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Final Refuge

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Part 2

The healer sat in the comfortable solitude of his room, leafing through several books. He’d chosen a spot beside the window, making use of the dull light that spilled in as rain tapped and drizzled against the glass panes in lazy, intermittent drops. An oil-burning lamp sat close by, its light growing more prevalent as the world outside dimmed. Every surface around him was utilized in his work, open books surrounding him, flipped to specific pages for quick reference as the healer moved through them all, looking for answers and ideas.

For all his searching he could find nothing to equate his current observations to, though many came very close. Always, though, some larger detail did not quite match up; some symptom or cause that simply did not align. It’d been his focus for hours and now his mind could take no more of text on paper, despite him still being at a loss. With a sigh he gazed out the window, resting his chin on his hand as he considered the damp world beyond the glass.

Obviously what he needed was not to be found in books. There had to be more out there he needed to experience, more to witness and study. The healer rose from his seat, repacked his bag, and left his room for the second time that day. He didn’t know exactly what he intended to do, but his restless spirit told him he could not remain cooped up for much longer.

Voices rose from the tavern below as he descended the stairs. Sabbis and Carmyle were playing darts against the far wall. The rahkanna’s ears swiveled at the sound of the healer’s arrival and Sabbis turned to regard him with calculating intent.

“Found anything interesting yet?” The question came from Carmyle. She didn’t bother to remove her gaze from the dartboard as she addressed him, taking a moment to measure her shot before throwing her dart. Its landing won a frown.

“Nothing helpful,” Mateo admitted, hand tapping against his medical bag. “I was about to head back out to see if I could get any more information.”

“You want to stay and play a round first?” Sabbis asked, his tone curt but his offer welcoming.

“I really should go while it’s still light out.”

“Fine, but it’s not as if they’ll want to see a healer who can’t help them,” the cat-man grumbled, turning his attention back to the game. “Be sure you tell them you’re just there to make notes while they die. I’m sure they’ll love the company then.”

Mateo’s lips pressed into thin lines as he tightened his hold on his pack. Carmyle swatted the rahkanna’s arm and Mateo heard her murmur a scolding “He’s trying, you twit,” followed by a distinctive hiss from Sabbis before the cat threw his own dart. It landed much more on point than Carmyle’s attempt.

“Well, don’t work yourself sick out there.” Carmyle looked over her shoulder, casting Mateo a wink. The figure of speech might not have been in good taste, but he acknowledged her with a nod and she turned back to her game as he left the tavern.

The healer tugged at the strap of his pack as he walked through empty streets, rain tapping against his head and shoulders. Sabbis’ harsh words repeated in his mind, nagging him, but he couldn’t argue that the rahkanna was wrong. Regardless, the statement had been unnecessary. Cruel, even. He needed to do this work, it was what he was here for. But Sabbis had unwittingly echoed thoughts that kept sidling into his mind while over at Panella’s – there was not much he could do for those already so far gone, and it was a concern that his presence would bring empty hope to those well beyond his reach. Still, that didn’t mean he should simply do nothing. Learn and move forward, this was Gah’lia’s way. The more information he collected now, the more lives he had the potential to save in the days and weeks to come. He let out a sigh and continued on to try a few more homes.

He made several stops as the day darkened into evening. Some homes were not yet afflicted and he asked question after question about the household’s day-to-day life: Where were they getting their water from, what were they eating, were they taking any supplemental herbs or remedies, did they leave the house, what precautions were they taking, so on and so forth. Several other places he visited either recently lost or were in the process of losing family members. He asked those if he may enter and gather information. Some turned him away, few others allowed him in, but overall what he found there was more the same.

Some houses were simply silent. He made note of those, too.

It was dark by the time he returned to the tavern, the air thick and damp with the promise of more rain to come. Barnen was standing reliably behind the counter as he entered but Mateo caught no glimpse of Sabbis or Carmyle.

“Have they gone to bed already?” he asked. The rotund owner gave a nod.

“Carmyle bought you something when you left.” Barnen drew a bottle and glass from the shelf behind him. Mateo approached the counter as the man poured a bit of wine. “Said it was to help you unwind and maybe pay you back for her companion’s loose tongue.”

“Oh,” the healer’s brow furrowed as Barnen slid him the drink. He took the glass and sloshed the red liquid in it quizzically. “I suppose I should thank her for that,” he mumbled. The gesture was… thoughtful? Playful? She seemed to be making greater efforts in her attempts to connect with him. Perhaps he could make time to speak with her. He gave Barnen a nod and took the glass upstairs as he ascended for the night.

