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October Sky

 

October Sky

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Alledria Hurt

Table of Contents

October Sky

Dear Reader

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“The well,” a voice called. “The well.”

Emmaline Simmons sat up in her bed and hunted for the source of the sound. At first, in the grog of sleep, her vision blurred and nothing came to her. A moment later, as she blinked her eyes clear, a man materialized in the mirror. He beat on the mirror as on a pane of glass and screamed though what she heard came out as a muffled whisper.

“The well.”

“What well?” She sprang from bed and rushed to the mirror. The strangeness of the situation lost in the vestiges of a dream.

“The well of souls.” The man in the mirror started to fade. His edges became clouded and indistinct. It drew closer and closer to his center until nothing remained of him but a glowing medallion. Emma searched the eyes of that little skull for answers but none came. It disappeared as well soon after. Kneeling in starlight before her mirror, Emma’s heart beat fast. Something had happened, but what?

 

Morning peeped in the window and Emma awoke to stretch. The night before curled unclear in her memory, but she scooted out of bed and went to the mirror just the same. It sat in the corner reflecting the patterns of the room back at her. Kneeling before the mirror, she pressed her hand to the object. Her palm faced her. Her eyes sought some answer in the view, but there wasn’t one to be had.

“Emmaline?” Her grandmother poked her head in. “Aren’t you up?” Seeing Emma still in her pajamas, she pushed the door open and stood in the doorway. “Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be?”

With a squeak, Emma threw herself toward the closet. Mr. Amon’s shop. She was supposed to open. Oh god, she was late. Grabbing a sweater and tossing it on the bed, she planned her outfit on the fly. Long pants, an undershirt, then in the drawers for underwear, all in muted fall colors. The October sky had dawned brisk, blue, and chilly. Her grandmother watched her for a few moments then said,

“I’ll be downstairs putting on some oatmeal for you. Hurry down.”

“Thank you,” Emma said as she dragged her nightshirt over her head. It landed in a flop inside the closet door. Emma dressed in record time and stopped only to drag on her boots. Her eyes went to the mirror once again.

“The well of souls,” she said. What did that mean? Long boots on, she headed down the stairs. Maman, her grandmother, puttered about near the stove pouring hot water into bowls to soak the oats.

“I don’t think I have time to wait for that to cool.”

“That’s all right. I made a thermos of coffee for you. Take it with you and get something warm when its time for lunch,” Maman said, pointing to a red thermos sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. Emma pulled her coat on and buttoned it to her throat before pulling a cap over her head. Then she grabbed the thermos and headed out the door. Stepping out into a fast blowing breeze she shivered momentarily before trudging through the frost toward town. Mr. Amon wouldn’t be in until nine. She still had time to get there before he did.

 

Holding the thermos in one hand, Emma pulled the ring of keys out of her coat pocket and fitted one in the lock. The tumblers turned and the door popped open with an audible sigh. Emma stepped into the shop and shut the door behind her. 8:30. Plenty of time to get everything set up so that when Mr. Amon got in, everything would be ready. She hurried to the curtain hiding the back of the shop from the public and put the thermos down and set to waking the shop from its nightly slumber. Walking over to the massive chest of drawers behind the counter, she laid a hand on it and tapped her fingers in a quick two step pattern and said,

“Good morning.”

Lazily, a drawer opened on the far side. Another, closer to the top, opened and snapped shut in a quick motion. All over, the drawers yawned and shuddered. The red cabinet with gold fittings rattled slightly as it woke. Afterwards, she moved each of the shelves and tapped them, bringing them to life. All over the shop, the sound of rattling glass started. The shelves rearranged their bottles themselves putting the more expensive concoctions to the back and rotating the stock by age while Emma watched.

The alchemist’s shop would be open for business in just minutes. Emma, meanwhile, went to make herself a cup of coffee as the waking procedures worked themselves out.

Half an hour later, Mr. Amon, a tall slight man of Middle Eastern origin, bustled in. He stamped his feet there on the front step and took a deep breath of his shop as he stood in the middle of the stock floor. Emma brought him a cup of coffee from his private stash which she had taken the time to brew just as he liked it.

“The shop’s all ready for you.”

“I see,” he said. “Very good. Have you wrapped the portion for Mrs. Snow?”

“Already and packaged just as you ordered.”

The white wrapped packets sat on the countertop waiting for the final invoice to be attached. Mr. Amon insisted on doing that himself in his own crabby, tight handwriting. Emma didn’t argue. His shop. His rules.

“Would you be willing to take it out to her? She’s visiting with her sick aunt and simply cannot take the time away.”

Emma cocked her head. Mr. Amon asking her to leave the shop during business hours just to deliver to a client? He never did that. Oh well, that would mean out in the cold she went.

“Of course, sir.”

“Good. Let’s get the first of the new orders started and then you can take it to her. She’ll need it round about lunch time.”

He shrugged out of his coat and handed it to her before heading toward his mixing cauldron. The new orders for the day were laid out according to complexity, easiest first.

“Emma, I believe this first one you can do yourself,” he said before taking a sip of his coffee. “It’s only a wonderroot transformation spell meant for the parties on Halloween.”

Wonderroot had a short lifespan so it could easily be used for something as short as one night. Emma looked at the name on the order.

“Michael Harpoon, do you know him?”

“I should think you would. He’s a high schooler such as yourself.”

Emma colored. His name didn’t ring any bells. Maybe he went to the Prep school outside of town. Going to the appropriate rack, Emma pulled down the wonderroot powder. The recipe called for werewolf hair, which being a potent ingredient, kept in one of the drawers behind the counter. The drawer at first refused to open. The cabinet having a little fun at her expense. Finally, she put her foot down and said,

ZAMARA.”

The cabinet, abashed at being called by name, opened the drawer with a squeal. Two pinches of werewolf hair to make the transformation potent.

“I certainly hope he has checked the moon before using this. Moon madness would be a terrible party favor,” said Mr. Amon. Emma nodded in agreement. A werewolf caught under the full moon spelt disaster for anyone nearby. She combined the ingredients in their proper percentages and took out the mortar and pestle. The wonderroot powder took on a gray glow and threw off tiny sparkles when mixed, but in order for it to fully take on the properties of the werewolf as would be needed for a proper transformation, they needed to be ground together so that the preparation could be taken like tea. Emma began the slow process of blending the ingredients together with slow, even pressure. While it could be done quickly, things would go much better if she took her time and did it slow. The mixture would be finer and thus easier to take.

Mr. Amon sipped his coffee and watched her.

“You are doing a fine job,” he said.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I am glad I took you on as an apprentice.”

Emma smiled. Mr. Amon was not effusive, so being praised was quite good. With a now uniform powder under her mortar, Emma stopped.

“I think it’s done.”

“Then let’s give some of it to Horus and see how it works.”

Horus the mouse sniffed around his cage unsuspecting as always. If he knew what was coming, Emma wondered if he would protest. Taking some of the powder from the pestle, Mr. Amon sprinkled it in the water dish and then fed Horus a little salt to make him thirsty. The mouse went immediately to the water and lapped it down. The gray sparkles floated around him for a moment before his body began to change becoming longer and furrier. His limbs elongated as did his neck. A few moments later, they were looking at the world’s smallest werewolf. Bending down, Emma watched him through the bars as he stalked from one end of the cage to the other.

“How long will he stay this way?”

“With his metabolism, minutes. We haven’t given him enough to affect a long change.” As Emma watched Horus, the door chime went off.

“Good morning,” Mr. Amon said.

The man who entered looked at them both from under his hood. The two men shared a glance and Mr. Amon said,

“Emma, why don’t you go to Mrs. Snow now?”

Emma turned to regard the man and then looked at Mr. Amon. The china of his cup quivered to create a light clacking. She went to get her coat.

“Are you sure you want me to go now?”

He hadn’t moved.

“Yes, right now. She might appreciate getting it a little early.”

The man said nothing. Emma gathered up the package off the counter.

“There’s no invoice.”

“She knows how much it is. Just take it to her,” Mr. Amon said making a shooing gesture. Puzzled, Emma let herself out of the shop into the cold. Her last vision was of Mr. Amon walking up to the man and the two of them standing face to face. Then she was off the steps and going along the street.

 

The house of Mrs. Snow sat on a cul-de-sac on the northern edge of town where the portion of the town wall still stood. The house backed up against the wall as if it were being threatened by the street and looked startled with several large windows. Emmaline knocked on the door with a vaguely numb fist and waited. A man, dressed in the black and white of a servant, opened the door.

“Yes, Miss?”

“I’m looking for Mrs. Snow.”

“You’ll find her at the house of Petunia Evers. Go back up the street, take a right on Greenwich lane and follow it down to Marsha. The house is 26 Marsha Court.” Then he promptly shut the door in her face. Emma blew into her fists and tried not to curse. She should have brought her gloves from home, but had forgotten them in her hurry to be out of the house. Maman would probably scold her for being forgetful, if she knew. Emma shook her head and turned to head back up the street.

26 Marsha Court stood on the corner across from a very similar neighbor. In fact, looking at them, they were twins of one another except one was done in blues, the other in greens. Emma knocked on the door of the blue house. A clatter came from behind the door. It opened to a woman wearing one shoe with a mass of hair corralled in a messy braid. She and Emma caught eyes and Emma bowed.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Snow. I’m with Mr. Amon’s alchemist shop.”

“Oh, yes,” the young woman said. “We’re expecting you. I’m Lucielle.” Lucielle promptly wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed. “It’s awfully cold out here. Let’s get you in the house.”

Bundled inside, Emma began to sweat under the heavy heat. The whole house felt like a sauna. She loosened the buttons on her coat and wore it hanging at her sides. Lucielle went to the staircase in the middle of the house.

“Come on, Mrs. Snow and my mother are upstairs.”

Emma followed her up.

Lucielle went to a door, knocked on it, and then opened it. Stepping just inside the door, she said,

“There’s someone to see you, cousin Snow.”

Emma stopped in the doorway. The three women resembled one another, but only in features. One lay in bed and she wore the frumpiest nightshirt Emma thought she had ever seen. Her face was bright red and she sweated in the heat. Beside her, sitting in a chair, sat a woman Emma thought of as the soul of poise. Every curl in her hair laid down perfectly against her white forehead. She possessed the same mass of hair, but it hung thick down her back. She wore black and silver and a corset.

