Chapter 7

It wasn't long after dawn when Comet arrived at the Infirmary. He automatically went to the laundry room but Antal wasn't in it, however, a pretty female Tender of around Comet's age, was. Comet's sudden appearance startled the Tender at first, then she blushed and batted her eyelashes at him. Advantage to Comet without even doing anything.

"I was supposed to meet Tender Antal Redsong." Comet flashed her a brilliant smile.

"In here? I think you have that wrong. He doesn't come in here. I'm Shining." Shining smiled coyly.

"You certainly are." Comet grinned. "I'm working with a private patient and Tender Antal is my contact for medicines."

"Oh I see. Hold on." Shining frowned at Comet. "Oh! Oh! I know who you are!" She squealed. "Comet Galeraven!"

"Shh! I ... I mean it's still very early. How do you know who I am?" Comet was better known as a pickpocket than a Tender.

"I've seen you with Lady Zeal." Shining said eagerly. "She is so beautiful. My father reckons Lord Dawnstar needs his head examined for appointing her a male Tender." She giggled.

"It's a very remarkable appointment, yes." Comet felt his rather neglected ego begin to swell.

"Is it true he hates her?" Shining asked in horror.

"What? Who?" Comet said in shock.

"Lord Dawnstar! It's said that he's insanely jealous of her because she's so fantastic. He is, isn't he?" Shining nodded eagerly.

"I'm a Tender, not a domestic advisor." Comet said stiffly.

"Oh rubbish! You're bound to hear things. Is it true she's going to overthrow the Courts? She's already started by throwing out half of the army!"

"Don't be absurd! Of course she isn't. Is that what people think?" Comet asked in surprise.

"Why else would she come back? Some people remember Entia with magic and some of the old ones even used it. Is that why she's here? Is she going to bring it back?" Shining badgered.

"Shining you really shouldn't take all rumours as the truth." Comet said diplomatically. "Now it really is important that I see Antal."

"Comet." Antal himself was at the door. "Leave your duties for now, girl. I'll see to Tender Comet." Shining bobbed her head and retreated from the laundry room. "She has a good grasp of the local gossip. Any truth in any of it?"

"I want to see Brand, Antal." Comet stated.

"Are you trying to bargain with Shadow?" Antal shrugged.

"No of course not. I'm doing exactly what Shadow asks. I want to see my brother. It's not an unreasonable request." Comet insisted.

"I can only pass on your request." Antal nodded.

"Thank you." Comet said. "As for the Court takeover? Well I think you know how absurd that is. Their personal situation is complicated but 'hate' is a very strong word. Zeal's return was a huge shock for Lord Dawnstar. I wasn't asked to pry into their private lives." He said flatly. "Zeal thinks she was part of the elemental forces for twenty years. She thinks she was an actual part of everything in existence. Since elemental forces are timeless, so was she when she was a part of them."

"Fascinating." Antal said in awe. "So how did she travel between the existences? Shadow will surely ask."

"She doesn't know. We theorised that even though people have memories, the forces don't. It's probable that memories aren't transferred in one piece." Comet explained. "She doesn't know how or why she was taken, or how and why she was returned."

"'We', Comet?" Antal smiled and it irritated Comet. "You seem to be in favour."

"It's what I'm supposed to do, isn't it? I have to go." Comet left the laundry room and Antal followed. The men made their way to the front of the Infirmary.

"Overall, you're doing a good job, Comet." Antal said.

"I think not but OK." Comet answered shortly. "Remember, Antal, I want to see my brother."

"Comet!" Both men turned round, then panicked when they saw Zeal and Clash walking towards them.

"Sacred shit! What are they doing here, Comet?" Antal hissed.

"I don't know." Comet hurried forward to meet them. "Is everything OK?"

"Everything's fine! Clash's rooms really are abysmal. We've been ordering drapes and furnishings." Zeal laughed and Clash rolled his eyes. "How is your brother, Comet? Have you seen him?"

"No, not today." Comet glanced at Antal. "He had a bad night, so I'm told. He's resting."

"Oh I see. Maybe I can meet him when he's feeling a bit better?" Zeal looked at Antal.

"I'll see what I can do." Antal muttered. "I have to get back to work. Good day to you all." Comet watched him returning to the Infirmary.

"So! About these drapes. What colour did you go for, Clash?" Comet smiled at the look of dismay on Clash's face.

Hunter Bane had seventy five men assembled in the barracks yard. Out of the hundred that Zeal spoke to the previous day, a massive three quarters had decided to stay. Lance Baron was conspicuously absent. Clash had gone to the Palace, knowing Lore would be there.

