Depictions of war and injury follow, read at your own discretion.
“Get the hell up! They’re about to roll hell over us!” Yells a firm manly voice into my ear. My plate carrier is grabbed desperately by someone I recognize as a squad leader. He’s not my squad leader though…
The filthy trench of black mud comes back into focus as the ragged squad lead, wearing dark green camo, drops me into the inches of mud beneath us. His rig is shot through in a few places, the plates evidently having stopped the rounds that were destined for flesh.
I blink a few times, clearing my vision of a haze that I had awoken in. I remember now, I had just been thrown from a forward charge by an explosive ball of fire.
“Move it!” The squad lead yells, running further down the trench as if the devil himself had lit a fire underneath his ass. I wouldn’t think such a scenario would be considered out of the ordinary now, given the last year of discovering the new world and its people. With haste I drag myself free from the mud only to find my rig in tatters and my backpack torn open, I reach for the rifle that should be slung around my chest to find myself wanting.
Cannon shots and explosions land around, pitting the ground around me, sending visceral vibrations through my ragged bones as I begin to pace forward in the direction the squad lead had run. I couldn’t hear the shouts of soldiers anymore, I can’t even hear our support vehicles anymore, only a cacophony of explosions.
As I drag myself along the wall of the trench, mind alight with clouds of noises and concussive blasts, I see the position we had been ordered to take open into full view from the restrictive mud. The Solvec River, an inky black stretch of water that ran extremely deep in a canyon that flooded hundreds of years ago, ran as a rent in the earth… in the ground of Frankasia stuffed between short but sudden cliffs. Our trench sat alongside the midnight waters of the Solvec, approaching the solitary stone bridge that had been so important only a few hours ago, only to be overshadowed by the importance of my own survival. We had been told to take it no matter the cost, that the strategic bridge would allow us to advance forward to go after the dwarven warlord’s forge. Such a warlord left unchecked would throw the powers at hand in question. Of course the united military might of Earth had to be sent to deal with such a dangerous foe, or so my superiors had said.
The mud squelches in my hand as I drag myself further, passing bodies of people I had seen just hours ago, even one of my squad mates who loved to tell stories of the region and how the river had been haunted and so forth had been reduced to a mass of intestines and blood. I could only tell it was him by the name on the torn uniform, lying sundered next to the still steaming mass. I could hear coordinates being rattled off in my helmet radio as my steps faltered at the edge of the cliff, forcing me to the ground inches from the drop-off into the river. As I try to muster enough strength to rise from the edge I hear the human operator say my coordinates… or close enough to them.
My situation was made worse when the machine gun fire that had gone uninterrupted overhead finally ceased, letting me clearly hear what the radio operator would say next, “Incoming enemy artillery, may god help you all.”
I considered for the brief moments I doubtlessly had left to pull my sidearm and end things on my terms before the wave of dwarven magic and fire would rain down as a sinister inferno to send me into the great beyond. Instead a thought rolled through my head that seemed utterly insane to be considered, though as the whistling scream of ordinance about to land grew louder, any idea was worth it.
I threw myself into that inky black water moments before the blast hit, slamming into the water with all the desperate force I could muster and dashing my sinking body deep into the depths of the rushing Solvec River. Above was an inferno of the hatred made manifest by the dwarven warlord, lingering for several seconds as I sank further. The cold depths sapped what little energy I had left as I sank without struggle. The Solvec had stolen whatever chance I had to swim free. In this state I kept sinking, my mind working slowly as I could feel my lungs burning with the desire to function, only to take in ice cold water.
The sensation of my body struggling and spasming for the air I had taken for granted above racked my mind, the waiting sweet release of death only just around the corner. Maybe I should have used my sidearm, chimed the last coherent thought I could muster in those seconds. My mind was fading and I felt an embrace take me, as if in those last moments in the sightless depths I had been held by a squad mate, pleading with me to hang in those last few seconds.