“Thank you, Lucielle,” Snow said. “Mr. Amon has sent the recipe we asked for?”

“Yes, ma’am. Mixed himself yesterday and then held to increase its efficacy,” Emma said.

“Good. Lucielle, bring me my bag from downstairs so that I can pay this nice young lady.”

Lucielle hesitated, shot her cousin a look, then left the room. From the placement of a chair, apparently Lucielle spent a great deal of time in the room as well sitting on the far side of her mother from her cousin. Emma shifted from foot to foot then held the package out to Mrs. Snow.

“Please take it.”

Four packets wrapped inside of white paper full of a tarry brown substance meant to be mixed with tea or strong drink.

“I will, dear, just as soon as I can pay you for them. That paper will keep me out if I don’t.”

Oh right, that. Emma had forgotten about the charm on the shop’s paper to keep people from using the concoctions without paying for them.

Lucielle came back with a bag that matched Mrs. Snow’s dress and plopped it down in her lap. Then she retreated to the far side of the bed and put her hand over the hand of the woman in the bed. Mrs. Snow came out with her payment, a few bills, but as she reached out to pay her a violent shudder ran through Mrs. Evers, the woman in the bed. Both Lucielle and Snow jumped to their feet to stop her from hurting herself as she convulsed.

“What’s happening?”

“I think she’s dying.”

As quickly as the throes started, they ceased, dropping both women to their knees beside the bed. Emma watched as the two got up, one foot at a time. Mrs. Snow shook out her dress and went to press her hand to the woman’s forehead, but Lucielle beat her to it.

“Her fever’s broken,” Lucielle said. “But her heart?” She leaned in to listen to her mother’s heart. Rising her head, she shook it once before beginning to cry. Emma blinked away tears as well, crying more because Lucielle cried. Mrs. Snow remained dry eyed though she now looked at Emma with harder eyes.

“If only you had come sooner,” Snow said.

“What do you mean?”

“The medicine was for her. Mr. Amon will not be getting paid for this.”

The vehemence took Emma aback, but she couldn’t quite blame her. Her relative had just died.

A shudder ran through the body and Lucielle sat back hard. Mrs. Evers hands groped at the air and a strangled cry tried to come from her throat. Emma and Mrs. Snow watched in wonder as the woman tried to sit up, upsetting the coverlet on the bed. Lucielle reacted first, throwing her body across the other woman’s to keep her down.

“What’s happening?” Emma asked.

“I don’t know.”

Lucielle screamed as Mrs. Evers threw her off with stiff movements. Mrs. Snow then attempted to restrain her, to no avail. Emma watched as the woman lurched forward and attempted to get off the bed but her legs wouldn’t quite work so she fell to the floor. On the floor, she crawled, dirtying her nightshirt. The closer she came, the more Emma edged back toward the door. Then her hand touched Emma’s ankle and grabbed with a vise grip.

“Let go!”

Emma batted at that hand and tried to pull her leg away at the same time leading to her ending up on the floor. Mrs. Snow grabbed Mrs. Evers by the shoulders and tried to bodily haul her away, succeeding in partially lifting the woman off the floor. Lucielle joined in with her cousin and they dragged the crawling woman to her feet where she tottered before lunging at them both. Mrs. Snow reached backward seeking something and came up with her bag which she used to hit Mrs. Evers. She tottered to the floor again, stiff legged and clumsy. Emma meanwhile had scooted herself out into the hallway where she watched with wide eyes.

Mrs. Snow hit Mrs. Evers again, bashing the bag down on the woman’s head. Once, then twice. The third time, blood came spurting out. Mrs. Evers’s skull cracked. Lucielle grabbed Mrs. Snow’s arm and held her back from hitting her a fourth time. The body continued to jerk and try to crawl, but it made no headway. Emma couldn’t unsee the way the woman twitched.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know, but I think it’s over.”

Lucielle collapsed over the body of her mother and had a storm of tears complete with thunderous sobs. Mrs. Snow watched. Emma pulled her knees up to her chest and waited for her own shaking to subside.

“I have to make a phone call,” Mrs. Snow said and stepped across Emma to go down the stairs. Picking up the packet forgotten on the floor in her haste, Emma stood up. Lucielle appeared to be going nowhere. Emma wondered if she should comfort the poor woman who shuddered through her tears. Wiping her sweaty brow, Emma started down the stairs only to hear.

“You don’t even care, do you?”

Lucielle’s eyes were weeping agates in Emma’s vision.

“Ma’am?”

“You don’t even care that she died.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“No, you’re not. You just want to be gone. Well go. Be gone. Take off.” She shooed with one hand and wiped her tears with the other. Emma continued down the stairs. “Heartless,” was the last thing she heard Lucielle say as she made it to the lower floor. Mrs. Snow stood in the foyer with the telephone pressed to her ear.

“Yes. I want to report a sighting. What do you mean there are others already reporting things?” she said. Emma slid past her and stopped at the front door. When she turned back, Mrs. Snow waved her away and Emma went back out into the street. The cold slapped her in the face and she quickly buttoned up her jacket. After being so warm returning to the cold was even more miserable. It felt as if her fingers instantly went numb once again. She trudged back to Mr. Amon’s shop with the vision of that woman crawling across the floor toward her and Mrs. Snow savagely bringing the bag down on her head. But the strongest vision was the one of the blood and how it ran in pearls down the woman’s face after Mrs. Snow cracked her skull.

 

The sky at the edge of the backyard was painfully clear in the cold. Emma looked up at the spread of stars with wonder. No matter how many times she gazed at the sky, she always found herself wondering at what she saw. Beauty incarnate. Maman moved around somewhere behind her, coaching guests on the proper places to look to see certain astral features. They awaited the true star of the evening, a constellation called “The Well”. It would appear in the northern sky for only an hour or so, but while it lay there, it would send forth shooting stars. Or at least, that was what was supposed to happen.

Emma felt uneasy. Her dream of the night before had come back full force as she stood under the stars. She returned to the table and poured herself some more hot chocolate. Midnight would come along soon enough and the well would light up the sky with a beautiful display. The brown liquid steamed in her cobalt mug. Other stargazers talked in pairs and threes about what they saw or would see.

“The Well of Souls,” Emma said to herself after a sip of her hot chocolate. She had never heard the well called that before. It seemed so dramatic. She sipped more of the hot liquid hoping to warm up some. The biting cold of late October seeped into her bones despite her coat though making waiting for midnight a misery.

Turning back to the group, she counted heads. 12 people not including herself milled around in the backyard with cups of hot cocoa or a cookie gripped in their mitts. A couple wore binoculars like she did. A telescope had been set up at the end of the grounds and pointed in the general direction the well would be seen in. Emma checked her phone for the time.

11:55.

Any minute now.

She trained her eyes on the northern heavens and waited. Supposedly, you could see the well with your naked eye when it first appeared in a flash, but she didn’t want to take chances of missing it. Picking up her binoculars she shifted the viewfinder to make the stars bigger and brighter. As she waited, she found herself breathing shallow. It was hardly the first time she had seen it, but it seemed special every year. As if it were true magic.

“It’s time,” someone said. Everyone turned their eyes to the sky.

In a sky full of bright, beautiful stars, nothing unusual showed. Emma held her breath. Any moment now.

Nothing.

Letting out her breath in a slow sigh, Emma tried to catch the eye of her grandmother. The older woman said something in a low voice and the group nearest to her began to move inside. Emma wasn’t with them. She stayed outside, waiting, hoping for the moment that didn’t come. Maman put a hand on her arm once everyone had gone inside.

“Come on.”

“Maman, what happened?”

“I don’t know, dear, but I have a strong feeling this is not good.”

 

A rhythmic thudding woke Emma from her sleep. The man in the mirror had returned. He beat on the glass from inside the mirror and sought her attention. When she sat up, he said,

“The well. You must help me.”

Emma rolled out of bed and came to the mirror. Placing her hand over his, she said,

“How?”

“Come with me.”

The medallion resting on his chest flickered with a red light then turned white. When it did, Emma’s hand fell through the mirror and landed in his. She snatched her hand back and the surface followed her movement slowly until the silver dripped off her fingers. Emma checked her hand for injuries. There was nothing wrong. Then his hand extended through the mirror.

“Please,” he said. Looking at the hand extended toward her, Emma took a step back.

“What will happen to me?”

“Time is short.”

“Are you certain?”

“The spell sent me here. You must be the one I seek. Help me.”

The medallion’s light began to fade like a sun ray caught in a cloud. With two strides, Emma moved forward and grabbed a hold of the man’s hand. He drew her through a chilly curtain to stand before him. Putting her feet on the floor, Emma was reminded that she wore neither shoes nor socks. She could hear Maman scolding her for letting something so simple pass her by.

“Who are you?” Emma asked.

“I am Cedric and you are the one who will save us all.”

 

Cedric wrapped his cloak around her as she shivered.

“I’m sorry to drag you from your world,” he said. Emma nodded. “But our need is dire.” Emma waited for him to elaborate, but he stopped, cocking his head to listen. “We must go. Someone may have heard.” He hurried her across the circular room away from the mirror and into a corridor where spheres of soft light glowed the color of cooked butter. Padding along with him, Emma felt her heart begin to thunder. What had she done? Following a stranger into a strange land was madness. Yet she had done it. Now she reaped the consequences. Cedric stopped at a corner and peered around it.

“This way.” His steps were light and hers lighter. They fled together down the hallway. At the base of a tower, they mounted the stairs. Up and up they went until Emma thought they must have been a hundred feet high. Throwing open a door, Cedric bowed her in ahead of him. A carpet greeted her feet as she stepped inside. It had a lush flower pattern. Cedric entered behind her and shut the door. In what could be called a fireplace, crystals sat and emitted light and heat in sienna sparkles. The room was warm enough that Emma could doff the cloak. She threw it over the back of a chair set next to a table. Beyond the table, a window sat shut. The lattice work appeared small and fine. Turning on her toes, Emma took in the man who had brought her. The skull medallion at his throat swung as he stooped to warm his hands near the crystals.

“Where are we and what is going on?”

The room seemed to grow smaller as Cedric stood up. He stood a foot over her height, though now looking at him, he couldn’t be much older. Perhaps college age. Her first impression made him older.

“First, thank you for coming. I have given you no reason to trust me.”

“Then show me why I should trust you now.”

