155 The Last Hurdle 2
Aside from muffled, disgusted moans and the soldiers’ chuckling, the room had finally become silent enough to allow Lith regaining his focus. Garith was one of the first infected, and that made him a perfect specimen, at least on paper.
From studying his condition, Lith discovered a few things.
The slow reproduction cycle of the mana blocking parasite had allowed Garith to live that long without side effects aside from the lack of magic. It also gave the parasites enough time to fill him with toxins to the brim.
To add insult to injury, each parasite was enveloped by some kind of cocoon, formed over time by the constant excretion of toxins, that made almost impossible to pinpoint them even with Invigoration.
To get past the cocoons and make sure of the worms’ position, Lith had to spend almost all his mana reserves.
“Your treatment was pretty harsh, sir.” Kilian couldn’t stop laughing at Garith’s desperate attempts to remove the gag.
“The young master here is really as powerful and influent as he says.” And that was the reason why Kilian avoided referring to Lith with his name, but only using the rank that his plague doctor army uniform granted him.
By the King’s decree, Lith’s involvement had to be kept secret. He had to report all of his discoveries to Varegrave first, whom would decide if letting him take credit for them or making them pass for information obtained through the use of an artifact.
Hence, Lith always wore the uniform when he wasn’t working with Marth.
“Really? Then as soon as I finish examining this idiot, take him away and bring me another patient. I’ll make sure mister Senti gets cured last. Arrogant brats need to be disciplined.”
The whole tent chuckled, except for Garith that turned pale as a ghost. Because of the masks, the only way he had to recognize someone was through the voice, and even that was distorted, coming out of the nostrils-like holes in the plague mask’s beak.
The soldiers weren’t afraid of him too. Being forced to babysit a bunch of powerful and arrogant mages, their uniforms had the name tags removed.
Sighing out of exhaustion, Lith prepared for the last test. He wanted to extract a sample of the toxins, hoping that the alchemists could concoct something to neutralize their effects.
Lith placed his hands above Garith’s arm, using Invigoration like usual, to use his mana to take control of the flow in the patient’s body and force the toxins out of the pores.
Yet this time he failed. He was too tired, and in front of so many witnesses he couldn’t access to the world energy to replenish his mana. Otherwise, when others would perform the same experiments and reported how difficult everything was, he would stand out too much.
The problem with working for the army was that Lith was supposed to report everything in his lab notebook. Thanks to his nightmarish penmanship, until that point he had been exonerated from it, doing an oral report at the end of the day instead.
Now, though, Kilian had nothing to do while watching Lith performing his experiments, so Varegrave had asked him to fill the paperwork in Lith’s stead, with the result of creating an actual record of his exploits and sealing another chunk of his abilities.
“The sample collection attempt failed, I presume.” Kilian noted down, listening to Lith wheezing like a bellows.
“Indeed. Take him back to the tent.” Lith ordered the soldiers.
“I need time to recover my strength. I’ll extract the sample after lunch from another patient, this one is not needed anymore.”
“Yes, sir!” Both soldiers replied while standing on attention.
“What about the handkerchief, sir?”
“Earlier I stepped on horse manure, so he can keep it as a present.”
At those words, Garith stopped his attempts to push away the improvised gag with his tongue. His face turned green realizing what was that horrible taste he had been experiencing.
Lith dined in Varegrave’s tent, reporting to him most of his findings and his doubts about finding a cure. The Colonel wasn’t new to Lith’s pessimism, but it was also the first time seeing him so tired.
Lith was a little pale, panting between words, his hair sticky from all the sweating under the mask.
“Don’t worry, as soon as you manage to extract a toxins’ sample, I’ll give it top priority.” Varegrave reassured him.
“Thanks.” Lith replied. “If we manage to find a way to dissolve or disable the anti mana toxins, it may be even possible to use the same cure for all the parasites. As it is, even locating the parasites is excruciating.”
Silence befell in the tent. No one actually believed such a thing would happen, at least in the short term. The gap in talent and expertise between Hatorne and the Alchemists at their disposal had become each day more apparent.
The only answer they would come out with was: “We are still working on it.”
