Once, Geneva had been terrified for her life. She had been a new recruit in the Raverian Fighters, a soldier; for all that she’d been a [Doctor]. She had faced her worst fears, treating her fellow soldiers and enemies alike. She had…failed…so many times. Failed to save lives.
At some point, that feeling had eclipsed her regard for her own life. She just couldn’t muster the same feeling, the same fear of dying as she used to. Everyone was dying. Everyone on the operating table was a life. What did Geneva have to fear from an arrow or a sword in the gut? She faced her worst fear every time she saw light slipping from the eyes of the people she treated.
She had lost her fear. Only, she’d found it again. Now she was afraid. Geneva had woken up after another of Okasha’s enforced naps to find three more souls in her camp. Three more bodies among many. Only, these ones were special.
Kenjiro Murata. Aiko Nonomura. Luan Khomala. Three people from her world. Now, under her care.
Geneva had no idea what to do with them. She had spotted them approaching, waving a white flag, across the edge of the valley. Twice, groups of soldiers had raced towards them and there had been a tense moment where swords had been drawn. Only, Ken had talked them down both times, pointing towards Geneva’s camp.
Now they were here, eating food, talking quietly among themselves. They had a haunted, shell-shocked look, that of people who’d seen too much, too quickly. Geneva understood the feeling.
She was talking with Calectus, who oversaw the other Selphids that had volunteered to be her assistants. Geneva had thought it was odd at the time, that so many Selphids should want to help her. But she’d had volunteers from other soldiers before and hadn’t had the time to worry about it.
Now she knew it was because the Selphids wanted her to help them. That was fine. Geneva’s purpose was to help people. She didn’t care. But she wondered if Calectus believed in what she did, or if he thought all her struggling to save lives was pointless. What did Selphids think about the living, anyways? They inhabited dead bodies. They would have wanted Geneva to fail more often.
But there was a living, mortal compassion in him. Geneva had seen him comforting the dead, and he had spoken to Ken as well. He had dead eyes, literally. But the thing that used the dead eyes was living. The Selphids understood loss just as much as anyone else. They also understood danger, more acutely than Geneva did. They were soldiers, and knew war.
“These three are deserters, Geneva. They will be killed if they leave your camp.”
Calectus gestured at Luan and the others. Geneva nodded.
“And if they stay in the camp? Can you protect them?”
The Lizardman’s face grimaced.
“As much as I can protect you. You have no company—but you are known as the Last Light.”
Geneva hated that title. The Last Light? It was too fitting, and not at the same time. She was not some kind of quasi-goddess, the guardian who stood between life and death. She was just a [Doctor], and not a fully-trained one at that. If a true heart surgeon had come from her world, or a decent anesthesiologist, or someone who knew how to make—make penicillin or any one of the things Geneva so desperately needed—how many lives could they have saved?
“My reputation is the only thing keeping us alive, is what you’re saying.”
Calectus bared his Lizardman’s teeth.
“That, and the fact that we don’t stray from our camp. I can make sure the three are safe, but that only is true if they stay within the boundaries of the camp.”
Geneva looked around. The ‘camp’ was little more than a collection of tents in a clearing. It was not a large area—a space had been cleared for the wounded to lie on pallets before going into her operating tent. There was a place for her to sleep, tents for the Selphids and the wounded who would rest, a tent filled with supplies and the healing potions she had, not to mention extra bandages, scalpels, needles…and that was it.
She sighed. It wasn’t a good place for people to be cooped up in, but it was better than nothing. She nodded at Calectus.
“Okay. Just…give them space. It’s not hard to feed them, and we have room.”
He nodded, and Geneva went over to talk with Ken and the rest. They looked up as she approached and smiled at her. Geneva tried again, but a smile wouldn’t come out. She stood awkwardly in front of them, aware of the dried blood on her clothing. She didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t really spoken to anyone for a long time. She just did her job.
“Calectus says you’ll be safe, so long as you don’t stray. I can’t offer you protection outside of the camp and maybe not in it. I’m not part of any company.”
She blurted out the details. Luan nodded.
“We understand, and we’re grateful for all of this, Geneva. You didn’t have to do this. We won’t leave the camp.”
It felt strange for him to thank her for anything. Geneva looked around, trying to say something, anything. Condolences for the friends that had been executed? She didn’t know their names.
It was Aiko, the young Japanese girl with red eyes who spoke up.
“Um, Miss Geneva-san…”
“If you are not a company, why do you have that…flag?”
She pointed and everyone turned to look at the banner over Geneva’s tent. Geneva stared up at a crude pole of wood, atop which sagged a white flag with a red cross painted in the center.
“That? It’s not a company banner. It’s a symbol. I use it to tell soldiers that I’m not a fighter.”
Ken stared at it. The banner was too limp in the lack of a breeze for the red cross to be too visible, but he figured it out after a moment.
“The symbol for hospitals. The red cross.”
“It’s also the symbol of the Red Cross organization. They’re an international organization that does…does work like this.”
Geneva had seen the parallel, although she felt like she was stealing the identity of that group with her symbol. Ken nodded excitedly.
“Oh! Yes! I have seen them on the news before. Do people in this world know the symbol?”
“Some have associated it with me. But it’s not something that will protect you.”
“Sort of hard to see.”
Luan commented neutrally. Geneva shrugged. It was a flag. She didn’t need that, but it helped sometimes. She heard a shout and her head snapped around. Someone was running, galloping towards her camp. She saw Ken and the others tense, but it wasn’t soldiers coming for battle.
Four Centaurs raced towards the camp, supporting a fifth Centaur between them. Geneva saw more soldiers rushing behind them, taking the opportunity to find a gap in the fighting and head their way. She raised her voice, turned, and found Calectus striding towards her.
“Calectus, I’m going to triage. I need you to wake up one of the others and get them ready for operating. You lot—”
She turned. Ken, Aiko, and Luan had already backed off to a respectable distance. Geneva nodded at them. The first wounded body came in, a Centaur who was missing a leg and had some kind of javelin buried in his side. It was barbed and would have to be cut out. As Geneva began to work, calling out to Calectus to bring another healing potion, she lost track of her newest guests.
Diagnosis. Incision. Cut away damaged flesh. Suture. Use healing potions. Geneva was grateful for her limited supply of potions. She didn’t have much—most of it had been donated to her by people she’d saved, or come from Calectus and the other Selphids. Geneva rationed it, using the dependable sutures where healing potions weren’t necessary. She had to stitch people up, save them. Making them well enough to walk out of her camp and keep fighting wasn’t her goal.
It was tiring, backbreaking work. Surgery could be precise as grafting onto a heart, or as crude as sawing through bones. Or sawing through a Dullahan’s armor to get to their damaged innards.
Maneuvering a Centaur around on her table was just as hard. Geneva and her helpers had to do lifting at times, and it was just as well that some of Okasha’s Skills made Geneva’s right arm far stronger than her left. Too, Geneva could concentrate solely on her left hand while Okasha operated her right, as well as her legs if necessary.
Small blessings. Geneva was busy wiping down her table, removing blood, scat, and urine that her latest patient had covered the surface with, when someone timidly entered the tent. Geneva looked up, expecting the next patient, and instead found Aiko.
“Is something wrong?”
The young Japanese girl opened her mouth, inhaled the scent of the urine and feces, and gagged. She took a moment to collect herself while Geneva swept it all off the table and washed it all away with soapy water.
“I want to help. I would like to help you. If I can.”
Geneva blinked at Aiko. She stared at the young woman’s pale face.
Aiko hesitated. She looked at Geneva, and then at the blood on the table and paled, but when she raised her head, there was determination in her eyes.
