She owned a hamster, once. That was the reason she’d wanted to be a doctor. She found other reasons later, but the day she decided to learn to heal people was when she sat in the garden outside her house and tried to hold her dying friend together.
Normally, she would want to be a vet, but her parents had talked her out of that. And her aunt had died when she was twelve. She’d stared down at the closed casket and dreamed of being able to save even people who had to be buried in pieces.
And in her last years of high school she’d had the right grades. And she liked biology, she didn’t throw up into her frog like the boy next to her in class, and she didn’t have anything else she wanted to do.
So she’d taken pre-med classes when she wasn’t partying with friends and learning how to live alone. And she’d graduated on time and gone into Medical School, and found that it was hard to manage rent and a part-time job, but not too hard to learn. And then, one day, she’d had to go to the bathroom during a lecture and she’d never come back.
Geneva Scala had found herself in another world. And there she’d learned one thing: she didn’t want to be a doctor. Not anymore. She was a [Doctor] now, but all she did was watch people die.
The person lying on the crude operating table Geneva had set up was screaming in agony. The blade had cut deep into his side, and he was bleeding to death before her eyes. If she didn’t close up his injuries soon, he would be dead.
With one hand, Geneva held a crude wooden device that looked like pliers. She used that to close the artery she’d found and prayed that she could move fast enough.
She screamed it at the soldier watching with wide eyes. He stared at her. She pointed to the needle and thread.
“I need to close the wound!”
She let another man take over applying pressure on the artery as she held out her hand for the needle. The soldier fumbled with the needle and nearly dropped it onto the dirt floor. Geneva snatched it out of his hands and looked at the thread.
It was just cotton; not even good quality. She’d boiled it, but now she wondered if it would even hold under the pressures she was about subject it to. But then the man screamed and she was out of time.
“Hold him still.”
The two other men did as she ordered, holding the screaming man down as Geneva desperately started to stitch. It was horrific; the needle she’d bought wasn’t sharp enough and she had to poke massive holes in his flesh to try and close the gaping wound in his side. And the blood—
“Keep that artery closed!”
She snapped that at one her assistants. He tried to do as she instructed, but the forceps he was using were made of wood, and they were crude; carved in a single day, more like chopsticks than a true clamp. They slipped, and blood squirted into the man’s stomach.
Geneva had to shout it over the man’s screams. He was gagging with pain, still half-awake. But she had no anesthetics, nothing to give him. And now the other man was trying to grasp the artery and failing to find it in the heaving wound. Geneva reached for the forceps and hesitated. The man had gone still.
Slowly, she stared at the flow of blood. It had slowed. She looked at the soldier’s wide, open eyes, and then around the tent at her assistants. They stared at her. Geneva took a breath, and then spoke.
Part of her wanted to add the time of death, but that was pointless. There was no one to record it, and besides, there was no point. Even as she dropped the forceps and needle into the bowl of boiled water and watched the liquid turn red, she knew she had no time to even mourn.
“Take him outside. Bury him. I’ll be out in a second.”
The soldiers haltingly moved to obey her orders. Geneva stared at her hands. They were so red. She had no surgical gloves on, and she’d cut herself earlier that morning. She was not sterile.
Slowly, the young woman glanced around. She was standing in a tent; not an airtight one, just canvas walls and a dirt floor. Her ‘operating table’ was a piece of hardwood. Her surgical tools were a sharpened dagger, a curved sewing needle and inferior thread, and some wooden instruments that were already covered in blood. The men and one woman who assisted her weren’t trained; they weren’t even clean. They were covered in blood and grime.
And she had let another man die in front of her. Geneva still heard his screams. She’d already forgotten his face, but she remembered him begging her as they’d carried him in. He’d asked her to save his life.
And she had failed.
He was the fifth person she’d seen die in front of her eyes. But she could hear shouting, and in the distance, screams. She knew that she would see more corpses before the end of the day. Geneva prayed they wouldn’t be because of her.
Nearly a week ago, Geneva had walked into a city built onto the side of a lake. She’d stared around at the tall buildings, the interconnected bridges that ran overhead, and most especially at the walking lizard-people and the Centaurs that walked around next to Humans. But she hadn’t stared too long. Instead, Geneva had walked further into the city, until she could hear people shouting and the rat-tat-tat of someone banging on a drum.
The enlisters for the local mercenary groups and larger companies were already hard at work despite the heat of the day. Humans wearing light leather armor stood at small booths next to Centaurs who were practically unarmored save for a padded cloth vest or two, and Dullahans, strange, humanoid creatures who wore armor over their entire bodies and raised their heads up as they shouted at potential recruits.
Fighting men and—no, warriors of every species were talking to these recruiters and debating which group to join amongst themselves. Geneva stared at a Minotaur holding a huge spike club and shuddered as she imagined what would happen if it hit her. She prayed she wasn’t making a mistake. But she had no choice. Her stomach was empty, and even the smell of sweat and various body odors was making her hungry.
“You there! Join the Raverian Fighters!”
A tall man wearing plate armor called out to Geneva across the square. She walked over to him, noting how sweat stood out on his brow. He must have been cooking in the heat, but he made an impression among the more lightly-armed warriors.
“My name is Thriss. I am a [Sergeant] enlisted in the 4th Battalion of the Raverian Fighter’s Company. If you’ve got the grit to fight with me, we’ll offer you eight silver coins for each day you see combat, and one for each day you don’t. Stick with us and you’ll have a hot meal each night, trustworthy comrades at your back, and all the loot you can walk off with!”
Geneva had heard every recruiter giving the same speech, but she listened intently even so. Thriss looked her up and down as he shouted to her and the crowd in general. He had an amazingly loud voice—perhaps it was a Skill?
“We specialize in close-combat fighting, but we’ll hire anyone with a decent class.”
He eyed her skeptically.
“You don’t look like a [Warrior]. Are you a [Mage] of some kind? I’d have to ask for a list of your available spells. And we’ll provide you with armor and a weapon, unless that inhibits your spellcasting.”
She had to shake her head because the hubbub was so overwhelming. Geneva stepped forwards and shouted to Thriss as he stepped off the stool he stood on to hear her.
“I’m a Doctor! I treat the wounded! Would you hire me?”
He’d spoken the words like they were special. Geneva knew he thought she had a class, although she didn’t actually have one. But he looked her up and down and shrugged.
“Anyone can pull out an arrow or pour a healing potion over a wound, but sometimes a healing potion isn’t good enough. Someone who can save a few wounded—or cut the limb off without too much blood—would be useful. If you’ve got a mark, put it on this paper.”
She was surprised. Geneva had thought she’d have to talk to countless recruiters and make her case before they hired her.
“Just like that?”
Thriss shrugged his broad shoulders at her.
