“EXCUSE me, uyr,” the healer asked an important-looking man out of many in the field camp. He nearly smacked her in the head with the wax tablet he carried when he pivoted to find her.

“Ayryi,” he said. “What are you doing out here? Get back to the city. There’s war on the horizon. It’s not safe.”

“I have come to fight. Where may I register?”

His expression darkened as he looked her up and down. “This isn’t the time for fooling around.”

“I am not.”

He sighed. “Meaning no disrespect, this is your grandchildren’s fight. Frankly, you don’t look strong enough to lift a weapon.”

“I need no weapon. I have my Essence.”

“The Rirah would never allow it. Go home.”

The man began to walk away. She snatched a fistful of his rough tunic and held on as tightly as her gnarled fingers would allow. “I am a dedicant of Blazroshi Monastery in Sarona—I know my ability and my age. Let me savor what youth I have left in me if Mercy means anything to you.”

The man gently tugged her hand from his tunic and clasped it in his, kneeling down to meet her gaze lowered by a crooked spine. “You’re a healer. If you must do something, go be with your like in the rear camp.”

“No. I will fight. If you’re worried about your Rirah, let me speak with her myself.”

He squinted. “Why are you so persistent?”

The healer withdrew her hand from his grip. “Because of them.”

“Who?”

“We come from Pobresil on the border between Sosna Chonok and Zoldonmesk. When the Rosehearts razed the village, Vladri went out to fight. To protect me. I found him in the field pinned to the ground by arrows. The bones in his arm pierced the skin and his face was mottled with blood. I almost didn’t recognize him. My own son.” Her heart beat against pins and needles. “I removed his arm myself and sutured the rest of his wounds. I used scrap of soulcasting the Monastery had taught me. Nothing worked. He could not rise from where he fell, and I could not carry him to safety. Even if I had tried, there was nowhere for us to go. His soul had been cracked so badly I worried it might shatter if I so much as held his hand. We stayed in that field for days. I watched his skin pale and his eyes turn to glass, his feet blush with lividity and his chest struggling to draw breath. I knew I could not fix him. Then, on the third morning, he did not wake up. I knew I could not fix him, but I tried. I used my Essence, my breath, my own blood. I could not fix my baby boy. I did not leave him until his skin had turned to paper and his eyes were sunken in. They took my baby. I could not fix him. So, I will avenge him. If I die in this war, so be it. My life is all I have left to give.”

The man just nodded and held his stylus over his wax tablet. “Alright. If you wish to fight, I will not deprive you of that.” He sniffed. “What is your name?”

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