Saturday, February 27, 2016
She was right of course. They all did feel much better the following morning. Physically.
Fairy magic could do little to dispel the haunting images their brains played over and over again in their heads like a security camera video on loop. Beckett assumed it had something to do with the whole "free will" theory, though by the look on several faces, he secretly wished he could offer them some kind of mystical reset button.
In truth, he was more than a bit amazed himself at how well he felt compared to his condition the night before. Except for some general tenderness around the area, the wound in his chest was entirely healed leaving no visible scar. There was zero trace of the soreness across his shoulders and back that only a few hours before had made shifting in bed a painful experience, and the stiffness in his hands from the tight grip of the sword's pommel was now a thing of the past. Altogether, he felt completely rested, fully rejuvenated, and the thought came to him that a morning run might be just the thing to get his day started. But when he mentioned this plan, the others in the group looked at him with horrified expressions, making him recall that a run was exactly how the whole nightmare had begun the day before.
He supposed he could hardly blame them their fearful reaction. After all, he'd taken another human being's head off with a large sword before their very eyes, and then they'd watched him practically bleed to death in his front yard. It couldn't have been a very pleasant experience, and though he wished he could find some way to commiserate with them, he found he could not. From his stand point, Owen had gotten what he deserved, Biblical justice if you believed in all that religious drama. To him, the young sorcerer had simply been another mission, taken out for the greater good with little regret. This hadn't been his first kill. Not by a long shot. And realistically, he doubted it would be his last. Somehow he'd always known he wasn't "like" other people, and he wondered now if that had anything to do with the crazy story the Fairy Queen had tried to feed him about being Merlin's heir. He hadn't begun to deal with that insane bullshit. But there was no way he was going to share any of what he was feeling with the four other people who sat around his kitchen table. If they knew what was inside his head, they'd see him as some kind of inhumane monster. He was pretty sure Kevin already thought that about him. Nope. He wasn't sharing. Not today. Maybe he'd discuss it with Maureen. Someday. But not today.
Maureen tapped the egg against the metal mixing bowl, the sound of the shell cracking making her strangely queasy. She tried not to think about it. Any of it. Not the sound the blade made as it sliced across the young man's neck. Not the gurgling noises he'd made right before his head fell completely off his shoulders, hitting the ground with the thump that reminded her of a dropped bowling ball. She shook it off with a mental dance, then grabbed the wire whisk and began to beat the eggs with a punishing force reserved for someone else.
It was stupid to attempt a complicated souffle on this of all mornings. Besides, from the looks of those around her, it didn't even appear like any of them had much of an appetite anyway. But cooking always calmed her down. It was the way the equation of a recipe met a finished result that was proof the universe still worked the way it was supposed to. So she cracked and she whisked, keeping her mind off the framed mental photo of her husband laying still and gray in a pool of his own blood.
Every so often, she'd look up from what she was doing, and sneak a glance at him, needing reassurance that he was perfectly fine and still with them in the land of the living. He seemed pensive, thoughtful, but not nearly as upset or confused as the others. He looked, in fact, pretty damn good. If he had suffered any ill effects from his ordeal the day before, he was giving an Academy Award performance to hide it. His color was normal, and he didn't seem to move with any type of pain or hesitation, which considering all that had happened, was hard to believe. Once or twice, he'd catch her staring at him, and he'd give her a wink, a gesture that never failed to make her blush and go weak in the knees.
No. Ted seemed fine. Better than fine. And that in itself seemed...well...weird. She thought she'd drop the whole carton of eggs on the floor when he suggested that he was considering a morning run, and he must have read the faces of everyone else, because he quickly gave up the thought and plopped himself in a chair at the kitchen table. It was pretty apparent that her husband was moving on from everything that had happened, and she secretly envied him that ability.
It was certainly not working out that way for her brother. Kevin looked positively morose, his normally ruddy complexion pale and gray, his expression woefully grim. She'd tried to join him for Mass, but the door to his suite was locked, and he'd refused to allow her admittance. Any attempts at conversation were met with polite and distant dismissal, and so she left him alone, confident that when he was ready, they would have it out. She knew she had forced him into doing something that went against everything he believed, and she was suffering from more than a little guilt. But seeing Ted sitting there, healthy and breathing and whole, she knew she'd do it all over again. In an instant.
He was sick. Horribly. Like all his insides had turned to sludge, and the only thing holding him together was a thin brittle shell that wasn't even familiar. He had woken before dawn, without a single ache or pain, and a glance in the mirror over the bathroom sink showed his face free of the bruises and cuts from the day before. He knew this type of healing was naturally impossible, surely the product of some kind of pagan magic, and his first reaction was to lean over the toilet and retch until he couldn't even bring up bile.
