Callic said to me, “You know, Daphne, I’d have preferred if you’d have let Xander die.”
The rest of the table at the restaurant part of the Hollowed Log, the inn we were staying at, went quiet. Not because people were chewing their dinner, but because it felt like the temperature in the room had suddenly dropped. I lowered the fork with the fresh greens on it back to the plate, my appetite having suddenly soured and carefully asked, “Why do you say that?”
“Cause he deserves it,” was the quick reply.
“I dunno,” said Dellon who was across from Callic, but seated on my left at the rounded table that could seat four. “I mean, he’s kind of a bastard, but I wouldn’t say he deserved to die, really.”
“Even after he made you walk barefoot that first day,” asked Iyleen, seated across from me and between Callic and Dellon.
“Hey, I messed up, I got caught. Shit happens,” dismissed Dellon offhandedly. “Considering the kind of punishments the army usually hands down for theft, I’d say I got off lucky.”
“Hmmm… Well, he would have been within his right to execute you for it,” said Iyleen, thinking about it hard.
“No, he wouldn’t have been,” stated Callic emphatically, stabbing his index finger for extra punctuation. “He’s not our commanding officer, he’s just the asshole that killed him.”
“Except our CO was an even bigger asshole than Xander, Callic,” replied Dellon. “Or did you forget already? Are you one of those ‘grass is greener on the other side’ people? I never took you for it.”
“I’m a realist, Dellon. And what the hell did that asshole lying in the bed upstairs do for you to make you stick up for him like this?”
“He got me laid,” said Dellon with a smarmy smile. Okay, the conversation was tense before, but now it was getting down right uncomfortable. Both Iyleen and Callic took the bait on that line and, startled, asked when the heck that had happened. “Last Fourthday, in that village we stayed the night in.”
“The short brunette you had been chatting up?” asked Callic.
“Hey,” interjected Iyleen.
“Not that I was looking,” self-corrected Callic.
“Yup, that was the one. She was a sweet girl; she really loved my uniform. Would have loved to stay for a few days.” Dellon seemed lost in his memories. Is it just me, or does that face he’s making make me feel like avoiding him.
“So, how did Xander supposedly help you get lucky, Dellon,” asked Iyleen. “Did he buy you a bottle of wine or something?”
“No,” said Dellon in a way that was somehow offhand and matter of fact at the same time. “He got me out of that hole in the ground.”
“I don’t follow,” said Callic as he crossed his arms and leaned back.
“If Xander hadn’t taken over, we’d all still be stuck in that hole in the ground base, with no chance of seeing the sun but every third day for patrol. And no time off, or watering holes to find any lovely ladies at. If Xander had never shown up, I’d still be on my dry spell.”
“And how long had it been,” sneered Callic with the face of a man with an intimate girlfriend as he flicked some warm eyes at Iyleen. I wondered if he still thought their relationship was a secret.
“Eight months,” said Dellon, as though he knew the exact day of his last rendezvous. “Not since before we were assigned to… our last assignment.”
That moment of hesitation was probably caused by one of Xander’s orders, not to discuss the base we’d been at in any way that could identify it. Xander claimed it might have just been his paranoia at work, but he was determined to air on the safe side.
Callic burst out with a derisive chuckle and said, “What, the ladies in our unit all shot you down? Too bad, ya horn dog.”
“Actually, I don’t even remember seeing you try and make a pass at any of the other girls,” said Iyleen. And come to think of it…
“I’m pretty sure you’ve been nothing but a gentleman with me,” I said, feeling a shade of indignation. Somehow it kinda felt like I was intentionally overlooked by a guy who’d shown himself as being ready to jump for anything with two legs and a pulse.
“Heh, don’t look down on me too much,” Dellon said. So we can look down on you a little…? “I just followed the only sage advice my brother ever gave me. That being, ‘don’t shit where you eat.’ Having any kind of romance with anyone in the same unit is just asking for trouble. Don’t you think, seargent?”
Wow, that was a pointed remark! Callic could only growl at it, but the table was starting to get a little more… dangerous. I should try and calm it down.
“But still,” I said, my voice wavered a bit as I deliberately changed the subject, “Don’t you think it’s a little much to say that I should have let Xander die? I’m a Healer after all, that’s kind of my job.”
