“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jaselle whispered. “You don’t know anything about the politics of the war or the vampires. You’re stepping in over your head here. If Aunt Mad can’t get out-”
“Jaselle,” Severus cut in, “enough. I’ve never asked for your approval, and I’m not seeking it now. I have one intention and if that means seeking it through the vampires then so be it.”
Jaselle fell silent and then added quietly, “I just don’t want you to get hurt too.” She peered northward, the sun was inching closer to the horizon and the sky was turning a brilliant shade of crimson and orange while the few thin clouds were only a purplish hue. She reached into one of her many tiny pouches along her belt where she drew out two vials. She extended one to her uncle. “Here, drink this.”
Severus took the small glass tube and looked at the vibrant red liquid.
“Blood of Fire.” Jaselle explained. “It burns going down so I suggest taking it in one swallow. If they bite you…well you’ve seen the effects; Mad used it on the other Prince the day you got married. Kantela invented it.”
She was right – it felt like his esophagus was on fire as the thick potion inched into his stomach. It spread through his limbs all the way to his fingertips and toes as the magic took effect. The heat of his blood didn’t simmer with time, he figured when it did he would know the potion had run its course.
What seemed like out of know where, a long slim hand gripped Severus’s wrist. He gave no indication of surprise, though he was startled, but turned rather suddenly as Sleeper slinked out of a nearby shadow.
He folded his long arms over his skinny chest and nodded to them.
“Good evening,” he said in his ever whispering voice. “I have word, news. You’ll want to come with me.” His shadowy eyes were wide and glassy as he started in the other direction. Without questioning they followed him.
Severus wanted to ask, as they walked for what seemed like miles, where they were going but he was certain he would only hear half of what the brooding youth might say. Finally he stopped and fingered them in close to him.
“It might sting for a second,” Severus thought he heard him say before Sleeper did a small pirouette and then blinked his eyes shut heavily and said ‘ta-dah’.
Jaselle gripped his arm as it felt like he was slammed by his heels into slab of cement. It was jarring and painful as his breath caught and the wind was pushed from his lungs without warning. As his head stopped spinning he realized he had been transported to a small clearing and he was actually standing on thick green grass. Jaselle released his arm and stumbled a few feet away coughing and clutching a nearby tree; apparently it effected her the same as it had him.
“A sooner warning would have been nice Sleeper,” she mumbled.
“Sorry,” he said, though there was no indication of actual sorry in his tone. “I knew you wouldn’t agree to be brought as such. Changeling magic is rawer than your ‘fine’ art of the same.”
“Where are we?” Jaselle asked.
“Gemini Springs.” Sleeper said.
“But-” Jaselle paused as she saw what Severus had.
He was frozen in his spot. A few hundred feet away was a crumpled mess of cloth. The moon was just coming up and the white light of the crescent was casting a gentle glow on the form under the branches of a huge tree. Severus had spent an afternoon many years before memorizing the unmoving features of the woman who lay still on the hill. He would recognize her anywhere. He stepped closer. Her color was gone but she looked quite peaceful in the moonlight.
He could hear words being exchanged softly behind him but he didn’t bother to listen as to what was being said. As he drew nearer he could see a small stream of red running from her lips down her once bronzy cheek onto the ground. Her neck was solid crimson and her chest was not moving with any indication of breath.
He dropped down next to her. His finger tips met her icy cheek and methodically he reached up and pushed her eyelids shut.
“Madeline?” He mouthed picking up her head in his hands. He shook his head in disbelief. He had seen death, many times, but for some reason he couldn’t understand this one…he just couldn’t grasp it. “Madeline?” He questioned again, giving her a tiny shake. Her body was freezing and her head was lying in a small pool of blood. He leaned over her.
Only as a clear drop fell onto her nose did he realize it was a tear of his own. He gritted his teeth angrily
“Stop!” Jaselle was suddenly there. He’d forgotten about Sleeper and his niece. She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Move away!”