“I will, I promise.” He went to a small cupboard and pulled out a jar and two glasses. “Please, let me offer my hospitality, faint though it is.”

As he went about pouring an amber liquid into the two glasses, Emma took a further look around. Installed well above head height were more of those globes, though these were dark. The walls were covered in more flowers like the carpet. It gave the room the appearance of growing. The sienna crystals in the fireplace were large, hexagonal things. She could see her face reflected in their sides. Beautiful.

“Have a drink.” Cedric offered her a glass then sat down. His own glass sat untouched on the table. Emma held her glass before her but did not drink from it, waiting instead for his explanation of what could be so urgent.

“What is your name?” Cedric asked.

“Emmaline.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful young woman. You are not at all what I expected. I thought I would met with a wizen miser or a crone when I cast the spell upon the winds, but it brought me back to you not once but twice. Therefore, you must be the one.”

“The one for what?”

“To cure the King.”

Emma had a goose walking over her grave shiver and looked at Cedric with wide eyes.

“Cure the king?”

“Yes, he lies upon his death bed and only he can reopen the well.”

“The well of souls.”

“Yes, you know of it?”

“No.” Emma found her way to her own seat on the far side of the table. “We don’t call it the well of souls. We just call it the well and it’s a constellation that appears during the fall.”

“Here, the well of souls is a place. It is the place where all souls cross over. When it is closed, souls cannot come through and our kingdom suffers.”

“What happened to the king?”

“I do not know. His affliction is strange and the court physician seems taken aback by his illness.”

“What can I possibly know that a physician wouldn’t know?” Emma asked. “I’m just an apprentice alchemist.”

“Alchemy? You have studied alchemy?”

Emma hesitated. “Yes.”

“Praise to the stars. You are the one I seek.” Cedric shot up from his seat. “We must take you to see him.” In his excitement, he nearly danced across the room. Then he stopped, so suddenly he had to catch up with his feet. “But Lawrence will seek to stop us.”

“Who’s Lawrence?”

“His revered chancellor. He controls who sees the King now and keeps those reins tight. I don’t think he wants the king to get better.”

“Is that why you were rushing me through the halls?”

“Yes, because he cannot know you are here. It will take subterfuge to bring you two together.” A look of cunning crossed Cedric’s face that Emma didn’t like. Getting up, she began to pace.

Now Cedric watched her as she moved along in front of the crystals and back again.

“I can’t do this, can you send me back?”

“No.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“I cannot send you back until you have cured the king. Certainly you must understand.”

“No, I can find you someone better. My teacher, Mr. Amon. He’s a true alchemist and can do more than I ever could.”

“But the spell did not bring me to him, it brought me to you.”

“Maybe so that I could bring you to him,” Emma explained.

Cedric shook his head. “You must be the one. The spell cannot be wrong.” He got up and opened a door. Beyond it was a bed. “I offer you my bed for tonight. I will lie before the stones. You need have no worries. This will be an easy thing for you with your knowledge.”

Walking into the room, Emma looked around. Beside the bed, another small pot of stones warmed the air. She crawled across the comforter and ducked beneath it. Despite her misgivings, the comforter felt warm and inviting after the bare chill on the soles of her feet. She snuggled down and though her nerves were a touch frayed went to sleep in minutes.

 

Emma found herself awake in the dark of morning waiting for something to happen. No sounds issued from the other room where Cedric lay. What to make of him? He appeared only a little older than herself. He claimed to be doing the best he could for his king, the king of the well of souls. Emma wrapped her arms around her covered knees and stared hard at the line of light under the door. Maybe he would reconsider what she had said and send her home. Mr. Amon would be a much better choice to do some sort of alchemy to save a king. Though that thought brought her round to the stranger who had come into the shop the day before. He had agitated Mr. Amon certainly, but why?

Shifting and shuffling came to her ears and the door opened a crack.

“Emmaline,” Cedric whispered to her.

“Yes.”

“If you are awake, we should go to the king now before the castle wakes.” He entered the room on quiet feet and stood with the light at his back. Emma tried in vain to read his shadowed face. Throwing off the cover, she put her feet on the chilly floor.

“Do you have shoes I can wear and perhaps something more substantial than this nightshirt?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

Great. She would meet a king barefoot in her nightshirt. What a first impression that would make. Emma focused her thoughts as she had been taught by her master and stepped forward. If this was how it was to happen, then so be it. She followed Cedric out of the room. They descended the staircase in silence and when they reached the castle proper, Cedric began to sneak. Emma kept her footsteps light and stayed close. They moved through the corridors avoiding others. When the sound of someone coming came to them, Cedric would stop and hide in the shadows. Emma did the same. Then once the sound left, they continued on. Before long they came to an ornate door with skulls in profile. A man, perhaps a guard, stood beside it. Cedric crossed the floor to him.

“What’s your business?” the guard asked.

“A petitioner to see the king.”

“You know well that the king sees no one. Chancellor Lawrence will hear your case.”

“This can only be heard by the king himself. Let me in to see him.”

“You have to go through Chancellor…”

“The Chancellor will let no one see him. Let me through.”

Emma waited at the edge of the hallway, keeping herself small to avoid the gaze of the guard. The two men argued for another moment before the guard said,

“If I let you in, you must say nothing to anyone. It’s my head if I don’t do my duty.”

“I will say nothing. You have my word.”

Cedric gestured for Emma to join him. They proceeded through the door together. The light thud of the door shutting behind them made Emma jump. Her nerves, calm as they may have been, wound tight. They crossed a sitting chamber and entered into a sanctuary. Supple tapestries hung against the walls and depicted great scenes of what Emma guessed was the past. A strong bed sat against one wall and curtains were drawn about it. As they drew closer, Emma could see a figure in the bed through the light curtains.

Nearby a window allowed the first shreds of daylight in. They illuminated the man lying there. Cedric knelt down next to the bed and said,

“My lord. I have come with aid.”

A raspy, whisper came from the man.

“Cedric.”

“Yes, my lord. I have brought an alchemist to cure you.” He waved Emma forward.

All too aware of how she looked, Emma reluctantly came close enough to see the eyes of the laying man. He had gone pale under what had once been a tan. Strong features said he had been attractive once. Now he lay wasting away. Emma patted his hand then asked,

“What are his symptoms?”

“He’s so weak he can hardly stand. The last time he appeared in court, he had to be assisted on and off the throne. He is flushed, but there is no fever. He shivers and shakes at the slightest breeze. He refuses food, but will sip water if its given to him.” Cedric did not look at her as he spoke. He bowed his head to the man in the bed.

Emma considered what it could be. In the few years she had worked for Mr. Amon, she had only heard of one case like this one and the person had died of it. That either meant the medicine didn’t work or it was given too late to be able to effect a cure. What had Mr. Amon used in that instance? Emma racked her brain. She could see the purple tincture in its clear glass vial. No more than three thumb fulls. It had a relative of wonderroot in it, meant to give it a strong kick. The purple color came from a thread-like herb called Lamia’s hair. Emma pinched her nose and closed her eyes. Most alchemy mixed few ingredients prepared just so. There had to be a third. Was it Demon water? Uh.

A loud clap came from the sitting room. Emma stiffened. Cedric shot to his feet. Three men stamped into the room.

“Arrest him,” the leading man said. He wore a thick, heavy gold chain with a skull emblazoned on a disk. The two others wore the skull across their chest and bore weapons.

“You cannot arrest me, Chancellor. I have done no crime,” Cedric said.

“Your attempt to kill our already weakened king will not succeed. Take him into custody.” Then his eyes fell on Emma. “And your accomplice will suffer with you. Get her as well.”

Neither of them resisted as the guards came to tie leather straps around their arms. The Chancellor watched with stony eyes. Cedric set his jaw and refused to say another word.

 

The few light globes illuminated the lower levels of the castle. The nearest one to Emma’s cell only threw in a glimmer. She curled up in the corner farthest from the door and tried not to shiver. Having nothing but her nightshirt for covering left her feeling cold and exposed. After a few minutes of sitting there, she went to the door. No one stood directly outside, but if she shifted her gaze a bit, someone waited a few doors over. Cedric looked out from the cell opposite hers.

“Cedric,” she said.

“Emmaline.”

“What did you mean when you said only the king could reopen the well?”

The guard standing a few doors over came toward them but seeing that they weren’t trying to escape seemed content to let them have their conversation. It kept Emma’s mind off how cold she was.

“The well is a sacred place. It is opened and closed at the whim of the king. The Chancellor convinced him to close it, meaning it only to be for a day or so, but then the King fell ill and it was never reopened. Every day it remains closed, our kingdom stagnates.”

Emma considered his words. Her eyes slipped to the stone floor, then she brought them back to Cedric’s face.

“Why do you call it the well of souls?”

“Because from the well come the souls of the living to inhabit this, the realm of the dead.”

The realm of the dead, Emma mouthed the phrase again. She stood in the realm of the dead, but death had yet to take her, had it? Or did passing through the mirror kill her? Her mouth went dry and she paced. Cedric’s answers were so clear and concise she saw no reason to argue with them. If they were wrong, then he fully believed in them anyway.

Petunia Evers came to mind. How she had writhed on the floor and sought to drag Emma down. The fear from that moment came into the present and she shivered harder. Was that because of the well?

“Cedric!”

He had disappeared from his cell door and Emma hopped from foot to foot waiting for him to come back to it.

“The well affects the dead, right? Would a person not stay dead if the well were to remain closed?”

“I understand what you’re asking, but I don’t know the answer.”

The guard grunted as if to remind them of his presence. Emma watched him for a moment then sought Cedric’s eyes again.

“I think it’s true,” she said. Perhaps the reason the spell had come to her was Mrs. Evers. She had seen what happened. She knew what could happen. Her imagination saw hordes of those who could not die trying desperately to find their way out of their lives. What would happen to those who stood in the way? She shuddered to think. The well had to be reopened.

