Chapter 14: Hospital
After a year of fighting, pushing back the city-state’s expansion, freeing the subjugated human tribes and kingdoms, we were finally here at the outskirts of the city. Below us we could see the great harbour, with the many rings of the city set within in, around a central island. Their blockly buildings of white, black and red stone, decorated with orichalcum and other precious metals sparkled in the rising sun.
So great had this threat to the mortal humans been, that almost all the rival divine clans and their servants had come together as a single army in this cause. From Olympia, Ægyptus, Scythea, Assyria, Libya, Indii, Celtæ, Assuwa and even far off lands like the Dreaming and Turtle islands they had come. Allfathers, King of Kings and Creators had all set aside titles and disputes over aspects of dominion, to for a time work together.
I couldn’t describe how this felt. How much pride we felt. Never before had we come together like this. Together we had fought a war on many fronts to end their so called crusade of enlightenment. It was also a tragedy, never before had a people been so blessed by us or received as many gifts, only to declare themselves above us and their mortal kin.
A great tremor passed beneath our feet. They had been occuring ever more regularly since we drove them back to their home island. Whatever the city was preparing had disturbed the great magma chamber below the island.
Their spell work was vast and mighty, but it was not that what we feared. No matter what great weapons they turned against us we would win. No, what we feared was what such a spell would cause unintentionally.
Two great ravens flew over the tent where our leaders discussed their plans, the Alliance of Divine Clan’s High Council wanted to mount the final assault as soon as possible, before the city could destroy the island with their reckless magics.
Another tremor rocked the Alliance’s army, this time great cracks began to form allowing sulphurous gases to escape. It was too late.
Looking down at the city I could see a great gathering of aether, spun into a vast network of lines, as their great spell weaving reached its zenith.
The great spell exploded outwards encompassing the city in a flash of light. The city and the rock below it was gone. In the spell’s wake, a ravenous vortex of void and the shattered remnants of aether, tore at reality. So they had decided to flee...
The spells shockwaves tore into the island, shattering the already weakened rock that had once held the pressurised mass of magma below in check.
The vortex continued to grow and was beginning to assert its pull on the army and started grabbing the gathered immortals and swallowing them into its void. Terror gripped my heart, as I felt myself lifted up into the air and pulled towards the vortex’s maw.
Isolated plumes of lava was exploding free of the earth and molten rocks were being launched into the air by the escaping gases. Lightning speared down from clouds of ash to meet it.
As I passed the vortex’s threshold the island below exploded and my heart stopped. Already tumultuous sea was rushing in to wear land once and turning to steam where it met molten rock.
A storm of aether and void swirled around me as I travelled through the vortex’s bowels, one wrong move and I could find myself in the space between reality. Unprotected as I was this journey should have shredded my mind had I been a mortal. Even so I momentarily blacked out and when I opened my eyes, I found myself on my back beneath a green sky.
All was lost.
For the second time in a week I woke up thrashing, tangled in my own sheets. This nightmare was infinitely more detailed and real than any I’d had previously. It had been like I was living some sort of historical fantasy film, but as far as I knew I’d never set foot in New Zealand.
Whatever had happened with the portal last night had obviously turned my imagination against me. She just had to touch it… With that deadly curiosity, Kalia acted more like a cat than a fox and I just hoped she had the lives to survive it.
Untangling myself, I pried free a few of my spikes that had become caught on the Tinker patented hero-grade sheets. I’d have to thank Tinker when I saw them next, it was nice being able to dress and sleep without shredding fabric.
It was time to see what surprises ‘Al’ had for me.
Showered and dressed, I arrived in the dining room to find ‘Al’ not in his Unbowed uniform, but a tailored business suit.
I stood there stunned for a few long moments, a nearby grandfather clock audibly ticking in the background. It was the same man in the photograph I’d found, the same face under Unbowed’s mask, it was ‘Al’s face, it seemed both alien and familiar above that suit.
He wasn’t a young man by most measures going by the faint lines across his brow and around his eyes or the sprinkling of salt grey hairs, but his face was more than handsome and it was clear that under the tailored suit his body was trim and still at its peak. He looked at ease in it and with that complete image I swore I had seen him somewhere before.
