Chapter Eighteen: Forgill & Ferrisfort.
Bree’s SUV wound its way through the narrow country roads. Mark rested his head against the passenger window and watched the countryside slide past. Memories of previous drives with his father, and fears about the journey ahead filled his thoughts.
Bree glanced at him then looked in the mirror into the back seat.
“Are you all right back there, Niamh?” she asked.
“Yes thanks, Mrs. McHewell,” said Niamh.
“You should call me Bree, Niamh. You’re almost a young woman after all. And we young women have to stick together!”
Bree winked in the mirror, and Niamh’s face lit up. She and Bree both laughed. Niamh envied Mark, having a mum like Bree. She had never known her own mother, and Martha was cold and stand-offish. She’d certainly never banter the way Bree did.
As if reading her mind, Bree said:
“How are you getting along with Martha? Not that it’s really any of my business, but I think she can be a bit hard on you.”
“Yeah, she can be a right cow, sometimes. I’ve tried to get along with her for Daddy’s sake, but I don’t think she really likes me.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Niamh. I think she’s one of those people who find it hard to express their feelings, but I think she loves you all right.”
“She’s got a strange way of showing it. She’d never have let me come today if you hadn’t convinced her. And she’s got Daddy wrapped around her little finger too. Sometimes I don’t even know him anymore. He’s so different now.”
Bree thought for a few moments then said:
“Have you ever considered the possibility that they’ve stayed exactly the same and it’s you that’s changed?”
She shifted the angle of the rear-view mirror slightly to see Niamh’s face. Niamh looked a little taken-aback. She looked out the window, her brow furrowed then puffed out her cheeks.
“I never thought about it like that. I don’t think I’ve changed that much though.”
“Look at it this way; you’re not a child any more. Your dad knew exactly how to relate to your older brothers when they were teenagers, but now he has to come to terms with you not being his little girl any more. He doesn’t know how to deal with it.”
“Maybe. But what about Martha? She must have been fourteen once. She must remember what it’s like.”
“Oh she remembers, all right. She remembers only too well. She’s jealous of you, Niamh.”
“Oh, yes. It’s obvious from the way she deals with you. It’s the same combination of admiration and jealousy you see in schoolgirls that leads to bullying. She wants to be like you, but knows that part of her life is over. You’re becoming a beautiful woman, and let’s face it, poor Martha is no oil painting. You might think she is some stern older woman, steady and boring, but I promise you this; under the surface, she is just another young woman living in an older woman’s body.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because every woman is like that! When I was your age, I thought there was some special switch that would flick in your head when you hit twenty-one, or got married, or had children, and CLICK; you’d be an adult and have all the answers. There's not. Or if there is, I'm still waiting for it. Women don’t feel much different whether they’re fourteen or forty-four.”
“Really. Men too. Men more so! Isn’t that right, Mister?”
She looked over and nudged Mark who was still staring out the window. He hadn’t said a word in ages.
“I was just saying that men never really grow up. You’re all just a bunch of kids with expensive toys!” She grinned and nudged him again.
“Uh, I suppose. Sorry Mum, I wasn’t really listening. Anyway, how would I know, I’m only fourteen?”
Bree made a mock-serious face at Niamh in the mirror, and Niamh chuckled quietly into her hands. Bree rolled her eyes at Mark.
“All right, Mr Grumpy! Sheesh, you’re very serious today. So tell me; why are we going to this place… what’s it called…?”
“Ferrisfort. Why are we going to Ferrisfort, again?”
Niamh shifted in the back seat and looked uncomfortable.
“It’s one of the places Dad and I used to go to on our drives. I just wanted to see it again.”
“Anything special there?”
“Not really. It’s just a small village. I just wanted to walk around, maybe go to the shop; visit the church.”
“Visit the church? Why would you want to do that?”
“I dunno, it just looks kind-of interesting.”
Bree looked at him with an expression of utter puzzlement.
“Are you becoming religious since your father disappeared?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just something I’d like to do.”
Bree looked at him again then looked at Niamh in the mirror. Niamh looked away.
“Why do I get the impression I’m not being told the full story here?”
They both started to speak but Bree interrupted them.
“Look, I don’t want to know. Whatever you’re up to must be important to both of you. Let me just ask you this: Is it dangerous, or will it get you into trouble?”
“No,” they chimed.
“OK, then I’m up for the adventure too whatever it is. Are we still on the right road?”
She nodded her head at the portable GPS in Mark’s hand. He consulted it.
“Yeah, just follow this road. We should get there in twenty minutes. You’re right about this gadget, by the way Mum – it is an awesome present. Thanks!”
“You’re welcome Kiddo,” she said, and they continued on their way.
Ferdia rested his head against the bus window and watched the leafy suburbs of South Dublin slip by. A quiet sense of anticipation bubbled in his stomach.
The previous four days had been some of the most satisfying of his life. After the Skype conversation with Mark and Niamh, he had written a well-crafted email to Del Forgill, the owner of the Magus Conspiracy website. As expected, Forgill was skeptical and wrote a curt response. Over the following days, Ferdia engaged Forgill in a battle of wits during which he fed out bits and pieces of the story like a fishing line. Forgill was interested but wary, and Ferdia knew he had to play him carefully. The contest continued daily and Forgill’s interest waxed as his wariness waned. The coup de grâce was perfect: Ferdia emailed Forgill a photograph of the two Tetroi sitting on a copy of that day’s paper. Forgill was hooked. The next email was an invitation to Forgill’s home in Churchtown, and an entreaty to bring the Tetroi along for examination.
