After the lady left – I never caught her name – I went back to playing with fire, trying to make a careful circlet for myself without lighting my hair on fire. I had [Fire Resistance], but my hair wasn’t fireproof.
Yet. One day….
I finally got the flames to play nicely, evenly flaring out to make it more a crown than a circlet, and my efforts and manipulation were rewarded.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Firebug] has leveled up to level 20! +2 Free Stats, +2 Mana, +1 Mana Regen, +3 Magic power, +1 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 20!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 20!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 20!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 98!]
[*Ding!* For reaching level 20, you’ve unlocked the Class Skill [Fuel for the Fire]!]
[Fuel for the Fire] You are constantly eating, needing to restore your energy after burning it all away with flames. This skill will help you eat more, eat faster, and convert it to energy more quickly. Increased food to energy and food to mana conversion per level.
I took the skill, eyeing it suspiciously. Really System? Really? This was the first real Fire-mage skill I was getting? Not fireball, but a gluttony skill?
I closed my eyes, breathing in, breathing out. It was a skill. It was magic. I was already becoming old and curmudgeonly, complaining about skills I was getting. Next thing you know I’d be saying that System Day was disappointing! I was turning into my mother! Help, help!
Let’s try this again.
Woohoo! A new skill! [Fuel for the Fire]! I could eat more! I’d top my reserves up faster! Who knows, maybe down the line I could eat interesting things and change my flames! Whoosh! Green fire! Blue fire! Purple fire! More practically, it seemed like eating would help me restore my mana directly.
Maybe it’d let me eat wood, and use that as flames!
I knuckled myself at the last idea. Or I could just light it on fire, like a normal person.
What was a normal person here even like?
“Elaine.” Kallisto’s voice snapped me back to normal. “Got anything you’d like to share?” He asked, looking at me significantly.
I threw up [Veil] around us quickly. “Leveled up! New skill! [Fuel for the Fire]! Seems to help me convert food to energy and mana.”
Kallisto made an appreciative noise. “Ok, super fast. I’m no Maximus, I dunno this stuff as well as he does. I think your skill is a bit stronger than you give it credit for, especially with all the casting you do. Lemme try to rustle something up for you.”
I dropped [Aurora], and started snacking on some food Kallisto rustled up. Probably just asked Kosmimatus for something. I eyed what I was eating. Something cheap.
A second lady showed up, wanting a scar removed. I happily obliged her, and she seemed surprised that yes, it was indeed free. I saw her do some shopping, and happily move on.
The trickle of people turned into a flood, and before I knew it, to my great surprise, I had a line. I never had a line in Aquiliea! The power of PR. Or free stuff.
And, I suppose, the power of being able to restore limbs and scars, along with being free. There were some notable events throughout the day.
A street kid came up to me, wanting me to come with him to fix his sister. I looked at Kallisto.
“What?” He said. “You should stay here.”
“I know. I want you to go with him to pick her up, and bring her back here. She’s really sick from the sound of it, and right now I’m Kosmimatus’s golden goose. Nothing’s going to happen to me while I’m here.”
Kid had a frowny face. “Kallisto’s great! Everything will be ok.” I reassured him.
Kallisto went off with the street kid – I still didn’t have his name – as I saw other patients.
Most of what I fixed was minor. A fish hook that had caught deep in a shoulder that never properly healed got fixed, the man getting a full range of motion back in his arm. An old man, getting cataracts in his eyes as he aged, getting his vision restored back to its prime. Enough lost fingers and fingertips to fill a jar. A wayward nail that’d been stepped on recently. Too many teeth to count – easy to lose, expensive to fix, easy to live without. Removing the “expensive to fix” part changed the math on getting them restored quite a bit.
A few army veterans, wanting a top-off, just to make sure nothing was degrading.
My high control got to show off a bit. An old man who came for a different problem left with his formerly-restored teeth having nerves again. An elbow poorly healed could work properly. A leg with a limp could move freely again. A poorly, bulk-fixed patch of skin from a veteran was reformed and reshaped, becoming more like his original flesh, and less like a flesh-covered quick-fix patch.
