As Ian walked up to the Southern Gate of Conncinnanta, several passersby cast concerned glances his direction. Who wouldn’t be worried by a person covered in cuts and gashes, especially with a blood-soaked cloth tied around his waist?
One young woman with dirty blond hair and pale green eyes emerged from the gates around the time Ian reached the bridge. She immediately spotted the blood-soaked cloth wrapped around his waist. Determination burned in her steady gaze as she beelined straight for him. Her garbs were very traditional for anyone focused on healing magic. Those gold embroidered white robes were standard for anyone in her proficiency.
With hurried steps, the woman stepped up to Ian and asked, “Excuse me. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you like me to heal you?”
For a moment, Ian blankly stared at the woman. A stranger offering help struck him as unusual. Such a thing had never happened to him back on Earth. Nevertheless, Gaelan mentioned that a day such as this might come and advised him to come up with an excuse to refuse healing. Since he had no better ideas, he went with the very cliché: “Thank you for the offer, but I would prefer to leave these wounds as a reminder of my failure in battle.”
“Oh, I see… are you sure about that? It looks pretty bad,” the woman asserted.
“Very sure,” Ian stubbornly replied. However, he thought, You have no idea how much I want you to heal me, woman… and I gave such a stupid answer too… I feel like a moron.
“If you say so…” the woman hesitantly said. Since Ian was rather firm, at least on the outside, the woman let him be, though she did shoot several concerned glances back at him until he was out of sight.
I need to hurry back to Gaelan’s house and get some of that medical salve he mentioned before… Ian thought as he limped onward. In hopes of keeping himself from passing out, he firmly gripped the shoulder straps of his backpack.
While passing through the Southern Gate, several of the guards stared at him. Some of them whispered with worried expressions and tones. One of them shifted his weight awkwardly as though hesitating on whether to offer assistance.
On his way past the Visitor Center, he noticed a familiar face in the alleyway to the left of it. Over the crate cradled in her arms, the person also happened to notice him. Seeing Ian’s dreadful appearance, Aria hastily set the crate down and sprinted over. Well, ran as quickly as one could while wearing a long skirt. When Ian saw her set down the box in order to run over, he felt a bit exasperated since he was in a hurry. On the other hand, it was nice to have someone worry about him like this.
“Are you okay? What happened?” Aria worriedly probed while examining all his body’s wounds. Aside from the major gashes on his hip and calf, he had sustained a few cuts in other places without realizing it, likely from when the hobgoblin yanked its spear from the tree during the battle.
“I’ll be fine. I was just unlucky enough to run into a stray hobgoblin while I was out,” Ian said. Slightly annoyed by the interruption, he stared at the ground and kicked the cobblestone street with his toe.
“A hobgoblin? You really are unlucky… Do you want me to take you to a healer?” Aria asked.
“Nah, I’ll head back to Gaelan’s house for now,” Ian replied.
“Why? That gash on your waist is really bad. Going to a healer would definitely be a better choice,” Aria asserted, leaning toward him with brows furrowed to emphasize her point.
For a moment, Ian remained silent. Mild irritation welled up within his heart, but Aria was not a person he wanted to be angry at. Also, he never knew when Dark Matter might affect his emotions, so he suppressed it like he had so many times before. Instead, he stared into the worried eyes of the young woman in front of him. Her eyes that had the same light brown color as grains of sand darted between his own eyes, trying to discern the truth his well-being. How could he be mad at her sympathy?
“Haaah…” Ian sighed, “I’ll tell you later why I can’t see a healer. For now, I need to head back to Gaelan’s house.”
At Ian’s words, Aria scrunched her eyebrows in confusion. She frowned and replied, “Let me see if my coworker can cover for me. I’ll go with you.”
“Haaah… No thanks. I’ll be fine on my own. You have work.”
“No, I insist.” Aria firmly stated. “I’ll bring you to my house instead since it’s closer.”
“Uh, oka-” Ian tried to say, but Aria had already turned to run back to the Visitor Center without waiting for a response. “Haaah… ouch…” Once again, Ian tried to sigh, but it really irritated his wound whenever he did so. Realizing this made him want to sigh even more, but he refrained from doing so out of self-preservation. This was turning out to be a long day…
Grunting due to the pain in both his left abdomen and left calf, Ian waited for Aria to return. Based on her uncharacteristically insistent attitude just now, she would probably return in no time at all.
