Time went by in a blur, and before I knew it, I was 14 with fall fast approaching. It was just about time to transition from bamboo tunics to woolen ones, and I grabbed my dyed bamboo shirt, and a plain woolen one, to get the green trims carefully moved over. I said bye to mom, and started to walk down to the river to do the sewing.
I still missed Lyra, every day. She had been gone for as long as I had known her, and the raw, burning pain of her loss had dulled into a persistent ache. Nobody understood me like she did. Nobody was close to me like she was. Becoming a light [Healer] had been a mistake in some respects – everyone wanted to get close to me because of what I was, not who I was. Maybe some genuinely wanted to be friends, and were genuinely nice, but it just felt like a betrayal of Lyra’s memory, and a nasty part of me whispered that they just cared about how I could heal, not for me. That part of me was probably wrong, but I hurt too much to care.
Gods I was lonely. Artemis would swing by every two years or so for a week, and was due any day now. I couldn’t wait to see her again! She always had some exotic treat from somewhere in the Republic, always had a new tale of adventure. Every time she was around was magical, and she taught me so much about classes, skills, levels, and life. Her stories of adventure and travelling the land were oh so interesting to listen to, a fascinating window into the dangers that lurked about.
Don’t get me wrong, I had no desire to go on adventure myself. Hearing the tale spun, knowing the heroine herself was the one telling me? That was a different kettle of fish altogether. Since it was roughly the right time, I spent every day tuned, ready and waiting to hear the series of lightning bolts raining down by the gate that announced Artemis’s arrival into town. Why they made Rangers discharge their mana before coming into town was a mystery.
I was finally in the white zone on the road, although my physical stats and skills were low enough that I could duck into the grey zone if I wanted to. For my first class’s evolution, mom wanted me to grab something related to being a midwife. In my first major act of rebellion, I’d gotten [Light of Hope] at level 32 instead, a broad healing-class instead of a focused one. Somehow everything I had done up to the point where I was roughly 9ish qualified me to be level 54, and after a long talk with The Librarian, our best guess was talking to gods and travelling worlds was worth a lot of experience points.
My second class had unlocked once I reached level 64. [Child of Earth] had shown up again, this time with a water element. That one I had evolved into [Student], and since nobody was going to teach me how to read, I decided to seize my own destiny. When someone couldn’t pay for healing and had the right skills, I insisted that they teach me how to read for a few hours. When I had the basics down, I grabbed the [Sneak] skill, and started to break into the local library at night to read scrolls by my evolved light skill, [Flashlight]. That had started its own game of cat-and-mouse with the local guard, who wanted to catch whoever was breaking into the library. I was even chased by dad once! The library was boring in the end, since it was almost purely records – the idea of fiction existed sure, but there was no audience for books of it. The popular stories were told and retold by bards and in plays, and what few books I found were just more retellings of those stories. That realization had hurt my soul deeply, and further threw me for a loop. What was I supposed to do with my life without a huge quantity of books to consume?
I blinked, realizing I was at the river already.
“Elaine!” Septima ran up to me, giving me a big hug. I let her hug me, not really returning it.
“Septima.” I responded, gently extracting myself from her grasp.
“You’re moving your dyes over, right? Here, hand that over, let me do it, it’s the least I can do.” Septima insisted, gently taking my old and new tunic out of my hands. I let her. I had recently fixed her husband’s arm when it got badly broken in an accident, and they couldn’t pay much. We discussed it, and with a tiny amount of coaxing I had let her talk me into letting her do my laundry for a few weeks in exchange. Everyone won. I had slightly less to do, doing a few extra bits of laundry when you were already down at the river took no real extra effort, and Septima’s husband’s arm was properly healed in no time, letting him keep his job effortlessly. Dad’s own brush with becoming a cripple, and our entire family nearly ending up as slaves still haunted me, and I was sensitive to people put in similar spots.
That, combined with my [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] prodding me to heal everyone, had rapidly made me a healer of last resort in Aquiliea. Most people were leery of having a kid heal them, let alone a woman, but when their backs were against a wall, and they couldn’t pay for a normal healer, suddenly they managed to put that behind them. Initially, I could only help people’s natural healing along, and my low power made that not do all that much, which helped explain why light healers were so rare. My popularity had exploded once I got my [Shadow Healer] class though, and I could actually do something about disease. Getting older had helped as well. Easier when it was a teenager than a kid.
I found a spot to sit down and wait, and rapidly found myself the center of attention. [Calming Aura] and [Healer’s Aura] both had a moderate range and powerful effects, and the women and girls down by the river seemed to ascribe a lot more effects to the auras than they really had. No amount of protesting got them to change their mind – for example, they were convinced it helped with fertility and good looks when no such effect was described – but no one believed me when I said otherwise. This also put me at the center of attention, and everyone felt obligated to chat with me, as some sort of payment for benefitting off of the aura I was giving off.
I saw Flavia notice me, and came bouncing up.
“Hey Elaine! How’s it going?” I always felt happier around Flavia, but I’m not sure if that was because of her, or because of her [Happiness Aura] skill.
Flavia liked hanging out with me, and she was one of the people I thought was actually trying to be friends with me because she wanted to be friends.
