XLVIII.

Life is a nightmare. An ugly one, and there was no end to it.Well, if one is brave enough to cross the threshold of the unknown, employ the instruments of self-destruction…

But no, not her. Her life was no longer her own…anyhow, when had the trek from one wing of the palace to the other always been so long? Her head was too light, and she felt the familiar crept of bile that had been loyally ruining her mornings for the past week. She still couldn’t breath, unwilling to accept anything, including air.

Miraculously she tumbled into her room in time to vomit the gruel that she could stomach from dinner in all its entirety into the nearest empty cauldron. She was exhausted. Still, she had to work. Washing out the acid burning her throat and throwing open all the windows — an act acceptable now that she was no longer next to the stables — she threw herself at her dressing-table-converted work station lined with instruments and herb and began to think: poisons, paralyzers. She marked the texture of the blood, tried to forget its owner, recorded its color, its properties. She realized she needed a certain seedling for her test…perhaps it could be replaced with…no. Nothing reacted. Normal red, why? She could use the crystallized form of…having something similar…having something…she thought she did. She thought she had Horatio.

No, she didn’t.

She was dizzy again, though she forced herself to continue. Where was she? Yes, to replace the seedling, and…still nothing, still she thought she meant something. No, no time for that, only time for truth and grounded facts. Proof, for his innocence…perhaps she could heat up the mixture, excite the molecules to exhibit a change, or —

A mindless hand knocked over a stray empty vial, she cursed, reached out to catch it but only succeeded in burning herself as her distressed mind rendered her as dangerously disorganized as her mentor.

The vial crashed against the marble floors, shattered. The impact toppled the last column that held up her mind. It was over, she fell to her knees, too indignant to pray, too hurt to make a noise even when her hand cut itself against the scattered shards.

Why? What did she do wrong?

She was wrong to think that she was excluded from his ambition: the position of second prince must have been irresistible now that the Emperor was not there to back him, and a woman as beautiful and powerful as Rosamund? God, she could almost be happy for him, she would convince herself to be; but he looked so broken, so torn.

Did she wrong him?

He wronged her. She curled her hand into a fist, embraced the searing pain of the infinite cuts in her palm and the bright red oozing through her fingers, a wayward droplet painted the white floor scarlet and she watched the beautiful tendrils bloom into a withered flower. She watched the rays of sunshine crash and bounce from the massacre of glass through the blur of her tears, saw the infinite rays of rainbows broken into pieces like the promises so often whispered against her stubborn ear.

“What if…he was telling the truth,” She reasoned aloud, then the instruments of her knowledge would be reduced to symbols of distrust, both of him and her own worth.

Does that mean…he was…

A gentle rapping cleared the darkening air. She looked up, saw the shadow at the window and summoned her best smile when she opened and greeted her visitor, “Are doors a strictly human concept?”

“Apologies, it’s a matter of urgency,” The Nokshan landed gracefully, his eyes fell upon the mess upon the floor and her bleeding hand.

“I was experimenting when I accidentally knocked things over,” She bounded her hands, sniffed the air, remembered the herb that was now burning at the bottom of the ceramic dish, rushed to extinguish the flame. “God…why are you here, Aldebaran.”

“A word of what happened last night.” 

She froze, knew that he knew but attacked instead, “What did you do to Lyra?” She folded her arms in feigned remonstrance to hide her shaking.

It took him an entire minute to understand and blush and stammer, “What..no, we…were just watching stars…I…that’s not what…”

God, this child was so adorable, she almost smiled.

Aldebaran cleared his throat and mind, “I came here because I heard a voice during my conversation with Lyra, a voice begging for death.”

“I am not sure if I can diagnosing mental ailments of Nokshans,” She strode over to another window. What if…Horatio was…no, he cheated. He had to.

“Hearing voices is the normal part, Athlem, I am constantly hearing the spirits around me,” Athlem took back what she said about son-in-law; Lyra deserved someone normal for once. “The owner of that voice is what I am here for.”

“Who?”

“It was Horatio.”

Of course.

She knew it. She only wanted to test his blood and pretend that she was the one to be hurt, that she was simply betrayed and that was all and he wasn’t…he didn’t have to experience what she suffered, to be rendered so powerless, felt so dirtied.

But…in her denial she left him alone.

She choked on her breath, her selfishness, her unwillingness to trust, to understand…who was she to strand him on his own with his demon, with her… “I have to find him, I must tell him…” that I am sorry, sorry to have even questioned him, to have left him alone.

Aldebaran glanced at the cauldron at the corner of the room, back to linger a little upon her stomach, thought about speaking but thought otherwise.

“Do you know where he is?” She gathered herself together, the Nokshan nodded. “Take me to him.”

The Nokshan smiled, glad that he had stopped a spirit in its downward spiral before it was too late, “Alright.”

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