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Episode 7 Silent Sentinels

Blissed Season 1 Episode 7

Silent Sentinels

by

Nicolette Jinks

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

 

Copyright © 2015 by NICOLETTE JINKS

NICOLETTE JINKS asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

You may contact the author via email: [email protected] or check in at Twitter, Facebook, [Google++], [ GoodReads+]. To follow the author, her blog is www.nicolettejinks.wordpress.com, where she writes about writing and life.

Independently Published by author

doing business as Standal Publications

393 River Road Bliss, Idaho 83314

Silent Sentinels

Girl’s night involved take-out Tex Mex and tissues by the gas lights Kayla kept fawning over and the fireplace Willow kept avoiding. Kayla had found a folder containing my old illustrations and my mouth was too full of a shredded pork and bean burrito to tell her to leave the drawing alone.

“Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed, thrusting it beneath Willow’s wide eyes. “Look at this. It’s exactly like the flower growing outside.”

“Yes, it is.”

Suddenly Willow appeared just a bit concerned, but Kayla was oblivious to it. Hyperactive was the best term for Kayla at the moment. In the next minute I anticipated another bout of crying. The resident doctor had said to expect it given the medications provided to her. Speaking of medications, I had my own to take. Annoying, but it kept me feeling normal, if a bit stuffy.

Kayla’s very first act after inspecting her room had been to open the window to her bedroom and snap off the purple passionflower. It now had a place of honor in a drinking glass on the mantle and as much as I tried not to inspect it for blood, I couldn’t help myself. The memory of the blood mage lair was too strong.

We’d arrived home from the slavers earlier that day after spending a night and a morning driving down the interstate and sleeping in a parking lot when Wraithbane had been too tired to continue. The exact reason we used conventional means instead of a portal had something to do with shaking off any trackers. Since he had followed targets through all manner of magical means, I tended to not question his logic too much.

“I did that one years ago,” I said in an attempt to soothe Willow’s concern. Kayla took the comment as permission to dig deeper into the pile until she brought out a charcoal sketch.

“Ooh, it’s so moody. Big, angry, vague swooshes and things.” She turned it upside down then right-side up again. “I don’t know what it is, but I like it. What do you think, Willow?”

This time when Kayla thrust the drawing under Willow’s distracted gaze, Willow responded with a scream that chilled me and made Kayla jump. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Willow stopped screaming bloody murder and clutched her sweater tightly. “Nothing,” she said. “It’s lovely.”

She started to leave the room.

“Willow?” Kayla called after her. “Where are you going?”

She gave a weak smile. “Nowhere. I’m here. I just had to stretch my legs.”

“Is it because it was scary? I should have thought—” Kayla stopped talking and swung into full-blown tears, becoming a sobbing mess in a matter of five seconds flat.

Once again, Willow was back in her usual domain and she conducted the motherly behavior absolutely perfectly, comforting and quieting Kayla’s guilt like a trained professional while I made my way awkwardly into the kitchen and tapped my finger on the new oven. Next to it, the counter was pitted with the burns from the Bliss brewing which had ruined the first oven.

How could I be there emotionally for Kayla when I didn’t know how to do it? Communal living wasn’t a thing I’d ever been comfortable with, which was all the more awkward because for all the ways that I could understand people and even get their life story out of them, I hadn’t a clue what to do the moment tears made their appearance. I used to think that Kayla’s presence as a housemate would benefit us both, but now I doubted. A pillar of strength I could be, but a pillar didn’t make a very good reassurance partner. Manipulation came second nature to me. Give me Thaimon and I could wrap him around my finger. Give me Kayla trying to stay awake until a decent bedtime and watch me slink away.

“I heard screaming,” Wraithbane said, having apparently entered without being heard.

Willow answered, “It was me. I wasn’t expecting to see this.”

At the shuffle of papers, I hung my head a little bit in shame. It sounded like he was going through the whole stack. Belatedly I wondered if I’d kept any of the live model figure sketches from that one art workshop I’d taken ages ago. Not that it should matter if there were any nudes in there. I sighed. I should have taken the folder away from Kayla.

“A detailed likeness,” Wraithbane said from the doorway to the kitchen. He held the loose scribbles which had scared Willow. I doubted he was teasing me, but it was far from detailed.

“Is it? It’s far from the best display of my skills. I didn’t even realize I’d kept it.”

Wraithbane couldn’t keep from staring at it, his finger skimming over the surface of the paper, following the pencil strokes. “I couldn’t have done a better job of it myself. It seems so alive. Where did you see this?”

I glanced at the bottom corner, checking for a date. In my usual fashion, it was neither signed nor dated, but I could remember how my desk had looked when I’d drawn it. “A recurring dream. I did that three years ago.”

Wraithbane nodded but said nothing.

“You know what it is.”

“Yes. It’s a wraith, in its real form between bodies. Rare sight and impossible to remember, but also impossible to forget.”

I bit my lip and lowered my voice to the softest level I could. “Do you think that it was real? Or that it was, well, you see, sometimes I get these memories and it’s not something I should have.” I sighed. “Or maybe it’s all imagination. Just me filling in the blanks.”

Laying down six drawings next to me on the counter, Wraithbane said, “These did not come from your imagination.”

There was the wraith, an early rendition of a cavernous laboratory which I now recognized as a malformed attempt to replicate the blood mage lair, the nearly perfect replication of the image on Meg’s Shackles card, some symbols which had plagued me forever, a thing which I now knew resembled a revenant, and a silhouette of an owl in a tree.

“I don’t know the significance of these two,” I said, pointing to the owl and the symbols.

“This one is on the seal of the White Wizard Council,” Wraithbane said of the owl. He hesitated over the symbols. “And this is a transfiguration spell.”

“What?”

“One that I’ve heard of but never seen. There is no reason it shouldn’t work, but I suggest that you not replicate this for anyone unless you want them to become four-legged and herbivorous.”

“What’s it, from human to cow?”

“Human to horse.” Wraithbane lifted the page and inspected it closer. “It puts the old witch’s bridle to shame.”

The hair rose on my neck. “Can you tell if it’s Old West era?”

“Might be. Why?”

I shook my head to clear it of the distant memory I had. “No reason. Just wondering.”

Wraithbane passed his hand through his hair. “These are vivid.”

“Do you think I should get rid of them?”

“I don’t know.” Wraithbane stacked them again. “I really don’t know.”

Willow cleared her throat behind us. She said, “Brandy, can you see?”

It took me a second to realize what she was asking. With a bit of effort, I could make out spell residue that was lingering around Wraithbane. “Well enough, why?”

Willow met Wraithbane’s eyes. “It’s Caleb Lowe. Jane Dell has reached the checkpoint without him. They were pursued, but she didn’t know what it was by.”

The names took a minute to find a place. “Harvest Court. Charlie team, is that right?” At Willow’s surprised expression, I added, “I met them at Devil’s Canyon.”

Wraithbane filled a glass with water and chugged it. Then he wiped his mouth and said, “Brandy, do you want to find out why you don’t use portals while you’re on the run?”

I couldn’t help but to smile at the invitation, even knowing that Lowe might not be in such a good state when we did find him.

Our very first act was to take my front door portal to leave behind all too curious listeners. Then we took two more before Wraithbane found a bench outside a lonely bus stop and he pulled from his pocket a heavily creased piece of paper which threatened to fall apart at the seams.

“The first thing to understand about portals is that they’re like a downhill tunnel. Once you’re in them you have no choice but to keep going, and you can’t stop midway. Typically portals are only stable if they have one destination.”

I raised a brow at him, which he continued, “Yes, the portals at the Kettle are not your typical portals. We have people who dedicate a great deal of time into ensuring that they can go nearly everywhere. The engineers aren’t patient enough to explain it even to someone such as myself.”

