You lost your mind in the sound: Alethea

Rid of the monsters inside your head
Tristan stumbled sideways and threw out his hand to steady himself against the nearest tree. No, not tree; wall. Wall? His knees collided with the floor, and he grunted against the tingling pain. The plaster and paint was smooth beneath his palm. It definitely wasn't bark.

Christ, he felt sick.

Even with his eyes closed the world spun around him. His stomach shifted uncomfortably as he took a shaky breath. With no small degree of effort he managed to adjust his position so he was sitting on the floor with the back of his head pressing against the wall. He raised his chin to relax his neck and forced his eyes open. He stared up at the ceiling and his pulse started to pound uncomfortably in his right temple.

Where the hell was he?

The Castle? His heart rate quickened with the first surge of panic. He couldn't be found in the castle. No, no, no. Merlin, what have you done?

But no...it couldn't be the castle. The ceiling was too high, the corridor too bright. He closed his eyes against the glare again and took another deep breath. Stay calm. Think. Urgh. He couldn't think. His head was too thick, too...too...full.

He lowered his legs and crossed them beneath him. Slowly, he raised his hands from the floor and clasped them in his lap.

At least, he'd assumed they were his hands. Tristan stared down at them, blinking hard. How hard had he hit his head? He twitched his fingers just to make sure he was definitely the one controlling them. Everything seemed to be in working order. But they definitely were not his hands. His skin had never been so dark, and it had been months since they had been so clean and unmarked. The calluses from his sword drills were gone, his scars had vanished, and the bruises from his latest adventure were nowhere to be seen.

Tristan curled the fingers of his right hand around his left arm. He could feel himself applying pressure. He followed his arm up until his eyes settled on a neatly folded-back sleeve. It was simple black, but the fabric was clearly of good quality.

"Fuck." Tristan breathed, setting his head back against the wall. The arms, hands, and fingers weren't his, but he was beginning to think he knew whose they were. But that meant...


He opened his eyes and turned his head. A young girl in pyjamas stood in the doorway of the nearest room, her dark eyes wide. Doll-like curls tumbled over her shoulders as she took an assured step forwards.

"¿Por qué estás en el suelo?"

A shiver ran down his spine as a ghost brushed against the back of his mind. Tristan closed his eyes against a fresh surge of pain, his brows drawing together as he grimaced.

"Go back to bed," he urged her in English. It was taking enough mental effort to keep the room still, let alone try and translate.
He couldn't think. Tristan tapped the back of his head against the wall, trying to focus. He had to get out. He didn't belong.

The magic began to hum. He reached for it, like a drowning man thrown a rope in a storm.

"I'm sorry," he told Angela.

And vanished.



Why here?

Tristan looked around at the tower room, his heart pounding in his chest. He stood frozen, staring down at the floorboards where his father had first fallen. Shaking hands strayed involuntarily to the front of his shirt. He was surprised when they didn't come away bloody.

Just breathe. The floor was hard, the air was cool, birds sang from their perches on the tree beyond the window. Breathe.

He took a step towards the door and hesitated. His skin prickled with heat, sweat beaded down his back. A lump caught in his throat. The staircase beyond the entranceway descended into the dark. Tristan shook his head, trying to rid himself of the echoing sounds of half-remembered voices. The shouts and the clash of steel were both far away and far too close.

No. No. No.

He turned around on himself, scanning the walls for something to focus on, something to ground him.

What was that in the corner? A picture frame protruded from behind an old broken chair, powdered with dust. It looked familiar. His stomach turned over and he crept towards it. Someone had taken care to cover the painting with sheets of brown paper held together with tape. Tristan ran his finger along the edge and lifted it carefully. The paper came away easily, falling to the floor with a gentle crackle. Tristan's knees buckled, sending him falling after it.

Crouching close to the ground, with one had on the wooden floorboards to hold him steady, Tristan stared up at his father's face. Steady grey eyes looked back at him, their expression impossible to pinpoint. Tristan bit back tears.

And the ghost at the back of his mind stirred anew.

Put it back.

