The night is thick and dark away from the Market. Out here, the howl of wind through the trees blocks out the lazy talk of dancing couples, the laughter of children, the sweet sound of music that seems to carry Azure’s voice in its notes. As I run, my heart beats so hard that I’m afraid it might be planning to take up permanent residence somewhere else, and an image of Azure, pale and quaking, is seared behind my eyelids.
Milo can tell me what’s wrong with her. He has to.
I can only hope that he isn’t having one of his rampages.
I fumble with the knob of the Miner House’s door for a moment, wrenching the door open and walking in. I kick up a thick cloud of dust in my wake. “Sinclair!”
The room is quiet. Only the scuff of mice can be heard.
I take a nervous step forward, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the sudden lack of moonlight or alymihzz. At last, I can make out a vague silhouette of the Miner House.
The place is in a state of discord. An ocean of letters covers nearly every surface; even the knocked-over tables and chairs are home to them, each piece of parchment marked all over by jagged ink letters. Stray broken chair legs lie splintered and even bloody in odd corners of the room. A small mirror that must’ve been sitting against a wall now lies shattered, shards of glass spewed across the floor.
There's a squeaking sound. I advance further into the room and finally spot Milo, crouched behind his demolished desk, clutching a piece of paper between sweaty hands.
"Doctor, it's Azure. She collapsed while I was dancing with her-"
He lets out a sharp howl, shoving his overturned desk so hard that it careens into the opposite wall. His eyes are bright with fury, a contradiction to his small voice. "Happening again,” he whispers. “Just like Charlotte."
My blood crawls to a stop in my veins. I approach him warily, trying to keep him calm. "What do you mean, Doctor?"
He turns his eyes on me, and I'm surprised by the clarity of his rage, the very real anger that he is directing at me. "The King is here, Peter. The King has come for her."
"Come for Charlotte?"
"No." His eyes glaze over, and he seems to be staring through me, seeing into some past life in which he was sane. "Azure is in grave danger, boy. It is happening again."
My heart thuds into my stomach. "What did you say?"
He stares through me, still unseeing.
"What did you say?"
"Go back," he says, "to Azure. You can save her. Only you can save her from her fate."
"If you're babbling again, Sinclair-"
"No. The Friedrid boy - he has come to take her away from you."
The Friedrid boy. Gears click together in my head, pieces that fall into place one by one. I think of the way Azure had stared at her wrist, the way she had collapsed in the alleyway.
Who had left at the exact time that Milo started talking about the Friedrid boy?
I sprint down the Root back to the Market so quickly that it’s like I'm flying. The world blurs past me, trees and houses and people all fading into a bleeding silhouette, highlighted by a blazingly red moon.
When I finally reach the alleyway, it takes a long minute for me to absorb the sight before me. A thin trail of blood streaks the ground; drag marks scar the dirt.
Azure is gone.
Running my hands through my hair, I look up, searching the crowds for a wisp of brown hair or eyes like the sky. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
How could I have let this happen? I never should have let her out of my sight. I should have carried her straight home and stayed by her side.
After a long moment of inspection, I stagger back, fetching up against the building. I shove my hands through my hair.
If Milo was right, Dominique must have taken her. Where would he have taken her? What could he possibly want with her?
There's a glint in the dirt near my foot, and I pause, peering down.
The teardrop pendant.
I bend and pick it up, wrapping it around my fingers. Then I drop it in my pocket for safekeeping.
There's a commotion at the end of the alleyway. Numbly, I move out toward the crowd, wondering what the source of the commotion is.
"-Peter Ringdulous. If you turn yourself over to the King, Azure will not be harmed. If you fail to do this, however… there will be a price to pay."