I looked at the nearly-empty infirmary. The only people left were those who had refused treatment - even then I saw two of them taken away on stretchers, to be seen by a specialist - those too broken in the mind to keep going, those who we hadn’t been able to rouse and check on.
And those who had died before I got to them. They were rare, having been stabilized by front-line medics before getting here, but they were imperfect. Things occasionally slipped through. Usually minor… but not always.
“One last sweep.” I said. “I’m going to heal anyone who’s slept right through all this. It suggests that, metal or no, there’s something wrong with them that needs to be addressed.”
I thought about it a moment more.
“I’ll try to avoid healing their bones. No promises if they have an artificial organ or an iron ass or something, but at the end of the day, their health is more important than their augmentations.”
We started to move back through the infirmary, at a much higher clip. I mentally checked on my Arcanite reserves.
About half full. They’d been slowly recharging, and I mentally cursed to myself. If I’d been keeping careful, careful track of how much mana was in the Arcanite, I could’ve marked time better.
The train of thought got derailed as I reached the first patient. One of Urik’s minions was shaking his shoulder, but there was no response.
I looked over the dwarf, the only visible injury a nasty cave-in on the skull. My money was on a head injury of some sort. I mean, I didn’t need a degree in medicine or special skills to make that guess.
I shrugged, touched the dwarf, and focused on healing everything that wasn’t bone. More mana than I would expect vanished, but not so much that I thought I’d killed an implant or something. Just a few thousand, which was more than I’d expect for no major injuries.
Yet, the dwarf kept sleeping. I glanced at Thoren, who just shrugged at the confused look on my face.
“You’re the healer, not me.”
I shrugged. I’d treated the unknown dwarf to the best of my abilities, and made a note to myself - don’t get hit hard in the head. Like, I’d treated head trauma a bunch, but this was hinting at some types and forms of brain damage being Bad News.
I thought about the problem as I continued treating the remaining patients. There was, as far as I could tell, no mind magic of any sort on Pallos. The closest things were mental buffs to myself, like my own [Center of the Universe], and the occasional “positive” aura, like the calm aura I used to have, or the happiness aura.
Imagine if there was any type of mental magic? Merchants would be all over it so fast, fleecing people and forcing them to empty their pockets.
It would get much darker from there. It wasn’t a path I wanted to explore.
The Guardian’s fight against the dragon had nothing that I could see that resembled mind shenanigans.
At the same time, that wasn’t conclusive proof that there was no mind magic, just strong evidence that it wasn’t around.
The dwarf’s head injury - and others - being unable to be easily fixed might be an extension of the no mind magic. For example, if his frontal lobe was destroyed, his entire personality could change. Would restoring the frontal lobe back to its prior configuration be mind magic?
What if he liked his new personality?
There was a dizzying array of questions and possibilities, and I reiterated my conclusion:
Don’t take bad headshots. Hopefully if I did, I’d automatically heal myself back up before anything new “settled in” so to speak.
That, and I better hope I had my [Persistent Casting] going. If it wasn’t up, a headshot could easily kill me, even if I had all my mana. Be an awkward way to go.
I healed the last few people, then turned to Urik and Thoren.
“You mentioned upstairs?” I asked.
Urik nodded, and without a word led the way to the gentle ramp near the entrance.
We followed a pair of stretcher-carriers up the stairs. They were jamming the way, and I didn’t feel like trying to slip past them, not when my entire escort would as well.
Gods, they were awkward.
We made it up the ramp, and it was totally different up here. Instead of rows of beds, there was a long hallway full of doors, about half of which had one, or in some cases, two guards. Three doors had four guards, all of who looked on high alert.
“What’s up here?” I asked Thoren. “Is this where the healers are?”
“Doors with four guards are healers - the rest of their escort is inside, the theory being that the orcs won’t use the hallways to attack. The rest are various high level fighters, commanders, and the rest who rate their own private room.”
Even as I watched a pair of stretcher-dwarves be let into one room, another pair left a second room and hustled down the hallway.
Inefficient, until I considered mana regeneration rates, safety, and comfort. Not everyone was, well, me.
I strode to the first room, and opened the door.
“Intruder!” The dwarf inside yelled, as all hell broke loose.
