The man wrapped in strips of salve soaked cloth gave a moan. Eleanor finished the incantation, her voice low and hushed so as not to disturb the other patients or nurses. She watched the man, still holding his hands. She didn’t know what to expect. She watched and waited. Nothing happened except the colour in his face slowly began to fade as if the redness was being drained away out of him. It moved down his neck, to his chest, restoring his normal pallor. His eyes, which had been closed, fluttered open and he looked at her with a small smile, struggling to a sitting position.
Ellie resisted the urge to draw attention to herself, and more specifically, the man. She leaned over. “How do you feel?”
The man ran his hands over his body tentatively. “I’m not in pain anymore. In fact I feel fine. More than fine, I feel great!” he threw off the sodden strips of linen and stood up, stretching. “I feel better than I have in years!”
Eleanor climbed to her feet, ecstatic, and she clapped her hands in front of her like an excited little girl. “It worked! I can’t believe it actually worked.”
The soldier regarded her skeptically, confusion flashing in his eyes, eyebrows raised. “What worked?”
Eleanor was about to tell him, and then realized there were too many ears and eyes eavesdropping. “Come with me,” she said, trying to keep the excitement from her voice and failing. She slipped out between the tent flaps into the hazy glow of dawn. The man followed in the shift the nurses had put him in when he arrived, to better treat his wounds. He looked vulnerable and delicate standing there in a white sheet that came to his knees.
In the distance the retreating darkness was punctuated by small blooms of fire – gun powder, bombs, lightening guns. The war raged on, and yet the two of them were alone in the chill of the early morning.
In the gloom, the man turned to Ellie, questions in his eyes.
“What happened? I know I was in a pretty bad way and now…” he stuck his arms out in front of him, looking them up and down. “Now it’s like I’ve never even fought in the war! Even scars I had before today have disappeared! What sort of witchcraft is this?”
Eleanor laughed. “It’s not witchcraft! It’s…I don’t know what to call it. It’s something I’m able to do. I’ve just never done it before. You’re the first person I’ve done it on before. I wasn’t sure it would work but, it seems to have.”
“What? What has worked?”
Ellie brightened as an idea came to her. “Hold on a minute.” She ran back into the tent and returned with a rifle that belonged to an injured soldier. “I assume you’ve fired a gun before? I never have. Would you mind?” she offered the gun to the man who took it from her warily. He demonstrated how to remove the safety, and how to line up the sight, showing her how to aim. She watched carefully then took the gun back and ran away from him, and away from the tent. She stopped a good few yards away and raised the rifle up, shoulder high, squinting through the sight. She swung it and pointed it directly at the man. “Hold still,” she commanded, trying to suppress the sudden thrill that ran through her like an electric current.
“What?” the man screamed. “You’re crazy! Don’t point that thing at me!” He threw himself to the ground.
She huffed in annoyance and stalked over to him. “Just trust me. I just saved your life, if you remember.”
“Yes, but you haven’t told me how!”
“I’m trying to show you how!”
The man stood, brushing mud from his bare legs. “Fine.”
Eleanor put distance between him once more and raised the gun. She moved the gun to the right, gesturing for him to move away from the medical tent. She didn’t want anyone to get in the way of this experiment. The man side stepped until he was a couple yards away from the tent.
Eleanor raised the gun and fired. She screamed at the noise and the man screamed as the bullet hit him in the chest and he fell to the ground.
She threw the gun and ran. The man lay clutching his chest.
“Let me see!” Eleanor cried, grabbing the man’s hands and pulling them away. Red bloomed on the nightgown. Eleanor tore the neck, ripping it open, exposing where the bullet had hit him. There was blood trickling, and a hole where the bullet had entered, but as she watched the hole began to get smaller and then it closed completely. She screamed again, this time in delight.
Two nurses ran from the tent. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
Eleanor raised a hand, warding them off. “Nothing, it’s okay, everything’s under control. He’s not injured.”
“I’m not?” the man sat up, examining his chest with his fingers where the bullet wound had been seconds before. “How is it possible? You just shot me!”
The two nurses gave Eleanor a shocked look.
She shook her head at them and smiled as sincerely as she could. “He’s a bit delusional from fever,” she explained. “It’s okay, I have it under control.” She waved them away and they reluctantly disappeared back inside the tent, glancing over their shoulders with strange looks at Ellie. She ignored them and turned back to the man. “See? I knew you would be okay!”
