Hadrian the Bandit
He feels nervous about going out. It took only one day to recover from his injury, but several months to muster enough courage to step out of his room. His robes have ridiculously long sleeves that cover his hands, and a winding sash that coils thrice around the torso. Hadrian prefers loose pants for his legs to move freely, but also because the robes impart a flavor that is too effeminate and rich for his taste. He grew up in the streets and he was good at fighting.
Perhaps waking up to a tiny room made of wood and mud every day is boring, but Hadrian has a criminal reputation. On the day the magistrates cut off his right arm and cast him out to wander alone, he thought that was the first of numbered days. The old buddies weren’t magnanimous, and they shunned him to protect their own hides. That’s how bandits are: selfish, stupid, or both. Pray you never meet an intelligent bandit. They’re terrifying because you don’t realize they’ve got a snake’s grip on the town. One or two mistakes are forgivable, albeit punished harshly. Any more mistakes…
About that intelligent bandit, he was the baron’s son of the local fief. They call him Morgan. His type of intelligence isn’t the genius kind. It’s the fact that he has a lot of friends, and they praise him a lot. Thus that makes him intelligent. The funny thing is that Morgan has no morals about anything except human trafficking. Despite how profitable it is to siphon out desperate guys for cheap labor, and to refer girls to the “pantry,” Morgan absolutely hates trafficking. His own villagers were historically victims.
The day they plundered an insignificant hamlet, Hadrian suggested squeezing out worth from the women, because most of the men were dead.
Morgan striked without warning. Thus Hadrian’s career ended.
They left. While Hadrian laid there, his arm spout watered the clovers. A local healer stopped by to administer to him. He clamped Hadrian’s shoulder and brought him inside, allowing him to recover in a nearby house-turned-clinic.
At first the villagers didn’t want the cripple to stay, especially because Hadrian used to be Morgan’s lackey. The medicine house has a cellar, and Hadrian lives in the cellar for now, moping about his missing arm. Moping is a bit of an understatement, but it’s hard for a strong person to admit weakness. A few cobwebs brighten up the place. They’re the lightest things in the room.
That local healer turned out to be not-so-local. The healer was visiting from out of town, which is why he only wears two outfits. The first is a casual brown robe that is indistinguishable from the norm. In the morning, he stands with a very poised posture, but by afternoon, he hobbles around on a white wooden cane. “You can come with me when you’re ready,” the healer said. “I’ll be staying here until next season.”
“Ah,” Hadrian would answer indecisively.
When Hadrian thinks he’s done moping, he ventures out to the pub. Like most small towns, the people have long memories. Out of pity and respect for the healer’s wishes, they leave Hadrian alone instead of shining the pitchforks and preparing a noose. And leave him alone they do. Utterly. Alone. Bare minimum of words. The barkeep gives Hadrian a cheap tonic without as much of a glance or greeting. Hadrian swallows the drink, searing his throat with liquor concentrate. He returns home, to the cellar.
Each time Hadrian tries to fulfill his social needs, the longer the days grow between outings.
One day, the healer asks, “You getting acclimated? The scar looks a lot better.”
Before Hadrian closes the door, he mumbles, “Mage, I can’t take it anymore. Why am I even alive?” A pale green sleeve hangs loosely.
“Well, you can go for a shave and a haircut. That will help your esteem.”
Hadrian briefly imagines his past self, when his blonde hair was shaped with two deliberate tufts, and his beard was gardened like a hedge. He misses those times. “Don’t deflect me again! Why did you bother saving me?”
The healer shrinks, as if appearing far away, and his usual warmth disappears. “That kind of thing doesn’t need an explanation.”
Hadrian wonders why he felt the need to ask. Of course it’s self explanatory. A healer heals because it’s their job. They’re not supposed to be concerned with the philosophy behind it. This out-of-town doctor is slightly different, though. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but something about his demeanor is off.
Hadrian might be mad from grief. He doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. “I’m tired of being left in the dark. Is it fair to save people who don’t want to be saved? I’ve accepted my fate and yet here I still am.”
The healer, who’s name is Metus, waves a hand dismissively. “Back when I attended to your aid, you shrieked about how you wanted forgiveness. It seems you wanted to live more than anything. Don’t let fake thoughts distract you from reality.”
Since nobody talks back to a healer directly by name, unless they possess no respect, Hadrian says, “I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but I would like the mage to enlighten me. What benefit is there in taking care of me? I don’t have wages to pay you, and the villagers wish me dead.”
Metus says, “Give me a week and I’ll be able to show you. There are some kinks I need to work out first.” He points at Hadrian’s empty sleeve, then lifts it up and down and fluffs it from the inside, shattering the illusion of an arm. Hadrian cringes a little.
That’s the answer. To be a test subject for a medical practitioner. It’s not the worst thing in the world, although being a guinea pig is a hard pill for Hadrian to swallow. What’s it gonna be? A complete regrowth of the limb? He’s getting excited over such fantasies again. A decently carved prosthetic is about the best Hadrian can hope for. If the mage is doing this for free, maybe it’ll just be cheaply carved.
