Marasa was feeling drained, too exhausted to sleep, and too exhausted to take Boren to bed, which she usually would have done. This whole night had been a bumpy ride, full of the ups and downs she had expected with healing patients. Somehow this one had been even more so, though. Nothing had been clear, knowing if something had worked or not, what processes would help and which would hinder. The uncertainty of her work was what had really pushed her this close to the edge.
She loved the exactness of the magic and science of healing and restoration. It was that, along with the final result of putting something together instead of tearing it apart, that appealed to her when she first started on this path. She had been through a lot when younger. Her parents had been involved in the war and told her of its horrors. Unsurprisingly, Haren had listened only to the hero stories that fascinated him. She had been repulsed by the senseless violence and slaughter that it brought. When King Borowyn had asked her to lead a fledgling clinic in the palace, she had jumped at the opportunity. Then over time, grown to love his calming demeanour and infallible rule. He, too, hated violence and did what he needed to do to prevent it. If that was the King’s only good trait, Marasa would have followed him wholeheartedly. But he was also a kind and caring ruler with strict but fair policies, did his best not to wrong anyone where possible, and kept the people safe from the nefarious.
Pravwell was the exception to the rule, but then every nation had its unsavoury element; Darf’s was Pravwell.
Marasa looked over at the bucket that contained Aarav and the swirling mixture that remained resolutely atop it. Of course, nothing had changed, not that she had expected anything.
The head healer allowed her thoughts to return to the matter of Pravwell, that cesspool of violence, debauchery and death. What could possess anyone to want to stay there? Why would everyone who didn’t belong there not try to leave and come to Brewyn? Maybe they don’t know there is something better? A giggle escaped her lips. “How can they not know?” It was public knowledge that Pravwell was the underbelly that Brewyn didn’t have, wasn’t it? No one spoke publicly about it, and the King rarely mentioned it, but it was known.
Before her thoughts spiralled too far, Marasa took a deep breath and let it out. She did that several times without allowing her focus to wander. Many years of this practice made her exceptionally good at it. She felt all her worries and thoughts melt away in that focus, leaving her clear and calm. She felt the thoughts trying to creep back from the edges, but it was easy to keep them at bay now.
With a clear mind, Marasa’s breathing slowed to that of sleep. She was out before he had formed another coherent thought.
Your Skill Intense Consolidate has increased to Level 28!
“Marasa, Marasa, wake up. Are you alright?” Marian’s voice came to her through a cloud of fog. “Marasa?”
“What? What happened!?” Marasa was bolt upright in a moment of disorientation before remembering that he was in her room in the clinic. Aarav’s bucket was still there, same as ever. “Oh, I must have slept through the day.”
“Yes, I came in and saw you in the morning and thought you must have stayed up all night. So I left you to it. But it is closing time for the lab, and I wanted to check on you since you have slept for over 8 hours now. I don’t think I have ever seen you sleep for that long at a stretch. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with you before I left. Also, the Slime in the bucket, I cleaned off the top fluid. I assume that was all the tries at healing him. But his volume keeps going down. The rate has stabilised as you suspected, but I kept marking the bucket at each hour anyway, just in case.” Marian finished. “You should go back to sleep, it is not going anywhere, and there is still a lot of time before he is all gone. Maybe you can work out something before then. I certainly have no idea.”
“No, I need to get up. I need to find a solution. You see that bucket over there? That is the only friend our Prince has managed to make that I know of. If I can’t save him, I am not sure what it will do to him. He already thinks he is cursed, and I don’t want anything else to happen that could push him over the edge.”
Marian just pursed her mouth in that no-nonsense way she did if she thought Marasa was talking utter rubbish. Then without saying another word to her superior, she started speaking under her breath and moved her hand to the bridge of Marasa’s nose. The head healer had no chance. Before the words had stopped flowing, Marasa was back to restful sleep with nary a care in the world.
Marian smiled at her handiwork as she walked away. “You’ll wake up when you’re meant to. Needs that rest, and perhaps an epiphany will strike while you’re sleeping! A couple of extra hours will not make a difference to our friend here, I shouldn’t think from the rate of his reduction, but it might make all the difference to you!”
Haemish strode into the clinic again about twelve hours after he had left. He really needed the rest and had come ready to try out a few more ideas that his dreaming self had thought up. “Marasa? Are you here? Are you awake?” Haemish called out. Not getting any reply, he walked in through the always open palace side entrance and looked around. He didn’t see the bucket or the woman anywhere.
“Master Haemish, she might be in her room? Maybe she is just keeping a watch on Aarav there?” Boren said, moving in front of the man and towards one of the adjoining rooms, clearly marked Marasa Brean, Head Healer.
Without preamble, he opened the door and strode in, followed closely by his new mentor. “Aunty Marasa? Are you here? Are you awake?”
“Marasa?” Haemish called and quickly realised it was a single room and Marasa was asleep on the bed, breathing but non-responsive. For a moment, Haemish hesitated, unsure if it was appropriate to be in the room when the woman was clearly asleep. They didn’t know each other well yet, and while Haemish hoped they would get to know each other better, this might be too bold a step.
“Boren, I’ll wait outside. Perhaps you can try to wake Marasa?” Haemish couldn’t stop the slight reddening of his cheeks as she saw the woman in front of him. A small whisper in his mind could help but notice the slight flush of her cheeks as she slept or the way his mouth was slightly open as she breathed. My goodness, I need to step out!
“Okay, Master Haemish!” Boren said, seemingly oblivious to the older man’s sudden discomfort. “Aunty Marasa! Wake up, Aunty!” Boren started gently, then more roughly, shaking the sleeping form of Marasa. Nothing seemed to work, and he looked around to see if there was anything he could use to help. His eyes fell on the bucket and what was undoubtedly his friend. “Aarav! Are you awake?” But as Boren approached the still form in the bucket, it was clear nothing had changed other than his reduction continuing at a steady pace. It was painful to see Aarav’s continually reducing mass, yet there was nothing he could do. What even was this? What could cause a living, breathing creature to devolve into something like this? It was like Aarav was reduced back to his essential elements again.
“Haemish! Master Haemish, what if we tried to add some of the mixtures that we made with Aarav’s Slime? Could some of those work? It can’t hurt, right? It would just be returning some of his material to him, right? Just like you did with the glass dishes.” Boren was clutching at straws, he knew, but it was the only thing he could think of, and if he didn’t try something soon, he would go crazy watching his friend just wither away.
“Well, it would be, but it is not stable yet, and we have yet to test it properly. It is also, as you say, the only other thing we have of Aarav’s that could make a difference. With Marasa still asleep, it is the only other thing I can think of.” Haemish said he feared that this might have detrimental effects on the Slime but what was the alternative? That they lost the Slime completely? They could always take samples towards the end of it looked like they would lose him forever, but until that time, it would be best to work on saving him.
It was time to head over to the lab.