1.01 D

“Bring in the next patient!”

Geneva snapped at the soldiers who had been assigned to her. They lurched into motion, slowly, too slowly. But they were injured as well; it was the only reason they hadn’t been sent back on the front lines. One man was limping; the other had taken a hatchet to the arm and couldn’t use it. They both should have been lying down, but she needed them.

The dead man’s gaze still haunted her vision. Geneva closed her eyes and banished the image. She sluiced more soapy water on her operating table, feeling it drain to the floor. Soapy water for disinfectant; she didn’t even have a place to drain the blood and gore. Already some bugs were buzzing around the tent. More would follow soon.

The tent flap opened. Geneva heard the woman moaning even as the soldiers carried her in on a makeshift pallet. Her arm was broken; the skin and bone deformed where something incredibly heavy had struck her.

Geneva sighed in relief. Here was someone she could fix. This woman would not die; she might not regain use of her arm, but she would not die.

She would live. And she stared at Geneva with horror in her eyes. It was probably the blood that covered her. Geneva paid no heed. Crushed bone and skin. She had no IV or drip—she had to prevent hypotension. The skin and bones—swelling. Would the arm have to be amputated?

No. No. Not yet. Check the fracture and set the bones. Geneva took a deep breath.

“This will hurt.”

She warned the female soldier and set to work. Geneva closed her ears to the screams as she worked. It was cruel. Cruel to do this. She was causing the poor woman pain, but it had to be done. There was no one else to save her, no healing potions to help her. Without Geneva hurting her, the woman would never be able to lift anything with her arm again. There were no healing potions left.

Geneva was all the battalion had.

 

—-

 

“We will not be receiving any more healing potions in the near future.”

Thriss told Geneva that directly. The battalion had camped, and they were on the eve of their entry into the battle. Geneva stared at him as she stood in the sergeant’s marginally larger tent in their camp.

The air was hot and humid. It was dark, but a few lanterns had been set out. They were already attracting swarms of nocturnal bugs in the dense jungle.

The soldiers had camped just on the fringes of one of the dark, dense jungles that made Baleros such a nightmare to do battle in. The Centaur tribe’s goldmine was located deep within the labyrinth of trees and overgrown fauna, which meant that the attacking mercenary groups – the Burning March company hired forces like the Raverian Fighters – had to push into the jungle. It also meant close combat fighting where ambushes could happen at any moment. It would be desperate and intense, and it was made far worse because Geneva’s company had no healing potions.

To be more accurate, they had twenty. But Thriss had already made it clear that Geneva would not see any of them.

“We’ve distributed half-shares among our officers and veterans. The regular soldiers will have you, and if we can hold for a few days we’ll get another shipment of potions. But it will take time.”

Geneva stared at him. Thriss wasn’t meeting her eyes as he stared at a map on the table. He wasn’t the commander of the company, but he was one of the officers in charge of their battalion. And he had apparently drawn the straw to tell her the bad news.

“You want me to act as a doctor for the entire camp?”

There were over six hundred soldiers in their battalion. Geneva knew not all of them would be injured at once, but—

“I can’t do that. I don’t have the tools for surgery. I need assistants, an operating space, time—

“We’ll clear an area for you to work in. We’ll put you well behind the front lines so don’t worry about that.”

Geneva wasn’t worried about enemy soldiers at the moment. She stared Thriss in the eye.

“I cannot save these soldiers. Not without healing potions.”

“You are all we have.”

Thriss looked at Geneva finally. He met her eyes for a second, and then glanced away. She knew he had a full healing potion in one of the water flasks at his side. But the regular soldiers wouldn’t be getting any potions. Because they were new recruits; expendable.

“Our other battalions can’t spare any potions from their supplies. They’ve been hard pressed too. And the closest force to us is the Burning March 6th Battalion. They’ve refused to give us any potions as well.”

The big man’s hand clenched. Geneva just stood and thought.

“If I do this…I can’t guarantee I’ll save any lives. I can bandage wounds and make tourniquets, but any deep cut, anything worse than a flesh wound—”

“Do your best. That’s all we can ask.”

Thriss stared back at the map. His voice grew quiet.

“It will get intense tomorrow. We’re being sent in to fight against the Magehammer Company. We will flank them. Even if we don’t run into their mages, there will be more than enough people for you to work on.”

What was she supposed to say to that? What was she supposed to do? Geneva stared helplessly at the man in front of her. He knew she couldn’t do this. But he was telling her to do it anyways.

“Can’t we wait until we receive supplies?”

“No.”

He said it flatly.

“We have to provide support. The battle is not going well. If an entire battalion pulls out of its position, we will give the enemy too much of an advantage.”

“So instead you’ll send all of these soldiers to their deaths.”

“You have your orders. Carry them out.”

Geneva stood straight in the tent, feeling as though she’d been slapped. Her voice was taut and cold.

“The gods are dead in this world, Thriss. But tell me, do you believe in immortal souls?”

“Souls?”

The [Sergeant] looked at Geneva. He looked old, and lost, and uncertain.

“I believe I do. I believe in souls, even if there are no gods to judge them.”

Geneva nodded slowly. Her own soul ached. But she had no choice.

“In that case, I hope the soldiers who look up to you have mercy on your soul. Because their deaths are on you.”

She turned and walked out the camp tent. Geneva listened to the insects buzzing and the sounds of the jungle at night. She whispered the words as she walked back to her sleeping spot.

“May they have mercy on mine as well.”

The next day, the 4th Battalion of the Raverian Fighters engaged in battle.

 

—-

 

Geneva remembered the day as vivid scenes set to the backdrop of screams and blood and gore. Only a few things stood out to her clearly.

She remembered standing at the edge of the camp as Lim, Clara, Fortum, and the other soldiers prepared to enter the fray. She remembered the look in their eyes as they’d stared at her.

“Stay safe, girl.”

Fortum had advised her as he and the other soldiers tightened straps and made sure both armor and weapons were secure. He looked at her seriously.

“You’re all we’ve got. If some fool gets you, we’re all dead men walking. You keep well clear of the fighting.”

“I will. I’ll be waiting in case any of you need me.”

The old man had paused then, and looked at Geneva seriously. There was no blame in his eyes, or fear like there was in Lim’s when the young man looked at her. His voice was soft.

“Don’t blame an old man, but I hope I don’t see you today.”

“I won’t. Stay safe.”

And then they’d left. Geneva had stood in the camp, in the empty tent she’d set up, trembling.

To her surprise, not all the soldiers have been sent out in the first wave. Of course; they had to be rotated and a reserve was necessary to keep the enemy from ambushing the headquarters. So she’d enlisted a few men and women and one Lizardfolk and had them wait near her tent. She needed assistants. Even if they couldn’t help in the surgery, they could at least lift the bodies—

The wounded.

The first soldier arrived almost before Geneva could blink. One second she was trying to sit still, heart racing, waiting for what seemed like eternity, the next she heard the screams.

He’d been hit by an arrow in the first engagement. It had struck him in the leg and by the blood gushing from the wound, it had hit an artery. The soldiers carried him in and Geneva grabbed for bandages.

“Why didn’t—”

She almost asked them why they hadn’t made a tourniquet. But they were already pushing out the door.

Okay. Severed artery. She had to—

The man gasped, and Geneva’s heart stopped. He was awake but barely conscious. The blood loss had already taken his toll and he was limp and his face was pallid.

Move. Geneva tore her eyes away from his face and looked at the arrow. Blood was still oozing from the wound. She had to make a tourniquet.

Geneva wrapped the strip of twisted cloth as tightly around the upper part of his leg as she could. The blood flow cut off. That done, Geneva looked at the arrow.

It was just like the last injury. That was what she told herself. But this time she had to cut into the man’s leg. Her angle was bad, and the dagger wasn’t nearly as sharp as a scalpel. And when she got into the wound—

“Oh god.”

The arrow had indeed sliced through the artery, and Geneva was staring at the hole the extracted arrowhead had made. Somehow, she had to suture that. But she didn’t have sutures! Okay, first she had to grab the artery, but how could she? She had virtually no surgical tools—

“Forceps.”

Geneva fumbled with the wooden ones one of the soldiers had fashioned for her. She fumbled at the exposed artery, trying to grasp it until she succeeded. Desperately, Geneva hung on to that as she reached for a needle and thread.

