The next several weeks passed by in a blur for Cameron and Idriys. Idriys could not shake the image of the room, with that haunting spirit reaching out for Evelyn. It fell to Idriys to tell Cameron, unconscious for nearly all of the night’s happenings, what had happened after he awoke; Cameron was beside himself with rage and grief. During the next weeks, Cameron spent hours wandering the lonely paths of the Tao’lin forest; he barely ate, and barely spoke to anyone. Idriys did what he could to comfort Cameron, but was largely at a loss for how to help his friend and roommate.
The university itself closed down classes for several weeks, and an official inquiry began. Idriys was called before panel after panel of teachers, Warlocks, and royal Truthsayers. He was asked the same questions, over, and over, and over, and each time he gave the same answers. Yes, he had spent considerable time with Josiah. No, he didn’t know that Josiah was going to attempt such a thing. No, he had no idea how Josiah did it. Yes, he sent for help as soon as he could. Yes, he tried to interfere, but no, he wasn’t able to do anything. Yes, he saw what happened to Evelyn. No, he couldn’t explain it. No, he wasn’t hallucinating. No, he wasn’t under Tao-sickness at the time. No, he didn’t know where she went. And on and on, question after question.
The worst was facing Evelyn’s mother. She’d lost her husband less than a year before; now, she’d lost her only daughter, too. Cameron refused to talk to her; refused to even see her, so the task was left to Idriys. He sat with her for five hours, trying to comfort her, and failing; it was the hardest five hours of his life. When she finally left, Idriys went back to his room and drank until he was no longer sober. It was the first time he had ever gotten drunk in his life; it would also be the last.
As for Josiah, he was as upset as Cameron, though he displayed it differently. He became ill-tempered, bitter, and despairing. People quickly learned to stay far away from him; he was questioned far more severely than Idriys, and rightfully so. But he responded to the questioning by lashing out at his accusers, which only made his questioners more distrustful of what he said. He admitted no guilt or wrongdoing, and said repeatedly that if it hadn’t been for the interference of Robert Mariner, he could have saved Evelyn. He refused to tell them the means by which he entered the strange land of Death; he claimed that in the midst of everything, the secret had been torn from his mind. No one believed him, and he was taken before the Truthsayers, who dredged through the dark recesses of his mind looking for answers, but they found nothing.
The university was searched from floor to ceiling for any sign that Evelyn had reappeared somewhere nearby, though no one expected to find her. Eventually, she was declared dead, and a funeral was held. Josiah and Cameron did not attend. Idriys gave a eulogy for her:
“I have seen a thing that few men have ever seen,” he said, “and a thing that I will pray to the gods until I die that I never see again. I watched as Evelyn Diamadre was taken from us into a realm we do not understand, and do not know how to reach. And despite the unforgettable horrors of that evening, I saw something that gives me hope – Evelyn Diamadre faced into this realm with a strength that few of us can claim, and with a hope that, in death she may have been reunited with her father, whom she loved dearly.
“It is easy, in times like this, to ask ‘Why?’ It is easy to try to find someone to blame. But I tell you tonight that such questions are meaningless, and the assignment of blame is worthless. The only thing that matters now is that we remember Evelyn’s heart and soul. Indeed, we would do her a great disservice to allow her death to bring about hatred and accusation. Tonight, let us remember the good: let us remember those eyes that reflected the stars. Let us remember Evelyn Diamadre.”
Idriys realized as he sat down after the eulogy that it was rubbish. Evelyn did not face into death with strength and hope, and Idriys did blame Josiah for her death. But he could not say such things in front of the crowd of people in attendance, so instead he presented lies and platitudes.
Eventually, classes began again, though no one’s heart was in them. The professors simply went through the motions of teaching, and the students likewise went through the motions of learning. All final exams for the semester were canceled, and for the first time in the history of the school, no student failed Professor Thomson’s class. There was a small graduation service, but few students attended. A large number of students questioned whether they would return the following year. The shock and grief were still too raw.