The only light still offered by the window was in the form of the lamp’s reflection, but Mateo did not feel like moving his chair and table as he sifted through notes. Outside the sky had opened and rain was pouring again. The clouds overhead flashed and growled, their aggression soft but smothering. He tapped his pen against the half-filled page and squeezed his lower lip in idle thought. He was trying to come up with a list of other approaches or details to check – things that didn’t involve simply hovering around sick people in beds.

He wanted to learn more about the town’s water source and find out what they were doing with the bodies of the dead. Perhaps get information on any trade goods or food brought in before the plague first hit. Anything to give him an idea of where it all started. Setting his pen down, he reached for his wine, taking a sip as his eyes remained fixed on the paper, only partially seeing what was written as he thought.

Lightning flickered outside. Mateo’s attention turned to the silence before the thunder. It was such a powerful thing, no different than any other silence would be, but the weight of anticipation gave it so much more strength. It was interesting, he thought, how a lack of action, a lack of sound, could somehow be measured as different from another lack of when taking into consideration that which came immediately before and that which was expected to come immediately after that beat of nothingness. Like a set of empty jars, each uniquely defined by their own identical vacuity.

The sky rumbled its low growl. Wood creaked from beyond his closed room door. Mateo frowned, turning to the sound. It was not the typical noise of wood settling but more like a footstep. Perhaps Sabbis or Carmyle was up and moving. The healer set his drink down and returned to his notes.

Again lightning flashed, followed shortly by the soft roll of thunder. Then a deafening bang. Mateo nearly threw his book in his start, letting out a surprised cry. His door rattled and bowed in, as though struck with great force. Then it did nothing more, sitting innocently in its frame.

Cautiously he closed his journal, eyes fixed on his room door as he stood. Walking timidly to it, he halted before the structure, uncertain. It looked perfectly still and untouched. He reached out and took the knob, turning and opening it slowly.

The hallway beyond his room was dark, the lanterns that hung on the walls blown out for the night. Mateo looked up and down the corridor but no one was present. There was nothing that could have fallen against the door and no feeling of a draft or change in the air that would cause it to heave. He could find no clue of what would have made the door shudder and bang as it had. With a frown, he shut himself back in his room, returning to his book and table.

The moment as a trick of his mind, he reasoned, perhaps a brief spell brought on by the wine or storm disturbing his late-night focus. He struggled for a bit longer to resume his research, but finally dimmed his lamp and retired.

That night Mateo slept a bit more soundly, though his dreams were full of dark rooms and wheezing figures. He was surrounded by stacks of paper, fixated on leafing through notes in search of a puzzle piece he knew was present somewhere within the mess. All the while he could hear the ragged breathing of something unseen all too clearly, as though it were right in his ear – an intrusive noise that he could not shut out no matter how hard he tried. The sound annoyed him, upset him, kept him anxious as he hunted through page after page and book after book. Worms fell onto his desk and he brushed them aside. His hands were covered in mud and dirt and he frowned. They kept leaving smears on his notes, blotting ink and covering words he knew he needed. He was frustrated, trying in his dream state to will them clean and clear again. All the while the wheezing grew closer. Louder.

It was past noon by the time he awoke. Mateo scolded himself for losing the whole morning, an uncharacteristic turn for him. With a grumble he rolled out of bed, dressed, and headed downstairs to begin his late day.

“Did you hear anything odd last night?” the healer asked the only two other patrons to the Wayward as they sat sharing a plate of toast. Barnen was dutifully behind the counter, looking as though he were about to doze off, but perked up as Mateo joined the small group.

“Like what?” Carmyle looked up, mouth full as she spoke. Sabbis leaned back in his chair. He acknowledged the healer but said nothing to engage his question.

“Just a loud… like a loud bang, I think? I thought I heard one late last night while I was reading.”

“You know there was a storm going, yes?” Sabbis asked, a subtle impatience in his voice. The cat seemed perpetually grumpy, his attitude reliably snide whenever they spoke.

“Yes, I know there was a storm,” Mateo responded with his own dismissive impatience. “I was awake for it. But the thunder was soft, this was a much louder bang.”

Carmyle shrugged. “Sorry, half the time I can’t hear anything over Sabbis’ snoring,” she grinned. Sabbis huffed but did not argue. “What was the bang like?”

