Chapter 24:

An Offer to Stay, an Offer to Go

Mylo and the Summoned Hero

"Okay, I think that's almost enough bruises for one day," Ezre said tossing her wooden sword onto the little table.Bookmark here

"Almost?"Bookmark here

Mylo had only gotten a bit better at blocking and parrying, but he'd gotten way better at being battered and exhausted. He panted. The wooden sword sagged out of his hand. Sore, sore, everywhere, and not a chair to sit—Ezre had grabbed the only one on the lot.Bookmark here

But she didn't just sit. No, Ezre lifted the chair, carried it over to Mylo, set it down, and sat down by swinging one leg over the chair's back. It was a showy maneuver, if you asked Mylo.Bookmark here

"Come here, don't be shy. There's something we strobili do after exhibition matches if someone strains themselves. You're probably ready."Bookmark here

Timidly, Mylo approached. Bookmark here

"Unbutton."Bookmark here

Blushing, Mylo undid his shirt.Bookmark here

Ezre slipped one hand to lie flat on the right side of his chest, a bit below his gyre. Mylo tensed at the warmth of her fingers. She placed the other on his shoulder, wrapping slightly onto his back.Bookmark here

"Okay, so what—"Bookmark here

"CLEAR!"Bookmark here

Mana jolted through Mylo's chest. He went rigid. Breath knocked out of him, Mylo only remained upright because Ezre held him in place. Blackness began creeping closing in from the edges of his vision. Towards saturation, the raw mana encountered two possible exits—the insulated wall of his chest cavity, or the conductive channels of the net around his gyre.Bookmark here

"That oughta do it," Ezre said, dropping him.Bookmark here

Mylo fell on his ass. Breath came back, one gasp at a time. Once he stopped panicking, Mylo felt better. Much better. Lots better. As he stood and dusted off his pants, it started. Turning slow and clockwise, his gyre spooled up. His reservoir refilled. Back to life.Bookmark here

"You did it," he whispered.Bookmark here

Ezre nodded, as if she'd expected nothing less than full recovery.Bookmark here

Finally. I'm back. Mylo glowed. "High five?"Bookmark here

"What's that?"Bookmark here

"Oh, uh," Mylo waved his hands around as he tried to explain. "It's this celebration thing from...wherever Pelgram comes from. Something good happens, you and another person put your hands up flat like this, then smack them together pretty hard."Bookmark here

"Sure. Let's try it."Bookmark here

Mylo's right hand presented a steady target while Ezre wound up. The impact echoed off the walls of surrounding buildings. Mylo winced.Bookmark here

"That's it, but not so hard."Bookmark here

His hand tingled all over—especially his index and middle fingers, for some reason. Those two fingers went icy and pulsed. It's not like they took the brunt of the impact—what had he done to piss them off? Mylo tried to shake it out.Bookmark here

In his chest, his gyre changed directions. His reservoir drained.Bookmark here

"Uh, Ezre. Should a gyre go counterclockwise?"Bookmark here

"No, why?"Bookmark here

This was the same hand he'd busted up falling into the ruin, but that was a wrist injury. Mylo shook his hand again.Bookmark here

The gyre switched back.Bookmark here

"Nevermind."Bookmark here

Joking and laughing, they meandered out of the lot. Ezre offered to walk him home—even though it was still early in the afternoon. Mylo agreed.Bookmark here

A weight was off his shoulders. Maybe everything was going to be okay.Bookmark here

Edule was shifting around them. Slowly in the real-time sense, but come back from work or a few hours of training, and suddenly whole blocks were different. It shouldn't have been a surprise when Mylo's apartment building was just a hole in the ground, in front of which stood the landlord and a few of the tenants.Bookmark here

"What happened?"Bookmark here

"The city-wide renovation plan happened," growled the landlord. "I didn't even have time to search for ink and a pen to label the boxes."Bookmark here

Mylo's fellow tenants though, took their time sorting through the boxes, finding what was theirs and apologizing when they bumped shoulders.Bookmark here

Ezre patted Mylo on the shoulder. "Sorry about your place."Bookmark here

She hadn't seen the inside of this place, heard the creak and crack of the floorboards under a neighbor's foot, seen the walls bow and sway in the wind, or drawn lots on a winter's night to see who would be the one to wake up every hour and walk through each room, checking that no one had stopped shivering.Bookmark here

Still, Mylo could have been grumpy about having to find a new place so abruptly. Yesterday he would have.Bookmark here

"It's fine." He smiled. "I guess I'll just have to stay in one of those soaring hotels they just built for a day or three."Bookmark here

Some of the other tenants nodded—apparently great minds do think alike.Bookmark here

