Chapter 20 - The Iron Cage
The Healer tried to stem it. Tried to contain it but nothing he did had any effect.
And then she wheezed. A small almost insignificant wheeze but Fain saw the Darkness come out of her like smoke. The Healer saw it too.
“What is it?” He asked.
“It just doesn’t make sense.” He said shaking his head.
He shook his head. “It can’t be. It just can’t be.”
“What?” Fain yelled at him. “It can’t be what?
“The Spectral.” Alice half whispered it and he turned and stared at her in horror.
“How can that be?” Nela asked standing behind Fain staring at Alice as she lay curled up on the bed.
The Healer shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Get Jelric.” Fain said turning to Nela. “Get him here now.”
She nodded and ran out of the room without looking back.
The Healer ran out after her, not to go for Jelric, but to consult the books, to consult anything that might give him an answer.
Fain climbed into the bed next to Alice and held her. Her breathing was short, laboured, but he held her tight, rocking her gently and hoping that somehow Jelric got there in time.
Fain looked up as the Healer walked back in. He was curled up around Alice, protecting her, shielding her, with his arms holding her as tightly as he could as though he could keep the world from her. Keep the Darkness from her. Keep everything from her.
“We need to move her.”
“If she does have a Spectral in her and I don’t understand how, but if she does, she’s a danger to every single person in this castle.”
“She’s not going anywhere. This is her home.” He barked back at him.
“You need to do it.” Alice whispered and he turned looking at her.
“This is your home. I promised you.” He said.
“You need to protect Prince Hal. Please Fain. Please just do as he says.”
He scowled and looked back at the Healer. “Where?”
“There’s a barn we can use.”
“A barn? You want to move her to a barn?”
“Fain, please…” Alice said and he sighed.
“We can secure it. Isolate it with Magic so if this does go badly no one else will be hurt.”
“What do you mean go badly?” He growled. “She’s not dying. I won’t let her. You have to save her.”
“Fain...” Alice said but he could hear her voice getting weaker.
He shut his eyes, thinking. He just had to keep her alive till Jelric got there, then he’d know what to do. He’d know how to save her. He’d know how to get whatever it was out of her and then she would be well again. She would be his Alice again.
“Let’s go then.” He said to the Healer before carefully picking Alice up in his arms. Her eyes were shut now. He hoped she was sleeping but he also hoped that she wasn’t dreaming because he wasn’t sure he could take much more of her screaming when she woke each time.
The barn was just off from the gardens and was more of a disused outbuilding than anything else. Fain scowled as he carried her in.
“Put her on the floor.” The Healer said.
Fain shook his head slightly but did it anyway and the Healer began walking around placing small Crystals a few metres from her in a circle that surrounded her.
“What does that do?” Fain asked.
“It should contain it, whatever is in her.”
“I don’t know fully what we’re dealing with. I’m just going with my gut. I’m not a Magi, I’m a Healer Prince Fain.”
Fain narrowed his eyes and looked back at Alice who lay unmoving on the dirt floor.
“Can I at least get her something clean to lay on?”
“I don’t think it’ll do any harm.” He replied and Fain sent a servant to get some blankets.
Alice opened her eyes looking around. She saw Fain on his knees watching her and she gave him a small smile.
“You’re going to be okay. Jelric’s on his way. He’ll know what to do.” Fain said.
She nodded and then she cried out as something within her felt like it was ripping her apart, tearing her up. She closed her eyes, seeing the Darkness, feeling it twist inside her. But more than that, it was becoming her, and she was becoming it. She opened her eyes again and for a minute Fain swore her eyes were completely black and then she blinked and they were normal again.
“I’m so sorry.” Alice whispered and Fain shook his head.
“Don’t you dare apologise. This isn’t your fault.”
“It is.” She said but then whatever it was twisted in her again and suddenly she wasn’t just screaming, she was twisting with it, turning, convulsing like she was possessed.
“Do something.” He yelled at the Healer but the Healer just stood watching not knowing what to do.
She stopped, suddenly still and gasping, the same black smoke seeping from her lips. Fain shut his eyes and looked away.
“How is this possible?” He asked and the Healer just shook his head.
Her breathing slowed and he could tell she was no longer conscious though the thought didn’t give him much relief.
A servant walked in with an arm full of blankets and Fain carefully lifted Alice up so that he could lay them down for her.
“Keep out of the circle if you can.” The Healer said.
“If it goes wrong…”
“Stop saying that.”
“If it goes wrong, you don’t want to be in there.”
Fain scowled and laid her down before lying as close to the line of crystals as he could watching her as she slept. Waiting to comfort her when she woke.