No. Let Mordred find it this way. Let him walk in and find those eyes staring down at him.


He couldn't be found in the castle, not even in his grandfather's body. He needed to get somewhere safe. Anywhere, anywhere that wasn't here.

But where was safe?

It was easier to find Mallos' magic the second time. He guided its thrumming warmth up into his chest, wrapping itself around his heart. Safety.

The floor fell away for a second time.


His feet slammed not into wooden floorboards, but carpet. Tristan glanced out of the window and hesitated. He was still in the castle, just a different part of it. The view from this new room looked out over his grandmother's rose garden.

It looked as well-maintained and well-loved as he ever had under Nimueh's careful administrations. She'd spent hours walking between the raised flower beds, cultivating new varieties and tending the old. He could almost see her out there still, gliding across the cobbles in her signature emerald dress, her wicker basket hanging from her arm.

But this wasn't her room.

Tristan moved closer to the glass and peered out, looking along the length of the exterior wall. If he wasn't mistaken he was in one of the rooms which had once belonged to his mother. It had been cleared out and rearranged; the old furniture banished and replaced with new. When Gawain had been taken and his mother had vanished they had been in enforced exile from their home. But when he and his father had returned to the Castle months later, Arthur had locked the door tight and left the contents to gather dust. It had stood exactly as Lilith had left it, steadily gathering dust.

There wasn't any dust anymore. The room had been impeccably cleaned. There was a four-poster bed at one side, and a desk pushed up against the expanse of wall between the two windows. Tristan stepped towards it, and looked down at the scattered papers.

He knew that handwriting.

With his borrowed fingers he slipped it from the table top and held it, drinking it in.


He was holding his breath. Shaking his head, Tristan put it back where he had found it.

And as if on cue light footsteps echoed on the other side of the chamber door. He froze, spinning to face the entrance as the door handle turned. She mustn't see him.

Ice water ran down his spine as she stepped into the room, his stomach turned over and he braced himself for a cry of alarm.

And then she walked right past him to set her bag down on her bed, entirely unphased. He frowned, turning on his heel to follow her progress through the room. She was dressed for training or adventuring, in leggings, boots and a fitted tunic belted at the waist. Her blonde hair falling down her back in a long braid. Alethea stopped in front of her mirror and drew her plait over her shoulder with a tired sigh. She removed the tie from the bottom and unfastened it, easing out the strands until it flowed free. Tristan looked at her reflection over her shoulder as she removed her belt and threw it back across the room. He wasn't there. The room in the mirror was completely empty and undisturbed. He was invisible, a ghost.

And all he wanted to do was reach out and touch her.

She was as beautiful as she'd ever been, and almost exactly as he remembered her. Almost. Some of the softness had gone from her cheeks. She was definitely more woman than girl now. God, he missed her. He missed the way she looked at him and the small curve in the corner of her mouth just before he made her laugh. He missed the way she teased him, and even the flash of her eyes when she gathered herself to scold him.

Thea turned away from the mirror with a speed which took his by surprise. Tristan took a hasty step backwards to avoid her as she passed. Her shoulders shook, her hands reaching for her face. She wiped her eyes as she leaned back against the wall, dusting away tears. Instinctively, he took a step towards her. And then he forced himself to stop. Her right hand covered her mouth, her left strayed to the base of her ribcage in an attempt to steady her chest. Slowly, she sunk down the wall and sat on the floor, her eyes travelling past his face to the ceiling.

"Oh Thea," Tristan sighed. He took the few steps to close the space between them and sat down beside her. He pressed his back against the same wall, stretching one leg out in front of him, and folding the other up to meet his chin. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her draw something small from her pocket. Tristan looked down as she rolled it between her fingers, and his stomach turned over.

His father's crucifix.

Thea ran her fingers over the small red gem at its centre, her face reflecting back at them both. Wherever had she found it? Did she know what it was? Or what it meant?

"Oh Thea," he said again. He reached out for her, and before he could stop himself he set his fingers gently to the back of her hand.

A second face joined Thea's in the centre of the gem.


Put all your faults to bed, you can be king again

Paul Johnston


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