Hammers pounded on Solseir’s temples, wielded by giggling gnomes that made sure to alternate sides. He swiped at them and jerked awake, instantly regretting it. Sunlight poured in through the open curtains, searing his eyes. The gnomes vanished, but the pain in his head stayed behind. It settled into a dull throb just behind his eyes, and he groaned.
Now he remembered why he usually stuck with beer and stayed away from whiskey. Beer never gave him hangovers like this. Nor did it make his mouth taste like old gym socks.
Great. Now I’m sober. Where am I?
After a few minutes, the pounding in his head subsided enough to allow him to look around the bright, sunny bedroom. He was alone in the bed, naked and covered only with the sheet. Clean clothes covered what looked like an elliptical machine in one corner of the room. Most of them appeared to be brightly colored scrub tops and pants hanging off the handlebars and the console. A lacy black bra or three poked out of some of the layers and folded piles of panties sat on each foot pedal. More obviously worn clothes blanketed the beige carpet, some of which Solseir recognized as his own.
He hoped that this was Nikki’s bedroom. He didn’t think he would have deserted her for someone else, but he couldn’t remember anything after they left the bar last night. His chest felt itchy, and he scratched at it without thinking. His fingers touched a bandage, and he glanced down at it, concerned. What had Nikki talked him into doing? Surely it wasn’t a tattoo. He hadn’t been that drunk, had he?
The bandage stuck to his skin when he tried to pull it off. It felt like he had almost ripped off a layer of skin with the gauze and tape. He would have to get it wet to peel it off and see what he had done to himself.
Solseir could see a bathroom through an open doorway to his left, on his side of the bed. Maybe Nikki had an extra toothbrush he could use.
Soft music drifted in from another room as he sat up, followed by the sound of water running and dishes clinking. He concentrated on the music and recognized Sia’s Chandelier. His lips quirked at the irony. He hummed along with the song as he stood up and hurried into the bathroom, scooping his pants up as he went.
Before he would let himself deal with whatever was under the bandage on his chest, he put his pants on and made himself go through his morning ablutions. He avoided looking at his face in the mirror lest it trigger another panic attack; he had missed his weekly haircut for his physical at the clinic yesterday. His hair had already grown several inches longer than he usually let it, reaching his collar. Maybe Nikki also had a razor he could use to shave his head. He looked but found only a toothbrush in a basket of toiletries in her closet. Well, he couldn’t help what he couldn’t fix. He wet his fingers and slicked it back out of his face.
Once his teeth were clean, he took a washcloth and wet it in the sink, squeezing it out on the bandage. He felt it loosen and gently peeled it off. Then he stared at his chest for a long moment.
Whatever design he or Nikki had chosen, it looked like one of those monkey-shaped eye-popping stress balls. It belonged on one of those “tattoo fail” websites. If it had been on someone else, he would have laughed at how ridiculous the image was. Being stuck with it, he could only sigh.
Nikki appeared in the mirror behind him, wearing a cute green-blue sundress covered in bright yellow flowers. She had pulled her black hair back in a high ponytail, trailing curls down her back. Her yellow flip flops scuffed the floor as she came to a stop behind him, peering out from his left side. Her eyes trained on the tattoo in the mirror.
“What the hell is this?” he asked. “What did you let me do to myself?”
“It’s a griffon, and you liked it well enough last night. You said that it would make you look different from everyone else if you got it,” she replied.
His anger drained away. Nikki had a valid point. Tattoos were discouraged, not forbidden, by the Elven military. His fingers trailed over the lines of the stupid tattoo. He would have to live with it for the rest of his life, but it wouldn’t be that long anyway, so who cared?
Depressing, but it cheered him up.
She came forward and slipped her arms around his waist, nuzzling his back with her cheek. “I made breakfast if you’re interested.”
Solseir suppressed a gag at the thought of food but Nikki noticed, and the nurse in her came out.
