Alinua squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the sounds of battle behind her. Magic flowed beneath her fingers and she directed it into the wounds of the young boy lying on the ground in front of her. Green light flashed around the pair as the life energy flooded the child, repairing torn flesh and knitting skin together so completely that no scars would be left behind. The boy stirred awake and began to sit up. Sobbing with relief, his mother rushed forward and scooped him up into her arms. Alinua stood up and moved onto the next patient.
Behind her, the rest of her group battled the pair of dragons that had attacked this small town. Alinua was itching to help out her friends, knowing that Kendal was probably injured again , but the dragons had already killed three civilians and injured countless more. An explosion rocked the ground. Probably Erin. Alinua moved to an elderly fox Ferin propped up against a house, set her arm in place, and sealed the break with a quick burst of magic.
Exhaustion was beginning to set in, darkness creeping at the edges of Alinua’s vision. She barely heard the Ferin’s strained “thank you” as she moved away, searching for more people in need of healing. A slashed chest here. A broken leg there. Even more grievous wounds that her magic healed as easily as taking a breath. Alinua reveled in her newfound power and ability to help others, no longer terrified to even touch another soul. Light flashed above her and she glanced up from her healing to see Tess, riding on a bolt of lightning, punch a dragon in the jaw. Alinua turned her attention back to her task, swaying now. If she could just finish healing the last few people...
She couldn’t finish the thought before she hit the ground.
Alinua stirred awake and was surprised to feel soft blankets around her. She looked around. She was back at camp, lying on her own bedroll. Tess sat next to her, tending a fire.
“Hey, you’re awake!” she said brightly as Alinua sat up. “Ya had me worried there for a minute.” Alinua didn’t respond as she scrambled to her feet. In the blink of an eye, Tess was blocking her way.
“Sit back down. I made tea and you’re drinking it.”
“I have to heal them!”
A surprisingly warm metal hand pushed Alinua back down onto her bedroll. Gods, Tess was strong. Alinua flushed but did not try to get back up. She stared down at the scene below her while Tess poured two cups of tea. Four tiny figures battled two larger toy dragons off in the distance. She winced as another explosion ripped through the earth. Erin was such a messy fighter sometimes. Alinua needed to be down there. She could sense the villagers’ pain even from this far. But even as she started to stand up again, Tess’s firm hand pushed her back down and handed her a cup of tea.
“Drink up!” she said, sitting beside Alinua, a second cup of tea in hand. She glanced sideways and continued with a softer tone, “I know it’s hard to sit this out. But they’ve got this.” Alinua huffed.
“I’m a healer. I can just heal myself and get back to work. Those people need me.” Tess laughed lightly, a sound like bells.
“If you had any life energy left to work with down there, you wouldn’t have passed out like that. Face it, Ali. You’re at your limit. Just let me take care of you now, okay?”
Alinua stared down into her tea. Hot steam was still curling off it, but Tess was gulping hers down without a care in the world. She took a cautious sip. Not bad. Below, the battle still raged on. Erin and Falst had defeated their dragon and moved to assist Kendal and Dainix. Even from here, she could see Kendal limping. She sighed and leaned her head against Tess, who patted her arm.
“He never takes care of himself, does he?” Tess observed. Alinua snorted.
“You’re like that too,” she continued. Startled, Alinua turned to look at Tess. The metal-caste woman’s eyes had no pupils, but Alinua could still feel her gaze even though Tess had not turned her head. She blushed.
“I...I guess I am,” she admitted. Memories of ten long years in the woods flashed through her mind. “I’m not used to being someone who matters.”
Now Tess’s head was turned towards hers, an uncharacteristically intense expression on her face.
“Alinua. I know what it’s like to grow up without caring about what you want or need. It sucks. Being Sparked, becoming a Stormbreaker, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wish I could zap you full of lightning and make you understand what I do. I care about you, Ali. You matter so much.” Tess had both her hands on Alinua’s shoulders now. Alinua’s cheeks burned. She forced herself to look away from Tess, to look at anything other than those eyes burning into her soul.
“Th...thanks, Tess,” she managed. After a beat, Tess let her go. “What was it like?”
“When the sky chose you. What did that feel like?”
Tess didn’t answer for a long time. Alinua didn’t rush her. They watched their friends defeat the dragon, then move into the village. She assured herself that Erin was fully capable of taking care of any wounded, even if he was overly cautious about the whole thing. She took another sip of her tea.
“It hurt. A lot.”
“What, being struck by lightning?” Alinua giggled. Tess joined in with that beautiful bell-like laugh.
“Yeah, turns out that hurts you,” she said, gesturing at her scar. “I felt like my whole body was lightning up at once. It was agony until something just slid into place. I suddenly thought about all the times I’d wanted something but never gotten it. I realized I could just do it. I could leave. I could walk away from everything and nobody in the world could stop me. So...I did.” She paused. “My whole life, I’d been given priorities by other people. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized my own priorities were the most important to me.”
“That sounds familiar.”
“Yeah. I spent ten years alone, trying to contain my magic. Then...that day with Kendal and the Sentinel...I exploded, too. And then suddenly I didn’t have to worry about making myself small and distant from the world. So I decided to travel. Like you.” Alinua smiled at Tess, who returned the grin. Even her teeth were shiny.
“And now I can go around helping people who need it. It feels like I’m making up for all that time alone, you know? I wasted so much of my life hiding,” she said. Tess sighed.
“What?” Alinua said, a little defensively. “You help people too.”
“Yeah, but that’s not why I do it. I help people because I can. I travel because it’s what I want to do.”
Alinua didn’t have an answer for that. Looking down, away from Tess’s eyes, she snapped her focus onto a gash she hadn’t noticed before. Red blood dripped down Tess’s arm from a cut just below her elbow. Alinua was vaguely surprised that her blood wasn’t metallic like her skin. Reaching towards the gash, she gathered power beneath her fingers. A metal hand wrapped itself around her wrist.
“I said no. You’ve pushed yourself enough already. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“What does it matter? You’re already-”
“ What does it matter? Ali, it matters! You matter!” Tess’s tone was angry and harsh. Alinua froze. She’d never heard Tess speak that way, even about her own past. The two women’s eyes met. Then, simultaneously, both leaned in and their lips crashed together. Tess pulled Alinua tight against herself and Alinua practically melted into her arms. After a long moment, she pulled away, gasping for air.
“I’ve been waiting to do that since you saved me in Zuurith,” Tess breathed.
“You’re welcome,” Alinua replied. “Now can I heal your arm?”
“Nope!” Tess released her. “Finish your tea. I’ll make Erin do it later.”
Alinua laughed and looked around for her cup. It lay abandoned on the ground, liquid already seeping into the dirt.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you some more,” Tess said, standing up. She quickly bent down and gave Alinua another kiss. Alinua swore she saw a blush creeping onto the metal-caste woman’s cheeks before she turned around.
“Thank you, Tess,” she whispered.