Pyro

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Chapter 24

Modern Day; February 24th; Italy; Lady Catherine

I craned my neck around the side of the building, searching for anything that looked out of the ordinary. I was usually very good at finding things, so I wasn’t especially worried about overlooking the guard from the Underground who had been sent to spy on me in Italy. It had been strange when I had discovered Madeleine in the park in Germany. Then I remembered that Cierra had Stefan on her side and he was very logical, as that was his ability. He probably figured that I would go to an elfin dwelling place, so it made sense to station guards there. This time, though, I would outsmart them.

This time, I wasn’t going to go anywhere near the elfin dwelling place in Italy. Even if I could foresee the presence of a spy, it was too risky.

I looked left and right, but no one was looking at me on the street. They were all preoccupied with their own personal agendas. That was the way I wanted it. I took a deep breath and walked out from the alleyway in which I stood. I realized that I usually called unnecessary attention to myself and I wanted to avoid that this time, so I wore a more ordinary outfit. Black pants, black boots, and a long coat over the rest of my outfit. I also wore sunglasses because the sun was particularly bright that day and because that way, at least part of my face was covered up.

It had been a very long time since I was last in Italy and I tried to push back the memories that were threatening to make me feel nostalgic. I didn’t want to go back to the past at all. It was painful for me to think about. In the past, my mother was still alive. She, the reason for everything I did, was nothing less than a controlling bitch. But ever since she had helped me to see the light, I had felt compelled to continue her quest. It was the right thing to do. If I succeeded, I would save many human lives.

The stores I was passing began to look familiar. I recognized the bakery and the grocery and the… Yes. There it was. The apothecary. It looked the same as it had when I had last been here, somehow. That had been around thirty years ago, so seeing it was enough to send a jolt of shock through me.

I saw the sign in the window that declared the place open in Italian, so I slowly turned the handle of the door and entered the shop.

Despite being open, it was dim inside. The only light was the natural light coming in through the front windows. A long counter stretched around the perimeter of the room. At the front of this counter was a glass case showing jars and jars of mysterious objects and remedies. All of them were labeled on a little card in front of each jar. The hand writing was large and jagged. It struck a memory and I found myself staring instead of focusing on what I needed to do – assess the safety of my current situation and whether or not it was possible for a guard from the Underground to be stationed nearby. Everything I did these days involved a lot of thought and premeditation to make sure that nothing went wrong.

While I was distracted, an old man walked in from the back of the shop, nearly making me jump out of my skin.

“Hello,” he said in a low, eerily familiar voice. “How can I help you?”

He was tall and thin with a head of wavy gray hair. His eyes were small, an icy blue color. It was clear that he was getting on in years, so it was surprising that he walked as confidently as he did, without needing to lean on anything or take it slow. He wore plaid pants, black boots, and a sweater – a strange combination of items. I knew exactly who he was the minute that I saw him, even though it had been ages since I had last seen him and his shop. I could tell he didn’t recognize me, though. He squinted at me and leaned his elbows against the counter, waiting to hear my request.

It was a few minutes before I had fully digested his presence and his words enough to reply, “I actually came here to speak with you. You may not remember me, but I remember you.”

He stroked his chin thoughtfully and slowly stood up straight.

“I thought you looked familiar. But I don’t know who you are.”

“You were once very close to my mother. Very close indeed… She’s dead now, but I’m still continuing her work. I came here to ask if you could help me. I remember your skills from when I was a child and I thought you would be a good… Addition.”

“… Catherine.” He sucked in his breath when I nodded. “It really has been a while.”

“I prefer Lady Catherine now.”

“Oh, yes. I heard that you married Daryl and became the Lady of the Underground in Parcia. Well done. That’s quite an accomplishment, being the Leader of an elfin dwelling. Especially that one. But didn’t he die recently? Why are you here? What’s been going on?”

I felt like a hand had reached out and grabbed my heart in an iron grip. That’s how I felt whenever I heard his name. He was my worst mistake. I should never have gotten mixed up with someone I had feelings for. Now I was always in pain and I always would be, no matter what.

“Do you mind if…? Could we sit down somewhere?” I said, because I suddenly felt like my knees would give out if I didn’t sit.

I hated feeling weak, but I had been walking for a long time and I always felt weaker when I thought about Darylis anyways.

“Of course, of course! Follow me. I’ll make us some tea.”

I followed him into the back of the shop, where there was a small room. It was like a combination of a sitting room and a storage room because there was a large shelf of dusty jars and boxes, but there were also two armchairs and a small table between them. In the corner, there was a cabinet that he went to, to pull out the ingredients for tea. I sat in one of the armchairs and resisted the urge to sigh at the relief I felt.