In a dream filled slumber I could see my life go by, the first time I went to school, my first friends, the girl I had a crush on, going to high school, prom and my high school sweetheart, the start of a great college career… the cataclysm, the worlds fused… I joined the military to keep my family safe since I was near a portal…. I drowned in my third battle…
I could hear the steady beep, beep, beep of a heart monitor as I awoke, severe pain across my chest racking me as I thrash the life throws of someone who had just felt death at their side, his icy hand still resting on their shoulder.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
The heart monitor leapt into action as I coughed and kicked against the loose embrace of sheets, an acrid slimy texture had been left inside my mouth as I struggled to pull air in.
I hear a startled feminine voice cry out “Oh sir! Please calm down!”
Her voice is subtly firm with the command disguised as a request echoing inside me. It was something all soldiers were trained to do, to listen to nurses and medics as if they were the law itself.
This is… safe.
I halt my attempts to take in breath as I feel an overly smooth hand press against my left arm, as if to grace its presence with the hand of a goddess. Air is forced into my chest through a tube in my mouth, a terrible and artificial feeling, but I can’t fight it as my body takes in the fresh air graciously. “Sir you drowned! Please don’t fight the machine, your lungs were damaged.” The voice says again as I try to open my crusty eyes.
The lower half of my vision is filled with a plastic mask covering my face, a tube coming in from some unseen machine to force my body to breathe, the top half is filled with amber eyes…
The nurse stands at attention with a clipboard under one arm and a syringe in another, “If you struggle again I’ll have to sedate you.”
I shake my head and focus on the nurse, seeing her bright amber eyes, an unusual black ring around the deep yellow. She had deep black hair that almost had a purple sheen when the light played upon its immaculate surface. Her skin was pristine, no obvious blemishes or anything as if she had been sculpted like a doll. Her skin was however, slightly off in its color, being a measure more pale than what would be considered normal. Her features… her body was more than ample in the places that matter. She sensed my gaze as she came closer to the bed, setting the syringe aside on a small steel table that I wasn’t sure was there a moment ago. “Now now, it’s rude to stare..” She says, checking my arm IV and then fixing her baby blue scrubs.
“Once you’re fully awake I’ll talk with the doctor about some of the procedures we need to do if you’re ever going to live without me!” She says cheerfully, standing back from the bed next to all of the monitoring equipment. That’s when I get a good glimpse of the room around me, it’s a clean white hospital room with a single polished wood chair, a small green cushion fixed atop it, a white steel door with a doorknob rather than a handle, and a small recessed area with the clipboard the nurse had had moments ago, a wooden cabinet, sterile gloves…
The nurse is gone from where she stood as well as the small table with the syringe. In my partially sedated state I begin to monitor what my soldier’s training drilled into me, an exit plan.
The exit is a white steel door with no window…
There are no windows in this room whatsoever, the only light coming from fluorescent lights above.
With this, I scour the walls for any details of where I am only to find the small posters of the heart and fire exit plans didn’t have any legible name attached to them, especially given how small most of the text is. All I could do was resign myself to sleep and wait for the nurse to return.
The amber eyes stare down at me from a black room of coursing shimmering oil, a black morass dripping and moving all around me, leaking a sinister cosmic light.
In a blink it changes back to the white of the hospital room. I can hear the nurse writing something to my right, just out of sight. “Oh, you’re awake again…. well I have some news from the doctor.” She says, coming into view with a small wheeled stool.
She sits down next to the bed and looks at her clipboard, “We can fix your lungs with an… unorthodox method but it means you have to stay here for a month after. If you choose to let them heal naturally then you might be here for at least six months, and you’ll need to be on the machines for most of it.” There really wasn’t much of a choice here… I slap my hand against the bed with what little force I could muster and the nurse lets out a strange yelp, as if both startled and excited by the action.
She looks down to the bed with a scowl, “Now why would you do that to me?” only to see my hand with my pointer finger raised up.” Oh, you want the one month option”, I give her a thumbs up. “Well I am required to tell you about the procedure, that it involves elements from Frankasia and that a non-human will be present for the treatment..” I interrupt her with another firm slap on the bed, or at least as best as I can manage while restrained. The nurse makes another strange noise and I notice her cheeks a little flush as I just firmly give her a thumbs up again.
“Well then, I’ll notify the doctor and we’ll schedule the procedure as soon as possible” She says, standing up from her stool and sliding it out of her way. “I should mention that you will be bound to this room for the time being, we need to monitor all side effects.” She opens the door and I can barely get a glimpse of another white room beyond before she shuts the door.
