The Gods didn’t seem incline to answer her small prayer at the moment. More and more kept getting sick. Mirko’s information about the entire city being affected proved to be more than accurate when the King ordered the gates of Corthira closed in order to protect the rest of the country from the plague.
That didn’t stop some from trying to escape. Archers were placed at the top of the walls with orders to shoot anyone who attempted to leave the city on sight. Rae was relieved when one of her friends who worked as a soldier told her that the King had told the archers not to kill anyone unless necessary, just stop them from leaving.
The numbers just kept increasing. She didn’t have enough beds for them all and had to put some on straw mats on the floor. Even her personal living space above the clinic was being used for treating the victims.
There was no saving them all. In an attempt to control the spread of the plague, orders were handed out to cremate all remains. Since everything was at a standstill within the city, the marketplace was empty, so that was where they chose to burn the dead. The black cloud of smoke rising into the sky over the city served as a bleak warning to everyone outside the city to stay away.
Despite all of this, Ray wouldn’t, or maybe it was more couldn’t, admit she was fighting a losing battle.
Each day was the same, Rae woke and tended to the plague victims. After bathing herself and changing clothes, she’d go out into The Slums and tend to others that suffered from injury or illness other than the plague. The last thing she did before going to sleep for the night, was use her magic to bring the sickest of her plague victims back from the brink of death. All of this she did alone, afraid to expose anyone to the plague victims within her clinic.
The first and last person she took care of everyday was Silas. The old carpenter smiled at her every time she came over. “Rae, you need to rest.”
She shook her head. “No time. If I rest more die.”
Silas’s smile faded. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes stung with tears. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Rae wished she had enough power to save him. She looked around at the others in her clinic. So many were close to death. Without her power they would be dead.
Returning her attention to Silas, she saw his eyes were closed. Panic set in. “Silas?”
No response. His breathing was shallow and labored. Placing her hand on his forehead, she realized his fever was way too high.
She placed a hand on his forehead and chest. Focusing her power, she began to heal him. Her vision blurred, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t. If she did, Silas would die. Her muscles shook. Just a little more. Sweat beaded down her forehead and her spine. A little longer, she pleaded with her exhausted body. She began to see spots. Then she saw nothing.
Someone was calling for her.
She managed to open her eyes a little before they fell closed again.
Their fear had her forcing herself to wake up. She didn’t want them to be afraid. She saw Luca leaning over her. For the first time, she realized his eyes weren’t just hazel but brown with a starburst of green around the pupil.
His worried expression melted into relief as he called out. “She’s awake.”
Then there were suddenly others with him. Gio, Santo, Ada, Tino, and Berta all stared at her with concern.
Rae realized she was laying in the floor of her clinic. Memory began to return and she bolted up right. “Silas?!”
Ada’s eyes filled with tears as she looked away.
That was all the answer Rae needed. Pain filled her that had nothing to do with her ability to sense it in others. Tears slipped down her face as she cursed the limits of her body and magic. It hadn’t been enough. Silas wasn’t the first she’d lost, and he probably wouldn’t be the last, but he would be the one she’d carry with her the most. She could remember his kind smile and the way he came by to make sure she didn’t need anything replaced or repaired around her clinic.
“Rae, we’ll take care of Silas. Why don’t you get some rest and food?” Santo suggested.
She shook her head. “No.” There would be time to grieve for Silas’s loss later. Right now, there were more to save. “I still have work to do.”
Forcing herself back under control, she shifted to stand.
Placing a hand on Rae’s shoulder to keep her from rising, Ada snapped out, “You won’t be able to help anyone if you starve or go insane from sleep deprivation.”
Rae felt a rare flare of temper. “What else am I supposed to do? People are dying.”
“I know that,” Ada yelled back. “Some of those people are my neighbors and friends. I know that this is horrible and you’re doing everything you can to save them. That doesn’t change the fact that you can’t help them if you don’t take care of yourself.”
“Rae,” Santo interjected calmly. “Please. You’re going to work yourself to death at this rate.”
Nerves already frayed by exhaustion, sadness, and pain snapped with the anger that burned through her. “What choice do I have? If I stop even for a second, people will suffer and die. Am I supposed to just sleep through the pain I feel around me? Just eat a peaceful dinner when the fevers burn and stomachs roll?”
