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A note from Selkie

The grande finale!

 

I want to give a shout-out to writer's block, a discord dedicated to writing. They helped me write my first words, and are an amazingly supportive community, although they take their rules seriously. Link!  https://discord.gg/writersblock - if you've ever thought about writing something yourself, check them out!

The day didn’t end up being that long or grueling, from a healing perspective. It didn’t stop me from beating myself up, thoughts going round and round in circles.

All the pieces of the puzzle had been there. All the little things about Hesoid, and the plague, hadn’t added up properly. If only I’d been able to see clearly, earlier. If only I’d put it together. If only I didn’t have the doubts plaguing me. If only I was more confident, more self-assured. If only I knew more about magic and the System. If only I had more lessons from Julius, from Kallisto, in investigations, into solving puzzles when people murdered other people. I could’ve put it together. I could’ve seen he was the one doing it.

I could’ve saved Origen. Now, he was gone forever.

Would Artemis judge me for my failure? Would she look at me with disdain, think it was my fault he was dead?

I shook my head at that. Focus. Just heal. Save this person. Save the next. Redeem myself in some small way. Origen was dead. These 10, 20, 30, 40 people – they would all live.

That had to count for something, right?

I was feeling light-headed and dizzy at the end of the day, when the rest of the Rangers came to tell us they were done, and it was time for Origen’s funeral.

Artemis gave me a Look, and with a start I realized that without her shoving food in me, I’d completely forgotten to eat. Sheepishly, I took the offered cheese and vegetables, and chowed down as we walked through the hallways back to the Argo. I will admit, the food became a lot less appetizing as I had to heal pus-filled sores, and seeing the occasional bloody footprint. However, I chugged along. I’d seen worse. Kallisto looked positively green seeing me heal someone, then immediately take a big bite of food.

I made sure to be pretty visible when doing so.

“How’d it go at the 3rd?” Arthur asked.

Julius half-frowned, half-smiled.

“Good and bad, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, there was some money changing hands that shouldn’t. On the other, it means that yes, there was a problem, and we had to root it out. Some heads will roll, and one of them will literally roll. On a positive note, sounds like they’re going to de-escalate, and maybe even send a detachment over to help tomorrow, and over the coming week.”

Artemis snorted at that.

“Yeah, like the 3rd’s ever been helpful before.”

“They’re extra bodies.”

“That are more likely to spark a riot than anything else.”

“They’ll be under our command.”

“They’re just trying to steal our credit and the good PR, hoping that some will rub off on them.”

Julius threw his hands up in frustration.

“It’s not like I can tell them no! We can only order them around so much!”

We exited the temple, to the alley where the Argo was parked. Artemis had clearly swung by at some point and cleaned it up. The spikes were gone, the earthen walls receded back. There were minor details that spoke to the place having been terraformed recently, a stone too smooth, a wall missing cracks, but by and large Artemis had done a good job.

There was also a small pyre of wood that’d been collected and neatly stacked in the alleyway.

Without much fanfare, Origen’s body, stripped of everything but a simple tunic, was placed on the pyre. We looked at it for a brief moment, then Julius unrolled a scroll he’d been holding.

This was the fanciest scroll I’d ever seen. The back was coated in inscriptions, and it was made out of leather, not bamboo. It was painted in intricate colors, and I saw Julius tucking away a fancy, protective case.

In other words, this was probably the most important scroll we had with us.

He scanned through the scroll, until he found the place he was looking for.

“Origen’s will.” Julius announced. Everyone bowed their heads reverently. I copied them, closing my eyes.

“Nothing of mine is to be burned. I will face the afterlife the way I faced this life, with nothing. I will make of myself what I can.”

“Give my coin to my sister, Asena, in Laconia.”

“For my inscription pens, tools, and notes. Find a boy in Laconia, one who doesn’t want to be a warrior, or who isn’t cut out for it. Pass them onto him. Pass my dream onto him. Teach him that it’s ok to not be a warrior.”

“For my weapons, armor, and other instruments of war that are mine, and not from the Rangers. Give them to the town of Laconia, so another warrior may be better equipped. May it protect them, in the way it didn’t protect me.”

“I don’t desire a tomb, nor a place to mark my passing, beyond my name on the Indomitable‎ Wall. I wish to become dust, to fly on the wind, to see all of Pallos in that manner.”