The artery was severed; the only option she had was to ligate the wound. But doing that with basic thread and a sewing needle filled Geneva with dread. There was just no way she’d be able to do it properly.

But she didn’t have a choice. The needle could barely penetrate the artery, and the thread was already sticky with blood. The man was moaning, and Geneva had to adjust every time he moved. Slowly, she got the artery closed, but when she removed the tourniquet, one of her stitches broke. She had to reapply and dig around in the bloody mess again, and then wash the wound and close it up with more stitches.

She took too long. Geneva knew that in hindsight. Two more wounded soldiers had arrived and waited for over half an hour before she decided she’d done all she could. She shouted, and the soldiers came in and out. Geneva’s hands were shaking a bit after the operation, but she didn’t even have a second to rest.

The second injured person had been hit by a mage blast. And he was a Lizardfolk. Geneva stared at the curling smoke rising from the blackened crater in his side and decided to treat him as if the actual damage had been caused by fire or electricity. Some combination of the two.

She had no real way to treat him. But the worst part was that her patient was conscious. He screamed at her, and screamed harder when she tried to clean the wound with soapy water. He cut her face, and soldiers had to rush in and hold him down.

A skin graft was all she could think of, but Geneva knew she didn’t have the time or ability to do that. She could only clean the blackened scales and apply a rudimentary dressing of bandages. The soldiers carried the Lizardman out as he screamed curses at her.

The next patient only needed stitching and bandaging of several deep cuts on his arms. Geneva washed and stitched his skin together as the man yelped and cursed. She gave him garbled instructions to keep the wounds clean and not to strain himself—he stared at her as if she was crazy and told her he was going to be called back into the fighting soon enough.

Geneva paused then to catch her breath and wipe the sweat from her brow. An orange bug tried to land on her bloody hands and more were crawling up the table. She washed them off the table with soapy water and stomped them into the mud at the bottom of her tent. Then she told the soldiers to boil her more water and get her more cloth for bandages.

And then the next patient arrived. He was already dead. Geneva stared at his chest. He wasn’t breathing. She confirmed that by testing his pulse and checking to see if he was breathing. He was not. But the cut on his stomach was still leaking blood, and the two soldiers who’d stayed by his side were staring at Geneva with hope in their eyes.

“He’s dead. I’m sorry.”

They refused to believe. One of the dead man’s friends pointed to his hands.

“He’s still alive! Look! His hands are moving!”

Geneva looked. The fingers on the dead man’s hands were twitching. She’d never seen a corpse do that, but she’d heard stories.

“Muscle spasms. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.”

The two stared at her. Geneva called for soldiers to take him out. A fight broke out when they tried to take the dead man’s body.

Liar! He’s not dead! He’s not dead!

“Deral! Get away—Deral!

Geneva caught a fist as the soldiers fought with the other two. By the time they’d been subdued and the corpse had been taken out, Geneva’s cheek was swollen and the ground was muddy.

Then the next patient came in. He was alive and had taken a deep cut to the belly. Geneva had to call more soldiers to help. Three held him down while she had two more help him in the operation. But they were too slow, and too afraid. The man died while they hesitated.

And then the next patient came in. He was missing an eye, and he’d been cut badly. He screamed and thrashed. By this point Geneva was already exhausted and sweat kept running into her eyes. Her helper couldn’t even blot it off her head without getting in her way.

In another lifetime, in another world, Geneva’s college professor had once tried to make the analogy that surgery was like an orchestra. Each nurse and doctor in the operating room was like a player, and they all had their own part to play. If even one person slipped up, the entire melody, the entire piece fell apart.

He’d made the comparison poorly, and he’d completely flubbed the entire thing when he’d tried to compare general anesthesia to atmospheric lighting. But the analogy had stayed with Geneva.

A surgery was like an orchestra, or a band. Each person had their part to play. True, there were lead players and first violins, but even the most outstanding player could not make music alone. What was a concerto without the accompaniment? What good was a surgeon without the anesthesiologist to monitor the patient’s vitals, and her assistants to stop the bleeding and hand her tools?

What could one person do alone? Nothing. And worse, Geneva was still too inexperienced. She had no practice—no real experience with the injuries on the soldiers that were flooding into her tent. She had only studied theory, never tried to repair a collapsed lung or stitch together a burst stomach.

In an operating room, Geneva would have been the least-important member of the team. As a new intern or the youngest doctor, she would have been cutting sutures or cleaning and sterilizing the room before and after the surgery. No—as a student she would have been relegated to observational duty in some schools; just someone that had to keep out of the real doctor’s way at all costs.

But now Geneva found herself leading an orchestra of one, a lone singer on a stage dark with blood, with an audience that was growing with each hour. They screamed her name, and begged her to play music. But she was alone, untrained, unaided.

Yet they screamed her name. So Geneva sang alone. As the screams filled the jungle and the harsh buzzing of flies and larger insects filled the air she cut and bandaged and tried to catch life with her fingers.

It slipped away each time.

After the thirtieth patient, Geneva had to take a break. She staggered outside and threw up. The soldiers watched her anxiously, but Geneva didn’t care. She breathed deeply and drank water, rinsing out her mouth before she drank more, to replenish all the fluids she’d lost.

Her hands were shaking. They were still during the surgery, but now they shook uncontrollably. Geneva sat on a rock for a few seconds, trying to breathe.

They’d all died. Everyone who’d come in to her tent with a serious injury hadn’t gone back out. They’d passed away on that bloody, insect-infested table, screaming and crying and begging her to save them.

Someone else screamed. Geneva looked up and saw a man with no hand. It wasn’t a clean cut that had taken the hand either. It looked like something had bit the hand off.

Doctor!

His friend shouted at Geneva, white-faced. Friends were the worst. Geneva had already banned them from being anywhere near the tent.

Her mind raced. Part of her was already going over the things she’d need to do for a severed limb. It was listing all the things she didn’t have. But it was still possible, and every second she wasted was a second that man was closer to death.

“I can’t do this.”

She whispered the words as she stood up and walked back into the tent. She saved the man’s life, but the flesh around his hand already stank, and she feared infection would claim his arm. But there was nothing to do.

The next patient had taken three arrows to the legs. One had nicked an artery. He bled out before she could save him.

“More wounded! Where’s the damn [Doctor]!?”

Geneva turned, staggering, as she tried to finish her bowl of food. She’d stopped after—she had no idea, really. After a while the soldiers in her tent had turned into a blur.

Soldiers were carrying more wounded into the camp. Geneva looked at some of them and knew they would die. The living fought for space, trying to get their friends into line before the others. Nearly ten wounded this time. Geneva stood up, but then saw something strange.

Two soldiers were dumping a corpse next to the others. But it was not a corpse. Geneva could see it moving, and unlike the soldier who’d had muscle spasms, there was no way to imitate this.

“Wait! He’s not dead!”

Geneva ran forwards. The soldiers turned as she knelt at the side of the moving body. She paused when she saw the injury.

Half of his body had been blown away. A mage’s spell had struck him. Geneva was beginning to notice the signs. And what remained—Geneva blinked at the corpse.

It was a Human’s corpse, but something had happened to it. All the color seemed to have drained out of the skin, and what remained looked—wrong. He almost looked albino, but his hair was a dark red.

The soldier shook his head at Geneva.

“Selphid.”

“What?”

They looked at her as if she was crazy for not knowing. Geneva stared back at them as the hand on the left side of the man’s body raised and lowered oddly, as if he was a puppet that someone was trying to move with only one string.

“They’re body-snatchers. Parasites. They live in corpses and move them about.”

Like brain slugs? Or—they lived inside of bodies? Geneva bent down and looked at the destroyed section of the body.

Something was squirming in the insides. Geneva looked closer, and saw where the left side of the corpse had been burned away, something was wriggling in the insides. Something was living in the body. Or it had been.

The corpse was clearly trying to move, but it was also clearly malfunctioning, or else the Selphid wasn’t able to control it after having half of its own body blown away. The soldier turned away in disgust, and his companion made the same expression.

“Leave it. The Selphids don’t have parts like normal folk. If it can’t get into another body it’ll die.”

“But it’s injured.”

“So? Selphids aren’t people.”

Geneva could see yellow fluid leaking from the squirming thing inside the body. She took a breath.

“I’m going to operate on it.”

What?

“It will die without help. And maybe I can transplant it. Put it in line with the others.”

