The memory ended– no, it wasn’t memory, it was more like I had been reliving lives– and I returned to that golden-lit non-reality, still frozen in the moment of having run Mára through.
With my voice shaking, I asked, “Why did you show me that?”
The voice answered, “Because your older, wiser self knew the need to preserve these precious beings. Sen, spare this child.”
Most of the vast knowledge, wisdom and experience that had been in Senhion’s mind had vanished like mist as the vision ended. But I could remember key parts of it, especially the dire need for those like the one I had held in my arms. The true fairy child whom the me in that vision had just given birth to.
Why show me those lives? Those people? They had all felt like they were me, but were they, or had it just felt that way because I was seeing it through their eyes?
It was a completely different feeling than when I remembered the old Tiana’s memories, though. I could clearly tell she had been someone else, and I replaced her. But with these other people, I felt my direct connection to them while I was reliving their lives.
“Who is Sen?” I demanded, with many hackles rising.
After a short silence, he sighed. “Yes, I’m sorry. Although Senhion’s soul survives within you, you can never be her again. I shall ask you properly, by your own name. Little Tiana, may I ask you to please spare her?”
“Something makes me think that you are someone who always holds me back at times like this. Why is that?”
“Long ago, you forced me to promise, whenever I saw your hand falling too heavily… Ah, no, that was Senhion who requested that. Even so, she wished for me to be her restraint.”
“This world has a god with that name.”
“Not a god… but the child whose body you inhabit was taught to call me a god. I am indeed that Oranos.”
The child whose body you inhabit…
He knew he wasn’t speaking to the old Tiana. He knew I was someone else.
It was one thing to have the memories of Tiana, accepting them from her along with her body. They had twisted and confused my mind in many ways before I came to a sort of uneasy peace with them, once they molded me into the me of now, who is neither the old me named Robert nor the previous Tiana. The memories of Tiana before I arrived were the past of someone else whose life I was here to complete, and whose role as a hero, some time in the future, I was apparently here to fulfill.
But these scenes I had just relived through this entity’s power… he was saying that they were my own vague and very old memories. They did not belong to the old Tiana.
After all, the first of those replays had been me in my childhood as Robert.
Before that, I had visited the life of Fan Li, a half-spirit palace lady of the Dragon Emperor’s court. Physician’s assistant and foster mother to the Emperor’s eventual successor.
I saw a short span of the life of Sirth of the Wind-seeker folk. A merchant sailor who led a crew of survivors on an epic journey to safety while she fought against her unknown malaise.
Kwelabi. The barbarian quasi-man shaman who raised and mentored a revered poet and philosopher.
Power Systems Technician First Class Daq R’mion. The Enhanced ‘new human’ whose sacrifice saved the outer-system colony of a distant interplanetary civilization.
Many other lives had flitted past, too fast for me to remember the names or any of the details. I have no idea how many lives I only caught brief glimpses of.
But farthest back, before all of the rest…
I had experienced a scene from the life of a woman who couldn’t possibly be anything other than one of Ceria’s beloved ‘Stregas’.
That absolutely could not be a coincidence, right? How many zeros would be in the odds against it, as a random happenstance, that I just happened to have been a Strega whose self-image was a slightly more mature doppelgänger of Tiana Pendor?
“I have a lot of questions,” I told the entity behind me.
“I can see that,” he agreed, “and I am not allowed to answer any of them.”
I scowled at his evasion. “Why not, if you’re a god?”
“I’m not a god, and you knew why not, back while you were dwelling in the next realm up. ‘All prayers are heard, but most are inappropriate to answer.'”
“I’ve heard those words before, too.”
“People at my level say them often. Passing knowledge between realms requires far too much entropic compensation.”
I had a feeling that I knew what that meant at one time.
After another short wait, Oranos said, “Time has not stopped around you. It is merely flowing as slowly as I can make it. I can only keep this child’s spirit safe for a certain amount of time. Again I ask, will you spare her?”
My rage had faded by then. And I still remembered from her thoughts that ‘Senhion’ considered fairies like Sen’s baby boy and this woman to be vital for Huade’s survival. Part of the medicine that would cure the terrible illness that had stricken this world.
