When Orcus returned with the promised prize and handed it over to Phyllida, she greeted him like some sort of Greek hero. Jo simply quirked her eyebrow, and Raechel made a comment about how nice it must be to actually be a hero, rather than a pretend one. I didn’t say anything, and sensed a disturbance in the Force. It didn’t really matter. I was still trying to determine how pissed off I was that he wasn’t going to use Sebastian’s blood for research. Surprised? No, most definitely not. Pissed off all the same? Indeed. It didn’t help that we weren’t getting anywhere with the garlic.
Raechel and I had been working for seven solid hours by the time Orcus came to join us, and even he had to admit that, while we’d covered a fair bit of ground, there was nothing conclusive just yet. I tried telling myself that it was only the first day, and in studies, almost nothing was accomplished that early in the search for any cure; it didn’t help. I was still left very cross. I wanted this to move along so I could be rid of the vampires and go back to being only very different instead of inordinately different (there is a distinction between the two). Of course, given that I was with Orcus, that wasn’t a very likely possibility.
We received a call that evening from Mr. Locke. He’d very quickly informed us that he was in Montreal, would be back in two days, and that we probably wouldn’t be hearing from his friend until the week after next, as his schedule seemed to be quite full. Orcus was more than just a little pissed off at the whole idea, and made it known by teaching Raechel and me some choice words that would make even my Navy grandfather blush.
After twelve hours of dutifully separating the disulphide, allicin, and aliin from the samples of the garlic that we chose, Raechel and I covered our tables and called it a night. I was more than ready to get away from the smell, and Raechel’s lower jaw was irritated from where she’d gotten some residue on her skin. Orcus stayed behind, and I briefly considered staying to watch him, but I was more interested in waking Sebastian and having a very serious conversation about his blood. It was a pointless endeavor. Phyllida had occupied his attention, and he didn’t even register that I might be in the room.
I smirked on my way out from them. If I was feeling annoyed at being ignored, Orcus would have been down-right furious. It explained his begrudging acceptance of his sister’s independence. Or perhaps it was that he’d lost control of her. No matter; he’d get it back somehow. He always did.
I trudged along the house, not entirely sure as to where I was going (probably to the library again), when I suddenly ran into Strumpen, rounding a corner. He looked slightly taken aback that I was still in the house, which was understandable given that I’d not seen him, nor he me, since the night Orcus knocked the knock-off vase onto the floor. I was about to apologize and hastily run away, but he kept me stalled.
“Master Locke left instructions for me to give you a room separate his son’s hideaway in the attic,” he said loftily. So he wasn’t surprised at my continued presence, just at my sudden appearance.
“Orcus will find a way to torture me in a spite of this. You know that, right?” I said.
Strumpen managed a nod. “Indeed. And I am very sorry for the sad impressions he’s made about his father.”
I snorted. “His father I like. Orcus, I don’t.”
The manservant looked distinctly uncomfortable. “If you’ll follow me, then?”
I followed him down a series of hallways, up some stairs, down another corridor, and then he stopped in front of two double-doors. After a quick look at what must have been my very inquisitive and bewildered face, he opened the doors and gestured me into the room.
“Uh. . . .” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of what I was seeing. It was probably the biggest room I’d ever seen in my life, in terms of bedrooms. In fact, I’m pretty sure the term ‘suite,’ or perhaps ‘apartment’ would have been more appropriate.
It was aesthetically pleasing, to be sure. The walls were a midnight blue, accented by cream baseboards and corners. The bed was a large canopy decorated with curtains the same color as the halls, and the comforter was just half a shade darker. An incredibly sized window that stretched from the ceiling to the floor looked out over a garden that would likely smell lovely in the summer months. It wasn’t so nice now, given that we were in October, and most of what we saw was falling into hibernation.
“Will it do?” interrupted a voice.
I wheeled around, looking at Strumpen with surprise. “Will it do?” I repeated stupidly.
“If it isn’t what you’d like, I’ve been told to find a room to your satisfaction.”
