“So how is he?” Deron asked.
Dr. DeProspero looked exhausted. When Glen was brought in, Deron had called the Doctor’s emergency line. He had drove in immediately and had spent the last two hours with Glen in the ICU.
“Not good. Not good at all.”
The two of them were in a special waiting area outside the intensive care unit for family and lawful associates. The countless wrappers of gum and candy Deron had gone through while trying not to scream his head off made for quite a pile on the table between them.
“His exertion tonight was so overwrought that I’m afraid that even if his burns heal, he may never feel his hands again. He may regain some slight movement once the muscles repair, but as he stands now I can only recommend total implant replacement.”
“But he won’t able to project through cybernetic hands.”
The doctor tilted his head down towards Deron.
“That may be for the best. Mr…”
“Travis. I took his name,” Deron said, unconsciously rubbing the band on his left hand.
“Right, Mr. Travis, Glen’s current position as a projectionist may not be best suited for him. While he may be proficient beyond what you or I can do with simple parlor tricks, but his continuous injuries do not lend him to continue in the field as a professional. Much like any physical sports athlete of a similar age, it may be best to consider other endeavors.”
“Dr. DeProspero to ward three. Dr. DeProspero to ward three, please,” the hospital intercom speaks said.
DeProspero stood and turned to Deron.
“A nurse or me will be back shortly to give you an update. As I said he is stable and once we’re sure he’s ready you can visit him. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Okay. Thank you, Doctor.”
Deron stood up and offered to shake the doctor’s hand. Instead of shaking it, DeProspero cupped it between both of his hands.
“We’re doing everything we can for Glen right now, but soon he’s going to have to make a hard choice. I hope you’ll be there to help him keep his own health in mind.”
“I will. Always.”
“Hey floppy,” Deron said as he stepped into Glen’s unit. He had been moved from the general floor to a private unit in the ICU. The date clothing had been stripped from him, and he was now wearing only a light hospital gown and massaging socks. Two large boxes were strapped to his arms and Deron could see blue liquid inside. The liquid was too opaque to see Glen’s hands and he was thankful for that. Several lines were attached to Glen’s right arm; an IV drip, a line checking his pulse, an energy strip, and a few others. A mask covered his face below his eyes and a clear tube from that lead to a pump next to the side of his bed. Above all the equipment was a triangle pointed down and a rune of the Kahm The-Solace. Seeing that ward against possession gave Deron a certain level of comfort.
“Looks like they’re giving you the good meds.” Deron looked at the IV bag hanging next to Glen.
“Yeah, feels like it. I can’t feel anything.” Glen was weak, but he was breathing strongly.
“That so? Well you had me worried sick.”
Deron reached over and ran his hand over Glen’s forehead. Glen sighed in comfort.
“Well, you feel that.” They both chuckled.
“Did the officer come by yet?” Glen asked.
“He did. I gave a report and he said he’ll be back to take yours once you were up for it. He said to thank you.”
“What did I do?” Glen had closed his eyes as Deron had started to rub his thumb in a light circle on his forehead.
“You got the slinger. Officer Lance said the patrol found the weapon about half a block away with its barrel melted. The mugger threw it away and they said they have prints from it.”
“Hey-hey, go team Travis.”
A nurse pulled back the curtain to the ICU and smiled at Deron.
“Hi there. Just checking his vitals. You are?”
“Okay. Good, glad he’s got someone to take care of him. He’s been a sweetie.”
“Don’t spread rumors. I’m a badass,” Glen said, his eyes now sealed and his breathing becoming light.
“Looks like you’re about to drift off.” The nurse chuckled. “Don’t worry, you can stay with him for a little bit. The doc will be in shortly to give him a review before we send him to a room, but you’re not in the way.”
“Thank you,” Deron said.
“Okay, all checks out. I’ll be with you again in a few minutes. Get some rest, Mr. Badass. You’ll need it for healing.”
Deron laughed as Glen praised the dinner again.
“I think you had a better time than I did,” he said.
