His breath shallow and eyes glassy, Seth lay on the cold tile floor, muscles twitching in response to the dozens of stings he suffered trying to get to Ismene. His friends had managed to drive back the thrumming swarm, but foul and unknown venom was coursing through his veins. Tammy knelt by his head, placing her hands on his temples. “This will not be the end of you,” she prayed, channeling divine energy into his body. Though her fingers began to glow, little if any healing warmth transferred to the unconscious youth. Surprised and mystified, Tammy looked to the rest of the group.

“I believe I have an answer,” Roger offered clinically, like a mathematician working his way through a complicated proof. Kneeling, he placed his palms flat against Seth’s tremoring chest and began to concentrate, brow furrowing with effort.

In the brief time Roger had known these strange companions he had seen them perform many wild and wondrous feats, far beyond what he expected of their abilities, but found himself unable to understand how they could wave off any attempt at investigation by claiming it was “magic.” Their minds had already been made up, and though they weren’t able to effect some of the easiest matter-state transformations he had learned, they were capable of wielding forces that still lay beyond his control. He never found himself short of surprise in their travels together.

Where their primitive understanding of “magic” failed, he hoped his deeper knowledge of the world and its energies could prove beneficial. Through his hands he could feel the corrosive poison coursing through Seth’s failing system, seeing it as clearly as if it were modeled directly before his eyes. The proteins were complex, not wholly from this plane of existence, and seemed to infect normal cells as they traveled in the bloodstream, spreading cell death to all parts of the body. He didn’t have time to analyze the exact compounds which made up the toxin, but knew enough about human biology to force the cells into a different shape – altering their chemical composition to spread a curative instead of a malady.

A bead of sweat rolling down his cheek, Roger concentrated, finding the pathogen was almost actively fighting his alterations. After long bouts of mutation and counter-evolution, he finally pushed Seth’s cells across a critical threshold, dooming the last of the foreign poison to eventual eradication. Safe in the short term, he made the mental note to keep tabs on Seth’s continued health to ensure there were no lingering, downstream effects.

Blinking hard, Seth’s consciousness returned. He saw Ismene and Tommy feverishly working to stabilize James, whose arm had been almost completely flayed by the sharp jaws of the wormlike creature, and was suffering to a lesser extent from the poison he had just survived. Tammy and Roger stood over Seth, welcoming him back and gingerly helping him to his feet. His body felt too small, as if everything inside him was under high pressure, and turning his head too fast made him see spots. He was used to seeing all sorts of strange, fleeting apparitions, but those bright flecks brought with them searing lances of pain in his temples. Waving off his friends’ assistance, he resolved to take things easy for at least a little while. Unless, he told himself, Ismene needed him again.

 Tommy suggested that the infection may be demonic in nature, owing to the types of entities they were facing, and that the protective disks Ismene carried may be of use. With bandages and critical first aid in place, Ismene slipped off the thin chain that held a small coin around her neck and placed it on James, concern on her face.

Jumping up to his feet, James’ eyes were bright and his voice enthusiastic. “Let’s do this! I can help you, let’s go kick some ass!” The pallor and waxy sheen was gone from his skin, and though his arm was immobilized, he seemed almost perfectly ambulatory.

Ismene held out her hand to slow him, worried about the sudden change in his demeanor. “You’ve done enough, James.”

“Soldier, report back to the airlock” barked Roger, still maintaining the persona of General Brickland. “See that our lines of retreat are kept free of hostiles.” With a snappy salute, James jogged back down the corridor, hopefully finally reuniting with the rest of his team. Ismene withdrew another coin necklace from her pocket and put it on, handing a second to Tammy at her silent request – sometimes one needed a little more than faith alone to win the day.

Still covered in coagulating ochre slime from her violent assault on the worm, Ismene made a sour face, futilely trying to wipe the viscous sludge from her jacket. Giving up, she threw it to the side of the hallway, transferring the coins to her back pocket.

Regrouping, the team turned its attention to the knotted mass of hive carapace blocking the way forward. They had passed entrances to Labs 11 and 12, but those faced the interior of the round basement floor, and the doors thereof showed signs of infestation. Though the hallway was still and nearly silent in the wake of the pulsating worm’s grizzly demise, none looked forward to another tangle with the insects so soon.