“No. You don’t understand. Their pain, your pain, is my pain. The power that flows through me makes it so I feel it as if it were my own.” The words wouldn’t stop. She knew she was revealing too much. Gio and Luca still didn’t know anything about her magic, but she couldn’t stop. Tears rolled down her face again. “I have to do whatever I can. It’s the only way I can live with myself when it’s not enough.”
“Rae, I understand,” Berta told her, crying herself as she took Rae’s hands in her own. “I was dying when you saved me. When you risked your life to save mine. I know you care so much. But you will kill yourself at this rate.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she sighed out as the anger left her. Now she only felt drained and tired.
“What do you mean?” Luca demanded. Looking at each of them with suspicion he added, “Actually, what do you mean by any of this.”
Rae considered him and Gio then gave up. Leaning against a wall, she began. “The others already know this, but I’m not human. At least, I’m not anymore.”
Both Gio and Luca stared at her with wide eyes.
“Anymore?” Ada asked. Even the four who already knew she wasn’t human didn’t know the entire story.
“I was born human,” she answered. “But that changed when I was twelve years old and raiders attacked our village.”
She closed her eyes. The memory was still so fresh in her mind. The smell of burning wood. The sounds of screams. The malicious smiles on their attackers’ faces. The fear and panic on the villagers’. All of it was still so clear to her. Everything changed for her that day.
“At first, I stayed right behind my father, running from the attackers. But then I heard a woman scream and a man’s desperate shout of alarm. When I glanced back, I saw that the blacksmith’s wife had fallen behind. She was very pregnant and couldn’t run very fast. One of the bandits was catching up to her. Her husband was running towards her, but he wasn’t going to get there in time. I was closer to her and could. But, I was only twelve and there was nothing I could have done to stop the bandit.”
She paused. The steely resolve that had filled her then, still lived inside her. “I couldn’t stop him. I could, however, distract him. As I ran over, I scooped up rocks and threw them as hard as I could. Only one or two hit the bandit. His attention diverted to me, I kept throwing rocks. The longer he focused on me, the more time the blacksmith had to get his wife.”
“What were you thinking?” Luca demanded. “That bandit could have killed you.”
She gave Luca an amused smile. “Luca, that is exactly the point. I knew that. I knew he would kill me in her place.” Her smile faded. “The bandit charged me instead of the pregnant woman. I don’t remember the actual attack. Just the moment before when I accepted my fate calmly.”
Her friends each drew in sharp breaths.
“The next thing I remember is hearing someone humming. I woke with my head in a woman’s lap. She was probably the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I say that, but I couldn’t describe her if I tried. When she realized I was awake, she introduced herself as the Goddess Chesed. Then she told me that because I had chosen to sacrifice my life to save someone else, she was giving me a choice. Either I could continue into the afterlife, or she could send me back to my mortal life with a gift. I chose to return to life. The gift she gave me was the power to heal.”
Rae looked at her friends again. “That is how all healers are created. Each one makes the knowing and willing sacrifice of their own life in order to save someone else.”
“Is this healing power how you were able to save me?” Gio asked cautiously.
Rae nodded. “Yes.”
“Rae, you…” Ada seemed at a loss for words as she knelt down in front of Rae. “You are a little fool.”
Rae couldn’t help the teary laugh. “I’ve been called that before.”
“Well, you don’t have to always make so many sacrifices, you know,” Tino informed her a bit curtly. “We can and are able to help you. Let us.”
“No buts. We could catch this illness, sure,” Berta interrupted. “But, we could catch it just breathing the air of this city right now.”
Gio knelt next to Rae. “Please, Rae.”
She met his eyes and saw a hint of steel in them. He may have said please, but he wasn’t asking.
“I don’t care if you’re human or not,” Gio continued. “You saved my life. Let me return the favor and help you save others.”
“I don’t really care about magic or no either,” Luca agreed with a shrug. “You still saved Gio’s life. So, I still owe you that.” Those hazel eyes met hers. “Besides, you are our only hope of surviving this.”
Rae looked at each in surprise then at her other four friends. “You’re not going to give me a choice, are you?”
As one, they shook their heads. As if emphasizing the insistence on helping her, Berta pulled a bag of nuts out of her apron pocket for Rae to eat.
Sighing, Rae accepted the inevitable and the snack. “Have it your way.”
With that all of them went inside to deal with the aftermath of her loss of power. Silas wasn’t the only one who had only been kept alive by regular use of her magic. Now there wasn’t enough power in her to save any of them. With a heavy heart, Rae and her friends began doing what they could to help those still alive and tend to the dead.