Warp & Weft

Short Story
Lumenshard Team

The waiting room at St. Nicodon’s was sparsely occupied, this time of night. Most visiting families had long since departed, most friends gone even before. Now, all that remained were those who had something to wait for. Dread hung in the air between the sleepless, the fearful. People here did not know what tomorrow would bring for those they loved. But there was hope, among the quiet concern. Faith too: some in their goddess, others in medicine. Most, a bit of both. They would not be here, not at this hour, if they had nothing to believe in.

The man in blue could hear it all, echoing through the dimly lit halls. He, unlike the others, was not waiting for news. He was waiting to do his job. He procured a watch from his robes - half past three - and sighed. No sense having arrived on time. He was not wanted here, he knew that, not by the staff or the people waiting. Some of their fear was connected to him. A hospital was not a place for men like Merovan; people came here because they had no need for him anymore. Most of them.

He knew what room his client was in, of course. She made such a melancholy sound, so quiet against even the slumbering silence of the city outside. He noticed it the moment he walked into the building, and had been fixated on it since. Tonight, her music was his duty. So, too, were the songs of her parents, anxiously pacing as they waited for him to be brought to them. They made for a mournful harmony, humming its way through the corridors to his ears. But he resisted its call. He was a professional, bound willingly by the rules of his trade. He would wait until he was escorted to them by the staff. That was one of them now, at the duty desk on her floor. A doctor by his sound, awake a little too long, finishing the nearly endless paperwork that would permit the robed man to do his work. After all, mages were seldom allowed to practice their art in hospitals.

The doctor signed his name, striking a peculiar note as he did so. One of finality, resolve. He rose and began the long walk to the waiting room. The visitor stood, adjusting his Guild medallion, preparing to formally present himself. The others in the room stirred as he did so, regarding it cautiously as he moved to the reception. It was a beautiful bit of craftsmanship, silver inlaid with golden strands, tracing a breezy melody around a solitary mountain. A brilliant gemstone adorned its center, the color of the robes which billowed around it. But of course, the viewers were not admiring his uniform. The doctor barely even noticed it as he finally appeared, bleary eyes suddenly sharpening on the man instead. He too had a job to do.

"Mr. Coretinon." It was not a question. "I am Dr. Yusulos. I will escort you to the Prince."

Without another word, the doctor turned on his heel. Merovan heard no indignance in his deliberate steps, unusual when he dealt with those in medicine. He had been to far too many clinics where men of Science scorned his presence, making clear in their chorus that his skills were undesired. That he was unneeded. It was their way, of course, of showing that their world was one of control. One where the magicks of the past had been tamed, wrangled into lessons and laboratories and bestowed safely to the masses. A harsh chord that Merovan was all too familiar with, but in this doctor it was not present. Perhaps he was too tired to muster it, or perhaps he understood that his world would not exist had the mage’s not come before. Merovan would have been happy with either.

The mismatched pair wove their way endlessly through identical corridors, heading for the most remote room in the building. It was eerily quiet, even to Merovan's practiced ear, but that was to be expected; nonessential staff had been relocated to the other wings for the night, taking with them any patients who had strength enough to be moved. Yet more protocols to follow, more laws to abide by. Unnecessary, Merovan thought briefly, but as Dr. Yusulos gestured wordlessly to the final doorway the mage was forced to remember times where he had been thankful for it. For his sake, and for the sake of the family that waited anxiously in the room beyond, he hoped that tonight would not be one of them.

Beyond the door was a small sitting room, awash in a gentle warmth that quickly banished the sterility of the halls outside. The hospital's finest suite, now buried beneath a sea of flowers, stuffed animals, and cards wishing well. Merovan heard no sincerity within any of them; they were meant not for the little girl in the bed around the corner, but for her mother, who wandered among the gifts as though she feared they might drown her. She spun expectantly to face the doctor as he entered, her practiced composure evaporating as she saw his robed guest. Sennara Brevalon, Orator Prince of House Gelevres, was tonight nothing more than mother to her daughter, and Merovan was their perilous salvation.

The mage bowed gently, a show of deference he knew meant little tonight. "I am Merovan Coretinon. Order of Syrros, First Class, envoy of the Harper's College at Cyridon. If it pleases Your Grace, I will begin without delay."

