Nice fragment! I'm enjoying the evolution of the plot and the characters very much! Not much to say about this fragment other than the fact it was very enjoyable.
There are only two general points I'd highlight: Since we're in Aeo's POV, you might as well connect him to the dialogue (as I mention below) because I could not help but feel Dragana as the scene's focus during her dialogue with the doctor and distant from Aeo. The other one concerns the doctor... Why would he warn Dragana about the 'blind man'? Seemed strange to me. Any doubts about my comments, let me know!
His eyes opened to the world, Aeo saw the outside disappear as Dragana entered the tent. It was dark inside. He could almost smell the stench of chemicals and death that always hung around places like this. There was something else in the air here, though – the sense that something vile and repulsive was lurking just out of view. (I’m thinking by ‘dark’ you mean as in dark for Aeo’s spirit eyes, right? Might help a bit if you clarify that, since just saying it was dark made it difficult for me to form a right image in my mind (since I pictured everything dimly lit at best, but there is so much movement happening inside that it seems odd it would be physically dark inside))
Aeo’s spirit-eyes peered into the oppressive darkness. At first he couldn’t see anything, but slowly he began to make out motions and vague shapes. He saw doctors scurrying between writhing patients and nurses preparing tables full of equipment. Around and above it all was a sheen of squirming, inky black tendrils.
As he watched, two nurses held down a man on his right. The bed and ground around him was soaked in blood. He looked like a corpse, but he was struggling against their hold. A doctor asked him something and the man nodded, though he looked reluctant and terrified and revolted.
One of the inky tendrils broke from the rest and snaked down toward the man. His eyes widened and he did his best to break free, but he was too weak from his wounds. The tendril hovered over him for a second before filtering into his mouth, ears, and eyes. The man’s soul screamed, piercing Aeo’s spirit. (So, by the description I take it the tendrils were some sort of Hntaña collective? Or just a single Hntaña whose ‘appendage’ possessed the man?)
The man stopped struggling and flopped onto the bed, exhausted and pale but strangely calm. His breathing slowed and he sank into a deep, almost drugged sleep.
“By the gods of Taron,” Dragana whispered. “What hell is this?”
This is where the devils are born, Aeo said. They’re breeding -taken here. Wounded soldiers come in, Hntaña-taken berserkers go out.
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
I wish I was. They’re using the Hntaña to heal wounds and take away the soldiers’ pain and fear.
Both stood in silence for a moment, watching the sleeping -taken. Knowing these men and women were taking on Hntaña willingly was enough to anger Aeo, but watching them accept the possession nearly made him sick.
“Excuse me, do you need attention?”
Dragana’s eyes snapped to the small doctor peering at her. She lashed out and grabbed him in a painful grip on the shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
To his credit, the doctor didn’t whine or moan in pain. He cried out when she squeezed the nerves, but otherwise he held himself with dignity. “We are saving lives.”
“By infecting people with Hntaña? You aren’t saving them, you’re just prolonging their death at the cost of their soul.”
“None here are forced to take the Hntaña. Each man or woman is given a choice, and it is up to them whether they accept the Hntaña into themselves.”
Dragana’s grip slackened. “They choose to become -taken?” (The way in which the question is constructed made it seem repetitive, even irrelevant since it’s been stated before they’re doing it willingly (through Aeo’s POV), so maybe change it for something like: ‘Why would anyone accept such a fate?’)
“The Hntaña can heal tremendous wounds and calm the mind.”
“They don’t calm your thoughts. They erase them.”
The doctor shook his head. “Not when the person is willing. When the mind doesn’t struggle, it and the Hntaña form a partnership. They work together, with the Hntaña feeding on any excess emotions or sensations. The person’s pain and fears are relieved and the Hntaña is fed.”
“Sacrificing yourself to a spiritual parasite isn’t an acceptable price just to be fearless.”
The doctor led Dragana’s gaze to the sleeping man. “Tell that to him. Without the Hntaña, he would be dead by now. His wife would have become a widow, his children fatherless. Now he will live, fight, and return home. He has a future because of the Hntaña.” (Since we’re in Aeo’s POV, I’d like to know more about his thoughts regarding the doctor’s remarks. How does listening to him make him feel? Maybe channeling those sensations through Dragana could help deliver an insight into Aeo’s feelings while keeping with the dialogue’s nice flow)
Dragana released the doctor, who rolled his shoulder and stood up straighter. “And now, I must ask you to leave. Our patients need rest.”
Stunned, Dragana nodded and turned to leave. The Bok’Tarong reflected the sliver of light entering through the tent flap, illuminating the deep darkness of the Hntaña medical tent.
The doctor’s eyes grew wide when he saw the blades. He placed a gentle hand on her sword-arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know who you were. This must be difficult for you to accept.”
“I will never accept it,” she said softly.
He nodded. “I must warn you, lady warrior, that rumors say a man is asking after your location.”(Why the sudden need to warn her? Also, a warning implies a danger, so the doctor must perceive this as a possible threat to Dragana, but thus far I think he must have other businesses to attend to rather than listening to gossip and warning her all of a sudden.)
“They say he’s blind, that’s all I’ve heard.”
Aeo felt Dragana’s thoughts snap to attention. Her heart raced. “Where is he?”
The doctor looked confused and slightly frightened. “The last time I heard it was from a man who’d just come in from a small town northeast of here.”
Dragana nodded. “Thank you.”
She left the tent in a hurry and practically ran out of the camp. Her indignation at the Mage General was forgotten, and Aeo had a hard time keeping up with her rush of excited thoughts. What’s going on?
“We have to find this man,” she replied.
Why? What happened to going to the King?
“This is more important.”
More important than an army breeding -taken?
“You wouldn’t understand.”
You’re right, I don’t. You’ve spent this entire time teaching me about the importance of hunting Hntaña and now that you’ve found a hotbed of activity, you’re just abandoning it over rumors of some blind man asking about you?
“If this man is who I think he is, then I have to find him. Please, Aeo, trust me.”
The sincerity in her plea touched him. More than that, though, she’d used his name. She was acknowledging him as a person, not just the Bok’Tarong. (Very nice touch).
Okay, Dragana. I trust you.