"All bad men can make good choices in life, otherwise how could they survive? Just as all good men will make bad choices in life, otherwise how could they still be men?" - Ran the Wolf
After completing the enchantment for Mary and showing her with the mirror that there is no visible marking, we fix the bed and prepare to sleep. I lay awake with Mary snuggled up against my side, unable to sleep. She was right, I haven't been there for her lately. I'm the only person she knows in the castle, apart from Corrine. It must be hard for her when I keep disappearing. Instead of trying to force myself to rest I wait until Mary's breathing deepens and slowly extricate myself from her grasp.
Moving through the empty, candlelight halls I make my way to the hospital, only getting lost twice on the way. I really should have taken that tour with Corrine...
In the infirmary there is a nurse on night duty, reading a book. I turn myself invisible and slip past her, heading towards the beds. Hearing a soft groan from behind the white curtain, I find my target. Moving into the ward I see the young guard from earlier lying on his back, eyes closed with his brow tightened and sweat on his face. They must not have any effective painkillers here, poor thing.
Before I reveal myself I lay the same spirit barrier around us to prevent noise from leaking and walk over to his bedside. I reach out to touch the crude cast on his arm and dispel my glamour. A warm yellow light floods out from my palm and I watch his face relax. His eyes flicker, feeling something has changed, slowly opening. When he looks up and sees me standing next to him he freezes and I do my best to give him a warm smile.
"Did you do this?" he asks, eyes on his broken arm.
"Yes, I'm sorry. I would have done it earlier If I knew they would not be able to numb the pain."
"They do, but it affects the body too much so I declined."
"Well, this has no side effects. I did say earlier that I would help you, but it is not without strings attached. If you are willing to swear an oath of secrecy I can do more to help, but that is up to you."
"Of course. How do I do that?" he asks.
"All it requires is a drop of blood."
I bring a knife out from under my clothes and prick my index finger. To add some visual flair I create a series of golden runes which float out and around in front of his head.
"Do you swear on the goddess, to never repeat anything you see, hear or experience tonight?" I ask, holding my bloody finger above his head.
"Open your mouth."
He does and I move my finger down as gravity slips a drop of blood off and onto his tongue. The runes flash with a white light and then burst into particles like fireworks. I put my injured finger in my mouth to heal while he sits there, dazed.
"Thank you for your trust," I say.
"No, thank you for being willing to help someone like me."
"Someone like you?" I ask.
"Well... I'm just a new guard and I don't even have any backing or nobility from my family."
"Then isn't that more admirable? Becoming a royal guard at your age, all by yourself?"
"I... guess it is," he says, rubbing the back of his head with a sheepish grin.
"I'm going to need to take the cast off to heal you, tell me if it hurts and I'll numb the pain again."
I can tell by the look on his face he wants to ask me if I can really heal him, but after swearing the oath the wonder in his eyes has not yet faded away. Removing the cloth and splint I look at his arm again, swollen and bruised. Thankfully I was the one who set the wound so I will not have to re-break his arm to ensure a clean heal of the fracture. Putting a hand over the break I try to feel the condition and check if it is still in the correct place.
"Does it hurt?" I check.
"No," he shakes his head.
Everything is still as I left it, the doctors are at least competent it seems. Being the first time I am healing such a serious bone injury I take a moment to close my eyes and focus, running through the process in my mind first. A soft blue light emanates from my body and I gather it in my hands, pressing them against his arm as I flood the bone with magic and begin connecting it back together. The process takes several minutes due to my caution and the exertion makes me sweat, but when I am done and can see the results I forget everything else.
"The healing went well," I tell him with a smile. "The bone should now be even stronger where the break occurred."
"Thank you," he says, bowing his head awkwardly.
"No need for thanks, I am just doing what my heart tells me."
"Then tell your heart thank you from me."
His sudden shift from worship to joking catches me by surprise and I can't help but laugh. He's such a nice boy, why do the nice ones always have to suffer?
"I forgot, but I don't even know your name. Azela," I say, offering a hand.
"James," he says, kissing the back of my hand.
"I like you James, how would you like to work for me?"
"I'm sorry miss Azela, but it would not be appropriate, you're a..."
"Woman, after all."
What is it with these people and separating the genders, can none of them keep it in their pants?
"Well, if you ever change your mind just come find me," I offer.
"Well then, even if I can't have you I still think you deserve a gift for being dragged into this mess. Close your eyes," I instruct.
He does what I say without hesitation and I lean over to kiss him on the forehead, activating my fresh blood still in his system.
"You may open them now," I say, retreating away again.
"Thank you," he blushes.
