Every step he took jolted the various crystal vials, hollowed out gourds, and metal canisters dangling from his waist with a thick leather cord. The jarring symphony created silence in the fields around him; the sheep stopped bleating, and the crickets ceased chirping as the stooped figure drew near.
He was noisy enough to wake the dead. But Adel was old, and he no longer feared the dead . . . or death for that matter. He had seen more than enough of both in his life, and was well aware that his time was soon to come.
Adel continued down the rough country road, a lantern held before him, its weight nearly too much for his frail arms to support. His hands were once so steady and precise he could sew torn blood vessels and flesh as easily as any fabric. Now, the lantern shook so uncontrollably in his grip, the gravel road was lost in the flickering light. Truth be told, lately even in the best light, Adel couldn’t see clearly for more than ten feet in front of him. His eyes had seen the Midnight Sun cross the sky just over eighty times – a feat few humans could claim. Adel had lived so long that even his skills as a Healer were beginning to prove inadequate protection against the ravages of time. He knew of but one ‘cure’ for that. But all would agree, the Plague was more curse, than cure. Adel was well aware that his time would come . . . no matter what he did to stop it.
It was always so.
If his long career as a Healer had taught him anything, it was that.
Over how many deathbeds had he stood vigil in his career? And no matter the affliction, or the ‘cures’ he applied, the end found them, one and all.
Long ago, he had learned that when it was time for one to pass, his job as Healer was best served by consoling the terminally ill – easing their way into the afterlife. His advice to them was, and had always been, for them to find peace and acceptance with what little time they had left. They should find peace in the fact that death is the natural order of things, and is meant to be a permanent state; anything else was an abomination – much like the Plague.
Death. Despite his years of fighting it, he knew nothing of it. As far as he knew, none had ever returned to tell their tale of the ‘great beyond’. Many claimed knowledge of it, but their theories were at best guesswork – ungrounded in knowledge, unlike Adel’s own healing science.
As his own death drew ever nearer, Adel often found himself wondering if he would heed his own advice, and graciously embrace his own inevitable end. It had been a long life – and a difficult one – and in all honesty, he was a little more than eager to see it pass. After so many suns, eternal peace seemed such a pleasant concept.
But so few find acceptance in the end. So many wish to live, if even for another day – another hour. Even those in the greatest pain always fight like mad to have but one more moment of life.
The struggle to live often made Adel wonder if there truly was peace in death? Or near the end do the dying see the truth; that death is an unimaginable horror? And to escape it, they would do anything – even embrace the Plague.
His job was indeed a difficult one -- the difficulties only compounded with the coming of the Plague. In his life he had acquired more than one bad memory he wished to be freed of.
One such moment nagged at his mind as he made his way to the small farming village of Havenwood.
It was shortly after the War of Lock Core, when the newly raised Keeper, LeCynic, had commanded Adel to study the infection. Eager to test his skills against this horrendous disease, Adel agreed to do so. His eagerness, however, was short lived, for it quickly became apparent to Adel that the Plague was far beyond his abilities -- to even tamper with it was a risk he did not dare to take. He felt that all samples of the active infection should be destroyed, not studied, lest they give rise to another full scale Plague.
The Keeper strongly disagreed.
He was furious at Adel’s suggestion, and deemed him a failure. He sent in other, less respected Healers to continue the project, and ordered Adel banished from the city and stripped of his official title as Master Healer.
Adel had been humiliated.
Thankfully, his work among the citizens of the Seventh World was remembered, and he was still respected. Since then he has been able to make a decent living in the Outlands, doing what he can to heal the people beyond Lock Core, or -- failing to heal them – at least offer them peace during their final moments.
Still though, Adel often wondered about the Keeper and his experiments with the Plague. The man was so obsessed with finding a cure that Adel knew the man would stop at nothing to find one.He shuddered to think what horrors the man could potentially unleash on the Seventh World. Through the years, Adel kept hoping the rest of the Seventh World would see through the man’s madness, and LeCynic would end up being the one banished from Lock Core. But thus far, it had been a long wait, and Adel’s hope was dwindling with his lifespan. He imagined by the time justice was done, his hope and life would be no more.
Now, he journeyed to the town of Havenwood, where a man lay dying from a grievous injury suffered during the fall harvest. From what he heard of the severity of the man’s injuries, he imagined his mission was more about easing physical and emotional suffering than it was about ‘actual’ healing.
He came around a bend in the road, then saw a distant haze of light coming from the valley down below. With his poor eyesight, he couldn’t discern details, but he had walked this path before and knew the glowing light signified the village Havenwood. He made his way down, wondering if the injured farmer would even be alive by the time he arrived.
Halfway down the path, he was greeted by several of the villagers, the eldest of which did the majority of the talking. He had met and befriended the man on his prior visits, and knew him to be Jorge Hamthist, the Mayor of Havenwood.
“Thank you for coming, Adel. And at such a late hour,” the Mayor said, moving to take Adel’s lantern and guiding him forward by the arm.
“I heard of the injuries, and knew haste would be required,” Adel replied, wearied from his travels and not hesitating to accept the Mayor’s aid. “Please, Jorge, tell me, am I too late?”