They were riding an auto-chariot back home, travelling along Greater Reid street into the south Welsprin district. Dinner had been extravagant, and the booth in the private section had offered luxuries they’d never see without sacrificing weeks of Deron’s pay. That alone was enough to have the night cement itself as an evening the two would never forget. They had followed up the outing with a visit to an inner ring club they liked and despite it being a week night the place had been packed. Between wine and dancing, the two were somewhere between completely energized and exhausted. Now it was nearing two am and they were heading home.
“Maybe,” Glen said. He was already pressed against Deron’s chest. His mind sat somewhere between the warmth of his partner and the flush feeling the wine from dinner gave him. Glen looked at Deron and leaned up, kissing him at first with a simple peck and then a deeper connection between their lips. Deron pulled back a second and gasped, smiling and laughing with warmth from the sudden deep exchange. He leaning down and cupping Glen’s cheek before kissing him back, taking in the moist lips and heated breath from his partner.
“Maybe,” Glen said again, this time between light pecks and the occasional squeeze and tug on Deron’s leg and stomach. “Maybe the night is still not done.”
Glen was already kissing Deron’s bare stomach with his partner was running fingers through his hair when the chariot chimed at them.
“Notice. Your destination is no longer available. Due to routine maintenance of the grid, your destination is not available at this time. Please select from the following options for new destination.”
“What?” Deron said, his mind somewhere lost in the fog of Glen’s touch and several glasses of wine still in his body.
“Notice. Your destination,” the chariot started to repeat.
“Yeah, we heard that,” Glen said. He huffed in annoyance, as his sexual desire now turned to frustration. The chariot had pulled up a projection window that he pulled over. It showed a large three dimensional rendering of New Castle and the part of town they were arriving in. Welsprin was dark on the map, as were a few other nearby neighborhoods. The destinations the chariot offered were far to the north of their home, but Glen could see a closer location two blocks to the west of their apartment, a street south of Lord and just inside the Iron Wall district.
“Looks like we can redirect there,” Deron said. “I don’t mind a little walk to get this baby weight off.”
“Oh you got a bit of a food baby?” Glen said playfully, reaching over to touch Deron’s still exposed belly. He had pushed his stomach out, to make himself more curved looking but when Glen touched him, he quickly found himself being tickled.
“Ack! No!” Deron said, playfully slapping Glen’s hand away. “No messing with the food baby!”
“Driver,” Glen said between light laughter, “Take us to this address.”
“There will be a charge for change of destination.”
“Bull. Connect me to your dispatch.”
The display switched almost immediately to the view of a Dwarven man sitting in a cubical. His eyes were thin and the smile he attempted seemed lost in his tired expression.
“New Castle Gold Chariot dispatch and customer service. We’re here to move you. I’m Lance, company ID ED0981. That’s ED as in East-Downs. and I’m here to help. What can I do for you?”
Glen took a deep breath to start to chew the guy out when Deron nudged him over. The similarities between their work spaces wasn’t lost on the gaijin office worker.
“Evening Lance. Sorry to bother you. I know it must be a rough night with maintenance going on like this,” Deron said, hoping to disarm Lance with sympathy.
Lance nodded on the screen. His thin eyes perked a bit, coming out of automatic response mode from Deron’s greeting.
“It’s been a doozy.”
“Yeah, must be getting a couple of calls. We’re in a bit of a trial here too. The chariot is saying our destination isn’t valid anymore because of south-east side maintenance but it isn’t letting us redirect to a much closer destination. At least, not without a fee. Can you give it a look?”
The dwarf had already started to type and shared windows were popping up around the display link to him.
“Ah yeah, I can see why you’d rather be there. The thing just doesn’t want to get off the ring as early as It’d need to. Give me a minute to talk to it.”
Glen had started to run his fingers over Deron’s back while he talked, and Deron playfully swatted him away. He had a feeling either the magician was going to pass out on him soon or neither of them would be getting any sleep tonight. Either way it was going to be quite a day dealing with the aftermath at work tomorrow.
“Destination updated,” the chariot said.
“And there we go,” Lance said, now with a smile on his face.
“Wonderful. Thank you so much, Lance. Hope we weren’t too much of a bother.”
“Nah, happy to help. And unless you need anything else, you two have a lovely evening.”
“Nope, all good.” Deron said. Lance nodded and the connection closed. The window left behind a message asking how employee ED0981 did, and Deron reached out to slide the marker to the five-star level. “Now then, where were we?”