The dwarf was obviously a mage, and a high, high level one to boot. Flickering beams of Radiance met my eyes, trying to blind me, screw with my vision, and burn through my skull. Only once the beams were boiling my eyeballs did [Bullet Time] kick in, letting me see - barely - everything else that was coming at me. Like a damn bursting, a bunch of clear liquid fell from the ceiling, at the same time a roiling cloud of colorless droplets came hurtling at me, and numerous rocks came flying at me. The mage in question vanished behind a solid wall of burning Radiance, which might be a shield, or just a way to hide her location.
Everything but the kitchen sink.
Which were just the attacks I saw. I was able to see somewhat through the Radiance trying to blind me - although, damn that was annoying, especially with the strobing - and my eyeballs were healing just as fast as they were seared off, bless my [Radiance Resistance] and healing.
I threw up a [Mantle] as I tried to leap backwards, only for the rest of my escort to throw up more shields than I could quickly count, as Thoren and Urik started yelling.
“Hold! Hold! By the Clans HOLD!” Thoren yelled. I missed what Urik was shouting, because Thoren was louder.
Shields were breaking almost as fast as we could put them up, but after a moment the Classer inside the room seemed to realize that, no, this was not an assassination attempt on her life.
Screams of pain and agony caught my ear, and I saw three dwarves rolling on the ground, most clutching their faces.
I squatted down, patting two with [Dance with the Heavens], using a shit image of just “heal them”, and I kicked the third one. I winced as two of them had implants and chunked over half my mana to heal. Bad images were extra costly with those damn implants. It made it extra-clear why they weren’t usually an issue.
They’d probably curse me out later, but for now, I’d made sure their lives were saved. I’m not sure what hit them, but my bet was the clear liquid wasn’t water.
Thoren and Urik went into the room, and started to give the Classer a piece of their mind, each one yelling over the other. The exact words were lost to me - and probably whoever was in there - but the tone, and the message, wasn’t.
I just got myself up slowly and dusted myself off. That had been too close. A reminder that anytime, anywhere, someone could have enough power and will to just end me. Even someone on my own side.
It’d taken the combined efforts of nearly two full squads of guards on top of my healing to just keep me alive. Then again, I could see why the dwarf had a VIP room. She was incredibly powerful, an unparalleled [War Mage] who could unleash her entire arsenal in a second or two.
I glanced up at the door, noting the holes the acid had sprayed out of. She’d even set up traps ahead of time.
Idiot. She could’ve killed one of the other healers, or some other innocent - like she almost had.
Then again, with my experience, given the chance to set traps I might well do so too.
There was no winning. The world was a dangerous place, where threats lurked around every bush, every tree, every boulder, and, as it turned out, every hospital door.
“You’re clear!” Urik called back to me. I stomped in, noted the war-mage’s injuries, and slapped her full of healing.
I might’ve also deliberately blown out her augmentations, and replaced them with normal skin and bone. I was in a little bit of a pissy mood, having been almost murdered by the very patient I was trying to heal.
I stormed back out before I could get her thanks, an apology, or worse - a realization of what I’d done to her augmentations. I was pretty low on mana now, but with only a few rooms left, and the other healers, and my natural regeneration rates, I figured I’d be fine.
Anyone as high level as she was, who rated an entire VIP room all to herself, and was dressed in armor as fancy and shiny as she was in would be able to get a new set. That was my own, personal justification.
The next few rooms we carefully knocked on, and sent a guard ahead to announce me. No repeats, although we did end up spending a good amount of time waiting around, where the three dwarves I’d saved took it upon themselves to profusely thank me.
Turned out, I needed to thank them as well. Two of them had Mirror skills that let them take the hit for me, while the third one had been standing next to me, and ate a faceful of acid.
Blocking me from taking said same faceful of acid. Not that I hadn’t been hit at all, but there was a difference between a full face of high-level acid, and just the side-spray.
We got through most of the rooms in good order, dodging stretchers who shot part-grateful “thanks for reducing our workload”, part annoyed “You’re in the way and reducing the number of levels I get” looks at us.
Water off my back.
No, the only significant snag was with one of the guards.
“Can’t let you in.” He said, stubbornly guarding the door like he could fight all of us and win.
