Forrous and I were staring awkwardly at the knife pressed against his wrist, that just wasn’t cutting.
I tapped the knife experimentally against his arm a few times, sharp-side down.
“Just how tough are you?” I asked.
Forrous puffed his chest out.
“Tougher than your little knife!”
“Yeah, yeah, real helpful.” I said, as I leaned on the knife, seeing if I could pierce his skin in any way.
“Look, can you turn off your defensive skills? Please?” I asked.
I got a Look, like I was a moron or something.
“They are off.”
I was tempted to throw up my hands in frustration, but I was too aware of the knife I was holding onto.
Curse my low strength, and his high vitality. This was absurd. It was making it all too obvious that blades might not be in my future at all, apart from a small knife to help me out.
Then again, in all the years since I’d lost the skill, this was the first time I missed [Surgeon’s Scalpel]. One of the minor downsides of only having one healer class - I had all the main tricks down, but some of the more esoteric side-pieces were missing.
It didn’t bug me. I could heal, and keep people alive no problem. This was to make life easier for the dwarves, and not blow up their valuables. In a pinch, I could just heal them the normal way.
I briefly considered using my Radiance to help me out. It’d slice through the dwarf’s arm, with fewer problems.
However, Radiance had its own set of problems. Namely, the whole burning and searing part would burn and sear the delicate little parts of the body that I wanted to see in the first place!
“Anyone got a skill to help me out?” I called back to my way-too-large escort. “Sharpening skills, anything?”
A few dwarves started to step forward, which kinda made sense. Most of them probably had something metal-related, and making your blades sharp was a basic warrior skill.
After some internal shuffling and glances, one minion was selected to help me out.
“Right! You can make things sharp?” I confirmed.
“Aye! And I’ve got some Erosion skills, to weaken things I hit.” He confirmed.
“Perfect! What do you need?” I asked.
Minion shrugged, and touched my knife and Forrous’s arm.
“All set!” He said.
Well, that was easy. I suppose I made my healing look just as simple.
“Can anyone make blood vanish, so I can see what’s going on?” I asked the dwarves. “Could be Water to wash it away or manipulate it, Wind to keep it clear, Dark to remove it, really, I’m not fussy.”
Twenty-four dwarves, each with at least two classes, and having at least 24 skills each. I got my new volunteer to give me a hand.
“Darkness mage, high control.” She said, not saying a word more.
Didn’t really need to!
What I was basically doing was an exploratory surgery, to see just what the heck was going on. Not too different from a surgeon doing the same thing.
Technically, I should wash my hands, especially after touching loads of injured patients. I didn’t want a repeat of Lyra, but at the same time, I was going to heal him after, and I believed my [Cosmic Presence] aura would kill any infection in the cradle. Plus, he was going to get a healthy dose of healing after.
I carefully sliced into Forrous’s arm, noting that I was piercing the skin. My dexterity wasn’t too high, compared to my level, but at baseline I had steady hands, and the 500 extra points helped me keep them steady as I slowly sliced into Forrous’s arm, blood pooling and welling up, only to be whisked away by my helper.
I kept slicing, making sure to avoid the tendons, until I hit the metal bones. I then smoothly sliced down the arm, keeping clear of anything important, like veins or ligaments.
It wasn’t easy. Human anatomy wasn’t quite the same as dwarven anatomy, and there were just enough minor differences to keep throwing me for a loop. I was nothing if not adaptable though, and worked around them.
I did accidentally hit the radial artery - or what would be the radial on a human - at one point, but a tiny burst of focused “Heal this one injury only” and a little touch fixed that problem. Some of the medium-sized parts of the circulatory system I had no choice but to slice through, carefully sealing them after me so I wasn’t going to end up swimming in blood.
[Oath] didn’t bother me. I was - and it was - familiar with the concept of surgery, and minor mistakes. I fixed the little mistake, and it was, globally, part of making him better. I couldn’t deliberately cause harm, and I needed a damn good reason to do this operation - but because both were checked off, the operation was kosher, and little mistakes weren’t punished.
I couldn’t imagine if little mistakes were punished. Bump into someone on the street? Lose a level. That’d be impossible.
I probably would be punished harshly if I went “Lots of injured people that are horribly complicated to heal? Nah, I don’t think I’ll bother.”
Then again, it wasn’t in my nature to do that, so it was fine.
Plus, I’m sure Forrous preferred his blood inside him, no matter how gruff he might seem.