“Nothing. It was nothing,” Mateo dismissed her question quickly. “It was late, probably just a trick of my mind. I just wanted to see if anyone else had heard anything, but if not then I guess that’s all there is to it.” He resumed his march to the door, mind set on returning to Panella’s, but paused and pursed his lips in brief thought. “Um, thank you,” he added, looking back to Carmyle. She lifted an eyebrow at him. “For the drink you bought me yesterday.”

“Oh!” A broad smile returned to her face. She leaned back in her chair, looking up at Mateo. “Yeah, I remember doing that. You should join me for the next one.”

He shrugged, gave his head a little tilt, then nodded. “Alright, yes.”

“Wonderful,” Carmyle approved with a smirk. “Well, I’ll see you later, then! Go save lives. Eat some toast.” She grabbed an untouched slice from their plate and offered it up to him. Mateo lingered hesitantly before he took the offering and continued on, giving the duo another nod as he went.

He made his way through the quiet town and back to Panella’s, the cobblestone still wet beneath his feet. Arriving he stopped outside, pausing in the street to consider the building neighboring it. He’d tried that one before but it’d given him no answer. Its windows were dark and empty. He thought of asking Panella about her neighbors, see if she could tell him anything about them, but he did not imagine she’d have much information, considering how preoccupied she’d been with her own household’s misfortunes. Besides, given the stillness of the house, there was no way any news she did have could be good. Perhaps it would be best to spare her recalling any more troubling details.

He turned his attention back to her front door and lifted his hand. His knuckles struck with gentle firmness. Perhaps he would ask, just in passing. He would not pry, but after all, any information he could get was valuable.

Something flickered at the corner of his gaze. He turned back to the lightless windows of the empty building. Nothing looked different about it. He narrowed his eyes at the glass panes, as though the act would somehow help him pierce through both darkness and the reflected glare of the gray sky above. It did not. This was probably still his mind playing tricks on him.

Another motion teased at the edge of his sight. Mateo turned his head back as Panella opened the door. A look of recognition passed over the woman’s tired eyes and she mustered a sad smile. She looked even more dejected than the day before.

“Afternoon, sarei,” her voice lacked strength as she greeted him.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” He gave a polite nod. “I just wanted to come back and check in on Toby today.”

“Ah, yes...” Panella’s eyes moved downward. “Yes, of course you would be. I’m afraid he passed last night.”

“Oh.” This did not surprise him. Still, he felt he should offer her something, anything other than his dispassionate acknowledgment. “My condolences.”

Panella barely shrugged, her attention still downcast. “So, there is that, sarei. Is there anything else we can help you with?”

“Um, actually,” Mateo hesitated, his mouth pressing into a thin line as he weighed his next question. There was no tactful way to ask it. “Would I perhaps be able to look at the body?”

Panella drew in a deep breath, blinking as she brushed a hand beneath reddening eyes. “Ah, I’m afraid the body’s already been collected this morning, sarei. Saia wasn’t going to do well with us keeping him around for much longer, you understand. You’ll perhaps want to go visit the morgue at the south end of town for any of that.”

“Yes, of course,” Mateo nodded, perhaps too quickly. “Thank you, um… for that, ma’am.”

“I should be getting back to my sister now, sarei.” Panella excused, withdrawing. Mateo put up no objection as she stepped back into the house and closed the door.

The healer let out a long breath, shoulders slumping. He felt a little too aware of the fact that he was more accustomed to clinical note-taking than sympathetic conversation. Mateo cast another look at the neighboring home as he turned to go. It hadn’t felt proper, asking Panella any more questions for the day. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a few days.

Or, he thought as he considered the dark windows, or maybe he could just try and take a closer look. Mateo gave the strap of his pack a self-assuring squeeze before he stepped off Panella’s doorstep and headed over to the silent house.

He knocked on the still door, despite knowing what outcome that brought. Not doing so felt impolite. He knocked and then he waited what he felt was the appropriate amount of time when expecting a response. None came, of course, and he heard no noises from within. With caution, he gripped the doorknob. It felt wrong. It felt like trespassing. He hesitated. There was no reason to feel this way, he reasoned. No one was there to disturb and he was only interested in taking a brief look around. He tried giving the knob a twist. It did not budge.