About an hour after my interaction with the nurse something began to feel off, my chest felt heavy and my throat itched with acidic ichor. I began to cough spastically, the nurse rushing in after only a few seconds of the breathing machine behind me beeping alerts of failure.
The room almost flickered for elongated agonizing seconds as a shadow gripped the roof only to have my vision filled with the deep amber of the nurse’s eyes. She already had a syringe in hand and began to inject it into my IV, but I could feel the grasp of sedatives gripping my mind far before the liquid would make it to my veins. “Doctor! We need to do the procedure now!” I hear her call to the room beyond as I fall from consciousness, the white room fading to a spatial black of space.
In what feels like a mere moment’s gap in my mind I awaken to my hospital room once again, the humming of the amber-eyed nurse filling the plain space. The stale acidic slime that I had in my mouth from the tube remained but I felt a familiar sensation grace me once more, the demand to inhale. With a new appreciation for such a commodity, I breathe deep of the sterile air around me, gathering the high humidity and cold temperature through my sinus and into renewed lungs.
With this mighty breath, a gasp of life and defiance of death itself, the nurse looks over to my unrestrained and unhampered form. I feel my chest to find my torn uniform, no tube to force oxygen into my broken form, no gown to ill-fittingly hang upon me. The fine details of the situation ate at my mind, the camo shirt I wore remained in its ragged state upon my chest, surely if I had been operated on, I would have had a gown on? A mass existed on my leg, it was my holster, sidearm clearly still embedded within. Now that I was free from the restraint of my state, I could see the ripped remains of my backpack just next to the bed.
“Sir, the operation was a success!” The nurse said cheerfully next to me, taking her attention from the clipboard she held. My mind was occupied by the necessity to regulate my breathing, something I had hated when people pointed out how I was pacing my breaths but now… now I appreciated the fine control rather than the rhythmic force of the machine that had sustained me what felt like moments ago. Time felt off and several questions hung in my mind like sores on an otherwise appealing fruit, spoiling this triumphant moment of survival with doubt.
I hazard to speak, “What happened with the machine?” coming out in a voice as ragged as the clothes draped upon me. “Fluid buildup in your lungs began to choke you. It was fortunate that the doctor was ready when he was, or else you could have drowned!” The nurse seems overly cheery as if forced in such a role. In a clearer voice, swallowing the residue of the dense slime in my throat, I ask “where am I?”
“Oh, you’re in Lurise Hold’s Medical center.” The nurse says, sitting up in a prim posture.
“I’ve never heard of it… did anyone else survive?”
She blinks a few times before answering, “There were many casualties, some made it back here, some didn’t. It’s quite unfortunate…”
Then, the final question dawns on me “And how long till I can leave?”
“You won’t be able to leave for at least a month, a quarantine after your procedure of course, and then the doctor has to clear you.” She shifts in her seat as she answers me, as if nervous at my reaction.
“At least I’m alive… can I at least see some of the other patients from the front?”
The nurse blinks again for a moment and then answers, “No, only me and the doctor are authorized to enter your room right now.”
“Well then, nurse… I never got your name.”
She seems to consider the question as if I had asked her opinion on something, visibly rolling my words around in her mind, “Elise”
“Thank you Elise. Do you mind if I get something to eat? I feel like I haven’t eaten in days.”
Elise, looking at me down the bridge of her nose, gives me a kind smile, “Of course, you haven’t eaten in a while. Let me bring you something desirable” she says, standing from her small wheeled chair in a strange enthusiasm for this act of servitude.
“Oh and maybe some new clothes? I had thought I would have been in a surgical gown or something…” I say, keeping suspicion out of my voice as I pose this request. Elise blinks several times in place, as if thinking over something obvious that had just been pointed out, only breaking the silence of the ward with “Oh we are out of gowns at the moment. I’ll see what we have”
Before I can speak further, she steps out of the room, careful to close the door as to block my vision of the outside world. I only caught a glimpse of a wooden highlight on a wall composing the world beyond, likely composing a nurses station.
In my isolation within the white walls I sit waiting for the comfort of Elise’s presence.
