The lights of the city glistened off the Wrenhaven, as the homeless scurried away before the City Watch as they approached, like prisoners before a firing squad. But the City Watch gave Anton Rielen a pass, though he never went truly unseen, usually drawing a glance from one or more of them. Anton liked to imagine that they were just waiting for an excuse. To their dismay, he had never come down with the plague, against all odds, despite the fact that he had seen many victims. Anton closed his eyes and shook his head to block out the sight of those faces, that leaked from a red tide that seemed to seep into his subconscious at the most inopportune times.
Passing Holger Square, Anton’s brisk pace carried him to the flickering neon sign outside the newly renovated hospital. The lights were like a warm blanket on so many cold nights and he found himself standing outside, much longer than he had to, like a moth drawn to a candle.
Heading up the stone steps, Anton moved through the sliding glass doors and towards the faculty rooms, slipping into one of the long white coats that were hanging nearby. Some nights he hated this job, but when he could help any of the underprivileged citizens, he loved it. Heading into the elevator, he pressed one of the honey colored floor buttons and watched it light up before the doors slid closed and he started to move.
The light in the elevator flashed on and off briefly, before returning to normal. In truth, the newly renovated hospital was a far cry from anything resembling a “real” hospital, but it was better than nothing.
Stepping out into the dimly lit fifth floor, which they were temporarily using for severe trauma cases, Anton headed to the hastily set up nurses’ station, currently run by a young man who wore a rumpled dress shirt and a tie that was several years past its prime.
“What have we got?” asked Anton, moving behind the desk and picking up one of the manilla folders and flipping through it quickly, scanning for pertinent information.
The young man finished writing on the makeshift chart on the table in front of him and looked up. He had the eyes of someone who had not slept for quite awhile.
“Room One, chest trauma, preliminary exam revealed severe cardiac irregularities,” came the reply, as Anton was handed the chart, which he opened and did another cursory scan.
“He needs a new heart,”
“That’s not gonna happen, not easily, anyway,” said Anton
“We also need your signature on a number of death certificates, from a number of plague victims,” then, seeing Anton’s face, he added, “but that can wait.”
“I’ll be in Room One,” said Anton, before moving off to the hallway nearby, lined with wooden doors, most of them closed.
Slowly turning one of the metal handles to one of the doors, he walked in. Inside the room were a young boy, on the bed, who couldnt have been more than 19 and a makeshift nurse, who was trying to make him comfortable. A man stood in the corner, dressed in black, a Fedora hung low over his face, looking down.
“How is he?” asked Anton.
“His blood pressure is dropping, heartbeat is irregular,” said the nurse.
Anton moved to the beside and removed his stethoscope.
“I’m Dr Rielin, just gonna have a quick listen to you here,” he said.
He carefully placed the stethoscope over the young man’s chest and listened carefully. The usual heartbeat sound was nowhere to be found, instead it sounded weak and hollow.
Anton shook his head.
Removing the stethoscope and hanging it around his neck again, he frowned.
“We’ll do everything we can,” he said. “Your cardiac rhythms are weak and irregular, and a new heart is not something that can easily be obtained, unfortunately,”
Anton glanced at the man in the corner, for the first time, as if just noticing him.
“Is he the father?” asked Anton.
“No clue, hasn’t said a word,” said the nurse.
Anton knew that people without money were unlikely to get more than a basic level of care, especially as of late. He did what he could, but he saw many more patients leaving through the morgue than through the front door.
He stepped over to the man.
“Sir?” asked Anton.
There was no response.
“We’ll try and do what we can, but the reality is-“
“He needs a new heart,” said the man suddenly. His voice was calm and cold, like a sudden icy wind on a spring autumn day.
Anton nodded slowly.
“The reality is, it’s unlikely that he will get better without one,”
The man turned then, to face Anton, slowly lifting the wide brim of his hat that covered his face. His eyes were piercing and blue, framed with tresses of brown that ran down his pale features like muddy rain.
Those eyes stared into Anton for a long moment, as if drawing him inward. Anton had the strange sensation of feeling himself falling, causing him to look away.
“You will save my boy, Doctor,” said the man. It wasn’t a request.
