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Day 37

Lanternon2 Dec 6th, 2015 1,145 Never
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  1. Day 37
  2.  
  3. “Mister Victor?”
  4.  
  5. I'd correct her that it's not my last name, but I've long since stopped caring to do so.  I smile at the young woman in the blue robes.  She recognizes me just as quickly.  “Right this way.”
  6. I follow her slowly down the multi-hued pastel corridor to a room marked only as “4,” wherein there rests only a table, a sheet-covered bed, and a pair of chairs between them.  “Please, have a seat,” she says.  I choose to take the chair.  She doesn't seem to mind.
  7.  
  8. “How's your leg,” she asks benignly as she herself takes the seat opposite to me.  
  9. “Uncomfortable.”  She smiles at that, with the pained, commiserating smile that some people do well, and others simply do.  I wonder if I'd think she'd have done it well if I wasn't so damn tired of dealing with monsters that just seeing a human woman didn't provide some measure of comfort.
  10. “Well, let's see if we can't fix that.”  She looks over the clipboard that she's placed on the counter as she asks “Have you been staying off your feet?”
  11. “Relatively speaking, yes.”  She gives me a look, but quickly returns to her sheet and writes something down.
  12. “Have you ever had an adverse reaction to magics of the healing school?”
  13. “Never been the target of one, so no.”  She writes something else.
  14. “Have you or any of your loved ones ever been cursed, or been present at an incident where cursing took place?”
  15. “Not to my knowledge.”
  16.  
  17. She spends another minute jotting something down on her sheet, before turning back to me.  She quickly rattles off a practiced spiel, “All right, mister Victor, I want you to relax.  You may wish to close your eyes, but you don't have to.”  She rolls her chair closer and places a hand on my knee and adds “You're going to feel a pressure, but it won't hurt.”
  18. I smile at the implications that it won't hurt, and that I need to worry about it hurting, both.  She exhales, and her hand begins to glow as a jolt of warmth moves down from my kneecap to my ankle, and – painlessly, somehow – I feel the flesh beneath my skin moving.  It's like ants crawling along my bones for barely a second, and then it fades, and the warmth fades with it.
  19.  
  20. “All right,” she declares cherpily.  “All done.”
  21. I give her a slightly incredulous look before slowly, gingerly moving my ankle.  It feels surprisingly painless, as it did before.  I lift myself to my feet, smiling in delight as my leg works as it's supposed to.  “Excellent.  Well then, what do I owe you?”
  22. She waves a hand dismissively.  “It's all been taken care of, mister Victor.  You're free to go.”
  23. I smile and I thank the woman.  Paladins – we've always got each others' backs.  No, rather, we're always looking out for others.  
  24.  
  25. It's our nature.
  26.  
  27. ---
  28.  
  29. I hit the little green button and hold the thing up to my ear.  “Autocrat?”
  30. “Heya Victor,” he says in the same tone as always, “what say you to visiting the FERAL center today?”
  31. I slow in my walk.  “Sir?”
  32. “Oh, right, how's the foot?”
  33. “It's fine, sir.  Am I needed at the center?”
  34. There's a moment's pause.  “Well, 'needed' is a strong word.  I want you to go visit something there; it's been bugging me for a while now.”
  35. “A monster, sir?”
  36. “Yeah.  The misper case you dealt with.  Apparently it wants to see you.”
  37.  
  38. The witch that the baphomet created, the one that I saved, wants to see me.  For a brief moment there's only the nauseating discomfort of knowing that I'm responsible for it, both in that I couldn't save the girl she was and that I saved the thing that she became.  Then, there's confusion; why would it want to see me?  “Why?”
  39. “Don't know, Victor.  Just make sure you're leg's fine and then go have a chat.  You need to go easy on yourself the first day anyway, don't you?”
  40. “Yes sir.”  I wait to hear that he's hung up before I do the same.  And then I turn and I walk toward the northern gate, waiting for some sense of understanding to come to me.
  41.  
  42. The gate comes first.
  43.  
  44. ---
  45.  
  46. I notice the break in the trees before I notice the building beyond.  Perhaps it was because I was outside the walls that I was warier of the forest than of anything manmade, or perhaps it's because the building is such an unobjectionable and sterile thing.  The three story structure, when one's close enough to get a good look at it, is little more than a particularly large, white cylinder with reflective windows.  A handful of armored cars rest outside the front entrance, and I can see the mounts next to them where concealed arms are ready to make themselves apparent should the magitech sights detect demonic energy.  For me, however, the doors open, and I walk inside.
  47.  
