The man walking down the Eastroad was wearing an orange robe and had a pointy hat on his head. He was searching for something by the way he was scanning the fields on either side of the packed dirt of the road. Occasionally, he glanced down as if to consult something, but anyone watching would have only seen him staring at his palm.
To Jamus’s eyes, his hand held a great leather-bound book, opened to reveal a page filled with the details of his very being. The book was cumbersome, but only because he wished it to be so. He could have just let it float in front of him, but he preferred the feeling of the heavy tome in his hand. The book contained the sum total of his attributes and skills and he felt as though that deserved some heft.
At the moment, he was interested only in a single number. He checked it from time to time, in between scanning his surroundings. It hadn’t changed since he had left Fel Sadanis, but he kept checking anyway.
Without warning, the page of the book turned all on its own, drawing his eyes away from the low hedge that he had been inspecting. Though the page had turned in the book, the information shown was the same, listing out the mage’s attributes on the left and the detailed breakdown of his statistics on the right. Jamus smiled and stopped.
He backtracked until the page turned forward once more, the number returning to its original value but leaving the rest of the information unchanged. Jamus started counting his paces as he walked forward again, starting from when the number increased and not stopping until it dropped back down to its base value. The page turned forward each time the number changed. He backtracked again, stopping at half the distance he had measured out.
Jamus snapped the book closed with one hand, causing a small puff of dust. He then dropped it. The book disappeared as if it had never existed.
“Rain. I know you’re there. Come out.”
The hedge rustled. A man wearing torn workman’s clothes crawled out from under the hedge. He climbed to his feet with some effort, clearly in pain.
“Are you ok, Rain?”
“You don’t look ‘fine’.”
A burst of white light washed over the two men, removing the stains of dirt from Rain’s clothes, but doing nothing for his torn shirt.
I can’t believe Halgrave kicked him out of the guild for that.
“How did you find me?”
“They told me what happened between you and Halgrave in the guild. I asked around. The Watch told me that you left the city, heading this way.”
“But how did you knowing I under the… the...”
“Hedge.” Jamus supplied. “You leave that mana regeneration aura on all the time. I was keeping an eye on my statistics.”
Jamus watched as Rain shifted uncomfortably, pulling at the torn collar of his shirt.
“Why?” he asked.
“Why did you look for me?”
A pained expression crossed Jamus’s face. “Rain, I’m sorry. For how I treated you on the way back from the mine. I was mana starved and Lavarro… Look, I have no excuse. I should have spoken to you. Should have given you your... Here.”
Jamus removed a pack from his back and handed it to Rain. “I got your things from the guild. There is a new shirt in there for you too, and some rations. And there’s this.”
Rain caught the pouch as Jamus tossed it to him. Setting the bag down, he looked at the pouch, then worked at the drawstring, eventually teasing the tight knot loose and peering inside.
“All that was dropped by the dark hounds. Every last Tel. It won’t get you back in the guild, but...”
“Jamus, I… You...”
“Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t just me. The others gave up their shares as well. Even Lavarro.”
Jamus pretended not to notice the beginnings of tears welling up in Rain’s eyes as the younger man retied the bag. Rain turned his back to him and opened the pack, tucking the pouch inside and pulling out the shirt.
“I had to guess at the size. Sorry if it doesn’t fit.”
Rain pulled off his old, torn shirt, folded it, and placed it in the pack. He then pulled on the new one, which was dyed a drab green. It seemed to fit well enough.
Jamus heard Rain take a steadying breath and waited patiently until he turned back to face him. When he finally did, his face looked tense, as if he was trying to keep it from displaying whatever emotion he was battling.
“Don’t worry about it. You helped us quite a bit on the road. Everyone appreciated that aura of yours.”
“Even Lavarro?” Rain said, softly.
“Yes, even Lavarro. I haven’t felt that clean in years, the others must feel the same. Look, don’t think too badly about her, she has reasons for doing what she does. She even gave you her share. Though I think that was less about you and more about spiting Halgrave.”
“Big blue bastard. Armor. Bad attitude. Don’t tell him I said that. He is in charge of all the adventurers in Fel Sadanis, at least on paper. You really haven’t heard of him?”
“No, I just…met...yesterday.”
“You must be from further away than I thought. Everyone around here knows who he is. He is kind of a big deal. The only gold rank adventurer for hundreds of leagues, though Lavarro is close. He and Lavarro, well… You have a sketch of him in your notebook that explains that.”
