I’ve never liked visits to the clerics and, since the good Sisters of Water’s Grace have never been particularly well funded, I haven’t had to deal with visits to clinics too often. As a result, I wasn’t used to the the idea that no matter what sort of shape you were in, there was paperwork you had to do before they’d agree to take your money and patch you up.
“Fill this out please.” the receptionist said as he passed me a document on a clipboard.
It looked like a standard form, though the blood seal on the bottom made me a little wary. Those were only used on legal contracts from what I’d heard. There wasn’t any fine print on the form that I could see,not through my swollen eyes at any rate, but I suspected that putting down any false information would be a bad idea.
Under “Name”, I put down “Mel Watersward”. It was my real name as far as I knew. As an orphan though it was possible I’d been born under a different name. Either way I didn’t think the blood seal would mind that bit of potential inaccuracy.
For the rest of the details, I gave out the information for the orphanage. I was lucky in a sense. I’d turned seventeen a month ago, so I didn’t need to have a guardian sign off the paperwork but I wasn’t out on the street yet either. Instead I pressed my thumb to the blood seal and felt it draw out a drop of my blood. More details appeared on the form, including my ethnicity (human, mixed worlds), my age, allergies and current anima levels.
“Here. How long is this going to take?” I asked as I passed the form back to the receptionist.
“I’ll let you know when we’re ready. If you could take a seat.” he said. I glared at him. I was not in good shape. The number and variety of things that were wrong inside me were sufficient that I couldn’t keep track of them and from the way my thoughts were going occasionally spacey I was pretty sure something unpleasant was going on in my head. Given the beating I’d taken, I knew that had to be clearly visible in the condition of my face, but this guy was as unhurried as if I’d walked in with a stubbed toe.
“How long is it going to take.” I repeated through gritted teeth. There was no one else in the waiting room. It seemed absurd that they couldn’t take me in and make with the healing spells immediately.
“I will let you know when we are ready.” he said, irritation rising in his voice.
The thought of smashing his face into the desk until he looked worse than I did was a seriously tempting one. The only problem with it was that the cleric would probably heal him first which would just delay things for me even longer.
I suppressed my pain-fueled anger and stalked back over to the flimsy waiting room chairs. On the holodisplay the news casters were still rambling on about the warp portal that had appeared. They had zero new information to share so they’d dredged up a panel of “experts” to blather about what this “shocking development” might mean.
For fun, I mentally edited everything they were saying to be about a giant zit on the planetary governor’s forehead.
“It goes without saying that we’ve never seen anything like this, and that means there’s cause for concern.” one of the experts said.
“Clearly, clearly I agree.” another one stammered and then added, “but you have to admit this also represents a unique opportunity. We’d be fools not to study this.”
“It’s true, this could be the biggest event of the decade!” a third expert interjected.
Smiling hurt but it was worth it. The alternative was dwelling on how bad I felt and that wasn’t going to lead anywhere good. Despite my attempt to distract myself though, the icy feeling in my chest wasn’t going away. Every time I thought about the warp portal I felt sure that whatever came through it was going to be a lot worse than anyone was expecting.
Below the babbling experts, a ticker tape ran on the holodisplay listing off the few facts the channel had collected. The portal wasn’t a large one. It’s mass distortion profile suggested it could transport a battleship but not an entire fleet. It had been detected an hour ago and was located about a twentieth of a light second off the starward side of Belstarius, our planet.
Since it was outside our atmosphere, it could be stable over interstellar distances. Since it was in near orbit, it would be perfect to launch an assault from. Neither of those thoughts made me feel particularly comfortable.
“The cleric will see you now.” the receptionist said.
I got up and felt dozen arcs of pain shoot through various parts of my body. I grimaced and forced myself to step towards the doorway that the receptionist indicated. As I approached it, I saw a father holding a baby wrapped in multiple blankets exiting the treatment area.
“Be sure to give her the syrup before she goes down for the night for the next two weeks, and I’ll see you again in a month.” the cleric was saying as the man left the room.
Seeing that they’d actually had a patient, I was glad I hadn’t put the receptionist’s face into the desk, but I still wasn’t thrilled with his attitude.