He turned around with a kettle and a few baggies in his hands.

“Just give me a moment while I make the tea,” he said and left the room.

While I waited, I gazed around the room. Some of the jars were empty, but others were filled with ingredients. One of them had a loose, green substance that almost looked like weed, but it didn’t have a label. None of them had labels, so I just had to guess what they were. Another had what looked like orange peels, but they were purple. I had no doubt that some of the objects he sold were magical and couldn’t be found anywhere else.

I had never been in the back of the shop before, but I began to wonder if my mother had. The two of them had spent a lot of time together. I was too young at the time to know this, but I suspected now that they had been lovers. The thought disgusted me, my mother with anyone. How could they stand her? She was so selfish and intimidating. But she had been beautiful beyond words. It ran in the family.

He came back a minute later, just before I started having negative thoughts again.

“The tea is on,” he said, sinking into the chair next to me. “Now. Explain.”

“It’s a long story,” I said, but I launched into it anyways.

I told him about Darylis and how we had been married soon after meeting, according to the advice my mother had given me about doing whatever it took to get things done. That included sacrificing any pieces of my life that I had previously separated from the political side of my life. Then I told him about the murder and my abandonment of the Underground; how I was on the run. He seemed shocked when I said this, but not disapproving. He, after all, knew the motivation behind everything I did and everything my mother had done.

“Now I know what you have been up to lately. But why have you come to me?” he said once I had finished.

“Because I need somebody. I can’t do all of this on my own, so I need someone on my side. You already understand, I know. I remember my mother telling you everything. And I know that you’re a good fighter. You’ve been a guard in the past, so you have all that experience. And your two abilities are very useful. Well… One of them is.”

“If you don’t think my affinity for growing things is useful, then you’re very much mistaken. How do you think I’ve been doing so well with this business for so many years?” He gestured around himself. “If it wasn’t for my ability, I would be broke and living on the streets.”

“If you say so. But your invisibility… That is as valuable as gold. The two of us would make a great team, you have to admit.”

He looked thoughtful. I knew I still had to sweeten the deal or he would refuse.

“What exactly would you need me to do?”

“Forsgoth, you would be my commander, once I have an army. You would be my second in command and would help me carry out my mission to rid the world of mutants like elves. If you help me, you will be a hero and your life will have been worth something. Your name will be listed in the history books as someone who helped to stop the influx of supernatural power.”

“I don’t really believe that will happen, but it would be nice to have something worth fighting for. I haven’t done much of anything for the past thirty years. Just running the shop… By myself. I don’t even have to use my invisibility anymore to feel invisible.”

“There won’t be any need for you to be alone ever again if you don’t want to be. All you have to do is say yes and you’ll have a purpose again. If you hire some workers, your shop can still stay open while you’re away. It’s a win-win situation, really.”

Forsgoth suddenly stood up and said, “Let me go get the tea. It should be ready now.”

Sure enough, I heard the kettle start to squeal and protest from another room as he left. I tapped my fingers against my arm with impatience, eager to know what his response would be. If he said no, I was afraid that I wouldn’t succeed. I really did need someone else in order for things to work out in a decent amount of time.

Forsgoth came back with two mugs and handed me one. I gasped at how hot it was.

“Careful. It’s hot,” he said as he sat down again.

I blew on the liquid and inhaled the heavy aroma. It was sweet and powerful – so powerful that it instantly cleared my sinuses.

“It smells delicious, Forsgoth. It really is astounding what you can do with your ability. Forget what I said before about it not being useful. There’s something to be said for a good cup of tea.”

“And the things I grow are for more than just tea. I could help a person cure acne, get rid of a headache, null the pain of childbirth, and sleep well. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I also have something to prevent menstrual cramps, something to make you dream, something to help you focus…”

“Forsgoth. What do you think?”

“About joining you?” He took a sip and shuddered as it burned his tongue. “I’m going to have to say yes. I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure and what you’re describing sounds pretty close to one. At my age, I have to take what I can get.”

“You don’t seem very old.”

“For an elf, I’m still fairly young. But for a human, I’m getting old, and that’s what I’ve been living as, mostly. The local shopkeepers don’t refer to me as an elf who sells remedies. I’m a human apothecary, for all they know. Some people are superstitious and wouldn’t buy from someone who uses magic to grow his stock. I can’t blame them. Magic is a powerful, scary thing. You never know what can happen with magic. I don’t even know what to expect, some days.”

