“Purple- we’ve got a code purple-”
Parasite. Of all the codes, this was the one that Zete dreaded the most. A porter, a man with a receding hairline and thick forearms covered in bushy hairs, was pushing a cherrywood stretcher into the lobby of the magical assessment and emergency (MAE) ward. On the stretcher lay a pregnant woman, in a torn tan dress, clutching her stomach with one hand and the thin hospital blanket with her other; her cries drove over the pained yelling of other patients in the ward, drowning all others out, and she writhed in agony as though she was lain upon a bed of nails.
“Let me see-” Bhakka, the ward’s chief surgeon-magi and Zete’s closest friend, stepped up to the stretcher, clumsily knocking the porter aside with his shoulder as he did. The man towered above the now-screaming woman, standing a great deal taller than either Zete or the porter, and waved his arm above her. “Easy now-” he murmured, as an amber light began to emanate from his lifted palm. It washed out and along the woman, following the curves of her twitching body as it sprung from Bhakka’s hand, gaining speed the longer that the surgeon maintained the spell. “-rest” he whispered. She stopped squirming and fell suddenly, and completely, asleep.
“Confirming the presence of the parasite”. Zete stepped up to the stretcher as he announced himself to Bhakka - as hospital seer it was now his time to act. He pressed a finger to his temple and placed his other hand on the woman’s swollen abdomen - willing the magic locked inside his body to flow through him and into her. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
Suddenly he was elsewhere, suddenly he was a stranger floating above a vibrant red cave, shadowy but for the light permeating from below. Beneath him slept a mostly-formed foetus of maybe six months; cast by the light as it was, it almost looked like a baby. Zete could not focus on the not-quite-child however, as his eyes instead fell upon the creature surrounding the foetus.
It was a beast of nightmare made real - a sickening parasite with a chitinous exoskeleton and black beaded pupils; twelve long spider-like legs - each encased in a protective shell - extended from either side of its oval body. The foetus was entangled by the creature and at least eight of the monster’s legs had punctured its skin; it was drawing whatever nutrients it could from the foetus’s yet-to-be-fully-formed interstitia arcana, the magical organ present in all living things. Through the not-quite-child, the creature was feeding upon it and the mother both.
Opening his eyes, removing himself from the dark and vibrant cave, he found Bhakka staring at him, waiting for him to speak. Zete could only nod and let slip his report.
“Eight...” he said softly, his gaze falling to the floor. Eight was too many.
What seemed like only a second later, he was standing in the corridor outside the ward, arguing with his friend.
“Policy is clear,” Bhakka snapped. He hadn’t taken Zete’s suggestion in any kind of good faith. This sort of hog’s spit was exactly why Zete couldn’t stand working in a religious hospital. The veiled goddess was a deity of war - perhaps amongst other things as well, but war first and foremost. How could they call themselves healers when they followed the greatest warmonger? How many patients came to them because some fool decided to emulate that warmonger?
“Bhakka, you dog-brained-” he snapped, before clasping his hands together and taking a sharp breath. “Bhakka-” Zete started, exhaling slowly and trying not to let his irritations with the hospital bait him into saying something unforgivable to his colleague. “-the mother would want us to save her foetus - it is almost a child! You know as much as I do she will not thank us for this”.
“Perhaps my friend, but if we get fired… Especially you - with your history? You’ve gone against protocol too many times already! How many people will we be saving then, huh?” Bhakka stooped down slightly so that the man could look Zete in the eyes without standing over him. “You cannot save everyone that walks through those doors, and if you keep trying, you will end up saving nobody else - please tell me you understand Zete-”
“I can’t just-”
“Please tell me you understand,” The tall surgeon clenched his fist, pressing it up against his chest. “I don’t want to do this job alone”.
“I understand,” Zete muttered. He didn’t meet his friend's gaze, but the moment he had finished speaking he added a slight whisper, hopeful it was too low for him to hear. “-but that does not mean I will not try to do what I think is right-”
“I know,” Bhakka said, hearing him after all. “Please be careful eh?” He stood up and nodded toward him, turning away for a moment before the seer felt the heaviness on his chest threaten to break his resolve; just a split-second more and he’d happily break, tell his friend that he trusted him, truly trusted him, and would do as he asked.
As he paced outside the ward doors h couldn’t stop his thoughts from wildly flinging themselves against his skull - each clamored for an attention too split to be worthwhile. To save the mother would doom the not-quite-child. To save it would risk his job, and his position to help people. What could he do?
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Should Zete try to save the mother or foetus?
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