169: Cold Comforts

on March 3, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Mackenzie Is Forced Into Bed

I woke up cold and in an unfamiliar bed. I realized where I was when I realized what I was wearing: one of those stupid Robes of Covering Nothing.

Damn! It seemed like Two had not listened when I told her I didn’t need to go to the healing center… though after I thought about it a bit and realized I’d passed out in the dorm room, I decided that probably wasn’t a bad thing.

Had I missed any of my afternoon classes? There didn’t seem to be a time piece in the room, but I guessed I must have been out for at least a little while or else Two probably would still have been there. She’d left Hand Wash the bear on the bedside table.

It seemed like I’d had other visitors, too. There was a stack of comics on the table, along with an ornate bowl covered loosely with waxed paper. I had no idea what it was, so I left it alone for the time being. My book bag was on the floor and my weapon belt hung on a peg on the wall. My logic text was out, with the day’s homework problems on a sheet of paper.

I checked underneath the bed covers and saw that somebody had cleaned me up. That was mortifying. Still being all bloody would have been worse, but only just.

I sat up and reached for the stack of comics to see what Ian—it had to be Ian—had left for me. In doing so, I inadvertently knocked a little bell off the corner of the table. It fell noiselessly to the floor. I reached down to pick it up.

“And she awakens,” a man said from the doorway of the little room. I looked up and saw Roger, the widow-peaked Arkhanite who’d treated me for an injured foot.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Quarter of ten,” he said. “At night. Do you have any idea what day it is?”

I stared at him.

“Why, how long have I been out?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Only about eight hours,” he said. “I’m just making sure you know what day it is.”

“Wednesday, Astera 29th,” I said.

“It’s Wednesday, Astera 30th,” he said. “You have permanent, incurable brain damage.”

“Funny,” I said. I had always been lousy with dates.

“If you’re hungry, one of your friends left you food,” he said, pointing to the bowl. “She said it would be fine cool, but I could stick it in the warmer for a bit.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Magic box… makes food hot,” Roger said.

I scowled at him, but he did an impressive job of not noticing so I reached over and, laying the waxed paper aside, picked up the bowl.

It was some kind of pink rice, dotted with little toasted seeds and some red beans. It didn’t really look like the most appetizing thing in the world, but even at room temperature it had an appealing, savory aroma. It clearly hadn’t come from the cafeteria or the corner store, which meant it had to be a Two special. I smiled.

“Do you have a fork?” I asked.

Roger nodded and disappeared. He came back with a fork a moment later.

“You’re going to have to learn to be more careful with how you throw your energy around,” he said. “I think you’d better lay off the magic for a while.”

“That’s a bit of a problem,” I said. “All my labs are tomorrow.”

“Less of a problem than you think,” he said. “You’re confined for twenty-four hours.”

“Confined?”

“To bed,” he clarified. “This one, in fact. Lynette’s kicking herself fairly hard for having discharged you yesterday. She had a subtle artist and a diviner go over you just to make sure we weren’t missing anything, and now she wants you under observation, in case there are further complications and to make sure you’re resting properly.”

“Tough for her,” I said. “I’ve got classes to go to.”

“Tough for you,” Roger said. “That’s not happening.”

“You’re seriously going to keep me here for a whole day?”

“Not me personally. I’ve got things to do,” he said.

“What am I supposed to do all day, then?”

“Rest,” Roger said. “Sleep. We’ve healed the damage but you need time to recover, physically and mystically.”

“I’ve been asleep for eight hours,” I said.

“You’ve been passed out for eight hours,” he corrected. “We were going to try to stop you from waking up until morning, but our subtle artist said it wouldn’t be safe for him to nudge your mind and a sleeping potion wouldn’t have been advisable under the circumstances.”

“What circumstances?” I asked.

“The circumstances where you almost burnt yourself out completely and bled to death,” Roger said.

“You’re exaggerating,” I said.

“I’m not.”

“It takes serious willpower to cut into your reserves like that,” I said. “It’s not something you can just do by accident.”

“Maybe not me, but you can during menstruation,” Roger said. “Everything’s closer to the surface, more open.”

“But I didn’t do any…” I started to say, then stopped and thought.

I’d invoked the earth aspect of air twice to make it solid, and then actually pulled earth out of air. The results hadn’t been spectacular, but as elemental invocations went even a little dirt out of thin air was still pretty hardcore stuff.

“I’m surprised that nobody gave you the lecture when you hit puberty, knowing you had magical talent,” Roger said.

“My grandmother handled all that, and she didn’t really approve,” I said.

“Of sorcery or menstruating?”

“Either,” I said. “Both.”

“She teach you about comparative religions, too?”

I blushed and looked down.

“You guys can’t really make me stay here tomorrow, can you?”