“Get off!” Severus growled at her.
“Don’t Uncle Sev,” Jaselle said. “You’re just going to make a fool of yourself.”
Slowly Severus’s head turned and the stare that he gave Jaselle bore into her soul. He leapt to his feet and whipped his wand in her direction, not completely knowing what he was doing. He stood perfectly still between Madeline, laying limply on the ground, and Jaselle who was staring wide-eyed at him.
“Uncle Sev,” Jaselle said softly raising her hands defensively, “please don’t.”
“Get away,” He hissed. “She’s mine.”
“Severus,” Sleepers voice carried in his direction. “Don’t do something you will soon regret. You should hear Jaselle out on this matter.”
“She’s not dead,” Jaselle spoke clearly.
He added venomously, “She’s cold, not breathing, and bloody. She’s clearly dead.”
“She’s a Necromancer,” Jaselle said plainly. “She’s not dead. Roll her over on her side. She’ll vomit when she wakes, they always do.”
Jaselle made to move closer but Severus jerked his wand in her direction and she fell back closer to Sleeper. “Please,” Jaselle pleaded, “she’ll wake on her own eventually…but why wait. I can wake her now. I promise. Please Uncle Sev, let me go to her.”
“She’s dead,” he said again coldly. He was holding back any indication that he was feeling anything but the slight quivering of his wand hand would suggest that there was some emotion bubbling beneath his hard shell. “She’s my responsibility.”
“I know you’ve sat in on her classes,” Jaselle said as she took off her belt, knelt on the ground, and began mixing several powders. She went on without looking up, “The first thing one learns is how to feign death when in a tough situation. You know, fake it…like an opossum; only much more real.”
Severus reasoned with this explanation. It was true, he remembered her telling the students that they would learn the trickery of faking one’s own death. Finally he let his arm fall and allowed Jaselle to go to her.
Jaselle hurried past, before he changed his mind. She tipped Madeline’s head back and dumped the concoction in her mouth. “You have no idea how many Necromancers have been buried alive.”
To his amazement Madeline’s chest heaved to life and she lurched forward emptying her stomach on the grassy hill. She coughed and sucked in several rugged breaths. Quietly he sank down to his knees next to her again.
“What good would it be if you didn’t really look and feel dead?” Jaselle said as she climbed to her feet and stepped away giving them some privacy.
Madeline chocked some more and wiped her chin after spitting out several mouths of blood. “It must have been nearly three hours,” she said to herself, looking at the grassy ground as she was perched on all fours, “my stomach was nearly full of blood.” Quickly her hand went to her neck which she drew back to examine the slick red liquid that covered her palm. Finally she twisted her head around to see Severus kneeling next to her.
A smile slipped onto her lips, “Hello Severus. Forgive me, I’m not exactly presentable at the moment.” She reached over and tucked a thick lock of blood caked hair behind her ear.
He stared at her in sheer and utter disbelief. The events of a few weeks earlier came to mind and he said sternly, “Don’t be ridiculous. I love you Madeline, whether it be in your typical appearance or some other way.”
Her smiled widened, “I’m glad to see you.”
Quickly the grin faded and she dumped another amount of blood and bile onto the ground.
“What’s happened?” He asked pulling her hair back over her shoulder.
“I’d forgotten how unpleasant this process is.” She mumbled. “I know who has her, Eileen, and it isn’t Bastien Corbett…”
Madeline headed out in the early morning hours. She didn’t care if the creatures she was seeking weren’t active in the day, she was going after them. The war was raging hard on the wizard front and to have an item that the Alcott family would die for would be a huge advantage to the vampire population; not to mention endanger the Academy as she was a teacher there. There were many logical reasons for the vampires to have taken Eileen.
Dade knew where the Bastien’s hideout was and he had told her where to find him. She had arrived quickly and blindly.
Rage didn’t make her very stable and it was clear as she barged in on the small abandoned building that severed as a fortress to the night dwellers.
