I flick my eye around, curiously rolling and rotating in an attempt to take in all the details around me. Athena, standing close to Lola's knees, is glaring at Lola's cavyrn while Francis checks us in.
We've ended up in a major hospital. After sending Lola's friends home, Francis had insisted on taking her to see how Isaac was doing, and Marrow had wanted to come too. She hadn't explained why, but the moment she suggested it Lola wouldn't let anything else be the result, and Francis had admirably rolled with it.
This hospital is a remarkable place. Three stories high in the lobby, a variety of floating discs hover all around us at a sedate pace, patients and their nurses riding them along to navigate. The design consisted mostly of wide, sweeping white curves, with a circular check-in desk where pleasant, friendly faces waited to greet anyone entering. With two wrought-iron railings lining the edges and large balls of hovering white light, the overall result is one of clean professionalism. It's a comforting feeling, as though even by seeing the lobby Lola can be assured that her father is in good hands.
My only real issue with the place is the intricate web of mana-infused words floating around, confusing my vision noticeably, and blocking my view quite effectively. While I ordinarily wouldn't mind it, I'm more than a little shaken from the encounter with the Compendium and more specifically its monstrous abilities. After seeing those horrendous statistics, I'm a little more doubtful regarding Isaac's wellbeing.
Francis walks back over to us, waving a small ticket stub in his massive fist. "We'll be getting an escort in a few minutes. Apparently being a former Royal Champion isn't the same as being the current one."
I can't see Lola's face, but I can assume she's smiling when she says, "It's fine! We can wait here until then."
Our group walks towards a small waiting area, a variety of comfortable-looking white couches and an end table waiting there. In one corner, the carpet changes to a vibrant kaleidoscope of color, and a few young children are playing there, using toys I'm not familiar with.
While Marrow and Lola sit down, I keep an eye (not that I have others to spare) on Francis, watching curiously as he picks up one of the toys. It's a small glass cylinder, with a fan in the bottom and a delicate-looking paper ball sitting on top of it. Walking back over to us with a grin, he sprawls himself down on the couch next to us. I can only imagine the protested creaks the furniture produces from his colossal weight.
Handing the object to Marrow, he says with a grin, "Try and use some mana on it. It doesn't have to be a lot."
Marrow practically freezes, her hands tightening until the transparent skin at her pales slightly. "I - have to do magic?" Her voice's words vibrate in the air, thinning and wavering in obvious fear.
Francis picks up on it instantly, and while I'm sure he doesn't know the reason behind it, he reaches over and calmly places one of his giant hands over hers. "Marrow, you don't have to if you don't want to. Nobody's forcing you."
Eyes wide, she stares into his, shivering slightly. Bloof sits on her feet as Lola gives her a hug. "It's okay, Marrow! I used to be super bad at magic too. It's okay to be nervous!"
Deliberately slowing her breathing, Marrow slowly calms down, and her hands relax, the cylinder dropping from her hands. Athena's faceplate reforms suddenly into two tusk-like protrusions, and she catches it before it hits the ground. Francis picks it up quietly, opting to simply let the lichling talk.
And she does, locking her thumbs together and staring at the ground. "I... I'm not actually bad at magic. I've got a lot of mana points, and my INT isn't low at all, but..."
She trails off, and Lola hugs her tighter. "You don't have to tell me now, Marrow! You can wait until later, or just not say it at all! It's up to you."
Marrow smiles faintly, pulling her thumbs apart with a slight click. "Thanks, but it's okay. Um - what is it, anyway?"
Holding its base in the palm of his hand, Francis channels a tiny amount of mana into it. The fan begins spinning, faster and faster until it's strong enough to make the paper ball float. Seeing Marrow's surprised face, he chuckles deeply. "It's a simple toy, but it's entertaining enough to keep children occupied for quite some time."
Looking down, Marrow says something in a voice so quiet I would have missed it if I wasn't reading her words directly. "...can I try?"
He smiles jovially, handing her the toy, and she takes a deep breath. Focusing on it, a stream of sickly gray mana flows from her wrist, wrapping around her hand and sinking deep into the toy's base. The fan begins to spin again, but it looks... different somehow. Instead of simply making the ball hover up to the top of the cylinder, the ball is literally rammed to the top, and begins to flatten from the air pressure. The fan begins to spark, rattling loudly.
Marrow's eyes are wide and panicked, and I realize at the same time as Francis that she can't control what's going on. Reaching over, he places his hand over hers again, but this time, a subtle wave of indistinct blue mana rolls over the cylinder, and the fan slows.
Did he just... cancel her mana out? Is that a spell, or is it simply a dampening technique employing a superior amount of mana? I have questions, and not for the first time, I'm more than a little irritated that I don't have an easy outlet for it. Except - ah, yes. Athena?
Sure, mother. Can you tell Francis I'd like to know how he did that?
Athena turns her blank faceplate to me, a single yellow eye forming in the center to blink at me. Who Francis?
Hm. Apparently she hasn't been introduced yet. Anyway, Francis is the giant mountain of a human, understand?
Her eye turns to look at him, her neck craning back as she keeps leaning back until it becomes too much for her and she falls over backward with a faint chirrup of surprise. I'm not entirely sure where the sound emanated from, as she presently lacks a beak. Mountain very large.
