"Remarkable," Marwyn said as he examined one of Nahlia's former-wounds. "And in four days. Never seen anything like it."
The Master Physician took a step back as if to take in the full sight of her. The cartilage in her nose had healed, and the cuts on her cheeks, forehead and lip had vanished. Only her black eye remained, and even that was as faint as a distant star.
He pulled out a small leather-bound journal and began scribbling notes inside. Somehow, he wrote even faster than he spoke.
"And your ribs?" Marwyn asked without looking up. "Healed as well?"
"Yes," Nahlia said at once. "They don't hurt at all anymore."
"Hm. Interesting." He held his chin, pacing around the examination room. "High tolerance for Yuchani poison—rare but not unheard of. But rapid cellular regeneration at this level? No. No. Should be impossible for normal Aeon body. Don't understand."
"My body didn't heal itself, Master." Nahlia stood from the table to interrupt his frantic pacing. "I did it through meditation."
"Yes." Marwyn gave a thoughtful nod. "Ethermancy. Only explanation. Should have seen it before with bullet wound."
Ethermancy. That had been her goal of course, but a part of her had also considered the pursuit childish. Hearing the word from the Marwyn's lips made it more tangible somehow, bridging the gap between legend and reality.
He removed his spectacles and polished them against his tunic. "How long?"
"I've been doing it for as far back as I can remember," Nahlia said. "I just never gave it much thought before. I assumed all Aeons healed faster than humans."
"Hmm." He returned the spectacles to his nose. "Fair assumption with no other Aeons as reference point."
She nodded. "It wasn't until I came here that I realized I was different."
"Fascinating," Marwyn began pacing once again. "Crossed paths with other Ethermancers on occasion. Never a healer. Hasn't been one in Revera for centuries. At least to best of knowledge."
"What?" Nahlia couldn't decide which was more surprising; the fact that Marwyn had actually met other Ethermancers, or that healers were so rare. After all, weren't the Redeemers supposed to be a peaceful order, less likely to be targeted by the humans? Her mother's journal had certainly implied as much.
"Yes," Marwyn said as if answering her thoughts. "Once a peaceful order. Until the Palatines."
Nahlia frowned. "The Palatines were Redeemers?"
He nodded. "All power can be twisted. Yours most of all. Healing is control. Power over life and death. Terrible in the wrong hands."
She took a single step closer. "So does this mean you'll help me train?"
"Depends," Marwyn said, still pacing. "You've done as I asked?"
"I meditated into the Ethereal."
"And the memory of your mother?"
"I—" Nahlia paused, her lips pulling back in a grimace. "I thought the purpose of that was to prove that I'm worth your time? Shouldn't it be enough that I already used Ethermancy?"
"No. Not about proving worth. Told you before: knowledge of Ethereal has potential for peace and understanding, but also death and destruction. Must first make peace with your enemies."
"I have forgiven my enemies," Nahlia said. "I never want to hurt anyone else the way Ciena hurt me. I even quit Wolfe Clan. That should prove that I'm not violent."
"Yes," he said. "Not violent, but still afraid. Still repressing your past."
"I'm not repressing anything," she retorted. "The Templars murdered my mother. I accept that."
"Fine," Marwyn conceded. "Not repressing, then. Letting it control you."
Nahlia narrowed her eyes. "Even if that's true, it won't stop me from becoming a good Ethermancer."
"Nothing to do with competence." Marwyn waved a dismissive hand. "Many powerful Ethermancers were both strong and afraid. Fear only made them more dangerous. More destructive. Remember Kalazhan?"
"The Archaeon? Of course."
"Yes. Archeon of courage and passion. Also the first Ethermancer to wield fire. Strong and brave as any. Until a group of humans took his wife. What happened then?"
Nahlia thought for a moment, letting her mind wander back to her days spent reading Aeonica in the library. "Kalazhan went to their fortress, and he used his Ethermancy to burn them all."
Marwyn gave a brisk nod. "And then?"
She released a breath. "His passion controlled the fire, but then it controlled him too. In all the chaos and confusion ... he ended up killing his wife." When she met Marwyn's eyes again, they looked expectant. "And you think that could happen to me?"
"Could happen to anyone." He spread his arms out in a wide gesture. "History always repeats itself. Noble intentions can still pave path to destruction. What would you do to save your father?"
Nahlia looked down at the stone floor, her guilt threatening to flood her. While she hadn't directly harmed anyone in her mission, she had given Thane valuable information about this place. Information that could lead to the deaths of hundreds should it fall into the Templars' hands. She hadn't given him the map yet, but she'd also been avoiding him the past few days, dodging the opportunity.