In a sense, he probably could. If we attacked him, or tried to physically remove him, he’d just need to scream bloody murder for everyone else to come down on us like a sack of iron ingots, and we’d totally be in the wrong.
Some of the dwarves we’d healed were hanging around, just watching us work.
“Why not?” I asked curiously.
“You ain’t one of the healers.” He said.
“You [Identify]’d me?” I asked incredulously.
“Nope.” He said, staring past me to the wall on the other side of the hallway.
“Don’t have the skill.”
“How do you tell what people are?”
“Well, did you [Examine] me?”
Silence as he stared at the wall.
“And?” I prompted.
“You ain’t one of the healers.” He repeated. “Can’t let you in.”
“Could I get whoever’s inside to confirm that he or she doesn’t want me healing them?” I asked.
“Nope.” He said stubbornly. “Can’t let you in.”
“Can you let me in?” Thoren asked. “Bronze Commander Thoren.”
The guard looked nervous, but to his credit, held firm.
“Nope. Only the healers.” He said.
I shared an incredulous look with Thoren, who shrugged in a “I’m so glad I’m not the healer and this isn’t my mess.” way. His job was to keep me safe, and I’d talked him into giving a bit more help. It was clear that he was leaving me on my own for this.
This left me with an interesting problem, which I pondered as I went to the next room.
Patients who refused treatment were fine in my book. They didn’t want my help? They didn’t get it. No skin off my back.
People who were attacking my patients? Also fair game.
Someone peacefully denying access to a patient?
I couldn’t abandon them, the patient hadn’t explicitly denied or refused treatment. I couldn’t go through the blockage, it wasn’t defending myself or my patient. Heck, they probably thought they were doing what was best for the patient!
No, the only solution I could think of was to wait. Wait until the patient was healed, dead, I was allowed in, or another healer was allowed in.
I continued that line of thought as I healed more people.
I didn’t exactly need permission to heal. If I could somehow sneak into the room, I could heal whoever was there. Then again, with the hair-trigger state everyone was in, that would be a smart move, but not a wise move.
I knew [Oath] had some problems, and could potentially put me in bad situations. Inadvertently, I seem to have stumbled upon one of the problems.
Well, while I was hanging out waiting for him to be available to be healed, there was nothing stopping me from trying to hit up everyone else. Just as long as I wasn’t abandoning him.
The situation fortunately resolved itself, as the VIP’s got treated quickly, and I was clearing out enough people to jump whoever was being guarded to the front of the “to be healed” line. The stretcher crew made it to the VIP’s room, was let in, and taken back out without a fuss.
I wanted to roll my eyes at the whole thing, but the problem was over. I’d just need to keep it in mind as a potential “Oath-trap”, and just another way someone could exploit me if they knew about my [Oath].
The rest of the floor was over in a whirl.
“By Wulfric’s great grey beard.” Urik swore, after I went back downstairs and re-cleared out the new patients who’d arrived since I got started. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“I want to give you my - our - deepest thanks, healer Elaine.” Thoren said. “You’ve saved countless lives, and we’re indebted to you.”
I waved him off.
“All in a day’s work. Now. This looked like a military hospital. I imagine the civilian ones are about as poorly off? No, wait, worse. They would’ve been hit, and people pulled towards this one.” I guessed, my voice only being described as “tired-cheerful.”
Like, 8 parts tired, with 2 parts forced-cheer. I bolstered myself with [Sunrise], but still. I was flagging.
“Yes, but…” Urik hedged.
“But what?” I asked.
“You don’t need to…”
“Appreciate it! I do! Same drive that brought me here, that had me clearing people out, is also why I’m heading over to… wherever it is… and working my literal magic there. Ha. Magic. So much fun.” I said.
… I was tired. I don’t know how long I’d been awake, but I’d been traveling through the mines, nearly murdered three times over, had a massive marathon session, and was only still on two feet by the grace of [Sunrise].
“Sure you don’t want to go to the quarters we’ve prepared for you? Meet up with your friends?” Thoren confirmed.
I shook my head.
Thoren and Urik had a quick huddle with a few of the other guards, while one brought me something.
Mmmm. Fresh chicken on a stick. How did they also have chickens here? I guess chickens were good at surviving, and universally tasty.
