“Do any of you have any idea how much hell there will be to pay for this?” Prime hissed. “This is a school, not a playground for you to wreck, and certainly not a bar for you to smash – NO comments, Tourney!”
He was royally pissed, and I do have that small tendency to just let fly out of my mouth whatever I want. In my defense, he was an idiot; he deserved it. As it was, I settled for shooting him derisive glares.
Prime stood before us, hands balled into fists and nostrils flaring. “All of you wait here while I fetch Mrs. Ghost and Mr. Carson. If there are any signs of fighting when we return, the culprits will receive the full extent of my wrath.” And he stalked pompously out of his office to fetch our matron and the director.
The minute the door closed, Orcus rounded on me, his eyes calculating. “What’s your story?”
I knew exactly what he was getting at. “Not sure yet,” I replied. My eyes narrowed. “I was depending on what might apparently be too much decorum and self-control for either of you to handle.”
Orcus ignored my jibe and began to pace. “We need it to be fool proof. Absolutely fool proof.”
“You’re the only one with a family that terrifies the collective global community,” I said. “You be the relative. No one’s willing to trace you.”
Orcus shot me a patronizing look. “According to you perhaps, Mallory,” he said tiredly. “Do recall that my ancestors were Welsh émigrés. That family is traceable by government officials, exactly those looking into this case.”
I snorted. “We’re talking about the U.S. Government, Orcus. I’m sure even they aren’t a match for your brain.”
It was true, too, even if it was flattery, an attempt to get him to just say what he had to say. He smiled. “If you aren’t going to help, please don’t be a nuisance.” I glowered, and Orcus turned and stared thoughtfully out the window. “I’ve got an idea. All you have to do is keep quiet.”
“And what if we’re asked direct questions?” Raechel queried. “I’m pretty sure you’re not a ventriloquist, Locke.”
He tapped his chin. “An excellent point.” He leaned up against Prime’s desk, eyes slit as he thought. “Knowing Carson, he’ll ask a general question before he makes a direct inquiry. I’ll set the story-line. Follow it as best you can.”
“And be vague,” Raechel and I chimed. “Got it.”
Our instructors obviously weren’t outside waiting for us to reach that conclusion, and we all sat in silence another five minutes before the door finally opened and Orcus pulled himself up to attention. Sebastian caught my eye, nervous and scared. I nodded once and patted his arm in a very broad sort of attempt to comfort him. There was no guarantee that Orcus wouldn’t abandon us to the slaughter, but we had to trust him at least marginally. If push came to shove Raechel and I together were creative and wily enough to get him at least suspended. . .hopefully.
We turned in our seats and looked up at Mr. Carson, pretending to be intimidated. I’m quite sure he knew we were faking; aside from Sebastian, of course, who had never in his life been through this sort of ordeal.
Carson eyed all of us, and then fixed his gaze on Orcus. “Mr. Locke, I’m surprised at you. I didn’t know you could lose your temper.” It wasn’t a question. One more glance around the room, and then the inevitable query: “What happened?”
Orcus, ever the consummate actor, managed to look very ashamed. “I suffered a moment of lax judgement, sir.” His eyes shot to mine, and then shot away just as quickly. A sinking feeling manifest itself in my stomach as I realized his game: It would be inferred, not just by Carson, but by Prime and Ghost as well, that it was a lovers’ quarrel. They had their own triangle, and now Orcus was casting us in the same sort of roles, they were bound to think it through emotionally. It was clever. Very sickening, but very clever; I now had an even greater incentive to keep my mouth shut; it was difficult to only look torn and disappointed, and not sick to the stomach as well.
Carson didn’t miss the glance; he wasn’t supposed to. He walked around Prime’s desk, his eyes trained firmly on Sebastian. “Who might this be?”
Sebastian’s eyes were wide as tea saucers, and he stammered, “S-s-Sebastian Degas, sir.”
Carson’s face didn’t change. “I don’t believe you attend our school, Mr. Degas. What exactly are you doing on government property without permission?”
Sebastian looked completely frozen. “I – ah – well –”
“We’re not sure either,” I interrupted quickly. It would have been a good ploy, the triangle, had Sebastian not so obviously been a third-party non-student.
Carson fixed me with his steady gaze. “What do you mean, Miss Tourney?”
Orcus stared me down, and spoke in my stead. “We simply found him, sir.” Carson’s brow furrowed, and Orcus continued. “He doesn’t remember much other than his name.”
