“Fortunatus, please get him down,” Sundance said.
“I thought Jack said you could eat us?” The bitter edge in Ronan’s voice slashed out at the vampire.
“Do not distrust Jack,” Fortunatus said. “He can now communicate with me through thought alone. He had no choice but to try to convince Mara he was now on her side to keep her from killing all of you. He requested I get all of you out of here. ‘Sooner rather than later’, is the phrase I believe.”
“Ash and Monk?”
“They will remain here. He will try to keep them safe, safe till we can fix this.”
“Can we fix this?” Sundance asked.
“We will or I will die trying,” said a soft voice off on the right.
Genesis preferred to keep her head resting on Sebastian’s chest, even with his shirt stiff and itchy with blood. But, her head lifted on its own. Dora’s voice drew her to look in the direction of Mara’s desk. The witch of NewLife furrowed her brow at the haphazard papers littered over the polished surface. Genesis forced her eyes to study Dora’s young face. She knew she should hate this witch. Dora had blocked her powers and let the scientist die. Dora had slipped the curses inside of her, and Dora had killed Tell and his whole team. Alistair, Valkyrie, and William were ash in the wind because of Dora’s betrayal. All dead because of this one witch. Because of her, a war brewed on Mara’s doorstep. A great insult had been thrown at the Undead. They would not stand for it.
That was Jack’s problem now, not hers. Not anymore.
“Why?” Genesis asked the one question in her heart. The vacancy deep inside Genesis’ soul masked the hate she owed Dora.
Dora raised her eyes from the notes and a crushing guilt washed over her face. Tears shimmered in her eyes.
“I can’t justify myself, Genesis. I can’t explain to you the lies I swallowed. But, I will try to make this right.” She made a fist, crumpling the papers she held. “I will make this right.”
Genesis turned away from her without a response. What could she say to someone who had a hand in killing her friends, and now wanted to help her? What could she say to the witch who helped steal her powers?
“I need to help them get him off the wall,” Sebastian said. He kissed the top of her head.
Genesis clung to him with a small child’s fear of all she did not yet understand. What if she let him go and he never came back? If she lost one more friend now…She swallowed that thought. Too much pain. Too much. The sound of a gentle kiss reached out to Genesis. She turned one eye on Ronan and Sundance just as Sundance kissed the SoulDefender through the cloth she had tied around his broken eyes.
“Mistress?” Fortunatus shifted to Genesis’ side.
“I’m not your Mistress,” Genesis said without looking away from Ronan and Sundance.
Fortunatus bowed. “Jack requested I continue to call you that. He wishes you to be reminded that he is holding your powers only until we find a way to return them to you.”
Genesis sank further back into Sebastian’s arms refusing the offer of hope. “What do you want?”
“As your friend said, we need to get Ronan off that wall. I will need his help to free the SoulDefender.”
“Please, don’t take him.”
Sebastian tightened his hold around Genesis.
“No one is taking me. But, Genesis, we can’t leave him nailed up over there.”
Taking her eyes off Ronan and Sundance, Genesis examined the blood dried on Sebastian’s face and in his hair. She searched his eyes. They asked her to be strong, to be the woman who fought curses and defended friends. He asked her to be the one who the vampires obeyed. But, that Genesis died when her powers were ripped from her.
“No she did not,” he said, as if he could read her mind. “Genesis, you are more than your powers. You gave those powers grace and strength.”
Candle flames smeared as tears stung her eyes and she squeezed them shut. Sebastian’s warm forehead touched hers. The world waited on her. The room held in a collective breath. Sebastian sighed and a tiny wind played over her face. Something deep in her core, where her TrueSelf used to dwell when she walked this plane, opened. A dangerous wound which required surgery – more wounding to heal the wound. Genesis opened her eyes.
“Fortunatus this is Sebastian, vice-President of the company where, until recently, I was employed. Sebastian this is Fortunatus, a vampire who is a member of the Requiem.” Genesis made introductions.
Sebastian hugged her to himself. Genesis took in a deep lung full of air saturating herself with Sebastian’s smell. She borrowed his strength in place of her own. Pushing out a little from him, Genesis set her feet on the cold floor. Her legs wobbled and Sebastian braced her with his arm.
But she stood.
She stood beside him ready to give more. Now was not the time for quitting and dying, but living and fighting.
“Am I…” Genesis fingered the two holes in her neck. She could not bring the question into the light, even the flickering candle light.