“It’s an odd sort that would lie about having a [Doctor] class. We’ve got no magical items that can see your class and no one who has the [Appraise] Skill, but you didn’t claim a level. And that sort of thing gets found out right quick. If you can carry your own weight and aren’t a troublemaker we’ll make use of you even if you have to clean dishes most of the time. If you can’t fight, well, you’ll learn quick.”
He eyed her intently.
“But I’ve heard of the [Doctor] class, even if I haven’t seen one. Like a [Healer], aren’t you?”
“Something like that.”
Geneva lied. She’d never met a [Healer] in this world, but she hoped it was close to what she did. Thriss stared at her, and then nodded.
“If you’re lying to me, we’ll use you as an arrow shield. But if you’re not, we’ll put you to good work. Maybe you’ll even earn a few levels. Speak with the Lizardfolk behind me for instructions. Welcome to the Fighters.”
After that, Thriss had shown her where to sign and Geneva had been given a place to sleep in the campgrounds, a hot meal of grit-like food and boiled corn mixed with meat, and even a sword and dagger. Geneva had slept, uneasily wondering about her fate, until she’d woken in the middle of the night with a realization.
Thriss didn’t want a [Doctor]. Or rather, he was taking a risk on her. But what he really wanted were bodies. The Raverian Fighters were going to battle, and aside from the money spent on feeding her and equipping her, she was just another sword to hurl against the enemy.
Her heart pounded wildly, but then Geneva had gone back to sleep. She was so tired that she only woke one time more, to slap at the mosquitos trying to feast on her. Then she’d gone to sleep. She was so tired she’d completely forgotten to ask Thriss about surgical equipment.
The next day, Geneva awoke to the sound of Thriss bellowing. It had roused her in a panic, and as she tumbled out of the rough blankets she saw soldiers all around her getting up as well.
Thriss the [Sergeant] had marched out with regular soldiers and officers and roused the hodgepodge collection of warriors he’d recruited yesterday. Geneva had stood awkwardly next to a Dullahan who held her head in her hands as they stared at Thriss. The man wasn’t one for speeches. He’d welcomed them briefly, and then told them they were going to practice fighting.
“My job is normally to whip you lot into shape before we have you fight with the rest of our forces. Trouble is, we’re already engaged to the southeast of here, so I’ve got a day to see what you’re made of before we go marching.”
So they were really mercenaries. Geneva had enlisted because she’d been desperate for food, but the reality only hit her now when Thriss told them they were heading into a battle a few days from now.
“We’re up against several groups this time. A local Centaur clan has allied with the Magehammer Company. They’ve sent two battalions and hired a few mercenary groups. We’re fighting them, supporting the Burning March Company. Don’t worry about the details; just know that we’re expecting you to fight your best. We’ll be fighting in the jungle; if any of you have terrain-based skills or knowledge of the local geography, tell me or one of the officers.”
Geneva heard a few groans, but the rest of the recruits seemed to accept this information as normal. Some of the people who’d signed up looked young—regardless of race, Geneva could recognize teenagers when she saw them. But others looked like veterans, such as the Minotaur with the spiked club who stood head and shoulders above everyone except the few Centaurs who’d enlisted.
“You lot, with me! We’re going to see what you’re made of, and if you don’t know how to fight, by the end of the day you’ll get your [Warrior] class, mark me!”
A tall Dullahan with a scar over her eye bellowed it at the recruits as she took a group of them away. Geneva hesitated. She wasn’t a soldier and she couldn’t—wouldn’t—fight. What should she do?
She found Thriss as the other officers began having the other warriors engage in practice fights. The [Sergeant] opened his mouth to bellow at her, until he remembered.
“You’re the [Doctor], aren’t you? What do you want?”
“I, um, need some supplies if I’m going to be performing surgery.”
Geneva explained her problem hesitantly. She know how these kinds of armies worked; you received pay after a month or two, and it would usually be late to prevent desertions. But she needed gear.
Thriss heard her out, and she was relieved he didn’t shout at her or order her to keep fighting.
“You need tools, eh? How do I know you won’t run off with the money?”
“I told you, I’m a [Doctor]. I need tools to stitch flesh together, and I don’t have any. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a doctor working?”
Geneva said the words with as much certainty as she could. Thriss shrugged.
“It’s rare enough. Most folks use healing potions, but I have seen healers stitch a wound closed. Why don’t you have what you need already, though?”
“I lost everything I had.”
That at least, was true. She’d lost everything when she’d walked down the hallway of her school and then turned and found green foliage all around her and dirt underneath her shoes instead of sterile tiles.
Thriss eyed her skeptically.
“Hm. Prove it.”
He waved at the groups of soldiers being watched by officers.
“We always get a few injuries, even with blunt weapons. Let’s see if you can help with one of their injuries.”
Geneva’s stomach clenched up, but she nodded. But in her mind she was desperately going over her class notes and the hands-on lessons she’d had in medical school. She hadn’t graduated—she was only in her third year—! But it was too late to back out now.
Soon enough, Geneva had her chance. A young man—a redheaded teen with more confidence than actual ability—failed to raise the shield he’d been given in time. The other man fighting with him struck his shoulder and Geneva saw the young man fall to the ground and scream as his shoulder popped out of its socket.
“No one move! Back to your places!”
Thriss pushed through the circle of people and beckoned Geneva over. He stared at the writhing young man on the ground and looked at her.
“Practice blade must have broken something. Can you set the bone?”
Geneva shook her head automatically as she stared at the young man. He was trying to touch and not touch his injured arm at the same time.
“The bone isn’t broken. His shoulder is dislocated; he needs to have it set.”
Thriss’ eyes glinted and Geneva saw his lips twitch for a second. It had been a test, she was sure.
“Can you fix it?”
“I can if he doesn’t move.”
“You heard her! Hold still, lad! It’s just a dislocation; nothing to bawl about!”
Thriss slapped the young man and held him still as Geneva gingerly grabbed the arm. The young man’s skin was slippery with sweat and he was shaking, but she knew what to do. He screamed and whimpered, but Geneva had learned how to fix a dislocated shoulder. After one try she popped the arm back in place and the man stopped moaning and stared at his arm in disbelief.
“He’ll need a few weeks to recover.”
“No time for that. Here. Use this.”
Thriss pulled out a glass bottle filled with green sloshing liquid out of his belt. Geneva eyed it skeptically.
“It’s a weak potion, but it should do. Go on. Unless you’ve got a Skill or spell that will do better?”
Geneva didn’t, but she’d never seen a healing potion work before. She couldn’t let anyone know that, though, so she pulled out the cork. The smell the green liquid gave off was incredibly bad, but the young man was looking at it hopefully.
Gingerly, Geneva poured some of the green liquid on the shoulder, and watched in disbelief as the already swollen flesh receded and the man gasped in relief. The area still looked raw, though, so Geneva added a bit more of the potion until it looked completely normal.
Thriss accepted the two-thirds full potion from Geneva and stood up. He offered the young man a hand, and the youth took it as he stood, flexing his good arm and laughing as if nothing had happened.