“I am not brave like Ken or Luan. I…I do not like fighting. But I have been sitting in camp, and I see so many hurt people…I want to help them. Do you think I can?”
Her question struck Geneva in her heart. It was a reflection, an echo of what Geneva had thought as a girl. She stared at Aiko, and then nodded. It wasn’t just the determination that swayed Geneva, made her take a chance on Aiko. It was the compassion.
Aiko was breathing heavily as she looked at the blood. She’d been pale-faced staring at the wounded. She looked at Geneva, wavering.
“I am sorry. I know I am a coward—I am afraid of blood and guts—”
Geneva reached out. Her hand was covered in blood and she stopped. But then she reached out and touched Aiko lightly on the shoulder. The girl’s eyes turned to the blood, but she didn’t flinch away.
“Unwilling to fight doesn’t mean ‘coward’. If you have the stomach for it, I’d welcome a second pair of hands.”
“I will try.”
Geneva nodded. Something…she felt like she had met another Okasha, perhaps. Other soldiers had come, the Selphids were able assistants when it came to holding the wounded down, but few had the temperament to be part of the operations, to see the horrific injuries and try to fix them. Perhaps Aiko had what it took, perhaps not. But she could certainly try.
“What should I do?”
What could she do? Geneva blinked, thought for half a second, and then thought of all the things a surgical assistant would do, all the things that Geneva had to do herself.
“Thread the needles, sharpen scalpels…hand me objects. Make sure the healing potion is ready for when I need it. If you can handle the first hour, I’ll teach you how to sponge blood away properly and see what else you can do.”
She was showing Aiko how to put everything close to Geneva so Okasha could grab it when the tent flap opened and a screaming man came in. He fainted as the Selphids put him on the table. Aiko was shaking, but she didn’t run or faint as Geneva inspected the gaping wound in his upper thigh. Geneva nodded to the two Selphids, one a female Dullahan, the other a male Centaur, both with pallid skin.
“They’re here in case the patient wakes up. If they do, back away. I’ve had them try to cast spells, stab me with hidden daggers…we have no anesthesia and they sometimes wake up as I’m cutting into them.”
The words should have terrified Aiko. They would have terrified Geneva had she heard them before she’d come to this world. But the girl had lived on the battlefield at night for over a week now. She’d carried corpses, stabbed undead, risked her life and gone through it all. A coward? No. Cowards ran, froze up, and didn’t act. Aiko could act. Her hand was steady as she held a suture and towel in both hands. Geneva nodded to her.
“Let’s get to work.”
Aiko was brave. Ken knew it, Luan knew it. They sat together, watching bodies enter and leave Geneva’s tent, and both of them thought the same thing. Only Luan gave voice to it.
“Ken, I feel worthless.”
“I feel the same way.”
They saw Aiko appear outside and hurl a bowl of—was it crap?—out of the tent. They’d seen her working with blood and worse on her clothes, and yet she was still in there. Helping Geneva save lives.
Ken and Luan weren’t in there. They hadn’t thought of going in and offering to help. When Aiko had said it, Ken had wanted to go in with her. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t face the horror of what he saw outside.
Just the thought of seeing Geneva operate, of watching her slice into someone and being asked to hold them down, or sew something shut filled Ken with mortal dread. He couldn’t do it. It wasn’t just about bravery; it was about being able to look at that without freezing up. Luan couldn’t do it either.
“I’m ashamed to say it Ken, but I feel like we’re useless here. I think we were right not to keep going to Gravetender’s Fist, but…”
Ken nodded. But they were doing nothing here, and that was worse. Worse, because when you stopped to stare at what Geneva did, there was no helping but feel small.
She saved lives. Soldiers came in, wounded beyond belief, carried by friends who begged her to save them. And she did. Sometimes she failed, but Ken had seen bodies go in, pale-faced Humans and Centaurs who he would have sworn were dead come out, weak, but alive.
It was humbling. And more, it made Ken question what he’d been doing. He’d put down dead bodies. Why hadn’t he spent his time saving them?
“What can we do to help?”
“I don’t know.”
Luan shook his head. He was staring at the flag over Geneva’s tent again. The red cross was barely visible behind the white folds of the flag. He muttered to himself.
“She really needs a banner. Or a sign.”
“Why? So everyone can see?”
“It’s a symbol, Ken. It means…it means do no harm. It’s one of the most powerful symbols from our world. Everyone should know what it means.”
Ken nodded slowly. The red cross. The symbol of hospitals, of an ambulance. Of…life. He understood Luan.
“But there are no more flags.”
“We have a white one.”
They’d brought the white flag from the Gravetender’s Fist company. As Luan had pointed out, they hadn’t received any pay, so this was the least of what they were owed. Ken nodded, thinking.
“But it is white. We’d need red paint.”
“Or blood…no, we’d need paint.”
Luan shook his head, and Ken shook his head as well. Blood was…wrong. And the bugs would probably be attracted to it.
“Where would we get paint?”
“I know where. But I do not know how we would buy it.”
Ken hunched his shoulders as Luan stared at him. The South African young man opened his mouth, frowned, and then felt at his pockets.
“If you need something to sell…what about this?”
He put something in Ken’s hand and warned him not to touch what was inside. Ken opened the tightly-wrapped ball of cloth and recoiled from the small, pointed orange tip of an arrow. Luan’s grin was twisted.
“That’s what Geneva pulled out of me. It’s still active. Magical. I bet you could put it on an arrow and shoot it. I hear they’re expensive. Know anyone who might buy it?”
Ken nodded slowly. He wrapped the arrowhead up and looked at Luan.
“I think I might.”
War vendors were ostensibly [Merchants], but ones who had a huge escort, many items for sale, usually had at least half a dozen bags of holding, and made a living selling to companies that were fighting. They could provide anything from magical potions to weapons to information—all at a steep price.
Ken had seen Quallet negotiating with the sole war vendor in the area to buy food for his company. The neutral zone shared by all three undead suppression companies was adjacent to the war vendor’s zone, although a set of very well-equipped guards patrolled the border.
It was to this area that Ken made his way. It was frightening, not to mention dangerous, going through the valley, even with a white flag, but he’d done it. Alone, too. He’d insisted to Luan it was the best way. In truth, Ken was worried Luan might be hurt. Only one of them needed to risk their lives.
Now Ken approached the war vendor, flanked by two very tall Lizardmen with swords. He spotted the [Merchant] in question in a moment. He was familiar to Ken, although they’d never spoken.
The Naga with golden scales and resplendent jeweled clothing was sinuously twined around what looked like a circular couch, meant for someone just like him. It was more like a spiraling staircase upwards, in truth, with a spot for his more humanoid torso to rest while his snake-like lower body twined around the bottom. He uncurled and rose up, at least nine feet tall as Ken approached.
The Naga was male, although his genitals weren’t visible—Ken had no idea where they might be, as the Naga’s lower half was like a snake’s—and he smiled down at Ken.
“Ah. I have seen your face before, young Human male. Have you come to sell or buy? Or just to look some more?”
He remembered Ken, which was a good sign. Ken gulped and bowed as the guards stepped back from the Naga. He clearly wasn’t regarded as much of a threat, because the Naga waved them further back as he eyed Ken up and down.
It wasn’t rude to stare at Lizardfolk…and the Naga was apparently what Lizardfolk could become. Quexa hadn’t given Ken all the details, but Lizardfolk could change forms like…well, like Pocket Monsters, to be honest. What did Americans call it? Oh, right. Pokémon.
