7. Beneath, Something Worse Is Waiting

Soundtrack: Tool, Jerk-Off Live

Inglorion’s trance ends around 11:00 on Friday, his day off. He doesn’t make a deliberate decision to fast — he does it thoughtlessly, out of habit. By noon he’s in the gardener’s quarters, training with Collatinus. After an hour of strike drills, he finally starts to settle down, to feel calm and focused. He’s lightheaded and tired, of course — he hasn’t eaten in 24 hours, and he couldn’t tell you what he drank beyond a cup of coffee that morning and half a cup of tea the previous night. Adrenaline and the animal energy of youth take over. As he and Collatinus spar, he feels waves of euphoria, transcendence. Finally he’s emptied out except for a simple prayer to Corellon Larithian.

Collatinus calls a brief halt in mid-afternoon. Inglorion is so tired that he finds it hard to sheathe his weapons. He stands there for a moment, confused, swaying on his feet.

Collatinus’ voice cuts through the haze. “Inglorion, are you OK?”

“Yeah, just tired. I didn’t get off the clock until five.”

“Have you eaten anything?”

Inglorion shoots him a defensive glare. “You know I’m fasting. I always fast on Fridays.”

“What about yesterday?”

“I don’t know. Not much. I had a long shift. So, fuck you very much. Let’s get back to it.”

Collatinus studies his protégée. A moment ago, he was sparring with masterful control and power, hammering steadily on Collatinus’ guard. Now he’s pale, practically shaking with exhaustion. Collatinus says quietly, “You’re in no condition to spar with live weapons right now. One of us is going to get hurt.”

Inglorion says flippantly, “As long as it’s me, it doesn’t much matter.”

“Bullshit. You’ve never had a serious injury. If you keep on like this, you’ll end up with one.”

Inglorion regards Collatinus with pale, crazed eyes. He’s always enjoyed the resilience of youth. A true, life-changing injury is outside his understanding. In his mind, he urgently needs to keep training, pushing himself. He can’t imagine putting his weapons down, eating, drinking, resting, stepping outside the harsh regimen he’s set for himself. He needs the endless, punishing rounds of working, training, fucking against a backdrop of exhaustion, hunger and pain. Beneath, something much, much worse is waiting for him.

Collatinus shrugs. “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, Inglorion. All I can do is tell you what I see. If you don’t stop soon, your body will stop you.”

Inglorion hears Collatinus’ words, but he can’t apply them to himself in this moment. He just doesn’t think he’s that tired and strung out. In the years to come, he will remember what Collatinus said. Occasionally, he’ll even be able to act on it. But not today.

Inglorion drags his broadswords out again. “Do you want to do this, or not?”

He’s young. He may get lucky. And in the end, it’s his body to break. Collatinus puts his guard up, says, “All right. Let’s do it.”

And they do. By sunset, it takes intense focus for Inglorion to stay upright between drills, but today he will not collapse entirely. For moments at a time, he finds that strange exaltation in which nothing else matters. 

Afterwards he eats something hastily in the kitchen — later he won’t remember what. He’s still nauseated, struggling to swallow, but he manages to choke down enough to say that he ate, and that he’s ready for the next portion of the evening. 

Through a chain of events that he won’t recall later, he and Septimus’ girlfriend end up luring out the new housemaid, Claudia, on a double date. Inglorion’s good looks play a role, of course, but in this case he relies more on his air of vulnerability and sweetness. The four of them go to a dance hall. Inglorion and Claudia whirl about and laugh and flirt, and Inglorion experiences another acute pleasure — the sense of potential when a beautiful woman’s charms are still untasted, and he has not yet disappointed her or himself.

Then they’re in bed — of course they are, that’s what was going to happen unless Inglorion made a conscious effort to prevent it — and he is sweet-talking her effortlessly. It’s beautiful moment, in the way that such moments are always beautiful. Between kisses, when matters are charmingly raw and intimate, she says, “You look like him.” Inglorion’s eyes fly open. He regards her, pale eyes wide, startled. It was a random remark, but now she doubles down. “You do, you know.”

He turns away, so that she sees him only in quarter-profile. “Like who?”

“The master. The general.”

“I should. I’m his son.” He pushes himself up, perches on the edge of the bed. He sighs, covers his eyes briefly with the palms of his hands. Suddenly he feels deeply tired.

“I’m sorry — I didn’t mean — you’re not like him — you’re very kind.”

He smiles ruefully over his shoulder at her. “I know, honey. There was probably a time when he was kind, right? When he wasn’t like he is now.”  

“Who was your mother?”

“She was Drow. I have no memory of her.” He’s tempted, in that moment, to break his most fundamental rule, and to pour his heart out to this girl. She’s trusted him this far. They’ve laughed and danced together, shared passionate kisses. He wants to confide in her. But he has no words, doesn’t know how to start, or even what’s troubling him. He catches himself tracing the scars on his wrists and forearms, stops himself. The marks are old, faded — another thing he doesn’t understand, and can’t explain.

So he leans over very deliberately, looks into her eyes, smiles seraphically, and kisses her again. She’s charmed by his smile, diverted from any object she might have had. Inglorion’s discomfort subsides, dissolves in a warm bath of sensation.

They’re intertwined in a trance at daybreak when a knock comes at the door. “Inglorion, open up. It’s urgent.” It’s the butler. Inglorion pulls his breeches on, cracks the door. The room is so tiny that he almost doesn’t have to get out of bed to do it. “What is it? I’m not due downstairs until nine.”

“Lady Sieia is missing. No one has seen her since the night of the ball. They’re putting search parties together.”

“Oh, fuck.” He goes white with shock, slumps against the door frame. For a moment, the butler wonders if he’s going to faint. “What happened? I saw her on Thursday, just before supper service started.”

“She ran away some time afterwards. Just fled into the night. Didn’t take anything with her, even a change of clothes.”

“Let me get some clothes on. I’ll be right down.”

He closes the door. Claudia is almost fully dressed by now. He helps her with her stays, hooks the back of her dress. “Did you hear that?”

“Yes. Lady Sieia ran away.”

He tells her the obvious truth, one of the many facts that’s accepted but never discussed: “She’s my little sister. I love her so much.”

Claudia pats his hand and kisses his forehead. “Of course you do,” she says with a tender, maternal air.

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