The life had been pouring out of Edea. One Eternian valkyrie had been more skilled than her sisters, or perhaps simply more dogged, and snarled at Edea as she pierced the young girl's side with her spear, deep, and then tore it back out, letting the blood flow freely. The girl had remained standing for only a moment longer, hand pressed to the wound, before the pain fully set in and she fainted dead away on the forest floor. Then Tiz had slammed the valkyrie aside with his shield, and Agnès had called down four consecutive thunder bolts that left Edea's attacker twitching post-mortem.
His job was to heal Edea, make her once more whole, a task he would gladly undertake for his angel any time she required it. But there was too much blood. He was trying to stanch the flow from her wound, but rather than slow, the bright vitality of her body seemed to pulse out even quicker, flowing over his fingers which trembled in response. It could not possibly be coming out this quickly; surely she would die if he did not heal her this instant.
Perhaps she had already passed the point of no return. He felt nauseous, his mouth too dry to utter the restoring incantation that he had already invoked dozens of times and yet couldn't call to mind now. How could he do anything for her? He had put on the robes, but he was no white mage. The only thing he could ever do as she died was-his mind stuttered out on that thought, unable to follow it.
Another set of hands joined his in pressing down on the wound, slender fingers knowing exactly where to apply pressure. Agnès. Her presence restored some thought, a measure of hope. She also knew how to heal, though she had not prepared for that to be part of her repertoire today, and his eyes snapped up to her face, pleading.
The wind vestal's lips were pressed into a narrow line, and her blessing nearly sounded like a curse the way it was bit out. When she met Ringabel's eyes, hers were dark and angry from under her black hat's brim. "Move."
The command didn't make sense to him. They couldn't move Edea, not as she was.
"Move! If you cannot act, do not interfere!"
Tiz's lean arms hooked under his, pulling him back away from Edea's prone form and up to his feet, though the knight continued to support his weight. "Ringabel? Breathe," the boy said urgently.
He hadn't known he'd stopped. But as light sparks of magic danced over Edea's stomach, binding muscle and skin back together, he took one gasping breath, then another, dizzy from relief. Tiz only slowly relaxed his hold, and Ringabel realized the younger boy must have been afraid he'd collapse in a faint. Then they would have had two bodies to worry over.
The thought might have been slightly funny in better circumstances. But as things stood... he'd... completely frozen up. How useless. He was supposed to be the healer; he'd volunteered himself for the role needed when things were at their worst, little thinking that in such a moment he would turn coward. Self-confidence was the perk of amnesia, he supposed. You didn't have to remember your faults.
His head hurt with a dull ache.
"I'm fine," he said listlessly. "It's Edea I'm worried about." The blood loss had been stopped, but the girl's face was so very pale.
"Agnès has her. She'll be all right, won't she, Agnès?"
The young woman's hands did not pause in their work, but her head turned slightly to them. "Of course. I will make certain of it." While the shrill anger had left her voice, her words remained clipped. So it was little surprise, when she asked for assistance, that it was Tiz's name she called. The boy hesitated only a split second before he finally quit hovering behind Ringabel, giving him a brief clap on the shoulder-and probably a reassuring smile, knowing the shepherd boy, but Ringabel didn't see it. His eyes were fixed on Edea, and Agnès' efforts; those two things were all that mattered. Tiz stepped around to the other side of the unconscious girl and opened his carefully organized satchel of items, looking to the vestal for direction.
Ringabel felt disconnected from the scene, as it was clear he had no part to play in it. He asked, just to be sure.
"You do not seem prepared. Take a moment to collect yourself."
It sounded like a very civil way of telling him to go away, so he did, if reluctantly. None of them would be as efficient if they were crowding each other, and the very last thing Edea needed at the moment was an argument taking place over her. He walked several yards before sinking down on a rock. One hand came up to comb through his hair before he remembered it was still wet, and he turned both his hands palm-up to see Edea's blood drying on them.
His head ached. He closed his eyes, reminded himself that Agnès and Tiz had her in their capable hands. It still took a moment to see the brown and green of the forest past all the red when they reopened. With a breath, he reached for his canteen, giving it a gruesome handprint. But the lukewarm water sluiced off some of the blood when he dumped it over each palm, allowing him to breathe a little easier. He rubbed them hard to work it off, then poured more water.
He looked at Agnès' proffered handkerchief with surprise, then up at the vestal's face. Her expression was still tense, hard to read. "Are you sure? Blood is tricky to get out."
"And water is precious. It's fine."
Ah. The Ancheim native got nervous about how they used their drinking supply when she didn't know where the nearest source of clean water was...which, considering her poor sense of direction, was nearly all the time they were out of town, even after they had left the desert behind. She would rather soil the cloth and need to wash it later than have him continue to use the water they had now in an excessive manner. And he would rather avoid another surge of her temper. "Thank you. And Edea?"
"Not awake, but she will be. Tiz is watching over her. We thought it best to give her some time before waking her. She needs rest after all that."
