Tragic Genius

by Cynus

Chapter 6

The world no longer seemed to make sense. It hadn't since Veil was a child, but had she wondered if she had ever really had a chance to be a child? She couldn't answer this question anymore. Her childhood had ended at eight years old, standing inside of the Kobinaru Grand Theater. That was the moment; the moment when . . .

She became sidetracked by the subject of the next article in the news posts. Another mass bombing, leading to hundreds of dead in Lodan. How many had there been this week? Six? No, this made seven. The whole world was going mad, madder than her eight-year-old self could've ever imagined. If only that little girl could've seen what her life would become in four years. Perhaps then she could've adjusted to it better.

Word of harsh labor conditions in Oligan. This news post was already old to her, as her father had briefed her on nearly every detail he learned about the enemy across the sea. He sat on the war council, after all, and in the event of his death she would have to be able to take immediate control of that same seat. Twelve years old or not, responsibility weighed heavy on her shoulders.

"Are you okay, sis?"

Veil looked up with surprise, staring at Grim. "Why didn't you knock?"

"I did," Grim said, staring at her incredulously. "Several times. Your guards were certain that you were in here, and when you didn't answer, it just seemed like I should come in and check on you."

Veil sighed deeply. "With the way things are in the world, I'm surprised the guards didn't just rush in."

"They wanted to, but it seems my word is still worth something. Once I said I would go in alone, they let me do it," Grim replied.

"In that case, thank you. Sorry I was a little defensive."

"No harm done. Not on my end, anyway. What has you so wound up?" Grim asked.

"It's just . . ." Veil started but couldn't go on. She shook her head and stared wordlessly Grim, shrugging as her thoughts left her.

Grim approached her and looked over her shoulder, seeing what she'd been reading. He nodded in apparent understanding and turned off Veil's screen. "I think I see what the problem is. You're trying to become Father."

"Of course, I'm trying to become him," Veil said a bit testily. "I have to become him if anything . . . I need to know everything that he knows. I need to be ready."

"But you don't have to be him yet," Grim said gently. "You have a luxury that he doesn't, and that's time. Whatever that time is before you have to take that role, it's yours. You need to spend some of it having fun, or you'll forget what it means to be truly alive."

"That's a little deep for you, isn't it?" Veil said, playfully nudging her brother. Years ago she would've pushed him, but she'd grown more reserved since then.

Grim rolled his eyes. "You may have more responsibility, but I still get tutored. Just because I'm a more normal twelve-year-old than you are, doesn't mean I get to be as normal as a street boy with no education. Sharis has been teaching me philosophy for the past three months. Of course, he mainly teaches about the Church of the Blood, but he has some secular books among the group, and those are the ones I read."

"So where did you get that theory about time?" Veil asked.

"A woman named Plaet," Grim said. "Human, born in West Oligan, back before there was an Oligan. Her monastery was completely destroyed by an invading army, leaving her as the sole survivor. She wandered around miserable, wanting to restore her order, but the humans were too afraid of the invaders and rejected her. She ended up living with an Elrok tribe, the Mongoose Tribe, I believe. Most of her later work is dedicated to the Elrok children she observed there, and how they learn not just duty but how to enjoy themselves while performing duties."

Veil listened in stunned silence. She had never heard her brother speak in such a scholarly manner before. When had he started to grow up? Truly grow up? She remembered seeing the sadness in him, and that remained, but this was a different evolution from childhood. An understanding about the world that simply made him more mature.

"Sounds like this is a subject you're taking to well," Veil said, nodding in approval. "I think the world could use a little bit of philosophy right now."

"I'm not sure it would do any good."

"Why do you say that?"

The sadness in Grim's eyes intensified, and his smile thinned. "I think the world has a bit too much, to be completely honest. It's not that I don't think some are good, valuable lessons. The problem is that there's value in all of them, even the most hated ones start with a bit of truth. That's why people follow them so easily. Then, because everybody sees the truth in their own arguments, they can't see the truth of anyone else's. They beat on each other over misunderstandings."

"So what's the answer?" Veil asked.

"There isn't one," Grim replied with a shrug. "We're simply doomed. We're all going to die, most of us clinging to our own truth instead of looking for it. The best we can do is make the flames dance as they consume us."