Ken stared at the Naga, giving him a slow look from top to tail in return. The Naga appreciatively wiggled his tail at the scrutiny.
“Ah, you know our customs. You are an interesting Human. What are you called?”
“I am Ken. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with you. May I ask your name?”
Ken bowed his head, and the Naga smiled wider. He spread his arms, showing off bejeweled fingers.
“I’m Xalandrass, inquisitive little Human. But you may call me ‘Xal’, as I know Humans are not as adept at speaking as other races.”
Ken nodded, and took a breath.
The Naga laughed in delight. Ken smiled a bit.
“Honored Xalandrass, may I ask if you buy items such as this?”
He took the balled up piece of cloth and unveiled the enchanted arrowhead. Xalandrass peered at it and then smiled knowingly at Ken.
“An Evercut arrow? Where did you get this?”
“A friend had it.”
“In him? Oh, I heard about that incident. A dangerous thing, when a company attacks the very people they have hired. But then, I share some of the blame. For I sold these arrows to the Roving Arrow company to begin with.”
A part of Ken’s chest tightened at that. Xal watched Ken’s face.
“Do you hold a grudge, little Ken?”
“I do not believe I should blame you, Xalandrass.”
“Ah, but the Honored Xalandrass is gone. Oh well. But to answer your question, yes, I would buy this back from you. It can certainly be reused, so I could offer you gold…but why do I think you have risked your life to come here for more than that?”
Ken nodded. He took a breath.
“I would like to barter with you, Honored Xalandrass. For paint. Do you have anything I could use to color with?”
The Naga had begun laughing again, but he stopped. He didn’t look surprised by Ken’s request, merely thoughtful. He tapped his lips with a long finger for a second before nodding.
“Paint? Curious. A Human child comes to me with an enchanted arrowhead, where another came with a device that made light. What does it mean?”
He was watching Ken. Ken kept his face politely blank. Xal smiled knowingly.
“Hm, hmm~. I think we have a deal, little one. Paint I can easily obtain—I have some with me. Dried packets that need only water. It’s a very handy tool for marking the ground with, and for marking armor. Dullahans love the stuff, so I have every color available. Which would you like?”
“Red, white, and black colors, please.”
“Only that? Anything else? I have many magical artifacts for sale. For the right price, of course.”
Xal flicked his fingers, Ken saw one of the wagons behind him move. Objects floated upwards and around Ken as the Naga gestured to each one, speaking softly, enticingly.
“Here’s one that will shield you from arrows…for a time. Or how about a shield that creates a burst of light when struck? Everyone but you will be blinded. Or what about a charm to amplify your voice? That’s a favorite among commanders like your Quallet Marshhand. My apologies, former commander, isn’t it? I’ve heard you’re with the famous Last Light. What’s she like?”
The question came out quick and fast, but Ken was ready for it. He bowed his head politely towards Xal.
“I am sorry, but I came here only to buy and sell. I cannot give information I do not have the right to.”
The Naga smiled, this time with regret.
“Ah, too clever. You came prepared, not at all like the other one. It is enjoyable talking to you, honorable Ken. A shame there is no profit in it. Very well. I will give you paint—and coin, since the paint is not worth an Evercut arrowhead. And you shall go speaking of how fair I am. And then, perhaps when the Last Light needs healing potions or needles, she will send you again, hm?”
Ken smiled politely.
“It is my deepest hope, Honored Xalandrass.”
The Naga laughed.
The next day, Geneva stumbled out of her tent, a piece of dried jerky in her hands. She had woken to the sound of the wounded. She approached the line of wounded, and paused as she realized something was off.
What was it? Geneva looked around, frowning, and then saw the signs.
Huge sheaves of bark had been peeled from trees, hammered onto slats of wood, and pounded into the ground. A white background with a red cross had been painted on each one, and the signs were ringing the camp, marking it.
But what was most striking was the sign that stood tallest of all. A sign that shook Geneva to her core.
The Red Cross Company.
It was simple, direct, and it spoke to her. She stared up at the sign as it proclaimed…what? That they were a company, a fighting force? One of the many groups in Baleros?
No. That they were something else. The Red Cross. Here. Geneva looked around, and saw Ken and Luan waving at her. They had paint all over their bodies and their hands were red from work.
She looked at them, and felt the urge to smile. It didn’t come out, but Geneva inclined her head. Then she got to work.
An incident occurred as Ken and Luan were painting a final sign to put up. They heard a roar and dropped what they were doing to hurry over to a vantage spot to look at the battlefield. There they saw a group of Dullahans, carving through the Centaur’s forces.
Ken had seen the battle go back and forth day after day. There was never a clear winner; if one side started pushing too far, more reserves would come flooding onto the battlefield and force the enemy back. It was a war of attrition between both companies, or at least, it had been. Apparently, someone had decided to end things.
Six giants walked across the battlefield, each one at least twelve feet tall. They were Dullahans, only…not. To Ken, it was like seeing a miniature robot warrior, like Gundam, a giant of metal and motion. But they were Dullahans. They had all the features of a Dullahan, only their armor had been scaled up in a massive way.
But their heads were the same size. It would have been ludicrous, with the tiny helmeted heads of the Dullahan on top of the massive, armored bodies, were it not for the deadly way in which the Dullahans controlled these oversized armored titans.
They were quick. And strong. One of the Dullahans lifted a massive greatsword as tall as Ken and cut a Centaur apart in a single strike. He roared and charged into the line of Humans and Centaurs and Lizardfolk, and Ken saw blood and limbs and screaming as the five other Dullahans rampaged into the enemy lines with him.
“What is that?”
Luan was staring at the Dullahan giants, mesmerized. Ken had no answer, but Calectus came up behind the two and spoke.
The two looked at him. Calectus nodded towards the Dullahan titans, quietly serious.
“They’re one of the most dangerous types of Dullahan warrior on the battlefield. Their class is an advancement of the [Juggernaut] class. If they’re coming out, it means the Razorshard Armor company is determined to win at any cost.”
“And that means what?”
“It means Geneva will have more work to do.”
The Dullahan [Juggernauts] inflicted terrible damage onto the Centaurs. Terrible damage…in return for their lives. Ken watched, spellbound, as each of the War Walkers fell after taking down scores of their enemy with them. It was a simple casualty of their size. For all their strength and armor, enchanted weapons could harm them, and the Centaurs galloped around the Dullahans, shooting arrows at them, charging into them with lances…
It was a bloody cost. In the end, the last [Juggernaut] fell as the Centaurs pulled back, sorely devastated. The War Walkers were down…
But not dead.
One of them lived, at least, enough for a group of smaller Dullahan to retain hope. Ken saw them lifting one of their fallen giants up and approach the tent. He shouted for Geneva, who’d finished for the day. The [Juggernauts] left little wounded as they fought.
“We come for aid. Please. Help us.”
One of the Dullahans in the group approached as Geneva ran towards them. Ken stared at the massive form of the Dullahan War Walker, supported by twenty of his lesser brethren. He was a true giant, and far too large to stuff into Geneva’s operating tent.
He was also on the verge of death. Countless arrow holes filled his body, and his left shoulder was nearly severed from his body. He had lost so much blood it was painting his blue armor. Ken thought there was no way Geneva could save him.
But she didn’t hesitate.
“Aiko! Start removing armor! The rest of you—show me where he’s wounded! Get the armor off of him!”
She began ordering the Dullahans as they spread out around her. Geneva leapt onto the wounded [Juggernaut]’s shoulder and listened as one of the Dullahans explained. He’d been riddled with Evercut arrows, and they were cutting him apart from the inside. Geneva nodded. She knelt by the first wound, where armor had been hacked away, exposing only blood and guts.
