02/24/21 - Meeting the Manic

Note: Kepu Lejepu, Roselle, Meia played by Blue

[Kepu Lejepu]

Kepu Lejepu had some work to do. Had it been a few weeks? Had it been a few moons? He'd lost track of how long he'd spent bringing his flock before the small little cottage in the Lavender Beds. Though they never grumbled their discontent, it was clear that they wanted action- something more than warning those wandering by about the cursed little girl inside who brought misfortune to the rest of her family. That poor mother, rest her soul, just couldn't bare to hear the truth of the great Kepu's words.

He tsked softly and rapped at the door to the house once more. He didn't expect anyone to open up for him.

“Miss Roselle? You're being very immature about all of this. I know it's difficult to accept the truth of my words…but that girl is a curse to your family and yourself!”

Kepu leaned in, pressing his forehead against the wooden door, eyes wide as saucers. “As soon as you accept that reality, we can talk about how to…handle this problem properly.”

There was nothing but silence on the other side of the door.

[Vinalo]

Ever since Roselle told Vinalo about the odd man who wouldn't leave her and Meia alone (and somehow knew everything about both of them), they'd taken to making sure their walking route out of the Beds took them by the cottage. The treatment was soon approaching and the healer didn't want any would-be 'prophet' to ruin everything. Every time before they had managed to avoid seeing anything happening by Roselle and Meia's house, but today was not like the other days.

As they were coming down the path, Vinalo saw the small crowd gathered around a Lalafellin man who seemed to be trying to force his head through the front door. They had had a bad feeling about this. Misha warned them about confronting the man directly, but they couldn't just ignore something like this. The healer broke into a jog and made their way to the front yard.

“Hey! What's all this? What's going on?”

[Kepu Lejepu]

Heads that had been directed towards the attempts of the lalafell at the door now turned to Vinalo as they made their way closer to the crowd.

Like willowy sentinels, they parted to make way for the healer, and yet incoherent grumbles could just barely be heard beneath their breath. These people, these followers, numbering in a little more than a half dozen, were of all shapes and sizes and wore nothing that marked them as being different from that of the average passerby. The only thing that strung each individual together perhaps, might have been the way their expressions changed to that of awe, wonder, and a bit of shy reverence whenever their gaze lingered over to the man at the door.

Kepu himself twisted around at the interruption, his hands on his hips.

“Oh? And who might you be? Another lost soul who desires true guidance?”

The man couldn't have been much older than Vinalo, signs of gray hairs poking through short mouse brown hair, a pencil thin mustache and goatee combo. He wore robes reminiscent to those of the thaumaturge guild, while colorful bands of metal wrapped around his arms, encrusted in various semi precious stones. He only looked a teeny bit eccentric. Maybe.

“I'm afraid I'm a little busy at the moment, but if you leave your address, I can come by and bless your home for you.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo glanced up at the odd group of followers as they made their way to the ringleader. The grumbles mere a bit concerning, but that didn't stop them from approaching. Upon seeing the face of the robed man, Vinalo tilted their head to the side a bit, perhaps a bit confused. '…this is the old man?' Regardless, this clearly was the man that was harassing Roselle and Meia.

“No, I'm right sure where I am,” Vinalo said firmly, but calmly. “But, who're you, and why're you here bothering my friend and patient? Don't think either of them'll appreciate you and your… group making all this noise here.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

Kepu smiled at Vinalo and spread his arms wide. “What, you haven't heard of me before?” He did a strange little twirl and bowed. “My name is Kepu Lejepu. I'm the unsung hero of our time- the wise, the all-knowing, the savior of Eorzea, the tried and tested-”

While Kepu went on about himself, Vinalo would be able to hear an excited little cry coming from the window nearby. Though the lights were out inside the home, they would be able to make out the sudden appearance of a familiar-looking teddy bear- little fingers helping the plush to wave at the lalafell. Someone was watching.

“-but yes, I am Kepu. You said you had a friend inside- a patient no less? You must be a healer then. Though there's nothing to see or heal here. No injury to mend nor sickness to purge. Just a cursed creature in need of salvation.”

“Salvation..” His followers murmured in agreement, each one beginning to sway gently.