Mateo felt a wind of relief as the decision was made for him. He could always ask about who in the city still owned the property – if he needed to speak to the Dosalda bank or if there was a business who oversaw real estate. Obviously, he chided himself for not thinking of this before, there were proper ways to go about getting information even on this. He let go of the knob and turned, stepping away from the door and back into the street. He should head toward the morgue as Panella had recommended. Perhaps the final state of the bodies could tell him something more.

A noise came from behind him. A low, drawn-out creak. Mateo stopped. He glanced over his shoulder, looking back at the still house. The front door stood partially ajar, yawning darkness visible beyond it. Mateo frowned. His brow creased. He had just tried the door, there was no way it should be open now.

The healer turned fully back around and looked about, as though he could find the answer in the empty streets or within the stone masonry of the building. Was his mind playing more tricks on him? Like the loud bang on his door in the night? Or perhaps the knob was just stuck and he’d jostled the door open. Or the door frame was crooked and fit poorly, causing the door to jam one second and swing open freely the next. All these possibilities ran through his mind as the healer searched for reason and logic in them. He took a few cautious steps toward the dark, empty house.

“Hello?” he called to the darkness. He was standing at the threshold now, trying to peer in. The healer took the doorknob again, twisting it in his hand. It turned just fine. He frowned all the more and looked into the dim home. The air inside was stale and musty but lacked the smell of sickness that had been present at Panella’s. He opened the door wider, allowing more of the day’s light to shine in.

All that he could see of the home was the main room that greeted him. One uncovered window did what it could to shed light into the abandoned area. Against the far wall stood a large shelf filled with dusty trinkets and books, an unlit oil lamp hanging beside it. A table and matching set of chairs sat upon a thick woven rug off to the side, all painted white. They brought a cozy charm to the room that felt out of place in the stillness. Across from where he stood, a dark hallway pushed deeper into the silent home. No light from either door nor window pierced its shadows.

Mateo hesitated to step inside; partially due to the guilty sense of trespassing, partially due to the worry that the issue with the doorknob would be reoccurring and he would find himself stuck within this empty place. Still, he wasn’t leaving either, and it was only a moment longer before curiosity got the better of him. He placed his heavy pack against the open front door, giving it a few testing pulls and shoves before he was satisfied it would be enough to keep it from closing, and moved inside.

His first consideration was the oil lamp on the wall. A sloshing from within its font promised a ward against the darkness, and Mateo looked about for matches, finding a small box conveniently nearby. Both treasures in hand, he retreated back to the front door.

A small glint from deep within the dark hallway caught his attention as he stepped by it. Mateo paused, peering down into the inky blackness. Two pinpoints of white reflected back at him. Likely the light from outside catching a mirror or another set of oil lamps on the far wall, he assumed, something he would not have noticed before his eyes had time to adjust to the dimmer indoors. Turning his back on the dark corridor, he resumed his path to the front door, his attention focused on the object in his hands as he checked the wick.

A noise rose behind him – a soft but fast rhythm, growing quickly louder. A thumping. Mateo turned to look, more confused than alarmed. Those glinting lights were bobbing now, jittering in the darkness, keeping time with the thumps. Not thumps, footsteps. Running.

The oil lamp flung from his hand as Mateo hurled it at the darkness in a moment of start. It collided against something with a thunk, then clattered to the floor. The approaching footsteps bore down harder.

He had just enough sense of mind to grab his pack before charging out the front door. It slammed shut behind him with a loud bang, the sound a little too familiar. Mateo tripped, stumbled, and hit the cobblestone hard, tumbling to a stop, dazed and a bit scratched but otherwise fine. He sat sorely up, breathing heavily as he stared wide-eyed at the closed-up building.

His mind reeled. What had just happened? Part of him wanted to try the door again, as though whether or not the knob would turn could offer definite proof of what was real and what was his senses toying with him. More rationally he theorized he should head back to the Wayward. Clearly he was troubled – jarred even. The healer pushed himself to his feet, hands and legs trembling more than he’d realized, brushed himself off, and staggered back to the inn, jumpy and anxious.

“You look like you’ve been rolling in the streets,” Sabbis drawled in greeting as Mateo entered.

“No thank you,” was the healer’s only response as he walked past the rahkanna and Barnen, heading up the stairs and to his room. The two exchanged a look but did not try again to engage as he vanished above them.

Mateo threw the door to his room open, moving quickly inside. It slammed behind him louder than he’d intended but he did not have the sense of mind to care. His pack dropped to the ground. He drug himself to the edge of his bed, sank down upon it, and fished his holy symbol from his pocket. His hands shook as he held it.