The soldiers stared at Geneva, but they did what she said. Geneva stood up, and walked back into her tent.

The living flashed before her eyes, some becoming dead while she stood in her tent, and then sat when her legs started to give out. She could stitch people up, but the deeper wounds still eluded her. Her assistants still couldn’t move fast enough, and they kept rotating out of the tent. Some threw up as she was cutting into her victims, and even the bravest of them had to look away at times. Geneva had already gone numb to the smell of blood and feces as the injured and dead voided themselves.

And then the soldiers dumped a corpse on her table. Geneva stared at it until she remembered the Selphid. It was still twitching in the corpse, but weakly. The one eye of the dead man tried to move, but they couldn’t fix on her face.

“Can you hear me?”

Geneva spoke to the dead body. The leg kicked feebly. Geneva waited, but the mouth didn’t move.

“I am going to operate on you. I will try to save your life. But I need your permission.”

There were countless rules regarding malpractice Geneva had been taught in school. If she was in the emergency room in a hospital she would be judged by the professional standards of care and state laws. But here there was no oversight, just herself.

She had a duty to save lives. But she had no idea what Selphids were like. She could kill the creature in the person’s body just by slicing him open. So she had to ask.

“I will try to save you, but I have no idea how Selphids work. But I am a [Doctor]. I will do everything I can to keep you alive. But I need your permission.”

At last the mouth moved, but only once. The jaw fell open, and Geneva stared at the corpse. The Selphid couldn’t speak. She slowly put her hand in the corpses’. It was cold.

“If you want me to operate on you, grab my hand. If not, I will put you with the corpses.”

The hand was cold in her grasp. Geneva waited. Ten slow seconds passed, and she began to pull back her hand. Then the fingers twitched in her grasp. Geneva jerked away at the strange feeling, and then nodded.

“Okay. Try not to move. If I’m hurting you, let me know.”

It was a strange feeling as she cut into the man’s skin. She felt like she was doing an autopsy, but this time she was being extremely careful not to thrust in to any part of the body too deeply. She opened the stomach and then saw the Selphid.

It was stretching throughout the dead man’s nervous system. A green wriggling mass of tendrils moved weakly as Geneva stared at the body.

The soldiers in the room left. Geneva heard one race out of the tent and throw up as the tendrils tried to reach upwards. She stared. They were wrapped around organs—they seemed to have removed several and the Selphid had infiltrated the dead man’s stomach. It was a true parasite.

And it was alive. Geneva had to take hold of herself before her curiosity overwhelmed her. Slowly, she cut until she reached the half of the body that had been blown off.

There. Now she could see what was wrong. The Selphid might have been shielded inside the man’s body, but it had still been caught by the explosion. Where the body ended she saw it was bleeding some viscous, orange liquid.

“You’re injured. I need to stop the bleeding.”

Geneva reached for the Selphid and the needle, but the creature recoiled as she tried to grab it with a forcep. Part of it flowed away, and Geneva realized with a shock that this creature was semi-fluid. Stitches would be as useful as trying to block water with a net.

But the creature was dying, and it was—yes, it was bleeding out. Geneva thought quickly, and then raced out of her tent.

“Get me a piece of metal! A sword, a dagger—something smooth and flat! And a fire!”

When Geneva reentered the tent with a glowing brand of hot iron, the Selphid recoiled. But Geneva set the hot metal down next to the body and explained what she was going to do.

“I need to burn the injuries closed. That’s the only way I can stop the bleeding.”

The Selphid seemed to hesitate. Then it shifted, and Geneva saw several patches of bleeding among the green. She took a deep breath.

“Hold still. This will hurt.”

She had no idea if the Selphid actually had nerves, but she got her answer as she pressed the hot metal down on the extended part of the Selphid, holding it still with a forcep in the other hand. She heard a shriek—a high-pitched sound that made her ear wax vibrate, and the Selphid went wild in her grip. But Geneva held on, and when she pulled the burning metal back the green of the Selphid had been discolored and the creature was shaking, but the bleeding had stopped.

The cauterization process was slow and agonizing for the Selphid, but when she was done, the creature lay in the body. It was moving very slowly now, and Geneva wondered if it was allergic to the air, or if it was still dying. The trauma alone might be killing it.

“I need another body.”

Geneva strode out of the tent and walked over to a group of soldiers amassing the dead in a pile to be burnt. The insects were thick, but she found a corpse—a woman who’d died of blood loss from having an artery cut. She told the soldiers to bring it to the tent and then carefully sliced the woman’s stomach open.

“I’m going to pick you up.”

She had to use her hands for that. The forceps weren’t strong enough. The body was warm to the touch as Geneva delved into the organs. The Selphid itself was warm. It weakly wrapped around her hands and she lifted it up.

It came out slowly. Pieces of the Selphid were still attached to organs, and Geneva had to pull with more force than she wanted. The creature screamed, but she eventually pried it loose. Slowly, she placed it in the opening she’d created in the dead woman’s stomach and waited.

The Selphid began to move. The bunched up segment of it slowly began to slither deeper into the body, slowly, very slowly. Geneva waited until it was all inside and then she sewed up the opening. And waited.

The body didn’t move. After a minute, Geneva realized the Selphid could be dead and she would never know. She waited a while longer, but then she had to turn away.

“Take the body and put it at the back of the line.”

She told the soldiers to take away the remains of the first corpse and watched as they brought in another wounded Dullahan. Geneva got back to work.

By the time the corpse came back, it was dark, Geneva was swaying, and the wounded had finally stopped coming in. Everyone who was injured had been treated, or their wounds weren’t life threatening, or they’d bled out while waiting.

The corpse was mildly warm to the touch, but it was only from the night air. Geneva hopefully checked the eyes, opening them and flashing lantern light into the empty gaze, but the body did not move. The Selphid was dead.

Exhausted, Geneva set the lantern down and walked away. She was too tired, too drained to even weep. She used the rest of the boiled water to wash herself—although her clothes were ruined—and walked into the camp where the surviving soldiers were eating.

To her surprise, Geneva heard laughter, and even cheering. She collected her food and found that Lim, Clara, and Fortum were all alive. And what was more, they all seemed to be in extremely good cheer.

“Geneva!”

Clara waved her over and edged over on the ground to give her a seat. Geneva sat and listened to the others laughing. She felt like she was in some strange other reality. Why was everyone so happy?

Fortum clapped Lim over the shoulder as he addressed Geneva.

“The kid was a hero! He killed at least eight soldiers in the battle today, and he got through it all with barely a scratch!”

“You’ll level tonight, boy!”

Lim blushed as he looked at Geneva. She stared back, her face empty. She’d held a man’s intestines in her hand. She’d stared at a hand and knew it was gone. It’d had to be amputated.

“A damn archer was aiming at me, and I’d caught my foot on a body so I couldn’t dodge. He raises his bow and then Lim runs him through from behind! Right through the leather armor! Just like that!”

A gaping hole so wide she could see the table underneath. She was out of time and the man was bleeding. Even if she could stop the bleeding all she could do was sew skin together. His organs were all severed. She watched him choking up blood.

“Geneva? What happened to you?”

Everyone was staring at her. Geneva looked up. They were looking at her face with concern.

“Geneva?”

Slowly, Geneva stared down at her food. She looked at the soldiers, some still covered with blood. The enemy’s blood. The blood of people they’d killed. People they’d injured, like the ones she’d tried to save.

Geneva stood up. Without a word, she walked away. She ate the food quickly by herself and then walked to her sleeping place. She paused to throw up everything she’d eaten, and vomited again and again until she was throwing up nothing but bile. Then she wept, long and hard. Geneva fell into her bedding and only woke when morning came.

 

[Doctor Level 11!]

[Skill – Injury Sense obtained!]

[Skill – Sterile Equipment obtained!]

 

—-

 

Geneva had heard once that a surgeon improved by the number of patients that died under their blade. But this was far too literal. When she woke up and remembered the Skills she’d learned, she didn’t know if she wanted to cry or laugh hysterically.

She had more Skills. And they were valuable. The [Sterile Equipment] Skill would prevent infections, and the other one would allow her to pinpoint bleeding in theory. But at what cost?

They’d all died, all of her serious patients. Maybe she’d saved one or two? But regardless, that was a survival rate of less than 1%. She wasn’t a [Doctor]. She was a glorified coroner who helped kill the living.