[Vinalo]

This was definitely the man Roselle mentioned. Vinalo nearly rolled their eyes as he introduced himself in such a pompous fashion. Their eyes did, however, catch a tiny teddy bear waving at them. 'Still well enough to do that, thank the Twelve.' They refocused on the 'savior' in front of them. His attitude would've been comical enough to laugh at, if not for the dire implications of his claims. No. This man was dangerous. The others repeating his words didn't help, either. Vinalo furrowed their brow and took a more direct tone.

“I am a healer, and the girl in there is my patient,” Vinalo stated, looking right at Kepu. “Whatever you think you're doing here, stop. None of this'll help at all.”

Vinalo crossed their arms and looked around at the odd crowd.

“And she's not cursed or… whatever you're saying.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

“And how will you prove that it isn't cursed then, Healer? Seems quite odd that no one has been able to get rid of the nasty mark it claims to have gotten out in the woods.”

There was a cold glint in his eyes as he continued.

“Have you been inside lately? Has the mark on the thing grown further? The mother won't seem to let me inside again you see, so I've had to ask for progress updates from concerned citizens like yourself.”

He waved his hand dismissively at Vinalo. “And I'm helping plenty. People need warned properly you know. Gotta stay away, else perhaps they'll get cursed and suffer hardship next.”

[Vinalo]

“Meia is not a thing or an it!”

If Kepu intended to try and get under Vinalo's skin, he'd picked the right words to do so. They uncrossed their arms and took a step forward, still looking right at Kepu.

“And I have seen the mark she's gotten. It's how I know what I'm dealing with, and how I know I'm going to heal her,” Vinalo said, determination obvious in their tone. “You don't know what you're talking about.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

The small crowd of followers murmured a bit at the very direct tone coming from the stranger. They looked from their leader to Vinalo and back again.

Kepu smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “Call it by any other name or term you like, I won't stop you. But wouldn't you be better off cleansing the taint off some rocks or something like your brethren? If you can sense the Void coming that th- your patient, you should be fully aware of the danger that might just befall you upon getting involved.”

[Vinalo]

The healer's eyes widened just a tiny bit, as the man went on about Meia's sickness. Calling the void out by name was not expected. They took a step back, trying to keep focused.

“…If you've an idea of what it is, then you'd know it wasn't hopeless,” Vinalo responded. “Couldn't call myself a proper healer if risk kept me away. I will heal her.”

They then took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. In spite of this man's delusions and grim proclamations, Vinalo found some amount of strength to muster up a small smile, making sure that Kepu saw it.

“And well, this wouldn't be the first time.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

Kepu huffed at Vinalo's determined declaration and though he stared straight at his fellow lalafell's smiling face, there was a certain twitchiness to his features.

“May I know the name of this mighty healer who plans to prove the great prophet wrong?”

[Vinalo]

A brief bit of hesitation. The odd twitchiness was a bit unnerving. Was he nervous? Afraid? Just annoyed? Nevertheless, Vinalo stood their ground, still showing a confident smile.

“Name's Vinalo Mabunalo,” they said with a slight nod. “And I don't care much for prophesies, or proving them wrong. I'm just a healer. It's what I do.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

Kepu smirked. “Well met.” He nodded over to one of his followers almost hidden behind a few of the taller members. A young Au Ri woman scribbled something down before sidling past her fellow members and running off with great haste.

“And I'm just a prophet speaking truth to those that will listen. Not everyone does..or has to, but the world would be a much simpler place if they did.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo turned and watched the Auri woman dash off with what they presumed was their name. '…Suppose that's how he knew about Meia's family.' They sighed and turned back to Kepu. They did not look happy.

“Whatever you're claiming to be, leave Meia and Roselle out of it. Your… 'truth' is doing nothing but hurting both of them,” they said, quite sternly. “Take your… group here, and go away.”

[Kepu Lejepu]

Kepu looked to the door again and sighed himself before shaking his head. “It doesn't really matter. Words and rumors spread whether we go away or not. That we linger here just proves our devotion and our belief to the truth. But I like you Vinalo. I'll humor you this once, at least for today.”

