“See? I told you I was telling the truth. Stup—”
Jay clamped his mouth shut as I shot a glare in his direction.
Jay. That was the boy’s name. The little thief who took my coin pouch. He told me it on the way to his orphanage.
On the way here, he made me promise not to tell anyone about him trying to steal from me; that was why he showed apprehension on bringing me here. Apparently he was quite the troublemaker— which somehow, I was not surprised by at all.
And now, we stood right outside of the building; it was not small or run-down. In fact, it was fairly large compared to a house for a regular family. Which made sense: Jay had a dozen other ‘siblings’, so the orphanage had to have been sizable enough for all of them to live in.
“You haven’t shown me anything,” I muttered. “This is just a building.”
“Well if you still don’t believe me—”
“Shut up, I believe you now, ok? Just… let’s go inside.” I said, and took off in a huff.
We entered through the small gate, following the walkway up to the front door; Jay opened it, and I entered after him.
As soon as I did, I covered my ears as a piercing wail cut through the room; I flinched, and nearly drew my dagger as a reflex but managed to catch myself.
I looked back up, and was met with a scene straight from a movie. A little girl, around four years of age, was crying and grasping at a stuffed animal. Not a teddy bear, but a… mole?
Whatever it was, it appeared to be damaged. And that was why she was crying. A teenage boy— no more than fifteen— hastily ran up to a little girl and began trying to calm her down. She pointed at a younger boy scowling to the side, and began babbling incomprehensibly.
“Calm down, calm— he did what?” The teen leaned in, trying to make out what the girl was saying. But it was no use. He recoiled as her crying morphed from nonsensical speech into incoherent screaming.
I turned to Jay. “Uh, is this a bad time?” I asked.
“No,” he sighed. “It’s been like this since Ms Sharity got sick.”
“Oh,” I said, ignoring the incessant shrieking that was only worsened as the other boy began to argue. I honestly felt bad for the teen trying to resolve things diplomatically, but I focused on what I came here for. “So… this Ms Sharity. Where is she?”
“She’s in a room at the back. But I haven’t been allowed to see her or little Patty. Only Eaton gets to check up on her.” Jay folded his arms, scowling. “I don’t understand why I can’t see her but he can. It’s unfair!”
“Well, you’ve got to maintain your distance. Because… you know?”
He obviously did not know; there was no way a random village boy would understand the concept behind germs, especially in a world with a different history of science as mine. Perhaps someone— whatever the equivalent of a scientist was in this world— would posit something similar to my understanding about the spread of disease. But it certainly would not have been pervasive enough to have reached Jay: a kid without much of an educational background.
So, he gave me a blank stare as I tried to change the subject. “Anyways, you’ve got a reason to see her now, right? Just for me to confirm confirm that she’s actually sick and you’re not lying.”
That sounded a lot better in my head than it actually did. Jay’s stare turned into a glare, and I quickly tried to backtrack.
“Wait— I didn’t mean it like that! I don’t want her to be sick! If she is, I’ll have to pay the Plague Doctor for you, and that’s bad for me!” I tried to explain myself to him. The shouting in the background slowly died down, but his gaze remained locked on me. “That’s not what I mean… I’ll just shut up now.”
“You really should.”
Sighing, I focused my attention on the approaching figure. Apparently the teenage boy managed to reach a resolution between the two parties, since they were both heading out the door to the outside. He addressed Jay standing right next to me.
“Why do you never show up when I need your help?” he asked. “Where have you been? Who’s this?”
Jay scowled. “You never ask Hannah these types of questions, Eaton. Why must you know where I’ve been? You’re not my mom!”
“I’m not, but since Ms Sharity has left me in charge and you’re the second oldest man in the house, I have to know what you’ve been doing when you’re gone all morning.” Eaton, the teen, said. “Plus Hannah actually helps around the house when I need her.”
“Well where is she now? I didn’t see her help you with them.” Jay gestured in the direction of the two little kids.
“She’s not home right now. She said she needed to do something. But that doesn’t matter since she couldn’t have helped anyways. But you could’ve fixed Callie’s doll.”
“It’s not a doll, it’s a stuffed animal.”