“Hmm? Yeah, I suppose I can’t fault you for that, Daphne. But still, I wish he was dead. If I could, I’d kill him myself.”
“Are you an idiot?”
In reply to Callic’s statement, a voice rose from behind me on my right side. I turned to look and it was Specialist Gina Reese who’d turned around in her seat at the nearby table to react to what she seemingly couldn’t help but overhear.
“You calling me an idiot?”
“I’m calling an idiot an idiot,” quipped back Gina as she moved to straddle the back of her chair to face our table. “Are you trying to get us all killed? You remember what Mercedes said, if Xander dies, we go with him.”
“No, I didn’t forget what an enslaved mad alchemist said, Gina. How am I supposed to believe a word the crazy bitch says when she could have been ordered to say all of it by the guy who enslaved her in the first place? All we know for sure is that we have to follow his orders and we can’t hurt the guy ourselves, cause Goddess knows, I’ve tried.”
“When?” I asked Callic.
“What, I’m supposed to keep count?”
“That’s terrible,” I responded.
“That’s natural,” stated Callic flatly. “Or did you forget what he did to all of us in the cafeteria?”
“Well, I am still angry about that,” said Iyleen sullenly. Dellon gave something of a grunt of approval.
“So, what? Xander beat the crap outta you and you’ve all got a stick up your asses about it? Basic training was a lot worse, cause at least Xander stopped beating on you when you gave up,” said Gina, with a derisive leer.
“What, you on his side,” asked Callic, his hackles starting to rise. “You taken a liking to that bastard? Is that why you helped him out at the gates today?”
Gina gave a one syllable laugh of mockery, “HA!” and said, “I helped him out at the gate today to avoid us getting into a fight. But I guess, yeah, I have taken a liking to the guy. As far as I can tell, he’s probably the best CO I’ve ever had.”
In an argumentative voice, Iyleen stated, “He’s not a CO. He’s not even military.”
“Which is probably why he’s the best Commanding Officer I’ve had to date,” said Gina, with her index finger lifted as if jabbing the point home. “No one’s ever taught him to treat his soldiers like a disposable resource, to use us for whatever mission or national need or greater purpose he needs to fill. And unlike a lot of the noble blooded officers, I don’t get any feeling that he’s got some personal ambition he wants to satisfy.”
“You’re full of crap, Gina,” remarked Callic automatically. But what Gina was saying was interesting to me, so I asked, “Why do you say that?”
“Because just about everything Xander’s done has been about ‘us,’ instead of ‘him.’ Think about it,” said Gina as she moved her upturned finger to point downward and moved it as though she were drawing an outline on a non-existent table. “First thing he did was to do what he called ‘recruiting.’ He could have killed all of us, or even some of us, but he didn’t kill even a one of us. He even let you heal us all up, Daphne. Then he laid out the Sul to buy the wagons and stuff we needed for all of us to travel well supplied. And when we got to the gate,” Gina broke off for a moment to stifle a chortle, and started back up with a broad grin on her face. “He actually shouted at the guards until he got all of us though, when he could have just abandoned us and walked through alone without having to give any kind of explanation.”
The table was silent for some moments, then Callic said, not to be done out of his own argument, “He’s still a bastard, though.”
“But he’s an interesting bastard,” said Gina, her smile conquering her features. “Who would think to sneak past a guard post like that?”
“Daphne,” said a voice from behind me in an undertone. I turned to look and saw it was Private Zent Kow. He was fairly short, but had muscles that stood out because of his build. “You said to call for you if the… if he woke.”
I stood up in a hurry, asked for pardons for my departure, and went upstairs immediately. I think I heard Zent say something like, “We need to come up with a title for that guy,” on my way out of the restaurant. I found Mercedes sitting in a chair in the hall, staring at some of the blood soaked soil she’d gathered from the site inside a glass vial. I fought hard against the revulsion I felt at that moment and went to the door to Xander’s room.
I carefully opened the door and stepped inside in a way to cause the least amount of noise possible. It’s impossible to judge the effects of the concussion, or perhaps concussions, that Xander was suffering from without some tests and observation. I didn’t want to agitate his mind any more than necessary. When I closed the door behind me, I looked to Aase who had been sitting in the only chair of the room since we’d finished cleaning Xander of blood and dirt, and laid him in the bed. As far as I knew, she hadn’t left the room.