“[Flash Hands]. [Flawless Cut].”
Her hands blurred. Ken saw the scalpel she was holding disappear in her left hand, and then Geneva was cutting deep, deep into the War Walker. Luan hurried over to Ken’s side and stopped as he saw Geneva working.
Geneva’s hands were a mirage of moving afterimages as she cut into the giant Dullahan’s flesh. Her left hand cut, her right hand moved flesh aside. She was tracing the path of the arrow, assessing the War Walker’s condition. He wasn’t going to survive long. Geneva paused, and placed a hand on his chest. She spoke.
The blood leaking from his wounds…stopped. Ken heard some of the Dullahans gasp, but Geneva was already speaking.
“I have six minutes and forty seconds. Aiko, I need healing potions and the dropper. The rest of you—point out to me where he was shot!”
She dove back into the Dullahan’s body. In moments, she’d pulled out the first Evercut arrowhead and flicked it onto the ground. Ken helped contain it. Geneva was working fast, faster than she had with Luan. The Dullahans were pointing out every wound, and she pulled eighteen more arrows out in minutes. Geneva paused as the last one came out and closed her eyes.
“[Detect Injury]…there’s one left. Somewhere in the upper right side of his chest.”
She found it. Then she came to the shoulder. Now the [Juggernaut] could be healed, the wounds in his chest were vanishing. But his shoulder was hanging on by a literal thread of flesh. The Dullahan who’d requested Geneva’s help looked grim, but resolute.
“His life is all that matters. If the arm must come off—”
Geneva looked towards Aiko. The Japanese girl had something in her hands that she’d been using to pour the precious liquid into the wounds. A dropper, medieval style. It didn’t have a rubber bulb, but it could be used to measure small amounts of the healing potion. Geneva beckoned for it, and then spoke out loud.
“The suturing will take time and full concentration. I need you to hold the arm—and keep it steady. I will reconnect each nerve and muscle and heal it when it is in place.”
Luan stared. Ken stared. What Geneva was saying sounded impossible—but then she began.
“Muscle. Connects to…”
Ken saw her right hand move. Geneva stared at it, as if she hadn’t expected where it was going, but then she connected the red piece to the second piece, and dropped a minute bit of healing potion on it. The link formed.
“I’ll need to graft connections. You—open up his leg armor. I’ll need to make an incision—major artery is here…connects…here.”
The work took over an hour. Ken couldn’t watch half of it. But he saw Geneva reconstruct the giant Dullahan’s arm, piece by piece. And when it was done, when the flesh had healed and sealed over entirely, he had seen every part of the arm reconnected. Ken had no doubt that when the War Walker awoke, he would be able to move the arm.
“A healing potion couldn’t have done that. No way. The arm was severed—it can’t heal when that happens. But she put him together. Just like that.”
Luan was staring at Geneva. She’d practically collapsed after it was done, as had Aiko. They were resting, but the Dullahan soldiers were still there. The one who was probably their officer was looking around for someone to talk to, so Ken walked over.
“Thank you. We will report this to our superiors.”
The Dullahan bowed at the waist deeply, like a Japanese businessman meeting his company’s CEO. Ken bowed his head as well.
“I will convey your thanks to Geneva-san.”
The other Dullahans crowded around Ken, speaking the same words.
It wasn’t right that Ken was the one they spoke to, but it was as if they were transmitting their feeling to Geneva. Some clasped Ken’s hand, a gesture he’d never seen among Dullahans. Then they were marching the massive War Walker back towards their camp.
Calectus spoke when they were gone.
“Dullahans never bow that low.”
He was staring at the direction they’d gone. Ken nodded. The Dullahans had shown more emotion, more deference in that moment then he’d ever seen Xor give Quallet.
“That was extraordinary, wasn’t it?”
“It was impossible. A spell might have saved that Dullahan—but no potion, aside from the ones a Named Adventurer would use. But a single person did that. Geneva did. With her Skills.”
He turned, shaking his head.
“It might not have been a good thing to save him. But I could not stop her. She will level from this, I have no doubt. And yet…”
Calectus turned to Ken.
“She saved a War Walker, someone deemed dead by his enemies. She changed the battlefield, preserved a part of the Razorshard Armor company’s strength. She is no longer a small asset, something that can be ignored. Now she is a powerful ally…or a dangerous enemy.”
He looked concerned. And he was right to be. The next day, one of the commanders of the Razorshard Armor company came in person.
The [Commander] in charge of the division of the Dullahan company the War Walker had been assigned to was named Grishka. She had brilliant yellow armor crossed with blue, and it was made of some kind of gleaming metal that looked too brilliant to be steel. Geneva insulted her in the first moment by refusing to see her until she’d finished with her patient, a wounded Lizardwoman.
When she did have time to speak to the Dullahan, at Ken’s panicked insistence, Geneva was direct.
“Commander Grishka, I apologize if my ignorance has caused offense. However, my policy as a medical practitioner is to treat all my patients equally, regardless of rank, gender, or species. I do not discriminate. That means I also do not take sides, or rewards, for the work I do.”
The Dullahan lifted her head up with her hands, tilting it from side to side as she regarded Geneva’s bloodstained clothing and hands.
“I respect your decision, Human. But your actions have saved one of my most dedicated soldiers, and for that my company owes you thanks. This gift is an expression of that. Will you not take it?”
She had brought a chest full of healing potions and several bags of gold with her. Geneva stared at the gold and looked past it in a moment. But the healing potions kept her eye. She hesitated.
Her position was to be neutral. Inoffensive to either side she tried to help. But at the same time, Geneva knew that her own supplies of potions were limited. And they were practically exhausted from treating the War Walker yesterday. She didn’t know whether refusing the gift would be better, and realized she had no choice. It was a simple binary between saving more lives, or not being able to because she had no more potions.
She inclined her head.
“Donations are acceptable. Please know this will not change how I work in any way.”
“It is acknowledged. The Razorshard Armor company thanks you for your actions. We will ask your assistance with other soldiers who are wounded.”
Commander Grishka spoke formally, and then used her hands to raise her head so she could whisper in Geneva’s ear.
“And I thank you personally as well. The War Walker you saved…is my second brother.”
She left. Geneva stared at the potions and the gold. She ignored the gold and grabbed a potion.
“Aiko, we’ll test the effects of this before using. Let’s get back to work.”
The Centaur group galloped into camp a day after the incident with Commander Grishka. Luan and Ken were busy creating bandages that could be tightened and used on the wounded who came into camp when a group of Centaurs raced towards them, weapons drawn. They nearly ran over the two and would have stormed right into Geneva’s operating tent had Calectus not stopped them with his halberd.
“Our [Captain] was wounded in battle! Help her!”
The lead Centaur, a brash, tall roan with chestnut hair and wild, long locks shouted at Geneva as she came out of her tent. He and his friends had their weapons drawn, and they were protectively encircling a Centaur whose belly had been cut open. Her entrails were being held in place by another Centaur’s hand.
“Put down your weapons! Violence is not welcome here!”
Geneva snapped up at him. The lead Centaur snarled and darted towards her, stopping only when Calectus swung his halberd in the way.
Geneva gestured back into her tent, where her current patient, a Dullahan, was screaming.
“I have a patient I have to attend to first—”
“Now! Or I will cut your guard down and everyone else in this camp!”
The Centaur was practically mad with emotion. His friends were restraining him with difficulty. Geneva grew very still and spoke calmly.
“Threatening me or anyone in this camp will not save your [Captain].”
“She is my mother.”