Geneva ate in silence with the others this morning. She didn’t speak, and the conversation was far more subdued than yesterday. Lim and the others kept glancing at her. Geneva had just finished eating the cheese and bread dipped in soup that tasted like nothing when someone rushed at her.

Murderer! You let them die!”

A fist struck Geneva on the cheek and then she was lying on the ground. She felt a boot kick her in the chest before someone shouted and the attacker disappeared. Geneva sat up and saw Lim had tackled the soldier who’d hit her. Now the other man’s buddies were drawing their weapons, and the people around Geneva were getting to their feet with theirs.

Put down your weapons!

Thriss thundered into the fray before anyone could move, face red. He roared at everyone present and threw Lim off the other soldier while he raised his mace. More officers and soldiers joined Thriss, keeping the angry soldiers apart.

“I’ll smash the head of anyone that draws blood, my oath on it! We’re a battalion—we fight together!”

“Not her!”

Geneva looked around as Clara helped her up. The man who’d struck her was shouting, barely restrained by his fellows. She recognized him. He was the friend of the dead man, the one who he’d insisted was alive. She’d already forgotten the dead man’s name.

“She let them die! She’s no [Doctor]! She’s not even a [Healer]! She just kills anyone she touches! She slices them up and lets them bleed to death!”

The other soldiers stared at Geneva. She couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Thriss’ face turned even more red, and he roared to cut the other man off.

“Enough! You! You’re going in with the first wave. And you—”

Thriss pointed at Geneva. His tone was much softer.

“Get to your tent. The fightin’ is going to heat up soon, and we’ll need your skills.”

He guided her away as the soldiers broke up and another officer took over the shouting. Geneva staggered away as Clara gave her a brief pat on the back. Thriss marched towards her tent—they’d pitched it in another location because the bugs had infested the previous area too badly. Geneva looked up at the [Sergeant]. Her hands were shaking again.

“What he said—”

“He lost his friends. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Geneva shook her head.

“He was right. I can’t do this. Not alone.”

“There’s no one with a [Healer] class in the battalion. You’ll have to.”

“I can’t!

Geneva stopped in her tracks and shouted at Thriss, ignoring the people who stared.

“I can’t do this alone! I don’t just need another [Doctor]—I need assistants, proper ones! I need people who know how to perform surgeries and don’t throw up on my patients. I need surgical tools, or some healing potion for deep injures. I can’t close them on my own.”

Thriss chewed at his lip. Then he shook his head again, reluctantly.

“We have none to spare. We used up a lot of what we had yesterday—and the fighting will only get worse from here. I’ll assign soldiers to you, but I can’t promise they’ll be any better.”

“Then everyone dies, just like that soldier said.”

“I—”

Thriss broke off. He looked at someone behind Geneva, and then she heard a low voice.

“[Doctor].”

Geneva turned. Her heart nearly burst out of her chest.

Someone was standing in front of her. Someone—someone dead. She was one of the soldiers Geneva had tried to save yesterday, the one who’d bled out. But she was dead. She was—

She was the one who Geneva had put the Selphid into.

The woman looked different than she had yesterday. Her skin was totally white now, and she stood awkwardly. The right half of her body sagged, and she moved awkwardly, as if she’d had a stroke. But her left side seemed perfectly able, and she smiled crookedly at Geneva.

Thriss had noted her skin color as well. He put his hand on his sword warily.

“We have no Selphids among this Batallion. Identify yourself.”

The Selphid saluted with one hand. She was armed with a sword, and the dead woman’s armor, the chainmail still covered in dried blood.

“Yes, sir. My name is Okasha I am a [Rogue], Level 23. I am part of the Burning March 6th Division. My squad was destroyed by a mage spell. I would rejoin my unit, but my right side is useless. I cannot fight, but I will help the [Doctor].”

“What?”

Geneva stared at the Selphid in the woman’s body. She couldn’t understand.

“You were dead. I saw you. I put you in the other body, but you didn’t move even after I checked again.”

The Selphid smiled.

“I was unconscious. And it takes time for us to assume control of a new form.”

She hadn’t even guessed that might happen. Geneva’s stomach twisted.

“I’m sorry.”

Okasha raised one hand and smiled again.

“I should be the one thanking you. You saved me. I would have died in that body if you hadn’t closed my injuries and put me in a new one.”

Thriss grunted irritably.

“So you can doctor Selphids? Looks like you’ve got a good use, to me. Try to save more of our folk instead of them, though. And here’s your assistant, if you’ll have one of them.”

Geneva looked at Okasha. She bit her lip. The Selphid was clearly disabled or wounded—perhaps permanently if she couldn’t regrow whatever she was missing. But Geneva needed all the help she could get.

“I need an assistant. But I’ll be cutting up bodies and performing surgery. Can you handle that?”

This time even Thriss bared his teeth in a reluctant grin. Okasha laughed.

“I am a Selphid. Bleeding and organs do not scare me.”

Oh. Of course. Thriss left the two as Geneva tried to give Okasha a crash course on the thousands of things she needed to know to be a capable assistant. Okasha listened carefully, nodding. She had a patient personality, and what was even better, she understood when Geneva talked about arteries and veins and bloodflow.

“I know of these things. I have seen them and felt how they move.”

“Really?”

The Selphid nodded. She took a breath—if she didn’t speak she took breaths very rarely, which was unsettling. She also blinked much less than normal people. She was a creature living in a dead body, but Geneva was fine with that. At least there was life in this corpse.

“I have lived in Dullahan and Lizardfolk bodies as well. I can show you how they live and breathe as well.”

Geneva suddenly realized that she was standing in front of the only person who might know more about the human body than she did. The relief made her almost lightheaded, but then she heard shouting. The soldiers were already heading into battle.

Her face and ribs hurt where she’d been kicked. She was still exhausted, and the dead and the accusations of the soldier still haunted her. But this time she was not alone.

 

—-

 

“Apply pressure! I’ll stitch!”

Geneva shouted at Okasha over the man’s screams. The Selphid nodded and hung on to the man’s arm. She was strong—far stronger than normal and while the other soldiers held him down she minimized his blood loss with an iron grip.

The man writhed and screamed, but when Geneva had cut the thread, he was alive and even healthy enough to walk back to camp. That didn’t stop him from trying to take a swing at Geneva, though.

Okasha blocked the strike and sent the man staggering back with a knife-hand to the throat that made him choke. Geneva checked, but his throat was intact. The soldier roughly dragged her former patient out as she stared at Okasha.

“Don’t hurt patients.”

“Why not? He was striking at you.”

“If that’s the case, try not to hurt him. I am a doctor. I have sworn an oath not to inflict needless harm or kill.”

“But you are on a battlefield.”

“Yes. I am.”

Geneva rested her face in her hands. Blood smeared her face before she realized what she was doing. She looked up.

It was no better today. Despite Okasha’s help, she could not save those badly hurt. She was incapable. She couldn’t do blood transfusions and she wasn’t quick enough to finish operations before her patients bled out.

But she would save them. Each time one came in, Geneva felt herself go insane. She would save them. She would. She wasn’t walking with death anymore. She was wrestling with it.

But she was still losing.

“I can’t do this.”

They were the same words as yesterday. But the Geneva who uttered them was different. She wasn’t desperate and tired any longer; now Okasha was here, she was remembering. It was all so clear now. She had been a fool, trying to adapt modern practices with barbaric tools. She had to go back to another time. Think. She knew some accounts of doctors from World War II. What could she—

The soldiers carrying in the next groaning soldiers were surprised when Geneva thrust her way out of the tent with Okasha behind her. The [Doctor]’s face was grim, but determined. She shook her head at the soldiers.

“Put him down. I’m going to triage first.”

She should have done it at the very start. But she’d started on that first patient without even thinking. She was a fool.

Now, though—

“Get me some charcoal and cloth.”

She snapped at a soldier as she began to walk the lines of the wounded. There were even more than yesterday. They looked up as she passed, but Geneva didn’t meet their eyes. If she did, she would lose heart. Instead, she looked at their injuries.

“White armbands are for priority patients. Use the charcoal and add a marking if they’re lower priority.”

