I gradually woke up to agony. Nails in my head. A deep, throbbing pain from the rest of my body. It was like feeling it through layers of gauze, through a deep haze. I tried to say something. All that happened was an unintelligible raspy groan came out from my lips. So dry. A cool wooden cup was pressed to my lips, water gently flowing into my mouth. Water. I tried to swallow, throat was too dry and smoky for it to go down. Painful expansion of my throat as it went down, and a brief rush of relief as I felt it hit. I greedily drank more, and felt enough gumption to try and open my eyes a hair.
The light, it burns! I closed my eyes, moaning in pain. “She’s awake!” I heard a female voice cry out, a spike of pain going through my ears. I wanted to drift back off, but there was too much noise, too much going on. A hand touched my shoulder, and a male voice spoke out, letting me know what was happening. “[Remove Pain]. [Minor Heal]. [Hydrate].”
My pain stopped being so distracting. I could still tell it was there, but it was more of a ‘Hey I’m here’ than an all-consuming beast eating away at my sanity. The intensity went down as well, I was unsure if it was from the pain or the heal. Lastly, I just felt globally better, as I was magically re-hydrated. It did nothing for my throat, but did wonders for how I was feeling.
No longer wishing for oblivion to reclaim me, I rejoined the land of the living and awake, slowly cracking my eyes open. Meditacus, the guard’s healer, was stepping back. I assumed he was responsible for the latest round of healing. Artemis was sitting next to me, face a fresco of worry, holding a wooden cup. Probably water. Mom was in the corner on a recliner, fast asleep, somehow looking exhausted even in sleep.
“Elaine, are you ok?” Artemis leaned over; eyebrows knitted.
I tried to give some response. A groan left my lips. Artemis seemed reassured by it though, because if getting burnt by fire wasn’t enough, she decided to verbally roast me as well.
“Look, I know you have [Pretty], but you went a bit too far to be hot, you know?” Oh no, the jokes were starting. She had no mercy when dad lost his eye, it looked like I was going to get no mercy either. Flames, why couldn’t you have done your job properly? “I know you wanted to be warm for the rest of your life, but find a different way!” I groaned again, this time at the terrible puns. Artemis clearly was fluent in groan, and her face lit up like the sun. Anyone who could complain about bad jokes was A-OK and going to live in Artemis’s book.
All of these bad jokes woke mom up, and she rushed over to my side. Artemis quietly made her way out of the room, discreetly wiping at her face. Mom’s eyes were moist, ready to overflow, she moved her hands as if to cup my face, but paused and hovered them just an inch away as she asked the same thing Artemis did.
“Yeah” I croaked out, not recognizing the sound of my own voice. Even speaking was too much on my poor lungs, as I triggered a coughing fit.
“Shhh shhh don’t say anything” Mom tried to soothe me, looking like she wanted to hug me but didn’t dare touch me. I glanced down, seeing The Mummy re-emerged in clean white bandages all over me. We both jumped as a massive thunderclap came from directly outside. My pain-sense spiked, and if it wasn’t for the pain deadening, I know I would’ve been screaming. Artemis came back, looking smug as a bug, but wilted under mom’s glare.
“She needs rest! Peace and quiet! Not you throwing around lightning bolts!” Mom hissed at Artemis, the urge to yell tempered by wanting to keep things quiet near me. Artemis bowed her head at that, then glanced over at me. I couldn’t help myself – Artemis looking like a scolded puppy was just too funny, and I let a few laughs escape. Followed by a coughing fit, pain-sense spiking again. I could do some real damage to myself if I completely ignored this pain sense.
A flash of pity went over Artemis’s face, and that combined with mom’s general hesitance finally made me realize something was up.
“What’s wrong?” I gasped out.
“Nothing!” Too fast. Almost rehearsed.
“Artemis, tell me what’s wrong or I swear I’ll learn mom’s spoon skills.” I choked out. Only thing I’d ever seen that did anything to Artemis. No idea if I could learn them, but they seemed handy. Artemis didn’t even have the good grace to pretend to be scared, she just exchanged a look with mom. Lots of head ticking, like a language of their own, developed in childhood. Mom took a deep breath, and turned to me.
“Ok Elaine, please don’t freak out.” One phrase guaranteed to make anyone freak out. “The burns are pretty bad. A lot of your skin and flesh melted and fused. We did the best we could, but the priority was saving your life. You’re going to have some really bad scarring all over, including your face.”
No. No no no no. They just wanted to wind me up, to make me feel bad. I looked down at my body, completely wrapped in bandages. I started to desperately claw at them. I needed to see. I needed to know. Mom intercepted one hand, Artemis intercepted the other. I struggled, futile. My strength was nothing compared to theirs.
“I need to see let me see please.” I sobbed out, drowning in desperation.
“Ok, Ok” mom reassured me, saying anything to get me to calm down. She slowly started to unravel the bandages on my leg. Dad popped his head in, dressed for patrol. “Is Elaine ok – you’re awake!” He rushed over, was about to give me a hug when he read the mood in the room. Discretion was the better part of valor, and he backed up to watch what was going on.