“I wouldn’t waste a potion on you, but we’ve got a battle to get to, and you’re no use to us with one arm!”
Thriss’s voice echoed around the campsite and the other soldiers stopped practicing to listen.
“Mark my works, stick with us and you won’t be looking for potions when you’ve got an arrow in your stomach! We’ve got healing supplies that will take care of anything save having your head chopped off—unless you’re a Dullahan—and we’ve even got a [Doctor] in case the healing potions don’t work!”
He pointed to Geneva, and she felt eyes on her. Geneva blushed a bit, but she didn’t shy away from the attention. The rational, calm part of her was thinking, though. Thriss had had the healing potion ready, and he’d been expecting someone to get hurt. She looked at the soldier who’d been dueling the young man. He was a veteran, not a new recruit. They’d probably planned all of this out to bolster the recruit’s confidence, and testing Geneva’s involvement had only added to the charade.
Her suspicions were confirmed when Thriss took her back to his tent and he put the healing potion in a chest which he locked with a key. He looked at her as she fished around in the supplies and came up with a bag which he added some coins to.
“That was quick. I’ve seen men tear flesh trying to get the bone into place, but you did that in seconds.”
He thrust the bag at her and Geneva looked inside. A handful of silver pieces glittered at her.
“Take it and buy what you need. I’ll have one of the local boys show you around.”
So she wouldn’t run off with the money. Geneva accepted the small bag gratefully. Then she had to wait for Thriss to find a young Lizardboy to guide her. All the while she was still struggling with the unreality of it all.
Magical potions that could do several weeks’ worth of healing in a few seconds? Soldiers fighting with swords? Lizard people, Centaurs, and a race of people who could take their heads off like hats?
Just what had she gotten herself into?
It took Geneva most of the day to gather what she needed, which was to say, a needle fit for doing any kind of surgery. In truth, she would have liked some antibiotics, general and local anesthetics, a supply of needles, disinfectant—
But she knew she was going to get none of that here. So Geneva got what she knew she could get, which was a needle, a curved one, the kind that she could use to sew flesh. Regular, straight needles just wouldn’t do.
Still, even finding that one instrument in the city was a challenge. It wasn’t as if this world—some kind of medieval world filled with magic—had anything like modern equipment. Geneva had to talk to three [Seamstresses] until one old lizard woman had what she was looking for.
“This is a needle I use to sew carpets, not flesh, Human.”
The old Lizardwoman with discolored scales eyed Geneva suspiciously, but sold her three curved needles in the end, along with the thread to match. It was dearly expensive, but Geneva still had enough left for some cloth and scissors. She needed bandages, and scissors were essential.
Thriss had eyed Geneva’s purchases and snorted when she returned. He’d taken the few coppers she had left.
“Bandages? Good if you’ve not a healing potion on hand, I suppose. But if you need cloth, we’ve got enough rags. Ask the quartermaster for the rest of what you need and get ready to march tomorrow. We’ll need to cover at least fifteen miles and you’ll have your own pack to carry.”
After that, Geneva sat with laughing males and females of various races as they ate before they slept. The air was hot and humid, as it had been every day Geneva had been here, and bugs tried to bite or drink from her. But the food on her plate was filling, and she could even smile and accept thanks from the young man whose arm she’d set.
And as the second night had come and the weary new recruits were bedding down, Geneva had curled up into her blankets and covered her head so no one could see her. That was the moment when she allowed herself to shake and choke on her fears.
What was she doing? She didn’t have any real equipment. She needed proper surgical gear, not sewing needles and bits of cloth. She needed forceps, a sterilized operating room, disinfectant, antibiotics, anesthetics—
“But I have no choice.”
Geneva whispered that to herself until the person sleeping next to her grunted in irritation. She shut up. She had no choice. She had to survive.
This was Baleros, and the jungles were filled with monsters and the species were constantly fighting one another. If she didn’t have work, she would starve or be killed. And there wasn’t much use for a [Doctor], not in a land filled with magic healing potions.
Geneva Scala stared at the needle and thread in her pack and the bandages, water bottle, and pot she’d asked the quartermaster for. Her hands trembled as she imagined trying to save anyone’s life with such limited supplies. She stared at the sword and remembered her Hippocratic Oath.
Not the ancient Grecian oath that forbade the use of a knife in medicine, but the one she’d sworn to herself. She’d adopted her namesake, the Declaration of Geneva and made her own oath.
She murmured it now, half in her mind, half out loud.
“I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity. I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity; the health of my patient will be my first consideration; I will respect the secrets that are confided in me. I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat…”
She fell asleep before she could finish the rest. But the words echoed in her dreams. Only, now the word humanity was wrong. She had to protect people. But she was a soldier, too. She might have to fight.
She couldn’t do that. She had sworn a higher oath. Even if she was in another world, another place where magic existed and people leveled up like a video game, she had her oath.
It was the only thing she had left.
[Doctor Class Obtained!]
[Doctor Level 1!]
[Skill – Lesser Resistance: Disease obtained!]
“So you’re a [Doctor]?”
That was the question Geneva received at least ten times the next day, as she found herself marching across a dirt road and into increasingly thick underbrush. The 4th Battalion of Raverian Fighters set out to join the fighting.
In truth, Geneva had no idea where they were on this continent, or where they were going. She wasn’t even sure what they were fighting for, which amazed the soldiers who decided to speak with her on the march.
She was in 6th Squad, under Thriss himself. Their group—and indeed, most of the battalion—was Human. Oh, a few Centaurs, Dullahan, Lizardfolk, and even the Minotaur marched with them, but Geneva understood that species generally stuck together, even in mercenary groups.
“It’s easiest to coordinate attacks if everyone’s the same species for the most part. ‘Sides, we Humans have to stick together, right?”
So proclaimed the red-haired young man who’d been the first to join Geneva on the march. He shouldered the pack he’d been given with only a little difficulty and kept stroking the hilt of his sword with clear excitement. Geneva heard a snort and saw the three men and two women walking with them laughing at him.
“Ignore Lim. He don’t know what he’s talking about. We’d be far better if we had a few more Dullahan in our company. They’ve got armor for skin; all Lim’s got is a big mouth and a bad shoulder.”
Lim looked hurt as Geneva laughed. The woman who’d spoken—Clara—had dark skin, reminiscent of a Native American’s, which made Geneva more and more convinced that she was in some twisted version of the Americas. Somewhere around Brazil or maybe the Amazons—the plant life and constant, intrusive humidity and heat seemed to suggest it.
“I’m surprised you wanted to join up with the Fighters, though, Geneva. Don’t [Healers] generally stay away from the fighting?”
“I guess. But I don’t have any money, and this was my only option.”
Clara nodded sympathetically.
“Still, if you won’t be fighting you’ve got a better chance than Lim. What’s a [Doctor] do, anyways? Don’t healing potions make your class obsolete?”
That’s what Geneva had been worrying about. She shook her head.