"Yes. Yes, of course, please." Sennara collected herself and hurried towards the bed. Her child lay amidst an array of gently beeping machines, connected by an alarming assortment of wires and tubes. "She's sleeping now, Winds bless her. She has... today was worse than most. Honey?"

Before she even called, her husband had risen from the single chair at his daughter's bedside. His turn to try and rest, though none had come; it was not the pacing of a waking mind that Merovan had heard from him. Donan Trevidica, a self-made man in the Samvyri spice trade, and a reminder that even in Aloreh the social ladder could be climbed. He quietly placed a hand on his wife's shoulder, and she reached up to meet it. It was as much for his own reassurance as hers.

"Thank you, Your Grace. Ah, but my apologies. I believe Dr. Yusulos here has one final matter to address." He had heard his chaperon preparing to interject, and thought it prudent to accommodate. A bit of respect was never amiss among the learned, particularly in return for professionalism.

"Indeed. I will keep it brief." His surprise was fleeting, mixed with notes of gratitude heard only by the mage. "Before we begin, I am required by law to remind you that Mr. Coretinon is unlicensed in medical practice, and his art is considered experimental treatment by the Office of the Surgeon General. He is here at your behest, and is unaffiliated with St. Nicodon’s. I will oversee the procedure to the best of my ability, but neither myself nor this institution can guarantee the safety of the patient. Do you understand?"

The prince gripped her husband's hand tighter, bidding him to respond for them both. Donan exhaled deeply, offering their simple reply: "Yes. We understand."

But they did not, thought Merovan. How could they possibly? They knew what the words meant, in the contract they had agreed to and the waivers they had signed. They had listened to the doctors, the best in the capital, as they tried for months to cure what was slowly killing their baby. But now, there were no more words, nothing more to try. When the mage arrived, he took on the mantle of last resort, an ancient force in a house of modernity. His was the burden of a cure chosen only by the hopeless.

Merovan nodded to the doctor, who gently escorted the nervous parents back to the sitting room. He would join the mage momentarily, to monitor the girl's condition as the work progressed. But for now, it was just the healer and the sick, as it had been so many times before.

"Now, little Lyara," said Merovan softly as he approached the sleeping girl, speaking to his client for the first time that night. "Let’s see what fate has done to you."

Unlike many of his colleagues, Merovan had never been able to visualize the connections which wove Creation together. It was not an instrument to be played, but a symphony to conduct, with sound informing what sight could not. He simply listened for the music, the gentle tones of a living world, and when he reached for the strings they were there. Perhaps it was this connection that gave him such skill in the healing arts, a dangerous pursuit most dared not touch. The price of miracles was often high, and always difficult to anticipate.

Merovan raised his hands over the girl's sleeping form, beckoning her soul to sing for him. And sing it did, with a joy uninhibited by the diseased vessel that contained it. The mage was nearly overcome by the memories, clamoring cheerfully to be heard and experienced. He had almost forgotten what it was like to work with children, so unburdened by the complexities of the world. But delicate, too, as he knew well. In youth, the strings are still pliable, held taut by only a few seminal experiences. Merovan strengthened his resolve and immersed himself in the vibrant song.

This one, feeding the ponies on her mother's Winewood estate. That one, a walk through Methes Avonthes with her father, giggling at the stuffy nobles and their fashion. Every sickness, a maze, and in Lyara the path was well hidden. Merovan reached deeper, ignoring the pleasant melodies that beckoned him away from his goal. There was always a source, no matter how great the misfortune, and often a single string could lead him there. Here, watching the airships dock from her bedroom window. There, playing with her friends after... hmm. That was interesting. Pain? Fear? The harsh sounds stood out from the otherwise happy memory. But there was no scraped knee, no playful fright. This was something deeper, a feeling she was too young to describe.

Merovan sought similar strings, humming in sync with one another. That same pain, that same instinctual realization that something was not right. The newer the paths, the more frequently the notes came through. He surfaced for a moment to catch his breath; Lyara had grown restless, and the doctor was glued to the agitated machinery. But he had heard the sound, and now with a tuned ear there was nothing else to hear. It echoed throughout the little girl's frame, attacking her organs, coaxing them to keep time. Her very blood rebelled against her, curdling in her veins as her heart struggled to beat. Slowly, surely, her body was killing itself. He had found his source.