“I hope this is never read, but if it is, I hope I went down swinging. I hope you got whatever killed me. My only regret is that I won’t see Laconia grow and thrive, the way I know it can.”

“My best,”

“Publius Origen Cicero.”

Kallisto cracked up and sobbed, two short, curt sobs. He put a hand on Origen’s shoulder.

“You went down swinging. Be at peace.” He softly cried.

There were a few more minutes, for us to process our feelings, for us to say goodbye in our own quiet, private manner.

Very private.

“Elaine. Would you do the honors?” Julius asked.

I stepped up, all eyes on me.

I needed this to be hot. Hotter than I’d ever done. Hot enough to cremate Origen, hot enough for the bones to turn to dust, for there to be no smell.

Hot enough to free him, turn him to dust in the wind. Hot enough that all of him could see the entirety of Pallos.

I glanced at the Argo. I wasn’t full on mana, and even if I was, what I was being asked to do, the temperature I needed, would require not only pulling on the Argo’s reserves, but it’d push my Magic Power to the max.

Whatever. Failure was not an option.

Doing this in an alley felt almost irreverent, and somewhat strange. I left that choice to Julius.

With a small burst of flames at the base of the pyre, I ignited the wood. I stepped back for a moment, leaning against the Argo, pulling mana in. I let fire do what fire did best – grow and spread, as it built up power and momentum burning through the wood.

I seized control of the flames, a combination of [Conjuration] and [Manipulation] letting me make the flames higher, hotter.

Bone needed an absurdly high temperature to burn, to turn to ashes, and I kept pushing, pouring more mana into things. The flames got hotter, changing color, from red, to orange, to a pale yellow.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pyromancer] has leveled up to level 40! +5 Free Stats, +14 Mana, +8 Mana Regen, +14 Magic power, +8 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 40!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 40!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 40!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Resistance] has reached level 40!]

[*Ding!* For reaching level 40, you’ve unlocked the Class Skill [Burn Brightly]!]

 

[Burn Brightly] – You’ve pushed your flames to the limit, and now the limit’s moved. Your flames burn brighter, hotter, stronger, more ferociously.

I took the skill, and half-staggered as with a mighty roar, the pyre turned into a pillar of flames, the heat pressing on me, in spite of my [Fire Resistance]. The other Rangers backed up in a hurry, with Maximus giving me a knowing look with a quirk of his eyebrows.

The faint smell of burning changed, things burning so cleanly there was barely a smell. Well, almost – my eyebrows were getting a little crispy, and I had to keep grabbing and putting out little fires being started from the residual heat.

Burning down the temple was a sure-fire way to start a riot.

I could hear the notifications as [Burn Brightly] leveled up rapidly, feeling mana course through me as fast as I could draw and use it. It felt like my insides were burning up, and pain started coursing through my body, drawing intricate patterns through my body, as I kept pushing mana out as hard as I could.

In almost no time at all, the fuel, and Origen’s body, had turned to dust, were nothing more than ashes, as per his final request. A small amount remained behind, only for a light breeze to pass through, picking them up, swirling them away.

It was probably just my imagination, but I thought I saw a hand, waving goodbye.

So ended Ranger Origen, brave warrior of Laconia, master Inscriptionist.

A solemn moment passed.

Arthur sneezed, and the moment was broken. We went into the wagon, and the last of our beer and good food was broken out. We spent the remainder of the evening getting drunk, and sharing stories of Origen with each other.

I had the presence of mind to clear the alcohol out of my system before going to sleep, and checking how far [Burn Brightly] had leveled.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Burn Brightly] has reached level 20!]

We woke up early the next morning, and it was time for the major project. Attempting to cleanse the entire town, chase the last of the disease out of it. This was going to be a massive undertaking, requiring the coordination abilities of dozens of people, and every single healer.

We dressed to the nines, polishing our armor from yesterday, red capes back in action. When the call had come out that a full-town-cleanse attempt was occurring again, it was under the Ranger name, we were putting our reputation on the line. We needed to be visible, we needed to look good, we needed to inspire confidence that this would work.

All of us bowed as we passed the front of the temple, a statue of Etalix, The Storm, prominently displayed before the entrance. This one was in a different pose, depicting Etalix emerging ferociously from some sort of cloud.

A storm cloud? Dust? Ashes? Something else? From what I’d learned of elements, any number of elements could be responsible for the cloud.

