Alessia Alighieri looked around the room. The last thing she remembered was practicing her magic at school. She was not in her room. A woman in a pale green doctor’s uniform was standing at the end of the bed. Alessia recognised the Staff of Asclepius badge on the green fabric of her chest. The doctor looked to have been in the job for a long time, some of her eyebrow hairs were white. Veins showed clearly through the skin on the doctor’s hands.
Alessia’s mother was by her side. Her mother wore a gold necklace over her purple silk shirt. Her hair was a mess. She had bags under eyes lined with red veins. Some of her fake nails were missing. Adelina never went out looking anything less than immaculate. Behind her mother was a bunch of flowers. They were a cheap bunch, not her mother’s style. She knew her mother would have gone bigger and bolder.
Alessia’s father was nowhere to be seen. He would be at work. He was always at work. Maybe he had left the flowers.
Alessia saw fear in her mother Adelina’s brown eyes. Her mother’s mouth was curved into a smile. She was trying to hide her fear, but the smile was not her real one. When Adelina Alighieri smiled her real smile she had a dimple on her left side. When her smile was genuine there were less teeth. She was worried. That worried Alessia.
The doctor with long black hair was also smiling. There was no way to know how genuine the smile was. Doctors presumably had a stock smile they rolled out to break bad news to patients.
She shouldn’t be in a hospital bed. She looked at the lime green walls and the matching lime green curtain pulled between her and what she guessed was another bed.
She had been practicing electro-kinesis. She had been sucking at it. Then, here. Trying to raise her head was too difficult. Adelina was crying when she looked again, her hand was stroking Alessia’s as she tried to wipe the tears away.
“She is expected to make a full recovery, the doctor was saying. Who? Me? But it will not be immediate. She was unconscious for two days following the seizure.
What seizure? “Mother, what is she saying?”
That’s what Alessia wanted to ask. All that came out of her mouth was a mumbled slur. As her mother wiped her lip Alessia realised she had drooled like the family dog.
What is going on?
“The first priority now that she’s woken up is that she rests. She’s going to be tired. She’ll have to sleep to allow her brain to repair itself. That’s going to take time. She should also refrain from practicing her magic for a while. Electro-kinesis has backfired like this before with other patients I have treated. Suffering a second seizure would likely compound her problems in unforeseen ways.”
“But she will recover?” Alessia’s mother asked.
“As long as she doesn’t have another seizure I see no reason why she wouldn’t. She’s young and healthy. While this incident suggests a certain vulnerability to that form of magic if she improves her control with other forms it would someday even be possible to go back to it. In the immediate future however her recovery takes first priority. We tested her blood and scanned her brain for signs of trauma.”
“And?” Adelina snapped. She then held up her hand and gulped. “Sorry Doctor Pascal. I’m just. I don’t know what to do.”
“You are doing the most important thing you can do by being here by Alessia’s side. It is natural for a parent to wonder how they could have prevented something like this. There is nothing you could have done. Alessia’s brain scan showed no signs of trauma. The damage caused by the seizure was subtle. That is a good sign for her recovery. It does however suggest she may have epilepsy.”
“What do you mean she may have epilepsy?” Her mother’s voice was loud, echoing off the green, concrete walls.
This time Doctor Pascal raised her hands, palms open, to Adelina Alighieri. “Epilepsy is the condition of anyone who has two or more seizures. This may be an isolated incident, but when the hospital looked back at Alessia’s family history we found that your grandmother had epilepsy. While it is possible that this was a one off it is also possible it will happen again. It is my duty to prepare you for that possibility.”
Someone somewhere screamed. Adelina and Doctor Pascal jumped at the sudden sound. Her mother’s hand shot to Alessia’s in the moment of fright. Though she could see the hand on hers she didn’t feel it. Trying to take her mother’s hand did almost nothing. Her fingers twitched and the hand rose perhaps a millimetre.
A woman struggling between two guards passed the drawn green curtain.
“This is excessive force,” said the woman, “this is police brutality. Help! Help me!” The woman was clearly drunk to her eyeballs. She did not seem to belong in a hospital. As far as Alessia could see, which wasn’t far at all, there was nothing wrong with the drunk.
“Friday night,” said Doctor Pascal. “I’m sorry for that. We will lock the door of the ward in an hour to keep the drunks from wandering in. Just buzz the door if you need out. I’ll leave you two alone.”
“Thank you, Doctor Pascal.” Adelina sighed again.
The doctor walked out of sight. Alessia turned to look at her mother. Instead of a controlled turn of her neck her head bobbed a little too far. Her mother was trying on the fake smile again.
“You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry. Get some sleep Ali.”