“So let me guess what you’re here for, sore throat?” the cleric joked as he escorted me into the treatment room. He was younger than I would have guessed, maybe in his early twenties. About my height, which put his at the normal height for a guy his age, unlike Davos and Maraz who were both on the gigantic side of the scale, as thugs tend to be.
“Yeah, it kind of hurts when I smile.” I told him flatly.
“I see. Well if you can get ready, I’ll get your file. I’m Healer Taisen by the way.” he said.
“Mel.” I told him, offering my name since he’d given his.
“Ok Mel. If you’ll lie down on the table in the circle over there and get as relaxed as you can, we’ll get started just as soon as I review your forms.” Taisen said and stepped out of the room.
The room was a simple affair. The treatment table was the central piece of it. It was covered in a fresh white cloth and looked padded enough to be reasonably tolerable to lay on even in my current condition. Around the table was inscribed a circle to help channel the cleric’s spell casting. It was etched into the floor and set with a reflective metal, probably chromed steel since I doubted the clinic had the resources for ensorcelled silver or similar high quality materials.
Around the edges of the room were counters and cabinets that looked to hold various elixirs and sampling kits. I noticed from the labels that the bottles were mostly over-the-counter medicines, probably enchanted to greater potency by the cleric himself. In a way, that felt comforting. The few times I’d been to a cleric’s on my own, I’d had to go to one of the “back alley temples” that only lived up to half that description. The quacks who ran them usually had some skill but for anything more than simple, straightforward injuries you were taking a serious risk of them making things worse rather than better.
“Admiring our supplies?” Taisen asked as he returned.
“Just trying to figure out how to get up onto the table.” I told him. Twisting and bending did not seem like comfortable things to be doing at the moment.
“Here, try this.” he said and placed a small stool in front of the table. Guessing that he’d dealt with people in my shape or worse before, I stepped up onto it, turned and sat gently onto the table. Bending over to remove my boots wasn’t pleasant but I managed it while Taisen read the form.
When he looked back to me, his mouth was crooked in puzzlement.
“Odd anima levels you have here. Can you tell me what happened?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.” I said “Are you bound by doctor/patient confidentiality?”
“Yes, under my license as a practicing cleric, I am not permitted to disclose anything you tell me to the planetary law enforcement personnel.” he said. He was picking his words carefully, which tripped a red flag for me, but my head was battered enough that I couldn’t think of what he wasn’t saying.
“A guy was trying to grab one of the kids from the place I’m at. I knocked him out but two of his friends took exception that.” I said.
“Lay down, I have more questions, but I want to make sure you’re stabilized first.” Taisen said. He walked around to the head of the table once I’d made myself “comfortable”. I felt him place the index and middle fingers of each hand on the sides of my head. He chanted something in Old Galactic, probably the centering words for a healing spell, and I felt a buzz of anima go through me. It felt great for a moment but the relief was short lived. It seemed to drain away as fast as it came in.
Taisen cut off his chant mid-word and stepped back away from the table.
“Well now that was unusual.” he said. I craned my neck and saw him rubbing his hands together as though they were frozen.
“Tell me more about what they did to you.” he said as he started tracing a luminous sigil in the air.
“Nothing too special. One of them grabbed me so I broke his arm and knee. I think I might have given him a skull fracture too but I didn’t have a chance to check. I was going to make sure of it but his friend caught me before I could. That’s the one who did most of this damage. He slammed me around a few times and mashed my face in a few times more.” I explained. Looking back on it, it wasn’t one of my better fights. One more punch probably would have done me in.
“That explains the physical trauma I suppose. Oh and thank you for not saying you ‘fell down some stairs’ or were ‘hit by a hover’. Even if you’re lying, I appreciate the effort at coming up with a unique one.” Taisen said.
“I’m not lying. I know it sounds stupid, but these guys were idiots. The first one didn’t put up any anima shield at all and the other one dropped it right after he punched my face in.” I said.
“Wait, are you saying you fought someone with enough training and anima to manifest a visible shield? No, two people like that and you managed to beat them?” he asked.
