Four hours later Orcus was curled up into a ball, shivering and vomiting into a bucket. We were pretty sure it wasn’t contagious, but Raechel made sure Sebastian was the one dealing with him, just in case.
“I assure you,” he said to us, “it is not an infection – other than what’s already there, likely.”
Orcus stopped retching a moment and looked up at Sebastian. “Does it stop?” And then his head was in the bucket again.
Sebastian shrugged. “Not sure. It ought eventually; look at me. Although, I’m not certain I have ever vomited this profusely.”
“That’s not all that comforting,” Orcus snapped.
“Does it still hurt, Orcus?” I asked.
“No,” he retorted. “It’s like hugging a pillow. What do you think?!”
Raechel sighed. “How long d’you think it’ll last, Stupid?” As far as Raechel was concerned, the nickname had stuck, and she wasn’t about to stop using it.
Sebastian shrugged again, very much used to Raechel’s passive-aggressive abuse. “I’m sure I don’t know. Everything I recall is still very much stuck in a haze.”
“Can it be helped?” I asked Sebastian.
“I don’t think so,” he said lightly, almost as though he found this to be good news.
I rubbed my brow irritably. “Sebastian, there’s got to be something we can do.”
“Unless you know how to cure it,” he said, “there’s nothing to be done.”
“Your grandfather would know, right, Orcus?”
“I said so, didn’t I?” he gasped.
I jumped up from my seat. “Where is he?”
He gave me a wild look. “Does it look like I know?”
“A general guess would do.”
“Library,” he said, retching. “Or his rooms.” Pause for a dry-heave. “Or the grounds.”
I snorted. “Not much to cover, is there?” I said to Raechel. “I’ll go look for him; you stay and make sure they don’t kill each other.”
“I don’t want to baby-sit,” Raechel whined.
But I was already retreating the length of the attic. “You’ll be fine. If they get too out of hand, just threaten them with Holy Water.”
“Great,” she replied very unenthusiastically.
The hall was just the same as before, but it felt much emptier, much bigger, and quite a lot more haunted. A quick peering over the edge of the banister yielded no results. The whole house was far too big for such a venture to prove successful anyway.
I stole down the hallway as quickly and softly as I could, peering through doors, and through keyholes when the doors were locked. The library door wasn’t on the third floor, apparently, so I stole up to the fourth and went about my mission with just as much gusto and half the amount of silence.
As I rounded a corner I found myself in a very long and poorly lit corridor, with almost no windows, and only one door located at the very end. It wasn’t wholly remarkable, so I went up and tried the handle. To my minute relief it was unlocked. When it swung open my jaw hit the floor.
It was the library all right, and it was bigger than all of the other rooms I had seen, combined. Books and a short temper are my two vices in the world, and Orcus Locke was able to exploit them both. This library was perhaps the biggest, most beautiful thing in the world. It was four floors, and stacks and stacks of book stood in row upon row on the uppermost level. The third and second levels the shelves were built into the wall, and on the bottom floor there were stacks and two great desks accompanied by three smaller tables. On each surface was a pile of books, some opened, some closed, and piles of paper strewn across them. The room was so massive, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t spot the end of it clearly. I had to assume it was the bit at the end where all the light from outside was flooding in.
My hopes rose: At one of the smaller tables, flipping through the books, was an old man, wrinkled and doubled over, the pen in his hand slowly scratching across the page.
“Mr. Locke?” I called.
He hesitated, and then kept writing. “Mr. Locke is my son-in-law, dear girl, and he is in another part of the house at the moment.”
I looked about hurriedly and, seeing some stairs, began to descend them. “But you are Orcus’ grandfather, aren’t you?”
He looked up on his paper then, eyeing me warily. “Indeed. And you, I suppose, are Miss Mallory Tourney.”
I froze on the bottom step, frowning. There was only one way he could possibly know.
“Yes,” he said with a small smile, “I know you. Orcus has told me quite a lot, as a matter of fact.”
“He – he has?”
“Oh yes,” the old man said. “It’s not unnatural, and I am therefore not alarmed.” He stood and extended his hand. “I am Percival Storenton, his mother’s father.”