That was what she informed Okasha as she began to sort the soldiers. She prioritized injuries she could treat that were time-sensitive. Severed arteries, excessive bleeding—

But those with injuries she couldn’t mend she left alone. And those who had superficial cuts she added a black line on the cloth she tied to their arms or legs. They didn’t understand at first, the soldiers. They stared at her with suspicion, but they began to understand as she brought in the patients she’d marked as priority.

“They are beginning to try to alter their armbands, those who are awake.”

Okasha remarked lightly as she handed Geneva the one of the sharpened daggers. Geneva grunted and Okasha deftly caught the sweat before it could sting her eyes. The Selphid was competent and deft despite only having one arm, but she had a distinct lack of sympathy for the man who was groaning on the table as Geneva tried to cut a chunk of metal out of his thigh.

“They are trying to erase the black markings. But we shall see if their bands are wet or smudged.”

“Suture.”

The needle was in her hands a second after Geneva said it. The [Doctor] began to stitch rapidly. She could still hear the screams, and what was worse, now she could hear people shouting in anger.

They came for her when she was taking a five minute break. Oksaha insisted on it, and Geneva gulped down water and tore into some bread feverishly.

“You!”

A Lizardwoman shout at Geneva as she advanced on her angrily. The soldiers Thriss had posted with Geneva moved to block her, but the Lizardwoman wasn’t alone. Clara was with her. The other soldier had a dark look on her face.

“Clara? What’s wrong?”

Geneva looked at the woman. Clara pointed.

“Why aren’t you treating Lim!?”

She hadn’t even seen the boy. But he was lying on the ground next to her tent, face pale, gasping. He had a deep cut down his sword hand; deep, but shallow. Geneva looked back at Clara and shook her head.

“I can’t. He’s not in danger. I have to treat—”

Clara grabbed for Geneva. Oksha blocked her, but the other soldier was screaming at Geneva now. The young woman felt spit hit her face.

How dare you! Lim is your friend! He saved you! He was first in line!”

“He isn’t badly hurt. He will wait.”

Geneva’s voice was steel. Her heart was a cold ball. She’d put it away to perform surgery; it was the only way she could stay sane. But now it was melting, growing hotter in her chest.

“You’re a monster!

The Lizardwoman lunged at Geneva and was held back by the soldiers. She struggled in their grip; she was stronger than the other two.

“You’re letting Namass die! I saw you—you didn’t even put a band on his arm!”

Geneva remembered the Lizardman. He had been stabbed straight through the gut, but someone had carved upwards and sliced through his organs. There wasn’t anything she could do—nothing that wouldn’t take too long.

She met the Lizardwoman’s eyes.

“I am triaging. I have to prioritize people I can save.”

“That’s evil!”

Clara shouted it at Geneva as Okasha fought to keep her back. Geneva felt her heart grow more painful. The female soldier shouted at Geneva.

“Don’t you care about your friends!? Why aren’t you helping Lim? He’s one of us. He was first. He—”

It was all too much. Geneva heard ringing; saw red. She was grabbing Clara before she knew it, screaming at her at the top of her lungs. The screaming soldiers, the shouting soldiers and those resting in camp—even the insects seemed to fall silent as Geneva gave vent to the fury in her.

“Good? Evil? A doctor isn’t any of those things!”

Geneva shouted the words into a pair of scared blue eyes. She shook the other woman hard, grabbing at her with hands still crusted with blood. She pointed at the rows of wounded soldiers.

“I will save everyone I can. I will save the most people I can. That is how this works! This isn’t morality! This isn’t choice! This is medicine! Now get out of the damn way or help me! I have a job to do.”

She threw Clara aside and stormed towards her tent. Okasha was right behind her. Geneva raised the needle and thread and got to work.

Stitch. Suture. Stop the blood flow here. Bandage. Okasha had learned to tie them properly. Clean the vomit away. Bugs crawling on the feces. Too many. Change locations.

Incision here. Repair this. Cauterize. Amputate. Ignore the screams.

She didn’t even remember falling asleep. She just looked around for the next patient, and there were none. Geneva didn’t remember closing her eyes. She only knew that she fell back and Okasha caught her before she hit the ground.

That night Geneva leveled up again. She gained six levels and four different skills. Okasha told her it was practically unheard of, but Geneva had never heard of a modern-day doctor who’d gone through what she had.

Over a hundred and thirty soldiers had passed under her needle and blade yesterday. Of that number, she had saved over two thirds. Twice that number had died over the course of the day. Some had been from her battalion, but Geneva later learned that every group fighting was experiencing potion shortages. They’d sent their wounded to her, sometimes over the course of many miles.

Geneva had learned four skills. Two were merely useful; [Numbing Touch] made people feel less pain and [Flawless Cut] allowed Geneva to make incisions far more easily than before. They were tools to make her better at her job.

But the Skills that changed everything were the combination of [Speed Stitching] and [Enhanced Thread]. With them, Geneva could begin to truly save lives. And she did. The next day, she ate with Okasha by herself and walked towards the tent. This time she reorganized her triage system.

She could suture at a pace three times as fast as before, and with the thread, she could close up even damaged organs. They might still fail, but Geneva was quick enough to stop the blood loss so her patients had a chance. That night she gained only one skill – [Lesser Stamina]. It allowed her to keep going even when night fell.

In the days that followed Geneva gained more skills. She moved faster; began seeing exactly what treatment methods worked best. Okasha found better forceps, and somehow, a few of the soldiers assigned to Geneva learned to bind wounds as well. She rotated them across the lines of wounded, binding injuries and even stitching up wounds while she worked on the most injured.

Sometimes she forgot to eat while she was working, and only a hot meal shoved in front of her face would distract her. Geneva knew she was losing weight, but even when she was sleeping, a scream or cry for her name would rouse her. She couldn’t sleep. The faces haunted her. Maybe if there were others it would be different, but she was alone. She couldn’t let them die. Any of them.

The soldiers began to level up as [Field Medics] or [Assistants]. Geneva saved more lives. She watched more slip away. But she clung to each thread until it snapped. Death still walked by her side, but slowly, Geneva began to pull ahead.

 

—-

 

“More wounded!”

Geneva heard the words and looked up. She was taking a break with Okasha and a few wounded soldiers. There hadn’t been any more seriously wounded for a stretch. Now more were coming in, but the soldiers she’d trained were already triaging for her. And she needed a break; she had been working nonstop for three hours and she had to rest or she would make mistakes. Okasha had told her that and because she was right, Geneva had agreed to rest now and then. So Geneva sat and listened to Okasha.

“The Centaur tribe has hit every camp. They launch night raids, sneak attacks…sometimes they strike even if it means taking hundreds of casualties. Just to destroy our potions stock.”

A Dullahan whose head Geneva had stitched up grunted. He cradled his head carefully in his hands as he spoke.

“Bastards. They’ve got no honor.”

Another Lizardfolk nodded. Non-humans were the ones most willing to talk with Geneva right now. Clara, Lim, Fortum and the others had given her the cold shoulder, and a lot of the Humans thought she was betraying their kind by working on other species first. The Lizardman spat as the severed stump of his tail twitched.

“If we make it out of this mess, you’ll bet there will be hell to pay. Even if the Magehammer Company didn’t participate in the strikes themselves, they’ll be in trouble for letting the Centaur tribe get away with it. No mercenary will work with them.”

“But we are pushing them back. They are outnumbered, and if their mages fall, they will lose their edge.”

Okasha grinned as she said that, but Geneva could only imagine the slaughter. The Selphid stared at the lines of wounded and grinned. The soldiers in this group weren’t as badly injured; they had superficial wounds mostly, but Geneva saw one stump she knew she would have to tend to herself.

Two soldiers dumped a body on the ground. Geneva saw a Centaur, half-man, half-horse, bleeding deeply from an injury in the side. Someone had thrown a spear and it had broken off inside of him. He would die soon if she didn’t move.

She stood up. Okasha stood too, and Geneva strode towards the Centaur. They had him in the operating tent first. It was a difficult procedure, cutting the spear out and stopping his bleeding. But they managed it. The worst moment was when the Centaur woke up and realized he was being worked on. He screamed and thrashed and it took eight soldiers to hold him down.

“Easy. Easy. I’m a [Doctor]. I’m going to help you.”

Geneva said the words very slowly to the Centaur, looking into his eyes. His chest heaved; he tried to break free, but slowly he relaxed.

“I won’t hurt you, I swear it.”