The ride to Archer and Sullivan went by faster than either man wanted. Deron kept fighting to keep his shirt on while Glen did everything he could to touch as much of his lover as was possible in the cramped cabin. The chariot came to a halt in front of a Rose-Arms, the local convenience store Deron stopped at most morning for breakfast. The sight of it made his stomach grumble but the sexually charged lush kissing his neck distracted him from the thought.
“This way, sweetie,” Deron said, aiming them east along Archer. Although Sullivan marked the line between Iron Wall and Welsprin, the buildings here were more the style of the former district. Welsprin mostly relied on newer apartment complexes and renovated condos for the upper-middle class and well-to-do creators that made up the arts districts. This side of Welsprin kept the charm of the older parts of the city, relying on Iron Wall’s heavy brownstone city blocks. The ones in Welsprin where nicer and cleaner than the Iron Wall district, but the similarities between this area of town and Iron Wall couldn’t be missed.
Most of the buildings here had lights on the first floor but were darkened above street level. Lobby lights and street lamps brought a warmth to the shadows of the evening, and the occasional chariot passing flashed their lights along the avenue. There wasn’t any other foot traffic that Deron could see, so it was like the block belonged to the two of them this evening.
“Keep your head up, silly one,” Deron said. “We’re almost home.”
Glen had started to nod off a bit. He continued to try to reach for Deron but the long ride, the alcohol, and the weight of the day was starting to get to him.
“Come on, just a block.”
They had crossed past two apartment buildings when Deron stopped them. He wasn’t as attuned as Glen was but he was sure he felt something. It was like a muffled sound being held back by a strange pressure. He looked behind them and across the street but nothing seemed wrong or out of place. Just the distant sound of traffic and Glen’s light breathing.
He started them moving again, but with each step he felt something was wrong. He wished Glen was soberer so he could ask him what he felt. That might have been why when the shockwave of pressure came he was able to keep himself from being completely knocked over. Glen wasn’t so lucky, as he stumbled back towards the alley between two of the apartments. As the spell dissipated, Deron found himself caught on the side of one of the brownstones.
“Credit sticks, now,” a male voice said. Deron had caught himself on the wall, and was trying to look up at the speaker but his eyes locked on the slinger in their attacker’s hands. “Now!”
“Oh shit,” Deron said, and reached for his pocket. He’d never been mugged before, and his first instinct was to turn and run but he couldn’t see where Glen had gone. He wanted to look but he couldn’t take his eyes off the weapon aimed at him. He pulled at his pocket and found his credit stick was stuck. He cursed and yanked but instead of the stick coming out cleanly it flew from his pocket to the ground.
“You kahm-lovin’ idiot,” the mugger said. He took a step closer to Deron when a wheel of fire erupted in front of him. The surprise plasma knocked him off balance and he staggered back while trying to keep the gun in his hands.
“How dare you!” Glen screamed. He came out of the alley all fire and dragon-raged. His training in the theater and his years handling burning magic mixed with his alcohol laden mind, causing him to make the choice to attacker their mugger. Fire poured from his hands like angry claws and he shot forward as flames propelled him by his feet. The mugger tried to raise the Wagg-Otto short-slinger at him but Glen had already directed a wave of fire towards the man’s face. The onslaught wasn’t as intense or effective as a spell meant to actually harm but the illusion of the intensity of flame was enough to frighten their attacker away. Glen still sent waves of flame towards the man as he fled, but none of them connected, lacking the intent to truly do harm.
“Oh thank Khams,” Deron said, breathing a sigh of relief. He collected himself and picked up his credit stick before stepping over to check on Glen. His heart sank when he saw the aftermath of the magical display.
Tears were welling up in Glen’s eyes while his hands, blackened and smoking, where held out before him. Blisters that had long ago healed had welled up and were bursting, and pieces of his flesh sizzled from the heat of the heavy casting. The mastery Glen had used on stage had kept him from too sudden of an injury but this exertion while unfocused and drunk was too much.
“By the one on high, what have I done?”
“The elevator will just be a second, Miss Nejem,” the gaijin concierge said. She didn’t bother reading his name plate. The New Castle children were all the same boring clods, groomed to an ideal form of perfection that rang hollow and boring to her.
