Old AN: Well, not really sure how to explain the lateness of this one, only to say that I would really love to murder BT over their insistence that nothing is wrong with the phone line, despite having no internet and practically no phone signal for over a week. Right now I'm at my Granda's house usurping their broadband to get this posted. On the upside it means I had plenty of time to polish this chapter... perhaps too long. Eh, I'll let you decide. Got an engineer coming on Wednesday to look at the phone line, so fingers crossed they find something to fix.

Important Update 26/9/12: The last part of this chapter has been rewritten. The healing ward scene has been expanded significantly so please read it if you've read this chapter before now.

In other news... Heh, I was right, BT ended up replacing nearly twenty meters of corroded cable in my street. I got a bit of a rude awakening at five this morning by my carbon monoxide alarm. Turns out my gas central heating unit had got all clogged up. The pilot flame had as a result grown into a monster, crawled out a vent slat and started licking about eight inches up the outside of the casing. Thankfully my Mum phoned the gas company straight away and they sent someone out to turn it off and clean it. Annoyingly it was only serviced in July but the man who checked it then barely spent ten minutes looking at it when he should have been at least half an hour unscrewing bits and poking about the interior. Meh.

February 2013 – rewrite... really not needed, aside from a few punctuation changes.

ooooooooooooooooo

(Previously)

"Hmm, what to do with you... I know! Let's play a game... It's called the imp and the rabir. Ah I see you know it, good... then you know what to do. Then I'll give you a ten second head start and a little motivation... Run fast kitty cat and make this fun, because if I catch you... I won't just kill you..."

With those parting words the scorching presence vanished, letting the Sovani stagger away from the remnant. Half a second's glance at the now spinning barrel was all the motivation Torgal needed to sprint for the exit, recognising all too well the firing sequence for the huge cannon...

ooooooooooooooooo

With a start, Rush broke out of his doze. Mildly disorientated he took in the spacious day room he'd been lounging in. Sitting up slowly on the plush couch he nudged Irina, who was also half asleep on his shoulder. Ignoring the irritated grumble he got in response he concentrated on the odd feeling that had woken him.

David, who was reclined with a cup of tea and a book across the room looked up and quirked an eyebrow questioningly.

"Do you hear that?"

Frowning David put aside his book, speaking quietly.

"No, what is it?"

Putting up a hand to forestall any more talk, Rush strained to make out the barely perceptible whisper tickling his ears.

"...come, I am free... I need you... find me..."

"It's someone speaking, but it's so faint..."

So focused on that voice Rush was barely aware that he stood up and left the room, body on autopilot, seeking the source of the strangely familiar voice.

"My Warden, come... I am free... I have feasted and am strong once more... ready to fight... ready to kill... come for me, for Kellendros is free!"

The end was more like a roar than a whisper and it made Rush stop dead in his tracks, face rapidly paling as the words registered. The small gasp behind him told him that Irina also heard it, though whether as words or just a sound he didn't know. David appeared at his shoulder a second later, a hand touching his arm in query.

"Rush, what's wrong?"

"Kellendros is loose, and I think she's already killed."

David froze at those words, going pale as Rush took off for the stairs, heading for the outside access tunnel to Kellendros chamber. As an afterthought Rush shouted back over his shoulder, already knowing she probably wouldn't listen.

"Irina, find Pagus! Tell him something's wrong with the Gae Bolg, and hurry!"

Legs trembling at the impact as he took the stairs four at a time and nearly rebounded off the walls in his haste, he could hear David valiantly tying to keep up. As he ran Kellendros' echoing words quickly degenerated into eerie laughter, interspaced with a few chilling words that spurred Rush on in horrified realisation.

"Run little cat, run or I'll catch you and skin you alive!"

Bursting into the courtyard on legs that he refused to let falter, Rush zeroed in on the small cluster of soldiers outside the ramp down to the tunnel entrance. He heard the roared command to scatter as Torgal ran from the tunnel and felt the growing static in the air. He knew neither Torgal nor the soldiers would be able to get out of the way in time, and that he didn't have the strength to protect them all, so he made a choice.