“Where is he?” She as roared to the third vampire she had come across. This one she didn’t kill.
“My pet, I’ve been waiting for this moment.” A makeshift throne composed of an ancient wicker king’s chair laced with black crushed velvet and bejeweled with rubies was situated along the back wall of the building. Bastien was perched in it and the vampires all disbursed, allowing him to have a direct view of Madeline. “I’m disappointed, you’re alone.”
Just then a scraggly looking pale faced vampire darted through the crowd and whipped his dark sun glasses off before taking a kneel and bellowing in a slurred vernacular, “Sir, sir, the girl is coming…the Necromancer they talk about…she’s coming!”
“Thank you Michael,” Bastien said slowly and mockingly. “I never could have known. Did you guys know?” Bastien raised his hands and the crowded roared with various responses. They were a scruffy bunch, but strong and dangerous none the less. The vampire population had grown under Bastien’s watchful eye. He took excellent care of his clan – and they were all just as vicious as he. However, he didn’t tolerate mistakes or ignorance.
In a flash he had set the vampire called Michael a flame and in an instant he was nothing more than a smoldering pile of dust and ash. The crowd was so silent that Madeline’s gentle breaths could be heard.
“Leave us,” Bastien said sternly and the whole building emptied in a matter of seconds. Madeline watched the vampires sneak out of floor traps and ceiling tiles, for none could walk out the doors into the hot, sunny morning.
It was just the two of them.
“How’s your neck?” He smiled evilly.
“Fine,” she lied. “Where’s my daughter?”
He shrugged then paced in front of her, “Who knows. I’m glad you’ve come to visit me, I’d like to keep you.”
“Stop with the games Bastien. Tell me what you want, I’ll do it; just give me Eileen.”
“You’ll do anything I say in exchange for your infant?”
“Yes,” Madeline snapped with no hesitation.
“That’s a shame. I don’t have her. When she came to offer the baby to me I never dreamed you’d give yourself for her.”
“She?” Madeline asked.
Bastien snapped his fingers and suddenly two vampires grabbed up either of Madeline’s arms while a third removed her belt and pouches. Apparently they weren’t as alone as he had led her to believe.
“That’s right sweetheart, she…” Bastien said as she was clapped in iron cuffs and chained to a tether. “Come on don’t play dumb, you know who I mean…you know who she is…” he laughed coldly. “Now I don’t have to keep the baby and I still get you. I’ll be back for her at sunset.” He told the three vampires who’d chained Madeline, “let no one touch her.”
It took nearly half the day for them to pass out, but as Madeline had expected her three captors took a mid afternoon nap. She reached over and ripped the neck out of her dress and peeled the gauze patch off from her wounds. After squeezing the punchers she was able to allow them to bleed enough so that it looked like she’d been drained recently. Then she whispered the one spell that didn’t require components, the one spell that she prayed would fool them, the one spell that might save her life. As soon as the words left her lips she went limp and still, cold and visibly dead.
“They dragged you up here, the three of them,” Sleeper added, “fighting over which one had done it. Each thought one of the others had drunk you. But they all wanted to cover the evidence so they dumped you here. Word spreads fast.”
“In your circles Sleeper, yes.” Madeline nodded. She eased over to Severus. “I’m sorry that you have to see me like this.”
“Madeline,” Severus’s tone was crisp, “we’ve already discussed this.”
“I know,” she looked pained, “but I feel indecent.”
“You’re fine,” Jaselle bent to Madeline and threw her arms around her. “Don’t worry about it. Aunt Mad, tell us…who has Eileen? Where must we go?”
Madeline drew back and looked at the three awaiting faces, she shook her head in sadness and disbelief. “One of the few who had access to Eileen that night, someone we didn’t expect.” Madeline reached out and touched Jaselle’s shoulder, “Your grandmother went to see the vampires the day I left to find Eileen; she didn’t check it out as a possibility for where the baby was…she went to offer Eileen to the Prince.”
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