“Uh, well. . . .” I wandered the expanse of the room and found myself equally impressed by the lavatory. The tub was big enough to be a small swimming pool, the mirror above the sink would probably have serviced a large restaurant, and the sink itself was like a small bathtub. The color pattern was the reverse of the bedroom. I stumbled back to the other room, and gave Strumpen a thumbs-up. He looked bemused.
“It’ll more than do,” I said. “What about Raechel?”
“Miss McNab was given her own room just last night,” Strumpen said. “Right across the hall from this one.”
I nodded. “Okay. Well, this works.” Orcus was going to be royally pissed. Nothing was going his way at all. I prayed to whoever was listening that he wouldn’t sneak in the door in the middle of the night to torment me. . .in the same breath I prayed that I hadn’t just jinxed myself.
Strumpen nodded. “I’ll have your things brought down from the attic.”
“No, no,” I said. “I’ll do it.” Orcus had probably left the laboratory by now, and I wanted to be the one to gleefully tell him I was in a singular room not shared by him. Strumpen looked a little bit miffed, but nodded once, and left me to my devices.
I took a few more minutes, and then wandered in the general direction of the attic, hoping I met Orcus along the way. I briefly wondered why Mr. Locke would go the trouble of putting us all up in separate bedrooms when we were all working on the same project together. But then I shook it off, figuring that it was because he probably knew better than we did what sort of games his son was fond of playing; perhaps he was attempting to throw a monkey-wrench into Orcus’ plans because that was the only form of contact they had.
To my surprise, Orcus was coming out of the attic door when I got there, and his expression was one of bemusement. “There you are at last!” he said. “Where have you been?”
“I was – ”
“Never mind that. I’ve been looking everywhere for you; thought you were up here.”
Since I had to get my things anyway, I acquiesced and approached him. “Obviously I wasn’t,” I said quickly. “Why were you looking for me?”
“I’ve had a thought about this potential cure, and I want a second opinion.”
“No,” I said, not knowing if this was ludicrous enough to laugh.
“Orcus, you don’t want to know what I think, you want me to agree with you.”
He rolled his eyes. “Of course I want you to agree with me, Mallory. Don’t be stupid,” he said. “I’m already right.”
“Then why would you say you want a second opinion?” I contradicted.
Because,” he said lightly, “I am being courteous to your sensitivities. If you feel like you’re being left out, you’ll likely botch what I’m doing in a high temper, and if you don’t know what I’m doing, you’ll ruin it out of sheer ignorance.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m touched by your sensitivity. So what sort of idea have you had that may or may not become a complete and utter nuisance?”
He smirked; I was making him proud. “My grandfather, when we went to see him in the library, gave me a dose of – ”
“Phoenix tears,” I said. “He told us.”
“Why would he tell you?” Orcus demanded, looking slightly disgruntled.
“It had to do with a theory your sister had,” I said dismissively. “What are you thinking? Mixing the elements together?”
Orcus looked pleased at my moment of ingenuity. “Indeed.”
I sighed. “Much as I hate to say it, I was thinking the same thing. I was going to run it by your grandfather and see if he had enough to spare for experiments.”
Orcus was looking very pleased. “He’ll have more than enough; you needn’t worry.”
I shrugged. “And there you have it. It could work. I mean, we’re going on nothing; it can’t hurt.” Orcus was leaning casually against the door, studying me carefully. “What now?”
“Did Strumpen show you the room yet?” he asked. When I didn’t answer he simply laughed. “Mallory, my father knows what I want him to know, and I know everything about all the moves he makes. I know Strumpen was meant to show you a room. By your stunned silence, I’m going assume he has.”
“Uh – yeah. I’m getting my things.”
He smirked. “I’ll help you.”
Alarum bells went up in my head. Why was he – My bag had been brought out from behind the door, and Orcus had offered me his arm.
“Shall we then?”
“Why are you pretending to be okay with this?”
He shrugged. “If that were for you to know, I’d tell you, wouldn’t I, darling?”
“Don’t call me that.”
He simply smiled his cold smile, so there was nothing for it but to take the proffered arm and go along with it. I knew these signs: Orcus Locke was backing me into a corner, and my chances of escape were grim.