We reunited with the others as the moon reached its zenith. We’d heard them long before we’d seen them, as Sally’s footsteps echoed across the empty plains, and the clinking of Jerome’s contraptions rang up to the hill.
Elenor was on Sally’s back, and the large red gash on her thigh explained why. Jerome was also in bad shape, with soot all over his face, and the left side of his shirt in tatters. He was also limping slightly, favoring his left leg where his knee squeaked.
Sally was breathing heavily and her boots were caked in mud, dirt, and ash, but she seemed fine otherwise. Her trusty pickaxe looked a little battered but it was still useable.
“Ben!” cried Jerome. “What happened to your leg?”
“Twisted my ankle a little,” said Ben. “I’ll be fine. More importantly, what happened to you guys?”
“Got caught in a little scuffle,” said Sally as she laid Elenor down beside the big rock. “The F3 militia was trying to mediate between some guards and rioters, but things went sour and they ended up fighting both. Some of the guards recognized us and thought we were with the militia, and almost hit us with the turret.”
That didn’t sound like a little scuffle.
I eyed the cut in Elenor’s thigh. “How deep is it?”
“It’s not that bad,” said Elenor.
Sally sat in front of Elenor while Jerome sat beside Ben.
“We need to cover it up,” said Sally. “You said you’d let me do it once we found them.”
“Go ahead,” said Elenor.
Sally ripped up her own tattered robe and tied it around Elenor’s wound. It helped slow down the bleeding but it was a temporary measure at best.
“We should have bought medical supplies,” said Jerome.
“We probably would have left them behind like we did the tent,” said Sally.
“We couldn’t bring the food either,” I added.
We were hungry and wounded, and the closest city was a cesspool of disasters. Even the refreshing breeze couldn’t lift the cloud of melancholy hanging over us. Ben helped Jerome fix his mechanical knee while Sally and I tended to Elenor.
“I’ll sneak into the city in the morning and get something to clean your wound with,” said Sally.
“Don’t, it’s too risky. Besides, all the shops will be closed,” said Elenor.
I looked at her wound more closely. It was long and narrow, so it was probably made by a sword or spear. Some dust and blades of grass was stuck around its edges, which I tried to clean with the rag Sally had given me. There was a stream nearby so I went to dip the rag in it.
Crystal clear water flowed down the stream, reflecting silver moonlight in its gentle current. I thoroughly wet one end of the rag while ringing the water out of the other. I returned to Ben telling the others how we had escaped the city.
“… and then she used her unburnt magic to persuade the guards to leave, and the rioters to help us put out the fire raging over the escape tunnel. It was amazing, she had us all eating out of the palm of her hand in an instant. Even I got caught up in it, and barely reacted when she grabbed me and jumped into the building.”
“You jumped into a burning building?” asked Sally.
“That would explain why the back of your arms are so raw,” said Jerome, looking at Ben’s arms.
“It wasn’t that impressive,” I said. I walked over to Elenor and began wiping the dirt, blood, and grass from her wound.
“No, it was! She even kept it running until we reached this hill. Kept it running continuously,” said Ben.
“That is impressive,” said Sally. “Impressive mental fortitude, as expected of the witch’s apprentice.”
As Sally said that, I looked at Elenor, who was facing Ben while rhythmically tapping her fingers like she always did. However, when I glanced at her, she mouthed, “Later.”
“It was nothing,” I said.
“What do you mean? You fainted from exhaustion! I even thought you’d burnt your book,” said Ben.
“Well, I didn’t,” I said. I decided to change the subject. “Is it okay for us to stay here? We’re still close to the city.”
“I know,” said Sally. “But this is the best cover for miles. The road to Devel is on the other side of the city, and it’ll be the first place the guards will check.”
“What’s in that direction?” I said, pointing straight ahead.
“The national border with Clef,” replied Sally. “Correction, the heavily guarded national border with Clef.”
“Can we get to Devel without the road?” Ben asked.
“Maybe, but it’ll be hard with so many injured people,” said Sally.
“It’s fine, I can walk,” said Elenor.
“You’re lucky we didn’t have to cut your leg off,” said Sally. “I’ll carry you until it gets better, but it’ll take forever to get to Devel like this. Especially because of Ben’s ankle.”
“He can use my walking stick,” said Elenor.
“Still, we’d be in no position to defend ourselves if something happened. You hired us to keep you safe, and we’ve already failed to an unforgiveable degree. We won’t let it happen again, even if we have to wait a month for your leg to heal,” said Sally.
“Can’t you build something to help us walk, old man?” asked Ben.
“If I had the materials and a couple of years, sure,” replied Jerome. “What we need right now is a healer. Know any good healers in Chart, Sally?”
“Not personally, but we could get one at the Healer’s Guild.”
“They’ll give priority to the guards,” said Jerome. “We won’t get a turn at the guild for weeks, assuming we aren’t arrested before that.”
“Damn healers, sucking up to the government,” said Sally.
“I thought the guilds were closer to the Side Party. Why wouldn’t the Healer’s Guild help the rioters first?” asked Elenor.
“The guilds are all technically neutral,” explained Jerome. “The Side Party takes the best care of their interests, so most guilds support them, but the only people with healing books are Headers and rich Cheeks, who tend to support the Front Party, which is why healers are usually partial to the government.”
“Are healing books that rare?” I asked as a thought came to my mind.
“Yes,” said Sally. “The government rarely gives out new ones, and when they do, they get auctioned off for insane prices. And since no one burns them, they get passed down within rich families. In fact, if someone gets a healing book, they’ve pretty much guaranteed Header status for their family a few generations down the road.”