  48. The foyer is polished stone, leading forward to a single, semicircular desk and pair of doors where a prim woman in her mid-thirties types away.  The ceiling catches my eye; embossed stone shows the image of a man striding forward toward the viewer, his hands holding the egg of some tainted creature.  Inscribed in Old Imperial beneath the image, a strip of cloth reads “Erimus Meliorare.”  It is the code and motto by which these people live by; the desire to make monsters something better than they are.  It is a bafflingly naïve point of view.
  49.  
  50. “Victor,” the woman calls out as I approach.  
  51. “Yes.”
  52. She gestures to the door to my right.  “Head down that way and take your first right.  Doctor Stevens will be giving you your tour.”
  53. I nod, and walk, uncertain of whether or not I should know this person.  The doors open to a hallway of glass.  Glass windows to the left side reveal a verdant jungle, and to the right show only darkness with uncertain shapes moving within.  I walk, certain of my safety and yet ill at ease.
  54.  
  55. The glass on my right finally opens up to an office of sorts, or else a doctor's office.  Clinical white sheets cover a half-dozen beds along the side, while desks bedecked with charts and medical equipment dominate the other half.  Light streams in from the window and casts a shadow over the features of the one man present as he strides forward.  “Paladin Victor, he calls, smiling as he approaches.  Easily fifty years old, he appears still somehow youthful.  His gait is slow, yet somehow springy and comfortable and his smile as a pleasant and charming one.  His white coat reaches all the way to his black boots.
  56. “Doctor,” I respond and reach forward as his hand springs out to meet mine.
  57. “I didn't think we'd ever get a response.  Our visitor, I think, had started to feel the same way.”  I don't bother refuting him.  “Come, let's take a tour.”
  58. “I trust you know, doctor; I didn't actually come for the tour.”
  59. “I know.”  He smiles the same smile again, and begins to walk.
  60.  
  61. I turn to follow, and stop.  A small, winged thing with a child-like form stares openly at me, golden eyes wide.  A trio of red tufts sit atop its head.  I stare back at it.  In a flash it turns and bolts into the artificial jungle behind it.  I turn as I hear the laughter of the older man.  “Sarah's quite the bashful one; I'm surprised you saw her at all.  I guess it's your looks.”
  62. I give the window a glare, “You name them?”
  63. “I don't see why we wouldn't,” he scoffs.  “They might settle on their own names someday, but until then we try not to think of them as any less than ourselves.”  He begins to walk down the slowly turning hallway, and I follow, shaking my head while he doesn't watch.
  64.  
  65. “So tell me, Victor, what do you know about what we do here?”
  66. “You keep the monsters that can't be integrated into society.  At least, a handful of them.  As well as the ones that override free will, with few exceptions.”
  67. He chuckles again, but this time it seems forced.  “That's all true, to an extent.  Of course, we aren't a prison.  We like to think of ourselves as teachers.”
  68. “How do you teach something that doesn't learn?”
  69. He turns and beams at me, “I find that talking almost always works.”
  70.  
  71. I examine the windows of the right side wall which open into a room that seems, remarkably, to've been crafted entirely out of ceramics.  A trio of slimes are all staring back at me as what looks like bubbles in carbonated water slowly fizz out of them.  They look miserable.  I state as much.
  72. “They're just sad that there's another man that they can't meet.”
  73. “So,” I begin.  “Do you think you can teach them to give a proper greeting someday?  To introduce themselves?”
  74. He stops, and I stop with him.  “Would you like to find out,” he asks as he looks me in the eye.  “With that collar – shield, rather – you could go and see how successful my efforts have been.”
  75. “I'd rather not spoil my lunch.”
  76. He laughs as he walks toward one of the window panes and taps on part of it, revealing a small blue console.  “That Bubble Slimes all reek is just a myth.  Feed them well with, say, food starch and fruits, and you end up with a rather floral scent.”  With a few more taps, the pane slides open and he takes a step to the side.  “So then, care to say hello?”
  77.  
  78. I look at him, and then at the slimes all staring, unmoving at the open door.  I step inside, to a potent scent somewhere between that of lilac tea and the spice of vanilla.  Slowly, I move toward the things that I can now hear bubbling slightly.  I smile to them.  “Hello, creatures.”
  79. The one closest stares at me, first at my face and then at my neck.  For a moment it does nothing.  Then it opens the imitation of a mouth and lets out a quiet, mournful cry.  More a whimper than anything else.
  80. I turn back to the doctor, who seems to share in the thing's unhappiness.  “Well, I think it has a way to go.”
  81. He takes a deep breath and releases it.  “Yes, I suppose I do.”
  82. I step back out of the room as he continues to watch the things.  “They've gotten to about a fifth grade level in Aenglish; I imagine it was just stressful seeing you..”  It makes the whimpering sound again, though is muffled by the glass as we walk away.