Moving away from her door, she closed her eyes. They needed an escape, but how? She felt her way along the wall to the corner, then toward the next corner. There were cloth on the floor along with some straw, a bed maybe. Something grew on the far wall from the door. Her fingers found it and she sniffed it. The spicy but watery scent tickled her thoughts. From there, she moved to the third corner. Here chalky powder covered the lower level of the wall. Finally, she made her way to the center and stood there in the dark. Taking slow, deep breaths, she centered her thoughts. Mr. Amon insisted she do that whenever she attempted something difficult. Escaping from prison certainly counted as difficult. Identify what she had at hand. Morpheus’s beard smelled spicy but watery in its powdered form after it dried. It burned with a sophoric effect. Knockout gas? That would take care of the guard, but the door would still be locked. She needed the door unlocked before she could do anything about the guard. The hazy edges of a plan formed in her mind. It could work, but she needed fire or at least one of those warming crystals. Going back to the chalk, she dipped a finger in it and rubbed her fingers together. Touching her tongue to her fingers, she tasted it. Nothing came immediately to mind. Alchemy could use even the most basic things to do the incredible.

“What are you?” Her tongue tingled and her fingers developed a creepy crawling sensation. She wiped her hands hurriedly and spit several times. “Charmot.” Added to a brew, it would amplify the effects. On it’s own, it plucked the nerves and made the skin crawl.

So she had Morpheus’s beard and Charmot. It would make one hell of a knockout gas, but it needed to be mixed and heated. The cloth could be used to put a fuse on it, if she could get a heat source. Going back to the door, she hung one hand out the small window.

“Hello,” she called. With some clanking, the guard moved down toward her. “I’m terribly cold. Could I perhaps get a heat rock?”

“A heat rock?” he asked. Cedric appeared at his door to watch the exchange.

“Yes, one of those fabulous rocks that create heat. I haven’t much on and no shoes and I’m freezing. You wouldn’t want me to die before the Chancellor has his chance to execute me, would you?” The words came out glib, but Emma felt a trace of fear at the idea of being executed. Best to insure that didn’t happen.

The guard came close enough to look inside her cell. Emma moved back from the door so he could see her more clearly. He knocked his head from one side to the other, then shrugged before going away. Rushing back to the door, Emma watched him as long as she was able. He moved out of sight and Emma stayed at the door.

She met Cedric’s eyes and smiled. He didn’t smile back.

 

Every moment Emmaline waited for the guard to come back she spent on pins and needles. Would he come back with a rock or wouldn’t he? The question tore at her because her entire plan hinged upon it. She strained her ears to hear any movement and imagined she heard mice moving in the walls. More likely rats, but either way not a pleasant thought. After what seemed like an eternity, she heard footsteps returning. She slipped away from the door to her cell and waited. A man’s face appeared in the tiny window and his eyes searched for her. She made herself visible.

“You called for heat,” he said.

“Yes, if you would be so kind.” She even added a little curtsy on to the end. Heavy rattling outside the door preceded it opening. She carefully stayed close to the center of the room just out of reach of the light. The guard put a small pot on the floor and nudged it in with his foot. Inside the pot were several small crystals, barely bigger than beads, but they gave off a delicious warmth Emma craved. She dropped down next to it and hugged it as close as she dared, luxuriating in heat that struck to her bones. While she enjoyed her heat, the door shut and the keys rattled it locked again. No matter, she thought. You’ll open the door again when I’m ready. She lugged the pot across the room to a far corner away from the charmot and the door. There, she set about her plan. Feeling around on the floor, she tried to find a loose stone. She only needed a small one, just enough to act as a scrape and a mortar. The piece that came up under her fingers was too large for what she really wanted, but she would make do. First she gathered some of the Morpheus’s beard from the wall by dragging the rock across it, pausing to listen every few seconds in case someone should start paying attention to what she did. No need to give the game away too quickly. Or get herself hanged all the quicker. With the moss collected, she covered her hands with the edge of her nightshirt and went to get the charmot. She grabbed enough of the loose powder to give someone a deep sneeze and scurried across the room with it. Dumping it into a hollow made out of a piece of cloth she found, she put the moss on top of it and began to beat the two together. It left behind a flammable paste. At least she hoped it would be flammable seeing how she hadn’t had time to properly dry the moss before adding it to the recipe. Too late to worry about that now. She needed to get a move on before someone remembered they were down there and decided to see about them. One guard would be hard enough, more than one might be impossible.

Knotting up the clothe, she inserted one of the small crystals into the knot. It would burn through quick enough, so she needed to hurry. The rest she dropped in the rest of the cloth and hay left on the floor. The hay, despite the general damp, caught like a champ and started to smoke.

“Fire!” Emma ran to the door with her package in hand and yelled. Then she slipped into the corner behind the door. The guard, seeing the flames, hurried to undo the lock. Emma huddled in her hiding spot as the flames licked the walls and ceiling.

“Damnable fool woman,” the guard said as he swung the door open. Seeing he couldn’t do much about the fire without some sort of water, he turned back. Emma thrust the now smoking packet into his face. He took a step back and reached for his sword with a cry, but the smell took effect. He stumbled backward and then crumbled to his knees. Emma dropped the pack next to his head and stomped it out. The smoke remained as a haze hanging just above the floor. Urgently, she checked the guard for keys. Nothing. They hung from the lock. Emma grabbed them and went to Cedric’s cell.

Her companion looked at her and then strained to see past her to see what was going on.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” Emma said.

“I agree.”

She fumbled with the keys trying to find the right one. The first three didn’t fit and the smoke boiled out of the room into the hall. The scent of the smoke changed as it caught the Morpheus’s beard still attached to the wall. Before too long, it would reach the charmot and the mixture would affect the whole castle. They needed to be gone before that. One of the keys fit and she yanked Cedric’s cell door open. His eyes had fallen to lidded and he breathed slowly.

“Don’t breath too much of this in,” she said, covering her own mouth and nose with one sleeve. “It’ll put you to sleep.”

Cedric followed her lead. Then the pair hurried down the corridor away from the fire. Just as they reached the staircase upward, they heard shouts above them. They ducked into an alcove at the bottom of the stairs just in time for two other guardsmen to come rushing down. They coughed and hacked in the smoke and Emma led Cedric up the stairs. At the top, she looked first one way then another, her eyes burning from the smoke. With a cough, she motioned Cedric to pick a direction. He took the east hallway at a clip. Emma ran after him. The air smelled sweeter the further they got from the fire, but they wouldn’t enjoy freedom long if they didn’t get out of the castle. Cedric must have known that because the next thing she knew, they were in a courtyard. Several people milled about. Without stopping to consult, Cedric struck out for the gate. Emma did her best not to wince too often at the sore treatment of her feet.

“Just like summer at Papa’s,” she said to herself after stepping on a small stone. She took full deep breathes of the clear air and kept Cedric’s shirt in sight. The pair merged with the others who were leaving the castle and soon they were lost in a small crowd. Fortuitous since riders from the castle rode by not long after. Emma ducked her head and did the best she could not to look out of place.

 

The group they were with passed time by singing songs Emma knew none of the words to, but she found it comforting just the same since they hadn’t turned them into the riders. She could imagine what would happen now that she had set the castle on fire. Punishment would be swift. All the more reason to avoid it. She and Cedric stayed within sight distance, but didn’t travel together. It suited Emma fine. She had problems enough without worrying over whether or not he was okay. A little heartless maybe, but she was working on his problem: curing the King. She could almost feel the ingredient list under her fingertips, except she couldn’t call them out. The relative of wonderroot was probably Urcen, which oddly enough resembled a potato before it was cut up and boiled in the recipes. Lamia’s hair, which made it purple. Reminded of it, perhaps one of the ingredients was Charmot. That still left the liquid used. If only she had access to Mr. Amon, he would certainly know what it was without having to look. Caught up in her own troubles, she hardly noticed when the group began to disband. However, when she realized she was without any kind of human shelter from discovery, she looked around.

They were in a village. A circle of houses looked in on what could be called a market square. The others in the group had dispersed in various houses. The lower half of each house was made of stone, but the thatch looked like the straw Emma had set alight. Cedric stood in the center of the road looking at the houses as well.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Hammerford, the closest village to the castle,” Cedric said. “I’ve traded here a time or two.”

“Do you know where we might find a weed called Lamia’s hair?”

“No.”

He ushered her out of the road as a cart attempted to pass. Waving to the driver, he said,

“Maybe someone here in town knows where to find it.”

The market square stood empty. The depressions of its stalls were thick and deep. Cedric rushed her through to the other side. Up the road, another rider appeared. Ducking behind a building, they crouched to get out of sight.

“How are we going to ask them if we have to keep hiding?”

“Once we’re inside a house, we should be fine,” Cedric said, his mouth quirking into a smile. “I’m certain we’ll be just fine.”

His optimism did nothing for her. The rider passed them a few minutes later. Emma stretched as best she could when she stood.

“Come on,” Cedric said. They went to the first house off the square. It looked no more ornate or out of place than any of the others. As good a place as any to start. Knocking on the door, Cedric leaned in. The door opened a crack.

“May we come in, we are poor travelers seeking aid.” The door shut with a definitive snap.

“We’ll try somewhere else,” Cedric whispered. Three houses closed their doors to them before one stood open. A jovial man, thin and long limbed, stood in the doorway.

“Come in, come in. Succor you may have.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” Cedric said as he bowed to Emma to precede him. Standing inside the hut, it appeared a wonder how the tall man fit inside. His head seemed to be rubbing the thatch. “As I said, we are in need of aid.”

“And how may I aid you?”

“Do you have any clothing you might be able to part with?” Emma asked. “I have so little.”

The man, older than them both, looked at her appraisingly.

“Indeed you have little. I have a pair of breeches and a few shirts you might try. They’ll hang long on you, but it’ll be more than you have.” He went to the far side of the hut and rummaged through what looked like a rag pile. He came up with a pair of breeches and two shirts which looked as though they may have shrunk at one time. They certainly no longer fit him. Emma took the clothes and put the breeches on first before fitting the shirt over what she had on. Layering made it warmer and warmth she needed.

“If that’s all I can do for you, I consider it a great service,” the man said.

Cedric said, “Perhaps one more thing. Do you know where to find the weed, Lamia’s hair?”

“Lamia’s hair?” he asked. “I’ve never heard of such a thing and I’ve seen more turns of time than you have.”

“It’s a weed flower with long purple petals. It grows in wet places.”

“Sounds like something the cows would eat and call mighty fine.”

“Yes, but it’s important.”

“Perhaps you should see old Matilda up on the lake. She knows where to find all the things that are growing and important, if you catch my meaning.”

“Up on the lake?” Emma asked.

“Yes, there’s a lake along the river some miles away. Matilda lives there. Prefers her peace and quiet she does, but she’ll help if there’s trouble.”

