“I’m going to tentatively agree that there are two plagues.” I said, thinking about what everyone had told me, evaluating their reliability, just like I had to when on-duty in town to take complaints that Rangers got. “I would guess that at least one, if not both, can be transmitted directly from person to person. There’s no way it’s by eye contact though – disease just doesn’t work that way! There’s no way for the bacteria, or virus, or whatever, to leave through the eyes. It’s possible for disease to enter the body through the eyes if it’s in the air. Maybe that’s what he meant when he said ‘It’s transmitted by eye contact.’”
“Let’s call them the Bloody Plague and the Vomiting Plague for now.” I said. “It’ll make it easier to determine what’s going on. From what we know, the Bloody Plague somehow managed to still get outside of the town, in spite of all the healers trying to do a mass-cleanse event. Which is weird for a few reasons. How did it get outside? And assuming it was on something like rats or insects, how did people develop symptoms so fast? You don’t go from ‘infected’ to ‘problem’ within hours, it usually takes days! If it was that fast, why hasn’t it burned itself out yet?”
“However, the fact that the Vomiting Plague didn’t show up outside the town suggests that it’s more normal. I’d guess that it’s sourced inside the town somehow. Our best initial bet with it is to talk with people, see what they all have in common. Maybe they all buy food from the same vendor. Maybe they all use the same bathroom. You know how to investigate better than I do.”
“Any questions for Elaine on this initial approach?” Julius asked.
“How do we protect ourselves from getting the plague?” Kallisto asked almost instantly.
“Well, if I knew that, this would be easy. Let’s try sticking to just our food and water stocks for now. Wear a cloth mask. If you believe the [Plague Healer] that it’s transmitted by eye contact, wear a sack over your head like he does. As time goes on, let’s slowly expand what we do – one person at a time – and see if anyone catches the plague. I’ll be healing all of us every evening, and if the plague was so fast to kill people same-day, it wouldn’t have enough time to spread to kill more people – it’d burn itself out too fast.”
“But you just said it was going that fast, which made no sense.” Kallisto pointed out, doubt and worry in his voice.
I frowned. He had a point. The evidence before me was contradicting what I knew. Be stubborn, stick to my guns, or be flexible, adapt, incorporate the new knowledge into what I knew?
“I hate to say this,” Julius asked. “but you mentioned Papilion had done terrible things to your memory. Is it possible – just asking if it’s possible – that this piece of information got removed as well, and you’re not realizing it?”
I thought about it. How much did I really remember of those few, terrifying minutes in the Realm of the Gods? It’d been a long, long time since Biology class, could I simply have forgotten, and not realized it? I could detect holes in my memory, now and then, but there was no substitution for just… forgetting… something.
“It’s… possible.” I reluctantly conceded.
“Well, worse-case, if someone comes down with the plague, you can just come to me. I find it hard to believe that it could kill you so fast between showing symptoms, and making it to me. While I’ve only treated that one person, it didn’t seem too hard. I’ll make sure my earrings are always topped up as an emergency ‘heal a Ranger’ reserve to boot.” I reasoned out.
I got nods around the circle, and even Kallisto relaxed a hair. Origen gave me a great big toothy grin, and a thumbs up.
“Anything else healing-related?” Julius asked. Heads shook around the circle.
“Right then. Town-related issues that you noticed or heard about. Go.”
“There are two cults that seem to have sprung up as a result of the plague.” Maximus said, leaning forward. “Like most religious fanatics, they agree on most things, then differ on the details.”
“I heard some of that as well.” Artemis chimed in, lazily sitting back. “Something about the Fae?”
“Yeah, they’re both convinced the plague is the work of the Fae, it’s in-line with other mischief they’ve worked.” Maximus said. “Although, it’s on a completely different scale.”
I rolled my eyes. Fairies. Pallos had their fair share of fairy tales, and while I’d initially been excited about them, a complete and total lack of them ever showing up made me convinced they were just that – fairy tales. Sure, maybe they weren’t – there was a higher chance than normal that they were real – but their complete and total lack of touching on my life had me categorize them as “extremely rare” if they did exist.
“What are the differences between the two cults?” I asked.
“Well, one seems to think the answer is appeasing the Fae. Get rid of horseshoes, leave them shiny offerings, playing nice music, etc. The Appeasers. Their logic is that the Fae must be angry, and only by making them happy will we be fine.” Maximus explained.
