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Candlelight and Clockwork

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Somewhere in the periphery of his awareness, John hears a match flare. The acrid smell of briefly burning sulfur rouses him from his stupor, and he groans. He feels the air in the room shift and he catches a whiff of smoke. He feels the ground tremble slightly as the sound of footsteps approaches. A warm hand gently presses against his forehead, and he shivers at the difference in skin temperature. For an instant, the hand feels too cold and dry, before he realizes it's his skin that feels feverish and clammy. He shivers again, uncontrollably this time, and clutches the blanket closer to his chest.

What? A blanket? Where am―

“We wondered when you were going to wake up. I was beginning to fear I would need to take drastic measures."

John opens his eyes and is met with the sight of Rose sitting over him wielding a glass of water and a small smile. He is in a dimly-lit room, with sporadically placed candles providing flickering illumination. Underneath him is an unfamiliar bed, but the room's design and candy-colored light from the gaps in the curtains tell him it's probably Rose's. The flames from the candles make shadows jump and shudder erratically and for a moment, John is certain that Rose's shadow is larger than it should be. In an instant the illusion vanishes and he shakes his head.

“Rose? What's going on?”

“It would appear that in the course of your travels, you neglected to recall the simplest piece of advice given to you by your father regarding cold weather,” she says, and sets the glass down on a table beside the bed.


A third voice chimes in from John's left, “He warned you about colds, bro.”

John turns his head and sees Dave leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed, smirking.

“He warned you, dog,” says Rose. John turns to her in surprise. Her expression is desperately trying to hide her amusement, but the twitches at the corners of her mouth give her away.

“I didn't think you'd get in on Dave's, uh...” John trails off.

“Preposterous foolishness?” Rose suggests.

“Ridiculous nuttery?” John says.

“Harebrained hilarity?” Rose returns, grinning.


“Okay, whatever silly thing you're about to say?” Dave cuts in, “Don't say it. I can just see it fucking bubbling up through the cracks in your ridiculous prankstery brain, so you cap that shit right now, or I'm going to contract diabetes this very second. Like, it'll take all the insulin in goddamn Larry King's home and then some just to keep me stable if this gets any more saccharine.”

“Huh? What do you mean, Dave?”

Dave is silent for a moment, nonplussed. He glances at John, then at Rose, then back at John. “...Egbert, you're my best bro, but I cannot believe how dense you are sometimes. Look, Rose, can you handle the explanation? I've got some goddamn temporal cluster-predestination-fuckery to take care of. Apparently. I'll be back in exactly twenty-seven minutes. Or so I hear.” And with that, Dave steps out of the room.

John blinks for a moment and turns to Rose. “'The explanation', huh? Dave makes it sound like some super-secret plan to...I dunno, really!”

Rose leans back and looks up. “Tell me John, what's the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

John pauses for a moment and thinks. “Well, I had just woken up on the battlefield after going to sleep on my Quest Bed thing. And after what I saw in the clouds I...didn't really want to go back to my planet. Not right away, anyway. And since I didn't really know what to do on the battlefield without talking to you, I decided to come here. Oh! Rose, did you know I can fly now?”

“Yes, as a consequence of ascending to the God-tiers and realizing your role as the Heir of Breath. Or perhaps because you're inhabiting your dream self's body, which is capable of flight. I'm not entirely certain.”

“I guess I shouldn't be surprised you know all this,” John laughs. “No one can beat Rose Lalonde in a Seer-off. You are simply the best there is.”

“So what happened after that John?”

“Well, I was...I uh...” John trails off. He frowns and looks down for a moment. “I don't remember.”

“Then allow me to attempt to fill in the gaps. I was watching you through my crystal ball--” Rose pauses for a moment to glare at a snickering John. John holds his hands up in surrender, and Rose continues, “I was watching you fly to my planet when you fell unconscious. You crashed into a sand dune and I found you about ten minutes after that."

“Okay...but what does that have to do with my dad’s advice?”

“John, what does every parent tell their child about going out in cold weather?”

“Uh...don't eat yellow snow?”

“Y-what? No, John. They tell you to dress warmly. Because if you don’t, you’ll catch a cold. Which is strictly speaking, false, as colds are caused by pathogens rather than inclement weather. However, unpleasant weather does have a variety of effects that lead to a higher chance of catching a cold.” John's eyes begin to glaze over. “Regardless, you’ve been traipsing around a windy, chilly planet for quite some time now, and I refuse to believe that an apparently all-cake diet has bolstered your immune system. It’s likely you caught something a few days ago, and it’s just now manifesting,” Rose finishes triumphantly.

John nods. “I guess that makes sense. Except...” He frowned. “If I just hit the God-tier, that means I'm my dream self right now, right? And I think ascending is supposed to heal me...I think it’d be kinda weird if it left me sick!”

Rose’s face falls. “Oh. Yes, I suppose that does make sense. No sense in allowing a player to ascend and then allowing them to be done in by simple illness. Perhaps you’re simply exhausted then? Either way, you’ve got a fever and you fell unconscious a few hundred feet up in the air. It’s a miracle you’re not seriously injured.”

“Oh, why'd you have to bring it up? Now I feel awful again...” says John.

His fever returns in full force, and he fails to repress a shiver that shakes him from head to toe. Alternating waves of heat and chill make him sweat and shiver as he draws the blanket closer to his body and squeezes his eyes shut. He’d been feeling fine while he was speaking, but now that his body has caught up to his mind, it's presenting the bill for damages incurred. Bruises, check. His entire left side is tender whenever he shifts. Soreness, double check. Every limb aches as though he's run a marathon after a championship weightlifting tournament. A buzzing in the back of his head had been gradually transforming into a headache over the course of his time spent awake, and is making its presence known. John is suddenly very grateful for the dimness of the room after he recalls how bright Rose's planet typically is. Speaking of which...


“Yes, John?” Rose had remained silent as John took stock of his maladies. She leans forward.

“Why are you using candles, anyway? It's not like it's dark outside.”

It's difficult for John to tell in the low light, but he could swear Rose is blushing. Her face remains impassive, but her voice betrays her. “I simply prefer candlelight to the gaudy pastels this planet insists on bombarding its occupants with with.”

John peers at the candle more closely, realizes he's missing his glasses, and finds them on the bedside table. He puts them on and examines the candle before grinning triumphantly. “I knew it!”

Rose looks at the candle herself and raises a single eyebrow, “What, may I ask is it that you knew, John?”

John turns to Rose, trademark full-faced grin present on his face. “Dribbly candles! You're pretending to be a wizard!”

Rose takes a deep breath before she lets out a protracted sigh and gently lowers her face into her palm.