“You should eat. You’re losing weight already on your liquid diet.”
He winced. “I know. I have to work at gaining weight.”
Nikki scoffed at him but didn’t stop snuggling him. “And I have to work at keeping it off. It’s so unfair!”
“I would trade you my metabolism for yours in a heartbeat if I could. I don’t care if I’m fat.”
She squeezed his middle and peeked out from behind him, grinning at him in the mirror. “You’re so sweet.” She let him go and moved past him to open the medicine cabinet, pulling out a packet of pills. Half of them were gone, and she popped another pill out of the package and into her mouth, swallowing it without water.
“What’s clomiphene?” he asked, reading the name of the drug on the packet.
“Birth control,” she replied, meeting his gaze in the mirror. “Don’t worry. I read your file, and I know you don’t want kids.”
More specifically, he refused to subject a child to the Elven army. Berserkers were rare outside of certain families. Most didn’t survive long enough to reproduce. Solseir had been lucky. His older brother Talisin had looked out for him, up to the day the berserker elixirs killed him.
Thinking about Talisin always triggered flashbacks. He focused on Nikki and the packet of pills she put back in the medicine cabinet to push the unwelcome thoughts away.
“That’s a big pill. Don’t they have smaller ones that are easier to swallow?”
She shrugged. “All the other pills make me sick, so I take these.” She took his hand, tugging him out of the bathroom and laced her fingers through his to firm her grip on him. “Come on. I’m sure you want to get back to being drunk, so come eat first. At least let me feed you before you go.”
A door slammed. “Let’s get this show on the road,” an unfamiliar male voice said, ringing cheerfully in Solseir’s ears.
He jerked awake, flailing and struggled against the harness pinning him to his seat. His right arm was tied down; he could feel medical tape on it from the IV in his vein. Something cold ran into his bloodstream, cooling his entire arm.
“Sh, it’s okay,” said a woman’s voice. A soft cloth moved over his face, wiping away sweat and the crust from his eyes. “Calm down, or your IV will pop out.”
“Where am I?” he asked, looking up at the bag of saline hanging by his head. Someone had wanted him to be alert. He turned his head to look around, starting when he saw River seated next to him, adjusting the tape on his forearm.
“You’re in an armored personnel carrier just outside of Grand Junction. You’ve been asleep most of the day,” River said. “You were very drunk and very dehydrated, hence the IV.”
Someone had dressed him in camouflage fatigues like everyone else in the APC, not dragon scale armor. Seeing camouflage instead of dragon scale did wonders for his mental state; he should be hyperventilating now, but the difference was calming. If he weren’t dreaming right now, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. At least until they got to California, and he had to take the elixirs again and – well, that line of thought didn’t need to continue.
He glanced around, noting that he sat on the end of his row next to the back door of the APC. Three elven males sat across from him, all with long blond hair pulled back into ponytails. They all wore patrol hats with the insignias of corporal to sergeant to master sergeant from left to right. River and two other humans sat on his right. The two elves up front in the driver and copilot seats never turned around. Solseir recognized one of them as Vitas, reading instructions from a tablet to a lavender haired elf with a captain’s stripe on his patrol hat. Everyone but River avoided his gaze, talking among themselves in low voices.
“You can take it out now,” Solseir said, flexing his right hand. “I feel fine.”
“You should. This is your third bag. And Lieutenant Silverwyrm said to leave it in until it emptied, so no, I can’t take it out.” She shifted in her seat as the engine fired up, revving a few times before the APC lurched forward.
Vitas put the tablet down on his lap and half turned. “Tsunami,” he barked.
River jerked in surprise and whipped around to face him. “Yes, sir?”
“Is Rainblade awake?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“Excellent,” said the lavender haired elf. “Have you informed him of his promotion?”
“No, sir. I was just about to.” She met Solseir’s gaze. “Congratulations, Second Lieutenant. You’re now in charge of the Berserker Squad.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.