Chapter 41

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Hale finds me hours later, hunched over in my bed, the journals fanned out around me. He must see the frantic look in my eyes because he approaches slowly, perching on the edge of the bed.

"Want to talk about it?" he asks gently.

Tears of frustration threaten to spill out so I take a deep breath, trying to stop my hands from shaking. These journals all held more questions, more unanswered mysteries, and no way to help my sister. And they were beyond disturbing to read. I feel shaken to my very core.

I collect my thoughts, wanting to talk through what I've found. Father always told me that if you have a problem you can't work out in your head, try putting it into words and see if it helps reveal the answer.

"Here's what I've found so far," I say briskly, handing Hale Selene's journal. "The first of Melora's Blessed. She founded the first temple of Melora somewhere in the south. She was fulfilling her role as a healer and savior to the people, until a man shows up. I'm not sure what happens but it's something bad and she's starts spiraling into madness."

I take the journal, flip to the final page then hand it back to him.

"Most of this seems kind of crazy but it's apparent that she plans on killing herself. Since there's no more entries, I'm going to assume she did."

Speaking quickly and formally helps me feel in control, less like this is a real person. A person whose path Willow is following.

Hale scans the page quickly, concern forming a furrow between his brows. "What is this object she mentions that Melora gave her?"

"I'll get to that in a second," I respond. I point to the three journals spread out in front of him. "Ophelia, Lorelai, and Kathlyn. Three more of Melora's Blessed and queens, and it looks like they all follow the same pattern."

"They all kill themselves?" Hale exclaims.

I shake my head, trying to recall all that I've read. "I'm not sure. But they all discover their power, Melora speaks to them, they're ruling the kingdom, everything you'd expect. But, something awful happens to each of them, just like with Selene."

I steel myself then point at Ophelia's, with a simple leather cover. "Her husband and child died tragically in front of her." Lorelai's, covered in soft cloth of deep purple. "She was taken by a group of men and violated, killing them all once she regained consciousness." Kathlyn's, deep blue and embossed with silver swirls. I swallow heavily. "She killed a child, to put him out of his misery."

Hale curses softly, looking slightly ill. He has no idea what it had been like to actually read these women's deepest emotions after these horrors occurred. 

"After," I continue, trying to keep my voice steady, "they all start speaking of a taint on their soul. They begin going mad, getting paranoid, looking into dark magic. And it seems that the more magic they used, the quicker it happened. Kathlyn left and lived in solitude for years, staying sane but depressed. It was when she returned and began helping with her powers again that she declined."

"So you're thinking that Willow being here and practicing with her magic is what's making her worse?" Hale looks thoughtful. "It would fit, except for the presence haunting her. We still don't know how that ties in."

"That's not the only problem with this theory," I sigh. "Something has to set off this descent into darkness. And nothing has happened to Willow that fits."

"Forgive me for asking but your mother's death..." He trails off.

"Was sad, yes. But she died slowly, of sickness. Willow came to peace with it much easier than I ever did. It wasn't sudden or traumatizing enough." I shake my head, feeling in my gut that mother's death wasn't the cause of this. But I have the strangest sensation of the answer dancing right on the tip of my tongue.

"Is it possible that something happened to Willow without you knowing?"

I shoot Hale a dirty look but he's unapologetic.

"No. There's no way. I would know if something happened to her." He doesn't understand the relationship Willow and I had. We never left the house without each other and never kept secrets. I would know.

"What about the fifth journal?" Hale asks, changing the subject, gesturing to the one in my hands.

"Queen Evelyn's," I tell him, handing it over. "Similar story. It seems that her husband, Lord Korbin Navarre, had been having an affair with a maid. She got pregnant and came to Evelyn, trying to blackmail her for money." I pause, stomach lurching. "Evelyn killed her and the unborn child in a magical explosion. Accidental, of course, but they still died."

And Evelyn's grief had been insurmountable.

"All of their stories are the same. And in the end, they die somehow. Selene killed herself and Kassia told me that Evelyn was found with a knife in her heart, and it was assumed to be self inflicted. And the three others, by the end of their journals, they're all suspicious of someone close to them trying to kill them."

"Perhaps they were simply locked up for their own protection or stopped writing once the madness took over?" Hale suggests, obviously skeptical.

"It's possible," I admit. "Which is why I need to get my hands on some history books and find out how they died and when."

"I can pull some from the library for you tomorrow." Hale moves to set down Evelyn's journal but I stop him.

"Wait. Although Evelyn's story is the same, there's one important difference. Read page eighty six."

Hale flips to it and scans the page quickly. "She found the journals?"

I nod. "Mortimer gave them to her. She read all of these and the missing ones as well and came to the same conclusion. She knew she was going to go mad and die."

"But knowing didn't help her? She didn't find any answers?"

"I'm not sure." I take the journal back and skim through to show him different entries. "The item that Selene mentioned Melora giving to her, the one I thought was just made up? Evelyn didn't think so. She started doing tons of research and became convinced that she had to find it. She was planning a whole trip to the southern temple to search for it."

"Did she say what it was or why it's so important?" Hale asks, leaning over to peer at the pages.

"She was really vague, maybe because she knew someone else would be reading her journal someday. But she starts raving about being a pawn of the gods and other madness, saying that she thinks the item can save her. Before she can make the trip to the temple, the paranoia sets in. She thinks someone is going to kill her and she becomes obsessed with finding a way to make sure she never dies."

I shiver, feeling chilled. Evelyn's journal had been the most disturbing to read by far, especially as she started studying dark magic to try and find away to save herself.

"The problem is," I say, letting out a deep breath. "I don't know what any of this means or how it might help Willow. If anything, it's just making this whole venture seem pointless. If a dozen of Melora's Blessed couldn't help but go mad, what makes Willow special?"

"None of them had you." Hale smiles at me softly, and I can see it in his eyes that he believes in me. He truly thinks I'll find a way to save Willow. I'm stunned and humbled by his faith in me.

If only I had such confidence.

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