“Healing potions don’t work on everything, though, right?”
A man with a thick beard and bald head nodded sagely. He had several scars that made Geneva wonder whether they’d been healed naturally or whether the healing potion hadn’t quite worked.
“A good healing potion’ll put together some broken bones and mend skin and even your guts, but a bad one only does a bit of healing. ‘Sides, do you think we’ve got enough potions to fix everyone up? Thriss made a big show earlier, but if you’re counting on being healed up every time you take a hit, you’d best run away now. Only way to stay healthy is not get hit.”
The other soldiers nodded and Lim looked worried for a second.
“But we won’t be in that much danger, right?”
“Hah! Against Centaurs? They might have trouble in the jungle, but get them on a flat plain and they’ll pepper you full of arrows so fast that you won’t even have time to reach for your shield.”
“Centaurs ain’t the problem here. I’m more worried about the Magehammer Company. They’ve got some nasty mages.”
“They’re not all going to be mages, are they?”
Again, everyone laughed at Lim. He flushed and turned red, but eyed Geneva sideways. She pretended not to notice—he couldn’t have been more than sixteen, and she was twenty four, going on twenty five.
“They’ve probably got mostly warriors and only a few mages in each squad, if that. And we’ve got our own mages so we needn’t worry about being completely alone. But mark me, there are going to be some nasty spells out there.”
“We’re not going to be fighting them the entire time, though, right?”
“Of course not! Do you think we’re going to kill them down to the last man? No, we’re trying to push back their company. If we kill enough of them—or take enough land, their Commander will probably sign a peace treaty. Then we all get paid and we can get drunk for a week or two.”
Clara lectured Lim as Geneva listened with rapt attention. She’d been in this world, in Baleros, for a week, and she’d survived mainly by pretending she knew the basics of this world. But she was still woefully undereducated, and the people marching with her were the first people she could candidly ask questions of.
“The Magehammer Company is trying to protect a goldmine that Centaur tribe found. That’s what I heard. They’re going to split the profits, but surprise, the Burning March Company claims that’s their mine because they’ve got the contract on this area.”
Several other people nodded sagely. Lim looked confused.
“But who’s right?”
“Who cares? We get paid to fight, not take sides. Don’t go making an enemy of a Company, boy.”
The bald soldier cuffed Lim. From what Geneva understood, Baleros was a continent unique in that despite there being nations and countries and kingdoms and so on, much of the fighting was done by mercenary groups, ranging from smaller troops like the Raverian Fighters to huge Companies comprised of multiple regiments of soldiers who were almost constantly embroiled in conflict.
“Of course, the Companies are like nations themselves.”
Clara looked surprised when Geneva asked her about it.
“New to Baleros, are you? Well, there are countless companies who have their own cities and towns where they base themselves. They have contracts and earn income from protecting places, and they send out their own armies to fight. The big ones have influence, representatives in other nations, even entire merchant organizations that cater only to them!”
“I’ve heard the Four Companies of Baleros are the biggest. But I don’t know anything about them…why doesn’t everyone join up with them?”
“The Four Companies? Well, sure, if you’re an officer or a veteran they treat you well. But you can get better pay and opportunities to loot and level up in a mercenary group. Besides, when they go to war, people die by the tens of thousands.”
The bald man shook his head and spat. He was called ‘Old Man’ by a lot of the soldiers, but his actual name was Fortum. He used the spear in his hands like a walking stick as he talked, his mouth a mix of yellow teeth and conspicuous gaps.
“They’re all somewhat equal—well, it’s not as if they fight against each other most of the time. That would upset the balance, and if two of the Great Companies fought, the other two would attack the winner, if there even was one. But now that we’re mentioning it…Lim, you know the Four Great Companies, right? Tell the young lady about them?”
Lim jumped and blushed. He cleared is throat nervously.
“Well, there’s the Armored Legion—the Dullahans—”
“Dullahans and a lot of bastards in armor. They base themselves in the north, mainly. They’ve got at least eighteen cities under their protection.”
Fortum interrupted Lim.
“Well yeah, but their leader’s a Dullahan, right?”
“As if that made a difference! They’ll take anyone with good armor. I doubt you’d get much work with them, Geneva. All their troops are tough as nails and their Dullahans have metal armor.”
The Old Man nodded to some of the Dullahans marching in a squad ahead of them. Geneva looked, and saw those Dullahans had ‘skin’ made of wood, not metal. She’d been surprised when she saw that, but apparently while Dullahans were all covered in armor save for their head, the quality of that armor varied.
“Not a lot of treatment needed for people wearing armor, right?”
Geneva could just imagine the injuries that might occur. Crushed bones, pierced armor—she shuddered as she imagined trying to restore a smashed hand without equipment. She wasn’t even sure she could help someone who got cut by a sword here.
“Anyways, they’re always at odds with the Flowing Wind Company. Mainly Centaurs, but they have a lot of mounted soldiers as well. They specialize in fast strikes—one second you think you’re safe and the next their armies will come riding down on you during the night. Not so great in jungles and higher up, though.”
Baleros wasn’t all deep forest and jungles. It had wide open plains and wonderfully scenic landscapes—or so Geneva had been told. If it was anything like America, she expected the northern part of the continent would be far colder.
She’d been born in Wisconsin, and although she was Italian by heritage and had often visited her homeland—this humidity was killing her. She would give anything for a bit of snow. Apparently it was winter, but for some reason it was delayed. She’d heard Winter Sprites mentioned in this context, but Geneva still had no idea what that meant.
“The Armored Legion and Flowing Wind companies are specialized, but the other two are more diverse. The Forgotten Wing for instance—”
“That’s the army with the Fraerling who leads them, isn’t it?”
“The Titan himself. Yeah, they rose into prominence two decades back. Crushed countless other companies, and their second-in-command is the Titan, the greatest [Strategist] in the world.”
Fortum nodded, and Geneva wondered what a Fraerling was. The Old Man cleared his throat.
“Mind you, their Commander is just as terrifying. The Titan leads their armies while the Three-Color Stalker takes down enemy officers. They haven’t as many long-term contracts, but they’re a rising force, and they’ve been fighting with the Iron Legion. Now, the last company—”
“Ambush! Centaurs in the trees!”
Someone screamed the words from up ahead. Geneva looked up, and then, suddenly, there were arrows.
Geneva stared at shadows as they burst from the trees. She felt something blur past her face, and then someone tackled her from the side. Lim’s terrified face hovered above her as Geneva hit the ground and all the air rushed out of her lungs.
Stunned, she saw a Centaur covered in warpaint and nothing else leap over her. He had a bow in his hands and he nocked it and fired three times. Three soldiers around him fell, crying out, and then he was running into the trees.
He had raven hair, and tanned skin. And he had a bracelet which shone with magical light. The Centaur’s galloping footsteps faded, and only then did Geneva sit up.
The first thing she heard were screams, and confused shouting.
