1.2.0 – Stolen Pages  

Two druids stood sentry at the west edge of the grove, one tall, one short, indistinct in the fog and the gathering dark.  

Oli.” The tall one’s words were muffled by a scarf that masked her features. “Outsiders. We keep watch here, go no further.” 

I nodded to her.  

Oli, we’re here to take watch for you.”  

Soi? Ame?” The shorter one whipped around to look at us. “Ve khas, it feels I have been standing and smelling that food for two hundred and forty-three years.”  

Ame. Go rest.” I cleared my throat. Even one word of the old language felt foreign in my mouth, the movements heavy and awkward.  

“Are you sure you are up to the task, outsider?” The taller druid glanced out at the trees, and I thought I saw something wicked in the crinkle of her eyes. “There are elementals in these woods.” 

Ve berem.” I nodded back to the camp. “Why don’t you go ask Rina if I’m up for the task? See, if she says no, you’re welcome to come and take back your post.” 

“Come, safi, I am dying where I stand.” The shorter druid tugged at his companion’s sleeve. She made a discontented sound under her breath, but stepped back. They left in silence.  

Mariead hefted the musket in its case on her shoulder, looked at me like she expected me to comment. I grunted instead, put my back to a tree and looked out over the forest.  

Are you with me, lass?  

“I am, my Dermot.” Her voice echoed to me as if from far away.  

You see anything?  

“The same things you do.”  

Doubt that.  

Grannine laughed. Her giggle started distant, ended close by my ear without seeming to have moved. I shivered.  

“Are you cold, sir?” Mariead’s politely curious question broke into Our conversation. “I had thought you impervious to the feeling.”  

I snorted. Folded my arms.  

“Don’t mind the cold. Keeps me sharp.” 

“I rather think it keeps one cold, more than sharp.” She was grinning, and she put up the overlarge hood on her cloak, forcing her curls to burst forward and out like brambles, ringing her face.  

“You’re in good spirits.”  

We looked out into the forest, the three of us, into the gathering night. Mariead was first to speak again. She tucked her hands into her sleeves, fists balled up in the overlong material for warmth.  

“You were kinder to Aidan than I might have expected.” She folded her arms across herself, tucking her hands under her armpits, glancing in my direction. Breath curled in the air, smoking in the cold. “When we spoke to the priestess. I’m grateful.”  

“Didn’t do it for you.” I breathed out, and it came out a sigh. “Boy’s got enough pressure on him. He’s only a boy, still, for all he’s a nightmare killing machine.”  

Her eyebrows went up. “What? That surprise you?” 

“No,” she said, looking surprised. “That’s…a remarkably empathetic thought.”  

“It is,” Grannine whispered, approving. “You came to that conclusion on your own?”  

“I can think things,” I scratched my beard. The words came out sharper than I’d meant. “Maybe I’m more considerate than you thought.”  

The lass in my head laughed at me. I crossed my arms.  

“How much has changed in a night,” Mariead mused, looking at me sidelong. She considered her own words, laughed. Her chuckle was low, strained and raw at the edges, bursting with joy that made my chest hurt. “How much has changed every night.” 

“At this rate, another few nights and we’ll either be dead, or we’ll be kings.”  

She laughed again.   

The woods were thicker here. Shrubs and stands of older trees, peppered by other stands of pine that sprang up faster than the rest. No paths, no movement, no sound beyond the wind and the gentle rustle of little living things in the leaf litter, softer and subtler now, so close to winter.  

“Sister,” I looked at her. “We started a conversation we never finished.” The sky above was overcast, no trace of stars. The dark would only get deeper as night wound on.  

“So we did.”  

“From the sound of it, you know something I don’t.”  

“I might.” She leaned her head back against the tree, eyes wide and watchful. “I think I know how to learn more.” She heaved a deep breath. “I…hesitate to mention, but…” 

“Hesitate or don’t.” I adjusted Fury in my belt, shifting the scabbard. The wooden handle was strangely warm to the touch.  

