Sorry for the delay in posting - my internet connection went down on Friday morning and I have just got it back up. I'll have a new chapter up tomorrow as usual.
Now alone, I crawled across the floor to the cot in the corner, trying to ignore the things that squelched beneath my fingers or crawled over my hands. The fever seemed to be getting worse, wracking my body with cold sweats and shakes. I climbed up onto the cot, groaning with every broken motion, until I lay down. My head span.
As I lay there, I tried to take stock of my situation. Not good. Locked in a cell in the most secure prison in the kingdom, I had been accused of murder, had a new soul rattling around in my head, and the summons from my mistress would probably kill me by the morning. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more that last seemed to be the silver lining.
I drifted for a time, the fever leaving me light headed. Sometime later, it forced me down into scattered dreams. In one, I ran through the tangle of branches and roots in the Wyrding Wood, chasing a hat that would not settle. In another, two reapers pursued me through the streets of Waenchester and I knew that they were coming for my soul. In a third, I wandered through the empty corridors of the Three-Eyed Goat, following Tess' disembodied voice.
When I came to, I don't know how many hours later, a woman stood at the end of my bed.
Lizzy. It had been months since her soul had come out of hiding. Left weak by the fever, I could only lie there and stare at the woman I had loved. The woman I had killed and whose soul I had stolen.
Covered in blood, she held her arms out towards me, her mouth moving silently. I moaned and tried to move away, but in my weakened state I could barely even lift a finger.
She drew closer to me. I felt a cold draft wrap around my body, giving me chills due as much to her presence as to my fever. She clambered onto the bed, her body moving with erratic, jumpy movement. Slowly, she started to climb up my body.
I lifted my head and watched her draw close. Soon, her face hovered above mine. She still wore the same terrified expression on her face as she had the day I killed her. Even up close, I couldn't read her lips enough to decipher what she was saying. Finally, she lifted her fist and made a knocking motion on my forehead. Then she vanished.
Moments later, I heard knocking.
I lay there, unable to move. The knocking came again. I mumbled for whoever had knocked to go away, I wasn't in any state to have visitors. Besides, the dogs were still playing cards in the corner. Or something to that effect.
The knocking came again, louder this time, and followed almost immediately by a cracking sound. I turned my head very, very slowly and saw the floorboards a few steps away crumble inwards. Out of the hole appeared a candle, followed by an arm, then a shoulder. Moments later, a man's face appeared. He seemed vaguely familiar, with half of his face hidden behind a leather mask, from beneath which grew half a head of dirty blond hair.
The man who lived beneath the floor grinned when he saw me.
"Welcome back, brother."
I opened my mouth to reply, but instead I vomited over the side of the bed.
Then I fainted. Again.
When I woke up, I was sat in a chair. Great waves of pain rolled over me, descending from my head down to my toes and then back up. Over. And over. And over. I started to shiver. I couldn’t move anymore than that. My head rolled back against the cushions. The fire beside me held back the cold from outside, but the cold inside my body left my teeth chattering and my knees trembling.
I heard a door open behind me. Moments later, Tess appeared behind the chair opposite. My eyesight wavered, and the mirrormask she wore over her face seemed to ripple like water. Only her eyes were visible, green as the Slate Sea in the summer, but holding the cold passage of time locked in them like some ancient creature frozen in amber. At that moment, though, they were filled with fear and panic.
“Daniel? What is it?” She looked past me at the man who had appeared from below the floor of my cell, and who now towered above my chair. A man I now recognised. Faversham. Timothy Faversham. “Timothy? You didn’t tell me it was this bad.
Faversham shrugged. “I told you he was sick.”
“Oh by the… He’s going into a summoning trance. I knew I shouldn’t have used so much borbol oil in the blood mixture… We’re going to have to do something. Daniel, this is going to be very painful. Timothy, hold him.”
I doubted I could have broken his grasp even if I had been well, so Faversham easily wrapped his arm around my upper body, holding me trapped against the chair. Tess leaned forward and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand.
A low shout bubbled up from my throat and my eyes widened. Tess ignored me, cutting up the middle of my shirt, slicing it in two so that it fell away on either side.The cold night air bit into my skin. Moments later, the knife did as well. A single pin prick, followed by a droplet of blood that rolled down my chest and settled in my navel.
Please. I tried to plead with her in my head. Please. I don’t want to die. Not like this.
I tried to tell her, but again only a murmur escaped my lips. She reached into her dress and pulled out a vial of blue liquid. Golden dust swirled inside the bottle like a dance of stars, drawing the eye. When she pulled out the stopper, a smell of burnt grass and charred earth filled the room.
“What is that?” I managed to say, voice strained and foreign to my ear.
“A little water of Lethe mixed with Justinian’s seeds. It should reveal the spell work on your chest.”
The what? I wondered before she tipped the bottle upside down and let the liquid wash down over my bared chest. I screamed as the potion stung my flesh, the little golden seeds sticking to my skin and beginning to burrow into my flesh. As they vanished beneath the surface, lines began to appear on my chest, complicated patterns that swirled and dove and bloomed in blacks and blues and purples. After a few moments, a whole complex set of tattoos had appeared on my body, each one burning like a line of fire.
“What the fuck is that?” I choked out.
Tess refused to meet my eye. She gritted her teeth, sweat beading her forehead. In all the years I had known her, I had never seen her surprised or shocked or ruffled. Until now. Now, she looked absolutely terrified.
“How did you think I summoned you?” she snapped. “I had this put on you when you were a child, Daniel. I had no other choice.”
Something inside me broke. “You did what?” I screamed at her. Or tried to. “Who the fuck gave you the right?” She winced and Faversham tightened his hold on my shoulder. I didn’t care. Adrenaline raced through my body, giving me a little extra strength. I struggled against Faversham’s bonds. If I had gotten free, I think I might have torn her throat out. How could she? How dare she?
“The right?” Her mouth tightened. “No one gave me the right. I took it. After I saved you! Remember that? If it hadn’t been for me, you would have been sold to some slaver who would have had you bending over for some nobleman. I gave you a life.” She waved a hand. “This has gone on long enough. Ben, hold him down.”
I spat and cursed at her as Faversham complied, both arms wrapping around my upper body again like steel snakes.
“You bitch. I’m going to kill you!”
She scowled, muttering to herself as she began to rummage in her robes. She searched through hidden pockets, feeling at bottles then shaking her head. Finally, she lifted out a dark green bottle, the liquid inside shining with a silver light. I heard Faversham gasp when he saw it. My own eyes widened and I shut my mouth with a clap.
“Is that…” Faversham asked.
“Nightshayn. One of only three bottles. And now I have to waste it on him!” She looked at Ben. “Hold him very tightly. This is going to hurt.”
Before I could take that in, she pulled the cork and poured a good half of the bottle on my chest. The pain was… indescribable. A distant part of my mind imagined it felt like this to have someone peel your skin off layer by layer with a fine knife and then pour vinegar on the wounds. I screamed and screamed, my body going into uncontrollable spasms. At some point, Faversham let go of me. I found myself on the floor, looking up through teary eyes. My whole body burned, the lines of fire centred on the tattoo. Even when I had no more breath, I continued to scream in my head.
Finally, blessedly, the darkness closed in. I found myself falling away, away, away…