Throwing himself at the Sovani he released the power that had built up under his skin, willing it to protect, to defend. He was too preoccupied to see the briefest flicker of real fear in Sovani eyes as they in turn beheld eyes blazing with raw untameable power, before the world was consumed in light.

ooooooooooooooooo

Sprinting out a few precious seconds after Rush, David experienced the following moments almost in slow motion. He saw Rush reaching for the still running Torgal just as Kellendros released the pent up energy that tainted the air like static.

The first thing he saw was the tunnel doors, thick reinforced ironwood, torn from their hinges before being vaporised as a thick beam of boiling light erupted from the tunnel mouth. The compacted air before the blast pushed out in a shockwave, flattening everyone in the courtyard and blowing out surrounding windows in an instant.

Despite being blown back into the wall with bruising force, David was still able to see what happened next.

Those guards who weren't quick enough to react died instantly, immolated before they even knew what was happening. Those with better reflexes were perhaps even less fortunate as their clothes and hair combusted due to proximity to the beam, third degree burns melting their skin as they screamed. The paving slabs within a four meter radius of the seething light melted and glowed red with heat as the beam rocketed across the empty space and impacted the trainee barracks that bordered the courtyard.

The sprawling 300 year old building was blasted apart, burying or burning those within and launching brick, mortar and roof tiles as deadly missiles, while the beam became the towering pillar of energy in Kellendros signature attack. The pillar itself was twice as wide as normal, heavenly golden blue light a chilling contrast to its lethal nature. The accompanying spheres formed mostly buried in the rubble, but that was no barrier to the deadly energy they expelled.

The explosion was also powerful enough to affect the buildings either side of the barracks, the soldiers dining hall and a store house filled with weapons and more dangerously, explosive shard bomb components. The radiant energy was enough to ignite the components, the building containing most of the blast until one of the walls crumbled, more deadly shrapnel assaulting the survivors.

Once the shrapnel subsided, David pulled himself shakily to his feet, having fallen at some point, ears ringing from the tremendous explosion and inexplicably dizzy until he felt blood dripping down the side of his face. He must have been clipped by debris, which explained the fragments of masonry he dislodged from his clothes and hair. He was quickly distracted however by a deep rumble that preceded the destabilised tunnel entrance collapsing with an almost anticlimactic crump.

Over the ringing David could hear the sound of crumbling stone, the electric hum of the slowly dissipating column... and the screams. Pitiful wretched screams that petered out all too quickly as their creators succumbed to their wounds... and under that the wet rattling groans of the nearly dead.

Walking unsteadily towards where he'd last seen Rush and Torgal, part of him was shaking his head in denial at how anything could have survived in the direct path of that destruction. That attack had been magnitudes above what Kellendros was normally capable of, the trench it had left in solid stone was at least four feet deep and four meters wide!

Heart in his throat he reached the edge of the trench, eyes scanning the still semi-liquid stone for any sign of the pair, torn between elation and horror when he found it. In the bottom of the dip where the molten stone had pooled was a green-white bubble half covered in hot liquid rock. Unlike before this dome was opaque like frosted glass, pitted with scrapes and gouges, testament to the force it had to endure.

"Rush, Torgal! Are you alright in there?"

Feeling useless as he hovered as close as he dared, David used his sleeve to wipe the blood from his face, cursing when new blood, gritty with mortar dust ran down to replace it. Looking at the devastation, the burning buildings and strewn pieces of debris he felt anger, mostly at himself for not taking measures to secure Kellendros before this, he hadn't even thought to check on her in the interim!

With gaze and thoughts elsewhere he missed when the bubble rippled before pulsing outward in a silent wave as insubstantial as mist. He felt and saw the effects of it though as it spread outwards. Passing through him it felt like a breath of fresh air, cooling and calming, his aching head and the ringing in his ears evaporating like morning mist as he watched the barely perceptible shimmer fill the courtyard.

The brick dust and smoke blew away before it and the fires extinguished as though smothered. Even Kellendros pillar of energy wavered before gradually disintegrating, reduced to a harmless cloud of light.

