One of the first things they teach clerics who have an interest in the Sixth Dominion’s healing magics are the skills needed to treat injuries via mundane means. As ‘Priestess Jin’, I hadn’t been different from many other new clerics in wondering why that would be useful. Being able to stitch up a wound seemed pointless when you can make the skin good as new with a spell that takes three seconds to cast.
As it turned out, there were a lot of reasons for a priestess to understand anatomy and physiology. Healing magics worked better the more the healer understood what was wrong with their patient and how the body would naturally repair itself. For simple wounds, or in battlefield situations, it was often a better practice to use only mundane methods to promote healing. Healing magic was delicate and fatiguing to work. If nature could take care of a wound then it was safer and easier to let the body take care of itself.
Then there were situations like the one I faced with Maak. His wounds were grievous enough to call for magic healing but the Sixth Dominion’s spells couldn’t begin to repair them. In a world where people could instantly regrow limbs, serious fighters need to be able to hurt their opponents and have them stay hurt.
Whoever had worked over Maak had been wielding a magic sword. More puzzlingly though they’d been very careful about how they’d wielded it. Since the knight was unconscious I was able to inspect his wounds at my leisure. They looked painful, and the bleeding had weakened him severely but none of them were immediately life threatening.
As a priestess, the medical training that I’d received left me well aware of how difficult wounds like that that were to inflict. Way could manage it when she fought, but that was only because she was orders of magnitude better than most of the people she tangled with. In a match between opponents of comparable skill it was extremely challenging to disable your foe without killing them. Especially not in the manner Maak had been wounded.
Whoever he’d fought hadn’t gotten in a lucky blow that took him out. It had been cut after cut, stab after stab, each carefully restrained. From the blood on the outside of Maak’s armor it was clear that his attacker had paid for the wounds he’d given Maak with similar wounds of his own. It had to have been an ugly, brutal fight. And yet, his attacker had been holding back.
“Priestess, is it safe to come in?” Healer Grida said from outside the bungalow.
“Yes, please! I have a knight here who needs your skills.” I replied.
Grida came in with Kari and Colten following in her wake.
“What did you do to him?” Grida asked.
That hurt a little. She didn’t mean to be insulting, in fact she was very afraid to be, but that same fear was undermining her faith in me as a decent person.
“I rebandaged the worst of the wounds and I kept him warm. I have basic medical supplies here but not enough to treat someone this injured.” I said, sidestepping the implicit accusation that I was responsible for his condition.
“These look like wounds from a holy blade.” Grida said, inspecting Maak’s injuries.
“Someone attacked him with his own sword?” I asked.
“Doesn’t look like it.” Colten said. “His sword is outside the door there.”
“Why is he back here at all?” Kari asked.
“The Prelates said that Bishop Rask’s task force had failed at its mission. Maybe he’s the only survivor?” I said. Meta-awareness was being maddeningly vague on the topic.
“Why would he have come here? To you?” Grida asked.
“He wasn’t conscious long enough to tell me. Maybe he was afraid of Bishop Rask?” I was guessing broadly there. As far as Maak knew I was an unbearably rude Priestess who lacked the sense to keep her mouth shut. The only reason he’d turn to me for help against Rask would be that I probably couldn’t fall any farther from the Bishop’s good graces so I had little to lose by opposing the annoying old jerk.
“Better question is what happened to his partner?” Colten asked.
“Hopefully he can tell us all that when he wakes up. Will you be able to help him?” I asked Grida.
“I think so. I’ve treated wounds from unholy swords before. They’re worse.” Grida said. She looked around the bungalow before adding, “I’ll need to take him back to my house though. Colten, go and fetch some carriers and a litter.”
“Won’t take a moment.” Colten promised, nodding his head in acceptance of the task before departing.
Grida inspected the bandages for a moment after Colten left before speaking again.
“I’m surprised you didn’t heal him the way you did our pastor. Did he offend you?” she asked.
“Yes.” I admitted, recalling how he’d taken Rask’s side during our dinner ‘conversation’, “But that’s not why I didn’t heal him.”