“Fine. Just answer the question, Jay.” Eaton folded his arms. Jay hesitated for a moment, then he kicked the ground and pocketed his hands.
“I was out with a… friend.”
Jay struggled getting that word out; it looked like it hurt him to call me a friend. Which was a sentiment I shared: I had to force myself not to rebuke him there and then.
“A friend?” The teen raised a brow and faced me. Before he could say anything, I put a hand out and spoke politely.
“Hi, I’m Melas. It’s nice to meet you, Mr Eaton.”
Blinking, he took my hand. “Oh, uh, it’s nice to meet you too… Melas.” He nodded hesitantly, before adding. “And, uh, there’s no need to be so formal. Just call me Eaton.”
“Of course, Eaton,” I said with a smile. “I hope I’m not intruding. Jay invited me over, but I was not aware that he hadn’t informed anyone of me visiting. If it’s too much of a problem, I could come back another day.”
“No, please stay.” Eaton scratched his ear. “I mean, you’re just here to hang out with Jay, right?”
I felt my smile slip slightly, but I fought hard to maintain the ruse. Why would I want to hang out with him? He’s a kid and a jerk! A kid-jerk! The worst kinds of jerks!
“Yes.” That was all that I said.
“Well, come on in.” The teen gestured into the living room. “We have drinks and snacks if you want some.”
“If it isn’t a bother.”
He led me towards the kitchen as Jay stalked behind me. The younger boy was still glowering with his hands in his pants when Eaton grabbed him and pulled him ahead. Eaton began not-so-covertly whispering to Jay as they walked in front of me.
“I didn’t know you had such a polite friend. Who is she?”
“None of ya business.”
“What do you mean ‘none of my business’? I’m your older brother. I deserve to know!”
“No you don’t!”
“Come on, Jay. Tell me. When did you meet her? How? Is she your girlfriend—”
I rolled my eyes and began tuning out the hushed conversation in front of me; it was not like I cared enough to eavesdrop in the first place, but sometimes, some things were hard to ignore. Their discussion ended soon after, as Jay stormed back and began pulling me away by the arm.
“Let’s just go, Melas.”
“Wait, but snacks—”
I protested, but ultimately followed him.
There was a reason why I was here. Even if that reason was not high up in my priority list. It was not like I had anything else to do regardless, so why not help someone in need?
And, my true thoughts came leaking out, there is the whole possibility of there being slavers here.
I did not know for certain: it could have been a complete fabrication of my imagination, but I was almost a hundred percent sure that the people this ‘Ms Sharity’ had been borrowing money from were slavers. If that was the case, and they came looking to collect their payment, I did not believe for a second that they would be happy with being turned away empty handed.
This was more than simply being kind to others— more than doing a good deed when I could afford it. If there really were slavers here hoping to sell some kids into slavery…
My fingers twitched, and I felt an invisible itch on my face.
Well, I can’t allow that to happen, now can I?
A moment after Jay started dragging me away from Eaton, the front door flew open, and a girl came running in.
“Guys! Guys!” she exclaimed, looking around the room. She completely glazed over me, and focused in on the two boys staring back at her. “Jay, Eaton! Where are the others?”
“Hannah?” Eaton worked his jaw. “What’s going on?”
“Come on, there’s no time to explain!” Hannah said excitedly. “Gather everyone. I’ll meet you outside!”
Jay frowned and spoke up. “What do ya mean there’s no time to explain. You just spent—”
The girl ignored him and ran out another door. I could hear her calling out names as more kids began to gather, curious about what was happening; I turned to Jay and he just gave me a shrug.
“Let’s go find out what she’s harping on about.”
With that, we found ourselves waiting outside along with everyone else from the orphanage. The girl from before— Hannah— stood brimming with excitement before all of us; she was so excited she apparently did not notice the extra person (me) in her family.
“Is that everyone? Good. Now I know you’re wondering why I called you out here—” she started.
Then Jay interrupted her as he picked his nose. “Hurry up, we don’t got all day.”
Hannah ignored him.
“But it’ll be much easier to show you than to tell you guys,” she said, before she marched up to the gate and yanked it open. A figure stepped around the corner, speaking as he did.