Or was it just another aspect of “Storm”?

Nobody had been able to tell me anything more about the Guardians, although from the way Julius got tight-lipped instead of denying knowledge, let me know he might know a hair. Did he have an unusual upbringing which gave him the knowledge? Or was it something all Ranger team leaders were taught?

We made it to the main gate, pushing our way through packed streets. In spite of people trying to part for us, the streets were still extremely crowded, even at this early hour. Everyone wanted to be first out, to feel the relief of freedom, to remove the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head. It didn’t help that everyone was taking their animals with them. We had no idea how long the event would last, and horses, chickens, cats and dogs, and all manner of other, interesting exotic animals, native of the local jungle and tamed, were present. Minor spats between various animals broke out, and I saw someone get kicked by a mule. I winced. That had to hurt. [Oath] didn’t bother me this time as we continued through the crowd – they were in line to be healed by, among others, me, and apparently saying “Hang on, I need to get in position.” Was acceptable, unlike my earlier “I’m going to ignore you.”

Good to know. Good to know. How did we not think of this before, and pick a different route to walk down?

What was done was done, and it was good to have this aspect of [Oath] suddenly, involuntarily, explored.

The way it was arranged was like this. A temporary barrier split the street approaching the gate in half. Some members of the 3rd were at the end of the barrier, directing people to the left side, or the right side. One of the uses we’d found for them, where they’d be under our supervision. We didn’t trust them in the town proper, nor did we trust them out of our sight. All of their training was on “kill the hostile/kill the problem”, and almost nothing on deescalating. They also didn’t live there, weren’t invested, and would face almost no consequences for misbehaving.

Hence, a short leash. We needed the extra bodies though, and it gave the 3rd reassurance that this was being done properly, and they could go away without razing the place down.

I wonder how they picked the people from the 3rd to come. Were they the ones out of favor? Was this a punishment duty? Or were there some true believers, people who had faith and wanted to see this resolve well?

A mystery. I didn’t care enough to find out, my plate was more like a buffet with how much I had to do.

 

We split up the exit into two sides. The left side was for people the guards deemed looking healthy. The right side was for people that looked like they were sick in some way. A very simple form of triage.

Caecilius’s apprentice, and two of the town healers under Verta, were on the left side as well. Their job was a secondary screening, to spot anyone who looked like they might be somewhat ill that the guard had missed, and hit them with a dose of healing.

That took the pressure off Caecilius himself, who had a massive fog bank of healing (it probably had some fancy skill name) for people to walk through, to hit any last bit of disease missed, or people who weren’t symptomatic. His job was full-time on working and managing that skill, along with closing it down temporarily if he found himself getting overwhelmed. The majority of the town would be walking through that mist, and he was going to be stretched to his limits, healing literally tens of thousands of people solo. Sure, they all looked healthy, but they probably all had just a little bit wrong with them. The sheer quantity of people he was handling justified his presence doing that alone. Finally, everyone, from both lines, would walk through Markus’s Pyronox flames across the main gate – the final stopgap measure, the final check to make sure no disease escaped the town.

That was the simple side.

The right side was for people who were sick. We weren’t dealing with any injuries, just disease, or at least, that was the official position. Unofficially, I suspected most people who were both injured and diseased as they came through would find their injuries just a bit better. For example, if someone came with a nasty gash, well, healing everything under the gash properly didn’t look any different, but would make a world of difference for the healing itself.

We didn’t want people with persistent injuries deliberately getting themselves sick for the free bonus healing. We had too much on our plate already, without people making our lives harder.

We were set up into waves, so to speak.

The first wave consisted mostly of apprentice, weaker, or newer healers. Generally if you were one of those, you were also the rest. Their main job was triage, splitting people into roughly three lines. The “technically sick”, the “moderately ill”, and the “barely hanging on.” Real formal. They were strongly encouraged to dump any healing they could into people, but quite honestly weren’t expected to manage much. It was more a measure to make them feel good, make the people they were helping feel good, and for them to get a number of levels.

The healers were distributed more or less evenly across the three lines. Healers that were lower-level were more likely to be on the “technically sick” line, while healers with higher levels, or more importantly, higher regeneration and power, were in the “barely hanging on” line.