"Regardless," Marwyn said. "Would be irresponsible to train you without precautions."
"Irresponsible?" Nahlia folded her arms, regaining some of her composure. "I've already been doing Ethermancy this whole time, Master. Wouldn't it be equally irresponsible to let me go on without proper training?"
"Ah." Marwyn gave her a rare smile. "Consider me your teacher then. And consider this your first lesson."
Nahlia bit her lip. She'd hoped to use her abilities to impress the Master Physician, but apparently he was even more stubborn than she was.
Marwyn must have seen her frustration because his voice became uncharacteristically soft. "Don't worry. I'll help you."
With that, he led her out of the examination room and into his private lab at the back of the infirmary. Once inside, he took out the two shards of Etherium and placed them on the lacquered wooden table between them.
Nahlia shifted uncomfortably in the plush chair. "I've meditated into the Ethereal a few times now," she began. "But I still don't know how to focus on a single memory."
"Not difficult." Marwyn took the seat opposite her. "Close your eyes and imagine the scene. Only that scene. Nothing else. As many details as you can. Subconscious mind will do the rest."
Nahlia closed her eyes, trying to control her thoughts. It had been far easier down in the Undersprings when she was alone without distractions.
"Now, tell me about your old home,"
She took a deep breath, keeping her eyes shut. "Our house was high in the mountains, east of Raidenwood. Ten miles from the nearest village. We could see the whole world from up there. Rivers... farms... forests."
"Hm," Marwyn said." Good. Now imagine yourself there now. Concentrate on the senses. Sights. Sounds. Feelings. Clear your mind of everything else."
She continued her steady breathing, using the skills she'd cultivated in the days before. She cast aside the sensations of the room, imaging the cool grass beneath her feet, the wind in her hair, and the warmth of the evening sun on her face.
She followed the current of thoughts deeper into her mind, simultaneously holding the memories of her old home. Marwyn's thought energy wove together with hers. Once again, the Etherium had bound their minds into one.
When Nahlia opened her eyes, everything in the Ethereal was just as she described it. She and Marwyn stood on the hill that once belonged to her parents. They arrived just as the sun was setting over the vast landscape. Miles of forest and farmland stretched out in the west with a winding river cutting a path between them. The northern mountains were a distant wall, and smoke rose from the village of Tremere to the south.
Her house stood behind her, tall and majestic with its willow-wood walls and blue shingled rooftop. Growing up, she never understood why they lived so secluded out here in the mountains. Back then, she knew no difference between Aeons or Templars.
Of course. she knew the truth now that she was older. Her father was a Templar officer and her mother was the heir to Clan Trelian. They left their old lives for each other, and there was no place left for them in either world.
An image of a younger Nahlia ran by. Only seven years old, she wore a light-blue sundress with flowers woven in her auburn hair. Behind her was her mother, Lyraina, tending the garden. Tall and thin, her hair was a deep shade of red, her eyes as blue as the sky. Nahlia hadn't seen her face in over ten years, but it was the most beautiful sight she could have imagined.
People often spoke of beauty in terms of things pleasing to the senses. A flower. ... a sunset... a musical symphony. But this was something else entirely. Could anything be more beautiful than the face of a loved one who was gone forever? More beautiful than the feeling of being safe and loved? Innocent of true fear, loss, or pain?
A part of her wanted to stay in this dream forever. But no... if she stayed here, then night would come soon. And then...
Her thoughts fell into chaos as they wandered into the darker reaches of her memory. Even the Ethereal itself seemed to grow darker and less vivid as a result.
Nahlia stiffened, and her breathing grew more sporadic. She almost thought the dream was going to end until Marwyn put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"It's all right," he told her. "The past can't hurt you."
"I know that," she said. "But I still can't do this."
It wasn't worth going through this just to learn Ethermancy. Someone else could take up that burden ... someone stronger."
"May not want to," Marwyn said. "But it will strengthen you. Let you help people in ways you never could before. Make a difference in the world."
"How?" she demanded. "What difference can one pacifist make when the rest of the world wants to kill each other?'
"Every action," Marwyn began, "sends echoes throughout Ethereal. Throughout life. Act in violence, incite violence in others. Promote peace and compassion, and others will follow. Ethereal acts as a current. starts from Aegon and flows through us all. Ethermancers control that current."
Nahlia nodded, closing her eyes and drawing in a shaky breath. She imagined using her abilities to help others instead of only herself, like the stories where Treluwyn healed her loved ones.
When she opened her eyes again, dusk had fallen. A layer of mist covered the grounds around the mountainside, and a dozen shadows drew closer in the night
The Templars had come.