He nodded at her, but didn’t relax. He flinched while she extracted the spearhead and only hissed as she sewed his skin together. When it was done Geneva had to help carry him out; he was extraordinarily heavy.

But as they were bringing him to an area that had been cleared for the wounded to lie in, Geneva heard a shout.

“Enemy soldier!”

The people around her raised their weapons. Geneva saw Thriss thrusting people aside. He pointed a finger at the Centaur, and Geneva felt her patient stiffen behind her.

“That’s not one of ours! That’s an enemy!”

He had his mace in his hands. The Centaur raised a hand weakly, but Geneva stood in Thriss’s way. He glared at her.

“Move aside.”

“No. He’s going to die. I am going to treat him.”

Thriss’ jaw clenched.

“He’s an enemy. We interrogate him, and we’ll find out what his lot are up to.”

Geneva didn’t move. Thriss tried to shove her aside, but she stepped in his way. She spread her arms.

“I have sworn an oath. If you want him, you have to knock me out. And if you do hurt him, I will not be able to heal any more soldiers.”

She raised her voice so everyone could hear her. Thriss paused as other soldiers looked her way. He gritted his teeth.

“You’re bluffing.”

Geneva met his furious gaze calmly. She spoke as loudly and as she could, knowing every eye was one her.

“If my oath is broken, I will no longer be a [Doctor].”

She felt it was true. And Thriss didn’t have the courage to test her, she knew. Every soldier knew they were out of healing potions; if they were hurt, Geneva was the only one who could fix them up.

Thriss advanced on Geneva.

“He’s one of the lot who smashed our potions! He’s been shooting at us throughout the battle! Him and all his damn tribe!”

“Then let him go. He can walk—barely.”

Geneva knew the Centaur might not survive the night in the camp, no matter what she said. She stared at Thriss.

“Let him go. I am a [Doctor]. This is my patient.”

Thriss pointed a finger that shook at Geneva.

“I could have you executed for aiding the enemy.”

I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.

Geneva gritted her teeth. She stood in front of Thriss and stared the big man down.

“Do it if you must.”

“You swore to obey orders!”

“I answer to a higher oath.”

The [Doctor] and [Sergeant] stared at each other in the center of the camp full of wounded and healing soldiers. He was the first to look away.

“Damn you. Get him out of here!”

The Centaur slowly got to his feet with Okasha’s help. He stumbled, and Geneva insisted on making him a rough crutch before he left. He looked back twice at her. She watched him go. Then she went back and continued to operate.

 

—-

 

The next day, Geneva set up her tent further away from the 4th Battalion’s headquarters. And she put up a flag. It had a cross on it, red, painted with the only substance Geneva could use. She hung the flag high in the air on a piece of white cloth. Okasha asked what it meant.

“Healing. Safety.”

“Then why is it red? And why a cross?”

Geneva had no answer for that. But it was a symbol nevertheless. She hung it over her tent, and more than once she found soldiers waving flags with crosses of their own as they brought their friends to the tent. She never asked what side they were on. She just tried to save lives.

Each time someone died, it was like a bit of Geneva went with them. But when she pulled someone back, when they thanked her, a bit of her came back to life as well. She ate and slept and did all the things her body required, but Geneva lived on the operating table. She lived to help other people live.

They all had names, all had families and dreams. They asked her not to let them die, but they couldn’t pray because the gods were dead. So Geneva prayed with every cut of her improvised scalpels, and every stitch of her needle. She prayed that she would save them. She prayed to the science she’d been taught, the lessons she tried to remember, and to medicine herself. She prayed that she was making a difference.

They’d just begun operating on a man, when Geneva heard a thump and felt the explosion in her bones. She stumbled outside to find the camp was under attack.

A woman hovered in the air, blasting people with fiery orbs that exploded, and tremors that engulfed her victims. She was coming towards the tent.

Geneva grabbed the flag she had planted, and stood in front of the lines of wounded. She held the flag up as the [Mage] approached. The other woman glanced left as an arrow broke against her skin, doing no damage, and pointed. A fiery inferno engulfed the archer who’d fired. Then she saw Geneva.

The [Doctor] stood coughing as the smoke from the fires reach her. Her eyes watered, but she held the flag in front of her. It was a poor shield, made of cloth and blood, but it was all she had.

The woman paused when she saw the flag. Her eyes flicked to the red cross, and then the wounded soldiers who were trying to crawl away or lying comatose on the ground. Then she looked at Geneva.

Their eyes met through the smoke and flame. The woman was smiling in the center of all the death and destruction, untouched. Geneva’s heart was pounding; her hands were still covered in the blood of the people she’d tried to save.

Slowly, the [Mage] turned away. She walked into the air, and away from the tent. Geneva collapsed onto the ground. Then she pushed herself back up and ran into the camp. That night she worked late, tending to burn victims and trying to make skin grafts. Many died. But she saved a few.

 

—-

 

The last day of the war in the jungle came when Okasha sat next to Geneva at breakfast. The Selphid still hadn’t regained use of her right side, and Geneva didn’t think she ever would. But the creature was smiling with her body’s lips.

“Do you know, the soldiers of both sides know who you are?”

Geneva blinked.

“They do?”

Okasha nodded.

“They call you the Last Light. You shine to them, the dying. Yours is the last face they see, and you drag so many back from the other side. They open their eyes and see you standing in the light.”

“That’s silly.”

“They call you that. And you have saved countless lives. I think that once we are done here, I will join you. Perhaps I can be a [Doctor] too, or at least an [Assistant], even if I only have one arm.”

Geneva stared at Okasha.

“There’s still fighting going on. This is no time to think about the future.”

The Selphid shook her head.

“The Magehammer Company has taken heavy losses. Three battalions managed to flank one of their divisions and we broke through and got their lead [Strategist]. Without him, they’ll have to pull back.”

“What?”

Someone was cheering in the camp. Geneva looked around. Okasha looked pleased with herself.

“I overheard one of the officers talking. The news is spreading even as we speak. The battle is nearly won.”

Soldiers were beginning to celebrate, laughing. Geneva stared at them and just felt empty. She looked at Okasha. The Selphid smiled.

“Perhaps afterwards you can heal those not on a battlefield. There are many people too poor for healing potions or who are hurt in ways they cannot be healed. Maybe—”

Attack! We’re under attack!

Geneva heard the galloping before she could move. Arrows flew, and suddenly Okasha was falling. An arrow had caught her in the throat.

“Okasha!”

Another arrow flew past Geneva as she caught Okasha. The Selphid wasn’t speaking, wasn’t moving. Was she dead?

Geneva looked up. Centaurs were running through the camp, shooting wildly. Soldiers fell around them as the Centaurs ran past her. It was another surprise attack on their camp.

One of the Centaurs saw Geneva was still alive. He raised a bow, and hesitated. He stopped and stared at her.

Geneva saw an ugly scar on his side, and looked at a bare-chested young man. He slowly lowered his bow as she looked at him.

Then, he shouted something at the other Centaurs. They paused, and he shouted again, pointing. They whirled, and began to gallop out of the camp.

The Centaur remained behind. He stared at Geneva. Slowly, he walked towards her. He stared down at Okasha, and Geneva stared up. He opened his mouth to speak—

Die!

The Centaur’s head caved in as a mace struck it from the side. Geneva screamed and Thriss pulled his mace back and struck the Centaur again. The young man fell to the ground silently, and the sergeant turned to Geneva.

“You.”

She opened her mouth but he struck her with one hand. She fell face-first to the ground and then heard him roar.

“Traitor!”

She tried to stand up, but she couldn’t. Something hit her back, so hard the world flashed white. Thriss had struck her with the mace, so hard she felt her spine cracking.

Traitor!

He raised the mace and brought it down on Geneva’s back again. She screamed and felt something breaking. She tried to move, but suddenly she couldn’t.

Thriss spat on Geneva from above. He raised his mace and gasped as a blade burst through his chest. Okasha twisted, and Thriss choked as he fell forwards. The mace fell from his hands and splashed on the muddy ground.

Okasha pulled the arrow from her throat, ignoring the damage it did as it pulled out of her dead skin. Geneva stared up at her.

“I’m dying. My spine is broken.”

She couldn’t move. The Selphid stared down at Geneva and said something. Geneva grinned. She couldn’t hear anymore, either. No one was screaming. She was the only person in need of medical attention right now, but that was fine. There was no one for her, and she didn’t need help anyways. It was growing very dark.

