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The Plague Doctors story

The sky. Ancient and unshakable. It changes every day, yet still stays the same. Thousands of years it watched the mountains rise, the seas fill with water and life appear. Sky remembers what no mortal does. Nothing goes unnoticed from its cold and unbiased gaze.

Centuries ago, great sorcerers needed strength to expel Wortirus from Signum. They performed an unspeakable ritual and became the new gods. But everything has its price. Immortality and power have corrupted them. They so much did not want to share it, they destroyed all memories of this ritual and promised to never have children. But not everyone agreed to this. A goddess named Rashti, who was in love with an unnamed daemon, refused to accept these terms. Young arrogant gods would not stand for this. They banished the daemon back into the abyss and gravely wounded their sister. In the last moments of her life, Rashti hid their forbidden child in the roots of the mountains, putting him into an endless magical dream…

***

“Dear doctors and healers of the Free City of Vallor!” soft, but the authoritative voice of magister Agnello Cornaro swept through the building, that was recently acquired by the Plague Doctors League, stopping the whispers and muffled voices of those gathered in it.

“Our withdrawal from the guild of alchemists and healers was a necessary, tho not an easy decision. While we were risking our lives fighting the plague, they stuffed their pockets with the gold of the wealthy citizens, selling their insanely overpriced and absolutely useless concoctions to them. Is that how you see the future of the art of medicine?”

Voices of approval swept back through the hall. The master looked around, catching the mood of the audience, nodded and continued. Read More...

***

A week has passed since the meeting of the new Guild. The expedition was approved, assembled and stood at the entrance of Temple of Pestilence. A handful of the most courageous and dedicated doctors stood along the walls, writing and translating hieroglyphs and redrawing magical seals. Several steam automatons drove off the rats, under the watchful eye of a gnome engineer from Varga Quark Corporation. Magister Agnello Cornaro, his beloved Kelly, from the guild of soothsayers and several honorary doctors watched as a huge automaton worker was throwing away the stones blocking the path to the temple.

 After the last boulder was moved to the side and the stone gates were opened, it revealed the monumental altar. On a huge throne, surrounded by pipes and ancient mechanisms, there was an ugly baby of a size larger than an ogre. Countless rats swarmed among them, starting mechanisms and dragging flasks with strange liquids, not noticing intruders. The wave of his mental presence forced to step back those who possessed magical talents.
 “It’s alive.” As if in a trance, Kelly said. Her pale face was cast blue in the unnatural illumination of the temple. “No, he is alive.”
 “Do you hear him?” – the magister stepped closer to her.
 “Yes. He … I think I can talk to him.”
 “Are you sure this is a good idea? Of course, it may have invaluable knowledge, but isn’t it dangerous to disturb this creature?”
 “I see all possible outcomes, but not the events that lead to them. But we can try. I know that we have to.”
 “Good enough for me.”

 The magister gave a few orders and soon everyone was inside the room with the baby. The work continued, letters from the walls were in scrolls and notebooks, Kelly walked spellbound to the altar and knelt. Her eyes dimmed, her lips moving in a silent whisper. Agnello was following her every step, carefully watching what was happening.

***

“The voice. Woman’s voice. Mum? Did you come to pick me up? How much time has passed? How long was I asleep? These annoying creeping mortals with scales. Did they leave? Did my mote servants manage to deal with them?

 Kelly moved to the voice. In the mental projection, the distance did not matter, but the voice seemed very distant. One step closer. One more endless step of her incorporeal form.

 “Where are you? Where have you been? I was so lonely. I only spoke to small furry creatures. They are very unreliable, but they are good at moving the motes around.”
The soothsayer felt his presence really close to her.
“Is this true? It was you who created the sickness?”
“Sickness? You named them like this?”
 “Wait… You… You…”

***

“Magister! Take a look at this mural!”
 Agnello reluctantly moved away from Kelly and walked over to the old Ophidian who called him.
 “What is it, Rea-t-shass?”

 It seems that my fellow tribesmen found this creature in caves under the mountains and moved it here. They tried to use it for their own gain, so they carried out their monstrous magical experiments on it. This child seems to be a proof of the impossible – he is an offspring of the Great Ones, he himself is one of the Ancient Great Ones – in flesh and blood. The Ophidians tried to use his flesh and blood to create magical artifacts of unimaginable power, but then a monstrous pestilence broke out. They were on the verge of extinction. And one more thing. They call this baby the Father of Pestilence. I once heard about that legend, but I could not even think that it was true.
“What about other translations?”
“Spells that stop diseases. Spells that change them. And…” 

“YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER!” The roar of an unnatural voice knocked down all but the automatons. Kelly screamed and fell to the floor. The master tried to get up and run up to her, but at in the gaze of the child, time froze, as if they were inside the amber. “Puny mortals again are trying to trick me!Trying to use me again! Fool with witchcraft! The Plague. I see how you are tied to her. Since you love plague and magic so much, may the magic plague become your curse! Read More...