A minute later, she slammed open the front door, hurried over, and remarked, “Good thing you didn’t die on me.”
“Huh? That’s pretty dark. Don’t worry, I won’t die… probably.”
“Uh-huh…” Aria replied, unconvinced. Still, she led the way down the main road that led to the Marlows’ home. Along the way, she glanced down at Ian’s bloody abdomen and asked, “Why can’t you go to a healer?”
“Haaah… ouch. Because it won’t work on me,” Ian answered vaguely. Honestly, he did not feel like speaking as even those few words caused him a fair amount of pain.
Unexpectedly, Aria fell silent for several seconds, and her face scrunched up.
Noticing her strange reaction, Ian asked, “Is that unusual?”
“…Yes. Are you going to explain the reason healing magic won’t work on you?” She asked, voice laced with anxiousness.
“It hurts to talk, you know…”
The two fell silent. Awkward stomach butterflies made Ian feel like he said something wrong. After mulling it over, he commented, “Seems like it bothers you for some reason.”
Aria blinked a few times as though unsure of how to respond.
Despite the pain in his side, Ian did not want to leave any room for misunderstanding and asked, “Gaelan once told me a lot of Daemonkin can’t receive healing either. Is it because of that?”
She hesitantly nodded.
“Huh. I guess his warnings to keep it a secret were on the mark, then, if even a friend could become suspicious.”
“So… you are human, right?”
“If I’m not, then my parents certainly have some explaining to do,” Ian replied, hoping humor would ease her concerns. However, he thought, Not that I’d go out of my way to speak to them.
Aria snorted at the unexpected comment but shortly reverted to a reserved demeanor. Again, awkward silence hung over them like a cobweb. The unusual atmosphere did not disappear until she confessed, “Sorry if I came across as rude. It’s just… well, both my father and grandfather died in the war when I was younger. The moment we heard about it was… rather traumatizing. I really do apologize if my reaction annoyed you…”
“Don’t worry. It’s a completely understandable reaction,” Ian replied, falling deep into thought. The sudden revelation caught him off guard and cemented the need for discrepancy when deciding to tell others that healing magic did not work on him.
For a while, they silently continued down the road until Aria tried to break the awkward air by saying, “Normally, I wouldn’t notice anything like this, but it’s rather uncomfortable having so many eyes on us.”
In response, Ian nodded, but he was starting to feel slightly dizzy. Had he lost enough blood to feel lightheaded?
“Are you okay?” Aria asked, “You look really pale.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Ian replied, craning his neck to look at her. “I’ve never had an injury like this, so I have no idea.”
“Oh…” Aria moved her gaze between Ian’s face and the wound on his side. “Well, we should be there soon. Actually, I was going to show you where my house was before all this in case you ever needed to contact me but forgot to do so. I suppose now would be as good a time as any.”
“Ah, right. You did mention that before,” Ian muttered, “I don’t mind as long as we hurry to apply whatever medicine you have. I have stuff at Gaelan’s place that will help with the pain.”
“Oh, I see. My house is about halfway between here and there, so it isn’t out of the way,” Aria said. Although she did not realize it, a pleased smile spread across her lips. Ian did not notice either since he was looking straight ahead while thinking about how much he needed medical attention. Weakness penetrated his muscles a while back. Who knew how much longer he could maintain consciousness?
The two continued down the street in silence, save for a few pained grunts on Ian’s part, all the while drawing curious and worried glances from those passing. Ian’s leg injury prevented them from traveling as fast as they would have liked, but, eventually, they reached the road which marked the end of the market district and the start of the residential district. Several dirt paths branched off from the main road leading to groups of houses. Just before one of the dirt paths on their right, Aria pointed toward a street corner where a large oak tree towered over its surroundings.
“See that tree there? It’s the biggest one around here, and my house is at the end of that path,” she explained while pointing it out.
“I’ve seen it before while passing through here. Always thought it weird that such a huge tree would be allowed to grow so tall in a city like this,” Ian remarked, though more to himself than Aria.