That stopped Geneva. She stared at the pale Centaur with long hair, and then at the Centaur who’d threatened her. Geneva stepped towards her and inspected her. She nodded slowly.
“She is savable, but there are five patients that will die immediately without my help.”
“You would put her life ahead of—”
“I do not take sides.”
Geneva snapped up at the Centaur, making him back down a step. She looked at the others.
“I will save your [Captain] if I can. I will do everything in my power to save her. But I can save other lives first. You will wait with her over there—my assistant will tell you how to keep her stable in the meantime. But you will wait and if you threaten or harm anyone in my camp, I will not help her.”
She met the Centaur’s eyes.
“I am a [Doctor]. I am on everyone’s side and no one’s side. Do you understand?”
He wavered. Geneva walked back into her tent. She saved the Dullahan’s life, failed to save two others who came after him. She saved the rest, and the [Captain]. When it was done, the Centaurs stood around their Captain, who had the strength to actually stand and move, however weakly. Geneva had told her to rest, but the Centaurs were adamant they had to bring her back to their camp. It would not be safe to leave her here, they told Geneva.
The son of the [Captain] cantered over to Geneva with Calectus watching warily. He stared down at her, and then awkwardly knelt in front of her. He had tears in his eyes when his mother had walked out of the operating room.
“I will remember this.”
Then he got up and raced with his companions out of the camp. Geneva watched him go. The next day, a gift came from the Roving Arrow Company. It was twice as much gold as the Dullahans had given her, and another crate of valuable potions.
“A gift? More like a bribe.”
Calectus shook his head over the gold and the potions, for all they were welcome. There was no returning them either—the Centaurs had dropped the money and potions in the camp and departed without so much as a word. Ken understood the meaning behind it, although Geneva did not.
“Why did they give me more? And why bribe me? I told them I wouldn’t take sides.”
Luan explained for her as he and Ken helped sharpen some of the tools Geneva used to cut into her patients.
“The way the Centaurs see it, if they offer the same amount as the Dullahans or more, you’ll be more inclined to stay neutral.”
Geneva shook her head, troubled by the politics of it all.
“I have to stay neutral. And they have to understand it.”
Ken was about to suggest that he go to each company and explain just that when he heard a series of rapid, urgent horn calls from the battlefield. He and the others knew that spelled trouble and all of them were on their feet at once.
Only this time, the trouble didn’t come from the ground. Calectus was the first to spot the two figures falling from the sky, because he’d been looking for them. His voice was loud in the silence as everyone looked up.
“Air strike. [Mages].”
They were flying. It caused a hush across the battlefield as soldiers looked up and saw the two figures falling out of the clouds, and then flying across the battlefield. They were both wearing robes which shimmered with magic and fluttered in the wind. Calectus could identify their company at a glance.
“That’s the Tripartite Law company. It’s a three-person company that specializes in mass area of attack spells.”
“There’s only two of them.”
Calectus’ face was dark.
“Two is more than enough. I recognize them. Up there, that’s the Firebringer, Zalthia Werskiv. And the Plague Locust, Embrim Thrus.”
Geneva started. Ken looked at her.
“Do you know her?”
Geneva’s face was pale.
“I’ve met her before. She burned half a forest down and slaughtered the Raverian Fighters. If she’s here—”
“The Roving Arrow company has her contract. They’re trying to end this now. She’s going to hit the battlefield—”
A roar engulfed Calectus’s words as Zalthia Werskiv shot a pillar of flame downwards. It was so sudden, so abrupt, that Ken only felt the impact as a rush of hot air blasted him and the others in the camp. His eyes were searing, and when he looked again—
A huge hole of scorched bodies had appeared in the center of the Dullahans formations. Around the area of death, soldiers ran screaming, bodies aflame. Still more fell, choking, as the hot air and smoke suffocated them. In one moment, the Dullahans were retreating; the few who were still upright helplessly shooting arrows at Zalthia and watching them swerve away.
But then the Plague Locust, Embrim Thrus moved. He opened his hand, and a black mist swept downwards. It covered the entire western wing of the battlefield, hitting the soldiers who hadn’t been touched by Zalthia’s fire. Ken saw people clawing at their throats, Lizardfolk trying not to breathe, Dullahans throwing their heads to try and get clear of the mist—breathing—falling.
“Gas attacks. Chemical warfare. Or this world’s equivalent.”
Luan’s face was pale. Geneva was just staring. Ken stared as the [Mages] flew higher, their work done. The battlefield had been turned over in an instant. The Centaurs were cheering, shooting at their foes, but they were retreating.
“It’s too dangerous for them. The mists still linger. When it dissipates, they’ll fight again.”
His words were prophetic. The mists lingered for over ten minutes. When they were gone, the burnt soldiers and ones who had gotten clear of the worst of the gas were still on the ground, dying. But the Dullahans had pulled up more forces and they met the Centaurs in another clash of bodies.
The fighting hadn’t slowed. In fact, it had grown fiercer as the Dullahans tried to exact vengeance on the Centaurs who were pressing their advantage. But that wasn’t what the people in Geneva’s camp saw.
The soldiers who’d inhaled part of the mists, the gas, were choking, suffering. They weren’t dying, but they couldn’t move. Both sides ignored them, too focused on the enemy to worry about helpless victims of the attack. And the burn victims—they were screaming for aid.
“They won’t come here. Not for hours.”
Calectus predicted as Geneva strode back towards her tent. Some of the wounded were already trickling in, but only a few. The majority were stuck out there, unable to be rescued.
And that wasn’t right.
The feeling rose up in Ken, hot and fierce. He was just standing here, while Geneva and Aiko worked to save lives. But they couldn’t do anything for the people out there. No one could. They were being left to die, with both sides too occupied to go out and help them!
Luan put his hand on Ken’s shoulder. He was looking at the wounded, the same helpless fury and desperation on his face. But he’d seen what Ken was thinking and had stopped him.
“It’s suicide, mate. If we go out, we’ll get shot. We’re deserters, remember?”
“No we’re not. We have a company.”
Ken pointed to the flying red banner. It was flapping in the wind caused by Zalthia’s spell. The red cross flew high. They were the Red Cross company. It wasn’t just a name.
“But they don’t know that. In there—even if we had a flag, we look like everyone else.”
Luan was speaking sense. A soldier was a soldier, and there were Humans on both sides. Ken clenched his fists.
“The only people who are safe in this kind of thing are…are people like the Gravetender’s Fist company at night.”
Luan shook his head as he stared across the valley. Gravetender’s Fist had to worry about this issue, but they solved the problem by being a target. They carried lanterns, made noise, had a banner with an illumination spell sewn into the fabric—all so that people knew they weren’t the enemy. Even that didn’t work all the time.
“We can’t do anything, Ken. We’ll just be targets.”
Ken paused. He stared at Luan. Targets. He’d studied about World War II. It wasn’t a popular subject in Japanese curriculums, if it was taught at all, but Ken had studied it in university and read western textbooks as well as Japanese ones. He’d seen pictures of people who wore targets every day.
“Ken. What are you thinking?”
Luan stared at Ken, looking worried. Ken looked at Luan. The young man still had some of the leather armor he’d been issued. So did Ken. It was dirty, brown, closer to black, and could probably do with polishing.
He stared at Luan, and then at the cans of red and white paint that Aiko had used to decorate the camp. Then Ken looked at the flags. White and red. A target. A symbol.
“Luan, I have an idea.”
“Does it involve us risking our lives?”
Ken nodded. Luan blew out his cheeks. Then he looked at the battlefield, at the wounded.
“It is worth dying for?”
