390: Productive Discussions

on June 18, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Things Are Viewed Through A Glass, Darkly

As nervous as I was about encroaching in Viktor’s lair while he was there, Ian seemed even more uncertain about the idea.

“Viktor gets along well with humans,” Amaranth assured him on our way over. “And he’ll think well of the fact that you’re coming out to make a stand for Steff’s well-being.”

“Assuming he even lets us talk,” I added.

“Wait, why are we even going if we’re not going to get to say anything?” Ian asked.

“Well, I suggest you be open and direct with him, Ian,” Amaranth said. She looked at me. “And you control yourself until we’ve established why we’re there and he says you can talk to Dee. If she’s way involved, obviously we’re going to stay out of the way, and if I tell you to step outside, you get to stepping. A half-ogre smacking around a half-demon isn’t going to be conducive to Steff’s recovery.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“If he’s really concerned about Steff’s health, you’d think he wouldn’t make things hard for someone coming to help her,” Ian said.

“Well, I don’t expect him to be following strict protocol,” Amaranth said. “But since he considers it his due, at least from my Mack, it seems the respectful thing to do is to show him proper deference and let him establish that it’s not necessary.”

“What do you mean, at least from her?” Ian asked.

“It seems Viktor gets a little homesick if there isn’t anybody he can treat like yesterday’s toilet paper,” I said. “And since I’m responsible for the sins of the world anyway…”

I shrugged.

“Okay… so, masochist and all… but why the hell do you put up with that?” Ian asked.

“I don’t, mostly,” I said. “I avoid him. But when I can’t… well, it’s for Steff.”

“Is she really worth that?”

“Am I?” I asked.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out,” he said.

We bumped into Finbar, the canid resident alchemist and potion dealer of Harlowe, at the door to the fourth floor. Since he was a junior, I took a guess what he’d been doing there.

“Were you helping Steff?” I asked.

“Hey, it’s cool,” he said, throwing up his short-furred hands. “Viktor came and got me. I know better than to sell to her.”

“I didn’t mean… how is she?” I asked.

“Sleeping, I guess,” Finbar said. His eyes were kind of wide. “Also… well, I guess you’ll see.”

“They didn’t need healing potions, did they?” Amaranth asked. “Dee promised me she’d stay…”

“The cave elf? Yeah, she’s there,” Fin said. “They just wanted some foxglove extract and some other stuff I barely even use. I told the big guy he could have it for free, goodwill gesture, since I’m on his shit list anyway… though that’s really not my fault. Anyway, I’m getting out of here for a bit… I don’t want to be around if… well…”

“If what?” I asked, but he took off downstairs and didn’t stop, going down past his floor.

“What do you think?” Ian said quietly.

Feeling a little extra somber, we headed onto the floor. The door to Viktor’s room opened silently as we approached. Amaranth stepped through first into the dim room, and we followed. Only two illusionary candles were lit. Viktor knelt by the bed, where Steff was asleep, though trembling and sweating and… well… a little bit bulgy in places. Three of them, to be specific.

Dee, who must have heard us coming and let us in to avoid any loud knocking, was standing in front of the mirror.

“Shh,” Viktor said, barely sparing us a glance, though his eye caught on me and he whispered to Amaranth, “Remove that one from the floor if you cannot keep her quiet.”

“She’ll behave,” Amaranth said. “What’s happening?”

“After you left, I had a separate conversation with the elf,” Viktor said quietly. “We both came to a mutual agreement that it would be best for her to consult with experts before things took a turn for the worse. She contacted her people at Ceilos, confessed what she had done. They were furious, at her and at the one who gave the potion to her, but once they understood that the recipient was half-human, the recriminations were put on hold. They’ve been suggesting treatments.”

“Wait, you mean Dee agreed…” Amaranth said, surprised.

“Shh,” Viktor said again. He stroked the skin of Steff’s arm with the tips of two of his large, surprisingly long fingers. “We had a good talk after you left. It was… productive.”