“Yeah, they’re goons though. I just got lucky and surprised them.” I said.
“I imagine you did. Tell me, have you been tested for your anima capacity?”
“Yeah, I flunked in all four categories.” I told him.
“It’s not a test you can flunk, but I gather you tested very low for physical anima?”
“Bottom fifth percentile for all of them.” I wasn’t proud of it, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Sure, I could practice and improve but you needed to be in the 60th percentile or higher in at least one of the four categories to be employable for any magical work and getting there from where I was didn’t seem practical at all.”
“You’ll pardon my saying this, but that’s ridiculous.” Taisen said.
“Your current condition aside, you’re obviously very fit. Add to that the fact that you’re not whining and sobbing for a pain relief spell and I’d say you’ve got more willpower than any two or three of my other patients combined.” he said.
“Magical aptitude isn’t directly linked to our physical, mental, emotional or psychological states. I’m sure you’ve been taught this. It’s entirely possible for someone who’s very small and very weak to have a tremendous amount of physical anima.” he said.
“Yeah, so I’m the reverse.”
“That’s the thing. There’s not a direct link but there is what we call inherent capacity.” Taisen said.
“Meaning a big strong guy is going to have a decent amount of physical anima just from being big and strong?” I asked. I’d noticed that was true for thugs like Davos and Maraz, but I’d assumed that was selection bias. Meaning it was only guys who were big, strong and had a lot of magical juice who’d make a career of being thugs.
“Most of the time. Exceptions exist when the person has been damaged or is naturally unbalanced.”
“Unbalanced?” The Sisters had never gone too deeply into magical theory with us since almost none of us tested at exceptional levels. Those few who did were sent to special teachers or wound up getting adopted before the Sisters had to worry about their education.
“Yes, magically speaking. Take me for example. The coursework to become a licensed cleric is grueling. Biology, anatomy, organic divination. You don’t get through the classes without having a pretty respectable brain. For a normal person that would mean that their mental anima would be above average. Mine however is in the same range as yours.”
“So even though you’re smart you can’t work mental magics to save your life?” I asked.
“I like to think of it as, I’m smart, I can’t work mental magics, and that can save your life. See the aptitude I should possess for mental magics is instead expressed as physical anima. I’m not a big hulking guy, but I’ve got enough magic to run this clinic by myself. A lot of healers are unbalanced that way.”
“So what does that have to do with me?” I asked.
“Well, from what I can see you should have a significant amount of physical anima and energetic anima, based on your fitness and you’re emotional control. From talking with you, I’d be shocked if you were below average in terms of mental anima too and yet your readings indicate you’re almost entirely lacking in magical aptitude. That doesn’t fit.” he explained.
“Maybe I’m cursed?” I suggested.
“Nope. That was the first thing I checked for. Add to that the fact that I am seeing very odd spikes of anima in you, and what happened when I tried to apply a simple pain relief spell.” he said.
“I saw you jerk your hands away.” I said.
“Can you tell me how it felt?” he asked.
“The spell? It felt good for moment but then it kind of drained away.” I explained.
“Interesting.” Taisen said. He was staring at me through one of the flowing sigils that he’d traced. There were close to two dozen floating in the air around the table and he moved from one to the other, observing and adjusting them as he went.
“Are you going to be able to fix me up?” I asked.
“I don’t know. You’re a puzzle.” he said.
“Maybe I should go someplace else then.” I said and tried to get up off the bed. That was a bad idea. WIth the state I was in, the bed wasn’t exactly comfortable but moving was infinitely worse.
“No, I don’t think you’re in the shape for that. If I can’t help you, we’ll call a medicar for you and I’ll take you to the hospital myself.” Taisen said.
“Wait, how bad is this?” I asked.
“Bad enough.” he said.
“I need more details than that.” I told him.
He pushed aside the sigil he was looking through and eyed me critically.
“From what I can see of your internal injuries, you’ve suffered sufficient trauma that your system should be going into circulatory shock. That’s a fatal condition. You are not exhibiting the symptoms of circulatory shock however, which suggests that you possess sufficient physical anima for your body to self-correct and return to homeostasis. That would normally indicate a treatment plan of light mending spells and rest if your lifestyle allows it. However, your observed anima levels do not support the diagnosis that you are regenerating your injuries.” he said.