Alessia didn’t want to sleep. She had apparently slept for two whole days. When she had been at school it had been Wednesday. Now it was Friday evening? Two whole days gone. She couldn’t move her arms or legs. She could barely move her fingers. She couldn’t talk. She didn’t want to sleep but her mother kept telling her to and that insistence seemed to be reassuring Adelina. Her mother was stroking her cheek and smiling. Little by little, as her eyelids became heavier, she saw the fake smile becoming the real one.
When she woke again, Alessia saw her mother, asleep in the same chair. Adelina had found the time to dress to her usual standard. The nails had been fixed. She’d changed her clothes from the purple shirt to the same one in blue. She’d fixed her hair only for sleep to mess it up again.
Realising she had more sensation in her body Alessia tried to sit up. Though she managed to rise briefly from the bed the effort made her dizzy and nauseous. Just the movement had made the world spin. The sound of her retching woke her mother.
Adelina screamed for a nurse who came running to help turn Alessia onto her side.
Normally her mother was repulsed by any bodily fluid but in the panic of the moment she had forgotten all about it, getting covered in sick as she made sure Alessia didn’t choke on it. The nurse was a lot younger than Doctor Pascal. He was perhaps in his twenties. He had a tattoo of a rose on his neck.
With the return of sensation came the acidic taste in her mouth and the burning in her throat. Alessia wanted to turn but Adelina was holding her there and telling her not to move again.
Looking down the girl who had been practicing magic just three days before saw that she was wearing a diaper.
“No. Why?” asked the tired girl, voice broken by the knowledge that others had seen her like that.
“It was easier Ali. Getting you to a toilet would have been risky. You’re conscious now and you’re starting to move again. Soon you won’t need those anymore.”
The thought of other people touching her, seeing the mess, made her want to throw up again. Instead she growled a scream of frustration.
The nurse gave Alessia a practiced smile before getting on with cleaning up the vomit. When the nurse offered to call a female colleague to clean the patient with a sponge Adelina insisted on doing it herself. Rather you than them I guess.
The nurse brought the Alighieri matriarch a change of clothes, two buckets and a sponge. The nurse then pulled the green curtain all the way around the bed.
Her mother peeled off the vomit-soaked hospital gown and began to clean Alessia as if she was a helpless baby. Independent Alessia felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. Her mother told her to stop.
When Alessia was clean, Adelina clothed her and settled her back onto the now clean bed. Her mother told her that all of her classmates had been wishing her well. A boy had dropped off the yellow flowers. Her father had been there as much as he could and was taking time off work to look after her, for the next few days at least.
Letting her mother talk was good for both of them. Talking distracted Adelina from panicking. Seeing her mother calm kept Alessia calm. Somewhere during a story about the boy who’d dropped off the flowers the patient fell asleep again.
Alessia woke feeling stronger. She did not want to vomit again. Adelina wasn’t there. Her father sat in the seat in front of the withering flowers. He was wearing his Militia el Magi uniform. The blue cape fell over the chair behind him. A gold chain held the upper corners together. His bearded face broke into a relieved smile when he realised she was awake.
With his navy-blue sleeves rolled up the hairs on his arms showed over the runic tattoos all Militia el Magi had for protection. When he took her hand she could feel the callouses on his fingers. She could see the veins on the back of his hand and the scars on his knuckles. He liked to use his fists as much as magic when enforcing the laws of the magi. Magic was unpredictable in combat, even for the best users. Her seizure would do nothing to dispel that opinion.
“Hey, princess. How are you feeling?” He sat up in the chair and leaned towards her.
“I’m in diapers. How do you think I feel?” she asked.
“You’re going to be alright. I hear you were pushing yourself at school.” His eyes narrowed. Alessia could feel him looking into her mind in the way that only people who really know you can. He used the same look at work, but it was more about instinct and experience of similar people in those cases. Papà knew her as much as anyone despite being at work most of the time. His eyes were almost black. When she looked, she saw herself. It was almost impossible to know what papà was thinking unless he wanted her to know.
“Show me some magic papà,” she asked.
“Is that a good idea right now?”
“Please, for your princess,” she used the higher pitched voice she always did when she wanted something. He smiled the way he did when he knew she was playing with his emotions.
“Fine. Don’t tell your mamma. I don’t need that argument.”
“I promise.” Alessia sat up slowly to see better as her father put on the smile he had when he was doing something he shouldn’t.
Papà cupped his hands. Gold light shone from between his fingers. When his lifted the top hand away there was a glowing flower. Orange sparks formed every petal of the rose. Alessia could feel the tight smile on her face. She knew the story of her father’s proposal with a bouquet of magical flowers and the gold ring that hadn’t left Adeline’s finger in thirty years.