Turning back David saw the whole melted trench was now cool and smooth, as though made days ago instead of moments. The sight of the two now uncovered figures blew away the veneer of calm however. Abandoning caution David slid down the stone, stopping by Torgal who was just sitting up.

"Torgal, are you alright, she didn't hurt you?"

If the situation hadn't been so dire, David would've found the Sovani's appearance quite funny. His fur was full of static, looking more like hedgehog quills than hair and even his ears were affected.

Taking a moment to register the question, and indeed David's presence Torgal answered in a slightly ruffled tone.

"I... believe so, my Lord, though it would not have been so if not for Mr Sykes's timely intervention."

Turning from Torgal who was giving him an oddly penetrating stare, David focused on Rush who was only just getting to his knees. Panting like he'd ran a marathon, Rush was trembling from the exertion of using that much power, traces of silvery-green still glimmering in his hair.

Ignoring that and the soft green glow of eyes that should be grey, David helped the teen to his feet and out of the trench, shooting Torgal a puzzled look when he heard a quickly stifled growl from the General.

"Torgal, start gathering up the wounded and get them to the healing wing. If he isn't already here have Pagus informed and send out missives to all the registered healers in the city. After that we need to coordinate a rescue operation for any who might be trapped under the rubble, get every able bodied man to help. Once that is done... then we can think about tallying the dead."

Hesitating for a long moment, eyes flicking to Rush he then nodded and turned away, shouting orders to the nearest uninjured and lightly injured men. Steadying Rush when he wobbled, David got a small strained smile from him.

"Thanks Dave... oh man I don't want to do that again anytime soon. It feels like I've got a full body rug burn."

Immediately loosening his hold, David was a little surprised when Rush just gave a tired laugh and leaned more heavily on him.

"Not like that, I just mean I feel a bit raw, it doesn't hurt that much. Pagus will probably take strips out of me, but I'd better go see him, got a bit of an ache in my chest."

Eyeing the blood on David's face before deciding it didn't look too bad, Rush snorted softly.

"What a pair, we can't go one day without something bad happening."

Still seemingly content to lean on David, Rush finally looked at the surrounding devastation, growing horror lining his face.

"Oh man... she did all this?! ...I couldn't stop her... I didn't have time..."

Sighing, David looked at Rush before taking his chin and gently forcing his gaze onto David's face.

"It would be much worse if not for your intervention. Even though I'm not sure how you did it, putting those fires out and dissipating Kellendros power will have saved lives. If you had not acted I would be suffering the loss of a treasured friend and advisor. Torgal would have died if not for you."

Rush just looked vaguely discomfited, eyes downcast and face pensive.

"Rush, I know that look on your face. Don't go blaming yourself. That you were able to save anyone is a small miracle, something you shouldn't take lightly given that you only just woke from a coma."

Face a mask of indecision Rush sighed slowly and nodded, still looking upset. Glancing up upon catching a glimpse of white David saw Pagus had arrived, directing a small army of healers to the most badly wounded men. Blocter and Emmy were also on hand, though Irina was nowhere to be seen and David guessed she was probably being taken to the healing wing, due to her ability with a jade orb.

Releasing Rush once he was steady on his feet, David wiped his forehead, hissing when he hit a small cut and more blood oozed down to his jaw.

"Well, we'd better get you inside before..."

The only warning David got was Rush's sudden look of alarm, the widening of the teen's eyes as he turned towards him and an eerie prickling sensation like standing too close to a lightning strike. The next thing he knew was a vicelike grip around his throat, a cut off shout from Rush and the sound of a body hitting the ground.

Lifted off his feet David's hand flew to where his blade was normally sheathed, only to remember he hadn't taken it this morning while the other clawed at the large hand constricting his airway. Focusing on the owner of that hand stopped any action he might have made as analytical gold eyes met his, the unforgettable visage of the Conqueror striking chords of dread in his heart.

Feeling like his whole body turned to ice in recognition of his life threatening situation, he slowly shifted both hands up to clasp the man/Remnant's forearm to reduce the strain on his neck while forcing his body limp and pliable. Nothing good would come of struggling in this position, even though the grip was tight enough to make breathing a real difficulty.

