The days were becoming a blur for me.
My first night keeping watch over Elmiryn had been remarkably uneventful. She barely moved the entire time. It was actually a rather dull night, as even Nyx was still too sore to speak with me. She hid deep in our mind, also too pained to see the Fiamman in her squalor.
We all took turns watching over the woman. After more than a week went by, even Lethia finally pushed her way into the rotation, against Daedalus’ wishes.
The elf, upon his return, had been quite livid that we’d allowed Lethia to place herself in harm’s way. He called us half-witted nincompoops, then locked himself in the shed to tinker with his gadgets and medicines alone. He only ever emerged to check on Lethia, and to take his turn to watch over Elmiryn.
The Fiamman had an episode with her heart, a real one, the day following her ruse. But the elf was prepared to administer swift care. In the days since, Elmiryn had only suffered fevers and other flu-like symptoms.
But even as the fevers broke, her hallucinations seemed to be getting worse.
That, or she was really seeing things we couldn’t.
“You’re not sleeping again!” she snarled up into a ceiling corner one night. She had her back to me, both hands clenched. “Don’t fucking try to pretend! I hear time shivering! I know you’re there!”
Exactly who was there, none of us could figure out.
Not that we ever could. Thanks to those blasted demons, the rest of us, with the exception of Daedalus, were constantly doubting our eyes.
Quincy struggled to tell the difference between a pinch of salt and a small handful. Paulo sometimes had to touch the walls to make sure they weren’t moving. Lethia had a habit of checking every strange shadow she saw. I kept misjudging the height of the stairsteps, nearly landing on my face for it…
On their own, they seemed like such small inconveniences. But they happened disturbingly often, and with increasing intensity. If any of us were still lying to ourselves about it, we weren’t anymore.
Meanwhile, the elf saw our affliction and tutted at us.
“You’ve ventured too near to corruption,” Daedalus said with a slow shake of his head. “I’ll not make the same mistake! The moment Lethia is well, I will take my leave.”
“What about Elmiryn?” Paulo protested with a scowl during supper. “You’d leave her healing unfinished?”
“She hardly needs me here with the proper supplies, boy,” Daedalus returned sternly. He was helping Quincy clear bowls from the table. “I’ll make sure at least two of you know what needs to be done. I’m not that heartless.”
“Not heartless,” I commented with a wry twist of my lips. “Just smart.”
Paulo turned his scowl on me. “You’re all right with him leaving? Is Nyx all right with it?”
“I’m here, so it’s my opinion that you get, boy,” I hissed at him.
I leaned back in my seat and crossed my arms. “I’ve urged Nyx to quit this path many times already. Now we can’t. It’s nice to see one sane person take the chance before it’s too late.”
“We owe Daedalus a great deal, Paulo,” Quincy said as she set the bowls on the floor next to the washtub. She looked back at him with a reproving look. “The man has no obligation to us. He’s free to do as he pleases.”
“And at the moment, it would please me to resume my work in the shed. Good evening.” And with a tug on his maple brown vest, Daedalus left.
Quincy looked between Paulo and I. “Whose turn was it to fetch water for the washing?”
I pointed at Paulo, and he pointed at me.
Quincy tongued her cheek and shifted her weight to one foot.
I rolled my eyes and stood from the table with a bang. “Fine! I’ll do it.”
Grumbling, I marched out of the tower, grabbing the bucket as I went, and headed for the water pump. I didn’t get far before my sensitive hearing picked up someone following me. I turned and groaned to see that it was Paulo.
The boy held his hands up, and I turned from him, quickening my pace.
“What do you want?” I snapped.
Paulo was at my side in the next instant, his long legs easily keeping up with my quick gait.
“Your opinion on Daedalus,” he asked.
I glanced sideways at him. “He keeps to himself, and he’s to the point… unlike some people.”
“I don’t waste words!” Paulo argued with irritation.
I gave him a dry look. “Really? Then what do you want to know my opinion on Daedalus for?”
“Because I’m worried about what he’s up to!” Paulo ground out through his teeth. He gestured at the shed, which was a medium-sized shack just behind the barn.
I shrugged. “So?”
We arrived at the water pump. I hung the bucket handle over the spout, then went to the handle and began to work it up and down. It was easier for me to do it, because of my natural strength, but it still bothered me how long it took for the water to rise up.
“What do you mean, ‘so?!’” Paulo cried. “That cranky elf locks himself away in that shed for hours at a time–!”
“He still takes a turn with Elmiryn,” I pointed out with a small grunt. The water had finally dropped and the bucket was gradually filling.
“Yes, and have you seen the weird gadgets and schematics he works on while he’s down there with her?”
“Not up close.”
“Exactly!” Paulo exclaimed, like I’d done all the work for him.
I looked at him as if he were stupid–and he was–as I finished working the pump handle. I’d need to do another trip before the washbasin was full enough.
“You know elves are naturally secretive, right?” I said flatly. “Daedalus is an inventor. I’m sure he’s just protective of his work!”
“But what the hell is he working on?” Paulo asked tightly. “I’ve seen him and Lethia talking about it!”
“Maybe it’s for her?” I raised my eyebrows meaningfully as I grabbed the bucket and started back, hoping he’d just drop the subject and let me do my work in peace.
“Or maybe he just wants to use Lethia as a test subject!” Paulo pressed with wide eyes. He followed me relentlessly.
“The girl he’s focused on healing?” I asked sarcastically.
“I’m just saying, the man has invested a lot into our survival here, but he’s willing to just cut and run after Lethia’s ‘healed?’” He made air quotations. “It doesn’t sound right to me! I think he’s up to something nasty!”
I stopped halfway back to the tower, my head hanging forward.
“Paulo,” I said wearily. My head lolled over onto my shoulder as I looked at him with suffering. “Just admit that you’re worried about Lethia, and ask her what’s going on. Stop driving yourself, and me, insane with your dumb speculations.”
He sputtered, his cheeks reddening. “I am not worried about that stupid girl! I just think the elf is trying to deceive us!”
My eyes narrowed at him. “You don’t care about her? Fine. Then leave the elf to his ‘evil’ schemes for her, and let me carry on with my fucking work, please.” I marched back to the tower and didn’t hear Paulo follow. “The faster I get this done, the faster Lethia is out of the cellar for you to not ask questions.”
Just as I reached the door, I heard the boy shout, “I’m not worried about her!”
I only rolled my eyes.
Human adolescents were so annoying.