“You are rather bothersome.” I awakened to the sound of Kuro’s voice.
          My head rested on a pillow and my body lay on a bed. Now, the question was whose bed? Inspecting the room, I noticed that I was still in the Queen’s gloomy chamber and he was sitting beside me on the edge of the bed.
          I croaked with beads of chilly sweat dabbed on my forehead, “Whenever I remember the past, I typically dream.”
          I didn’t dare to move, remembering the last time I had suffered from a dislocated shoulder.
          “You . . . know of your past?” He sounded too curious with his palm resting on his chin. He looked too devious with his pupils glaring at me.
          “Why do you ask?”
          “Do you perhaps . . .” His eyes darted towards me, shooting another solemn frown.
          Then, he shook his head and murmured, “Nothing. Seeing as you are awake now, I believe it is time for me to go.”
          I slowly rested my back on the bed’s wooden frame, sitting straight now. “Kuro . . . are you . . . who I think you are?” I asked.
          “I believe that does not concern you,” he answered.
          He was already leaning his body on the ledge of the window, prepared to escape at any time. My eyes glanced at the dagger and its fox tail that lay on top of the diary beside me. “Then why did you carry this and why are you allowing me to keep it?” I questioned.
          He seemed to daze at the painting of the Queen that hung on the wall across from him. “She said that it was the only gift she could ever give you. I am merely handing you her present for you.”
           “Which would be your . . .  agreement with hers?”
          He scoffed while shaking his head, “This is about your protection. The fox tail was hers and . . . the dagger too belonged to her. I am merely a messenger.” Afterwards, he suddenly threw a dress that lay one of the golden chairs and also a small pouch of herbs towards me. “Apply those once a day, and change into some proper clothing,” he informed before making his dive from the opened window and disappearing into the night.
          That night, when I returned, Marie reproached me, especially when she saw blood seeping through the fabric of my dress. Then, she sighed, saying how I needed to be more cautious of my health and that a princess needed to maintain her elegance in order for a good hand in marriage to come. Calla, who was wearing a simple, ceramic mask, only asked where I had been. I didn’t answer. I was too fatigued to reply. In fact, I could not reply. I did not know where to begin. I just told her that I wanted to sleep even though I was sleepless.
          Part of me was worried about dreaming, while the other was determined to finish the Queen’s diary. The pages of the diary were not completely filled. There were more than three-quarters of blank space; she had ended her recites too abruptly.  When I finally had the courage to flip to the last page, my tears were ceaseless:
          I write so I do not forget about what once was. I feel the past replacing my present and I feel that it is time to pay my dues. Forgive me, but let me become the brute. Let me be the one whom you detest. Perhaps, in the next life, when I have atoned for my sins, will we meet again as mother and daughter.
          By now, Kuro must have passed on what I have to spare: a fox’s tail chained to a rusty dagger and this piece of writing. I am sure that you understand what the tail represents. If you ever are need of help, show them this sign and they will heed to you. That is all I can offer you, my daughter.
          May you live happily.
          Your loving mother,
          Then, a sudden thought ventured in my mind: we did momentarily meet when we were happy as a family. For the rest of the night, I held the diary next to my chest and kept the dagger close by me. Those were enough to remind me of her.
          The next day, Marie woke me earlier than the sun could wake one. “Forgive me, Your Highness,” she whispered, “but the Sorcerer wishes to speak to you. I know I’m not supposed to talk to him, but h-h-he—“
         “I understand. Please prepare a set of garments for me.” I rubbed my eyes and stretched my overwrought arms.  Even while listening to Marie complain excessively about Nestor’s peculiar behaviour, I was still able to discern where to meet him. I was to meet him at his living quarters, using the underground tunnel that he had created. Cael and I used to lightly taunt at how he was so afraid of the chilly winters that he needed to hide in a passageway. Perhaps, I should have said that he had fears for his future, not of the weather.
          Already at the end of a tunnel, I saw Nestor waiting for me. He had for once organized everything that he could bring into four cow-skinned suitcases. He began to load them on a shabby carriage while panting, “I should have discarded my clutter. Do you not believe so?”
          “I do not believe now is the time for laughter,” I sighed and helped him lift the last over-filled baggage, only to wince and allow the contents to disperse throughout the ground.
          “How did you manage to hurt yourself this time?” He bent down to retrieve the displaced objects.
          I too followed his lead, answering, “I thought you would have expected this to happen.”
          “As I have said before, the future is hard to predict.” He dumped the last book into the suitcase and snapped its buckles shut. “Perhaps . . . you are hard to predict.” He then placed the suitcase onto the carriage and then clapped his hands. “Shall we have tea before I leave? It will ease the pain of your injury.”
          We held silence over the sound of sizzling and then boiling water in a kettle burning over his black stove. “I thought I would tell you what needs to be done.” He sprinkled a handful of dried leaves into two slightly chipped cups and then poured the burning liquid to each.
          “Why should I even listen to you?” I rejected the cup that he offered and sunk my body in a chair. I felt my impatience rising by the minute. I felt like breaking everything in the room to pieces. How could he ask me to follow him? How could he expect me to trust him . . . again? I shuddered, thinking of what I had just said to myself. Again? When had he betrayed me and how could I be so furious? There were tears almost fogging up my eyes and soreness clogging my throat.
          And I will never forgive you.
          I bit my lips, discarding that thought, and gulped a mouthful of the biter tea. There should not have been any connections. He was only Nestor, the Sorcerer. Luckily, Nestor, at that time, was focused at the scene out the window. The sun was about to rise with its rays meeting the edge of the mountains.
         “Yes . . . why should you listen to me?” He softly laughed. “I am not even sure myself, but for your own good, I beg . . . that you rescue Desiderium.”
          He turned just a few seconds after I had wiped away my foolish tears. I could sense the severity in his tone and in his eyes and I felt my heart sink. Perhaps, I could listen for once. Perhaps, I could believe again.
          “She is to be . . . hanged after four sunsets,” I said.
          “That is why you must act quickly.” He finished his last droplet of tea. “She is crucial to your survival. You must find her master key and then she will lead you to my whereabouts when the time permits.” He placed a scroll on the table. When he unravelled it, I realized that it was a map or rather, a blueprint of the castle. “This is where the keys are kept.” His bony finger signalled at detached cottage that was close to the site of the Leogartos. “The Master Keeper lives there, along with the Game Keeper. Only the Master Keeper knows where this key has been stored. You must . . . find some way of retrieving that key.”
          “Should you not know?” I was rather baffled  by his phrase.
          “I only design the keys,” he clarified. “I do not have access to them. I can tell you, though, that the one you are looking for is Infinitus. I have inscribed this symbol at the handle of the key.” Using his finger, he traced an infinity symbol on the paper.
          “What does it represent?” I murmured. 
        “It is the key that can open all of my locks, changing its shape to the lock with a press of a small configuration,” he steadily explained. That was all he told me before wishing me luck. “I believe in you,” he had announced while on his carriage now and with the flick of the whip, the horses began to move. He was off to who knows where while I was off to solve my quest.
Chapter 28                                                                            Chapter 30