“Nothing is worth dying for. But this—this is worth living for.”
Ken grabbed Luan and dragged him towards the paint.
Daly was sitting, watching the fighting with the rest of Gravetender’s Fist while he ate in preparation of the night’s work. He was dreading it. No one could have missed the air raid by the [Mages], and the bodies were littering the valley floor. But work was work. He adjusted his belt, and looked across the ranks of his company.
Quexa, the Lizardgirl with the [Sorcerer] class was sitting next to Paige. They’d become friends ever since Ken had left. The Lizardgirl hadn’t understood why Ken, Luan, and Aiko had left. In explaining their feelings to her, she and Paige had gotten to know each other.
Now the Lizardgirl was watching the violence below, tail twitching. Daly understood the feeling. You could get used to the death, but never comfortable with it. It was always—
“What the fuck?”
Paige stood up. She’d seen something. Daly’s head snapped back to the battlefield. His mouth dropped open.
“What are those idiots doing?”
Two figures had suddenly charged onto the valley floor. They stood out at once, partly because of the flag they were waving desperately and partly because of their armor.
It was white. Pure white, only there was a stripe of red crossed with another stripe on their shoulders, chest, helmet, and back. It took Daly a second to recognize it.
“A red cross? Are they…medics?”
“What are they doing?”
Quexa had spotted them. She leapt up, full of fear and Daly’s stomach twisted into a knot as he saw soldiers from both sides take notice of Ken and Luan. He saw Luan plant the flag in the ground, and then Ken raised something. A shield. It had the same cross of red on it.
And the soldiers saw it too. They hesitated. They watched as Ken and Luan sprinted away from the flag, and straight into the area that had been blasted by Zalthia. They ran towards one of the fallen soldiers, armor black with soot, and lifted him up.
“I don’t believe it.”
“What? What are they doing?”
Quexa shook Daly as he stared down at Ken and Luan. They had a stretcher of some kind, and they were easing the burnt soldier onto it. As he watched, they lifted it up and began to run back towards the camp they’d come from.
Paige was on her feet. Ken and Luan were carrying the wounded soldier, running for all they were worth as arrows flew around them. A group of soldiers broke off towards them, and froze as they saw what Ken and Luan were doing.
The rest of Gravetender’s Fist had noticed what was going on. Daly saw one of the Centaurs rear up in surprise, and then a girl from Bosnia shouted.
“Look! That’s Ken and Luan!”
Both armies had noticed the two insane young men by now. Daly saw a flight of arrows land behind Luan, and then saw the commander shouting at the archers. His heart was pounding. Would they stop firing? Ken and Luan had to run faster!
He leapt to his feet and cupped his hands to his mouth.
“Go! Run you bastards!”
He was far too far away to be heard of course. But other people heard him and took up the call.
“Run Ken! Run Luan!”
“Get out of there!”
“Run you slow sods! RUN!”
Soldiers were turning. A group of Centaurs on the battlefield raced towards Ken and Luan and broke away at the last second. Now all of Gravetender’s Fist was cheering and shouting, and the noise was spreading to the other companies.
Heads turned. Ken and Luan raced towards the flag they had planted, and then Daly saw a group of soldiers running to meet them. They grabbed the stretcher and Ken and Luan reversed direction. The soldiers, Selphids, ran back with the burnt soldier towards camp and Ken and Luan ran back towards the fighting.
“Other way! Other way!”
Some people were shouting that. But now Daly knew what they were doing, and he saw Ken and Luan running towards a Lizardman who’d been trampled. He was clear of the immediate fighting and the two loaded him onto another stretcher.
“Medics! They’re medics!”
Daly shouted at Quexa, who looked at him, uncomprehending. No one from her world had a word for what Ken and Luan were doing. Saving soldiers was one thing, but who would run into the fighting and out each time?
Daly shouted. He waved his hands, screamed at Ken and Luan as they raced across the battlefield. The soldiers were fighting around him, but they saw the red cross and didn’t attack.
Why? Did they remember that sign as the symbol of the Last Light? Had their commanders told them to avoid fighting? Were Ken and Luan just not a threat? Or did they see what they were doing?
It was impossible to say. But Daly watched, heart pounding, as Ken and Luan made six more trips out into the chaos, finding the wounded on the edges of the fighting. They didn’t run into the heart of the battle. They stayed to the most distant peripherals, finding those who cried out for help.
And they ran with every bit of energy they could. Their lives were on the line. They raced across the broken ground as Gravetender’s Fist shouted at them from their position above. The Humans were cheering, shouting and screaming at the two figures as they sprinted towards the downed Lizardman with the stretcher.
Daly looked over and saw Etretta, one of the most senior Dullahan soldiers, staring at the battlefield. He nodded to her, and she walked over.
“What did you call them? Medics? Is that a class?”
“If it wasn’t before, it is now.”
Daly knew that in his heart. He knew the two would have the class the instant they slept. Etretta looked at him curiously.
“They are brave. Is that a thing Humans do? Save each other? Save the wounded?”
“Not all Humans. But it’s what we used to do. We still do it.”
“There is no sense to it.”
Etretta shook her head. Daly nodded. The Dullahan nodded as well.
“But there is something noble about it. Foolish, and noble.”
Daly was smiling. He stared at Luan as he and Ken collapsed by their camp. He couldn’t see too well from here, but he thought they were laughing.
“It’s crazy. But I guess they thought it was worth dying for.”
Dying. Geneva stared down at the coughing, gasping Human on her operating table. He was trying to breathe, trying to inhale past the magical mists that had scarred his throat and lungs. He looked up at her, begging to help.
And she couldn’t help him. Geneva had never been trained to handle gas attacks. She had none of the experience she needed to help him, and she had no tools.
Gas attacks. Chemical weapons, or this world’s equivalent. They had been banned since World War II. The ban hadn’t held, but it had been imposed because of just how deadly gas could be.
Deadly, and ineffectual. Geneva’s uncle was a history buff and he had lectured her about how gas attacks weren’t as useful when both sides had become aware of the dangers and issued gas masks. Allied soldiers could still gun down their opponents while gas floated around them.
Yes, ineffectual. The words were a mockery to Geneva now as she watched the soldier before her suffer. Ineffectual if you had the proper ways of preventing it. But if you had inhaled the gas—what could Geneva do?
The effects of this were similar to mustard gas, for which there was no known treatment. The best way to deal with it was to avoid exposure—or decontaminate. Geneva snapped out of her trance and looked at Aiko. The girl’s face was pale as she stared down at the young man whose skin was already blistering.
“What can we do Geneva…?”
Geneva’s hands moved. She began slicing clothes off the soldier, removing his armor. She had a rag mixed with charcoal over her face, and she was going to relocate outside to give the soldier as much clean air as possible.
“Wash their skin with soap and water. If they’ve inhaled the gas, we’ll make them gargle water. They need pure, clean air. We could bleed them to reduce their blood pressure, but I don’t have… I don’t have…”
She had nothing she could use. Nothing at all. Geneva did everything she could. She washed the soldier’s skin, tried to bleed him to lower blood pressure—but he couldn’t breathe. And she had no respirator, no way of helping. The gas had vanished far faster than mustard gas, but the effects were permanent.
The soldier died as Geneva helplessly watched. He wasn’t the only one. The next soldier who came in had the same afflictions. And the next. Geneva couldn’t take it. She left the tent after trying to open the last soldier’s airways and found Ken and Luan.
They were grinning, exhausted, covered in sweat, their freshly-painted armor running slightly in the heat. They had carried the soldiers here. Geneva stared at them. They had saved the soldiers, brought her ones she could save. She didn’t want to say what she had to.