“But…but…you shot me!”
“Yes, but I did something to you back there. I cured you. I made it so you could never die.”
Her words fell heavy like lead and the man stared at her with wide eyes, his pale face turning even paler.
“What?” he whispered. “What did you just say?”
“I said I made it so you could never die. You’re immortal.” She grinned, proud that her experiment was a success. She now could get to know this man better, find out why she felt such a connection with him.
“I can never die?” His voice had become high and reedy with a hysterical edge.
Ellie shook her head and gave him another smile. “Exactly!”
“Why are you smiling? You think this is a good thing? I never asked for this!”
Eleanor’s smile fell. “What?” she said, weakly her voice shaky. This wasn’t the response she expected.
“I’m going to live forever.” The man’s voice was rising and Ellie cringed in the silence of the morning that was punctuated with the intermittent rattle of gunfire.
“Shh!” She raised a finger to her lips.
“You’re telling me to be quiet?” The man screamed. “You’ve just ruined my entire life!”
She shrank back against the rough material of the tent, still a dark crouched beast in the rising sun.
“Ruined?” she repeated, confused. “But you can live forever!”
“Exactly!” the man spat, spittle flew from his lips. The sun had risen above the tops of the mountain now, casting a soft light over the land, highlighting his face in stark shadows, and Eleanor could see the anger that distorted his features.
“I don’t understand…” she said in a small voice, sounding to her own ears like a little girl.
“How could you think this was a good idea?” He took a step toward with arms raised, as if he was going to hit her.
She screamed and ran, bolting across the field like a frightened deer.
She couldn’t hear the man behind her in his bare feet, but she knew he was chasing her. She ran faster. Her nurse’s cap flew from her head but she kept pumping her legs despite the burning in her muscles. He caught a corner of her shirt and spun her around, grabbing her by the shoulders. She jerked, trying to pull away, a scream climbing its way up her throat. “Calm down,” the man said. “I won’t harm you. I’m angry but I won’t hurt you, I’m not like that.”
Ellie shook her head, tears turning her eyes glassy. “I don’t believe you. You can hurt other people. You’re a soldier. So what makes me so different?”
The man’s hands fell from her shoulders and he regarded her with a blank stare.
Silence stretched out between them.
“I don’t know, but it does,” he said at last.
Ellie shook her head. “I don’t know why either, because it shouldn’t.”
“Can you understand why I’m so angry?”
She thought for a moment. Living forever would be amazing! There was so much she wanted to do, and she could do it. But of course she couldn’t, herself. That was one of the rules. She had pleaded with the Consortium, to have them change the rules, or ignore them, just this time. But they wouldn’t give in. She would have to be content with helping other people. Saving other people, bestowing her gift on them, instead of herself. Being unselfish.
“Isn’t there things you want to do? With your life, I mean.”
“Well, now you can. Without worrying if you’ll run out of time. You have all the time in the world!”
He regarded her a moment. “You said I’m the first person you’ve done this to. The first person you’ve changed.”
“Are you the same? Are you immortal too?”
“No. I’m not allowed. I tried, but there are rules.”
Anger flared in the man’s face. “There should be other rules, like asking people if they’d want to live forever before doing it to them!”
“But you would have died otherwise! Your burns, they were severe. I was doing it to help you!”
“Did you ever think that death might be favourable to living forever?” His tone was accusatory.
She was getting irritated. She hadn’t slept well, her sleep broken by nightmares involving her mother, and was woken so early. “No. Never.”
“Well what about when the people you care about die, but you keep on living. Ever think about that?”
She froze. She hadn’t thought of that. She had already lost the only people she ever cared about. Her capacity to care had already been used up so she didn’t think about how it would affect others.
She hadn’t thought about other people. She was only thinking about her mother, mainly. If she had only found her father sooner, and discovered the secret earlier, when her mother was still alive, she would have used the Secret on her, would have saved her life. And then when she had found her father again, years later, when she was sixteen, they could meet again and get back together and they would be a happy family again. She tried a different tact, to try and make him see it how she did. “Haven’t you wanted to do things? Like travel? Or…or…fly in an airship?” She never had and had always wanted to.