The landlord smirked and tried to win back some renters. "Oh those aren't furnished yet. You'd be sleeping on a metal floor. Come stay at my other building tonight. That's still standing."Bookmark here

Mylo, not really thinking about it, volunteered information. "So is the North Star, we passed it on the way here."Bookmark here

Everyone else went through the mental calculus. A single two-story hotel with beds, plus a half the town displaced by construction, equals a race. A mad dash ensued. People left whatever they hadn't found yet and blurred past Mylo and Ezre to be first. Soon Mylo was left sitting dazed by a pile of boxes.Bookmark here

"So, Mr. Bract." The landlord rubbed his hands together. "Shall I show you to your new home? It's nicer than this old heap ever was, a bit."Bookmark here

"Can I sit on the roof?"Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

"Mylo...." Ezre tapped his shoulder. Her cheeks burned and she stared at the fresh pavement. "If you don't have a place to go, you could s-stay with me."Bookmark here

"Thank you. That sounds lovely."Bookmark here

Ezre squeaked, "Great. See you later!"Bookmark here

Then she took off running to hide her letters—and the poetry, dear gods, she couldn't let Mylo see those clunky rhymes.Bookmark here

Mylo sifted through the remaining boxes and found the one containing his few things—mostly clothes, well worn to the verge of worn out. As he wrapped his hand around the corner for a better grip, his gyre came uncapped and switched again.Bookmark here

Maybe he should see somebody about this. He squished the cardboard under his left arm and walked to the healer's, every few steps flicking his right hand like he was trying to shake water off. In his chest, mana surged in, then flowed out.Bookmark here

Mylo had tides. The feeling fascinated him.Bookmark here

The healer took one look at him and groaned. "You. Again. What is it this time?"Bookmark here

"Just a quick consult, I hope." He did his best to explain what was happening. Sometimes it was hard being the only class not to draw mana from the ambient—healers tended to view just being a strobilus as an exotic condition.Bookmark here

She gestured for him to hold out his hand. Mylo allowed her to study it under a beryl loupe. The healer grumbled, mumbled, and continued up his arm and to his chest.Bookmark here

"Looks like you absorbed something through the skin and it's messing with you. You been rubbing your hand in weird gunk?"Bookmark here

"No," Mylo said automatically.Bookmark here

He tried to think back, to see clearly in the whirlwind that this week had been. Sure, he'd fallen quite a ways into Old Edule, but that mainly broke his wrist and bruised his back. After that he just had a nice little walk in the ruins, and then....Bookmark here

Mylo sat bolt upright. "Yes, I have. There was this powder. I used those fingers to level it."Bookmark here

"Adventurers! I don't understand how any of you lasts a week, sticking your hands in strange holes and running in front of rolling boulders." The healer shook her head. "How long ago did this happen?"Bookmark here

"Same day I broke my wrist."Bookmark here

She tutted. "If you'd told me then, I could have extracted it before it got in the blood, maybe. But now it's part of you."Bookmark here

After a moment's thought, she shimmered over to a side table and scribbled a note. It bore a name and an address in a city far beyond even Dioon.Bookmark here

"You got two choices kid. You go to this fella—a specialist, expensive one too—and get the stuff expunged and your strobilus bits purified. Or you can live with it. Doesn't seem to be killing you."Bookmark here

Mylo hurriedly said, "Thanks, I'll keep the info just in case, but I'll try and live with it. Don't want to break the bank."Bookmark here

"Whatever, kid. Now get out of my emergency room."Bookmark here

After being unceremoniously kicked out, Mylo was closing the healer's garden gate behind him when he remembered.Bookmark here

The bank. Whatever the lemming boss dropped is waiting for me in that safety deposit box.Bookmark here

He jogged off down streets he no longer knew. The strange layout got him turned around, and pavement was impossibly flat and strange to run on. As if all the changes he'd seen so far weren't enough to convince him he wasn't in Edule anymore, a three-wheeler hissed around him, then pulled over.Bookmark here

Sure, there was the occasional wagon or cart converted to use by a mana-cannister in Edule before, but they were slow, cargo bearing beasts that crawled by with the operator in a little seat bolted onto the side like an afterthought. This was a thing was sleek—narrow black wheels, seats set low within a teardrop body, and flush head rivets. The only thing not alien about it were its occupants. Paul Etier sat in the passenger's seat, and Mylo recognized the lady at the wheel, but hadn't learned her name.Bookmark here

"Mylo! We need to talk."Bookmark here

"Hey, Paul. I was just going to the bank."Bookmark here

"It can wait. Get in."Bookmark here

They drove to Paul's apartment. It was cluttered with his merchandise, salvaged from his old store, which, like the rest of Edule, was slated to be redone within the week.Bookmark here