He woke to the sound of her screaming again. Alice was curled up, as though all her muscles were contracting and then suddenly she contorted the other way and it was like she thrown in the air before slamming against an invisible barrier and landing back on the ground.
“It’s trying to break the circle.” The Healer said.
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know. If it breaks the circle…”
Fain met his eyes and looked back at Alice feeling helpless.
“You have to use Iron.” She gasped, her chest heaving as she tried to recover from the attack. “You have to bind me with Iron, like they did with the cage.”
“I’m not putting you in a cage.” Fain growled.
“She’s right. If it breaks the circle there’ll be nothing we can do to contain it. Nothing we can do to stop it.”
“I’m not putting her in a cage.”
“You have too Fain.” She said and he looked at her. “You have too. This thing is in me. You can’t let it out. Not when Prince Hal is here. Not when any of you are here.”
He shook his head. “I won’t do it.”
“You don’t have any choice.” She said and then she contorted again screaming as she endured the Darkness ripping through her.
The Healer shook his head before walking out of the barn. Fain got back down and lay beside the crystals trying to comfort Alice as the attack wore off.
He turned when he heard both the doors opening and saw the servants wheeling in a square Iron Cage. He shook his head.
“I’m not going to do this.” He said. “Not after last time. Not after what it did to you last time.”
“It will contain it.” Alice stated. “It will.”
He closed his eyes and looked away.
The Healer carefully pulled away the crystals, breaking the circle and wincing like he expected Alice to suddenly turn into a Spectral in front of him. He ordered the servant to stuff the blanket in the cage so that her skin wouldn’t be directly on the Iron. Fain lifted her in and then the servant slammed it shut and turned the lock.
Alice gasped as the Iron shut around her. The same feeling of compression came rushing back to her as it had the last time but a part of her felt a small release, like something that had hold of her had suddenly let go. She curled herself up, feeling the Iron seeping into her, crushing her, blocking her Magic.
She didn’t know what was worse, the Darkness or the Iron cage but at least this way she couldn’t hurt anyone, she couldn’t hurt Prince Hal.
But she couldn’t hold back the whimper before it escaped. Fain got down and lay the other side of the bars.
“It’s okay.” He said quietly. “It’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that.” She said quietly.
“I do. Jelric is on his way right now. He’s going to fix you.”
Alice looked away.
“You can do this. We can do this. Just hold on.” He said and he reached through the bar and held her hand as she started to silently cry.
“I love you.” He said.
“I love you too.” She half whispered back before whimpering again.
Jelric walked into the barn and froze horrified at what he saw.
“You put her in a cage?” He growled at the Healer who flinched.
“We didn’t have any choice.” He replied. Jelric scowled at him and then looked to where Fain was still holding her hand, lying in the dirt beside the cage.
“Get up.” He said to him and Fain shook his head.
“I’m not leaving her side.”
“If you want me to help then you’ll do as I say.” He snapped and Fain scowled at him but did as he was told.
Jelric walked around the Cage as though he was sizing her up. He then got on knees and looked at her more closely.
Alice looked at him and blinked and he saw it. The flash of black, the flash of Darkness. He shook his head.
“How long has she been like this?”
“It’s got worse over the last few days.”
Jelric grunted in response.
“Is it a Spectral?” Fain asked.
“It could be but I don’t know how. I’ve never seen anything like this. Their Magic doesn’t work like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“They devour, they destroy. They don’t lurk in people. They don’t go in them like this.”
“That’s what she said.” Fain said thinking back over it all. “She said the last one went deeper into her.”
“She said when she destroys them she has to let them, let them into her and then her Magic rips them apart. But the last one went deeper. She said it felt like it was ripping at her soul.”
Jelric shook his head, thinking. Thinking back to what she’d said when she was back at the camp. Thinking about how she felt her Magic was fading and that everyone thought she was broken.
“What is it?” Fain asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Can you fix her? Can you destroy it?”
Jelric closed his eyes and walked away. Walked back to the barn door because he needed fresh air. He needed space. None of it made any sense, none of what she’d said, none of how she destroyed the Spectrals, none of it. Magic didn’t work like that. Not even Fae Magic. He shook his head again and looked out at the woods.
And then he squinted. All around he could see figures, people, in the treeline, amongst the mist of the evening just standing there.
“Who are they?” Fain asked now standing beside him.
“Fae.” Jelric said.
“She said they’ve been watching her.”
“She said she saw them back at the camp and then she saw them the other day when we took Prince Hal out riding.”
“And you said nothing?” He hissed.
“I didn’t know what it meant and there wasn’t enough time before she got sick.” He snapped back.
Jelric sighed and looked back at the figures again.
“What do they want?” Fain asked and Jelric turned to look at him.
“They want her.”