"Look at them Comet." Zeal said in admiration. "Those men are the real supporters of Entia."

"You've done a great thing, Zeal. Well done." Come said in awe.

"Lady Zeal?" Hunter came up beside them. "I have another fifty men who weren't previously assigned to monitoring but they'd all like to volunteer their services now."

"Whoa!" Zeal whooped in delight and grabbed Comet by the elbows. "Isn't that fantastic? What about Captain Baron? I know he's displeased."

"Slightly, yes. He's at the Palace making very loud noises." Hunter informed them.

"I don't understand it." Zeal sighed. "It's the same thing carried out in a different manner, that's all."

"He resents the intrusion, Zeal." Comet said and Hunter just shrugged his shoulders.

"Well he's not alone there is he?" Zeal muttered. "These men already have a rota and patrols. Is that right, Hunter?"

"Yes. It's more of an observation while going about their duties."

"Non intrusive, as it should be. I'll go and have a swear with them." Zeal grinned and headed for the yard. Comet went to follow her when he spotted Violet Veil by the gates. She made eye contact, then stepped out of sight, behind the jail-house wall.

"Captain Bane?" Comet got Hunter's attention. "I've just remembered something I have to do. Can you stay with Lady Zeal please?"

"Yes of course." Hunter nodded and went to listen to Zeal swearing. Comet found Violet behind the wall.

"Brand is at the Infirmary." She said and Comet almost collapsed in relief. "He won't be there long, so get a move on."

"Now? Lady Zeal will be finished here soon ..."

"Now, Comet. I'll give you a bit of advice too. Shadow doesn't appreciate surprise appearances. Lady Zeal turning up at the Infirmary and asking for Brand could have been awkward." Violet informed him.

"Oh is that so?" Comet felt his temper rise sharply. "It's a public building! She didn't turn up and ask for Brand, she came looking for me and inquired after Brand out of politeness. OK? It wouldn't have been awkward at all if Brand had been in the Infirmary where he's meant to be, so don't give me that shit, Violet!"

"I just pass on the messages." Violet said calmly. "Don't take too long." He glared horribly at Violet then marched back to the yard. He had to wait a few minutes until Zeal finished talking about magic channelling to the men.

"Brand's asking for me, Zeal." He said.

"Oh! Well go on then! Shoo!" Zeal wafted her hands at Comet.

"I have to get word to Clash. He'll skin my alive if I leave his mother in he army barracks."

"I'll see to that. Lady Zeal will be fine." Hunter assured him. Comet nodded his thanks and hurried from the barracks.

Comet was shown to Brand's old room and it was empty.

"Antal? Trust me, I'm in no mood for any shit."

"He's on his way." Antal replied. Suddenly the door opened and Brand was shoved roughly into the room by two men.

"Brand!" Comet jumped forward and caught his weak twin. "Oh shit, Brand." It was very obvious that Brand had been badly neglected and a few visible bruises meant abuse. Comet was furious. "He needs help!" He roared, cradling Brand's head to his chest. "Brand can you hear me?"

"Comet." Brand smiled and his lip cracked. "Is the job almost done? I want to come back here."

"Hang in there Brand. I'm doing really well with it." Comet said through the tears. "The money I get for this one will great. It could even be enough for Tegrid."

"I hope so. I'm dying, Comet." Brand broke into a coughing fit that almost shook his frail body apart.

"Shh. No you're not dying. I won't let you." Comet said.

"They keep me in chains Comet. Why? I can barely move." Brand sobbed.

"Chains?" Comet looked at Antal in pure rage. "They chain him up? Merciful gods, why? Look at him!" Comet yelled. Antal looked at the floor and said nothing. "Can't he stay here? Please Antal! I'll carry on exactly as I am now, I swear it. You have to help him! You're a Tender!"

"I can't do anything, you know that." Antal looked desperately upset at Brand's condition.

"Come on, time's up." One of the men grabbed Brand and Comet rammed his fist under his chin.

"Comet!" Antal jumped forward. "Comet don't, lad."

"Get away from him!" Comet howled, clinging onto his brother. "Come on, Brand. I'll help you up."

"I'll be ... OK." Brand whispered, then started coughing again.

"Don't you hurt him!" Comet shouted as the two men supported Brand. "Just lift him up and carry him! Don't hurt him!" The men ignored Comet and dragged Brand from the room. Comet leant against the wall and cried.

"Comet, maybe it's best if you don't see him for now." Antal said gently.

"Get away from me, Antal. Even if you are a slave to The Web, you're still a Tender and still a person. How can you be a part of that? You make me sick." Comet pushed Antal out of the way and left the Infirmary.