“What is your name, sir?” Cedric asked.

“You can call me Father William, all my children do.”

“Well, Father William, thank you very much for your aid.”

“Good souls deserve it and I like to think all souls are good.”

“May it be so.”

Emma cinched the shirt tight around her waist.

“I’m ready to go if you are.” Then she started walking. With color in her cheeks, she asked, “Do you perhaps have any shoes I could wear?”

“I doubt anything that would fit my feet would do for such as yours, miss.”

“Well, thank you anyway.”

“Yes, thank you and we’ll remember you to Matilda when we see her.”

“Tell her I still thank her for curing the cough of my eldest daughter. She’s married now and a mother of her own. In fact, my daughter’s daughter is expecting now.”

“Of course,” Cedric said. Emma nodded with a smile. They left Father William’s house and struck out along a side road. They came to the river soon after.

“If we stay near the river, we can’t miss the lake,” Emma said. Cedric agreed. They followed the river into the forest.

 

A cool orange sunset found them on the edge of the lake. Nearby they could see a cottage with white puffs of smoke issuing from it. Emma’s sore feet kept her from running toward it in a fit of joy. As it was, she winced and eased her way toward it through the mud. When they reached it, she knocked on the door. From inside,

“Stand on no ceremony. Come in and tell me your plight.”

Emma opened the door on a tidy scene. Drying herbs hung from the rafters in bunches. A wooden bed lay covered in blankets. A woman, ample and aging, stood over a pot hung on a well-stoked fire. Cedric entered behind Emma and shut the door.

“Miss Matilda.”

“No Miss necessary, just Matilda. And to my ear you sound foreign, from where do you hail?”

“A long way from here.”

“Then the price of dinner is the tale of your journey and don’t leave anything out or there’ll be no dessert.” Matilda waved them to places near the fire and continued stirring.

If she found any of Emma’s story strange, she said nothing about it while she served a thin soup full of vegetables to the pair. Then for dessert there were apples warmed near the fire. Once, the tale, including the harrowing escape from the castle and the meeting with Father William, was told, she turned to Cedric and said,

“Shame on you for bringing a child out of her home without explaining the dangers.”

“Our need was and is dire,” Cedric said. “And she came of her own free will.”

“I did. I guess, I should have counted the cost better.”

“No matter,” Matilda said. “You’ve come to me and I’ll see what it is that I can do for you. You say you’re looking for an herb called Lamia’s hair?”

“Yes, it’s a weed flower with long purple petals and a silver-black center.”

“That’s generally something the cows eat.”

“So Father William said,” Cedric said.

“And he’s right, the old coot.” She stacked the bowls together and set them aside. “But there is one field where I know the cow herders don’t go. It’s too close to old Hammerford.”

“Old Hammerford?” Cedric leaned forward.

“Yes, the original site of the town. Long since given up to beasts and ghosts.” Matilda stoked the fire and fell silent. “I’m reluctant to send you there, but it’s the only place I know for certain you can find that flower without sending you ranging across a hundred different fields.”

“We’ll go there. Just point us in the right direction,” Emma said.

“Yes, we’ll go.”

“Promise me that you’ll be careful. Whether or not the place is truly haunted, it is old and rotting. Not a good place to go.”

Matilda gathered a few blankets off the bed.

“You’ll be staying here for the night. Not sending you out in the cold to do battle against ghosts.”

The morning started with heavy pounding on the door. Matilda, already up, whispered to her guests now just rising.

“It’s best you leave by the lake.” She ushered them to the far side of the house beside the bed and opened up a hole in the floor which lead down into the water. “Go now. Swim away. I’ll keep our visitors busy.” She shut the trapdoor behind them and they could hear her walking across the floor. Above them came voices.

“Matilda. We seek two fugitives.”

Emma eased into the water and swam away with Cedric not far behind. They stayed mostly below the water, but not too far from the shore so they could get out once they were out of sight of Matilda’s cottage. Out of the water, they did the best they could to squeeze the excess out of their clothes, but they were left drenched.

“She didn’t tell us where to find the town,” Emma said.

“It’s most likely further up river. We’ll come to it if we keep walking.”

“And what if we don’t?”

“Then the next village we come to, we’ll ask around. We cannot go back.”

Despite wanting to, Emma knew Cedric was right. Matilda risked a lot to send them away. Going back would only put her in more danger. Emma grabbed Cedric’s hand and they started down the way together with the river at their side.

 

Emma and Cedric headed through the forest away from the river. The guard continued to search for them, so stopping was hardly an option. They needed to get as far away as they could. However, men on horseback had the advantage of speed. Wits and strong limbs would be the only thing that could keep them ahead. Several hours later, they came to a fence post jutting out of nowhere. The overgrown ground near it sported flowers of various colors, but no purple. They passed it and kept going. The first ramshackle house they passed only had three walls and half a roof. The former front door hung off what was left of the jamb. Emma poked her head inside to see if anything grew through the floorboards. Didn’t want to miss what they were looking for just because the place had an air of ancient decrepit mindless malevolence. A well sat in the center of the group of falling houses. Everywhere profusions of grass and flowers. The ground at least wasn’t rancid. Emma’s shoeless feet liked the soft dirt and grass over the harsh terrain of the forest. Fewer roots to trip over and stub her toes. Cedric stopped at the well and looked down it.

“It’s gone dry, I think.”

“Maybe why they left?”

“Maybe.”

It sounded better than something driving them away, which Emma felt in her bones. The ground might not have been rancid, but the air carried a scent of something disturbing. Emma looked into another house, checking the floor and even the walls for the chance something could be growing there. No purple. Blue. Green. Red. Yellow. No purple. She clenched her fists and said,

“I hope Matilda was right.”

“I do as well,” Cedric said. Together they approached a third house, Emma’s eyes sweeping back and forth along the ground. Cedric stepped up on the stairs and poked his head inside.

“We’re looking for purple flowers, yes?”

“You see some?”

“Straight through there.” He pointed. He lead the way through the back corner of the house where a support had fallen in. In the field behind the house, there were a profusion of purple flowers. Emma dropped to her knees beside them and began to pick them by their long stems doing the best she could to not bruise the flowers. Cedric stayed close by.

The sound of scraping on wood brought her attention back to their surroundings.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.” Cedric looked around and drew closer. “Hurry.”

“I am.” She stuffed the flowers into a pouch made from the edges of Father William’s shirt. “We should go.”

They headed back the way they came only to have to dash into a hiding spot in the shadows. Riders were in the village.

“We need to get out of here,” Cedric whispered.

“How?”

“Maybe this way.” He slid to one side and uncovered a pocked mirror. “I can send us through.”

Emma remembered all too well going through the mirror from her bedroom to this new world. To go through another mirror meant ending up somewhere else and she wasn’t certain she was prepared for that. However, she swallowed those words and nodded. As Cedric worked on the mirror, Emma slid back to the doorway and peeked out.

The riders had dismounted and were moving in pairs from one house to the next. They would get to the house where they were hidden in a few minutes.

“How long?” Emma hissed.

“Soon. Get closer,” Cedric said. She moved back out of sight, one hand gripping the edges of the shirt. The mirror lit with a phosphorous light. The blemishes in the surface stood out like bronze roses against the light. The sound of footsteps set Emma’s heart racing.

Getting too close.

“Come on,” Cedric said.

A shadow appeared in the doorway. Cedric wiggled his way through the mirror and Emma went to follow. Just as she reached the mirror, the shadow entered the house.

“They’re here! They’re here!” the guard yelled. He charged forward as Emma dropped through the glass into Cedric’s arms.

The sword came through aimed at Emma’s back, but as she dropped it slid over her shoulder leaving a shallow cut as it snapped off when the mirror closed. It hit the floor with a clatter. The two of them stood in a dressing room. Emma didn’t know where, but recognized it immediately.

“We need to go.”

She led the way out of the dressing room and onto the boutique floor.

“Where are we?” Cedric asked.

“I’m not sure, but we need to leave.”

The cashier looked at them both with their queer clothing and let her mouth drop. Emma didn’t say anything to her and swept past. Cedric was in step as they reached the door.

“Have a nice day.”

“Thank you,” Emma said. Then they were on the street. Cars whizzed by on the thoroughfare. Emma did a quick turn to look at as much as she could and said,

“I know where we are. This way.” She started down the street. Cedric however stopped to stare at the cars.

“How without horses?”

“There are things called motors,” Emma said. “Let’s go.” Her free hand looped through his and dragged him along. They moved through the town at a hurried walk, Emma’s bare feet eliciting more than a few odd looks. Of course, it didn’t help that she carried a bunch of flowers around in her shirt. No one stopped them, however, so she kept going.

Cedric’s head swiveled in one direction then another trying to take everything in. Thankfully, Emma knew where they were going. On a nearly empty side street, they came to an abrupt stop. Several yards away, a person tottered on the sidewalk. They moved with a slow stiffness that made Emma cringe. She pulled Cedric away.

“What’s happening?”

“We don’t want to go this way,” she said.

“Emmaline?”

“Cedric, let’s just go.”

It lurched toward them in the light of day. Emma always thought creatures like that needed the cover of night. Except she kept seeing them in day. It’s hands came up, grabbing, searching. Emma tried to drag Cedric’s unmoving bulk, but he stood his ground.

“Why are we running?”

“Let’s just go.”

She ducked down a side street, fully expecting him to follow, but he didn’t.

“Cedric!”

She ducked her head out of the alleyway and called him again. He shook himself out of a stupor and came after her.

“Why do you have a soulless here?” he asked.

“A what?”

“A soulless. Creatures who are caught under the power of the well who only seek to make more of their own.”

“Maybe because the well’s closed on this side too.” Emma ran. He kept up.

Mr. Amon’s shop appeared to be open. The store hours said it should be, but when they entered, no one came to see about them. Emma walked slow over the carpet. Horus squeaked as if in recognition. Cedric looked around at the bottles with awe on his face.

“I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It’s an alchemist’s shop. My master should be here somewhere.” She dropped the flowers on the mixing table and went behind the curtain. No one home.

“He must have gone out,” she said. His files were close at hand. She riffled through the recipes looking for something that would tell her she was on the right track. Cedric poked one of the drawers, trying to draw it out, but Zamara was having nothing to do with him. He pulled on the handle. It refused to move.