A healer considered powerful headed each line. Verta headed the “technically sick” line, and that line gave us the most concern. It had the most healers assigned to it, and we anticipated most of the sick people would be in the line. However, as powerful as Verta was, she wasn’t as strong as the rest of the high-tier healers, she was more like the most powerful moderate healer. Most of Markus’s work and mana consumption we thought would come from her line, as even after she was done healing she might not have fully gotten them clean and purged.

Verta, bless her heart, recognized that we weren’t being mean when we made that assessment, that we were being practical. She kept completely, blessedly silent when it was mentioned she’d be more-or-less working directly with the 3rd.

Berucus was heading the “moderately ill” line, his chance at getting back into people’s good graces. There were dozens of eyeballs staring at him, and this was his last shot. Knowledge of what he’d done was not public, and if he managed to pull this off, a stiff fine would be all the remaining punishment for him. His deeds wouldn’t be made public, he’d be free to go home, and he was well-incentivized to make this work.

I headed the last line. The “barely hanging on” line. It was a mixture of acknowledgement of what I’d done, recognizing my skills, a reflection on my history of aiming for and treating the sickest patients from day one. Quite frankly, the number of healers that could be described as “powerful”, “in the city”, “not assigned to another task”, and “could fully burn out disease” was down to just me.

It helped as well that I insisted we try to heal the people “barely hanging on”; that I refused to write them off to better heal others. It would be easier to skip them. It would be faster to skip them. I’d done lots of thinking on Justice, Triage, and ethics; examined my [Oath] and my own mind. I couldn’t leave them behind. I wouldn’t.

I would become powerful enough, strong enough, that it would never be a question again.

After the apprentices got to them, after the moderate healers got to them, and after the anchor, or head of the line, got a chance to heal, they’d then walk through Markus’s Pyronox gateway, our final barrier against problems.

We’d debated them going through Caecilius’s cloud as well, but Caecilius didn’t think he could manage the extra load. He already had most of the town walking through his skill.

Ponticus was still utterly useless as a Light healer, and my understanding of why Light healers were so rare jumped a dozen notches. Handling disease was so much more practical, so much more important, and was seen so much more in day to day life. Heck, look at my leveling rate on my Light class versus my Dark class. There had been almost no demand for my Light healing, while my Dark healing had gotten as many levels in two years as my Light had gotten in six. Sure, age, more stats meant I leveled faster, etc. etc., but the truth remained.

That, and most Light healers weren’t dumb enough to come to a plague town.

However, just because he was useless as a healer didn’t make him entirely useless. He was assigned to act as a mediator, and a central point of contact for healers, to then bring issues and problems to the Ranger’s attention, or to Markus’s attention, depending. He had enough clout, and was recognizable enough, with his gemstone sash on and sparkling in the sun, for people to come to him with problems. A great filter of sorts.

Glacia was staying mostly out of sight, but not out of mind. She was going to play her heart out, doing her best to buff everyone. Invigoration, boosted healing speed, possibly something to help healers. I had no idea how bards or Sound healers worked, and Glacia was not forthcoming with her secrets. Not after my perceived betrayal. With how crowded the streets were, I anticipated she’d get a minute of play time, if that, before running out of mana and needing to recharge.

I’d eat my hat if she didn’t level today.

Glad I wasn’t wearing a hat.

Every healer, apprentice and up, had some member of the 3rd following them around, looming menacingly. Not exactly a great vibe, but hopefully it’d deter violence.

Kallisto was assigned as my bodyguard for this. Artemis had a rock-solid belief that violence was the solution to problems, and people getting lightning-bolted in the middle of town, in a massive crowd? That riot we were all trying to avoid. Kallisto’s method of defense was to put himself between me and the problem, then talk them down. Hits that would be lethal to me could easily be butterfly farts to our golden-haired tank, and he’d be able to talk people down with his smooth social skills.

It also freed up Artemis to be a lightning bolt in the right place, at the right time. Like, say, if the members of the 3rd decided to do something moronic.

As much as we disliked the 3rd being present, they did free up the entire guard to sweep through the town, and patrol it. They had a few different objectives.

First, they wanted to make sure that everyone got out. Some people were stubborn holdouts of some variety. Either they didn’t believe in the plague, didn’t see the value in leaving, were convinced it was a plot to rob their valuables, were concerned about looters, or were just plain too sick, injured, or old to leave town – no matter how it was sliced, no matter their reasoning, they were going round to make sure everyone left.

Or were in fact looters, out to try and snag untold valuables while nobody was around to guard them.

