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Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Rarity couldn’t tell whether her eyes were opened or closed: the absolute darkness of the cave was all she could see.

“Graves?” she called out hesitantly into the black. “Are you there?”

No answer.

Reaching to her belt, the young lady pulled out her small wand and focused. It wasn’t much, but a faint, bluish light appeared and spread its pale illumination through the gloom.

She spotted the marshal, lying just a few feet away in a still, unmoving heap. Scrambling to his side, Rarity turned him to his back and quickly looked him over. His eyes were closed, his breathing was hoarse and raspy, and in the faint glow of her wand, deathly would have been a kind description of his pallor.

This wasn’t good. The earlier battle had clearly taken its toll on the marshal, and soaked to the bone as he was, his situation would only deteriorate. Pressing her hand to his forehead, she was startled to find his skin both cold and feverish to the touch. How was that even possible? If a person had a fever, their skin would usually be hot and clammy. If they were cold, then they’d be cold through and through. If they were both happening at once, then–

No. Now wasn’t the time for idle curiosity: now was the time for action. Graves needed help, and as it stood, she was the only one who could offer it. But what could she do?

Getting him dried off would be a good start. Flicking her wrist, Rarity moved to siphon the water from his clothes, but cried out as a shocking backlash burned her hand. Something about the marshal, something magical, was interfering. Perhaps this had something to do with his unnatural state?

No, no. Focus. So magicking away the water wouldn’t work. What other options were there? A fire? Forcing more magic into her wand, Rarity expanded the glow as far as she could. It wasn’t much, but just enough to let her see that save for the walls and massive pile of stones sealing them in, the cave was empty. Nothing to burn.

Right, so a fire wouldn’t be possible. What about something else, some other way to get Graves warm and dry? Maybe if… yes! There, still tucked safely to the inside of the marshal’s coat, was the sack of gemstones they’d collected, somehow staying safe on his person through the ensuing chaos. A blessing indeed, because these gems just might help save his life.

Pulling out the sack, the fashionista poured its glittering contents on the ground. The blue tint of the light distorted their colors, but Rarity’s trained eyes picked out the ones she needed. Opal. Topaz. Ruby. Citrine. Tourmaline. All stones of warm hue and fiery nature. Arranging the gems in a small pile, Rarity let the light fade and focused on a new spell.

Most people assumed gems only sparkled because of the cut and polish. As a designer, she knew better. Jewels had inherent magical properties, ones that if brought out, could reveal hidden luster and additional sparkle to an already brilliant stone. And that was just the start; focus really hard and take it one step further…

Suddenly, the stones burst forth in brilliant red, orange and yellow light. Rarity allowed herself a small smile of triumph as she bathed in the delicious warmth that also radiated forth. It had taken quite a bit of effort, but she’d managed to bring out the inner glow of the jewels to a very literal degree.

Self-congratulations, however, would have to wait. While the seamstress had been occupied with preparing the fire, she hadn’t noticed that Graves’ breathing had steadily devolved into shallow, desperate panting. She’d missed that, but nobody could miss the raw, ragged cough that tore from the marshal’s mouth.

“Graves!” she cried in alarm, immediately returning to his side, “What’s going–”

Her words caught in her throat as Graves hacked again, a shower of silvery sparks passing between his lips.

That was magic. But how? Magic didn’t just happen, not for humans anyway. It had to be controlled, channeled, and that meant being conscious. Graves was clearly out like a light, so what in the name of Celestia was going on?

Graves continued coughing, silvery-white sparks continuously sailing forth as the fit wracked his body. And then things got serious.

With each cough came an electric spark, tendrils of lighting spontaneously burst forth, dancing and searing their way across his skin. As the coughing grew worse, so did the number of electric shocks till soon, his body was wreathed in their silvery arcs of destructive, arcane energy. Magic was definitely at work here, and it was definitely killing him.

Back to the gems. Rarity flung herself on the pile and desperately began searching through them. Magical energy had someone gotten trapped in the marshal’s body, where it was eating him alive from the inside out. That energy needed to come out, and for that, she needed the gems.

Rushing back with a handful of diamonds, Rarity took a deep breath. If she could channel the energy properly, she could siphon it from the marshal and safely store them in the clear jewels. Of course, mess up and the magical lightning would stream straight into her and probably stop her heart.

Ah well, no time to sweat to the details. Rarity breathed out, closed her eyes, and laid a hand on the marshal’s chest.

*****

Graves slowly regained consciousness and immediately regretted it. With every fiber of his being, he regretted it, mostly because every fiber of his being seemed to be screaming hateful, hurtful things at him through some very powerful bullhorns.

His entire body hurt. Except that wasn’t the right way to describe it. Hurt would imply a feeling similar to running a marathon while carrying a heavy sack of rocks, being beaten with said sack at the end of the race, and then getting kicked around by the team of angry minotaurs who'd swung the sack of rocks for good measure. That would describe hurt, and Graves was well past that by now.