Husniya Aliyyah Nejem was here to meet with her master’s local spy master. It was a common practice amongst the wyrms to spy on rivals, and while local clutches often sought local talent such a trusting nature wasn’t always permitted for those beyond the misty boarders. Azial, her master, had been lacing cities like New Castle, Gar Raesa, and Greater Borrano for generations and in time these cities bore the fruit of skilled spies lying in wait.
The elevator came back down a minute later, absent the two poorly dressed men. The hume concierge seemed to be surprised when they were waiting for his return.
“My apologies, Miss Nejem,” he said, quickly rushing out of their way.
“Move Bakir, move,” her gaijin escort said. “Inform the host immediately, on foot.”
Aliyyah smiled as the hume ran off towards a stairwell. The gaijin concierge seemed to understand the insult against her, and was punishing his subordinate for her. At least New Castle had some manners.
The third floor of Ilahi was coated in a warm patches crimson and gold. Each table was a secluded nest with seating for up to ten in thick leather buckets. The tables were ringed with old world wood and the surface was smooth stone with a slight coating to reduce the sound of fine china brushing against it. The menus were made of slight projections that showed fully rendered versions of each dish, complete with chemical squirts for odor and flavor suggestion. The master chef here didn’t leave anything to chance, and if a patron received something they didn’t like it would ultimately be their own fault.
“This way, Miss Nejem.” He lead her towards the outer banks of tables, where the neighboring building obscured any pleasant views and the tables were outfitted with panels showing more pleasant vistas of New Castle and lands beyond. Most of the tables were unoccupied here, except one now containing the out of place men and their wide smiles. She caught a better glimpse of them as she passed, noticing the highland hume’s scared and bandaged hands. Was he a bodyguard? Unlikely. Too unobservant of her and their surroundings. Those were magical burns though, and the type caused by one’s own casting. Still, his mannerism indicated he didn’t belong here so didn’t come from money. Why was he here then?
“Madam Nejem,” said a large orc man as her escort brought her to their shared table. “It is a pleasure.” The spy master didn’t bother to rise for her, but instead kept his eyes on the aisle as she slid into the booth. He nodded to the escort and at once the gaijin vanished from their table. The orc glanced out once more then turned back to Aliyyah.
“Welcome to New Castle. I take it your flight was full?”
“Only in the head,” She said, responding to his requested phrase. The man relaxed a hair and nodded.
“Good, good. I’m glad to hear that. Pardon this though,” He said, as she felt a large foot brush against her leg. She stiffened in surprised but then gritted her teeth as she felt the connection spark.
“My apologies, Aliyyah, but this is the only truly secure link,” his voice echoed in her head.
“I think I’ll try a white tonight, what do you recommend for dinner?” She asked out loud.
“It is understood. Give your report.”
“If you are going with a white, I’d suggest one of the local specialties of fish,” he replied. He was a typical large New Castle resident. Though this spy master, his name unknown to her, was of the blood of Azial he looked bloated and fat compared to the men born and raised in the city-state of Etza. His orc heritage didn’t bother her as, like her gaijin blood, his lineage had been tempered in the years under the dragon. Unlike the other city states of the current era, Etza had long held Azial in high regard and it was only natural the dragon had taken over.
“They are here, but I fear they are in the hands of an enemy. A servant of one of the Duke’s Lords.”
“Do you know which Lord, which servant?” she asked. She idly flicked through the virtual menu until she found something that appealed to her pallet.
“His name is unknown, but he serves Deus, one of the more competitive of the Lord of New Castle.”
“We are familiar with the wyrm. Then it is likely Allaway. Ever has he been a thorn.” Roswell Uilleam Allaway was a name known to many of the collectors beyond New Castle. He was a fierce combatant with hands in many of the cities. She had personally seen fit to the destruction of his network of spies, The Daggers, that he had injected into Etza. For the agent of a lord and not a Duke, he was formidable.
“The fish it is,” Aliyyah said. “What are you having?”
“What you had,” he said with a sly smile.
“Then you have quite a task ahead of you. Ross is no easy quarry. But all is not lost, there may be a chance you can draw him out.”