Behind him he heard the shifting of the few unwounded guards and soldiers as they tried to figure out what they should do, though admirably the healers continued quietly ferrying the wounded indoors. He also heard Blocter swearing loudly and the sound of a scuffle, undoubtedly Torgal and Emmy restraining the yama which David was very glad for, as the young Lord knew all too well that he wasn't getting out of this unless the Conqueror let him go.

With the already dire situation now turned nightmarish, David was all too aware of the fingers fully encircling his throat like a vice, blood dripping from his head to paint them red. The Conqueror's forearm was thicker than David's leg and under his hands he could feel rock hard muscle and bone, containing inhuman strength just waiting to be unleashed. One wrong move, one careless squeeze of that hand could break his neck like a twig, and everyone knew it.

A rustle of cloth preceded Rush easing into view, keeping a cautious distance even while every line of his body spoke of restrained aggression, eyes luminous with protective fury despite the visible signs of exhaustion. Strangely, the fear David felt racing in time with his heart seemed muted, repressed perhaps by the foreign pressure building behind his eyes as the Conqueror seemed to stare into his very soul.

Though only a few seconds passed it seemed like an eternity, and finally the Conqueror spoke.

"So it's true. You no longer belong to her…and bear another's Mark. Consider yourself fortunate that there are no bonds to sever."

Struggling not to shudder under that soul piercing stare, David drew in a gasping breath when the Conqueror released him abruptly, dropping him with a flick of the wrist before turning to the partially collapsed tunnel. David didn't even hit the ground before he was gathered up and whisked away by a streak of green to the relative safety of Torgal.

Massaging his neck gingerly with a trembling hand, David waved off Torgal, Emmy and Blocter's concern with difficulty, more focused on Rush and the frustrated anger evident on his face. The young man was glaring at the already livid red marks on David's throat, and before David could say anything he took off towards the Conqueror.

In truth Rush barely knew what he was doing, blinded by fury as every protective instinct he had screamed retribution against the one who dared hurt one of his own, baying for the Conqueror's blood.

Concentrating on the collapsed tunnel and it's buried occupant, the Conqueror only blinked when a wavering shield of light sprang up between him and the rubble. Turning to view it's creator, the man took in the boy's determined if shaky stance and the dismayed looks on the little Lord and his soldiers, kept away from the danger by the curving dome of power the two Remnants were now encased in. The staring match was short, and the Conqueror broke the silence first.

"So, you truly have awoken after all this time. Will you continue to resist, or will you join me in releasing your kin?"

The answer he got was soft, yet deathly serious and pitched so that only he heard it.

"You actually ask me that after that... that mad bitch killed who knows how many people, and you nearly killed my best friend?! They may not be Remnants, but they are mine, and I'll be damned if I let you hurt them again!"

ooooooooooooooooo

Held back by the flickering wall of energy, David and his generals could only watch with mounting anxiety as the one sided fight began, the sounds from within largely distorted beyond recognition. It was painfully obvious to everyone watching who would win as the Conqueror didn't even bother to fight back, ignoring or slapping away the hits Rush doled out as the man began tearing the barrier down almost nonchalantly.

ooooooooooooooooo

Darting about so fast that he left glittering afterimages in the air, Rush fervently tried to ignore the increasing tightness in his chest that restricted his breathing like a vice, growing more painful with each attack on his shield.

The dull ache behind his breastbone was blossoming into something jagged and razor edged the longer he used his power, body already pushed to its limit. His muscles were burning and barely able to channel what he needed for each strike, and worse still he didn't seem to be doing any damage to the other Remnant. Already far weaker than usual the washed out green starbursts only succeeded in slowing the powerful man.

Visibly irritated now, the Conqueror turned from the barrier and snatched seemingly at thin air, only for his hand to close unerringly around Rush's ankle just as his leg was lashing out for another kick. A quick jerk pulled him from the air to land in a dishevelled heap at the man's feet. Staring into furious yet pained green eyes the elder spoke in a low, intense voice.

