The next person she went to see was Luca. She debated on the wisdom of saving him for last. It hadn’t occurred to her until outside his bar that she dreaded saying good bye to him the most. Now why was that? She wondered as she stepped inside.
Luca sat in the far back corner, quietly observing everything. She could feel the impact of his attention when he saw her.
Rae hesitated before leaving again. She couldn’t do it. There was no way she could look Luca in the eyes and say good-bye. At least, not without telling him what she was going to do, which would only lead to an argument she couldn’t let him win.
Since he had seen her and would now be aware something was wrong, she ran. For her plan to work she had to be in the center of the city. It was the only way to reach everyone.
Could she even do this? It wasn’t like she’d received any instructions. Just the knowledge that it was possible. She slowed down. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. What if she tried only to fail? That failure could mean she wouldn’t be able to help anyone else.
Looking up she saw the Temple of Chesed and smiled. The center of Corthira was her goddess’s temple. If that wasn’t a good sign she was on the right path, she didn’t know what was.
Hurrying inside, she froze when she saw Mirko kneeling in front of Chesed’s statue.
He turned, standing when he saw her. “Rae?”
“Hello, Mirko. Praying for your soul?” She couldn’t help the sharpness to her tone.
“No. For the dead.” He met her angry gaze with calm.
“They wouldn’t be dead if not for you.”
“It’s the only way.”
“No, it isn’t,” she shouted. “The Cavosian overlords are requesting King Leone change the laws in exchange for their help.”
“Which wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t done what I did,” he pointed out.
“It doesn’t matter why you did it. We are healers.” Her eyes stung, and her lungs burned. How could she make him understand? “We’re supposed to save them all.”
“You believe the humans deserve saving?” he demanded. “After killing hundreds of us? The world doesn’t work that way, Rae. Being kind isn’t enough. Being willing to die isn’t enough. If it was, the world wouldn’t be so broken.”
“It isn’t about deserve,” she managed calmly. “If the world teaches you about hatred. Teach them about kindness and love. It’s about, no matter what, being the good in the world. Because where there is good, there is magic. And if you become the good, then you become the magic.”
“Magic isn’t allowed in Vitali.”
“Not that kind of magic,” she answered. “It took me years to figure out what my mother meant when she told me that. I thought she meant that kind of magic also. But then raiders came to my village and I died to save someone else.” She looked down for a moment as memories flooded her. “Then I realized what magic she meant. It wasn’t power or a gift. She was talking about how the woman’s husband thanked me over and over again. She was talking about how that woman cried as she hugged me because I’d not only saved her but her unborn child. She was talking about those little things. I had done that without magic or power of any kind. I had made an everlasting impact on those two people. So much so that they vowed never to speak of the fact that I had died and come back to life in order to protect me. A vow they keep even now.”
Rae swallowed then looked back up at him. “And they aren’t all dying, Mirko. King Leone deports the ones arrested in Corthira.”
That gave him pause. “And what about the ones outside Corthira.”
“He’s trying, Mirko. But he can’t do anything if you kill them.”
“If they’re dead, then they can’t kill us.”
She sighed. “I won’t let you win.”
“You can’t stop me.”
Rae met looked at him with determination. “Yes. I can. There is a way to save them all.”
Mirko jerked with surprise then glowered. “All magic comes at a cost and you don’t have the power to pay this one.”
“I don’t need the power. Chesed will help me. As for price, I’ve paid it before.”
His eyes widened. “No. You can’t.”
“I can, and I will.” She allowed her power to begin to build as she sent a silent prayer to Chesed.
“Why? It will change nothing for anyone.”
“But it will change things.” She felt the Goddess answer with strength and saw the green glow on her own hands. “For those dying.”
“I’ll just make them sick again,” he warned her, sounding panicked.
“No, you won’t.” The new voice had them both turning to look at the door. Luca stood there, eyes blazing with a rare show of temper. “If she has to die, I’ll be damned if I’ll let it be in vain.”
“Luca…” Rae began.
“Don’t even start.” He looked at her. “You may be all forgiving and loving, but I’m not. He doesn’t get to win if...if we have to lose you for it. I don’t care what I have to do to see to it. At this point I’d make a deal with Chaos before letting him win.”
She felt her throat tighten with unshed tears.
Mirko looked at Luca with an unreadable expression. “And what do you think you can do?”
“I don’t have Rae’s gentle heart.” Luca drew a dagger almost casually. “I will feel no guilt about killing you.”
“Killing a healer comes at a high cost,” Mirko warned.
“I’ll pay it, gladly. Though, I doubt you’re the kind of healer the Lady Chesed expected you to be at this point.”
Insult crossed Mirko’s face. “You know nothing of being a healer.”
“You’re right. I couldn’t become one. Too selfish I guess.” Luca shrugged, unconcerned by this. “But, what does it say about you as a healer that I care more about Rae’s life than you?”
Mirko didn’t respond, but his eyes darted to Rae as she stood between them, glowing with a power just waiting to be released to save everyone while taking her.
Rae gave him a sad smile. “All life is sacred to Chesed, Mirko. That’s why she created healers. To help them all. To save them all. To love them all unconditionally.”
Mirko closed his eyes. Those words. It’s what her father told him when he asked why he became a physician. It was those words he repeated when he told Mirko why he was teaching him. Then again when he found out that Mirko wasn’t human.
He opened his eyes again to look at Rae. He thought about her willingness to risk her life even before all this to help an old man with his joint pain. He thought about how he’d been reborn and all that Chesed had told him in those few moments he’d been dead. He considered the sacrifice versus the cost.
“Your father would have been a Healer if the circumstances were right,” he told her.
Before she could reply, he was moving towards her.
“I didn’t trust him at first. Your father. He was a human. When he found out what I was, I panicked. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had the power to kill him if I needed to. Didn’t even consider it an option back then.” Reaching out he took her glowing hand. “It was before I was angry. To my surprise, he didn’t turn me in or even turn me away. He simply welcomed me. Then miracle of miracles, your mother didn’t even argue with him.”
His grip tightened, and she felt the pull of power. He kept his gaze on their joined hands.
“If I met him now, the thought of killing him would occur to me. I may have done so before giving him a chance to prove anything to me.”
The green glow began to travel from her to him. Panic rippled through her as she tried to pull away, but his grip was too strong.
“You’re right, you know. I’ve known the whole time that this wasn’t right. But if what I did saved the magi any sacrifice was worth it. Even if it made my soul black as Chaos.” His eyes met hers at last. The pain in them made her heart squeeze for him. “Healers will sacrifice anything for others. Our blood, tears, life, and even our very soul.”
Tears slipped down her face as she tried to pull away again. “Don’t.”
“It’s too late for me.” He reached out and brushed her tears away. “It’s been too late for a long time. With this, I give you a chance.”
“Mirko,” she pleaded. “No. Let me.”
He shook his head. “I would say I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused, but I’m still not.”
“Then why, Mirko?” She pulled again.
For perhaps the first time since meeting her, Mirko smiled at her. “Because you are a Healer to your core. I can put my faith in you. Save them for me, Rae.”
By now, Rae was no longer glowing at all. Mirko was. The green power filled him and the room. Still smiling, he let it loose.