Memories of a Freedom Lost – Chapter 2: Sirens

Sirens blared around the capital city of Shang Tu. Streets were cleared to make way for the ambulance carrying its top priority patient off to the city’s best hospital. Tailing behind was the motorcycle of Carol’s, which carried her and Milla just in the vehicle’s wake. Milla had her face buried in Carol’s back, wetting her shirt. Carol blinked her own tears away from her eyes, laser focused on the road ahead of her.

Upon arrival at the Shang Tu Hospital, Lilac was immediately removed from the ambulance and hurried inside on a stretcher. Carol looked on vacantly from the sidelines, patting Milla gently when she hugged her arm.

They weren’t allowed in the room while the doctors worked, much to Carol’s outrage. Milla was able to convince her that it wasn’t worth arguing, however, and they were sat in the hallway outside. Tension filled the air, the two taking turns glancing up at the glowing red sign over the door. Doctors and nurses passed in and out on various occasions. None were especially in a hurry. Milla kept breaking into periodic fits of sniffling and sobbing into her hands. Carol was too lightheaded to remember how comfort worked.

Hours passed (or at least what might as well have been hours; the clock was ticking unnecessarily slow) and Milla cried herself to sleep in Carol’s lap. Carol fended off her own exhaustion with pointed persistence, though she realized that she probably wasn’t helping herself by running her fingers through Milla’s hair. She stared up at the red sign over the door, glowing just as bright as ever. However, barely a moment later, it flicked off. Suddenly, Carol was wide awake.

The door opened, and all of the doctors and nurses who had been inside filed out. A couple glanced down at Carol and Milla, but each continued on with their own business. Except for the last one, that is. He was a tall, aging bird man with gray-blue feathers, dressed in a clean white coat. He looked to Milla, fast asleep, then turned his attention to Carol and smiled gently.

“Carol Tea, I presume?” he said quietly, and Carol nodded. “My name is Doctor Romedius Quack. I’ve been placed in charge of your friend’s care.” He reached down to shake Carol’s hand. “You made a good choice bringing her here. The treatment she received before she arrived may have saved her life, but her condition would have worsened had she not been left in our hands.”

“So she’s going to be okay?” Carol asked.

Quack’s smile weakened. “She’s going to live.”

Despite the two keeping their volume to a minimum, Milla stirred from her slumber. Her ears lifted somewhat as she gazed sleepily up at the doctor before her. “Can we see her?” she squeaked.

The doctor frowned.

He led the two inside. Everything from the walls to the equipment to the bedspread was completely white, which made it easy to spot the purple dragon where she lay unconscious, hooked up to several machines. “Lilac!” Milla gasped, and rushed to her side.

“Be careful, now,” Quack cautioned.

Carol joined Milla, and a smile wiped over her face as she gazed down upon her resting best friend. Lilac had certainly seen better days, breathing through a mouthpiece, earpieces removed and head wrapped in bandages, but the heart rate monitor beside her bed was beeping regularly. Lilac was alive. Carol pressed her palm against her forehead and brushed her hair back, chuckling lightly to herself.

“How bad was it?” she inquired.

“Nothing we couldn’t handle,” the doctor answered.

“Is she in a coma?”

“A mild one, yes. She’s responsive. Hopefully it won’t last very long.”

Silence passed between the three for a time, each content with watching Lilac sleep peacefully. Only the buzz and beep of machinery filled the air, along with the distinct relief of tension.

“You’ll want to see her report,” said Quack eventually.

Carol and Milla watched him pull a clipboard off of a table by the wall. He handed it to Carol, who skimmed over the pages, unfamiliar with a majority of the vocabulary aside from “comatose” and “concussion”.

“We’re uncertain about the state that her brain is in,” the doctor explained. “It sustained some heavy trauma from the injury. Her skull was fractured, but it should heal fine with our assistance. However, we won’t be able to know how heavily her mental state was impacted, if at all, until she’s awake.”

“You said that she’s responding,” said Carol, brow furrowed.

“She is. But that doesn’t mean that nothing’s been negatively affected,” Quack clarified.

Carol stared down at the clipboard she was holding.

“Um…” Milla tugged on Carol’s shirt. “Is Lilac gonna be okay?”

Carol hesitated to answer, but put on her best smile when she did. “Of course she is,” she assured. “She’s Lilac. As long as she’s got something to fight for, nothing can keep her down.”