Or maybe it wasn’t chicken? Some exotic dinosaur that tasted just like it?
“Alright lass, it’s your call. Onto the next place.” Thoren said, taking the lead.
We rattled our way down the street. The only thing of note was a “chicken-on-a-stick” vendor, with VERY fresh chicken - I watched him behead a chicken live, before instantly dressing it with some sort of skill and sticking it over the fire. A beast tamer of some sort, surrounded by a bunch of small, fuzzy animals that looked like large fuzzy balls of fur, with little snouts pointing out. They lept and snuffled over him in the most adorable way. I kinda wanted one.
They [Identify]ed as [Sniffler], and Urik noticed my interest as we hurried along.
“Snifflers. Can train ’em to smell metals of all sorts, but gotta be careful. If you teach them to find gold and iron, they’ll lead you to both, and you’ll never know which one it is until you get there.”
Sounded like a dwarf’s best friend, and was perhaps the cause of the twisting tunnels? Snifflers finding the closest metal?
We made it to the civilian, er, “hospital”, which wasn’t saying much. There just wasn’t the same large-scale organization like there was in the military. Still, injured people were injured people, no matter how many strange looks and curses over my lack of a beard I got.
These dwarves had serious problems with people who didn’t have a beard, and it was only thanks to my escort tirelessly explaining that, no, I wasn’t a beardless dwarf, I was a strange newfangled thing called a human, that anything got done at all.
“Right. Next?” I called to Thoren hopefully after the last patient was done, hoping he’d decipher my meaning.
Thoren and Urik shared a conspiratorial look.
“Ah, we’ve got just the place for you!” He said. “Follow me!”
“Oh good. You’re so nice. Thank you.” I said, blathering on a bit in my sleep-deprived, [Sunrise]-boosted state.
[Sunrise] was just pure energy after all. It didn’t remove tiredness, it just acted like a strong cup of 8-shot espresso, and it wasn’t possible to live on pure espresso with no sleep all the time. The piper wanted paying, and I’d happily pay him with interest. Eventually.
Once I was done healing.
We arrived at another building, arranged a little differently. It was a little narrower, and unlike the previous one and two story infirmaries, this was a good six stories.
I squinted at it suspiciously.
“This is our next spot?” I asked.
“Yup!” Urik confirmed, way too fast.
I narrowed my eyes, then shrugged. Screw it.
“Right! Lead the way!” I said, giggling a bit as my escort took ages to file into the building.
I looked around the - lobby? - as Urik had a quick word with some bored-looking dwarf in half military gear. Some light armor, a small weapon. No shield, helmet, etc. Words were exchanged, a key was acquired.
“This way.” Urik said, leading up tromping up the stairs.
“We skipped the ground floor. And the second floor.” I said, pieces of the puzzle coming together. “Hang on, this isn’t a hospital, this is-”
“Where you’re going to GET SOME DARN SLEEP.” Thoren yelled at me, finger poking into my chest aggressively. “You’ve been at this for a day and a half, you’ve run us all ragged, and you’re almost entirely incoherent. You blew out six implants, with barely more than an ‘oops’! You need to sleep, we need to sleep. Now look, here’s your room. Enchanted for you. We’ve got a few luxuries in here, and we can get you more if you’d like. It’ll be guarded. Defended. This building is for important visitors. You’re safe. Get. Some. Sleep.” He said, punctuating every word with a poke of his finger.
“If you really need to, we can keep going.” Urik said. “We’re not going to force you to stop.”
Thoren’s words sunk in. I looked at my escort - really looked at them. There were huge baggy raccoon eyes under most of their eyes, and the three dwarves that had taken a beating from that one [War-Mage] still had their armor in tatters. One of my guards tried to stifle a yawn, and failed.
It was contagious. I yawned as well.
I peeked into the apartment door Urik was holding open. It had nice carpeting. A sofa. An extra large, stuffed chair.
I let myself get lured in a bit, checking out the bedroom. A huge four-poster bed, with enough layers of thick sheets that I could get myself lost in.
It was cold. The bed was warm.
I was tired. So very, very tired.
The bed called to me.
Hypothetical patients, somewhere, called to me.
The bed won.
I’d check my level ups and start considering how to class up tomorrow.