“It wouldn’t have been as difficult as restoring Peracles’ mind would it?” she asked.
“Yes and no. I risked doing what I did for the pastor because he was in terrible shape and unrecoverable otherwise. Also, he chose it. Maak will heal on his own, I think. Definitely if you can care for him. It wouldn’t be fair to take the same risks with him. Also, I’m guessing he’s not thinking too clearly at the moment, so even offering him the choice is questionable.” I said.
“Why would you think that?”
“He came to me for help. I can’t see him doing that unless he was truly desperate and desperate people aren’t renowned as the best decision makers. They’re usually too frightened to see things clearly.” I said.
Grida looked over at me and smiled.
“Wait till you’ve been in a few desperate situations. It’s not always wrong to be a bit afraid of them.” she said.
I smiled back.
“I’ve been in a few. There’s usually someone around who’s less desperate than I am and can keep me sane.” I said, a trace of regret in my voice.
“What happened to your friend?” Grida asked.
“She’s ok. Using the kind of magic she did to drive the demons and the Shadow Breakers away costs a lot though. I don’t think she’ll be able to get back here anytime soon.” I frowned. I was tired, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any real relaxation for a while. The responsible part of me accepted that. The sixteen year old in me, on the other hand, didn’t want to have to deal with the problems of a world that didn’t like me and wasn’t even slightly related to my own.
I noted with some amusement that this was the same side of me that had been bored and petulant and eager for problems to erupt and interrupt our relaxing vacation.
I make no special claims to being either reasonable or sane, except that thanks to meta-awareness and some wonderful people in my life I have a better than average shot at noticing my own craziness.
“I’m sorry I can’t give you more details.” I said. Explaining Way’s current whereabouts would be difficult at best. Worse, if I managed to show Grida what had happened in enough detail, that might lead to her awakening as well. One new dream walker was hard enough, two would be a waking nightmare.
Grida looked like she wanted to push the matter further, but Colten returned with a trio of fishers in tow. The two men Colten had brought with him carried a stretcher and the woman carried blankets and chains.
Grida noticed the chains as well and raised an eyebrow.
“In case we have to restrain him.” Colten explained.
“That was with cursed wounds. These are holy. They’re not going to drive him mad. We’ll be fine with just the blankets.” Grida assured him.
The woman who carried both shrugged and wrapped the chains around her arms instead. I wondered briefly if she’d shatter them the next time she flexed but I didn’t get a chance to find out.
“Help me get him on the litter. Carefully. We don’t need to open his wounds any further. It’s going to be enough work to patch him up as it is.” Grida grumbled. I recognized the tone. She hadn’t had a particularly good evening either and a lot of it came from trouble that shouldn’t have landed anywhere near her doorstep.
“I’ll come by in the morning if that’s ok? It looks like there are two people we’ll need to talk to.” I asked.
“Will he be alright by the morning?” Kari asked, pointing to Maak as Colten and his crew got him arranged on the stretcher.
“He won’t be any prettier but he should be conscious by then. Once he’s treated, I’ll have him set up in the Under Chapel with the pastor. I’ll probably be there all night so come by when you’re able to.” Grida said, before turning to lead Colten and stretcher carriers out.
In the calm that followed, I almost let myself relax.
It was so tempting.
But of course, it was also not to be.
“Can you tell me what’s happening to me now?” Kari asked.
“It might be easier to show you.” I said.
“Before I do though, you need to know a little more about what you’re asking. Right now you’re on the edge of something. On one side you’ve got this world and a life that connects to everyone you’ve ever known. On the other you’ve got the unknown and the unknowable.”
“Which side are you on?”
“Both, for now, but that’s limiting me. A lot actually. There’s a catch too. What I am, you can’t become without losing the life you have.”
“Your world is special. It’s why I’m here. If you leave it, if you go over the edge I’m talking about, you won’t be able to get back. That’s part of what limits me here. If I leave, I can’t make it back either.”
“That’s what happened with Sir Way, isn’t it? She had to step over that edge.” Kari said.
