The snow began to fall as the dark hooded figure approached the church. Distant artillery illuminated its skeletal frame clutching the midnight sky. It was winter, 1916, though the years scarcely held any meaning for him. He merely jotted them down in his journal, marking the course of the course of the Pestilence in human affairs. Europe again was in the throws of violent fever, the continent's collective immune system attempting to purge the disease through warfare. This, in fact, was only half of the cure they so desperately needed. The rest was too great a task for humans' frail bodies.
Shielded from the wind, the figure shook the snow from his long black robes, the flakes falling like ash on the rubble. Warm breath curled from the nostrils in his raven-like mask. The cold itself could not harm him, though it did little for his spirits. The trenches had provided innumerable test subjects, gassed and felled with bullets, blown to bits with artillery. He had learned much but accomplished little. His was a task which required lifetimes to accomplish, and still he was no closer than when he began.
The rubble crunched and shifted under his long strides as he made his way towards the altar, or what remained of it, broken and burned beyond recognition. Incredibly, the crucifix behind it still remained. He ran his hand over the old wood, across the Christ's face and down to his nailed feet. His was the cure he tried in vain to replicate. To live, one must be born again.
The rubble shifted to his left. He glanced a human figure propped against the wall beside him, clutching a small crucifix of his own. The being seemed to startle at the bird-like face, before crawling forward.
"Bitte, bitte Herr Arzt."
His legs were as motionless as sacks of flour. A severed spine, abdominal wound. Severe blood loss likely.
The hooded figure knelt down beside him, aware for the first time of the tiredness in his own legs, speaking to the man in a soft tone. "Sei nicht ängstlich. Ich bin die Heilung."
He touched the soldier's forehead and caught his dead weight as he crumpled to the ground. His pulse slowed then stilled. Phase one of treatment was complete.
He produced his medical bags from within his robes, and spread the surgical implements on a cloth beside him. He had operated in such darkness before. He knew internal anatomy by feel alone if need be. Centuries of practice had made his hands steady. He removed sections of damaged entrails and sutured them together. He patiently worked with the spine and convinced it to heal. The most interesting feature of all, however, was the Pestilence, or rather the near lack of it. The telltale signs were still there, but subtle. The reasons why were a mystery.
He injected the cure's last component, a secret only he knew, which he had developed from long hours of study, and touched the man's forehead again. The man's eyes fluttered open and stared at the hooded figure. He took a single breath, steam rising from his nostrils.
"Danke sehr," he said.
He was the first patient to speak.
The man rose, and grabbed his rifle, using it like a cane as he walked out the sanctuary door.
The robed figure sighed. He had healed the man's body, but not cured the Pestilence. But perhaps it was a start in the right direction. He looked back at the crucifix, a silent question forming in his mind. If the Christ answered, did not understand him.