Kyle hadn’t really been in the restroom for long. It had probably taken him about five minutes to work through his impromptu brainstorming session. As such, not much had changed. Fern was no longer visible, Alison had moved to the far corner of the room and seemed to be clearing away chairs at a mostly empty table, and the homeless woman was in line. Kyle watched as Ben deposited a perfectly rounded scoop of potatoes on her plate working the spoon like he’d been born to it.
The homeless woman nodded in slight thanks and then moved down the line accepting some gravy for the potatoes and a drink. She only took a couple of steps as Kyle watched her, but she had clearly changed. It was still hard to peg her age, but now the upper end for it was at least a decade and a half younger. Her back was straight, her steps were easier, and her hands were steady as she held the tray.
Instead of crossing back to the line to relieve Ben, the little prodigy, of his potato duties Kyle walked across to where Alison was stacking chairs on a table that had emptied out as lunch wound down. He stopped near her, felt awkward for a moment, and then said, “Hello.”
Alison looked over at him and said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” Kyle answered and then felt stupid. “Um, so that woman who just spoke with you…” He trailed off. What was the polite way to ask: Were you turning her into a monster?
“Was I working magic on her?”
Sure, that was more polite. “Yes.”
Alison’s face took on a very serious look. “I had intended to bring you in on this at some point, but not quite so early. The short answer to your question is yes, I used magic on that woman. It was a purification spell, known to be effective in the academic community, but not used in medicine due to FDA policy. Would you say she looks worse for the wear?” She gestured with her head at the homeless woman.
As Kyle watched, the woman finished getting the last of her food and made her way over to a table. Kyle didn’t really know the people who were eating at the shelter, but he’d gathered there were some regulars and some of them were pleasant and gregarious. Several of them were gathered at the table the woman headed toward. A conversation was going on there though Kyle couldn’t really hear it well enough to track the particulars. The woman said something as she sat down, she was greeted with a round of laughter, and the loud comment, “Sometimes you need extra gravy for thems potatoes! But, nah, it’s good today.”
A couple of people scooted chairs to make more room for her, and she sat. As she did so, she moved easily and handled her tray with one hand. Kyle wasn’t certain she would have been able to do that when she’d walked into the building and even if she had she probably would have spilled her drink.
He sighed, “She looks fine. It’s just…” He trailed off not certain what to say.
That startled a chuckle out of Kyle. He honestly hadn’t considered the legality of the spell. It probably was illegal, but not in any straightforward way. He wasn’t really certain of the legal status a of spell not approved for human consumption, but they weren’t explicitly illegal. Maybe it was a health supplement? Maybe the authorities could have gone after Alison for practicing medicine without a license, and there were the inevitable magical patent issues. None of it really stacked up to building an army of monsters. “You could have hurt her,” he corrected at length.
“In a general way, I suppose. If I’d screwed it up. However, magical medicine isn’t nearly the boogeyman people make it out to be. First, that woman wasn’t depending on the spell to keep her healthy so if it failed due to non-scalar effects she’s no worse off. That wouldn’t be true for a doctor working in an emergency room or even just trying to keep a patient’s cholesterol low. Second, the spell won’t make her into a monster and I know that because I’ve used it on myself.”
“Really,” Kyle couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice.
Alison chuckled. “You engineers are too serious. Back in school, I used it all the time as a hangover cure. That’s what the spell is – a glorified hangover cure. It came out of a polytheistic religious tradition that also involved intoxicants and vision quests. I guess some shaman got sick of waking up with a splitting headache every time he talked to his spirit guide and invented that.”
“Yeah, a lot of classic magic is like that. There are tons of spells for tasks we consider trivial and a whole world of people using them. Still, you didn’t come over to ask about that, you wanted to make sure Liz is going to be all right. I appreciate that. But let me ask you a question; why do you think I cast the spell on that woman?”