“Do they say that? They aren’t patient enough?” I asked.

“Yes. Don’t you believe it?”

“No,” I said, “I think that if it really is that unique and unusual, it means that they have a lot invested in being impatient towards anyone who expresses an interest.”

Wraithbane laughed. “Touche. But it does not matter. A few portals can go in perhaps three directions, but what is more common is to place three one-direction portals right next to each other so a slight slip in which portal you enter means you end up someplace else entirely.”

“So what you’ve done here is kept record of various portals, where they start and where they go.” I examined the map. “There are no street names or landmarks.”

“In case this map ends up in hands which aren’t mine.”

“You could still suss it out by taking a few portals and cross-referencing your place of arrival with the points on the map.”

“Assuming that you didn’t walk into a portal which I either didn’t record or hadn’t been in existence yet at the time of map making.”

“Or in case you simply hadn’t noticed the portal in the first place. I see where this can get sticky.” I considered. “And how someone could use similar knowledge of the portal system to follow someone else.”

“Unless you can dedicate the time and effort to making your own portal, you would have to go to one of these areas with lots of options in order to get to your desired destination. With a little knowledge of which one is closest, it makes it very easy to beat a target to the so-called station.”

“Am I going to have to make up my own map?”

“No, I’d rather we collaborate. If we ever get parted, we can make to the same station. It could take too long for you to find them on your own.”

“Right. So where did Lowe go missing at?”

“He was separated from Dell here,” Wraithbane said, pointing at a remote area of the map. I leaned in close and we worked out a plan.

Perhaps to humor me, Wraithbane had taken the path which I had suggested. It took us through two more tunnels before we nearly lost the third one, which I later found hidden behind a dumpster. Wraithbane didn’t tell me where any of the portals were, leaving it up to me to sniff them out on my own. It was intimidating at first, until I realized that he was making me independent—and marking a couple of new ones on his map, things that would take him a lot longer to find than it did for me to see.

There was one portal which was no longer in existence, so we had to backtrack and re-route to get to an old hospital which had not been in use since the 80’s. Despite all the years and the decay which afflicted the drywall and any plastic surface, the place still had the distinctive sting of disinfectant and the unnerving air that was inherent to any location where a lot of people had died. I shivered at little electrical impulses running through my skin, then we turned a corner and saw bright bubble-shaped rainbow after bright bubble-shaped rainbow.

“Wow.”

I didn’t need to ask if we were in the nearest portal station. The entire place was filled with glowy bubble doors, some more glossy and vibrant than others.

“I take it this is quite the sight to behold?” Wraithbane asked.

“You sound jealous.”

He held up thumb and forefinger just a little bit spread apart.

I smiled, then shuddered. “I still hate hospitals, though. All those viruses confined in a pressure negative zone, waiting for their next host. And don’t tell me I sound paranoid.”

“You sound like someone with a cold. Did you take everything you should have?”

“Yes.” I glanced up and down a corridor. “Where do you think Lowe would emerge from his portal at?”

“The cafeteria.”

We found our way to the cafeteria, passing rooms which weren’t empty enough for comfort. The rooms were filled with torn up chairs and those rolly bed things and giant lights like they use in the dentist offices, everything set up for surgery but coated in layers of dust and broken windows, walls tagged with paint from amateur street artists and idiot kids. There was even a plastic skeleton standing in the doorway to one room, an airline stewardesses hat on its head, its own disembodied arm jammed between its jaw bones. One corner even had a tangled nest of blankets, maybe from a packrat, maybe from a hobo.

Then we were in a big open room with too many cheap tables, the kind that fold up like an accordion. Their laminate tops were peeling and the benches that went with the tables were stacked up on one wall as if barricading it.

“There’s a portal over there, but it’s dim,” I said.

“The word ‘dim’ in this case meaning what?”

“Meaning I wouldn’t chance going through it.”

Wraithbane hesitated, for the first time looking as though he was not so sure that doing this was such a great idea.

I asked, “You don’t suppose we got it wrong? They had a lot of a head start, shouldn’t they be here by now?”

Though he was frowning, he said, “No. I make excellent timing by myself, and you expedited matters. We got here first, I’m sure of it.”

“But what if they can’t get here?”

Wraithbane stroked the back of his neck. “If they aren’t here in a half hour, we will have to track down their portals and see where they stopped at. But if they’re just delayed, this means we will miss them in transit.”

The portal brightened, and no sooner had I pointed than it swelled and slid off an arm. Hunched over and gasping, two people emerged from the portal and made a dash towards the tables. One of them limped, favoring their knee, and the other was red-faced and sweating.

“Hurry, come!” the sweating man said, trying to drag his companion by the elbow. The other man shook his head and collapsed on a table.

“Caleb Lowe,” Wraithbane said, startling both of the people so that the one who must be Lowe formed a fire ball in his fist. He was a man with a broad face and dark hair, one whose fists I wouldn’t want to be on the connecting end of. Seeing the two of us, Lowe clenched his fist and stopped the flames.

“Wraithbane. You’ve wasted no time, I’m glad. We’re followed.”

His companion was a slightly tall fellow, one who was dressed for work in a corporate office. According to the stains on the cuffs of his shirt and sweat down his back, he’d have been better suited dressing for the gym.

We approached the two men and I froze when the other man raised his gaze to me. One eye was absolutely bright red, as if the whites had been replaced with burst blood vessels, and the other eye was a mottled mix between normal and bloodshot. His cheeks were sallow and there was something about him which gave me goosebumps.

“What happened?” Wraithbane asked. “What are you followed by?”

Lowe shook his head. “Don’t know.”

I stepped nearer to the injured man and saw that his dress pants were torn just above the knee and wet. When I parted the rip, the sight of black veins and a small mass of roots made me draw a deep breath.

“I got a thorn,” the man said. “It hurts, that’s all.”

When I tried to touch the roots, the way I had once removed a similar thorn from Wraithbane, the roots snagged the fine lines of my fingerprint. I withdrew, remembering a caution I’d heard about touching these things.

“What can you tell me?” Wraithbane was asking Lowe.

“I tried everything. I’m glad to see you, Bane,” Lowe said.

I was about to ask the patient if he’d been coughing or had been punched in the eyes, but instead decided to not see magic. Like that, I was staring at a different person entirely. A man with flushed cheeks and a sweat-sheened brow, one with a small scratch above his knee. This was far from reassuring.

Thaimon had panicked when he thought I’d been injured by the blood vines, and a wraith like Thaimon wasn’t going to panic unless he had a very good set of reasons to do so. The problem was that I didn’t know what those reasons were, or how Thaimon might have prevented the trouble from getting too bad. Much as I wanted to help this man in front of me, sheer instinct was urging me to get away.

Meanwhile, Lowe was saying, “It’s been everywhere we have been. I don’t know how it could have done it. You know how slippery I can be. This whole thing makes no sense at all. We run and we’re fine for a minute or two, then it catches up despite everything and there’s nothing that seems to work on it, nothing at all.”

The man must have become uncomfortable with me, because he covered the rip with his hands. His fingernails were dark, dead purple. I avoided letting our fingers brush and stepped back. As I did so, I tugged on Wraithbane’s sleeve.

Wraithbane didn’t leave Lowe immediately, but he did come to where I stood.

“What do you think?” he asked, softly.

“The other man with Lowe is a witness?”

“Yes.”

I licked my lips and decided to continue. “Don’t touch him. I think he’s met a blood vine and I think he’s contagious.”

Wraithbane frowned. “Blood vines aren’t an offensive weapon. They’re to keep people out of a place.”

“What about to keep them in?” I asked. Wraithbane didn’t reply. I said, “What if his previous location was marked and someone set up blood vines to keep him there? Or one of their portals dropped them into a mess by sheer chance?”