“Geneva-san! How did we—”
“You can’t bring me any more gas attack victims. I can’t help them.”
Ken’s smile vanished. Luan sat up.
Geneva’s hands were shaking. She raised them, let them drop.
“There’s nothing I can do. Nothing. The gas is in their lungs. They can’t breathe and I can’t save them. If you bring them back here, all I can do is let them die. You cannot rescue them. I can’t give them treatment, and there are other soldiers I can save. Do you understand?”
They stared at her. Ken opened his mouth.
Luan grabbed him, shook his head. Geneva put her hands to her eyes. The world was swimming. She hadn’t cried about the dead before. But now—
“I can’t do anything.”
Luan was the first to speak. He got Ken up, nodded to Geneva. There was an echo of the pain she felt in his eyes, but he was taking charge.
“We’ll find others. Come on, Ken.”
He took Ken away. Ken’s eyes followed Geneva. She felt like they were accusing. She watched Ken and Luan head back to the battlefield, risking their lives to save others. Geneva clenched her hands together, helpless.
She squeezed her hands tightly until Okasha made her stop. When Geneva looked down, she saw her untrimmed nails had cut into her skin. She watched the red droplets fall onto the jungle floor, and then went back into her tent and continued operating until every last one of the gas attack victims had died.
There was no glory in this. No brilliance. The elation Ken had felt at saving lives had vanished. Now he ran, heart pounding out of his lungs, desperate. Guilty.
Geneva had wept. She couldn’t save them. Ken skidded to a halt with Luan as he heard a desperate cry. He saw a soldier, a young Dullahan woman crawling towards him, pushing her head across the ground. He started towards her, and then realized she was a gas victim. Her skin was blistering, her eyes damaged.
Luan looked at Ken, and there was mortal horror in his eyes. Ken looked at the young Dullahan and turned. He heard her call out weakly.
Ken stared at her. Luan turned away, choking. Ken turned. He saw more wounded up ahead. Burn victims. Those he could save. He heard the Dullahan cry out desperately. Ken turned his head.
The next person they found was a Dullahan, male this time. His skin was so badly burned that they could barely touch him. They had to, and he cried out as they put him in the stretcher. But as they ran back to the camp, he was sobbing in relief. He clutched at Ken as Ken handed him off to the Selphids.
The Dullahan looked Ken in the eye as Ken arranged his head next to his body. Ken looked at him, and remembered Johanas’ face as the executioner held the axe over his head. He nodded without words and stood up.
They went back in twice more, Luan and Ken. Then they collapsed, too tired to move. Ken stared at Luan, Luan stared at Ken. The laughter they’d shared after saving their first soldier was gone. But Luan sat up and held out a hand.
“Worth living for.”
Ken took it.
They saw the burned Dullahan they had saved among the living. That was enough. Ken collapsed into his bed and cried and laughed at the same time.
[Medic Class Obtained!]
[Medic Level 4!]
[Skill – Quick Sprint obtained!]
[Skill – Sympathetic Ear obtained!]
“You are rescuing far more Dullahans than Centaurs.”
That was the only thing the Centaur messenger said to Geneva three days later, after he’d galloped into the camp. She was busy working, but he had insisted upon speaking with her. Now that Luan and Ken were working with several of her Selphids to find the wounded on the edges of the battlefield, she had a steady stream of patients. They knew what to look for as well. Some soldiers could be saved.
But not all of them. And their actions had consequences, although Geneva would never have asked them to stop. She stared calmly back at the Centaur who was glaring at her and replied simply.
“We try to save everyone.”
“But you rescue more Dullahans than Centaurs.”
“Centaurs are heavier.”
It was the plain truth. For as heavy as a Dullahan could be in full plate armor, they were still far less heavy than a Centaur, which was a horse and half of a person fused together and possibly wearing armor as well. Even with a group of four, the [Medics] could barely transport a single Centaur while arrows and magic were falling around them.
Still, the truth wasn’t enough sometimes. The messenger’s eyes narrowed.
“We are watching you. Save Dullahans if you will, but your impartiality seems biased towards them.”
He whirled without giving Geneva a chance to speak and galloped away. She was troubled by that confrontation and spoke to Ken and Luan when they came back.
“Try to save whoever’s closest. That’s all we can do.”
That evening, a group of armed Centaurs rode into camp. They’d come for all of their wounded, and insisted on taking them all back to their camp. There was no stopping them, for all Geneva argued that the wounded needed to rest and would be safe here.
The Centaurs left, with their escort of warriors watching the woods warily as their wounded limped or were carried back to their camp. Geneva watched them go. She was worried.
So was Luan.
“Escorts now? What happens if the Dullahans send an escort at the same time the Centaurs do?”
“I run out and stop them from fighting.”
He laughed. Geneva did not. The next day, the Dullahans began sending escorts as well. They never clashed with the Centaurs since the Dullahans arrived in the morning and the Centaurs at night. But she felt it was only a matter of time.
Six days after Ken and Luan had begun acting as [Medics], they were interrupted on their way back from the battlefield. A group of eight Centaurs appeared and cornered them and the two Selphids that Ken and Luan had gone out with.
None of them were armed. That was for the best, because the Centaurs were armed. They surrounded Ken and Luan as the [Medics] raised their hands.
“We’re not warriors. We’re trying to save your friends—”
“Save the Dullahans, more like.”
The Centaurs closed in. Ken and Luan looked around, suddenly worried. One of the Centaurs tore the flag that the Selphids were carrying away and hurled it to the ground. Luan turned, outraged.
“Hey! What’re you—”
A club knocked him to the ground. Ken cried out and ran for Luan, but a blow caught him on the back of the head. He fell and heard the Centaur leader bark an order.
The Centaurs began trampling over the fallen. Ken felt a hoof come down on his hand and shouted in agony. Something kicked him so hard he heard a crack and the world went dark and sound and feeling became one drumming whirl of agony.
“Ken! Ken! Answer me, man!”
He was conscious of someone shaking him awake. Luan was kneeling over Ken, trying to get him to wake up. Ken opened his eyes, and Luan and the two Selphids dragged him back towards the camp.
Ken had a concussion. Luan had several bad cuts and a cracked rib. Both Selphids had broken bones—the Centaurs seemed to have focused their anger on them. Both needed new bodies, which wasn’t an issue, but the attack was.
Geneva banned Ken and Luan from going out for the rest of the day and tomorrow. Neither Ken nor Luan objected.
“I can ask to talk with their commander. But I can’t promise you’ll be safe. None of us are safe. We can only appeal to both side’s sense of morality and hope they respect what we’re trying to do.”
Appeal to their morality. Ken had to have Luan repeat the phrase several times until he understood it. When he did, it didn’t reassure him. Morality in Baleros was…unreliable. Could you really appeal to the commanders of both companies? Ken doubted it, no matter what Geneva said.
Perhaps it would work in America, or other parts of the world. It might even work for the Centaurs. They were honorable—they took pride in not committing shameful actions. An ambush to them was not shameful, nor was a surprise attack; that was simply a good way of fighting wars. But Dullahans—
They gave Ken an uneasy feeling in his stomach. They reminded him of how the soldiers of Japan were said to have fought, once. The Dullahan didn’t think of things like honor when it came to war in the same way Centaurs did. Suicide attacks, traps, killing prisoners, it was all to win. It reminded Ken of an American expression. A Japanese ideal. What was it? Oh, yes.
Victory at any cost.