The older lalafell looked to his remaining group and raised his arms. “We've other places to be, my friends. Let us be off.” As Kepu began to lead his group out of the area, a highlander man ran up to him. “Yor right, yor Greatness! I saw it with me own eyes! No wonder they couldn't find it, clever-OW!”

“Silence. We're leaving.”

“Oh, aye Sir.”

He didn't look back at Vinalo, and walked away puffed up and proud, his flock following soon after.

[Vinalo]

The slip of a report by the arriving Highlander didn't go unheard by Vinalo; nor did how quickly Kepu shut the man up. They watched the false prophet and his 'flock' head off for parts unknown, face still wearing an expression of seriousness and irritation. At least they were gone for now.

“Something's wrong. He's up to something more than just harassing folk,” Vinalo said to no one in particular.

Looking around to make sure there wasn't anyone else lingering, the Lalafell walked up to the door and gave it a gentle knock.

“Roselle? It's me, Vinalo,” they said, hopefully loud enough to be heard. “Kepu and his… friends are gone.”

[Roselle]

There was a period of silence on the other side of the door- a mother also making certain that no one else was around to harass and upset.

Roselle opened the door a crack and breathed a sigh if relief when she saw that is was indeed Vinalo, widening the opening to invite them in unimpeded.

She looked haggard compared to the other times the lalafell had visited, and Roselle seemed to know as much, smoothing out the frayed ends of her hair once she'd close the door behind Vinalo.

“Meia said she'd seen you but I wasn't sure…once that man comes knocking I stay as far away from the windows as possible. Don't need those followers of his looking back at me.”

[Vinalo]

“I know you and Meia talked about him and his followers, but I wasn't expecting that kind of… delusional or such,” Vinalo said after being let inside. They lowered their voice. “Calling Meia a thing to be dealt with, even!”

The Lalafell sighed and looked back to Roselle, the outright frustration fading, but still clearly unhappy.

“Are you two okay?”

[Roselle]

Roselle pursed her lips as she heard out Vinalo and sullen shook her head.

“Meia's heard him outside her window go on like that. I can take on their claims, I can challenge what they tell me. I won't let then provoke me with their words. But..”

She nodded towards Meia's room, the door closed and only silence to be heard from that side of the house.

“..She's just a little girl, Vinalo. Listening to this fake prophet spout things right outside her window. About her. Like he knows everything.”

Roselle clenched her fists and looked away.

“I'm already at my wits end with her sickness, but how can I protect her from this?”

[Vinalo]

The healer took a deep breath and rubbed at their forehead, trying to think of something reassuring to say.

“You're… not alone in this now, Roselle. Meia's my patient, and he still won't stop me,” they finally replied, looking back up. “But, this is worse than I thought. He's got enough followers that I reckon he's got ears all around. One of them ran off soon as I said my name, off to find out… whatever about me, I guess. Probably how he found out everything about your family.”

Vinalo thought for a moment.

“But, don't worry about me. There's nothing he'll find out that I can't deal with,” they said quickly. “I'm pretty boring.”

[Roselle]

Roselle managed a thin smile. “You're not pretty boring to me, Vinalo. But I trust you will be alright. The most they've spouted off about is our past misfortunes, trying to link it to Meia. I don't expect they'd go much further than that with you, if they even find anything at all.”

“Would you like to check on Meia? Soon after she spotted you she got tired again, so she might not be awake enough for a lengthy conversation.”

“..But I think you might want to check on her condition again.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo nodded at Roselle's smile.

“He'll not intimidate me. Just worried about him trying something else. Someone came up to him, saying they found something before he quieted them up…”

They sighed.

“…But yes. If she's up to it, I'd right like to see her,” Vinalo said, their tone now of gentle concern. “I didn't come ready for the treatment, but… I can get ready quickly if I have to.”

[Roselle/Meia]

She went to the closed door and rapped gently. “It's me Meia, coming in.” She waited a few seconds, a muffled “Okay..” coming from the ither side before she opened the door.

The first thing that Vinalo would notice was the absolute lack of any toys or polishes or drawings on the floor. The area surrounding the girl's bed was spotless, quite the opposite of the first time Vinalo had into the room. Everything had been relegated to a nearby corner of Meia's bed, within ilms of the girl's wanting hand.