“The other cult thinks the answer is to make the town as unappealing to the Fae as possible. Ward them off, drive them out, and they’ll take the plague with them. Horseshoes, Symbol of the Five Gods, salt, the works.”
“Which brings them into direct conflict with each other.” Our resident mountain-bear-man hybrid growled out.
“That’s interesting, but does it do anything for us right now?” Julius asked.
“Appear neutral.” Origen said, some of his rare words. “Don’t look like we’re on either side.”
He looked at me significantly. I looked at him back, blanking. He looked at my chest.
Right, my pendant from mom. Symbol of the Five gods and all that. I tucked it into my tunic, and he gave me a thumbs up. Would it kill him to talk more?
There was some more shuffling around as we hid shiny items, and Maximus reluctantly put away his newest weapon, some monstrosity of spikes and chains that I couldn’t even begin to properly describe, opting instead to carry a standard short sword, made out steel.
“Right, do we need anything else before we go?” Julius asked us. We finally all shook our heads.
“Elaine, last-minute advice how to not get infected?” Julius asked.
“Wear a mask. Don’t eat or drink anything that’s not from our stores. Try not to get too close to people. Wear long clothes, cover your arms and legs, don’t let bugs bite you. Don’t touch infected people. Avoid getting blood in or on you, although I seriously doubt this is blood-borne.” I rattled off immediately.
“Ok, Investigation team, grab some food and let’s go, we’re eating as we move. Healing team, Artemis, you’re in charge, do what you want. Let’s go.” Julius said.
I dropped my [Veil] – overkill really, in the Argo with the sound-proofing enchantments anyways, and Julius, Maximus, and Arthur all grabbed some food, wrapped a piece of cloth around their face, and headed out. Kallisto made a noise of protest, shoved an entire fruit in his mouth, threw a bag over his head, and scrambled out after them.
He was taking this “don’t get infected” thing seriously. Must be really worried about it.
“Grab some food, let’s go.” Artemis ordered. Origen and I quickly grabbed some food, I got myself a waterskin and filled it up from our reserves, and we were off.
We’d parked the Argo near the main temple, which was pulling multiple duties at once. Besides the normal role for worship and acting like a primitive bank, it was also a central location for all the healers to set up their clinics, a single, centralized location for people to come to, at which point they could “window-shop” for whoever they wanted to heal them. It was good for them, it was good for us, and I was forcibly reminded of a food court in a mall. “What do you want, spicy-Water healer for 8 coins, a delicious cheese-coated Dark healer for 11 coins, or a Light-healer that always gives you the runs after for 3 coins?”
We went back into the temple, and weaved our way through the marble halls, the heat and humidity being stifling. Whose bright idea was it to build a temple like this in a tropical location? It made no sense.
Lots of what people did made no sense.
Markus had helpfully set us up with a room, and I managed to get there without too much incident, mostly by repeating the following mantra to myself on repeat.
“I’m here to help, I’m willing to help, they will come if they need help, they are getting help on their own.” I repeated it over and over, the truth of the matter helping [Oath] stay happy, even as some sick people shuffled past me, on their way to another healer.
We found my spot at the end of a hallway – subtle snub, or “this is our only free room” – impossible to tell – and I got settled into a chair, while Artemis leaned up against a wall.
Origen was going to be our social interface, our way of communicating and semi-advertising, and would help lead people from the main room people were gathering in to our room-turned-clinic.
We were so doomed.
Origen set up a series of inscriptions all over the room before we got started, as a junior member of the temple stopped by.
“Oh, you’re here, good.” He said. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Well, we need some help letting people know that we’re here, and we’re able to help people.”
“Right, you’re in the Aster room. What type of healing are you offering, and what price?” He asked.
“Celestial healing, no coins. It’s free.” I said.
“Can you do all the Light and Dark tricks?” He asked, seemingly mentally taking notes. Right, reading and writing were rare skills here. I’d gotten spoilt being around the Rangers constantly.
“Yup! Unless there are tricks I don’t know about. Curing diseases, injuries, lost limbs, and the like, I can do.”
“Are you sure you want to be free?” He asked. “You could charge quite a bit, and people would pay. You’d be maxed out on patients to heal, and still making enough.”