Fr. Kevin pulled out the sacramentals for Mass, but couldn't bring himself to continue. He'd heard Maureen rapping on his door, and ignored her whispers to let him in. He knew they'd have to talk, but there was no way it was going to be today. Today was for doubt. For self-loathing and guilt.
For prayer and penitence.
Because she had gone through so much trouble, the group felt compelled to make a half-hearted attempt to consume the gourmet breakfast Maureen had spent the better part of the morning preparing. There was very little actual eating, and even less conversation, each of them making a good show of moving the food around the plate, with lots of head nods about the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the cook.
None of them wanted to be the first to bring up the events of the day before, and the 600b gorilla in the room turned into an entire family. It was the Ridre Dubh who finally started the conversation, taking the lead, and thanking everyone for their sacrifices, as well as apologizing for dragging them into this awful experience.
In bits and pieces, the four of them recalled and commented, discussed and debated, and in the case of the Black Knight's Lady, shed a storm of tears over all that had happened in the past 24 hours. All but the Ridre Dubh's second, who sat ramrod straight in his chair and refused to utter a single word, despite the worried prodding of the people who loved him best. When they could speak no more, Beckett made the decision to head back home to Dollyville, there seemingly being no viable reason to stay on at the cabin any longer, and all five of them headed off to gather their belongings.
In their desire for a quick get away from a load of unpleasant memories, they were packed and ready to leave in less than an hour. The cabin and the surrounding forest seemed to remain under some sort of enchantment, the foliage still thick and over grown, the roses as large as dinner plates and in full bloom fragrance. But none of the five were in any mood to notice the extra dose of natural beauty, bent only on loading up and getting the hell out. The vine covered gates opened on their own to let them pass, and once they were through, closed again, completely covering themselves until they once again blended into the woods around them. Not a single passenger in the departing car turned around to watch it happen.
From her perch high above the entry gate, she watched them go, weaving a quick ward around the car to ensure safe passage, and smiled from the inside out. All was as it should be. She offered a quick song of gratitude to the Creator, and her sweet voice carried through the woods, attracting a bevy of woodland friends that surrounded the Fairy Queen.
She considered calling for the Lord Warrior, but selfishly decided to keep the glorious news to herself for awhile longer. He would surely point out, once again, all the flaws in her plans. It was how he was, and she could no better change him then stop the birds from building their nests. No. Telling him could wait, though she was fairly bursting with excitement. Needing company, Maeve snapped her fingers, and two small dragon nymphs appeared on the branch next to her.
"You called, my Lady?" asked a tiny beauty with lavender scales.
"I have, Mariah. I fancy company this fine morning. And a song. Something sweet and pretty."
The other, impishly petite with scales the color of tree moss, began to work the Queen's dark red hair into an intricate braid, tucking small red roses into the weave. "My Lady seems especially cheerful this day. Are we celebrating?"
Maeve thought a moment, and smiled at them. "Aye, my little ones. We celebrate."
They looked at her, eyes wide with unasked questions, so she continued. "Can you both keep a secret?"
The little dragons nodded, scaly heads bobbing in unison. "Most surely, my Lady! Quick tell us. What be it we celebrate?"
The Fairy Queen opened her hands to the sky, and sighed with pure contentment. "Blest be the Creator! Giver of all life! The Black Knight's Lady carries. The Fay will have a new line to the throne...after one thousand years... born of the houses of Morgan and Merlin."
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2016
All Rights Reserved
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Maybe he was dreaming. At least he thought he might be. It was hard to know for sure based on the experiences of the past several weeks. His body felt pounds lighter, and when he looked down, his cabin was just a minuscule dot in the landscape. For sure he was up, and it was down, and all rather pleasant, this floating about with his face pointed towards the sun. There wasn't an ounce of emotion in him that registered fight or flight, and so he relaxed, relishing the moment of complete peaceful freedom, until the first tug broke his reverie.
The movement was sharp and quick, jerking him down towards the ground. Beckett's first instinct was to resist, to pull in the opposite direction back towards the open sky and sun, but there came the conscious realization that he was now physically tethered to something below. A glance at what he knew to be his left foot showed a twisted rope, two ply strong, securely wrapped around his ankle, keeping him from moving upward. An absurd thought came to him that he was not unlike the giant balloons that were part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, set free to float above New York city with the knowledge that someone else was guiding the journey. Before he could register any type of counter response, there was another strong yank that dragged him further downward, and with it a searing pain somewhere in his chest area. He pulled back with all he had, desperate to find the peace and freedom of a few seconds before. But it was no use. With a powerful heave, he was flung back into the bleeding body on the ground, and then he thought no more.