A smile played on Ferdia’s lips. He was good at manipulating adults, but the victory over Forgill was his most successful joust yet. He ran his hand over the soft leather briefcase on his knee, tracing the edges of the Tetroi inside. He had no intention of showing them to Forgill, but had brought them for leverage should the need arise.
The bus bumbled along in the sunshine and Ferdia closed his eyes. He didn’t know how he would separate Forgill from his Tetros, but was confident he would figure it out as the meeting progressed. He played several possible scenarios out in his mind as to how things would develop, and prepared himself mentally for the impending battle of wits. Soon the bus turned onto Lower Churchtown Road and Ferdia pushed the ‘Stop’ button. The bus trundled to a halt and he alighted. Squinting against the sunshine, he got his bearings and made for Del Forgill’s house.
Bree parked the Volvo outside a store in Ferrisfort. There was a wide sidewalk out front with three ancient gas pumps that hadn’t worked in years, and an old drinking trough, now converted to a flowerbox, exploding with summer blooms. Attached to the store was a pub with traditional frontage. The store had probably been a cozy country shop with similar frontage to the pub, but had been redeveloped into a franchised mini-market. Bree thought it was a shame: Ferrisfort was a beautiful little town and this store was an eyesore.
She shut off the engine and they stepped out of the air-conditioned SUV. It was like stepping into a sauna.
“Oh my God, is there no end to this heat?” said Bree. “Who wants an ice-cream?”
Mark and Niamh both declined and looked eager to be on their way.
“Well, there’s a first; turning down ice-cream! Right; off with the pair of you. I’ll probably meet you walking around, but if not, we’ll meet back here at the car in an hour, OK?”
They both nodded and headed down the street. She watched them go, shaking her head slightly. In the distance was the spire of a church. They were heading straight towards it.
What ARE they up to?
Still shaking her head, she went into the deliciously cool interior of the store. When she came back out, ice-cream in hand, there was no sign of the teenagers.
I’ve got to find out what’s going on.
She put on her sunglasses, adjusted her hat and followed the route Mark and Niamh had taken to the church.
Forgill’s house was down a narrow lane, beside a grand old mansion on Lower Churchtown Road. Ferdia walked past it twice before noticing it, then made his way under a red-brick arch and down the pea-shingled lane to a small courtyard overhung by leafy branches. A single oak stood in the center of the quad.
It was like going back in time. The courtyard was bordered on two sides by old stone buildings that had once been the mansion’s stables, but were now converted into a striking cottage. A tall privet hedge bordered the third side and the fourth was the rear wall of the mansion’s grounds. An old Jaguar sports car, long and low, crouched in the shade of the oak.
Ferdia entered an ivy covered porch and rang the brass bell affixed to the granite surround. He heard shuffling noises behind the arched wooden door, and an eye glinted in the peephole.
“Mr. McMurnagh?” said the voice through the door.
“Yes, it’s me, Mr. Forgill.”
Three heavy bolts shot back, and a security chain rattled into place. The door opened just enough for Ferdia to make out the face of a middle-aged man with an unkempt grey beard. His hair was grey and straggly; not long but bushed out like a shaggy grey dog. The man peered at Ferdia.
“My God, you’re only a boy! What is this? Who sent you?”
He looked over Ferdia’s shoulder into the courtyard, nostrils flaring.
“Are you alone?” he snapped.
“Yes, I came on my own, as agreed.”
Forgill looked unconvinced and started to shut the door. Ferdia knew he had seconds to salvage the situation. He held up the briefcase.
“I brought the Tetroi.”
Forgill looked at the briefcase and the look in his eyes changed to something like lust. His tongue flicked out for a second and spittle glistened on his lower lip. The overall effect was deeply unpleasant and a wave of revulsion thrilled down Ferdia’s spine. He almost turned and ran, but at that moment Forgill unlatched the chain and opened the door. He beckoned Ferdia inside, looking out into the courtyard and up the lane like a nervous ferret. Ferdia hesitated then gritted his teeth and entered the house. Forgill peered out into the courtyard for a few moments longer then swung the door shut. He slid the bolts into place, and latched several security chains.
Ferdia felt trapped and anxious.
Forgill gestured him to a leather armchair and seated himself opposite. For several moments he regarded Ferdia in silence, then stood up and walked to a cabinet covered in liquor bottles.
Ferdia stammered. He’d never been offered a drink before. Before he had a chance to answer Forgill slapped his own forehead.
“God, what am I thinking? You’re only a kid. How old are you anyway?”
This situation hadn’t come up in any of Ferdia’s mental scenarios. He needed to get control of the conversation.
“I’m … look, never mind how old I am. I’d much rather talk about the Magus Conspiracy, and the cabal.”
“All right, all right. Keep your hair on, young Teetotaler!”
Forgill looked over the top of his whiskey glass at the briefcase on Ferdia’s lap. He nodded towards it.
“Can I see them?”
Ferdia pulled the briefcase a little closer to himself.
“Tell me what this is all about, first – and your link to it.”
