I woke upon my back, half in and half out of the skitter’s broken shell. Wreckage pinned my left arm beneath me. Not a wisp of cloud remained in the unbroken jet-blue bowl of the sky.
The white ghost of Biggest Moon hovered just at the world’s edge, pinned down by the furnace sun. I turned my head in that direction. The mountains looked close enough to touch. At their base, off to the north a bit, I saw the reflected shimmer of the Edgerton water tank. We could have covered the distance before the sun reached mid-day, if we still had the skitter. On foot, it would be nightfall before we left the desert, if we both could stay alive to walk that far.
“Dela?” My throat felt sandblasted.
I pushed at the wreckage, managed to sit up.
My left arm flopped from under me, numb from shoulder blade to fingertips. I lay buried to the waist within broken spars and torn canvas. Despite the sun, I felt half-frozen, my legs no better than two shanks of beef hung in a meat locker. Then I saw it in the wreckage near my knees.
The chiller still functioned, trying to cool the stretches of the Furnace.
“Dela!” Still no answer.
I kicked my way from the debris, pulling at pieces with both hands as sensation returned to my left arm. Blood trickled from half a hundred cuts on my face and arms but it appeared I hadn’t received any major injury.
Once I reached my balance, I began to search. I found Dela jammed into the remains of the skitter’s narrow nose. When I touched her hand, she clutched at me and moaned, a pitiful sound that made the bottom of my stomach fall away. I tried to pull her free but she screamed at me to stop.
In the end, I tore the shell from around her with my bare hands and discovered she hadn’t had my luck. Her legs were twisted and broken. All but the thumb and index finger of her right hand were gone. The bullet wound on her side had been reopened and she’d lost a lot of blood. But the worst of the damage seemed to be inside her.
Minutes passed, and she became deathly pale. Unable to do anything, I settled to the desert floor beside her and held on to her undamaged hand.
“Hey,” Dela muttered, after a time.
I leaned close to hear her words.
“It’s bad, kid,” she said.
“Dela,” I stuttered. “This is all my fault.”
“Just like a man,” she said. “Always got to take the credit for everything.”
“I didn’t mean ..”
Dela interrupted. “Know what you mean. Trying for a joke. I’m as much to blame. We took a chance and we lost.”
“If you can stand to let me put you on a litter, I’ll get you out of here,” I said. “It’s a day to Edgerton; maybe two on foot. I’ll ..”
“You’ll die trying. You can’t walk across the Furnace, lugging me. Anyway, I’m broken up inside. Wouldn’t stand a chance on such a trip.”
“I’ve got to do something.”
“Promise me one thing,” she said. ““Don’t leave me here. Take me home .. Wayfarer.”
I laid my fist upon my chest. “I swear to you, I will.”
She smiled and closed her eyes.
“Dela?” I whispered.
I brushed sand from her cheeks, leaned in close to kiss her one last time. As I laid my lips to hers, I felt an inhalation.
“Let me be,” she mumbled.
She hadn’t left me yet.
Eken had said he sensed the white in me, maybe more than just a bit. And I had cast magic. Now was the time to see how powerful I was. I clawed at my face and arms, drawing gouts of blood. I smeared it on my hands until I appeared to be wearing crimson gloves.
“God above, Lord of all,” I chanted dimly-remembered words. “My blood, my hands, my heart and soul to heal.”
My hands glowed, faint at first but growing ever brighter. I laid them on Dela’s broken form, shouting the words of power over and over until my throat felt raw. “God above, Lord of all. My blood, my hands, my heart and soul to heal!”
And I wept, in agony and joy, as blessed power swelled within me and a notion filled my mind.
Near midnight, two days later, I entered Edgerton beneath a hooded canvas cloak draped behind me like a wedding train. Three fingers of my left hand curled uselessly against the palm. I limped upon a right leg twisted beyond repair. Both cheeks were crusted ruins. There would be scars.
All payment for my recklessness.
But the ruby pendent hung around my neck, so the folks of Edgerton never noticed. Who they saw was Del Bene.
“Christ step down from Heaven, Del,” the first man to bring water said to me. “You made it back on foot.”
“Aye,” I said. “A Devil almost got us, but I’ve brought my Dela home.”
She rode beneath the canvas on a litter cobbled up from skitter parts. It might take weeks, but she would walk again on her own for she was whole.
I healed her. Praise God above, I healed her through true magic brought forth by earnest prayer.
It was my first miracle. It wouldn’t be my last.
I did what everyone agreed could not be done, as well. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I had walked the fiery Furnace.
It wasn’t done through prayer, though.
For my second miracle I used two drops of my blood and the little chiller I had tucked beneath the canvas.