered finally. “He won't die now. He's not going to feel so great when he wakes up, which isn't going to be for a while, but he'll survive it.” She sounded exhausted. Kevin could relate; he felt cold and vaguely dizzy.
“All right,” Deanna said briskly. That was Deanna all over, Kevin thought: worried about her little sister and her best friend, her response was to go all practical. “Moving our camping gear here is probably pointless, there's no reason to think this spot was chosen for things like access to water. There's no way we're going to get a worn-out healer, a worn-out mage, and one unconscious body all back to the usual spot under their own power. I suggest we go get emergency supplies for overnight and stay here until sunrise. If Kev isn't recovered enough to gate yet, Bane can go get Bryan to anchor for Lori and she can gate here and get us all back to our own camp.”
“I agree,” Flynn said. “I don't get any sense of this being a particularly good spot to camp, and I think it's going to be a few days before going back to the house is a good idea. And I think it's probably going to be Lori doing any gates for a day or two. I'll give you a hand. Bane? Nothing's going to happen in the next little while. Come help us? You can run something back here for these two to eat before they go into shock, while Dia and I pack up some blankets and things.”
Kevin let himself more or less collapse where he was, wishing for moonrise, which would at least give him back a little; Gisela curled herself beside him, kitten-like, and he slid an arm over her.
“Gotta tell you something,” she said quietly.
“He's a latent wolf. Well, he used to be latent. Now it all depends on how completely he heals from this.”