“Go after them!”
“No, hold position! Get some potions out here!”
“They’re all dead!”
“Where are the archers!?”
“Potions! I need—!”
And then, a voice from next to her.
Lim stared at one of the fallen soldiers. Geneva looked over and saw Clara was weakly grasping at a shaft buried in her collarbone. It felt as though the ground had dropped underneath Geneva.
Arrow wound. A deep shot. Probably hit bone; not bad blood loss yet, but Clara’s eyes were wide and she was gasping. First stage of hypovolemic shock?
Lim staggered over to the female soldier. He choked as he stared at the shaft in her body and reached for it.
Geneva was still in shock, but her training and instincts took over.
“Don’t touch her!”
She snapped at Lim as he reached for the arrow. Geneva looked around. Fortum was watching out for the archers, but other soldiers were already charging into the forest.
“Fortum! Help me lie her down.”
He hesitated, but then abandoned his spear and helped Lim lie Clara down. She was gasping and her face was white as Geneva studied the arrows.
Geneva had gone through a surgical rotation in medical school, but while her lessons had included information about how to fix up people with bullet wounds and knife wounds, no one had even thought to include a seminar about arrows. But the basic principle Geneva understood. She could either leave the arrow in and let it fester, or get it out.
The only problem was in how to get it out. Geneva had nothing like a scalpel and she was well aware of the dangers of infection. The arrow tip might be poisoned for all she knew. She had to get it out, but if Clara died then what was the point? Moreover—she’d have to cut down to the arrowhead itself to extract it.
She had butterflies in her stomach, but Geneva’s mind was cold. You had to be cold to work as a surgeon. And quick, too. There was no room for hesitation in the emergency room or the battlefield.
“I need a knife, and hot water. And a healing potion.”
She could bypass the injury she was about to inflict on Clara by using a potion. But there was still the issue of infection—did a healing potion erase bacteria or was that still an issue?
Lim shouted desperately, and then the big man was running to them, a healing potion in his hands. He looked down at Clara, and then at Geneva.
“Can you save her?”
Geneva said it instantly. Even without a healing potion, the wound wasn’t that bad. And with it, she could take the arrowhead out. The only issue was whether the trauma of the surgery would be too much for Clara.
When she asked about the issue of infection, Thriss shook his head.
“The better type of healing potion gets rid of poison and all kinds of nasty problems, but we’ve only got cheap stuff.”
“Fine. Then I need a fire now.”
“[Mage]! I need a mage over here!”
Thriss roared and a man in robes ran over. He blinked when Geneva demanded a fire, but he immediately boiled the pot of water just by putting a glowing hand on the metal. Geneva dunked the knife Fortum handed her in the water and tried to breathe slowly.
She only had a knife. She needed—she needed clamps, forceps, retractors—she needed a damn scalpel. This dagger had all the precision of a baseball bat. And she needed something to dig around in the injury with.
“I need a spoon. Or—a metal knife. Something small I can work with.”
Lim went running, and Geneva knelt by Clara. The woman was trying to sit up, but Geneva held her down.
“Clara? It’s going to be okay. Alright? But I need to get that arrow out of you, so it’s going to hurt.”
“You can help me?”
Clara smiled at Geneva, but there was worry in her eyes. Geneva nodded and tried to smile. Clara should be under anesthesia, but she was bleeding and there was no time.
Lim came back with the things Geneva had requested. She dunked them in the boiling water and took a breath. Thriss was watching her, and Fortum was staring with concern at the arrow.
“The healing potion’ll close the wound, but the shaft has to come out. It has to be cut.”
She nodded at the older man.
“Hold her down. Clara? I need you to hold still, alright?”
Clara clenched her teeth.
Lim’s face went pale as Geneva drew the dagger out of the boiling water. She barely felt the scalding heat; her entire concentration was on Clara’s bleeding wound. Go in fast; avoid major arteries and veins. Dig the arrowhead out and make sure it hadn’t fragmented, then use the healing potion. Time was her only enemy. And pain.
“I’m going to start.”
So saying, Geneva slowly began to cut into Geneva’s shoulder, next to the shaft. The woman inhaled, and Geneva paused as she saw the blood.
But she’d done this before. She’d cut open people and cadavers. But never—
Never when they were alive.
It was so hard. But she had to do it. People thought doctors swore the Hippocratic Oath when they learned to practice medicine. There was that famous line, ‘Do no harm’. Primum non nocere.
Bullshit. Doctors had to cause harm. It was the only way to do surgery. The only way to save lives.
So Geneva began to cut. She sawed flesh apart and Clara screamed. Fortum and another man held her down as the woman herself tried not to move, and Geneva cut fast and deep.
“Oh dead gods. Lords and ladies. Nonononono—”
Lim was right in Geneva’s ear, reacting viscerally to the surgery. He backed away, hands over his mouth, and then Geneva heard retching and splattering. He’d vomited! Of all the—
“Goddamnit! Get him out of here!”
Geneva shouted and Thriss pulled Lim away. The vomit stank in the hot air and Geneva was worried it would attract bugs. But she didn’t hurry her movements; she was working as fast as she could and didn’t dare rush for fear of causing more damage.
Cut down. Through tissue. She didn’t have time to remove the blood, even if she could. No sponges. Clara was screaming, but there! There was the arrowhead.
It was deep. And now Geneva could see it was touching bone. But she’d opened a path so she gently tried to remove the arrowhead by pulling the shaft out.
She had to get the arrowhead out. It was a sharp object, unlike a bullet or something the tissue could heal around. Even a healing potion would probably only form an abscess around the arrowhead until Geneva could get it out. It was better to slice up Clara’s flesh to retrieve it rather than leave it in.
If it was lodged in the bone, she’d have to pull it out with her crude forceps. Geneva prayed as she gently twisted and pulled the shaft out. Clara was moaning, deep and agonized. But Geneva’s attention was all on the shaft. She could feel the arrowhead moving, coming up and then—
The bloody head of the arrow came up, crimson with Clara’s blood. Geneva stared at it grimly and cast it aside.
Thriss exclaimed and uncorked the potion as soon as he saw the arrowhead. But Geneva stopped him and shook her head.
“I need to disinfect the wound first. Reboil that water.”
It was a popular myth that alcohol would disinfect wounds. While that was true, it would also inflame the injury. Alcohol was good for sterilizing equipment; but in this case the hot water Geneva used to wash the injury and blood was adequate.
Clara screamed into the rag Fortum had given her to bite with, but in a few seconds Geneva was pouring the healing potion over the wound. She did it slowly; Geneva the person wanted to heal the wound as fast as possible, but Geneva the surgeon wanted to observe the potion’s effects. What she saw fascinated her.
The healing potion was clearly some kind of agent that accelerated the body’s natural processes. It did not create new skin; rather, it made the existing tissue close up at an extremely accelerated rate. Even as Geneva watched the skin close together and the angry red color of the flesh returned to its normal state, she wondered how the potion would work on another kind of injury.