I hesitated at that. It wasn’t that the money wasn't attractive – it was – if I had extra coins, I could do things, like make sure Glacia had enough money to keep going. It sounded like she was struggling. But at the same time, it'd close the door to the poorest people, who not only deserved healing, but could also be spreading the disease.
“Yes, I’m sure I want to be free.” I glanced at Origen. He shrugged. The temple helper left the room, Origen following. Artemis and I settled in, waiting for the first person.
It didn’t take long. All of the other healers had people? Another healer showed up, and was ready to see people? New healer was free? In a short time – if I was a betting girl, I’d say the exact length of time needed to walk from the room to the main chamber, say “free healer’s available”, then shuffle back at the speed of the man before me – I had my first patient.
He was coughing, a dry, hacking cough, followed by a high-pitched intake of breath after. He was covered with open sores oozing a disgusting mixture of pus and blood. Yup, Bloody Plague.
I shook my head. I should disabuse myself of these ideas. I should tackle it with fresh eyes, and draw my own conclusions. In some ways, hearing everyone’s thoughts ahead of time had poisoned the well, made it harder for me. I had grooves that my thinking wanted to go into.
“When did you notice the, errr, problems?” I asked, slightly stumbling over my wording.
“Started coughing a week ago, lightly. Got worse. Two days ago, it vanished, I felt like a new man. Then today it came back, worse. Woke up with the cough, and when I saw the sores and pus, made my way over here fast. Thank all the gods and goddesses you’re here, I didn’t think anyone would take me!” He said, grabbing my hand.
“Where do you live? Where do you normally work?” I asked him. He gave me his answers, and I mentally noted them.
The ick was significantly diminished by Ponticus’s display of self-cannibalism earlier, along with [Center of the Galaxy]. I hit him with [Phases of the Moon], imagining the bacteria (or virus – I split my thoughts on it) being burned out, his lungs being hale and whole, the pus gone, the sores closed and healed. Benefit to being Celestial – I could both purge the disease, and close the wounds. Dark and Water healers could purge the disease, but the sores would be left to heal on their own, leaving scars at best, and an avenue for new infection at worse.
I checked my mana. It took 611 points of mana to heal him. With my mana regeneration at around 8785, that was… about 14 people an hour. About one person every four minutes. 140 people in 10 hours, plus a few more for overnight regeneration. With a mana pool of 6850, that was another 21 people or so people I could heal.
“Thank you, oh thank you!” He said, trying to hug me with his pus-stained clothes. Artemis intervened, carefully stopping him from crushing me, separating us. I was never so happy that she was around before, and shot her a grateful look. She winked at me. He read the mood, and left, giving us a brief moment before the next patient arrived.
“Come over here.” I told Artemis.
She came a bit closer, and I leaned over, tapping her, pulsing [Phases of the Moon] through both of us. I took a small amount of mana, Artemis took none. She dodged infection this time.
The variable amount of healing needed after each patient – 20 or so many, that might be used not at all if we dodged getting infected, to 40 or so if we both got hit – would throw my calculations on how many people I could heal off.
Shortly after a woman was carried in on a stretcher by what looked like her husband and kid.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, as a foul smell reached my nose.
“Started leaking from both ends, hard, like a water-mage blasting someone. Just… not water.”
Well, with that disgusting imagery, I looked down at her. There was some vomit caked to her lips, and I didn’t let my eyes wander down further. I placed my finger on her forehead, burning out the bacteria (or virus, or parasite, or whatever else was the problem) out from her.
346 mana. Strange. Why the large difference?
She didn’t get up though, didn’t start jumping with joy. I narrowed my eyes, remembering my [Oath]. I hated doing this. I had to.
I will admit when I do not know how to heal a patient.
“Can you see Verta, or one of the other senior healers with your wife? She’s terribly dehydrated, she needs a bunch of water. I don’t have a skill that can help with that” I said. “You could also boil a bunch of water, and try to feed it to her.”
They nodded and hurried off, the son throwing me a nasty look, a look that said “why did we bother with the discount healer.”
Bah. She was disease-free. Just wasn’t at 100%.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 112!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 145! +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 145!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 125!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 105!]
I looked at my regeneration. Yikes, going up fast enough that it would cause my calculations to constantly change. Good grief.
I tapped Artemis and I to heal again, neither of us needing any healing. Not directly human to human transmissible? Or just lucky this time?