I felt a warmth bloom in my chest as Mom opened her eyes. Her eyes darted around the room as she noticed all of us staring at her expectantly.
“Mom!” Charly shouted as he threw his arms around her neck. She instinctively flinched as His weight came down on her left arm, but her eyes went wide as she realized there was no pain.
As mom flexed her hand in awe, Lucia smiled at me and turned towards where my dad was thrown against the wall. Smoke billowed from his charred shirt. A small flame lit up in Lucia's hand as she slapped down on his chest. The man’s eyes popped open as he gasped for breath, clutching his chest.
“Tia, is she…?”
“Relax. Your heart just stopped for a few seconds. Take it slow. Your wife is fine. The treatment was a complete success.”
Dad looked down at the scorched shirt, still smoking from the arc of electricity that had traveled through his body. He blinked a few times at the sight before jumping up and dashing to Tia’s side. Tears welled in his eyes, and his fingers bit into the side of the mattress as he saw her clear blue eyes devoid of anguish for the first time in so very long.
“Is it really true? Are you finally healed?”
“I… think so,” Mom replied as she hesitantly moved various parts of her body.
It felt like a mountain of weight was lifted from my shoulders as I saw her slowly sit up for the first time. I choked up, covering my mouth with my hand as I tried to push back the tears welling in my eyes.
“Thank you, Lucia. Thank you so very much,” I whispered softly.
Lucia raised an eyebrow as she watched me intently. “Well, that is certainly not something I ever expected to hear from you. I was just doing what we agreed. Just don’t forget that you owe me after this.” I nodded numbly, eliciting a laugh from Lucia. “In that case, I will leave you four alone to catch up. I am sure Sebastion is getting impatient to see me as well.”
With a wink and a wave, Lucia left the room. I turned back to my mom as she threw her legs over the side of the bed. Her knees shook as she tried to stand.
“Don’t try to force yourself,” Charly said with concern, “Your injuries might be healed, but your muscles will take some time to readjust.”
She brushed off Charly’s concern as she grit her teeth and forced her legs to stop shaking. Leaning against Dad’s shoulder, she rose up, wobbling only once before regaining her balance. “This isn’t my first near-death experience, Charly. You don’t need to coddle me.”
Charly bit his lip and nodded, causing Dad to start laughing with unrestrained joy. Beneath the laugh, I could hear the relief in his voice. “You never change, do you? It is ok if you need to rest a bit more.”
“I think I have rested enough for a lifetime,” Mom replied with a huff, “What I need is to hit something.” Mom paused, scrunching her nose. “I take that back. What I need first is a bath, and you as well. Why do you smell like smoke?”
Dad gave an embarrassed grin as he rubbed his chest. “Your treatment was a bit more… violent than we expected. It's a bit like when Charly was born, now that I think about it. Only, you are quite a bit stronger now.”
Mom placed a hand on his chest, running her finger across the charred burn mark. “Are you ok?”
Dad placed his hand over Mom’s and held it to his chest. “Fine, more than fine now that you are better. I would take a thousand shocks if it meant you could be healed.”
Mom smiled sweetly and leaned against his chest. She closed her eyes as she spoke. “Thank you, all of you. I really am blessed to have a family like this one.”
Dad draped his arm over her shoulder. The two of them stood there, holding each other in silence. Neither Charly or I was brave enough to interrupt them. After nearly a minute, Mom finally pulled herself out of the embrace. Her gentle demeanor flipped as she grabbed hold of Dad’s shirt collar and dragged him towards the door.
“That is about as much as I can stand of that stench. You are coming with me. After a bath, I will cook everyone a nice stew, and you all can fill me in on anything I missed since I last woke up.”
Charly and I stared at the vacant doorframe as Mom hauled Dad away. We shared a gaze before breaking down in laughter.
“It looks like she really is healed,” Charly said with an unrestrained smile. “Lucia is amazing. Even the best healers in the army could only stabilize her condition.”
