Chapter 3: The Changes
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Seph watched as the mortal form faded from her domain. My new Ach-Priestess is a strange mortal, but I’ve seen the kindness of her heart, and I know I’ve made the right decision by selecting her. Seph chastised herself for prematurely gendering her new priestess as female, even though Seph of course could see the Priestess’s soul and understood the phenomenon of mortals being transgender.

It wasn't unheard of in the realm of the gods, either; in fact her own nibling Hermaphroditus was nonbinary. Seph had hated that some of the mortals had turned their name into a pejorative slur, she felt as if it was just another example of the cruel persecution of trans folk.

Regardless of the true nature of one's soul, Seph understood the need to honor one’s chosen pronouns, and she also knew that the new Arch-Priestess still considered himself male. Seph could only hope that the decision she’d made was the correct one; to bestow a gift upon a mortal that they didn't expressly ask for. Finding oneself and their gender was a fluid journey of self discovery, and Seph needed to tow the fine line of nudging her priestess towards the inevitable, while letting the priestess make that journey alone. Mortals were fragile beings, and she hoped the shock would be short, and the realization swift. 

**

Beep... beep... beep... beep... beep... 

Maxwell wasn't sure where that slow, steady beeping was coming from but it sounded like a … heart rate monitor. Upon thinking that, Max panicked to discover that the beeping increased in speed. He tried to pry open his eyes and found himself groggily blinking the fuzz away. His head ached, and his vision was blurry. Feeling like he had gotten blackout drunk, he tried to push himself up on his elbows. 

“Well, look who’s awake” a woman's voice said, almost mockingly “I thought you were a goner for sure.”

“Seph?” Max asked, trying to get his bearings.

“Who’s Steph? She your girlfriend or something?” The voice responded, slowly coming into focus as Max’s field of view. The roughly thirty-ish blond woman in scrubs was definitely not Seph, and Max struggled to make sense of how he got here.

“What happened?” he asked, examining the bleak hospital room around him.

“From what I hear, you stepped through a construction site, and smacked your noggin, falling into a missing piece of pavement. Medically speaking, you have an edema or swelling of tissue on your head, a slight skull fracture, and a pretty nasty concussion. Let me see your eyes there champ, so I can check on the last one.” Max tried his best to look into the light from her flashlight pen, as she held his lids open gently. “Well you lucked out on the concussion, but we are gonna have to run more tests to see where you stand. I’ll get the doctor.”

“What- how long have I been out?” Max called before she had left the room. 

“Four or five days, depending on how you count.” the nurse said matter of factly.

Max didn't have long to dwell on what that means, before a doctor came in and sat down on a wheeled stool, and scooted it to his bedside.

“Alright, Mister… Wheeler. How are we feeling today?” She had to look at her clipboard to remember Max’s name, but she carried herself with the professionalism that she probably knew his medical situation like a well read book. Adding to the calming effect she had on him, her voice had a hint of southern honey to it, but not enough to be a drawl. 

“I’m um okay I guess. My head hurts something awful, and I’m a little disoriented, but nothing debilitating”

Dr. Carter as Max would find out was a Traumatic Brain Injury doctor, and she had been overseeing his care since he came in. They would need to take him for a few tests, so the nurse removed his catheter, and got him situated into a wheelchair. 

“Before we go, I was hoping I could use the restroom” Max said sheepishly

“We just removed your catheter, you should be running on empty” the nurse spat back with frustration.

“Sorry, I need to poop” Max tried to reason with her. With a dramatic sigh, the nurse wheeled him to the attached bathroom and perpendicular to the toilet seat, locking the wheels. 

“Think you can manage the rest there, hero?” she said condescendingly. 

“Yeah, I’ll manage.”

Finally alone, Max lifted himself onto the seat and did his business. He felt weak, but didn't fully understand why. Muscular atrophy shouldn't affect me for this badly, right? 

