The doctor was in controlled panic mode. “Yes, Matthew – keep the pressure on!” He was in the middle of a long stint of what I actually recognized as traditional CPR – pumping her chest with a regular rhythm, although without the breaks to “breathe” as I’m used to seeing. He’d been going for at least two minutes, since Juno had flat-lined in the middle of the operation.
Finally, I asked, “Shouldn’t you get a … um… heart cart or something?” I was so out of my depth, completely exhausted – and we were so close to finishing. Dammit!
He shook his head. “I … can’t run it … with three … practitioners…,” he explained while still pumping. “Lucky… the monitor… works…”
Finally he stopped. I started to let up, assuming that the continuing monotone from the monitor meant that we’d lost this particular battle.
“Don’t move!” He commanded, and then took a deep steadying breath, his hands hovering over her chest. Then he began chanting under his breath.
That’s about the time the universe screamed in my ear. You’d have passed out too.
It’s not too often that I get phone calls on my land line, but I’ve been giving the number out more as my old brick mobile phone has become less reliable. The burdens of burgeoning power, I guess.
Anyway, it was still unusual to get a call, especially in the middle of the day. Of course, I’m not usually home in the middle of the day, and I don’t have an answering machine, so I wouldn’t really know … but I digress.
“Yello. This is Matthew.”
“Matthew, my friend. I was hoping to find you home.” It took me a moment, but the slight accent behind Santiago’s voice finally trickled through.
“Santiago! This is unexpected. We usually only run into each other at Juno’s place.”
“That is true, but she’s actually the reason for my call.”
I heard the disquiet in his voice. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not entirely sure. She’s having some unusual symptoms and still having the pains that I can’t quite get a handle on – I now think they may be after effects of the triage you performed before she was brought to me.”
I grimaced. Santiago had been very impressed with the power of the biomancy I’d pulled off in the Louisiana swamp, but to say it was rough was an understatement. As much time as I’d spent counseling Juno, I’ve spent an equal amount of time talking with Santiago about the faith-based healing that we’re both capable of. He’s been doing it a lot longer, and while he can’t quite handle the same level of power that I can, his medical background and magic tradition have given him a fine control that I can only aspire to. I’ve filled pages in the Book of Armaments with the various rituals and scripture passages that he relies on, but nothing short of a medical degree would come close to making me his equal in finesse. “I not sure how I can help – you’re the expert in that regard.”
“Yes, true. But I fear that it will take more than my skills and power alone to remedy the matter. Can you come up to my clinic today?”
I set down my quill and stoppered my ink from where I’d been writing. “You bet. But it’ll take me a bit – DART doesn’t quite get to you.”
“That’s fine. I still need to make arrangements to get Juno to the clinic as well.”
“Gotcha. I’ll get there as quickly as I can.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
I shook my head a bit as I hung up the phone and began gathering my things. Juno had responded well, if slowly, to my counseling, but the pain from her wounds had been persistent. Santiago and I had hit a point where we thought it was just psychological phantom pain from her missing muscles, but I knew that he had continued his treatment to try and solve the problem physically, while I had continued counseling and psychology to try and get her past the pain mentally and/or spiritually.
I stopped myself before I started wallowing in guilt about it, though. I had saved her life. I didn’t cause her pain – McCulloch and his ghouls had done that. My job now was to finish taking as much of that away as I possibly could. I smiled grimly as I finished getting dressed. Time to finish what I’d started.
As I headed for the door, I worked through my potential routes to Santiago’s clinic in Coppell. Most any permutation of DART would take an hour to get me to his neck of the woods, and then I’d still have to hoof it for a few miles to reach his clinic. A taxi was out of the question, mostly due to cost. But…
Not for the first time this year, I stared at one wall of my apartment. Conor and Jamie had been coaching me on sensing potential Nevernever openings, and I knew that I could easily make one from within my home due to my affinity with the location. It was what would lie on the other side that had prevented me from doing so up to this point.
Events at Christmas had revealed to me the horrific activities of my former boss, and I knew that the Nevernever tended to reflect aspects of the real world. I had a bad feeling that I would not like what I found on the other side, since I was still living in the apartment above those old offices. Academically, I knew that I needed to take the plunge, as paths through the Nevernever could increasingly become quicker routes from place to place, and I could pretty much enter and exit at any church (the affinity thing again).