“We can make you stay until we’re sure you’re better,” he said. “And please note that complaints are both a cause and symptom of serious relapse.”

“Can I at least use a mirror to talk to my friends?” I asked.

“I’ll go get you one, but there’s no visitors after eight,” he said.

“You just made that up,” I said.

He shook his head.

“If you’d woken up a few hours earlier, you could have talked to your friends in person,” he said. “I almost had to call the guards to get them out of here.”

“How often do you even have overnight guests, that you’ve got rules for that?” I asked.

“A couple times a semester,” he said. “Mostly for lasting effects. We can get injuries in and out the door pretty quickly, but some kinds of paralysis are harder to undo, and sleep can be tricky if we don’t know what exactly is causing it.”

“So, in other words, mostly people who aren’t even aware of their surroundings,” I said glumly. “Lucky them.”

“Paralysis victims are aware,” he said. “They just can’t move. Lucky you. At least you get to read your com… excuse me, your ‘sequential art’.” He did the air quotes. I guessed Ian must have corrected him when he left them here. “Anyway, now that you’re awake, I can give you a sleeping potion if you want.”

“Maybe after I’ve made a few reflections,” I said.

He nodded and left the room. I took a tentative bite of the rice… it was so weird looking, all sticky and red-tinged. It tasted good, though. Surprisingly sweet, even. That much fit with Two. She was the sort of person who’d add sugar to rice and beans, if she could think up a reason to justify it. I imagined Hazel had helped her with that, if nothing else… though the dish as a whole didn’t seem like either of their styles.

A vegetarian delicacy… maybe Amaranth had suggested it? She did eat a lot of rice.

That was probably it. A group effort, as it were. The thought made me smile.

Roger returned with a hand mirror.

“Could I get another blanket in here?” I asked. “Or two?”

“Do you want a mint on your pillow, too?”

“Give me a break,” I said. “It’s fucking freezing in here.”

“It’s room temperature.”

“It’s a room and it has a temperature,” I said. “That temperature just happens to be fucking freezing.”

“The treatment rooms are enchanted to keep a constant temperature,” he said. “But I can get you some more blankets. And your roommate brought over some pajamas, if you don’t want to sleep in the robe. They’re in the cupboard.”

I nodded. It would be nice to get into my own clothes. Hell, it would be nice to get into any clothes.

He left, and I gave the mirror Ian’s name and location. He came through almost immediately.

“Hey!” he said. He was shirtless. Did he just sit around his dorm half-naked all the time? It was a nice thought.

Or maybe he was all naked. I couldn’t see him from the waist down, after all.

I wondered for a moment if Roger had lied to me about how long I’d been out… Ian looked as if he’d been up for days.

“Hey.”

“They said you might not wake up tonight.”

“I did,” I said. “Thanks for the graphic novels.”

“Yeah, when they said they were going to keep you for a day or two…”

“Or two?” I asked.

Ian jumped. I must have said that louder than I thought.

“That’s what they said,” he said.

“Roger said one day,” I said. “I hope that means they’ve made up their minds. I’m not spending the rest of my week lying on my back.”

Ian choked on a snicker and blushed. I blushed harder.

“I think maybe they were just being vague,” Ian said. “They wouldn’t really tell us anything specific. It kind of pissed me off that they’re so privacy-conscious all of a sudden, after what happened when you… when I burned my hand.”

“Well, at least they’re following the rules now,” I said.

“Um… Steff said you can contact her and Amaranth on Viktor’s mirror,” he said.

“I should probably do that,” I said. “Let them know that I’m alright.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll come by. Well… goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

He reached up to wave me away, then stopped. He leaned up on the top of the dresser, put his face up to the mirror, and pressed his lips to it, causing the image to ripple. It was the sweetest, stupidest thing, and I blushed like a madwoman while he quickly cleared the image.

As soon as he was gone, it hit me that he could kiss my image in a mirror but he couldn’t kiss me, in person? I felt a stab of anger mingled with pain. I tried to push it away. He clearly cared about me. Maybe he would have kissed me, if he had been here in front of me.

I had to bring up the campus directory… I didn’t know Viktor’s room number and asking for “Viktor the Half-Ogre” seemed a little tacky, even if it probably would have worked. I was surprised to see he had a last name: Constantinescu. His father’s?

Amaranth answered.

“Hello?” she said before the image had even fully formed. Her voice was watery, warbly. “Hello… is that you, baby?”

“Hi,” I said. “It’s me.”

“Oh, thank the Mother!” she said. Her cheeks and eyes were wet, and she looked a little tired, though still as breathtakingly beautiful as always. Viktor’s mirror was apparently oval-shaped, because the corners of the image were rounded off. The image was shaky, and her thumbs were visible where she held the frame. “They said you might not wake up… for a while, you know, but they wouldn’t tell me anything more and I was worried…”

“It was just a little blood loss,” I said.