Eyes closed, the marshal simply lay there, trying to ignore the innumerable aches and pains of his body as he struggled to get his bearings. The last thing he remembered was the chimera and the landslide. It’s seems he hadn’t been buried in rubble, which meant it had worked; the blast had propelled him and Rarity far enough into the cave that–

“Rarity!” he gasped, his eyes springing open at the thought. “Where–”

Immediately, the young lady’s face filled his vision. She was caked in mud, her hair was a mess – all unsurprising considering the day she had –and yet when she smiled, she looked even more beautiful than ever.

“Graves! Thank goodness you’re finally awake!” she sighed, relief washing over her features like a cleansing wave. “For a moment there, I thought you had… well…”

“Where… where are we?” he asked, his voice coming out a faint, tired croak. “What happened?”

“We’re in a cave,” she replied, removing a strip of white fabric from his forehead. Walking over to where a puddle of water had trickled through the stones, she wet it and replaced it on his head. It felt deliciously, wonderfully cool. “The landslide’s sealed us in, which I suppose is bad. On the other hand, it has kept those monsters from getting us, so I guess it all evens out. How are you feeling?”

“Huh?”

“How are you feeling?” she slowly enunciated, smiling as if she were speaking to a child. “Considering your condition, I would think it’d be a sensible question to ask.”

“Condition?”

“You weren’t exactly the picture of health, if that’s what you’re asking,” the pretty seamstress said wryly. “First, you’re freezing up but feverish, then you start coughing out this cloud of sparks, and then all this electricity just started shooting out of your body.”

“Ah. I see.”

“You… see,” Rarity repeated flatly as she gave him an inquiring look. From the way she sat there, sapphire eyes intent and arms folded under her breasts, she clearly expected an explanation.

“Mana sickness,” Graves replied, grunting as he tried to sit up. Tried was the key, since his arms were as flimsy as wet pasta and only about half as strong. However, with a good bit of help from the young lady, he managed to get himself leaned up against the cave wall.

“So, this mana sickness,” Rarity repeated, handing him his hat before taking a seat across the fire from him, “what exactly is it? You’re not going to suddenly turn into a newt, are you?”

“Not exactly,” he weakly grinned as he put his hat back on. “It’s what happens when a person draws in too much energy.”

“Draws in too much?” Rarity frowned, not quite following. “But I thought people had limits on how much magic they can use.”

“Safely use,” Graves corrected. “Mind instinctively limits the amount of magic a person draws in. Sort of a natural block. People can push past that and draw in more, but they start to lose control. The energy that should go out starts flowing back into your body.”

“But then that means…” the young lady began, eyes slowly widening in alarm. The marshal nodded.

“I use lightning based magic. Since I used it too quickly, some of it started flowing back. After something like today, well…” he trailed off; after all, she’d been there and seen it.

“But that’s horrible!” Rarity cried, her voice hovering somewhere between sympathy and indignation. “I mean, I’m all for giving a bit of extra effort in a pinch, but pushing yourself to those kinds of lengths is just ridiculous!”

“Sometimes you can’t avoid it,” Graves shrugged. “It was either that or get fried and eaten. I figure it was a pretty good trade.”

“So how do you feel now?” she asked again, leaning in and anxiously looking him over. “You’re not going to just… explode now are you?”

“Actually, I feel alright.” What was even more surprising than his answer was that he actually meant it. Oh sure, he was exhausted, and his body still felt like a herd of bison had used his back for a tap dancing stage, but that was just the normal aches and pains of a hard day’s work. Why, after a good meal and some rest, he’d be good as new.

“You’re sure?” the pretty seamstress inquired, leaning in even closer and carefully scrutinizing him. “You wouldn’t just be saying that to keep me from worrying, would you?”

“Of course not,” he said with a good bit of sincerity, though he definitely wouldn’t have minded if the words had that effect: she was awfully close, and even now, he could still catch the tantalizing scent of her lavender perfume. “It's actually kind of weird,” he continued. “Usually by now, I have to detox, but I just… don’t.”

“Er, detox?” Rarity inquired. “What’s that?”

“Vent the extra magic,” the marshal explained. “Kind of rough, but it gets the extra energy out of my system. Strange.”

“Ah, I see. Well in that case,” the pretty seamstress said with a knowing smile on her face, “I guess you’re a very lucky man I happened to be here.” Graves blinked.

"Come again?”

“While you were out and sparking like a fireworks display, I figured it had something to do with magic. So, with a little creativity, I ended up making… these!”

With a flourish, Rarity pulled out the handful of diamonds she’d channeled the energy into. Only now, they looked less like stones and more like stars held in the palm of her hand, glittering with a pure, white light and crackling with life.

“But… how?” Graves gaped.

“Simple,” she grinned. “I just took the magic trapped inside you and stored it in these. It was touch and go for a bit, but I think they turned out quite nicely."

The marshal just stared in wonder at her for a moment before looking back to her hands, then back into her big, sapphire eyes.

“That’s… amazing,” he breathed, his tone floating something between disbelief and awe. “I didn’t even know gems could do that.”

“It’s something I managed to figure out when I was younger,” Rarity replied as a very fetching blush came to her cheeks. “I mean, my cutie mark is a set of diamonds, so I guess I have a natural affinity for jewels and such.”

“Huh. I see."

And suddenly, another, completely crazy and over the wall idea came to Rarity.

"Would... would you like to see?”

**********