Three days after Fosch acquired the stones, he moved through the gates of his brother’s estate in Wyoming. It was located near the Yellowstone National Park, five hundred acres of prime land that bordered Idaho on the western side. Archer’s home, a sprawling two thousand and seven hundred square foot stone building was an l-shaped two-story mansion with eight spacious bedrooms luxuriously decorated. There was a pool house where the servants lived, a barn, a chicken coup, a stable with three thoroughbred stallions – one black, one white and one brown with the mane and tail the color of honey gold. The black one belonged to Archer, the other two to Arianna – Archer’s lover.
Fosch would have preferred to have come the previous night, but Gongo had reported that Arianna had been home, and so Fosch had to wait. He’d told himself if Arianna didn’t leave by the next night he’d perform the ritual in front of her, knowing she wouldn’t judge him, even if she oft guessed the lengths Fosch had taken to procure the stones. After all, she wasn’t a Dhiultadh, and so lacked the reservations they had against the Seelie and Unseelie courts. She was, in fact, friendly, if not friends, with the Sidhe land inhabitants. But Arianna had left early this morning, and Gongo hadn’t seen her come back.
What was important now was that the house was empty; the servants were back in the pool-house with Laura, the in-house assistant, asleep in her bed on the first floor.
The moment Gongo had given the all clear Fosch had left the clan’s compound, a fifty thousand acre of prime real estate just outside Bristol, Rhode Island; a ten-minute travel hopping through dimensions. He had spent the past three days in his private study, accepting only his house assistant’s presence – when, and only when, he brought Fosch’s meals and no one else. He’d gone over the ritual over and over, searched for possible different variations, made notes.
Now here he was. It was very late but he had purposefully delayed his arrival, intending to keep this mission as secretive as possible. Gongo had gone to the pool house, made sure everyone was deep asleep, had been given orders to put anyone else into a deep slumber and keep watch.
Fosch prowled into the estate like a pro thief, moving from shadow to shadow, through the unlocked front door, up the round staircase to the second floor. The lamps were still on in his brother’s room, but Gongo had never missed a trick, and Fosch slowly opened the heavy door.
The room was masculine, done in dark browns and pale yellows, the furniture heavy and thick antiques made from dark wood and sharp edges, gleaming with wood polish. The massive fireplace was unlit, clean save for a few logs strategically placed so it would be ready for use.
Archer was asleep atop the soft duvet, his chest and feet both bare, his golden hair spread unbound over the pillow. One arm was thrown over his face, the other spasmed slightly above his naked stomach. Fosch could see right away the thin, slick sheen of sweat that covered his brother’s bare torso. The windows had been left open; the room wintry cold despite it being spring outside. There was no reason for the sweat, for the bare chest, for an open window . . . for an unlit fire.
His brother was truly sick, Fosch realized with a jolt. Until that moment he had been hoping he was wrong, that his brother’s snappish mood and extra hour of sleep hadn’t been symptoms of the plague but a reaction to something else.
Now, with the truth staring him in the eye, he knew he couldn’t fail here. How long did his brother have? How did this plague work, exactly? Why was every individual affected in a different way?
Fosch approached the bed slowly, his steps muffled by the thick winter rugs that still covered the gleaming wood planks. An empty glass lay sideways on the stand, a pair of forgotten earrings sat beside it. It was the only feminine touch he could see in the room.
For an instance, Fosch just stood there, watching the lines of the parts he could see from his brother’s face.
He didn’t look peaceful asleep, he thought. A half-formed snarl marred his lips; his fingers spasmed; the veins on his neck stood at attention.
He looked like a man on the verge of rage.
With a steady hand Fosch took the prick syringe and injected the horse sedative into Archer’s bicep. Archer’s arm lowered, his eyes opened a moment and a growl passed his lips. Then confusion entered his eyes before they glazed, the snarl died. Archer’s arm fell off the bed, and Fosch gently placed it over his naked stomach. Fosch then unlaced the small pouch with the herbs and roots he had mashed together, dipped a small paintbrush into the sharp smelling concoction.
It took Fosch the better part of an hour to perfectly draw all the sigils on Archer’s chest, forehead, abdomen, and then inlay each sigil with a power rune. He’d practiced the precision of the work last night, not wanting to have to draw the symbols more than once and risk smudging the work. The size of the sigil should be precise, balanced in a way that it could accommodate the smaller size of the runes and binding stones without touching one another.
Fosch placed the exotic binding stones on the middle of each rune, pricked his finger with a sharp scalpel-like talon and trapped the symbols inside a blood circle. He had to slice his finger a few times to keep on the flow.
It was a simple enough task, to trap the energy within the circles, a basic ritual his mother had taught him when he was just a boy.
