Chapter 27: Magic

An uneventful Saturday was winding down. Thomas was at home reading medical journals when the phone rang.

“Hey, it’s Cazador with animal control,” the voice identified itself brusquely. “We got a situation.” 

“This is Dr. Fairfax,” said Thomas, perking up at the potential for action. “Is there a medical issue?”

“I was, uh, trying to reach Tabby, if you know where she is,” Cazador hedged. “This is more her area of expertise.”

“Why don’t you tell me what the problem is, seeing as I actually am a doctor, not a… freelancer,” Thomas said, frowning. Convincing the locals that he was at least as qualified as his assistant was still proving to be a challenge in certain sectors. Old loyalties ran deep.

“Well…” Cazador hesitated, then went ahead in a rush: “We’ve got a water panther down at Riverbend Park, pretty beat up, was in some kind of fight. If it was a raccoon or something I’d just put it down; but it’s a protected species, and it’d be a shame to resort to that.”

This was something different from the domestic pets Thomas saw on a day-to-day basis, and it presented a welcome challenge. “Alright. I can come out and assess the situation.”

Cazador gave some further instructions on how to get to the scene. “I’ll just try Tabby’s number again,” he concluded, “and see if I can get her out here, too.”

“That’s fine. Give me ten minutes.” Thomas wouldn’t mind having Tabby on hoof, but would Cazador defer to her? Though Thomas didn’t hold her reputation as a magic healer against her, it would still be nice to be respected as competent himself.

* * *

Tabby had been in her home office, engrossed in listing some artifacts for sale on eCove, and forgot her cell phone in her bedroom. By the time she took a break and realized she didn’t have the device at hoof, there were a number of messages piling up, and she got to work getting caught-up.

She frowned at Cazador’s summons. Tabby didn’t know how this was going to play out; Thomas would follow the letter of the law regarding magic. Her best bet would be getting there before him; and since she could teleport, she had a chance. It was too bad she’d ignored Cazador’s initial call, though.

Unfortunately, that decision had cost valuable time. When she arrived at the park, Thomas was already there, consulting with Cazador and a police officer as another officer roped off the area against curious onlookers.

“So no one saw this happen?” Thomas was inquiring, crouched by the body of the blue-green scaly feline.

“No, residents reported hearing screeching to wake the dead, and this is what we found,” Officer Granite explained. “Apprised animal control of the situation, and they called you. Evenin’, Ms. Fershund,” he said respectfully as Tabby pushed through the cluster of bystanders and knelt down by the creature.

“Darn coyotes are at it again,” a gray stallion behind the police tape was overheard to grumble, shaking his head.

“If it were coyotes, there wouldn’t be anything left,” another one, orange, disagreed.

“Not necessarily!” the green mare at his side argued. “My brother works for the DNR, and he says–”

“Well, I bet it was crows,” a yellow mare interrupted.

What?” The others all stared at her incredulously.

“Crows are scavengers. They’re not going to take down a big cat like that,” scoffed the gray stallion.

“Oh, I beg to differ,” the yellow mare argued. “I’ve seen firsthoof what crows do to baby bunnies.”

“Was it exsanguinated?” the green mare asked. “Because it could be chupacabras. They’re not usually this far north, though.”

“Probably just a hodag,” the orange stallion said. “You know how they are.”

As if a hodag would act so inelegantly, Tabby thought to herself, surveying the magnificent beast effectively split longitudinally down the side. None of the bystanders knew what they were talking about. But… feeling uneasy, she considered what could have felled such a creature. The conversation of the townsponies faded into the background as Tabby studied the extensive damage. Even for one accustomed to blood and gore, there was a rising sense of nausea in her stomach.

“She’s in very bad shape,” Thomas said quietly, lightly touching Tabby’s hoof. Of course he knew she would protest his decision, and was trying to let her down gently, she realized with a rising sense of indignation. “There’s too much damage–broken bones, blood loss, multiple internal organs ruptured; the kindest thing is to just put her down.”

“Tabby, what do you think?” Cazador asked, looking at her speculatively.

“I think we ought to do whatever we can, especially for a protected species,” Tabby said with a sharp look at her boss.

“There’s virtually no chance of survival,” Thomas protested. “This leg bone is shattered. Even if we patched things up and she survived infections, there would be lasting motility issues that would lead to her demise in the wild, anyway.”

“I could do it,” Tabby said, lifting her chin challengingly. “With magic.”

“This is far too advanced for an amateur,” Thomas maintained. “A single misstep and you’d be looking at–”

“You don’t know what I can do,” Tabby insisted. “You don’t want to know.”

“She’s good,” Cazador said, siding with the mare.

“Have you ever done anything of this magnitude?” Thomas asked, looking at Tabby piercingly.

“Plenty of times. I healed a shunka warak’in with similar injuries after falling down a ravine,” Tabby recounted. “There was also a thunderbird that had been pretty well mauled–probably by a water panther–and a horned serpent with a shattered spine. And they’re all doing quite well.” Tabby crossed her forelegs stubbornly. He probably didn’t even know what those creatures were.

