There was a good lull in activity after that. Nothing happened until around Christmas, and even then it was mostly an extraordinary amount of cursing because nothing was going quite as quickly or smoothly as we’d all wanted. Sebastian managed to keep himself in check, mostly by raiding the blood supplies Orcus brought back from the bank. The idea was eventually overridden by Mr. Locke, the excuse being that we were treading on thin ground as it was by lying to Carson, and adding stealing to the count wasn’t going to help our case should the wolves descend. He called in another favor, and very soon great large boxes of pint-packages found their way to the Locke family home.
Orcus had turned a blind eye. He was beginning to make the laboratory his new home, and there simply wasn’t the time for him to argue with his father, even if it did put our activities on the map. It was a new side of Orcus I’d never seen before, and I didn’t know what to do. He was working feverishly in the lab at all hours, and became ever more and more territorial, particularly where I was concerned. I soon found myself with him nearly 24/7, as he was constantly coming up with things he ‘needed’ me to do. As Mr. Locke didn’t seem too bothered by this behavior, I told Raechel to look into it for me while I was stuck with Orcus. She had glowered at me for a bit, but then acquiesced, and went about hunting for the information. I was left with very strict instructions not to bother her about it until she came to me. This seemed unreasonable, but I agreed, and Raechel went on her way.
I needn’t have worried; Raechel was as good as gold, and very thorough. When she said she was going to get all the information, she meant all the information and then some. It was an agonizing two week wait, to be sure, but when Raechel crept back into my room exactly a fortnight and three days into the New Year (17 January, for those of you who are vocabularically challenged), I found it had been worth it. She looked quite pleased with herself as she perched on my bed, smiling at my criss-cross folded position on the floor. It was about mid-day, and I had been doing my usual job of being more a hindrance than a help with the task set before us.
“You’ll be proud of me,” she said.
“Why?” I asked. “What have you found?”
“I have,” Raechel said smugly, “not only found out why your lover is being so clingy, but, I have also been informed, by Mr. Locke himself, it is directly related to what his son is so interested in and why Orcus wants it – or them.”
“Them?” I repeated.
‘Yes. I looked it up in a book Mr. Locke mentioned, and I think I found something more than a little pertinent.” Raechel produced a book from beneath her shirt, and laid it open on the bed. “Come look, do. It’s so fascinating, and freaky; be careful, though, you’re in for a shock.”
“Thank you, Willy Wonka,” I said flatly, crawling up beside her. What I saw wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated, and I stared at it for about ten solid seconds before I managed, “Is – that – ”
“Mr. Edward Locke himself,” Raechel said brightly. “Circa 1872, with Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Hammond of Hartford, Connecticut.”
“Don’t hold out on me, Raechel! How?”
Raechel flipped a few more pages, and pulled out two very well-worn pieces of parchment. “Mr. Locke gave me these. He thought you might like to see them as well. He said Orcus has wanted them since he first found out they existed.”
Raechel pointed, and I saw. ‘They’ were urns. And not just urns; these urns – more like pots, but they were labelled as urns, so what the hell? – held time-travelling portals, wormholes. According to the parchments, each urn was about five-feet tall, three-feet wide, and shaped in an altogether traditional pattern. To operate the wormholes, one needed the permission of the owner, and to call out the date, time, and place one desired to visit. There used to be four, said the papers, but in 1526 one had been given to a lawyer as payment, and he had supposedly hidden it inside his house –
“ – behind a painting of his father,” I read aloud. I looked up at Raechel. ‘What do you think the odds are?”
She shrugged, but I could see her shaking from her contained zeal. “Probably some ridiculous number; but it explains a hell of a lot, don’t you think?”
I nodded. “Yeah, except why Mr. Locke is still alive if his son knows what he wants.”
“That’s on the other page,” Raechel explained. “The way it works, when the urns were created, they were put under an enchantment that insures they pass down from father to son. They were given as a gift to Simeon Locke in 1472, and they can only be operated by the master and those to whom the master grants access. If the master gives an urn away, like they gave to Probably Stupid’s Father, the receiver becomes full master, and the old master can’t use it without his permission. If Orcus bumps off Mr. Locke, the protection of the urns breaks, and they become accessible to anyone who wants to use them; they also become massively unstable.”
Orcus would want to keep them under his control. A haywire wormhole would only be bad news for him. “That’s how he’s getting his power he wants so desperately,” I said. “That’s why his father is still alive. Not just anyone can use it. But that still wouldn’t prevent him from ordering a convenient car accident, would it?”
Raechel hummed. “The urns can read intent; whether or not he had a direct hand in it, if Orcus is responsible for his father’s death, if he planned it, the protection that ties the urns to him is completely cut off. If he is responsible, but feels remorse, the urns may or may not grant access. It all depends on the circumstance. Our darling sociopath being unable to register emotion on that level, he can’t kill his father without sacrificing the urns.” Who the hell would think of all this?
