Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
It was none other than the vet who stitched up my wounds when Theo drove the carriage into the inn. I think his name was Tito or something.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought you were going to another country with the guys from the guild because you can’t make a living here anymore.”
“Wait. The patient comes first. He’s seriously injured, yes? What happened?”
“Yeah. We were shot by a cannon in the Holy City. The shell missed him, but the shards of wood knocked him out.”
“A cannon?! I might not be able to help him then. I’ll do my best, of course, but I’m only a vet.”
Tito unpacked his satchel and took out a needle and bandages. After ripping apart the priest’s clothes and wiping off the blood, he exhaled in relief.
“I think I can handle this one,” he said. “His wounds aren’t that terrible. I thought it would be impossible since he seemed to be bleeding a lot. What a lucky guy.”
That was to be expected. Zero already treated his fatal wounds beforehand. I couldn’t tell him that, of course.
“God must have been watching over him,” I said.
Tito threaded a sewing needle with a curved tip and stabbed it through the priest’s skin.
Zero watched the doctor with great interest as he skillfully stitched up the priest’s wounds. “What comes after stitching?” she asked. “Or is that it?”
“No,” the doctor answered. “After I’m done stitching, I’ll put some ointment on the wounds to prevent festering. He’ll probably get a high fever too, so I’ll give him something to bring his temperature down. I made all of them from herbs I found in the woods. They work for animals and my patients here in the fort, so I’m sure they’ll work for the priest as well.”
“Doesn’t matter if you’re a vet,” I said, impressed. “You’re a fine doctor.”
Tito gave a strained smile. “Not all of them work, though. A medicine effective for cows turned out to be poisonous for humans. A patient’s condition worsened because of me. Still the people in this fort didn’t condemn me.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
Tito’s eyes narrowed. “You know the current situation in this country. It’s better to have a vet than no doctors at all. They’re that desperate. Like you said earlier, I was going to leave the country. But remember that child? He begged me to stay.”
We need doctors! Are you going to abandon this country?!
Theo’s desperate cries apparently changed Tito’s mind.
“You can’t make money here anymore, though,” I said. “And without money, you’ll starve to death.”
“I’m not going to starve to death,” he said flatly. There were times when words full of conviction would catch you off guard, and this was one of them. “Those who are not blessed with the miracles of the saint come to doctors with what little money they have. Many patients will flock towards the few who are left. So the rich start to hire their own personal doctors, reducing their numbers. This makes the job of some local town doctor with little renown harder. But he’d be dealing with poor people. He earns little from a single patient. So it’s not like doctors go completely broke that they can’t eat. They just don’t want to be in that situation.”
After spending a lot of time, money, and effort to become doctors, the income they received was too little for their hard work, almost at the same level as peasants working farms. It was clearly not worth it. What’s more, the saint took all the status and fame.
I wondered how many doctors would remain in such an environment.
“I’m here in Fort Lotus solely by coincidence,” Tito continued. “I was helping someone who collapsed. That’s what brought me here, then I decided to stay. There’s plenty of patients here, and I’ve got food and a place to sleep. I realized that was good enough for me.”
Fort Lotus was indeed full of sick people at first glance. They gathered here, huddling together, helping each other to survive.
“I became a doctor because I wanted to help people. Though I ended up becoming a vet. When animals get sick, people get sick too, and when livestock die, people die as well. Although apparently, the saint can heal animals too. All those who have the money have gone to her, making my life difficult. But if I abandoned the patients in front of me and fled the country, that would mean I became a doctor solely for the money. That’s just too shameful.” Tito gave a bitter laugh.
“But you can not heal them, can you?” Zero asked all of a sudden. Her words sent a shiver down my spine.
Tito quickly turned pale and looked at Zero with a stiff expression. “What did you just say?”
“I said your patients in this fort will never be fully healed. Not only that, their condition is getting worse.”
“How do you know that? They might recover completely! You’ll never know unless you try.”
“No, that is not possible. As long as they have the brand of the goat on them.”
Cal and Tito stiffened up upon hearing those words.
“You should have realized it already,” Zero continued. “You know what is happening to those who bear the mark and what fate awaits them. Otherwise, you would not have thought about abducting the saint.”
Cal opened his wings a little and quickly closed them, as if shrugging. “I see. So you’re aware of the situation,” the hawk Beastfallen said. “Is this ‘investigation’ you’re doing related to the mark? Let me guess. You received the brand while you were in the Holy City, so you came here hoping to get rid of it. You’re a victim, just like the people here.”
He got it wrong, but it would be easier to just agree with what he said. I didn’t really care whatever they believed in. Though Zero might just flatly deny Cal’s conjecture.
“I am not a victim,” Zero said. “In fact, you can say I am the perpetrator.”
“Say what now?”
I immediately covered Zero’s mouth. “I’m sorry, but it’s a bit complicated,” I said. “There are some things we can’t talk about in detail.”
Especially not with the priest around. Sure he was unconscious, but I would never mention the fact that Zero was the witch who invented Magic.
“Let’s forget about us for now,” I said. “So how did you guys find out that the mark attracts injuries and illnesses?”
“Good question. It’s just that all of the people here at Fort Lotus who have the brand are either sick or injured, and their illnesses and injuries are somehow “increasing.” Worst case, some guy wakes up with his arm decaying and falling off. You can easily guess what’s going on.”
The damage was so horribly widespread that they figured out the cause simply by piecing together bits of information.
“I do not understand.” Zero turned to Cal, seemingly unsatisfied. “Why did so many people agree to be branded by the mark? I am certain many were unaware at first, but with the number of victims increasing, more people should know by now. Negative rumors spread easily, after all. Yet the Holy City still attracts many devotees. Why?”
“Because of money, young lady,” Cal said flatly.
It was probably the most predictable reason, and the one I least wanted to hear. It was just too pragmatic. An unbearable feeling washed over me.
“A disciple of sacrifice and devotion,” I said. The image of the poor man coming out of the saint’s residence came to mind.
For branding themselves with the mark of the goat, people were given money and access to the sanatorium where they could receive medical treatment. Many wanted the mark for money, even if it meant their condition worsening.
“Exactly.” Cal’s voice was cold and hard. “Everyone here sold their well-being for money.”