“Now I don’t understand the need to cause a scene. But at your behest, I have done as I was told.”
There was visible confusion among everyone around me; they were scratching their heads and murmuring about what was going on as the man stepped through the gates. Jay even nudged me with his elbow, whispering. “Don’t worry. She always does weird things like this.”
But I did not hear him. My eyes widened the moment I saw what the man was wearing.
He was dressed in a long tailcoat, complete with a vest underneath. He had one hand on the wide brimmed hat leather hat on top of his head, and another on the long black cane that reached up to his chest. And finally, he wore a mask with tinted glass openings at the eyes, with a protrusion at the very front of it, curved downwards in the shape of a bird’s beak.
That outfit— the signature style of fashion that man wore. I would recognize it anywhere and anyplace. It was…
He was a plague doctor.
And if Jay’s words were anything to go by, he was not just a doctor that went around trying to treat plague victims. No— he was the Plague Doctor.
“Huh? Is that really the Plague Doctor, Melas?”
I blinked. Jay was looking at me, and so was everyone else. I opened my mouth to speak, only to realize it was already open; I did not realize it, but I must have said the words ‘Plague Doctor’ out loud the moment I saw him.
“You ruined my grand reveal—” Hannah paused. “Wait, who are you…?”
I was about to reply, when Jay stepped forward. “She’s my friend, but that doesn’t matter.” He said, before turning to the masked man. “Are you really the Plague Doctor?”
“Why yes I am. Although it appears that my reputation precedes me— I did not expect to be recognized solely based on my appearance alone. Even Ms Hannah here had a hard time believing that I was who I said I was.”
The girl tried to cover her glowing red cheeks by putting a hand up and clearing her throat. “Ahem, when I heard he was in town, I searched through all inns and taverns to bring him here. He says he’ll help cure Ms Sharity and Patty.”
A susurration ran through the crowd. Excited voices came from all around me, as everyone realized what was going to happen. But Jay stepped forward, and pointed accusingly at Hannah.
“And how are you going to afford that? Last I checked, we did not have any money to even pay off the debt collectors!”
Reaching for my coin pouch, I was about to say something, but the Plague Doctor spoke first. “That won’t be a problem, young Sir.”
“This will be free of charge.”
“What? Why?” Jay asked, confused.
And I knew the answer even before the Plague Doctor said it.
“Because I am the Plague Doctor.”
I should have expected it, really. You did not make a name for yourself by going around curing an incurable plague for years without charging an exorbitant amount of money. That was why I never heard of him; doing things pro bono and not just helping rich people was a surefire way to not become renowned.
It was the same thing in my world. Well, at least for lawyers; I remembered not being able to name a single pro bono lawyer until I researched them (which was what made me interested in law in the first place). Not that any of that even mattered anymore— my aspirations and goals from my previous life played no part in my present situation.
Which was sitting down and doing nothing.
After the Plague Doctor made his introduction and assured everyone that he was helping them for free with no strings attached, he proceeded to treat his patients immediately.
That was two hours ago. He locked the door to their room, saying he needed privacy, and had not come out since.
Honestly, I probably should have left a long time ago. There was no reason for me to stay, now that I was not needed anymore; that was what Jay kept telling me.
But I opted not to leave; since I was already here, I had to make sure that this Plague Doctor was not some sort of con artist trying to scam this orphanage— not that I thought that that was the case. He probably was legit, however I just had to make sure he truly did cure this Ms Sharity and little Patty. Just to fully confirm it.
And anyways, I was trying to gain more information about these so-called ‘debt collectors’. They did not visit often previously, because, according to Jay, Ms Sharity always made her payments on time. However, when they did visit, they would always cause a ruckus: they would threaten to take the house as theirs, or even one of the kids to ‘work’ for them. Thankfully, neither has happened, and I would prefer if it stayed that way.
Unfortunately, Jay could not really tell me much more about them; I wanted to know where their base of operations was, but apparently they worked from out of town, only coming in occasionally for jobs and such. Which screamed all shades of shady to me, if I were being perfectly honest.
