Saturday, February 6, 2016
Of Mia, Magic and Murder
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