It was only polite, and I liked him okay, so I shook his hand. He didn’t seem anything like his grandson; not just yet anyway. “He said you were the man to see about – er, well, otherworld sort of – uh, stuff.”
Mr. Storenton indicated a chair, and I took it copying his movements. “Speak plainly, Miss Tourney. I can’t help if you beat about the bush.”
“Orcus was bitten by a vampire yesterday, and we’re trying to find a cure for it so we can deal with what is apparently a vampire infestation at our school. He said if we were to get help from anyone, it would be you.” I hoped that was to the point enough for him.
Storenton didn’t even blink. “Ah; yes. How unfortunate.” He scribbled down more words on the paper, and put down the pen and folded his hands in front of him on the table. “Yesterday, you said.”
“How old is the vampire? Is it new born, or is it older?”
I faltered. “We don’t actually know. He can’t remember. I’m inclined to say he’s a couple of months, at most.”
“No savage appetite?”
“Not that we’ve seen.”
“Is he distracted with the ordering and counting of, say, seeds, grains, and the like?”
“No, but he says can’t count anyway, so that wouldn’t make much of a difference.”
Storenton snorted. “That is unsurprising. How did he come to you?”
“We don’t know that either. He just appeared in my room at school. Orcus has a theory, but he doesn’t feel up to sharing.”
Storentons’s eyes bored holes into mine. “And do you?”
I shrugged. “Nothing plausible.”
The old man smiled. “You’d be surprised at just how plausible the implausible is, Miss Tourney.” He waited for me to speak.
“I think – and I think Orcus thinks so, too – that he fell through some sort of wormhole, or something. The way he described it, it makes the most sense. Normally I’d decry the idea of a wormhole existing, but since we’re dealing with vampires, I’m prepared to make exceptions.”
Storenton looked a little more impressed than Mr. Locke had been. “That is very wise, especially where the otherworldly is concerned. Did he say where it was?”
“In his house, behind a portrait of his grandfather; the staff was under strict instructions not to touch it. When it was dislodged, what he described, it seems like he was sucked into it. Again, it’s just a hypothesis.”
“True,” agreed the old man, “yet just as likely as anything else.”
“You agree, then.”
“Invariably,” he said. “But how it could have come to be there, I cannot say. Obviously someone knew what it was, else it would not have been covered and all inferiors told to avoid it.”
“Sir,” I said, anxious to bring my purpose back around, “can you help Orcus?”
Storenton nodded, and stood up. “Bring my grandson here; as it happens, I may have just enough of an elixir to delay his full change. Finding a cure, however, is quite in your court; at this moment in history it simply doesn’t exist, and I am most certainly too old to be anything more than a nuisance in a laboratory.”
I was on my feet in a second. “Thank you, sir!”
It had taken me a full forty-five minutes to find the library, but it took me less than two to find my way back to the attic. Luck was on my side, because no one was in the halls. When I got back, said grandson was no longer vomiting into the five gallon bucket, and Sebastian and Raechel were debating whether to just toss it out the window, or carry it to the bathroom and dispose of it properly. They were ignoring Orcus’ limp frame which was sprawled out and breathing raggedly.
“For real?” I said.
Raechel wasn’t surprised to see me. “You found him?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “He says to take Orcus down to the library, something about an elixir to delay the process.” Orcus’ only response was a tired moan. “Come on,” I snapped. “We need to do what we can to get you taken care of, and since no one is allowed up here, we have to go down there.” I took the bucket, wrenched open a window, and held my breath as I tossed it out, bucket and all. “There’s that problem solved.”
Raechel was trying to pull Orcus off the floor, a feat which probably would have been easier had he not been so much bigger, and had Sebastian thought to help.
“In this case,” the sociopath moaned, “I may just rescind that rule.”
I huffed. “Come on. Sebastian, you great buffoon, help.”
The giant vampire swung Orcus’ other arm over his neck, completely taking the whole of his weight off Raechel. “Grandfather is in the library,” I said. “Stay close so we don’t get separated.”
Orcus mumbled something incoherently, his eyes barely open, his face pale and wet with sweat. Panic was rapidly becoming an option, I thought, as far as he was concerned.