  83.  
  84. “So tell me honestly, doctor, have you had any successes as of yet?  With the truly feral ones, I mean.”
  85. He continues to walk for a moment before answering.  “Very well, Victor, but first I'd like you to tell me something.  How many generations did it take before wolves became dogs?”
  86. “A fair point, doctor.  You'll just forgive me if I doubt that anything as pernicious as a monster can ever be domesticated.”
  87. “Then what of that one Ushi-Oni?”
  88. “People see what they want to see.”
  89. He turns and looks at me again, smiles, and continues on his way.
  90.  
  91. “We do more than house and try to, as you say, 'domesticate.'  We can handle treatment of mamono better than most healers or hospitals.  Injuries are uncommon, of course, but accidents happen.”
  92. I look through the glass as the area beyond quickly turns forested.  “Do monsters donate blood often,” I ask, before I'm struck with another question.  “And can you give it from one type to another?”
  93. “Sometimes, and sometimes.  We stopped asking them for blood; it's not of much help to us.”  He pauses for a moment, “Well, that's not entirely true.  Mermaids can donate blood to anyone.  Mostly though we use human blood.”
  94. “You can give that to monsters?”
  95. “Yep.”
  96. A horrible question slowly surfaces in my mind.  “Can humans be given monster blood?”
  97. He laughs quickly and easily.  “Technically, yes, but the mana does strange things to people.  If you purify it with magic, though, then it actually becomes far more harmful.  Ordinary humans overdose on the oxytocin, you see.”
  98.  
  99. “There are also the cases of those suffering from hypothaumia, who end up mistaken for feral mamono.  Treatment can take quite some time for them.”
  100. “Hypothaumia?”
  101. “Starvation, I guess you'd call it.  What occurs when a mamono is severely deprived of spirit energy, at least for those primary thaumavores who need it for survival.”  The man all but shudders.  "Uph, terrible thing.  Most of the time the male staff try to avoid being around during treatment."
  102.  
  103. "Hunger frenzy," I guess.
  104.  
  105. He grimaces.  "Nothing like that.  No, it's just that they get so desperate.  I've seen a girl shout promises at a doctor who happened to walk by for five minutes after he went to another floor.  No, they're just hungry."
  106.  
  107. We walk by another room similar to the one I found him in.  It is, for the most part, empty.  One figure seems to sleep on one of the beds, but I can't make out its features properly.  "For most of them, hunger is all that it is.  The effects are really quite similar to starvation.  For others they only need spirit energy for certain things, like flying or magic, and lacking it only makes them feel deeply uncomfortable.  Sometimes we get teens who will only need it during development, but they won't grow properly without it."
  108.  
  109. "The absolute worst, though, are the ones connected to the Dreaming."  He pauses for a moment before continuing more quietly.  "It's called Fading.  A tower mage explained it to us in a seminar in the college.  Take succubi, they exist as much in the Dreaming as much as they do in the real world.  If they don't get enough energy to keep this up, though, they stop being in either and simply fade out of the world.  It's not just their bodies, either; Photographs and records disappear, too.  Even their friends and families forget that they ever existed, like forgetting what happened in a dream.”
  110.  
  111. Well, that's unpleasant.  I try to move him away from this disturbing and pitiful thought.  "This is assuming that they aren't finding enough men to feed them."
  112. "That's," he gives a short, bitter laugh.  "It's getting more and more common, though.  I don't pretend to understand the planar sciences – that's the work of mages and healers – but I wish they didn't need quite so much energy to live.  It makes their lives rather difficult.”  A couple men walk past, giving me a look and the doctor a smile and nod.  I could swear I saw a pair of eyes appear in the darkened window next to me and follow them.
  113.  
  114. I cough as we continue.  “So then, where is your 'guest?'  It's probably best that I get this over with.”
  115. “She's further inside.  Can't let her get found out, after all.”
  116. “Ah.”  I follow him in silence just a bit further.  “So you've slowly walked me past all of your sob stories; where do you keep the criminals you capture?”
  117. “Upstairs, when we must.  It puts more wards between them and any exits.  The ones without families end up outside the walls.  The ones who do stay with us for a while.”  He stops as we near the first solid wall I've seen since we started walking.  “I can take you there, if you feel the need to reaffirm your beliefs.”  
  118. “That won't be necessary, doctor.”
  119. “Suit yourself.”  The door gives a pleasant bing as the lights above it indicate that the elevator is heading our way, and so we wait.  “So tell me, why did you choose to meet with the girl you saved?”
  120. “I was ordered to.”
  121. “Ah.”
  122.  