I then put my knife down carefully, reached in with both hands, and peeled his forearm apart, to get a better look at what was going on. I used my hands to keep it open, and prevent it from snapping back shut, although I could feel the strain on them. I made a mental note to pass it off, and soon.
I heard a retching noise or two, but ignored them. I did check on Forrous though.
“You good?” I asked, noticing that he looked distinctly green.
Muscles tense in his neck, he gave me a tiny, curt nod.
Ahh yes. The “I’m trying real hard to keep my lunch down” look. Still, I had consent, so I was going to take a peek under the hood! Err - arm.
I started off by looking at the wrist, and all the delicate little bones there. Whoever had designed the hand hadn’t wanted to deal with the wrist, so it was still all fleshy.
I peered in, looking closely. The tendons made it all the way to the metal hand replacement, where they seemed to be “grabbed and pinched” by tiny, delicate metal protrusions. They were a little covered up though, by a bit of flesh and blood and general ick. Still, I could see some tiny, densely-packed inscriptions keeping the whole thing running.
I considered asking my assistant to clear off the material around the tendon-to-hand connection, but I figured the risk of her not knowing anatomy well enough, and accidentally deleting part of the tendon was too high of a risk.
I went to the bones - errr, metal implants - next, nodding in approval as I saw not one, but two metal rods in his arm. The smiths had decided to try and imitate life, and not just stick one bone in the arm and call it a day.
Except, they seemed to think bone didn’t do much more than just provide support and structure for the body. Blah. Bones did so much more than that.
I was totally going to get them a copy of the Medical Manuscripts. So many things to do, and I felt like the clock was ticking fast, and pressure was on.
Ligaments and tendons were both “pinched” by little grabbing “claws” coming out of the metal bones. I continued to poke around, seeing how the connections all worked, how the whole thing was put together.
I felt my hands getting tired keeping his arm open, and there was one last connection being blocked that I couldn’t see.
“Should I be awake for this?” He asked with a nervous chuckle.
“Well, no. But while you are, here, hold your arm open. There’s one last thing I can’t quite seem to...”
Finally, I’d seen enough.
“Right. Forrous. Do you mind if I try healing a few little things while I’m in here, just to test things out.”
“I, uh, don’t like the sound of ‘test things out.’” He said.
I looked at him, waiting.
“Well?” I asked. “I didn’t hear a no.”
Forrous had a pained look on his face. I internally chuckled. His brash claim of ‘I never turn down a challenge!’ was now being tested as “Let me take a quick look” turned into [Mad Doctor] Elaine would like to perform EXPERIMENTS! Hold still, this will only hurt for a second.
“Yeah, sure.” He said, with gritted teeth and closed his eyes.
I carefully focused on healing just his tendon, seeing almost nothing happen.
Heck, I couldn’t even see my mana bar move, it was recharging at such a fast rate.
At the same time, metal didn’t start to suddenly vanish, the tendon didn’t snap, nor did huge amounts of my mana go poof. So, healing parts that were connected, and just connected, were fine. There wasn’t anything super special going on.
I tried a few more things, and finally I was satisfied that I knew how to heal Forrous, and other dwarves with the same “improvements”.
“Right, I’ve got it now.” I said. “You can close your arm.”
He let go, and his flesh practically sprang back together. I touched it, and I focused on what I’d done and sliced apart, along with managing the inflammatory response. I also focused on his primary injuries, and made sure that everything metal he’d mentioned was explicitly excluded. Then I sent a thin, tiny trickle of mana into my [Dance with the Heavens] skill, watching my mana slowly tick away - no wait, I was regenerating just as fast as I was using mana - as his flesh re-knit in front of my eyes.
“I’m healed.” He said stupidly.
“Yup! Implants are all intact to boot! Not only that, but now I’ve worked out how to heal everyone with implants thanks to you.” I said, giving him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Should be good for some bragging rights, eh? Thanks for volunteering!”
“Aye! Nobody will ever be able to top holding my own arm open for the healer to poke around!”
I made sure my surgery scalpel was returned back to the dwarf who owned it, who gave me a side-eye at it having been used that way.
It was marathon time! Part 2!
“Thoren. Urik.” I said, getting my escort’s attention.
“Aye?” They asked in unison.
“I need two dwarves to be ‘frontrunners’ so to speak, and get a solid idea of what metal each dwarf has, and what their injuries are. This is already going to take me ages, I don’t need to be delayed waiting to hear everyone’s life story.”