The man shook his head, and Eleanor could see in the growing light of day that his brown hair had flecks of blonde, and his eyes were a subdued grey. “Of course there are things I want to do, have wanted to do. But that’s the good thing about having a finite life. It gives you an urgency, a reason to move forward. You want to do certain things but you only have a short amount of time to do them in – the span of a single life time – to find a wife, to have children, to travel to new places, like you said, experience new cultures and cities and food.”
Eleanor nodded. “Yes, exactly! And now you have as long as you like to do all of that. You don’t have to rush. You don’t have the grim reaper’s scythe poised over your head every moment of every day. He will have moved on.”
The solider wrapped his arms across his chest as a crisp morning breeze blew over the fields and his nightgown fluttered against his bare legs.
“You don’t understand. It’s that lack of time that gives things their importance, their excitement. If you have forever to do something, it loses its urgency, it loses its soul, its spark. It’s life.”
It felt like she had been slapped across the face. She stood there, her face burning – with shame, or anger, or embarrassment, or sorrow she wasn’t really sure. Maybe all of that. She dropped her head and stared at her feet, the crisp white of her nurses shoes stained black with soil. She watched as her tears fell making small divots in the dirt.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not.” She raised her tear streaked face to his. “No. I ruined your life.”
“You saved my life.” He gave a small smile. “I’m grateful for that. I really am. It’s just…this is all a shock. There’s a point where you just accept it. You come to terms with the fact that you are going to die. And when that is taken away from you-“
“No, not even forever, but even just normally. When you are brought back from the brink, brought back from the edge, after glimpsing the white light, and then to be told you’ll be okay after all, it takes a bit of getting used to.”
Ellie nodded. “I can understand that.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have exploded like that. I really am glad you saved my life. It’s just…this will take a bit of getting used to.” He chuckled softly. “Quite a bit, I think.” He looked at her. “I’m glad you chose me. I’m glad I was your first.”
Ellie blushed at his words and the man turned away, looking at the sun spilling over the mountains, softening their jagged edges. He turned away then, and moved back to the tent, slipping inside.
He spun around, a mix of fear and anger in his eyes. “How do you know my name!”
“It was on your patient chart,” Eleanor explained, raising her hands, a barrier, though a weak one to the gun that he possessed that was strapped across his back. Though it wasn’t really a chart, more the person’s name scrawled on a piece of paper, along with their regiment number, that was tacked to the end of the cot, with a basic description of their malady, just as hastily written underneath.
He relaxed somewhat and the fire left his eyes. “Oh. What is it?”
“I- I just wanted to say, I’m sorry. Again.”
Edwin shook his head. “It’s…” he shook his head and smiled sadly. He touched the rim of his cap and then turned away once more.
Ellie allowed a small smile to touch her lips. At least I know it actually works now. She had been afraid to try it before. It was so…final. There was no way to reverse it once it was done. But that was her job. Her job was one of finalities, stark contrasts. People either got better, or they didn’t. People either lived or they died. The world really came down to black and white, in the end, she mused.
She pulled back the tent flap and was about to go back into the organized chaos when she heard her name – from somewhere outside, not inside.
She turned and saw a young man and woman sprinting toward her. “Eleanor Murphy?” The woman called her name as a question. Ellie at first thought the woman was a man. She was wearing trousers after all. But then she noticed the other parts of her that were unmistakably woman.
The girl ran up to her, and stopped, hands on knees, trying to catch her breath.
“Yes, I am. Who are you? Are you injured in some way?” Her ingrained nursing came out.
“No, no,” the girl waved a hand, and then straightened. “Actually, I am somewhat, but nothing you can fix I don’t think. My eye was hurt in an explosion. All I see is fuzzy shadows.”
Ellie took a step toward her, looking with concern at her eyes.
The girl took a step back. “But that’s not why we’re here.” She inclined her head, indicating the man that stood a step or so behind her.
“Has a man been here?”
Ellie looked startled. How could they have known about the soldier?
“Yes, but he just went back inside the tent.”
The girls eyes widened and she threw back the flap and ran inside.
“Wait!” Ellie followed them inside.
“Where is he?” The woman wearing trousers was frantic.
“He’s just over there,” Ellie pointed to the soldier who had put on his trousers which had been placed on a small cart next to his bed, and was now buttoning up the navy blue tunic.
“What?” The girl turned chestnut eyes to her, full of confusion.