 The magical power of an angry ancient flooded the temple. Pain chained the bodies of the living. Thousands and thousands of rats crawling out of each crevice merged into a giant squeaking wave and picked up the throne. Inanimate automatons, not susceptible to disease, rushed to the defense of their masters, but from a single gaze of Father Pestilence, in a matter of seconds, they rusted and turned to ashes. Rats arrived and arrived, gigantic, distorted, in a continuous gray stream, they rushed past the doctors who had frozen in a magical amber. On the crest of a rat wave, a swinging throne with a deity connected to ancient mechanisms disappeared into the darkness. The gray, swirling stream began to decline. The rats ran after their master, leaving the bodies of the trampled brethren on the temple floor. As soon as the last of them disappeared into the shadows, and the evil squeaks stopped, the spell receded.

“Kelly!” Free from the spell influence Agnello run-up to the girl. Her heart was beating, but no matter how he tried, he could not feel her presence. It seemed that her soul left the body and was carried away after the baby. He glanced at his hands, rapidly covered with sores. – Rea-t-shass!

 The magister turned to the old man. He, coughing up blood, painted magic figures on the floor, same as the ones on the temple ornaments. A flash of lilac light blinded the magister for a second.
 “We were stupid. Reckless. What did we release?” A second ago, barely alive Rea-t-shass straightened his back. The magical symbol on the floor flickered with a purple glow.
  “We did what we had to do. Now the only thing left is to warn.. warn…” The magister coughed, unable to finish.

Rea-t-schass pulled out a dagger and headed for the magister. Agnello resigned himself to his intentions and closed his eyes, but instead of the deathblow he expected, he felt a dagger just scratch his jacket. The old man got up and went to the next choking plague doctor, and the master was surprised to find the same magical symbol that the old Ophidian had drawn half a second ago.
 “To warn?” Said old man, looking away from the magister. “It’s too late to warn anyone now. We have to stop this creature.”

 The magister took out his dagger and, not yet fully recovered, crawled to the next infected person.


***

Less than half of the expedition has risen to the surface. Only Kelly those who possessed the rudimental magical talent survived. If her condition could be called life. Without regaining consciousness, she whispered something about rats and tunnels several times.
 “I failed you,” Agnello’s voice was unintelligible due to the tightly buttoned mask. The meeting room was half empty. No one was joking or whispering in the dark. “I relieve myself of the authority of the magister”.
 “It does not matter anymore.” Gazzini, who remained to keep order above, during the expedition, was unusually gloomy. “Tomorrow the league will be outlawed. The scoundrel, Thibaut, supported the alchemists and persuaded the merchants to join his side, and having received a majority in the guild council it was a trifling matter to also convince the peers. We burned out the infection and now we will pay for the consequences of such radical measures.
 “Or we can leave Vallor.” Bartolo’s hoarse voice. “It’s dangerous and pointless to stay here”.
 “It’s not up to me to decide now.” Agnello walked out of the meeting room into the hastily-equipped hospital room. Kelly still did not recover. The former magister knelt before her bed and put his hand on her .
 “Kelly. If only you could tell me what to do.”
 “My angel…” 

A barely audible whisper sounded from her closed lips. “He made a move. Go north.”
 “Kelly!” – Agnello jumped up. “Kelly, can you hear me?”
 “She is delirious”. The voice of Rea-t-shass came from the other end of the chamber. “Like on the way to the surface.”
 “She is not. I know what we have to do.”

***

The crack of the fire filled the silence of the evening air. The sun went down over the horizon, leaving a streak of golden flickering in the sky, the clouds looked crimson, lit by a flame devouring an infected mountain village. The words of Kelly, the oracle of the plague, led the league not just to an infected village. Together with the houses and the chapel, the bodies of the cultists of the disease were also burning down. In recent months, there were more and more of these.
 “You were called an angel! Savior from the plague!” The kneeling old woman angrily looked at the plague doctor. “You will be damned for this, the angel of darkness! All of you will be damned!”
“We are already damned.” Agnello Cornaro took off his mask and inhaled with pleasure the smell of fumes and spring herbs. Gleams of fire played on his disfigured face full of sores. “But we can stop the worse curse. Burn it.”

The magister turned away from the fire and continued to admire the boundless sky, leaving his friends, distorted by the magic plague, to finish the work for him.

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