He circled next the sigil on Archer’s chest, started from the top and moved clockwise, then the third one on the forehead. Chakra points, three of the major seven. Once every sigil had been circled, he placed one more stone, the opposite stone from the one inside the circle, out of the circle, facing north. Blue for the red stone, green for the yellow, white for the black.
When every symbol had been drawn, bound and powered, Fosch began pulling energy from his body, directing it at the outer stones, which in turn would mirror energy on the inner stones and awaken them. The sigils, healing symbols his mother rarely had occasion to use, would travel through Archer’s entire body and ‘herd’ whatever unhealthiness lived within the body, pulling it back into the circle. He added the containment rune to focus the plague in the middle of the sigil, where each stone would absorb the bad blood or vibes. He hoped the plague was an ethereal thing, something that wouldn’t need to draw blood, as he had read that drawing blood into a healing circle could be as fatal as the disease itself. Since his only other choice was to let the plague take on its deadly course, he chose to take a chance with the binding stones and the ritual.
Once the inner stone had received enough bad energy – or blood – the outer stone would circle around the bloody circle and contain the stone and keep it from overloading and exploding. He had never done this before, hadn’t found the ritual written anywhere in his mother’s journal, his grandmother’s from his mother’s side, or his great-grandmother’s. Or in any of the dusty journals he had found. But there were mentions here and there, a partial containment for the black fever, a healing sigil for the evil snake fordra – whatever that was – and of course, the binding ritual the Seelie used to banish a treasonous Seelie into their elemental form.
Archer twitched, but otherwise didn’t move, didn’t alter his rhythmic breathing. On and on Fosch pulled from his energy, sent it to the binding stones, which in turn awoke the runes, then the sigils – until he began to feel dizzy. He slowed then, knowing if anyone walked in they would find his eyes glowing orange, his hair standing up as if electrocuted, see Archer’s bloody, prone body, see the blood that was beginning to ooze slowly from his nose, his ears, his closed eyes like colored tears, and assume Fosch was performing a ritual attack on his own brother.
Fosch didn’t let this concern him. He kept pushing energy into the stones until they too took on an iridescent glow.
It was working, Fosch thought with hope and renewed adrenaline. He doubled his efforts, felt the world spin once, braced his legs apart for better balance. When the world spun again, he felt Gongo press against his leg, offer some of his energy. Fosch took it, took it all.
For hours he worked, until the center stones floated like mini stars above each rune, and the outer stones orbited around them, never altering from their steady rhythm. Only then did Fosch stop the energy flow, swaying as he pricked a finger, touched a bloodied tip to the blue glowing stone, picked it up before it fell back onto his brother’s body. The red stone – the middle one immediately started to fall, and Fosch snatched it before it hit the middle of the rune again. There was blood and enough energy for Fosch to realize the plague had been both ethereal and corporal, something he’d have to research later on. He placed the binding stones – now glowing madly like colored stars – into the warded pouch Oberon had provided for him, then cleaned his brother up. There was nothing he could do about the small wounds that were left behind from the ritual, but suspicion was a small price his brother would have to pay for his good health.
The clean-up took another hour, another sedative, and by then the sky was beginning to clear. He left no traces of his visit behind, no drop of blood, no symbols, no scents but that of ozone, and the small dash-like wounds he knew Archer would wonder about his entire existence, even after he could no longer see them.
When a fresh wave of dizziness made Fosch stop, brace a hand on the wall to balance himself, Fosch conceded that perhaps he should have confessed his plans to Arianna, since she too could power the runes. Better than him, since she didn’t need to pull energy from herself, but could manipulate lost energy as well, pulling it from the environment . . . into herself, into a work in progress, or just redirect it to wherever she wished. She was a being of energy, out from a planet billions of light years away, and Fosch was glad there were only two others like her. They were dangerous beings, capable of unintentionally killing entire planets – as they had done once when they first fell through the portal. But despite all of Arianna’s faults, she was a loyal creature, one willing to die for those she loved, and Fosch sometimes suspected that Archer might be one of them. Other times He pitied Archer for his love, for he, an outsider to the drama, understood Archer and Arianna would never mate, because they weren’t equals in any way. Although Archer was no weakling, she was stronger than him by leagues. Indeed, Archer was a formidable man, strong, capable, fair and just. He was one of a very few who Fosch admired, respected, called an equal. It was why the knowledge of the plague infecting him hit Fosch the hardest.
Gongo pressed against Fosch’s leg, still invisible, and Fosch sensed his worry and anxiety, so he sent him a reassuring thought.
Nothing a good sleep wouldn’t cure, he told his faithful friend and pushed himself from the wall.