The teddy that had waved at Vinalo remained at the window, and they could see the walking cane propped up near one side of her bed.

Meia's brilliant green eyes seemed duller as she peeked out at Vinalo under a large number of blankets that had not been there before either.

“I- I miss-” Meia started coughing uncontrollably, painful, ragged noises as Roselle rushed to her side and sat down with her, rubbing her hand soothingly at her back. Meia shuddered into her mother, squeezing her eyes shut.

[Vinalo]

Vinalo entered Meia's room and immediately felt their heart sink. Everything so much in order that it was obvious that Meia had barely left her bed. They slowly walked in after Roselle. Meia's coughing fit at just trying to speak tore at them even more and they waved a hand to try and signal her not to try.

“It's okay, Meia. You don't need to talk,” they said quietly as they approached the bed. “I got those terrible people to go away, so I came to see how you were.”

[Meia]

As Vinalo approached, they could feel dark, pulsing energy radiating from the bed, much stronger than it had been the last two times. It'd be no wonder that Meia was feeling so terrible- the sensation was near suffocating. Even Roselle seemed aware that something was off within the room in the way she tensed, like she was bracing against things she could not see.

Soon after her coughing fit had passed, Meia heeded her friend's words, giving a weak nod and a little smile.

[Vinalo]

The sound. The terrible sound. It wasn't a tinny whine at the back of their mind anymore; it was a horrible screech, like someone drawing a knife across a violin's strings. Oppressive. Unrelenting. Choking. There wasn't any way for Vinalo to even think of ignoring it now. They glanced to Roselle, nodding very slightly, their gaze speaking volumes. Looking back to Meia, Vinalo tried to muster up a smile to meet her's. They spoke very softly.

“It's good to see you, Meia. I was right glad to see Teddy at the window earlier! Knowing you were keeping watch really helped me out,” they said, trying to put a positive spin on things. A moment of hesitation. The sound was piercing. They took a deep breath and swallowed. “Now, Meia. I… Remember what I said last time? That I'd need to take a close look at… things? I…I'm sorry, but I think need to do that today, if you're okay with it.”

[Roselle, Meia]

Roselle would catch Vinalo's look and settle her hand over Meia's shoulder reassuringly as they spoke to her.

The little girl tensed, her expression changing to that of a tired wariness before she slowly nodded her consent.

“I..t-trust..” She shuddered and leaned forward, timidly pulling at the blankets wrapped around herself like a cocoon. Roselle jumped in to help, unraveling the little girl and exposing the dark mark upon her leg for the healer to inspect.

It was overpowering, something alien and unsettling, that screeched and snaked and coiled and throbbed around Meia's leg. Swirls of purple and red covered almost the entirety of her leg at this point, marred by strange black coronas that reeked of unnatural energies.

[Vinalo]

“Gods…”

Though the blanket wasn't some sort of void-shielding barrier, just seeing the extent of the corruption made the horrible sound that much worse. Vinalo grit their teeth. This wasn't like the voidsent hiding in Zuzuli that only came out when taunted. Or the vile one-eyed beast that wore the skin of a man to mask their presence in the Shroud. There was no deception or stealth here. Only the raging void energies sapping the energies of a young girl. The healer walked to the edge of the bed, Meia's leg within arm's reach.

“…You're very strong, Meia, keeping going with all this happening. Knew that when I saw you the first time,” they said softly, trying to reassure her. They extended both their arms out, hands held over the infected leg. “I'm going to try and feel out exactly how things are, and… I'm very sorry, Meia. This is going to hurt. I'll be gentle as I can, but…”

The screech ever present in their head, Vinalo looks to Meia and Roselle. Their hands began to glow dimly. Tiny sparks of light swirled around their fingers, as if they were waiting for the signal to help.

[Meia]

Meia stared from her mother to Vinalo, not even looking at the infection. It frightened her too much to look at, even knowing that it grew worse and worse over time. She bit her lip as she listened to the healer's words, dim eyes staring and watching the little pretty swirls around their fingers. She just had to focus on that instead, not the pain, not the hurt. Vinalo would never try and hurt her. They were her friend. And they were trying…

The little girl nodded as if giving consent for them to continue. Roselle would always go with what her daughter wanted, but she'd speak the words anyway, trust laced in her voice.