“I will do all I can, I assure you, but-“ began Anton.
The man turned then and headed towards the door, then stopped, his hand diving into his pocket before fishing out a small golden pocketwatch.
“You have twelve hours to find a heart for my boy, Doctor,”
Anton began to protest but was interrupted once again.
“Failure, would be,” the man paused. “Most unfortunate,” he finished.
With a flick of his hand, the pocketwatch snapped closed and he tossed it towards Anton who fumbled a bit but managed to catch it. He heard the door open and close, as he eyed the small golden object for a brief moment and then headed quickly for the door.
Stepping into the hall, Anton looked one way, and then the other. There was no sign of the man, he was greeted only by the soft hum of the overhead florescent lights that threatened to flicker out at any moment. He caught a glimpse of the young man still at the front desk and strode up to him.
“Where’d that man go?” asked Anton.
“Yes, tall, dressed in black, had a rather large hat on,” said Anton.
“I haven’t seen anyone since you came in earlier,”
Anton rubbed his temples and shook his head.
“Hey, doc, you look like you could use some rest,”
“I’m fine,” said Anton, quickly heading for the elevator.
Once inside, he pressed the button for the main floor. As he started to move, he pushed the red button that halted the elevator in case of an emergency,
Suddenly remembering the pocketwatch in his hand, he turned it over. There were no unusual markings on the gold casing. Finding a small button near the top, the case popped open and a dire sight greeted the doctor. The watch seemed to be running backwards, the larger of the two hands counting down from twelve, where it seemed to have begun, only recently.
Like a doomsday clock, thought Anton.
The office of Jack Spall was just as he’d remembered it. Light poured in through the only window in the office giving the whole room a sickly white glow. The shadows of the plants and lamps in the corners of the office seemed to be clawing at the sky, as if trying to breathe or escape.
“Come in, Anton, its been too long,” he was ushered in by the suited man behind the large ebony colored desk.
Even Jack looked a little strange, the way the light hit the room made half of him appear as a perpetual shadow. Ever since he’d had that strange encounter with the mysterious man the previous night, shadows seemed more pronounced and the sunlight seemed dimmer, as if someone had thrown a switch and reversed the shades of the world.
It was probably just his imagination.
Anton took a seat in one of the leather recliners opposite the large desk. The name “Jack Spall” was etched in gold on a wooden nameplate at the front of the desk.
“I need a heart, Jack,”
Jack had been the administrator of the hospital ever since they’d gotten it up and running.
“I heard,” said Jack.
“Can I get you a drink?” “Coffee?” “Tea?” “Saline IV?”
Anton shook his head.
“Just tell me you can get me a heart,”
Jack sighed and slumped into the executive leather chair behind him.
“You know it isn’t that easy, we have a shortage of useable organs as it is, especially with this plague on the loose,”
“It’s a life or death situation here, Jack,” said Anton.
Anton absently wondered how true that was.
“Aren’t they all?”
Anton stood up.
Jack ran a hand over his bald head and removed his glasses.
“Just because they aren’t rich, doesn’t mean they aren’t important,” said Anton.
“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that,”
“You may be able to sell plague vaccines to the rich, but selling organs, that’s just sick,” said Anton.
Jack stood up.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
Anton rubbed his temples for a long moment and when he opened his eyes, the light seemed to have dimmed.
“You don’t look so hot, Anton, tell you what, why don’t you take the rest of the day off, go home, and get some sleep?”
“I’m not leaving without a heart,” said Anton. He leaned on the back of one of the recliners, for support.
Jack pushed the intercom button on his desk and spoke into it. “Melanie, Dr Rielin will be leaving shortly, please call him a cab,”
He scribbled something on a piece of paper and walked around the desk and held it out.
“What’s this?” asked Anton, taking the paper.
“Your prescription, I want you to get it filled, and go home and get some sleep,”
“I mean it, you don’t look good.”
Jack squinted a bit.
“You haven’t been bleeding anywhere, have you?”
Anton shook his head, heading for the door.
“I don’t have the plague, Jack,”
“They all say that at first, Anton,” said Jack.
