“So those things,” Cerys brought up once she was less certain that she really could eat an entire horse. “Can you tell me what they were now?”
“Do you want to know what they are,” James replied, “or what they once were?”
Cerys blinked, and stared at him for a long moment, a thousand thoughts rushing through her mind. “Oh no…” she whispered at last. She had read the books, seen the movies, and even played the games. She knew what phrases like that meant. She tried to look to her brother, but he and Bayani were seated on the other side of the baron.
“James,” Himeko said to the young man, who sat between her and her friend, “do you really mean that there is black magic at hand?
“I am afraid so,” he replied, his voice heavy. “Despite all of our warnings, and all of our efforts, they ended up like that… and what was good in them was lost.”
“So what were they?” Cerys asked, the suspense becoming too much for her to remain patient any longer.
Baron Lexavier looked to his son. “Go on, lad. Tell them what has been happening.”
James nodded, and began his explanation with a heavy tone. “There was a… a school of sorts, in a far-off place in the west of our barony. It was a place that one could go to learn magic.”
“What happened?” Cerys ask. “Did one of the professors turn evil and start casting forbidden spells?”
“Not as such,” he sighed. “It started off much more subtle than that. A few of the older students started getting sick. None of the herbs or medicines they were given seemed to work, and healing spells only seemed to make things worse.”
“What sort of sickness was it?” Himeko chimed in.
James shook his head at the thought of it. “At first it was a cough, a stuffy nose, even a fever. It seemed like nothing to speak of… until the weeks went on. What seemed like a cold spread, and the first few to get it were not getting any better. They were pale, unwilling to eat. And then more weeks went on, and they would not even drink anything. They refused even water.”
“James… you can only survive a couple of days without water,” Cerys breathed, worried about what he would say next.
“I know,” he replied. “Our medics knew that, too. Unfortunately, our medicine is not quite as advanced as yours, and intravenous fluids were not an option. I doubt they would have work, either way. The patients began to cough up a terrible black…” He shook his head, unsure what to call it. “What used to be yellow and green phlegm became tinged with blood, and then there was more blood than phlegm, and then the blood turned black. It worsened until all they coughed up was blackness.”
“Did that make it any more contagious?” Himeko wanted to know.
James shrugged. “The illness was spreading fast enough without that muck. What we do know is that soon after the patients coughed up black mucus, they disappeared. The academy was searched high and low, but their was no trace of those first few patients. The next few were just starting to cough up black specks, and the nurses tried to watch them more closely, but within a couple of weeks, they were gone, too.”
Cerys listened wide-eyed as he told the story, afraid of what had happened to those students.
“They kept getting sick. The few who left when it looked like things were getting bad… they turned out okay. There was one boy who was couching on the way home. His parents were terrified that the other villagers would try to keep him out, but they managed to get him to his room. He was the only one who got better.”