However, today I didn’t have time to deal with those potential unknowns. I headed out the door knowing that I’d just have to put DART and my feet to best use today, so I was only mildly surprised when, right as I hit the street, Belle pulled up in her truck. Santiago had gotten in touch with her at the Purple House, and she’d decided to run by my place to see if I needed a ride before picking up Juno.
Mysterious ways, I tell ya. Obviously, this was important.
We pulled up at Santiago’s clinic within an hour. Juno was in fairly good spirits when Belle and I both showed up at her door, despite knowing that we were mainly there to ferry her to the offices of “Dr. James Martin, MD, FACS” in Coppell. Her chatter as we drove was about what I’d come to expect, but she was paler than I’ve seen her in awhile, despite not being able to get out and work on her tan. I could see why Santiago was worried.
We got Juno settled in the waiting room, and Belle stayed with her while Santiago and I went to the “operating room” to talk. He brought me up to speed on the things he’d noticed since we’d last seen each other, and the status quo had definitely deteriorated. His fear was that despite the healing and surgery that we’d both accomplished, that some underlying infection was growing within her legs. Between her talent and his, modern medical screenings were useless, so he was down to exploratory surgery. My presence would lend some power and ability, as well as a level of comfort for Juno.
It didn’t take us long to explain all this to Juno and Belle. Juno agreed to the surgery, and Belle agreed to stick around until we finished, in case any emergencies arose.
Santiago had allowed me to watch him work on a few occasions, so it was easy for me to help him set up the surgery room – with both the mundane monitoring equipment and its protective circle, and the religious artifacts he used. We chanted passages from the Bible in Latin in unison – a little slower than he normally would, but around him I’d gotten my Latin back up to snuff pretty quickly after a few years of relative non-use. Then there was the cleansing rite that Santiago used – a creative piece of thaumaturgy focused around a passage from Job, essentially neutralizing our skin, cleansing it of mundane contaminants as well as protecting us with magical energy, and included a blessing that made both of our hands tingle when I invoked it. Within a short time, Juno was unconscious under anesthesia, and we got started.
As soon as Santiago cut into her legs, we immediately saw the problem. Throughout the mostly healed remnants of her muscles and blood vessels were throbbing grey nodules – some kind of ghoul-flesh infection that had slowly grown since the initial surgery. Santiago attempted to cut one out, but it just broke his scalpel blade.
“I knew there was a reason to have you come.” he said from behind his mask.
“How’s that?” I was acting as his surgical assistant, and feeling very out of my depth.
“These will have to be magically excised.”
“Ok… how do we do that?”
“Please, my friend. We’ve discussed your… ‘Holy Hand Lasers?’”
I nodded. My standard attack spell was a focused beam of light, shot from my hand. “But that’s fairly heavy scale blasting – I could do a lot of damage.”
“Yes – you must narrowly focus it, and tightly control the power release. Lasers are quite common in modern medical practice – you must be my surrogate in that regard.”
We briefly talked about what was needed, and instead of my usual quick evocation, I tried it on a ritual basis. Clearing my mind, I held my hand far above Juno’s legs. Without a ritual circle, it was a strain to draw and control the energy I needed, but Santiago guided me with Bible verses and mental constructs. Finally, I was ready.
Santiago pried back a section of her calf muscle, revealing a half-dozen of the nodules. I let out half a breath and willed the golden light gathered at my hand to splinter, a rain of fine threads of light darting into each nodule – with no effect.
I heard Santiago say something, but I just shook my head. A week ago when our group had faced down an ancient blood spirit, I’d actually been able to infuse a spell with holy energy – allowing my magic for the first time to be a focused expression of my faith. Knowing the toughness – and vulnerabilities – of ghouls, I knew I needed that again. I added new prayers into my mental construct, and tried again.
Success! The now silvery-gold beams shot down and sizzled away the ghoul-flesh nodules, and cauterized the wound underneath.
“Excellent!” Santiago congratulated me, but I was feeling the strain of the spell now.
“Keep going. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to maintain this.”
This type of magic was so different – instead of a quick gathering/focusing of energy with an even faster release, this was a continual gathering of energy with precise, measured releases over the course of the hour and a half that we worked. Muscle by muscle, we revealed and cleansed each section of Juno’s legs, Santiago’s calm demeanor and experience helping me keep my mental ritual construct firm and focused. By the time we’d gotten the last one, I could barely see. I’d tapped reserves I wasn’t aware I had – and honestly, I think “Jake” helped me out at some point, but I lost track.