“Go ahead Vinalo. Find out what you need.”

[Vinalo]

Vinalo nodded to both mother and daughter, closing their eyes shortly after. A deep breath. A long exhale. Another. They mentally prepared themself for the task set before them. Kepu was right about exactly one thing: even healing void infections this severe can be dangerous. But this had to be done. Vinalo flexed their fingers, and the dancing sparks of lights began their descent to Meia's leg, swirling and swooping their way down. Brows furrowed, the healer began their work.

“…Meia. If you hear something telling you give up or let go or stop fighting or anything like that, you mustn't listen to it. You are stronger than this, I know it.”

With that, Vinalo began trying to listen and feel their way to the core of this terrible infection.

[Roselle/Meia]

Roselle took one of Meia's hands in her own, squeezing all the tighter as she watched the sparks of light begin to descend upon the wound. She'd seen other healers do similar, but her daughter would lash out soon after, faltering from the pain and unease of the strangers around her. She cast a wary glance in Meia's direction, only to find the determined face of her child looking to the lalafell with utmost trust.

If Meia was in pain, and surely she was, shown in the way tears started streaming down her face and her small body flinched and trembled, she held as still as she could only for Vinalo, kept that brave face on, and fought with all her might. She was strong. Her friend had told her so.

The wound. The void. The screams that only grew louder as Vinalo began to probe around the infection site.
It lashed back against those dancing sparks angrily, dark power attempting to envelop and devour the intruder, the threat- whole. It felt…slimy and wet, as if a long forked tongue flicked and writhed all around Vinalo's very senses and tasted the lalafell's very being. It hungered for more than a mere little girl could provide.
The wound came alive, burning, miasmic, bottomless, and the lalafell was falling, sliding down into the depthless gullet, being swallowed whole. No hope…no hope…
Yet, as they began to fall, to falter, to fail, something pierced through the endless screams.
I never made it. I couldn't reach her in time. It devoured me.

[Vinalo]

Vinalo was in Meia's room. They knew they were. They felt the floor under their feet, heard the sounds of birds outside the window, and… Meia's whimpers. She was there, Roselle was there, and Vinalo was there. Meia was fighting with all her strength. She was strong. Vinalo knew she was strong. They felt the sweat starting to bead up on their forehead. They felt their eyelids tremble. They felt it.

Vinalo was also busy falling. Swooping and swirling downward into the slimy abyss the void entity had opened up for them. It was so eager, so gleeful, so hungry. It was screaming from every possible direction. Vinalo heard it with every fiber of their being. They felt it poke, and prod, and touch, and feel, and grab, and pull. Something. Anything. This is how it works. Find a loose thread, and yank. Find an opening, and lie.

Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies.

The healer heard them. The doom. The failure. The loss. The despair. The end. They knew this was coming, yet it still tore at them. Give up. Let go. Stop fighting. You're doomed. She's doomed.

It seemed so convincing, so obvious, so right. Just like hi…

'No!' Vinalo mentally screamed into the darkness. They held on. No giving up. Never. Ever. Not for anything. There's a patient to save. A home to return to. Friends to talk to. A lover to be with. No giving up.

'Where are you, you godsdamned fiend?? You can't hide from me!' they yelled again. 'I am the light sent to root you out! Show yourself!'

[Meia/Roselle]

Meia's palms were sweating in her mother's grip. She was gasping softly and so quietly, trying to focus on something anything that stopped her from feeling the pain. Roselle looked on with concern, glancing to Vinalo, at a loss of what to do other than to play witness to it all.

In the darkness of the abyss, the silhouette of something long and serpentine could be sensed by Vinalo nearby. Too close. Another second and unimpeded coils closed in around the lalafell upon being challenged, squeezing, suffocating, making each breath of air they took feel like their last. They'd feel as if they were in the process of being crushed. And yet, just as suddenly, the thing, the fiend, the Devourer- uncoiled and loosened their hold.
Vinalo could sense something opening its eyes and staring out at them with both curiosity and malice. It would not be located so easily within the sanctity of its dark abode. The voice cooed at them in the tone of their lover, soon feeling a tear-stained cheek resting against their brow.
We were going to get married!
Why did you leave me? I can't be alone again..
Why didn't you come back?