It was the smell that woke him. The heady mix of a lilac and vanilla oil that Maureen used
to tame her curls into submission, and he knew the body curled next to him was his wife. The Ridre Dubh ordered his brain to crack one heavy lid open, verifying what his sense of smell had already deduced. He was in their bed in the cabin, Maureen sound asleep with one arm flung over his chest. He tried to piece the events together, but every thought was painted with the knowledge that he hurt like hell. As far as he could tell, there wasn't a part on him that didn't throb or ache at the thought of being moved. He could hear the deep, even breathing of heavy snoring somewhere to the left of the bed, surely male, and guessed it might be Kevin, asleep on the antique chaise, though he didn't risk a wave of pain by shifting his head to look.
The light in the room was the golden pink of dusk, and he assumed it was probably early evening. Bits of the day began to filter through his head like frames in a movie, and he worked at organizing them in some logical order. Morning. His run. The dead spider. Maureen's terrified face. Owen chanting some type of spell. The fight in the rain. A sword sticking out of his own chest. The man's head rolling in the mud. The strain of trying to make sense of it all made his head pound, and he contemplated whether or not he could actually make it out of the bed to fetch some pain killers.
Before he could shift one foot, the Fairy Queen appeared at his bedside in human size, decked out in plush purple velvet despite the sweltering summer temperatures. She lay a cool hand against his aching head, and the throbbing in his temple halted, though the rest of him cried out in unfair protest.
"Rest easy, Sir Knight, and do not stir. It will take some time before you regain your
strength. There is no need to force the time table."
His tongue was dry and heavy in his mouth making it difficult to form words. "Owen. Dead. Body?"
"Yes. Creator be praised, Owen no longer walks among the living. Do not over tax yourself with worries. We have burnt his mortal remains in the Fay tradition, and his ashes will be returned to his first home to lie with those of his mother."
Beckett shifted a lone hand to run his fingers through Maureen's hair. She sighed, but did not awaken, falling into the rhythmic breathing of deep sleep. "She...okay?"
The fairy smiled, her lips turned up in what could only be called maternal pride. "Aye. More than fine. She slumbers in peaceful exhaustion. As does her brother. It is they who saved your life, Ridre Dubh. To them you owe a debt of gratitude."
Tiny shards of his dream came back to him. The floating and then the pulling. The rope.
He struggled to connect the words. "Dead? Floating?"
"Not dead, Sir Knight. But somewhere in-between. Your Lady and her brother pulled you back, though you fought them most aggressively."
She sat herself on the edge of the bed, folding her hands in her lap. "White magic. Together they are quite gifted, I am proud to say, though my Caoimhin (Kevin) suffers great angst over his participation. I'm afraid he is not reconciled to his birthright"
Though it was difficult to wrap his head around the idea that "magic" had saved his life, it was Kevin's participation in it that shocked him the most. He'd known the man for nearly three years, and if he was certain of anything, it was his brother-in-laws complete faith in the tenets of his vocation. For him to use "other-worldly" practices against the teaching he held so dear, moved him in ways he could not describe.
Because the Knight had not worked at closing off his mind, she could read his thoughts and answered him back telepathically. "Aye, Mortal Prince. They care for you deeply. The Creator has blessed you with their presence in your life. See that you do not waste the gift, as love freely given is stronger than any magic."
Annoyed at her intrusion into his head, with a lecture to boot, he mentally pushed her out, slamming the door on his thoughts, and making his temples throb even more. She giggled at his temper, and continued out loud. "Very well, my Knight, I will let you wallow alone in your self doubt. Know that I speak for all my people when I thank you for your service to us. Owen was evil, and you have spared us much misfortune. For that we are very grateful."
It was getting more and more difficult to keep his eyes open, and each word sapped physical strength to form, but he refused to let her back into his mind. "Others? How?"
"Your companions are well, though haunted by today's events. Thus is the way of ordinary mortals, though I am impressed by their unwavering loyalty. That is uncommon among your kind. Worry not, my Prince. I have seen to their rest. They will slumber peacefully, and will awaken with a renewed sense of well being. It is not my wish for them to suffer needlessly."
Next to him, Maureen stirred again, and pulled herself closer. Beckett could feel himself beginning to doze in between conversation, and his last conscious thought was about the future.
She laughed softly. "That, my dear Knight, is a question better left for a stronger you. Rest is what you most need. All shall be safe as you slumber. This I promise you." She put a hand over his eyes, and though he wanted to ask her more, he found himself sinking into the empty darkness of oblivious sleep.
The night was warm and drowsy, the song of crickets a peaceful lullaby to the encroaching night. The Fairy queen stretched out across a spider web hammock spun between two branches of the large pine, and watched the full moon play hide and seek between the clouds, more content than she could remember being in a very long time. Owen was gone, and with him the ever present reminder of her bad decisions, as well as his very real threat to future plans.
She snapped her fingers, and the familiar goblet appeared in her hands. This moment in time deserved a toast like no other, and it was a shame to drink alone. Though she found his scolding lectures tiresome, she mentally called for the Lord Warrior, wanting to share her victory with someone who would understand, and in a blink of an eye, he was standing under the pine.