Dee stood in front of the mirror, her own hood thrown back. She looked anxious, even physically pained. She was sweating and… well… sort of pale, probably with worry.

Inside the mirror were a pair of hooded figures… Dee’s people, I guessed… and a third one, a green-scaled gorgon with a bandage over her eyes. They weren’t facing the mirror, but were conferring among each other. There was a small flickering light behind them.

“Is something wrong with the mirror?” Amaranth asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“It’s dark,” she said.

“No, there’s a candle or something behind the middle one, the main elf,” I said. “Magic mirrors don’t work in total darkness… even for races that can see without light, there has to be something to reflect.”

“I guess I can kind of see a shape in the middle,” Amaranth said.

The conference ended and the elves turned back to face towards us, though the gorgon remained as she was. The elf in the center of the image came forward.

“We feel that administering anything stronger than a sleep potion… a potion of slowing… would interfere with the transformation potion in ways we could not predict. If it were just a matter of muting the effect of it, we would not hesitate to recommend it, but we can’t be certain,” she said. “So, simply try to keep the half-elf calm. Also, while we’re unfamiliar with the heart remedy your apothecary supplied, the consensus is that it should not matter. Something to moderate the heartbeat is indicated. The surface equivalent should be fine. It might even be better, for a surface dweller. But it would be a good idea to also have something else to restart a heart, should it come to that.”

“I can heal a damaged heart,” Dee said.

“A ruptured heart can be restored to full health but still lie dead in the chest,” the gorgon said. “At least, it has proven to be so in our case. I’m told a mammal’s heart is a little more complicated, but I do not think that an extra chamber or two would make the difference there.”

“You must understand, Delia Daella, that we are as much in the cold here as you are,” the other elf said. “Our halfkind are examined thoroughly before undergoing the change, and even the sickliest elf will not have one sixty-fourth of the hidden lurking defects in the most robust of the fading kind. No offense,” she added to the gorgon.

“Is she talking to me?” the gorgon asked.

“Yes,” the lead elf said. “Please take that ridiculous thing off… your reflection is at least three hundred and twenty miles away.”

“And even if you did stone yourself, it isn’t as though we wouldn’t be able to put you right again immediately,” the other elf said.

“I don’t care,” the gorgon said. “Mirrors are terrible luck. Terrible. I know I’ll give myself a heart attack if I look at it, even if I do keep my membranes down.”

“I thank you for your advice, Alimnae,” Dee said, dipping her head to the middle figure, “which I consider to be quite invaluable, even if it is speculation.”

“You are most welcome, daughter of d’Wyr,” Alimnae said, bowing so low she went out of frame, though she sounded less than deferential when she came back up. “As the immediate crisis has been contained, I will point out that we would not have to speculate if you had not given our potion to a strange race.”

“When I made my oath of investiture, it was impressed upon me that in times of peace, my obligation to heal applied to anyone outside of my house equally, even faint kind or dweorg,” Dee said.

“This is true,” Alimnae said. “And this is why we are helping now. But no such intervention was required before you administered the potion to a person of untried mortal stock. You by your actions have created this situation, Delia Daella.”

“Perhaps my view of the initial situation from here is more clear than yours from Ceilos,” Dee said. “I saw a soul in pain and I acted in order to save a life.”

“Whatever distress this half-breed halfkind felt at being incomplete, I am certain it would have borne a more considered approach,” Alimnae said. “The Imperium will not make war on distant Durakesh over the death of a single citizen, and neither will the faint ones’ censure touch it. It would be our community here at Ceilos that suffered the brunt of the fall-in from such a thing… and that could very well spell the end of our beautiful mixed community of underdwellers living in the very ceiling of the world, our grand experiment in peace and diplomacy.”