Thomas frowned, but didn’t outright shoot her down.

“You assume, since I didn’t have the correct schooling, that I only have the most basic skills,” Tabby forged ahead. “But this is what Tiny trained me to do.” Seeing the disbelieving look on Thomas’ face, she pressed on, “Trust me! Please! We can’t lose a water panther, not like this.”

“You can really fix this?” Thomas asked after a significant pause.

“Yes,” she said simply, meeting his gaze unwaveringly. 

Thomas came to his decision. “What do you need me to do?” he asked briskly.

“Just be quiet!” Tabby ordered, not exactly nervous, but knowing a lot was riding on her performance. She’d been going back to Tiny on the occasional weekend to help him in his work, and had kept in practice with magic that way. It had been awhile since she had done such a serious operation, but she was confident in her ability. She extended her hooves and closed her eyes, entering a trance-like state. Then her work really began, as she psychically linked with the creature, felt its pain, and augmented its own biology with her magic.

A peaceful calm overtook her.

* * *

Thomas looked on in silence as bones shifted into place, blood regenerated, and tissues healed. It was magnificent, breath-taking. She was magnificent.

It was true that from the very beginning, he had told her to keep quiet about magic (not wanting her to get ideas above what the clinic was licensed for), and she had done so (one of the few instructions she had ever taken seriously). Thomas had only made assumptions. This was far beyond the superficial wound repair that unicorns usually referred to as healing magic. More advanced techniques were taught, but the level of skill he saw here was only obtained after rigorous studies at an accredited learning institution… so Thomas had thought.

So caught up in watching the healing process, Thomas didn’t notice the passage of time; but at some point, the panther lifted her head, took her bearings, and cautiously stood up, testing her limbs and finding them in working order. Baring her fangs and showing no gratitude, she bound off over the river in a flash and was swallowed up by the enveloping forest.

It had been spectacular to watch, but then Thomas turned his attention back to Tabby. There was a foggy glaze over her eyes; she was staring straight ahead, focused on something unseen. Waves of unseen ethereal energy blew her mane upwards. Her horn was glowing. She did not appear to be conscious of her surroundings.

Thomas hadn’t considered the effect the healing would have on her. “Is this normal?” he quietly asked Cazador.

“Well…” Cazador looked uncertain. “I mean, sorta; it usually doesn’t last this long…”

“Tabby!” Thomas said, touching her shoulder cautiously. “It’s done. You did it.”

“Quiet!” she replied. But it wasn’t her voice, not really–it was deep, expansive, echoing. She raised her hoof as if to swat him aside. 

Thomas felt a rising sense of fear. What was happening to her?

Suddenly the spell seemed to break; Tabby’s eyes closed, and she crumpled to the ground, unconscious.

“Tabby!” Thomas cried, scrambling to her side, genuinely concerned, the wonder of the healed panther overshadowed by this. Some heart-pounding moments followed as he attempted to coax a response from her. 

Her eyes finally fluttered open. “The… the panther?” Tabby breathlessly asked, trying to sit up; but Thomas stalled her progress.

“She’s fine. Everything’s fine. You did great,” Thomas assured her.

Officer Granite ambled over. “Thought you said there was nothing you could do,” he said, looking at the veterinarian suspiciously. “There’d better not be any havey-cavey magic business going on.”

“It wasn’t as bad as the original assessment indicated,” Thomas said briskly, keeping a close eye on Tabby.

The officer guffawed. “Aw, I’m just messing with you,” he chortled. “We all know what she can do. I’m sure you have skills and all, but there’s nothing like magic.” He looked carefully at Tabby. “She’s okay, ain’t she?”

Thomas was annoyed to see that Cazador had edged in on Tabby’s other side while the veterinarian had been talking to Granite. “She’s exhausted, but she’ll be okay. I’ll see that she gets home,” Thomas acknowledged, frowning at Cazador before turning back to the officer. “Do you need anything more from me?”

Granite shrugged. “Nah, I’m good if you are. Evenin’, doctor.” Turning to the crowd, he shouted, “Nothin’ to see here, ponies. Move along!”

In a few minutes, Tabby felt well enough to stand, though she was still drained, and resorted to leaning against Thomas.

“You sure you don’t need me?” Cazador asked, still hovering about.

“No,” said Thomas shortly, and Cazador took the hint, scurrying off.

* * *

The two unicorns walked slowly and silently to Tabby’s house. Thomas was still feeling a sense of awe, not sure what to say. Tabby opened her door; he followed her inside to the living room, and saw that she was seated comfortably. Then he went in search of a glass of water. When he returned, her eyes were closed and he thought she’d fallen asleep; but as he set the glass on the table next to her, she spoke.

“I’m sorry,” she said faintly.

“What for?” Thomas looked at her curiously.

“I upstaged you.”

“It’s okay. It was worth it.” Without thinking, Thomas reached out to push a strand of hair out of her face. “That was really incredible, what you did.”

“Well, what did you think I could do?” Tabby said with a bemused look.

“I’ve never seen magic used for more than minor scrapes,” Thomas admitted. “You’ve had advanced training.”

