Chapter 21

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I only have to wait a few minutes before Mortimer and Kassia appear at the end of the hallway, moving at a good pace despite Mortimer's old age. He doesn't look remotely surprised to see me hanging out of Willow's door. 

I quickly explain the situation to him, skipping over the pleasantries. His expression, to my immense irritation, doesn't change once as I tell him what Willow had said was happening to her.

"When I threw the door open last night and ran into her room," Kassia chimes in once I'm finished. "She was screaming, body arching off the bed so high I thought her spine would snap. There was a dark sort of... fuzz around her. Then she just stopped and went limp. I ran over and she had a pulse, but her chest was barely moving. I stepped outside for just a second to call for one of the other guards to run and fetch the physician and when I turned around, she'd locked the door." 

Kassia looks quite embarrassed about being locked out, like we are going to question her abilities as a proper guard.

"She told me through the door that she was fine but wanted to be left alone and I'm in no position to question my future queen so I did as she said." She waves a hand impatiently at my startled look. "Yes, I know who she is."

"Well my dear," Mortimer says, rubbing his brow thoughtfully."I have a few things in mind that may help her. But I need to see her first to be sure."

I lead him and Kassia through the now well lit rooms. Willow is still laying in bed where I left her, but she's no longer muttering to herself.

"By the gods!" Kassia exclaims upon seeing Willow's eyes and Mortimer let out a foul curse that I'm amazed he even knows. Hearing it described is one thing, but actually seeing it, it chills you to the core. I imagine Baeyr, the Gatekeeper to the afterlife, has eyes similar to Willows; black as the deepest of nights and devoid of any spark or light. They are eyes that only belonged to a god or demon.

"There, there. It's really not that bad," Mortimer says, patting Willow on the hand tentatively after visibly composing himself. 

He asks her a few questions about how she's feeling then leaves to grab a few supplies, promising to only be a minute. 

When he leaves, Kassia gets down on her knees by Willow's bed, bowing until her forehead rests against the edge. "I'm so sorry I've failed you, my lady."

"Don't talk like that. You may be the only guard I've ever had but I swear, you're the best." Willow smiles weakly at her.

Kassia laughs huskily. "I swear I'll do my best to find this demon that's plaguing you and slice its head from its body."

"Seeing as it's incorporeal, that may prove to be even a challenge for you." 

Their banter is familiar and I feel almost like an intruder looking in on something private. I can see the fragile newness of their relationship but the genuine goodness of it as well. I feel renewed respect for Kassia and I'm happy Willow has a friend here, even if I'm jealous that it isn't me. 

This is the first friend Willow has ever had. 

A knock sounds through the rooms and I gesture as Kassia to stay put. 

I'm expecting to see Mortimer, but instead I open the door to a handsome blonde man holding a tray of tea. He appears to be in his mid twenties, with a square jaw and broad shoulders. He looks vaguely familiar.

"Oh, hello." He's just as surprised to see me as I am him. "You're not Willow."

"No I'm not. She's currently indisposed. Is there something I can help you with?"

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