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[X] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.
You suck in shaky gasps through your mouth, trying to avoid the jagged, rusty scent of blood ripping at your courage. Someone's dying on your front hallway floor, their lifeblood seeping away with every weakening beat of their heart. Their very life is in your hands, and should you fumble...
… the stitching?
Of a -
“Doll,” you whisper, feeling your limbs steady. It is, of course – the original template. The first thing you ever studied.
And you're mere feet from your own workshop.
“Get on top of her,” you say hoarsely, “and keep -
the blood in
-the pressure on.”
Fixing your eyes on the kitchen doorway, safely beyond and above the mess, you chance your own legs again and find them firm. You flourish both hands in the air, strengthening the latent magical links between you and your dolls. You needn't bother with the rings; not in your own sanctum: a proper dozen come swarming out of your workshop, only a few steps away. You take a deep breath and look down at the victim, focusing on keeping your dolls movements symmetrical, methodological, orderly as they lift her from the – floor and carefully carry her through the workshop doorway. Your main table is completely covered with damn near everything. You grit your teeth in sudden fury, and the table is roughly cleared by a blast of pure clumsy force, spools and cloth scraps flying asunder. You lower the casualty towards the table.
“Off,” you instruct, and the toastermogami obligingly hops, alighting on the table. You flip the casualty over and lower – him! onto the table. The wound is visible now, a huge puncture deep into the thigh. Nausea climbs against your gorge but you shove it away, your teeth grinding in anger. This is your own fucking workshop.
“Bin five-four,” you instruct crisply, and Shanghai darts to a large rack of little drawers, returning with a spool of very, very fine silk thread, the kind used for the most careful work securing joint structures in dolls that need strength and flexibility – you used it in Shanghai herself. You advance to the table and peer down at the wound, examining it as clinically as possible.
“Hourai, bin- fuck,” you snarl, and jerk your hand upwards, sending a generic doll after a small bulls-eye lantern. You light it with a quick match and peer into the injury only to see welling pouring gushing
“Twelve-ten!” Shanghai hands you a thin, orange cloth Rinnosuke sold you a few years back. He said it was amazing for spilled liquids, (though you've never had occasion to test that) and he kept on making sly references to Germans in that smooth tone he gets when he thinks he's being quite clever. “Mop out that hole, gently!” Shanghai moves in with her characteristic agility. You count to twenty, take a deep breath, and look down.
Rinnosuke's product works as advertised (for a change;) the wound is mostly visible, and Shanghai isn't even dabbing. You glance at the toaster's flexible black cord – he's applying plenty of pressure. Deep inside the wound, lit by the lantern, you can see the ragged tear in the femoral artery.
“Okay,” you say shakily. “Okay.” Handing the lantern to a doll, you position them directly above the wound, directing the light into it. Then you close your eyes, clear your mind, and reach out towards Shanghai. She's sophisticated and semi-autonomous, so much that you almost never control her directly. You must reestablish the link.
Your hand brushes Shanghai's dress. Warmth frizzles on your fingertips and flows down your arm as the bond strengthens. Reaching out with your consciousness, you can feel Shanghai's mind, cascading logic trees bristling everywhere like a shrub. The strong, cohesive main branches you programmed long ago, and the chaotic forest of organic growth Shanghai acquired independently, as you designed her to. Her rigid mind is prickles as it brushes your consciousness. You hate the necessity; artificial as it is, you still feel like an intruder. Besides, you don't want to influence her independent development – she's a long-term experiment, among other things. But your need is dire. You strengthen the bond – and open Shanghai's eyes.
Two delicately-crafted hands hover before you. You look down at the minute stitching of Shanghai's dress, then up at yourself, towering overhead, eyes unfocused. You can distantly feel the drop of sweat you're watching run down your temple. You look away, floating over to the spool of silk thread and tucking it under your arm.
Time to work.
By lying on 'your' chest, you can reach right down into the wound. Thread in your left hand and a minute needle in your right, you look for the damage. More blood has muddied your view; you move another doll closer to reach down and mop it up, then adjust the lamp-bearing doll to get better lighting.
At last, you set Shanghai's hands upon the jagged tear in the femoral artery. Carefully tugging the elastic flesh back into place, you start securing it in position with a few quick stitches here and there, cutting the silk thread with quick slashes of a third doll's thin scalpel. You keep another mopping away at the wound, dipping a corner of the cloth in to wick away the fluid while you work your way along the tear in the artery with swift, well-practiced motions.