“I recall books in my father’s study which he did not know I read; volumes he kept secured under lock and key, which I learned to liberate. Warlock, they call you. Succubus, they call Her. I have heard these names before, seen them in books that I never fully read.” 

Half a dozen questions came to mind, not even counting the curiosity that boiled from Grannine like smoke. I started with the most obvious one.  

“You can hear Her.”  

“Sometimes.”  

The lass slipped from the air behind Mariead, where there ought have been no space at all, one hand on her shoulder, one arm around her waist. Red hair fell over her shoulder like a sash, and Her eyes glittered at me, burning like the glass windows of a church. Mariead shivered, drew her arms closer about herself. “It started when…the Inquisitor touched me.” She raised her right hand, touched it to her neck. My own throat itched in sympathy with the fresh-sealed scars, the mortal wound hidden beneath her scarf and collar. “Like a melody I had forgotten, in the back of my mind.”  

“Aye.”  

“She called herself Seraph to me. That is a name I do not know. But whether She is angel or demon, I have heard Her since, betimes, guiding my hand.” Her arm moved past her neck, to touch the Templar firearm hanging from her back. “This contraption of Darren Teague’s. I think She…showed it to me.”  

She swallowed, lowered her eyes to the ground. “Is that madness? I think of this firearm…and I can see it…like it’s…” she closed her eyes. “Like it is just behind my eyelids. Every piece of it, scattered, and the connections between them…like a constellation.”  

“And it’s beautiful.”  

“And…it’s beautiful.” Her eyes opened. She returned that stare to me, and now it was me who couldn’t match her attention. “What is She, Dermot?” 

“What am I?” Grannine murmured, and Mariead’s thin shoulders stiffened. Her back went tight, straightening up against the tree, freckled face turning paler. “My Mariead. I am fire.”  

The lass’s scarlet eyes met mine. “I am seraph and succubus, Grannine, Ksogra, I am–.”  

Her voice broke. The sound of it scattered, pitching low, distorted, an unintelligible sound. I’d heard sounds like it before, deep in caverns beneath the earth, or high on glacial faces in the mountains to the west.  

Porcelain-thin cracks shot up Her hands, red light shining through from below, splitting perfect skin, and She raised them off Mariead, staring at palms that glowed at the center like mine had. “I–I am…I was–”  

Between one blink and the next, She vanished. The silence that followed Her voice somehow seemed harsher for its absence.  

Lass.  

“My Dermot.” Her voice came to me from far away, drawing quickly closer.  

“She’s gone again.” Mariead whispered. “She comes and goes.”  

“She does.” I withdrew one black hand, flexed it. Her fingers curled up between mine, wrapping up the back of my hand fondly, with a gentle squeeze. “I think She’s not well. I don’t…I don’t know why.” 
“Nor I.” Grannine stepped into sight, following Her hand in mine, looking at me eye to eye. She swallowed, something She rightly ought not have needed to do, and put a hand on Mariead’s shoulder.  

“I stole Her.” I took a breath, as if saying the name might call him up out of the fog and the damp. I wasn’t entirely sure it wouldn’t. Fury was hot in my hand. “From a sorcerer named Finn. He’d hired me to bring him a book, on the condition that the book remain unopened until he could take it from me.” 

“I gather it did not.”  

“You’d be right there.” I flashed her a hollow grin. “It fell open to Her name.”  

Her name.  

“Her name?”  

I opened my mouth. Closed it. The thought of that moment warmed me through like brandy, stirred my hands, set my palms itching and sent thrills up my spine. I took a breath.  

“What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, Sister?”  

