Upon returning to the inn, they shared a rather subdued supper with Alasdair and Mialina, after which the Alt-Mage and his wife went up to bed, leaving Henry and Seymour on their own once more. Seymour took the opportunity to get drunk again.
Henry sat with him for a while, mostly fidgeting with Seymour’s pocket watch—which the Aechyed had placed absentmindedly on the table—then he left, too.
By the time he finally determined to go upstairs and catch some sleep, Seymour had put enough alcohol in his system to kill a good-sized human, and he had already thrown up twice on the sawdust-covered floor. He didn’t mind particularly, and nobody else did, either. Yet, some part of him realized that if he was going to be alive and conscious tomorrow, he had to stop, and soon.
It was a bit more challenging than it should have been to locate the stairs leading up to the rooms, but he managed it. He also succeeded in dragging himself up them and finding his room. He dug in his pockets—found his pocket watch, which he must have put back without realizing it—and came up with a key. He stabbed it several times in the vicinity of the lock and missed before eventually it slipped in.
It fit in the opening, but it wouldn’t turn.
He checked that he had the right room (it was) before removing the key and trying again. No luck. Perhaps the key was defective. Or perhaps he was doing something wrong. Perhaps this door required an extra step, like pulling on the handle.
Suddenly, he felt extremely tired, and the cold, stone floor looked exceptionally inviting. He would just sit for a moment—maybe a solution would come to him.
* * *
He dreamed that he was back in Brysail, during the blood plague. He could smell the odor of sickness and death, and the oily stench of burning flesh. He was feverish, and his bones hurt.
In his dream, his adoptive mother was tending to him, dabbing at the blood and pus leaking from the open sores on his torso, cleaning his mouth when he vomited. The disease was aptly named: there was blood, lots of it. Blood oozing through his skin, blood running from his nose, blood crawling from his ears, blood flowing directly into his internal organs, turning his piss red and his puke black. Cecily de Winter didn’t like blood, never had; yet still she cared for him, day and night. Part of him wanted her to go away, so that she wouldn’t catch it from him, but mostly he wanted her to stay. Her presence was comforting.
The dream changed.
He was back in the Waelyngar Valley—floating above it, in fact—but something was very wrong.
It was flooding with blood.
Crimson liquid was bubbling up through the ground, rising quickly, drowning the flatlands around the bluff. It rose and rose, rose until only the very top of the bluff—the part on which the citadel tower stood—was visible. An island in the midst of a sanguine sea.
And suddenly, as is the way of dreams, he was no longer floating above the scene, but was sitting in a little wooden boat. He began to row, and (despite the fact that it was backwards, its flat stern pointing in the direction of travel) the boat sped along towards the island.
Overhead, the sky was flat and grey. It was light, but there was no sign of the sun. The surface of the sanguine sea was smooth, but occasionally something would bubble up out of it. One such thing was a human skull, which popped up under his starboard oar. On his other side, a ribcage floated past.
He looked over his shoulder, and wasn’t particularly surprised to see that the structure on the island was different. Gone was the high, beacon-like citadel tower rising from the white limestone fortress. In its place was a smaller, squatter castle, its coloration nearer black than white.
The bottom of the boat scraped up upon land, and he got out. The grass on the island was knee-deep, and it swished about his legs as he waded through it. This was the only sound he could hear, save for his own footfalls. No birds calling, no wind.
There was a woman at the top of the bluff-that-was-no-more, standing by the cliff-face, looking out over the sea of blood. Or at least her shape was that of a woman. Seymour had serious doubts that she was anything remotely human, doubts inspired by the fact that her raven-black hair was floating and dancing about her shoulders despite the absence of the slightest breeze.
“Hello, Seymour,” she greeted him without turning to look.
As he drew closer, he saw that she was dressed in rags, grey and white scraps of fabric that had long since ceased to be a dress. At its longest, the garment reached halfway down her pale, sinewy thigh, and most of its midsection had been torn out, leaving her midriff exposed. About her hips, she wore a leather belt with an intricate pattern of interwoven knots embossed upon it. From this, on a delicate chain stretched between two loops on the belt’s side, hung a golden clock, approximately two inches in diameter, which informed Seymour that the hour was 13:65. On her head sat an iron crown, all long, cruel spikes and rusty points.
“Who…who are you?” he asked, finding his voice at long last.
She turned slowly to face him, and Seymour took a step back in alarm. His suspicions were confirmed—no woman was this, but an Ancient. No human had eyes like hers, pupil-less eyes that glowed so unnaturally blue. Nor did any human have such deep red lips, or the long, sharp fangs that could be seen between them.
“I think you know me, Seymour de Winter. You have never seen me in this form—my true form—yesss—but you are not stupid.”
“You’re Moriba,” he mumbled glumly. “You’re the raven.”