I left the prison feeling chilled. It was as if all of the days energy had been pulled from me and discarded somewhere terrible. I wondered to myself if Shepherd Mitchel had really infected Aeolus with the strange plague that Hanz and Gerald had studied at the university, or if it was some other nefarious agent. But in my heart I knew the answer and it was only mindless escape to deny it.
My father was one for the history books. Which is to say that four hundred years from now if you were to crack open a school text book on the Piscean crown you'd find him. Probably smiling smugly back at you as if he knew that even in the deep past, he was capable of buying and selling your family. He wasn't a terrible dad and I would have never called myself emotionally neglected. But he wasn't ever going to win a father of the year award or own a "World's Greatest Dad" t-shirt. It wasn't hard for me to imagine he felt the same way about my grandfather. It seemed to run in the family as far back as my history tutors could examine. All the way back to the Cataclysm.
I slowly returned to my seat as he made his way through his bout of coughing. Ilythia took note of this and returned to her seat as well. Whether it was out of simple mimicry or something else I didn't know. We both watched him as the coughing subsided and Wind slowly rubbed his back with a wide palm. Ilythia's eyes were wide and uncomprehending and I thought of how I would have reacted had I shared her position.
Her study of the field journal was short lived. Before she became too engrossed with the tome I ushered her back to her meager bed in the barracks across camp. I helped her move the heavy literature and carefully instructed her to hide the books beneath her clothes in the tiny thing that passed for a dresser.
I groomed myself especially well and curled my hair into tight ringlets that stuck plastered to my head as was the fashion at the time. The person who stared at me in the mirror as I lanced the curling iron through my hair seemed to be another person with alien eyes and a faintly malicious curve to their lips. It wasn't something nearly as strange as Altima's queer and malevolent influence. No, it was something altogether different. The foundation that I was had been fundamentally changed through my recent experiences. The Wendy of a year ago had died sometime in the past several months.
I visited Aeolus when time permitted and a week bled away. My routine was kept in check by the regular ticking of class, exams and responsibilities unrelated to my increasingly strange personal life. I grew more and more attached to Ilythia and Wind and they likewise welcomed me into their family. We would play cards by Aeolus' bedside when he was done grumbling about feeling like a cripple. His condition slowly improved, although he developed a slight infection that had to be treated with antibiotics.
It only took me a moment to make it back to the common area. I was just in time to watch Aeolus in the center of a panicked crowd snap a man's arm in a direction that gave it extra elbows. I didn't recognize him, but he locked eyes with me in that terrible moment just before his face contorted into an expression of agony. I didn't know the man, but in that moment I caught a whiff of familiarity. I may not have known the face, but I knew those expressive eyes and what was behind them. It was her. She was smiling at me.