She feels the Mammon Machine even when she is dreaming. In her dreams, it pounds against her lungs and makes it difficult to breathe; she wakes often in a cold sweat, remnants of visions fading quicker than she can get a handle on them. She doesn’t wish to remember them - for they leave an aftertaste like the machine does, like the bitter, copper sting at the back of her tongue when she pours her magic into her pendant - but she does wonder what they mean. The machine, and Lavos, pulse inside her chest though she tries to rid herself of the awful itch beneath her skin the thing always leaves behind.
She wishes that she could leave; Enhasa, perhaps, where she could curl into one of the finely embroidered beds and dream without hitching on Lavos and magic, but she knows her mother will never let her go. Queen Zeal has no use for dreams anymore - not when her reality is far better than any ambition she could have fabricated in her mind.
Schala lost her father when she was only four, her stepfather when she was ten. She wonders when it was that she officially lost her mother.
As she lays awake in bed with her eyes turned up towards the ceiling, counting the curves carved into the stone that number as high as the stars in the sky, her bedroom door creaks open. Her lady-in-waiting never opens without first knocking. Schala doesn’t get up, because she already knows who it is.
“You were dreaming again,” Janus says. Even in the darkness, he knows his way around the dressers and desks and trunks in her room. When he reaches the side of the bed, he climbs up into it, sliding cold, uncovered feet beneath the sheets.
“I’m sorry,” Schala tells him.
Where Janus goes, Alfador follows - the kitten jumps up atop the end of the duvet at the bottom of the bed and curls there, tiny paws hiding his pink nose. In the bit of moonlight streaming in through the windows, he looks more cerulean than violet.
“Stop thinking about her,” Janus admonishes. He turns over on the pillow with his fists mashed up beneath it.
“I’m not, really,” Schala says, and it’s mostly truth. Janus doesn’t say anything else in response; perhaps he too is not really thinking about her.
After awhile, he sighs a bit into the linens. “I wish we could leave.”
“Where would we go?” Schala asks with a little laugh. “There’s nowhere here but down.”
“Then we go down,” Janus says. He sounds forceful. Hopeful. Ten years and much, much older. “We go down and we build a new kingdom on the ground. We make it better than this one. Bigger. More powerful than everything here.”
Janus thinks for a moment, quieting. “Nus,” he says. “I want Nus to carry me around all the time. And I want a bed for Alfador that’s covered in gold. And whenever I snap my fingers, someone brings me spiced tea with just the right amount of sugar in it. Because it’ll be cold. We’ll have fireplaces that warm us all the time.”
But there’s nothing on the ground but freezing days that never seem to end and the peaks of mountains long enshrouded with snow. Schala shakes her head, though her brother can’t see it, and runs her fingers over her forehead - there’s a bit of moisture there, leftover from the ghost of Lavos’ power that’s still pounding in her veins.
“Schala?” Janus asks, when she fails to answer.
“I wish I could do that for you,” she whispers. There’s wetness on her cheeks and she isn’t exactly sure when she started crying. Her fingers are humming. She can feel her pendant, on the desk in the middle of the room sitting within a pouch made of crushed velvet, calling to her, even now. “I wish I could make this all better for you.”
Janus reaches for her. “Stop it,” he says, and it sounds harsh, but only because there’s so much fear behind it.
“You deserve better than this,” Schala whispers.
“We all do,” Janus says, softly, after a long moment with just his fingers wrapped around her arm. He shifts in, closer, so that he can curl up beside her form, and if the shaking of her sobs disturbs him, he doesn’t say anything about it.
Schala lets her fingers rest in the feather-fine strands of his hair that falls through her hand like sand in an hourglass - they all are sand, waiting to be funneled through the opening. “Someday,” she promises, whispered against his temple, “I’ll make that kingdom for you, Janus.”
“Okay,” he says. HIs fingers fist tighter in her nightshift.
Down the hall, past the slumbering bulk of the Nu, the Mammon Machine pulses in its constant roar, filling the corridors with bloodred light, and even after Janus’ breathing has evened and slowed, Schala can feel it in her head, in tune with her rapid, terrified heartbeat.