It helped me see that my control was much higher than I was giving it credit for, that I was able to do more than some other Light healers. I’d only see the “failed” efforts though, not the successful ones. Reverse-survivor bias at work. I shouldn’t let it go to my head.
Some problems I couldn’t fix. A parent, driven to her wit’s end, with a child that just wouldn’t speak. I explained to her that nothing was wrong with her kid, that’s just the way he was, to embrace it and learn to live with it. Her hateful glare lingered in my mind, as unjustified as it was. A woman, bringing along her ranting and raving father, who upon investigation probably had lead poisoning. Nothing I could do with that. Death. Death was unfixable, permanent. Not everyone had realized that death had visited. I fixed what I could, saving some lives.
Some were strange. A man, lean, with a swimmer’s look, a small, fresh cut on his arm with dirt rubbed in it, intent on sniffing me. I healed him and kept my distance. Diving for the potential loot the monster left behind was more dangerous than I thought. A twitchy-looking man, who insisted on privacy – I offered everyone [Veil] out of courtesy, but he demanded it – who then revealed that he’d accidentally offed his genitalia in an ‘accident.’
“No, please, I don’t need to see.” I said, touching him and fixing him. “There won’t be a second time, please be careful.” I deeply regretted that Kallisto was off helping the kid. Next time I should have Artemis, and have her with me.
Marriage implications. Soooo many marriage implications. “Oh poor dear, all on your own. I have a son/cousin/brother only 2/3/4/5 years older than you, you two would be just perfect together.” Ew no. I politely turned them down, and thought about getting a fake ring to stave off potential other offers.
Interesting that rings were used here to indicate marriage, but they went on the middle finger, not the fourth finger. Arcanite was the usual stone of choice, but if you managed to get your significant other’s elementally-aligned gemstone to their element, that was considered better.
A man with rotting feet. An amputation – they were dead – and a regrowth later (it was easier than trying to restore the feet), and they were as good as new. I suspected the man had diabetes, and while I could fix his pancreas, if it was type II he was doomed to go down the path again. I gave it a shot. He’d have to pray to Aion if it came back.
A reminder that my job wasn’t curing people. My job was pushing back the date that Black Crow would come to collect, and hopefully have people live a long enough life that White Dove would visit instead.
Speaking of Black Crow, Kallisto showed back up, carrying a small girl looking so sick, I could almost see Black Crow sitting on her, pecking away at her life. I got up and rushed over, the latest man in line complaining that it was finally his turn, and who was this cutting in?
I put my hands on her, and not knowing quite what was wrong, focused on healing her back, on beating the disease, on restoring her to hale and healthy. The lack of a good image of what was wrong, of how I was fixing her, caused me to burn a lot more mana than normal. Fortunately I was staying topped up, party due to my new skill. The older brother immediately rushed over, checking over her, making sure she was fine. She opened her eyes, and there was a bunch of crying and hugging.
This. This right here. This is why I healed. This is why I picked healing. These moments, this saving of lives, is why I picked this path, is why I stayed on the path. It was the little moments, the small things, that made it all worth it, that could let me endure the snide remarks about my age and evil glares when I couldn’t fix something.
The two kids had a quick, hurried discussion, then came over to me.
“Excuse me miss,” The boy said. Oh gods no I was becoming miss. I was too young to be miss! “are you sure there’s nothing we can do for you?” I smiled at him.
“Tell other people. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, so tell as many people who are sick that I’m around. I’m sure it’s not just your sister with a problem is it? I’m free, there are no strings attached.” I told him.
He looked at me suspiciously. “There’s always a price. I was desperate, but I’m ready to pay it.”
I snorted at him. “Yeah, there is a price.”
“I knew it!” He said, half-triumphantly, half-bitter at being tricked.
“Kosmimatus already paid it. He’s getting paid by a bunch of people knowing about him, and buying things from him. Something about running for Senate. Be nice to him, maybe don’t steal from him. We all win.”