A sensible course of action. Between the blood loss itself and having her body's healing processes speeded by white magic, Edea would be hard pressed to find her usual energy when she woke up. "Thank you. And-" he took in a breath. "-my apologies. I... completely..."
She waited a moment for him to finish, but was ready with a question when he didn't. "Do you have a phobia of blood?"
He shook his head quickly. "No. I don't think- I've already been exposed to seeing it enough times, it would have showed before-" It would not make any sense. But more than that, developing such a weakness would surely end his chances of continuing with this group, who got into violent skirmishes so frequently. End his chance to figure out the mystery of the journal, and just why the lovely Edea was so important to him. And then where would he be?
"That seems right, but I had to wonder. You frightened me when you froze up like that. If something should happen..." She trailed off, looking over him to where Tiz and Edea were before finding his eyes again. "I will take over the role of healer again."
It was not a question, and he was not about to argue she should trust him with the lives of three others when he felt so unconfident himself. Edea's injury had been terrible, but not the worst they'd seen and likely not the last they'd receive; it shouldn't have shaken him so badly as to make him forget his spells. "Of course. I can take another." Whichever he could be relied on for.
She looked at him for a long moment, her face solemn; she looked at him long enough that he wondered if she was also reflecting on his reliability, and finding it in the most unfavorable light. Would she actually say he should leave? She had made it clear from the start she had not asked to have so many companions; all three of them were guilty of forcing themselves into a group that had once been only Airy and Agnès. The vestal had bowed to the common wisdom of safety in numbers, and even come to acknowledge their support, but should she have reason to think they were incapable of handling themselves in battle... "I am sorry as well."
The words were so different from what Ringabel had feared that he blinked in surprise, took a second look at her face to see if she had really just apologized to him-the indignant heat rising in her cheeks said yes-and burst into laughter. Once he laughed, he had to rush to explain what he found humorous before he could fall out of her good graces entirely. "Are you apologizing for saving Edea's life? If it's for that cause, I would take all the abuse you can hurl at me." If she had any. She hadn't even insulted him. At any rate, a lady's life was far more important than a small matter of civilness. Especially Edea's.
"Of course not for that!" she huffed. "I was genuinely angry at you. You...the way you act makes it very easy to forget that... that you've forgotten. I know my weaknesses, and my strengths, but you are finding your own again. And not knowing is a weakness in itself. Surely I'm right in being concerned? If only-"
She brought her hand to his temple, the touch light as the wind, and his amusement died. He could sense the intent in her gentle fingers, the benediction wishing to be bestowed, and tugged her hand down with his now clean one, kissing the knuckles before he let go to show the thought was appreciated. But there was no reason for her to expend any more of her energy. "Magic won't fix me."
Her fingers curled as they retreated to her side. "Forgive me. It was a foolish thought."
"Not so foolish to keep me from trying it," he said easily. It had been a moment of wishful thinking. Or perhaps an hours' worth. He could be thickheaded at times. At any rate, he knew now it was not a matter of physical damage remaining to be healed. "And, Agnès, though I think you are correct about which of us should be healer, I hope you don't consider me hindered by my circumstances. This was one mishap out of dozens of successes. Hundreds, even."
...Perhaps that was pushing it. But while he was glad to no longer see the anger in her expression, pity was dangerous too. Concern for others made a vestal stubborn about pushing them away from her. He would be happier if the matter of his amnesia slipped her mind all over again.
She shook her head in exasperation at his boasting, but there was a slight curve to her lips that he decided to take for a smile. "Indeed. You seem to have adapted better than I would have expected anyone to be able to, before meeting you. I simply wish to ensure this does not happen again."
"It will not." He would make sure of it.
"And, while I will be sure to have my spells ready from now on, I hope you will continue to practice white magic when you can. Perhaps not in battle, but for minor injuries."
A surprising request. He'd thought she would want him to quit the asterisk completely. "You really think that's best?"
"Of course. Healing is a useful skill. I should not be the only one of us who knows how to use white magic, and you have already started learning," she said, propping her chin on her hand as she stared down at him. "And... though you were too afraid to move this time... sometimes I feel it's my fear that makes my healing strong. Having a hold on that feeling..." She drifted into silence with a shaky sigh, her hand sliding down to clasp the pendant at her neck, and Ringabel did not press for further explanation. Whatever memories were behind her fear were obviously of a sensitive nature; he did recall her mentioning the acolytes of the temple of wind shielding her with their bodies. Any deaths that had come to pass as a result must be painful for her.
He had no memories behind his, so he wasn't sure if Agnès' advice might prove useful, or if she simply had a rather charitable view of his cowardice. But he could practice, and he would master that fear. "Very well," he agreed, standing. "First will be to ease any lingering pains Edea might have when she wakes." It would be a start in making this up to her.
She nodded her agreement, and they made their way back to Tiz and the now peacefully sleeping Edea.