“It’s possible.”

“But what?”

“But I hope you’re wrong. If you’re right, we’ll have to take him back quickly. There is access to a sealed containment facility five portals from here.”

“Why?” I shivered with a touch of a cold draft.

Wraithbane lowered his voice so he had to whisper in my ear, “If you’re right—”

“It’s here!”

I jumped and whirled around to find the witness pointing at the air by the portal, where a dewy black mist was gathering. For a brief instant, patches darker than the rest of it formed two vacant eyes and a gaping grin. Quick as a jolt of fear striking my spine, the apparition was gone, melded once more into the shadows.

“Lumin.” Wraithbane had a spell in hand, a blush-hued clam shell with a brilliant pearl made of the warmest ivory light. It illuminated the room but deepened the color of the shadows.

Lowe said, “I can’t believe it’s still here. Any time we stop to rest.”

“We will take the Sleath Junction to reach the Marina Center. Brandy?”

I double-checked Wraithbane’s map and located the desired portal at the entrance of Hallway 4C Radiology and Surgery. If Wraithbane was afraid, if he had seen the apparition or cared about the frigid chill of the hospital, he made no sign of being unnerved. His demanding authority comforted when it otherwise would have chafed.

As Lowe got the witness to his feet, I murmured to Wraithbane very softly, “It didn’t follow them. The portal has been inactive.”

“So it came from one of them.”

I nodded.

“They’ll know what to do at the center. All we need to do is get them there,” Wraithbane said.

“Don’t let him touch the shadows.”

Wraithbane held the lumin spell to create light between the victim and everything else as we crossed the cafeteria. It felt as if the hospital was waiting, as if those who had died in these walls were watching us as two injured men crossed the void of the room and at last stood before the portal. Distracted by pointing out the fringes of the portal so we didn’t accidentally go through one very nearby, I didn’t see the mist building until it was too late to do anything except yank Wraithbane away. I’d thought the problem hid in the shadows and that by isolating the victim, it would keep him safe. But no, he wasn’t safe, because he was the source.

Whenever he exhaled, a dark dewy ghost took shape in front of his face. It clung to his skin and turned it transparent, the way oil does to a leaf of paper.

My eyes opened wide and the victim’s expression changed, becoming excited. Before I could speak a word, the victim clasped Lowe’s shoulder, yanked him close, and bit his ear.

Lowe acted so fast I wasn’t able to see his movements individually. There was a punch, a tackle, then Lowe was kneeling over his charge’s prone form, arms in a tangle, cuffs slapped on the thing’s wrists. The other man wriggled and let out a moan, that was all. As Lowe heaved him to his feet, the victim became entirely transparent. First his skin, then the glossy muscle and bone faded into nothing. Before Lowe’s astonished eyes, the handcuffs clattered to the floor and the ghostly apparition receded into the dark.

“That,” Lowe said as he picked up the cuffs. “That was a revenant.”

Wraithbane nodded.

The air had definitely gotten colder, so cold now that my breath misted silver in front of my lips. I rubbed my arms through the light jacket, astonished at what I’d seen. Not because it was a brand-new sight, but because it itched. The sight itched me mentally, stirring up feelings of deja vu. Worse than this, I felt stupid. As if I should have known that this would happen. Determined, I shook off the feeling.

Leaving a revenant loose in a decrepit portal station did not seem a good long-term plan, but getting out of here sounded like a good thing to do now. I began to migrate us all towards the portal again.

The revenant cut me off, taking his ghostlike form between us and the portal. For a second it stared at me. Then it screamed and swooped.

Previous experiences with revenants had taught me that there was one true defense against them. Gerald’s defensive spell had no influence on revenants even when it worked against other things that went bump in the night. In fact, there was only one thing a living person could do when faced with a revenant: run.

Lowe started us off like a track sprinter on the hundred meter dash. Adrenaline thudded through my veins and my pulse soon hammered in my ears, drowning out the yells that the men used. Soon I was panting through clogged sinuses and my legs trembled and it felt as if my feet were floating over the grime-coated floor. Despite being the second to run, I was last in the line-up by the time Lowe wrenched open a door to a surgery and waved us in.

Dizzy, I thumped into the wall and gasped for breath before looking around. We were in one of those rooms with an operating table below and an observational deck above. The glass was, miraculously, intact. Wraithbane urged us into the operating room and slammed the door.

Lowe scuffed marks into the dusty floor. “Here.”

Out of breath, I started to ask, “What?” but the revenant hit the glass. I jumped, stunned to see it pressing its face against the divider, hitting it with all too real hands.

Wraithbane said, “We need to trap it.”

“But?” I pointed to the glass where the revenant was now withdrawing. Last time, in the bone mine, the revenants had gone through solid stone just fine.

“Glass will confuse a new revie for a short time. Now, this. It’s hard to create a ward to keep revies out, but simple to entrap them in.”

Lowe added, “If you can bait them into the trap to start with.”

Without being able to cast magic myself, I could only watch and learn, and try not to flinch every time the revenant rammed against the glass. Glass screeched as he drew claws against it, leaving behind long white marks in the surface. Then the circle became alive, a faintly shimmering mauve swirling with tiny white moths and stars.

Part of the curtain was thin, the flitting creatures within it plainly sick. At the bottom, I saw the problem. From the pocket of my trousers I fetched a chalk stick. I fixed where the symbols were malformed, following the pattern that the men had used to create the spell. A simple pattern, really, but the execution of the symbols was at times lacking. The work helped me to calm my mind and not panic. Once the symbols were corrected, the moths gleamed and fluttered within the curtain of their spell.

“Never seen a newbie so useful,” Lowe said.

“I know,” Wraithbane said. “I’m waiting to find out how the universe will balance out my good fortune.”

The men didn’t precisely laugh, but it was close enough.

I realized it had gone quiet, no more ramming of glass or screeching of claws on a hard surface. The revenant was pushing his way through, his arm and head on our side of the partition, his other arm dragging slowly to join us.

“It’s here,” I said, tapping Lowe on the shoulder. Sweat dampened my fingers and he was all too pale, his clothes soiled from the bleeding ear.

The revenant had both hands on the glass, he strained, and slid the bottom half of hid body out into the surgery. It hung there, suspended in midair, for a second while it formed its claws into sharp little daggers again. Wraithbane lifted his gaze and stared at the thing while it stared back down at us, making me wonder if the man had been brought out of the monster just for a fraction of a second, long enough to recognize us and know what was going to happen. It was like I’d seen this a hundred times before.

A dozen questions raced through my mind, old questions haunting mind and memory, old questions which had to be from my recurring nightmares. How fast was the human mind lost to this plague? When were they completely gone? How could these things be prevented? What caused them?

It streaked for me first, startling me out of my reverie. I rolled to avoid a seeking hand. Wraithbane shouted something and a spear sailed through the air, impaling the revie in the leg. It reeled, screaming in pain, and Lowe threw another spell which slashed across its back.

I saw that the effects of these spells soon fell away into nothing and the enraged revie continued its attack.

Wraithbane dodged an assault, by chance smearing the lines of the containment circle. It immediately dimmed and the moths fluttered in pain then became listless. I ran to the smudge and redefined the marks.

Time passed us by, a near meaningless blur of dodges and sweeps, of spears and screams. Twice we almost forced it into the circle and twice we failed. The revenant focused his attacks on the men at first, thinking them the threat with their offensive spells, but it soon realized that every time the symbols making the circle were scuffed or damaged, it was me who fixed it. That made me the target to eliminate. I shamelessly hid behind either man. As time wore on, it became clear I was the least physically fit and that my shuddering body wouldn’t keep up this dodging and dashing for long.