I felt a kernel of pride bloom in my chest as Charly praised Lucia’s skill. I could not be happier than I was right now. The shadows that loomed over my head were gone. Lucia was revived, and Mom was healed. Even Envy’s imminent invasion could not dampen my mood. I swung an arm around Charly’s shoulder and laughed.
“Despite her carefree attitude, few are more knowledgeable of the human body than Lucia. She is one of the best healers in the entire Thirteen Divisions. If you want to improve, there is no better teacher.”
Charly’s face lit up with excitement. “Do you really think she will teach me?”
“Not for free… but I will convince her to give you some pointers.”
“I will pay anything!”
I quickly clasped my hand over Charly’s mouth. He looked at me with confusion as I peeked out the door to make sure Lucia was not nearby to hear what he had said, only giving a sigh of relief when I was sure the area was empty.
“Don’t say things like that,” I growled, “Lucia is kind. She will help anyone who asks, but she has picked up more than a few of my bad habits over the years. Say something like that in front of her, and you will spend the next several decades as her errand boy if you’re lucky.”
Charly’s eyes widened as he also started looking around to ensure he hadn’t been heard. “Is it really that heavy a price?”
I bit my lip and avoided looking Charly in the eye as I spoke. “She… might think it’s a game.”
“Why?” Charly replied. The tone of his voice lowered several decibels. “Wren, why would she think it’s a game?”
I coughed to hide my discomfort. “When she was little, Lucia was extremely altruistic. She wanted to heal the world. It was adorable… but also very naïve. No matter how strong she is, there is a limit to what a single person can accomplish. So, I taught her to make deals with those who requested her help, to do the things she could not alone. I made it into a game… made it fun with challenges and goals. In retrospect, it might not have been the best way to handle it. Nowadays, you must be careful what you say around her, or she might just make you her next tally on the scoreboard.”
Charly’s eyes narrowed as he listened to my explanation. “You’re not telling me everything.”
“Well… I might have also helped her create a technique that lets her enforce her deals. It is a rather devious variation of her healing talent. I don’t think she would use it on you since you’re my brother, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Just watch what you agree to around her, ok?”
Charly nodded with a frown. “Alright, I will.”
The smell of cooked meat bubbling in the pot was mouthwatering. I could barely remember the last time I tasted Mom’s stew, and it only promised to be better thanks to a large portion of the bear Lucia brought back.
Dad’s eyes were focused on the task before him as he carefully chopped the vegetables Charly and I cleaned and peeled. It was a simple, mundane moment. To any other person, it might have been boring. A few months ago, I would have thought it was boring, but now that had all changed. Just being able to spend this moment next to Mom, with the rest of my family, was more than enough to bring a smile to my face.
The four of us talked, joked, and laughed as we gathered around the bubbling pot. The noise and, more likely, the smell of the roasted meat drew the others in Dragon’s Nest, and before long, our group of four had grown to fifteen. More meat was added to the pot as everyone chipped in to help, though Cyra and Mom did most of the actual cooking.
Svend brought out a barrel of ale he “rescued” from a destroyed building in Ater-Albus, and without much prompting, our little family dinner became an official celebration of Lucia’s rebirth and Mom’s recovery.
I would like to say I was the calm and composed voice of reason throughout but it would be a lie. Between tricking Svend into challenging Vissna to a drinking contest and helping Mare steal most of Sebastion’s food, I was far from the most responsible. Honestly, we were lucky only one fight broke out after Donte got his hand on some of the ale and drunkenly challenged Mare to a duel. It was a short duel, only lasting a single move. After which, Mare dragged the unconscious Donte away for “adjustments”.
Afterward, Lucia found a deck of cards from somewhere and challenged everyone to a game. Sebastion and I tried to warn the others, but our words fell on deaf ears. By the night's end, Lucia had successfully won most of Vissna’s gold, four dubious favors, and most of Sebastion’s clothes. The last of which I am convinced he lost on purpose. I had never been more annoyed at teaching her how to play than I was watching Sebastion run around in his underwear. It was even more frustrating knowing that I was the one who taught her how to use her talent to cheat undetected.
In the end, though, it was a night I would not trade for all the treasures in the world. Because, at this moment, I was truly happy.