The mage dove in with renewed purpose. Now that he knew what he was looking for, the strings leapt into his grasp, each offering to show him the way. Further down he went into the deepest echoes of Lyara's spirit. Here, the memories were blended together, the product of a nascent mind. Flashes of color, singular notes, pleasant feelings that lasted barely long enough to decipher. That the source would be found this deep did not bode well. If the sickness came from infancy, or even before, it would be much more difficult to safely heal. But the strings would not be ignored, singing him back to his patient’s beginning.

Here her music began to fade, replaced by that of her parents. There was her father, the brash melody of confidence and intuition. And there her mother, the gentler, refined tones of perseverance and intellect. Their concert was striking, a harmony most could only dream of, but that painful note remained. It had grown quiet now, as if trying to hide from the future it would create. Merovan could hear it clearly, and between the two songs there was no denying which was the source.

It was her mother. The disease was genetic.

Merovan broadened his focus, gently tugging at the strings of her lineage. If he was to attempt a healing, he would need to be sure. He would need to find... ah, there. An uncle, four generations removed, likely taken before his first birthday. And he was not the first. The Brevalon family had been visited by the rare specter many times throughout the Cycles; it could never be helped. The disease had permitted Lyara a few more years of health, but it was not to be deterred. A small blessing her brain had yet to be affected, that would have rendered a cure all but impossible at this stage. Here though, it could be done.

The mage surfaced again, holding firm to the strings as he did so. They were all that Sennara had given her daughter, half of everything that made her who she was. To separate them from the illness would be risky, potentially disastrous, and in moments like these Merovan sought the feelings of loved ones to make the impossible choice. Of course, he knew the answer before he even listened. He always did, his presence proved it. Even so, his soul was set at ease by the unspoken chorus from Lyara's parents: whatever the cost, heal our daughter.

And so he began, weaving and working as was his gift. Each string would have to be carefully removed from that singular maternal foundation, tied to another suitable anchoring point while he sought to disentangle the source. It was a terrible puzzle, a juggling act where he was at times forced to hold up several attributes before each could be sorted elsewhere. Once the disease was freed, the tendril could simply be swept away as thought it had never existed. Or so that was the goal, Merovan reminded himself as he pulled and prodded. A single mistake along the way could undo it all.

The strings moved willingly, but not without weight. Like kites in the breeze, they pulled back gently as Merovan guided them along. They were so knotted together, so deeply ingrained in the essence of the dying girl, that there would be no way to separate them as planned. The mage adapted accordingly; the lattice would have to be pulled apart with foresight, unwoven without fraying. When the aberrant string was pulled, the weave could simply fall back into its natural shape. Merovan knew he would not be able to predict exactly how it would come to rest, but he could guide the collapse, hopefully keeping the worst at bay. 

At last, the deadly strand was revealed, humming without accompaniment for the first time since it had been spun. A single tug, and it would be gone. Merovan returned his mind to the physical realm for one last time, in preparation for the final stretch. Lyara writhed in pain, the byproduct of a spirit not wholly in sync with its place in existence. Her parents could hear the screams from the other room, but clung to one another instead of rushing to their daughter; they at least understood the potential cost of interference. The doctor briefly met the mage's gaze, worry gathered on his brow, before turning back to his patient. There could be no more delay. Merovan closed his eyes and plucked the string.

The effect was instantaneous, a cacophonous wave that echoed through his being even as it threatened to rip hers apart. The freshly strung connections shuddered as it passed, threatening to hold firm, but one by one they sprang from their moorings. Merovan listened as they fell, quickly gathering those that erred from their place and guiding them towards their origins. They could never connect as they once had, there was no denying that; their music would be forever altered, and Lyara forever changed. But she would be cured, and with luck, would grow into the young woman she might have otherwise been.

As the last strings arranged themselves, Merovan came back to the hospital room. Lyara was resting peacefully once more, color slowly returning to her face. It had worked, he could feel it, but already the changes had begun to manifest. Her hair, once a rich brown like her mother’s, was now the bright blonde her father wore. The mage knew that was just the beginning, likely a marker of some intrinsic shift that would become evident in time. But that was beyond his control, now. He had done all he could do, for good or ill.