Violet Veil was still wandering about outside the barracks. Comet had never in his life, felt the urge to attack a woman as strongly as he did right then.

"Lady Zeal left with Duke Clash. They've gone home. Get it done quickly, Comet, for Brand's sake."

"Mention him again and I'll tear out your tongue." Comet stormed away from the woman.

Clash and Zeal discussed the education plans but Comet barely heard any of it.

"Comet?" Zeal was speaking to him.

"Sorry, what did you say? Forgive me, I'm just a bit tired."

"You're not the only one." Clash yawned and stood up. "I'll get back to the Palace and catch up with you both later." Zeal nodded and waited for him to leave before speaking.

"Comet, is Brand OK? Zeal asked in concern.

"It's just a bit stressful. I'm sorry, I shouldn't let it affect me here." Comet apologised.

"Comet as though I mind!" Zeal said in exasperation. "How much of my domestic drama have you been subjected to?"

"It's my job."

"It is not your job. Comet it's far more than that and you know it. You've done so much for me, and for Clash, and even for Lore, in a way." Zeal knelt on the floor in front of Comet. "Brand's got worse, hasn't he?"

"Yes and it's my fault." Comet screwed his eyes shut.

"You can't ..."

"I can Zeal. Yes I can. It is my fault. I'm a failure. I've failed Brand, I've failed myself and I've failed you. I can't do this anymore. I have to leave."

"Leave?" Zeal said in alarm. "I don't understand. How have you failed?"

"I ... just have." Comet stood up. "I'm sorry, Zeal. I'll go and pack my things."

"I love you, Comet." Zeal said. Comet froze on the spot, then turned round slowly. "I can't help it."

"I wish you hadn't said that." Comet hung his head and the guilt was almost choking him. "I've loved you for a while now. I'm sorry, I can't stay."

"Is it Lore? Under the circumstances, I'm sure he'd agree to some sort of ... arrangement. He's been at it for years!"

"No it's not Lore." Comet did what he'd dreamt of doing for so long. He put his arms round Lady Zeal Dawnstar. "I'm not a Tender, Zeal. I'm an impostor and a liar."

"I know you're not a Tender."

"You don't ... huh? You know I'm not a Tender?" Comet said in shock.

"That coal bucket has more medical knowledge that you have." Zeal smiled.

"So why do you think I'm here?" Comet's head was reeling.

"I'm not sure. Probably to earn money for Brand." Zeal nodded. "Comet I can't think of anything I wouldn't do for Clash. Twenty years ago I destroyed a whole army of men for him and Lore. It's not hard for me to understand that you'd do anything to earn money for your brother, even posing as a Tender."

"I've been using you, Zeal." Comet said in shame. "I'm in an impossible situation here, so I'll just tell it as it is. I either lose Brand or I lose you. The Web sent me to spy on you and they took Brand as insurance. Shadow wants to be magically immortalised and if he doesn't get it, I lose Brand." He said miserably. "I've never been as pissed off in all my life."

"Oh Comet." Zeal was heartbroken. "You never had to spy on me, I have no secrets. You can't blame yourself for this because you had no choice."

"But I lied to you Zeal! I took everything you told me straight back to The Web. I discussed you and your family with a bunch of sneaks and thieves. I'm a sneak and a thief. I'm a pickpocket from the slum quarter." Comet said in despair.

"I'd have done the same, and so would any other decent person. Brand's your brother." Zeal smiled and touched Comet's cheek. "Shadow will have to accept that immortality is impossible. I'm not immortal. I'll tell him myself if I have to. He can't hold Brand over an impossibility."

"Oh yes he can and no you will not tell him yourself. You're to have nothing to do with any of them, Zeal, please. I'll tell him myself."

"Brand can come here with us." Zeal said and Comet couldn't hold back the tears. "We can get him all the proper care he needs and even if we can't cure him, we can make him happy. You'll be together."

"I can't believe you haven't thrown me out on the street." Comet gave her a watery smile. "I can't wait to tell Brand about you. He'll love you too, Zeal."

"Comet? Will you stay with me tonight?" Zeal asked uncertainly. "Lore's staying in rooms at the Palace. I think we all know who's rooms."

"So you've remembered what to do?" Comet smiled and cried at the same time.

"No but you've taught me everything else since I got here. Come on." Zeal lead Comet by the hand and he could hardly think straight. Was this really happening? How had he come out winning when he deserved just the opposite? He had Zeal, the woman he'd fallen in love with, and he had her considerable support to help Brand. He also had no air in his lungs and no strength in his muscles by the time they both fell into an exhausted sleep.