Your vision quavers for a moment, but you rally, determined to see the job through. A few more stitches and the artery is closed.
You release the link with Shanghai, snapping back into your own head hard enough to send you reeling. You stagger weakly, then topple backwards into your cluttered desk. The doll holding the lantern wavers dangerously before you reassert your link and direct her to lay it down safely. You snatch at the first bolt of cloth that comes to hand and wrap it around the puncture wound tightly – you don't trust your blurring vision to stitch that up.
“You can let go now,” you tell the toaster.
“A-are you sure?”
“If you don't, his leg will probably fall off.”
The toaster's cord reluctantly uncoils from the man's upper thigh.
“What now?” the toaster asks.
“Keep an eye on him,” you murmur. Rummaging through your desktop detritus you turn up a scrap of parchment. Fumbling for a pen, you manage to ink it without upsetting the well and scrawl a quick note:
Young male, hunter? Wounded right leg, femoral artery, stitched, major blood loss. Need app. supply. Charge to account.
You crumple the paper and proffer it to your companion. “Shanghai. Destination, Clinuh- Destination, Clinic,” you mumble, your tongue feeling thick. “Await return instructions from... usual people,” you manage, too exhausted to bother. Shanghai can take care of herself, anyways.
You shuffle out of your workshop and into the living room, burning eyes focused on the couch. You tumble into oblivion.
Central ring, five others looping through it, slowly orbiting around the center. The central ring surges and wanes erratically, but the outer rings absorb or give luminescence as needed, random surges being blended into a paradoxical harmony.
You'd need six separate cores... all counterbalanced... the details flit and flutter around the circling luminescent rings, so orderly, so beautiful...
The hesitant words send ripples through the pleasant late-morning haze. Your muscles radiate that pleasant sensation of relief, like a stretch that lasts forever. Soft morning light promises a fresh day ahead without being demandingly bright, a perfect blend of potential and procrastination. You could lie here fore-
“Miss Alice, get UP!”
You groan miserably and fling a pillow at the noise.
“Shanghai is back!”
She's always back you little tin moron she can take care of herself-
“You have a casualty to attend to!”
Casualties imply wars and you ran off those fairies visited months ago shut up
“Man with a huge hole in his leg lying unconscious on your sewing table HELL~OOOO!”
The doze finally quavers and pops like a soap bubble, gone for good. You roll over and sit up, leaning back into the cushions, letting your brain start up. Last nights events troll through your memory, trailing a wake of tumultuous emotion.
You shake your head miserably. After tea.
“Shanghai?” you ask.
“She's back,” the toaster replies from atop the coffee table.
“First things first, then,” you murmur. “Shanghai!?” She comes on command, floating serenely through the living room, bearing not a package, but a single slip of paper.
“Oh, hell,” you sigh. You accept the note from her and glance at it, recognizing the elegant, flowing script instantly. “Blast,” you growl, not even bothering to swear properly. Why can't anything be simple? You stuff the note into your pocket, leaving it for later. After tea.
“Wasn't she supposed to bring back medicine?” The toaster asks, hopping after you with little poings as you enter the kitchen.
“That daffy moon-maid was supposed to give her medicine,” you growl as you set up a kettle. “Instead she's going to play games, acting coy and mysterious just to annoy me.”
“Aren't you going to check on him?” toastermogami objects, bounding to the countertop with one great metallic boing!
“He lasted through the night, didn't he?” you snap.
“Then he'll last ten more minutes!” you bark. You draw some water in the sink and splash your face, removing your headband to finger-comb your hair a bit. Between yesterday's “duel” with Marisa and the high-stakes surgery, you desperately want for a shower. But the toaster's right – it'll have to wait.
You sigh, opening the blinds to illuminate the kitchen as the kettle pings and poings. Visitors never work out well, for some reason, even when they're not half-dead. And parties, for that matter. Why do you still bother with them?
You slump in a chair and produce Erin's note, turning it so the toastermogami can read it from his vantage on the counter.
Dear Miss Margatroid,
Your hunter had already been missed in the Village. I've informed his family that he's in your care. I'll be along shortly with the appropriate supplies for his continued treatment and/or procedures.