The old detective rubbed his hands together. "Dioon! It will be so good to be home. Ah! But where are my manners? Mylo, this is Lady Wode, one of the most esteemed persons of my acquaintance. Lady Wode, this—"Bookmark here

Lydia stopped him. "We already met, briefly."Bookmark here

"Good. Then we can make this quick and get out bright and early tomorrow. Mylo! Lady Wode needs a word with you." Paul guided them over to the kitchenette, then set about feverish packing.Bookmark here

Lydia leaned against the countertop. "So."Bookmark here

"So so," Mylo answered. Bookmark here

He was in a bubbly mood. Quite by accident, his lungs and reservoir had slipped into sync. Something about breathing the way Ezre prescribed made the diaphragm and the gyre naturally align. No capping needed. His reservoir could fill and drain to the natural tide with the gyre as their moon.Bookmark here

"So, Paul and your supervisor both tell me you're a strobilus with some talent."Bookmark here

"With more training, maybe I could become a talent with some strobilus."Bookmark here

Lydia didn't smile. "Right. Anyway. Dioon, the Jagai's capital, is always in need of more mana. You might make a decent healer once you learn a few spells. Or we could use you on the grid—a proper powerstation, I might add. We have the failsafes Count Callawea should have implemented here years ago."Bookmark here

She leaned in. "I heard about your injury. We have people in Dioon who can make you better, better than new."Bookmark here

It was a scientific, pinpoint attack. The offer of a life in the city of his dreams, and not one, but two possible jobs to earn himself a living there. Lydia called on the insecurity of his injury, his brokenness, and promised easy remedy. And training! If something could be learned, surely Dioon was the place to learn it.Bookmark here

If she had made this offer a few days ago. A few hours ago....Bookmark here

"Oh, I'm fine now. Boss fixed me up."Bookmark here

"Great. But you want to live in Dioon, right?" Lydia searched him, her face dire.Bookmark here

In the corner of his eye, Mylo saw Paul nodding emphatically.Bookmark here

"Of course. It's what I've always wanted, but I didn't think I was good enough to make the cut."Bookmark here

Lydia finally smiled. A tight smile.Bookmark here

"I think you'll do fine. There's some paperwork to fill out, some decisions to make, some formalities to knock down. If you'll come to room 404 of the North Star Hotel, tonight around, oh let's say 7:30, then we can get them sorted and be off tomorrow morning."Bookmark here

Again, the old detective nodded furiously in the background.Bookmark here

"Sure. See you then." He had no intention of going. For one thing, accepting an invite to stay over from one woman, then instead visiting another in a hotel late at night would be downright gauche—even if the only thing insinuating was the appointed hour. There was no chemistry here.Bookmark here

Mylo grabbed his now quite deformed box of belongings and tried to squeeze out between the merchandise.Bookmark here

"Ah, Mylo, before you go. Please do help by taking some of these clothes. Whatever fits and suits you."Bookmark here

"Really?"Bookmark here

"It would be a favor. Less to pack."Bookmark here

While Mylo busied himself picking through the yet-unboxed garments, Paul and Lydia had a quick conference out of his earshot.Bookmark here

"Everything is ready?" the old detective asked.Bookmark here

"Nearly. I was more worried about him interfering."Bookmark here

"No. He will not. I know him better than he knows himself. Mylo is not the type for the cheap heroics."Bookmark here

"Well, just in case, there are two dragoons waiting in 404 to restrain him until it's done. Don't give me that look. They won't hurt him. Dioon always needs energy."Bookmark here

With that, she swished out of the apartment.Bookmark here

Paul shut the door behind her. "Mylo, I know this is a very big change for you, and it must scare you a little. But know that this time three days from now, we shall be living the good life. After a few days in Dioon, everything here will just be a shadow of a memory. There we are meant to be, and must go."Bookmark here

He turned. There stood Mylo, holding up a shirt. It was midnight black, with opalescent black buttons and sheer fabric. The same shirt Kasumi had tried to get him into.Bookmark here

If Paul had worn a monocle instead of a pince-nez, it would have popped out. "Don't tell me you plan on wearing that...that thing!"Bookmark here

"But you made it."Bookmark here

Paul couldn't bring himself to admit that he'd been hiding Edule's small party scene all this time. He said, "In a fit of insanity over my exile. Just throw it away."Bookmark here

Mylo ignored the outstretched hand. Slipping the shirt off its hanger, he dropped it into his box.Bookmark here

"Mine."Bookmark here

Marshall Eastman
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