Frederick awoke to the sound of heavy rain, slowly lifting his head with a groan. His hair was tousled and covered his face, the dim gas lamps reflecting the bags under his eyes. He stumbled out of his bedroom and aimed for the front door, his hand sliding against the wall for support. He heard a crinkle of paper and looked down to see a soft package underneath his foot.
He stooped down, wincing as he gripped his cramped knee to pick up the parcel and turned it over. Like the note he got in the Post Room, this too didn't have a return address.
He placed it on the kitchen table and took out a pair of tongs, nervously pulling at the twine that held the package together. With a sudden tug, the string came undone and the paper unfurled, Frederick covering his eyes in case of another trap. He risked a look and instead found a pile of brightly colored clothes sitting innocently in the nest of paper.
He leaned in and picked up the bright red chiton, gold fibulae resting at the shoulders and wrists of the loose garment. Confused, he dug in further, finding a thick leather zoster belt, large golden hoop earrings and a pair of beige tobi pants. He found one last item, brushing cloth aside to release the two long ornate feathers curled up beside it. It was a small circular leather hairpin, the leather dyed to a deep crimson as the orange and tan feathers contrasted it. Pressed in the center of the leather was a family crest, the mark striking up a slew of memories.
A polite rap on the door made him jerk, clearing his throat.
"Please hold, I'm on my way!"
He raced back towards his bedroom to get his spectacles. He tripped over the corner of the threshold to his bedroom, catching himself on he corner of his bed as he gripped his foot and swallowed his cry of pain. Hopping on one foot, he grabbed his spectacles and slipped them on before hobbling back towards the foyer.
He took the unwrapped parcel and stuffed it in between the cushions of his leather couch, stumbling to the front door as he rolled down his sleeve. He noticed his nose was dripping slightly and quickly wiped it away with the back of his hand, switching the lock and opening the door to find Wilkinson decked in drenched rainwear.
"I was getting worried about you, dear boy!"
"Why is that, Patrick?" Frederick asked.
"Well, for one, it's 2:37 in the afternoon, chap." Frederick checked his pocket watch, only to realize that it was left in his vest pocket, "And that you need to check up on your charge."
"Ah, yes." Frederick pushed up his spectacles and rubbed his eyes hard, clearing his throat as he went back to change his clothes, "I shall be five minutes."
"Grab a rain cloak, it's rather nasty outside." Wilkinson called back, Frederick lifting his hand to acknowledge.
As he switched into a new shirt, Frederick looked out the window to see the dark clouds hovering over the city. He tilted his head, noticing that the clouds seem to break near the outskirts of the city, bright sunlight flooding the green fields beyond. He shrugged and tied a blue necktie around his neck and folded his collar down.
"Let's be off, Patrick." He grabbed his black Ulster raincoat, flinging it over his shoulders on his way out the door.
Locking the door, Frederick went towards the staircase, the morning elevator attendant looking confused as to why he would take the stairs instead. Wilkinson was smart enough not to pick an argument with Frederick, knowing his swift stride meant business.
Frederick's ears were greeted with thunderous pounding, emerging from the front door of his apartment complex to sheets of heavy rain. A coach waited for the two professors on the cobbled street, an umbrella mounted in the left corner of the engine's seat to keep the cabbie dry.
He wore a paperboy's cap, eyes obscured by dark goggles and his face wrapped in a dark blue woolen scarf as he motioned for the two to hurry up. Frederick and Wilkinson clambered in, snapping the door shut and shaking off the excess on their umbrellas.
"Did the barometers indicate anything of this magnitude?" Frederick asked, combing back his bangs.
"It's a surprise to all of us, dear chap." Wilkinson slicked back his hair, making sure his large moustache maintained its trimmed look.
The coach coughed and spluttered as it stopped before the gates of The Medical Academy, a Silestra police officer guarding either side of the entrance now. Frederick walked past them as Wilkinson gave them a wary look in passing, splitting from Frederick at the fountain with a wave as Frederick entered The Infirmary.
Within minutes, Frederick was throwing his drenched raincoat over his chair, quickly pulling up alongside his patient's beside.
" Pardon my tardiness, young sir." He said in a quiet voice, "I had some- good Lord!"
One look at the boy told Frederick he was in trouble. His skin was pale and clammy, his breathing faint. His hair had lost its healthy luster and now stuck to his forehead like straw.
"I don't know what happened, Professor." Replied the nurse, a bowl of water and a clean towel in her hands, "He was on the mend just a few hours ago, and he suddenly took a turn for the worse."
Frederick put his hand against the boy's forehead, his eyes widening.
"Nurse, boil the water."
"What? But he has a fever-"
"Boil the water!" he snapped, his brows lowering.
She jumped and quickly retreated, Frederick rolling up his sleeves and yanking down the boy's sheets. He undid his patient's shirt, inspecting the stitches. The outer edges were a raw red, but now the center where the incision was made seemed a hideous shade of purple.
