Mone D. Moore
The sickening sound of bones shattering and flesh tearing surrounded the Doctor, who watched in terror as his comrade was speared through the chest by dozens of inky black tendrils and dragged off into the mouth of the formless thing before him. As countless others followed the same fate, he shook with fear but called his weapon to his hand and raised it to the beast. He had to do something, and fast. Otherwise they would all die.
His staff began to glow bright blue as he willed his magic to surround the beast. If he could just contain it, even for a moment, the other Doctors would have a chance to attack it just like they had planned. This was supposed to be a normal mission; just a regular group of Sicknesses that needed to be dealt with. Did the Council set them up, deliberately give them incorrect information? None of them were qualified to complete this mission, and now they were all dying.
Blue magic encased the monster, which screeched as it fought against the conjured energy. Beads of sweat ran down the Doctor’s face in rivulets as he used every ounce of his concentration to hold the spell. “Hurry! Go now!” he shouted to his remaining comrades. Five other Doctors conjured their weapons—enchanted swords, axes, and spears—and attacked the beast with all their might. The monster shook with its rage as it was bombarded with magic and metal. Many of its vine-like appendages were hacked off as the Doctors tried to further immobilize it. Each severed limb writhed in the grass before sizzling away to ash. Maybe they could do this! Maybe they could survive!
But then suddenly, the ground began to quake and buck beneath the Doctors’ feet. Great trees shook and there was a deafening roar. The creature began to tear itself free of the blue magic that had been containing it, and despite the best efforts of the caster, it broke free and shattered the spell.
“No!” the Doctor shouted as his magic was torn apart. Quickly, he readied his staff to cast another spell, but he was overcome by exhaustion and fell to his hands and knees. He had used all of his magic; he was helpless.
The other Doctors attempted to rally and raised their weapons to attack again, but the beast was too fast. They were soon seized by the burning, dripping tentacles of the monster. Some were ripped to pieces, others were dragged, kicking and screaming, directly into the gaping maw of the angered beast. Soon, there was only one Doctor left standing.
He shook his head in disbelief. This was impossible. This…this thing had taken out over twenty Doctors like it was nothing. This made no sense!
“What is this?!” He shouted as he scrambled away from a slithering appendage creeping towards him. “This can’t be happening! What are you?!” He was trembling and crying and he was going to die and there was nothing he could do about it.
He shrieked as the limb shot out and wrapped around his leg and yanked him towards the screaming black mass before him. He thrashed about so hard that his mask flew from his face. He rolled over onto his stomach and dug his hands into the blood-soaked earth in search of something to hold on to. He found none, and his screams echoed off the trees as he was wrapped by the burning limbs of the monster as it devoured him.
A thick fog enveloped an empty field, the air heavy with moisture that weighed down the thin blades of grass. Though it was midday and the sun was at its apex overhead, the field was bleak and washed out, the fog rendering anything in a six foot radius fuzzy and almost unrecognizable. A tall, cloaked figure lurked across the field, stooping occasionally as if studying something on the ground. The head of the figure was bird-like with its long beak jutting from its face. The eyes were glassy and reflected the images of countless dead crows as they bent to study a specimen which was cold and stiff with death, and jotted notes into a field pad.
“Good afternoon, Mariette,” a hollow voice called from behind. The Doctor turned slowly to see a short, formless creature shrouded in a garb identical to her own, with the long beak nose of the mask pointed at her in an almost threatening way. The eyes of the goggles stared back at her emotionlessly. She breathed a barely noticeable sigh before continuing her work, gingerly plucking a crow from the ground and parting its feathers in search for signs of foul play.
She began in an even voice. “I am a professional, the same as you. Please address me as such.”
The laugh that Dr. Clemt expelled from his mouth was a crackly, raucous one that echoed irritably in the empty field. “Always with the formalities, you!” There was another round of dog-like laughter before he, seeing as the woman before him was not going to acknowledge him without her proper title, resigned.
Still turning over the specimen in her hand, she answered pleasantly. “Good afternoon. Dr. Clemt. Is there something I may help you with?”
However, before he could answer, the beak of Clemt’s mask tilted downwards in interest and he stared, as if he had just then become aware of the hundreds of dead birds scattered among the field. With a flourish, he produced a gnarled, knotted length of staff from beneath his cloak and unceremoniously skewered a crow through its chest. Had she not been used to sounds far more grotesque, Eaves would have baulked at the hollow crunch that the action produced. Clemt made a quick flick of his wrist and then the staff was upside down, and the impaled, bird was a mere inch from his flat, glassy eyes.
“Is this the case they’ve assigned you?” Clemt twirled his staff one way and then the other so that the skewered bird seemed to dance. “I suppose they’ll be having you investigate the disappearance of caterpillar larvae in the bog next.”
It was true that the cases assigned to Eaves tended to seem quite miniscule compared to Doctors of higher stations, who were almost always assigned cases that involved mass deaths of civilians from mystery illnesses or even murders. These cases were more exciting, yes, but Dr. Eaves didn’t mind her small cases. It was calmer, and since her cases were never of high priority, she could be as methodical as she liked. She could take her time to glean over every last ounce of information from her specimens as she could.
Clemt sniggered from beneath his mask as he used his gloved claw to wrench the corpse from the end of his staff before tossing it over his shoulder. The sound of the crow hitting the ground made Mariette finally turn to face Clemt. “I’m assuming you didn’t come all this way to find me just so you could assess the importance of my case. So if you would be so kind as to tell me exactly why you’re here, I think we would both appreciate it.”
Clemt gave a slight harrumph at her forwardness and stabbed his staff into the moist ground and proceeded to lean his weight on it. “Well excuse me for trying to exchange a colleague in some light banter after not seeing one another in so long.”
Mariette decided to refrain from telling Clemt that their lack of contact was greatly appreciated on her part, and that she was disappointed that their streak had come to an abrupt end, and instead fixed him with an expectant stare.
Clemt’s narrow shoulders visibly stiffened momentarily before he composed himself once again. “Fine, I suppose I’ll get right to it. The Council wishes to see you immediately.”
There were a few heavy moments of silence before Mariette spoke up. “What do they want to speak with me about?”
“I don’t have the slightest idea. I’m merely a messenger.” The way he said it made it obvious that he did in fact have a slightest idea, but that he was not at all enthusiastic to share it with her. Clemt yanked his staff from the ground before it disappeared beneath his black cloak. “Though I suggest you hurry along, lest you keep Their Honors waiting. Goodbye, Dr. Eaves.” With that, Clemt dissipated into the thickening fog, leaving Mariette alone with hundreds of dead birds and a peculiar glowing orb in the place where Clemt had been standing moments ago.
Carefully stepping between the bird corpses, Mariette approached the object. She gingerly took up the orb; it felt like glass and was filled with a milky, glowing blue substance. A transportation orb, she realized. Mariette glanced at the many specimens around her, and, with a sigh, clutched the orb in her palm and squeezed until the object shattered.
The world shifted and undulated around Mariette before everything came to an abrupt halt. When she opened her eyes, she was standing on a vast stone bridge that stretched between a thick forest and the imposing castle-like building that was before her. Her feet felt heavy as she began walking towards the huge open door of the building and tried to shake off the feeling of nausea that wrapped around her throat. She had always hated using transportation orbs.
Countless other cloaked figures materialized here and there on the bridge and quickly melted into the stream of other figures as they entered the castle that served as the Council’s headquarters. Mariette assimilated herself into the crowd.