The slum kid’s eyes widened, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, as he ran off. Slum kid network was about to see me have a bunch more patients, and Kosmimatus was probably going to see a decline in thefts.
For like, a week. I had no illusions how far good will went when it came to being hungry.
The day continued with brisk business, with a few little snags.
I went completely out of mana a few times, and after some quick negotiations with Kosmimatus, I was allowed to pull the mana out of the Arcanite jewelry he had on display, letting me top up when things were particularly busy, or I had a string of more-serious injuries to heal.
Kosmimatus was kinda mad about the number of street urchins that showed up to be healed, and we butted heads on that. I pointed out that the deal was to heal anyone, while he didn’t see the value in letting “a bunch of thieves” close to his wares where they could be easily stolen – normally they’d be shooed off. The other part was, street urchins didn’t vote, had no political pull. They wouldn’t – couldn’t – help him on his run for Senator.
We compromised – if anyone stole while in line, they’d be kicked out, and it was made clear to them as they got in line what the deal was. Street kids didn’t show up for minor problems, and none of them ended up displaying a willingness to get kicked out of a life-saving chance for healing over a loaf of bread.
[Vigilant] got real annoying, pinging quietly during the start of the day, and increasing in volume constantly. Being the center of attention meant, well, I was the center of attention and people were looking at me. I probably looked wealthy – Healer that can restore flesh, has a bodyguard, was young so probably from a rich family, had super-fancy earrings? Oh yeah, some less-savory types were eyeing me up as a mark. Thank gods for Kallisto hanging around! Bless Julius for making us go around in pairs!
Hard work was rewarded well, as I got a few levels. The lack of stress made it less than a fight, but quantity was a quality of its own, and the variety was staggering.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 129! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 130! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 129!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 130!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 106!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 112!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 72!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 73!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 74!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 67!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vastness of the Stars] has reached level 72!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Identify] has reached level 72!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 105!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 106!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 106!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fuel for the Fire] has reached level 6!]
The day wrapped up without major incident, the market thinning but me still having a line.
“I’m out of mana.” I complained to Kallisto as I finished healing another scar – not nearly as well as some others, due to being low, but an improvement on the dude’s face.
“Use another one of the Arcanite pieces.” Kallisto said, bored out of his mind. He’d made three – three! – arrangements for that evening, and a dozen more for the rest of the week somehow, and was, in his own words “full up.” He’d spent the last few hours looking menacing, but I’d thought I’d heard snoring at one point. I was grateful for him being around either way.
“They’re all dry. I drained them all.” I answered back. Kosmimatus was closing down shop, and I could see that he was ready to go, practically rubbing his hands in glee at how much he’d sold, and probably more importantly to him, how many connections made and hands shaken he’d been able to do. His Senate run was off to a good start, if I was any judge of politics.
“Listen up! Last call! Does anyone need serious healing? Have a missing finger or tooth or something else that’s a problem?”
Someone in the middle of the line yelled out.
“I have this nasty scar…”
“Real problem?” I yelled, even louder.
There was a bunch of disappointed muttering as the few people left in line realized they were missing last call, and they weren’t going to luck out. One woman stayed behind.
“I don’t want to be a bother, but my foot…” She trailed off, lifting the hem of her tunic to reveal a club foot.
“Yeah, ok, give me some time to restore enough mana for that.” I said, as everyone was packing up around me.
“Elaine! Any chance you’ll be here tomorrow?” Kosmimatus asked.
“Got more jewelry?” I asked, impish grin on my face. “Oh, and a fresh supply of Arcanite so I can go longer?” Upping my demands! Loot him for all he’s got! CEO Elaine in the house!
“Sure!” Kosmimatus replied with a Cheshire Cat grin so wide I suddenly realized I was the one who’d just been taken for a ride.
Ah well, the levels were good, and the jewelry divine. Hang on, could jewelry end up being actually divine, with goddesses and the like running about? Let me think about –
“ELAINE! Come on, let’s go.” Kallisto was shifting from foot to foot, eager to get a start to his evening.
