chapter five;

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The silence that hung over the room was thick with anticipation and dread. Although Darryl was almost certain that they had been expecting something like this, he knew that expectation and confirmation were two very different things. The girl - who Darryl assumed must be some high-ranked knight or medic or something similar - dropped her hand, releasing Zak's wrist. Although Darryl itched to ask her what she meant by not normal, he didn't exactly want to push the situation any further until Zak showed some sign of processing the information.

Thankfully, Darryl didn't have to ask.

"What do you mean?" Vincent practically demanded, taking a step towards Zak as though he could protect his friend from whatever toxin had already entered his system just by asking the question. "Don't scare us for no reason. You said 'not normal', so tell us what exactly that means."

A wry smile. "Shouldn't you know that already, astrologer's apprentice?"

The pure sly insinuation in her tone was what eventually made Darryl's gaze shift to Vincent, who seemed like he had finally stumbled upon some kind of grand epiphany, one that would no doubt have been useful before they had gone through this situation.

"Is this what I think you're talking about?" Vincent asked after a moment. "I thought we had no idea how that was being passed."

Darryl had no idea what they were talking about. Agitation built up in him, fingers gripping the side of his sleeve in an attempt to not speak out for fear of being disrespectful. If they were having some kind of important conversation then it would most likely be best for him not to interrupt. He didn't know what exactly Zak had been hit with and would have to face, so he could only hope that whatever conclusion they had come to there would be a cure. That was the only thing they could hope for now.

"Okay. Someone tell me what's going on. Right now."

Zak sounded frustrated, albeit a little weaker than normal. He was used to taking control of situations Darryl knew, but it had been easy to forget their power imbalance for a while when they had been out. Although Darryl had no right to demand answers, Zak could do whatever he wanted.

Vincent let out a long sigh. "We've been experiencing problems with a certain kind of poison." Another deep breath in, and out. "Two weeks ago the medical team asked us to have a look at what was prophesied for it. Turns out the poison is some kind of rot-like thing. It enters the body and spreads over time like some kind of stain through the bloodstream. The veins that have been infected turn a darker than normal, almost like something is corroding them from the inside."

Darryl's heart sank. He wasn't entirely sure what he'd expected, but this sounded a lot more serious than he had originally thought. Even normal poison would be preferable to this. At least then they'd know what to do about it and it could be handled, although it would take a little longer than Zak probably would have liked and would have been painful to deal with until then. But the way they were speaking of this seemed like it was an unresolved problem, and that was quite possibly one of the worst outcomes. Because if it was unresolved, then... Darryl didn't really want to think about it too much.

"Okay. So it's a poison," Zak murmured, before taking a deep breath as though trying to keep his voice from shaking. "But it can be fixed, right? I'll be fine, no problem?"

"We don't know a cure. We don't know what it does to the people it impacts. We don't know anything about it except it's been fatal to every person that's had it so far."

A pause and this time there is a barely-there tremble in the prince's voice. "Right. Okay."

In all honesty, Darryl didn't know how he was supposed to react to this. This had, of course, been partly his fault after all. He'd been assigned to protect Zak at all costs and had somehow let himself get distracted at the exact moment he was needed. Therefore it was partly his job to fix, and he'd do his damn best to do so. Now it appeared the prince's life was on the line things had gotten far more serious and Darryl found himself more determined than before. He would fix this, even if it killed him. He had to.

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