From there, she led Ian down the dirt road past the oak tree to a group of small houses circling a quaint garden. An assortment of colorful flowers and shrubs grew around a small pond in the center. Little bubbles floated to the surface from small fish swimming near the bottom. A strange tree grew out of the water near the far bank. It looked similar to the thin vine-like trees Ian had seen in pictures of the Amazon River, but its bark radiated a bluish-green hue rather than brownish-green as found on Earth. Pink flowers similar to lotuses sprouted from its trunk and branches. A sweet aroma like honey and lemons wafted from them.
Noticing that Ian’s attention on the tree, Aria asked, “Have you never seen an Illotis Tree before?”
“Nope,” Ian instantly answered.
“Oh, I see. There are a few legends about it, but I can tell you about them some other time,” Aria said.
When Aria led him to the left of the small garden, Ian noticed a group of children playing nearby. One of the children noticed them and yelled, “Look, everyone! It’s Aria!”
Within seconds, all of them turned and shouted similar things as they dashed over.
“Aria’s back already!”
“Aria, play with us!”
“Sorry, Ian,” Aria apologized, turning to face him with pursed lips, “This might take a moment.”
It’s all good. I’ll just continue bleeding to death while you get rid of them, Ian thought.
Before long, a group of at least fifteen children between the ages of five and ten surrounded Aria. Some of the youngest ones grabbed her hands and gently tugged on them. All of the children had beaming smiles on their dirt-covered faces.
“Sorry, everyone. I can’t play with you right now.” Aria tried to tell them.
One of the older children, a young girl with similar features to Aria, examined Ian. “Hey, Sissy, is this guy your husband?”
“Huh? What? No, he’s not,” Aria answered, attempting to keep her cool. Even so, a hint of a blush appeared on her cheeks. The young girl, who was apparently Aria’s younger sister, noticed and sent a suspicious glare toward Ian.
“Pft. Hahahaha- ah, ouch.” Ian started laughing, but the pain stopped him. He really needed to treat his wounds.
“Listen, Farryn. He is hurt, so we need to get him a bandage,” Aria explained to her sister.
“Is that blood?!” The girl named Farryn asked in shock. The other children followed suit with similar looks of surprise. One younger child had no idea what was happening, though, and looked at his playmates in confusion. He also had the same dirty blond colored hair and sandy-brown eyes as Aria and Farryn.
Once the children went back to playing, Aria turned to Ian and said, “Sorry about that. I’ll take you to my house now.”
“It’s no problem,” Ian assured her, briefly glancing over at the children with a gentle gaze. Although his wounds certainly took priority at the moment, seeing these children acting with such animation reminded him of his cousin’s three children he used to play with so often in the past. It filled his heart with nostalgia. Perhaps he could spend some time with them in the future if he ever found spare time during one of his Earthbound supply trips.
Aria led him to a modest one-story home. The whole way there, she continuously twirled her bangs around her finger, lost in thought. She led him to a plain wooden door, pushed it open, and stepped inside. Then, she gestured for Ian to follow.
“Need help taking off your shoes?” Aria asked while removing her own.
Ducking slightly to avoid smashing his head against the doorway, Ian answered, “Uh… I don’t know.”
Ian found himself in a narrow hallway with three doorways on the right and four on the left. At the end of the hallway, there was an open doorway that led to a dining area complete with a brick fireplace. Slabs of oak composed the flooring in the house, but the floor in the dining area was made of stone.
Looking back at him, Aria said, “Give me just a minute.”
“Mother! Are you here?!” Aria called out while removing her worn-out leather shoes. Ian noted that they measured about half the size of his steel-toe boots.
“Yes! Do you need something?” A woman’s voice yelled back from one of the rooms at the end of the hall. Shortly thereafter, a woman that looked like a slightly older version of Aria, save for a few wrinkles on her forehead and a noticeable stomach pudge, walked into the hallway from the furthest door. She wore a somewhat discolored brown day dress. When her dark-brown eyes caught sight of Ian, a smirk formed on her thin lips.
“Is this the Ian that you spoke of before?” The woman asked Aria. However, the smirk disappeared when she returned her gaze to Ian and noticed the bloodstained cloth around his waist.
“Yes, I need to treat his wounds,” Aria answered, pointing at Ian, who happened to be struggling with his boots.
Aria’s mother gave the unfamiliar young man a quick once-over before saying, “I’ll get some ointment and bandages. Meet me in front of the pantry after you help the man with his shoes, alright?”