One of these days, Hadrian leaves the cellar to get some fresh sunlight. His paleness is striking compared to the tanned villagers who are working chores around the huts. He can feel his own beard existing, and it’s not existing pretty.
When he walks up to a shopkeeper unloading cargo from a wagon, Hadrian asks, “Hello, is there anything new going on?”
“Nothing much,” the shopkeeper replies. He eyes the floating sleeve sprouting from Hadrian.
It’s still hard to get used to. Before, people who were working alone would normally follow up with, Can you lend a hand? Hadrian was good at those things at least. Not being expected to work is slowly killing him inside.
Hadrian takes a painful walk around the perimeter of the village, choosing not to engage with anyone else. The lopsided weight of his body bothers him, and no amount of shaking or crying can overcome the years he had spent owning two arms. It simply doesn’t feel right.
When he returns to the clinic, the air had finally become chilly. Hadrian looks forward to jumping back into the cot.
“Hey.” Metus lands a hand on Hadrian’s shoulder.
“What is it?”
“Come with me.” Metus beckons him over. Like a magnet, Hadrian follows him into an empty room.
Metus throws a cloth bag onto the table and it splays out. A rancid smell bursts forth.
“What in titanfall!”
“How badly do you want your arm back?” Metus asks.
“I…” At a loss for words, Hadrian eyes the package. What could be inside of it to smell so horribly? Strange fears munch through his head. “I’d love to have my arm again.”
Metus reaches for the bag and unwraps the covering. In between them, there’s a severely decayed arm-shaped fixture, with the flesh drooping off the bones. “This is your arm,” he states. “You still want it?”
Hadrian swelters. “Not like that, of course.” He gapes and stops flowing for a few moments. “I want a healthy arm. You gotta be kidding me, right? Is that really my arm? How did you find it?”
Upon seeing Hadrian’s very unhappy expression, Metus elaborates, “After I saw Morgan cut it off, I went up and bought it. The leftovers are not worth much.”
“Do you work for Morgan?”
Metus chuckles. “I’m the one who’s paying.”
“If you had my arm this whole time, why didn’t you reattach it sooner? Did I suffer all these months for no reason?”
“It’s well proven that severed body parts which are immediately attached will probably heal. But most people aren’t so lucky to be treated immediately. Anyway, I wanted to know if an arm ravaged by time is still viable, so I kept it in the bog for you.”
Hadrian musters an expression that could pass for a smile. “I’m okay now. I don’t need to be a bother to you, not for something so complex.”
“Really? I was hoping you’d participate. I do look forward to seeing the results.”
“What’s gone is gone. A wooden peg is fine and good.”
Metus shrugs. “The option to have a normal arm is gone. You can still have a usable arm, though. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to move it.”
We don’t need a dead thing stinking up the place! Wanting to scream, yet not wanting to look inappropriate, Hadrian says, “You’re a madman. You’re fake. You can’t actually heal, so that’s why you didn’t.” His legs! His legs will work. He’ll run far, far away, and warn people about this unqualified mage. Crippled or complete, there’s gotta be plenty of people who want Morgan dead. Hadrian just needs to find them, and they can get a real business going. Whatever the hell Morgan is up to, Hadrian will plan out his revenge. With a poorly planned escape in mind, he backs out of the room.
“Are you heading out already? I wasn’t done discussing your treatment option.”
“I don’t want to hear about your options! Who is the chief doctor anyway? The numbskulls running this clinic can’t even tease out ducks from geese!”
The clinic workers in the hallway stop and stare at Hadrian, as if he’s the crazy one for being so loud. Hadrian has to be loud. He has to raise alarm. He’s not wrong for being loud, is he?
None of them ask or respond to Hadrian like normal humans. No one asks, What’s the fuss? They don’t shush him. The eeriness is on another level!
“Hello? Are you listening?” Hadrian walks up to a man with blue robes. Hadrian waves his left hand in front of his face.
The man grabs it.
Hadrian punches at the man, but missing a right arm slaps a new reality. The trusty fist he anticipated never shows up. He twists his hips and bases his knee for leverage.
The blue-robed man stands his ground and stares Hadrian down. Something about his face looks familiar. Hadrian remembers the cry of a desperate plea, before swinging down a sword. The past shatters into the present. Was this man in front of him someone he had killed before? The cheeks loosen and crumble apart. Reveal, o empty eyesockets.
As Hadrian twists, the man’s body collapses. Hadrian wobbles forward and lands on his knees with a loud ouch. The man’s flesh seemed tangible enough, but only around the face. Under the man’s robes, nothing but air and bones. Hadrian springs up and rams into each person in that hallway, one by one. Their limbs swing with a doll-like stiffness, betraying a state of undeath.