I’d been entering and exiting the room every time I’d saved up enough magic in my reservoir to perform treatment, and Xander’s ribcage was no longer in danger of puncturing a lung, but everything else about him was still savaged. Bruises everywhere, especially his face. Weakened bones on the verge of breaking again. Internal injuries to just about all of his organs. If he tried to stand up under his own power at this point, the strain alone may lead to his death. Even with my constant treatment, it would be days, or even a week, until he fully recovered. It would be a lot easier if my gloves hadn’t broken, but that was my own fault for forgetting about Xander’s condition where quartz was concerned.
Aase stood up from her chair next to the head of Xander’s bed and said, “Like you said, I told Xander he shouldn’t talk, that it could ruin his jaw, but I think he wants to say something to you.”
Aase moved away to the wall, her left arm crossed under her bosom while her right knuckle came up to her teeth. I sat down in the vacated seat and leaned in to Xander’s face, completely ruined but for the nose and whispered, “What is it? What do you want to tell me?”
Xander didn’t move his jaw. He barely moved his lips and tongue. He whispered something so faintly, so weakly, that I had to pull in as close as possible to make it out. The miniscule amount of air that passed his lips tickled my cheek. After pulling in that close, I was finally able to hear the two words he spoke, but they made no sense. Confused and concerned, I pulled back until I was sitting properly in the chair again.
“What is it,” asked Aase worriedly. “What did he say?”
“I think he said, ‘Oil Can.’”
Aase’s face went blank from astonishment for a moment before she cracked and started laughing nearly to the point that I would be concerned about hysterics. Wait a second, was that…?
I turned back to Xander, and saw a small, but unmistakable smile on his lips and amusement in his drug addled eyes.
“Oh, you’re horrible,” I said, unable to conceal my annoyance at Xander having pranked us like that. “If you’re just going to play around with me, I’ll go finish my meal.” I said that, but I wasn’t going to leave. Anyway, the others at the table had probably eaten what was left on my plate anyway. I still can’t quite get used to low born table manners.
Mmmm. Aase’s still laughing. Was it really that funny?
Xander might have tried to shake his head a little, there was a kind of back and forth tremble, and he made a kind of “nnn – nnn” sound. Probably saying “no.” And mumbled something else. I pulled in close again, and after a few repetitions, I made out the word, “Hand.” Pulling back out, I saw Xander slowly opening and closing the fingers of his right hand above the covers.
“Oh,” I said. Xander probably wanted some company; he was probably feeling extremely vulnerable after what had happened to him. I can’t possibly stay angry like this. It’s a little embarrassing that he’d call for me instead of Aase… but I can’t possibly refuse such a request from my patient.
I gently took Xander’s hand in my own. I could feel the heat of his body as his fingers slowly closed over the back of my hand. Then I felt Xander’s magic gush into my body. I involuntarily jumped in my seat from the wholly unexpected situation. How could Xander move so much of his magic while he was crippled like this!?
Flustered, I looked back up to Xander’s face, into his eyes. They were slightly unfocused from the pain killers, but they were steady, aware, and full of determination. Xander nodded ever so slightly at me. Oh, dear Goddess, he wanted me to heal him? He wanted to have me heal him using his own magic? I was tempted to think it was impossible, but with this much of a flow… what couldn’t I do with it?
I closed my eyes, and abandoned myself to the magic. I felt the flow of Xander’s power as it entered my body, entered the deepest part of me and filled my reservoir. I took hold of that power, and I rechanneled it out and returned it to Xander, it’s properties altered by my own Healing magic. With so much magic at my disposal, I wove my Scanning and Healing magics together, and I started my work.
I first became aware of Xander’s hand which held my own. The temperature of his fingers. The muscles closed around my hand. The blood vessels that pulsed with his heartbeat. I knew their form and felt their damage. And even as I felt that damage, my Healing magic swept into the flaws to knit the bone and reform the tissue. My awareness moved up and into Xander’s arm, where there were stress fractures all along it’s length. I re-solidified the bones such that the damages had never occurred. The bruises that covered his arm disappeared as I repaired the broken vessels and vaporized the trapped blood at the same time. I’d never dreamed I’d be able to perform such a complex interweaving of magic before in my life!