"Enough. You are in no state to fight, especially an already lost battle. You may have claimed some of these creatures yet it is reprehensible the way you let them influence you. Those creatures ruined you and it's obvious you haven't taken what you need so desperately; you overexert yourself tremendously despite not being fully healed… You are a fool if you continue to damage yourself needlessly… let alone continue this pretence of humanity for their sake."

Glaring up at him, Rush felt the beginnings of a growl building in his throat, angry at the way disgust and pity coloured the man's words.

"I don't care, I won't betray my friends or act like a monster. I'm not a cold blooded killer like you, I actually care about the people around me, about my family."

The only warning he had was a flash of enraged gold eyes blazing crimson before white hot pain shot up his leg, his ankle crushed by monstrous strength. The suddenness of it left him no chance of biting back the immediate scream of pain, the grip unrelenting even as shattered bone ground against each another.

"You will not speak to me that way again, regardless of the role you were supposed to play. I do all of this because I care, because I cannot stand to see our people in the shackles of servitude, slaves to deceitful creatures that slaughter their own kind to satisfy their bloodlust. They care nothing for the evils they unleash, only how they can satisfy their endless greed!"

Voice ringing out in the sudden silence, The Conqueror released Rush, only to crouch and grab a fistful of his shirt, hauling him up to face level, feet dangling limply and one hanging at a decidedly unnatural angle. Speaking quietly but sounding just as passionate, the Remnant stared into him as though trying to see his thoughts.

"Men, no matter if they have skin, scales or fur, are a blight on this world, weakening a prison which should never be unlocked by their very existence. They spare no thought for our true purpose, only how they can exploit us for their own gain.

If you are honestly deluded enough to think they will accept you after finding out what you are, then you have a painful lesson still to learn. What do you think would happen if your friends knew the truth about you?"

Staring at the Conqueror through the haze of pain, Rush felt his own belief waver in the face of the other Remnant's utter conviction, the words a painful reminder of his own mother's reaction to him, of David's initial terror. The pain in his chest seemed even more acute at the reminder, and he had to fight back a groan as it flared sharply.

Searching for a way to deny the other's words, the memory of David's growing and Irina's total trust in him, even knowing the potential danger, firmed his resolve. Looking up at the Conqueror, Rush was able to smile through the pain, an almost serene expression on his face.

"Dave already knows, and he still trusts me because it doesn't matter what I am, only who I am."

Face going blank at that bit of knowledge, the Conqueror briefly glanced in David's direction, eyes narrowed, before he snorted in exasperation.

"Still blind to the truth, even after being broken by it."

So saying, he cocked his free arm before letting it fly, red-lit fist sinking into Rush's unprotected midsection, discharging a fraction of energy through his body. The punch merely forced the air from the teen's lungs and cracked two ribs, sending black spots dancing across his vision. The energy was deliberately targeted to react with the remaining wisps of the Blessings power left in his body and sent a spasm of sheer agony through every nerve.

At that precise moment the shield shattered, Rush's concentration too strained to sustain it any longer, the pieces falling like glittering rain only to wink out before they hit the ground.

Struggling to breathe, Rush barely felt himself be tossed aside, until he hit the ground and rolled to a stop, vision whiting out at the level of pain his chest and ankle experienced from the action. That shock of pain was the last straw, consciousness fleeing as his body decided it had been through enough, blackness filling his mind as he sank into blissful oblivion.

Staring with a hint of disappointment and pity at the unconscious teen, the Conqueror sighed, muttering faintly.

"So willing to side with such corrupted beings… They betray your trust so easily, yet you still seek to protect them."

Not expecting, or receiving an answer, the Conqueror turned his head to stare at the assembled soldiers at the other end of the interior courtyard. Gaze locking unerringly onto David, he withdrew the Marshall tablet from his robe with his blood stained hand, holding it up as it glowed brightly.

"You do not deserve the Remnants in your care. You abuse their power and treat them as little more than weapons, slaves bound to your will. You were blind to their suffering, to their needs, and never saw them as they truly were. Well, no more will we stand for this, it is time you saw the power you were trying to cage."