“That’s the soldier who I was just talking to, isn’t that who-?”
The woman’s shoulders dropped in relief. “No. No, thankfully.”
She looked at the woman who was scrutinizing her with a strange look.
“Is there somewhere more private we could go?”
There was one place Ellie could think of. It was a few hundred feet away, positioned especially down wind. “Follow me.” She led them to a low, long green tent.
Anise was hit immediately by the pungent tangy odour of pine, and the softer lavender. She followed Eleanor inside and then realized why. The tent was full of people but it was silent. They were all dead. The bodies lay stretched out, each on a narrow cot and covered with a white sheet. Some were stained red in places where blood had seeped in. There was a drone of flies.
Goosebumps rose on her arms and Anise swallowed, willing the contents of her stomach to stay where they were.
She tried not to breathe in, and tried to just believe she was only smelling astringent pine and calming lavender. They were alone, but even so Anise spoke softly. “Has another man, not that soldier, come and spoken to you? A tall, imposing man with golden eyes?”
Eleanor shook her head.
Anise breathed a sigh of relief and then immediately regretted it as her lungs filled with the smell that the pine and lavender were trying to mask. She had turned so she was facing away from the shrouds that lined both sides of the long rectangular tent.
“Good, because he’s after your secret. That’s why I’m here, to warn you.”
Anise watched Eleanor’s eyes grow wide. “How? Did you see what I had done? Were you watching me in the tent?”
“What? No. Why?”
“I did it to that soldier that you saw. The one getting changed. He was dying,” Eleanor shifted her gaze to the floor and then over Anise’s shoulder, looking at the rows of bodies. “If only I had done it before now. I could maybe have saved them.”
“What are you talking about?”
Eleanor’s blue eyes returned to Anise, scrutinizing her. “But, I thought… Don’t you know what my secret is?”
“No more than you knowing what mine is.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened even more.
“You’re a Secret Carrier too?!” Eleanor flung herself at Anise, swinging her arms around her neck and bringing her forward in an embrace.
Anise stiffened, uncomfortable. She stood still until Eleanor extracted herself from around her.
“I’m so sorry!” Eleanor gushed, colour rising in her cheeks, giving her pale complexion more life. The sudden image of a well-fed vampire swam into Anise’s mind. It must’ve been the influence of standing in a room full of the dead. She shuddered.
“I’m just so excited to hear that you’re one too. That I’m not the only one!”
“But…I thought only one person could carry the Immortality secret at any time?” Confusion swept across her narrow, thin face.
“Immortality? That’s your secret?”
“Yes. And I used it just for the very first time today. I had always been scared before, not sure. But that soldier, for some reason, I felt compelled to use it to save his life.”
“And now he’s going to live forever?” Anise could hear the wonder that had seeped into her words.
Eleanor nodded, her gaze falling to the floor once more. She seemed embarrassed. “At first I thought it was great. I would love to use it on myself but-“
“But we’re not allowed.”
“Exactly. The only person I would have used it on without any hesitation is my mother, but she died when I was eleven. And I only found the person who gave me the secret a few years ago. I have kept it a secret, kept it hidden from everyone for all this time. It’s a relief to be able to tell someone about it! I started feel like I was different, like I was some kind of monster. I kept thinking was it bad of me to have this power and not to use it? I thought that maybe someone else should have been chosen as the Carrier, not me. I’ve been too weak, too unwilling to use it. It’s been weighing on me, in the back of my mind every day. Something I’ve tried to suppress and forget. But every day when more soldiers are brought in off the battlefield it…it became a battle for me. I wondered what the other nurses would think, if all the soldiers that were on the brink of death were brought back to life by me. They would start talking, I’m sure. I’m already an outcast. People are afraid to talk to me, because of what happened to my parents.”
Anise nodded in a way she hoped was understanding.
“What happened to your parents?”
Anise jumped. She’d forgotten that Colin was even there, as silent, ever present and forgettable as a shadow.
“Well my mother, she died when I was eleven of the Scarlet Fever. And my father, I never knew my father until…until just before the day he gave me the gift of his secret. He was in prison. He was sentenced to death, and it was as he was trapped in his cell that he told me about the secret. How he wanted me to carry it on.”
Anise’s reporters’ instinct was piqued. “Why was he in prison?”