“Just the things Tiny showed me,” Tabby said, dismissing the accolade with a wave of her hoof. “I can’t do everything.”

It was dawning on Thomas just then how dull this job at the clinic must be for her. “I’m holding you back,” he said quietly.

Tabby shrugged. “It’s not so bad… I’m just exercising different skills.” She looked at him, biting her lip. “Are you going to report me?” she asked in a rush.

“No, of course not,” Thomas said quickly. Is that what she really thought of him… well, he hadn’t given her any reason to think otherwise, he supposed. Not knowing what to say, Thomas maintained his silence for a moment. They’d never talked about this matter in depth, but something was driving him to be open with her. “I was pursuing magical healing when I started college, you know,” he confessed at length.

“Yeah… what happened?” Tabby asked, her expression inscrutable.

“I had taken on a lot of responsibilities–extra projects, conferences, committee work–along with the normal classwork,” Thomas explained. “I was stretched thin and wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“I see,” Tabby said, sipping her water.

“Someone offered me an easy fix–so they said–and, fool that I was, I believed them.” Thomas sighed. “It was a contraband magic injection that initially stimulates energy, but only as an intermediary step to siphon off magical power. Some unscrupulous magic user was orchestrating it to steal magical energy from users. I was just like everyone else, thinking I could stop before it reached that point. Of course, I was wrong.”

It was strangely liberating to have shared this deeply personal facet of his life with her, and he forged ahead.

“They never did find the pony–or ponies–behind it,” Thomas mused. “It’s hard to fathom that someone could stoop that low to take something so vital. How many lives could have potentially been saved with those essences of magic? The culprit is still out there, profiting off what they took.” He shook his head disbelievingly, and Tabby succumbed to a coughing fit.

“Y-yes, that’s terrible,” she whispered shakily when she was able to speak again.

“In a way, what happened felt like justice. My parents always said magic was more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps they were right all along,” Thomas said, surprised she wasn’t berating him for being stupid.

“Wait,” Tabby said, leaning forward. “You mean you wouldn’t take your magic back if you could?”

“I’ve come to terms with it,” Thomas said after a pause, wondering if it was worth mentioning the unexpected magic surge he had experienced months ago when defending Chlory.

“But you could have had a career in magical healing,” Tabby argued. “Wouldn’t that be a more satisfying and fulfilling life than…” She trailed off.

“I wouldn’t say it would have been better than what I have here,” Thomas was emboldened to say and looked up, but she wouldn’t meet his gaze. Thomas’ heart sank. Had his personal confession been unwelcome? Had he misread the depth of friendship between them?

“For that matter, what do you really know about the effect of magic on you?” Thomas hastily changed the course of the conversation. “You were… shaken after the healing.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Tabby said quickly.

“But what if you go too far…” Thomas didn’t finish the thought. Seeing her as she had been after the healing, distant and inaccessible–then seeing her collapse–had rattled him.

Just then the front door opened, and Strawberry came bustling in. “Tabby, I made cookies and–oh!” She drew herself up, seeing that she had walked in on something. “What happened? Is Tabby okay?” She set the plate of baked goods down and hurried to Tabby’s side.

“I’m fine, it’s nothing,” Tabby spoke up for herself. “There was an emergency case we were called to. Thomas just walked me home.”

“You’re very pale. Are you sure nothing’s wrong?” Strawberry fussed. “What happened?” Thomas related an account of the adventure, and Strawberry expressed the appropriate reactions. “What an exciting time!” she enthused. “Good job, both of you.”

“But I am feeling wiped,” Tabby said with a yawn, “and maybe I’ll just take a nap…”.

“Of course,” Strawberry said. “We’ll get out of your way. I’ll just leave these cookies on the counter.”

Thomas pressed Tabby’s hoof reassuringly before Strawberry ushered him out, but she was so close to sleep, he wasn’t sure she noticed.

* * *

It was later that night at the Misty Hollow police station when Detective Candy Cane intercepted Granite, who was turning in a report on the evening’s events.

“Heard there was some kind of wildlife situation out at Riverbend,” Cane said, stalling the younger officer and taking the report from his hoof.

“Yeah, an animal-on-animal attack, got the residents riled up,” Granite said, shrugging. “The vets came out and handled the injured critter. We were just there to keep bystanders back.”

Vets?” Cane raised an eyebrow. “We only have one veterinarian in town.”

“Well, you know–I don’t know their titles exactly–just using the term generic-like,” Granite said, shuffling uncomfortably.

“Hmmm,” said Cane, skimming the report. “Says here Dr. Fairfax originally planned to put the creature down. But, in the end, it got up and walked off of its own accord?”

“Yes, sir,” Granite said, meeting Cane’s gaze.

“That’s a bit unexpected, don’t you think?” Cane asked with a piercing glance.

“I’m not a doctor; I couldn’t say,” Granite stubbornly maintained his story. “But that’s what happened.”

“Well, I’m just going to review this,” Cane murmured, turning away and whipping out a pair of sunglasses. “Looks like this cat is out of the bag.”