Comet and Zeal were sharing a tender kiss over the breakfast table. Clash stopped dead in his tracks, half way up the path to the glass doors.

"Throw another headache into the mix, why don't you both." He muttered, then began whistling loudly. "Good morning mother, Comet."

"Clash!" Zeal beamed and Comet tried to look 'normal'. "Here have some tea. Do you want ... Clash? Why is your eye bruised?"

"Oh that. It's nothing." Clash sat down.

"What did you refuse to do this time?" Zeal said angrily, touching the bruise on Clash's eye. Comet blinked in surprise as the bruise faded to a blue smudge, then vanished completely.

"Mother! Did you ... "

"Oh blah! So arrest me." Zeal sniffed. "Well?"

"Father's still being excluded from everything, and I do mean everything." Clash said meaningfully. "The Queen spends much of her time talking with Captain Baron and Captain Baron is making as many loud noises as he can. He suggested that because of my newfound connection with you, that you could be angry about the hampering of my succession to the throne."

"Me?" Zeal said in surprise. "How did he get there?"

"He's causing trouble, mother. He's causing rifts that aren't there and exaggerating situations. That one was a tad stupid, however. Father jumped him and beat the living daylights out of him. He went at me for siding with you and exacerbating the issue." Clash sighed and Zeal was completely lost.

"I really don't understand any of it. It's so pointless! They don't have to be in disagreement." Zeal shook her head then frowned at Clash "What did you just do?"

"What? I didn't do anything. Why?"

"Something looked like singing." Zeal looked behind Clash.

"Huh? You don't see singing." Clash looked too.

"I must be over tired." Zeal rubbed her eyes. "I really must speak sensibly to your father, Clash. There are so many personal things we need to discuss. What will he be doing today? Apart from attacking the Councillors."

"I'll go and find a way to get him home. You need to speak alone." Clash looked a Comet. "She'll be fine. I'll stay in the house, out of the way."

"I have a few things to see to." Comet chewed on his lip. He wasn't comfortable about leaving Zeal in the same room as Lore and his violence. "You'll be here the whole time, right?"

"Upstairs. Yes." Clash nodded. Comet smiled at Zeal and left the room. Clash bade farewell to his mother and followed Comet.

"Comet!" Clash called as Comet was trying to hurry out of the front door. Comet grimaced and turned round. "All is well?"

"Everything's fantastic, Clash." Comet replied.

"Good. Good." Clash nodded slowly. "Fantastic, yes."

"Is there something bothering you, Clash?" Comet asked warily.

"Me? No." Clash said casually. "She'll need you Comet. You know what I mean."

"She'll need both of us and yes, I do know what you mean." Comet said seriously. "I love her, Clash."

"That's all I wanted to hear." Clash shrugged and smiled. Comet was rather relieved. "Oh just one more thing Comet?"

"Only one?" Comet asked cautiously.

"Can I call you Dad?" Clash sniggered childishly and Comet gave him a dirty look. "What? You didn't think I'd let you off without a few jibes, did you?"

"OK. Very funny." Comet said sarcastically. "Go away before I cuff your ear."

Clash found his father instructing a group of soldiers on who not to take orders from, namely General Zeal Dawnstar. The soldiers seemed impressed and placated. Clash sighed wearily. His mother was right about this being pointless, and also incredibly childish.

"Shall I recap for you, Clash? Just so you know exactly what to run tittle-tattling to your mother with?" Lore said nastily.

"There's enough tittle-tattle without me adding to it." Clash replied. "You two need to talk. There are personal things you need to sort out sensibly."

"I can't think of anything I want to discuss with your mother." Lore said flatly.

"Your marriage, father." Clash said in exasperation. "Don't glare at me like that. I'm not a go between, not for something like this. She's at home now and she knows there are things that only the two of you can sort out. That's all I'm here to say."

"I'll call in later if I have the time." Lore said irritably. "I'm due to see the Queen shortly. It's a matter of priorities."

"Obviously." Clash left his father before tempers frayed.

Comet walked through the slums and past his old hut and his mother's shop. He made his way through dusty streets and a maze of narrow lanes and back alleys. A plain metal door stood to his right, the type of door that that could lead to any warehouse in any part of Entia. Comet knew it wasn't. It was the entrance to Shadow's Keep, the headquarters of The Web, and its cellars sprawled out beneath half of Entia. Comet had never been here before and he had a knot in his stomach that refused to move. The door was unlocked and the entrance room seemed unguarded. It was a container room and the guards were well concealed.

