Chapter 19: Care, Contact & Catharsis
I staggered into the guest suite’s sitting room leaving a drenched pillow behind me. I was amazed by the volume of tears you could cry in just a few minutes and how quickly my voice could grow hoarse wailing into the smothering embrace of my pillow. It was like a fast moving storm dumping a deluge of rain in mere moments before its howling winds carried it off elsewhere.
That said the storm might have passed, but it didn’t feel like it to me as I stumbled around the room looking for a distraction or an escape. The sitting room felt like an entirely different place to how it had been during the day with Roxi.
All but one of the crystal mage-lights lining the walls, sat extinguished in their filigree fixtures like cold orbs of ice. The lone lit mage-light glowed with a faint inner light, that somehow barely lifted the room’s night-dark, while managing to still cast long shadows from where it was mounted by the suite’s door.
The differences were more than just changes in lighting, the room hadn’t been left untouched since my logout attempt. The maids had obviously paid a visit in our absence. Everything had been tidied and straightened, the tea trays of refreshments and snacks had been removed and the pile of books I’d pulled out to read yesterday had been returned to the bookshelf.
The act of cleaning it had removed any trace that someone was staying here, the room had been almost completely sanitised of every last trace of the restful day Roxi and I had spent together in it.
The room felt just cold, still and unwelcoming. Dead, like I was. If I was looking for comfort, I’d come to the wrong place.
If I couldn’t have comfort, then I needed a distraction. It is hard to think or feel when your concentration is focused on some mindless task. Tinkering got me into this mess and normally it would get me out of it or at least distract me long enough for wounds to scab over.
I’d spent a lot of sleepless nights tinkering in my shack, but I couldn’t really see any way to do that in here. If I wanted to tinker I might have been better off making a character with the Artificer skill tree, but I’d come here looking for an escape from my normal life.
I’d hadn’t expected this place to become my life.
So without the ability to tinker, all I was left with was reading. Reading was an escape I enjoyed, but I wasn’t placing much hope in its ability to distract me right now. I had a desperate hope at least, hope that I would find a book I could lose myself in until I was no longer in danger of shattering at any moment.
Searching the small bookshelf, my eyes slowly travelled across the gold leaf lettering that ran down the books’ spines. Most of the books I’d selected the day before had been to pass time and satisfy curiosity, but what I needed was something captivating. My eyes came to a stop as my gaze hovered over a book’s title, ‘Lilies in a Snowy Forest’.
Drawing it from among its peers, it flopped open to a pair of pages near its midpoint parted by a slender ribbon. A black hair that had been caught when the book was closed, slipped free to fall onto the edge of my palm. I’d found where Roxi had paused reading, before she eventually logged off.
The reminder that Roxi had logged off birthed a crack in the foundations of the mental dam that had till now managed to hold off the feeling of oppressive loneliness. Closing the book, I dropped it to the sofa as I tried to hold it together. Heartbeats later, the crack grew and spread with the speed of an avalanche, shearing up the height of the metal dam’s bulwak and through its breadth, until it was cleaved from top to bottom and the mass of emotion burst forth.
Suddenly everything in this room was a reminder that Roxi was gone and I was on my own, not just in the literal sense but also in the fact I was probably the only human in this place without a body to log out to.
I had to leave.
Not stopping to grab anything, I opened the suite’s heavy door and darted out into the corridor. Turning, I raced down the corridor’s length, my dress’s matching lilac slippers barely making a sound as my feet fell on thick carpet or bare stone. Making several turns where corridors met each other, I ran towards where I thought an exit lay.
Over the sound of my heart thundering my ears, I caught the click, clack of hard heels coming towards me around the corner.
I did not want to run into anyone right now, to have to pretend to function while I was breaking down. I wanted to be alone in my loneliness. To not have to hide it behind a smile or attempt the herculean task of unearthing it and bringing to the fore to explain it to a stranger.
It was better to run and hide than face these feelings.
Fighting down the stabbing twinge of pain as I remembered making it with Roxi yesterday, I activated my [Aura of Concealment]. With my ten seconds of invisibility, I dove to the side of the corridor and nestled into a small alcove between two columns that projected out from the wall.
Eight. The footsteps rounded the corner.
Six. Over the footsteps I could hear the slight brushing sound of cloth lightly dragging across carpet.
Four. The Duchess swept past my position as she hastily strode down the corridor, her hands lifting and holding up her skirts so she could move faster than what would be considered ladylike or easy in a voluminous floor length dress.
Three. I’d only caught a glimpse in the corridor’s half light as she dashed past, but had she looked worried? Or was that stressed?
One. I could hear the ruffling swish of her dress as she exited the corridor.
Zero. My invisibility faded away and glancing at my UI, I saw the spell slot had grayed over as its sixty second cooldown started.
The castle’s immense size slowed my escape as I navigated unfamiliar corridors searching for the way we had come in, guided by the attendant when we’d arrived. My escape grew harder as the dim mage-lamps lining the castle’s corridors lit up, dispelling the shadows and the halls began to fill with servants, maids and guards who seemed to be scurrying about searching for something or someone. Maybe the Duchess, I thought with some anxiety.
I was having to use my invisibility spell almost on cooldown now as I ducked and wove my way around anyone who might see me, occasionally having to hide in side rooms or in large cabinets. I was almost thriving on the task of escaping the castle unseen as it seized my entire focus, distracting me from the reasons I was running.
Breathing a sigh of relief. I spotted the open doorway to the fountain courtyard in the hall ahead. Running for it, I barely managed to skid to a stop in time to avoid running out of the corridor I was in and into the line of sight of the guardsmen in the guarded entrance hall. Throwing myself flat against the wall, I caught my breath as I waited for my aura of concealment’s cooldown timer to finish.
The spell slot lit up again and activating it, I dashed out into the entrance hall, past the guards, through the doorway, into the fountain courtyard, before diving beneath a bush just past the fountain.
There I waited again for the cooldown to pass, praying to whoever would listen that there wasn’t going to be any guards marching past. Cooldown finishing, I pushed myself up again, launching myself into the second past of my sprint across the rest of the courtyard, through the portcullis, through the open tall heavy wooden gates and into the city. Ducking out of sight of the guards just in time, the spell unravelled again.
I was out.
Illegal Alien is a canon story in QuietValerie's Troubleverse setting. Make sure you read Quietvalerie's Trouble with Horns, her second Troubleverse story Witch of Chains and ChiriChiriChiri's Troubleverse story Snowbound.
The Troubleverse & Kammiverse have their own discord where you can talk to other readers and the various authors including myself and QuietValerie.