The Knight's Next Move
Fire. Oh my god, the fire.
He's laying there on my apartment floor, so still -- amazing how still he sits, but then, he's staked, isn't he? Staked. So still. Laying there, yes, still and so... he's so small. I don't realize until this moment that he's so small. He's a thousand feet tall, isn't he? How can he hold my world together if he isn't a thousand feet tall?
I love him. I do. I don't want him to be staked. I don't want to do this, and it isn't that I'm afraid of him -- although really, I am... or afraid of the monster at the very least, but I love him. I love him. Gaia forgive me, I love him.
"Kill me. Please." He chokes out the words between sobs, and I can barely hear him because he's curled tight in a ball, with his face pushed into his knees, but I don't have to hear his words to understand. His pain vibrates through the Bond that joins us. I feel it too. "Please kill me," he whispers.
I can't do it, I can't. I need you -- you're my sire, you're my teacher, you're a thousand feet tall, and if you die, my world will come crashing down.
I don't like you like this, you know. I don't know you, since you've become Prince.
I tell him this, and I'm expecting him to reel on me in anger, with those intense dark eyes burning with violence. It's a challenge that I throw down before him, I dare him to hurt me, even though I know he'll take me up on the dare, and it will hurt. Am I spitting his his face, or my own? But he doesn't. I'm surprised when he turns to me and regards me with his intense eyes, not with anger, but with that pensive, probing look that he sometimes gets, when I know him best. He twists his head to that birdlike angle of thought as he regards me.
"You know, I think you're right. I'll pass the reigns of power onto someone else."
I reel, but not because he's hit me. I smile, but not because of pain. I feel safe.
He raises his face and looks at me, stares my protests into silence. Blood streaks that pale face, colors his bleary eyes coppery red. His eyes aren't his own, not those eyes that look at me without seeing.
"Kill me, Danny."
But I can't. Forgive me, please. Gaia forgive me.
Gaia forgive me, I must, because he's killing himself. With every soul he takes, he's smothering himself with a terrible stranger, and only I remember who he is anymore. The stranger's bleary eyes in his pale face stare up at me, wide and pleading, but he pleads to me from somewhere beyond the monster, behind his eyes. His bloodless lips can't move to beg me now, but this time, I hear.
Nikko. Nikko, I need to get to the circle, Nikko. I need to get to the circle.
The smell is almost unbearable, an unholy, charred, smoking chemical stench -- I forget that I don't have to breathe, and take greedy, gasping gulps of it because I want to remember. The smell is in my head, and as I splash the terrible stuff all over the room, there's no room left for thinking. It's holy water, stinking holy water from an orange plastic cannister, and there's no room left for thinking. No room.
I wanna join your gang, I say, not knowing what I'm asking for.
I get it, and now, stealthy as night creeping up on the setting sun to smother her with a cape of black satin, now the madness comes. He creeps up on me as stealthy as the night, and there is ecstacy like I've never felt before, and then it ebbs away, and all that's left is the madness.
Don't think. Anoint him with the holy water. Don't think. Walk away, walk out the door, dribbling a pilgrim's trail behind you. Don't think. Light the match. Drop it. DROP IT, DANNY
"Kill me, please."
It's unexpectedly beautiful, strangely mesmerizing, as the light dances on the surface of the holy water. I stand in silence and watch it race through the door; the heat blisters my skin, the lights dazzle my eyes, but I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid anymore.
I'm calm as I walk away from the burning building, with the screams echoing in my brain, and my thoughts come to me, clean and clear. I can see a needle. A needle, and the sun's embrace.
The fanciful clock from the sixteen hundreds ticked the seconds methodically away.
Tristan's fountain pen scratched against the thick, rough paper in rhythmic counterpoint, unceasing as the candles on his desk burnt lower and lower, casting lengthy shadows across the chessboard. In the dim light, the ruby eyes of the black king, the coiled serpent that rested on a throne of corroded chains, seemed to glow, glitter, flicker. The long leaping shadows made the ceremonial masks displayed on a bookshelf seem to laugh; the floating shapes preserved in jars of formaldehyde seemed to undulate and slowly dance to the ticking of the ceaseless old clock.
The shapes and shadow in the musty old study seemed to throb to the heartbeat of its only inhabitant as the candles burned lower, the shadows stretched longer, and the fanciful clock from the sixteen hundreds beat time.