Forgill sighed and walked slowly to his armchair. He sank into it and placed the glass on a small table.
“How long have you got, kid?”
“As long as it takes.”
"OK kid, I hope you're ready for this."
Forgill leaned forward in his chair and said:
"Many thousands of years ago, this land was inhabited by a race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann - the Tribe of the Goddess Danu. They settled here for many years, presiding over a golden age of peace and prosperity, until a warlike race of humans called the Milesians arrived and set about displacing them. Rather than go to war - a practice they had long since eschewed - the Danu saw this as part of the natural cycle of things and opted to leave this tír. A much older race of beings, the felkynd, had given the Danu devices that could open gateways – or sídhe - between the tírs. Thus the last of the ancient godlike races abandoned this tír and left it to the humans.
"About twelve thousand years ago, one of the Danu, Midir, came back. He had wanted to stay in this tír originally, and had campaigned for a war against the Milesians. When he and his followers came back, had no compunction about taking on the Milesians and soon subjugated them. And he didn't stop there.
“Over the next two thousand years he built a vast empire that spanned the Earth. His seat of power was on an island in the Atlantic, variously called Hy Brasil and Atlantis. On the face of it, it was an erudite civilization with great advances in science and engineering, but it was rotten to the core. The ordinary people worked themselves to death to keep the empire going. Dissidents were imprisoned and tortured. Children were kidnapped and sent to other tírs as slave labor.
"The Danu turned a blind eye; after all, they didn't concern themselves with human affairs, and Midir was one of their own. But when the Danu king Dagda found out Midir was planning to expand his empire to other tírs, and that he had a deadly new weapon, he called a summit. With the approval of the felkynd, the races of all tírs agreed to intervene and stop Midir. They assembled an army and prepared to take him on.
"The felkynd opened a sidh on the island of Atlantis and Dagda's army poured through. They laid siege to Atlantis for weeks but were unable to take it, or to capture Midir.
“One day Midir appeared on one of the towers of Atlantis and projected an image of himself into the midst of the besieging army, right in front of Dagda and the members of the felkynd council. He ordered them to leave Atlantis. If they didn't he would unleash his secret weapon and wipe out millions of beings across all the tírs simultaneously. King Dagda believed Midir was bluffing, but the felkynd, who were the only race that lived in all nine tírs - and who had stewardship of the security of them - couldn't take that chance. Overruling Dagda, they ordered the army to retreat back through the sidh. Once the army was clear, they gave Midir one last chance to give himself up and hand over his secret weapon. He refused, and in fact, said he was going to use his weapon anyway to wipe out the felkynd completely. The felkynd, following what they believed to be the lesser of two evils, then took a terrible decision.”
Forgill sat further forward in his seat, and his eyes flashed in the dim interior of the cottage.
"Survivors of the catastrophe described a vast shimmering disc over Atlantis. The felkynd altered the sidh they had opened, you see - widened it until it obscured the sky. Then they opened another sidh just as massive in Tír faoi Thuinn - The Land under the Waves - and joined it to the one over Atlantis."
He paused for a reaction from Ferdia.
Ferdia shook his head. "So what?"
"They opened it under the water."
Forgill paused again to let the significance of this sink in. He continued in a quieter voice:
"Water cascaded through the sidh onto Atlantis. The water levels all over the earth rose by tens of meters. In a matter of days, this tír was inundated and Atlantis disappeared under the water forever. Millions of humans, animals and other beings died, and the threat of Midir was erased."
Ferdia snorted and looked wholly unimpressed.
"That's a fairy story, Mr. Forgill. I mean, if it were true, and everyone in this tír was wiped out, how could you possibly know about it?"
"I didn't say everyone was wiped out - I said there were survivors. A man called Nú gathered as many people as possible, along with animals and possessions, and set off in a flotilla of ships before Atlantis was completely engulfed."
"Well, if there were survivors, how come it doesn't appear in the historical record?"
"Well, it does, in a way. I’m sure you’ve heard of Noah’s Ark and the great flood.”
Ferdia’s mouth curled, and he was about to pour scorn on the whole idea when Forgill pre-empted him:
“Have you never wondered why every major civilization has a catastrophic flood in its mythology? Each of these myths is based on the drowning of Atlantis. Mind you, if we'd had our way, there would be no record of it whatsoever."
"What? What do you mean 'we'?"
Forgill sighed and took a long pull on his whisky.
“We rewrote history, but we didn’t do a good enough job. The persistent myths of Atlantis and a great flood are a testament to how bad a job we did.”
“You keep saying ‘we’. Who are ‘we’?”
"I’ll get to that. The felkynd were still trying to find out if Midir had survived or escaped. They located Nú's flotilla, brought the survivors to dry land, and interrogated them. Midir wasn’t among them, and no-one knew what had happened to him - or if they did, they weren't saying. But one of the survivors was Midir's master scrievnor. The felkynd focused on him since he’d be the most likely survivor to know about Midir’s plans. It turned out he knew no more about Midir than any of the other survivors, but under interrogation he revealed he had saved one of Midir’s most prized artifacts from the flood. At first, the felkynd thought they could use the artifact to coax Midir out of hiding, but when they realized what they actually had, they came up with a new plan: They would rewrite history – edit Midir, Atlantis and the flood out of existence.”