Wraithbane fended the revenant off, and I realized suddenly that Lowe was no longer attacking with him. When I raised my gaze, Lowe exhaled dewy, black fog and stared at me with mottled red-white eyes. I realized where I was, trapped between a revenant and a revenant to be. And Lowe saw this realization on my face.

He rose and darted towards me. I stumbled and fell, then braced myself for the impact of his body on mine.

It never happened.

Instead he sailed over my head. In a whirl of motion, he grabbed the revenant by the neck and hauled the both of them through the mauve curtain, into imprisonment where they would remain for eternity together. The other revenant screamed, but he could do nothing to his cellmate because at that instant Caleb Lowe faded into a transparent shadow with long sharp claws.

I couldn’t bear to look at them as they paced their confines, the mauve curtain whispering with the faint fluttering of hundreds of moth wings mirroring their every movement. Silent sentinels shackling their souls to a world which was lost and gray, a void in the world which had once held meaning and life and hope. Theirs was an existence which was merely presence, a physical manifestation of what had once been and now was no longer. Within the confines of the closed curtain whispered their lonely lament, “Remember, remember.”

When a blank and shapeless shadow passed beside me, I touched the thin curtain. Words echoed back to me, words from another era, a promise to a face long lost to time, “I will never forget.”

A revenant shrieked and slammed the spell, jolting me back to the present, reminding me that we were not done for the day.

“That’s it, then,” I said to Wraithbane. “What do we do, try to find where they contracted the blood vine?”

Wraithbane spoke very quietly, “No.”

“No?”

He stretched out his hand. Illuminated in the glow of the migrating moths, I saw across the center of his palm a long ragged gash. The blood seeping from it was black, spider-webbing through his veins.

“No. We go to containment in the Marina Center.”

***

An hour later, I was finished debriefing with Jay and Willow. Both had either an astounding poker face, or they’d heard these types of stories a fair deal in the past. I had explained everything exhaustively the first time round in the hopes they’d have fewer questions at the end. I’d been wrong. It turned out to be for the best, because it took all my debriefing time for Doc Mike and the rest of the team to decide what to do with Wraithbane and to determine how infectious he was.

Provided there was no liquid exchange, bites, or scratches, it would be reasonably safe to visit him. I was there as soon as I was released from primary source investigation. That’s what they’d called the interview. The investigation in general was far from over, with two people gone revenant and Wraithbane on that path himself, but for now I was allowed in the room with him.

Illness makes people look small and frail, and Wraithbane was no exception as he slept on the infirmary bed. Being so contagious meant he got an entire room to himself, but it was a room which had hard walls and a scary number of warding spells all around. It wasn’t a place to get better. It was a place to stay until death came, and after that, to bar up and refuse admittance.

Wraithbane shouldn’t have already lost weight, but his whole presence was lacking. Maybe it was the faint black lines in his forearms. Maybe it was the gloss of sweat over his skin. Maybe it was the cloth restraints pinning his arms, legs, and torso to the bed.

“Is he asleep?” I asked.

“Induced. It’ll slow the rate of the disease,” Doc Mike said.

“Disease?”

Doc Mike began talking, explaining it all in a clear relatively non-technical manner, soothing yet firm. I hardly heard a word. What I gathered was basic.

The restraints would keep Wraithbane human as long as possible and prevent him from hitting, biting, or spell-casting. They’d done things to help him, a lot of things, a very long list really. Too long of one. It bore resemblance to the phrase ‘‘toss it at the wall and see what sticks’‘. Of blood vines and revenant change, they knew only what had been recorded, and that was essentially what I had already seen firsthand.

A lot was uncertain and up to Wraithbane. How long he’d last. How he’d behave. If he could have visitors. But one thing was absolutely certain: even with treatment, he would die. Within hours.

The way Doc Mike kept repeating this last bit made it seem less and less real. Wraithbane dead. Didn’t seem possible. I couldn’t imagine it. That it would happen so quickly. This morning he had been alive. He’d been angry with me for falling into a trap by being reckless. I should have died yesterday for my stupidity, yet he wasn’t stupid and I hadn’t messed up. Yet here we were.

Here we were.

“Call me if he wakes up,” I said to Doc Mike.

Doc Mike laid a hand on my arm, stopping me from leaving so soon. “Where are you going?”

“I saw two people die from this. I’m not letting it happen to him.”

“You and Wraithbane have a unique bond, but nothing can prevent this, Brandy. I understand that it will be difficult for you. We aren’t giving up, but you cannot hold yourself responsible for him or what will happen. Not in any way.”

“I’m not holding myself responsible. I just…there’s something that can be done for it. I know that there is.”

Doc Mike shook his head but didn’t argue.

***

The next hours melded together as I tried everything, tearing pages of treasured books in search of hope. Everything possible was examined: biology, plagues, medicinal herbs, the nursing-test-study-guide. I turned my house upside down and inside out, shredding through boxes at a rate I’d never thought possible.

What little I did find was nonsense for an illness of this scale. Essential oils, pressure point massage, scents, lotions. Thank goodness I couldn’t work magic and that no one had yet bestowed any worthwhile books on that nature into my care, because I’d have tried them. Eventually I went to see Wraithbane, to wait until he was awake. Instead I fell asleep in the chair beside him, not knowing this until I woke up in the pre-dawn hours of the next morning. Wraithbane was worse than he had been before.

When he began to stir, Doc Mike appeared to say, “Go home, Brandy. Rest. They need to talk with him. He’ll still be here when you return.”

The ‘they’ in question was an inquisition party headed by Boss Lady. Jay and Willow were present as well, and they introduced me to several other people, whose names I never caught and instantly forgot entirely on my way out the door.

Efficiently shunned from the room, I decided to do as Doc Mike suggested. At home I would be free from prying eyes, at least until Kayla awoke. And I planned on being gone before that would happen.

***

It could be said I was searching for trouble, but I didn’t know who else to go to. Thaimon was my one real chance at saving Bane. How to find Thaimon, then, was my next challenge. I couldn’t do anything from within the Kettle itself, not without grossly underestimating what they were capable of when it came to hunting down unauthorized communications. In theory I could seek permission to contact Thaimon and the Kettle may allow it, however slim the odds of that happening were. But then I’d have to convince Thaimon to tell me, and he wanted nothing from the Kettle so he wouldn’t help me on their behalf. Saving Bane might even be a dumb thing for Thaimon to do, so I needed to conceal it.

Thaimon had schemed and plotted to get to me the last two times, so I needed to do the same to get to him.

Finding Thaimon could very quickly turn into a game of needle in the mattress—impossible to know where he was until it was too late. While I might not be able to pinpoint his house, I may be able to tell the portal station by eliminating the areas I doubted he’d find desirable. Wraithbane had once said that in fifteen minutes, Thaimon had enough of an advanced start to lose him. That meant Thaimon had access to stations with a lot of portals. Not only that, but a station with reasonably direct access to remote locations. With this in mind, three stations jumped out. Singly they did not have an expanded web into the rural landscape, but two of them were very well tied one into the other and they had an expansive combined network. It would be excellent for losing a pursuer—however it could also be problematic for detecting a sticky padfoot.

This is where the third station came into play. It connected with smaller, presumably quiet stations. Thaimon could be in one of these quieter stations, or very near to them.

Now was when I had to think like him. He preferred his own space and the fine things in life, so he would have a rich place just off the main raceway. Near enough for entertaining guests, far enough to not hear the city sirens. I’d seen his preference in furniture. Good things, expensive things. Very refined.

I’d know the station when I saw it. It’d be classy, retro, and rich enough to stink like newly printed greenbacks fresh from a fat man’s wallet.

I went station to station until I found one which had a homey feel to it, one that matched the posh furniture and setting I’d seen in the first-ever portal. Now that I stopped to think on it, I’d never seen the other end of a portal after that first day. Had it been thanks to the Bliss that I’d even seen it that couple of times?