  123. The door opens and we both step in.  I turn, to see a pile of fluff staring at me from the far window.  Wings the width of a man flare out from its shoulders, and cotton-like fluff covers almost its entire body, spared only where it would give someone a glimpse of its womanly form.  It presses itself up against the window as its wings flutter and it gives me a look that-
  124. The doors close with another binging tone.  
  125.  
  126. They open again a moment later.  “The girl you're looking for is in room two-twelve.  You'll want to take a left here.  I trust you won't have any trouble finding your way back.”
  127. I watch him leave as I step out into the busier hallway.  A half-dozen men and women are gathered around a central desk, discussing something.  He joins it effortlessly, and almost all of them turn to hear his opinion.  I smile, knowing that they decided to greet me with someone of import.  Deluded though he may be.
  128.  
  129. Well, I think to myself as I move, maybe not as much.  Humanity has tamed the world, and in a few years we may yet tame the stars.  Who knows if we might even manage to turn monsters to our benefit.  I recall the mantis I spoke with on a train, some time ago.  
  130.  
  131. I stop before the door, and lacking anything better to do, I knock.  “Come in,” the voice inside calls.  I'd rather not, but at the same time I do.  The door opens to the bizarre mixture of an ordinary woman's bedroom and a hospital room.  Were it not for the instruments and the sterility of the surroundings, I'd assume I'd walked into someone's house.  Sitting on the edge of the bed is the witch.  It wears normal clothes, the same any human girl her age might; were it not for the violet eyes or that her hair had turned an almost golden blonde I wouldn't know that it wasn't the same as the woman I'd been searching for almost a full month ago.
  132.  
  133. We stare at each other for long enough to make it awkward.  Only after I start to genuinely consider just turning back around and leaving does it pipe up.  “I wanted to thank you.”
  134. “Don't.”
  135. “But you saved-”
  136. “Don't.”  I feel sick just looking at it.  I didn't save it; I didn't save anyone.  It's one of those things now.  Another life lost to their corruption.  It stares up at me, grateful, as though I wasn't simply part of the reason why it's human life is over.
  137.  
  138. “I didn't think you'd come.”  Its voice, at least, is still normal.  It has the same alto quality of the young girl it once was.
  139. “I didn't want to.”
  140. It laughs at this, without bitterness.  “I wouldn't have wanted to see me like this, either, before.”  It looks down at itself, and its hands.  “I didn't think I'd feel the same after.  Better, actually – It's like I'd always been sick and I didn't notice it.  I've felt so, so,” it trails off as it looks around the room, “so much better.  Like all the little, unhealthy things have all been gotten rid of.  And I can feel this buzzing from people, things.”  It stares beyond me for a moment.  “Your sword, and the shield around your neck.  It's like I can feel them from all the way over here.”
  141. It's a witch now; it must be able to sense magic.
  142.  
  143. “I thought I'd be this completely different person afterward, and yet,” she trails off.  “I still like all of my old stuff, and I don't want to do anything that I didn't before.”  She pauses, staring at me with a concerned expression.  “Mister Victor?”
  144.  
  145. “Victor?”
  146.  
  147. ---
  148.  
  149. “Victor?”
  150.  
  151. I turn and look at him.  The man is huge, and covered in armor – like dad's armor.  “Victor Armitage,” he says.  I nod at him.  That's my name.  He looks surprised.  He looks sad.
  152.  
  153. It takes him a minute to say anything.  He shakes his head.  He gets on a knee, but I still look up to see his face.  “Victor, my name's Pietr.  I'm a friend.  I was your father's friend.”  I stare at him.  I'm not sure what to do now.  
  154.  
  155. “Do you know where he is,” I ask.  “And momma?”  He swallows.  He looks sad.
  156. “They left, Victor.”
  157. No they didn't.  I tell him that.  They wouldn't do that.  They wouldn't go anywhere without me.
  158. “I'm sorry, Victor.”  He's speaking slowly, now.  “They aren't themselves anymore.  They changed, and they left.”  I shake my head again to inform him that he's wrong.
  159.  
  160. “They abandoned you here.”
  161.  
  162. ---
  163.  
  164. I turn before I have to see the abomination as it is.  I leave the thing as it calls out questions to me.  I visited it; that's all the autocrat asked me to do.  I follow the hallway, take the elevator, and march down the hall of windows.  I ignore the zombie that walks into the window, trying to reach me.  I ignore the moan from one of the dark rooms.  I head out of the reception hall and into the woods, ignoring the shape that might have been a centaur – or nightmare in the woods as I head back to Min.  I ignore every damned monster between me and my home.  It's been too long since I've done my exercises.  I have to keep myself focused and ready.  Strong.
  165.  
  166. Pure.
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