Will looked up at the Twins feeling as if he wanted to burn the letter as well as keep it safe as a preserve of his hatred. Andrel and Arlamus didn't ask him what was written, the black look in his eyes towards those he couldn't see told them enough.
'Will...' they all looked up to see Mrs Wilthric standing in the living room doorway, hesitant on the threshold given her state. Her hair was messy from being outside, her hands covered in so much Shade blood that they looked burnt, blistered from contact with the rotting substance. Her eyes were lifeless as if she had endured too much for her spirit to withstand, and she gestured tenderly for Will to follow.
'There's something you need to see.'
Minutes later, bundled up in their winterwear, Will and Andrel followed Mrs Wilthric onto the grounds, leading them to what seemed to be a random spot, until they looked ahead and realised. For a moment, they thought they were only supposed to see the body of another Shade, a third, headless and spread out like a star in a pool of blackened snow. Soon, it became clear that there was more. Going past them was a thin line of blood, encircling the body several times and patterned intricately. Will realised and closed his eyes before the pain struck, hate and rage burning like a furnace inside him.
It was the Evil Eye - seeping into the earth of the Wilthric's home, an infestation and a reminder. Will remembered the words of the letter, a consequence of your own obduracy. The Mastery had killed one of their own for what could have only been the sake of presentation, and they would not stop.
Will couldn't face any of it, he couldn't return to the house after what he'd seen, so climbed onto the surrounding wall and remained there for a while, looking out at the forests in front of him, and further away, the cloud-tipped peaks of the Northern Mountains surrounding him.
It didn't take Andrel long after he'd finished helping his mother to tidy away the last of the Shades' robes to join him on the wall. It was a high wall, at least eight feet up, and it was where Will wanted to be, above and detached from everything where it couldn't harm him.
'This is real, isn't it?' Andrel said out of nowhere. His nose wrinkled as the bonfire burnt with flesh and fabric. 'All of this is actually happening.'
'When was it ever not?' Will replied. He felt as if an invisible force was all that stopped him from toppling over, his body surrendering to the events of the past twenty four hours. He caught the scent of burning blood like rust and felt like vomiting.
From a side glance, Will saw his best friend shrug. 'A couple times I thought it was a joke. You and Tayna with the Evil Eye -,' his hand jerked to make the movement, but he resisted. 'And then when I woke up and you were gone, a part of me thought it was a prank that I wasn't in on. I never expected this...'
Will didn't reply. He looked forward blankly, his fingers numbing in the snow on the ledge. 'What do they want so badly?' Andrel continued.
'I've told you...me. They want me, and more than that, they want Maga. She's the key to everything...'
Andrel looked down ashamedly. 'Do you really believe that?'
Will looked at him, confused. 'Of course I do. I didn't go through all that I did believing that she was just my imagination. She's real...or at least she was -,'
'Exactly,' Andrel snapped. 'If what you're saying is true, and if I believe you, then it means that you're sacrificing the living for somebody that's already dead. How is that fair?'
Will shook his head hopelessly. You don't understand.
'Believe what you want,' he said, spinning around so that he faced into the estate, ready to jump. 'Just know that the Mastery believe, and they don't stop trying. They're who I have to fight. I have to protect her, even if I lose everything -,'
'Will, why would you -,'
Will leapt down, landing on the ground seconds later in a crouch, rising and striding towards the lodge. Not looking back, he answered,
'Because I made a promise.'