Whatever illness Gio had ten days ago spread like wildfire throughout the city. It started the day after her conversation with Mirko on the docks. One of the residents of The Slums had been brought to her with the same illness. Like Gio, by the time the woman was brought to the clinic she was on death’s door. Rae had no choice but to use her magic to save her. The day after, another was brought to her in the same condition. Again, Rae had used her magic. This went on for a sevenday before things got worse.
On the eighth day, another came stumbling in covered in a rash. Rae had taken to bringing those affected by the rash to a back room she had turned into a quarantine room. It was small and only had two beds as, until now, she rarely had to quarantine anyone. Like all the others, she brought him back from death’s door then promptly passed out.
Santo, Ada’s husband and her first patient when she arrived in Corthira, was the one helping her today. He carried her up to her room so she could recover from the use of her magic.
When she woke, she found him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs with a grim expression. Her muscles tightened as dread filled her.
“What is it?”
“There’s another one.”
“Another with that rash was brought in.”
She hurried down the stairs and into the isolated room. Sure enough, the second bed was now occupied by another patient. The whisper of magic in her informed her that it was indeed the same illness as the one before. What worried her most was that the new victim was a man who’d been helping in her clinic two days before. Could he have caught it from one of the other victims?
It wasn’t a risk she could take. She looked up at Santo. “Get out of this room, Santo. No one is to come in here but me anymore.”
“I am starting to think that this illness is as contagious as The Fever and even more deadly.”
He backed out of the room, his eyes wide with fear. Whole families would be quarantined if even one person within the household caught The Fever.
“You don’t have it,” she assured him, placing her hand on his arm and double checking with her power. “But I don’t want anyone else to be at risk.”
“Can you heal him like the others?”
She shook her head. “I don’t have enough power recovered from the last one yet. I will tomorrow. Until then, I’ll ease his symptoms. In the meantime, I don’t want anyone exposed.”
“What about you?”
“I can’t get sick. Chesed protects me from illness.” She closed the door to the isolation room and made her way to her still room. “Please help in the main clinic while I see to medicine for the new patient.”
He nodded in agreement and hurried out.
Each day that passed more and more people were brought in with the same rash. Rae found herself working until she passed out every day, not only from magic use but just from trying to keep up with the sick. She spent hours mixing medicines, getting the victims to drink it, and spreading ointment over sores. She wasn’t getting time to recover fully each day before having no choice but to use power again. Then there was the making of medicines, hygiene care for herself and patients, food, herb collecting, and the list went on and on. There just wasn’t enough time in the day anymore.
She had turned the whole clinic into a quarantine area, insisting that volunteers not come in to help. Too many of the faces among the sick were familiar to her as it was. The worst was when Silas was brought in to her.
His apprentice carried the old carpenter in with desperate pleas. “Miss Rae, you have to help. He’s so sick.”
“Chesed have mercy,” she whispered.
Her body already shook with over exertion. But she couldn’t ignore Silas of all people. He was the kindest man she’d ever met. Ever since her arrival, he’d helped with repairs around the clinic, made her furniture, and even spent an hour or two each sevenday helping her tend to the sick.
They tucked him comfortably onto one of the beds as she made up some medicine. It wouldn’t cure him, but it would slow the progress of the illness until she could do more for him.
“You should go,” she told his apprentice as she continued to work. “Being here could be bad for your health.”
He hesitated, looking at his master, then nodded. “Let me know if…Just let me know.”
“I will,” she promised with a soft smile.
There was no keeping up. Silas wasn’t her only patient and he wasn’t the last brought in that day. Every day was filled with them. She was so stretched thin that she barely had the power to just keep them alive, let alone heal them. No medicine was working either. Plenty eased symptoms for a time, but nothing but her magic was saving anyone.
Gio and Luca came to check on her one day to find her sitting on the steps of her clinic. Tears were rolling down her face. She clenched her hands together over her mouth as if that would stop the flood of pain and sorrow.
Concern mixed with panic as they crouched in front of her.
“Rae?” Luca called out gently, touching her clasped hands.
“What’s wrong?” Gio demanded simultaneously.
She buried her face in her hands. “I lost one. He died and I couldn’t stop it.” Rae fought to bring herself back under control. She felt as if she were about to break apart with pain. “And there’s more of them,” she managed through a throat tight with emotions. “I have to keep moving to help them, but…I can’t do it by myself.” Suddenly she remembered something and stood quickly. “Maybe I won’t have to.”
Before either man could say anything, Rae was running down the street towards the docks. The moment she hit the shipping yard, she started shouting for Mirko.
She slid to a stop and turned towards him with relief.
He was leaning out a second story window, waving down at her. “What can I do for you, Rae?”
“I need help.”
His face turned serious as he told her he’d be right down.
The moment he walked out the door, Rae began explaining everything about the disease. “…And I just can’t keep up anymore. One of them died today,” her breath hitched, but she didn’t let that get in her way. “And a friend of mind is sick. Please. If you help me I’m sure we can save more of them.”
He looked solemn even as he shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t.”
“The slums aren’t the only district that has been struck with this particular illness. People here in the docks have caught it too. I’ve also heard that every corner of the city had people displaying these same symptoms. It’s keeping anyone with any medical knowledge busy.” He gave her an apologetic face. “I’ve been working to help those who won’t go to others because they risk exposure and execution if their secret gets out.”
Rae’s shoulder slumped a little. “Things are that bad already?”
He nodded. “Yes. None of us are keeping up I’m afraid. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the power to help you. Not if I want to keep helping those I’ve been saving.”
She shook her head. “No, I understand. If things are really that widespread already then even the two of us couldn’t save everyone.” Rae couldn’t stop the tears. “But, this means that many more will die before this is over.”
“I know you’ll do your best.” Mirko placed a hand on her shoulder. “Any daughter of Master Tore would.”
She jerked. “You knew my father?”
He nodded. “You were really small at the time, so probably don’t remember, but I was his apprentice a long time ago. Actually, I started working with him before you were born and left when you were maybe seven.”
Now that he mentioned it, she vaguely remembered that someone used to work with her father. She didn’t really remember much about the person. Only that her father said he would make a great physician someday. If the timing worked out the way he said it did, she wasn’t surprised she didn’t remember. She had been young and her mother had gotten sick and died during that time. That had dominated her life at that age.
Despite accepting that, she still stared at him dumbfounded. “Why are you working on a dock?”
He sighed. “Being a physician was too risky for my comfort. I worried that others would realize what I was. This way, I can help without being obvious about it.”
“Oh, I see.”
Mirko stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I should have mentioned it before, but I just realized who you were when we spoke last. There just hasn’t been a good time.” He smiled ruefully. “I guess this still isn’t a good time, what with a plague spreading throughout the city.”
She shook her head and smiled. “I understand. I’m glad that you found a place where you can help. If you need anything, let me know. Luca keeps me well supplied with herbs, so I can return that favor by keeping you supplied for the magi you’re helping.”
“Thank you, Rae. I’m sorry I can’t do more for you.”
“It can’t be helped. We only have so much power, even with two of us.” She let out a long breath as her exhaustion returned. “I need to get back.”
“Good luck and may the Gods bless you.”
“I hope they see fit to lend aid to us all right now,” she replied.