(Go back to Part 30)
Turin and McCann were still arguing about the nature of the puzzle on the door when Sinclair and Alex returned.
Alex wandered away from the group and found herself drawn to the Weeping Tree. Now that it wasn’t shrouded in darkness, Alex knew that it was the most stupendously gigantic tree she’d ever seen. The trunk sat on an island in the center of the pool and was as big around as Headmaster Barrius’s office, while the lowest branch was at least twenty feet from the ground. It grew up through the steel lattice of the skylight, tearing some beams out of their sockets while supporting and growing through others. The crown was invisible from inside—she would have to climb the wall again to catch a glimpse of it.
And it really was weeping. Fat, clear droplets seeped from unseen pores to go trickling down the thick, wet trunk or splash into the pool below. It wasn’t a heavy flow, but it was constant. The twisted fibers of the trunk were always slicked black with moisture—
Except the trunk wasn’t uniform. Alex took a closer look at the fibers of the Weeping Tree’s trunk. Hundreds of roots came together at the bottom, twisting around clockwise to form the trunk—but some of them weren’t roots. They were darker than the others, and banded like flexible cables. Something artificial; if only she could get a closer look—
Alex slipped on the edge of the pool. Before she could stop herself, she tumbled headfirst into the water. It was only a few feet deep, but slippery on the bottom. Finally she rose, spluttering and spitting water from her mouth. Her scraped hand burned under the bandage.
“Alex! What are you doing?!?” yelled McCann.
“It’s okay, I just slipped!” she called back. Her hand really was burning now—she’d caught herself on the bottom of the pool with it and now it hurt worse than before. “I’ll have to go wrap this up again, though—”
Alex stopped, frozen, as she looked at her hand.
Steam streamed from under the rough cloth tied around her palm. Wisps of vapor trailed from underneath like her hand was a kettle on the stove. When they stopped, the pain was gone. Alex unwrapped the bandage—underneath was fresh new skin. It was pink and raw, but there was no sign of the scrape from earlier.
She eased out of the pool, slowly. Alex shook herself once, sending a spray of droplets out over the dead leaves. Wherever they landed, there was a hiss and puff of steam. Soon the dry leaves were green again. Alex picked one up. It was soft and fresh, like it had just been plucked from the branch.
“Um . . . Sergeant? I think you need to see this,” she said.
A minute later, as the others watched, she picked up a dead leaf by the stem and dipped it into the pool. There was a loud hiss, a cloud of steam, and she pulled it back out—green and alive.
Baron Sinclair sent word to bring forward the army’s most grievously wounded soldier. The man was brought in on a litter, moaning softly in a fevered sleep.
“I’m keeping him unconscious, for his own good. It would be a mercy if the fever would let him die,” said the doctor.
“What happened?” asked Sinclair.
“He was speared by a branch in the swamp. The wound has festered since then. Were it an arm, we would cut it off, but the shoulder . . .” the doctor trailed off.
“Remove his dressings,” ordered the baron.
The soldier’s chest was uncovered. As soon as the bandages came off, an incredible stink filled the air; Alex nearly gagged. A ragged hole was torn through the man’s left shoulder, but the whole upper part of the body was mottled gray and black. Skin and flesh were beginning to slough off at the slightest touch, and much of it remained stuck to the bandage. The surgeon applied pressure to the wound, and thick yellow pus spurted from the hole. He wiped it away with a cloth as the man moaned again.
“There is no chance he will live?” asked the baron.
“Not without a miracle,” said the doctor.
Sinclair covered a smile with his hand. “Minister, please.”
Turin appeared over the man with a cup of water drawn from the pool. He said a quick prayer to himself and poured the contents onto the wounded man.
There was a flash, and a billowing cloud of steam blocked their vision. Alex heard the soldier scream, and then everything was silent.
After a minute, a shape appeared through the vapor. The soldier walked out of it, bare-chested, and covered in fresh pink skin. He stared at them, confused, and asked the surgeon a question in the Southern tongue. When the other answered, they both fell to their knees, babbled something that Alex didn’t understand.
“It’s a miracle!” shouted Turin, and he joined them. McCann and Alex followed suit, even the Baron bent a knee. As Turin led the prayer, though, The baron rose again and walked to the pool. Alex watched him from the corner of his eye. Sinclair pulled a dagger from inside his sleeve and sliced open his palm in one swift motion. She winced, but the baron did not; fat red droplets spattered the water.
Using the other hand, Sinclair splashed water onto the fresh wound. A flash, more steam, and the cut was healed. The baron traced the line of fresh skin with a finger, and then sheathed his dagger.
“Alex!” The baron’s booming voice interrupted the prayer. “Get me General Clovis! I need a zombii.”
(Go on to Part 32)