“And how would they do that, exactly?”
“The artifact the scrievnor had brought was the Lebor Stara – the Book of History – one of the most powerful artifacts that has ever existed.”
“What’s so powerful about a book?”
“Oh, what the Danu called ‘books’ were far more than books as you know them. These were incredibly powerful objects created by a Danu guild known as the Scrievnorí. Like all Danu guilds, The Scrievnorí used a combination of science and magic – called teic – to create powerful machines and artifacts. The books they created were devices with a purpose, not repositories of facts or stories, and the Lebor Stara was the Scrievnorí's greatest achievement: It could actually change history.”
"So what? All the great dictators revised history to suit their own ends. Disreputable newspapers do it all the time to promote certain political messages."
"Oh, but what I’m talking about is not some damnatio memoriae. Dictators rewrite history then use torture and murder to make sure the old truths are suppressed. What they can't do is fix it so that the events never actually happened.”
“You’re telling me this book could literally rewrite history. How is that possible?”
“It could manipulate timelines. A master scrievnor could write a series of events into the Lebor Stara, as if writing a story. If the Scrievnor wrote it in enough detail, the book would create a new thread of space-time in which those events actually took place. It would then insert that new thread into history, overwriting the previous version of events.”
“But that’s impossible! People would remember things as they had happened before. You’d have to tamper with the memory of every person who was affected by the changed events.”
Forgill was nodding at Ferdia, his eyes gleaming over the rim of his glass.
“I told you it was powerful. A scrievnor could rewrite a period of history; kill off people, create others, erase events, places, you name it. The Lebor Stara would unwind history back to the starting point of the time thread, and roll out the revised history, like a red carpet, overwriting what was there before. And this would happen in an instant; so fast that people didn’t notice it. The new history literally became their past, as if they had lived it.”
Ferdia was staring at the floor and shaking his head.
“I can’t believe it. It’s too incredible …”
“That’s not the half of it. Some of the technology the Danu and felkynd had was truly staggering, even by today’s standards. It’s no wonder people thought they were gods.”
“Who are these felkynd you keep mentioning?”
“They’re an ancient race of beings; guardians of the nine tírs, if you like. They’re the only race to live in all nine tírs simultaneously.”
“But they don’t live in this tír anymore, do they? I mean, I’ve never heard of them, or seen them.”
“Oh, yes they do – and you certainly have seen them.”
“No, I haven’t!”
“You’ve never seen a cat?”
“Wh … felkynd are cats?”
“In this tír, yes. When I said they live in all nine tírs, I meant that quite literally. Each felkynd has a consciousness that spans all tírs, but has a different physical form in each. In this tír, we know them as cats. That’s where the old legend about cats having nine lives comes from.”
Ferdia was looking into space.
“I heard about a Felkynd Allegiance, recently. Whatever it is it seems to be mixed up in whatever's going on with the Tetroi.”
“Where did you hear about the Felkynd Allegiance?”
Ferdia told Forgill about Níamh's encounter with the priest in the lighthouse.
Forgill bowed his head, and when he spoke his voice was grief-stricken.
"Ah. He is dead, then. Poor Patrik. I wish I could have seen him once more before he died."
Forgill was silent for long moments then he sat up and took a long drink from his whisky tumbler.
"Did you get his Tetros?"
Back to the Tetroi. Ferdia decided there was no point in stringing Forgill along any longer.
“The priest told Niamh where it was as he was dying. At least he tried to, and I pieced it together from what he said. It’s in a church down the country. Some friends of mine are getting it today. In Ferrisfort.”
Forgill leaped from his chair.
“What? Your friends are going to the church in Ferrisfort? We have to stop them. They’re in terrible danger!”
Ferdia looked at his watch.
“Well, they’re there about now. Why are they in such danger?”
Forgill ignored him.
“Do your friends have a phone? Call them immediately and tell them to stay away from that church. Oh, you stupid children; you have no idea what you’re tangled up in.”
Forgill’s anxiety galvanized Ferdia and he stood up and fumbled his phone from his pocket. The briefcase fell to the floor. He dialed Mark’s number and waited.
“It’s gone straight to voicemail.”
“Try him again. You must …”
At that, Forgill jumped. The reaction was so intense that Ferdia jumped in sympathy. Forgill dropped to his knees and stared out the window, waving Ferdia away towards the other side of the room.
“There’s someone outside,” Forgill hissed. “Stay quiet.”
Forgill’s head bobbed this way and that as he looked through the window.
“There are four of them. Magus’s people – The Cabal.”
“Quiet! They’re coming towards the house.”
Sure enough, Ferdia could now hear soft footsteps as several people crept across the pea shingle. Forgill shrank back from the window, dropped to a crawl and scurried across the room towards Ferdia. With that, a face appeared at the window and several heart-stopping bangs came on the front door.
“FORGILL!” a woman’s voice screamed. ”You’ve gone too far this time. Let’s get this over with.”
Forgill’s face was ashen. Another loud bang on the door spurred him into action: He jumped to his feet, seized Ferdia by the shoulder and dragged him towards a large bookcase. He wrenched the bookcase aside revealing a stone stairway leading downwards. Tendrils of dank air groped at Ferdia from the stairway. He pulled back but Forgill pushed him towards the opening and halfway down the steps.
“The briefcase!” Ferdia shouted.