“Oh?” She knew he wouldn’t bring the charms out in the open, and would unlikely wear them himself. They didn’t belong to Azial, but to one of Azial’s silent parents. In their slumber the charms and any other artifact would grant power to their users without the typical bonding curse, but Ross wouldn’t risk using them as that would exposure their imprint to the world.
“In a few weeks there is a gala event. The Winter Solstice next month is a favored holiday of Tyrant.”
Aliyyah chuckled in her head while she ordered the items from the menu.
“Tell me, does he bare himself in the open for such gatherings?”
“No, not him, but his lords do, briefly. And they often escorted by their loyalists.”
“Are you suggesting a direct assault against a dragon and his prize collector?”
“No, no, only that it will be a guaranteed time both collector and wyrm will be out of their lair.”
Aliyyah nodded, but paused as laughter broke from the nearby table.
“Do not panic, I have already identified those two. The unmared one is a simple clerk. The burned man is a performer. A magician alone.”
“A Magician you say? Tell me, do the lords of New Castle hold their own events before the grand gathering of their Duke?”
“Glen, how did you get a Limo?” Deron said. Glen stood outside of Deron’s office, smiling wide as the chauffer held the rear door open. He was dressed in a sharp suit he saved for public events and appearances for the theater although he added a pair of gloves today.
“Limo’s just a Transit rental. They have those now,” Glen said. It was a large stretch chariot, with enough space for six to eight people to be comfortable. The chauffer smiled at the couple as Deron hugged Glen. “I’ve got some good news about tonight for you. We’re going to one of your dream spots.”
“The Garden on High? Clutch-Behrs? Ilahi?” Deron asked.
“The third one. Care of The Dragon,” Glen said while holding up the silver key. Deron squealed and Glen’s face turned a few shades of red darker.
“Oh yes! Did you bring me-“
“Jacket, yes. It’s in the chariot. Come on, let’s go!”
Deron waved his arms up in the air and stopped short of tackling the chauffer. She laughed as he hugged her. She gave him a pat on the shoulder and he jumped into the car. Glen smiled and shook his head as he headed after him.
“Easily pleased?” The chauffer asked.
“Oh no, but when you hit the right buttons,” Glen said. They both chuckled as she closed the door behind him.
The Limo ride was short, but Ilahi and Deron’s office were in the same parts of the shell, the inner part of New Castle where the downtown ring circled the biggest towers and the large dome structure the Duke laired in. Ilahi was located in the first four floors of Groom Street Central. The building was a fat spike stretching high into the sky. Some eighty floors of offices and private spaces that starting on the fortieth floor began to contract into a single point on the northwest side of the building. Ilahi held half of the building’s base on the four floors it occupied, and as Glen and Deron stepped into the lobby of Groom Street Central they could see the façade of the restaurant’s exterior. The bottom six floors of the building were a part of a large atrium separated into individual market spaces. The large wall of Ilahi depicted tile patterns and wrought metal designs in curves and cursive script. The colors varied but blue and whites dominated the patterns. It was like looking at a gallery rather than the entrance to a fashionable restaurant.
“Excuse me.” A hume male had stepped from the restaurant as they approached. He wore a smooth brown vest over a cream colored long sleeve shirt, with slightly darker slacks and dark brown shoes. His name tag read Bakir Kartal, Concierge. “Do you happen to bear a key?” He asked.
“Yes,” Glen said, pulling it from his pocket. The key’s tip was glowing a soft blue and when Bakri spotted it he smiled.
“Ah wonderful. Then you are guests tonight of Mr. Aitken?”
“Yes, he gave me the key earlier.”
“He presented it to you earlier today. The key itself is not a gift to keep nor can it be. We will be holding it for him after your meal today. Please, follow me this way,” the concierge said. Glen repressed a chuckle and Deron rolled his eyes.
The concierge lead them into the restaurant. They passed through the waiting lounge filled with couples and business types waited for tables. Past the main dining area that was bursting with movement of guests, wait staff, and food going to and from the first kitchen. He brought them to the lift in the back of this area where everyone dining could get a good view of who was riding up.