"You called, my Lady Queen?"
"Aye, Lord Cu Chulainn. I feel the need to celebrate this most auspicious day. What say you to a walk in the woods?"
"If it pleases you, my Queen, so let us walk, though I hesitate to claim a celebration just yet."
She appeared next to him in human size, standing only an inch or two shorter than he. "Do not rain on my happiness, Lord Warrior. Today has surely been a victory, and I have little desire to hear your weary tales of woe. Can we not just bask in our accomplished before you bear down on me with your litany of concerns?"
"As you wish, my Queen. Though I can not help wonder how you will convince your people to accept all this."
"My people will accept what I tell them because I am their Queen. They require no other explanation."
He took her arm in his, and they began to walk into the woods surrounding the cabin. "That might have been true in the past, Lady Maeve. But the younger Fay are not like their elders. They do not easily accept fact without proof, and in that way, they are not much different from their mortal counterparts. They will want assurance that the Knight and his Lady are who you say they are."
She flushed with anger. "The prophesies should be proof enough."
"But we both know that they are not. The young put no stock in the old ways.
To them, the scrolls are ancient legends of days gone past, not a road map to the future. They will not accept your word alone that the Mortal Prince and your own Lady offspring hold the key to Fay power. They will need proof."
"Then I will provide such proof as is necessary. Do not question my conviction, Lord Warrior. I will see the houses of Morgan and Merlin united again under my rule. Whatever it takes."
"I'm afraid, Dear One, that the Ridre Dubh will not come easily to your way of thinking. In that he is like his famous ancestor, stubborn and full of pride, with a heart not easily softened. Me thinks you will have a good fight on your hands."
"Leave the Mortal Prince to me, Cu Chulainn. I am Morgan bred and born. Surely I know the way to a Merlin's soul, as did those who came before me." She stopped and kissed him, the moon casting a shadow directly upon them, her eyes glowing an unusual shade of jade green. "Now, my love, let us attend to more pleasant things, for the night is entirely too beautiful to dwell upon the negative." And with that, she took him by the hand and led him into the darkened woods.
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2016
All Rights Reserved
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Beckett took a fighting stance, his right hand over his left on the pommel with knees slightly bent, and waited for Owen to do the same. To his growing confusion, the young magician instead dropped the tip of the sword to the ground, dragging it behind himself as he etched a large circle in the dirt, his eyes never leaving Beckett's, and careful not to step out of the space he was creating . When he returned to the point of origin, he waved his hand in an arc, and four purple candles appeared at the clock points of twelve, three, six and nine. At first their flames flickered weak and wispy, but as the sorcerer chanted a litany of strange constants and vowels, the flames shot up, unusual in their gray and purple color.
His brain on overload, the Ridre Dubh began to recognize Owen's actions. She Who Was All had explained the necessity of ritual to all dark magic, and though he was no expert, he was able to register that the man was casting what was called a ward, a quick spell that would keep the two of them inside the small circumference, and everyone else out. Almost instinctively, Beckett fingered the large blue stone at the end of the pommel, the "Meryln Stone" she had called it the night before, when the two of them had cast their own spell over it. "Do not forget, Mortal Prince, that Owen is Fay born, and like myself, able to use both white and dark magic. He has been training at this skill since he was a bairn at his mother's breast, and will not hesitate to throw an abundance of both kinds at you. But rest easy. I know a spell that will equal the playing field to some extent."
Finishing his ward, Owen tossed two small stones into the circle. They caught the light from the candles, and glittered oddly in the purple haze, one landing near Beckett's right foot. "Pyrite, Mortal. Fool's Gold. Don't you find that ironically appropriate?"
Before he could fashion a response, he heard the sound of low moaning coming from all around him. His eyes traveled to the porch where Maureen was tied. The ropes binding her to the overhang support had changed to thorny branches, the points piercing her skin and leaving small streaks of blood. A quick glance toward the trees showed Ian and Roxanne in the same position, their eyes wide with pain and terror, and he had no doubt that behind him, Kevin suffered the same fate. For a second his calm resolve wavered, and his temples throbbed with rage. Sensing his anger, Owen laughed, and returned his body to fighting mode. Beneath Beckett's hand, the stone in the pommel crackled, and the Ridre Dubh heard her words in his head as clear as if she were standing next to him.
"Use your inner sight, Sir Knight. Look through sightless eyes. What you see is not real. He shows you nothing but simple enchantment."
