Chapter 18 - The Darkness
They sat in the garden, usually playing udo and usually letting Hal win, although Fain made sure he didn’t win every game.
“It’s your move.” Prince Hal said to Alice and she frowned looking at the board, trying to remember how the pieces moved versus a game of chess as well as trying to make a move that wouldn’t mess up the ‘Let Prince Hal Win’ plan while also not obviously letting him realise they were letting him win.
Fain was busy talking to Hal’s tutor and Cait was stifling a yawn. The sun felt hot as it shone down and Alice felt a bead of sweat run down her back.
She picked up a pawn and went to place it when it felt like everything changed around her. She blinked and all she could see was Darkness. All she could taste was bitterness. All around her the heat was gone and there was nothing but the freezing water of the Wash and the Spectral was dragging her down into it.
“Alice?” Cait said and Fain turned at the strange tone of her voice.
It was like she was momentarily frozen and then suddenly she was back. She gasped, grabbing her chest as her breath caught in it and looked around suddenly aware everyone was staring at her.
“Are you okay?” Cait asked quietly.
“What’s wrong?” Fain said suddenly at her side. She shook her head, shaking the memory out of it.
“I’m fine. It’s nothing.” Alice said looking at them. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologise.” Fain said quietly.
Prince Hal looked between them. “Why aren’t you playing?” He asked confused.
“I think Alice needs to lie down.” Fain said.
“But I was just about to win.”
“Maybe tomorrow.” Fain replied and he offered his hand to help Alice up and he could feel she was trembling.
When they got back to the room she curled up on the couch. Holding her hands to her chest. It felt like something had her breath, something had her lungs and she could only just get enough air in.
“Do you want a Healer?” He asked quietly and she shook her head.
“I don’t think it’s anything you can fix.” She said quietly.
“What do you mean?”
She sighed and huddled into herself tighter. “I think it’s the Spectral, and the fact that it almost drowned me.”
“Is that what your nightmares are about?”
She nodded. “Where I come from we have this thing called PTSD, it’s like stress after an event. It plays on your mind. But it’s not a physical thing. It’s mental.”
“So that’s what happened today?”
“I think so. One minute I was there, playing udo and the next minute it was like the Spectral was there, like it was in me again.”
“What do you mean ‘in you’?”
“When I destroy them, it’s like they engulf me, they swallow me and then my Magic rips them apart. But that last one, it was worse, it was deeper. Like it was at my very soul.”
She frowned looking away. Feeling the memory of it. It still felt so raw, so horrific.
He looked at her. She suddenly looked exhausted, like she’d spent the last few days fighting rather than resting. He frowned, how had she suddenly gone from being fine to this? He wondered. And then he remembered what Jelric had said back at the camp. How Alice had gone to see him when Fain was busy and that she thought she was losing her Magic, that she thought she was becoming powerless. That she thought she was broken.
“I think you need some rest.” He said gently and she nodded.
She got up and he held his hand out to her. She walked to take it but the Darkness suddenly overtook her and she was falling.
Fain saw her go and grabbed her before she hit the ground, catching her in his arms. He called for the servants and carried her to his bed and laid her down.
One of them came rushing in and he shouted for a Healer.
Moments later the Healer rushed in and stopped when he saw her.
“What is it?” Fain asked and the Healer shook his head slightly before starting to examine her. He pulled a jagged blue crystal from his robe and ran his hand over her head frowning.
Alice opened her eyes and looked round confused.
“How did I get here?” She asked quietly to Fain.
“I carried you. You passed out.”
“Oh.” She said confused and she looked at the Healer.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“It doesn’t make sense.” The Healer said. “You’re fine, you’re healthy but at the same time…” He shook his head.
“At the same time what?”
“It’s like a Darkness.” He said. “I can’t explain it because I don’t understand it Prince Fain.”
Alice closed her eyes. It was a Darkness, she thought, the same Darkness she saw when she slept. Fain frowned and she realised she’d somehow opened her thoughts to him. That he knew what she felt, what she was thinking. She looked away, feeling even more helpless. Now she couldn’t even keep her thoughts from him, it felt like she really was losing control.
“Get some rest.” He said and he kissed her lightly on her head. “You’ll feel better after you’ve slept.”
She nodded but she knew it wasn’t true. She knew as soon as she closed her eyes she would see it again. She could feel it. It was already waiting for her. Waiting in the Darkness.
She woke up screaming and sweating in the night. She knew it was a dream even before Fain had said it but it felt real, it felt so real. Something was ripping at her, was choking her, suffocating her airway and there wasn’t any way she could escape it.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” Fain said holding her and she wept into his chest. She could smell him, smell his beautiful earthy scent that she loved so much but the image was still there and so was the Darkness and it felt like it was slowly starting to take over everything.
There was no escaping it.
He held her and he kissed her forehead, soothing her until he heard her breathing slow and sleep overcame her but within hours she was awake and screaming again.
He got up and called for the Healer, called for Nela, called for anyone that might have a damn clue how to help her. Nela sat with Fain watching as the Healer tried to help but he was as confounded as he was before. There was nothing wrong with her. She was healthy. She wasn’t sick. And yet there was still a Darkness in her.