Blood drained from Veil's face with each of Grim's dark words. No, he hadn't really grown up, he'd just given in more to the sadness. It was destroying him, bit by bit, and all she could do was watch. The brain was a tricky thing to heal. Fedain doctors had spent lifetimes trying to unlock all of its secrets. Still, there remained things that could not be healed, at least not yet. One of these was depression, because finding the right balance without destroying the person entirely seemed impossible.

Veil wanted to try. Looking into her brother's eyes, all she could think about was how she wished she could wash that sadness away. Grim wanted her to care about something more than duty, and she could do that. She didn't think she could play like he did, but she could care. She would find a way to heal her brother, before it was too late.

"You seem troubled, Lady Veil," Master Janlynd said, setting a cup of tea down in front of Veil before taking her own in two hands and sipping from it.

Veil looked up from the notes she'd been browsing, blinking in surprise at the presence of the monk. Veil had become a nearly permanent fixture at the hospital since deciding that she wanted to help Grim. It had only been a week, but that had been enough for the staff to start referring to her with more familiarity. Master Janlynd was not on the staff, but she came by every day to lend her healing powers to whomever needed them. As a result, she often saved more lives than even the doctors did.

And she had taken a liking to Veil. This was the third time the monk had brought her tea. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around this data," Veil explained, taking the tea in hand and sipping from it. "There's just so much research to go through."

"You've requested research on mental illness, yes?" Master Janlynd asked. "Now don't look so surprised, I do a lot of research here too, and I simply glanced your request in the ledgers while putting in my own requests."

"That's right," Veil replied. "I'm hoping I can figure out how to heal depression."

"Are you depressed?" Master Janlynd asked.

Veil shook her head. "I don't think so. It's for my brother."

"I'm a bit surprised you're willing to be so open about it," Master Janlynd replied. "Most people would keep such familial details to themselves."

"You are a monk of the Order of the Mountain," Veil said with a shrug. "I have no doubt that you only wish to be of help to me."

"I forget sometimes that you and your brother have studied there," Master Janlynd replied. "I was on sabbatical to the south, studying some herbology lore, when you and Lord Grim were attending classes with the Masters. I would've been honored to be part of your training, had I had the opportunity."

"Considering what wisdom you could offer me on healing, I would appreciate if you could be part of my training now," Veil replied with a tight smile. "I don't want to bother any of the doctors, since they have regular duties, but I have so many questions."

"Then consider me your informal tutor," Master Janlynd replied smoothly. "I do not mind making myself available to you for some time, even a short period of each day, if that would help. The world needs more healers, especially in government."

Veil's smile widened and warmed, and she nodded in appreciation. "That would be a great help, thank you. I will make sure that my father contributes a significant donation to the temple as soon as possible."

"There is no need for any of that," Master Janlynd said plainly. "I did not make my offer expecting any recompense. If you wish to donate, let it come from your own conscience. Besides, if I wanted you to donate anywhere, it would be here at the hospital. And your time would be more useful than your money."

"Then perhaps you could simply give me some on-the-job training?" Veil suggested. "I would love to have something to take me away from losing myself in news reports all morning. That's something I have to do, to some extent, but I'd rather be doing some good in the world."

"I think that will be quite the beautiful partnership," Master Janlynd replied.

"So, where do we begin?" Veil asked.

Master Janlynd simply sipped her tea, then nodded to the cup in Veil's hand. "We begin by fortifying ourselves. Healing is best done when we ourselves are whole. You know this already, but from the look of you I think you forget it sometimes. I can see how tired you are, and you need to start conserving your strength better."

"That was rather bold of you, talking to me like that," Veil said with surprise.

"Lady Veil, when we began this conversation, I was simply a monk, and you a noblewoman. Now, you have asked me to be your teacher, and I cannot do that without the openness to speak my mind," Master Janlynd replied. "However, for the sake of familiarity, you may simply call me 'Master Jan'."

"Very well," Veil said, nodding in acknowledgment. "You may simply call me 'Veil' then."

"I would prefer to retain your title, Lady Veil, lest those who hear us working assume I have any sort of special position in your life," Master Janlynd said.

Veil took a long drink from her tea, finishing it off despite its warm temperature. She set the cup down firmly, and fixed Master Jan with a stare. "I have finished my tea. Can we begin?"

"A student too eager often misses the lesson entirely," Master Jan replied, sipping her tea without hurry. "When I have finished my tea, I will attend you, Lady Veil. No sooner."