“I did not drink much, Mistress. Only enough to make Mara believe Jack’s lie, and to give me strength to help you escape.”
“You drank enough to want me?”
“A drop of your blood unmixed would be enough to make me want you, but I am under control for the time being.”
“Jack’s keeping you under control.”
“Yes, he is helping me by lessening the feelings of lust.”
Genesis longed for the high the new witch experienced. No drug produced the sensation of desire and surging power like a vampire feeding. She flushed. Her first vampire feeding had been a fiasco. Only Vash’s presence kept her from unleashing the undead on the human cattle of the world. Only Vash kept her good.
“I hope for all our sakes, he can handle it,” she said.
“I pray he can.”
The conviction in the cold vampire’s voice touched Genesis. She remembered the deep devotion she sensed from him towards Jack when she ruled him. She once treasured his love and loyalty which had remained intact even with the transfer of power. Genesis cupped his sharp face in her hand. His hard, cold skin warmed under her fingers. Fortunatus covered her hand with his own. His crow tattoo reminded her of his betrayal and forgiveness.
“We will get Jack back,” she said. She might not be able to read his mind, but she could read his face and hear the words he spoke. She gave Fortunatus, who used to be hers, the words he needed to hear. The vampire gazed into her with ice-blue eyes. Genesis slipped towards their dark center no longer able to resist his natural captivation. Fortunatus shook himself and broke the connection.
“Sundance, ” Fortunatus shifted back to Ronan, “If you would support Genesis, Sebastian and I will free Ronan.”
The witch jumped to Genesis’ side and ducked up under her arm. She gripped her around the waist. Genesis tested her weight on the shorter woman and found her stronger than she appeared. She might not be the strong oak like Sebastian, but the willowy birch which found its strength in flexibility.
“Please, hurry,” Sundance pleaded.
Fortunatus and Sebastian approached Ronan, and Genesis’ stomach churned. Remembered crucifyings, imagined or real, brought on by the Necklace of Pain, staccatoed through Genesis. She gagged. Sundance squeezed her close.
“How will we get the nails out?” Sebastian asked.
“You will not. You will hold the SoulDefender while I remove the nails and chains,” Fortunatus said and then turned to Ronan. “Brace yourself, SoulDefender, freeing you will be painful.”
Sebastian levered his body up under Ronan. He grabbed the waist band of his jeans and wrapped his arm around Ronan’s upper body. Genesis mimicked Ronan as he bit his lip. His face contorted as Fortunatus yanked the left nail from the palm of his hand. A shuddering groan fell from his open mouth. The vampire tore out the other nail. The SoulDefender could no longer hold back the scream inside him. It reverberated around the room. Fortunatus broke the chains apart, and Ronan slumped across Sebastian’s back. As gently as he could, Sebastian lowered Ronan to the floor. He propped him against the wall, and touched his hand to Ronan’s forehead.
“He’s burning up.”
“Go.” Genesis pushed Sundance away. The witch rushed to Ronan’s side. Genesis swayed on her feet.
“I gotcha,” Sebastian said. He caught her before the floor did. Fresh blood smeared his shirt and he smelled of sweaty fear.
“Take me to him,” Genesis said.
Sebastian guided her weak body to the wall and clasped her hand as Genesis dropped to the floor beside Ronan. He squatted down beside her. Sundance gathered Ronan up. She turned him and cradled his head in her lap. Her slim fingers stroked his face.
“We need to stop the fever. His body is pulsing with convulsions.”
“May I?” Dora stepped up.
Ronan flinched from the sound of her voice.
“Ronan? I beg you to forgive me. I…I was lied to and used.”
“You couldn’t see that,” Ronan coughed each word out with a gasping hitch. Sundance held his shoulders.
“We all saw it. You wanted to believe the lies told to you. You believed them to the last moment.”
A tiny slice of satisfaction flooded Genesis as Ronan attack Dora.
“I have some of the liquid Mara gave Jack, and I believe it might ease your pain,” Dora said ignoring his accusations.
“Give it to Genesis,” Ronan said clenching his teeth.
Dora moved away with fresh tears on her face.
Everyone watched as Sundance dug around in her pouch for a moment. Finding the right baggy, she upended a handful of golden dust on Ronan’s head. Ripping a new strip off the same cloth she had used to wrap his eyes, Sundance bandaged his mutilated right hand. She kissed his knuckles and then took the other hand and did the same. Ronan reached up and touched her face with the back of his bloody, broken fingers.