"Can you hear me?" he asked, pulling out the second drawer and removing surgical gloves.
A faint murmur was his response. Frederick was inspecting the stitches when the nurse returned with a bowl of now heated water.
"What did you give him to deal with the pain?"
"We were low on supplies of Somnitus, but I gave him the last of it, as you instructed."
"Where's Professor Charleson?"
"On leave, he said important business affairs had come up across the continent. He gave me the last of his doses."
"It's done him little good." He muttered, taking up the cloth and soaking it in the hot water, "Why did you think he had a fever?"
"At the time I took his temperature, it had been 102 degrees."
"Did you bother to check again?" Frederick's eyes narrowed, "Because he doesn't have a fever anymore, his forehead's cold."
He took the cloth and wrung it out, placing it on the boy's forehead before returning to the stitches. He took a swap of antiseptic and applied the cotton to the stitches, trying to cleanse them but noticed that a single rub caused blood and pus to surface.
"S-Sir..." His patient feebly whispered.
"Hush. Save your strength." Frederick replied, his hands expertly racing across the boy's chest to clean his infected wounds.
"I'm not...going to make it,...am I?"
"Don't say such things. You're ill from surgery but you'll be just fine." His surgical scars refused to stop bleeding, his blood a dark maroon.
The hammering of rain on the windows put Frederick on edge, the boy's skin cool to the touch as his lower lip quivered.
"Nurse, I need you to-"
His voice was drowned out by a screeching explosion, causing the nurse to scream and nearly drop the water basin.
"Tell me what's going on!"
She ran to the window and gasped. Black smoke rose from the Nathaniel Hall of Chemistry on the northeastern corner of the main square, blue and yellow flames eating every inch of brick and metal it could find. A good third of the building had collapsed, every withstanding window blasted outwards and raining glass upon the ground. People were fleeing from the building, some on fire, some still covered in smoke and debris while others rushed in, trying to save any people they could find.
"Nurse!" Frederick barked.
"The Nathaniel Hall is badly damaged! It's like a shell was dropped or something similar."
Frederick rose from his seat, gloved hands smeared with blood as he pulled the nurse back by her elbow.
"Contact the EMS and tell them to transfer him to Rowlands Medical Center. Go!"
She rushed out of the room to find the nearest telephone, Frederick ignoring the situation outside for the time being as he looked into his patient's eyes.
"James, can you hear me? Can you move your limbs?"
"Am...I going to d-die?"
"No, you will not."
"I feel...light. I can't f-feel pain anym-more..."
Frederick reapplied the warm cloth to the boy's forehead, stopping to dunk his hands in the basin to clean them of blood when he stopped. Something seemed strange about the water, as if it grew darker in the center of the bowl. He cupped a small amount in his hands and saw the same thing, the water growing darker in the depth of his palms.
He bound gauze to the surgical incisions to apply pressure. He wrapped him in two of the blankets, reaching into the first drawer for a thermometer. He cursed at the nurse's lack of impetus, rubbing the boy's shoulders and legs to maintain warmth and circulation as he popped the thermometer in his mouth and held it there. He gingerly removed it from his patient's lips a few minutes later, his eyes widening behind the spectacles.
It read 86.4 degrees.
The nurse came back with two white-garbed EMS specialists, the blue crescent and hook logo tattooed on the front of their smock garb. They moved the boy to a stretcher, making sure the blankets stayed tightly wrapped around his body.
"I w-want my family...to know..." He struggled to say, his eyes rolling up.
"Hurry, he's going into shock." Frederick stripped his gloves and tossed them into a small wastebasket near the door, forgetting his raincoat as he moved to the outside to see the boy safely packed into the Medical Coach.
Rain still poured down upon the city with a vengeance, the Medical Coach jerking to life as the polished bronze steam cart swiftly pulled the lengthy carriage car along the paved roads. Frederick watched it turn the traffic circle and exit to the roads of the city before running back to the damaged Hall, seeing people dragging victims out while others contacted the Fire Squad.
"What happened!?" Frederick shouted over the rain to a slightly singed student, his clothes soaked within a matter of seconds.
"I don't know, sir! One moment I was in the laboratory, and the next, a massive explosion occurred in the Surgical Chemicals wing!" The student shouted back, the rain washing off some of the soot on his face.
Frederick was running towards the rising blue and yellow flames when a faint scream caught his ear. It grew louder as more people seemed to join in, forcing Frederick to turn around. Students were running towards Frederick, passing the burning building as Frederick gasped.
The Medical Coach was overturned, cogs and hubcaps rolling away from the disaster as an EMS struggled to crawl out from the coach. Without thinking, Frederick bolted for the coach, leaping over flaming piles of construction material and hedges as his adrenaline kicked in. As he closed in on the carnage, he saw something peculiar about the coach. It was changing shape, losing its constructed edges and swelling.