I thought I had died there on that battlefield, that fortune had abandoned me in favor of another soul. As I wait in solitude, all I have to comfort me is the cold damp air of the hospital and the steady beeping of the heart monitor. With my moments of introspection I dwell on the situation I am in and its several oddities. Even if they had been out of surgical gowns, I would have been stripped.
Why was my bag next to my bed and why… I feel for my sidearm that had been left in my leg holster to find it missing from its place. It had been there before the surgery, someone must have removed it recently…
As the planted doubts began to sprout roots of suspicions the door opens once more, Elise returning to bring a tray of food. “Hello again sir, I was able to get you one of the first meals from our cafeteria for lunch! As for your clothing… well I couldn’t find anything for you, maybe you had some in your bag?” She says, setting the plastic tray of food in front of me.
She playfully lifts the lid on top of the plate to reveal grilled chicken, wild rice and green beans on the main platter with a bread pudding dessert.
I face her and give her my best innocent smile, “Thank you, this looks great. I don’t think that I had any spare clothes in my bag and even if I did… well from what I saw, it looked like someone tore the damned thing open.”
Elise dismisses my observation, “Check it anyways, you might have gotten lucky. As for your care here, I think you’re only on observation for now since most of your scans came up clear. I’ll want to remove your IV once you are done eating.” She says, taking a seat on the small rolling stool. With a simple smile she sat watching me eat as if waiting for me to begin choking. Each gulp of the hospital food was nutritious but bland, and left a slimy acrid aftertaste in my mouth. Once I had taken my final bite, I could have sworn I saw Elise shudder. I’m not sure what to make of the nurse, she’s extremely attentive and seems to care quite a lot but she is strange, lacking the social common sense to leave me be when I ate. I push the question into the cold space of the white room, asking “Elise, do you have any other patients to watch?” as I set the tray aside on the bedside table.
“Of course, I just need to make sure my favorite is taken care of!” she says cheerfully.
“Oh, am I your favorite?” I ask lightheartedly. Maybe I had this girl figured all wrong, maybe she is just awkward around me for another reason…
“Yes mast- sir.” Elise abruptly cuts herself off, it sounded as if she was going to say master. I wonder if she had meant master sergeant as I raise an eyebrow at the correction but press no further.
Had the master sergeant survived in the support column? The question hung at the forefront of my mind, but Elise seemed not to spare such information. “Well then, Elise, let’s see if I am as lucky as you think I am.” I pick up my bag from the floor, letting my tired arms firmly but gracelessly pull the torn military bag on to the bed. The bag had obviously been cleaned somehow, the mud and filth of the battlefield sucked away without trace of machine washing, no character smell of detergent, no dry roughness of processed water. Alarm bells ring in my mind as a laundered uniform looks back at me from the bottom of the bag. This shouldn’t be here. I could have sworn I checked through my gear before we engaged the dwarves, there was no uniform in here. All of my other supplies are gone from the main pocket, all but this uniform, in my size, pristine, remains.
“Quite the luck you have” Elise’s voice snaps me out of my mental panic to hear the heart monitor beeping faster. I pull the uniform out of the bag and set it on the bedside table, taking my time to check every zipper and pouch on the backpack to see if any of my other belongings remain. Naught but a silver cross necklace, matted and reflecting dimly against the bright light, remains in my bag. The necklace had been something my mother gave me before I left. I had never been a believer like she was, but I trusted she meant it for the best.
Given the uncertainty I felt, I put it over my neck to the dismay of Elise, who held out her hand as if to stop me, “Wait, wait!”
I paused, given the suddenness of her change in demeanor, not only had she ceased smiling and furrowed her slim brow, but raised her voice and forwent her normal politeness, “Is there something wrong, Elise?” I ask, the heart monitor giving away my startled state.
“We don’t let patients have jewelry on, it messes with some of the machines.” She quickly corrects herself, returning to her prim posture on the stool.
“Well, I’m not due for any more surgery or scans, am I?” I say, setting the torn backpack aside.
“Not for now, but we don’t know if you could suddenly deteriorate…” Elise cautions, trying to convince me to listen.
I clear my throat and feel at the cross, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to have it on to remember my family. If anything happens, sure, take it off. I won’t put it back on.”