They would probably do nothing for more advanced breaks, unless the bones were set properly. Even then, they would have limits—these potions couldn’t heal severed limbs, and indeed they would inhibit reattachment if used incorrectly—even if that was possible to do with just potions.
Did the potions age the skin? Would they cause cancerous growths or tumors in the long run if they continued to accelerate the reproduction of cells? What would their effect be on such an affliction?
Thoughtfully, Geneva corked the potion and handed it back to Thriss. He looked surprised, but she’d only used up half of the bottle. Despite the invasive surgery, she hadn’t cut that deep into Clara for the arrowhead.
“Only a bit of healing potion. That’s good work.”
Geneva just nodded. Clara was feeling her arm and sitting up, shuddering. Tears had streaked through the blood and grime on her face, but her skin was whole and unscarred now. She hugged Fortum as the soldier gripped her shoulder.
It was hard to meet her eyes. Geneva stood up and looked at Thriss. He was looking at her too, different than before. There was a newfound respect in his eyes.
“Not many [Healers] could remove an arrowhead from a screaming person like that. I guess [Doctors] are stronger, eh?”
“Some are. But I don’t have even a quarter of the equipment I need for proper surgery. If Clara wasn’t the only one injured, or if the arrow had hit her in the gut—”
Thriss shook his head.
“Bad business. Those Centaur bastards are good shots. Your friend was lucky she only got stuck once; I’ve seen them hit a soldier three times in as many seconds.”
He pointed at the other bodies lying on the ground. Their eyes had been closed, but Geneva could see the arrows that had struck them around the heart or in the necks and faces.
“If you can save more lives, I’ll see to getting you what you need. What things do you want? A sharp dagger, we can give you.”
“I need more than that. I need things to open skin and hold flesh. Tweezers, a digging instrument—”
Thriss’ face changed as Geneva described the tools. He shook his head.
“Talk to the [Quartermaster]. I’ll see to it you can take what’s needed.”
“I also need something to clean my tools. Not just water, although I’ll need a fire to boil water. But I need alcohol—a strong spirit.”
Disinfectants. Could she make some kind of iodine? She desperately needed an antibiotic, but what?
Thriss made a troubled face.
“We have an alcohol ration. I suppose I can have the quartermaster give you some. But if I see soldiers drinking—”
“If they’re drinking, it’s because I need them to stop screaming.”
“True enough. Well then, you do what’s needed. But it was good you were here. Damned good. I’ve seen too many friends cutting a shoulder open and rooting for the damn arrowhead, or pouring a potion on top and having the wound fester.”
He nodded to Geneva and left her. Slowly, the disturbed line of soldiers began to regroup, and in ten more minutes they were marching again. But this time they walked in silence, and Geneva stood alone. She’d washed the blood off her clothes and hands, but the other soldiers stayed away from her.
Apparently, it was one thing to kill your enemy, and another to hurt your friends, even if that was to help them. Geneva didn’t care at the moment. When they finally made camp she just fell into bed after a quick meal. She was exhausted.
But a voice spoke in her ears before she slept.
[Doctor Level 4!]
[Skill – Hygienic Hands obtained!]
[Skill – Lesser Resistance: Infection obtained!]
She didn’t understand Skills that well. Well she did—it wasn’t a hard concept to grasp. But Geneva didn’t precisely understand what her Skills did, and that bothered her greatly.
As she woke up and felt a night’s worth of bug bites start to itch, Geneva wondered what [Hygenic Hands] did. Did that mean she didn’t have to wash her hands? Surely not. She had a bit of grime on them even now.
Or—was there some kind of effect on them that would nullify any bacteria on her hands? If she touched something—like feces, for example—was she cleansing the object or would it return to being filthy the moment it left her hands? Did the effect apply to the tools she used, or was it just her hands?
For that matter, how much resistance was ‘Lesser Resistance’, anyways? Was her immune system simply stronger, or would she slowly develop an immunity or would the virus or infection not affect her as badly as someone without this Skill?
She wished she had a microscope. That would answer so many questions, and besides which, this world was a veritable treasure trove of new information. Geneva would have given anything to study how the Lizardfolk and Dullahan’s internal biology worked or even what effect magic had on the particles in the air when it was cast. She had so many questions.
But as she walked to breakfast where a silent Dullahan was serving bowls of soup and chunks of dry bread to the soldiers, Geneva’s thoughts made way for a more pressing issue.
How would the others respond to her now that they’d seen her performing surgery? Moreover, how would Clara react?
She needn’t have worried. True, Lim hesitated, but he still moved over as Geneva sat with Fortum and the other Human soldiers from this morning, and Fortum grunted at her in a friendly sounding way. The others chatted or blinked in bleary silence as was their preference, but none looked at Geneva too oddly.
Except for Lim, that was. He still looked uneasy when he met Geneva’s eyes, but Clara gave her a one-armed hug the instant she saw her in the morning.
“Looks like a [Doctor]’s more use’n I thought, isn’t that right? You cut that arrow out of my arm in a thrice, and it doesn’t feel the slightest bit bad now!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have anything to stop the pain.”
Fortum shook his head.
“You were faster than anyone I’d ever seen, girl. Don’t you worry. Clara knows you had to get that arrowhead out.”
“It was worth me screaming and bleeding for that.”
Clara nodded seriously. She tapped her arm.
“I’ve heard stories of folks who used a potion without pulling the arrowhead out. They rot from the inside and die screaming. No amount of potion’ll fix that.”
“You were so calm.”
Lim burst out at last. He looked at Geneva, wide-eyed.
“How did you know how to get the arrow out? Do all [Doctors] have a skill? What level do you learn to do all that?”
Geneva frowned. She hadn’t learned that from her class, but the idea that someone could learn something like surgery from just leveling up a few times was…concerning. Fortum scowled and cuffed Lim lightly.
“It’s rude to ask her level, boy.”
Even asking about Classes was considered somewhat rude unless the information was volunteered first. It was a personal question and an important one; knowing someone’s exact levels and classes meant you could tell how powerful or useful they were. Geneva only shrugged.
“I’m not a high level [Doctor], but I’ve been trained to do surgery and other types of medicine.”
“Surgery? You mean cutting someone open like yesterday…?”
Lim looked uneasy, and another soldier smacked him on the shoulder.
“We’re eating, boy.”
Geneva nodded. She had no issues swallowing her food.
“If I have to. But I normally have a lot more tools. I was working with what I could scrounge, but next time…do you know where I can get tweezers? Even wooden ones would do.”
“Someone’ll have them. But if you want some, there’s bound to be someone with a wood working Skill in this crowd.”
Fortum pointed this out, and Geneva latched on to the suggestion.
“Do you think I could pay them or get them to make me a few tools?”
Metal would be far better, but anything was better than nothing. The Old Man nodded as he chewed at his bread slowly, breaking it down with saliva and soup so his few teeth could do the rest of the job.