She closed her eyes. Geneva felt everything fade.

She died.

 

—-

 

And then she woke up again. Geneva’s eyes snapped open and she sat up. She sat up?

She stared around. She was lying on the ground. Water was falling on her face. She looked up. Rain was falling between the cracks of the jungle canopy. It was mixing with Thriss’s blood, pelting the corpse of the Centaur.

Slowly, Geneva raised her left hand. She flexed it slowly, and tried to raise her right arm. It wouldn’t move. Geneva stared at it.

“I could not repair everything.”

A voice whispered in her ears. No—inside her ears. Geneva paused. The voice was familiar.

“Okasha?”

Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Geneva felt something…twisting inside of her. Something was in her.

“I am here now. I had to bridge the gap to make you move. You will not bleed to death, but you require healing.”

Geneva wanted to throw up. Her stomach heaved, but something was in her as well. It held back the reflex.

“You had to live. There was no other way.”

It must have only been a few minutes. Geneva stared around the camp. It was in ruins, but she could hear the screaming. Men and women and people of other species were still alive. Some had been hit by arrows; others had been trampled.

And that’s when Geneva heard the rumbling, and more shouts. She looked over and saw covered carts rolling slowly through the jungle. Teams of soldiers in bright, untarnished armor marched around the wagons, pointing and shouting as they saw the devastation in the camp.

Geneva began to laugh. She heard a sound in her head.

“What is it?”

“The supply wagons have finally arrived.”

Soldiers were swinging themselves out of the wagons, and those on the ground were rushing towards the fallen. Geneva willed her legs to stand, and they did. But she could feel something else had helped them move.

“I am sorry. This is forbidden, but it was all I could do. But there is no reversing it. I can—”

She could hear them screaming again. Geneva shook her head.

“It doesn’t matter.”

What?

She willed her feet to walk. They moved reluctantly, but they did move. Geneva stumbled towards the wagon. The soldiers stared at her in shock, but Geneva grabbed as many potions as she could carry.

“Let’s go.”

She strode into the battlefield, leaving Thriss and the dead Centaur behind. The air was hot. Insects crawled over the living and the dead, and screams split the air. Geneva ran with a potion in hand, trying to ignore the agony of her own body, the howling in her mind. People called out her name and she ran towards them, healing their wounds. But it was never enough. Geneva could hear the screaming in her head. One more. She turned over bodies, staring at arrows, feeling for a pulse.

One more. There had to be one more. A voice were speaking to her, and someone was trying to make her rest. Geneva ignored it. One more. She had to find—

One more. But every face she turned over was blank and staring. Geneva ran on. She was so tired. She had to sleep.

Slowly, the [Doctor] fell to her knees. Mud and blood ran together as she fell into it. Geneva stared ahead, searching for bodies, but now she could no longer move. Slowly, her eyes closed.

The young woman lay still on the ground. Soldiers ran around her, tending to the wounded. Geneva slept. For once, she couldn’t hear the screams.

It was pleasant.

Quiet.

She slept, as the Selphid in her body made her walk to a safe place and lie down. In the jungle, the Magehammer Company retreated and ceded the rights to the mine to the Burning March company. The Ravarian Fighters reformed their shattered battalions and there was peace.

In one small place. But Baleros bled, and the jungles ran with blood which fed the insects. There was always war. War, and more war. But word spread from soldier to soldier as mercenaries travelled and rumors flew like birds. They spoke of a red cross, and a class that saved lives rather than took them. They told legends that the soldiers clung to in hope as they marched to war or lay dying. The soldiers spoke of a woman who could save lives, of a place that took no sides. They told stories about her. A healer, a savior.

A [Doctor].

 


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42 thoughts on “1.01 D

  1. And we’re done for now. I hope this was all you were expecting, or even better, everything you weren’t expecting. This story was a killer for me because I don’t have much (any) medical experience and I had to do a lot of research to make this believable.

    Regardless, some stories don’t end as side stories. Certain characters may or may not reappear, which is why your votes matter so much. If the general public has to read these stories a month later, I might have to shift timelines around a bit. Ah, well, I’ll always figure it out.

    Anyways, thanks for reading! This chapter was a killer to finish yesterday, and today I’m hard at work on tomorrow’s chapter. Hint: it contains words. Lots of words.

    Feel free to discuss the story here or tease people on the Wandering Inn subreddit! I was almost tempted to do that, but I’m above that as an author…so you do it for me.

    And now, back to work.

    • It was amazing. And I hate you for it. Every side story could be a main story in it’s own right.

      I was so sad we didn’t get Wistram Days part 3… And now I need more [Doctor]. Dammed you.

    • For some reason I can’t explain, this chapter moved me on a deep level, you are really talented. Thank you for that !

      Just a fan from Belgium

    • M̱͓̗͚ͤͥ̉̒̂͗aͩ̈́t̟̳͔̫͆̀̀r̽͗͑̌̈́͐ͦi̫̘̝͕̺̗̙ͨ̓ͦͧ̚x̫̭̰̞̫̻͈ ̥̥͗̾́̽ͧͅͅẪ͔͔̜ͫ̓p͙̎̀ͣp̩͓͚̤̰̫̱̎ͪ͑ͫ͌̒r̘̰͆̾ͩ͑͌̚o͚̜͌ͧͪ͌̉v̰̠̩͚̰̤̯̀ͤͧ͗͛̚e̬ͦ̔s͊̒̉ on said:

      This was the best thing i think i have ever read.

    • This was a very strong side story. In a chaotic world where it’s just difficult to survive Geneva managed to keep to her principles.

      And while stubborn characters are dime a dozen in the web fiction sphere, the contrast to Erin and Ryoka who also manage to avoid causing harm but are so low (direct) impact because of their constant fight to survive is very refreshing….

      I wouldn’t mind reading more of her, even though I don’t know if you could maintain the sense of wonder and awesomeness that you managed to perfectly bring to paper here.

    • loved this story. I am sad that there is a huge chance this will not be continued:(

      A burning question i have though, and this may be spoilers but please please answer (maybe privately? I wont tell if you dont want me to): will Geneva ever regain the use of her right arm? Maybe Okasha can regrow her nervous system or repair enough of Genevas? Kinda hard to operate when you only have one arm.

    • As an EMT i’m impressed by your writing of this character. Even more so considering you had to research most of it. Now i’ve never been in surgery, but i didn’t really find anything wrong here. In any place that you might have made a mistake, your writing was general enough to avoid errors, but descriptive enough so i had no issue following what was going on.

      Good job, and thanks for the chapters!

  2. Leave a typo, and the [Doctor] will be here to see you at once. Maybe. She’s triaging.

    (Waiting readers: seigmanmarcus, amitamin909219907, MaximilianShade, 5hourlethargy, andrewkrowe)

    • “My name is Okasha I am a [Rogue], Level 23.”
      Missing a comma after her name, not sure if it was intentional.

      Typos or not, great work as always!

    • have been sent out/had been sent out

      deep injures/deep injuries

      shout at Geneva/shouted at Geneva

      Oksha/Okasha

      was one her/was on her

      the fires reach her/the fires reached her

  3. I mean the chapter was great and engaging and I couldn’t stop once I started reading it felt like I saw everything you know it was great just you
    know ..Ughh that ending though it’s disturbing I mean couldn’t she have just lost the guys respect or something T.T y u do this to me

  4. “He had a deep cut down his sword hand; deep, but shallow.”

    Should this say a long cut? Long but shallow?

  5. As I read the title i Was Not sure were you would go with this. But i have to say it is by far my favorite side Story and the setting is close enough to the Main storyline to Merge at one point.

  6. Bravo! A side-story with a character arc, a self-contained plot, and extension points to the future! Capably done!

    Geneva’s development was good in this half. She stopped her (reasonable) whining and got things done. She acted like a [Doctor] and as a result gained a new Selphid copilot/assistant. She also asks the right questions about the various species she works on. In fact, learning more about Dullahans and Sylphids was my favorite part of the story (they’re both basically hermit crabs, just one works with armor and one with bodies) but there are still so many things to be answered!
    -Does a Sylphid level itself up or does it level its body up?
    -Does leveling up increase a Sylphids ability to manipulating its host or are its tendrils and stuff leveled up and they just move the limbs faster? In other words:
    -Could a sufficiently high level Sylphid live without a body beyond just searching for a new host?
    -Does a Sylphid infested Dullahan hybrid still need its head?
    -Does the Sylphid see through the detached head?
    -How far away can a Dullahan be from its limbs without the limb dying?
    -Does detaching limbs consume a Dullahan’s magic?
    -Can a Dullahan control a detached limb? Could a Dullahan [Mage] cast a spell from it?
    -Is a Sylphidullahan’s control of limbs the same as a normal Dullahan’s?

