Chapter 20: Missed, Mixed & Mysterious Messages
You know that feeling when someone is watching you? Ever woken up to it?
It's hard to relax at the best of times when someone is staring at you. A few umm dozen thousand years of civilization isn’t enough to override millions of years of evolutionary instincts telling you to be on guard in case it's a predator hunting you. Now imagine trying to avoid waking any further and going back to sleep while there is a pair of eyes trained on you.
This world seemed opposed to letting me sleep my fill.
Even if I couldn’t force myself back to sleep, it didn’t make waking up any easier. I might be awake, but my body still felt like it was asleep. I struggled to work a weak arm free of the tight sheets, whoever put me into this bed had pulled and tucked the sheet corners so tight it almost felt like I’d been tied down. Wiggling and half rolling side to side, a few inches at a time, I worked to loosen my bindings enough to free an arm.
A little more. Almost there… Ahhh? One moment...
Yes! Twisting my shoulder, I managed to tug my arm free and slip it up out from under the sheets. Pulling my arm back beneath me, I pushed myself up onto my elbow as I turned to face who was staring at me.
“Good you're awake! Mistress will be very pleased,” my watcher greeted as our eyes met. Sitting in a chair backed against the room’s closed door was an Alrec, one of the Duchess’s maids. What sort of Alrec you ask? Well... A cat Alrec going by the short triangular ears and slender tail to match my own.
Yeah, that's right, a catgirl maid. It was her yellow, slitted cat eyes that had been watching me. “What? Why…” I began to ask, before I let what I was going to say fall away as I pushed the pillow back against the bedrest. Rolling back onto my back, I slipped my other arm free and pushed myself up to sit up against the bedrest.
The maids tail flicked back and forth with irritation as she fixed me with a look of reproach. “I’d stay down if I was you,” she warned, unsheathing the claws on one paw— umm, hand, flexing her fingers. “You’re under house arrest, healer’s orders. The healer has said you need bed rest until further notice and I’ve been ordered to make sure you do that. Down. You. Go,” she said, leaving the how of it open to interpretation.
Healer? I didn’t think I’d scratched myself up that much and I didn’t like the sound of being locked in my room, being locked in the game was already too much. I didn’t like my chances trying to escape the castle a second time, especially since they would probably be on the lookout this time. I didn’t want to run away again either really, but having my movements restricted raised my hackles in a way that made me want to try.
To prove a point.
Glancing around the room, pausing briefly on the maid and the door I tried formulating a plan. If i got out of this bed she would probably stand and either hold her ground or try to grab me. If I threw a flash I could probably stun her and try to slip out while invisible, no… She would probably raise an alarm before I made it out, I’d have to tie her up and gag her with the sheets or something.
My expression must have given my thoughts away, because the Maid’s eyes flashed menacingly. Almost as if they’d reflected the moonlight on a dark night.
The menacing gleam disappeared as quickly as it came and suddenly she appeared to exude a timid frailty as she looked up at me with wide fearful eyes. “You wouldn’t hurt a poor defenceless maid would you?” she stammered in a faux terrified voice, her bottom lip quivering just so.
“What? No! I was…” I blurted out in alarm, before realising she was messing with me.
Damn cat could probably talk her way out of a PPD lock-up, all the while tricking those sadists in uniform into giving her one of their pigsticks as a souvenir. Probably could also get them to throw in some candy too. I had a couple ‘friends’ like that, I won’t say I wasn’t jealous of their silver tongues and their ability to charm their way out of trouble, but I knew from experience that the ego that went with those skills got them into just as much, if not more trouble.
I wasn’t about to stick my… Umm, horns? No? I’m not about to dance the tango with trouble if I could help it. So, that said I let myself slip back down into the bed so I was not quite sitting up in bed, but not entirely laying down either. More like slightly propped up.
Her grin turned to a guilty grimace and both her expression and tone drastically softened. “Look… I don’t mean to harrage or browbeat you, but you need to stay put for now, at least till the healer and my Mistress the Duchess say so. I haven’t been told much, but I know you probably feel like you’re drowning and in a bad place and I’ve been there myself, oh Ruin have I ever, but Mistress wants to help you and if she wants to help she will help you. She is stubborn like that, but it's because she cares and has the power to help people. Just let her help, she really can help you,” the maid consoled.
Let the Duchess help me? I mean I had decided to reach out for help and accepting help wherever it came from was definitely a part of that, but… But, the Duchess was just an NPC in a game, though looking at how she had acted around us and her relationship with El, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been unlucky enough to run into two different S.A.I.. Unlucky might not be an entirely fair thing to say—
Knock! Knock! Knock!
The maid almost jumped out of her chair at the sound of the three sharp taps on the door behind her, before swinging her chair out of the way and pulling it open as she lowered herself into a one handed curtsey. Two women strode past her into the room barely a second after the door was fully open. Propped up as I was with my head tilted towards the room’s entrance I recognised the first of the two ladies, Cerys Blaiddcalon the Duchess Parcosia.
The second lady I hadn’t seen before, but her outfit made for an interesting contrast. She was wearing a rose gown that appeared to be sewn from the softest satin which shimmered and flowed like a liquid as it travelled down her curves. A dress fit for a royal court, the contrast came from the practical canvas apron she wore over it and the brown twine she’d use to tie her gown’s rolled up long sleeves in place.