“Leave the cabinet alone,” Emma said as she flicked her way through a pile of cards. “It won’t open for you if it doesn’t know you.”

“Know me?”

“No, Mr. Amon hasn’t introduced you. Zamara doesn’t know you and won’t open for you.”

“It has a name?”

“Of course, it does.” Emma found a card that looked right and tried to read it. Amon’s crabby handwriting made deciphering anything he wrote a challenge. And of course he couldn’t just put a list of ingredients on it, too proprietary. However, she knew Charmot on sight. The symbols for Lamia’s hair also stood out to her.

“I think I have it.”

“Have what?”

“The recipe we need.”

The door chimed. Emma stuck her head out the curtain and said,

“Hello, welcome to the shop.”

The face which greeted her sent her pale. He pulled a gun on both of them.

“Get away from there,” he commanded.

“Who are you?” Cedric asked.

“That’s none of your business, boy. Both of you, come closer.”

Emma almost ducked back behind the curtain, but fear said he would shoot her if she did that. Slowly, she came out from behind the curtain and stepped into the floor. When she drew close to Cedric, she offered him her hand. He took it and laced his fingers through hers.

“The well must not be reopened,” the man said.

“How do you know about that?” Cedric asked.

“It doesn’t matter, just know it must remain closed.”

“The well must be reopened,” Cedric said. With his free hand, he grabbed a bottle from the nearest shelf and flung it at the man. The bottle shattered on the man’s forearm, but it spoiled his aim just long enough for Cedric and Emma to split up. Emma threw herself to the floor and crawled. Cedric hid behind one of the high shelves.

Emma could see the man’s feet from where she lay. He came toward her and then moved away again and she tried her best to stay still. If he didn’t see her, he couldn’t shoot her. She crawled toward the mixing table. It would give her a clear line toward the door.

Cedric was out of her vision and it made her a little antsy. Then she heard commotion. The man rushed forward and tried to shoot Cedric, who took him on hand to hand. There wasn’t much difference in their size and Emma hoped Cedric would be enough to stop him. At the mixing table, she got up to a crouch.

The pair struggled in the center of the floor. The gun went off once. Suddenly the entire shop erupted in motion. Zamara clacked and slammed her drawers. The shelves rattled their bottles and jars. Everything shuddered and cried. Emma grabbed a handful of what was in the mixing bowl, thinking for a moment that it should have been empty, and ran up to throw it in the intruder’s face.

Cedric caught some to the side of his face, but most of it went into the intruder’s eyes. He bawled and clawed with his free hand. Cedric slipped around him. Emma took the card she had and grabbed a few of the flowers before she ran for the door as well.

“Come on!” Emma took the lead. Cedric limped a moment or two before settling into a run.

 

By the time they reached the front door of Maman’s house, Emma was shivering so hard she shook. Her entire body was overcome by it. However, she never lost her grip on the card or the flowers. Having taken most of the way at a dead run, her lungs burned. Cedric had to catch her when she stumbled up on the stairs. Panting, she closed her eyes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“No, I hurt.” Her shoulder snapped at her where she had been cut. Her lungs burned. Her legs were like lead. “But maybe we have enough.”

Maman’s door wasn’t locked and Emma let them both in. The bustle coming from the kitchen told her exactly where her grandmother was. Emma moved into the kitchen, put the card and flowers down, and hugged her grandmother who still had not realized she was there.

“Emmaline?” she said. “Oh heaven. Thank god. You’re home. Where have you been? Mr. Amon has been by looking for you. And I hadn’t any idea.” Maman turned and embraced Emma fully. She kissed Emma’s forehead and hugged her again. “Oh god.”

“Maman, this is Cedric.”

“He comes a bit strangely dressed, and so are you. What’s happening?”

“It’s a long story and I promise I will tell you, but I need to put on some warmer clothes and finish figuring out what this card says and hopefully get us all back to where we’re supposed to be without too much trouble.” Emma’s lack of explanation got an unhappy look from her grandmother, but the woman didn’t argue. Instead, she turned back to the stove and picked up a pot.

“There’s hot chocolate, I was just making some. You two can have it.”

“Thank you.”

Cedric looked into the pot with confusion.

“Hot chocolate.”

“Just drink it, you’ll like it,” Emma said. Then she went up the stairs to her bedroom to change clothes.

When she came back down, Cedric sat at the kitchen table with a steaming mug in front of him. He lazily flipped one of the flowers through his fingers.

“You were right, it is quite good.”

“See, I told you.” Emma sat down at the table across from him and looked pointedly at the card. A few more secrets. The symbols were all there. She just had to decipher them so that she could make it.

“How goes it?” Cedric asked.

“I don’t know. One of these is Charmot. The other is Lamia’s hair. But there are two more that I can’t figure out just yet.”

“Don’t you have your old textbook up the stairs?” Maman asked. “Wouldn’t it have the right symbols?”

“Some of them yes, but this recipe is from Mr. Amon’s private collection. His symbology is different.” Taking her mug of cocoa from Maman, she put the card down again. After a bit of a blistering sip, she coughed.

“There has to be something else I can do,” Emma said.

“You are doing a great deal, Emmaline.” Cedric assured her. Then he reached out to pat her hands. “You can figure this out.”

“I know I can, but I need to do this faster. That way we can finish what you need to do.”

“The King awaits. This I know. But we cannot force you to finish something. Only time will give us the answers we seek.”

“What’s all this about?” Maman asked.

“Cedric’s from a kingdom where the king controls the well of souls. It’s the same well we see in the sky at night during the fall and winter. From this side, if the well isn’t open, then people don’t die correctly.” Emma’s explanation left her Maman looking at her with wide eyes, but Emma didn’t attempt to explain further. Instead, she went back to staring at the card looking for some kind of answer to what those other two ingredients were.

Absently, she listened as Maman moved around the kitchen, an understated hum on her lips. For the moment, she might as well have forgotten about the stranger in their midst. Fine with Emma. Let Maman handle things however she saw fit. Emma would continue with her own problems.

Dinner appeared on the table a few hours later while Emma still studied and wondered and guessed. A green bean casserole with chicken that steamed and smelled wonderful. Cedric didn’t have to be told what it was, he tucked in as if someone had been making this for him all his life. Maman sat with her own plate relatively untouched. She pushed one bean from one end of the plate to another. Emma shoveled food in her mouth without seeing it.

A knock on the door interrupted their domestic scene. Maman wiped her hands on a towel and went to get it. Cedric followed her with his eyes until she left the kitchen. He jumped to his feet when he heard Maman shout. The mystery man hustled Maman back into the kitchen with one twisted arm. Then he thrust her away as if she were repugnant to him. He turned his gun on Emma and Cedric.

“Found you,” he said.

No one answered. Emma moved to slid the card off the table, but he made a tisking noise.

“Leave it there. You get up and join the old lady.”

With the table between him and Cedric, he jerked the gun at the two women.

“Stay over there.” He reached for the card.

Cedric snatched it off the table. The man brought his gun around as if to shoot the younger man. “Give it to me.”

Emma’s hand sought her grandmother’s which trembled. Standing there together, they watched the standoff between Cedric and their assailant. In those moments, Emma had a chance to really look at him. He appeared to be lightly striped. Maybe as an effect of the powder she threw at him. The stripes reminded her of a tiger and when he bared his fangs, she was almost certain he had been hit with a transformative of some sort. Odd. Her hand hadn’t gone striped. Maybe it was a reaction to the addition of the liquid they had thrown at him as well. Either way, he resembled a tiger and attempted to take away something which was hers.

Cedric refused to give up the card without saying a word.

Disrupted, the man shot a hole in the wall above Cedric’s shoulder. Maman made a break for it toward the backyard door. Seeing her move, the man swung around and shot Maman. Emma, caught by the suddenness of everything, stood dumb for a long moment before throwing herself in the direction of her grandmother.

MAMAN!”

The old woman lay on the floor, face down but struggling to get up. Emma knelt beside her.

“Oh god, Maman.” Blood already began to pool underneath her. “Please be alright.”

With a groan, Maman flipped over and put her hands to her abdomen. Red stained her skin.

The man pressed the gun to Emma’s head.

“Stand up.”

He turned both of them toward Cedric.

“If you don’t want to see her brains all over the walls, give me the card, right now.”

Cedric slid the card onto the table, but not close enough for the man to reach it.

At Emma’s feet, Maman bled out. Her groaning became fainter and fainter. Emma searched for some sign she would be fine but all she could see was blood. Then Maman closed her eyes. A tear fell from Emma’s eye and she clenched her fists. A moment later, she turned on the man with those fists beating at him with all her might. He tried to shield himself from her blows, but couldn’t keep the gun trained on her while he did so. She had almost beaten him back when a hand gripped her ankle. Her eyes dropped to find Maman holding her. The old woman’s face had gone slack and ashen.

Emma’s heart thundered. She snatched herself out of Maman’s grip and hopped back to the kitchen table. The man took a shot at her as Maman’s other hand wrapped around his ankle with a vise grip. The shot missed by inches. Then he turned the gun on the creature grabbing him, unloading it three times. When that did not effect his escape, he beat at the woman with the butt of the gun trying to get free. She grabbed his arm while he beat at her and dragged their faces so close they could kiss. He screamed.

Cedric came across the kitchen table and snatched Emma’s arm. The scene transfixed her.

“Come on,” he said.

Grabbing the card, she headed for the stairs, eyes full of unshed tears. Stumbling, she made it to her room and Cedric shut the door.

“We have to leave,” he said. Emma shook her head. Pressing his hand against the mirror, he chanted. The words sounded familiar though Emma couldn’t place them. Then the mirror lit with an inner fire.

The bedroom door jumped then creaked in protest. The second hit thudded louder than the first. Cedric looked at the door and then at Emma. He unlooped the medallion from around his neck. “If we go, I fear he may follow. I’ll stop him here.”

“What?”

“Go now. Cure the king.” He thrust her toward the mirror and stepped away. “Go.”

Emma went.

 

The mirror returned her to a room she had seen once before. Night had fallen. The light thrown by the mirror faded and left her in dimness. She put her hand against the glass and slid to the floor, tears thick and heavy in her eyes. The medallion bored a hole in her palm. Looking up, she hoped to see some sign of Cedric following her. Nothing came. Emma sobbed. The card slipped to the floor by her knees.

