Her study of the field journal was short lived. Before she became too engrossed with the tome I ushered her back to her meager bed in the barracks across camp. I helped her move the heavy literature and carefully instructed her to hide the books beneath her clothes in the tiny thing that passed for a dresser.

I didn't explain why she needed to do this, but she nodded dumbly at me as if I were her mother. I knew that it was Altima's strange dark magic working its terrible wonders already, but I refrained from touching her mind again to make sure.

She was polluted now. I wondered to what degree Ilythia's mind would feed the beast that now lived within it. I vowed to myself never again to reach out and touch the safe warmth that she had once been. It was mostly out of fear of the mutation Altima was to undergo as she consumed the personality of the little girl. But there was a lingering bit of guilt. I was partly responsible for her mind's subversion. It seemed to only cross more moral borders to violate it after the fact.

Ilythia was in a haze as we walked the short distance between her living accommodations and the medical barracks. The sun had slipped below the horizon on my walk over and the stars were just beginning to wink on above head. She stopped several times to stare at them through the forest canopy, her mouth agape.

"They're just stars," I said when she failed to realize I was walking too far ahead of her. Taking several long strides I returned to her and put my arm around her shoulders. It only took some gentle pressure to shepherd her the last dozen yards. "You've seen them plenty of times."

She craned her neck backwards as we walked, but ultimately complied. As the bright lights within the medical barracks hit her eyes a little bit of herself returned. I parted the curtain that gave Aeolus a tiny bit of privacy in his hospital bed and gently pushed her in.

We found him was laying down, looking miserable and pale. He smiled and tried to prop himself up when we entered, but ultimately needed Wind's help. I approached him and planted a kiss in the middle of his forehead. It was clammy.

"Hey," I whispered. "How you doing, soldier boy?"

He offered a little chuckle as Wind adjusted a couple of pillows behind his back. "Never better."

I shot a look to Wind, who caught it expertly.

"He's responding poorly to the wide spectrum antibiotics we've been applying. I don't have the equipment here to make a proper diagnosis. If I knew what it was maybe I could target it more efficiently and root it out." He grabbed a wet wash cloth from the bedside and dabbed Aeolus' face and neck. "I took a blood sample to your university. The medical lab is going to do a culture and get back to me in a day or two."

I looked back at Ilythia who was staring into space. Her face was blank and void of any human emotion.

"Wind says I'll be fine. Stop worrying them. You always do that.. you pessimistic.."

"Hey," I started. "Don't start." I put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it softly as I lowered myself into a seat next to him and Ilythia. I bumped her on purpose and it seemed to snap her back to reality.

"Yeah," she chimed in. "You're not going to get better if you're fighting everyone."

He waved his arm dismissively, but apologized.

Wind didn't seem concerned with either argument. He had his physician's hat on and with it came a cool sense of self control. He was professionally detached, even though his patient was his best friend. Pouring Aeolus some ice water from a pitcher on the night stand he offered me a fatherly look.

"What about the guy at the bar?"

"He's still in a townie jail cell sweating it out. General Drummand is pushing for them to hand him over to our custody so we can hold a military trial. She wants to charge him with assault on a military officer with a deadly weapon. The mayor, the little prick, is crying that I wasn't on duty. So it should be a civil case in their court."

"Makes sense to me." I offered quietly.

He shrugged before taking the glass of ice water from Wind.

"He could rot here in that little cell for all I care. Prison or gallows? To me it doesn't matter. I just don't want that bastard somewhere were he can't repeat his mistake."

"You never told me why he stabbed you." I asked, already knowing the real answer.

"Strange thing. The only thing he said to me was 'My gift to you, Captain Aeneas.' Then.."

His hand roamed to a freshly bandaged abdomen.

"After that I broke his arm like a twig."

A grin spread across his handsome face and I was left taken back.

Why would Altima speak through the Aeolus' assailant? What purpose would it serve other than uncovering her own motives? She was an arrogant, spiteful creature with more malice than I'd have thought possible for any being. But she wasn't stupid. I wondered why she'd bother to speak to him at all.

"Deserved it." He said in a matter of fact tone with a shrug and then sipped his ice water. He immediately went into a coughing fit.

Ilythia and I stood up as Wind took the glass from his hand. He pulled Aeolus foreward and began patting him on the back.

"Calm down," he said. "Don't drink so fast."

As he hacked and heaved Ilythia's face went slack again. Through his coughing fit I heard something. It was faint and hard to detect at first, but as I focused it became clearer and clearer. Beneath the coughing there was a distinct metallic rasp.


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