The rumors of weird goings-on with the Hospitalier Lichstein proved to have a more solid basis. There really were a lot of strange deaths among his patients, and many additional oddities. Some patients were treated for injuries they hadn’t been aware they had. Treated wounds sometimes reappeared days or weeks after the visit. There were people who’d found strange marks or scars on their body or limbs, lost their memories, undergone strange personality changes, and even a few cases of some sort of “possession”. Unfortunately, the need to burn bodies shortly after death lest they rise as undead was making it really hard to prove anything except that he was having bad luck with the injuries resulting from supernatural attacks – which wasn’t all that unexpected.
Fortunately, A’ikana had enough medical training to make a few educated guesses. Battling Business World medicine mostly consisted of “shoot them if they were too far gone to regenerate and let them come back in the morning” and “these pills should have this weird effect! Try some!” – while Kevin pretty much relied on raw supernatural power in lieu of medicine. (Jamie was actually pretty good at field medicine, but she was off in the fighting).
It wasn’t exactly good. It sounded to her like the man was dabbling in transplants, organ removal or tissue samples, using magic to make injuries appear to heal without really doing so, studies in various brain traumas, and various other forms of medical experimentation – all using basic magic and medieval medical instruments. No wonder his patients weren’t doing well. The man thought he was Dr Frankenstein.
It was really enough to make her quite cross.
Marty was used to seeing his colleagues growing back severed limbs, but the thought of normal people undergoing that sort of thing made him want to whack the guy. He decided on a bit of direct-and-personal investigation; he was going in as a patient.
Surprisingly enough, Kevin was actually rather squeamish about hurting a friend. Marty had to get Minel to inflict a few injuries on him. It felt REALLY weird to keep the wound from closing up and regenerating.
Marty – showing injuries that no normal human could survive – dragged himself off to see Lichstein.
“Oh dear, have you gone and injured yourself young one?”
“Somebody mugged me!”
“Always people hurting each other around here. So many and I cannot give them all proper attention it seems. Well come in, come in. Find a bed and lie down and I will have a look at you.”
“Thank you so much.”
Marty lay down. Around him, patients were moaning, curtains were drawn, jars of who-knows-what stood upon shelves. The tile floor appeared to have been stained with blood over and over again – and, as he lay down, the door he’d entered by slid shut and he heard the distinctive clicking of some sort of locking mechanism. Lichstein popped up with a lens over his right eye…
“Now let us have a look at you. My, you are a rare specimen. Wounds like this would kill many people around here and yet you were able to drag yourself to my doorstep.”
“By the grace of God.”
Lichstein half-smiled at that line…
“Indeed, if not by his grace then where would we be? Let’s see, multiple fractured ribs, torn muscles in the arms and left leg, multiple bruises all over, no sign of internal bleeding, and it appears that you have a mild concussion. You probably took a rather nasty blow to the head didn’t you?”
“I think so . . . I can’t remember.”
Lichstein grinned – rather wickedly – at that.
“Well, we may have to do something about that. And I am afraid I am going to have to operate elsewhere. We are going to have to stitch those muscles back, drain those bruises, and glue those ribs together aren’t we? Don’t worry I will make everything better.”
Well, that certainly wasn’t Crusader-era medical care. Marty decided to string him along and let him babble for a bit. He looked confused.
“What are you talking about? Stitching? Glue?” Where are the leeches? I need bleeding?”
“Oh, thats right, I keep forgetting not everyone around here has learned the things I have learned in the last few months. Would you mind if I strap you down please? It makes the surgery go smoother.”
“Well yes? How do you expect me to glue things together if I don’t cut you open? I promise you will forget the pain when it is all done.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have any choice…”
“Ah good then.”
Marty put on a show of trust – letting Dr Lichstein strap him down; his pocket-friends could get that undone in moments even if they did look too strong to easily break or cut through. Far stronger than seemed reasonably necessary actually… Fortunately, pain was a mere annoyance, He couldn’t even remember how many times he’d died. Hopefully this loon wouldn’t try to do something like a lobotomy. Too bad he’d never mastered the art of actually exploding or deflating or anything – but only the yoga adepts taught the advanced arts of toon-fu.
“Now first off, we are going to have to have a look inside to see if we can figure out why you are so hardy. Most of my studies into that have not gone well I am afraid.”
Actually, Marty had wondered about that himself. Still, this didn’t really seem likely to be very revealing.
“Now drink this, this should dull your reaction to the pain.”