Built on four floors, Ilahi was really two restaurants, maybe three depending on what someone considered the top floor. The first two floors were the main seating area and a main kitchen. Normal patrons would eat here and enjoy the flavors and talents of Ilahi’s talented sous chef and the team he assembled. The third floor was for the key bearers, and here the menus lacked prices, money and data chits were never exchanged, and luxury was king. The head chef of Ilahi considered this her domain and worked wonders for the wealthy, the powerful, and the lucky. Ilahi enjoyed showing off these guests and the elevator in the back of the restaurant was built so that no one on the first floor could miss seeing whoever was above them.
The amber colored glass was distorted on the inside of the elevator and Glen and Deron missed the key bearer just entering the restaurant watching their ascent.
Just off of Lord, near where it crosses past Long Bridge, was the Avninder Theater. South Gaijin in design, with long sweeping roofs over each balcony decorated in a myriad of colors and wavy patterns. The exterior was mostly clean with a few spots here and there showing the age of the place. The inside had a large set of seats in a crescent around a raised dais some eighty feet wide. The house curtains were up and stored when he arrived, and three performers were practicing on stage. It was a dry a run with no energy, just movements. The fireguard stood off to the side, watching the performers while keeping an extinguisher at hand. Glen had seen performers get carried away in the rehearsals before and he appreciated the on call guard.
The Dragon was sitting center house. He was with the patron, Cameron Huntington, so Glen stood back watching the practicing trio. The piece they were rehearsing was one he knew by heart. It required physical strength to manage the lifting the two outer performers needed to do. The inner performer needed the dexterity to reach out and cap the shape the three of them would produce. All three needed perfect concentration to stretch their flames into a large seven pointed star. It wasn’t easy especially since two of the performers hands were tied up holding the third so the use of a leg each was required. Glen had been in all three roles at one point or another, and could feel the aches in his joints watching the two humans hoist up the shade woman.
The patron stepped away and Glen caught The Dragon’s eye. The director waved him over.
“Mr. Travis. I had not expected to see you today. I thought you had an appointment,” he said. The Dragon, Diarmad Aitken, was a fairly short orc but large compared to Glen. He smiled as Glen slide through the seats to the small worktable setup in the middle of the row. Glen could see the burns he had only noticed in passing before around The Dragon’s lips. It was the reason for his nickname, the fire breathing. Only now Glen wondered what troubles it had caused for his boss.
“I did, sir. This morning.”
“That does not sound like comfort when you say it that way, Glen. What is wrong?”
Glen rubbed his hand and brushed the blister. “Nothing good. Do you know what peripheral neuropathy is? And neuritis?”
“Oh no,” Diarmad said. “No, no, Glen. You are much too young for that.” He looked at Glens hands and moved to take one. Glen let him and the orc slide his fingers over the blisters, giving each of them a close look.
“A year, maybe, and then no more hands. I don’t know what to say.”
The dragon sighed and then turned Glen’s hand over and cupped it before giving it a gentle pat.
“Yours is an exceptional talent, but I see now that I was mistaken to push you as I did. Your displays are miracles to the eyes, but while some say preforming costs blood, sweat, and tears, I do not believe that is to be taken literal, do you not agree?”
Glen nodded as Diarmad let go of his hand.
“Glen, the theater doesn’t have much in terms of discretionary funds. You know we are paid performance to performance, but I cannot ask you to burden yourself and your health in order to continue your livelihood. Perhaps then, I would like your permission to host a fund raiser, in your honor.”
Diarmad grinned, and the scars around his mouth glistened in ways Glen didn’t realize he was becoming hyper aware to.
“I, I would be honored,” he said, shocked at the offer. “I’m touched. But, does this mean I can’t perform with the troupe?”
Diarmad’s expression turned into a pained look.
“No, I am afraid I cannot allow it. If you are already so injured that your specialist warns you against the task, I have to consider the other risks. While I know you would not think of it now, lawyers and hoard seekers might encourage you to stalk our coffers if we knowingly let you perform.”
The director paused as this sank into Glen, and he wished he waited before coming here now.
“Additionally, and this pains me to say it young man, but if you are so burned it means your manipulation is more reckless than I deem acceptable. I cannot have a man combust on me on stage.”
