And he knew she knew.
How carefully and meticulously he’d managed to hide it from everyone else. How dutifully he’d managed to keep his symptoms in check. The seed’s growth had been stalled, leaving the tendril roots to merely hug his heart gently. It was almost like a lover’s embrace in some dark, twisted way. But the fire it fueled… that was different.
D’Arsano had kept a steady flow of energy coursing through his body. Its healing power kept him stable, fighting replenish what the flames burned away. Even still it weakened him, though no one would know it.
He’d fooled Eithelena. He’d fooled everyone else, too. But Chrissinne… she was another story.
And the weight of her expressionless gaze told him everything. She knew. She knew. Nothing got past her ridiculous attention to detail, and observation.
The silence between them became thick. D’Arsano was sure it would suffocate them down here, in the far reaches of these dens. As if he didn’t already find it hard enough to breathe.
A fine trembling began to rack the warden’s body. Steadily it grew until her entire form was shuddering almost violently. Her hands at her side began to clench and relax in erratic patterns, grasping and releasing the air fruitlessly. Her breathing quickened, and her eyes widened. But her teeth grit, their grind audible.
“Chrissinne…” D’Arsano kept his voice even, as even as he could. Please. Not now.
“Fix it.” The command was spat through her bared teeth.
“I’m working on it.”
“No. You can. Now fix it.”
“I -can’t- right now, Chrissinne.”
“LIAR.” The warden’s voice rose, echoing against the hardened dirt walls. Even then, the word was choked. “You can fix it! Fix it, now!”
“I can’t… not yet… Please understand.”
“You’re letting it kill you! On purpose!” Chrissinne shrieked. Her fists pounded on the old druid’s broad chest. What little wind was left in him was knocked from his lungs. He coughed. She continued, her screech like that of a banshee. “For what?! What about them?! You can’t save them if you can’t save yourself!”
She hit him again, and again. With every strike, he could feel the heat rise. It was painful, searing. His world was blurring at the edges.
“Chrissinne… please. Not now. Please don’t do this now. I need you-“
“I NEED YOU!” She was screaming. His ears were ringing. “AN’DA! I NEED YOU!”
D’Arsano’s arms enveloped Chrissinne, pinning her arms to her side. She thrashed in his hold. Her nails raked down his arms. She bit, she scratched, she screamed, she hissed. Her fit drew on, and on. Still, he begged her, his voice soothing, calming. Not now. Please not now.
“Chrissinne! STOP!” The druid finally roared over the warden’s wails. “I’m not going to leave you!”
She froze. Steadily, her nails began to sink into his forearm. They left behind deep crescents, threatening to break the skin. Deeper they sank. Tighter she gripped. Her breathing was ragged, and left an open mouth.
“Trust me.” D’Arsano pleaded, his voice strained. “Please, trust me. I’m not leaving you.”
He felt her shaking resume.
“I need your help Chrissinne. I need you to do this for me. I need your mind clear. Trust me.”
Trust me, he repeated. Over and over again. He felt her slowly and steadily relax.
Her breathing regulated.
Clear your mind.
Her shaking stopped.
I’m not going to leave you.
And as he whispered, he wondered who he was trying to convince more, his hysteric daughter in his arms, or himself.