Panic overwhelms Hadrian, and he feels light in the stomach. Am I’m dead too? If a peeling and thundering heart is a reliable indicator, it tells Hadrian he is still alive. He shakes his head doggedly, as if that’ll cure defunct reasoning abilities. Who died during Morgan’s raid? Only the ones who resisted, right? Is the whole damned village turned like this? Even the barkeep at the pub who looks normal? Shouldn’t it be easy to tell the living from the dead?
Metus taps the cane on the floor a few times. “Bring the patient in.”
The fallen workers rise, their ribs clacking like heavy windchimes. Hadrian blazes down the hallway.
From the end of the intersection, more of clinic employees emerge. Blue and tattered uniforms lash out at Hadrian, grabbing his ears and scarf and whiskers. They pile onto him, forcing him back. When Hadrian resists, the roughness of their bones scrape him and he goes down in white flames of solid calcitrate, a dog’s favorite treat. They drag him back to the room, to the table, and strap him in.
Nearby, a slender skeleton wears a long wig. Why she has a wig, no one knows. She comes up to the table to throw a sheet on top of Hadrian. He shivers anyway.
Light fades from the window as the evening ages. Metus turns on a few lanterns yellow neon like the fireflies. He says, “Let me describe the operation. We will reattach your arm to the base of your shoulder. The artificial nerves will connect to your mana pool, but it’ll take some training to reestablish the motors. The chances of success hinges on properly following aftercare and rehabilitation instructions. Have any questions?”
“I don’t want this,” Hadrian sputters. “I hate this. I don’t want this. I hate my life, and I hate you.”
“Relax,” Metus says.
A skeletal assistant approaches Hadrian with a set of needles. The first acupuncture point on the forehead numbs Hadrian’s eyes, and his lids close involuntarily.
The last thing Hadrian remembers is that Metus changes to his working outfit. Sleeves and pants bound tightly to the wrists, sealing off airflow. Despite a utilitarian style, an overly heavy cloak puffs out very much, like a vulture amongst doves, and the underbelly of a once-white apron lines up. Metus wears a face mask too. How thoughtful of him to keep his spittle to himself.
All things considered, they say necromancers are depraved, but the storytellers forget to mention the smart ones.
As the only two people alive in the clinic, the lack of company suffocates Hadrian more than a stillborn stuck in the womb. Several inanimate skeletons lay in rows on the floor between the desk and the shelf. Hadrian lays on a mat between them. Inside an unowned villa, transformed into an impromptu hospital, a moth flies lazily around the shelves of books.
Metus looks at his scroll, sitting in a green chair with nice cushions. “This village doesn’t have a clinic, and now it doesn’t have a vacation home either.”
Hadrian still wears the green jacket, its long-sleeved purpose revealed. His right sleeve contains something arm-shaped. Hadrian twiddles his public thumb with the private one, rubbing at a layer of fabric.
Metus continues, “It’s partly your fault that you gangsters killed my client. I traveled all the way here just to not get paid. If I can’t get money, I might as well get my knowledge’s worth.” He hovers over a magnifying glass, forming out words on his lips.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Too disgusting to show in public, his arm keeps within the overgrown sleeve.
“It’s your body. You do whatever you want.”
Hadrian groans. He still can’t feel or move the arm. All its muscles have been removed, leaving behind wires hanging on to his shoulder stump. The wires throb slightly. Would it be considered a prosthetic if it’s made from his own bones? The skeletal appearance isn’t helping in the charisma department.
Metus stands up and hides the scroll into his sleeve. “Excuse me, I’m heading out. Do you want anything from the market?”
Hadrian responds with a snarlish squint.
“Suit yourself, then.”
Hadrian suppresses a futile laugh. What market is there? Who would come to a sell in a town that has been pillaged and where a necromancer has moved in? What does the mage yearn for? What does he scheme for?
Eventually Metus does return with groceries, mostly gritty leeks and onions. Metus takes out a couple of buns. He tosses one to Hadrian, eyeing at him expectantly. Metus slumps into a chair and grabs a nearby cane, leaning into it.
Hadrian catches the surprise bun in his lap. A four-leaf design was scored into the crust, and he can almost see steam rising from an oven. He bites into the warmth, the soft and pure wheat, a pleasant yeast afterwaft. It’s been a while since he ate anything that resembled civilization.
“Eat using your right hand,” Metus says.
“I can’t move it,” Hadrian replies, “it’s too painful and numb.” His flag sleeve remains pooled around the floor. It may seem pointless, but Hadrian continues protesting. He absolutely hates this doctor who could’ve restored his arm but chose not to. Getting better and using his right arm would be following the necromancer’s ploy. Hadrian will not be toyed around like this.
“If you don’t try, it’ll never get better. Luckily, the human body can adapt to anything. I’ll continue to checkup on the attachment point every day and monitor your nerve regrowth, but the rest is up to you.” Metus wobbles his way to the porch and tends to some herbs drying outside. The sun burns like an unwanted visitor, not always reliable, but when it does bother to come along, it comes in full gusto. The market is starting to recover. It’s about time Hadrian recovers, too.