Chapter 22: Exploring

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Ber, Day 16 of Melia, Winking Moons, Year 602

"I have been hurt so often that I no longer know how to forgive. I have wept so many tears that my heart is cold. I never desired this. When another person torments me until I am ill with it, what recourse do I have? Leave, yes. Flee. The problem is not what to do. It is what awaits me after I take that step. Will my next life be better? Or worse?" —From the private journal of an unknown woman in Daitak Capital

* * *

It took him a few moments this time to understand that he dreamed. The colours were so stark, the images so very clear.

Fourteen-year-old dream Beynon rose stiffly, slowly, from the table where he'd been dozing.

His head pulled away from the wooden surface with a disgustingly sticky sound, and he braced himself on his hands while he waited for his throbbing head to cease spinning.

Bryn recalled having been restrained, but the cuffs and ties that had held him in place had been loosened and rested in soft piles around him and on the floor below. He supposed that if he'd been drugged into a stupor, his captor would have no eventual reason to keep him bound.

His captor.

Where was his mother?

There was a deafening thudding noise emanating from the door to Calqua's bedroom.

Still feeling a sickly sort of heat in his extremities, Beynon glanced over to the cauldron his mother had been tending—only to find it still and tepid in appearance. Good.

He was disoriented. His thoughts were utterly disjointed. What had she given him?

The thudding continued.

"Break it down!" someone screamed from the other side.

Bryn got up slowly and approached the door. His eyes kept threatening to close, and the world appeared to him as through through the narrow end of a spyglass. The side of his head positively burned. It would be such a relief to flee the pain once more.

The handle was locked. She'd fastened it from the outside with her key and then left him inside. So he'd be able to get out—but no one else would be able to enter without destroying the door.

"Bryn!" called a muffled, hysterical-sounding voice.

"Are you there, Imperial Highness?" someone else shouted. "We're coming through!"

He swayed a little, then steadied himself. He undid the lock and pushed the door open.

Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. His cousin's white face stared in horror at him, at his ear.

Then he remembered. Beynon's shaking hand found its way to the side of his head and felt about.

It simply wasn't there. The searching fingers found only desiccated skin. His stomach turned and his eyes filled.

He swallowed back the nausea and looked past Trey.

A dozen or so of Daitak's counsillors were clustered about in the parlor, muttering to each other, wringing their hands, or simply waiting.

"Imperial Highness!" one of them shouted, and they all knelt to him.

Trey, too.

A moment passed this way, and then Beynon found his tongue. "What has happened?" he asked. His voice sounded thick and far away.

"The empress is gone, Imperial Highness," young Captain Reese told him. "None can find her. She fled the capital a few hours ago..."

Beynon placed both hands to either side of his head, hoping that if he pressed down hard enough, everything would stop spinning. "What do you mean, she's gone?" he asked.

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