With that, Aria stepped over to Ian to assist him, much to his relief. As soon as the first boot slipped off, her face scrunched up at the odor. She briefly glanced up at him with mild disgust before moving to the second boot.
“Thanks,” Ian said, running his fingers through his hair. “Sorry, I know they stink.”
Grimacing, Aria replied, “Don’t worry. My brother’s are worse.”
Suddenly, a nearby door slammed open, and a young man in his late teens poked his head into the hallway.
“You talking about me?!”
“Ugh… not now, Ryann,” Aria groaned.
The young man, obviously one of Aria’s siblings since he looked like a male carbon-copy, furrowed his brows at the strange scene before him. “You helping random people again?”
“Those are some nasty cuts…” Ryann muttered. He pursed his lips for a moment and locked eyes with Ian. Once his sister removed the second boot, he noticed the sword at Ian’s hip and offered, “Want me to wash your blade for you? Not good to leave any blood on it if you can help it.”
“I’m already intruding quite a bit…” Ian muttered in response.
Ryann rolled his eyes and stomped over, ripping the blade from its sheath. “An injured man shouldn’t turn down an offer of help.”
“Good point,” Ian replied, shrugging.
Ariana chimed in, “You’ll hear about your brazenness from Mom later. Now, Ian, follow me.”
Slightly hesitant to walk straight into someone else’ home, Ian gave Aria a questioning look.
“Come on,” Aria said
Nodding, he stood and followed her down the hall. From behind, he heard Aria’s brother swing open the front door and leave the building while muttering about the quality of the blade.
Sighing as he followed Aria, he looked down at his side and realized just how bad the wound had gotten. The blood had soaked completely through the makeshift bandage and seeped into his cargo pants. Well, his pants were basically shorts after ripping off so much of them earlier.
Once they reached the doorway to the dining area, Ian ducked through, just as he had done with the front door. Briefly, while limping down the two small steps into the next room, he wondered how tall the builders of the house had been. At the other end of the room, he saw Aria’s mom rummaging through a small food pantry filled with preservation jars and bags of grain. She ignored the food, though. Instead, she used a small amount of Wind Affinity, from what he could tell, to pull a small jar from the top shelf.
“Could you sit on the stool over there, please?” Aria’s mom instructed. The stool she had pointed out stood below a small window near the pantry. A small wooden box filled with bandages and stitching supplies sat on the floor next to it. After setting down his travel pack and sword sheath against the nearest wall, Ian did as Aria’s mom asked and plopped his weary rear end on the stool. The stool wobbled slightly but seemed sturdy enough.
Nearby, Aria sat down on one of ten rickety dining chairs surrounding a large rectangular table at the center of the room. She planted an elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, waiting for the imminent show of a friend in pain.
Moments later, Aria’s mother walked over with a bowl of cool water and the glass jar which contained some sort of suspicious greenish-gray ointment.
“Could you take off that bloody mess of a rag and lift up your shirt, please?” Aria’s mother asked.
“Uh, sure,” Ian replied. At her behest, he removed the bloodstained cloth and tried to lift his shirt. Much to his dismay, the blood-soaked polyester and cotton shirt clung to the wound because of clotted blood and pus. “Ugh, this is gonna hurt…” Ian groaned, struggling to remove his shirt from the wound. Patches of scabs stuck to the cloth as he pulled it away.
“Do you want me to do it for you?” Aria’s mother offered with a dangerously sly undertone.
“No, it’s fine…” Ian replied, frightened by her tone. Traumatic memories of his own mother tearing off bandages from the many cuts and bruises he sustained as a child flashed through his mind’s eye. For a few more seconds, he tried to gingerly remove the shirt from the gash. Trickles of blood oozed from sections of the scab that broke during the process.
“This is taking too long,” Aria’s mother said. Before Ian could do anything, the woman reached out and tore the shirt away from the wound in one go, just as he suspected she might.
“Gaaaah! Owowow!” Ian yelled. Blood trickled from the ghastly-looking wound.