Anton waved a hand dismissively, slamming the door behind him.
The pills didn’t help. Small and amber colored, he’d taken a handful of them and swallowed two before falling back onto his bed, still wearing his shoes. He’d made sure to triple lock the door to his apartment first, you can never be too careful, especially with weepers and god knows what else wandering the city nowadays.
At least he’d taken off his lab coat.
Anton tossed and turned for hours, until the dreams came to him. Slowly, at first.
He was falling, not unlike Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole, but a darker shade of red. He saw the weepers, many who he’d seen in life, now weeping for him in death.
How ironic, he thought.
The walls of the dream ran crimson, as he fell further, into one large shadow, that seemed endless and boundless, as if the dreamscape were a world of pitch black, broken only by the softest rays of light, poking holes here and there, as if trying to find a way through.
The man in the hat was there too. Standing there, nonchalantly, with those piercing blue eyes that seemed to draw him in.
Was I cursed?, he wondered.
He saw the hospital off in the distance, the flickering neon red cross unmistakable. He ran towards it, but the closer he got, the further away it seemed to get, like a mirage in a desert.
He looked up and saw the office of Jack Spall on the tenth floor, the top floor. The light was still on.
Probably working late.
Anton wondered how he had fallen so far.
When he’d first came to Dunwall, he had all the promise of a young doctor. The world was in front of him. He would treat the sick and cure the ill. Then the plague hit. But even that didn’t stop Anton, he would cure that too.
Until it became a commodity for the rich alone, he thought bitterly.
He’d known Jack a long time. Used to be a good man. Never used to care about money, only helping the sick. He hadn’t realized it had changed until recently.
The army of weepers was in full view now, some he remembered, many he didn’t. They ambled towards him, their faces stained with red, like the blood tinged sky that hung over Dunwall.
He backed away slowly.
Wake up, you moron, he thought to himself.
Before he knew it, the weepers were on him, an army of ebon and blood.
I couldn’t save any of them, he thought to himself, as they tore him to pieces.
I can’t even save myself.
From the nothingness that he had become in the dream, he wondered if they were waiting for him…and if they were hungry.
He woke up in a pile of sweat and blankets, on the hard wooden floor next to his bed. He’d had strange dreams before, but this was different, this was particularly odd, and hit particularly close to home.
Sitting himself on the bed again, Anton tried to make sense of the odd dream, when a sudden knock interrupted his thoughts.
Glancing towards the door, he saw a small slip of paper being slid underneath his door. Rising, he walked over and picked up the paper, it had a number and a couple of names on it, and looked like a street address.
He quickly unlatched the door and looked out. As usual, he didn’t see anyone, but that was common for this time of night, what with the imposed curfew and all.
Reaching for his lab coat, he pulled it on over his shoulders, stuffing the paper into one of the pockets. Feeling something cold, he pulled out the golden pocketwatch and opened the case.
The large hand was now on the five, still counting down.
Anton frowned and shoved it back into his pocket.
Slamming the door, he quickly made his way down the hall and out of the building, nearly tripping as he walked down the large stairs in front.
The address was only a few blocks away, thankfully and the streets were empty now because of the curfew.
The City Watch that he passed gave him the usual smirks, and Anton drew his lab coat around himself tighter, as if using it as a shield. It was probably the only thing protecting him from their wrath.
He finally reached the nondescript brick building shown on the address, and knocked on the metal door. A small window in the door slid away and a pair of sharp eyes peered out.
“I need a heart,” said Anton, as casually as if he were ordering sushi.
The window slid closed and for a long moment, nothing happened. Then the sound of several locks being opened and the metal door slowly inched its way open until there was enough space for him to fit inside.
Inside the room, it was dark, save for a few overhead lamps, that casts a small light on only a few sections of the room. There were men seated at various metal tables, talking with other men in business suits. There were also an array of sharp knives and other instruments on each table.
Anton’s mouth suddenly felt dry.
“What-what is this place?” he asked.
“It’s a legitimate business,” said a small man in front of him, who was flanked by two larger men.
“Come now, you’re a doctor, you must know how valuable certain…body parts can be, yes?”