Jamus’s mouth quirked up in a half smile at the memory of the breakup. It had been thoroughly epic. They could have sold tickets. I’m surprised nobody’s made a play about it yet.
Rain fished out the notebook from the pack, flipping through it until he froze when he got to the page where Jamus had drawn in Mahria’s family tree. Looking over his shoulder, Jamus chuckled wryly.
“Yes. He is Mahria’s father.”
“But that means Lavarro… She and Halgrave… No way....” Jamus was relieved to see Rain’s face relaxing, seeming to be a bit more of his old self.
“Haha, I know, right? Talk about a scary couple. They aren’t together, if you were wondering. Not anymore. Small tip, don’t talk about Halgrave when Lavarro is around. You wouldn’t like the result.”
“Jamus, thank you. For this. For everything.” Rain held up the notebook.
“I said don’t worry about it. Now, how do you feel? Can you walk?”
“Yes,” Rain said, nodding.
“Good. I can’t take you back into the city. The Watch knows who you are, and until you have paid the fine to the guild they won’t let you back in, even if you did still have your plate. I have an idea, though. I know a man who lives out by the forest to the south of the city. He is a bit odd, but then, so are you. You should get along, unless… Have you ever met a cervidian before?”
“Guess not. Well, if you don’t know, it will probably be fine. It is about a half hour walk. Think you can make it on that leg?”
By way of response, Rain picked up the pack and slipped it on.
“Again, I said don’t mention it.”
Jamus halted, turning to regard Rain as he limped up to him. The pair had been walking for around twenty minutes, Jamus keeping his pace slow to accommodate his wounded companion. Rain really was limping quite badly.
Really? He’s that hurt just from getting pushed out of the guild?
“Are you ok? Can you continue?” Jamus asked.
“I just need a minute,” Rain said, wincing and lowering himself to sit on a stump by the side of the road.
“Sorry, I don’t have any healing spells.”
“It is ok. I will be fine in a minute. I have a question.”
Uh-oh, here we go.
“What is health?”
“Is that a... philosophical question?”
“Philosophical. What is art? What is beauty? That kind of thing?”
“Philosophical question. I see. Thank you. No, this question not philosophical. What is health? What does it do?”
“You really don’t know? Have you never been wounded before?”
“Jamus, please. I want to know what is health. My health is full, but my leg hurts. Why?”
“Wow. You actually don’t know, do you? Sorry, I don’t mean to insult you. You should never be ashamed of not knowing something, but this…”
Jamus seemed to consider for a few minutes, the process of his thoughts hidden from Rain by his impassive face.
“Health represents the vital force of a creature. It is not the same thing as the integrity of your body, but it is connected. If you are wounded, your health will go down. The more health you have, the less damage your physical body will take from any given blow.”
“Yes, I know some of those words.”
“Ah, good. If you are well enough to sass me, then you are well enough to walk. Come on, we’re almost there.”
Rain got painfully to his feet and Jamus offered him his shoulder to lean on. Rain waved him off, insisting on continuing under his own power.
“Humm. I will try to use simple words. Stop me if you don’t understand.” Jamus spoke slowly, continuing his explanation to keep Rain moving and his mind off the pain.
“If someone were to strike you with a fist, it would reduce your health.”
Rain nodded, so Jamus continued.
“If you have enough health, your body would not be hurt by the blow.”
Another nod, though it looked like Rain was struggling not to ask another question.
“If they struck you again, your health would be lower that time. The second punch might leave a bruise.”
“So health is like a shield?” Rain asked.
“No, not quite. That is a resistance. Health is different. A shield blocks damage. But health is...” Jamus paused, having more difficulty explaining simply than he thought he would. He didn’t really spend much time thinking about something so basic that he took it for granted.
“Some damage will go to your body. It depends on how much health you have and how strong the attack was. A sword blow might cut off my arm where it would only scratch someone like Carten.”
“And health regeneration? Would your arm...come back?”
“It depends. Regeneration and healing are also similar, but again, they are not the same. When your health is full, your body will heal quickly, but it won’t grow back an arm. For something like that, you need overhealth.”
Jamus paused, making sure that the other man was still following his explanation. Seeing Rain’s attentive expression, Jamus pressed on.