I almost wanted to experiment, then I scolded myself. Bliss was a drug, not a toy.

My university town had been the first place I’d lived in which had had real alleys. Strange thing to think about, but I couldn’t help admiring the alleys I walked by now, one or two per block just off the tiny streets. Tiny streets which could fit two cars side by side or one car parked half on the sidewalk and one car to pass beside it, tiny streets lined with three storey brick buildings framed with ancient mouldings. It was dark now, light came from antiquated Victorian streetlamps and bay windows onto a cobblestone street, like I was walking through a real-life Thomas Kinkade painting with swishing skirts and shopping bags thrown over one arm.

The streets seemed familiar somehow, and since I had no better plan, I just let me feet take me where they would until I entered the half-circle driveway of a place which strongly resembled a country club. Without thinking, I mounted the stairs and let myself into the main door. It was exactly as if I’d done it a thousand times before. Behind me the door closed stiffly on its latch, as I knew it would, shutting out the cool wind and welcoming me home.

The front-room settee was a perfect match, right down to the floral print and shape of the couch legs, to what I’d seen through Thaimon’s portal. I was too happy to wonder how I’d found his place.

There was a bouncer just inside the lobby and his expression was far from accepting. He didn’t have a list in his hand, but I suspected that he had a mental list which he knew to check visitors against.

“Name?” he asked brusquely when I approached him.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said and stepped forward. He put out an arm to block me. I added, “I’m to meet Jonah Woden.”

The man’s eyes narrowed and I wondered if I should have used Thaimon’s real name.

“He’s not going by Woden any longer.”

To my surprise, I felt annoyed by his attitude rather than intimidated. “But you know who I mean. If you turn me away he’ll be very cross with you.”

“A risk I am willing to take. Lee, Carl. Please escort this thing outside.”

Two men who looked like waitstaff approached at the command.

“Tell Jonah that Miss Silver is here to see him. If he hears of the way you’ve threatened me, he will not be happy. And he is not the sort of man you want to cross.”

Carl decided to go away with the message. Next I knew, the main bouncer opened the door for me and said, “You may enter. Take the passage to the right.”

I went followed his instructions after seeing that going left went to some sort of games room. Beyond the initial instruction, I was free to wander as I felt like. It was clearly a residence, though a very large one, one filled with hallways which seemed to have been added on over a long time. A manor house, part of which was used as a public house.

There was a swimming pool and hot tub room, as well as a study and a handful of parlours and an old ballroom which had been converted into a dining area. But what drew my attention was a chemistry laboratory located in a rounded add-on. I milled between the phials and browsed through the various names and ingredients, stopping when I recognized a handwriting from a font long ago no longer taught in public schools.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Thaimon’s raspy voice made me jump. I turned to him, feeling a guilty blush on my cheeks already. He had a haircut since I’d last seen him, and his skin had a pinkish hue to it. My first impression of his new body had been that of a vulture, but he’d tamed his appearance since then. If he resembled an animal, it was that of a silver fox.

The transformation made me stammer until I finally choked out, “I did not mean to pry.”

“My house is your house,” Thaimon said, then cleared his throat in an attempt to not start coughing. “What is it that brings you to need me?”

I looked away. “I suppose it is that obvious, isn’t it?”

“You need not be ashamed of it. This was how you always were and I expected nothing differently from you then, nor do I expect you to behave differently now.”

“I don’t want to talk about things from before,” I said. “I just … how did I find your house?”

Thaimon sighed and hobbled into the room, the vitality of his previous body completely gone to the wretched coughing of this older body. “You knew the way. If you do not wish to speak of the past, I cannot tell you more than this.”

I picked up a couple of phials, noting that one of them was volunteer imp’s blood while another specifically stated that it was not volunteer. “The henchman at the front door said you were no longer called Woden. I didn’t think it was appropriate to use your proper name.”

Thaimon’s thin lips curled into a smile. “It is not. But you haven’t had any qualms about using my real name regardless of the situation, yet now you take some care. Are you beginning to soften towards me?”

“It is difficult to not soften at least a little after what you did for Kayla.”

“Do not think that I did it for her,” Thaimon said. “The girl meant nothing to me.”

I knew that Kayla meant nothing to him. How had our relationship changed, the one between Thaimon and myself? I used to think him a villain, the truest in existence. Something to be afraid of and to seek out his demise, but what was I to think now? I let out a slow breath and nodded once. “I’m using you.”

Thaimon held out his arms. “Use me as you will. It is my pleasure.”

“I don’t think it is a nice thing to be used.”

“It isn’t so terrible, if you know who you are giving the privileges to.”

I shook my head and put the phials back in place. “Why? You can’t expect to get anything back from me.”

“Tough Brandy is hard on the outside because she has to be,” Thaimon said. “It is how it is with us all.”

Now that I was with him, now that I’d found him and that I suspected he would tell me what I wished, I found actually asking him the question to be a difficult matter. I didn’t know what the words were, and I didn’t know how to deal with this odd combination of guilt and relief.

“I need your help,” I admitted.

“If you did not, I do not think you would have found me,” he said. Then he offered me his elbow. “Come, let’s find a comfortable place to sit. My hip is giving me issues again. This old codger didn’t take good care of himself and the neglect is difficult to repair.”

As I took his arm, it was almost easy to forget that he had killed a man to be like this.

“Brandy.”

“Jonah,” I said, wanting to call him by his real name but it felt disrespectful to be so casual with him.

Thaimon took me to the dining room with its hard floors covered in a plush rug. A waiter approached with bowls of melon and cantaloupe. As the table was set and food given to me which I knew I would not eat, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d been here before, sitting restlessly while waiting for Thaimon to eat. Perhaps he’d nag me, say I was wasting away, tell me to put a spoon in my mouth. Even more disconcerting was that the way Thaimon raised his spoon was the way I’d known he would.

Part way to his mouth, he checked himself and said, “You should eat, baby, you’re wasting—”

“—away to nothing before your very eyes. At least put the spoon in your mouth and pretend to eat,” I finished for him. At his startled expression, I said, “That was what you were going to say, wasn’t it?”

Thaimon chewed his food, watching me as I put the fruit bowl to the side and leaned forward. The waiter made no sign of caring when Thaimon gestured for the man to take the food away.

Once the waiter was gone, I took out my pillbox and took my medications just a little bit early. The last thing I wanted to do was start sniffling in front of a worry wart.

“What do you have there?”

I should have realized he’d ask. Revealing them to him in my palm, I said, “The red one is something for the Bliss aftermath. The white is a general make-the-cold-symptoms-go-away tablet. And the capsule is an antibiotic for ‘open wounds’.”

Thaimon frowned. “So you did get a blood vine scratch.”

“It didn’t do anything.”

“You were lucky.”

Given what had happened to the witness, Lowe, and to Wraithbane, I had to agree with Thaimon’s assessment. I took the pills quickly and said, “I was not intending to take up so much of your time.”

“The sentiment is kindly phrased, but say what you mean. You are impatient for my answer, but I am not so impatient to give it. Besides, you have not yet settled your last debt.”

Thaimon reached under the tablecloth and withdrew a folder in his hand, a little smudged from having been tossed out the car window. Even so, it did not mark the tablecloth when he put it down beside my water glass.

How he had gotten it, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care enough to waste time asking. This had been the price for Kayla’s release from the slavers. Thaimon had bought her and given her to me because she was my friend. The price Thaimon had wanted from me was simple: read what was in the folder.

“As greatly as I enjoy your presence, Brandy, baby, I do have an appointment to keep after I finish my meal.” Thaimon coughed his lifetime smoking habit cough. “And I do not want you to be in any more debt than you are in at the current time.”