“I just needed a heart, for a patient,” said Anton.
“There is a price for that,” said the small man. He had small, sharp eyes, and a deep burgundy suit, over a black dress shirt.
“I don’t have much money,”
The small man smiled.
“Who said anything about money?” he said, cooly.
Anton glanced around and swallowed a bit.
“I think I’d like to go now,”
The small man moved closer.
“There’s a price for that too,”
The sound of a meat cleaver striking a metal table echoed throughout the room, breaking the silence.
Suddenly the metal door flew open and City Watch agents poured into the building, flamethrowers igniting any nearby armed men in suits, the sound and smell of burnt flesh wafting through the area.
The small man held up his hands.
“Been looking for this organ smuggling ring for ages, you’re not mixed up in any of this stuff, are you Doc?” asked the uniformed man in the lead.
Anton could only shake his head.
He watched as the agents handcuffed the small man and several other businessmen and proceeded to raid the storage area in the back.
“I..I should go,” he said.
Anton squeezed between several of the officers and ran back to his apartment, hurrying inside and slamming the door, once again triple locking it and collapsing on the bed, breathing hard.
Moonlight glistened off the tombstones in the nearby Dunwall Cemetery. Shadows peered out from behind spear like trees, and slid under rocks and over brush. An angry sky held court over the graves now, lit by a cold moon.
Anton found himself here, his hand shaking as he peered at the small clock that had silently influenced his actions for the last day or so. The large hand was like a death knell, its every tick a chime in his own requiem. Now passing the fanciful number three on the clock face, Anton couldn’t stop the shaking, the imminent feelings of dread and discomfort.
Sliding the watch back into his coat pocket, he hefted the shovel at his side. Sometimes they had fresh bodies, newly dead that still had useable organs. This was how they used to restock the hospital supply.
Before the plague, he thought.
Now useable organs were a luxury, but you could still find them every now and again. Of course, the plague victims were much more prevalent now, and those organs were pretty much useless, but maybe if he was lucky, there would be a fresh, untainted corpse around.
A fresh grave would be his best bet, but he knew he would have stiff competition. Grave robbers and body thieves weren’t unheard of after dark, especially with the black market prices for organs being what they were. The price of quality parts had skyrocketed since the plague had wiped out much of the populace.
He fought to steady the shovel at his side, the fear of imminent death the only thing driving him at this point. He wasn’t altogether sure when he had crossed the line from rational thought to paranoid delusion but going back across that line didn’t seem like an option.
He found a grave that looked newly buried, and drove his shovel into the earth. Pulling his coat around himself tighter, he shook again. The wind had picked up and the breeze blew the ashen leaves on the ground, icy fingers chilling him to the bone.
He stomped the shovel in hard and withdrew a pile of dirt, tossing it aside.
I must be quite a sight, he thought, as he continued to dig. As he glanced around, he saw the shadows beckon, as if calling him. Nearly entranced, he almost stopped digging.
The sound of other people digging, not far away, seemed to snap him out of his trance. There were three men, dressed in rather shabby clothes, with threadbare woolen hats and rusty wooden shovels. They were like vultures, picking at the remnants of life, the scraps of decay.
Anton felt an unnatural rage build within him. It started at his feet and moved upward, like a volcano getting ready to burst. He dropped his shovel.
“Hey you!” he shouted. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
The men stopped their digging, clearly not noticing him until now. They turned and slowly started walking towards him.
This may not have been the best idea, he thought.
“You a doctor?” one of them asked.
“Good, cause you’re gonna need one,”
Faster than he could possibly react, he saw the head of the shovel moving towards him, at a speed he couldn’t perceive even if he hadn’t been in his right mind.
He felt the blow to his head and dropped to the ground instantly.
Darkness claimed him once more, and for the second time, the cloak of shadows, that had once been cold and menacing was now like a warm blanket, an embrace of night that he now coveted.
He was back in the dreamscape. In a small house with red streaks on the walls. Anton saw the shadows clawing at the door, from the window. There was a piercing light on the horizon that he knew he had no way to get to. The clawing seemed to grow louder, as the wooden door started to buckle. Splinters of wood began to crack loudly and peel off before falling to the ground.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the watch, watching as it slowly counted down the final seconds of his life. The slow ticking seemed to only speed the destruction of the door by the shadows.