I slouched against the footboard, slightly depressed. I had been very nearly all wrong about what was going through Orcus’ mind, and that was a dangerous mistake to be making. I hadn’t been the distraction at all. Mr. Locke had been dead on from the beginning: Orcus’ one objective – besides the very obvious need to find a cure – had been to keep an eye on me, and to keep me close. It was why he’d let Sebastian have his fling with Phyllida, it was obviously why he was preventing me leaving his side, and it was why he was so touchy about his father’s approval. I had over-thought the entire ordeal, and was as wrong as it is possible to get.
“I’d thought he was just acting,” I said to Raechel. “I didn’t know it was real. I mean, he pretends so much; how was I to know he wasn’t pretending this time? Bet he thought of that.”
Raechel tucked the parchments back into the book, and closed it. “Not to detract from your personal loss,” she said, “but what are we going to do? About Stupid’s father having an urn, I mean.”
“Orcus would know.”
“Would Stupid? He’s been remembering more since we’ve had him on the blood-diet, and there’s a chance that he saw it.”
I bit my lip. “Maybe. But remember that he was really young when it was placed behind the portrait. Chances are he won’t recall a thing.”
We sat in silence, and then Raechel was off the bed. “Let’s ask anyway. It couldn’t hurt.”
I agreed, and we went out, traipsing in the general direction of Phyllida’s art-room. The two lovers spent almost all their time there, doing Lord-knows-what (probably having lots of sex, because, let’s face it, that’s what young people do). Since he’d been getting a regular dosage of blood, Sebastian had fallen back into some sense of normality, and now he and Phyllida were in a whirlwind romance, glued to each other at all times of the day.
It was as we got to the downstairs foyer that a shout of pure ecstasy rang through the house. It was extremely loud and very terrifying. It could only be Orcus.
He came bounding up the stairs, face aglow with pride, eyes manic. “I’VE DONE IT!!!” he screamed.
“Done what?” I asked stupidly.
“IT WORKS! IT WORKS! MY GOD, IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!!” And then he kissed me quite hard before proceeding to jump off the landing and bolt back down the stairs and into the laboratory again.
I looked at Raechel, not sure what to feel. “He knows Christmas was almost a month ago, right?”
“Well, it works,” she said. “That’s the good news. You should be dancing.”
We decided to forego Sebastian for the moment, and wandered down the laboratory to see the results of nearly three months of hard work. Orcus was carefully measuring a golden serum into a syringe and transferring it into a phial. There were about sixteen or seventeen of them lined up and waiting, and they smelled, frankly, like burned socks and farts. It was gross. Orcus took no notice of us, so intent was he on what he was doing.
“So. . . .” I said.
He didn’t acknowledge me.
He looked up. “Did you say my name?”
Raechel sniggered. “Yeah, she did. Unfortunately for you, you answered to ‘Fluffhead.’ Could I call you that now?”
Orcus scowled. “I just cured vampirism, McNab. Shut up.”
“What are the specifics?” I said, trying to draw the attention back to the important matters.
“Alliin,” he said. “Alliin mixed with phoenix tears. It’s brilliant. Of course, you suggested the alliin first – ”
“I suggested a concentrated form of it,” I contradicted. “You didn’t use that though, did you?”
“I used the naturally occurring form of it,” Orcus said, going back to his syringe. “It seems to work better than a concentrate.”
“Did you use Sebastian’s blood?”
“No; I used mine.”
Could he be any less informative? “Care to share?”
Orcus chuckled. “Though I have been imbued with phoenix tears, their qualities are beginning to wear off. I took my blood, extracted the tears – it was very simple, they co-habit in the system almost like their own complete entity, you could separate the two with a spoon – and was left with the regular contaminated sample. I found that when I hadn’t extracted it, the serum worked better than when I had; the sample cleansed faster and more completely, with less damage. I did another experiment, this time mixing in a greater ratio of Tears to chemical, and produced a similar result. A third test, where I mixed the extracted and aged Tears with the serum, produced exactly the same results as with the first. Twenty-two extra tests later, the results were still the same, and I knew I’d found my cure.” He straightened himself. “Well…what will work as a cure for now. Obviously it will still need perfecting, but it will do the job satisfactorily.”
That was truly incredible, I thought. It wasn’t much of a surprise given Orcus’ ability to out-think practically all of his peers, and a good number of his elders as well. It was still incredible.
“Do you think it’ll work on Degas?” Raechel asked.
“No,” said Orcus happily. “He’s too far gone for such a thing.”
Somehow I didn’t think so. “Have you taken it yet?”
“Want to parcel it first. Not sure how I’ll react when I shoot up, and I want this stowed away in case I react badly.”
“Would you like help?”
“No, thank you.”
Raechel and I exchanged glances. “Right,” she said. “Well, we’re going to go inform Stupid, and Phyllida, and your grandfather, and then we’ll be back to watch you. You know, just in case you die.”