“I am sorry, Alimnae, I truly am,” Dee said, with more emphasis and emotion than I’d ever heard her put in one of her apologies. It made me wonder how much she actually meant them. I’d always assumed she was just very controlled and reserved… which she obviously was… but if this was what an actual apology sounded like from her, then I doubted I’d ever heard one before. “I did not intend to administer the potion so hastily. I had been praying and meditating and thinking on the subject…”

“You might have thought to involve someone with a little more useful perspective in your meditations,” Alimnae said. “We have no authority to punish you, Delia Daella d’Wyr, nor would punishment beyond what the circumstances inflict be appropriate in this case. But as you are a daughter of your line and may be considered for a throne, I feel that it is imperative that your house be made aware of your conduct.”

“I… I understand,” Dee said, bowing her head. “Please, do nothing except what you think is fitting.”

“And don’t think she means we’ll be telling your mother,” the other elf said. “Your matriarch will hear of this directly.”

“You have as much of a treatment plan as we’ve been able to come up with, so I am going to leave Ehtra here with the reflection open,” Alimnae said. “In case there is any change. In the meantime… I have a harem full of halvsies who have much to answer for.”

“It was no one’s fault but my own!” Dee insisted.

“Shh!” Viktor said.

“That is very true,” Alimnae said. “I hope you will meditate on that fact in the coming weeks, as you continue to receive regular dispatches from your friends here in Ceilos. I have no authority to punish you, Delia Daella d’Wyr, but what authority I have I wield well.”

Alimnae turned and headed out of frame, taking the gorgon by the arm and leading her away as well. Dee turned around to face us. It was kind of shocking how sickly she looked.

“Well… we have worked out some preventative measures for Steff’s heart, as all are agreed that this is the weak spot,” she said, forcing a smile that looked almost painful. “The exact level of results we can expect are still unknown, but in terms of a negative outcome that seems to be the only real concern.”

“Well, that’s good,” Amaranth said. “If it comes to that… well, I read an interesting science paper about the idea that the heart can be massaged, just like any other muscle, though it’s not really a well-developed technique and there’s the problem of how to apply pressure to it behind the ribcage and skin and stuff, but with your mind… well…”

“It is something to keep in mind, but I fear that would be a desperate gambit for a desperate strait. Excuse me,” Dee said. She turned to the desk with Steff’s bones and her pilfered hand on it. With her left hand, she picked up a bowl of water with a sponge in it, then set it down and picked up just the sponge. She concentrated and the bowl started to lift into the air, but after it wobbled a bit she put it down. “I would be more useful if both of my arms were usable,” she said to Viktor.

“If you heal it before I tell you that you can heal it, I’m keeping it,” he said.

Ian looked at me. I just kind of shrugged. He started moving very quietly towards the door. I caught Amaranth’s eye and then did the same.

“Well, it seems like you have everything under control,” Amaranth said.

“Yes,” Viktor said.

“So we’re just going to go,” she said, following after Ian and me.

“Wait,” Viktor said, and the three of us froze.

“Yes?” Amaranth asked.

“Thank you for your concern,” he said. “We will talk later.”


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5 Responses to “390: Productive Discussions”

  1. pedestrian says:

    a pissed off ogre prince demanding his pound of flesh

    Current score: 3
  2. Anthony says:

    Elf: This is very serious. We’ll tell your Matriarch that you’re unfit to be her successor.
    Dee: Oh, please don’t throw me into that thar briar patch…

    Current score: 9
  3. John says:

    Matriarch: She learned to care about races other than her own at the culturally diverse place we allowed her to study? How unexpected.

    Current score: 3
  4. Tuukka says:

    Seems like cave-elves have a binary counting system 🙂

    Current score: 1
  5. Jechtael says:

    I meant to say in the chapter where Amaranth said healing is just a matter of pouring healing energy into the affected area that that’ll just make a fibrillating heart worse. They’d need to stop the heart, then restart it at the proper tempo. I didn’t even think of the possibility of the heart simply maintaining its still state after an infarction.

    With regards to the Celios agent’s comment about her “harem full of halfies”: I’m quite glad I live in another reality from Celios. Were I a character in the story at that place and time, I’m fairly certain I would have… *ahem* singlehandedly perpetrated a diplomatic incident.

    Current score: 0