“I made friends with her!” Reyna declared at the threshold and gasped in surprise. “You did it! You look wonderful, Master!”
“Oh yes, my girl! And this evening I’ll show you how young I’ve become.”
Yadugara couldn’t hold back a self-satisfied smile. He had undergone the transfusion procedure so many times, had delighted so many times in the respite it gave him, the multitude of pleasant things given only to those glowing with health and seething with the hormones of youth.
“How is the creature Dezisimu?” Reyna asked anxiously.
The healer had taught the girl from a young age to divide people into two camps: namely, people and ‘creatures.’ The impressionable girl’s eyes had widened as she listened to her master’s ‘discoveries’ of terrible monsters hiding inside human guises.
But by the will of the gods, who maintain the harmony of the world’s design, these creatures also possess something very useful to us, Reyna, he had explained. Their monstrous essence has something that allows us healers to create the elixir of youth. When the time comes, my girl, you will taste it. You will be eternally young, Reyna!
She would make an excellent wife... until he grew tired of her. The term of her slavery would end soon, but Reyna would stay with Yadugara, seeing in him everything: husband, lover, patron, defender, head of the family, and most of all — the one who would gift her immortality.
“It all went perfectly! We managed to neutralize it. We didn’t even need the new tools from Master Arden.” The healer fell silent, then remembered something and frowned. “What about Dezisimu’s sister?”
“I wandered around the district yesterday, met some locals. Karim Kovachar, the innkeeper’s boy, told me all he knew. The creature was bedridden his entire life, only occasionally going out in a wheelchair. His father was a gladiator, he died three years ago. His mother, Prisca, is a washerwoman. The creature’s sister is a year his younger. Her name is Kora. Three days ago, Dezisimu encountered Karim and suddenly stood up and attacked him.”
“Is that so...” the healer nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps Dezisimu wasn’t a beast until something possessed him... This will require thorough research! Two-horns! Cursed imperial healers!”
“Has something happened, Master?”
“It certainly has... I’ll deal with it myself. The important thing is that we get Dezisimu’s sister!”
“I made her acquaintance yesterday. I told her that her brother sent me, that he’s been punished, but asked me to meet with his family to reassure them. She believed it. I promised I’d bring her to the house so she could speak to Luca.”
“Warn Daler. He must take her at once, as soon as she comes in. We’ll accuse her of trying to burgle me.”
“As for the mother, Master...”
“Tell me the details later. For now, leave me. I must think.”
“Very well, Master!”
Reyna’s curvaceous hips swayed as she walked to the door. Master Yadugara’s gaze swept across her strong calves clad in grey stockings and smiled. The girl turned, feeling her master’s gaze.
“Go on, Reyna.”
She nodded and left the office. Young blood may be roaring through his veins, but he had to forget about the pleasures of the flesh for now. He didn’t know how, but the Emperor’s physicians had learned of the healer’s discovery and immediately demanded the slave be taken to the palace.
Now Yadugara was waiting for Dezisimu to come round and get fed in the kitchen, so that he could at least look presentable. Bringing a half-dead slave to the palace would mean drawing the ire of Lentz, the chief of the imperial medics, and losing his healing license to it. In the best case.
The mere fact that he had hidden from Lentz that he had found a boy suitable for transfusion threatened Yadugara with grave danger. The yarn he’d spun for Penant about ‘compatibility’ could be explained by the healer’s desire not to increase his apprentice’s sense of his own importance. All he needed was for him to go talking and trading on his uniqueness.
In addition, this saved Pen for Yadugara himself as a last resort.
We’re compatible, senior apprentice. This is a unique case! Keep this secret, otherwise my enemies will seek to do you harm! He’d said then to Pen, making him proud of his master’s trust and thrilled at a sense of unity with him.
Especially for the first few procedures, before the ageing changes began to scare the youth. Later, once the slave was free, he became senior apprentice and started to get an inkling when he looked at his wrinkles. He sought explanation. Then Yadugara had promised his apprentice that as soon as they found another ‘compatible’ option, Pen would regain his lost years of life.
In reality, the issue was not ‘compatibility’, but the mere unnatural nature of the process of transfusion. Human nature itself rose up against the forced removal of its life-giving cells! Suitable donors were very rare. Two or three dozen in an entire generation in the Empire, and Yadugara had searched for them all his life, starting out like Penant, the senior apprentice of a healer whose name he had sworn to forget. It had taken him half a century, but he’d done it.
He thanked all the gods and the Sacred Mother that the imperial healers had learned of Dezisimu only this morning. By the time they’d conferred and sent a runner, midday had passed.
But he’d done all he needed to in the night. First he’d performed the procedure on Penant, fearing new surprises, but everything went peacefully and as usual. An hour and change later, the senior apprentice was two years younger, and by midday, Yagudara himself had lost fifteen years. He could have done more, but with each fresh year, the risks rose. This was something to be approached slowly, steadily, for the health both of the donor and the recipient. Rejection was a sorry affair, but it had happened in the healer’s rich practice.
In the next couple of hours, he and Pen brought the slave out of his coma — before the next procedure. The boy came round incredibly fast after an intravenous injection of a glucose solution. His regeneration abilities were stunning!
Then, once Luca was able to move on his own, Yadugara sent him and Pen to Moraine to eat, while he himself stayed with Reyna.
It’s time! he thought. He left his office and carefully locked the door. Went downstairs, walked into the kitchen.
Pots and pans bubbled away happily, and the slave Dezisimu sat at the table, his head bowed over a metal bowl. Nobody would have the heart to call him a boy anymore — although his figure was still childish, it nonetheless showed the signs of the transfusion procedure. His hair was dull and grey here and there, his skin dry, covered in pigment spots, his face was covered in wrinkles, his hands shook and his body hunched.
The slave ate greedily under the sympathetic gaze of Aunt Mo.
“I don’t understand how he fits so much in,” the cook said, spreading her hands. “He’s eaten a whole pot full, and it’s still not enough.”
“It’s enough. Stand, slave! Follow me. We’re leaving.”
Luca rose, took the bowl in both hands, threw back his head and drank what was left. Yadugara looked at the donor’s distended stomach and cringed with disgust.
It didn’t matter. He’d gotten his. He didn’t doubt that the imperial healers would drink Luca dry.
By the next morning, the slave Luca Dezisimu would be dead.
Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is a literary agent and a science fiction writer, author of 13 novels. An ex-paratrooper, he used his military knowledge and experience to write his debut novels for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a bestselling science fiction action adventure series set in a post-apocalyptic Chernobyl.
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