My awareness moved onwards; like water spreading in a tray I was slowly coming to feel and understand the whole of Xander’s body. I felt Xander’s shoulders, broad for how slim the rest of his body was. I felt every one of Xander’s ribs, and mended every one to them, one at a time, before my awareness took in Xander’s heart. I felt every beat of it as though his chest was pressed against my cheek, and Xander’s hand around my own felt like it was gripping mine more strongly, more assuredly, as I moved on to heal the internal bruising and organ damage.
For some reason, even as I moved on to heal the rest of Xander’s torso and limbs, I was still painfully aware of the even beating of his heart.
Then I came to Xander’s head and face. The damage there was severe, and the spread of my Scanning magic slowed as I took it all in. It felt like I was slowly caressing the contours of Xander’s face and I touched every surface, carefully healing the massive bruising that was present. My senses moved upwards from the reformed cheeks and mended jaw, up to Xander’s eyes. I gasped involuntarily as I saw the accumulated magical strength in them; or maybe it was because it felt like, despite having my eyes closed and seeing only through my magic, Xander’s eyes were looking deeply into my own. I involuntarily bowed my head a little to break that eye contact, but I still felt them there, gazing into me as I finished going over Xander’s entire body, learning the shape of every corner of it and healing it’s damages.
As I confirmed that there were absolutely no remaining damages to Xander’s body, I slowly, reluctantly, broke my skin contact with him. As the feeling of Xander’s magic entering my body subsided, I opened my eyes to look on Xander again.
…Somehow, my face felt a little hot. Must be from the excessive magic used for the treatment?
I slowly flexed in place to confirm the condition of my body, and worked my jaw a little as an experiment. I cleared my throat and asked, “How is it, Daphne? Am I recovered?”
“Uh-yes. Completely recovered.”
Hmmm. Something felt off. Was there.. Something seemed off about… Daphne’s face? Or is it mine? “Daphne… it’s hard to think. What’s that?”
“Oh, I gave you some pain killers before. But now that you’re no longer in pain, they’re just dulling your senses. They should wear off by morning.”
“Too long…” I complained. What filters blood? Aww, screw it.
With something like a sneer on my face, I channeled some magic towards the purpose of Physical Reinforcement. As I did, I could slowly feel the haze leaving my mind and my body started to feel lighter as a result. As the side effects of the medicine left my awareness entirely, I sat up in bed and planted my feet on the hardwood floor. “Ahhh, much better,” I remarked. I hated having my thinking processes compromised.
Hmm? “Daphne, are you doing that thing Mercy does? Where your jaw is hanging open for no reason? Did I do something impossible again?”
“Uhhh… yeah. Twice over I think…?”
Huh. Maybe I should start claiming that my drill will be the one to pierce the heavens with how often I break the unbreakable and achieve the impossible. But you know, “It’s kind of annoying to be told everything I’m doing is impossible. Maybe the people of this world just stopped trying new things with magic?”
Daphne started nodding as she said, “Yeah, sure. Let’s go with that. Is your body really okay? How’d you do that anyway?”
Daphne placed her hand on my shoulder as she was asking. Huh, her face is kinda red. Is it a byproduct of all the magic we ended up using? Did Daphne’s thumb just stroke the muscle there? I think I may be completely misunderstanding the atmosphere here. Time for a tactical retreat before I make a mistake reading the mood and embarrass myself. “Uh, Daphne, could I have a few minutes? I need to use the facilities.”
I really did need to, whatever that medicine was, it certainly went somewhere when I filtered it by concentrating my Physical Reinforcement on my liver and kidneys. I wonder if I’d be able to process poisons and toxins as well…? Let’s never experiment with that.
“Oh, right! I’ll go and, uh, give everyone the good news. Bye!”
Okay, Daphne’s departure was a little more awkward than I was expecting it to be. What the heck happened while I was on the borders of life and death? Well, let’s finish chasing everyone out and get to the toilet. Hmm. When did I get dressed in a new undershirt and my purple sweat pants?
I looked up at Aase’s voice, or more precisely the tone of her voice, as Daphne closed the door behind her upon exiting the room.
“Please tell me exactly what happened to you.”