"What's your business here, rat?" A man armed with a jagged cleaver stepped out of he shadows.

"Comet Galeraven. I'm here to see Shadow." Comet said confidently.

"Shadow doesn't receive visitors. Be off and think yourself lucky you're alive." The man snarled.

"He'll see me. I have news of Zeal Dawnstar." Comet said.

"Wait there." The guard said after a few seconds. Comet did as he was told. Peering into the murky recesses of the room proved pointless. Comet could only see the door into the street.

"Comet." Comet recognised Violet Veil's voice before she seeped from the shadows. "This isn't convenient."

"I don't care. I have to see Shadow. I'll wait here until it is convenient." Comet said stubbornly.

"Very well. Come this way." Violet walked into an alcove to her right and Comet followed on. The alcove lead to a tunnel in the wall that was completely hidden from he entrance room. It was dimly lit by lamps and Comet saw many turnoffs and recesses along its length. They were gradually walking down, below ground level.

"Is Brand here?" Comet asked.

"That isn't my business." Violet replied, nodding at two nasty looking men who were guarding a barred gate. They stood aside and Violet unlocked it. They walked up a steep spiral staircase and Comet tried to figure out where they were. He guessed they must have been outside the city, close to he River Zeal. Judging by the escalation of he stairs, they had to be above ground again but Comet couldn't think of any buildings in that area. All there was out there was Fogg Mountain. The staircase gave way to a huge, circular room with heavily draped walls, no doubt concealing more recesses and corridors. In the middle of the room was a raised dais, housing a long, black and purple couch. Around a dozen men and women stood around he room and they all watched Comet carefully. One of the drapes moved and Comet caught a glimpse of sky and hills. They were inside Fogg Mountain! Shadow was hidden from view by three, big guards who walked infront of him and over to the couch. Only when Shadow was settled on this couch, did the guards move aside. He was dressed in a heavy, black robe with its deep hood drawn fully over his head and face. Comet couldn't define a shape or features due to the billowing cloak, but he did sense an overwhelming radiation of terror. Shadow motioned for Violet to stand by him, then leant closely towards her.

"Shadow wishes you to know that this is highly irregular. You are highly honoured that he has agreed to see you." Violet said.

"I appreciate it, sir." Comet hoped his voice wouldn't crack. "I came to you regarding Lady Zeal. Her transformation into elemental form was beyond her control sir. It was her existence in that form that preserved her age. Sir, there is no magical way to stall aging. Her magic, as in any other magic, is the usage of elemental forces. In her case it's Water and Earth. She can't heal herself to the point of immortality. It's impossible, sir." He felt his heart hammering in his chest. Again, Violet listened to Shadow.

"Shadow expresses his disappointment. He is of the opinion that Lady Zeal found a way to resurrect herself here, at the preserved age of twenty."

"No sir, that's inaccurate. To be resurrected, one has to be dead. Lady Zeal was never dead."

"Shadow says that if she was not here and breathing in this existence, then she was dead to it. He believes she reanimated her body and is in the process of healing her mind."

"It's not my place to contradict Shadow. I can only tell you what I've learned. I truly believe that if Lady Zeal had any powerful regenerative magic, then she'd have used it on Brand."

"Shadow observes that you seem to have Lady Zeal's complete confidence."

"That's what you ordered me to do, wasn't it? Sir I've found out all I can. There is no more to find out. If there was, I'd have delivered it. You have my brother. Sir, keeping him here is pointless." Comet hung his head. Shadow was quiet for a while, then he leaned towards Violet again. "Can you at least speak to me directly, sir? I'm speaking directly to you." Shadow sat forward and Comet took a step back.

"Pointless, as you say." Shadow whispered and Comet's skin crawled. "Maybe you have also served your purpose, Comet."

"To the best of my ability, yes." Comet tried to peer into the depths of the hood. Shadow sat back abruptly and summoned his guards.

"Teach him a lesson." Shadow hissed. Three guard set about Comet and he didn't stand a chance. Violet glanced at Shadow, then back to the floor. "This upsets you, Violet?"

"It's not my place to question Shadow's decisions." Violet replied, quietly.

"I want to see the extent of Lady Dawnstar's healing magic for myself. I also want to send those fools at the Palace a message. I'm still very much a large part of Entia and I own that Palace. It's time they realised that I don't need them to get what I want. OK that's enough." Shadow stood up and the guards stepped away from Comet. He was unconscious, battered to a pulp and covered in his own blood. "Wake him and make him walk out. Spread the word that this was my doing and anyone assisting him will die." Shadow looked at Comet, then vanished behind the drapes.
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