3 ~ A Doctor's Visit

The sun swims in a haze of orange light as it begins to set. Much of the woodland has given way to a stretch of endless plains and short, rolling green hills. Skirting between the hills is a merry little river.

Leif and Alicia make their way down a dirt path winding its way around the hills. Just ahead is a wooden bridge leading across the river. The two travelers' eyes light up at the sight of it.

"There's the bridge," says Leif, still balancing the young girl on his shoulders. His pace quickens.

"Thank the gods," sighs Alicia, dragging her feet as the still-spry Leif gallops past her. "We've been walking nearly half the day already."

Her companion laughs. "Come on now, Miss Imperial Guard, don't tell me you're tired already?"

"I'm not the traveling type, okay?! Usually I'm stuck patrolling Lumburg all day."

Hoisting the girl further up his shoulders, Leif lets out a small chuckle. Alicia frowns at him. The boy merely grins sheepishly. "So, Miss Imperial Guard, what are your mana types?"

"Hmm, I didn't think you'd be the superstitious type to believe that sort of thing. I can assure you no matter what my type, we're incompatible, okay? In-com-pat-i-ble."

But Leif only shoots her another grin in return. "That's a shame. But you must be a hybrid, right? You've got two pupils in your eye…"

With a sigh, Alicia folds her arms. Finally, she says, "Water. My type is water."

"And?"

"'And' what? That's all. I only have one type."

Leif blinks. "But… you have two pupils. Didn't anybody write you a hybrid seal when you got attacked by the Paradox?"

The guard shrugs. "Probably. But I wouldn't know for sure."

As Leif continues to look confused, Alicia lets out another sigh. "I don't even know why I'm telling you this, but you look like the persistent type who won't let me rest until I tell you. I have amnesia. I woke up one day in Meridia when I was nine with no memory. The Paradox attack must've happened before then, because I don't have any memory of it."

Her fellow traveler's face darkens at these words, but he does not say anything.

"So, what's your type?"

"Dunno. I don't bother with that sort of thing."

"Huh?!"

Alicia stops in her tracks, watching Leif as he continues walking ahead. She puts her hands on her hips. "What do you mean, you don't know?! You travel the world and you can't use mana?! How are you still alive?!"

Without looking back, Leif raises his hand and gives Alicia a thumbs up, but otherwise does not answer her question.

After a couple minutes, the two travelers reach a quaint little house standing in the middle of the plains not far from the river. A few trees dot the landscape here and there around the building, while a few chickens and pigs poke around the clay pots and boots at the entrance of the home.

"This is… rather rustic," Alicia says, pinching her nose as they pass an outhouse.

Leif trots up to the door of the home, knocking on it with his fist. He stands back.

A few moments later, the door swings open. Alicia looks down. A dwarf with a long, white beard wearing blue overalls stands at the threshold. The balding dwarf, who only reaches Leif's chest, squints at the boy.

"Oh, it's you," he booms. "I told you! I'm not making omelettes for you anymore!"

Laughing embarrassedly as he feels Alicia's glare on the back of his neck, Leif sticks his hand in the door, preventing the dwarf from slamming it shut in his face. "That's not it! I have a girl who's been attacked by a Paradox! Although if you do happen to be making omelettes…"

As Leif sniffs the air hopefully, the dwarf growls under his breath. He peers closely at the unconscious girl on Leif's back, before glancing wordlessly at Alicia.

"Very well," he says, waddling out of the way to allow Leif to enter.

While the dwarf holds the door open for Alicia, the girl bows nervously. "Th-thank you for accepting us, um… Mister… Mister…?"

"The name is Gijiduny Tohief Nolat Xolawora," answers the dwarf.

Alicia's eye twitches.

"You may also call me George for short."

"R-right!"

The door slams shut behind Alicia. Inside, she shuffles quickly to Leif's side and nudges him in the ribs with her elbow. "A-are you sure this guy's a doctor?" Alicia whispers in his ear. "He's a dwarf!"

"Of course he is. George specializes in writing hybrid seals. There's no one better in these parts."

George points to a cleared space on the earthy ground in the middle of his workshop. "Put the girl down there." He strides over to a work bench, gathering materials for the procedure.

Alicia's eyes dart about the humble interior of George's house. All manners of tools and scrolls filled with blueprints litter the tables and simple furnishings of the place.

"You have… a very nice home," she says uncertainly.

"It's a good thing you came so soon, or the girl might not have made it. I hadn't even put my tools away from the last case yet." George continues to tinker about with his tools.

Meanwhile, Leif sniffs the air again. "Oho, basil definitely would go well with your omelettes. Good choice."

Shooting a glare at Leif, Alicia replies, "Been a busy week?"

George nods grimly. "Indeed. In fact, you're the third case this week. Usually I see an attack victim only once every several months or so. But there's been an increase in cases lately. It's quite troubling. Perhaps something may be going on…"

Leif looks up. "Is that so…?"

"But you can cure her, right?" asks Alicia. She glances at Leif for reassurance, and notices him wearing a peculiar pair of solid gold glasses. "Since when do you wear glasses?!"

"Ahaha! Sorry, but I'm blind as a bat indoors where it's dark."

George makes a noise like a growl, but does not say anything. He turns back to Alicia, nodding. "Of course. I've written more hybrid seals than anyone in Morave Province. Now… which of you is willing to fulfill this contract in blood?"

-PARADOX HUNTER 3-