“I know,” said Forgill, and ran back towards into the room.
Ferdia hesitated on the cold steps, trying to decide the best course of action. In the room above he could hear Forgill dashing about, knocking things over and – surely not – opening the security chains and shooting the bolts back.
Ferdia had started back up the steps when Forgill appeared in the opening and ran down towards him. He thrust the briefcase into Ferdia’s arms and ushered him down the steps.
“Hurry; go through the basement. There’s a door leading to the outside. Don’t worry; the exit is well hidden. When you get outside, follow the hidden passage to the end and wait for me there.”
“But why did you open the security chains?”
“I have to lure them into the house to trap them, now go!”
He pushed Ferdia towards the basement and scampered back to the top of the steps.
Ferdia descended to the basement entrance and in the dim light from above, he could make out a door in the far wall. He hurried through the basement and unbolted the door revealing a staircase leading upwards to another door. Like the front door, this one had many bolts and chains securing it. Ferdia unlatched them all and pulled it open.
He emerged into what seemed like a jungle, with sunlight - blinding after the dark of the basement – boring through thick vegetation. He was disorientated until he realized the door opened into the middle of the privet hedge. The hedge was hollow and concealed a passage that lead along the edge of the courtyard to the back wall of the mansion.
He crept along the passage to the wall. Through the hedge he could see the old Jaguar and by pressing his face to the vegetation he could make out the front of the cottage.
Forgill's attackers were four blonde women, their hair tied back in severe ponytails. Two were in the porch in fighting stances with long blades in their hands, peering into the house. Two more held back, one at the window and one near the oak tree. They were all dressed in fitted black leather armor that showed in no uncertain terms how lithe and purposeful they were. Ferdia’s heart beat a little faster.
There was a sudden noise from inside the house and the two women in the porch rushed inside screaming an ululating cry in unison. The other two came forward to take their places and drew their blades. There was another loud crash from inside the cottage and a scream of anger. The two in the porch charged inside issuing the same strange cry. Their voices waned as - Ferdia guessed - they ran down into the basement.
Terrified, he looked down the passage towards the exit door. He was sure Forgill must be dead. He was also sure that at any moment the women would pour out through the door, down the passage and hack him to pieces. Suddenly, there were two metallic crashes from the basement, and the voices of the four women were muffled to near silence. The door from the basement opened and Del Forgill ran out and down the passage to Ferdia.
“No time. Come on!”
Forgill squeezed through the gap between the end of the hedge and the wall and dragged Ferdia after him. Forgill jumped into the Jaguar and Ferdia followed suit. The engine roared, and with pea shingle spraying, Forgill accelerated the car across the courtyard and down the lane.
Halfway down the lane a shimmering disc appeared in front of them and a leather-clad woman stepped out of thin air into their path. She aimed a weapon at the windshield. It looked like a spear, but from the way she was holding it, it must have been a projectile weapon. Ferdia threw his hands up before his face, but Forgill swerved the car and, with a sickening series of thuds and bangs, ran straight over the woman. Ferdia shouted in horror and caught sight of the woman in the mirror, rolling to a bloody, broken stop. He squeezed his eyes shut and fought to keep his breakfast down.
The Jaguar shot out of the lane onto Lower Churchtown Road, narrowly missing a bus, and fishtailed down the road as Forgill wrestled with the steering. Once the car was under control, Forgill glanced at Ferdia’s lap.
“You still have the Tetroi?”
Ferdia nodded. He had to swallow several times before he could speak.
“That woman … she’s …?”
“I certainly hope so. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do for the rest of them too. Best I could do was trap them in the cellar. I had it specially fitted with shield doors; they’re not going anywhere for a while. If they can’t open a sidh and get out they’ll starve – and good enough for them; mercenary harpies!”
“They were all women.”
Forgill looked at him in puzzlement.
“Of course they were. All the Marfori are women; assassins from Tír na mBan, recruited by Magus.”
“Why were they after you?”
“Because I’m trying to expose the cabal, and tell the truth about what happened when we rewrote history.”
“There’s that ‘we’ again. You say it like you were there.”
“Well that’s the point; I was there. I was Midir’s master scrievnor.”
“In a past life?”
Forgill laughed without humor.
“Oh no; in this life. This long, awful life. Because of my involvement with the Lebor Stara, I’m immortal. I’m over twelve-thousand years old.”
Ferdia’s mouth fell open. “You can’t be serious.”
“Sadly, I am deadly serious. After they interrogated me, the felkynd ordered me to write the Flood, Midir and his empire - including me and the Lebor Stara - out of existence. I was to be my own executioner.
“I was quite willing to die, but I screwed up. Perhaps on some level, I didn’t want the story to be forgotten. Anyway, I only managed to relegate Midir and Atlantis to the realm of myth, and I disrupted my own timeline, causing it to loop back on itself. I haven’t aged a day since then.”
Ferdia drew breath to ridicule Forgill’s story, but he snapped his mouth shut. All he had seen today had made him a lot less arrogant and sure of himself.
“What happened to the book?”
“When I activated the new timeline, the book disappeared. Magus and the felkynd have been looking for it ever since.”
“OK, so what’s Midir’s connection to Simon Magus?”