He wanted it to end.
As the shadows burst through the door, he heard someone calling his name, a voice from above.
“Anton?” “Wake up, Anton.”
Anton opened his eyes and found himself in a hospital bed, in a room much like the ones he used to visit patients in.
He also had a searing headache.
He winced and reached up slowly to his head, and felt a bandage.
The only light in the room came from above, a spotlight that was shining on his only visitor, his old friend, Jack Spall.
He had the tired eyes of a man who worked eighteen hour days and had no family to speak of.
“Easy there, you’ve got quite a concussion,” said Jack.
Anton struggled to speak.
“The watch, Jack, in my pocket,”
“You’re lucky the City Watch found you and brought you in, or you might have ended up in one of those graves out there,”
“The watch-“ said Anton, and trailed off.
Jack sighed and walked over to the lab coat hanging on the coat rack near the door. He reached into one of the pockets and pulled out the small golden pocketwatch.
“It’s counting down to my death, Jack,”
Jack walked back over to the bed.
“It’s not counting down to anything, Anton,”
He placed the golden object on the bed.
Anton reached for the watch, opening the case slowly.
He watched the large hand slip past the oversized number one, on its way towards finishing its journey.
“I’m going to stay here until that thing stops, so you can see that there’s nothing to it,” said Jack. He placed his hands on his hips and waited.
Anton glanced down at the watch, waiting for the final seconds to tick off.
Tick, tick, tick.
As the large hand hit the number twelve at the top of the face, the mechanism slowly winded down and came to a stop.
Anton breathed a sigh of relief, feeling tears start to fall.
“You still with me, Anton?” asked Jack.
“Y-yes,” said Anton.
“See, you’re gonna be fine, now let me examine you really quick here,” Jack moved to the light switch and turned it up a bit.
As he turned towards Anton, he went pale.
Anton looked down at the drops of blood that had fallen onto the pocketwatch, from his eyes, turning the cream colored surface a dark red color.
“Jack-I…” Anton trailed off.
“I’m sorry, Anton,” said Jack.
“Wait Jack, please-“
But Jack was already outside, talking with a couple of security guards.
Anton strained to hear what they were saying, but he could only make out a few parts of the conversation.
“…Please make it quick….”
Anton tried to move a little closer.
“…Try not to damage the heart, we can still use it…”
Jack glanced at him through the window of the hospital room for a long moment, and then looked down, as the door opened and the security guards made their way in.
Jack leaned against the wall, with his eyes closed until he heard the door of the hospital room open again. He nodded to the guards, who nodded in return before returning to their posts.
Jack slowly walked back into the room, and made his way to the bedside, reaching down and pulling the white sheet up over Anton’s head.
He started to walk away and glanced back, noticing the pocketwatch laying there beside Anton. He picked it up and wiped some of the blood off. He could have sworn he heard it start up again, even though he didn’t press anything.
How very odd, he thought, before sliding it into his pocket.
Jack Spall was a successful hospital administrator not two days before. When the security guards reached the roof of the hospital, they found Jack Spall on the edge of the roof, his arms outstretched, the wind threatening to blow him off at any moment, his lab coat blowing wildly.
“Easy there, Mr Spall, let’s turn around, nice and slow,” said one of the guards, trying to coax him down.
Jack Spall turned around, his eyes running red down his cheeks, pouring over his glasses and dripping onto his coat.
“He’s infected, boys, take aim…,”
The barrage of gunshots ripped into Jack Spall like a hot knife through butter, and he fell backwards off the roof. The last impression Jack Spall made on the world was a ten story dive onto a cracked section of pavement behind the hospital.
Security Chief Abner turned to go back inside, but something caught his eye. It was an odd shimmer from the corner of the roof, not far from where Jack had fallen. It appeared to be a small golden pocketwatch, covered with blood.
Abner wiped some of the blood off and saw the hands starting to move again.
Hey, still works!, he thought, before glancing around to make sure no one was watching, then slipped it into his pocket.