I looked at Elenor’s leg.
“I wonder…” I looked around while speaking, then stood up and ran back to the stream. I scoured its banks and found a spiky plant hidden under a rock just outside the water. I dug the mud around its root and picked up the plant, then ran back to the others.
“Sally, can I borrow your knife?” I asked.
Everyone stared at the plant in my hand. “What’s that?” asked Sally.
“An Alver plant,” I answered. “Knife, please.”
She took off the knife hanging around her belt, and put it in my outstretched hand. I placed the Alver on the ground, unsheathed the knife, and chopped off one of its spiky leaves. I peeled off the skin, which got rid of the spikes, and revealed the soft, fibrous flesh inside.
“Anyone have a needle?” I asked.
“Yeah, I should have one in here somewhere,” said Jerome as he rummaged through his pockets. “Ow! Yep, here you go.”
“What are you trying to do?” asked Elenor.
“Disinfecting,” I said as I pressed my fingers against the peeled Alver, and a sticky liquid came out. I rubbed the liquid over Elenor’s wound, ignoring her uncomfortable wincing. Then I used the knife to separate a thin fiber from the plant’s flesh. I held up the needle, squinted with one eye, and threaded the fiber into the needle-head.
“Sally, could you hold Elenor’s arms, please?” I said.
“Wait, tell me what you’re going to do, first,” said Elenor.
Since Sally didn’t budge, I acquiesced. Really though, questioning the doctor was not good practice. “I’m going to stitch up her wound so it heals faster.”
“You’re going to stitch it?” said Jerome. “Like a tailor?”
“Somewhat like that, yes,” I replied. Of course, only a fellow admirer of science could understand my intentions so quickly.
“I’m not a piece of cloth,” protested Elenor.
“Don’t worry, Alver juices are both antiseptic and anesthetic, your entire leg should be numb right now.”
Elenor prodded her leg. “Oh no, I can’t feel my leg. No!”
Silly girl. I looked at Jerome and shrugged. These unscientific people were so smallminded. Jerome met my gaze with a blank look. Had he succumbed to the pressure of the ignorant?
Sally’s eyes were widening and Ben was frowning while looking at me.
“You’re using magic, aren’t you?” said Ben.
“Magic is what the ignorant call Science!” I replied. “I am merely using my knowledge of the medical arts to take care of my lovely patient.”
“Yep, she’s using magic,” said Ben.
I sighed. Communicating with cavemen was incredibly difficult. Well, I did not need to communicate with them to carry out my duty.
I faced Elenor again. “I highly advise letting our good friend over there hold you down, lest you overreact to the faint discomfort you may feel during the procedure. And hurry, the anesthetic effect should wear off fairly quickly.”
“If she’s got a healing book…” Sally said.
“Fine,” said Elenor after another moment’s hesitation. She tapped her finger and turned her face toward me. She took a deep breath. “Go for it.”
I stitched up her wound, rubbed some more of the Alver juice over it, then wrapped it with a cloth I had washed with stream water and Alver juice.
“And for you, Mr. Stane,” I said, turning to Ben.
Ben jumped. “Wait, I don’t need to get tailored!”
“Of course you don’t need stitches, silly boy,” I said, shaking my head. “Let me see that ankle.”
He reluctantly put his foot on my lap when I sat beside him. I put a stick behind his ankle and wrapped it tightly with some rags.
“Grab a stick to lean on and you’ll be good to go,” I said.
“I see,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Now do you see the value of the medical arts?”
“You can stop using your magic now.”
“No, there is still something I must do.” I took some peeled Alver, put it inside a piece of cloth, and scrunched it up as best I could.
“Rub this on your burns, Ma’am.” I gave it to Sally.
Sally rubbed the dripping cloth on her face and shoulders.
“Please pass it to the others,” I said.
By the time I’d replaced the Alver leaves inside the cloth a few times, we had all rubbed it on our wounds.
I tied the cloth around my leg, stood up, and took a deep breath. “This air is great! We should go for a jog. Exercise is the most important part of healthy living!”
“You don’t need to use your magic anymore, Val,” said Ben.
“But that’s unsafe! What if something happens after I stop using it? The medical arts are the greatest lifeline known to humanity, foregoing them would be akin to suicide. Nay, murder!”
“Please stop using your magic Val,” said Elenor.
“I need to make sure you have a safe recovery, Ms. Cramer. I cannot, in good conscience, abandon a patient before they are fully recovered.”
“Then just check again in an hour.”
“What if something happens within that hour? Complications and abnormalities do not have a clock.”
“But your magic does,” said Ben. “If you burn it, you wouldn’t be able to use your medical arts for at least a day.”
I looked at the book hovering over the shelf in my mind. The pages were flicking back to the start at a swift rate but it wasn’t even a hundredth of the way through.
“It is fine, I can use it all night.”
“Please don’t. We may need it in the morning,” said Elenor.
I nodded. “That’s true! In fact, I am certain we will need the assistance of the medical arts once we begin moving. Very well.”
I let the Cannon fall back onto the shelf. I also let go of the breath I’d been holding.
“Glad that worked out,” I said.
“Having a healer in the party is a blessing,” said Ben as he stared at me. “But…”
“I’ve never wanted to punch a client so hard in my life,” muttered Sally.
“I think I’ll let my legs rot next time,” said Elenor.
“It wasn’t that bad…” remarked Jerome.
I looked away.