Chapter 20 - Sebastian

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Sebastian darted up the spiralling staircase, his muscles trembling more with every step, his mouth growing dryer than the air on the Scorching Plains. All promises to Uncle Tom aside, he had one hour before he had to face Crown Prince River of Ice, his first official meeting with a foreign royal. His main supplier of poppyseed was behind bars, her fate that of a traitor. He couldn't go down to the basement to beg the Healers for a potion; he might as well shout for all of Sundale to hear that he couldn't live without poppyseed. He was desperate, and there was only one other source: Nick.

"Don't do this," the Goddess of Chastity told him as he barged into Nick's room. "You've been caught before. You will be caught again."

He might as well have walked into the lair of a dying beast. Despite Spring being in full bloom, only a thin ray of sunshine shone through the cracks of the thick curtains. A dull red fire burnt in the stove in the corner. The sour smell of fever dreams hung in the air. And it was hot there, too hot.

Learning from his previous mistake, he closed the door.

Nick's silhouette shot up, his voice stronger than the previous days but still brittle. "Who's there? I can hear you breathing."

"Me." Sebastian shuffled closer, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.

"Oh, you."

Nick sat up, four of five pillows supporting his back. The bandages on his face were gone; his wounds had developed thick, black crusts that ran from his forehead to halfway his nose.

"It's dark in here," Sebastian remarked.

Nick lifted his shoulders into a shrug, sighing. "Is it?"

Sebastian waved his hand in front of Nick's half-open eyes. "Can't you see me?"

"Does a mole see underground?"

"I guess."

"No, Muttonhead, they're blind," Nick scoffed, not looking at him.

"Well, I didn't know." Sebastian's gaze trailed to the nightstand. No cup. No poppyseed. His chest tightened.

"Sometimes the darkness stirs. Can't tell if it's real, or my fever playing tricks on me. It could also be..." Nick's voice softened to a whisper. "A magician's curse."

"What does Healer Mark say?"

"Not a lot. But he took away the poppyseed, told me to return to the land of wakeful." He groaned. "Being asleep was a bliss. The willow bark I get to nibble on whenever the pain becomes too much is disgusting."

"But does it work?"

"It takes off the edges. At least at Whitepeak, they turned it into a tea."

"It can't taste that bad," Sebastian suggested. Something to take the edge off was all he needed. And willow bark wasn't poppyseed; it was better to keep Uncle Tom happy as well.

"You try it then if you don't believe me. It tastes like rotting leaves." Nick groped around him, beneath his blanket and the edges of his bed. "Where did I drop it? I had it just a moment ago."

A finger-long stick came peeping from underneath the bottom pillow. Sebastian clambered onto the bed and crawled over Nick to fetch it.

"Get off me!" Nick shoved him aside, surprisingly powerful for someone so weak. The God of Wrath found His prey everywhere.

"But I found it—I saw it."

"I didn't need your help, Seb," Nick grumbled. "I almost had it."

Not by a long shot, but Sebastian kept quiet. He retreated to the foot of the bed and put the stick into his mouth. As he sucked on it, the bitter and earthy juice trickled down his throat, a sensation that vaguely reminded him of the sweet... sweet poppyseed.

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