I swallowed hard and lowered my eyes to the folder. “I once met with a woman who read cards. She said that if I were to bring up my past, it would change my future. Is this about my past?”

“If you are asking, you already know the answer.”

“I don’t know if I can do this, Thaimon.”

“You can, the question is if you will.” Thaimon finished his fruit and studied me. “If you choose not to pay your dues at this meeting, I will not hold it against you, but nor will I be able to give you satisfaction for the purpose of your visit.”

Just this once. For Bane. “You want me to tell you what they’re about, right?”

“Correct.”

I set aside the place setting and opened the newspaper clippings. Once more I feared that they would powder away to nothing beneath my fingertips, though they did hold together except for a single small rip. When I was done, I said, “The first one detailed a woman’s capture. The next involved her trial and testimonies of the victims. Last came the verdict: guilty, life sentence. There, I’ve read it.”

Thaimon was half-way done with his main meal. “Read it again. You skimmed through it the first time and didn’t understand the material.”

He was going to make this hard, wasn’t he? I didn’t read it again, but I did say, “The first article is about Charlotte Lovell, known to the papers as Dreamweaver, accused of kidnapping, black magic, and infiltrating the pharmaturgical trade, she was arrested by the White Wizard Council.”

“Good, go on.”

“The second one,” I licked my lips nervously, “is about the people who went missing and their families, how she used them for experiments to make her drug.”

“Read that one again.”

“She kidnapped people by transfiguring them into horses and no one thought twice about seeing her on the road with a young colt. The drug she was working on was Bliss.”

“Hmm.” Thaimon finished chewing. “It didn’t say the drug name in the article, but yes, it was Bliss.”

I was struggling to keep calm. “And the third one reiterates all this again, then states that she was found guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, but the victims didn’t feel this was fair as she was dying anyway.”

“And their solution was?”

“It doesn’t say. Under debate.”

“Ah,” Thaimon said. “That was the article I lost. Nevertheless, I will not hold you to the missing copy. This will do for now. Thank you for being so patient with this old man. Now, what is it that you wanted to ask of me?”

I had inteded to blurt out as short of a query as possible, but instead I found myself starting with, “We got a call this evening. The witness had had an encounter with a blood vine, and he went … he went revenant.”

“I’m sorry,” Thaimon said. He seemed genuine.

“That was why you didn’t want me scratched by the vines?”

Thaimon nodded. “At times, you can control your own vines, but never another’s. They’re terribly risky. What happened next?”

“Another man had already been exposed while the first was incubating the revenant. We lost him, too.”

“If the damage is done, why are you here?” Thaimon’s eyes narrowed. “You are not harmed, and I know you would not have come to me to save your own skin. However, you would do it for another. Is it Nicholas?”

My lip twitched, my breath hitched, and I didn’t say no.

“Brandy, baby,” Thaimon extended a shaking hand and patted my arm. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have been an ass.”

My throat was clogged and tight with stress and unshed tears. “How do I help him?”

“Believe me, he was a noble opponent. Though we wished each other dead, he had suitable reasons for wanting me gone, and he made life a challenge. It won’t be as interesting without him.”

“Thaimon!” I said. “Please.”

Thaimon held my hand and made eye contact. “I have never known the cure to the blood vines. That was you. You tried to explain, once, but I couldn’t understand.”

“What do you mean you couldn’t understand?”

“Where I was, am, a hobbyist, you were a scientist. I could understand you well enough in general concepts and a couple subjects, but once you began to get technical and detailed… you never had the patience to explain it all. You still haven’t the patience.” He wouldn’t let my hand go. “But as you’ve spent your time here with me instead of with him, I will tell you what I can. You said you needed purple from outside, silver from you, and red from the victim. You said you needed burning oil and sparks. Imp ink. There was another thing, but I do not recall what it was. Never could, you know.”

I slumped back. “So that’s it?”

“Brandy…”

“No, just. This isn’t right.”

Thaimon sighed. “I can tell you one last thing, but you won’t like it. It may help you now.”

“What is it?”

“If you don’t want to pry into your past…”

“Tell me.”

“A witch’s trial lasts a very long time, particularly one such as Charlotte’s. She was incarcerated in 1895.”

I refrained from asking what the point was.

“Her full sentence didn’t begin until ninety years after the verdict. At the time of her arrest, her possessions were confiscated and either destroyed or auctioned to pay for the trial. Amongst the items auctioned was a book which I had enchanted to appear like a cook book. It has other magic, older magic.”

“What are you saying?”

“That a witch’s spell-book always finds a way to return to its owner. If you know which book it is, you may find answers.”

I shook my head. “I know the book and there’s nothing of use.”

“It wouldn’t happen to be the great-granna’s cookbook? That wouldn’t be it. Oh, it’s a spell-book right enough, but they don’t start to migrate towards you until after your magic awakens. You’re simply holding it until its real owner comes around.” He paused. “There isn’t another book which found its way into your possession soon after Blissing?”

I shook my head. “They’re all old books from my move. I’ll have to try things until the very end.”

“Take whatever you need,” Thaimon said. “The way out is back the way you came. And don’t hesitate to visit me again, for any reason.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“It would be rather rude of me to deny you entry to your own home. Best of luck, and I do mean that. It isn’t often I find a person I dare to grow fond of, even if he is sworn to killing me.” Thaimon hesitated long enough that I started to leave. “Brandy, wait. About the other matter. You need to know, you should know, you weren’t guilty. They chose you to take the fall.”

Time was ticking, but I couldn’t resist. “The fall for what?”

“I fear you’ll find out soon enough. Now go.”

***

I returned home but I did not remember the journey. It was a blur of portals, half-consulted maps, and one stop in the dead center of a park where I just stood there and envisioned an alternate world where it hall had happened very differently. To say I regretted any of this was wrong. But it ached, this knowledge that Wraithbane who had endured challenged beyond my knowledge was going to succumb to a revenant scratch. Thaimon’s words about time echoed through my ears and I continued onward until I was home, sitting restlessly by the fire.

I needn’t say anything, I knew, I simply needed to go to him and hold his hand. No call for farewells. He’d know, my presence alone would say far more than I ever could. Admitting defeat to him wasn’t the issue. It was admitting it to myself. I was the problem. I stared at the passionflower on the mantle above the fire. Half the things Thaimon had said I knew what they were, but not the rest. Not what was in the book. A book which had found its way to me recently, one which I hadn’t ploughed through. Ever since the Bliss, life had been so…

I lost the train of thought.

Bliss.

The Bliss den.

Whiting’s Bliss den, where I had been in her basement and a book’s string binding had caught my finger. I hadn’t seen it since that night. Where was it? I didn’t remember seeing it again after that night. It had to be in the van. Dropped on the floor?

I made it to the van and found the spare key in a case under the back bumper. The book wasn’t on the floor, or in the glove box, or on the dashboard. Had it gone to a lost and found within the Kettle? Oh a whim I tried between the cushions and I came up with a journal-sized volume made of cracked leather.

I studied the book in my kitchen.

Any disguise Thaimon had put on the book long ago was now worn off, and in its place someone had globbed a wax seal across the pages and cover. It had the imprint of an owl in a tree and a distinct taint of magic drifted about it every time I moved the book. By now my ability to see magic and spells was waning, spurred onward by sheer force of will and a teaspoon of sugar straight from the spoon.

Across the front of the wax was the word Condemned and on the back in tiny print was Break the Seal Break the Law. What had happened to this thing between losing its disguise and now, I couldn’t even guess.

My one hesitation about opening the book was what if it didn’t help Wraithbane.