[Vinalo]

The discomfort was obvious at this point. Vinalo's breathing had become fairly rapid, and their hands were shaking every so often. The sparks of light had become more staggered in their movement, but some had shone brighter than the ones before, perhaps.

“…Meia…” Vinalo said with strained breaths. “…keep holding…on…”

Inside, the healer felt the icy grip of the fiend. Crushing. Suffocating. Their lungs felt like they had been lit aflame. Breathe. Breathe. In and out. In and out. In-

So tight. Too tight. But… but… it was right there. Vinalo could feel it. Just… reach out…

Release. Vinalo wheezed as the 'air' rushed back into their lungs. It was a moment of relief, but also frustration. They only needed to grab it. Just once, and it could begin. But before another thought could cross their mind, they heard it. They heard her.

Shaken. Fear. Her soft voice resonated in Vinalo's ears. Her warm cheek pressed against their own skin. Fear. They were getting married soon. Everyone was going to be there. She was going to be there, looking her very best. Her mismatched eyes looking into theirs. Shining with joy. It.. it…

Tears started running down their face, both in the the darkness of the abyss and in the safety of Meia's room. They felt it slipping away. Her slipping away. Why? Why? She… she wouldn't.. say…

Anger. Realization.

'D-don't you dare speak with her voice! You hear her, but you don't know her!' Vinalo yelled, face burning with sadness and rage. 'You coward! You're lucky she's not here!'

The lies. Always always always the lies. Imitate, but not replicate. It's their nature. Their strength. Their weapon.

Their weakness.

Still feeling as if their heart was being scratched and torn at, Vinalo reached out with their warmth, to shine their light on the liar hiding in the darkness.

[Meia]

“M-Mama…I c-can't..it-” Meia was struggling hard now, crying as she felt as if every part of her body was wracked in agony. She was a strong little girl, but everyone had their limits. Was she being punished for letting a healer draw so close to the source?

Vinalo's light was a mere flicker against the darkness rattling all around them. The voidsent was here, all around them even, taunting and testing and teasing the lalafell's senses. They could hear something moving and shifting, darting away from the flicker as if playing a game by which it always won. They could feel hot, fetid breath prickle at their skin, could reach out and touch something that oozed away from their fingertips soon after. A menagerie of voices called to the lalafell.
Meia - I'm going to be eaten.
Roselle - I'm going to lose everything.
Luca - Everyone I care about is dead, why did you leave me too?
Blue - ..You can't help anyone now that you're dead..
Misha - I just wanted to be happy again, now you're gone
The voidal darkness that enveloped everything within Vinalo's mind was pulsing, swirling, and closing in. To hope was to dream needlessly for things that would now never take place. Marriage? Friendship? Love? Those things, vibrant as they are, all lose their shine and radiance with the onslaught of fear and hopelessness. Give in and slumber. Give in and there will be nothing more to worry about.
And yet, to the the fiend's surprise, that light, Vinalo's weak little light somehow managed to catch sight of the voidal beast in question- or at least, the massive slitted eye that stared down at the lalafell. That same light spread like a spotlight raining down clear sight and clearer vision. Before Vinalo, not two fulms away, was a massive serpent, violet energies wafting up from its coiled body as if it were on fire. From its fangs dripped venom even darker than the abyss. A single string of light connected Vinalo's palm to the snake's massive head.

[Vinalo]

Meia's cries. Vinalo heard them, inside and out. She was screaming in agony. They could feel it. This vile serpent was strangling her, as it was them just illusory moments ago. Tears were still running down their face. Their body was burning. They felt as if they were going to simply run out of breath at any moment. But…

The voices. The voices. All around them. All people they cared about. All people they've connected to. All friends they've made promises to. All of them in despair. They failed. Over and over and over and over and over. Crushing defeat. Endless pain.

Healer? Death. Promise? Broken. Teacher? Betrayed. Friend? Forsaken. Lover? Abandoned.

They all hurt. They all hurt so much. Every last one. Last… one…

No. No no no no no. The last one. It hurt. Too much. Vinalo couldn't bear it. They could hear her voice. So clearly. It burned at their mind. Memories. They remembered… remembered what it meant.