“Fine, fine, coming, see you tomorrow!” I waved at Kosmimatus, who took a moment away from organizing everyone packing up his wares to wave back.
We trotted down the street as the sky rapidly darkened – not that I noticed with [Eyes of the Milky Way]. Convenient skill that, if the worthiness of devoting a whole slot to it was questionable.
“What’s the plan?” I asked Kallisto. I thought I knew, I wanted to make sure.
“Find the place. I go in. You hang out for a short while, check if I get kicked out quickly or not. Usually if I’m inside a short while, I’m able to be there the whole night. Remember where I am, head back to where we sleep, and if I don’t show up in the morning, raise hell and lead the team back here, where they’ll start looking for me.”
I eyed him.
“How many times has the team come over, prepared to raise hell, only to find you in a compromising position?”
Kallisto stumbled at that, windmilling his arms crazily to catch his balance.
“Yeah ok. I have another session tomorrow in the market place! I don’t want to be late!” I showed off my new earrings, elegant silver dropping to Arcanite bobble. “I intend to get a complete set!”
Kallisto rolled his eyes. “Those are terrible for a fight. They’ll get ripped right out. Go for Arcanite studs, harder to catch.”
I pouted at how right he was. Damnit!
Kallisto found a house, checking it carefully before smoothing his hair back.
"Alright Elaine, this is it! See you tomorrow!"
"Hang on. This seems like a bad idea. Me, walking back alone? I have a skill that helps me sense danger, it was going off earlier you know. Julius did say to stick in pairs."
"Well, is your skill going off now?" Kallisto asked, annoyed at me getting cold feet at the last second.
I checked it. Silent.
"Look, we do this all the time. Do you think Julius watches and waits when we're paired up? Do you think Origen decides to tinker with his inscriptions in the street while I'm having fun? No! They check where I'm going, and head back."
I made an unhappy noise.
"Come on Elaine, are you a Ranger, or a kid?"
"Ranger!" I proudly stated, puffing my chest out, pleased at my new status.
"Exactly! What kind of Rangers would be scared of walking through a town alone? If your danger-skill was going off right now, I'd be concerned, but it's not. Plus those are usually just thieves, and low-level at that - high level thieves can counter that skill."
"Listen, worse comes to worse and someone steals your pretty new earrings - they're gorgeous by the way, they sparkle like your eyes - I'll get you a new pair out of my savings. It'll be all on me."
I weighed my options. On one hand, Julius had said not to be separated. On the other, Kallisto had some great points, and I'd spent half a lifetime sneaking around towns at night. I knew how to sneak around. I could get myself from A to B no problem, I was a town girl! I didn't even need to dodge the guard this time, I could just hook myself up to a patrol until I got back.
"Alright, fine, enjoy." I said
Kallisto gave me a brilliant grin, then turned and knocked on the door. The door opened, he got yanked inside by a pair of slender arms, and all I saw was a thumbs up from him before the door slammed shut.
Welp. I guess I could just head back now, no need to wait. I took careful note of the house, seeing the painted clay pattern that distinguished it from the rest, got my bearings roughly where I was in town, and started to head back.
I was careful - I poked my head around a corner, checked for [Vigilant] alerting me to anything. Only when it was clear, only when it was quiet as a mouse, did I go forward, slowly leapfrogging my way through town. Sure, it was overkill, and the thieves from earlier had moved onto richer targets - why wait half the day or more to try to get a few coins from a healer with [Vigilant] that wasn't even charging for healing and had a bodyguard when there were richer targets that could be stolen from now - but why not play it safe?
I’d made my way down a few streets when [Vigilant] screamed bloody murder at me, went from 0 to 100, and, from my prior experiences, [Center of the Galaxy] keeping me firm and steady, not jumping in surprise, I was able to immediately snap up a full-body [Veil of the Aurora], wincing as I watched my mana – get brutally chunked.
I was under attack.