Jaren quickly went through the different alleyways, navigating to the different hovels and worn-down houses. Each time, he knocked on the wall, calling inside. “Come out, come out! There’s someone here to help us.” The excitement was clear in his voice, causing those inside to wonder what was happening.
He had been an important figure in their community for so long, he had helped raise many of the inhabitants of the slums. It was only natural that they respected him. Whenever the times came that required harsh choices, he would always sacrifice his own needs to help others. Between that and his ability to sense when someone was lying to him, people began to rely more and more on this old elf.
“Jaren, what’s going on huh?” One of the young beastkin children, a felyn wearing little more than rags, walked out from one of the broken houses and asked. He was wiping his dirty face, his eyes stinging as the sun shone down on him.
“There’s a healer here, Zander.” Jaren said with a wide smile. “He wants to treat as many people as he can, and he’s not asking for any payment.”
“A healer…?” The word wasn’t unfamiliar to the young boy, but the idea that someone would come here to specifically take care of them was. In his mind, healers were the apothecaries that ran their shops, or the priests who stayed in their churches.
In the past, there had been priests that visited the slums. However, in the eyes of the sick, they had simply been there to show off. They would never use their power to save those with a dangerous illness, and would only heal small wounds or malnourishment. This had built an enmity within the hearts of the slum dwellers, who more often than not had those very illnesses.
“That’s right. He’s willing to treat as many people as he can, so long as his energy lasts.” Jaren continued. “He said that as long as someone wasn’t born with the problem, he’ll do his best.”
“But…” Zander turned to look down the street, towards another home near the end of the road. Jaren’s words caught in his throat as he followed the boy’s eyes. “Can… can he help Roy?”
“I… I don’t know.” Jaren shook his head sadly, his spirits dampened slightly as he thought about that. In many instances, accidents during the process of leveling up were irreversible. The process could temporarily strengthen the body against diseases, but certain injuries would not heal properly. “But we can try. Go get his mother, and let her know what’s happening. Maybe… maybe we’ll get to see a miracle.”
Zander nodded his head, turning to rush towards the house at the end of the road. And, albeit less enthusiastically than before, Jaren went back to gathering those with the greatest need.
I stood, waiting in the alley while those people watched me. I knew that it would take a little while before Jaren returned, so I decided to be patient. This was only the first place I would be traveling to like this, so it was important to become familiar with the atmosphere.
Even after Jaren left, everyone watched in confusion. Some still held hostility in their eyes, while others showed fear. It was clear that strong individuals rarely visited these slums. After all, if someone had strength, they would easily be able to receive different jobs to earn a better living.
No, everyone here was weak. Too weak to venture out into the dangerous fields, and not brave enough to take the risks. Most were likely farmers, some probably not even that. I even saw a few people with levels in the single digits, showing that they had never actually received more than the most basic of educations.
Part of me pitied them, but at the same time… Many of them would be able to make a better life for themselves, should they choose to take the risks. I’m sure that there were those who stayed because they were taking care of their families, or similar reasons. However, there were also some who just never tried to make their own way in the world.
As I considered all of this, I saw Jaren slowly walking back to me, down the alley. “Sorry, I never caught your name.” He said as he looked at me, his expression solemn.
“I’m just a wandering healer. You can call me Dale.” Now that I knew he had the ability to detect lies, I could no longer give him a false name. More importantly, the name Dale, and the various variations thereof, should not be too rare now.
Jaren’s eyes widened briefly, before he gave a small nod. Just to be safe, I looked at his surface thoughts. He actually regarded me as… unfortunate? Okay, going to have to ask someone about that later. “Well, Dale… there is someone we’d like you to try treating, but… I’m not sure that it’s something that can be fixed.”
“Lead the way.” I told him gently, nodding my head. I had the feeling that he was talking about the boy I heard of from Udona, and was quite curious myself to see if I’d be able to help.
Seeing that I was cooperating, a small smile appeared on Jaren’s face. Turning, he quickly led me out of the alley, stopping near the crowd. “It’s okay, he’s a good one.” He spoke quietly, as if trying to make sure I didn’t hear him.
The people gathered around seemed to understand with that, slowly dispersing while Jaren guided me through the slums. It did not take long before we saw another gathering up ahead in front of an old, broken down house. Bits and pieces of the stone wall had crumbled, holes showing through. Some were patched with cloth, others simply left as they were.
Wincing at the sight, I couldn’t help but send the natural energy in the surroundings to work. The crowd gasped while bits of stone and dust floated up from the ground, moving to seal the holes. It still looked like shoddy work, but… at least it would keep the rain out.
Jaren noticed this, and sent a thankful smile back my way. “It’s hard to get people to come out here to make repairs. Everyone regards this part of the city as a cesspool, full of disease and thieves.”
“Then what brought you here?” I found myself asking the question out loud, glancing towards Jaren. Although he wasn’t incredibly high level, he had entered the triple digits. More than I could say for anyone else I had seen in the slums.
Jaren’s smile turned more bitter after hearing my question, shaking his head. “Just another long story, not worth telling.” As we got closer to the house, he started to explain the situation with the boy inside.
Really, it was just a repeat of what I had heard from Udona, but I also managed to learn the boy’s name. Though, I had a feeling that he had waited to explain this to me until we were so close so that everyone he had gathered here would hear it as well. I felt their eyes focusing on me, waiting to hear my decision.
Shaking my head, I let out a small sigh. “I can’t make any promises, but… I’ll do my best. I’ve never tried to heal something like this.”
The elf nodded his head in understanding, clearing a path through the silent crowd. I felt someone reaching out to touch my robe, but I was already out of their reach before they could grab onto it. Sorry, one at a time… Given the severity of Roy’s injuries, I wasn’t sure how much of my energy it would to just to heal him.