Thoren nodded, and had a quick word with three of his minions, pointing them to the right spot.
“Need a bite?” Urik asked, and I nodded.
Healing was stupid hungry work.
We were unfortunately in the middle of the room, so I couldn’t just do a clean sweep. Step by step, person by careful person, I made my way through the remaining patients.
Blasted dwarves and orcs couldn’t leave well enough alone, and new patients slowly trickled in. Still, I wasn’t alone here. The other healers, while not visible, were felt by the teams of stretcher bearers coming down, grabbing someone, then bringing them up the stairs.
There was a bit of a twist. Some patients had gone deaf, an explosion or something else having mangled their hearing so badly they couldn’t hear what was being asked of them. Usually, I’d hit them with some carefully aimed healing at their ears, then move on while one of the asker-dwarves got their full story. I’d then swing by after my next patient to heal them, to not waste time collecting information.
Once in a while a dwarf was catching a nap, or trying to sleep off their injuries. Some appreciated being woken up for a quick heal, others were grumpy, three woke up swinging, assuming they were under attack.
Made me all the more thankful for my helpers, and it was a good reminder. I was approaching territory where people’s specializations were shining. The physically-inclined dwarves could hit hard and fast, to the point where I’d be in danger.
If I was low on mana.
Either way, I didn’t want to be wrestling dwarves and digging axes out of my spine, and I was happy to let someone else do it.
We worked our way down the room, then back down the other way, the room slowly but steadily emptying out.
I then hit my first new snag.
I stared at the dwarf’s completely mangled arm. He’d broken his arm badly, and his prosthetics were bursting out of his fleshy arm, forming a right angle like a nightmare of a compound fracture.
“Um.” I said, looking at his arm. The dwarf chuckled.
“Smith that sold it to me called it unbreakable. I’d have a pair o’ angry words for him, if it hadn’t saved my life in the process.”
“Yeah, that’s… something.” I said, eyeing it up, and thinking fast.
I was no smith. Heck, if it was raw iron, I doubted I could fix it, forget whatever complicated things were going on, forget whatever runes had been broken here that also needed fixing.
I will admit when I do not know how to heal a patient.
This totally fell into that category.
“You’ve got two options here.” I said, eyeing the arm. “First is, I heal you, but you’d lose the fanciness going on in your arm. Second, I give you a little top-up, fix what I can, and leave you to someone who can fix this mess. Errr. I assume there’s someone that can fix this…?” I said, realizing that it might not be fixable.
He waved me off.
“Ironarm here just saved my life. This will sound a mite mad, but I’m attached to the bugger now. It’d feel like some betrayal to get rid of her. Nah, you’re cleaning up everyone nicely, which means I’ll jump the list for another healer soon enough. There’s a few that work with smiths for exactly these types of problems.”
Reasonable. Patient had declined treatment, and had a plan for getting proper attention in the future. Patient clearly knew the risks, and was willing to forgo treatment.
It was one of those situations again, where I’d offered help, and once declined, I allowed them their bodily autonomy.
“Right! Best of luck! Want an energy pick-me-up?” I offered.
He shook his head.
“Got a skill for it. As long as my feet are touching the ground, I’m good.”
I pointedly stared at his feet, up in bed.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re real funny. Shoo!” He said, making a shooing motion with his good hand.
On and on I went, smiling to myself as [Sunrise] kept me going, and my mana stayed high. Only a handful of dwarves refused treatment, most looking for a smith-healer, and a few didn’t seem to trust my beardless nature, instead wanting to wait for a “real healer, made of proper steel”. No idea what that was about, but I got the gist.
I was only slightly offended. I mostly didn’t care. I’d been getting shit for my gender in Remus for so long, that getting shit for something else entirely out of my control by a few xenophobic dwarves practically slid right off. Or was it beardless-phobia? There seemed to be something about dwarves and a lack of beards.
Whatever. I had too much other shit to do.
On and on we went, food coming, people going, massive crowds of escorts and grumpy stretcher-bearers trying to get through us.
Still. The passage of time, and my efforts, paid off.
“Wow.” Thoren said, as we looked at the practically emptied infirmary. His mouth open, he hesitated, then closed it again. Open… and closed.
“Well, I thought you were good at boasting, but I’ve gotta eat rust.” Urik said, looking at the nearly-empty infirmary. “Feel like tackling upstairs?”