I took a sip of the tea and the flavor overwhelmed me. It was surprisingly sweet—more so than any of the tea I had ever had before. Memories began to dance through my head in such a vivid way that they seemed to be happening all over again. I saw Forsgoth and my mother dancing together while I stood off to the side as a child, watching. I wanted to be my mother so that I could dance like her and be as fabulous as she was. And, even though she stressed the importance of being independent and not relying on anyone else, I wanted someone to dance with. I was romantic as a child because my eyes had not yet been opened to the world of pain that was love and affection. I didn’t know yet that once you gave your love to someone, they would leave you high and dry.

In the memory, she wore a long, lacy white dress and he wore a suit. As they danced across the floor, they changed into Darylis and me dancing on our wedding day. That was a happy day, indeed. Back then, everything was still fine. I was truly in love, though I didn’t know it yet. I wouldn’t truly know until he was gone. I wished I could have warned my past self as I watched the memory through a haze of pink light. Then the vision began to change once again. We were wearing similar clothes, but this time we were wrapped in an embrace instead of dancing. I smiled as I watched us, but my smile disappeared as I saw the knife come crashing down. As blood went everywhere, the memory vanished as quickly as it had appeared, in a puff of smoke.

I stared in disbelief as the room around me came into focus. My chest rose and fell rapidly with each breath that I took. Forsgoth was watching me over the top of his teacup, I saw.

“Did you see that?” I asked.

“Yes, I did. There are two kinds of this tea. One of them allows you to see some of your memories. The other allows you to see what the other person is seeing at the same time. I made the second kind for myself.”

I didn’t know what to say at first. What he had done seemed intrusive to me, but on the other hand, it was rather innocent. For all I knew, he did this for everyone who came to visit him.

“Then, you saw…”

“You were in love with him.”

I still am.

“It wasn’t an easy situation. But I think it was the best decision.”

Forsgoth looked like he was having trouble deciding how to respond.

“Do you really think that? I don’t see why you had to kill him.”

“Really? It’s quite obvious to me. My feelings were getting in the way of my decisions. The fact that I stayed in the Underground for all those years is a sign that he was a bad distraction. It’s very important to me that I spread my mother’s message and continue her work. I care about the future of the human race and I don’t want it to be overrun with… Monsters .”

“I understand your point of view, Catherine. I really do. I just think you could have told Daryl the truth. He was your husband, after all. If he loved you, he would have at least tried to see your point of view.”

I stood up and turned around with the teacup in my hand, keeping my back to Forsgoth. I didn’t want him to see the pain on my face. What he didn’t know was that Darylis hadn’t been in his right mind. Without magic, there was a possibility that he would have wanted nothing to do with me. That was the saddest part and I didn’t like to think about it.

I took another sip of the tea without thinking about it and the pink light appeared again. Through it, I saw Margrét leaning over me in a sick bed as I wailed in pain. It was the day I gave birth to the twins. I almost dropped my teacup, but instead I gulped down the rest of it. The scalding liquid burned my entire mouth, but I didn’t care anymore. All I wanted to do was get rid of that pink light.

“Ugh! I’ve had enough of this stupid tea. It’s delicious, but I don’t want to live in the past, Forsgoth.”

“You just want to live in the future.”

I turned around and looked at him, clutching the empty teacup in my hand.

“If you want to come with me, you’re going to have to leave the shop with me today. As soon as possible. I don’t want to stay in Italy longer than necessary. This may surprise you, but Cierra – my daughter is the new Leader of the Underground – has sent guards after me. There are spies everywhere, so I have to be careful. So the sooner you can be ready to go, the better.”

“Alright. Just give me a few minutes.”

At the end of those few minutes, Forsgoth met me in the main part of the shop. He carried a satchel that was stocked full with a year’s supply of tea and other medicinal herbs. I resisted the urge to laugh at him. When I traveled, I brought nothing but myself.

“Excellent. Let’s go. Say goodbye to your old life now, Forsgoth. There is no turning back.”

He actually looked slightly worried, I noticed. It wasn’t exactly surprising, considering he had been in that shop for decades now. It was all he knew.

“I just hope that I’ll be able to come back sometime,” he said as he locked the front door of the store behind him while I waited. “Part of my heart will always be here.”

“I don’t doubt that. Come on, now.”

We turned around at the same time to leave and my stomach jumped in alarm. Just across the street from us, Adam, the redheaded librarian from the Underground, was window shopping with his brunette love. I held my breath, as though they wouldn’t notice me if I stopped breathing. Forsgoth noticed my sudden reaction and elbowed me.

“What’s wrong? Do you know them?”

“Forsgoth,” I said, “if you touch me, will it make me invisible too?”