Fine. I would trust her judgment. She seemed to know what she was talking about.
“Yes. Let me go. I’ll heal her.”
“Listen carefully. The Healing is vital, but you must purify her first. Use all of your strength. Do not heal her until the purification succeeds. Otherwise, she’s better off dying.”
“Purify a fairy?” I retorted, suddenly very confused. “Until the purification succeeds how?”
“Live well, Little Tiana. If our fates permit, we shall know each other again, someday.”
The golden hue faded.
The electrical arcs of Aether Magic resumed.
Immediately, I circulated Healing mana, ramping it up as rapidly as I could as the lightning faded out.
The woman was beginning to become aware of her condition as the rage died in her eyes, and they grew wide with anxiety as she came to understand that her heart was no longer beating. I reached the point where I couldn’t circulate any more Healing mana without activating it, so I chanted, “[Purification]!” to convert it, then continued to draw more amidst the raging pain.
Mára’s eyes were starting to lose focus. She was probably begin to gray out. I needed to hurry, but the voice claiming to be Oranos had said ‘Use all your strength’. I gritted my teeth, ignoring the perdition of boundless pain I was putting myself through, and continued ramping the charge up until I could see my skin glowing white.
I stood up, yanking Durandal from her chest in the same motion, and blasted the [Purification] spell in a firehose stream of mana up and down her body using the bristles of the Starfire Jade Writing Brush.
She arched her back, then opened her mouth and let out a horrific howl.
To my horror, a mass of Demonic mana streamed out, just as if the breath she was exhaling was pitch black. I gaped at it as it billowed upward and let go of her.
“[Restriction]!” I hear Prince Manlon chant, as the mass fled.
I had no idea what had just come out of her. I had no idea what sort of magic this [Restriction] spell might be. One corner of my mind was struggling to catch up with all the unknowns, especially the unknown substance that had just come out of her. But I knew I had no time to waste worrying about it. The woman at my feet required a working heart without delay.
I finished flowing the purification into her, then ramped up Healing mana again, this time chanting, “[Healing]!”
Ever since whatever it was departed her body, Mára had been motionless and staring upward vacantly, but I knew she was still alive for a simple and very ugly reason.
Normal monsters have a small percentage of their body replaced by manifested mana and to a lesser extent miasma, but for fairies (and me, and all beings of magical biology) roughly half the body is made of mana. When fairies die, that part begins vanishing almost immediately. There is a short wait, as we dangle at the hairy edge of death, a relatively few seconds, before our bodies start evaporating, turning into a mummy at a speed one can watch.
That’s how I know that, back when the old Tiana departed this world, they switched me into her body only a matter of seconds after she departed.
If Mára were dead, she would be slowly desiccating as we watched, until only a mummified corpse, weighing about half her living weight, remained. But Mára was not doing that. My help was arriving in time.
I pointed the brush directly at the bloody hole in her chest, and let [Healing] pour out.
I didn’t hold back. I don’t think I would have cared to spare her from the burning hell that is my healing at full volume anyway, but frankly, in this situation, haste was vital.
Through the [Healing] spell, knowledge of her current condition flowed into my mind. I could see the ruined state of the left ventricle, the destruction to the rib behind the heart, the damage to the fifth and sixth ribs in front, where I had sliced into them as I stabbed between. I could see the damage to her breast and her lungs.
The inferno heat brought her back to consciousness and she let out a mournful wail, but that was just when her heart had become whole and began to beat properly and the last of the mana flowed into her.
Her lungs were panting heavily and her eyes were wide with confusion, trying to grasp what was happening. She probably needed a bit more healing, but she would live at this point. I didn’t want to deal with what she might do next, so, on the excuse that she needed rest, I summoned another dose of mana and chanted, “[Sleep].”
As she went unconscious, I stood, staring up at the royal seats where Gelon, Tenre and the unknown third princess(?) were seated and gave the undrawn salute.
Tenre declared, “The defendant has prevailed.”
Gray filled my vision and a roar filled my ears. My last awareness was of trying to keep my balance.