Veil sighed, already uncertain about this arrangement. She returned her attention to her notes. There was work to be done.

Veil had never felt more exhausted. All of her bones ached, and her muscles felt tight, as if they would snap at any moment, under the tension. Most of all she was hungry, and she devoured the food set in front of her by the hospital cooks as soon as she and Master Jan finally stopped for the evening.

Master Jan sat down with a simple bowl of soup across from her, casually spooning it into her mouth with no sense of urgency. Veil attempted to slow down to match Master Jan's display of decorum. It took far more willpower than she expected.

"What did you think of your first day?" Master Jan asked, after Veil had worked her way through most of the meat and vegetables on her tray.

Veil shook her head, a bit of annoyance entering her tone as she angrily swallowed a piece of bread. "All we did was stay in the emergency ward all day. Injuries all day long. It was exhausting!"

"Good. That's the first thing about committing yourself to healing—realizing that the job of the healer never ends," Master Jan said. She took another bite of her soup and smiled warmly around the spoon as she met Veil's gaze.

"But . . ." Veil said, pausing in her feasting at last, "I need to learn about the mind."

"You don't think you learned anything about the mind down there?" Master Jan asked. She didn't seem surprised by Veil's statement, only curious. Veil had the distinct impression Master Jan was leading her somewhere, but she couldn't see the destination from here.

"I was healing broken bones and cuts. We only had one with a head wound, and nothing psychological," Veil replied.

Master Jan grinned wide. "Nothing psychological? Nothing at all?"

"No. You were there the whole time, what are you talking about? You know that I didn't," Veil replied with a huff, tired of blindly following Master Jan down this path. Answers had better be forthcoming soon.

"What about their pain, Veil?" Master Jan asked.

Veil noted something in Jan's voice. A tone she'd heard from her tutors many times. The answer to this question was the point, though Veil didn't see how. She took another bite of bread as she considered the question. After a moment, she shrugged and said, "We cured them and sent them on their way. The pain was just a symptom of the illness."

Master Jan nodded and replied, "But how many of them were crying when they came in and laughing when they left?"

"Nearly all of them," Veil said.

"So, that pain, it affects moods?" Master Jan asked.

"Of course," Veil said, giving Master Jan a puzzled look. "That's what pain does. It tells our brains that damage had occurred, so we can try to fix it."

"And that would mean it's a psychological effect, would it not?" Master Jan suggested. She resumed eating while Veil stared at her in stunned silence.

Master Jan had nearly finished eating her soup as Veil finally answered. "I suppose so. But how does that help me? Depression isn't the same thing as physical pain. If I want to help Grim, I need to work on people that have similar problems."

"Go poking around in someone's head without knowing what you're doing, and you could cause all sorts of problems," Master Jan said, her smile drooping into a frown. "If you want to understand psychological symptoms, it's best to start with a model we already somewhat understand. We know that physical pain generally produces a certain range of emotions. There's often sadness or anger, sometimes fear, or even, in some people, pleasure."

"Pleasure?" Veil asked with surprise.

Master Jan nodded and explained, "Yes. There are some who experience pain and feel pleasure along with it. It's not as far-fetched as you may think. When we exercise, we're tearing our muscles and causing damage. As the damage heals, we grow more muscle tissue and become stronger. This is a type of pain many people associate with good. There are others who get similar senses of satisfaction from other forms of pain."

"Like . . . people who like fighting?" Veil asked, struggling to think of any other examples. She knew that she didn't like pain, and that was more than enough reason for her to get rid of it. But she had witnessed one boxing match before. Not by choice but by circumstance, as it was an impromptu affair on the road one morning. "I know there are humans who fight each other for fun. Or for other silly reasons."

Master Jan smiled and replied. "Yes, that would be a good example. So, assuming a patient doesn't want to feel pain, what can we do for them?"

"We can heal their wounds, so their nerves stop telling them there's a problem," Veil answered, relaxing now that the conversation was taking on a more academic turn. She took a few more bites of her meal, nearly clearing her tray.

"What happens when you do that, and the patient doesn't seem to react? You had a little girl today who just stared at you, as if questioning if the pain is really gone. Almost like she had a memory of it still, so she started crying again as soon as you let go," Master Jan said.