“Magus was a creation of Midir’s. He literally crafted him in his own image, like a flesh-and-blood simulacrum. We’re not entirely sure if Magus is an autonomous being or just a shell for Midir’s Animus.”
“His persona, his essence. His soul, if you will. We know Midir used the Magus corpus to travel to different tírs, but not if there was a Magus personality independent of Midir.”
Forgill stopped the car at a red traffic light and peered about, his face worried. Ferdia did the same.
“Do you think they can follow us?”
“I have no idea what they’re capable of these days. I only hope they’ve given up; or that they’ll wait at the house thinking I’ll come back eventually.”
“Aren’t you going back? That’s your home!”
“It’s one of my homes. One tends to amass a lot of property and accouterments over twelve thousand years.”
Forgill pulled away from the lights and turned right.
“Where are we going?”
“To Ferrisfort. Keep trying to get your friends on the phone. One way or another, we have to get them away from that church. Pray we’re not too late.”
Bree stood in the pleasant cool of the chapel porch and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. The door from the nave opened, and an old woman in a headscarf walked out into the porch. She dipped her hand into the stoup, and looked Bree up and down with disdain as she crossed herself and shuffled out into the sunlight. Bree caught her own reflection in the glass of the chapel door as it swung closed and supposed she might look out of place with her designer sunglasses on top of her head and her summery blouse and shorts.
Movement inside the church broke her focus and through the glass door she saw Mark and Niamh walking up the left aisle, examining the wall.
What are they looking for?
Bree climbed the stairs to the gallery, took a seat near the front and watched them. They were examining the exterior of the confessional. It was a carved wooden panel with three doors built into the inner church wall.
“Where do you think it is?” Niamh’s voice carried clearly in the bright acoustics of the church.
“Well, what did the priest say exactly?”
Niamh took some paper from her pocket and unfolded it.
“He said it’s ‘hidden in plain sight’ and it’s ‘right there under their noses’.”
“The penitents; people going to confession.”
Mark thought for a second then looked around the area in front of the confessional. The pews there were shorter than the rest to make room for two small rows of benches with kneelers, perpendicular to the main seating, facing the confessional. Mark knelt down on the nearer one and studied the carved wooden fascia of the confessional. Up in the balcony, Bree stood up and leaned over the edge to see what he was doing. After a moment a huge grin spread across Mark’s face.
“What are you grinning at, you loon?” asked Niamh.
Mark pointed at the front of the confessional, near the floor. On the fascia was square inset into the wood, and in the square was a pattern of sixteen alternate black and white marble tiles.
“I’ll bet you a year’s allowance, that’s the top of the Cleric’s Tetros,” said Mark.
“Wow!” said Niamh. She knelt on the floor and examined the top of the Tetros. Just above it was a wooden flap, and under it three brass dials in a row, with the numbers one to fourteen embossed around their edges. On each dial was a rotating pointer.
“I guess we have to set these pointers to the correct numbers before we can release the Tetros.”
“Yeah, but what numbers? Hang on; didn’t the priest say something about a key?”
“Yeah, he said ‘the falls are the key; the falls along the way’.”
Mark wrinkled his nose. “What does that mean?”
“Well, we’re looking for a three-digit number, right? Is there three of anything in here that might relate to falls? Waterfalls? Maybe it means Fall as in Autumn.”
Mark ran his hands through his hair and blew air out through pursed lips. “God, I haven’t a clue. The only thing that’s falling here is us; at the final hurdle!”
“Wait a minute,” said Niamh. “Maybe they are actually falls, as in someone falling down. Each of these dials has fourteen numbers, and there are three of them, right? Well, there are fourteen Stations of the Cross, and in the stations Jesus falls three times. Look.”
Niamh grabbed Mark by the arm and lead him up the gap between the pews and the wall, towards the front of the church. Bree sat back in case they noticed her, and watched them proceed to the first row of pews. Niamh pointed up at the wall.
“The Third Station: Jesus falls for the first time. The Stations are also called the Way of the Cross, and the priest said the key was the ‘falls along the way.’ I think the first number is three, and the other two numbers are the numbers of the other stations where Jesus falls.”
Mark stood for a moment with his mouth open then turned to her and grinned.
“You’re a genius, Dot!”
They dashed back to the confessional and knelt on the floor. Bree stood up again and leaned over the edge to watch them. Behind her in the balcony, a shimmering disc appeared in mid-air.
Mark lifted the flap hiding the brass dials and held it open.
“Go head, Dot: Set the dials.”
“OK, Jesus falls in stations three, seven and nine, so let’s set these to three … seven … and nine.”
As Niamh set the third dial, there was a click and the square of wood holding the Tetros in place slid away, leaving the Tetros accessible in a small recess.
Behind Bree in the balcony, a leather-clad figure appeared in the shimmering disc.
Mark let the flap close and reached into the recess. With great care he placed his hands on either side of the Tetros and lifted it free.
Just as he placed it in his rucksack, a shriek came from the balcony. Mark’s and Niamh’s heads snapped up. Standing on the balcony, her back to the ten-meter drop, was Bree, her arms flailing as she fought to get her balance. A woman clad in leather gripped Bree by the throat and was forcing her over the edge.
“Mum!” Mark shouted, and he started for the back of the church, but before he’d gone more than a few paces the leather-clad woman won the battle and Bree fell screaming, head-first, towards the tiled church floor.