Beckett shut his eyes and tried to draw on his new found ability from inside. At first, everything was blurry and unfocused, but as he put more concentration behind it, the scene cleared like an opened window. Maureen and the others were in the same spots, but held by ordinary rope. There were no thorns, no running blood, no moaning. They were afraid. That couldn't be helped. But mixed in with the fright, he saw signs of anger and determination, and their faith in him both humbled and encouraged his soul, the very part of him that until this moment, he'd never felt he had. He kept his eyes closed and wished somehow he could completely seal them, keeping the false images from becoming a distraction. The stone crackled again, and in his mind he saw the words, spitting them out in calm detachment. "A caelo usque ad centrum! Actus me invito factus non est meus actus!" ( "From the sky to the center! The act done by me against my will is not my act!")
The flames on the candle sputtered and dimmed, and Beckett knew that he had broken down one of Owen's simplest spells. It was a small victory, but a win none the less, and he took a tiny rush of pleasure in his opponent's obvious surprise.
The sorcerer shook off his battle stance and then began to slowly clap, disdain evident in his mocking tone. "Well done, Wizard's spawn. I see you've learned a thing or two from that wretched bitch. Party tricks at best. Come. Let us get this over with. I grow impatient to plunder your Lady." He dropped back into fight mode, taking a step back while still pointing his long sword at Beckett. Then, with little fan fare, he thrust forward.
Beckett countered, the sound of blades striking echoing in the small space, and sounding cannon loud to his ears. Without the benefit of enchantment, his opponent looked less challenging, standing three inches shorter than he, and at least thirty pounds lighter. But he was surely younger by as many as ten years, closer to Maureen's age than his, and despite his aggressive training and skill, there was something to be said about the stamina of youth. The kid was a natural, there was denying that, and he wondered how many kills the young sorcerer had under his belt. He would have liked to have said that he himself had never taken to the conceit of counting them all. But that was a lie. He'd tallied each one of them as they had fallen. There had been 46. Forty-six lives he had snuffed out in some way or another, and he'd remained indifferent to them all. But this battle? It was different. This one was personal on a level he could barely contain.
They maneuvered around the circle, both careful not to step out. He didn't yet understand the metaphysics of the whole thing, but somehow knew that crossing over the line would result in some serious consequences. Owen managed a few good hits, and at one point, managed contact to his upper left arm, which now was bleeding and throbbing like a sonofabitch. But he hadn't been without his gains either. The Ridre Dubh had substantially more power in his swings than the young man, his upper body strength twice that of the kid, and each time their blades met, it took more and more energy for the sorcerer to defend against the bone shaking blows.
Up to this point, Beckett's own spell had held up against Owen's ability to use dark magic, but as they both began to tire, the sorcerer waved his hands in an arcing motion, and rain began to pour down inside the circle. It was white magic he was now using, something he had been born with, and a gift the Black Knight did not possess. Against white magic, without the required resources and ritual, he was helpless. The ground beneath their feet grew slick and mushy, and footing became difficult on both sides, each of them nearly slipping and falling in an effort to defend against any incoming hits.
It began to rain harder, the sheets of water whipping in his face and making it difficult to see clearly, but years of training had made Beckett acutely aware of the need to watch an opponent's eyes in one to one combat. The eyes were a mirror to your enemy's next move, and so when Owen was ready to attempt a kill shot, Beckett was aware and ready. The man pivoted on his left foot, swinging the sword to the front of his body, and aiming toward the chest region of Beckett's. The Ridre Dubh raised his own weapon shoulder level, ready to block, and then quickly attempt his own hit across the man's neck. But in the muck the ground had become, he lost his balance and fell forward, allowing Owen a few second's access access to his unguarded upper body.
The sword went in under his right rib cage, a searing pain that sucked the breath from his lungs. He slid forward, stumbling as his opponent smiled and thrust the sword in a bit deeper, clearly celebrating what he thought to be a victory. His chest and stomach on fire, Beckett fought to keep conscience, and in his hand, the stone in the pommel came to life again, a burst of energy running up his arm and into his head. While Owen laughed and draw his sword out from the Ridre Dubh's chest, Beckett suddenly raised Caladbolg up, bringing it down hard across the back of the sorcerer's neck.
The head fell off the young man's shoulders like a ripe melon, hitting the ground and rolling in front of his feet, spraying his body with a shower of warm blood. The headless body followed, dropping first to its knees, and then toppling over, the pouring and spurting blood mixing with the standing pools of rain in the mud. For a second, Beckett could only stare at the carnage, each breath a burning flame in his chest. Then, the images in his head dimmed to nothing, and he himself slid into darkness.
Upon Owen's death, his spells dissipated, and the ropes holding the others disappeared, dropping Ian and Roxanne to the ground, and allowing Maureen and Kevin access to Beckett in the now defunct circle. The Sheriff lay still, blood pouring from the open wound in his chest as Maureen was the first to reach him.
"Oh, God, oh God, oh God...somebody do something! Call 911! Something!" She squared her hands on his chest, trying to apply pressure, but the blood poured out between her fingers.