“He was the leader of an illegal gypsy band. They ran a circus that stole from the towns that they stopped in. They had people that picked the pockets of people in the crowd as they watched the performances.” Eleanor shook her head. “I know it’s bad, stealing and all but…they weren’t bad people, really. They were just trying to make a living in a world that looked down on them. No one would give them the time of day, otherwise. When they were performing, people could look past them, ignore the fact that they were homeless, dirty, hungry, that were forever on the move – unwelcome to stay in any one place too long. My father was in charge of a couple different travelling bands – most of which ended up becoming travelling performers of some sort.” She smiled wistfully, remembering spending a happy and anxious week every August watching shows and searching for her father.
“And then you were summoned to the Consortium?”
Eleanor nodded. “Yes. I had to go all the way to London. A note was left at my door, explaining what would happen, and enough money to get me there. I don’t know why they thought I would be the right person…sometimes I think they made the wrong choice.”
“They have their reasons,” Anise said, but privately wondered herself. She didn’t think she was necessarily the right candidate. And then she thought about Ophelia. If it hadn’t been for her showing up in the garden of Eden, Ophelia would probably still be alive.
“What’s your gift?” Eleanor asked Anise. “If it’s not Immortality, what is it?”
“Gift?” Anise hadn’t really thought of her new power as a gift, but she guessed in a way it was.
In answer Colin took the lump of lead turned gold and held it out. Eleanor’s eyes grew big and she took it in her hands. “You can make gold?”
Anise nodded. “Alchemy. I can turn base metals into gold. It’s not as useful as helping save people’s lives.”
“It’s not as damaging, either.” Eleanor added. “That soldier back there. He wasn’t very happy when I told him what had happened.”
Anise nodded. As much as she hated death, hated to think of it, she wasn’t sure she would like the idea that she would never be able to die. One day, she thought, one day she might just get tired of living. Of all the problems in the world. Of all the Gideon’s.
“Come with us.” The words came out without thinking about it and even shocked her.
“Come with us. I came here to find you. To warn you about a dangerous man who is looking for you – for all of us.”
“There are more than just us?”
“Yes. And Gideon is after all of us.”
Anise stared at the woman. Was she thick? “Because. Imagine what you could do with powers like ours?”
A shadow appeared at Anise’s shoulder and Eleanor let out a scream. “Who’s that?”
“Our way out of here, never you mind.”
The robed man whispered in Anise’s ear and disappeared once more into shadow.
“We need to go to the infirmary back at the hospital,” Anise said.
“It’s our way to get to the next Secret Carrier.”
The two girls left the tent, and didn’t see Colin take the lump of gold and place it on the ground.
“A gift, for you Mr. Gideon. A consolation prize of sorts, since you were unable to find us until too late, once again.” An appropriate place for a man such as him Colin thought as he stepped out of the tent to follow the two women.
The rock shimmered slightly, as if a light shone on it, but none did within the darkness of the tent. It seemed to move, expanding and contracting briefly, and in the end, all that remained was a dark lump of lead once more.
The three of them crowded into a small
room filled with surgical instruments at the back of the top floor of the
building that was used as a temporary hospital. “I’m not sure what we’re doing
“Neither am I, to be honest. I’m just following instructions.” Out of the corner of her eye Anise saw a second robed figure standing next to her Watcher. It was Eleanor’s Watcher she assumed. They seemed to be deep in discussion, and she noticed that Eleanor’s Watcher had a different colour of robe – this one was the colour of eggplant, a dark purple verging on black. She looked at her own Watcher and realized his robe wasn’t entirely black either but more of a midnight blue – one that looked almost black but not quite. She wondered what they symbolized, and then shook her head. “Focus.”
They stood in front of a supply cabinet. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic.
She removed Trevan’s photo and showed to the Eleanor and Colin. “We have to think of this man. Think of him and think of an airship.”
“An airship?” Eleanor clasped her hands together in excitement. “I’ve never been on an airship before!”
“Don’t get too excited. He’s not a nice man. He’s a pirate.”
Eleanor’s face fell.
“Think of him anyway and it’ll take us there.”
Anise opened the supply cabinet door. “This will,” she said and took a step through it, and disappeared, leaving shelf after shelf of bandages and medicines undisturbed. Eleanor and Colin followed, and behind them, the two robed Watchers.