“I reckon they’ll do it for free, even if the sergeant don’t insist. After today, everyone’s going to want to give you as much help as they can in case they’re the ones with a hole in their gut.”
“Can you fix that, too?”
Geneva smiled wryly, but her stomach twisted.
“Let’s not find out right now, okay?”
Everyone laughed, and soon the soldiers were roused by Thriss shouting and back on the march. But the [Sergeant] found Geneva as she was walking with the others.
He led her away from the others, and then pressed a small key into her hands. It was made of iron and sturdy. Geneva blinked at it.
“It’s a key. To the chest of healing potions in the supply wagon.”
Thriss stared seriously at Geneva.
“You’re new, but after yesterday, me and the other officers agreed you should have it. Mark me, though. If any potions are missing or you don’t lock up, there will be hell to pay.”
She met his eyes.
“Don’t worry. I won’t steal.”
“Good! I just want you to know how important what you’ve got is. Don’t lose it, or if you do—tell me at once. We can’t lose that key.”
Geneva nodded again and Thriss clapped her on the shoulder with one hand. Geneva stared at the supply wagon as she pushed the key deep into her pockets. It was an important thing to be entrusted with. The potion chest was probably the most valuable thing this battalion of mercenaries was carrying.
It sat at the center of the line of troops, in a wagon that was guarded by veterans. All the precious supplies were held there, but the potions had the double protection of the chest. Geneva could see why. Even a magical sword wasn’t as valuable as the hundred plus bottles of magical liquid.
The others made no comment as she rejoined them on their march, although Fortum did eye Geneva speculatively. But none of them looked like thieves, and so Geneva found the time to talk to some other soldiers and ask about fashioning some wooden tools.
They were all friendly, even the Lizardfolk. The few Dullahans and Centaurs were somewhat aloof, but Geneva’s [Doctor] status seemed to make her special.
No one seemed to really know what a [Doctor] was. Oh, they were familiar with [Healers] and regarded [Doctors] as a version of that class, but Geneva felt like she was being treated like a witchdoctor or some kind of medicine woman or midwife.
This world didn’t need [Doctors]. Not like her world. That knowledge made Geneva’s chest hurt and loosen at the same time. Was she useless?
No—no, Clara had still needed her help to remove the arrowhead. And things like plagues and infection might not be curable with magic alone. She had a place. And on this battlefield, at least Geneva could hand out potions.
The thought of going into battle was another worry that made Geneva’s stomach twist. But again, she’d had no choice. And at least here she could learn if she could still save lives or if all her skills were obsolete.
But to Geneva’s surprise, she found her expertise was needed before violence occurred again. As the soldiers had taken another break from marching and the sun was overhead, Thriss sought her out again.
“Geneva. A Dullahan wants to see you. He says it’s important.”
Curious, Geneva stood up and walked over to find a tall, dark-skinned man wearing armor that looked like bark was waiting for her. There was nothing visibly wrong with him, but for some reason the air smelled foul around him.
“What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
Without preamble, the Dullahan pulled off his arm. Geneva gasped, but Thriss didn’t seem shocked.
“Never seem a Dullahan do that? It’s not just heads.”
The Dullahan’s arm had come off smoothly, without any resistance. Geneva stared into the dark socket of his armor, but saw only purple light and a mist coming from the hole. Did they even have organs?
The Dullahan held the arm with one hand, and pulled a panel of the armor off. Geneva found her question answered and her stomach roiled as the horrible, rotting smell intensified and she saw what was causing it.
Underneath the Dullahan’s wooden armor—and now that Geneva saw what it was, she realized it was actually skin—his internal organs were clearly visible. Muscle and tendons were clearly visible; it was as if a normal Human had lost all their dermal layers but left their organs intact.
Dullahans were like crustaceans! They had shells – or perhaps they were more like insects, with exoskeletons they could remove. But what caught Geneva’s eye and made Thriss step back in disgust was the source of the smell.
It wasn’t a blood-filled injury like Clara’s. No, this was an infection. Pus and yellow liquid ran from the Dullahan’s arm as he held the wooden panel open, and Geneva saw the tissue and muscles around the yellow substance were raw and inflamed.
“Dead gods, that’s awful.”
Thriss wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand and spat. Geneva looked at the arm. Clearly, it was a long-term infection that hadn’t been treated. Her stomach tried to revolt, but Geneva held it firm. It wasn’t the worst thing she’d seen. Granted, it was up there in terms of disgusting, but she was a doctor. She was already thinking of how to treat the wound without any antibiotics.
To her surprise, the Dullahan handed Geneva his arm. She gently held it in her hands, noting the weight—it was quite heavy. She wrinkled her nose at the injury. What she wouldn’t give for gloves.
The wound was pus-filled and stank. Geneva stared at the Dullahan.
“Why didn’t you get this treated earlier?”
He shook his head.
“No one who can help with this. Healing potions no good. No [Healer] knows how to treat Dullahans.”
“But you think I can help?”
“[Doctor] is different. May help. Must help. Arm is bad.”
It was. Geneva noted the deterioration of tissue—the area had already begun to break down. She came to a quick decision.
“I’ll need more boiled water, and clean towels. In fact, I’ll need to boil the towels in the water first.”
Thriss eyed Geneva.
“Will this take long?”
“Not too long. Less than thirty minutes if I can get what I need. But I need to clean the wound now.”
“Good. Do it. And do it away from camp.”
Geneva led the Dullahan to a place where the soldiers couldn’t see—or smell—his injury and got to work. He followed her quietly, and silently. He was a very still figure, and his head didn’t exhibit many facial expressions. The infected wound had to hurt, but he was stoic. Was that a Dullahan trait?
To begin with, Geneva tried to figure out how the infection had started. But when she asked when he’d noticed the infection, the Dullahan only shook his head. He tapped the arm plate.
“Armor broke. Bad thing got in.”
Something like a bug or dirt? No wonder Dullahans tried to upgrade their armor. It was their skin, and any holes would expose them to all kinds of dangers. Geneva did her best with the wound. She would have done anything for antibiotics, but without them—
First she boiled water and cleaned two towels as best she could. Then, she requested and received some salt. She added it to another pot of water and boiled that. When the water was no longer scalding, she used it and the towels to clean the wound.
The Dullahan sat through it all, only wincing slightly which impressed Geneva again. She was touching his internal structure however lightly, and that had to be painful. But his only motion was to shoo away the insects that were attracted to his rotting flesh.
Soon, Geneva had cleared away the injury and she could see no traces of dirt or other containments. She gave the entire area one last dose of the saline solution—knowing it was a poor substitute for a proper antiseptic—and wished one last time for antibiotics.
“Is it done?”
The Dullahan looked at Geneva as she cleaned his armor plate. There was some…fleshlike substance on the back, and she tried to be as gentle with that was possible as well. How was he able to detach it from his arm? There was clearly still bloodflow. Was it just magic? Some kind of portal system?