Milla nodded, though her eyes betrayed her.

“You’re welcome to stay here until she wakes up,” Quack told them. “I know your home isn’t especially close.”

“Right,” said Carol. “Thanks.”

The days crawled by at a pace uncomfortably reminiscent of a rusted robot trekking through a slime pool. Carol and Milla spent most of their time in Lilac’s room, staring like hawks whenever the heart monitor beeped even somewhat irregularly. Occasionally Quack and a couple of other people would come in and boot them out to the hallway while they changed Lilac’s bandages or ran scans on her. They never gave the girls any news.

On the morning of day four, they received an unexpected visitor.

“Neera!” Milla exclaimed, tail wagging excitedly as she leaped out of her seat.

“Wha…?” questioned a half-asleep Carol before sitting up quickly, eyes wide with surprise.

Neera nodded to Milla as she approached, then turned her attention to Carol. “Someone’s been absent from their lessons.”

Milla stepped away and folded her arms behind her back. “Sorry…”

Carol scowled, rubbing a finger in her ear. “Yeah, nice to see you too. I hope you’re not just here to give us stupid homework.”

“Of course not,” Neera scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“What are you doing here?” Milla inquired.

Neera straightened herself. “After hearing of your friend’s hospitalization, we decided that it would be best to visit and hear what happened for ourselves.”

Carol’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “Okay, hold on. Who’s we?”

“We are we.”

Carol’s expression flattened as the Royal Magister entered the room, followed shortly by General Gong. Milla automatically dropped to her hands and knees, but Carol remained standing.

“There is no need for that,” said the Magister to Milla. “You may stand.” Milla did as she was told.

“Oh. Okay, sure,” said Carol. “You guys could have knocked, you know.”

“The door was open,” the Magister justified.

While the Magister and Neera approached Lilac’s bedside to examine her state, Gong stepped forward and wrapped both Carol and Milla in a big bear hug. “Oh, you poor children…” he said compassionately. “This is truly a dark time in your lives.” He released the girls, and Milla gasped for air. “But not to worry, friends! Lilac is one of the mightiest warriors I have ever known. If she can’t recover from this, nobody can.”

Carol sighed. “Yeah, thanks.” She turned and left Milla and Gong to each other, while she stood beside Neera in front of the bed. Lilac looked exactly the same as she had when they first entered this room. “Uh…” Carol began, “she’s, uh, in a coma…”

“Yes, we heard of her condition from the doctor,” the Magister interrupted.

Carol nodded. She glanced to Neera, whose expression was unreadable. “Um,” Carol whispered, and Neera blinked attentively. “You’re, uh, not actually mad at us for missing our lessons, are you?”

Neera’s eyes shifted momentarily to Carol, before moving back to Lilac. She shook her head. “Take as long as you need.”

Carol smiled slightly.

The Magister stood with his eyes closed, head lowered in thought. “This dragonblood is a hero among our people, as well as a great warrior in the making. Her death or debilitation would be a travesty.” Carol stared at him, biting down on her lower lip as he mused. Then he lifted his head. “We will be paying the expenses of her care. Hopefully it will be one load lifted from your shoulders.”

Carol took a moment to process this. When this moment was over, her eyes lit up. “Oh my gosh— I hadn’t even thought of that! That many crystals would totally bust our budget! But we don’t have to pay it?” The Magister nodded. Carol grinned. “Aw, yes! That’s massive lifesaver!” She laughed heartily, and Neera barely suppressed a roll of the eyes.

“It is the least we can do,” the Magister said.

“Carol!” Milla exclaimed. “I have an idea! Let’s have a party for Lilac when she wakes up! Then she won’t have to feel bad for being asleep so long.”

“A hero’s welcome home from the greatest battle of all,” Gong concurred.

Carol nodded, toothy grin still shining bright. “Yeah, let’s do that! We have plenty of cash for it, that’s for sure. And it’ll make her feel better. Good idea!” Milla pressed her hands together cheerfully.

The visitors left, and time marched on. Days became a week, and with no change, nor any signs of it, Milla grew restless. Sometimes Doctor Quack would have to scold her when he caught her curled up on the bed at Lilac’s feet. Other times Carol would wake up too early in the morning to the sound of whining. There came a point when she became a bit grating to the doctor, and he sent her off with one of the nurses to go for a walk outside. Thankfully, she was significantly less stressed when she returned.

