Chapter Fifty-Seven

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The sun rose to find Alavard in chaos.

The entire city was awash in two feet of saltwater, and that level was rising steadily. Most of its citizens were too terrified to leave their homes, for fear that the sky would sprout arms and eyes again and try to devour them. The palace itself buzzed with flies, and stank of damp, decaying flesh.

On top of all this--which was more than enough already, in Lieutenant Perlem's opinion--Lord Thesul had vanished, and with him, the prisoners.

Even during the revolt against their glorious creator, things had never gotten this messy.

At least the fountain room was still secured. Though the treacherous water lapped at its doors, its seal charm held firm. The fountain remained pristine. They just couldn't open the damn doors until they drained away the water--which was a problem.

Perlem stood in the midst of the carnage that had once been the dining hall and watched the corpse of a castle guard bob gently past.

No, never this messy. Perlem wiped the perspiration from his upper lip and took a deep breath before turning to address the remaining castle guard.

"See this?" he barked, gesturing with a jab of his thumb. "All this water has to be coming from somewhere, and you're going to find that somewhere if it's the last thing you do. This happened on your watch, so you're going to clean it up, or you'll all be joining your comrade over there--" He pointed to the floating corpse. "Is that clear?"

The guards nodded, though they looked less than enthused by the prospect.

Perlem glared at them. "Oh, so you want the fountain to be submerged, do you? I'm certain Lord Thesul will be delighted with that development..."

Ah, there it was. The spark of motivation. The guards stood straighter, clutched their sword hilts tighter and regarded him with wide eyes.

Perlem nodded, then smiled. "Wonderful. Glad to see such excellent form. Now--" He indicated the doorway behind him with a jerk of his head. "Better get started. I want the fountain room open before M'Lord returns--for all of our sakes."

_____

Lorn felt as if he was underwater. The sensation of drowning, of slow, heavy movement, tightness in his chest, was overwhelming. It seemed a miracle he could breathe at all. 

Still, somehow, he managed to keep up with the others--though Lorn supposed their pace was also slower than usual. They were all exhausted, bruised and undernourished. Guin had clothed them, conjured food and drink for breakfast, but it made little difference. They would need weeks of rest to properly recover. 

Guin strode ahead of the group, following Talon's directions. Her expression was determined and grim, eyes fixed on the horizon. Diavarda would appear soon--they had been traveling for nearly two hours already.

Lorn wondered what the Sorcerer's old home would look like. He'd only ever seen it drawn on maps--a dark stain lurking in the lower left-hand corner. 

Matta always described it as resembling a rotten tooth.

Lorn closed his eyes for a moment, forcing the image of his sister's face to fade back into the shadows of his memory. Now was not the time... 

But how can there ever be a time? I don't want there to be. I don't want there to be a single moment where I believe--where I accept this--

But there would be. Lorn knew the cycle of grief. It would crush him beneath its grinding wheel soon enough. Reality was relentless and swift--it could not be outrun forever. When it finally caught him, Lorn would lie down and surrender, perhaps forever. But not now. Not yet. Now, he had to keep moving. The quest was all he had left. While he still sought the book, it was almost as if Matta still lived.

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