It was like the familiarity of an uncle you’d only meet once when you were younger or an actor from a tv show that finished airing decades ago. Every bone in my body told me I should know who he was. I have to be honest, even prior to the Emergence I’ve had bigger things to worry about than knowing the identities of Penrith’s rich and famous.
A polite cough snapped me out of my staring and my cheeks began to burn as I blushed out of embarrassment.
“What? Did you think that costume was my only outfit? I shape up quite nicely don’t I? Very fetching don’t you think?” he asked with a twinkle of amusement in his eye, as he twisted around to pose and provide me with a better look.
“Umm… ah yes. You…” I stammered and trailed off, my brain refusing to help get me out of this.
“By your gobsmacked reaction I am going to say that’s a yes. ...I’m doing it again, you need an explanation. As much as I’ve enjoyed having the pitter-patter of teenage feet around the house, I’ve spent too long away from my civilian responsibilities. Normally things can run themselves in my absence, with just the odd text message or email to smooth things over, but things have come up that require my personal attention,” he explained in a roundabout manner that left me with more questions about who he actually was.
“So we’re not visiting, whoever you wanted Kalia and I to see today?” I replied frowning slightly.
“Oh right. Yes. While I won’t be joining you, I have arranged for Miss Gingers to pick up Kalia and yourself. There is someone who you’ll want to see and will want to see you. They are currently in a very private clinic recovering from an emergency surgery following a life threatening injury. Up till now they have mostly been in and out of medical sedation as they recovered.”
I swear he enjoyed keeping me in the dark, even when he was telling me something he managed to neatly wrap it in more mystery like a rhetorical christmas present.
“And you’re not telling me who they are, why?” I asked with as much sass as I could muster.
“It’s a surprise!” he said, with accompanying jazz hands. Kill me now… There is a nice dark nook behind the generators where the lights don’t reach, I can probably go hide there if he embaresses me further.
* * *
Growing up I had always thought dorky dads were just a character archetype in tv and movies. Are all dads like this? It’s kinda nice, but I would die from the embarrassment if anyone knew I felt that way. I’ll deny everything, if you try to tell anyone! Thankfully he showed mercy and it wasn’t long until I’d finished breakfast and Nel had picked me up.
Seeing ‘Al’ all dressed up, Nel couldn’t help but tease and wolf whistle.
“Looking good Al. Looks like you are going to do a day of almost honest work. I’m glad you’ve decided to show the kid you can be a positive role model. I don’t think she’s had few enough,” she said, glancing my way with a trace of pity.
I hated those looks. Growing up I’d thought people would be moved by their pity and help, maybe even adopt me, or later on report the Anderson’s to the CPA. I had those looks from teachers, other kid’s parents, even strangers. No, the looks of pity always ended up being a false sympathy, before they turned their back and went on with their lives.
Nel must have noticed my reaction to her pity, because she smoothed her expression into a smile, “But hey, makes it all the more impressive that you’ve turned out to be someone worth knowing eh?”
I appreciated the effort, but I’m hardly worth the attention of people like her and Al. I mean sure I survived everything thrown my way, but I’m a screw up. I couldn’t keep my head down long enough to get out of the Anderson’s on my own, I didn’t make a single night Emerged before I wound up in prison and I managed to get Ms Clark murdered and Kelly into a worse place.
Of course I couldn’t say that to ‘Al’ or Nel that would just get me more looks of pity so I flashed her a grateful smile.
* * *
The first stop Nel made was in an alley behind Sherwood mall, near the loading docks. It wasn’t often I’d been able come here growing up, but I’d made a few trips after school with ephemeral friends. Most of the time though, Sherwood mall was outside my budget. The Anderson’s were hardly the sort to give an allowance and the money I made working part time went to essentials and my nest egg.
The alley looked empty until a flash of orange barely poking up above a grey dumpster caught my gaze. The orange twitched and I realised it was the fluffy tips of two orange furred ears.