They were also out in force to stop looting, fights, and all manner of other criminal mischief that the less-savory side of town was doubtlessly going to get up to with nobody around, and unsecured houses full of valuables all over the place. The fear of people stealing things wasn’t entirely unfounded.

Their last major goal was to stop anyone from sneaking out other ways. This was, to my brief understanding of how they were going to work this time, and my greater understanding of guards in general, to be accomplished by patrolling the wall, and talking to the local smugglers. A “Hey, look, I know you’re ‘not a smuggler’, but we need no people to escape through other means for the next few days.” Conversation.

I suspected that any smuggler who wouldn’t play ball would rapidly find there was no longer a blind eye to them. The guards were pissed after they found out their former captain had been assassinated, and that wool had been pulled over their eyes, and the gods help any smuggler who decided to cross them today.

One or two people with the disease would probably just burn out. There was a slim chance they’d reignite the plague though, and at that point, the 3rd would give up and raze the place to the ground; put every living being to the sword.

The meatheads probably hadn’t thought about what would be done to them after they probably ended up infected themselves.

Most of the healers had gotten themselves some Arcanite, and there was some shuffling, some redistribution of it. Quite a lot of it ended up in a sort of “community pot” that any of the healers could access, although from how some of the master healers and apprentice healers were whispering together, and the envious looks shot at me, the avaricious looks shot at the Arcanite, I suspected they were being told it wasn’t for them.

More Arcanite, more spare mana, for me, Markus, Caecilius, and other powerful, top-tier healers. We were the final line, the ones who couldn’t fall. I felt a bit bad for the other healers, who wouldn’t get this chance to use skills as often. Not as much skill casting, especially for a healer, translated into fewer levels.

Word had also gotten out what we were doing, and there was a request that if anyone had spare Arcanite, to let one of the healers draw off of it, to help the whole process go faster. Who knew how useful it’d be.

Unfortunately, after the last healing event ended in failure, a bunch of healers had left town. Even though the death toll was in the thousands, people were sicker on average, partially because the plague had been spreading faster than healers could contain it, and partially because Hesoid had classed up before we got to him, increasing how deadly the plague was, how virulently it spread, his final “fuck you” to all of us before he died.

The final result was the ratio between healers, powerful healers, normal people, and sick people, had been skewed badly, in the wrong direction.

Another aspect of me being considered a powerful healer. While there were quite a few other healers around my level, with a half-dozen being a higher level than me, [Oath] was providing me with a nearly 8x multiplier to my control and power, bumping me to at least Markus-tier, if not higher. My strong grasp of medicine, and [Medicine], helped me form better images, dramatically increasing my efficiency, lowering my cost of healing compared to other healers. I didn’t know what sort of boosts they had, but at the end of the day, all those aspects came together, to have me be considered another one of the powerful healers.

The line started to move, and after a few minor hiccups, we started to move. Patient after patient, body after body, one person after another came under my hands, was touched as I formed the best image I could, of burning disease out, restoring people, closing sores, bringing them back to the best, the healthiest, person they could be.

It was an endless slog, and the world around me fell away, to just be the person in front of me. And the next. And the next. And the next. And the next.

Kallisto would occasionally move fast, intercept some punch or skill or something. I had no time, no ability, no bandwidth to see what was happening, check what was going on. I had faith that he’d keep me safe. There was just me, and the patient. Two entities, locked in a spiral as old as time, that would continue on until humanity vanished forever. Healer and patient. Doctor and invalid. The great fight against Black Crow and White Dove, pushing back the day death comes knocking. That was my job.

From a baby, sick with a high fever. Not the plague, but some other serious illness, who now had her whole life in front of her. To the great grandfather, who probably wouldn’t make it the week, even after I poured almost 2000 mana into him, fixing his current problems. I wonder how much more that would’ve been if two other healers hadn’t gotten to him first.

Every. Last. Person.

That was my goal. That was my mantra.

Next person. Next person. Next person. Next person.”

There was clearly excitement of various sorts going on throughout the day. I caught Artemis half-flying on one of her stone platforms at one point, willing to burn massive amounts of mana just to get to some problem or another that much faster. I heard one of Arthur’s emergency signal arrows go off, and I half-started at that, hours of drills having ingrained a bone-deep reflex in me. Fortunately, Kallisto grabbed me, stopping me from haring off.