“People die from blood loss,” she said. “Do you understand that, Mack? You could have died!”

“Talk to Sooni about that,” I said. “You told me to defend myself.”

“Believe me, I will talk to Sooni,” she said. “But what were you thinking, throwing around magic like that?”

“I was thinking I didn’t want Sooni to pummel me with her fancy spells,” I said.

Amaranth sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t there, and I don’t honestly know what you could have done differently. I just… I didn’t think… I…”

She was on the verge of breaking down completely. I wanted to figure out some way to tell her that I was okay, that she was okay, that things were and would continue to be okay.

“I love you.” It would have to do.

She blinked.

“I love you, too,” she said. “Steff and Two are here. Two’s… well, she couldn’t stop crying. Steff and her were laying on the bed together, but she’s in the box now.”

“Steff?”

“Two,” Amaranth said. “Don’t look like that, baby,” she said, before I was even aware I looked like anything. “She’d cried herself hoarse and was exhausting herself. I didn’t want to tell her just to stop, but Steff then asked her if she’d like to be put away for a while. I’ll go let her out and tell her you’re awake, if you’d like to talk to Steff for a while.”

“Sure,” I said. “Oh, and thanks for the rice, if you had anything to do with it.”

“Rice?” Amaranth asked.

“Never mind, must have been Two,” I said.

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “Here’s Steff.”

She turned, turning the mirror around as she did so to give me a view of the room. Steff was sitting on the bed, curled up with her skull in her arms like a macabre teddy bear. She was a mess, with make-up tracks running down from her eyes. Her hair was all matted down on one side.

“Hey,” I said as she took the mirror from Amaranth.

“Don’t scare me like that,” she said. “I couldn’t stand it if you… left.”

“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” I said. “I wasn’t that far gone.”

“Honey, you were,” Steff said. “Oh, I could just kill that vixen bitch!”

“Easy,” I said. “She didn’t actually do… well, much. I just got a little carried away fighting her off.”

“Next time, stab her and call it self-defense.”

“I don’t think that would go well for me,” I said.

“It would if you practiced more often!”

“That’s not quite what I meant,” I said. “Where’s Viktor?”

“Downstairs,” Steff said. “Waiting for the pizza guy.”

“You guys ordered pizza?”

Steff nodded.

“I’m not hungry,” she said. She smiled faintly. “But Two said we have to eat, so we got a large meat prestige and a small veggie with no cheese.”

“Do you think we could order pizza sometime?” I asked. It was a stupid little thing, but I’d never had pizza with friends. I felt a twinge of loss for my “friendship” with Puddy, who’d once offered a girl’s night with pizza. Social acceptability in a cardboard box.

“Sure,” Steff said.

“Here’s Two!” Amaranth said from off-frame.

“You want to talk to the pseudowench?” Steff asked.

I nodded.

“Love you, Steff,” I said.

A fat tear rolled out of the corner of her eye and then she handed the mirror over to Amaranth, who passed it to Two.

“Hi, Mack,” she said. She sounded groggy.

“Hi,” I said. “You look like you just woke up.”

She nodded.

“You went to sleep standing up?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s how I used to sleep some times when my master left me out. You should have listened to me.”

“What?”

“When I told you to go to the healers,” Two said. “I told Amaranth to spank you and she said she will.”

“Two, it wouldn’t have made any difference,” I said. “I would have passed out, anyway.”

“It could have made a difference,” Two said. “You need to take care of yourself.”

“I’m trying,” I said. “Thanks for the rice… and the teddy bear.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. Her eyes flitted to the side. “What rice?”

“You didn’t leave me some kind of red rice stuff?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Huh,” I said. “Did Hazel come visit me?”

“Yes,” Two said. “She came with me when they took you over there.”

“And she didn’t bring a bowl of rice over?”

“No.”

“Weird,” I said. “Two, do you mind if I talk to Amaranth some more?”

“No,” she said. She smiled. “Oh, and I brought some pajamas over for you.”

The mirror started to move when a thought hit me.

“Some of my pajamas or…”

“Hey there, baby,” Amaranth said, giving me a genuine Amaranth smile. She’d wiped the tears away, leaving no sign that she’d cried at all. She looked like she’d managed a four hour nap in the few minutes I’d been talking to the others. I guess it was sinking in for her that I was awake and I was okay.

That realization made it sink in for me how worried everybody had actually been. Call me slow on the uptake. Just how close had I really been to dying? It was dizzying to think about.

“Hey,” I said, giving her the best smile I could manage.