I snorted. “He can’t even read.”
Sebastian gaped at me. “Don’t judge me!” he yelped. “You can’t cook!”
I spluttered. “Excuse me, but the person in this room who cannot read has no business telling the person who can how to cook!”
Cooking is a method for survival, something of which you are supposed to be quite fond,” he snapped. “I happen to be better cook, which really doesn’t take that much wit – ”
“Enough,” Carson interrupted. He’d barely raised his voice, but we’d heard him clearly. Sebastian’s mouth closed like a box, and I forced myself to turn my head and face the director. “What is this all about, Miss Tourney?”
I looked down at my feet and shot another glance at Orcus. He’d started this triangle, and carrying it on was essential if the adults were to buy our story, even if it was about as holey as a fishing net. Carson caught the exchanged glance again. “We’ve been trying to piece things together, sir, but so far we’ve only learned that he can’t read, and that the only thing he remembers is his name. If we knew more we’d tell you.” Except that we wouldn’t because Orcus and I both had massive egos and neither of us were very fond of sharing.
Carson, it was obvious, was struggling with his partiality. He was also trying to keep up and make sense of this. How could there be a triangle if one suffered amnesia, and the other was regarded as a Greek-like god by all but two of his peers? I made sure to throw a look at Sebastian, just long enough to drive the point home.
Carson twitched. “Why – if you can tell me, please – has he been in your room?”
Orcus’ face didn’t change, and neither did mine, but very suddenly was the sociopath’s piercing gaze locked on Carson. Anyone who knew as much about Orcus as I flatter myself I do, would know that he was wondering just as much as Raechel and I how in the world Carson knew that, and what else he knew that he wasn’t sharing. I was very certain that I hadn’t said anything; Sebastian had spoken twice; Raechel hadn’t said anything; Orcus was getting irritable.
I began inventing as fast as I could. “Ah. That. Well, you see, sir, Sebastian and Orcus don’t exactly – er, get on well.”
Raechel snorted. “I think that much sort of became obvious this afternoon, don’t you?”
I quirked my eyebrow and said, “Well. . .yeah. So we’ve been sheltering him in our room, just to make certain that, you know, he doesn’t die.”
“Why didn’t you report him to me?” Mrs. Ghost asked.
Orcus shuffled his right foot along the lines in the tile. “We were trying to make use of all we’ve been through over the years.” His face flushed. “Thought we could make a sort of project of it. Clearly we’re in over our heads.”
Carson was eyeing me intently, and I made sure to keep my eyes on the ground. “Very well,” he said after a good while. “We’ll overlook this, and you may carry on the way you have, on one condition.”
Orcus violently suppressed the greedy glint in his eye. “Sir?” I wasn’t the only one wondering what Carson was up to, but Orcus was the better actor, so I kept silent.
“You must keep me abreast of your findings,” the director replied. “Agreed?”
I knew Orcus was itching to reply in the negative because I was biting my tongue. However, he nodded once, stiffly. “Certainly, sir. Every week.”
Carson smiled. “Excellent. I trust my two brightest trainees will be more than able to crack this puzzle-box.” And then we were dismissed.
We began making our way back to my hall, but Orcus pulled up short outside the door and turned to me, his face calm and unexpressive. “It’s quite late in the afternoon,” he said briskly.
Indeed. “It’s still quite lovely. Let’s walk. River?”
“Indeed!” exclaimed my nemesis, and just like that we were off.
Sebastian seemed very intent on arguing, but Raechel took his arm and dragged him along, shushing him as we made for the most secluded spot on campus. Orcus got there first and made his investigation, not protesting when we pushed Sebastian down onto a stump. He was more than satisfied by what he hadn’t found.
“What is all this?” blustered the by now very confused vampire.
“Carson knew where you were staying,” Raechel explained.
“Quite funny,” I added, “considering none of us mentioned it.”
“Mayhap your matron convinced the other girl to speak?”
Orcus was pacing now. “It’s unlikely, but if she did it’s a problem that will require immediate attention.”
It didn’t take a genius to get what he was saying. “Don’t you dare,” I said. “She’s an idiot, sure, but she wouldn’t tell. She’d get distracted and forget half-way to the office.”
Raechel was busy climbing a tree. “The question now becomes, what else does Carson know, and did he purposely let his information slip?”
“No,” Orcus replied, kicking a stone into the river. “I saw his eyes. He was worried; so worried, in fact, that Tourney’s bone almost didn’t work.”