Night fell. The moons came up, glaring down at us. Displeasure radiated from them. “Just let them die.” They seemed to whisper. “Just let them all die.”

Two moons, slitted like a cat’s eye, baleful orange beating down on us. Two practically identical messages.

I shook my head. I was being silly, letting my imagination run away with me in my exhaustion.

Food was put in my hand. I ate. Another patient came, another patient left. I glanced up. People were sleeping in the street, keeping their place in line. I glanced to my side. Caecilius had closed up shop, needing sleep. The other lines had also closed for the night, and I could see the junior healers looking at me, pleading in their eyes.

I breathed in, breathed out, quickly thinking about it. They were useless burnt out. I couldn’t demand that they keep the same pace as me.

“Go.” I said, waving my hand. Some thanked me. Some just left. Cries of sadness, of despair, came from the line.

I glanced behind me. Markus’s Pyronox was still up. A precaution against anyone getting a bright idea to try and sneak through it in the middle of the night. Rather, if anyone was going to be sneaking, we wanted it through his barrier. They’d be cleansed on the other side, and security seemed… lax.

Whatever. Barrier was still up. I could still heal.

“Listen up!” I yelled, not really caring if I woke anyone up. “I’m still open. I’m still going. I’m here until I drop.”

There were a few scattered cheers, some happy murmurings. Mostly from relatives, people bringing their sick parent/child/brother/wife to me.

I couldn’t stop. Sure, the other lines could. It made sense. They wanted to be fresh, they could afford the time.

This teenager, that I was healing right now? She might not make it to morning. This 50-something man on a stretcher? Dead by noon tomorrow. A delay now, would delay treatment for everyone in the line, push them all back.

Some past their expiry date.

Two of the attacks Kallisto had deflected had been because of bad news like that, pronouncements that someone brought to me just hadn’t quite been in time. I think. I wasn’t paying that much attention to anything not directly healing-related.

It wasn’t like I could bump them up the line, heal them faster or sooner. This was the emergency priority line. Everyone needed treatment, and they needed it now.

“Healy-bug, you ok?” Artemis asked, and I jumped about a foot in the air. A few guards looked my way, but seeing everything was fine, went back to watching.

“When did you get here?” I asked, half-jumping.

“When the sun set. Kallisto wanted a break. You should also take a short break, get a tiny bit of sleep.” Artemis said, hand on hip.

I pouted.

“You’re just going to let me sleep until morning again.” I grumbled at her.

“Not this time Elaine. I promise.” Artemis said, suddenly serious. Wasn’t even using my nickname.

“Look, your efficiency has got to be dropping like a rock in a well. You’re taking longer and longer on each patient, and as you get tired, your image is getting shaky, it’s not as strong, not as efficient. You end up using more mana per person. I’m willing to bet you’re starting to lean on your moon images, instead of the proper medical images. It’s making things worse. Take a quick nap, heal a dozen people, then take another nap. Rinse and repeat, until you’ve gotten enough sleep. Look, new parents do this all the time, you can do it as well.”

Artemis crossed her arms, brooking no argument. The old lady who was next in line, wheezed at me.

“Deary, sleep. I’ve held on for 86 years. I can hold on for a short while more.”

With opinion against me, I laid down on the rough stone floor, bunched up my cloak to give myself a fraction of a pillow, and closed my eyes.

It felt like I had just blinked, when I was being violently shaken awake by Artemis. I checked my mana. 400 points or so from full, and my head was killing me. I’d felt clear-headed when I laid down, but now I was fuzzy, the eternal curse of the power nap.

I sat up, healed the old lady. She was right, she’d made it. She made it to the Pyronox gate – did Markus have a skill that let it persist even in his sleep or something? The line shuffled forward, the next person.

Next person. Next person. Next person. Next person.”

I settled into what I was calling my “Night rhythm.” I only woke up once to someone bleeding and clutching a hand. I healed him, glanced at Artemis, raised an eyebrow. She shrugged, then put a finger over her lips.

Aka, “Hey, I had to disable him silently. You were sleeping.”

Forget the other people sleeping here, Artemis had no concern for them.

I briefly checked my notifications.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 164! +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 164!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 165! +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 165!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 156!]

…..

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 160!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 155!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 128!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 141!]

 

More levels. More time. More regeneration, but a higher max mana. Same amount of sleep. Roughly. Too tired to check if I could get, or lose, a few extra minutes of sleep either way. That time was better spent sleeping.