"Oh, that wasn't the gift. You won't notice it straight away but your body is now in tune with the spirits. You won't be able to see them, but you should be able to train yourself to feel them. The end result will be up to you and how hard you train your senses."
Instead of replying this time he sits with his mouth open, unable to comprehend what he has just been given. Spirits are the foundation for power in this world, having a body that is attuned to them is akin to being born with exceptional natural talent.
"Since you won't serve me, are there any female guards I can look for?" I ask.
"Yes, but most of them are just nobles who do the minimum to be qualified and use it as a stepping stone to other positions in the castle. But there are exceptions, Petra is a noble but she serves the guards and is the main trainer for the new female recruits."
I talk with him for a while, about Petra and where I can find her. She uses a spear, that sounds interesting. I do need to learn some more conventional combat skills for when my lack of reach becomes a problem. James is wide awake, smiling. I help him put the splint back on and tell him to leave it for a month or so.
"I look forward to seeing what kind of guard you can become," I smile, waving goodbye and disappearing as I step out of the ward.
Wandering the castle halls I follow James' instructions and look for Petra's room. This one is easy to find, being at the end of a hallway. Deciding I need to make a good first impression I do not break and enter, but knock on the door like a civilised person. However, when the door shows no signs of opening I prepare to fix that.
...But it opens before I get to have any fun.
"Whoszit?" Petra mumbles, still half asleep.
A fluffy red head of hair peeks out from the doorway, hanging over her shoulders and back in a mess. She is wearing a light pink nightgown, not what I expected from miss knight, but seeing her figure showing underneath I feel self-conscious about my own.
"Can I touch your legs?" I ask, before realising I said it out loud.
Petra sobers up and glares at me, someone woke her up in the middle of the night to... touch her legs? They must be a pervert.
"Sorry, I wasn't supposed to say that out loud. Can I come in? We need to talk," I say.
Before she slams the door in my face her vision finally adjusts and she sees my golden eyes and baulks, opening the door all the way in an instant.
"Sorry, I didn't realise," she says, before thinking for a moment and adding. "You can touch my legs if you wish."
I cough and sit down on the bed.
"Just... please forget I said that."
"Alright," Petra smirks, sitting down next to me. "So, what do you need?"
Noticing the look on her face I realise I should have explained better.
"A deal. I have a deal to offer you."
"What's the deal?" she asks.
"For you to teach me the spear and be the bodyguard for my younger sister Mary. In return I will grant you spirit sight and help you attune yourself to the natural spirits around you."
"The ability to see spirits. Although it won't be proper spirit sight since you won't posses the eyes through your bloodline, but via transfusion. It will be enough for you to recognise them after some training, even if you can never see them clearly," I explain.
"Are you serious?" she asks.
"How do we do it?"
"One thing I have to mention first, is that while I am sharing my own spirit sight with you, the process will also share something of yours to me. I would like that to be your spear mastery. Nothing permanent is taken, but it will take some time for you to recover your skills to their fullest. But, doing so will also aid in breaking past previous limits."
"If it's nothing bad, why even mention it?" she asks.
"I don't want it to feel like I tricked you later."
"Based on what you're giving me, I would be happy to be tricked."
"I shall make a note of it," I smile.
"Alright, the first step is easy. You only need to ingest some of my blood," I say, pulling out a glass vial full of blood from my clothes.
Petra does not even flinch and opens the vial, draining it in one go.
"OK, what next?" she asks.
"Please take your clothes off and lie face first on the bed."
"Well, you can lie face up if you want," I joke.
"Are you sure you don't want to touch my legs instead?" she laughs, still following my order regardless.
"Now, this may sting a little. I need to use your blood to draw this formation and then a full body massage to ensure the efficacy is absorbed by your body and not wasted," I say, pulling out my knife.
"Well, not like this can get any weirder," Petra mumbles into her pillow.
After a small cut on her back I complete the seal over her ribs and shoulder blades and heal the wound.
"Please try not to fall asleep, it will weaken the effects," I tell her.
"No problem, I'll just keep reminding myself what might happen if I fall asleep with you in the room."
"I resent those implications. Now, time to touch those legs," I joke.
The massage passes without incident, although I did make sure to pinch her a few times to be certain she stayed awake. I finish the process and the blood markings on her back fade away into the skin as a strange sensation washes over my body. When I come to I notice I am lying in Petra's bed, more accurately on Petra who is still naked and going through her own dreamscape. Spirits are a lot harder to comprehend than spears after all. I decide to be nice and help put her clothes back on and tuck her under the blankets before leaving. I can't leave Mary alone after all.