“Healing or regeneration skills can push you past your maximum health. This is called overhealth. The higher the overhealth, the bigger the wound that can be healed.”
“So, my leg?”
“A healing spell, even a weak one, would cause enough overhealth to heal it. Without that, it will heal slowly. Faster, if your health is full.”
“And a missing arm? Could I regenerate...?”
“No, only a large amount of overhealth could do that. And only if you got it quickly. The longer you have had a wound, the harder it is to heal.”
Rain held up a hand to stop Jamus from continuing. “Thank you, I think I understand.”
Wait for it...
The silence lasted only a minute before Rain asked another question.
“If there is overhealth, is there underhealth? When your health is empty, do you die?”
“Usually,” Jamus said in a considering tone.
“It is damage to your body that kills you, not having no health. If you do have no health, it is very easy to be damaged. Underhealth does indeed exist. There are things that reduce health without damaging the body. These things are rare, except for age. When you are underhealth, your body will start to take damage. Eventually, you die.”
Jamus held up a hand to forestall any further questions. “We are almost there. His place should be right around… shit!”
Jamus took off at a sprint. He and Rain had been following a dirt track through the trees south of the city. However, instead of finding the slightly shoddy wooden walls of the shack he had been expecting, there was only a burned out ruin standing in the center of the small clearing.
“Tallheart! Are you here? Are you ok?” Jamus yelled, searching the clearing for any sign of his friend. To his relief, he heard an answering call coming from the direction of the river. As Rain joined him in the clearing, Jamus saw the tall form of a man heading towards them.
The tall man was wearing battered silvery-gray plate armor that fit him like a second skin, and he wore a moth-eaten black cloak wrapped around his shoulders. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, and a large pair of deer’s antlers sprouted from his forehead, marking him as not quite human. He had short brown hair, large brown eyes, and a stern face with a well-defined jaw. Jamus waved and moved to greet him.
“Tallheart! What happened? Are you ok?”
“Hello, Jamus. I am fine. I did not expect to see you.” The man replied in a deep bass voice.
“I suppose you are. What happened to your house?”
“I burned it down.”
“It was infested. There was a spider.”
“A spider? What kind of spider? Please tell me you’re joking.”
“It was the only way to be sure.” The antlered man cocked his head at a strange sound coming from Jamus’s companion.
“Jamus, who is this human? I do not know him. Why does he laugh?”
Jamus kicked Rain, who quickly schooled his face and extended a hand to the man.
“Hello. I am Rain. Nice to meet you.”
The antlered man regarded Rain coolly, then turned back to Jamus.
“Jamus, why have you brought this strange human here?”
“Come on Tallheart, just shake his hand already. You’re being rude.”
“Jamus, I do not know him.”
“Look, it is fine. Rain, this is Tallheart. Tallheart, this is Rain. There, now you know each other.”
Reluctantly, Tallheart reached out and shook Rain’s hand firmly, then quickly released it.
“You should shave. Your face looks unappealing with that scraggly beard.”
“Tallheart! We talked about this! You can’t say things like that!”
“It is the truth.”
“That isn’t the point!”
“Apologies, Jamus. I sometimes forget how sensitive you humans are. Now tell me why is he here.”
“I need a favor. Rain here got kicked out of the guild. He needs a place to stay.”
“What did he do?” Tallheart narrowed his eyes, appraising Rain suspiciously.
“As I understand it, all he did was make Halgrave look bad in front of the Watch. Something about flaunting the law by showing off in the square. That depths-cursed man is such a trial. Why is it always the assholes that rise to power?”
“Then he is a fool,” Tallheart replied, looking away from Rain dismissively.
“A fool who needs our help. He has no-one else, Tallheart.”
The antlered man looked down at Rain again, an unreadable expression on his face as he examined him. Rain smiled back uncertainly, looking to Jamus for guidance.
“Humph. I suppose he is not as bad as most humans I have met. Very well. He may stay with me.”
Hah, got him!
Jamus smiled, having predicted Tallheart’s sudden reversal of opinion. Tallheart turned to a surprised-looking Rain, further shocking him by bending at the waist in a full formal bow.
“Greetings, Rain, friend of Jamus. I am called Tallheart. You may stay here until I decide otherwise.”
Awkwardly, Rain returned the bow.
“Greetings, Tallheart. Thank you for sharing your home.”
“Good. You are not entirely hopeless. For a human.”