Chapter 26

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Despite it being almost five in the morning, there's still light coming from under the door of Mortimer's office. I pound on it, listening to quiet shuffling, then it cracks open with a soft creak.

"Talia!" Mortimer exclaims, opening the door wider. "Did something happen to Willow?"

"Yes actually, it did."I shove my way past him, throwing myself into the only available chair in his cramped and cluttered office. "Whatever you've been doing with her, meditating, calming flowers, it isn't working. That... thing was back tonight and attacked her." 

He shuts the door slowly behind me, hesitating a second before making his way to his desk, skirting around piles of books. 

"I can assure you, I'm doing everything I can-"

I raise a hand, cutting him off. "That's not why I'm here. I need you to tell me everything about Queen Evelyn and her madness."

I hadn't known if the gossip Kassia told me was simply that, had wanted to believe he wouldn't keep something like this from me. But he looks away, guilt in his eyes, and I know it's true.

I grip the edges of the chair until the wood creaks, fighting with everything in me to hold back the rage. "How could you keep this from me? When you've seen how Willow is struggling and everyone thinks she's going crazy! You've had information that could help her."

"My dear, it's not that simple."

"Don't act like I'm an idiot," I snap. "Queen Evelyn's madness has to be connected to Willow. She's being haunted by something that's driving her insane. What if the same thing happened to the queen? What if you've known something that could help us figure this out all along?"

"You're right. It's fair to guess that they are connected." His tired eyes meet mine, his wrinkles seeming more pronounced. "But what I know isn't something that will help this all make sense."

"What do you mean?"

Mortimer's sigh is one of pure, bone deep exhaustion. "All of Melora's Blessed, all of the queens... They all go mad."

The world tilts sickeningly. "What are you talking about?" I whisper. He can't be right. Someone would have told Willow, would have warned her.

"I'm sorry, dear girl, but it's true. They all end up hearing voices and seeing things, going mad before their end. And they all die too young." 

Die too young. He says it in a factual, unforgiving tone of voice, like it's going to help. All it does is give my rage more fuel, burning hot enough that I can't hold it in. I don't want to.

I stand up, grab the chair and throw it at the wall. It doesn't break like I'd hoped, just clatters back on the floor, mocking me. I scream, pick it up again and smash it into Mortimer's desk. He backs away quickly, avoiding the books and knickknacks that go flying.

I can't seem to stop, my anger and rage feeling endless. I bash the chair until it's shattered, broken and useless like me. I throw books and statues, scattering papers across the floor in a wave. Things tear and break, but nothing feels as ruined as my heart.

Then I'm on the floor, panting and sobbing, the salt of my tears stinging against my cheek. I lift a hand to wipe them away and it comes back bloody. A piece of wood from the chair must have flown off and cut me. I don't care.

"How could you not tell us?" I choke out, looking at Mortimer through the dark curtain of my hair. At some point, my braid had come undone. 

"How could I?" he says, simple and unapologetic. He doesn't look remotely alarmed by my outburst, by the state of his office. "There's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, the mind breaks under pressure and the weight of power." 

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