“Mum!” screamed Mark, “Oh God, no!”
He wanted to turn away but couldn’t. With bile rising in his throat he watched his mother fall to certain death.
But Bree never hit the floor.
A large shimmering disc appeared on the floor beneath her and she fell straight through it and disappeared. As Mark stood gawping, the leather-clad woman howled a cry of fury and dived head-first off the balcony towards the disc. Just before she reached it, the disc faded and disappeared. The woman had time to emit a very short, terror-laden shriek, then hit the floor with a sickening crunch, spasmed for a moment and lay still.
Mark screamed, “Mum,” and ran to where the disc had appeared. He stopped short of the pool of blood expanding from the dead woman, hesitated then ran back to Niamh.
“What happened? Where did my mum go? Who is that woman?”
“I don’t know, but I think we need to get out of here.”
“But my mum …”
“Mark, your mum’s not here. She went through that hole in the floor, whatever it was. C’mon, we have to get out of here.”
Mark edged towards the woman’s body and examined the floor as if it might give some clue as to Bree’s whereabouts.
“Hey!” he said, and took something from the dead woman’s hand.
“She had my mum’s handbag!”
With that, two more of the women appeared at the top of the church. One of them shouted “Oisín!” and they started down the center aisle.
“Come on,” shouted Niamh and pushed Mark towards the entrance.
They ran out into the glaring sunshine and pelted up the road towards the store.
“Where are we going?” gasped Mark.
“Are the car keys in that handbag?”
Mark struggled to hold on to the bag and open it as he ran. He jangled the car keys at Niamh.
“That’s where we’re going then,” she said.
“What? To the car? But I can’t drive!”
“No,” said Niamh as she snatched the keys, “but I can.”
Niamh pressed the unlock button on the key as they approached the 4x4 and the signal lights flashed. As they reached the car, a shimmering disc appeared in the road near them. A leather-clad woman stepped from it and swung at Niamh. Niamh ducked and side-stepped the woman, angling across the road towards the driver’s side of the Volvo.
“Mark, jump in the back,” she screamed as she wrenched open the door. She jumped into the driver’s seat, and slammed the door shut, as Mark leaped into the back. She hit the lock button on the key and just as the woman reached for the door handle, the central locking engaged. The other two women arrived and banged on the windows.
“Oisín! Come out we need to talk to you.”
“Mark, don’t you dare open that door,” said Niamh as she started the engine.
Mark was numb with shock and grief. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He just shook his head.
Niamh slid the key into the ignition lock and started the engine. She jammed the transmission into Drive and floored the gas pedal. The Volvo screeched away from the sidewalk, leaving the three women screaming in anger outside the store.
As they sped through the main street, it became obvious that things had gone to hell in Ferrisfort. Crashed cars littered the street, and several of the stores were on fire. A group of villagers ran from one of the buildings and, as Niamh watched in horror, several shimmering holes appeared in the air near them. Leather-clad women stepped from the holes and cut the villagers down. Niamh stifled a cry and pushed the gas pedal further to the floor.
Mark sobbed in the back seat. He was repeating something to himself, too quietly for Niamh to hear at first, then it sent a chill through her. He was repeating:
“I’m an orphan. They’re both gone. I’m an orphan …”
It took all her concentration to keep the car on the road. She wanted to say something to comfort Mark, but nothing seemed appropriate. She drove on, her heart aching for him; her own grief for Bree pushed aside out of necessity.
A few kilometers outside Ferrisfort they saw several police patrol cars with sirens and lights heading in the opposite direction. I pity the poor cops going into that chaos, thought Niamh. I wonder if they’re armed. I wonder if it would make any difference!
As she contemplated the fate of the police officers, Mark shouted something and shocked her back to alertness.
“Look, there’s a police roadblock up ahead.”
Sure enough, several hundred meters up the road, two police patrol cars with flashing blue lights blocked the road. Numerous uniformed and plain-clothes police officers milled around, turning back cars that were trying to enter Ferrisfort, and searching cars that were leaving.
Niamh pulled over and chewed her lip.
“What are we going to do?” asked Mark. “We can’t go back.”
Niamh thought for a moment longer then said, “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: We’re going to drive up there and talk our way through that roadblock.”
“But you’re not …”
“Yeah, I know, but I have a plan. Where does your mum keep her makeup?”
“What? Makeup? I don’t think she has any makeup in the car.”
“Don’t be stupid, Mark; every woman has makeup in the car. Check the glove-box.”
The glove-box revealed a collection of rather expensive cosmetics which Niamh took and applied to her face. A few minutes later, with a scarf on her head, and a pair of Bree’s sunglasses perched on her nose, she drove up to the roadblock.
Two officers stood in the middle of the road, one with his hand in the air. Niamh drew to a stop and the two officers walked to either side of the windshield. The one on the left, a cynical looking middle-aged type, checked the tax and insurance, then proceeded along the side of the SUV checking it out. The other officer, a younger man, approached the driver’s window. Niamh let it down. Before he had a chance to speak, Niamh started babbling:
“Oh my God, I have no idea what’s going on back there. There are houses on fire and cars crashed in the street. It’s awful. My brother and I are just on our way back from visiting our aunt, and … and … Oh God, what’s happening anyway?”
The officer was nodding his head and making calm-down gestures with his hand.