Sebastian looked at me, befuddled. “Your what?”
“It’s an expression,” I replied absently. “You tell someone what they want to hear as a means of distraction.” My attention was on the sociopath staring out in the direction of the mine, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched over and a deep scowl painted on his face.
“What’s the last thing you remember, Degas, before waking up in Mallory’s room?”
I watched Sebastian struggle. “I – nothing! I remember nothing! I make attempts, I’ve focused very hard, but I can’t – it – I don’t know,” he finished lamely.
Orcus looked back, his eyes darkening. “Try,” he said woodenly.
I paced for a long while as Sebastian strained his brain. There had to be a way to trigger his brain, to get him out of his perpetual haze. My brother Ben had once mentioned a boy he knew who’d lost his memory in a skiing accident. He’d been unable to remember anything for the longest time. . .that thought gave me an idea.
I knelt down in front of Sebastian. “I know something you could try; it might help.”
He opened one eye. “Eh?”
I twitched; he’d picked that up from Raechel. “Lay down on your back,” I instructed.
“Just do it. Lie down and close your eyes.”
He moved, and then paused, eyeing me suspiciously. “When I do this are you going to try to kill me?”
“What?” I replied. “No, of course not. That would defeat the purpose.”
He nodded. “Very well, then.” He lay down on the river bank. “That would be a rather good way to go about things, you know. Unorthodox and rudimentary, but still quite effective.”
I thought Raechel was going to fall out of the tree from which she hung like the laughing monkey whore she was. I rolled my eyes and looked down at the vampire. “How is it you can be eloquent,” I asked, “but you can’t read, write, or count?”
“Not uncommon,” Orcus sneered. “If he’s really as old and lordly as he says he is, it would not be unheard of to be illiterate.”
I huffed and threw a glare over my shoulder. “Close your eyes, Sebastian,” I commanded as I gave Orcus what I hoped was a kidney-liquidizing glare (it only works if they see it; I’m still only at level three for death glares).
“You’re certainly not going to kill me?”
“Close your eyes, and I promise you won’t die slowly,” I said through gritted teeth. He obeyed. “Now, then, breathe in and out, and try not to relax.”
He promptly opened one eye. “Eh?”
I closed it with one finger. “Focus on your heartbeat.”
His eye opened again. “I’m afraid I am lacking in that function.”
I clenched my fists because I wasn’t going to kill him. “Then focus on mine, you great buffoon.”
He closed his eye and breathed deeply. “What happens when I find your heartbeat?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it,” I said wryly. “Don’t speak. Focus on my heart, and if you’re there I’ll tell you.” We waited. He relaxed considerably, and just when I was sure he was going to fall asleep, I said: “Keep relaxed, and focus on the memory in the back of your brain. Don’t move, don’t speak, and don’t give yourself a headache.”
“Is this really going to work?” Orcus asked, his voice a mix of tired and snide.
I shrugged. “Eh. . .probably not. It’s worth it though, if he remembers anything.”
“Way to have some confidence, Mal,” Raechel snorted.
There was a solid half-hour of steady silence which mostly consisted of me making violent gestures at an increasingly irate Orcus to shut up and leave Sebastian alone. The school sociopath had no respect for what he called “squishy science,” regardless of the fact that he understood it’s workings better than the individuals who had first theorized or expounded upon them. In the end, however, he settled for simply shooting me death glares (I am proud to report that Orcus was only ever a level one).
All at once Sebastian’s eyes shot open and he scrambled away from me, a look of sheer terror and unmitigated shock plastered across his face. He stared at me a solid ten seconds, and crawled a little further away.
“You remember?” Orcus asked coldly.
Sebastian nodded. “I – I –” He choked on the words.
Raechel jumped down from her tree and knelt a few feet away. “What did you see?” It was getting quite dark by now, but I could still see him shaking in the dark.
“Blood,” he whispered. “There was so much blood.” He felt his chest. “It was – m-m-mine. I-I-I remembered feeling – pulse. Then it – the blood – there was so much.” He rubbed his eyes, breath shaky. “So much blood.”
Now even Orcus looked concerned; his version of concerned, anyway. On anyone else it would simply have been mild interest, or perhaps curiosity. “What happened?” he asked coldly.
Sebastian rubbed his arms. “I – I – I was attacked. Me and my family.” He hesitated, hauling himself backwards to lean against a tree. “I remember it now.”