“If it were not for you, I would not have bothered returning.”

Vinalo screamed. They sobbed. The darkness was flooding their mind. It was crushing them. It was crushing Meia. Everything was so heavy, and they felt empty. Weak. Alone. But…

Memories. Something. Remember, remember, remember!

Something appeared. Despite the abyssal darkness surrounding them, it was clear as could be. No darkness could obscure it, despite it's simple form.

A single red thread, dangling in front of them. Vinalo saw it, and knew. They grabbed it, and the darkness encroaching on their mind faded. Light. Warmth. Burning, but not pain. Togetherness. Happiness. Trust. Promises kept. Love. And then, they saw it.

'You… you thought you could hide from me!? Use me!? Break me!?' Vinalo screamed at the dark serpent, now in full sight. 'I am Vinalo Mabunalo! Healer! The light in the darkness! Nothing; not you, or god, or primal, or Elemental, or anything will stop me from saving Meia!'

On the outside, in Meia's room, if one were to look closely, the very air around Vinalo seemed to be quivering and distorting. On the inside, in the black abyss that the healer had been pulled into, the single strand of light that connected the Lalafell and the serpent was shining brightly. And with everything they had, everything they could muster, both from the outside and within, one strand became ten.

Became fifty. A hundred. A thousand.

They swarmed around the beast, shining with a brilliant gold-amber (that perhaps matched their own eyes) radiance. Gripping. Strangling. Piercing. Binding. Extracting.

Vinalo felt it. Heard it. The screaming and wailing of the void. But they had a job to do.

'Fiend! Coward!' they yelled, voice now filled with confidence. 'No more hiding!'

[Meia]

The voidal presence that was safe within its own encroaching darkness was far less powerful in the light. Fearsome as the serpent was, its advantage had been lost, and now it was the one trapped in there with Vinalo- not the other way around. The strand that connected them both brightened, radiated even, as it split and became multiples. Screams meant to terrify and bring one under were now filled with pain as the gold-amber threads wrapped and weaved and covered and squeezed. The harder the large voidsent struggled, the tighter the light squeezed around it.
The voices Vinalo heard were pained, agonized, and tormented. They were the sounds of their friends and lover, hurt, dying, suffering, all because of the lalafell. All because of what they were doing- what they were trying to do. To be a healer meant seeing death, to prevent it from happening to those they cherished and those they barely knew. But there were hefty consequences to taking the path of the light. There always would be. No matter how much determination they carried, not everyone could be saved. It was only a matter of time.

Outside, in Meia's room, purple tendrils were beginning to lift and fade from the wound as if being forced into the air and scattered into specks of harmless dust. Roselle looked at the sight with wonder on her face. Was…was Vinalo doing this? Were they really purging her child of the sickness? Was Meia finally going to be alright?

Inside the darkness, the serpent was resisting forcefully, struggling against the web of light that was threatening to tear it from the little girl it had latched onto. It was fully enveloped, cocooned in the warm, pure healing aether of the lalafell standing before it. The serpent, perhaps knowing this to be its last stand, tore through the threads that locked its mouth together in favor of snapping its venom-laced jaws straight for Vinalo with a rumbling hiss.

Vinalo would be snapped awake, the darkness replaced with Meia's room.

[Vinalo]

It all seemed to happen in an instant. The beast was bound, being crushed. Its essence being torn from Meia, bit by dark bit. Every struggle attempt weakened it, drawing it closer and closer to its own demise. Vinalo held on, not willing to give it the slightest opportunity.

But the voices. They heard the voices scream out. The pain and suffering that was radiating outward. Vinalo knew it well. To be a healer is to see life and death. To know the greatest joys of instilling hope, and to see the lowest points of despair. They knew it, but still they walked the path.

You can't save everyone, no matter how hard you try. Treatments fail, and patients die.

But not today.

The healer watched the fading beast lash out with the last bits of its rapidly fading strength, fangs headed straight for them. There was nowhere to 'run.' But there wasn't any fear on their face, simply a look of defiance.

Back in Meia's room, Vinalo's now-bloodshot eyes snapped open. They blinked several times and staggered backwards, trying to get their bearings together after everything that just happened.