I shouldn’t have been surprised after how we were introduced to the Duchess, but despite her position as the most important person in the room, Cerys seemed awfully eager as she poached the maid’s chair and slumped into it with more than a little relief. The aproned lady hardly remarked on the Duchesses behavior, possibly already used to it, as she authoritatively stepped forward to fill the localised power vacuum.
Lightly clearing her throat, the imposing woman turned her attention to the maid who was now standing awkwardly beside the open door, having risen out of her curtsey.
“I hope you aren’t going to bully my patient too much, Gael Eiriol Silvertail,” she teased, careful enunciating the maid’s full name with a knowing smile. “If you get her all riled up and she hurts herself I’ll be requesting that her highness takes the costs out of your pay. You’re not some half-feral mercenary anymore, so stop acting it, dear.”
“Yes, Mo— Uh, I mean… Yes Lady Povey!” the maid, Gael, replied with a start.
What was going on here?
Why were all the NPC’s in this game so, ummm well human? With how they were acting without any prompt from me, I was starting to almost feel like a passive observer watching a drama or sitcom or something? Maybe one of those really bloody adaptations of fantasy book series that made it to TV in the early two thousands.
“Now for your turn,” Lady Povey announced from where she was suddenly looming over my bedside. I guess she must have moved while I was lost in my own head…
“Your turn,” she stated again. “I am the palace’s Chief Healer, Enfys Povey. So… Minor abrasions to the hands, knees, elbows and shins. Friction induced blistering blistering to the feet, several burst requiring cleaning. Minor inversion sprain of the right ankle. Minor hypothermia. Physical exhaustion as well signs of sleep deprivation. Most of these are what would usually be considered minor injuries, but together they paint a very different, more concerning picture. I am not sure what you were thinking going out unprepared like that.”
Yeaaaah… It was scary hearing it all listed like that. I’d known I wasn’t in great shape by the time I got back to the city gates, but the cold had probably numbed me to a lot of it.
I’d attempted to swallow out of anxiety and wound up coughing due to not having enough saliva in my mouth. Noticing this, she paused to pass me a cup made from beaten copper, taking it, I paused to glance at its contents only to see the Lady Povey looking my way with a smile of encouragement while gesturing for me to drink.
After watching to make sure I took a sip, yes it was water, she took a breath before continuing. “In spite of what I just said, you are a really lucky girl. I’m still not entirely sure what your connection to Cerys is, but thanks to her request that I treat you, you are now on the mend. Most of your maladies were easily treated with healing magic and conventional medicine, however your body and mind needed rest so magical sedation was used to make sure you got it.”
“I feel like I got enough rest… Did I sleep all Sunday, is it the morning after?” I asked hesitantly.
“Well you certainly slept well, better than expected even. The magical sedation was only meant to keep you asleep for a minimum of a night and a day, enough to allow you to heal and to start you on the road to recovery for the exhaustion and sleep loss. You slept for a little longer than that.”
A tiny bubble of uncertainty formed in my stomach at her words. What was she saying? Was she agreeing with me? I knew my escape and return had all occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, twenty four hours would mean sometime Monday morning right? Did she mean it was Monday night? It couldn’t be much later than that?
“We let you sleep since your mind and body must have agreed that you needed more, that said if you didn’t wake up on your own, we were going to wake you today regardless. To answer your question, it is Wednesday’s morning. I would say you are now in excellent health, but we’ll take it slow and get you up and moving and let you find your feet after you’ve eaten,” the Healer prescribed. “You’ll be right dear”
It’s Wednesday? I’d been asleep for three days and nights?
If Roxi had replied during that time, she’d probably think I’d ghosted her. Rushing to check, I fumbled open the UI overlay and the direct message log for my conversation with Roxi. Halfway there I was assaulted by the strobing flashing of ignored prompts, seventeen missed messages. Fuck fuck fuck.
Aisling Mistmirror: Hey Roxi, hope you’re doing alright. Was wondering if you wanted to chat? If that’s okay, no worries if you’re busy or something. If you can, message me back. I’m in game so I’ll see it straight away.
Roxadice Umbrial: Hey! I got your message, You're still in cora? Sorry I had to log out early?
Roxadice Umbrial: You wanted to chat?
Roxadice Umbrial: Aisling?
Roxadice Umbrial: Hey?
Roxadice Umbrial: What’s going on?
Roxadice Umbrial: Are you ignoring me?
Roxadice Umbrial: Your message made it sound like something was wrong? What’s up?
Roxadice Umbrial: It's been a day since I replied.
Roxadice Umbrial: Are you getting my messages?
Roxadice Umbrial: Aisling?
Roxadice Umbrial: Are you there?
Roxadice Umbrial: I’m getting worried?
Roxadice Umbrial: Just let me know if you’re alright
Roxadice Umbrial: Aisling?
Roxadice Umbrial: It’s been two days and you haven’t replied, something is wrong
Roxadice Umbrial: I’m calling in sick on Friday, I’m logging in as soon as I get home thursday night.
Roxadice Umbrial: I don’t know if you’re going to see this, but I am going to find you and we’re going to have that chat. If you’re in trouble and unable to reply I’m coming!
Illegal Alien is a canon story in QuietValerie's Troubleverse setting. Make sure you read Quietvalerie's Trouble with Horns, her second Troubleverse story Witch of Chains and ChiriChiriChiri's Troubleverse story Snowbound.
The Troubleverse & Kammiverse have their own discord where you can talk to other readers and the various authors including myself and QuietValerie.