I fell into a pattern. Sleep. Heal. Bite of food.

Sleep. Heal-heal-heal-heal-heal-heal. Food.

Nine days, a blur of people. Young, old, single, large families. Middle class and poor. Almost everyone wealthy had fled the town when the chance arrived.

Break? What break? A few minutes snatched here and there for sleep was all I got.

Julius wasn’t going to do anything about the people who’d bribed their way out of town. As unethical as it was, in the end, they’d committed no crime.

Things were starting to wind down. Lines were shorter, and there were more people popping their head out, checking out what was going on, then getting to the end of the short line. The “we’re not going to let anyone loot our stuff but not be made to leave.” people.

They went through happily.

Then we were in the final stretch. Almost all of the other healers had left by this point, leaving just Verta, Caecilius, Markus, and me left. Most of the 3rd was gone as well, and it was creepy, being in a town that looked empty, without a soul around. Like going to school after hours. There was just a sense of wrongness.

The guards were physically hauling out the last few holdouts. The ones who were convinced this was some sort of conspiracy, those who refused to leave at any cost.

One of the last ones was plonked down in front of me.

“I refuse. I refuse healing, I refuse to leave town, I refuse it all.” He said, stubbornly crossing his arms, obviously incredibly sick. Clearly stubborn.

Interesting. I was big on medical consent, and treatment. If someone didn’t want to be treated, they weren’t a patient, and [Oath] released me from trying, or needing, to heal them. This idiot in front of me was, apart from his suicidal desire to not be treated, seemingly sound of mind.

Which brought the question. Should I override his refusal? Did I know better than him what to do with his own body? Good communication between patient and healer was critical. They should know what was going on with their body. They should have sovereignty over their own facilities. It fostered trust. It was the right thing to do.

It was oh too similar to the constant quandary I found myself in, where society thought they knew better than I did what I wanted, how they kept trying to pin me into certain roles, certain jobs.

And yet, the man in front of me was clearly very sick with the plague. If we allowed him to stay, when people came back, he could just reinfect them all, and the outbreak would continue.

Did his right to sovereignty override everyone else’s need for safety and security?

No. There was a limit to selfishness, and that line was drawn when you endangered a dozen others, let alone almost 50,000 people. The problem was laying hands on someone who was moderately high level. Heck, even at level 100 I was able to take off the hand of someone I didn’t want near me, let alone this man at a much higher level, with unknown classes, elements, and skills.

Which is why I wasn’t alone.

I looked at the four guards who’d hauled him over.

“Can you make sure he’s disabled enough for me to treat him?” I asked.

“Hey, wait-“ The man protested, before disappearing under a flurry of batons. I winced. That hadn’t been what I meant, and if it wasn’t for me being freed from [Oath] due to his prior refusal of treatment, I would’ve needed to intervene. Ugly on all counts.

A slightly mauled man was in front of me, not resisting at all. I healed him up, purging the disease, then fixing all of his injuries. I threw a foul look at the guards.

“Come on, really? Making me spend that much more mana on him?” I yelled at them, with Kallisto – it was his turn on ‘protect Elaine’ duty – giving them a Look, adding his own weight.

They had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed.

“Sorry miss.” One of them said. “We appreciate everything you’re doing, and we know holdouts like this could ruin it all. We live here. We were frustrated, and took it out on him.”

“Don’t let it happen again.”

It took one last day to get the last few people out of town. The guards were last, neatly arranging themselves into four columns, before jogging out as a unit from the town. Maximus arrived, driving the Argo, horses retrieved from wherever they’d been stored.

Markus walked up to me, his previously impeccable appearance ruined, looking as haggard and exhausted as I felt.

“Solid work. You’re done.” I heard him say.

“I can keep going!” I protested. I could keep going! I could keep healing.

“No, you misheard me. We’re done.” He said. “The guard’s confirmed the town’s clear, and have left. We’ve cleared all the healers. Rangers got cleared out. It’s over.”

“We’re done.”

I stumbled over to the Argo, trying and failing to pull myself in. A half-dozen helping hands came out, pulling me up, pulling me in. I took three steps over to where my bedroll was laid out, and collapsed in it, full armor and everything, letting myself instantly fall to sleep.

It was over.

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It's over. It's done. The ring's been thrown into the fire. 


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