“I… I guess that should suffice” Elise says, slouching her neck.
“Now, I’d like to change. Could you… take a few minutes elsewhere?” I gingerly ask, positioning myself at the edge of the hospital bed.
Elise nods, standing up with her hands held against her legs as if to hold a nonexistent skirt down and quietly slips out of the room. I catch a glimpse of the outside again, only seeing white tiles of the room outside. With a long drawn out sigh I put my hands to my face and let the situation sink in. There’s too much messing with me, the lack of anyone but Elise, the clothes sitting in my bag, my pistol disappearing, the glimpses of the room not looking like the room…
I release my face from its position embedded in my hands to take off the torn shirt. The necklace dangles as I look down to messily undo my buttons with atrophied hands. A quick but noticeable flash of yellow dances across the matted reflection of the cross necklace. My poorly focused fingers stop messing with the third button and I look around, only seeing the white of the hospital around me. There’s no yellow-colored objects that could produce such a reflection within the drab walls of my room. I return my attention to the buttons and pull off the ruined fabric, moving to my pants next.
The surface of the cross shifts as if the light in the room had moved without changing illumination anywhere else, a second yellow flash catching my eye. My hand gently rises to hold the cross upon my palm. I let the features of the matted silver play across the surface when my eyes finally reveal to me an awful truth. The surface of this necklace was never matte, it was a mirror finish. The space beyond my reflection was a shapeless haze of horizontal lines of white folding across each other.
The sound of the heart monitor producing a steady long alarm behind me breaks my concentration as Elise bursts into the room and quickly shuts the door behind her.
With my tattered shirt behind me and only the torn remains of my pants to hide my shame, I look at the panicked nurse confused at her sudden entrance.
“Oh, you… ” Elise stops to catch her breath, “You… just pulled the wire…” she breathes heartily.
I look back to the bed behind me to see a disconnected wire to the small clamp on my finger. I had hardly noticed the monitor at all, nor the wire. Elise takes a deep breath before sitting down at her stool, again taking up the prim and proper form I had been used to seeing her in, “All I saw on the monitor was a sudden increase in heart rate and then BOOM! Flatline…” she says, wheeling her stool over to the monitor to silence the alert.
“Sorry… just thought I saw something..” I say.
Elise is as intrigued by my statement as I am myself. I had meant to tell her that I had trouble getting the shirt off… but in a fit of what I could only consider an urge, I told her the truth. “Saw something?” She asks, groping absently for her clipboard on the table nearby with her eyes transfixed on me.
I begin to clarify, turning to face her with my still bare chest yet covered by the fresh shirt, “Yeah.. like, a flash of something out of the corner of my eye.” I say, keeping the full extent of the truth to myself.
“Well… that’s not abnormal for someone that went through what you did. I can ask the doctor to come in and give you a full evaluation.” Elise says while dutifully writing down my statement on her now present clipboard.
In a bid to ensure my doubts had not been uncovered, I try to explain away my earlier statement, “No, no.. it was just like I had seen movement… probably a trick of the lights. They flicker every so often.”
Elise’s caring voice fills the room with an unusual completeness, “Then the lights really must have freaked you out… you jumped to 108 beats per minute there… just in case, I’ll ask the doctor for something to calm your nerves, all frontline soldiers get a little jumpy for a week or so..”
She rises from her seat, deep eyes of amber focused on my body with a smile of satisfaction, “I’ll let you be for now” Elise says, leaving me alone in the room once more.
With another long sigh I let the tension in my chest release like a wound up spring finally having respite. My vision drifts down to my chest and my eyes linger on the pristine human skin that composed my body. My heart sinks as several terrible truths in my mind finally connected. I had no scars or incision marks on my chest and the yellow I saw in the reflection was the same yellow as Elise’s eyes.
Thump Thump Thump
I could hear my blood pumping in my ears, my body throwing itself into an adrenaline fueled analysis of the moment. The clothes weren’t mine, everything but my necklace is gone…. no surgical marks at all….
In a panic, I peruse my body for cuts, incisions, anything that would assist in explaining the madness I felt around me. I go so far as to take my pants off and look for any other injuries, looking out for known scars and previous ailments that had left their marks upon me. Everything had been as it was without fail, as if I had never been under the skillful knife of a surgeon.