With the more questions I asked, I was getting more and more convinced that they were slavers, to the point that even Jay started getting suspicious too. I was just about to leave and begin a real investigation instead of getting answers from kids (mainly Jay) when the door holding the patients and the Plague Doctor slowly creaked open.
All heads snapped to it. Everyone waited with bated breath as someone exited the room. A middle aged woman, holding the hands of a little girl, stepped out of the room. Their clothes were a mess, they had pale skin, and their cheeks were sucked in. But otherwise, they looked fine.
“Ms— Ms Sharity?” Jay stood up, eyes already welling up.
“Patty…?” Hannah uttered the name breathlessly.
The woman opened her mouth, about to say something. But she hesitated. Then a hollow voice came from behind them, accompanied by the figure of a bird.
“There’s no need to be afraid. You are cured. Go ahead and greet your family.”
And, almost as if that was the cue they were waiting for, everyone exploded forward. The family— the orphanage— all embraced each other. Clasping hands tightly around each other into a massive group hug.
“My children… how I’ve missed seeing all of you.”
It was a heartwarming scene; something straight out of a movie, right before the credits began to roll. I almost expected to see a title screen pop up, as sappy music played in the background.
I watched this happen, standing off to the side. I probably should not have been here for this, but I was too engrossed in the moment to care. However, everyone— myself included this time— was taken out of the moment by loud shouting come from the outside. I knew what to expect even before Ms Sharity spoke.
“Oh no,” she said, voice filled with dread. “Everyone, please wait inside. I’ll go out and talk to them.”
“We can’t just leave you—”
“Listen to her, Jay.” The teenage boy nodded at the woman. “I’ll wait by the front door. In case anything happens.”
“Thank you, Eaton.”
The family began to move. The younger kids ran off to hide in a room, while the older ones like Hannah, watched from the living room windows. Jay on the other hand, came up to me with a scowl on his face.
“That Eaton, he really…” he trailed off. Then his eyes flickered to something on my waist. “Melas, I need—”
“I’m not just giving all my gold to a bunch of debt collectors, Jay. Especially not for strangers.” I answered before he even finished speaking. Perhaps I was being too blunt, but that was the point of why I came here in the first place— to keep both my money and a clear conscience.
“Fine!” Jay snapped, throwing his hands up in the air. “Then I’m going out there and letting them take me. I can’t let them hurt Ms Sharity.”
“Stop being so rash,” I said, drawing my dagger, “if the worst really comes to the worst— I’ll deal with it.”
He hesitated for a moment, but then he nodded. “If you say so…”
I walked past him, up to the front door. I waited right behind Eaton, who was standing a few feet outside, while too focused on the conversation between Ms Sharity and the group of men to even notice me. I listened in too, as the woman pleaded.
“…but I only ever borrowed 5 gold coins from you over the years! And I’ve already paid back more than half of it. How could I possibly owe you 20?!”
“Sorry Miss,” one of the men said, not too kindly. “You missed this month’s payment. Price goes up when that happens.”
“By four times?!” she asked, aghast. “I’ve been consistently paying on time for—”
“Hm, says right here that you missed payments on this date, and this date, and…” A second man handed her a sheet of paper. She sputtered.
“I— this was years ago!”
The men collectively snickered, and only the first guy was cordial enough to give an unhelpful shrug. “Sorry, but it adds up.”
Ms Sharity stared at them in complete disbelief. She sunk to her knees, completely speechless at the situation she was in.
I wanted to intervene. I really did. But I was waiting, biding time for the moment. For them to state their true intentions—
“If we can’t get our money, we have to come back with something—”
“Actually, I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Darn. Someone interrupted them. I did not even have to turn around to know who it was— the voice that sounded like it came in through a metal pipe gave it away.
The Plague Doctor strolled past me, through the door, and towards the group gathered out front. A man stepped forward to intercept him.
“I’m sorry, Sir. But I suggest you stay out of our business.” He folded his arms, trying to flex all his muscles as he did. He was not exactly the biggest person in the world, and neither were any of the men armed with weapons. However, what he said was quite clearly meant to be a threat, considering his six other friends began posturing themselves too.
“Greetings, gentlemen. May I inquire as to what seems to be occurring here?” The Plague Doctor ignored him completely. “Because if you insist on harming the innocent family living in this orphanage— well I’d have to insist you do not, as I’ve just put in considerable effort into helping them.”