Eyes flashing crimson, a rapidly expanding corona of bloody light encompassed his form. In response to this, the tablet glowed brightly, summoning a stream of Remnant glyphs from the mouth of the collapsed tunnel like a swarm of fireflies.

Swirling round the Conqueror's body in a cloud of blue-gold light, they seemed to soak up the power pouring off of him. Blazing like an inferno, the power spread through the whole courtyard, a tangible force that turned the air thick and heavy.

Struggling to breathe in the charged atmosphere, David felt rooted to the spot, a horrifyingly familiar fear crawling up and down his spine. The hidden meaning in the Conqueror's words and the steady, accusing glare were like arrows to the heart. Even worse, he could almost, almost see where the Conqueror was coming from, how he could believe that.

David only just held his ground against that crimson tainted stare, cold sweat dampening his collar while the skin of his throat itched and throbbed in reminder. He felt helpless in this situation, unable to do anything besides watch. Hearing Torgal shift beside him, he spared a quick glance at the Sovani and was shocked to see him with his ears pinned flat and teeth bared, all four hands clenched white knuckled around his axes.

Back with the Conqueror, the glyphs had stopped swirling, gaining form and substance while coalescing into a tall, slim shape. As it gained definition, more power was sucked out of the air, adding mass to the indistinct shape. Quite quickly, the form became recognisably humanoid, two legs, two arms and a single head, no sign of extra limbs or disproportionate size.

Still sprawled where he had been thrown, Rush stirred at the feel of that oppressive energy filling the air. Only, to him it didn't feel oppressive, just warm and energising. Skin tingling from the charged air, he breathed it in and felt it soothe his hurts.

Sitting up with some difficulty, he risked a glance over at David and saw the badly masked fear on his face, the slightly awed disbelief at this expression of raw power. Beside and behind David, Rush saw the panic on the soldiers faces as they stared at something they had no hope in hell of ever defeating.

Emmy, Torgal, Blocter and Pagus each held a mix of loathing and horrified fascination as they stared, though Rush could see that Pagus's eyes were narrowed and flicking between him and the Conqueror.

Tearing his eyes away from his friends, he stared with a sort of dread fascination at the now decidedly mitra shaped figure gaining form and mass beside the Conqueror.

Before everyone's eyes, the figure solidified into a tall androgynous form, long limbs covered with what almost appeared as liquid metal, flowing and rippling like water. Within seconds however it changed, becoming smooth, bronzed skin yet still retaining a slight unnatural shine.

Sprouting from it's head came thick golden hair growing with incredible speed, curling over slim shoulders and falling in rippling waves until it reached the mitra's knees. The body continued changing, hips broadening and chest swelling into a definite female shape. Long slim fingers twitched slightly as fingernails formed and the feet gained shape, high arches lifting and firming.

Eerily, through all this the face remained utterly blank, featureless skin stretched over bone and muscle. Finally though, this too changed, the closed curve of eyes and mouth splitting the skin while a small nose took shape. Smaller details started to appear next, the chin narrowing and sharply defined cheekbones coming into view.

Eyebrows and lashes grew, and finally large almond shaped eyes opened, showing unbelievably vibrant blue-violet irises, speckled with gold. Full lips curved into a smile, flashing white teeth that seemed just a bit too sharp, turning the pleasant expression into something decidedly wicked.

It was like looking at a compilation of all the most distinctive Nassau family features, combined into one individual. Which made sense, given this particular individual had been consuming their souls piece by piece for over a millennium.

Utterly shameless, the naked female inspected her new form, hands sliding over smooth skin, cupping and prodding until she seemed satisfied that everything was where it should be. Turning, she looked at the Conqueror, who was watching her with a surprisingly warm, welcoming expression.

Truly, she was really something to look at, with a perfect hourglass figure, long shapely legs and hair that most women would kill for. Her full lips, high cheekbones and exotic eyes made her stunningly beautiful, but it was a deadly beauty. Every movement was slow and precise, inhumanely graceful and innately predatory.

Bowing her head, she spoke with a voice that sounded shockingly familiar, a little too high perhaps, but the clear, confident fluidity of the words was the same.

"You have my thanks, and my loyalty Warden Ceallach. For the gift of my form, I will do as you ask."