Having heard our arrival, a familiar fox girl stepped forward from where she had been leaning on the wall beside the dumpsters. Dusting off her black cardigan, she then straightening her skull and rose patterned skater dress, I had to think she wasn’t dressed for the late winter weather.
Bouncing forward uncharacteristically, I reached out to grab her hand and drag her over. She might be an adult, but like it was hard to see it given her looks and the almost childlike excitement she greeted everything with. I guess it was infectious?
“Hey there Robin. Uh, I guess my hugs were just that good huh?” Kalia asked with a genuine smile.
“What! No… I just, I- I thought we should get to our destination before you get too cold,” I replied controlling my tone. No I wasn’t excited to see her, I swear.
“Damn, I thought my hug was pretty good,” she said, her ears wilting. Panick! Stumbling towards her I tried to think of what to say, before I saw her eyes dancing with mirth that betrayed her intent. Note to self, foxes are not to be trusted.
“Gosh you kids, can you leave the adorable antics for when we are somewhere warmer?” Nel said only half jokingly as she rubbed her arms shivering.
“Ah yes! Nel, lets go!” I exclaimed seizing on the change of subject. Between Nel and Kalia I was liable to get seriously teased.
“Aye aye, capn’,” Kalia chirped. She was just as bad as Nel.
Ripping a tear in reality, Nel revealed a window into the dark cramped confines of a janitor’s closet.
“After you two and mind your step, it could be slippery,” she instructed, before turning to Kalia and I.
“And no funny business this time!” she added sternly. She really didn’t need to, the last time was warning enough for a lifetime. Kalia probably agreed with the way she was warily eyeing the rift as she gingerly stepped through into the waiting broom closet.
Quickly following through after her, I found myself standing too close behind her and holding back a sneeze as a white tipped tail tickled my nose, while we made room for Nel to come through.
“Really? You could open the door and let us out. Are you both waiting for the rifter to open it for you? You can open your own doors,” Nel grumbled, pressed against one of the closet’s shelves as she let the rift close.
“Oh! Sorry!” Kalia apologised, opening the door in front of her and causing us all to spill out into the sterile hallway of a hospital. An upmarket hospital I had to admit by the painted walls and art.
Clambering back to her feet, Nel turned to herself with a finger held before her mouth.
“Be vewy, vewy quiet. Weh’re hunting foxes,” Nel said in an exaggerated parody of a well known cartoon and motioned for us to follow her.
The fox hunt led us down the hall into a private room on the left. Having only ever seen the emergency rooms and crowded wards of Penrith General, this was some five star opulence. The room we had stepped into had more in common with a fancy hotel room, than a hospital room had any right to be. The only reason you could tell it was one, was the standard hospital bed, wall plug ins and IV standard monitoring rig.
Having seen us to our destination, Nel flashed a comforting smile and backed out of the room, closing the door behind her and leaving us on our own.
The bed sheets shifted and a pained groan broke the silence as the bed’s occupant rolled over to see who had entered.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuckl! What!? NO! What the hell is going on? She was dead! This is what you call a surprise ‘Al’, you sick bastard? You knew she was alive and you let me believe she was dead?
I couldn’t believe it, there laying in a hospital bed, chest wrapped in bandages and connected to a dozen tubes and wires was Ms Clark.
“Little Robin… Sorry yu ‘ave ta... see me like thus,” she croaked. Ms Clark was alive. She wasn’t dead? How? I felt numb and couldn’t feel my legs. A hand grasped my arm, steadying me and guided me to a seat.
“Hey easy there, I got you,” Kalia said gently.
“How?.. He said… You were reported dead online… They had an obituary!” I rambled.
Kalia absently rubbed my shoulder as she mused, “Yeah, I heard you died too. It was weird, because I swear I did an okay job keeping you alive until the ambulance got there.”
“They swutched ambulances… I was told… I woke up here later… They had me in a coma at furst… I’m heeya unda the name Aylice Fostah... like that Aussie lager for Poms,” she managed to say between shallow breaths.
She reached out towards where I was sitting.