“Two’s right, you know,” Amaranth said. “You should have listened to her. She may be the sma… well, she’s very smart.” She sniffed. “I want you to obey her if she tells you to go the healer in the future.”

“Okay,” I said.

“That’s an order,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You should get some rest,” she said.

“I’ve been asleep f…”

She held the mirror at arm’s length and looked down over her glasses. I’d never seen her looking sterner or more resolute.

I swallowed.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Tell everybody I say goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Mack!” Two called.

“Goodnight, baby,” Amaranth said.

“Goodnight.”

The image cleared and I put the mirror down on the table and picked up the rice again. It really was good. There were sesame seeds or something mixed in, and it had some kind of seasoning I couldn’t identify. It wasn’t too strong, whatever it was.

I started paging through Ian’s comics. He had eclectic tastes. Some of it was the sort of brooding, emo, indie shit you’d expect from somebody who turns their nose up at Sci-Force and Mecknights, but some of it was decent fantasy and magic fiction. There was also some of that oh-so-trendy imported eastern junk with the backwards panels that everybody but me seemed to love. I was glad Sooni wasn’t there to see me handling it… it would have been one more thing for her to “bond” with me over.

The door opened.

“Sorry,” Roger said, backing into the room with a stack of blankets. “Group of fighters came in and I needed to cure poison.”

“It’s okay… thanks,” I said, taking the stack and handing him the mirror back.

“You’re welcome. Did you let your grandmother know you were okay, or would you rather I did that?” he asked.

“Why would I want either?” I asked, wondering where the hell this was coming from.

“So she doesn’t stay up all night worrying.”

“How would she know I was hurt in the first place?”

“We contacted her,” Roger said.

“Why the hell would you do that?”

“That’s generally what we do with an emergency contact, in cases of emergency.”

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11 Responses to “169: Cold Comforts”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Next time TWO, bop your little succubus over the noggin and drag her to the medical center.

    Current score: 1
  2. Psi-Ko says:

    Hey! That’s uncalled for, Mack may be a sex demon bu-
    Oh… Carry on…

    Current score: 4
  3. Anthony says:

    It seems Mackenzie is still as clue-challenged as ever. Between the Logic class stuff, the silly mangas and the fact that it fits the “script” perfectly, it should be obvious that she had another visitor… from a culture where they eat a lot of rice.

    Current score: 3
    • Anon says:

      Seriously, you do battle, all your friends come out for support on both sides, and then you’re interrupted and forced to band together against a far greater and more terrible foe? There’s no chance in manga troper hell that you aren’t the best of friends now, and as such it is her duty to visit you in the hospital while you recover from the self-inflicted wounds from foolishly resisting her.

      Of course since Sooni is obviously the heroine, that makes you the Lancer. Especially with the whole dark past/corrupted blood thing.

      Current score: 3
      • zeel says:

        Yeah, it certainly isn’t subtle. However Mackenzie isn’t an anime/manga fan, so it’s not too surprising she hasn’t figured it out.

        Except for the logic homework. That’s a dead givaway.

        Current score: 0
  4. Hoopla says:

    I have been rooting for the Mackooni relationship since they first saw each other, and it looks like my prayers are steadily being answered!

    Current score: 0
  5. Daniel says:

    Pedestrian, I’m sure she would have, but Mackenzie didn’t give her a chance. She went unconscious before Two could properly head-bop her.

    Current score: 0
  6. capybroa says:

    Constantinescu. Viktor’s dad was Romanian? No wonder he was able to handle a full ogre for a wife, he probably had to live around all sorts of Translyvanian terrors back home.

    Also, grandmother incoming. Holy shit.

    Current score: 0
  7. Anon says:

    Hey, Mack, you know what would have been a perfect opportunity to apologize for your previous actions toward dear old Roger? Any of the dozen setups he gave you here.

    Current score: 3
  8. Jechtael says:

    Yes! Roger should get an apology!
    Even if he’s a dick in general and not just sensitive because Mackenzie disrespected his religion, I’m starting to like him. “It’s a magic box that warms things up, but that’s not important right now.” (My first thought about the rice was wondering why Two would make Japanese sweet-vinegar rice, before assuming Roger brought it over and lied about it. Sooni or Kai would make way more sense, even if it contains beans.)

    Speaking of Sooni, how does she NOT know that she’s a villain? Not necessarily THE villain, but how many heroes have a running gag about an imperfectly attractive aspect of their body (especially in the post-Sailor Moon/Cardcaptor Sakura era), and how many villains obsess over being prettier than the female lead and violently insist that THEY are the GOOD GUY?

    Current score: 3
    • Kalamorda says:

      The dish is Sekihan, and is made at times of celebration such as weddings or birthdays……or a girls first menstruation.

      Current score: 2