My leg looked like it had been dipped in acid or something, which wasn’t too far off from the truth. I didn’t bother looking anymore. I didn’t want to see more of my ruined body. I let tears roll down from my eyes as dad tried to comfort me.
“If it makes you feel any better, you saved that kid’s life. He made it out, he’s going to be ok. He’s a room over, recovering like you.”
It was nice to know, I appreciated the attempt to distract me, but it wasn’t going to fix me. I closed my eyes, and let darkness take me again.
I woke up the next day to see mom by my side. After some simple daily tasks – that were no longer simple – a thought occurred to me.
“Why do I need to rest and heal? Why aren’t magic and skills just fixing me?”
Mom shook a finger at me. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times. Speeding up someone’s natural healing uses the body’s own resources. Most of the injuries you’re dealing with are small-scale – a broken bone’s probably the biggest thing you’ve fixed. What happened to you is on a completely different scale. You almost died! We almost lost you! Promise you won’t do anything that dangerous again!” Tears were streaming down mom’s face. I looked away guiltily.
“I promise.” Mom seemed mollified at that.
A few days passed. I’d wake up, ravenous, and mom or Artemis would be there with some food to feed me, one spoonful at a time as I couldn’t move my arms properly, or hold a spoon. I used my [Boost Local Regen] as often as I could on various parts, hoping to speed things up. My [Healing Aura] was putting in some serious work as well.
Euterpe dropped by one day, and I sat up, excited, heart pounding, butterfly convention in my stomach. He walked in, and the look on his face was like he’d seen the biggest, ugliest cockroach ever. He looked away, muttering some excuse about “wrong room”, and I just felt my heart drop out, a cavity in my chest filled with sorrow.
Crush. Officially. Over.
Later that day, I overheard some guards chatting. Apparently, Octavia had taken matters into her own hands, and the guards now had a brutal murder-suicide to clean up after. I nodded in approval, but grimaced that it was the best option for her. Nobody would help her get justice, the ‘proper’ route had been tried and failed, so she’d taken matters into her own hands.
I woke up one day to find nobody waiting for me, but a fierce argument coming from the other side of the door.
“I know we need to go, but she’s the closest thing to family I have left!” Mysterious voice 1 said.
“We’re supposed to get moving tomorrow though.” Mysterious voice 2.
“Come on, don’t you want to see how she turns out?” Mysterious voice 3.
“Braver than half the Rangers I’ve seen. That background check was for her?” Mysterious voice 4.
“Yes, and comparing anyone’s bravery to Arthur is just plain unfair.” Mysterious voice 1. Hoots and jeers accompanied that remark.
“Let’s stay a few more days, we can make it up later.” Mysterious voice 3.
“You just want to get your stick wet.” Mysterious voice 1, who I suspected was Artemis with her acidic tongue.
“Hey! They need me. And do you want my help with this or not!” Mysterious voice 3.
“Fine, fine, we’ll wait a bit longer. But not too much!” Voice 2 said. Cheers all about. Artemis poked her head in the room, and looked slightly put off. “Whoops, didn’t mean to wake you up.” She said, moving into the room. “What possessed you to dive into a burning building anyways?” Artemis asked, sitting down nearby.
“I heard a kid screaming for help. Nobody else would do anything. I figured, ‘why not me?’. I couldn’t exactly complain that nobody else was doing something when I wouldn’t do something.”
That got an arched eyebrow from Artemis. “Wow. Sure you don’t have a [Fire Rescuer] class or something?”
I stuck my tongue out at her, only real revenge I could extract. “Nope! Healer life for me! Although,” bitterness unintentionally lancing my voice, “it seems like I’m only good as an aura right now.”
“Ah cheer up, you’ll be fine. You’ll be sneaking around to see boys at night again in no time!”
“I wasn’t out to see a boy!” I protested.
Artemis gave a highly amused noise of disbelief. “I remember being your age. Boys boys boys. Unless it was a girl?” I gave a small shriek of outrage.
“I wanted to hit level 100! So your vacation wouldn’t be stopped by needing to train me!” Artemis looked like she’d gotten a taste of her own element. Lip quivering, she quickly stood up and turned away from me so I couldn’t see her face.
“You dumbass! I was so worried about you! I want to spend time with you! Being here, with you and Julia and Elainus is my vacation!” Artemis couldn’t hide the happy crying she was doing. “Did you at least get 100?”
“No” I pouted. “I haven’t gotten a single notification since I woke up either.”
Artemis turned around, wiping her face. “Wow, I’d expect a half dozen levels in your class and 20+ skill levels for that. You didn’t disable notifications or something?”
The look on my face must have been priceless, because Artemis bent over, wheezing and laughing, pointing at my face. Great guffaws of laughter, howling roars of mirth. Oh come on now, it couldn’t be that funny now, could it?
“Alright, alright, fine, I’ll turn them back on. Ready?”
I mentally turned notifications back on, and braced myself as I got machine-gun-fire speed notifications.