Veil set her spoon down, still holding the last bite of food. She remembered that girl well. No matter how soothing Veil had tried to make her voice, she just couldn't get the girl to stop crying. Even when her parents had come to comfort her, it had done no good. "I didn't know what to say to her. It seemed like I only made it worse."

Master Jan conceded that point with a nod. "My theory is that with things like depression it's something similar. People have a memory of pain, and they keep reliving it. It's like they're stuck with the ghost of what they went through. So, how do we heal a phantom pain? How do we heal something that isn't there, but feels just as real?"

Veil leaned back in stunned silence, staring at Master Jan. "Everything is psychological, isn't it? It's all about how we react to things, rather than being about the pain itself."

"There must be some evolutionary advantage to holding onto pain, though I'm not sure what it is," Master Jan replied. Her voice grew somewhat distant, as if she were trying to make a note to herself and Veil at the same time. "But considering its prevalence in the world, perhaps it is simply a mechanism to tell us that the world isn't right and needs to be fixed."

"Evolution? I wasn't aware the Order of the Mountain embraced that theory," Veil said, eyes narrowing slightly.

"The Order of the Mountain has no desire to direct the development of science or interfere with belief in its findings. It is about a way of living within reality, not defining it," Master Jan replied with a snort. "I'd be a fool to ignore science in my pursuit of helping people, and whether the data on evolution is conclusive is irrelevant. Change occurs within a species over time. Change occurs within an individual over time. Both are constant, and both breed chaos in their wake. What causes depression is almost certainly a reaction to those changes, and it must be about survival. It simply must be, or we'd have bred out the emotion by now."

"You really think it's an advantage?" Veil asked, suppressing a shudder at the coldness in Master Jan's eyes.

Master Jan's face grew dark. She wasn't looking at Veil anymore, though her gaze still pointed in that direction. It was as if she were staring at a wall, a hideous barrier in her path, that Veil could not see. "I think depression makes us see what's wrong in the world," Master Jan said in a harsh whisper. "The only problem is that it doesn't give us the power to change what's wrong. What options are left to us?"

"You're scaring me a bit, Master Jan."

"My colleague recently asked me if the powers of healing can work in reverse. If we can destroy as well as we heal if we were to put our minds to it. The idea was appalling, of course, but what if healing some things requires harm first?" Master Jan asked. She didn't seem to expect an answer, and Veil wasn't certain the monk was talking to her anyway. "What if we need to rebreak a bone that has been set improperly to truly mend the wound? Is it not then our obligation to do what is best for the patient? Should we not do what is necessary to fix the problem?"

"I don't know what you're suggesting, Master Jan," Veil said.

Master Jan blinked as if she were surprised to see that Veil was still there, then continued quietly, "I'm saying that maybe what we need, to solve the problems in the world, is to do something drastic, something we haven't thought of before. Maybe the world needs to get beaten to understand what's important and discard what's not."

Veil's eyebrows raised as she watched Master Jan with alarm. "It sounds like you want war."

Master Jan shook her head, the most emphatic gesture Veil had seen from her. "I want only war with the demons we have inside ourselves. I want us to take a hard look at who we are and strive to be better. I want us to stop blaming the other for what the self does."

"I don't think that's going to happen," Veil replied. "Most people are not willing to look inside themselves for long enough."

"It might not. But we can try to bring about the revolution, one person at a time," Master Jan said, and a smile finally reformed on her lips as she regarded Veil once again. "I have chosen that my next person to revolutionize is you, and you are already learning well."

Veil nodded. "I'm not sure what I was supposed to learn about today, but I learned a lot of it."

Master Jan ticked off points with her fingers as she reviewed her previous statements. "Pain is complicated. Everything is psychological. Sometimes harm may be required to fully heal someone."

"I'm still not sure about that last one," Veil replied, wincing at the thought of breaking her Fedain oaths to do no harm.

"Then meditate on it," Master Jan said, bowing to Veil's words. "If you say the prayers your church directs you to say, then offer the thought up to the creation in the blood. Let your heritage direct you."

"What if my heritage tells me you're wrong?" Veil asked.

"Then you should listen to it anyway," Master Jan conceded. "All you can do is act according to your own understanding. Your own senses are your best teachers. Learn from them. Adapt to your world. Then you'll become a leader worthy of your people. If you refuse to change along with the world, you'll stagnate and rot. Remember that and you'll do fine."

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