“I wish I could see you,” he whispered.
“You will.” She pressed her hand across her mouth to hold back a sob as his fingers left a trail of blood on her face.
“We need to go,” Fortunatus interrupted. “Jack says we need to go. Mara is totally distracted and we will not have a better chance.”
“How will we escape?” Genesis asked. She refused to wondered how Jack had distracted her so fully so quickly.
“Will you take the liquid?” Dora offered her the last of the syringe.
“Absolutely not. I don’t trust a damn thing offered by you or Mara.”
Sundance glanced at her. Genesis bit back a snarl when she saw the pity in her eyes. Pity from Sebastian she accepted. He was a human. Genesis saw how most witches would see her in Sundance’s glance. This is how they would respond to her, now . Pity. Pity floated in Sundance’s glance. They thought they understood how she felt. Fucking idiots. How could they? How could they understand what it was like to have their powers ripped from their body? No sense of time. No sense of magical lines. No voices. Nothing. Nothing, but what her normal five sense told her. She knew how rich the world was, but she could no longer see it. Ronan might understand. Ronan, now the blind man.
“Where will we go? Do any of you even know where we are?” Sebastian said.
“I must find the Inventor,” Ronan said
“The Inventor?” Fortunatus and Dora said at the same time.
“I just want to go home!”
Genesis jerked. Pain came from that voice. Sebastian did not look at Janie. He kept his eyes glued firmly on Genesis. She watched a vein in his neck pulse. Anger balled up his fists.
“Who are you?” Ronan sat up and turned to the new voice.
“She’s Janie. She is a betrayer like me,” Dora said. Before Janie could protest her title, Dora continued, “Come! We need to find a place to open a Door. Outside would be best. Can you help me open a Door, sister?”
“We need three witches?” Sundance said.
Genesis doubled over clutching her stomach. She turned her face from the witches around her rocking back and forth in her pain. Sundance’s words struck her. They had already removed her from the magical quotient. Her vision swam with tears. She squeezed her eyes shut against the hateful room with its cold walls and hollow candle light. A hole expanded deep inside her. It grew deeper and blacker until it consumed everything around it, heart and soul. Like an internal black hole, it sucked even light into its unknown depth.
“Stay with me, Dunlear,” Sebastian said. He grasped Genesis’ shoulders.
“Don’t we have three?” Dora said.
They were voices without consequence. Genesis heard their words, but disconnected them from their faces. Just words. Just voices.
“How are we even going to get him out of this place, let alone him having the strength to help us open a Door?” Sundance said.
“I’ll do it, if you’ll tell me what and how.”
“We’ll open a door to the spirit plane and find LoreHolder,” Dora said. “She’s the only one who knows if the Inventor is more than a legend and where to find him.”
“The vampires would also know,” Genesis whispered, adding her own voice to the disembodied sounds.
“What?” Ronan said.
Genesis turned back to them with arms still wrapped tight around her body. He turned unseeing eyes in her direction. She focused on the red cloth around his face.
“The house is surrounded by vampires. I can’t tell you if they follow Jack yet or not.”
“You think they would know where the Inventor is.”
“And the man with the scar?”
Genesis’s heart leapt, faltered, and gave up. She pressed her lips together, afraid she might vomit. Sebastian encompassed her entire body in his arms and pulled her close. Vash. Oh, Vash. What would he do? Would he come?
“What man with a scar?” Genesis asked. She tried to keep her voice calm, but she heard the need in the question. The need for the man most like a father to her.
“When I healed your soul, in your dream where Sebastian was in the lab, I saw a man with a scar. It was at the ball. The scar ran down his whole face, down his neck and into his shirt –” Ronan stopped. A wet cough broke up his words.
“You dreamed about me in the lab?” Sebastian asked.
“I dreamed it was you and not the scientist being torn apart by my zombie,” Genesis said. She turned her face up to him. The compassion in his eyes touched her as she hung on the precipice of her black hole. She clung to it. His eyes did not reflect powers she no longer had like the rest of the witches in the room. They only showed her a soul filled with concern because of love.
“Do you know who the man was?” Ronan said.
“It’s Vash,” Genesis said. She heard a strength in her voice which she thought she lost.
“Who is Vash?”