Once we got inside, I was finally able to see him. He looked to be no more than twelve years old, his body thin and frail. An ursa, going by his ears and darker skin. But the thing that shocked me the most was the series of red markings that seemed to be drawn along his skin, like hooks along his flesh. His cheeks and eyes were swollen, his hands the size of sausages.
Above his head, there was just a sliver of his health remaining, showing that this really was an urgent matter. “Please, Dale.” Jaren pleaded from beside me as he moved next to Roy’s bed. “Anything you can do for him… he has already endured too much…”
Honestly, if I didn’t have at least some confidence in curing him, I would consider a mercy killing. I could tell just by looking the pain that he had been bearing, laying in bed helplessly and just waiting to die. “Like I said… I’ll do my best.”
After saying that, I moved next to Roy’s bed, and placed my hand on his head, just as I had done with the farmer’s wife. I allowed the ki of beginning to flow gently from my palm, using what I had learned from the first patient.
This ki could be said to have a mind of its own in its pure state, seeking out the problems in the target body without precise instructions. If my understanding of its base components was correct, it moved based on my knowledge of what the ‘correct’ form of the subject should be, or perhaps what the subject themselves believed was correct. Either way, I knew that I should not try to strictly control the energy, and instead simply monitor it while it worked.
It had been over ten minutes since Jaren and the healer walked into Roy’s house. The crowd outside was beginning to grow restless, not sure what to expect. How long would this take? Would he be able to even do it? Would he really try?
“Is… is Roy going to be okay?” Zander asked, looking to the elderly ursa woman standing next to him. This was Roy’s own mother, who had forced herself out of the house, afraid that she would only be a distraction to the healer in her worry.
“I hope so, Zander… I really do.” She spoke, tears forming in her eyes. She knew that this was her last hope for her baby boy. No other healer had even been willing to try to save him, no matter what they had been offered. Since it was an accident while leveling up, many assumed it was just the world’s will for him to be in this state.
But now, someone had appeared, willing to try and save him. Not only that, he didn’t ask for anything in return. Even though he didn’t seem completely confident in his chances, that was far more than those local healers were able to do.
As she was pondering this, she heard a pained scream from within the hut, and her heart jolted. That voice was undoubtedly her son’s. How many times had she heard him screaming in pain over the past few days? She clenched her fists, blood dripping down her fingers as she forced herself once again not to rush inside.
“Please… please save him.” She prayed, her eyes fixed on her home.
I could feel the ki of beginning as it located the toxin, and marveled at just how thoroughly it had been fused with Roy’s body. The markings on his skin were simply a result of the concentrations in those areas being higher than normal, changing the pigmentation. Aside from the skin, it had merged with his blood vessels, his lungs, even his heart.
The more I learned, the less confident I became. Even when I witnessed the ki pulling the toxin out of his cells, leaving them damaged before going back to heal them. I wasn’t worried that the ki of beginning couldn’t cure Roy, more… that I didn’t have enough of it. And I had no idea if the constant damaging and repairing of his cells would cause any long term problems for him.
I spoke through the small boy’s screams, looking towards Jaren. “Go have the crowd outside disperse. If I’m going to do this… I’m going to have to be here for a while. I don’t have the energy to do this all at once. Tell them… tell them I’ll try to get to everyone after I have finished here.”
Jaren’s eyes were still fixed on Roy, seeing the red and green numbers constantly rising above his body. It was easy to see that a war was waging inside of the small boy, one that would determine whether he lived or died. I had to speak up once again before he finally moved, and then returned my focus back to Roy himself.
Amidst the screams, Jaren walked out of the house alone, looking around at the others. “He says that there is a chance.” He told them, causing the eyes of the onlookers to widen. “But it will take time. He’s not strong enough to finish it all at once. Anyone who needs to go home can until Roy is recovered.”
Surprisingly, not a single person moved from their spot. Everyone was staring fixedly on either Jaren or the doorway that he had just come from. They could still hear Roy crying out inside the home, but if anything… that scream was just a confirmation that he was still alive now.
Seeing that nobody took the offer to leave, Jaren shook his head softly, moving to approach Roy’s mother. “Your boy will be just fine.” He assured her, standing next to the elderly woman. She trembled softly at the words, but did not move.
The screams repeated for hours, before finally they died down. A few minutes later, the healer could be seen walking out the door, a tired look on his face. “That’s all I can do for today… I need to eat and rest, and then I can come back to continue tomorrow.” Even as he spoke, green light swirled around his body, giving him an almost ethereal glow.
Among the crowd, there were those who didn’t entirely trust his words. They imagined him leaving and never coming back. Thankfully, they were wise enough not to voice their suspicions for fear of them becoming reality.
Thus, nobody obstructed his path as he left… nor the next day when he returned. For six days, the healer worked for hours on end, only leaving the slums to eat or sleep. Nobody insisted on him staying for such things, because everyone knew that they could not even afford to feed him. If they could afford to buy a meal for someone of his level, they could have afforded the cures for their own illnesses.
Every day, after he left, Roy’s mother went in to check on her son. Bit by bit, she saw him returning to how he used to be. The markings on his skin began to fade little by little, while his swollen features started to return to normal. And every day, she found herself happier, now able to almost imagine her child up and walking around again.
Finally, on the sixth day, the screams died down earlier than usual. The crowd, which had grown accustomed to waiting outside of Roy’s house, watched as the door opened, and the healer once again emerged. This time, though, he was not leaving because he was low on energy. No, the smile on his face spoke otherwise. “It’s done… I’ve done all I can for him. Everything else… that’s up to him.”