I knew the book was mine. I knew its smell, the musty staleness of a room which has gone unused and unloved. I knew the smooth glide of leather under my fingers as I rubbed oil into its cover. I knew the way it fit into the palm of my hand, the places the spine would fall open to first. I knew it like I was saying hello to an old, old friend who I hadn’t seen in ages, a friendship which time and distance could not alter.

“Can you save him?” I asked.

The book slipped from my grasp; I caught it, but in so doing, part of the pages went up, part went down. The result was a single line which I could read at the top, the very end of a sentence.

…yes, we can.

Relief, astonishment.

Fear.

That is what I felt right before I dug nails beneath wax and snapped the seal like brittle plastic. A spell emerged from the crumbles, a dozen fireflies denoting that the book had been opened slinking away through the smallest crack in the windowsill, disappearing into the night.

For an instant I wondered if I had made a mistake, if the book had not been answering a question at all. If it had been a coincidence.

But the firefly spell was gone now, off to report my transgression to whoever had made the seal.

I wasted no more time.

Something teased at me, made my insides tremble. At first, as I flipped through the book, I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Not all of the writing was in the same script, it wasn’t even all in the same language. Yet I felt fascination instead of fear. My fingers stroked down margins filled with slantwise notes, lingered over sketches which began as amateur and evolved to masterful before becoming novice yet again. Letters would disintegrate into unwieldy blobs then become crisp again, the result of a writing implement—a quill—being repaired.

Botanical sketches faced details of malformed anatomy, records of names, services rendered, and payments. Notes on recipes and variations. A chart of the moon and placement of the stars, stories of constellations. References to parlour tricks, an illustration of a bottle stoppered with a cork, part filled with boiling oil and a bit of phosphorus, lines around the bottle denoting light. Titled simply Long Life Lamp.

Abruptly it all changed. A portal spell, using quotes from unnamed sources to construct, questions when information didn’t match. Explanations for trial and errors, quickly written, very smudged. Next came a list of wards and spells and defensive charms, many scored through. More trials and errors.

Then it slowly became normalized again, but this time the tone was cautious, frantically involved in its records, more prolific than ever. Drawings of men, beasts, and ghosts filled gaps in narrative, the words themselves asking how to kill the monsters, how to prevent their existence, by necessity asking what they were and how they came to be. Revenants appeared frequently, a source of terror and frustration, a problem rejecting any and all remedies.

The context of these pages flitted in the periphery of memory, a shadowy impression which I understood but could not explain. With time, I’d know the surrounding events, just like looking at an old box filled with memorabilia from years gone by. But time I did not have. A hunch, a fragment of memory, perhaps just the way I felt I’d handled this book before, led me to a page near the end.

It had no heading, but the list was plainly on its own.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Purple from a Petal

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Silver from Self

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Red from Patient

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Oil to Burn

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Sparks

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Vanilla

Combine Oil, Sparks, and vanilla in a soup bowl filled Half full with these Things. Attend patient, set oil mixture alight. Purple is to collect the red and hold it in its center. Be very very close to Patient with the bowl on its chest so it inhales the fumes. As you commit the purple and red to the flames, admit it with three puffs of silver. It WILL smell very poorly on account of the type of oil used, but endure until the purple and red is well incinerated and color returns to victim’s lips.

It was something, but not exactly what I’d hoped for. For all the details which had gone into previous pages, why was this one so sparse? Why the vague references to color, why not real items, things I could put my hands on and—then I remembered the portal in the blood mage lair. That I had fixed using items of different colors. This recipe wasn’t beyond me if I went about it without panicking.

The purple was the passionflower. I grabbed it from its vase. Red from the patient would be blood. Silver from myself was what, exactly? Magic? But I couldn’t cast any. I felt I should know the answer, but I didn’t.

A soup bowl, then. All of ours were gigantic, not likely to be close to historic portions, so I grabbed a sizable coffee cup instead. That ought to be about the volume of a soup bowl from a century ago. Vanilla extract was in the cupboard, the real stuff from a Madagascar bean. Here’s hoping there was truth in advertizing. Sparks, sparks…I considered this puzzle while heating up some canola oil on the stove. Was there any Syrian sage root remaining from our cleansing thing, or had we burned it all? One frantic search through kitchen, den, and bedroom later, I found a big wad of shavings in the compost bucket from where we had peeled off the thickest of the bark. I washed it, hoped it was good, and poured the bubbling oil over it, releasing hot vanilla scent into the air.

That left blood from Wraithbane and silver from myself. As I rushed out the door, I had a nagging feeling I was forgetting something.

***

Wraithbane was sleeping. I tried not to wake him as I considered how to get a drop of his blood. Nervously I checked the door behind me. Shut, no sign of Doc Mike or anyone else.

“They’re looking for you.”

I yelped and nearly dropped the bowl. Wraithbane’s cracked lips parted into a smile.

“Scared you. Not revenant yet.”

I put a hand over my heart, calming it. “No, but you’re starting to sound like one.”

His laugh was the creepiest thing ever. I regretted making him amused. It had been a fateful move, though; it made me realize that his blood wasn’t red, but black. Reminded of how bad his health was, I sank slowly into a chair and stared around his room.

The doctors had been trying, if the symbols arching over the door and around the bed were any indication. Incense had been burned, too, leaving the air thick with so many scents it smelled sweetly putrid. Even an IV drip was secured to his arm, the bag still full and slowly seeping into his body.

“I see people have been busy while I’ve been gone,” I said.

He grunted, clearly not caring for their attentions. “They unlocked your bedroom door a half-hour ago. They’ll come check on me before doing anything.” He licked his dry lips. “If you have more craziness to add, do it. I’m expecting them back any minute.”

Time seemed to freeze now that he’d put me on the spot. What was I to do now that I had two unknown items? The red and the silver, what…

Wraithbane opened his eyes, revealing how mottled the whites now were with red. “Is there a problem?”

“No!” I sprang forward and thought for an instant. “I need you to cry.”

“Cry?”

“I need one of your tears.”

“I don’t cry.”

“Stop being macho.”

“I’m not being ‘macho’. I don’t cry unless I get dust trapped beneath my eyelids.”

“Fine,” I said and jabbed him once in the eye with the stem of the flower.

He hissed in pain. His skin grayed and I thought he was going revenant. He strained against the straps, making them creak and my skin crawl. Then he blinked hard and said, “I can’t rub it with these things on.”

“They’re staying on. Cry or I’ll poke you again.”

A tear streaked down his face on the other side, for some reason emerging from the un-harrassed eye. Quickly I reached over him as the tear slid off his jaw. Midair I caught it on the flower.

That was when Wraithbane bit me.

My arm had brushed his lips and now a fold of my skin was between his teeth. I stiffened in terror, not daring to move lest his teeth tighten down and break my skin.

He released me, my flesh unharmed except for rapidly fading indentations of his incisors.

“Had to get you back for stabbing me in the eye,” he said.

I punched him in the chest. “You!”

“Me what?”

“Thank goodness you didn’t clamp down. I have enough Syrian sage room for you alone.”

“You do have a cure.” He sounded relieved.

“Yes, but I don’t know the final ingredient. Red from you, now silver from me, but what is the silver?”

“Can you see?”

“Not very well, it’s all fading into normalcy now. Even real life Technicolor looks kind of pastel.”

Wraithbane frowned. “What could it be?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem.” I groaned and cupped my head in my hands. “I can’t believe I’ve come so far to be stopped now.”

Though it had not been very long ago since I had gone to the Bliss den to pick up Kayla from a party, the event which had started this madness, it felt like it had been years. Everything had happened so fast. Facing down the woman who had brewed my Bliss, confronting her and stopping her, a feat deemed impossible by those who worked in the Kettle alongside me. Going through that fateful bone mine. Taking the blood oath in Hell’s Canyon. Living through the slavers and now this. He’d been through all of it with me, and now … I realized Wraithbane was smiling.