“Maman,” she said with a sniffle. Her final view of her grandmother as an ashen faced soulless taunted her. It capered in circles in her mind, revealing her weakness. How could she have let that happen? Her fists gathered at the edges of her shirt and she almost ripped the hem. There in the gloom, alone and cold, she cried. Without Cedric, she knew nothing of where she was. Without Maman…without Maman, she wasn’t even sure who she was. Hiccuping sobs threatened to cut off her breath. Emma wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered.

Alone.

She would have to go on alone.

The thought terrified her. Yet she wiped away her tears and took several cleansing breathes. She was alone. A circumstance immutable. However, she didn’t have to cry and be afraid. Those were things she could change. The words of her master intruded on her low thoughts. Center yourself and you can see the universe. Putting her hands on the floor, she touched the card. It slid away from her fingers. Emma picked it up and put it before her eyes.

Four ingredients. Two deciphered. Two to go. The puzzle awaited her. On the floor, she drew the symbols for the two unknowns.

Someone walked by the door to the room and she stopped waiting for them to come in and find her. No one came. With a sniffle, she went back to writing. The symbols curled beneath her fingers, perched waiting for her to understand.

“It’s a tincture,” she said. “There has to be a liquid.” The whorls of the symbol floated under her eyes. Then it came to her. “Blusaga. Of course.” One more.

The light grew dimmer as she worked. Beyond the door, a torch was lit and then whomever lit it walked on. Every time someone neared, she held her breath. Yet no one entered to see about the mirror room. So she continued in quiet secret. One of the symbols she was certain meant flower, but there were dozens of possible flowers. What in concert with Lamia’s hair, Charmot, and Blusaga would give her a deep purple liquid capable of curing what ails? One came to mind and her heart sank.

“Royal rose.”

Royal rose, the finickiest flower she knew of. It required cultivation, so unless somewhere in the castle grew it, she would never find it. Despair crawled out of its cage and tears fell again. “Why did it have to be that? Why couldn’t it be a weed like Lamia’s hair?” she lamented. The idea of trying to find it seemed impossible.

The more she looked at the card, the more she knew it meant royal rose. Without a doubt, the hardest flower to find. If she had known that before, she could have raided Mr. Amon’s small stash. However, she had no recourse. If she wanted to make the potion, she would have to find it.

Determination poked its way out from under the despair and forced her to wipe her eyes. Where was one most likely to find a cultivated flower? In a garden. Maybe the castle had one. Better to try than not.

Instead of trying to find her way in the dark, she curled up as tight as she could in the corner and tried not to think of the things waiting for her in sleep. Maman’s face floated before her vision for some time before the oblivion of sleep finally took her and wisked her off to the possibilities of morning.

 

Early Emma uncurled and started to stalk through the castle. In her mind, she stayed only a step away from capture, but what she sought could perhaps change everything. A heady idea to be sure, but one she held onto for dear life. Skulking through the castle, she tried to stay out of sight. She slid around corners and hid in alcoves as she searched for what she hoped would be the answer to Cedric’s prayers.

The fact that she didn’t know how she was going to get home came back to her now and again but she contented herself with considering what would be the best thing for them all. Reopening the well had to be done. She could consider what would happen to her afterwards.

Morning’s young light made its way into the close corridors and Emma breathed in the hope it brought. Finally, she came to a hall that ended in an open door. Sunshine poured in the door and Emma made her way through it. Around her, green reigned. Taking in a deep breath, she walked through the trellis near the entrance. Several star-shaped flowers opened nearby, but they weren’t what she looked for. Passing them by, she heard someone lightly snoring. When she rounded a curve in the path, she came to a full bush and a man napping in a chair near it.

The Chancellor napped in the chair. Emma ducked back around the curve certain he’d seen her. Then she let out a slow breath. Emma crept back around the corner and looked at the vegetation there. Above the Chancellor’s head, a rose hung heavy. There were other plants on the bush, but that appeared to be the only mature bloom. Emma bit her lip. It would have to be that one.

Of course, it was that one. The one which dared her to get caught. As she looked for alternatives, she realized a guard stood with his back to her only feet from the Chancellor. Yes, she would certainly dare to get caught. However, it was a royal rose. With it, she could fix everything. Or at least the King. Without it, she had nothing.

She would have to get close enough to pluck the flower, preserving most of the petals, not fall on the Chancellor and not alert the guard.

Her palms sweat. In spite of the chill, she flushed. Someone was coming up the path behind her, she ducked to one side and hid. A woman with a basket passed her and went to the guard. Emma wasn’t close enough to hear their conversation, but the woman went away a few moments later. If she was going to do this, she needed to be fast. Getting back on the path, she sidled forward. At the Chancellor, she put one hand on the arm of the chair and leaned over him. Cedric’s medallion hung off her neck and swung. Emma moved back and tucked the medallion away before trying again. One hand on the chair arm, she extended her other hand to grab a hold of the rose. The stem bent toward her as she pulled.

Below her, the Chancellor reached up to scratch his nose in his repose. Emma held her breath and waited for him to quiet. Nearby the guard shifted and Emma froze. When he didn’t turn her way, she tugged on the flower. Further up the stalk, thorns waited. She didn’t dare grab any further back. Her hand around the bloom itself, she tugged a little harder.

A branch cracked. Her eyes snapped shut and she waited for judgment to come.

She let her breath out slow.

The flower began to pull off in her hand. Easing back, she let it come to her. Her feet slid to the ground and she let her weight settle. Finally, it came off in her hand.

She added the bloom to the pocket of Lamia’s hair she had. Together she had half the ingredients. She would have to go down into the dungeon and find the Charmot again. Emma didn’t look forward to that, but it had to be done. The Chancellor snuffled and shifted. Emma tiptoed away. Once she was back among the stones, she let out a sigh. Now to find her way downstairs.

 

Hours later, after an uneventful trip into the dungeon which gave her flashbacks to their escape, Emma stood at the edge of the kitchen. Servants moved back and forth without noticing her, too busy about their own business. She could substitute red wine for the Blusaga, which might effect the efficacy of the potion, but not much. The people thinned out some as time went on and she watched. All she needed was a pot and some wine.

She sneaked into the kitchen.

An empty pot swung on a hook off the edge of one of the fires and she pushed it back onto the flame. Nearby, she grabbed a jug of wine and poured it in. Then she added the powder and flowers. The heat would be enough; at least, she hoped. The wine came to a boil and the fragrance changed as everything incorporated. Finding a spoon, she poked the flowers down into the liquid. A smell not unlike lavender and vanilla exploded from the pot as the flames licked the sides.

“I hope that’s what supposed to happen.”

A plume of saffron yellow smoke welled up from the bottom with the scent. She checked the card again to see if it said what it should look and smell like when it was done.

A shout got her attention.

The woman running toward her wore a long skirt and an apron. She yelled, then grabbed a spoon off a table to beat at Emma with.

“Stop,” Emma said. “Please.”

The spoon came down on her arms and she shielded her face from the blows.

“Stop!”

The woman grabbed her by her wrist and dragged at her. Emma planted her feet then jerked backward, pulling the woman off her feet. The woman yelled at her again and tried to bring Emma along.

“Come here!”

“No.”

They had a tug of war. Another woman entered, then left. Emma pushed the older woman away and grabbed a cup off the table. Dipping it in, Emma came up with 2/3rds of a cup.

“Take me to the King,” Emma said.

The woman looked at her as if she had lost her mind. The other woman came back with a guardsman at her elbow.

“Take me to the King,” Emma said again. Careful not to spill the cup, she let the guard take her by the arm.

 

Before she had seen the king in nothing but her nightshirt; however, she had known little fear. Now, dragged before him fully clothed with an almost full cup of elixir, fear stood out in the hairs on her neck. The guard jerked her to a rough stop at the foot of the royal bed. Her need to see the King had brought her once more into his private chambers. Behind her, more commotion started as the Chancellor strode into the room with several choice oaths. When he saw Emma, he said,

“Seize her, she is one of the conspirators who escaped.”

The guard, who already had her by the arm, looked at him without moving. The Chancellor sidled up to the edge of the bed and seemed to hold a quiet conference with the King who also said nothing.

“Yes, she’ll be taken once more to the dungeon. This time, we will be sure she does not escape,” Chancellor Lawrence said.

“Wait. I have the potion to cure the King,” Emma said as she group gathered closer around her.

“You mean only to poison him in his already weakened state, we cannot allow that.” Chancellor Lawrence stalked around her, his gaze quick.

“I think you only wish to keep the gate closed,” Emma said. “Otherwise, you would let me heal him and go about my business.”

She held onto the cup with both hands. A polite cough came from the bed. Lawrence moved quickly to attend to it.

“Your majesty?”

“Let her approach,” came the gaspy whisper.

“Certainly, I will have her taken away,” the Chancellor said.

“But his majesty asked that she approach,” a guard said. He cringed away from Chancellor Lawrence’s gaze. The guard at Emma’s elbow pushed her forward and she walked past the Chancellor so close she could feel his presence emanating off him. Then she stood at the side of the King who looked up at her from his bed with pale face and watery eyes.

“Have you peace for me in that cup?” the King asked.

“Yes, your majesty.” In her mind, Emma kept her fingers crossed. If this didn’t work… It had to work. She had followed the directions and brewed it up while the King still had strength. Emma drew back the curtain as the old man struggled to sit up. Finally, he took the cup in both hands and first sipped from it. His mouth curled into a smile before he drank more deeply and as he did so, color infused his cheeks. He drained the cup to the dregs, a boiled petal or two in the bottom. Already he seemed stronger. His face appeared fuller and his eyes no longer dripped water.

“Your majesty,” Emma said. “Can you stand?”

“It has been some time since I stood.”

“May I help you?”

As the assembled watched, Emma helped the old King out of his bed and onto his feet. He stood a bit shaky at first, but held his ground. He stood fully as tall as the Chancellor, who had retired to the edge of the room. The King took one unsure step, but his next was straight legged. He grew confident in his body as they looked on.

The guards each took a knee before their sovereign. Chancellor Lawrence alone stood. Emma ducked her head in deference to her position.

“Will you not kneel to your King?” the King asked. The Chancellor ducked his head and bent his knee.

“Send for my servant. I will dress and greet my people.”

Emma bit her lip.

“Your majesty,” she began, dragging the medallion out from under her shirt. “If I may.”