We sneaked down the ladder and managed to make our way along the corridors with almost no noise at all. Movement was slow on Orcus’ account, so the two minutes a healthy person could make were extended to five. He didn’t complain, though. To Sebastian’s credit, he was as gentle as possible, trying to make the trip relatively painless for Orcus’ now hyperactive nerves. As we passed a vase on the fourth floor, Orcus’ hand knocked against it. The vase hit the floor, and Orcus’s half-shut eyes flew wide open; he was biting back what had to be a very pained scream. I plastered my hand over his mouth just in case he let go, but, true to form, he was quiet as a mouse.
“We have to hurry,” I whispered to Sebastian. “Just around the next corner, at the end of the hall.”
He nodded, hoisted Orcus a little higher, and was about to take another step, when we heard, in the direction from which we’d just come, the footsteps of two people, and a voice belonging to Edward Locke. Thinking fast I hurriedly gave Raechel the finer details, shoved the three of them around the corner, hissing, “Hurry up!” as they went. Tiptoeing over to where the vase lay in ruins, I began thinking up stories about how it had happened. It didn’t matter how outlandish the story was, as long as Mr. Locke was distracted, and Orcus got to the library. My question was how to make myself look like a hapless klutz, and not infer that I had been sneaking about the house. When he finally did come around the corner, I froze, and Edward Locke’s eyebrow twitched. In the light, big man though he was, he looked the mirror image of his son, hands clasped behind his back, head tilted curiously to the side, and amusement playing at the corners of his mouth.
“I swear, I did nothing,” I said. That bit was true enough.
“Let me guess,” he replied smoothly. “You just looked at it, and it fell.” This ruse wasn’t going very well, I could see that now.
I nodded. “Sounds about right, yeah.”
He laughed and walked towards me, eyes on the broken pieces of the vase. “Tell me true, Miss Tourney, do you think me a very stupid person?”
“No.” He knew. He knew exactly where his son was, he knew exactly what I was doing, and he wanted me to know that I wasn’t going to get away with it for very long.
“Did you think I wouldn’t conclude that you are covering for my very ill son, who is likely just down the next hall?”
For whatever reason, I stuck to my story. “No, he isn’t.” I hoped they’d reached the library by now.
Mr. Locke smiled and swaggered to the intersection. “Have they hidden away in the library yet – oh, they have!” He looked back at me, distinctly pleased. “I am not as ignorant of my son’s movements as he would like to believe, Miss Tourney. He’s always preferred his grandfather, and his grandfather has always preferred him.”
I just eyed the big man warily, unsure just yet as to how I ought to proceed. He smiled, then. It wasn’t Orcus’ cold smile, as I was accustomed to; Mr. Locke’s smile was genial, and touched his eyes. “No doubt he told you I am to be avoided at all costs.” He looked down at the vase. “It’s not what the collector said it was,” he said thoughtfully, “but I knew that when I took it off him. The real thing would have weighed less, and the broken pieces would be smaller; would have scattered across a broader area . . .” He gestured to the outline of the shattered pieces.
“If you knew it was fake, why did you buy it?”
“My daughter, Jo, liked it as a child. I’m not sure she’ll miss it now.”
Another set of footsteps sounded, and a second man came around the corner. “Sir! Everything all right, sir?”
Mr. Locke waved the off the concern. “Just fine, Strumpen. If you could take care of this please?”
“Shall I take it to Miss Phyllida’s studio?”
Mr. Locke looked down again, thoughtfully. “Yes, please. She’ll make better use of it than we will, I’m sure.”
I looked out the window, my heart sinking for some reason when I realized how dark it had become. The sun had practically disappeared, the sunset streaks something like a feeble heartbeat on the very edge of the horizon. Why exactly I was sappily comparing the sunset to a heartbeat I wasn’t sure, but on the bright side, I thought, the moon was light enough to atone for the lack of sunbeams.
When I looked back at the giant Mr. Locke, he was eyeing me keenly, as though turning something over in his mind. Then, in the friendliest voice I’d ever heard anyone use, he asked, “Are you hungry?”