With extreme haste, I dawn the fresh uniform and with a rapport of bare feet upon tile I march myself over to the hospital room door and firmly grip the doorknob. A mighty turn does nothing as it only jams, evidently having been locked from the outside. My soldier’s training fell away as I looked around the room for any indication of how to leave….
I scour the room for the mandatory fire code exit plan, only to turn up nothing. I knew there was one… when I first woke up I saw one! This was a human facility, run by humans, that had human standards… it couldn’t be that there wasn’t one. Now, there had to be something else in here, something I could use to unlock the door.
Elise… She can open the door.
I take the heart monitor on my finger off and attach it back to the disconnected wire, setting off another alarm. With the desperation of a soldier and the fear of a schoolboy, I press myself against the wall just next to the door, when Elise opens the door, I run out.
Thump Thump Thump
My heart races in my chest as I feel eyes on me, only to see no one around.
The doorknob turns and the door cracks.
I begin to push forward and I hear a gasp and a sharp pain in my lower chest as I try to push past Elise. With only Elise’s surprised face and the tile beneath her in view of the open door I look down to see a syringe stuck into the lower left of my torso. “Oh my…” Elise lets out as my world grows dim.
My veins are on fire, I know that this will likely be the last time I will be unrestrained here so I hazard a look to the room just outside mine. Black squelching ooze seeps from the roof just behind what I had thought was a nurses station. My slowly dimming mind catches glimpses of amorphous black masses with small points of light showing texture, like the cosmos had wrapped themselves in an oozy flesh to compose a hollow form. A single bright amber eye looks at me from behind the white of the countertop, the walls and floor beneath me running thick with veins of black that sourced from this central flesh.
I feel the gaze of the eye focus on me and my mind, sending me deep into an inky darkness as my knees give out.
“You know sir, if you had told us you were seeing things and were having panic attacks, we could have fixed this earlier…” Elise’s voice awakens me.
Beep Beep Beep
I can feel a tight band across my chest fixing me to a hospital bed, soft leather cuffs keeping my arms locked within inches of the bed posts. The darkness from my vision retreats as I blink the same white hospital room into view. Elise sits beside my bed in her proper posture, writing down notes upon the clipboard that always seems to be within arm’s reach.
“Please… just let me go.. or let me drown like I was supposed to” I ask with a dry throat.
She only sighs and lifts another syringe off the small silver table beside her, “I will let you go, once your treatment is taken care of.”
Elise takes the IV line in her gentle grasp and begins to add the clear liquid slowly to it, “This should clear up any of the nasty visions you have.”
I struggle against the restraints as I feel the cold liquid flow into my veins. The sound of Elise’s voice forces a calm over me, my body involuntarily relaxing under her gentle commands, “Please, just let the medicine do its job.”
Milky white walls drip away to cosmic black as the room grows veins of night across every surface and an ever-present amber eye opens above my bed. I look in terror at Elise, the nurse’s garb absent in favor of a flowy French maid outfit composed of a purple midnight that flows into her form, making the clothes have no discernable beginning or end. Her once human amber eyes look back with a monstrous all-seeing yellow with a single black dot in the center. Her form is completely made of an ooze, the chair, the table, everything is composed of the same dark purple ooze.
The whole room seems to flow to Elise’s will as I yell, seeing the same ooze engulfing me, holding me back, slipping into my arm where the IV was. “What’s wrong, master? Don’t you want to feel better?” Elise coos in an inhuman voice that echoes from throughout the room, as if it had come from everywhere at once. My yells grow dim as the slime moves to cover my mouth, forcing itself into my open jaw with an acrid taste and slimy texture. “Don’t worry master, I’ll make you better” Elise says, the bed shifting in the room to bring me closer to the purple mass that calls itself Elise.
I look down to see my chest covered in the slime, the clothes gone, nothing left of anything I once wore except for a small silver cross handing on my neck. My world is nothing but a cosmic darkness as I am enveloped by an embrace of the purple ooze, sinking into her form, unable to fight the unyielding nature of the etheric slime.
“You are all mine… forever..” echoes Elise’s voice in the void.