The Mayor exchanged a worried look with his companions before replying.
“Surprisingly no, Adel. Admittedly, I am all but untrained in the healing arts, yet to the best of my knowledge, this man should not be alive. He lost an arm in the threshing, and though his legs remain . . . I dare say they are horribly mangled. Surely, the amount of blood this man lost cannot have come from but a single man.”
Adel was intrigued . . . and worried. Was he about to be reacquainted with the Plague?
“Perhaps you should have sent for the Death Guard instead?” Adel said.
“Aye, one would come to such a conclusion, is true. But the man doesn’t appear to be infected, only injured . . . and forever at the verge of death.”
Adel was more curious than ever. His curiosity in human anatomy was what brought him to the Healers. Over the years he had come to learn the human body had many wondrous traits. And the more he learned, the more mysterious and miraculous the body became. To learn something new, especially at his age, would be a miracle unto itself.
The Mayor guided him into the village of thatched roofed cottages. Even with Adel’s limited vision, it was clear to see where his patient was to be found, for a group of villagers surrounded one of the cottages. The Mayor quietly ushered the people aside as he neared, then led Adel into the timber-walled structure.
It all made sense the moment he stepped through the door.
“The child . . .” Adel whispered.
“Yes, poor thing. She refuses to let him go,” the Mayor responded.
In front of him, a curly haired child sat, and wept. Her small fingers clung to her father’s remaining hand. There was blood everywhere . . . and blue fire. More of both than Adel had seen in a long, long time. Somehow, the scene was vaguely familiar to him. He had only witnessed such a great display of the Singularity once before. Like the child, Merrick too had refused to let go . . . and it had cost him his life. This child was far younger than Merrick, but held equal – if not greater – power. Her father’s injuries were clearly mortal; it didn’t take a Healer’s expertise to determine that. How the child had managed to keep the man alive for as long as she had seemed a miracle. Adel doubted even Merrick could have done as much.
Adel’s role in all of this was obvious; he had to convince the child to let him go. If she didn’t, they both would die.
“Take me to her,” Adel requested, unable to do so himself, for suddenly he felt his age more keenly than ever.
“Yes, Adel,” the Mayor said, practically carrying Adel to her. “Child, this is the great Healer, Adel. We have brought him here to help your father. To . . .”
Adel knew what the Mayor wanted to say; that he had brought Adel to help ease the man’s passage to the afterlife. For that was truly what the Mayor desired; an end to the man’s suffering and the circus that accompanied it. Adel wanted as much as well.
“ . . . To heal him,” the Mayor finished.
Adel saw what his friend Jorge could not, the girl had great power, and she could easily see through his lies, if not read his thoughts outright. There would be no point in pretending, he would have to speak truthfully with the girl.
“I’m sorry. I cannot save him, child. Sometimes, all we can offer them is freedom from their pain. We are not immortals. The end must come to us, one and all.”
Her tears came faster.
“I don’t want him to leave me,” the child said as she wept. “He says he’s ready . . . but I don’t want to let him go.”
“It’s all right.”
Adel bent down, risked penetrating her aura of flames to lay his hand upon her.
“He will have peace, and one day you will find it too. It will not be easy, but through the sadness and fear you will one day find your peace. This I promise.”
If she was reading his mind, she would know it was not a lie.
“But where will he go?”
Adel faltered, searching for an answer. But even with all his knowledge and years of experience, he still didn’t have one.
He didn’t need one. She was, in fact, reading his mind. To the child, his mind was a library of information on life and death. Of particular interest was his knowledge of the Plague, a thing both ‘life’ and ‘death’. She saw it through his eyes as an atrocity. It was meant to make immortals, but instead it created monsters.
She turned her wide brown eyes on her father – saw the limbless monstrosity that he had become, and she let him go.
Two suns later, Adel still searched for an answer to the child’s question, “Where will he go?” He knew he would go there himself soon enough and have the answer firsthand. But he felt he still owed the girl some sort of an explanation.
His quest took him deeper into the Outlands than ever before. Being as decrepit as he was, it was an arduous journey indeed. But every sage with supposed knowledge of the afterlife had to be met, their lessons learned. For the most part, they spoke of the same belief, but in variations. They all agreed there was something, but what that something was, was tensely debated. He wanted to return to the girl, but wanted to give her more than “There’s definitely something, I just don’t know what?”
Then he heard of a Red Mage. A man who spoke freely, openly, and often to any and all who would hear him. This man claimed to have knowledge of the Gods themselves. He even suffered his own sort of banishment from Lock Core, which would have drawn Adel to him if for no other reason.
And so it went . . . Adel followed him by way of his stories, until one day theirs paths met. How the man smiled as they talked. And when at last Adel left him, he was unable to stop his own face from grinning. It all made so much sense now . . . not just the girl child, but Merrick as well. There was a plan for them all. Their lives guided by a power greater than any mortal.
And the girl child . . . he finally had her answer. It was in the form of a man, his name was Brice Langlia. He told him where to find her.
And that her name was Emily, from the city of Havenwood.
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