Next to her, Roxanne banged on her cell phone. "It's no use, Mo. There's no signal. Hasn't been one since we got here."
"If we don't do something, he's gonna die. Oh, God...Please. Not him too!" She began to weep, and then stopped, as if a thought had suddenly come to her mind. She dragged Caladbolg from where it had fallen out of his hand, and wrapped her husband's limp fingers around it. Then she placed her hands back on her husband's chest and closed her eyes, concentrating with all she had. His eye lids fluttered a bit, and seeing her net to him, he tried to speak.
"Baby...I'm sorry, sweetheart. I gave it my best shot." His breathing was raspy and burdened, and he fought to stay conscience. "Call Mike Nolan. On the burner phone I gave you. He'll...he'll take care...of the body. Then call your brother, Patrick. He'll know what to do it. You'll be okay. I promise."
His words made her weep harder, her nose running, and her hands still trying to hold her lover's life blood inside him as it pooled in puddles around his body. "Don't say that, Ted. You're gonna be fine. You can't die. It's not supposed to work like that. Oh, please...Ted...please don't die on me."
But he lapsed into silence again, his face growing pale, and his pulse weakening. Looking up, she saw her brother standing to her left, tears running down his own face. "He's can't die, Kevin. He just can't! You have to help me. Together we can fix this."
Fr. Kevin shook his head, the tears strangling the words in his throat. "There's nothing we can do for him, Mo. It's God's will."
"I don't accept that! God wouldn't make me suffer this much. First my baby? Then Ted? I won't let it happen. You have to help me, Kev. Please!"
"Help you how, Maureen? I'm not a doctor. We have to trust in God right now to do the right thing."
"No, Kev. If you and I work together, we can save him. I'm sure of it! Please! Come put your hands on his chest, and 'will' him better! It will work! I know it."
Her brother looked at her horrified. "Magic? No way, Maureen. It's wrong. It's against the will of God. A mortal sin! I can't do that! Besides, I...I couldn't do it if I wanted to. There's nothing like that inside of me, Mo. There just isn't!"
"You're wrong, Kev. You have the same gifts I have. You just won't accept it. We could save him, you and me. We can. I know it!" He hesitated, and she could see the fight going on inside of him. She began to cry uncontrollably, choking out the words in gasping sobs. "Please, Kevin...if you love me...help me save him. I love him, Kevin. He's my whole life. Don't make me live without him."
She'd always been his weak spot...his Achille's heel. He felt her pain as if it were his own, and unable to stand it, he dropped to his knees next to his dying brother-n-law and begged God to forgive what he was going to attempt to do. Placing his hands over his sister's, he closed his eyes and wished her husband whole.
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2016
All Rights Reserved
Saturday, February 6, 2016
The new day was officially under way by the time the raven reached central Boston. It flew straight west toward the North End, landing near the basement window of the the old brownstone without much notice. The secured, frosted windows were closed as usual, and the bird rapped sharply with its beak on the glass it could reach between the iron fencing. There was movement from inside, the clicking noise of locks being released, until the frame lifted high enough for the bird to fly in before the window was slammed back again into place.
"You're late, Mia. You know I abhor tardiness."
The raven set itself on the edge of a large wooden table. For a brief second, it ruffled its feathers, then in its place a young woman sat perched in the very same spot. She was petite, barely capping ninety pounds, with jet black hair and serious, round eyes heavy shaded with dark liner. The skin that poked through her black knit dress was covered in intricate tattoos, tribal in nature, and on her bare feet, her toe nails were unusually long and painted a glossy black color. She looked like hundreds of young people who hung out at the city's underground Goth clubs, and yet, was nothing like them at all.
"I'm sorry, Master. I did not want to leave until I heard everything. Plus, there was an unusually heavy cross wind coming in from the Cape. It made for slow going."
He ignored her, instead going from petri dish to petri dish inside the large incubator, checking the progress of his work, and making minor adjustments when he deemed it necessary. The silence in the room was thick and uncomfortable, and on the table, Mia fidgeted, tugging at the hoop ring in the corner of her lip. She knew better than to start a conversation with him. He'd speak to her when he had something to say and not before, as was the protocol between Master and apprentice, and so she was surprised when he suddenly walked toward her and pulled the dress over her head, yanking her towards him by her hair, and biting her lower lip.
The sex was quick and brutal, something that satisfied them both, and only unusual because of its location. The lab was sacred work space, hallowed ground in which he did his research and practiced the Arts, and until this moment, never used for anything else. That thought niggled at her brain, causing more than a little concern, but she held her tongue and put on a complacent face, watching him pour himself a glass of wine, and waiting for him to offer her a glass, which he did not.
Drink in hand, he positioned himself in a chair across from her, an odd expression of melancholy the only thing he wore. "So little Mia...tell me. How does the Black Knight fare in his training?"
