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Viv opened her mouth—then hesitated.
On the one hand, she did want to meet the band. They seemed cool, and she’d never met a sidhe before, and there had to be some kind of bragging rights in getting to meet what was obviously a popular local band. And it sounded as if someone was hurt back there—if so, maybe she could help. She didn’t have magical healing skills, but she was first aid certified.
On the other hand, she wasn’t sure she should be intruding in other people’s business, and it might be nice to use her win to make herself popular in the neighbourhood. Earn some friends, soothe anyone’s hurt feelings at her win. Plus, it would distract the pub crowd from whatever was going on backstage. But when she’d been told the prize level, it was things like ‘a gift card’ or ‘A free night of food and drinks’. Would a round of drinks on a fairly busy night be too big an ask anyway?
“Well?” Susan glanced over her shoulder again, then beamed at Viv. “Hurry, hurry! What’s your boon?”
Maybe she could just explain her train of thought. She didn’t want the crowd to think she was sucking up, or get them hyped up only to be told they weren’t getting their drinks after all, but…
“Do I have to say it aloud?” Viv asked. “Can I whisper it to you?”
“Oooh, scandalous!” Susan chirped. “That’s fine, secret boons are hella fun and everyone likes the mystery! Come on up here!”
Several people patted Viv’s back as she headed up from the bar to the stage, congratulations and teasing jokes following her. She had to duck down to Susan, despite her own short height; Susan was no taller than 4’5″. She smelled of fall leaves, and, up close, Viv could see that her hair curled like fern leaves as she tucked it behind one pointed ear.
Viv mumbled an explanation. She wasn’t sure how coherent it was; she felt like she was tripping over her want to meet them and her want to help with the situation and her not sure if the value is too high, but Susan just nodded along as Vivian laid out both her thoughts and her uncertainties about them.
“So selfless,” Susan said teasingly, pitched just for her, and then spun to face the pub crowd, spreading her arms. “Guess what? Our new friend and yours, Miss Pumpkinhair, has bought you all a round on the house!”
The cheer that went up was deafening as the crowd turned to swarm the bar, nearly as one. Viv tried not to feel disappointed; it was something she’d wanted to do, and really, whatever was going on backstage was none of her business—
Susan’s bark-rough hand slid into hers. “Come on,” she whispered. “While they’re busy.”
For a moment, Viv was actually confused. It shouldn’t be possible that she got both—they seemed like such different wishes. But perhaps they were one and the same; in both cases, her desire had been to help with the situation, whether by distraction or by offering up her skills. If helping was just the boon, both outcomes would actually apply.
Led by Susan, Viv was tugged into the back room. It was, as she’d suspected, distinct from the kitchen; a backstage area with exposed beams, full of equipment and some couches that appeared to have been salvaged from street corners. There were doors off into the kitchen, employee bathrooms, and what she supposed was a dressing room—as well as a back door into the alley behind the pub, which she could identify clearly because it stood open.
The Merry Gentry band was gathered around someone on the floor; all Viv could make out was what looked like a heavy ashy gray cloak covering whoever it was.
“Hey, this patron says she’s first aid certified!” Susan said. “Have you called the ambulance?!”
“They say they don’t want one,” Dandelion said, looking up. “The kitchen’s called for a healer, should we cancel—”
Viv’s heart was pounding, the vagueness of someone else’s problem abruptly resolved into wait, this is my responsibility now. “No, definitely you want to send a healer, I’m not a professional. Certification just lets us help until the real healers show up…!” She let go of Susan’s hand as the pounding of her blood through her body drove her forward to the fallen person’s side.
In any other circumstances, she’d have never dared just shove in next to one of the sidhe, but here she was doing just that, sliding on her knees to where Dandelion held the person’s hand, equally gray where it showed under the cloak. The haze of the cider was gone now, either adrenaline or her own natural magic pushing it away out of necessity.