Suddenly, his pen stilled.
The boy's shadow looked up, and his head lifted to follow. The last dying light in the room was barely enough to highlight his missing eye, the long, thin scar on his face. Flecks of silver in his other eye glittered in the candlelight like stars in the clear night sky. He felt an ethereal shift and pull, a sense of vertigo of the soul; her magic tugged at his being as it returned her to him.
And then, he felt the pain. It hit him like mist rolling off the water, pricking his skin and dampening his hair with beads of freezing moisture, an echo of agony that vibrated to him through the Bond they shared.
And as the mist rolled back to the sea... as the pain ebbed away...
He felt the madness.
A strange choking hiccup drew Tristan's attention to the floor in front of his desk. He set his pen aside and rose cautiously. There was gasping now, and something like a crumpled pile of old clothes was wadded up on his floor...
The boy darted around his desk, moving with surprising, sudden speed. He reached into the shadows -- or perhaps the shadows reached out to him -- as he hurried to his domitor's side. He knelt next to Regent Brae and pressed an old wine bottle into her hands.
The stink of charred flesh, of smouldering flesh, were thick in the air, and despite all his self- mastery and detached calm, Tristan found himself trembling. She was burned. She was terribly, completely burned. He urged the bottle of vitae into her blackened hands, uncorked it in hopes that the familiar smell would bring her back to him, but she only clutched the bottle like a frightened child clutches a teddy bear or favorite doll, and whimpered softly. Tristan felt a chill as he watched her, fear playing like a discordant note in his mind. No pain could make Regent Brae this insensible, no, not even the Red Fear, the Rotchereck could break her like this. Tristan was afraid, because there was only one thing that it could be.
It was the madness.
Something would have to be done. She had to be brought back before it was too late. Tristan stood up, an idea crystalizing in his mind. Even as he did so, the phone on his desk rang. Ordinarily, he might have ignored it at a time like this, but a glance at the chessboard out of the corner of his eye told him who was on the other end. The carefree youth, still with his sword resting on his shoulder, had retreated behind a silver pawn in the shape of al old man who, in place of a weapon, held a lantern aloft. A cut crystal inside the lantern caught the faint and fading light and glittered.
"Good evening, Mr. macFionn," he whispered into the receiver.
Brennan macFionn's voice was filled with too much concern for there to be any room for surprise at his greeting.
"Tristan. Lad. Is she home yet?"
Tristan glanced down at Regent Brae's huddled shape. She was stirring a little bit, tempted away from her demons by the sound of her best friend's name. As the boy-ghoul had known she would be.
"She is here, sir."
The rough, gravelly voice heaved a sigh of relief, and then immediately began to fire a mixture of questions and commands at Tristan, all in the voice of someone who expects to be obeyed without question.
"Thank the gods. I dinna want her involved in this. Too messy. How bad is she? Let me speak tae her."
Regent Brae was still curled up on the floor, only barely sensible enough to come to the realization that she was holding vitae in her hands. She drank from it greedily, but with little relish.
"I think it would be best if you picked her up at the bookstore," the boy-ghoul offered at length.
This gave Mr. macFionn pause, and worry re-surfaced in his voice again.
"Ae'll be there soon."
Tristan offered the pleasantry out of habit, but Mr. macFionn had already hung up the phone. Calmly, he did the same, then pressed the intercom button with one long, tapered finger and leaned close to it, so that his faint voice would carry to the hidden microphone.
"Olaf?" His melodic voice rasped discordantly as he forced volume into it, but it was still barely audible. "If you would be so good as to meet me outside my study? You will need the keys to your automobile. Thank you."
Without waiting for a reply, the boy walked back around his desk and knelt beside his fallen master. In the flickering, dimming light, his shadow seemed to reach out and envelop her before he took her in his slender arms and lifted her gently and easily as if she were a sleeping child.
Ghoul carried domitor from the room, and the door closed softly behind him. One by one, the candles guttered and went out, and their last moments of dying light showed the chessboard, unmoving, the ages and ages of old heavy tomes, the bleached bone and hollow eyes of a vaguely piscine skull.
In the darkness, the fanciful old clock from the sixteen hundreds ticked on, and on, and on.