“I hope this is not some part of the illness already,” he heard himself say, not knowing if he’d meant to think the words or speak them. Nothing in his notes mentioned hallucinations. The healer sniffed. His eyes were burning. He hadn’t noticed that until now. Had he been crying when he entered the Wayward? The stress of the town, of his work, it was all getting to him. As much as he wanted to be the calm, collected healer that could focus and remain unfazed, he was not. He was quickly finding his nerves frayed and fragile. He rubbed at his eyes, drawing in a quivering breath.

“Gah’lia, help me. I wish I knew how to handle this,” he admitted to his symbol. It was only his second day here. He didn’t want to feel like he was in over his head, like it was all too much for him, like he had made a mistake leaving. He rubbed his thumbs firmly over the symbol, focusing on the smooth texture of it in his grip.

His crying had stopped already but as brief as it was it left him feeling unresolved and foolish. He let out a sigh. He was exhausted but there was still so much to do. He should head back out, check out the morgue and perhaps stop by a few other houses. For the moment, though, he just wanted to rest. It’s wasn’t as though the town was going anywhere.

Mateo tucked the symbol back into his pocket and laid down. Perhaps a small nap and then he would get back to work.


“Tell me about Gah’lia.”

Carmyle sat across from Mateo, her chin propped on one hand as the other lazily swiveled a bottle on the wooden tabletop. It had been much later in the day when Mateo awoke from his nap, already growing dark out, and despite some annoyance at himself, the healer had decided against heading back out for the night. Instead he’d been convinced into sharing a drink with Carmyle after she’d come by to check on him.

“Sabbis said you looked like a mess,” she’d told him when he’d answered his room door. The woman had then eyed him up and down, her expression unimpressed. “Guess he was right.”

Shortly after that, the healer had cleaned up and now they were both downstairs at a small table tucked against the wall. Barnen was across the area from them dutifully attending the counter that no outside patron would be coming in to visit. Carmyle took a drink from her bottle, watching Mateo through rich brown eyes flecked with light forest green.

“You’re from Her temple, right?” she prodded, following her previous question. “Why don’t you tell me what’s so great about Her?” The woman sounded bored, tired perhaps, but her attention was undivided.

Mateo let out a low breath, staring at his hands as he fidgeted and tapped his own bottle. “I’m not entirely certain where to start,” he admitted. Most people did not ask him this. Her question put him on the spot.

“What makes Her so much better than Omed’ra?” Carmyle pressed, a smirk playing at the edge of her mouth. Mateo felt baited, though to what purpose he was not yet certain.

“Gah’lia is...” He hesitated, mulling over his words. Religion was a topic that could quickly get out of hand and he was not keen on souring the only acquaintances he had in this quarantine. Sabbis was bad enough already, and the healer didn’t even know if he’d actually done anything to offend the rahkanna in the first place. “Well, She is compassionate and supportive.”

“And Omed’ra isn’t?” Carmyle asked, taking a drink from her bottle. Though her posture remained lax, her eyes betrayed the look of someone who fully and eagerly understood what she was trying to start.

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you follow Her over Him.”

Mateo drew back to give the woman a tight-lipped grimace, trying to measure her aim. Did she want a fight? Was she just bored? “I’m not certain I want to have this conversation with you.”

“Please? Come on!” Carmyle’s eyes lit up all the more, her expression one of eagerness and excitement. “I’ve heard rumors about followers of Gah’lia, but you’re the first I’ve ever met. I am dying to hear what you have to say. Look,” she leaned back in her chair, holding her arms wide in offering. “Pretend you could convert me. Tell me what they told you at the temple. Tell me all the things no one will say because they’re afraid the Sun will send beasts after them or burn them away or something.”

The healer drew in a deep breath. The desire to speak plainly was there, and she did sound earnest in her fascination, even if her interest was sparked from morbid amusement. He took a long pull from his bottle, the ale bolstering his nerves.

“Omed’ra is an absent and egotistical overlord who cares more about blind devotion than the advancements and betterment of people worldwide.”

“Yes!” Carmyle whooped in success, slapping her hands together. She barked out a laugh, her chair tipping back, but her leg hooked around the table kept her balanced. “There it is! That’s amazing!”

“I’m being serious,” Mateo retorted, uncertain if he should be more offended or encouraged by her delight.

“I know you are!” Carmyle said, pitching forward. The legs of her chair hit the ground with a solid thunk. “That’s why I love it so much! It’s bold! It’s fearless! It’s practically blasphemy!”

