Chapter Nine: The Sanguine Sea (4)Mature

The sky was nearly fully dark by the time they reached the top of the bluff, but the outline of the jagged western mountain range was still traced in deepening crimson.  Stars had begun to appear overhead, a spray of white paint on an indigo canvas.  Rising sinisterly above them, the citadel tower seemed to give off a faint, pale light of its own.

            Corpse-light, Seymour’s mind provided, unbidden, and he suppressed the urge to shiver.

            “I don’t like it,” Henry informed him bluntly, looking upward at the white tower.  “It sets my magic on edge.”

            And indeed, Seymour observed, the mage’s ears were intermittently producing blue sparks.  There must have been something here, something old and malevolent, emanating from those soaring limestone walls.

            “It must be the spring,” Henry breathed.

            “The spring?”

            “There are places,” the mage explained, “where the magic of the earth leaks up through the surface, like water from an underground aquifer.  We call them magical springs.  There’s one under Waelyngar—I knew there was one here somewhere, but we must be almost directly on top of it.”

            Seymour frowned.  “It must be beneath the citadel.  Big structures like that usually get built for a reason, sometimes without the builder’s conscious knowledge.”

            Henry gingerly approached the castle wall and touched it hesitantly.  With a quiet exclamation of pain, he quickly withdrew his hand.  “You’re right.  It’s under the fortress…but it’s turned…the magic has turned…sour.”

            “Like milk?”

            “Not precisely.  Something has gotten in—something that shouldn’t have.  The same thing happened to the spring in the Carvil Valley, but a very long time ago.  The magic is still spoiled there, but its bitterness dulled over time.  Here…it’s more recent…still acid.”

            “What could have caused it?  What got in?”

            Henry shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Anything, really—”

            “A parasite?”

            The mage’s eyes widened in recognition.  “You mean, what Elnias said about…?”

            “That is exactly what I mean.”

            “Shit,” Henry groaned.  His knees buckled and he sat down hard in the overgrown grass by the castle wall. 

            “You alright?”

            “No,” the mage replied.  “I…I shouldn’t have had that mead.”

            Seymour snorted.  “That mead that you never even finished?”  Then, seeing Henry’s hurt expression, he sighed and knelt in the grass beside him.  “I’m sorry.  That was cruel of me.  You should be proud.”

            “Proud?” Henry asked, befuddled.

            “Proud that you aren’t…that you aren’t like me.”

            The mage looked at him, tilting his head slightly.  “Like you?”

            Seymour forced himself to meet his mismatched eyes.  “I’m a drunkard, Henry,” he spat.  “A Rezyn-damned drunkard.”

            “Oh,” said Henry, looking vaguely away.  “Well, there are worse things you could be.”

            Something about the apathetic tone in which Henry had spoken made Seymour’s blood run cold.  He glanced sharply at the mage, sudden fear gripping his intestines.  A puzzle piece that he had ignored up until this moment abruptly clicked into place, and he knew the truth before Henry opened his mouth.

            “I’m a murderer, Seymour.”

The End

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