“... so?” the toaster asks, puzzled.
“She doesn't make house calls in the village, much less to the middle of nowhere,” you reply. “And she's bringing appropriate supplies.”
“Isn't that what you asked for?”
“Supplies to get him on his feet and out of here!” you bitch. “Not for continued treatment~” you say with prim little tones similar to Eirin's. “Does this look like a hospital?”
The toaster swivels left, then right, as if scrutinizing the room.
“No,” he says dryly.
You frown at him and rise, checking the kettle. Filling a bowl with warm water, you stuff a washcloth into your pocket and head for your workshop, toaster bouncing after. The casualty is still unconscious, lying right where you left him, as immobile as the dolls. With a flick of your fingers, a doll opens the window blinds. The dusty window only admits slanting bars of pale light, but its enough to get a better look. His bandage is still pristine-white, testament to your stitchwork. Otherwise, he looks like the toaster dragged him across the forest floor for a few miles. His leather jacket and canvas pants are stained dark with his own blood, and his upset hair is filled with twigs and leaves and dirt. And most eye-catching, his face; striped unrecognizable with grass stains and (what smells like) burnt cork. You wet the cloth, wring it out, and wipe it firmly down his face to clear off the gunk. It comes away thickly soiled, making you grimace. You carefully fold it over to get clean sides and reach out to...
A person has appeared from under the muck, from the generic suggestion of human features to a well-defined face. You glance at the washcloth in wonder, suspecting a glamer, but you sense no magic. Its just skill; artistic skill, even. You wipe at his face furiously, folding the cloth over and over to keep dabbing with clean bits until his visage is fully revealed.
Something bounces in your breast and trips up your breath.
Strong jawline, tapering down to a square chin. High, clear cheekbones over well-tanned skin and stubble... and a nasty blue-yellow bruise, on the right side. Little nicks and scratches cover his visage.
You stand there, listening to his deep, rhythmic breathing as a vague guilt-front rolls over you. You tuck a nearby bolt of cloth under his head. You hope he doesn't wake up on this hard, blood-soaked table, stiff and miserable. You should've done this last night – should've put a blanket over him, too. For the shock. But you'd been so...
“Exhausted,” you say to the window. Youkai – you – don't need sleep. But sleep you have... long, and deep. With increasing frequency. You feel tired now, and you just woke up. Hell of a time for it, too, with a guest still lying on his own surgery table and that thrice-damned clown coming god knows when and your home's a mess and you're not even sure what to do next...
You slump over, hands on the desk, and try to steady your spinning head.
Visitors never work out.
You seize a large bolt of clean, rough canvas in one hand and bring several simple dolls to heel with your other, intending to lift the casualty and properly cover the table; sterile white instead of blood-soaked wood. You turn back and feel your heart sink instantly. Lying battered and unconscious on your worktable, its like... a damaged doll. Torn cloth, soiled clothes, the proper, lively animation gone – at the mercy of your attention to live once again. You loathe leaving them like that for even a minute... exposed. Its why you hid Hourai away in that basket, safe. You decide to cover the poor man, and direct your dolls appropriately.
He opens his eyes.
Shanghai is hovering horizontal above him, looking down, her delicate arms bloody to the elbows and still carrying the scalpel she used to cut the suture thread last night. Wait, you sent her to Eirin looking like – oh dammit, no wonder -
The man emits a high-pitched squeal and jolts sideways, away from Shanghai. Looking down, he sees a quartet of dolls dragging the canvas shroud over him, and yelps with what breath he's got left.
“Stop moving!” you exclaim as he nears the table-edge, calling more dolls to heel from the tables and shelves all about, to catch him should he tumble.
“GNNAAAH!” he cries, sliding back off the table, twisting to take the fall on his shoulder-blade. He scuttles backwards towards the wall, pushing with his good leg.
“Stop moving, or you'll get hurt!” you exclaim, eying his bandage. If he aggravates that wound -
He bends his bad leg and swipes at his boot holy shit that is the biggest goddamn knife you've ever seen.
[ ] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”
[ ] THREAT DETECTED! DOLL DOGPILE! Restrain and communicate!
[ ] I've handled this, uh, poorly. I need to go do a Thing. Elsewhere. He'll figure things out in a minute.
[ ] I saved this assholes life who the hell does he think he is I wanna punch his shit oh god the nerve-