The official inquiry finally ended; it was determined that while Josiah had acted incredibly foolishly, and had broken a host of university rules, he could not actually be held responsible for Evelyn’s death. The forces of magic are powerful and wild, and sometimes things happen that cannot be controlled or predicted. He was placed on probation, and all of his access to Tao was cut off, but he was allowed to continue in his education at Tao’lin, if he wished. However, three days after the semester ended, Josiah disappeared. No one saw or heard from him again until six years later, when he resurfaced in the White Kingdom as the Eagle.
In time, the grief lessened; Cameron began to speak again, though he never breathed a word about anything that had happened that night. He and Idriys both finished their studies at Tao’lin with honors, and remained close friends even after graduation. When Idriys was accepted as apprentice physician in the White King’s hospital, they went out to a fine restaurant, and celebrated together long into the night. When Cameron was granted a professorship at Tao’lin, they did the same.
Cameron’s seizures and attacks continued for many years, though the frequency lessened, and they were never again as bad as the one he suffered on the night of Evelyn’s death. Finally, after many tests, it was discovered that somehow the Tao itself was affecting him; that somehow, he had an allergic reaction when others used Tao around him, and the severity of the attack could be directly correlated with the strength of the Tao powers used. The doctors could not explain how or why he suffered in this manner, though they did note that his body seemed to develop some immunity to the allergy after a period of time.
And so time passed. Cameron and Idriys never forgot about Evelyn Diamadre, and the old wounds that formed that evening did not exactly heal, but they grew deeper, and calloused over, which was almost the same thing. Until, sixteen years later, the three men found themselves together in the prison at Castle Whitefall, when old wounds began to reopen.
“Gentlemen!” Idriys’s voice cut in. Cameron and Josiah had been arguing for hours, with no sign of ceasing. “This is no way for you to conduct yourselves. Especially not at a time like this. We need to find a way out of here, and it must happen before the White King arrives.”
Josiah and Cameron both rounded on him immediately. “We wouldn’t be in here if you hadn’t decided that Cameron would make a good traveling companion when we met the Chimera,” Josiah shouted. “What possessed you to think that was a good idea? And why in the name of the gods didn’t you tell me about it?”
“There is no way out, Idriys,” Cameron said bitterly. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we are locked in a dungeon inside a giant castle, guarded by a troll. No, Idriys, we will stay here until the White King arrives, and then we will die.”
“I did not tell you I was bringing Cameron along, Josiah, because I knew that you would refuse to help. But Cameron is my friend, and he is assisting us on my quest, which, I might remind you, is your quest as well,” Idriys snapped.
Josiah scoffed. “Oh, for the sake of the gods, Idriys, give it a rest. Forget the quest! Cameron is right; we are now going to die. If your theories and speculations about the White King are correct, then there is no reason why he should not kill us. Why should three paltry lives stand in his quest for power? And if you are not correct, Idriys, then we have committed high treason, the penalty for which is death. Either way, we die.”
“You would like that, wouldn’t you, Josiah?” Idriys asked, eyes burning. “Perhaps if you die, you’ll get to be with Evelyn again. Is that what this is really about? Well, let me tell you something, Josiah. It doesn’t work that way. Evelyn is gone. She’s dead.”
Josiah spun, white-lipped, the veins on his temple standing out, and said through tightly-clenched teeth, “Do not speak of things you do not understand, Idriys. You did not love her!”
“But I did, Josiah,” said Cameron softly. “I loved her. But I let her go; I accepted that she was dead a long time ago. I allowed the pain to flow through me, and I came out the other side of it. That’s something I don’t think you ever did, is it, Josiah?”
“Evelyn is not gone! I will bring her back! I swear to you by all the gods in heaven, and every demon in the nine hells, that I, Josiah Burroughs, will do it!”
There was a stunned silence for several eternity-filled seconds, as Cameron and Idriys stared at him. “I see,” Idriys finally said, quietly. “Have you lied to me this whole time, then? Were you just using me for the Tao I gave you, using me to get closer to Evelyn? Did you not learn your lesson at Tao’lin?”
“I learned my lesson, all right,” Josiah growled. “I learned not to trust a bunch of traitorous back-stabbing friends like you with these matters. But that is a mistake I will not be making again.” Josiah turned his back on both of them, and sat facing the hard granite wall of his prison cell for many long hours.