30 Lennitay (continued)
Cederic was completely motionless. He didn’t even blink. “I see,” he said.
Vorantor said, “Oh, Cederic. You still held out hope, didn’t you? Are you convinced now?”
“No way to prevent it,” Cederic said, his lips barely moving. “You were right.”
Vorantor put his hand on Cederic’s unmoving shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, a little too cheerfully. “No harm done, in the long run, and there’s no shame in being wrong, is there?”
“Of course not,” Cederic said.
“Pity all that work was wasted,” Vorantor said. “More than two years, wasn’t it? Still, there’s time—”
“I think I should begin…evaluating a new approach,” Cederic said. He sounded so distant that I wanted to cry for him.
“You should do that,” Vorantor said, clapping him on the back again. “I’ll have some suggestions for you later, how does that sound?”
“Very good,” Cederic said, and left the room, his face completely expressionless, his head held high. Vorantor’s mages were whispering to one another and I saw one of them smirk at a comment his friend made. Somebody laughed. The Darssan mages stood frozen in place. Audryn was crying. I put my arm around her shoulders and hugged her, though I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t crying myself—probably because I was so furious with Vorantor I wanted to hurt him more than I wanted to weep.
Terrael stood in the center of the room, book held loosely in his hand, head bowed. I steered Audryn toward him, took the book from his hand, and walked over to slap it hard against Vorantor’s chest. He reached up automatically to take it, but I whisked it out of his reach and put it into my pocket.
“Master Peressten is exhausted from his labors,” I said, “and he’s going to rest. Master Engilles will do the same. I’m going to take them to their rooms now. That’s all right, isn’t it.” I stared him down, willing him to see my readiness to hurt him in my eyes, and he flinched and did a poor job of hiding it. He muttered something about “overwrought, time for everyone to rest” and I took Audryn and Terrael by the hands and dragged them out of the circle chamber and through the palace to the Darssan mages’ wing.
Once there, I opened Audryn’s door and dragged them both inside with me. I’d made a decision along the way that violated one of my principles, but I was tired and heartsick and it was a principle that didn’t matter much anymore.
“Sit,” I said, shoving them both gently at Audryn’s bed. “Audryn, Terrael is hopelessly in love with you,” I said, causing Terrael to go red and Audryn to gasp. “He goes out of his way to be near you because he doesn’t know how to tell you how he feels, because you’re older and never become clumsy or awkward or any of the things he’s sure he’s doing anytime you’re near.
“Terrael, Audryn is completely in love with you.” It was Terrael’s turn to gasp. “And she’s afraid to tell you because you’re her superior, sort of, and she’s in awe of how brilliant you are and thinks you think she’s not smart enough for you. And I was going to let this go on until you were both brave enough to tell each other the truth, but it sounds as if the world’s ending and I think neither of you should waste any more time. And now I’m leaving.”
I took the Codex out of my pocket and tossed it at Terrael, who caught it, his eyes still wide. Then I turned and walked out the door, and shut it before I could hear more than Terrael saying, “Audryn—”
I ran the rest of the way up the stairs to the Sais’ wing. I can’t believe I didn’t see any of this coming. My later self is probably reading this and laughing herself sick at how stupid I was. All I wanted was to help. That’s what I thought, anyway. That helping Cederic was all that motivated me.
I stopped at the top of the steps and waited for my breathing to slow, then I walked the rest of the way to Cederic’s room and knocked. There was no answer. I remembered that a Castaviran wouldn’t expect someone to wait for an invitation, so I pushed on the door and found it locked. So I pounded on the door and shouted his name, and when that didn’t work, I unlocked the door and went in. The room was empty.
That made me afraid, though I’m not sure why. I think there was a part of me that wondered if Cederic might not do something stupid, if losing his life’s work and being humiliated by his “old friend” might not push him past breaking. But I couldn’t quite believe it of him. Mostly I worried that it was a large palace, and I didn’t know where to begin looking for him. And then I did. I left his room and went all the way down the hall and up the steps to the observatory.
to be continued…