Carol, on the other hand, was adamant about staying right where she was. She never left Lilac’s room, not once, and unlike Milla, she didn’t make any noise about it. She didn’t even make any noise about Milla’s noise. If she was bored, she would put on one of the seemingly hundreds of old VHS movies sitting in a cabinet by the TV. If she was hungry, she’d hand a couple of crystals to Milla and ask her to fetch something from the vending machine in the hall. Not a single time did she set foot any farther than just outside the door.

On the afternoon of day eight, Doctor Quack stepped over a sleeping Milla and stood in front of the TV, blocking Carol’s view of the old VHS movie she was only half paying attention to.

“I know I said that you can stay here until she wakes up,” said Quack carefully, “and that offer hasn’t changed. But… don’t you have anything better to do than just sit here until that time comes?”

Carol shook her head, loudly digging through the small chip bag sitting in her lap. “Not without Lilac.”

“I understand that you are concerned, but you aren’t accomplishing anything by doing this. Well, aside from emptying out our vending machines, that is.”

Carol chuckled dryly and shoved another chip into her mouth. “Yeah, I know. But that’s not the point.” She wiped the crumbs off of her face. “I’m going to be here when she wakes up. That’s it.”

“But… she likely won’t wake up for some time. You could be here for upwards of a month as far as we know.”

“It’ll be worth it.”

Quack blinked at her and scratched his head. “Well, I suppose I can’t dissuade you if you have your heart set on it.”

“Nope,” Carol responded flatly. “On the bright side, you could probably swim in the crystals I’m dumping into your gadget in the hall, so go buy yourself something special.”

Quack shook his head and returned to his paperwork.

For a while, though it hadn’t been even two weeks, it seemed almost like the stay in this hospital would go on forever. Each day felt uncomfortably similar. Carol and Milla would get up. Doctor Quack would come in. He would either do paperwork or work with Lilac, and in the latter case, the girls would have to wait outside. Then they would spend the rest of the day doing everything in their power to not bore themselves to death.

“When is Lilac gonna wake up?” Milla asked tiredly on night eleven, as she laid across two chairs to rest her head in Carol’s lap.

“I don’t know,” Carol sighed, and Milla’s head grew heavy as she ran her hand across the pup’s ear. “I don’t know, Milla.”

When the girls awoke the next morning, they found Doctor Quack fussing over Lilac’s machinery. Her earpieces were reconnected.

“She’s waking up?” Milla gasped, tail wagging at unprecedented speed.

“Stay over there,” the doctor instructed when they tried to get a closer look. Milla clapped her hands over her mouth. Carol clenched a fist at her side. What might have been a couple minutes or a couple hours passed as the doctor fiddled with and reconfigured machines. A disoriented groan escaped Lilac’s throat, and she shifted under the bed sheets.

Then her eyes opened.

Carol approached the bed, breath held, Milla following close behind. Lilac blinked a couple times, then squinted and inhaled sharply. Her arm lifted weakly, hand raised gently to her head, shaking.

Softly, Milla whispered, “Lilac…?”

At once, Lilac gasped, her eyes shooting wide open. Her legs moved in an attempt to back against the bed frame, but she only got so far. The heart monitor quickening, her gaze met Milla’s, then darted to Carol’s.

Carol felt something ice cold pierce her. She didn’t recognize those eyes.

“Miss Lilac?” the doctor spoke, placing his hand on the table beside the bed, and Lilac swung to face him. Something that was likely supposed to be words passed across her lips, but they weren’t interpretable. She looked again to Carol and Milla, seemingly unable to choose which she should fixate on. “Uh-oh.”

“Lilac…” Carol tried, but Lilac only responded by clenching her eyes shut and attempting to pull the covers over her face.

“I’m sorry, but you two need to leave.”

“What?! No, wait!”

Carol’s protests were feeble, and she and Milla had been removed from the room before either could be sure what was happening. “I need assistance here!” Quack called down the hall.

Milla latched onto Carol again, but she didn’t feel it. She could hear Lilac’s voice inside, fragmented and afraid. Nurses hurried into the room at the doctor’s call, but Carol was frozen here, outside. Her veins ran cold as she listened.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay. It’s okay, calm down. Can you understand me? My name is Doctor Quack. I’m not going to hurt you…”

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