“Eris’ eyes in the first light of dawn.” She answered without hesitation. Truth rang from each word, fearless and terrible like the edge of a knife. Her expression did not soften. “Or perhaps…the sunrise in Dawnfire…if you have ever seen the first red light of a winter dawn in the mountains. I think it is in that moment, when the air is so still and the world still asleep…” Something infinite crept into Mariead’s voice, high and holy, and I felt Grannine’s hand shiver in mine. “I…I once thought that was the moment when I was closest to God. When the mountains are covered in snow, when the light falls upon them ruddy, illuminates them. The radiance of God’s brilliance.” She shook herself, more curls escaping her hood, and looked at me. “You did not ask intending to hear me proselytize.”  

“Aye, but I’ve not got so lovely a sentiment.” I closed my free hand, opened it again. The cold seemed to slide off my fingers, though it was dark and damp, though winter was not far away. “I found a crown, once. All silver, set with one gem the size of my fist.” I grit my teeth. “It was…”  

I had to make her see. To understand. “All I could think was that I wanted it. It was so…perfect. A ruby bigger than your eye, older than the Fall. Fuck!”  

I pounded the fist into my leg, an emotion that wasn’t mine surging through my blood. I felt cold, like the air all around me was far, far cooler than it ought be. “It was beautiful. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”  

“You couldn’t have taken it.” Mariead’s voice was hushed. Triumph rose in my throat. She understands. “If the Church ever heard that a crown of Frydain had been found…” 

“Aye, I left it. But I wanted it, more than I’d ever wanted anything. I stood there staring until the torch burnt out, and then I ran from it in the dark. Because if I saw it again…I knew I’d take it.” I felt fevered, shaking and mad like Mariead herself. Maybe we bring it out in one another. “And I did. I opened the book, and I read Her name, and I took Her.”  

“And I took you, my Dermot.” The lass whispered, coiling her arms about me, soft as smoke and just as warm. “I chose you as I chose Mariead.”  
The impossible sound of Her lungless breath cut into the night. “Aidan is coming.”  

The both of us tensed at once, turning to face the boy as he approached bearing three unburnt flatbreads in hand, his face confused and skeptical and young in the gloom.  

“Was I that obvious?” He almost sounded hurt.  

“I…rather suspect we are a little on edge.” Mariead offered. It was genuine enough, as most convenient distractions are. “You’ve brought us food. Thank you.”  

Aidan nodded.  

“I had hoped to find some kind of butter or spread to season them.” His smile was hard to see in the dark, more because it was thin and humorless than because it was dark. “But alas, Slate, it appears the barbarism of your people knows no limit.”  

Rina will know where to find something. Not that this can’t be eaten alone, but, we’re not animals.”  

Aidan looked over his shoulder, then back to me. I nodded. “Fuck off and ask her, then. I can’t abandon my vigil.” 

He worked his jaw in a circle, and I watched him make the choice not to rise to the comment. He nodded, turned, and walked the way he’d come with icy control.  

“Answers.” I nodded, kept my voice low to stay unheard, save by the woman at my side and the demon in the back of my head. “I’d like that.”  

“As would I.”  

“Perhaps some providence will grace us with the opportunity.” Mariead sighed, folding her hands together, looking up at the starless sky.  

“Perhaps we’ll all fucking die.”  

She laughed.  

“I don’t intend to die again, Sir Slate.” Mariead still had a smile on her face, but the bitter edge of Truth was back in the rasp of her hoarse whisper. “However perilous the wound or bright the fire, God will deliver us.” She exhaled through her teeth. “And if providence fails…I will do it myself.”  

“You’re a dangerous woman, Sister. I almost believe you.”  

“Perhaps the Bishop was right. Perhaps I am a heresiarch in the making.” 

“Is that what you call it? I always wondered what the word was for women like you.” 

She jabbed her elbow into my arm. It was thin and pointed, with little enough force behind it.  

We were still chuckling when Aidan returned.  

*

1.1.7 – Speaker’s Comfort

1.2.1 – Taste of Hope

2 thoughts on “1.2.0 – Stolen Pages  

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