I managed to stay in place as Santiago closed up Juno’s legs, but about half-way through that process, she flat-lined.
I had no idea how much later it was when I first woke up. I was in a darkened room (which I was thankful for, given the throbbing in my head), and I could hear some movement. I groaned slightly.
“Matthew!” Belle’s sounded relieved. “I was worried you wouldn’t wake up. You took a hell of a hit to the head when you collapsed.”
“Santiago said after you screamed, you collapsed, whacking your head on the operating table on the way down.”
I slowly recalled where I’d been. “Juno?”
“She’s fine – resting comfortably. Santiago thinks she’ll wake up soon.”
I nodded – slowly. “Water?”
I felt a cold glass pressed into my hand. “Figured you’d want some.” I sipped at the water gratefully as she continued. “What happened in there?”
“I… I’m not entirely sure. I’ll have to ask Santiago.” It was a half-truth. I was reasonably certain of what had happened, and it scared the hell out of me.
Later in the evening, with Juno sleeping in a side room and Belle gone after ensuring both Juno and I would be ok, I sat with Santiago in his office.
“Santiago, did you do… what I think you did?”
“What do you think I did?” He was a little evasive as he sipped at a glass of water.
I decided to be direct. “Did you resuscitate Juno with magic?”
He nodded proudly. “I acted as my own crash cart. I used electricity to re-start her heart.”
“Yes. With magic. And she is alive.”
“I don’t think that-“
“Yes, Matthew, I know that the White Council doesn’t approve of such – something about their Fifth Law.”
I racked my brain (gently), trying to remember what I knew about the Seven Laws. One was killing, Six was time travel… Three or four was mind control…
Oh, that one. That explains the Universal Scream.
“You brought her back from death. With magic.”
He just stared at me. “Yes, I saved her life.”
“No, Santiago – that’s just it. You didn’t save her. She died on that table – and you used magic to bring her back to life.”
“I fail to see the distinction.”
“It’s not just semantics, Santiago, because the universe saw the distinction. The reason I screamed and passed out was because… well… everything screamed when you did that.”
He looked askance at me. “Everything…?”
“Geez, Santi – it’s hard to explain.” I paused. “It was like the entirety of Creation was shouting that what you did was Wrong. With a capital W.” I also placed the pastoral emphasis that capitalized Creation as well.
He leaned forward, his voice intense. “And why would using my God-granted power to save a life be wrong? Why should a healer not use every ounce of knowledge and skill to cure his patient?”
I raised my hands, trying to calm him down. “Santiago, it’s not my job to judge, and I completely understand your intentions – but what got seared into my brain is that there are potentially disastrous consequences for upsetting the natural order-“
“Natural? Natural?” He was raising his voice again. “Were those nodules we excised natural?”
“Technically? No – but those were gone when she flat-lined.”
“Really? I’d bet that stress from the surgery is more likely.”
“So you’re a doctor now?”
“Augh!” I sat back in my chair, pressing my water glass to my head. We just sat in silence for a while, allowing Santiago cool off while I collected my thoughts.
“Look – the cause of the flat-line doesn’t matter, and I’m very happy that Juno is alive and well and recovering, ok? And if you’d accomplished that with a crash cart, that would have been fine.”
“But…?” He arched an eyebrow at me, but stayed calm.
“The ends don’t justify the means, Santiago. Magic is manipulating forces of the universe that we barely understand. And life and death are laws of our reality – everything that lives, dies, right?”
“But when you manipulate those forces to usurp those foundational laws … that’s capital-B Bad. I wish you could have felt a fraction of what I felt when you did that.”
“Why should I let a patient die while I have the power to stop it?”
“Who are you to judge if it is their time or not? To everything there is a season… a time to be born – and a time to die.”
“But I have the power-“
“Power – yes. But discretion?” I let that hang for a short moment, then looked him right in the eye, my voice softer, but more intense. “Who made you God, Santiago?”
He paused, but then sat back, non-plussed. “I’m not God. But what I did is no different than if I’d had a crash cart available. Was Peter wrong to raise Dorcas? Paul with Eutychus? An angel may have called you, but you’re not God either, Matthew. I don’t begrudge you your five talents; don’t ask me to bury mine.”