He said,

“Ask anything. The Kingdom is yours to have.” His voice had taken on a strong timbre, undoubtedly the voice with which he addressed those he took charge of. Then he looked at the medallion.

“Cedric,” he said. “Where is he? Not languishing in the dungeon.”

“No sir, after I confronted him on his dastardly plot to kill you, he escaped along with her.”

“Seeing that her plan was not to kill me, I doubt his was either.” He turned back to Emma. “Where is he?”

“He’s beyond the mirror at my home, I think.”

“You don’t know?”

“We parted ways under the threat of death.” She tried to remember the word Cedric had used when confronted with the creature her Maman had become. A tear trickled out of her eye. “A soulless was near and an evil man.”

“Where are my servants? I would dress now, not later. This must be dealt with immediately.”

At that, Chancellor Lawrence jerked to his feet. “Of course, immediately. All other things must be left by the wayside.”

“No, we have to reopen the well,” Emma said, remembering the problem which had first brought her to them. Cedric needed the well reopened. After all this, to see it not done would be horrid.

“I will reopen the well, child,” the King said. “But first, let us find my retainer who has risked so much to bring you to us.”

“Sire, you can’t reopen the well, remember the problems we were having before, being overrun with new souls. Certainly you understand why it must remain closed.”

“Without the souls from the well, our kingdom dries up, Lawrence. That cannot be allowed. To slow its flood is one thing, to keep it closed is another.”

“But sire—”

“No, Lawrence. It has been closed too long as it is. It must be reopened and I will do so.”

Tall though he was, the Chancellor was no match for the King who had regained his power. The standoff lasted moments before Lawrence dropped his eyes.

“It was what Cedric wanted,” Emma said.

“And he will have it.”

A pair of servants hustled in, between them they carried a plate of food and a goblet.

“And what color would his majesty like to wear today?”

They then shooed everyone from the room. None needed to watch his royal highness dress.

 

When the King emerged from his rooms a half-hour later, he wore deep red. The cloth looked velvety, but Emma couldn’t be certain. She had waited in the hall for him to come out along with the rest of his party. A few nobles joined them in their vigil.

“Come,” he said making an expansive arm gesture. “We shall see to the well and poor Cedric.”

They trooped together to the garden, past the royal rose bush Emma snagged the blossom from, to a dry fountain in a central court. The fountain rose from scarlet paving stones in the shape of an elegant plant. The pool beneath it was cracked and empty. The King came to the edge of the stones and genuflected. Everyone with him, except Emma, bowed. He stepped over the wall and went up to the flower’s stem. It was then that Emma saw the skull hidden in the flower staring down at him. Raising his hands, he cupped the stone bloom. As he touched it, the petals softened and flexed. The skull became more prominent. Traces of water trickled out and landed on the King’s shoulders.

Around them, the stones hummed a low tone. Water poured from the skull’s mouth and the King stepped under the flow as it strengthened. Then he climbed out. His wet shoes left prints on the stones. The humming grew to a crescendo before it disappeared. Water poured through the skull in torrents and took on a spectral quality, becoming nearly translucent.

A servant brought forth a bottle and dipped it in the waters. When it was full, he withdrew it and handed it to Emma.

“For your service to the King, you are offered water from the well of souls. With it, you may restore a soulless to its prior state.”

Emma took the bottle, her mind reeling. Restore a soulless. Maman. Excitement coated her nerves.

“How, what do I do?”

“You must only pour it on them,” the servant said with a smile. “The scent of the well water draws the soul back into the body.”

She would make Maman bathe in it if possible to bring her back.

Together the entourage left the well, but Emma looked back to see Chancellor Lawrence standing there alone. He looked into the water with slumped shoulders. Though she had nothing to say to him, she wondered what he could be thinking.

When they reached the room of mirrors, Emma and the King were alone. With Cedric’s medallion in her hand, she watched the polished surfaces for any sign of something being amiss.

“You’ll have to open the way,” the King said.

“How? I don’t know how.”

“Cedric’s medallion is a part of him, it wants to be reunited. You need only focus on where it leads to see him again.”

Emma placed one hand against the edge of a mirror and thought about Cedric, his warmth, his smile, his strength. The image flickered and she once again looked into her own bedroom. Cedric lay slumped against the foot of her bed with his legs splayed.

CEDRIC!” Emma cried. The man in the mirror stirred, but did not move. She reached out to him, trying to press her hand through. The hand without the medallion could not go through. The hand with it however stretched the metal and found its way through. She called his name again.

So far away, his eyes opened.

“Emma?”

His voice sounded like a distant whisper. She fought to hear it.

“I’m here,” Emma said. “I’m here.”

He crawled the distance to the mirror on his hands and knees. When he put his hand over hers, she grabbed him and began to pull him through. He fell into the room at her feet and stood up slowly.

“Cedric.” Emma wrapped her arms around his neck. He hugged her close. When he let her go, he dropped to one knee.

“Your majesty.”

“Rise, Cedric, you have done well.”

“My loyalty lies with you.”

“And a great loyalty it has been. You brought a great alchemist to our midst to save our lives. Commendable.”

“Thank you, sire.”

“But now she must return home.”

Seeing Cedric again, Emma yearned to talk with him about what had happened, but she needed to return. Maman needed her.

“Will I be able to come back?” she asked.

“I think not. Nor would it be good for you to. It is not your time to be here,” the King said. “Many years lie open for you.”

Her hand crept into Cedric’s who squeezed it.

“You have to go, Emmaline.”

“But Cedric.”

“You have to go. It is for your best.” He refused to look into her eyes as she sought his face. Finally, she let him go and stepped up to the mirror. With the jar under her arm, she handed the medallion back.

“Send me through,” she said with her head lowered.

“Emmaline.”

“Just send me back.”

With the King beside him, Cedric stepped up to the mirror and pressed his hands to it. His low voice chanted words Emma found comfortingly familiar now. The metal glowed and her room reappeared. She dashed through. Landing on the carpet in her bedroom, she looked back to see the mirror full of his face. To him, she waved goodbye before leaving the room and shutting the door.

 

The house looked as if someone had turned a tornado loose on the first floor. Books knocked from shelves. Tables overturned. The dishes from their last meal scattered across the floor. Holes she could only imagine being from bullets dotted several of the walls. Yet nowhere did she find Maman’s body. The bloodstain where she had lain had gone a dirty brown. The drag marks where she moved had turned the same noxious color. Emma moved through the kitchen to the back porch and yard. There she saw her. The old woman bumped against the back fence repeatedly as if she would walk right through it.

Her dress once cheerful now seemed more macabre. One of her shoes had gone missing.

Emma drew close with the jar held out before her like a shield. The creature hadn’t noticed her yet. Each footstep brought her closer and tightened the string around her heart until Emma thought she would choke. Then it noticed her, turning and putting its claw-like hands out.

With one swift motion, Emma splashed the water into Maman’s face soaking her dress and hair.

First the hands came down. Then sputtering.

“What, what?” Maman asked. “And what is the meaning of this, Emmaline, you’ve wet me all up.”

Dropping the bottle, Emma leapt forward and wrapped her arms around her grandmother.

“Maman!”

One handed, Maman dabbed at her face and brushed water out of her eyes. Her other arm curled protectively around her young charge. After the moment of exultation, Emma frantically patted Maman down looking for the bullet hole. Despite the rip in the dress, the skin beneath appeared perfect. With a sigh of relief, Emma let Maman go.

“Let’s go inside, Maman, it’s getting too cold to be out here in only one shoe.”

“Now how did that happen?” the old woman asked, then shrugged. They went inside.

Seeing the state of her kitchen, Maman eyed Emma.

“And what can you tell me about all of this?”

Emma swallowed. “Well.”

“You’re going to stick around to help me clean it up, aren’t you?”

“Of course, Maman.”

The old woman brightened and bustled through to her bedroom up the stairs. Emma watched her go and wondered if she had enough time to call Mr. Amon and make sure he was alright? That man in the shop had meant to do her harm. She could only hope he hadn’t done anything to Mr. Amon.

The phone on the first floor survived the fight though pulled off the hook. Emma rang the shop and Mr. Amon picked up on the first ring.

“Amon’s.”

“Mr. Amon, it’s Emmaline.”

“Emmaline. So good to hear from you.”

“How are you, sir?”

“Quite fine.”

“Nothing bad happened?”

“I don’t know what you are referring to, Emma, but I expect you to be in the shop at 8 am sharp tomorrow morning. There are orders to fill and after that mess with Mrs. Snow last week, I want them handled double quick.”

His manner left her little opening to question, but he sounded fine. Maybe she would find out more when she got into the shop the next day. Maman came down the stairs and Emma said goodbye to Mr. Amon.

They spent the afternoon cleaning the house.

Night fell early as it did in fall and found Emma outside once again. Having seen the well, she wondered why she had never noticed its flower-like shape before, but this time she intended to see it in all its glory. Maman went inside as the wind grew higher and the temperature dropped into the misery range, yet Emma waited. The well meant more to her now than it ever had.

11:59

In the northern sky, it first appeared as a ripple, then it was there, a great blossom pouring forth shooting stars. Each of the stars seemed faintly a different color, but they were nearly see through. Emma watched it all through her binoculars.

“Cedric.”

It was time for bed. 8 am would come early.

Dear Reader

Thank you so much for reading my book. I hope you will take the time to review it on Amazon or Goodreads. Then drop me a line on Twitter or Email about how you liked it. Feel free to use any of the connections listed down below. I would love to hear from you.

 

Connect with Me Online

[Blog] http://alledriaehurt.blogspot.com

[Twitter] @ourladyofashes

[E-mail] [email protected]

[Facebook] http://www.facebook.com/alledriaehurt

 

~Alledria Hurt

OTHER BOOKS BY ALLEDRIA HURT

Objects: Stories of Things

A collection of short stories with Twilight Zone like twists.

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Chains of Fate

Romance and Reincarnation. An immortal king must come to terms with the rebirth of his lover in the body of another.

Available Now!

 

Dark King Rising

A writer is plagued by infidelity and her greatest creation: a brother she never knew.

Available Now!

 

Wearing His Ring

Young Melina Camp takes on a curse and the Kumon in this the first installment of the She Becomes Death trilogy.

Coming Soon!

 

 


October Sky

  • ISBN: 9781310058790
  • Author: Alledria Hurt
  • Published: 2015-12-05 18:05:08
  • Words: 17880
October Sky October Sky