“So I should be dead but I’m not?” I said.
“No. You should be healthy but you’re not. Something is suppressing your natural capacity.” he explained, “Add to that the fact that your body absorbed or dispelled the effect of a pain relief spell whose minimum duration should have been an hour and that applying the spell to you caused severity one frost burns to my hands.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” Taisen said. “I need you to work with me on this.”
“How?” I asked. The mention of frost burns scared me. I could still feel the cold mass in my chest but, up until Taisen had mentioned freezing his fingers, I’d assumed it was just an effect of my body being messed up. I hadn’t thought I was literally freezing from the inside out.
“I imagine you haven’t had much training in magic. I need you to cast a very basic spell for me though. I’ll monitor your physical anima while you do it and that should help me identify where your energy is going.” he explained.
“How can I do that?”
“The spell I’m going to have you cast is a rest spell. It’s not even a full sleep spell. It’s one of the first medicinal spells that’s taught. It puts the body into a state that’s conducive to falling asleep if no other factors are present. With your injuries, I don’t expect you’ll be able to fall asleep, but it may distance you from the pain somewhat.”
“Ok. How do I cast it?” I asked.
“I want you to place your right hand over your heart.” he said.
I lay my hand on my chest expecting it to burn with cold. I was relieved to find that from the outside at least I felt as warm as usual.
“Ok, close your eyes. I want you to focus on your right hand. Picture it holding a small ball of light. The light is your physical anima. Feel the warmth of your hand, that’s your pathway to your anima. Don’t worry about finding the magic though. Just feel the warmth and imagine it spreading through your body, starting at your heart and sending waves of relaxation out with each beat.”
“It’s hard to relax with my ribs feeling like this.” I told him.
“I know. Don’t worry about getting the spell right. All I need you to do is try.” Taisen replied.
I closed my eyes and focused like he’d told me to. It felt a little strange to think of my right hand holding my magical life force. My left hand, the dominant one, kind of wanted in on the action. Since I was pretty sure that would mess up Taisen’s readings, I shook off that thought and let my focus drift into my body the way I did when I was practicing my martial forms.
It wasn’t my right and left hand that I thought about. It was active and passive. It was weighted and free. On my active side, I pictured my anima, light, joyful, healthy, powerful. Memories of shattering boards and speeding through katas faster than my mind could follow wrapped around that image of my anima. Me, when I was active and alive. That’s what I held in my right hand.
Over it all though I felt a huge darkness. The weight of the cosmos against the freedom of my anima. On its own, the cosmos would have swallowed up my anima, but an idea occurred to me. In fighting, I’d learned to move my weight from one foot to the other, freeing me to move without fighting myself. I tried something similar with my hands. In my right hand I wanted to hold my physical anima, that meant I needed to shift the darkness within me to my left hand.
I pictured my left hand draining out and becoming empty. I felt it sink down against the table, heavy and cold. The anima in my right hand sparked and flickered to life. I felt my chest warm and relax under my hand.
From my left hand though I felt almost a growling sensation. The darkness I was holding there craved the light of the anima. I pushed harder to keep them apart.
I felt Taisen put his hands on my head and I willed the darkness in my left hand into an imagined sphere. I tried to draw in as much of it as I could from the rest of my body but there was just too much there.
For a moment, I think, my heart stopped entirely. Then I felt a flood of energy pass through me. My eyes shot open but I couldn’t see anything except a brilliant light until I forced a breath in past my lips. That took more effort I’d ever expended on anything but it was worth it.
I felt alive and I felt better. Not great, but like I was mending at last. I sat up on the table and looked around for Taisen, congratulations and a smile on my lips.
That’s when the receptionist came running into the room. He hadn’t gotten halfway through the door before he started screaming.
“We’re under attack! From the portal! They’re sending ships!” he blurted out.
Then we both noticed Taisen, collapsed at the head of the table. His hands and arms were badly burned and he wasn’t moving.
“You…you killed him!” the receptionist gasped.