Viv ran through first aid steps in her mind. Check the scene and the person. Whatever had caused this person to collapse didn’t seem to have happened here; judging from what she’d heard and from the still-open back door, they’d made it in here after fleeing something else, and had collapsed on reaching safety. There was no visible blood, though she’d have to pull their cloak back to confirm that there weren’t other visible injuries.
She still didn’t see blood, but there was no point in taking risks. “Get me gloves and a first aid kit,” Viv told the closest person, who turned out to still be Dandelion. He put the injured person’s hand down, and simply went over to the kitchen to do so.
The moment the gloves were handed to her, she snapped them on, then gently picked the cloak up and pushed it back; it felt slightly dusty to the touch in a way that seemed somewhat familiar, but which she couldn’t quite place.
The person underneath was androgynous and beautiful; feminine at first glance, but with a lean, angular form. They had long, feathery white hair with zigzags of brown running through, like a chocolate design on vanilla icing; on closer look, their hair matched their cloak, which also had those streaks, though half their cloak was darker than the other half. Their face was pale, almost pure white, and quite round; ashen lashes half-covered eyes that appeared to be solid black. Thin brown antennae sprouted from their brow. They were wearing what was either a gray gown or a robe; Viv wasn’t sure which, not with them on the floor tangled up in it, their long limbs akimbo. There was no visible bruising, despite how they had clearly collapsed.
The injured person’s eyes were open enough that the next thing she should do was check if they were responsive. “Hi,” Viv said gently. “My name’s Vivian Dormer. I’m first aid certified, level one. I just want to make sure you’re doing okay, all right?”
“Is there anything we should do?” the satyr drummer asked.
“Give us some space,” Viv said. “Don’t move anything.” She turned back to the fallen person. “Can you understand me?”
A tubelike tongue wet their lips. “Uh… huh-huh.”
“Okay, good, that’s great. I’m just going to check you over while we wait for the healer to get here,” Viv said. She put her fingers to their neck. “What’s your name?”
“That’s Thysania,” Dandelion said. “The White Witch. They were supposed to be our opening act.”
“Thanks,” Viv said. She kept her eyes focused on Thysania. Their pulse felt fine. There was no way to check if they had diluted pupils, so she just focused her magic to try to sense Thysania’s magic, what kind of life force was moving through them. It felt weakened—wrong. Like something had drained half of it away. “What happened, Thysania?”
Their voice was soft and high. “Attacked. At home. The light… the light.”
“The light?” Viv focused on her own magic, pushing it gently out of her and into Thysania. She couldn’t heal them with it, but she could at least replenish their magical stores and help keep them from running out.
Thysania sucked a breath in. “I know you,” they said abruptly, eyes widening.
A new person entered the room—an older-looking and worried witch, carrying an old-fashioned medical bag. He felt powerful, even just from looking at him. “Let me through, I’m the healer,” he said, coming over and kneeling beside Viv. “Thanks for your help.”
“No problem,” Viv said. “Their energy is really low. I tried to transfer but I’m not very strong.”
The healer gave her a quick smile, though his gaze was focused on the fallen figure. “I’m sure it helped. Thysania, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Thysania said. They seemed to be staring at Viv still, and she got a small, uncomfortable chill.
“Okay,” Viv said. She rose abruptly, rubbing her gloved fingers against each other. “I’ll get out of your way.”
“Thanks, that’d be best—”
“No,” Thysania said. Their voice hiccuped. “Stay. Stay.”
“Thys, you have to let Isaac have the space he needs to work,” Dandelion said. He gave Viv a rueful, elegant smile. “Come, let’s give them room. I’d be happy to talk with you while we wait?”
Isaac had taken Thysania’s hand; a glow was passing between them, a strong and powerful will guiding his healing spell in.
“But—” Thysania groaned. Their eyes closed.
This was right, Viv knew. She’d done her part; any more was just interfering with the healer’s work.
But still she hesitated, Thysania’s plea echoing in her ears.
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