    Really interesting species in a really interesting world. Once again, great job with this side story 🙂

  7. I’m a medical student, and the Last Light part brought tears to my eyes. You captured the spirit of the hyppocratic oath beautifully. I doubt I could have done half as well as Geneva did though, she’s certainly got more nerve.

    • And, every hyper-focused surgeon needs a dedicated assistant/wingman/career who will stand up to them as much as for them: Okasha is just that. That there’s an advanced degree from the University of Hard Knocks in “sort the stubborn, blinkered, brilliant fool out”. 🙂

  8. I really hope Geneva shows up in the Main story. Of course that is probably very far off but this side story was just so amazing! Thank you so much for writing this!

  9. Every time i see a new chapter of the wandering inn i drop everything, and immediately start reading.
    I have read many fantasy Novels in my spare time and the few really (really really) good ones pull me in so deep, that i practically don’t see the words anymore i just have the scene or story play in my mind/imagination. That is when i can’t stop reading and the chapters just fly by hour after hour.
    Many (if not most) of your chapters hit that threshold for me, but even then this chapter 1.01 D pulled me in REALLY deep. That was a fantastic story piece.
    Even with saying that i’m not sure i can convey how truly good that read was for me.

  10. o, we have a level 17 [Doctor] sharing a body with a level 23 [Rogue]

    This sounds really cool. I’m looking forwards to the Doctor plotline.

    “The Gravetender’s Fist- a company tale” sidestory includes Geneva in it, according to pirateaba (Judging from the name – ‘grave tender,’ I’d assume that it’s a fifth company formed around Geneva, dedicated to healing).

    Hopefully patreon donors will end up voting for that sidestory

  11. Dr. Geneva — not a perfect person, but the most realistic and likeable of ANY of ‘The Wandering Inn’ main characters. The ‘Doctor’ stories reminded me powerfully of why *I* wanted to be a doctor when I was young.

  12. I’ve been reading the wandering inn since the beginning, I usually hate new characters because they bring changes to the stuff I’m used to. Such as when you first introduce ryoka I really disliked her because she was new and naive. Then you wrote with her and all the stuff she has to go through and it made me realize, hey I like this character now. Ryoka wasn’t the annoying new girl I had to read through just so I can understand the story. Ryoka became a main character in her own right. Now with the doctor when I first saw the title the first thought that came into my head was, I want to see Ryoka learn true magic. Yet as I slowly read into the story you didn’t give the slow introduction, instead you put the character right into the battle and have her save people. I really loved that. You even manage to make me care about the doctor, at one point in the story I even start to wonder if I want to be a doctor or not when I grow up. So no matter how tired you are, no matter how bad you think your writing is, no matter how late you update the story. I just want to tell you I’ll always be here to read them and I know I’ll always enjoy them. So thank you for all your hard work.

  13. These doctor side stories are powerful. Every time i think I’ve gotten used to emotional stories, or that i can’t be moved by anything, I run into something like this.
    I don’t know exactly what i’m feeling after reading this but i’m feeling a lot of it. I really respect someone that can stay honest to an oath even in those circumstances.

  14. An intriguing chapter that had a great blend of information and story that attracted me to read on throughout the chapter.

    My one complaint is only that the end of the chapter was a bit abrupt and pointlessly elaborate.
    I mean, what’s the point of even having the Centaur coincidentally be there? Aside from just getting coincidentally smashed by Thriss and then have him attack Geneva and get killed off too. Just to have a Selphid coincidentally save and merge with her in the end. So she could move and pass around potions anyway without the need of all that happening.

    True its just a story, but it is still something glaringly noticeable that pull off the grounded immersion. It is even sounded ridiculous when I write about it just now.

    • I disagree, I thought that the ending was powerful and well thought out, though a bit rushed. The key to understanding it is to consider the viewpoints of each of the characters and how they drive their actions.

      • I agree that the ending can be quite emotional. But what I mean here is something else, which I hope you would not misinterpret it.

        I can already understand their driving force and perspective easily. My emphasis here is on the amount of coincidences, it made the scenes seemed scripted possibly by fate.

        For example, out of hundreds, possibly thousands of soldiers, why is the Centaur when it could not, and saw Geneva on chance around so many people there and then of any soldiers, Thriss was the one that teleported there to notice and kill it. All this despite their obvious motivations. How about Geneva who luckily have a Selphid around to stay and save her, despite when the Selphid who is obviously will be driven to save her with her circumstances. Profit.

        As I said, all this seemed a bit over elaborately coincidental that came together too much without much purpose aside from just the greater emotional impact. It can be akin to watching some sitcom shows, where people come up with complicated Zany schemes just to get to the MacGuffin.

        • I agree the end was a bit weaker than the rest actually. As you pointed out though that’s more the consequence of wanting a ‘break point’ and looking for options on how to do it.

          It’s not a bad one though. Some mention of how officers are struggling with the concept of her treating enemies as friends and sometimes prioritising severely injured ones over company members would have gone a good way to making it less out of the blue. In that case it wouldn’t even need to be a specific Centaur trigging it.

          I almost wish she had died properly and we had a little scene of one of her assistants or enemies trying to follow in her footsteps figure out the Oath.

          • Honestly I just expected one of the commanders to use a high grade healing item for her service.

            After all, she’s more valuable for the army in the long run than that potion.

            But ey, having 2 people in 1 body’s way cooler. And it gets around the level cap limitation. And there may be some symbiotic skills as well to make her even more powerful. This makes it’s forbidden, yes?

            Being a doctor she may even make the merge more efficient.

            I hope she’ll get restored to her prime.

  15. If Geneva ends up in the main story, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Titan recruited her. He seems like the sort of principled person she could get along with. If she even stays in the combat medicine field.
    At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the highest-level Earth human in the story, which is kinda awesome.

  16. Please please please can we get more doctor chapters? These are my favourite ones outside of Erins PoV so far! Love this story and so glad I came across it!!

  17. what a fitting name. geneva, the place for peace treaties. i only wish she was swiss.

    and as for the chapter. holy shit. i interned at an emergency room for a summer and the kind of chaos you described here is the kind of chaos that goes on inside there. you did your job perfectly. absolutely stunning. i love geneva and her commitment to the duty of saving lives, even though her’s was taken in the process. she is a true hero, more so than any bloody bearers are.

    i really liked the poetic justice of the ending, actually. this is a fantasy story, and having genva’s life inadvertently saved by one of her patients is fitting. i only hope she’ll be able to use both of her hands after the whole show and dance is over. that would be lovely beyond belief.

  18. She should say that this wont hurt. Not this will hurt.

    Because the placebo actually makes it hurt less.

    Telling someone that this will be painful just makes it MORE painful than it would have been had it been left unsaid.

    Lies that reduce pain are like medicine, yes?

    • Teaching patients that doctors cannot be trusted by lying about pain really isn’t good medicine… Saying it won’t hurt much if you bite a ‘magic’ stick benefits from the placebo effect.

      (Great story btw! I do think it could have used one more scene to better set up Thryss’ traitor delusions (or perhaps his temper or propensity to ruthlessness), to make it a little clearer how he could act to brutally kill the doctor. But then again, that sort of forshadowing would have made the ending more predictable, and I do so like being surprised in these stories 😀

      • I wasn’t entirely clear on why he clubbed her, actually. Was it just because the centaur was back, so Thriss was frustrated about her original actions? Or was he crazy enough to think Geneva was somehow colluding with the enemy to launch this latest assault?

      • Actually I thought it was going well with the path of the chapter, Geneva seems to be hazy all along only caring about her patients and unaware of her surrounding.

        so whatever is the reason, she’s unlikely to know and its her POV.

  19. I just love this character and hate what happened to her at the end… Wanna know more, but given your habits, it might take a long while if ever for a new chapter with Geneva.

    Thanks for the chapters 🙂 keep going your doing an incredible job !

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