“Hmm… It’s quite bad, but certainly not fatal,” Aria’s mom muttered while kneeling to inspect the gash. With that, she dipped a clean rag in the water and rinsed the wounds on his side and calf. Once they looked relatively clean, she nodded in satisfaction. She set down the bloodied cloth and grabbed some stitching supplies. Using the flame from the nearby fireplace, she sanitized the needle and began stitching both gashes. Ian stared directly at the ceiling in an attempt to ignore it, clenching his teeth. Needles bothered him more than any other physical object. Each time it pierced his skin, he cringed.
Once finished with the stitching, the woman spread a dab of the grayish-green medicinal ointment over the oozing gash with a fresh cloth. The moment she placed her hand on the wound, Ian winced. However, a cold and tingly sensation permeated through his body a few seconds later. The pain dulled within seconds, and the bleeding stopped almost instantly. Although this particular ointment was different from the kind the Marlows owned, it apparently had much stronger effects.
“Hmhm~ it works quite well, doesn’t it?” Aria’s mother confidently asked.
“I guess so,” Ian acknowledged, truly surprised by the effectiveness of these simple ointments. Modern medicine certainly beat it in terms of quality, but the ointment definitely worked as a stand-in.
“Now, let’s put this bandage on it.”
Still holding up his shirt, Ian let Aria’s mother wrap cloth bandages around his waist and leg. After hooking it in place with a few pins, she stood and observed her handiwork, eventually nodding with approval.
“Thanks,” Ian said gratefully. This was far better than the makeshift bandage he had originally worn.
“You are very welcome,” Aria’s mother said, smiling in a way that made her look just like her daughter. “Just try not to move around too much or do anything crazy that might open the wounds again, okay?”
“Yeah, no problem. I’ll probably just rest when I get back to Gaelan’s house,” Ian said. “Oh, you knew I live with Gaelan, right?”
“Yes, Aria told me she is teaching you how to read and write Common over there,” Aria’s mother answered, flashing him a sly grin.
“I see,” Ian said. He had no idea what to make of that grin on her face. “Well, thanks for doing this, but I do need to head back to Gaelan’s house so that I can take some medicine that will prevent infection.”
“Oh? Medicine that prevents infection?” Aria’s mother asked, noticeably interested in such a notion. Aria also perked up at Ian’s nonchalant comment.
“Uh, yeah. Is it something not readily available here?” Ian asked.
“Of course not. I forgot my daughter mentioned you aren’t from here… Anyway, healing magic is so prevalent in Concinnata that such a thing is only necessary for people with horrible diseases, and it is terribly expensive,” Aria’s mother answered with a downcast gaze.
“Hmm… I see…” Ian muttered. Perhaps he should look into buying a large number of antibiotics to bring back to Regnoras if he ever earned enough money. Eventually, he said, “Anyway, I do need to get going.”
“Okay, then. I’ll walk you to the door,” Aria’s mother announced. Then, she turned to Aria and asked, “What are you going to do, dear?”
“I’ll walk with him to the Marlows’ place just in case,” Aria answered.
“Oh? I see… hmhm~” Aria’s mother muttered. Due to her mother’s attitude, Aria averted her gaze, which only encouraged her mother to grin even wider.
With that, Ian carefully lifted his travel pack over his shoulders and wrapped his empty sword sheath around his waist. Aria’s mother walked the two to the door. As soon as Ian stepped outside, he saw Ryann drying the blade of his sword.
Briefly glancing at them, the young man muttered, “Give me just a moment. Almost done.”
Once finished, Ryann handed the sword over, handle first, and Ian returned it to its sheath.
“Thank you, uh, Ryann was it?” Ian said, unsure of the young man’s name.
“Yeah. No problem. Don’t let that thing rust after I bothered to clean it for you.”
“Manners, son,” Aria’s mother remarked, though the young man simply shrugged before waving goodbye and walking back inside the house.
Now that he had his sword, Ian and Aria stepped off the small porch. Before they walked too far, Aria’s mother smirked at him and said, “Don’t be a stranger now, Mister Ian.”
By now, he started to catch on to what the woman had been insinuating, but he dismissed the thought for the time being.
After bidding goodbye and thanking her yet again, Ian and Aria walked back toward the main street. Just like before, the group of children ran over and tried to get Aria to play with them, but she ended up putting frowns on their faces for a second time. The children returned to playing in the mud while Ian and Aria headed toward the Marlows’ house.
I wonder what Gaelan will say… Ian thought.
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