He certainly is, yes.
Staring at Francis intently, she simply sits still, her navy feathers twitching slightly. The huge man, assuring Marrow that she's absolutely fine and definitely not in trouble, jumps in surprise, looking around for the source of the voice in his head, before looking down at Athena. "Oho, you're approaching me? What is it?"
I can't hear (or see) any of the conversations, but his vision slides over to my spot in Lola's satchel leaning against the bottom of the couch's side. Glancing at Marrow to make sure Lola's sufficiently distracting her, he leans over and whispers, "Codex, I don't think you should make yourself known right now. Knowing that you're a Living Book would probably..." He trails off, checking next to him again. "...upset Marrow. I don't know how much damage the Compendium has left behind."
I blink twice, rather than having Athena be my proxy, and he sits back with a smile.
I'm surprised at myself. I've considered myself to be quite insightful when it comes to Lola's moods and preferences, and yet I missed such a glaringly obvious concern regarding her friend. Do I simply not pay very much attention to people that I don't interact with?
People that aren't Lola?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Several minutes later, my musings are interrupted by a nurse approaching us with a pleasant smile. "Isaac is ready to see you now. Please follow me." We all stand up, Lola grabbing my satchel and slinging it over her shoulder. Our little group goes behind the nurse as she heads down a hallway.
A few corners later, we end up in front of a simple white door, and the nurse stands aside, gesturing to it politely. "Please enter at your convenience." Bowing slightly, she turns and walks away composedly, turning a corner and disappearing in mere seconds.
We stare at the door for a few seconds, and then Francis firmly opens it.
I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps Isaac, lying on an angled bed, covered in bandages and looked sick. Maybe a curtain drawn around a small area, with a number of doctors bustling around it.
Instead, we're greeted with a homey but clean area. The walls are made of pine logs, with a high vaulting ceiling and lanterns hanging from intersecting beams. Several tall oval windows are spaced around the area, leading to a dense oak forest, the canopy of leaves above casting a dim shade over the outside. The floor consists of a lush carpet of vibrantly green grass, swaying slightly in an unfelt wind. A king-size bed, the wooden posts growing in and out of the floor and walls, is situated to the right side, a pair of slippers at its base. A long table to the left, built from dark, knotted wood, is decorated with a small mountain of candles in different sizes. Isaac, looking tired, and another person I don't know are playing a game of what appears to be chess at the table. A pair of full-length glass doors lead to the outside area.
How is any of this possible!? The grass shouldn't be able to grow, the bed shouldn't have been able to be shaped like that - for crying out loud, there's a forest outside! Is it more of that dimensional magic so prominently featured at Weatherton's familiar summoning area, or is it something else?
Lola instantly breaks into a full sprint for Isaac, yelling. I can't make out what she's saying due to my satchel bouncing from her dash. What I can recognize is when she jumps on him, and he wraps her in his arms with a deep hug and a smile. Once my satchel stabilizes, I start reading the words frantically, hoping I can catch up on the conversation before they talk too much. The other person quietly stands up and leaves.
Lola's crying slightly, but I can only imagine the size of her grin. The words coming from her mouth are practically exploding in shades of yellow-tinted pink. "Father! I missed you so much and I was scared when you looked bad and I like your new tunic and this place is so cool and this is Marrow!"
I blink. I was there for all of what happened and I'm still a little confused from the sheer pace she's talking at, but who am I to interrupt?
Rubbing her hair with a crooked grin, Isaac's view drops to Marrow, slowly walking up to us. His eyes narrow calculatingly, but then it eases into a more concerned expression. "Hello there. May I assume that you're the person who escaped the Compendium?"
Her pupils constrict and she swallows hard. "Um. Yes. Thank you for saving me."
He reaches out an arm with a smile, indicating her to come closer, and she does. He stares into her face, squinting slightly, and then says softly, "You must be a very brave person."
She flinches slightly. "Wh-what? No, I was running away! I was terrified!"
He smiles, his ordinarily stern face more relaxed than I can remember seeing it. "You were running away from the most dangerous entity in Careolis, if not all of Xanem. You didn't give up when you were down there, and I can only imagine how difficult that was. But you're here, you got away from him, and you're safe now. That takes an immense amount of bravery, miss Marrow."
Marrow rubs her eyes, shivering slightly. Tears had started to well up in the corners of her eyes, but she smiles too, sadly. "Thanks. Lola's really nice."
He chuckles at that. "Yes, she certainly is. If you don't mind-" he sits up a little straighter. "-I'd like to talk with Francis for a short moment." Lola nods rapidly, pulling Marrow away and talking with her excitedly. My own eye is narrowed in the direction of the adults, however. What are they talking about? I can't quite make out the words, and I haven't learned how to lipread.
A few moments later, Isaac walks over to us. He looks a little unsteady, but Francis helps him along. Kneeling tiredly, he looks Marrow in the eye. "Miss Marrow, I've been thinking about you. Even before I met you more personally I wondered what kind of person you were, that you would run away from the power the Compendium grants. So if you don't mind, I'd like to offer you a place at the Bourgeious mansion, at least until you find a place to stay."
I roll my eye. Here come the waterworks.