“Yu got out… I’m so relieved... I thought I’d failed yu, I have... All yur papers… I can get them for yu, when… I’m better,” she said before slumping back into her pillows looking exhausted.
I’d spotted a jug of water and glasses beside a fruit bowl over on the room’s table, on my way in. Standing up, I moved over to it and poured her a glass with a shaking hand. After she caught her breath, I pressed the glass into hand and helped her take a sip.
Kalia coughed and looked awkwardly at her flicking tail, “Uh, actually… She has your papers now. I kinda hired someone to… investigate your disappearance. She broke into your house and yeah, long story short, Robin has her papers now.”
Ms Clark’s eyes widened and after a moment of thought, she nodded.
“Yur going after Kelly aren’t… Yu… Good Luck, trust yur… Friends, take care of yourself and… Robin don’t let yurself… become the monster they... paint yu as…” she finished, giving her blessing.
“I- I won’t I promise. I will get Kelly,” I vowed, I owed both Ms Clark and Kelly that much.
“Definitely! We’re supposed to be planning something today. We’ll free her!” Kalia nodded. It had only been a short conversation but already Ms Clark’s eyelids were drooping. Her recovery had a long way to go.
Hospitals were such awkward places, everything was stale, sterile, smelled of chemicals that all failed to hide the underlying reminders of death, disease and human frailty. They were uncomfortable on an instinctive level and you didn’t want to stay there any longer than you have to, but you couldn’t let the person you were visiting know that. You put on a smile, made small talk and do your best to not look at your phone, watch or the clock on the wall as you waited for something that would give you an excuse to leave.
For a while we sat in silence and watched the room’s tv as we waited for Ms Clark to drift off to sleep. Daytime TV is as effective as a lullaby, if you want to fall asleep. Even the ads are boring, infomercials targeting those with a credit card, a phone and stuck inside. If I was anything like my foster parents I’d think it was deliberately boring, some plot to keep kids and the old sedated during the day.
After almost twenty minutes of this Ms Clark was softly snoring, only occasionally groaning as she tried to move in her sleep. I moved to turn off the tv before sleep claimed the rest of us, but before I could get to the remote wired to the bed, something eerie happened.
The channel had shifted to a newsroom with a male tv anchor in front of the image of an unique skyscraper. I almost whistled when I saw it, before I caught myself remembering the sleeping patient in the room. This was an architectural feat, a single almost lipstick shaped tower with a pair of helix structures wrapping around it, rose above the Penrith skyline, in a gravity defying display of metal and glass.
The anchor’s deep melodic voice hummed with excitement as he broke the story.
“Breaking News! We’ve been given an exclusive in depth look at a truly incredible new engineering marvel, right here in Penrith. For the past year, our Penrith viewers would have been watching the construction of Yelmorn Industries’ new relocated headquarters in our central business district. Thanks an advanced multi staged construction plan, the building has seen record breaking construction times.
Today Yelmorn has issued a press release, declaring that their new building’s official grand opening will be in two weeks time! Now some of our viewers might have heard rumors that the skyscraper is already in use and you would be right! While the building has not yet been officially opened, much of the building is already complete and a number of the building’s finished lower floors are already furnished and staffed.
Now while that is big news for our city, as we are no city of New York and very few companies have their headquarters here. It is not the most exciting part of this announcement.
In their release to the press, Yelmorn has announced that they will be not only sponsoring an Emerged hero team, but that they will be donating the top three floors of their new building to serve as a base for them. What is more incredible? This stunning act of generosity, or corporate America’s reaction to these new times we live in? More at 6pm!”
Pressing the off button, the screen went black with a static hiss. This couldn’t be real. A conveniently timed news bulletin not even half an hour after we promised to liberate Kelly from Yelmorn. I mean I’d expect it if this was a tv show or a book, but come on really? What are the odds? If this was a story, I would want to talk to the author about all the shit they have put me through.
I glanced Kalia’s way, only to find her staring right back at me. Gesturing for her to follow, I lead us out into the corridor, so to not wake Ms Clark.