“Hey, are you deaf?” the man shouted. “I said fuck off!”
“I do apologize, however I must insist you refrain from yelling. You see, the saliva produced from your enunciation gets projected onto my mask— sometimes on the glass at my eyes. And it gets really difficult to see when that happens.”
“So you’re blind as well as deaf?” Another man asked. “Because I find that hard to believe. If you continue ignoring us, we’ll have to make you listen.”
“Hm.” The Plague Doctor considered this. “I don’t suppose any of you can answer my question? It appears your friend here seems to be a little hard of hearing.”
The Plague Doctor struck his cane onto the man’s right ear. He stumbled onto the ground, grasping at the side of his head, and screamed.
The man was immediately cut off by a second strike to the back of the neck. He fell incapacitiated to the ground as his friends charged the Plague Doctor.
That was a lot of people. Six versus one. I had seen people face off twice as many opponents before, and come out unscathed. However I knew nothing about this Plague Doctor; I did not want to find out that he was a poor fighter who just made a bad decision.
I was about to jump in to help when I saw the flash. A glowing bottle flew up in the air. Straight from the Plague Doctor’s coat.
I barely even saw him flick it at the men, let alone notice him pulling out the potion.
He swung his cane at the potion, smashing it into pieces. It exploded into light. A dazzling blinding light that forced me to look away and cover my eyes, accompanied by a loud ringing sound. It was like a flashbang grenade!
For a moment, I could not see anything. But I reacted quickly. My vision came back, and I reoriented myself—
Only to see four of the men lying flat on the ground, and the last two stumbling back, having just recovered from being blind. The Plague Doctor tilted his head to the side.
“If you don’t wish to end up like your friends, I suggest you leave.”
One of the men only seemed to get more enraged by that. He clenched his fists and punched at the Plague Doctor. The Plague Doctor easily dodged to the side, earning a scream from the man.
He began flailing the Plague Doctor without stopping Throwing punches and kicks like a madman. The Plague Doctor avoided all of it. He sidestepped a punch. Blocked a kick with his cane. Ducked under a follow up swing—
And then, with little to no effort at all, the Plague Doctor jabbed the butt of his cane into the man’s stomach. The man reeled back, air escaping his lungs. Then he fell to the ground, eyes rolled up into his head.
The last man shouted.
“Oh calm down, he’s not dead. But he’s in a lot of pain. If you don’t want to end up like him, I suggest you take my advice.”
He hesitated for a moment. However he quickly made up his mind after looking at all his collapsed friends, and fled the scene.
Seeing the last man flee, I sighed in relief. And was nearly ran over by a bunch of kids bursting out of the orphanage. They all began thanking the Plague Doctor, as Ms Sharity once again fell to her knees— but this time, in gratitude.
“Thank you so much. I— we can’t ever make it up to you.”
“I simply saw a family in need and did what any person would do. Do not worry about them. Notify the town guards of what happened here, and they’ll bring them in for extortion and other such crimes.”
“But you hwealed us,” the little girl— Patty— said, holding his hand. “Thwank you.”
The Plague Doctor did not say anything in response. But I thought I could almost see him smile underneath that mask. Then I narrowed my eyes for a moment, catching a glimpse of another vial on his belt. An Alchemist? Was that how he cured them from the Noxeus?
If he found a cure to this deadly plague, he should have shared it with other Alchemists to spread its production as widely as possible; that was, if he actually wanted to help as many people as possible.
Stop, I told myself. I should have learned from earlier today, when I doubted Jay’s story to not be so cynical despite what I went through in the Free Lands. Because what Jay said was true: his orphanage was in debt, and his caretaker was dying. That was why I came here—
A cheer came from the children gathered around the Plague Doctor.
Yes, I came here to help—
“Thank you, Plague Doctor! You saved us!”
The reason I—
“It’s thanks to you, Ms Hannah, that I even could help you in the first place.”
What was the point of me coming here again?! I did absolutely nothing!
I threw my hands up in the air, and stormed back to my inn.
I didn’t even get any snacks. What a complete waste of my time!
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