Sennara was the first back into the room, entering cautiously as though afraid of what she might see. Notes of confusion as she noticed Lyara’s hair faded quickly to hope as she saw her little girl at rest. She quickly moved to Dr. Yusulos’s side, followed shortly by her husband. The doctor looked to them both, and then all eyes were on the robed man across the bed. Their one question came in unison, though nothing was said, and Merovan relieved them of the need to ask.

“The treatment appears to have been successful,” the mage said. “Your daughter is no longer afflicted by the malady that plagued her. Neither she nor any in her line will suffer from it again.”

The prince released a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding, and welcomed Donan’s arms as he reached for her. The doctor too was relieved, a feeling that came mixed with quiet respect for Merovan’s work. It was not something he would admit aloud, but to the mage it was a welcome sound. Here was a man like himself, who valued care and cure above method or motivation. He hoped they would work together again, a sentiment he rarely held.

“Dr. Yusulos, I will provide my notes to you by month’s end as the contract stipulates. I hope they will prove useful to you in combating similar cases hereafter.”

The doctor smiled in acknowledgement, another first for the night. “Thank you, sir. Now, we’ve all been awake long enough. We should take Lyara’s example and rest. Mr. Coretinon, shall I escort you out?”

“I appreciate the offer, Doctor, but I believe I can find my way from here.”

And so Merovan bowed his farewell to the prince and her daughter, accepting Donan’s handshake in thanks as he moved for the door. The corridors outside, still lit in the same harsh light, gave way quickly as the mage made his way to the hospital’s entrance. The waiting room had emptied considerably; some had lost their faith, and still others their reason to keep it. The few that remained barely noticed as the robed man came and went. It had been a long night for them all.

The city was just waking as Merovan left St. Nicodon’s, his blue robes the color of the brightening sky. He loved the sight of Methes Avonthes at dawn, with its alabaster towers gleaming in the rising sun, but he especially loved the calming melody it played for him. Citizens prepared to face their lives, even as the metropolis readied to receive them; a collective last breath before the bustle of the day began. His hotel room beckoned from farther up the mountain, offering well-deserved rest, but Merovan found himself walking the opposite way. The street curved down towards the district gate, eventually bringing the mage before the grand statue of Thesse at the city's center. Carved from the jagged escarpment, she strode regally forward, draped in a thousand silken veils that obscured her finer features. Merovan watched as they flowed gently in the morning breeze, lofted in place by an art not unlike his own.

Alone at the feet of the goddess he once revered, Merovan closed his eyes and listened to his own song. Among the familiar notes was something new, as there always was after a healing. Each patient left an indelible mark on his being, a new string that wove them together forevermore. He could see every soul he had touched, every life he had saved and every price paid for his efforts. And there was Lyara, humming her tune with a fresh energy that otherwise could never have been. Merovan followed the string, back to the hospital he had entered so many hours ago. Dr. Yusulos had taken his leave, while the prince and her husband prayed for their daughter to wake. The advice to rest had fallen on deaf ears.

Just then, Lyara stirred, eyes fluttering open to focus on nothing in particular. Her parents were by her side in a moment, holding her hands and cooing her name. Begging her to come back to them. After a seeming eternity, she turned to find her father's face.


"Yes, yes sweetheart, I'm here. Shh, it's going to be alright now."

He looked up at his wife and shared a smile, even as Lyara closed her eyes once more.

"Daddy? Daddy... Where's Mommy?"

Her father chuckled softly. "Ah sweetheart, she's right here. Right here."

"I'm here baby, I've got you." The prince squeezed her daughter's hand, fighting back tears of happiness. Lyara opened her eyes again and looked weakly towards her mother.

"Daddy... Who is that?"

Donan’s smile faltered as he reached for words that were not there. "That's... Mommy's right here, sweetheart. We've got you."

"I'm right here baby, it's me. Mommy's right... Right here..."

But Lyara turned again to her father, pulling weakly from her mother's grasp. Sennara stared at her little girl, dazed, as she slowly lowered her hands.

"That's not Mommy! I want my Mommy!"

Lyara began to cry. And in the shadow of Thesse, so did the man in blue.

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