Lichstein gave him a glass of blue liquid to drink. It wasn’t much thicker than water – but it was pretty strong. The world went fuzzy, the walls and ceiling seemed to distort and curve. Lichsteins voice seemed to echo as if from the end of a long tunnel.
“There now, let us begin. Perhaps we can find out more about what it takes to hold a body together from you. I must admit the undead have proven a treasure trove of information on the topic.”
Lichstein began his probing… Marty was beginning to have trouble resisting the impulse to let his wounds seal up.
“Oh my, such vitality. We may not have to do much of any grafting whatsoever. Do you no how hard it is to graft undead flesh onto living tissue? I mean, if it works and takes, the subject should get the strength and stamina of the undead while still being among the living. Maybe then we can fight back on even terms. Don’t you think?”
“What’s this we business, pal?”
“Well surely all of us in the battle against the undead. Don’t you want to win and survive?”
“Yeah, but grafting undead flesh? Don’t you think that has side effects? I mean, even if it works, that’s going to screw up their minds and maybe their souls.”
Marty started purging the drug – and passing on a warning. This guy was completely off his rocker.
“Oh it does, believe me. Very often it begins to encroach on the living tissue and take over. Sometimes it merely feeds on the life force of the host until the hosts withers and dies. And every so often, the host lives with the transplanted tissue. Even then though, results vary.”
“And what happens to the ones who live?”
“Some have weird visions, claims of possessions, uncontrolled spasms that violently shake them. Others have shown little to no symptoms or benefits whatsoever. And a rare few have shown themselves to be a cut above the rest and become stronger for it. Now if I practice enough, I surely can begin to duplicate that success reliably, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but do you have the time?”
Marty had his friends start to release the straps…
“Sadly, that may not be the case. But that is what secure means of escape are for aren’t they? The catacombs under the city stretch on for miles and miles, I don’t think anyone really has paid enough attention to the things. Thankfully neither have our invaders either.”
“Really now? And what have you been doing down there?”
“Oh, stashing experiments, gathering corpses, and few other minor hobbies.”
Kevin was in on the relay at the moment. As far as he was concerned, that meant that the Death Knights were manipulating or using Dr Lichstein, since they made corpses rise as undead and the catacombs were full of them, Dr Lichstein would never have made it out without them allowing it. That also meant that there was an army under the city waiting to get everyone – probably if the holy aura over the place ever wavered – and that they were likely to be undermining the entire city in the meantime.
“Well, you see, the things go on for miles and people have been burying all sorts of things down there. Sadly something seems to be repelling me from the chambers underneath the Temple of Solomon.”
“You do realize by sticking bodies down there, you’re just giving them more troops, right?”
Dr Lichstein grinned at that again. It wasn’t especially pleasant or sane though.
“Now now, they still need some parts of their anatomy functioning in order to be useful to them. Smashing skulls seems to work quite well. And lacking limbs makes movement very difficult.”
“What happens if they send mobile undead to grab them? Don’t you think they have surgeons too? They’re corpses. If they sew them up right, it doesn’t matter who the parts came from. And you’re really staring to bug me.”
That did seem to startle the “good” doctor. He stared off into space for a moment.
“Hmm, a valid point I think. No matter, we shall just have to seal off some of the key junctions then.”
“We? Who’s ‘we?’”
“Well some of my experiments are not suitable yet to release out into the public, so I keep them here with me.”
Marty started healing himself while the Doctor was distracted.
“You’re MAKING more undead and stowing them beneath the city? How are the other knights going to feel about that, pal?”
“Oh please, they aren’t undead. They just lack a certain something I guess you could call a free will.”
“That’s just as bad! You took a God-given right from them!”
“Sigh, the other knights are really not doing well. I give them a week or so tops before things start falling apart here. Ergo, I need to learn as much as I can quickly so that the next stand made elsewhere might go better.”
Marty kicked the straps aside and summoned his knife. It Kevin and A’ikana were coming – too bad Jamie was too far away – but he’d need to hold things for a minute or two.
“You’re not making it out if I have anything to say about it. Too dangerous.”
Dr Lichstein turned to look at Marty and sighed.
“Well you aren’t the first to say that. And I think you will not be the last either.”
“Not going to stop me from trying.”
“Very well then”
Lichstein snapped his fingers, and a pair of creatures – flesh-golem-things – stomped out from behind a wall.
“Would you please disarm and restrain the patient, he seems to have forgotten his place in the hospital.”
Sadly, at this point it was far too late for a big fight scene – so things will have to pick up from there next week.