“I wouldn’t like to say, now, what’s happening in Ferrisfort. We’re in attendance up there and things are under control, that’s all I can say. What were ye doing in Ferrisfort today anyway, folks?”
“We were just passing through, Officer; on our way from our aunt’s house in Carlow.”
“Right. And where are ye heading to now?”
“Back home to Wicklow, Officer.”
“All right. Do you mind if my colleague takes a quick look in the back, there?”
“Er, no; go ahead, I’ll unlock it.” She pressed the central locking switch and the doors unlocked.
As the older policeman opened the tailgate and looked inside, the officer at the window said, “What’s your name, Miss?”
Mark’s heart did a little dance and his eyes rolled sideways.
“Would you have a license, there, Bríd?”
Mark’s stomach turned over and he thought he might vomit.
“It’s ‘Bree’ Officer, and I’m afraid I don’t have my license with me. I must have left it in my other bag when we came out.”
“You know you’re supposed to keep it with you when you’re driving?”
“I do, Officer; I’m very sorry.”
“Is this your car, Bree?”
“It is, Officer. Our father bought it for me for my eighteenth birthday.”
Mark ears started burning and he thought he might pass out from the nerves. What the hell was Niamh up to?
A hint of irritation flashed across the young officer’s face, tinged with jealousy. It was clear he thought little of spoilt rich kids. He started to ask Niamh for her address, but was interrupted when the older officer closed the tailgate and walked up the driver’s side of the car shaking his head. Whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find it in the back of Bree’s SUV.
“Let them go,” he said. “They’ve nothing to do with it.”
The young officer looked undecided then said, “Ok, that’s grand. You can be on your way, but make sure you have your license with you in future.”
Niamh thanked the policemen and pulled away, maneuvering between the patrol cars. When they drew clear of the roadblock Mark let his head fall back on the seat and blew air out of his mouth.
“I have never been so nervous. I thought I was going to explode!”
Niamh’s hands were shaking on the steering wheel.
“Me too. The thing is though; I think we have bigger things to worry about than the police, like why those women are after us.”
“Yeah,” said Mark, “and what’s happened to my parents.” The edges of his mouth quivered and he rubbed a tear away with the back of his hand. He sniffled, then looked over at Niamh with candid admiration in his face.
“Dot, that was amazing, though. You’re the bravest person I know.”
Niamh smiled tightly and reached over to put a hand on his knee.
“Let’s get back to your house. We can start planning what we’re going to do next. Why don’t you give Ferdia a call and find out where he is.”
As Mark pulled out his phone, Niamh slowed down to allow a car in the other lane to make a U-turn. There was a long line of cars waiting to approach the roadblock and drivers were getting impatient. She let a few more cars go then continued along the line of traffic. Just as they drew alongside an old-fashioned sports-car, the road bucked beneath them as if an earthquake had struck. The phone flew from Mark’s hand onto the floor. Niamh gasped and gripped the wheel. A glimmer appeared in the air between the cars. In the blink of an eye, it expanded to a huge shimmering disc. Niamh hit the brakes stopped short of the disc, which had now started to engulf the back of the sports-car. The doors opened and an unkempt man bolted from the driver’s side; a youth from the other.
“That’s Ferdia!” shouted Mark.
“Ferdia!” shouted Niamh from open window.
Ferdia looked over, did a double-take, and then jumped the long bonnet in a smooth leap. The disc had now swallowed the rear half of the car, and was making another bid for the front of the SUV. Ferdia grabbed Forgill’s arm and propelled him towards the back door of the Volvo. They jumped in and Niamh floored the gas pedal, swerving onto the verge to avoid the disc.
Forgill looked back in time to see the sidh collapse in on itself, taking the car with it.
“I loved that car,” he said in a strangled voice.
“But at least we’re safe. And you must have more cars,” said Ferdia.
Forgill fixed him with a stare.
“That was a very rare Jaguar XK150 Roadster with a five-liter engine. Took me years to find it. Damn them all, and damn Midír to the far reaches of hell. Oh well, it’s one of a kind now in whichever tír it’s gone to, and we are, as you say, safe.”
Mark was looking back at Forgill with raw distrust.
“Who’s this, Ferdia?”
“This is Del Forgill – the man I went to see about the Tetros.”
“Does he have anything to do with the disappearance of my mother… or my dad?”
“No, he’s on our si… wait, your mother’s disappeared?”
Mark gave a brief and tear-stained account of the recovery of the Tetros, Bree’s fall and the death of the assassin. “God, I hope she’s not dead.”
“Bree’s not dead, young man – she’s gone through a sidh to another tír.”
“Are you sure.”
“Did it look anything like the sidh that took my car?”
Mark nodded, wiping his eyes. “So those women have her?”
“No they’d just have killed her. Someone else opened that sidh to save her.”
“I have no idea, but whoever they are, they saved your mother’s life.”
“You’re sure she’s alive?”
“I’d bet my life on it.”
Mark managed a little smile. Niamh looked over and rubbed his knee.
“Let’s get back to Almha.”
“Yes, we should get away from here,” said Forgill, “they’ll be back. Oh, I almost forgot, I have something for you, Ferdia.”
He reached into his coat pocket and held something out.
Sitting on Del Forgill's palm was the final Tetros.