And while Centaurs were committed to the idea of honor, it only lasted so long as they thought the other side was playing by the same rules. If they thought there was just a hint of underhandedness, there went the need for honor as well. The beating had been a warning. Play fair or we will kill you.
He wished he knew what he could do. But there was no good answer, and in the meantime the battle between the Centaurs and Dullahans had entered its final stages. Both sides had dealt each other terrible blows, and now the fighting was at its fiercest. It sometimes rampaged into the night, forcing the undead suppression companies to stay where they were rather than get caught up in it.
Dullahans mounted night attacks and Centaurs attacked at all hours. Gravetender’s Fist and the other companies had to stay in close proximity to one another to stay safe. It was getting worse and worse, and Ken had seen soldiers start to stab the enemy’s wounded rather than let them get to Geneva. But she refused to leave and kept working.
It was the sixteenth day since Ken had reached the battlefield when it happened.
“I won’t go Okasha. Not yet.”
Geneva was arguing with Okasha again. It had started four days ago, and the Selphid had grown more relentless day after day. She wanted Geneva to abandon the camp, to leave the battlefield where the Razorshard Armor company and Roving Arrow company seemed determined to destroy each other at last. But Geneva couldn’t do it.
“There are countless wounded coming in each day. I can’t just abandon them—”
“It is growing less safe, Geneva. We don’t have the soldiers to protect you if we’re attacked.”
“If we’re attacked, it means my status as a [Doctor] is meaningless, Okasha. I have to trust that my neutrality will be respected.”
Okasha said the word as if it was foreign. She shook Geneva’s head.
“This is not your world, Geneva. Both companies have shown that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win. And that means you and your friends from another world may be targets again. Please, leave. I can talk to my people; find you a safer place to work. They could guard you—”
“And what will happen if I take their side, Okasha? Should I enlist in their company and start healing only Selphids?”
Geneva snapped and Okasha fell silent. Geneva felt guilty, but she went on.
“I can’t take sides. Even your side. The moment I do, I lose the only thing that protects me. I need to help everyone.”
“But our world isn’t like yours. We aren’t—we don’t obey rules of war, Geneva. Magical gas attacks, attacking civilians—some [Strategists] will do anything for victory.”
Geneva knew that was true. She lowered her head.
“Something has to be the same. Something has to be. If there’s no hope for basic decency between enemies, the faintest belief in the rights of others…then what hope is there?”
Okasha had no answer. Geneva would have argued with her more, but a group of wounded soldiers came in. Dullahans, all comatose. The group of Humans who’d brought them had no idea what was wrong.
“I think—they were hit by a [Sleep] spell. Or something. But they won’t wake up. Can you—can you check on them? Make sure they’re alright?”
They could be tended to later. Geneva had no good way to deal with magic, but she was content to let them rest so long as they didn’t show other symptoms. Besides, she had to deal with a group of wounded Lizardfolk that were due to leave with the Dullahan escort this morning.
The escort of armed warriors that came for the Razorshard Armor company’s wounded was three times as large as last time. Geneva frowned when she saw that, but didn’t object. The Dullahan in charge nodded to her as his men began to trek back to his camp. They’d gotten fifty feet away from her camp when she heard the frantic horn calls. They were the same ones she’d heard now and again.
Geneva looked up at the sky, expecting to see one of the two Tripartite Law company [Mages] descending over the valley floor. Instead, she saw a woman flying down.
Straight at her.
Geneva’s heart stopped. She saw Zalthia Werskiv heading straight towards her, hands aglow with fire magic. She was coming for Geneva?
No. The [Doctor] realized what was happening too late. She ran forwards, towards the departing escort of Dullahans, shouting, waving her arms.
“No. No! Stop!”
She screamed up at Zalthia, the Firebringer. The [Mage] flew down as the Dullahans cried out and loosed arrows up at her. Some were turning to flee, others blowing on their horns desperately. Geneva ran towards them, trying to get in the way, to stop Zalthia.
Too slow. A fireball fell from her hand, like a fiery meteor towards the earth. The shockwave flung Geneva back. When she got up, she saw only smoking ash. The escort had been obliterated.
She looked up. Zalthia looked down at Geneva. Was there a smile on her lips? She pointed past Geneva.
At her camp. The Firebringer flew past Geneva, conjuring fire from her hands again. She strafed Geneva’s operating tent, throwing a ball of fire that exploded and set the damp canvas ablaze. Then she shot a stream of fire from her hands, raking across the sleeping tents. And the supply tent.
Geneva saw the tent containing the healing potions, her bandages, all of it, go up in a blue and green fireball of twisting colors. Zalthia paused as she saw the magical conflagration and then decided her work was done. She flew off into the air, leaving the camp ablaze.
She couldn’t believe it. The Centaurs had paid her to attack Geneva’s camp. Geneva’s legs buckled. She sat. Her mind was whirling. Where was Aiko? She was…she’d been with the wounded. She might be safe. Ken and Luan were out looking for people. They were safe. But the camp?
A voice spoke quietly in Geneva’s ears. Okasha did not gloat. There was sadness in her voice.
“I warned you. This world is not yours, Geneva. There is no mercy here. No quarter. Your world is gentler, nobler, I think.”
Geneva stared at the burning camp. She felt something wild, hysterical, bubbling up inside her. She laughed.
“No. It’s the same. The exact same.”
The same as the worst of her world. How could she have thought it would be otherwise? They bombed a hospital. Just like her country had. They attacked the wounded. Just like they did during the war. Every war. Snipers shooting medics.
It was exactly the same.
Geneva didn’t know when she started laughing hysterically, only that she couldn’t stop. She sat in the dirt and laughed, parts of her clothing burning, her operating tent and the camp burning before her eyes as smoke drifted up through the jungle canopy. She only stopped when she heard a voice.
“There’s the [Doctor].”
She turned. A Dullahan was looking at her. One of the Dullahans that had been brought in, apparently asleep. He was holding a sword. In a moment, Geneva knew why he was here.
The blade was red. The bodies of the wounded soldiers lined up in front of her tent—Geneva stared at a motionless Centaur’s form and then the Dullahan.
He had no words to answer her, but he strode towards her. Geneva didn’t move, but Okasha did. She made Geneva leap to her feet and run. But there were more than one of the Dullahan assassins in the camp.
Another leapt out at her. Okasha, using Geneva’s body, whipped out one of Geneva’s scalpels and cut him along the face. He cried out and Okasha tried to plunge the wickedly sharp blade through his eye. Geneva’s hand shot out—
Geneva caught her right arm. She heard Okasha cry out, felt the Selphid try to override her. Geneva didn’t let her. She clamped down on every muscle in her body, overriding Okasha’s desperate attempts to move with sheer will.
“I swore an oath.”
The Dullahan was cursing. Geneva turned and saw the first one striding towards her. It wasn’t a he after all, but a she. The Dullahan had dark red armor and a shortsword in one hand.
She looked at Geneva curiously. Geneva spread her arms wide. She felt her world melting around her. Despair was in her heart.
“I will do no harm. I will not let my patients come to harm. I will do what I can to save lives.”
The female Dullahan nodded. She looked at Geneva and shook her head.
“But flawed. This is war. And in war, we do what we must.”
She ran Geneva through, blade plunging into her stomach. Geneva gasped, stumbled back, and fell. The Dullahan stabbed her in the stomach twice more, and then bent. She cut Geneva’s throat and turned away.
“There’s one more. The helper. Find her. Kill her. The two [Medics] don’t have their Skills. Let’s go before that damn Selphid gets to us.”
The other Dullahan nodded and the two moved off. They ran as Geneva lay on the ground, blood pooling on the ground as her camp—and her cause—burned down around her.