She shook her head as she handed him the plate and he reattached it to his arm.
“No. Your infection is bad. Very bad. I have to clean it every few hours and let the pus drain. It will take time, you understand? But it must be cleaned, and the wound must breathe for a while.”
“It will heal?”
“You have a good chance.”
Geneva didn’t want to lie, but neither did she want to speak her mind. She needed antibiotics, somehow. But this wasn’t the place to find any. She hesitated. Could healing potions be of any help? Maybe…
When she came back with the healing potion she’d used on Clara, Geneva applied it sparingly to the Dullahan’s injury. The swelling reduced, although the injury didn’t look completely healed, which was something.
“I think this potion will help as well. I’ll use more tomorrow and if we’re lucky, your body will fight off the infection. Understand?”
He smiled at her, briefly.
“Good. Thank you.”
It was such a change to see his expressionless face move that Geneva blinked at him for a moment. But she realized he had to be terrified he’d lose his arm. She smiled back.
“It’s what I do. Now, we’d better get marching.”
That was the first time someone had come to her for help. Come to that, the Dullahan was her first real patient that had consulted with her. He wasn’t the last.
The Dullahan might not seem that talkative, but either he or Thriss was more chatty than Geneva thought, because word soon got out that she could do more than cut arrows out of people. Soon, Geneva had quite a number of discreet inquiries over medical issues of everything from boils and blisters to conditions like gout and even a surprising case of lacerations on a man’s groinal region. When Geneva asked where he’d gotten that, he just blushed and mumbled about lizardfolk.
By the end of that day, Geneva was confident enough to bring up the issue of hygiene to Thriss. He heard her out and scratched his head when she told him the soldiers needed to wash their hands regularly, not just when they were too dirty to stand.
“Soap? There is lye soap, but not nearly enough for the battalion.”
“Well, you need to buy some as soon as you can. If your soldiers keep eating without washing their hands regularly, some will get sick.”
Thriss made a face.
“How do you know that will help? Soldiers always get sick. It happens.”
“But it will happen less if they do what I say and practice proper hygiene. Trust me. I’m a [Doctor].”
He hesitated, but agreed to give it some thought.
“We’ll be joining up with the [Captain] and our unit’s [Strategist] soon enough. You can speak with them. Tomorrow we should reach the battlefield. Your talents will be needed soon enough then, so sleep deeply.”
Geneva nodded. She still had butterflies at the thought, but she was confident in her knowledge. She could help. She had to. This was what she’d been trained to do.
That night, Geneva slept on the ground, tossing and turning and thinking about antibiotics. She had to have some. Penicillin…how was that made again? Medical history hadn’t been high on her list of things to memorize, and she was regretting it now. She could recite almost every human body part and countless effects of drugs, but she didn’t know how to make penicillin from scratch. She needed the mold—but where would she even get it? Maybe a [Healer] would know, or some kind of class that dealt with herbs. An [Alchemist]?
Slowly, Geneva drifted off to sleep. She couldn’t get it now, but as soon as she was paid and got to a large settlement of some kind she’d start searching. For now, she had to rely on the healing potions. They would make her life so much easier. If disease and infection were her only enemies, she had a chance.
The soldiers had a chance.
Geneva believed that right up until the moment she heard the screaming and galloping of hooves that broke the silence of the night.
“Attack! Get up! We’re under attack!”
Geneva heard the words as if they’d been screamed in her ear. She shot out of bed, first looking around for the danger, and then reaching for her pack. She left the sword behind as she blundered around in a panic.
People were struggling around in their bedding, shouting, adding to the confusion. Geneva nearly ran into Lim’s sword as he whirled around, looking for an enemy in the darkness.
Clara pulled Lim back and then Geneva found herself standing behind Fortum and some other soldiers from their group. They formed a circle in the darkness, watching every direction for enemies.
Someone was shouting for people to rally to him, but no one was inclined to move in the confusion. Geneva saw flashing shapes, and hoofbeats, but surpisingly, no screams. Then she heard the crash of wood and the sound of glass breaking and more galloping. And then…
Slowly, order restored itself. Soldiers began to form up, and Geneva saw Thriss running through the camp, a huge mace in his hands. He ran past the group of soldiers and Geneva, and she heard a shout of rage.
Lim stared at the others, wide-eyed. Geneva had a sinking feeling in her stomach. Fortum glanced around, eying the confusion.
“Sounds like those Centaurs hit us again. Night raid. They were in and out quick, though.”
“No one’s wounded, though.”
Clara had a deeply troubled look on her face. She looked in the direction Thriss had gone.
“What was that sound? It sounded like breaking glass.”
Geneva knew. She didn’t want to know, but there was only one conclusion that bubbled up in her brain.
Lim stared at her in horror and Fortum looked grim. Soon enough they saw that Geneva was right. Thriss and another big man carried the box out of the supply wagon and set it on the ground. Geneva saw the splintered wood and her heart stopped in her chest.
The precious chest of potions in the supply wagon had been smashed by something heavy. Inside, the fragile wrapped potions had been shattered, and the potion had leaked out of the sides. Only a few bottles held any potion at all—those Thriss and the other officers desperately tried to save, holding up the glass pieces and dripping as much potion into canteens and any containers they had on hand.
But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly. Geneva saw the looks on Fortum’s face and the other soldiers’. From over a hundred potions, their battalion’s’ supply had suddenly dwindled. They had maybe less than twenty bottles’ worth.
Thriss stared down at the broken chest. He stood up, and cursed, then shouted at another officer. And then his head turned. He looked at Geneva, and the look in his eyes told her that her worst fears were true. If they had no healing potions, then they only had her.
Geneva. A [Doctor]. But she had no Skills, not the ones that they needed. And she didn’t have the tools. She didn’t have—anything!
Her stomach twisted. But now Fortum was staring at her, and Clara was as well. Lim was still staring at the broken chest with horror, but all the veterans were looking at Geneva. They knew.
Slowly, every eye turned to her. Soldiers and officers alike looked at Geneva, quiet fear in their eyes.
They couldn’t retreat. They were soldiers. But they feared death like all mortal beings. Without healing potions they had not a chance at all. Except if they had someone who could save them. So they put their faith in her. In Geneva, someone they barely knew, hoping because they had nothing else to cling to.
But she couldn’t do it. Geneva knew that. She was unprepared. She didn’t have anything she needed.
She was just twenty four years old. She was no renowned surgeon, no battlefield medic. She’d never trained. She wasn’t ready!
She was a surgeon with no tools. A student who hadn’t even finished her training. A practitioner without a license. A doctor alone.
But there was no one else. And she had a job to do. So Geneva stared at the box of potions and knew what was coming next. She clenched her hands so tight her knuckles cracked.
In the silence of the night, as the last drops of healing potion soaked into the jungle floor, Geneva felt death begin to walk at her side.