That was a slap. At least it felt that way to Glen. He understood the legality issues. He understood the health concerns. That, however, was a direct challenge to his ability in the performing arts. He felt himself heating up like he had when he left Dr. DeProspero’s office.
“Ah, I see I have said to much. My apologies, young mister Travis. Perhaps you may need to cool off with so many uncomfortable things of the day. I will have Miss Cranes sent to contact you regarding the fund raiser. Until then, we must prepare for tonight’s performance. If you would be so kind,” he said, offering up his hand. Glen took it and helped The Dragon up. “Thank you, Glen. Here, take this for tonight. Have a meal with that fine young man you brought to the last performance to take your mind off today’s worries.”
He had given Glen a small silver key. Glen recognized it immediately. The shape was ornamental, but it would serve the function it was designed after. It was an access token to a five-star restaurant called Ilahi, a place Glen wouldn’t be able to afford without spending a month’s of Deron’s salary. The key was more than just the ability to go to the restaurant. Anyone in a nice suit who called ahead could do that. It was a token directly tied to a tab at the restaurant. Maybe this was how The Dragon apologized for insulting him. If so, it was quite a first step.
He’d need to change. This would be more than just a simple night out.
I’ve always enjoyed serial fiction. Something about the episodic nature of short pieces of fiction linking together into a larger story is just fun. This piece, Hands, is the first part of a series dedicated to the setting of the current novel, temporarily titled, Doppleganger.
I owe inspiration for writing this piece to a few people. The most recent would be Christiana Ellis, and her 2016 project Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private Eye. I also owe kudos to Andrew Eckhart’s original draft for his novel, Last Mage. The original version of his book was shared as a serial fiction series on the home site of the Last Mage series. Final call out to T. K. Eldridge, and her current serial project. Each of those is worth your time, so give them a read after you check out the below.
“It’s ergokinesis induced neuritis, Mr. Travis,” the doctor had said. “The pain. The numbness. Your difficulty handling small objects. I understand the requirements of your performances, but if you keep it up your hands will be paralyzed within a year.”
Glen looked at his hands. The tips of his fingers were all pale, the remnants of blisters almost done healing. Around them scars from burns and scabs dotted his digits and palms. He tried to flex the right hand but the pinky and ring fingers barely moved.
The doctor’s visit had been about an hour ago. Dr. DeProspero had been adamant about Glen’s treatment. About the magic. It just hadn’t seemed fair. Glen knew people decades older who still performed above his grade and had no problem with this. A few burns, but anytime someone handles a fire it’ll burn.
A window beeped at him and he cursed at himself. Glen had forgotten to call Deron after the appointment.
“What’s the good headline?” Deron said, his wide grin extending to the points of his gaijin ears. He was in his cubical in the heart of some office labyrinth. Glen tried to smile but Deron could read him too well, “That bad huh? What he say?”
“To cancel the show, wrap up and seek a more health inclined endeavor,” Glen said. He checked his surroundings to make sure he wasn’t going to be in someone’s way in the call. A few pedestrians but this part of New Castle was fairly quiet this time of day. Even the chariots on the street were pretty rare.
“Might as well. He said I’d go into full ‘Peripheral neuropathy’ in my hands and possibly my arms if I keep working. Maybe twelve months. Tops.”
Deron frowned. “Not even if you lay off hand magic?”
Glen shook his head. “Not even that. He says I’m already showing signs in my feet, and there are patches on my back that are mostly numb. You know the ones.”
“The ones I see nothing there but you’re always asking me to scratch or rub.”
“Yeah,” he said, wishing he had one of those massages right now.
“Great. Good job turning something sweet about us into another dark spot.”
Glen cringed, “I didn’t mean.”
“Oh baby,” Deron said, his eyes going wide. “Oh I didn’t mean you! I meant the doc. I’d never say something like that.”
“I know,” Glen said. He sighed in relief but still felt a bit of heat on the back of his eyes. “I know you wouldn’t. It’s just been a rough morning so I’m a little easily set off right now.”
“I understand, Glen. Are you headed home?” Deron said as he glanced to the side of the cubicle at a wall clock.
“To the theater. Going to talk to the dragon.”
“Okay. I’ll be out of the office in about three hours. How about I come by the theater with a car and we go out tonight?”
“That sounds great.”