Rumbling like a satisfied dragon, the Conqueror said something in a voice too low to make out. Turning with a smile, Kellendros caught sight of Rush still mostly supine on the ground. Stilling, she fixed him with a glare that could freeze the sun, body tensing in preparation to attack as fingers curled into claws, blue sparks jumping between her fingertips.

Glaring back just as fiercely, Rush resisted the surprisingly strong urge to snarl in reply, acutely aware of his vulnerable position as an involuntary warning growl built deep in his chest while his eyes narrowed and gleamed green in threat.

Before she could go for him however, the Conqueror stopped her with a commanding:

"Leave him."

At the angry look from Kellendros, the Conqueror turned away, dismissive.

"He has chosen his path and we have more important things to do, come."

With another hateful glare, she turned to follow the other Remnant, but not before raking her heated stare over David, leaving a chilling silent promise. A brief flicker later and they were both gone.

Unable to keep up the pretence of strength any longer, Rush fell back, chest aflame with pain from within. Gasping open mouthed as though he couldn't get enough air, the teen swallowed a whimper as his ankle screamed with renewed pain. Awareness wavering, he none the less felt the shift when a body dropped beside him, a hand grasping his own.

"Rush! Rush, just stay awake."

Trying to say something in response failed spectacularly, as it just caused him to cough, the spasms sparking agony in his chest. Feeling a brief tingle that came and went without effect, he concentrated on breathing, fighting back the urge to pass out.

Unnoticed and nearly forgotten by all Blood Chalice glimmered softly against Rush's wrist.

"Hey kid, focus on me, don't pass out again or I can't do a thing to help."

Through the haze of pain and disorientation as they carried him inside Rush focused on that little gravelly voice.

"That's it, good, now you just listen up and do what I say. Don't try to reply or you'll just hurt yourself. Now, I'm sure you're wondering 'why aren't those schmucks just healing me up with some spells?' except without the schmuck part. Well, they can't is the short answer, it doesn't work on you anymore because of this whole awakening business. This is where I come in.

Normally you would just heal automatically, but you still have a few wires crossed in there so that isn't possible for now. You can do it if you concentrate but only if you let me direct your power, you're too spent to do it on your own. Sound good? ... I'll take that silence as a yes either way. Now..."

ooooooooooooooooo

In the medical wing David was doing his best not to lose his temper, more healers fussing around him than seeing to Rush. Those that were seeing to the teen were insistently trying spells that plainly weren't working... Thankfully Irina wasn't one of them, presumably kept busy elsewhere with the injured men.

Despite David's protests his throat was seen to before Rush, though it only took a moment to heal. Thankfully Pagus appeared shortly after that and took control of the situation, delegating the other gathered healers towards the many men injured by the Gae Bolgs blast. His examination of Rush was quick but thorough, palpating his abdomen to feel for any internal swelling and checking his eyes, muttering about 'dilated pupils' before feeling his scalp, looking for any inconsistencies to explain his strange vacuous state.

David didn't find the solemn look on the qsiti's face very encouraging as he moved on to examine Rush's plainly mangled ankle. The teen himself wasn't responding to any of it, disturbingly dark eyes half lidded and staring into nothing.

"Well, to be blunt there's not much I can do for the moment. There is no obvious head trauma and I can't identify any internal damage, though his ribs will need to be strapped. I would say he's in shock but he isn't presenting all the usual symptoms. Until I know more I'll have to treat it as such, though I'll keep him under observation just to be careful. As for his ankle... Without spells to take down that swelling quickly I can't see the true extent of the damage and herbs, while excellent pain killers are little to no use for broken bones."

Seeing the discontent expression on David's face Pagus shook his head and held up a hand to forestall any words.

"It's nothing to do with the severity of the injury, I've treated life threatening wounds without spells before, though not because they would not work, however it does have everything to do with complexity. The bones in his ankle are obviously broken, but if there is any tendon or ligament damage I won't be able to repair it, not without spells. Even with spells to heal the damage he would probably suffer from some degree of weakness and pain in that joint for the rest of his life. Without spells... Rush will be lucky to walk with just a cane by this time next year if the damage is as extensive as I fear. I am sorry my Lord but there is nothing more I can do at the moment aside from cold therapy to bring down the swelling."