She leaned on an elbow, a snake tattoo running from her left index finger and slithering down her arm when she moved or shifted. "The Ridre Dubh makes some progress, Master. He is more than competitive with the long sword, but I have seen no sign of Caladbolg. To date, it has not been used at all in practice, and the Queen has surely put some type of spell on it, as I have been unable to locate its presence anywhere on the property."
He paused a moment, and took a sip from his glass. "And his frame of mind?"
It seemed an odd question, but the Queen had prepared her for it. Shrugging, she explained, "As you know, Master, the Ridre Dubh is a most difficult man...stubborn, demanding and rude. I am surprised the Queen has not taken to punishing him for his insolence." She saw his eyebrows raise at the comment, and instantly wished she had gone a different route. Plunging back into the conversation, the shifter continued, "He bears a tremendous amount of guilt over the death of his child...a son...about a year ago. It keeps him from sleep." Hoping to gain some foothold of gratitude, and following the Queen's order, she quickly added, "Is that not something you can use, Master? His guilt is surely a flaw in his aura...a chink in his defense."
Owen said nothing, staring down at the liquid in his glass. When he looked back up at her, his eyes were dark and flat, and a tremor of fear worked its way up her naked body.
"And what of the Arts, Mia. Does our dear Knight show any skill?"
Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she spit out the lie with as much calm and indifference as she could muster. "No, Sir. Other than his unusual physical prowess, he seems quite...ordinary." She considered trying to embellish the conversation with wiiticisms about the Knight's mundane talents, but chattiness wasn't her style, so she remained quiet.
The Master stared at her, his expression now obviously cold. "Ordinary, my little Apprentice? For someone thought to be Merlyn's last living descendant? That is most odd."
The panic rose in her like a sudden wave. He knew. Knew the truth. Knew she had lied. Pulling her energy to her, she worked at shifting into Raven form, but her Master was steps ahead of her, and she found herself frozen in place, unable to move a single cell. Owen walked across the room and returned with a large mirrored orb, similar to gazing balls that decorated many gardens and parks around the city. He stood in front of her and waved a hand over the object. Immediately, a scene appeared in front of her, running like a YouTube video on a cell phone. The Black Knight defeating the tree ogre. The conversation between the Queen and the Ridre Dubh about his parentage. The final conversation between she and her Queen. All obviously shot from her vantage point. Seen from her very own eyes.
"Do you think me a fool, Mia? Someone you could use to help that heartless bitch? You reeked of the Queen's interference from the moment you first spoke to her. I've known of your traitorous heart for weeks, though it seems our little game has run its course. Too bad. You were more than a tolerable fuck, and a reasonably talented apprentice, but I'm afraid the universe has called for your demise. Me thinks I will have to choose my next intern a little more carefully."
"Please, Owen...Master. I love you. I truly do. I can help you take down the Black Knight. I saw things...know things."
"Love me? What a ridiculous comment you stupid slut. Undoubtedly more crap my dear Auntie has fed you. Love is a silly notion for the simple minded. A way to keep the Mortals in line. It has no place among our kind, and if you learned anything from me, it should have been that tenet. Power is everything. It is the only thing."
She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. From the table, she watched him take a piece of rope and fashion it into a loop. He closed his eyes, mumbling a few strange words as he waved a hand over the length of it. Then looking straight at her, he slowly tightened the circle. Though he was no where near her, her hands, now unfrozen, flew to her neck in panic mode. She could feel the coarse ligature tighten around her throat, cutting off her life breath, but though her hands tugged, there was nothing to grasp.
Owen viewed the shifter's fight for her life with little emotion. Her panicked eyes watered and her lips turned blue, her face a red sweaty mask of terror. He suddenly wished he had not cast a spell of silence on her, as he knew with certainty that her gasp and squeals would surely be a delight to hear. He slowly pulled the rope tighter and tighter until there was no loop at all, and the dead girl tumbled off the table, hitting the floor with a thud, black tongue protruding from swollen lips. He sat for several minutes that way, staring at the dead girl and poking at her with his bare foot. When he'd had enough, he waved hands over the body and watched it turn to pile of ash.
Rising slowly and stretching, he grabbed an old fashioned straw broom from the corner of the room, sweeping the ashes of what had been Mia into a small pile, and then on to a dust pan that he dumped into a trash can. Content, he removed a tray of marked vials from the lab's fridge, as well as a handful of wrapped syringes, and set himself back down in front of the mirrored orb. With another wave of his hand, the scenes ran over and over again, playing out in a constant loop, as Dr. Owen Ryan prepared for his adventure.
