Jansen sighed as he read through the missives in his hand. In the last few weeks Numara had taken a turn for the worse. It had started slow, the cases were few and far apart. At first the apothecaries had ruled it as a simple cold. The symptoms were all there: a running nose, sore throat and slight headache with a hint of fever, thought to be over in a few days. They were proven wrong. The disease had mingled as if it had a mind of its own, waited for the opportune moment.

He mentally scolded himself - of course it couldn't have a will, it was just a disease amongst so many others. But unlike its competitors, it proved to be deadly and exscruciating.

It had been too late by then anyway - those sick with the 'cold' soon found walking and even moving tremendously painful, the clean patches of their skin sprouted boils and the slime they coughed up before turned crimson in colour. It was not this, though, that took their lives. Whatever they managed to drink never stayed down for long, food followed suit. Wracked with pain, growing weaker by the day, the sick ones simply faded away - meat could not hold on to their bones, their sight lost their spark, their skin its glow. In the end there was nothing else left but a few ragged breaths and finally even the lungs gave out, ridden with slime and blood.

It was a race with time that could not be won, a race with shackles on your ankles and your hands tied behind your back.

Jansen read the topmost missive again - ones similar to it had arrived daily for over two weeks now. He and Ming were both aware of the current state of the city, of the lives lost each day to this mysterious plague. But that wasn't what the missives were about - they told the stories of the families of the politically important people of Numara. Of those whose word had a weight.

Like the chief apothecary the missive in his hand was about. Written in short, crude sentences it told soullesly how his daughter had succumbed to the disease, following her mother who had passed away a week before.

'Jansen...Jansen, you decided to become chivalrous and gallant on the worst possible moment', he berated himself.

It did not take a very wise man to see how the news about the plague, as the disease had been named, affected Ming. Her years as the ruler of Numara had toughened her, the numerous pieces of news about deaths, thefts and murders shown her the shadowy side of life - her reactions to the recent news could go unnoticed to the untrained eye but he knew better. There was a slight twitch in her left eyebrow, a small frown on her lips - both gone in a matter of seconds and only there to notice if one knew what to look for.

Jansen knew. He was the reason to most of those frowns and twitches. But at least in those cases he could do something about it, promise her he'd strive to be more kingly, make it in time to highly important political meetings and actually bring his brain with him.

What could he say in his defense? It wasn't his fault she dressed like that.

But this...

He glanced at Ming who stood on their bedroom balcony, her hand on her swollen belly, lost in thought as she viewed the city of Numara. He had no trouble in understanding where her thoughts were at as her eyes slowly scanned the streets below. She couldn't get the disease herself, her immortality making her immune, but Jansen knew she felt the pain and desperation of her people as their spouses and children perished, their relatives met their end in the inhuman manner the plague offered. And she feared - not for herself but their unborn child: would it be born into a plague-ridden city, never knowing the beauty it could hold? And him...she was worried about him. After all, he was a mortal, in danger of contracting the disease himself.

There was nothing he could do about the twitches and frowns this caused but give her empty promises that he would not get sick. He recognised the words as lies as they fell from his lips, as did she, but they seemed to calm her down, if only for a moment. There was no piece of mind he could offer her. Nothing but pull her into his arms and hope she found comfort in the embrace.

And not think it might be the last one.

His thoughts wondered to his mother as his fingers ran once more over the smooth paper. Ms Friedh, as his mother wanted to be called, did not live within the city borders, even though he had frequently offered her a residence in Numara. He had often wondered whether this was because she liked her little house in the countryside better than one in a city or if she truly disliked Ming as much as it seemed. Whenever the two met, his mother would do her best not to look at Ming or show any kind of kindness toward her. The only people she seemed to hold in less regard than his wife were Kaim and Sarah. They had met only once but she had done her best not to catch their eye.

His mother, Apollonia, had never been married. Jansen remembered vaguely asking as a child if it was because of her name. All he had received as an answer was a look he didn't know the meaning of. It was just one of the questions that remained unanswered - just like the one about his father. There had been multiple candidates during his childhood but somehow he knew that none of them were the real thing. She had only told Jansen that he had been a soldier of sorts, a mercenary for hire. Tragic events had driven them apart and she had never seen him since.

She always told him he had inherited his father's looks. She was right, hardly anyone recognized them as mother and son unless they heard their shared surname.

He pocketed the missive in his hand, wondering if a similar one was to be sent to his mother if he were to catch the disease and perish, and walked over to Ming to give the bad news.