The medic was human. An old man with thinning grey hair and a skinny frame. His wrinkled skin was leathery and burnt a dark brown from his years exposed to the abrasive winds and harsh sun of the Tyhr Desert. His most distinctive feature was that he was blind. Some sort of corrosive substance had splashed upon his face and burnt his sight away. Milky white sightless eyes remained fixed in a motionless stare from under lids that had been melted into a half open state forever. The skin around his eyes had been bleached a bone white, drawing even more attention to his disfiguration. Eyebrows and eyelashes had been burnt away.
Yet, when Sand somehow managed to drag his weary and aching body through the wooden door of the ramshackle clinic, the old man looked up from where he was fiddling with a few bottled ingredients on his table with his slender, spidery fingers. Despite the obvious disability, Sand had a clear feeling that the man could see him and see him much better than many with perfectly functional eyes. ‘Some sort of ability.’ He concluded. He had long since come to trust this intuition of his. It had saved his life several times in his past life.
“Another unfortunate one joins the ranks of the walking dead. One so young too. A pity. Such a pity.”
“H-heal me, old man.” Sand rasped out, his parched throat roughening his tone. Letting go of the frame of the doorway that he had been clutching for support, he staggered into the room. Utterly exhausted, hungry, thirsty and in pain, his young body had been teetering on the verge of collapse. Only his strong will had been holding him upright, and even that had been worn down by the combined protest of his body and the humiliation dished out by Kreg so recently. As to why the other slaves, the healthiest adult males in Gura’s train, had simply watched on without bothering to lend a hand to a mere child. It was simple. They didn’t want to become a source of amusement for their new orc master.
It was a common tactic employed by each slaver whenever they took in a new batch. They even had a name for it – the Favour and the Fool. They would choose the strongest or most skilled amongst the slaves and lavish them with conditions much better than their brethren. He, or she would become the Favour, the lackey of the slave-master. Of course, such disproportionate treatment would breed discontent among the other slaves and estrange the Favour from their ranks. But that didn’t matter to the Favour. As long as the master was in charge, the Favour would continue to prosper and to maintain their advantage. They would often try their best to ingratiate themselves to their master by snitching on the other slaves. The Fool on the other hand was in a diametrically opposite position. Having only the Favour could cause the other slaves to unite against a common enemy. To alleviate their sense of dissatisfaction, a random slave, mostly the one who was the smallest and weakest or the least skilled, would be chosen by the Master and utterly humiliated for the master’s amusement.
It is true that we judge our happiness in comparison to other’s. So too do we judge our misery. The presence of the Fool would create a clear feeling of ‘at least I don’t have to suffer that’ within the slaves. ‘If I go against the master, I might degenerate into the Fool,’ they would think. ‘But if I flatter him, follow his will, I might someday receive equal treatment to the Favour.’ Obedience born of a system of rewards and punishment. The oldest trick in the book. And in this batch, Sand had been clearly chosen as the Fool. Association with him was taboo.
A sorrowful feeling welled up in Sand’s heart. An entire sentient race treated with little more dignity than domestic animals, sometimes even less. It was what he had been fighting against for the entirety of his last life. Now, all his achievements, the flower of freedom that had budded on the sands moistened by the blood of martyrs, all of it… gone. Washed away by the river of time’s sudden reversal of course. The waters of the errant river had flooded its banks washing away the dark red marks left by human heroes on its banks. History had been washed away and a fresh slate prepared to record facts anew. And the cause of it all – Sand. The Bloody Devil who had been one of the leaders of the human emancipation movement.
Did he feel guilty for invalidating all that his fellow heroes had achieved? Yes. Did he feel guilty for erasing the fact of their conversion from heroes to martyrs? No. Not at all. This time, they would live. They all would. As Sand somehow managed to make his way to the bed in one side of the room, he felt the sightless gaze of the medic following him all the way. Collapsing onto the bed, he lay face down on what amounted to little more than a sheet laid on several wooden planks nailed together.
The medic cocked his head to the side, “Really, the vigour of youth. You burn so bright, it hurts even these eyes of mine.”
Sand snorted impatiently, “Hurry up.”
Slowly, languorously, the man stood from his seat behind his desk and shuffled towards Sand, reaching him just as he finally lost his fight against the darkness pressing against the edges of his vision. The last he heard before he lost himself to the comforting embrace of darkness was the rustling and ripping of cloth as the medic’s deft fingers gently pulled away the makeshift cloth bandage that had become stuck to his wounds by the clotting blood.
“A pity you burnt too bright.”