“No one knows, but I can contact him if we get out of here.”
“I would advise we do that now,” Fortunatus said.
“We’ll open the Door, and then when we’re safe we’ll decide what to do,” Ronan said. “I won’t run away for long. I’ll come back and fix this, I swear Genesis. I will fix this, save my daughter, and Jack.”
“Follow me! I will take the SoulDefender, Sebastian you bring Genesis.” Fortunatus shifted to Ronan’s said, helped him off the floor, and braced him under one shoulder. Ronan’s breath caught as Fortunatus took his wrist. The blood drained from his face leaving a green hue behind, but he kept his feet. Sundance stepped up to Ronan’s other side. Behind them, Sebastian lifted Genesis in his arms. Janie, hate and fear mingled in her eyes, and Dora followed behind the vampire and witches. They started together for the door when Ronan stopped them.
“Guide my hand, Sundance. Write with my blood ‘you are not forgotten’.”
Tears sprang anew into Sundance eyes. She guided his fingers to write the message in his own blood for Jack, Ash, and Monk. Genesis followed the trail of blood on the wall and knew part of that message belong to her. Ronan told her, as much as the ones they left behind, that he was not finished.
Leaving Ronan leaning on Sundance for a moment, his whole weight pressing down on her, Fortunatus removed the locked door of the room from its hinges. In his hands, it changed from oak reinforced with iron to nothing more than a piece of cardboard leaning against the wall. Now, they had a way out. Fortunatus red glowing eyes faded just a little, and his cheeks started to hollow again. Jack would sense his loss of power. The control of Fortunatus’ lust would become a greater trial the more demand his body made for blood. Genesis knew the textbook answer for all Fortunatus felt right now. She could draw a damned diagram about it. But, she no longer experienced the lust, pain, and power herself.
Large, cold stones formed the floor, walls and ceiling of the hallway outside the candle filled room. Fortunatus led the limping band down the hall until he came to a T. He stopped for a moment. Genesis could not tell if he communed with his new witch or sniffed the air. Damn. Damn. Damn. She realized that without Fortunatus they would all be lost, little rats in a maze, down here in Mara’s subterranean dungeon. She could no longer just sense her way out, she could get lost. Lost. Genesis was lost…and afraid.
With a brisk nod, the vampire turned left and the floor rose. They climbed up. Up, up, up, they hiked until everyone but Fortunatus wheezed and gasped for air. Sebastian set Genesis down and put his arm around her. A flash of concern for him broke through her burning fear. He limped, and the dried blood on his face set a sharp contrast with his pale, sweat gleaming skin.
“I’m okay,” he said. “Just tired of this slope.”
She found her feet, found some strength to climb at his side, with his help.
Sundance stole glances up at Ronan. She turned to look at them and shook her head. Sebastian nodded in encouragement. Worry masked her pretty little face. She examined the set of Ronan’s jaw and the green tinge around his covered eyes. He moved on a flagging will power. Sundance and Fortunatus bore more and more of his weight as they continued up the hallway.
At the top of the steep incline, they paused and Sebastian sank to the ground pulling Genesis gently down with him.
“Why couldn’t she have an elevator installed?” he asked.
Heat flushed through Genesis, and sweat broke out across her skin. She shivered on the cold stone floor. The room spun for a moment. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. She had no answer for Sebastian’s question.
“Don’t put me down,” Ronan said, “I might not be able to get back up.”
“Where next?” Sundance asked Fortunatus.
“There is a branch off to the left and a then hall which moves down into the kitchens,” Fortunatus paused with his head tilted. He listened for a moment.
“Move!” Fortunatus barked. He braced up Ronan and started down the other side of the incline. Sebastian grabbed up Genesis. With his arm around her, he hustled her after Fortunatus. Janie and Dora rushed behind them. They shuffled down the hall as quickly as their wounds and blood loss would allow. An arched passage on the left came into view. Fortunatus guided them towards it. Alarm bells sounded in a distant hall, shrill and piercing. Genesis could not breathe. A stitch in her side twitched with each step catching her breath. A light-headed nauseous feeling washed over her again and again. Just ahead, Ronan’s head dropped and Fortunatus took on his whole weight dragging him bodily down the hall.