In response, he reached out and grabbed my arm and all at once, I could see the window of his shop instead of his body. He was invisible. My immediate response was to gasp and look at myself. The ground was all there was. I no longer seemed to have a body, which was strange because I could certainly feel my body. It was the strangest sensation; like being doused in ice water.

“I have to know what they’re saying. Come along and don’t make a sound.”

Careful not to brush against any pedestrians, I pulled him with me across the street until we were standing just behind Adam and the woman with him. They looked happy and were more preoccupied with their conversation than what they were looking at.

“This really was a lovely idea, Adam,” the woman was saying. “I much prefer going for a walk to doing something boring inside. Especially on a sunny day like this.”

“So you are enjoying the honeymoon so far, then?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Honeymoon? Since when was Adam getting married? I don’t remember him being romantically involved with anyone when I was still in the Underground. I guess a lot can change in a couple months…

“Of course I am! If we sat in a patch of mud for thirty days for our honeymoon, I would be content. As long as I’m with you, that’s all that matters. I love you. I’m so glad that I found you.”

“Me too. I’m sorry that I ever left. I shouldn’t have been afraid to tell you what I was. You loved me. I should have known that was enough and that you wouldn’t mind.”

Mind? Why would she mind if –?

“It’s taken some getting used to, but I actually think it’s sexy that you’re not human. Sometimes I feel like I’m boring because I don’t have any special abilities or anything.”

Holy hell! She’s a human!

Hate and disgust boiled within me. I had never had a reason to dislike Adam before now. He was such a nice person, but now I knew the truth. He had the audacity to be with a human woman and felt like it was okay to change her purity and normalcy with his abomination of a condition.

Adam put his arm around her and said, “Don’t be so silly. I love you just the way you are.”

“Even though I couldn’t afford to take us anywhere for our honeymoon?”

“I couldn’t either! The only reason we could come here is because I had a teleportic Icelandic volcanic rock that I borrowed from the Underground and because Cierra wanted to have a couple guards in Italy, anyways. And it saves a whole lot of money…”

“I would go broke for you,” she said sweetly, going up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. “I tend to go broke for the people I love. I almost went broke for Melissa when she was really little. I used to buy her whatever she wanted. She was actually really spoiled when she was a toddler. Then I came to my senses. I had to, once the bills came.”

They laughed and my hands balled into fists.

She’s Melissa’s mother?! That would explain how Melissa’s a half elf. That must mean that her father is the elf… Adam must be her father! I can’t believe this! I thought he was alright! Why does everyone have to keep fucking everything up?! If elves didn’t mess around with humans and actually left them alone, the mess that I am cleaning up wouldn’t be so bad!

Forsgoth noticed my silent reaction of anger and started pulling me away from them. I fought against him, not wanting to leave before I got more information out of Melissa’s parents. After all, if I wanted to kill Melissa, I needed to know more about her.

I pushed away from Forsgoth, accidentally forgetting for a minute that I needed to hold on to him to stay invisible. As I became corporeal once again, my struggle with an invisible force caught the attention of several passersby, including Adam and his new wife. When they turned around and saw me, Adam started in surprise and instinctively grabbed his wife, pushing her behind him to protect her. I was glad to see that I had such an effect on people. I hadn’t meant to let him see me, but now that I was face-to-face with him, I had to act naturally.

“Oh, hello, Adam! Long time no see! How are you doing?”

“How dare you talk to me like nothing has happened! How can you live with yourself after killing an innocent man?!”

“Oh my God, is this Lady Catherine?!” said his wife.

I smiled maliciously and said, “So you’ve heard of me.”

“Believe it or not, you’re actually pretty well known for being a bitch.”

“A bitch? Well, maybe. Especially if you take into account that I’m planning to kill your daughter.”

“What?! You stay away from Melissa!”

To my amusement, Adam’s normally pale face turned as red as his hair. He looked more belligerent now than he ever had.

“Why would you want to kill Melissa?!” said the woman, who looked like she might cry. “She’s such a good girl!”

“She may be, but you aren’t! Fucking elves won’t get you anywhere in life, let me tell you! I can’t believe the two of you would dare to commit such a heinous crime! You’re disgusting!”

She began to cry tears of frustration and Adam glared so fiercely that I was thankful that looks couldn’t kill.

“Stay away from us!” Adam said. “I don’t see how you think you can win against all of us who have been offended by you. You can’t win a battle with hate. Mindless hate will get you nowhere, especially if you don’t have anyone on your side.”

“Oh, I have people on my side! You’ll see!”

I would have said more, but at that moment an invisible hand reached out and grabbed my hand, teleporting me far, far away from the couple.

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