“Heya Flavia. Not much, just getting ready for winter.”
“Oh cool! Got your scarves all set? Doing anything special this year?”
“No, not really.” I didn’t want to chat too much.
I made some polite noises, but I really didn’t want to talk. I had tried turning off my aura at one point so I wouldn’t be the center of attention, but that had gotten me so much negative attention and bullying that I decided it was safer to keep my aura up. People can be positively vicious when they decide that you’re deliberately withholding something from them, that you could just give freely. So my aura stayed on, people stayed near me, and other aura-givers like Flavia, at the river, and I was just thankful that someone else was doing some of my chores for me.
People came, people went, but there was a bit of a muttering through the crowd as Octavia came down to the river. She had a pair of black eyes, bruises on her arms, had red eyes and was shaking on her way down. She was trying to hold it together, but it was way too obvious that things were wrong.
I might not be a fan of people being around and chit chatting, but I absolutely was game to help heal someone, anywhere, any time. From the looks of it, Octavia had gotten beaten pretty badly by someone, which would probably mean the guard would get involved. Dad being a guard meant I was familiar with quite a few of them, both personally and because I’d occasionally go with them on a patrol. I got lots of exposure to people sick or injured when doing that – sometimes the guards themselves!
I started to walk over as some of the more matronly women rushed over to Octavia to comfort her. I wasn’t sure if it was their presence – after all, they had powerful skills of their own – or my aura, but Octavia calmed down, and we started to get the story out of her.
“It… it was Cornelius” Octavia finally sobbed out. Her recently-wedded husband.
“I’ve been feeling sick, feeling lousy, and I was exhausted. He didn’t want to take no for an answer. So he…” The rest didn’t need to be said. Octavia’s look at the river made the rest of the story clear.
I reached in through the crowd to tap her. [Boost Local Regeneration]. [Greater Invigorate]. [Boost Local Regeneration]. [Boost Local Regeneration]. I tapped her head, her arms, her stomach. It was times like these that I slightly regretted giving up my global regeneration boost for the aura. I had thought it would do the same thing. I hung back, and let others, like Flavia, take care of Octavia’s mental well-being. While I tried now and then, I just never clicked, I was never on the same wavelength.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Light of Hope] has leveled up to level 99! +1 Mana, +3 Mana Regen, +1 Magic power, +5 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Light Affinity] has reached level 99!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Boost Local Regen] has reached level 73!]
Oh, but I was hopping mad. The flames inside of me were roaring in anger, in hatred, at the person who let this happen. Octavia still had her full family around, a solid support network, Cornelius getting arrested and thrown into prison or sold into slavery wouldn’t cause a ripple effect to her. I knew just the person to talk to as well to make sure justice occurred. Dad.
The crowd around Octavia thinned down a bit, and she seemed a little bit better. Some healing, some therapy, food somehow had come out of nowhere. When you’re at rock bottom though, it’s easy to come a little bit off of that, but the trauma would last a lifetime. It would keep lasting and reoccurring as well, as long as she was married to that prick. However, this did seem like a good moment to negotiate payment. Mom had always said healing for free was a quick way for people to expect that you would always heal for free, and down that path lay madness. I had already seen some of it with people expecting my healing aura to be up all the time when I was doing laundry.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Healing Aura] has reached level 91!]
There were benefits to keeping it up all the time in a group of people though, and the high level reflected it. I always felt bad when I had sour thoughts, and then it would level up – it indicated that yes, it was clearly working hard, and clearly having an impact, helping heal small invisible injuries. After all, if only healthy people were standing in it, nothing would ever happen. As it was, the impact was so small I could never tell, but it probably was doing something.
I started to approach Octavia, and opened my mouth when I felt a strong arm go around me, and a hand go over my mouth. I felt no fear, no malice, this wasn’t to harm me. I let myself get gently but firmly dragged back, where I was released and saw Septima.
“Elaine.” She waved a finger at me menacingly. “If you dare try to charge Octavia, I will rain pyronox on you.” I was pretty sure she couldn’t rain pyronox on me – everyone would know if she had the element – but the message was clear.
“But – “
“No buts Elaine! She’s just been through a disaster. No. Let this one go. Or I’ll pay for her. Just don’t kick her when she’s down. Do you think her husband’s letting her have any money if he’s doing that to her? Do you think she can fill your bounty on wind weasels? Do you think she has anything to give?”
Septima might have a very good point or five. I looked down at my feet, unable to meet her eyes.
“Fine.” I conceded the point. “I can’t be healing people for free all the time though.”
Septima gave me a tight smile. “Nobody’s asking you to Elaine. You heal everyone, regardless of how much or how little they can pay. We know it, we appreciate it. We try to pay what we can. Just consider Octavia someone who truly, actually, can’t pay anything, nor exchange anything.” She paused for a moment.
“Your hatred of wind weasels is just plain weird, you know that right?”
I opened my mouth, starting to explain. She cut me off before I could get any steam going.
“Yeah yeah, you’ve told me before. Just lay off Octavia ok?”
When put that way, it was much more reasonable. I relaxed, and then we all jumped as lightning bolts came down by the south gate.
“What on Pallos?”
“By the gods, it happened again!”
“Our doom has arrived!”