“You also thinking that’s where they are keeping Kelly?” I almost whispered. It would be so brazen and cunning, hiding their crimes right under the noses of Heroes and using them as glorified security guards.
“Yeah, maybe. I think? It’s bloody brazen if they are and they have a lot of facilities around the area as options, but… the best place to hide people might be in a state of the art building like that? One where they can hide their awful crimes behind the construction?” she whispered back.
The hallway wasn’t entirely empty as orderlies made their rounds, our conspiratory behavior earning us odd looks.
Without even looking up, I muttered what I was thinking, as I tapped off a text message to Nel asking for a pick up, “Two weeks… We have two weeks to break in, see if Kelly is there and if so break her out. Maybe grab other evidence too. Any later and we might have a bunch of self righteous Superpatsies standing in our way.”
“Yeah and their defences will be fully in place. That’s a deadline and a shitload of stress I didn’t need in my life, but it’s for Kelly… so let’s do this,” Kalia quietly mused, responding to my verbalised thoughts.
By the time we had reached the janitor’s closet Nel was already waiting with rift inside.
One small step later be were back behind Sherwood mall. After exchanging numbers, when it became time for goodbyes, Kalia made sure to drag me into another of her hugs. How can she be so warm and fluffy?
* * *
Arriving back at the bunker I found ‘Al’ waiting, still in the suit from this morning, he had traded in his jacket for a floral apron.
“Ah! Robin, you are back. Good. I’ve been meaning to ask, do you know how to cook?” he greeted.
“I can cook!” I proudly exclaimed. I could. I was very proud of my self reliance, I got wash my old clothes, repair the, do first aid, survive in the wild even if I had to.
“I can make toast and scrambled eggs! The Anderson’s made sure I could skin, gut and roast game… Oh and I can heat up canned stuff...” I started to eagerly list off examples, before quickly running out and falling silent.
“Hmmm,” ‘Al’ frowned. What not impressive enough for you? Do I need to know how to make haute cuisine?
“I CAN cook! They just didn’t really allow me much in the kitchen,” I argued, stepping closer and glaring up at him! I wasn’t going to let Mr Silverspoon say otherwise. Given he has people to cook for him, I doubt he even knows a pot from a pan.
Holding his hands before him in a gesture of surrender, ‘Al’ attempted to placate me, “Ok, ok Robin. You can cook, I believe you. However, maybe if you were interested, I could teach you a few more recipes. Maybe a bolognaise?”
I’d love to learn, but him teach me? Is he really implying he can cook? If a billionaire can go out and brawl with superheroes, I guess it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Trying to keep a straight face and not betray my thoughts, I slowly nodded.
“Wonderful! To the kitchen! I have an apron already picked out for you. Well, rather I asked Tinker to make one up for you,” he happily laughed, striding off towards the kitchen without checking to see if I was even following.
I almost had to run to keep up with him, damn long legged guys. Halting suddenly when he reached the entrance to the kitchen, I almost collided into his back and flailed my arms to catch my balance.
“Before you enter, we need to put your apron on,” he said, before draping a green apron, that had been hanging on a hook beside the doorway, over my head.
Before he could tie it around me, I grabbed the ends and held out so I could see it. Embroidered amidst the durable field green fabric was three ball like robins in orange, black, white and grey threads. A smile broke across my face at that personal touch before I could even try to stop it.
Using the moment to regain control of my emotions, I faced the wall and looped the apron’s ties around myself and tied them at the front.
After regaining my poker face I was given the kitchen’s grand tour by a proud ‘Al’. After being shown all the utensils, gadgets, crockery, spices and the contents of the fridge and pantry, I was kinda feeling overwhelmed. If I had to describe exactly how I was feeling, it would a potent cocktail of awestruck, inspired and excited
"I- I get to use all these ingredients?" I whispered hopefully.
“Yes and the cookbooks too,” he reassured with a kind smile. I guess he had caught me eyeing their shelf.
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Ashlyn (she/her) , Author from Oz, most of my writing is on itch.io.
Aside from my finished stories on Itch.io I have one series I am working on with another author, on another site and I have decided to follow her here, as an act of mercy for the readers.