Resolving to stand and wash his hands, he made his way over to the sink. Looking in his reflection, he definitely looked thinner. He’d lost a lot of muscle definition, and his face seemed narrower. Surprisingly, he didn't have any five o’clock shadow. “Wow, a warm bed and a shave, this is like a nice hotel” he laughed at his own joke as he made his way back to his wheelchair and unlocked the wheels. He wasn't excited to see the nurse, but he was certainly excited to leave the hospital, so he made his way to the door. 

“Bout time Cinderella, we are gonna have to cruise it in order to get you to the ball” the nurse said in her usual inflammatory way. As she sped down the hallways pushing his wheelchair, Max couldn't help but think about the fact that her feminine jabs didn't really sting like he’d have thought. He certainly wasn't used to getting mocked for being effeminate, his wide shoulders and rugged genes had seen to that. But still, he found it almost comforting, in a bizarre sort of way. 

Finally finding their destination, the nurse popped the wheel locks and took off back to whence she came. 

“She’s a menace, that one” Doctor Carter mentioned, seeing Max’s smile at her antics. “Written up more times than I can count, but she's damn good at her job.”

“I could imagine that” Max chuckled conspiratorially. “So what all are you going to do to me doc?”

“First we are going to take your height and weight and then we are going to run some standard tests to scan and measure your brain and its activity.”

Stepping up to the scale carefully, Max steadied himself so that she could take her readings. “Alright you’re five feet nine inches tall… weighing in 142 pounds” Doctor Carter said writing it on her notepad. 

“I think your scale might need a calibration doctor, I was six feet tall and 184 pounds just a few weeks ago.” Max said confused

“Hmmm, you seem a little gaunt, you've definitely lost weight and muscle mass in general, but that seems extreme. Let me measure you again.” After another round of measuring, the doctor continued “no, the scale is reporting the same reading. Are you sure those measurements were accurate?”

“Well, I took them at my gym,” Max said, now unsure of himself. 

“Hmmm, I’ve heard too many stories of gyms throwing off scales to totally buy that, but don't worry, that was just a baseline in case we bring you back. It doesn't affect anything too serious.”

Feeling reassured, Max allowed himself to be guided over to an MRI machine, which would be his first test. As he laid in the tube, trying not to think, he couldn't help but let his mind wander to the talk with Seph. It had seemed so real at the time, as if he was really there making a deal with a goddess to help save the world. That's so impossible, you idiot, clearly you just imagined it from having a brain injury. I mean you settled the terms over strawberry belgian waffles, for christ’s sake Max tried to reason with himself. 

The rest of the tests seemed fairly innocuous, if not downright exhausting, so when the nurse with the attitude came zipping back to collect him, Max was pleased to be getting back to his bed. “What's poppin’ short stack, they figure out what's wrong with your noggin or what?”

Max laughed but he was caught off guard by her comment about being short. It was true, he was in fact shorter than the nurse, but he could have sworn he was taller than her. As he settled into the chair, he tried to think back on any instance he’d been able to measure himself against her, and he realized he didn't. In fact the only other time he’d been out of the wheelchair around her, was when she helped him into the chair in the first place, and he hadn’t been standing at full height. To satisfy his growing curiosity he asked “how tall are you” as they made their way through the halls. 

“Taller than you, pipsqueak” she fired back and he could only laugh. 

After collecting himself he continued “no, really- how tall are you? I have this weird feeling like I got shorter.”

Finally taking him at some semblance of seriousness, she replied “Last time I checked, I was five feet, ten inches. Why, how tall do you think you are?”

Well, the doctor said I’m five feet, nine inches, but I could have sworn I was 6 foot even.”

That got a round of boisterous laughter from the nurse, who once she regained her composure replied “small-fry, I think she was trying not to hurt your feelings, there's no way you're an inch above five-seven, maybe five-eight if you cheat on your tippy toes. Come on, let's get you into bed.”Max couldn't believe it, if she was right, then he'd effectively lost height in a matter of days or possibly even hours. This couldn't be right, it wouldn't make any sense at all. It didn't particularly bother him, however, for some reason he had never been a huge fan of his stature. He tried to settle himself into bed as the nurse left the room, but he couldn't get his change of stature out of his head. Am I really shrinking?

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