Max takes most of the first week and spends it in Triage, helping Alex recover from his wounds. They spend the day talking, and Max does whatever he can to ease the boy's pain. "So, listen. I'm so well trained...here, watch this."
He hands Alex a piece of beef jerky. "I won't do this trick for just anybody. And don't tell anyone I did this trick, besides the dozens of people who can see me right now, okay? Alright. Now...put that beef jerky on my nose. Riiight...there. Good. Now, I will leave this piece of jerky right here until you tell me to get it, and then I'll snatch it without using my hands."
The kid chuckles a little bit, and waits. "Right. Just say when."
Alex just continues to grin at Max. "Alex, any time. Just say 'get it' and I'll scarf it down right now."
Alex begins laughing harder and harder, but says nothing. Max starts tapping his feet. "Kid, you get the trick, right? You're supposed to tell me to get it. What are you waiting for?!"
At this point, the boy is almost hysterical, pointing and laughing. "Right. I get it. I look like a fool sitting here with jerky on my nose."
Alex nods and laughs, his spirits much brighter for the humor. He finally musters an out-of-breath "get it!" at which point Max swiftly moves his snout to one side, then back, biting down on the jerky and impressing any onlookers. "Yeah, that's right. I'll be here all week, folks."
The day passes mostly the same way, with Max telling jokes, funny stories, and playing some rousing games of fetch with the bedridden citizens. Towards the evening, as lights out approaches, Max catches a different scent. Something different than just open wounds and soaked gauze.
A human male in his early 30s begins a hacking cough that, Max notices, belches out this strange arcane smell. Looking closer, a cloud of glittering purple and green dust sprays into the air with each cough. The man then stops breathing entirely. "Doc? Doc! Ben! BEN! Hey! That guy there! He's coughing up something magic. Check him!"
Ben rushes to his side and administers...some kind of medicine Max isn't familiar with, but the man's breathing resumes, and sounds much clearer than it did before. The squid, satisfied that the man was saved nods to Max. "That's Eldon Slayback. He's an engineer and grease monkey. Kept most of the AC's non-magical machines moving, before the Annihilation. That was some catch there. You saved his life. I had him marked as stable and recovering. He will, now."
The man turns his head towards Max. He tries to say something, but the voice doesn't leave his lips. The look in his eyes make reading his lips easy, though. Thank you
he mouths. Max nods and smiles.
Ben walks back towards the other side of the triage area. Max, on a lark, decides to stroll through the beds, checking to see if any others have taken on the same affliction. Sure enough, a woman, burned on one half of her body, begins convulsing silently. Max watches for a moment as the burn wound actually begins to spread, despite being bandaged and actively tended to. "HEY BEN! This woman's burn is opening up! Hurry!"
With the slap, slap
of Ben's multiple feet scampering across the floor, he arrives and begins administering more of his abnormal medicine. "Congratulations. You're hired. You just saved her life too. Liana Markez was in acquisitions at the AC. I don't know how you're finding this stuff, but stick around. These people need you."
Max shrugs. "I don't know. I just follow my nose. Gotta keep my buddy over there entertained. I'm the reason he almost died."
Ben shakes his head. "That would be Viggo, not you. You don't know where that kid would end up if he wasn't running with you. His being in here just saved two lives, because you were here. Relax. It's a dangerous world."
Max pauses a moment, then nods. "I guess you're right. Thanks."
Satisfied with his good deed, Max bids Alex a good night and heads out to visit Nadine and lock her down for the evening. Taking note that the rebuilding efforts seem to be going at an impressive pace under the coordination and magic of the Black Company's dwarf and ogre combo, he decides to keep Nadine buttoned up. He takes his sleeping bag and sets up in a corner of the triage area where he can watch for signs of this arcane after-effect of the Annihilation spell.
Max spends the entirety of the next week in the triage unit, only eating when Alex makes him. He saves several people who take immediate and unexpected turns for the worse, each with a variety of strange symptoms, but all seemingly related to the Annihilation effects. Ben's feet slapping against the floor is a commonplace sound as Max smells the strange illnesses almost before they manifest. Each time, Ben offers thanks and identifies the patient by name. Human, d-bee, none are safe from the sickness, and no pattern seems to emerge.
"That is Arvegil Lindir. An elf magician of more than meager skill. He shouldn't even be in here in the first place, but the Annihilation doesn't seem to understand that elves of his kind are immune to sickness. It almost claimed him, except for you."
"Grug Spinethrasher. Don't know if you've run into many orcs, but this guy is the chief of an orcish tribe. They've been selling their services as mercenaries, mostly for brute force where it was needed. There was plenty of work for them around here." The orc speaks in broken English. "Grug lives to fight. You saved Grug. Grug and tribe remember."
Max paces around almost out-of-body, taking in deep breaths through the nose, trying to catch a hint of the now-familiar scent. He gets another hit and rushes to the side of a dog boy. He calls out for Ben, then stops short.
"Punch me in the face and call me Fido. Rex Gurnhund."
Ben works quickly, addressing the deep hacking cough and sinister-colored mucus spewing into the air. Before too much longer, the schnauzer dog boy's eyes open, and the look of recognition takes hold. He whispers from hoarse lungs. "Maximilian, you flea-bitten son of a bitch. Just my luck you'd be standing over me with a hand in saving my life. Wasn't enough you had to steal Nadine from me. Now you rub it in my face? Why not give me fleas too, whelp?"
Max grits his teeth, and his hackles rise. "Ben, maybe we let the Annihilation take its course with this one? I think he's rabid. Better put him down."
Ben raises whatever serves for an eyebrow, shakes his head, and moves on. "I didn't steal her, you cur. You're insufferable to be around. Also, I'm so, SO good looking. You...you're shaggy."
Rex's voice gives out as he curses back at Max, only managing to push out a hoarse squeak. "Oh, what's that? I couldn't hear you over the sound of your lung collapsing. Shut your face and go to sleep. Or chase a cat into traffic. I don't care which."
Max turns to leave, but Rex grabs him by the arm. "We're working together."
Max wheels around. "We who?"
Rex grins. "You know damn well."
Max shouts at the feeble dog boy. "Where is she?!"
Rex releases Max's arm and lies back into his bed. "Everywhere. She's probably watching you right now. She's high and mighty. Don't know why she would even bother with you anymore. She always did have a soft spot for the runt."
Max growls. "Good to see you, too, Rex. I'll just be over there if you decide to accidentally choke to death on your own ego."
He turns to walk away.
Rex coughs a bit, and manages to force out a last, wheezing sentence, before Max walks away. "She might help."
Max doesn't break stride, continuing his rounds. In the back of his mind, though, the thought of seeing Nadine perked up his spirits. His tail didn't stop wagging for the rest of the day...or even the week.
Max spends his third week running around with Libertas, sniffing the streets around the still-standing portions of Gloom, hoping to find a magic stick that smells even worse than the one Libertas is carrying. I know I'm the king of fetch and all, but this is one stick I wouldn't mind not finding. Lib's stick smells like death and moldy cheese.