“What?”

The grin got bigger.

“What?”

“Just remembering what happened last time one of us was in the infirmary. Pity we couldn’t do it again.”

I remembered. “You kissed me.”

“You kissed me.”

“Whatever.”

“Deny it, mo chroi, deny it.”

“What does ‘mo chroi’ mean?”

He shifted against his straps. “Your breath.”

“In what language?”

“No, the silver. When you were blissed, I saw your breath. Silver.”

He was right—when I’d been able to connect strongly with my ability, my breath was silver not the usual white fog. It made sense. “The book says I need to do three puffs.” I patted down my pockets. “Crap, I left it.”

“Left what?”

“The matches in the kitchen drawer.”

“My lighter. Behind you.”

Knowing I was not following the instructions exactly—the root and oil should have been burning already—I hurried to balance the coffee cup on his chest, warning him not to move. Under his skeptical raised brow expression, I struck the lighter and discovered that a match would be a much-preferred tool to ignite slightly cool oil. But it did light, and when it started to smolder and the smoke billowed out, the Syrian sage root began to catch flame as well.

Sparks joined the smoke, bright white starlets. I expected them to curl in on themselves and dissolve into black embers, the way they had before, but something about the addition of oil and vanilla made them expand in the smoke. I could have watched the hundreds of starlets growing into full stars, but I had a job to do. With three puffs of my breath, breath which transformed into silver tendrils, I committed the passionflower and tear to the flames.

The new sparks unfurled as they emerged from the oil, becoming slender leaves which burned in the air with the stars. As the passionflower recoiled into itself, it replicated itself over and over in the spell. The third breath forced the entire mixture together and it whirled around, the starlets and leaves and smoke and breath dissolving into each other. A mauve mist replaced the earlier show, and it was this that Wraithbane inhaled.

He started coughing. And coughing and coughing, so violently that I thought he was going to be sick. My hands flew to the straps binding him to the bed, but I stopped myself before I could undo them.

His skin was becoming translucent, like oil poured over paper. His eyes were fully and truly red, and his nails had become long, dark claws.

Had I caused this, or had I been too late? I would have slunk back, but horror held me exactly in place, freezing me with the bowl still smoking right there by his face.

I remembered how the others had changed, the way they’d strained against their bonds, the way their screams penetrated my nightmares until they’d fade and fade until they were nothing but empty vessels begging for it all to be over. It was so easy to go wrong, easy for them to refuse treatment, easy for them to just succumb to the pain of the present.

“Breathe it in!” I yelled at him, though with his coughing, it wasn’t like he could stop from inhaling. It was stupid, I knew it, I should take the warning signs now and leave before he went entirely revenant and I was trapped here with him. “Bane, come on.”

It wasn’t like he wasn’t trying. What more could I ask of him?

“Snap out of it.”

His eyes bulged and his chest swelled with a long, rasping gasp which made me cringe inwardly. Every muscle strained and I thought the straps were going to give beneath his strength, that he would rise from the table and start the drifting, misty existence of a revenant.

He went lax. Just as suddenly as he had heaved against his restraints, he fell limp against the bed, his head lolling off to the side. The smoke was gone. The fire was out. The cup clanked as I put it aside.

My hand shivered as I reached to touch his chest. “Nicholas?”

The name sounded wrong coming out of my mouth. I shook his chest, trying to stir some life out of him. “Bane?”

Slowly, his head turned in my direction. His cheeks were pink, his lips red, and his eyes the usual hazel I’d grown to know. Relief made my legs collapse and my vision blacken around the edges.

“I’m still alive, but my head is splitting.”

Holding his hand, I could only nod and try to fight off the instant dizziness which had come over me. “But you’re still human.”

“Still human.”

“Thank goodness.”

It had worked. Relief flooded through me, leaving me weak as if his survival had come out of my own strength. That was a possibility—or it was because I hadn’t slept properly in days. Now I could. I was tempted to slide to the floor, curl into a ball, and let the blessed arms of unconsciousness enfold me.

Wraithbane’s hand tightened around mine, a little too hard. “Brandy,” he said through a raspy voice, “what did you do to save me?”

“What was necessary.”

“Dawn Marie Smith. What did you do?”

My throat locked, the power of him using my birth name somehow forcing the answer out of me.

That was when the door opened, admitting two hefty men in three-piece suits with matching red ties. Even through my fatigue, I saw the quick movements of the firefly spell leading them straight to me. In a single second, they examined Wraithbane, the straps, the spells all over the room. Lastly their eyes settled on me.

“Where’s the book?” one of them asked.

Worn out beyond the point of arguing, I simply said, “There’s no book here.”

Wraithbane lifted his head and frowned. “White Wizard Council. What are you doing?” His question was half-swallowed by a coughing fit. The two men pretended not to have heard him.

Cautiously, as if I were a snake ready to strike, they approached me. Quick as they could, manacles of heavy, cold iron bound my wrists. The fireflies and faint hue of mauve disappeared entirely from my vision.

“You’re under arrest for breaking parole.”

I blinked dumbly. “I can’t be. I’ve never been arrested in my life.”

I expected them to scoff at me, or to say that they’d see about that. Something one-line Hollywood bad-cop style. I wasn’t expecting their hesitation as they hauled me to my feet, nor for them to remove my pillbox from my trouser pocket and place it on the counter beside Wraithbane’s lighter.

They all but carried me out the door while Wraithbane yelled.

“No,” the one nearest me said, his voice sad. “Not in this lifetime, no.”

As they took me through a portal which hadn’t been there before, I remembered the phone call my foster mother had made that morning when she’d been making pancakes and I’d been playing cops, pretending to be a criminal in jail. The smell of burning pancakes and her terrified face, the spilled grape juice, the way she’d looked at me when she said to the mystery man on the other end, “She remembers.”

I hadn’t known what she’d meant then, but now I knew: I was Dreamweaver, I’d been arrested, I’d been framed.

And I was beginning to remember the silent sentinels which had always haunted the darkest hours of my dreams.

 

 

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About Me

I’m an author, editor, and I dabble in illustration, all of which earns my husband pitying pats on the back and the promise that one day, I’ll make money. After skipping across Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Leicester I landed in Yorkshire, UK, where I never get a sunburn and it is seldom too hot to enjoy a steaming mocha.

About Blissed

Blissed is the scandalous lovechild of thriller, horror, fantasy, romance, and things I don’t want my parents to know I’ve written. The format—deciding to go with episodes instead of chapters—comes about because it’s somewhere between a short story and a chapter. Each episode by itself forms a whole story, but they contribute towards a larger overarching story as well.

Barring extenuating circumstances, there will be one new Blissed episode every other week. Plans are in the making for a podcast, too, so stick around if you want to hear the accent that makes everyone ask where I’m from.

See you later,

Nicolette


Episode 7 Silent Sentinels

When Brandy Silver picks up her friend from a party, she doesn't expect to be forcibly drugged—or pursued by a demonic wraith. Now she's witness to a bliss den that the police pointedly ignore and, worse, the drug can be deadly. What she saw makes Brandy a target for a dangerous magical underworld, and worse, her partner Wraithbane is injured in the line of duty. To save him, Brandy must look into her past and the creation of Bliss. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Silent Sentinels is the seventh episode of Season 1 of the Blissed series. There are plans for 10 seasons, with about 10 episodes per season, each episode about 10,000 words long. (Except apparently this one, which is a bit longer than normal.) To catch every episode, please sign up for my newsletter. Hope you enjoy Silent Sentinels. Nicolette

  • ISBN: 9781310173158
  • Author: Nicolette Jinks
  • Published: 2015-12-03 18:50:09
  • Words: 13189
Episode 7 Silent Sentinels Episode 7 Silent Sentinels