Wenyanga flew into the Judge's room, splinters from the shattered door flying in after them. Bare feet slipped on the slick tiles and pain lashed up and down their shoulder and the right side of their neck. But all pain, all notion of wariness, any questions they had about the strange young witch in the street burned away under the heat of a soul-tearing fear.
Thula was slumped in the far corner of the room, behind her medical kit, shivering violently.
She breathed, but her head hung limp against her chest, braids pooling in her lap, hands trembling. Wenyanga fell before her, cradling those soft, trembling fingers in the palm of their heart hand. They pressed their brow to Thula's, and almost rejoiced at the soft breath their beloved exhaled against their cheek. Closing out the world around them, focusing only on those slow, shallow breaths, Wenyanga opened their stoneiris.
Thula was not a mage, but all living things had a soul of sorts to filter the world's auras, and a stoneiris to perceive the subtle shifts that told frogs that a storm was building in a clear sky and guided elephants through wide deserts to an oasis. Thula never spoke about either organ in her; she was a doctor of the flesh and mind, and giving up the divine arts had been a price she'd been happy to pay.
For all the things they loved in their beloved, Wenyanga would never admit that that price was a debt that cut a hole in them. To lose Tello, who had been a genius of a mage, powerful to the edge of comprehension... they would swallow that in time. The divine arts gave power and pain with both hands. But Thula didn't have the power to protect herself from a Crude seer, let alone the flare of a Judge's soul.
Brow pressed to Thula's, Wenyanga opened their stoneiris wider, and the faint blue light of Thula's stoneiris winked into existence in their spiritual sight. She wasn't dying, but when it came to matters of the soul, dying was just an end. It said nothing about the soul-tearing horrors one could live with.
It was agony to let go of her hands, but Wenyanga set them down on her thigh. Gently, they pressed the fingers of their heart hand against Thula's soft belly, just under the liver. Something crashed down on the balcony, then a heavy thud shook the ceiling. If Wenyanga cared then the voidgods could eat them.
White gold rings flaring, Wenyanga focused on the soft pulse of Thula's soul beneath her flesh. Her soul wasn't strong, even by secular standards, so searching after the base of her life force was like trying to scoop a puddle of oil out of a bowl of water. But what a feint spirit made difficult, years of intimacy blew away effortlessly.
Scents blossomed in Wenyanga's spiritual sense. Ink and herbs and dry paper. Warm summer oils over the rancour of blood and other humours. The perfume of freshly pressed linen robes. Tello's jewellery paint. The salt of a distant ocean. All the marks of Thula's soul.
Wenyanga scooped them all up, gentle as a gardener cupping new buds, but it was still a gross invasion of privacy. They felt closer to a butcher scooping up hot guts. Still, they pushed their focus along the edge of the scents like a spoon at the rim of a cup, stirring them, forcing them to cycle. Eventually, Thula's own soul took over the momentum, reabsorbing the mists of her soul that the Judge's burst had scattered.
Exhaling a shaky breath, Wenyanga sat back on the cold tiles and watched their beloved's eyes flutter halfway open.
"...not pleasant," she said.
Wenyanga coughed up a laugh, and only then did the warming pain in their arm register. They winced. The flesh burned but the bone was icy cold. It was time to end this.
"Will you be alright for a few moments?"
Thula still looked like every breath hurt. Her hairline was damp with sweat, greying locks knotting about her shoulders as she tried to hide the trembling of her hands by setting them on her lap.
"I'll be fine." She grimaced as she tried to catch her breath. "I just really don't like how cycling feels."
"Your soul will slow down in a few moments, as soon as it rebalances itself."
"Hope you're back by then, I'm going to need tea. Lots of it."
I'll carve us a cup out of Sanele's skull for all the trouble he's caused. Wenyanga smiled their regular smile, the one Thula called the 'sad comforter.'
"Don't look at me like that," Thula said. "I know you want to tear his head off. Don't."
"I... yes, beloved."
"What's wrong with your arm-- Wenyanga, it's broken!"
"I took a nap in the street, just slept funny. It's fine." Wenyanga stood weightlessly. "I'll make tea and you'll splint it up, slap a rune on it, shove a pill down my throat. It'll heal in a week."
Thula closed her eyes again, grimacing as she breathed deeply. "Just go, 'Nyanga."
Wenyanga wiped at the quirk in their lip as they turned. The pink-red curtains still separated the room from the commotion in the balcony. Only then did they notice the silk shawl pooling around Thula's waist. Salleh's cloth. How much of that had shielded Thula from the Judge's burst?
It is the duty of all mages to protect seculars.
Thula looked up. "What?"
Wenyanga flexed their soul and sighed. "I owe someone a favour now."
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