Feeling dismayed by this most unwelcome news David forced back rising bile as the smell of burnt flesh clung to his nose nauseatingly, even with the fragrant herbs being used to counteract the smell.

Despite the fact that David really should be helping organise the cleanup he did not want to leave Rush with the healers. The teen was exhausted, in pain and his eyes were darker than a thunderstorm. He knew that look and though it hurt David to admit it, he still didn't quite trust Rush not to act on instinct in this situation. In light of what almost happened in the kitchens those weeks ago David refused to put the safety of the healers and their patients at risk.

Hearing a drawn out groan from Rush David snapped to attention, half standing when the teen's face twisted into a grimace, lips pulled back from clenched teeth. David could only sit down again, his expression mirroring Pagus's soft exclamation as Rush's crushed ankle and, unnoticed under his clothes his broken ribs, glowed a pale crisp green.

As they watched the inflammation went down, the foot realigning itself with the hair raising crunch of bone grinding on bone, the mottled red skin fading into healthy pink as the bones and soft tissue healed.

Within five minutes there was no sign the ankle was ever broken aside from Rush's pallid complexion. However he had healed himself it had clearly taken a lot out of him, face lax now with true unconsciousness.

"Oh my... It must have been his Remnant! Fascinating... I've never seen that component of the Talisman's power before... I don't think there has ever been a Remnant recorded that displayed healing abilities!"

Pagus's words as he stepped forward to examine Rush's ankle inspired an unpleasant realisation for David, whereupon he reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and felt the familiar contours of the aforementioned Remnant. He'd taken to carrying the little trinket around when it became obvious that Rush wouldn't wake that first week of unconsciousness.

As a result he had forgotten to give it back that morning and now he could only hope no one looked too closely before he got the chance to return it, or realise Rush hadn't had it during the fight.

Pagus' sudden silence broke him from his worried thoughts, the physician drawing back slightly with a faint,

"My word...!"

Looking over Pagus' shoulder David saw what had so startled the qsiti, his own eyes widening before he bit his tongue against a particularly vile profanity that leapt to the front of his mind. Golden lines, nearly identical to the ones David had seen on Rush's back were looped all around the teen's foot, ankle and part way up his calf. As if that wasn't shocking enough there was the matter of their size, for those lines around his ankle joint were nearly a centimetre in diameter, their meandering path following no prescribed pattern and looking almost like veins.

Unlike veins however these ribbons of gold were not under his skin, but seemingly fused to the surface. David had been unable to detect it with the gossamer fine threads on his friends back, but with the raised surface of these larger tracks it was easy to see. What's more, the vines of gold were still growing.

In random lines all over Rush's lower leg the vibrant metal was seemingly seeping up through his skin, rivulets of soft gold looping ,branching and merging in a slow, eerie display. In places the gold looked almost like a second layer of skin, even imitating the dulled lustre of normal skin. At nearly two thirds of the way to his knee the streams of creeping gold finally seemed to stop, the leading edges tapering into nonexistence just after the two thirds mark.

Knowing exactly what it meant to have Pagus see this, David was not relishing the thought of convincing Pagus to keep it a secret. Actually telling the truth never even crossed his mind. Rush was his responsibility and the young man has suffered enough broken trust already. It was not the decision a ruling Lord concerned for the safety of his city would normally make, but it was one a friend would make with barely a second thought.

"David."

The laden tone and lack of formal address automatically had the young Lord schooling his features to impassivity before he turned to address the qsiti. It was the wrong move for Pagus immediately picked up on what it meant. Grave concern with an undercurrent of anger draped the qsiti and David immediately knew this wasn't going to end well.

"I believe you have something to tell me David, and you are going to tell me in exacting detail, starting with why and when young Mr Sykes seems to have been fusedwith a Remnant."

Aand that's the new bit! Hope returning readers like the addition, because I only realised I had missed out this bit after I was halfway down the next chapter... eheh... _'_