“No, see, that’s-” Mateo sighed, raking fingers through his long hair. “That’s literally what I’m talking about. He demands so much unquestioning obedience from people that just saying, let alone thinking something to the contrary can get labeled as an attack rather than an observation!”

“I mean, those words were pretty loaded,” Carmyle smirked. “It’s not like you were looking for the polite way to get your point across.”

“Maybe, but that has only come from lifetimes of written accounts and experiences,” the healer countered. “If He would actually do anything that made a real difference in the world, then perhaps His expectations of us would be seen as more reasonable!”

“Oh yeah, a ‘real’ difference,” Carmyle agreed in jest. “I mean, He only made, like-” she raised an arm, gesturing around them in bored display, “-everything here.”

“No. No, He did not!” Mateo tapped a finger defiantly on the table, punctuating each word. “He didn’t make this table! Or these chairs! Or this inn! He didn’t form this bottle or brew this alcohol or any of those things! Sure, He laid out the base of everything, but after that?” He shook his bottle, a few drops splattering from it. “All of our advancements and societal changes and progressions into medicine and invention and understanding came from us! And if Omed’ra had His way, we’d all be sitting around praying for these things to be dropped from the sky for us instead of going out and finding out how to make them and learn them and advance them ourselves. Gah’lia wants us to move forward, to not have to rely on Her for all of our accomplishments and prosperity.”

“So why even follow Her at all?” Carmyle watched Mateo with deep interest, resting her cheek on her hand. She seemed to enjoy his worked-up state. “Why follow a Goddess who won’t even give you anything and expects you to get it all yourself? What even is the point of Her, then?”

“She protects our interests. She protects the knowledge we gather.” Mateo paused for another pull of his drink, his head warm and loose. “Gah’lia’s temples are libraries. She guards our works against loss, against fire, against the wear of time. She makes certain it’s all preserved for future scholars and priests to go through and add to and learn from and build upon.”

“She’ll make certain the works are preserved but not the people, then.”

“What?” Mateo’s brow furrowed. Carmyle regarded him with wide eyes before she took another drink herself.

“What I mean is, She won’t even stop a plague. Think about if this illness had hit your temple, right?” She set her bottle down and leaned forward, her form crouched over the table as she grinned up at Mateo. “Gah’lia’s gonna let everyone die… But at least your books would still be good.” The woman drew back again and took another long pull, letting out a post-drink sigh of satisfaction. “So in that way, it still sounds to me that Gah’lia cares more about what you do than She actually cares about you.” Folding her arms, Carmyle kicked her legs up onto the table, red-brown leather boots thudding against the scuffed wood. Mateo drew back to make space for the sudden intrusion. “And Omed’ra seems similar enough if all He cares about is that you’re busy worshiping Him. Both care about services more than people.”

Mateo felt in his gut that the comparison was false but his mind was too clouded by the alcohol to argue it. Instead he managed the most clever of responses to her assertions:

“So?”

“So I just feel like we’re due a better option than gods who just want us spending our time doing things that make them happy,” Carmyle concluded, closing her eyes as she settled herself into a comfortable recline, chair balanced on its back two legs. “Someone who just goes ‘Hey, what do you want to do? Okay, wonderful. Here, now go do it.’”

“Well,” Mateo started, staring in partially drunken offense at the soles of her boots. “That’s just not how it works.” The healer stood with a grumble, pausing to steady himself as his balance wobbled. The floor beneath him was tilted and uneven, certainly not a matter that had been present earlier in the evening.

Carmyle acknowledged his statement with an unimpressed hum. She opened a lazy eye as she felt him move away. “Are you going to bed already? Again?”

“Well it’s too late to go out,” Mateo looked over at her, pausing in his amble toward the stairs. “And you got me drunk, anyway. I’m going to sleep this off.” He gestured at her lounged position. “You should do the same. In your bed. Where you won’t fall over.”

“It’s cute that you seem to care,” Carmyle responded with a grin. The healer sighed, openly vexed.

“Of course I care. I care about this whole damn town, I just can’t do anything for it,” he muttered, combing a hand through his hair as he turned toward the stairs again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Hey, thanks for joining me for the drink,” Carmyle called after him as he ascended. Mateo did not respond. “And the talk!” she called out louder. “You should get more worked up about things! It’s very becoming of you!” she shouted after him as he vanished from sight.

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