Electric magic was the favoured magic of her people because it had saved them from the murderous technology of the Human Empire which had swallowed up every other human world of the endless colonies. Young magi learned to control plasma magic first which encapsulated fire and electricity. Men like her father had kept her people from extermination with magic like that of the rose in his hand.
Closing his hand, her papà let the rose flicker out of existence. Alessia collapsed back on her bed. Her father told her about his patrols at work. Mostly he’d been dealing with petty disputes and drunks. His low voice soothed her tired body to sleep once more.
“My room!” Alessia said, shocked to see her pink walls, that way since she was born. Over the pink walls were posters of famous magi and the runes of protection her father had tattoos of. She lived for magic. On her shelves were the books she’d read cover to cover until they were dog eared. Memoirs of the sorcerers who’d saved her people, manuals given to her at school. The spectrum of high magic. Red blood magic. Orange for fire and lightning. Yellow for psychological magic. Green for death and soul magic, also addiction. Blue for water and life. Purple for speed and travel.
“You came back yesterday,” said Adeline, making Alessia jump. “Don’t you remember?”
Alessia shook her head. The drunken feeling was gone. She looked at her hands. They moved as she wanted them to. She tried to move her toes. They responded with a weakened signal, not at the speed she’d asked for.
Adeline pulled the fake smile again. “It’ll get better Ali. It has so much already. Try to walk a little. I’ll help you.”
“You don’t want me to rest?” Alessia asked.
“We both know you’re not going to do that. I’d rather help you walk than leave you to practice magic behind my back and end up back in hospital. Papà told me about the rose.”
“He did?” Why? I wasn’t going to. Adeline was frowning as if she’d heard the thought.
Alessia took the hand her mother offered and tried to stand. Her legs gave way beneath her. On her knees on the floor with her mother telling her it was alright, she ground her teeth. As if they had better things to do than listen to her Alessia’s legs ignored her commands completely. When she pushed them with all of her might they shook instead.
Hot tears of rage dripped from her cheeks to the purple carpet. Growling through her teeth she pushed and pushed to no avail. Like an old battery she was exhausted in no time at all. Her arms turned to jelly. Instead of talking she drooled. Adeline had to help her back into the bed. Sleep stole her away for another day.
The next few days were similar. First she could stand. One step the next day. Two the next. Walking to the toilet was the first big milestone since she could finally have the diapers off. Crawling back with no energy left in her legs was a small price to pay for that independence back. When her parents tried to help she would scream at them to leave her to it. She had to do it herself.
When she could walk again for more than a few minutes at a time Alessia begged to go back to school. She had missed two months lying in bed, slurring her words and crawling back from the toilet. Normality beckoned. Not yet. She was still sleeping for twelve hours a day.
Occasionally when she stood the world would flip itself upside down or sideways for a moment. For a split-second gravity would try to throw her off her feet.
Doctor Pascal said it was the brain rewiring itself after the seizure. It was a good thing, even if it didn’t feel like it.
It happened again. Adeline said she’d been stupid. Trying to conjure again before she was ready. Alessia didn’t remember summoning roses made of lightning, or anything from that day. Doctor Pascal lectured her about being to rash just as everyone else had. She was epileptic. Two seizures were all it took for the diagnosis.
The doctor ran tests. Alessia had electrodes hooked up to her head with gel in her hair. She hyperventilated and little happened to the live hologram of her brain activity. Strobing lights, nothing.
She was prescribed medication. Four little purple pills a day. Plastic coated pellets that would dissolve in her stomach and release something to stop her brain going haywire.
Little by little Alessia got her life back. She dropped down a year at school. She’d missed too much to keep up. Teachers treated her with kid gloves which was infuriating. In the same class where she’d had her first seizure the teacher kept saying to take it easy. No chance. She wasn’t going to be head of the Milita el Magi if she took it easy.
All she had to do was summon an orb of fire or lightning to pass the class. Doing the bare minimum wasn’t Alessia’s style. Double checking her memory to be sure she’d taken the disgusting purple pills that morning, she looked around the class. All of the other children were a year younger. She was the weird girl who’d spasmed her way out of school.
Conjuring a golden rose in her palm she watched it rise into the air and explode over the class, showering them all with petals of golden magic.
Everyone freaked out. Classmates gasped. The teacher swore loudly. No one had a seizure. Alessia smiled. It wasn’t the fake smile she’d given Adeline and papà that morning. All of her teeth reflected the glowing, golden petals.
The boy who’d brought her the flowers in hospital was smiling as well. His smile said the day had more magic in store for her.