I sighed and massaged the bridge of my nose with my fingers. With those examples, he opened a door I could have argued. Peter and Paul didn’t raise the dead – they prayed that God would intercede and raise the dead – and that’s the difference between faith and hubris. And don’t get me started on the talents thing – that was just mean. I wasn’t asking him to bury his talent – I was just apprehensive that instead of doubling the investment, it would turn into thirty silver denarii.
That all said – his crash cart analogue was sound enough that I had a feeling I couldn’t move him. And I didn’t entirely disagree with him. However, what I experienced told me that there was a lot more to this than meets the eye; and I was worried enough for him that I couldn’t completely let it go. “We’ll just have to agree to disagree for now. But promise me you won’t do that again?”
“Seriously, Santiago – something about what you did was Wrong. I’m not going to claim any insight as to the particulars, but Something in Creation did – not – like – what you did.” I met his gaze evenly, wearing my concern openly – not anger, not indignation – just concern. “I fear that you’ve crossed a very dangerous line – one that has a slippery slope on the other side.”
Santiago softened a bit. “I acknowledge you think so. However, we both know that you would die to save a life; so will I. If a grey cloaked headsman comes, I will accept the decisions of mortal men unbowed. I promise only that I will not use my power unless all other options have been exhausted. But that is all the promise I can make – as a healer, I cannot let someone die without utilizing all the resources at my disposal. Same as I’ve always done.”
I noticed the language choice – same as I’ve always done. “This has happened before?”
He didn’t answer, but I saw his head bob.
“Have any gone as long as Juno?”
He shrugged. “About the same. I’ve not passed the time frame in which I’d be comfortable using a crash cart under normal circumstances.”
“So where do you draw the line, then? Two minutes? Five minutes? Ten minutes? What happens when your ‘crash cart’ spell doesn’t work?” I paused, and I could tell that he hadn’t really considered that. “What if you reach deeper? You don’t have to agree with how the White Council enforces the Laws to acknowledge that they have a purpose.”
“I am not creating zombies Matthew. I am not some kind of necromancer. I am a doctor. I know where I draw the line, and it is brain death. I acknowledge that the White Council has reasons for the Laws it has. I also know that the White Council is as unconcerned with justice as it is with those that are not adherents to their creed.” He sneered, and spat on the floor. “Hypocrites; all of them.”
My head was throbbing again. I really wasn’t up for a full-on morality debate, especially about magic and/or the White Council. And honestly, I had so many questions in my head, I wasn’t sure I was qualified. The problem was that discussing the matter with anyone who was qualified would have the result of headless Santiago.
I conceded the matter. “Just think about what I’ve said, alright? Forget the Council and the Laws. I’m asking as one man of faith to another – as a friend. Pray about this. Talk to others in the Confederacy if need be, if you want an opinion other than mine.”
He was quiet for a long time, studying me carefully. “Are you going to tell the White Council?”
I had to think about it. Finally, I shook my head. “No – like I said, it’s not my place to judge, and I’m not competent to – I’m just concerned.”
A bit of a smile broke on his face then. “Then that, I can promise. I will consider what you’ve said, and seek other counsel.”
But no promise to stop. “I suppose that’s all I can ask at this point.”
July 22, 2012
Juno’s recovery has been amazing. Fully cleansed of the ghoul infection, and under our ministrations, she has fully recovered and is adapting to life in a wheelchair. She’s even developed a spell that gives her ectoplasmic legs for a short period of time. In addition, she is not showing any adverse signs from the method of her resuscitation during the surgery.
I hesitate to even record this, for fear that it could be used against him, but I am still worried for Santiago. He seems to have no remorse for or awareness of the gravity of using his magic in the way that he did. I don’t know if he’s done as I suggested and prayed or talked to someone about the matter. He’s been evasive about it, and our conversations have been shorter and less frequent since the surgery.
It’s been a wake-up call for me – a stark insight as to why so many supernaturals stay under the radar, or safely inactive within the shelter of the Confederacy. With rare exception, these are not evil people – some have run afoul of the Laws on a technical basis, mostly without realizing it – but the Laws address the issues they do for a reason. I’ve engaged Jamie (and others) in conversations about them, simply to learn more, and Jamie is well versed in them, especially now as a full-fledged member of the Council. The Laws, unlike the Unseelie Accords, have wiggle room, but Wardens generally don’t take advantage of that room unless forced to. Should Jamie take the grey – which seems more and more likely as time passes – the dynamics in the Confederacy will undergo a shift. How much, how far – I don’t know. But, it doesn’t take a psychic to see that changes are coming…