Lith knew that without his true magic, there wasn’t much magicians would be able to do either. Realizing once more his limits, Lith gritted his teeth and promised himself to work even harder, exploiting every advantage that Solus and true magic granted him to get free from all the shackles others tried to force on him.
“By the way, what about my family?” He asked.
“They don’t hear from me from more than a week, they must be terrified.”
“Don’t worry, they are fine.” Varegrave sighed, thinking about his own children he may never be able to see again.
“We told them that you are busy helping your Professors with an important research. You may call them today, if you want. But please, try to keep it short. Time is of the essence.”
After finishing lunch, Lith took a quick shower before going back to his specimens. His body was once again at its peak. After the last breakthrough, even his recovery speed had greatly improved.
His next subject was a black haired fat woman in her twenties. She was barely 1.55 meters (5’1″) high, with watery eyes, trembling like a cornered mouse. Her demeanour was meek, obeying everything the soldiers said.
Lith noticed her unusual attitude and the lack of restraints, but didn’t mind them until the examination started. There was such difference between her condition and Senti that it was hard thinking they suffered from the same affliction.
The number of parasites in her body was small, and so was the concentration of toxins. According to her chart, she had been hospitalized even before Senti, but there was almost no trace of cocoons around the worms.
– “I think it depends on their mana cores.” Solus explained. “The arrogant idiot from before had a blue core, hers is barely orange.”
“Wait, you could see his mana core?” Lith was surprised. During the previous examination, overcoming the jamming effect had required all his focus. Beside locating the worms, he hadn’t been able to ascertain much.
“Yeah, sort of. The toxin overload made everything blurry, but I’m pretty sure it was blue.”
“So, the stronger the mage, the harder will be cleansing the parasites? Well, at least in this case, it makes my work easier.” –
Both the diagnosing and the toxins extraction process went easy as pie. Her conditions were so mild that with his current knowledge, Lith was certain he could cure her anytime.
“Captain, this woman isn’t part of the Mage Association, right?” He asked to confirm their hypothesis.
“Yeah. Not all the patients of the last Ward are powerful magicians. Lady Niha Zeir, here, is just a member of one of Kandria’s minor noble families.”
“That explains a lot. Thank you very much for your help, Lady Zeir.” Lith made a small but polite bow to put her at ease.
“You are welcome, kind sir.” Being treated like a human instead as cattle, Lady Zeir gave them a warm and cute smile while performing a curtsy, managing to give off a noble appearance despite wearing a prison grey jumpsuit.
Lith was about to dismiss her and move on to the next specimen, when Solus stopped him.
– “Hold your horses! Her neck, look at her neck. I noticed something odd during her curtsy.” –
Lith did as instructed, discovering a single blue bulging vein on the back of Lady Zeir’s neck.
– “What the heck does this mean? I have seen something similar before, back when I forcefully injected my mana in that mercenary’s core to torture her.” –
Lith used Invigoration again, but this time he focused on her mana core, discovering that it had several yellow streaks, but most of them were fading away, turning orange little by little.
– “It’s exactly what happened back then. The foreign mana suppresses the natural one, inducing a degradation of the core. That alchemist must be a monster to be able to replicate true magic to this extent.”
“Actually, I think it’s a very unintended side effect.” Solus’ tone was worried.
“Why do you say so?”
“Well, I think it’s clear that the fire and light magic parasite have been created with the purpose to kill. They reproduce fast and kill their host in a matter of weeks, while spreading their eggs along with the infection.
But this one, it reproduces slowly and didn’t kill anyone so far. If not for their sudden lack of magic, many would have not even noticed it.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is, that if the plague is man-made, then there is a cure somewhere, and that the mana blocking parasites seems the perfect mean to restrain a mage. The problem is that the parasites not only prevent the use of magic, but are also draining the cores’ energies.
As I see it, once we remove the parasites, there are two possible outcomes. In the first one, the degraded cores never regain their old power, leaving the mages severely weakened if not completely powerless.”
“That’s sad.” Lith mind shrugged. “But I still can’t see anything to worry about. Is not like it’s our fault.”
“The second one…” Solus continued, her tone annoyed by the interruption.
“…is that they all become true mages.”