“…M-meia? Roselle?” they asked, shaking their head and looking around.

[Meia, Roselle]

When Vinalo roused awake, Roselle was busy hugging her daughter tightly. No sound came from the little girl at first, but she shifted a bit in the bed as she was held, finally giving a meek little murmur, “..Vinalo..” Followed by a tired smile. Meia looked exhausted but….one look down at her leg would reveal that the large wound at her leg had been reduced greatly. No longer was it various shades of red and purple, nor did it sport the dark corona-looking shapes. While voidal residue remained, it seemed to be focused almost entirely on two small pinpricks that remained at the back of her ankle. The voidsent was not entirely gone, but it was greatly diminished. As such, Meia was not fully healed- not yet. Not until nothing remained of the void viper.

Roselle stared at the two pinpricks thoughtfully, her lips a thin, worried line. “…Even after all that…all that effort…it's not fully gone yet?” She looked to the healer and looked as if she might start crying, cradling her child against her protectively.

[Vinalo]

Vinalo took a moment to catch their breath, looking between the faces of the hugging pair, and the greatly reduced wound. They could still hear it, but gone was the shrill screeching. Instead, a meek whimper was all that remained. Still present, but weakened and afraid. They let out a long sigh. 'Maybe… maybe if I was better prepared…'

The Lalafell inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly before speaking. They were exhausted.

“Meia. Roselle. It's… it's not over, but…” they said, managing a small smile. “It's hurt, badly. Nothing but dying cries left in it. Just… a bit more, and I… we'll finish it off.”

Vinalo dropped down to a sitting position, wiping the sweat from their brow. They closed their eyes for a moment, the lingering voices fading from their mind. They rubbed their eyes before looking back at the pair.

“But right now, Meia, how do you feel?”

[Roselle, Meia]

Roselle gently stirred the girl in her arms, Meia's big green eyes looking more alert than they'd been in the days, weeks, moons that had led up to this moment. She looked down at her leg, testing it carefully. There was no wincing, no trembling, and no shudders. The little girl brightened and wriggled out of her mother's grip to crawl onto the bed closer to the healer, her movements slow and careful..but lacking the distinct weakness from before. She was tired and exhausted, but that wasn't enough to stop her from slipping down the side of the bed and giving the lalafall a gentle hug. Only then would tears start streaming down her cheeks, wiping at them hurriedly before addressing Vinalo, her eyes alight with happiness.

“You saved me!”

A statement. A fact. A promise kept.

[Vinalo]

Maybe in another scenario, Vinalo would've slightly resisted the girl's embrace. But not here, not now. They managed to lift one of their own arms and contribute to the hug themself, giving Meia a gentle pat on the back. They smiled back at her as she wiped her eyes and spoke.

“Just like I promised,” they replied. “But I couldn't have done it without you being so brave, Meia. You're strong. I just knew you were.”

Vinalo looked to Roselle with that same smile, giving a reassuring nod.

“We'll surely finish it off together. But for now,” they added, leaning back on their hands. “I think I'll just sit here for a bit, if that's okay.”

[Meia, Roselle]

Meia pulled away to look Vinalo in the eyes. “I was brave cause you told me I was! I didn't wanna let you down! Not after..after everything!” She wiped at her eyes again and rose to her feet, walking around the room carefully, yet with no need for a cane.

Roselle gave Vinalo a gracious smile. She too looked worn from the events of today but…there was a spark of life on her face that the lalafell would have never noticed before. The mark of a mother whose burdens and grief had been lessened.

“Of course Vinalo. Sit back and relax for as long as you need.” She answered gently, before looking to Meia who had planted her face against the window. She waved at the passerbys enthusiastically and grabbed at the teddy bear perched there, swinging it around in her arms with a happy giggle. She stopped suddenly and looked to Vinalo, smiling.

“Now you can show me how to be a plant nurse!”

And so Vinalo relaxed into the welcome warmth of the mother they kept a promise to and the little girl who was almost free from her infection entirely. There remained remnants though, traces of a serpent not yet destroyed. But for now, the lalafell could bask in the glow of a job well done. There was time to recover before the last encounter.

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