The day at the cabin started out as it pretty much had every morning for the past two weeks. Fr. Kevin said Mass in his room by himself, still hoping that his sister would join him, and being disappointed when she didn't. Roxanne slipped down to the small exercise room off the kitchen to do her daily therapy, but only after making sure Ian had departed for his own room unseen by the rest of the group. Maureen was up early, intent on making some huge breakfast none of them really wanted to eat but were too polite to admit, and out on the porch, Beckett stretched before his morning run, waiting to see if Ian or Kevin might be inclined to join him.
If any of them had any foreshadowing as to what the day would bring, they would have surely done things different. Maybe they would have prepared better. Focused more on the reasons they were there. Prayed just a little bit harder. But each was lost in their own contemplation, and if there were obvious signs, they missed them. For one, Argos was no where to be found, the giant arachnid's tell-tale clicking strangely silent. In fact, the whole wooded area seemed much too quiet, no birds chirping in the trees, no rustle of leaves, an odd vacuum empty the sound. The Lord Warrior was also noticeably absent from the training arena, the practice swords not lined up against the fence as was his usual practice.
And then there was the abrupt change in the weather. It was the only thing the Black Knight noticed, though not for the reasons he needed to. The once sunny sky darkened with threat of rain, and the temperature dropped several degrees. Thinking a summer storm was moving in, Beckett decided not to wait for a running partner, and took off on his own, intending to cut his time today by at least eight minutes to avoid being caught in a down pour. His feet seemed to already know the route, and so he was able to let his mind wander, thinking on the things the Fairy Queen had shown him the night before. Strangely, he seemed to be able to feel her presence in his head, and instead of embracing the notion, pushed any thought of her from his mind, mentally locking out any communication. It would be a mistake he'd regret for years to come.
He missed the eight minute mark by 45 seconds, but was grateful the rain had yet held out. That was the thought on his mind when he came trotting out of the woods and into the clearing in front of the cabin. For a brief moment, his mind refused to recognize what his eyes were seeing. The giant spider lay dead in front of the porch steps, every one of its eight legs, as well as its head, chopped off in a bloody pool of muck. Ian and Roxanne both hung from the branches of the large pine nearest the house, the spot the Fairy Queen had claimed as her own, but where she was now not present. His friends had been suspended in puppet like fashion, ropes attached to their arms, legs and shoulders, their mouths appearing as if they had been hideously sewn shut with thick black thread, and their eyes calling out to him in sheer terror.
Kevin had been lashed to the target dummy in the training arena, his face bruised and swollen on the left side, his eyes seemingly sewn shut by the same black thread, and his mouth stuffed full of dirt and clumps of grass. It was an awful scene, but not as horrible as things he'd witnessed in some of his previous covert missions. The difference here was that these were people he cared about. People he considered the closest thing to family. It was at this point his mind registered that his wife was not among them, and the panic rose deep from somewhere inside.
As if on cue, the front door of the cabin opened, and Owen stepped out, dragging Maureen by the arm. She was pant less, her blouse ripped down the front, and her lip bleeding. Rage so black welled up inside, and he reached for the Glock in his waistband, but it was ripped from his hands with a force that almost knocked him over.
"Tisk, tisk, Black Knight. That's not how we play this game. Guns are for simple Mortals, of which we are not. I insist you play by the rules, less I end your friends' lives most...uncomfortably."
He could not take his eyes off Maureen, who looked at him shell-shocked, paralyzed with fear. Horrible thoughts filled his head, and in his fear for her, he forgot that his thoughts would be open to Owen as well.
The man laughed, and gave Maureen's ass a squeeze. "No, Sir Knight, I have not had your Lady yet, though that was my intention. It seems you cut your run short this morning by almost eight minutes. I was not expecting that. But, no fears. I am a patient man. Business before pleasure as they say."
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered what the Queen had said the night before, and slammed down a mental door on his thoughts. If he could not keep Owen out of his head, there was no chance he'd survive this encounter. None at all. And if he didn't survive, Maureen...Kevin...all of them would be left to this crazy fucker's mercy. He strained to recall the words to the simplest spell she'd taught him, and putting mental energy behind the words, he was shocked to find Caladbold, in his hands, the blue stone in the pommel crackling with light.
Owen didn't seem surprised at all. He let Maureen go, and found she was suddenly tied to the main support beam holding up the cabin's overhang. "Well done, Beginner Knight. It appears you will at least make this interesting. My Auntie has done well in the little time she's had to put her claws in you, and by the looks of that stone, she may have actually stumbled onto some truth. But that matters little. You are an amateur. A toddler where the Arts are concerned. Your famous ancestor will be of little help here." He walked down the few porch steps and stood a few feet away from Beckett. Holding out his hands, a large snake appeared in them, and as the reptile stretched it itself straight out, it changed from living thing to metal sword. The young sorcerer lifted the weapon out in front of him, and smiled, his tongue slithering out like the snake he held seconds before. "Game on, Sir Knight. Let's play, shall we?"
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2016
All Rights Reserved