Orcus opened his mouth to snap impatiently, and I elbowed his stomach. Sebastian didn’t seem to notice too much of anything. He was staring intently at the ground, reliving the memory in his head.
“It followed my father home from the Courts. At least, that’s what he said. He came into my hall screaming, blood everywhere; he kept going on and on about it. ‘Get your mother and sisters out, boy! Get them out!’” He shuddered. “And then it came in after him. Through the window.” His eyes zeroed in on me. “The.”
I looked over at Raechel, and I wasn’t surprised that our faces each mirrored the other.
“Did you get a look at him, Sebastian?” she asked. “Do you remember how he looked?”
“I don’t want to,” he said through heavy breaths.
“Give us something, Sebastian,” I urged. “If you can remember—”
“I don’t want to!” he shouted. There were tears staining the corners of his eyes. “That – it – that thing – I saw it – he – it – destroyed my family!” He groped blindly at the ground. “You can’t—you don’t know—try to imagine that—!”
Orcus stepped forward then, and pulled him up by his shirt. “Pull yourself together, you fool!” he hissed. “There’s a good amount of danger hanging around here, thanks to you, and you’re our chance to solve it and put it to rest. Now, what did it look like, and what the hell happened?”
It was what Sebastian needed. As he straightened I noticed Raechel eyeing him keenly. I nudged her. “What’s with you?” I whispered.
“Vampires are supposed to weep tears of blood,” she explained. “His tears aren’t. They’re like regular tears.”
I thought a bit, rolling it over in my mind. “Maybe he’s too new,” I suggested. A quick glance at the boys showed Sebastian thinking hard, and Orcus watching him with a hard sneer. “If he’s directly new, he mightn’t display the traits—”
“He’s over a month old, if that’s the case,” Raechel said. “He’d have to have some of the traits by now, wouldn’t he?”
I folded my arms. “I don’t know. But this would be so much easier if we actually knew anything about vampires other than basic lore. And while that’s all good and well to start with….”
Raechel nodded. “It’s not an actual, documented…thing.”
I turned to the boys. “All right, Sebastian?”
He nodded, face still concentrated.
“Feel up to sharing?” Orcus asked snidely.
Sebastian nodded again. “It was decomposing,” he said, and then quickly amended his statement. “Not decomposing – well, it was, but it was more – wasted away, I suppose. I think perhaps he was starved. They begin to decompose if denied food for too lengthy a time. Well…I suppose I mean ‘we’, don’t I?” He scratched his head. “The Professor said so, anyway.”
Raechel’s eyes when went wide, but voicing her question was out of the question, because Orcus cut it off with one of his own, that was really more of a statement.
“It was already a threat?” he hissed. “It was just running loose?!”
“Well, Orcus,” I quipped, “that’s generally how they get their food.”
“Shut up,” he retorted. “I’ve got an idea.”
I felt the urge to punch him, so I gave in and did. It was only his arm, but it had the desired effect: a surge of satisfaction.
“It had been an issue,” Sebastian interrupted. “The magistrates had called Professor Traugott-Rothstein for that reason. He was unable to stay – something about another disaster in Ireland – but he told us how to get rid of it before he left.” He looked sheepish. “Obviously it didn’t work.”
“So this vampire was weakening and decomposing,” I said. “What happened?”
Sebastian shifted uncomfortably, but continued his story. “It’s a bit hazy, but when it had gotten what it wanted from me it turned on my mother and sisters. And then I collapsed; and when I awoke…. Well, I was in Miss Tourney’s room.”
I sank down on a nearby log. That explained absolutely nothing. “Did you see anything else? Before you fainted, did you notice anything else? Anything change?”
Sebastian thought hard. “When my sister, Eleanor, was attacked, she was thrown into the wall, and one of the paintings – of my grandfather – dislodged. I remember seeing—” he furrowed his brow “—I suppose a sort of – very bright light.”
It was as though Orcus’ eyes turned into high-beams. “Was it very small, your grandfather’s portrait?” I asked. It wasn’t a great stretch to imagine where Orcus’ rather over-developed mind was going.
Sebastian frowned. “No,” he said. “It was quite large; almost the size of the main gate, in fact.” His eyes squinted together in recollection. “When I was quite small my father very strictly ordered the servants not to move it or touch it, whatever the reason. Cleaning aside, of course. I don’t suppose there’s any chance that whatever it was…was just light?”
Orcus and I held each other’s gaze. Our hypothesizing had finally yielded a result. To my surprise, Orcus didn’t seem to be any more pleased about it than I was.