It was either the clammy sheets clinging to his sickly stenched body or the discomfort that forming ideas made inside his head which ultimately aroused the doctor. How long had he been asleep? Hours? certainly. Days? probably.
This illness was more than an inconvenience, it had robbed him of some excellent company and likely meant he missed some of the festivities of the week.
The draughts he had taken appeared to have let him sleep, but had not cleared his head. There was but one thing to do… consult the green fairy!
The doctor pulled his robe tighter and lumbered down the steps like one of the great gears of the Canals draped in a Morocan housecoat. Albertus was floating in his container, inactive, seemingly asleep. The doctor never understood why Albertus insisted on this ruse since they both knew full well, he did not need sleep. Moreover, the doctor often wondered what Albertus was doing or thinking when he was engaged in this performance.
Then the doctor noticed her. The delicate form curled up on his chaise-lounge. The throw draped over her, rising and falling with her peaceful breaths. What a dear.
This was really bad. How long indeed had he succumbed to the illness which seemed to still aflict him? What had driven her here? Had things in the city turned so dangerous so quickly that she had sought refuge in his sanctuary? Or had his illness prompted her concern to the extent that she felt the need to look after her friend?
fee verte. better.
He quietly opened the door after verifying that no ominous presence was indicated by his wards. The housecoated jumble, tumbleweeded down the back steps and around to the parlour.
The doctor reached under the cabinet and pulled out one of his ‘special’ bottles. He prepared himself the milky jade potion automatically… his head clearing slightly as the floral notes escaped the louche.
His parched lips and throat accepted the bracing enticement greedily. Feeling slightly better already, he put away the glass and tucked the bottle into his robe to take back upstairs. Then he saw himself.
He did not have mirrors in his main residence. A man of thoughts, he rarely felt the need for them, certainly not for purposes of vanity.
Yet, this was no dressing room mirror. The reflection here was nothing short of diagnostic. To his shock, the absinthe parlour mirror showed the doctor both his sickly palor, and spots! Not just the typical spots of most undesirable diseases of the flesh. No, these were sickly, but also taunting. Puce, light bruise blue and lavendar. This was no microbial contagion. It was of the aether.
The doctor clambered back up to the study in as much of a flurry as his condition allowed. Seething, he was just about to fling the homunculus’ container across the room, when again, he saw her form. His hand frozen in mid-air, the words “Of course!”, crossed as a wraith-like vapor between his lips.
He had always wondered why the Order had allowed him to keep Albertus. By all rights, they should have removed him as a potential temptation. But he had not been a temptation to the doctor. No, he had been a companion, a helper, and – a guard. The doctor knew then that the malady he had was nothing short of a kindness. The doctor was out of line. Under normal circumstances, he would have had to answer to terrible reprimand. Here in this city of mechano-pagans, so far from the closest priest to shrive to or act as a guide, the doctor should never have been alone. His path was different, from the normal path of the Order… and so they had allowed him a companion who was suitable to the challenges…
The doctor let his hand fall to his side with a wry, quiet chuckle. Some people tie a bit of string to one’s fingers… others get a homunculus with a sense of humor.
Yes… Albertus was right… he must remember… remember himself, remember – even to keep her safe. His eyes fell again upon her repose.
There was much to be done… and more to tell…
The housecoat tumbled silently back up the stairs to bed.