In that moment, Aase’s eyes looked just like amethysts. A vibrant purple that captivates the eyes, aglow with an inner light, and hard as rock. There would be no brushing off of the subject or making light of it. I motioned for Aase to sit. She remained standing. Finally I sighed and gave Aase a complete recounting of what happened. I’m not sure why, but part way through, I got the bitter taste of adrenaline in my mouth and my words became harder, more intense. By the time I’d finished, I realized I needed to unclench my hands from their balled up fists and released a rattling sigh through my nose.
“How are you,” asked Aase, her tone and features showing tenderness over the serious expression.
“I dunno,” I said. “It wasn’t the first time I’ve been knocked out cold. I caught someone’s high kick wrong while sparring as a kid. But that blackout was fast, I wasn’t even woozy afterwards. This feels… different. It feels wrong.”
“Even after you’ve fully recovered?”
“Then what are you going to do about it?”
The cold edge in Aase’s voice snapped my head that I’d bowed while doing my deep thinking back up, and my eyes locked on hers again. Aase’s eyes were still amethysts, but now they seemed sharp enough to draw blood. To take a life. For a moment, I felt worthless in those eyes that were looking down on me as I sat on the bed. For a moment. Then Aase’s inner fire ignited my own. My bent back straightened and I put power into my legs to stand tall once again. Back on my feet, cold fury in my breast, no longer able to be looked down upon, I said, “You’re going to tell me everything that happened after I was knocked out, and then I’m going to hunt the people responsible for this, and destroy them.”
What I said could have been considered empty promises, but they weren’t. They could have been taken as a bit of machismo to deceive myself by, but they weren’t. Not in this world. If I was still back on Earth, I’d have reported the matter to the police and concentrated on putting my life back together; because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re suppose to follow the law and let the police handle criminals, because they’re the only ones allowed to do so. I might not know much about this world comparatively speaking, but it’s pretty obvious that in this world might makes right. Laws be damned, and violence be thy master.
These three guys burned me. So I was gonna roast them alive in return.
Aase slowly nodded, and then said. “Alright. Let’s do that. But first…”
Aase’s features trembled and broke. She covered her mouth under her nose with both her hands balled into each other as a fat tear began rolling down her cheek. “Thank God. Oh, thank God.”
Machismo be damned! My gentleman instincts kicked in and I instantly put my hands gently on Aase’s shoulders.
“I was so afraid,” her tiny, strained voice squeezed out before her emotions came rolling out in her words. “When I saw you, I thought you were dead. I took my eyes off you for a moment and you died…”
More tears chased after the first as I wrapped my arms around Aase to comfort her, and she wrapped hers around me, gripping with an emotional desperation.
“I was so afraid, Xander. I didn’t know if you’d wake up. I didn’t know if you’d die. You’re the only person I can trust here, the only person who cares if I’m alright. And your face! You had a seizure! I was so afraid!”
I tried stroking Aase’s back, and whispering little shushing noises intermingled with various derivations of “I’m okay.”
“You’re not okay,” Aase shouted into my chest. “You almost died! They almost killed you! I want them dead instead! I hate them for what they did to you! What they almost did to you! When you were telling me, it hurt so much. You looked beaten… You looked afraid… You can’t be afraid Xander… please don’t be afraid…”
“Why…?” I tentatively asked Aase.
“Because if you’re afraid of this world… how can I not be…?”
“…I’m not afraid, Aase. I’m angry,” I said gently, but forcefully. “These guys, what they did, I will repay tenfold. You may not believe me, but I am an extremely revengeful person, Aase. So I won’t be satisfied until I’ve repaid them for every ounce of pain they’ve put the both of us through. Them, and anyone else who tries to hurt us. So you don’t have to worry so much, because everything will be okay. Trust me. I’m a guy who keeps his promises.”
Aase sniffled loudly, and put one last burst of strength into her arms… her well muscled arms, ouch… and muttered, “Okay.”
We remained like that, silently, for a little while before I decided to try something. “Hey, Aase. How about I tell you about something silly to very obviously try and improve your mood?”
Aase gave a chuckle that was heavily dampened by her soggy emotional state, and said, “Sure.”
“Well, you see,” I started recounting the tale, “While I was unconscious, I had this really weird dream. It took place in someplace called Non-Continuity, and some guy named Chaz would appear out of nowhere…”
I am now collecting questions for the second Q & A Special, and will continue accepting questions until I write it.