In the first moments that Will woke up that morning, it seemed as if there was nothing wrong and it was just the beginning of another day. Soon, however, memory flooded through, along with the sight of clothes drying over the fireplace, washed clean of blood, and burns aching on his chest as he sat up.
The others were already up. Persephone played with a puzzle with Arlamus on the sofa, whilst Andrel removed pins from his camp bed and slowly dismantled it into pieces to fit under the stairs.
'What's the time?' Will asked, seeing that Arlamus' darkness charm had been removed, and white winter light now streamed through the windows.
'About midday,' said Andrel, his eyes not leaving the camp bed fixings. 'How are you feeling?'
Will shrugged, though he realised after that with his injuries it was a bad idea. 'Reasonable. And you?'
He turned to Will and smiled boyishly. 'I probably had some information about sea-monster migration knocked out of me, but that's hardly a loss.' His expression dropped like a shadow passing over from above. 'Mum's outside...cleaning.'
Will knew immediately what she meant, and craned his head so he could see through the doorway to the open front door, where Mrs Wilthric was visible in the grounds. She stood in front of a bonfire spewing black smoke, her arms crossed wearily and a wooden pale of "rubbish" at her feet, the outside stained black with blood, torn material lapping at the edge.
Arlamus left Persephone and took an envelope from the mantle. He stood in front of Will and handed it to him gingerly. On the front it was written, Willow Avaric. 'Mother said she found this stuck to the top of the fountain.'
Will turned the envelope and saw it was sealed with red wax, the impression of the Evil Eye, a sight that sent a wave of nausea through him. Without hesitation, he cut his fingernail through the wax, breaking the seal, and his sickness subsided.
'The Mastery...' Andrel murmured, shivering at his own words. 'What does it say?'
Will saw the cursive stained onto the back as he unfolded the parchment and began to read,
To his honourable Highness, Prince Willow Avaric,
I sincerely hope you are well, and have not suffered at the hands of my comrades. It has never been my intention to harm you, and this shall not change, for such a reason I sent the weakest of my legion. Nonetheless, I do hope they gave you an enjoyable fight.
I can only assume that you have defeated them, else you would not read this. Bravo. I expected nothing less from an Elemental, I know of your power, and I know of her. You know of our aims, and hence I need not lay them down for you here -
Will's hand shook as he read. He was struck with the image of the letter's scribe sitting at a desk, their nib poised above the parchment, their finger tapping the edge thoughtfully, their indecision become the dark blots speckling the page. Who are they, and why are they writing to me like this? It frightened him more than he cared to admit that his mind and the mind of the writer was but a wafer of parchment apart, the gap narrowing as he read on,
We have not met before, but I know that this time will soon come. It amuses me in some form that you have not yet realised, Willow, that you cannot escape us. The Evil Eye sees, and it sees you, it has for many years in the moments that you wish it had not. The sacrifices of magi made under its gaze are only consequences of your own obduracy. Humanity is a foul scourge on this world, and they will sicken us all unless we are cleansed of them. If the royal family will not do so, then the mission falls to me.
I endeavour to sway you to our understanding, but if by the time we meet, and we shall soon, Willow, then it is one I greatly anticipate.
Regards to you, and those you protect,
Post Script - xox