The strong smell of cooking meat wafted up towards them and Genesis’ stomach growled. She almost giggled, a little insanely, at the ability to be hungry as they raced for their lives. More bells clanged and bonged behind them. The sound of booted feet echoed across the flagstone walls. Fortunatus turned them to the left again. They hurried down a hall which passed between a washroom and the kitchen. Small arches peppered the walls giving them a glimpse of busy servants in both rooms. The smell of food filled the air with intoxicating scents of hot meat dripping with fatty juice, warm, white bread rising in the oven, and sweet confections cooling near a window.
“Witches, be ready! We are almost outside!”
Genesis groaned. And then, a sudden hatred for her own weakness bloomed inside her. She may not have power, but she could still be strong. She could still fight. Battle prowess had not been her magic, but her training. As quickly as her body told her to fight, her mind clamped it down. She feared what she would find if she accepted her lack of power. She feared she had lost everything. Better not to know.
BONG! BONG! A giant gong sounded just as Fortunatus lifted his hand to push a large door open.
“Stop!” Mara yelled behind them.
Janie let out a yelp and grabbed at Sebastian. She scratched Genesis waist as she pawed at Sebastian.
Fortunatus pushed the door open. A beautiful starry sky and cold, crisp air greeted them.
“Escape!” Fortunatus yelled shoving Ronan over onto Sundance.
They stumbled out propelled by Fortunatus thrust. Sebastian lunged out after them. Freezing cold air filled Genesis lungs and danced goose bumps across her exposed skin. She wished for her black coat which hung cold and alone in her room at the lab. A smile filled Sundance’s face as she turned towards the east. Genesis followed her line of sight. The early morning dawn, pink and pale blue, showed across the horizon. She glanced over her shoulder at the door they had rushed through. Fortunatus straddle it keeping Mara and her servants from rushing out. He used the smaller opening to force them into a bottleneck. The vampire shifted faster than Genesis could follow any more. The bodies piled at Fortunatus feet and she heard groaning as the servants of Mara tried to get past him. Mara screamed at Jack ordering him to control his vampire. Jack ignored her. He looked past the battling vampire now in danger of the coming dawn and locked eyes with Genesis. She saw the war raging in him already – power or what was right? But, when he caught her eye, he saluted her and smiled a cocky half-smile.
Genesis stared at him. Did she respond to him or hate him? Was this Jack’s fault? Genesis knew he did not choose to be Mara’s newest plaything in a vain attempt to replace Carin. She gave Jack the smallest of nods. She glanced around half expecting to see a wall of vampires wrapped around Mara’s house, but she saw no one in the faint light of the rising sun.
“The Door!” Dora raced to Sundance’s side.
Genesis did not want to watch the witches work their magic, but she could not help herself. Dora and Sundance’s hair stood on end, blowing in some magical wind as they called up the ancient magic. Sundance lowered Ronan to the ground and from her pouch she pulled a chunk of wood. Genesis knew the piece of polished, golden wood was a sliver of the door Sundance’s magic flowed from. The door probably hid in some secret glade where her heart always danced. Genesis used to have one like it, black as sin, in her own pouch. The Dancer held the piece of wood up, bracing it at the top with her index fingers and at the bottom with her thumbs, forming a diamond shape around it. She listened for only a second to Dora’s chanting and then began her own. She chanted in, over, and around Dora’s chant. Sundance used the words and the noises to dance with Dora’s magic.
“Now, Ronan,” Genesis said – her voice lost and far away even in her own ears.
Ronan held up two bloody hands and followed in their chant. Genesis could not see the magical lines anymore, or understand the beautiful language flowing around them, but she could tell something was off. Ronan hesitated, looked back even though he could not see Fortunatus fighting the servants of Mara.
“Leave!” Fortunatus yelled, sensing his hesitation just as Genesis did. “I cannot stem the tide forever, SoulDefender.”
Ronan ripped the blindfold off his eyes. Magic, visible to all, leapt up and burned away at his mind. He threw back his head and screamed. Fighting through the pain, he held up his bleeding hands. Dora and Sundance wove their chant around his scream. A dark and dank Door infected by the surrounding stone structure forced to hold tortured people appeared before them. The Door opened.
The chant stopped. Sebastian grabbed Genesis and pushed her through the door. He turned and waved Dora and Janie through it. Rushing to Ronan’s side he yanked him up off the ground. Ronan closed his eyes and grabbed at Sundance’s arm with broken fingers. He pushed her through before him. Sebastian and Ronan tumbled through last. The Door shut soundly behind them.