Orcus snorted. “Do as you please.”
“We plan to,” I said.
Out in the hall I pressed Raechel for what she thought; was he telling the truth, or would it really not work for Sebastian.
She though it over. “Dunno,” she finally said, “but I agree with him on this one.”
“Sorry?” Raechel had probably never agreed with Orcus on anything in her life.
“Think about it,” she said. “Sebastian is completely changed now, and Orcus wasn’t. He was close, but Grandpa shot him up with the tears in time. Degas didn’t have that. He took a month or so to manifest the all the changes – though he’s still not counting, and honestly I’m kind of let down by that; he’s been drinking blood for a good while now. I think Orcus is right, and he’s not a candidate anymore.”
I didn’t have to do too much considering. If Raechel was agreeing with Orcus, then I was prepared to believe it. “Fine. But I want to know more about these urns.”
You can imagine just how happy I was that Sebastian remembered. Not only did he remember the urn, he remembered how it had fit in the wall. He didn’t remember the portrait being hung over it, but when Raechel mentioned the wormhole, his eyes lit up.
“Is that what was hidden inside it?” he said. “No wonder, then!” We’d found him wandering outside on the estate grounds, taking advantage of the heavily overcast skies to try to get out of the house. So far he seemed to be doing all right: No blisters had appeared on his skin, and he’d been out for the better part of an hour.
“Do you remember it exactly?” I asked.
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “Grey stone; beautiful masonry; quite heavy, from what I remember of it. The worm – er, hole, as you call it, was much more wild when the portrait was dislodged.”
As we began making our way back up to the main house, Raechel launched into an explanation of how the wormhole would have gone haywire when his father was killed. By the time she was finished we’d made it inside a very large, very warm conservatory, and were peeling off our coats and hats as we made our way to the door connecting it to the rest of the house. I’d frowned to myself at Raechel’s explanation, but didn’t attempt to correct her. Who was to say there wasn’t a particular detail we were missing? According to the papers, the wormholes would only become destabilized in the event of a son murdering his father; they hadn’t mentioned anything else, and there were several possibilities where the story was concerned. Sebastian didn’t understand ‘haywire,’ and dulled a bit at his own lack of comprehension, but lit up again when Raechel described it.
“Like some sort of black hole?” he asked, coming to a stop in the entry as we put up our coats (I forgot to mention, but will do so now, that Sebastian wasn’t wearing a coat or a hat; apparently being a vampire makes one rather impervious to the cold, which is stupid because it’s annoying, but there we are).
I double-took. “I didn’t know you even knew what that was,” I said. “But, yes, a bit like a black hole. Except that, if the urn broke, it would tear the space-time continuum, not just swallow light.”
“Not if the urn didn’t break,” Raechel rushed to say. “And also, who’s to say that black holes aren’t tears in the space-time continuum? Nothing’s ever survived the trip into one.”
“What do you mean?”
“The worm-hole was encased in the urn as well as the wall. It would have sucked everything into it, sure, until a part of the wall, maybe imbued with some sort of protection, collapsed on itself and sealed it off. The time being when it was, the house would have, upon its construction, been blessed by a priest, or religious elder of some sort. It would have provided an extra sort of protection.”
This was stretching my brain a bit. “How would that work?” Apparently we were disregarding the fact that curses and blessings are lumped into the same category of things that don’t actually exist.
Raechel shrugged. “I have no idea, but it must have, otherwise we’d be having a very different conversation right now. I imagine it’s the same concept behind vampires and holy water, but I wouldn’t know for sure.” We had wandered into the blue sitting room, and I took a moment to eye Orcus’ mother’s portrait, thinking hard.
Sebastian seemed very keen on this idea. “If the wall had collapsed it would have allowed time for the vortex to come back to an even keel!”
Phyllida hadn’t been kidding when she’d said he had potential. I’d had no idea that Sebastian was truly this intelligent. As it was, as I sank into a chair, my mind was preoccupied with a different challenge. “Orcus wants those urns, badly,” I said.
Sebastian’s hackles were raised. “Why?”
“Not sure exactly, but I can imagine it has to do with the level of power it would afford him,” I said.
“There’s only one thing for it,” Sebastian said decidedly.
“They must be destroyed.”
“And how do you suggest we go about doing that?”
He sat down opposite me. “No idea.”
We sat in silence a long minute, and then Raechel said, “Orcus found a cure.”
Sebastian nodded. “I do not think I will be a proper candidate for it.”
“Neither do we,” she said. “But we thought it fair you know.”
He nodded again. “I thank you.” His black eyes found mine. “Do you know where they are, the urns?”
I shook my head. “No. But Mr. Locke does.”
“And what do you plan to do if he says no?” asked Raechel conversationally.
I shrugged. “Steal his records and find out where they are myself. We have to get rid of them before Orcus gets to them. That might seem to be a long ways away, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not take that chance.”