We were travelling on what should have been a shortcut but wasn't because the trail was too steep and rough for the horses. The rain had turned to sleet, the wind was picking up and it was getting dark. The footing was bad, mud and loose rocks, and now the rocks were getting icy. We'd been leading the horses for some time and were wet and exhausted. We came to another rock cut, so we knew we were still on the remains of the Ancient road, and stopped to rest out of the wind. Yilli handed me her mare's reins and lifted her hands to zlin, extending her laterals for a better reading.
"There's a Sime in trouble over past those rocks."
I couldn't see a shenned thing more than a few meters away, so I just followed her across the talus slope, dragging the horses who didn't like the footing any better than I did. Yilli crouched and ducked under an overhang. I tied the horses to some saplings and followed her. It was dry under the rock, but all I could see was a dark shape on a drift of dead leaves at the back, with Yilli kneeling next to him. I took up position behind her with my hands on her shoulders.
"He's a high-rated channel, unconscious, in attrition. I don't have the capacity to satisfy him, but if we can just get some selyn into him maybe we can get him conscious enough to cooperate and work out some kind of splice."
"Is he injured? What's he doing out here alone in this condition?"
"He's got pneumonia. The fever's consuming selyn like low augmentation."
She pushed up her sleeves and his, and took his arms in transfer position. Even in the dim light I could see that his tentacles didn't respond.
"Hajene, I'm a channel, let me help you."
He didn't react. Yilli pressed his lateral extensor nodes trying to get a transfer contact. His laterals were flaccid and the handling tentacles didn't emerge. She made fifth contact and seconds later he convulsed and almost threw her off. She rode through the convulsion then tried again with the same result. Yilli is a really sensitive channel with a very focused touch, but she's never been strong, even as a child. Zlinning his attrition and backlash from two failed functionals in a row had her sweating in the cold and trembling. She broke off the contact and leaned back against me. I slid my arms under hers.
"I don't understand what's happening, Roza. I can't get him to respond to my enticement. He won't let me engage his field and when I tried to push selyn he shenned me."
"Let me try, Yilli. I'm higher field than you are right now."
"He overmatches you too. I've never zlinned a capacity like his. He's still got some selyn in his secondary system. If you can't get him to draw, or push some into him, maybe we can get him to do a shunt and hold off the attrition."
We traded places and when I got close I could feel his need as a rush of compassion that brought tears to my eyes and seemed to pull my heart toward him. I projected all the need-to-give I could manage and gently ran my hands up his arms. His skin was hot, much hotter than a healthy Sime's.
"Please, Hajene, let us help you."
Yilli smeared some ronaplin on my mouth and I made fifth contact. His lips were dry and cracked with fever. I offered with all I had and my tears dripped onto his face. I lightly stroked his lateral sheaths and suddenly all his tentacles shot out and gripped me with bruising force. I felt draw begin and pushed selyn as hard as I could. He convulsed again, throwing me back against Yilli, and hoarsely shouted "You!". His eyes opened but he wasn't seeing us.
I scrambled forward, held him down with my weight and took his arms again.
"Please, Hajene, draw."
He looked at me, seeing me now, whispered "Let me die", and turned his face away.
"Hajene, if we can give you selyn you can fight the pneumonia. You're half delirious with fever and in attrition. Let us help you recover and you'll be able to think more clearly."
"I can't take transfer. I came here to die. Let me finish it."
"Let my sister help you do a shunt. You've still got enough selyn in your secondary to relieve the attrition."
"Are you Householders?"
"Yes, we are ambrov Teiu"
"Teiu was destroyed before Unity."
"We two survived. We will rebuild Teiu."
"Swear unto Teiu you'll tell no one what happened here."
Yilli and I looked at each other.
"I swear unto Teiu", she said.
"I swear unto Teiu."
Yilli helped him sit up and lay his head on my shoulder. She nodded to me as she zlinned him perform the shunt.
"Hold him close, Roza. He'll rest on your field now. I'll look after the horses and bring our stuff in."
I lay down on the leaves, holding him in my arms, my cloak spread over both of us. After a while Yilli came back and lit our oil lamp. I lifted his head and shoulders and she got him to drink a little water. In the yellow light his slitted eyes were sunken and bright with fever, his hair matted with dried sweat. His face was skeletal, marked with more than fever and hard need. He was dying. Yilli took my wet cloak and covered us with the dry blankets.
He rested for a while, his breathing labored. Then he spoke softly.
"May Teiu rise again and flourish, naztehrhai."
"Thank you, naztehr. The broken tree will grow again from its living roots."
Yilli took off her boots and mine and got under the blankets on his other side. She put her arms around him, along mine. His breathing softened a little as he slept. I dozed, listening to him breathe as the pool of oil in the clay lamp shrank, consumed by the flame. He woke briefly and whispered "Thank you for easing my death, naztehrhai."
Much later he became delirious again and wept, gasping "forgive me, forgive me". Yilli and I tried to comfort him with words and our fields and he soon weakened and quieted. His breathing got worse and toward dawn became shallower and shallower and finally stopped.
The sky had cleared up but there was no dry wood around. I was really hungry since I hadn't eaten the night before. I made tea and porridge on our charcoal burner while Yilli hauled rocks to cover the body. She checked but there was nothing in the shelter, and nothing on him but his clothes.
The trail got better before noon, but my horse threw a shoe so we didn't make the eyeway until the next day. Some shortcut. Yilli got real bad bronchitis again and we had to stay in a filthy inn for three days. She always has trouble with her chest. Sectuib our grandfather said there's something wrong with how her heart works, and a really good Farris channel might be able to fix it. The way the Tecton moves us around maybe she'll run into another one some time, but the places we go are not usually the kind where you find Farrises.