“Yeah. We had to stop what was happening and we didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. I’ll see her again when I leave this world but till then we’re stuck apart.”
“You’re going to leave?”
“I’ll have to eventually. My home’s on the other side of that edge.”
“I want to go with you then!”
“Why? Do you hate this world? Is it too miserable to stay in?”
“No. It’s wonderful, but I want to see what else is out there. I always wanted to be an adventurer. I wanted to find new things, go new places but I knew I’d never I’d be able to. I’m not anyone special, I don’t have awesome skills, or magic powers, but talking with you lets me I forget that. All day you’ve treated me like I was someone important and I’m scared that if you go, I’ll remember that I’m just a nobody again.”
“You’re not a nobody.” I told her. I had to fight back a smile at how silly she was being. ‘No awesome skills or magic powers’? Yeah, because just anybody could spontaneously develop meta-awareness and start casting cleric spells based on observation and overheard dream speech. I hadn’t been much more rational when I awoke, but that didn’t make it any less funny to see from a more experienced perspective.
“Yes I am. I know these things I can do aren’t really mine. I’m just copying you. When you go I’ll have no one to copy. I’ll just be me again. A little serving girl, with no one to wait on.”
“What makes you think being a serving girl is the same as being a nobody?”
“Isn’t it? Before today I was nobody important at all. Anyone could do what I did.”
“Let’s see if that’s true. Close your eyes, if you trust me.” I said.
She did without a word.
From her memories I teased out an illusion similar to the one I’d cast when we first met. Rather than the Moon’s Palace though, this illusion showed Caina’s Inn with a family starving in the cold outside it.
“Without you, they weren’t fed at all. Caina kicked them out when they complained. It’s a cold night too, I don’t think they’ll make it to the next town.” I said.
“But anyone could have done what I did.”
“Maybe, but you were the only one there who noticed them. You were the only one who cared enough and was clever enough to find a way to help them in spite of Caina. That one action changed the world.”
“That’s just one family though.” Kari protested.
“It’s more than that. Look.” I said, gesturing to Caina’s Inne. Within the illusion it became a burned out husk.
“What? Why is it burned? Where is everyone?” Kari asked.
“Do you remember preventing a disagreement between two patrons from escalating?” I asked.
“No. Or maybe? That happened a lot.”
“Yep. Just not as often without you there. In fact one time too few in specific. The fight got out of hand. A fire was started and this is where it led.”
“I see.” Kari said, her gaze absorbing the damage. All the familiar buildings for a block in each direction were burned. Families and people that she knew were gone. Departed to build a new life in some cases, ashes on the wind in others.
“So this is what happens if I join you?” she asked.
“No. This is what might have happened if someone else had lived your life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s not spells, or magical knowledge, or even knowing me, that makes you special. It’s who you are. Who you chose to be. You think the things you’ve done have been too small to matter, but the truth is it all matters.”
“So what does that mean?”
“It means that you when you choose which path to follow, you need to believe that on either one you’re going to wind up as someone amazing. You don’t need to give up your life here for that to be true.”
“I see.” she said, her eyes focusing on a faraway point inside herself as her meta-awareness confirmed what I had said.
I couldn’t see her future, but I caught glimpses of it from along a hundred different threads. In one she was a warrior who’d trained with Helena and fought back an invasion from Hell. In another she was a spectacular mom, raising a small horde of children, both her own and adopted. Magic wielder or inn keeper, church reformer or skillful politician, whichever way she chose to turn the possibility of greatness lay before her.
“All of these you can be, and lose nothing of who you are now.” I said, and shared each of the snippets of the future that I saw.
Kari sank to her knees in the illusion as the reality of it all flooded into her.
“It’s wonderful.” she said, tears welling in her eyes.
“You’re wonderful. All of that is in you.” I corrected her.
She was silent for a few minutes as she took it all in.
“What about the other side? What can I become if I chose that?” she asked.
I changed the illusion one more time. Now it showed only darkness. An empty starless expanse.
“What’s this?” Kari asked, staring around at the endless black.
“The unknown. The unknowable. The impossible.” I replied. “This is what awaits you on the other side.”