The story so far:
January 6, 2009 (part 3)
Dum began blathering like an idiot right away. “NO MARK BAD BRING BAD NO DO NOW BAD BAD BAD!”
“We should call the boss,” Silas whispered as he sat back down. “Get his approval before we-”
“No time,” I grunted. Silas was just trying to make sure his own posterior was covered, and we both knew it. If the marking got triggered here in the recovery room, there was no telling what it would do. He didn’t want any part in the blame for that.
I would’ve rolled my eyes if I didn’t have to keep such focus on the marking. “If you’re that worried, I’ll take the blame. Now get some protections up.”
Silas sighed again, but I felt him follow my trail into Dum’s mind. Within moments I could feel a network of protections being constructed around the nothingness. As the protections went up, I began to relax a little, no longer needing such intense focus to keep the marking from slipping away.
“All set,” Silas said quietly.
“Good. Keep a close eye.”
“NO BAD STOP NOW BAD!”
“Clarence, what did Tatiana say to you after my second visit?”
“NO BAD NO BAD NO BAD!”
Regardless of what his mouth was saying, his mind was already at work on my question. The memory light up, and once again a bright flash illuminated the nothingness – and the marking.
“Oh, that’s cold,” Silas breathed.
“That’s illegal,” I corrected him. The marking involved death, of course, for our dear Dum. But she had also woven in the walking death for whoever triggered the marking. And since Silas and I were both inside Dum’s mind, if either of us set it off, both of us would wind up walking around like brainless zombies for the rest of our lives. There was still no known cure for that particular curse, which legally put it on the same level as first-degree murder.
“It’s just the two, though, right?” Silas whispered. “We’re not gonna wind up creating a black hole here or anything?”
“BLACK NO GOOD BAD BAD!”
“Just the two.” I leaned a little closer, refocusing on the area around the marking.
Silas followed my moves. “It’s sealed on there pretty tightly, isn’t it?”
“Like I said, Willsey didn’t want anyone to get this thing off.”
“How’re you gonna do it?”
I wished he’d just shut up already. Usually Silas wasn’t the type to pansy about like this. Instead of answering, I moved my own protections into place, ready to catch the marking once it detached from the block.
I grunted. “Breaking through the seal, of course.”
His eyes went wide. “You can’t do that without setting off the marking!”
“Why do you think I had you put up all those protections?”
“NO SET OFF BAD!”
Irritated, I flicked my hand in his direction. Dum’s mouth opened again, but this time no sound came out.
“Michael…” Silas mumbled warningly.
“It’s allowed if it’s to prevent the loss of life,” I said. “If he shouted something while I was breaking the seal-”
“Okay, I get it.” Silas pursed his lips. “You’re really going to do this?”
“You got a better idea? You’re welcome to give it a go.”
“No, no, you do it. Just so you’re sure.”
I didn’t dignify his question with a response, instead returning my full attention to the marking.
The seal was strong, but no different than any other seal. A full network of bonds criss-crossed each other, holding the marking in place. I’d have to break it down bit by bit, from the outsides inward, until the marking detached. The tricky part would be keeping the bonds from reforming after I’d broken through them. Not to mention trying to keep the marking from going off while I worked.
“Silas, keep an eye on the marking.”
“I – okay.”
I carefully positioned myself up against the edge of the block. The iciness send a chill down my back, but I ignored it, moving carefully forward toward the seal.
“Careful,” Silas whispered unnecessarily.
I reached the first bonds and carefully sawed my way through, then pushed my own version of a block between the severed parts. It should hold long enough to keep them from reattaching before I got the rest of the seal broken. I continued around the perimeter of the marking, sawing and blocking all the way.
When I got back to the first bonds, I felt Silas move in closer. “I’ll keep those blocks up,” he said.
Good. One less thing I had to worry about. Refocusing closer, I made myself as thin as possible and slid between two of the blocks, setting to work on the next layer of bonds. Then the next. Then the next.
I froze. A block beside me shifted slightly, and the marking dipped toward me. I didn’t dare even breathe, flattening myself against the icy block as much as possible, trying to keep from touching the marking. It settled to a stop only millimeters away. Nothing triggered.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I hissed at Silas.
“The marking. It changed.”
I paused. My blocks were good, of course, but they weren’t designed to hold up without my immediate presence. There was no way I could get out and take a look at the front side of the marking to see what it was.
Silas was silent for a moment. “I – I’m not sure what it is. I’ve never seen one like this before.”
Great. I couldn’t get out to look at it, but there was no way I could proceed without knowing what I was dealing with. Knowing Willsey, the marking had changed to one that would automatically trigger once detached.
“Have you seen a mind melter before?”
“Yeah, I know those. This isn’t it.”
“That’s elementary stuff, Michael. I’d know if that was it.”
I strengthened the block beside me, giving me the freedom to sit and think for a moment. Another cold shiver trembled through me, but I continued to ignore it. “Okay. I’m going to split.”
Silas’ jaw dropped. “Michael! Are you nuts?”
“If I go forward without knowing the marking, it could kill us all. If I withdraw, my blocks will fall apart and probably trigger the marking anyway. Unless you have a better idea?”
A moment passed. “All right. Be careful.”
Again, I didn’t bother to dignify his comment. My focus was already on the splitting process.
Part of me would remain behind the marking, keeping the blocks from collapsing. The other part of me would follow my own trail out to get a good look at the marking and figure out what it was. The move required intense concentration. If I lost focus on either part, it could dissolve away, resulting in a part of my consciousness lost forever. Not only that, but the action could trigger the marking.
Silas was hardly breathing beside me. Dum’s mouth was jerking around frantically, mutely screaming his protests. I hardly noticed either of them as I carefully divided.
“You here?” Silas whispered.
I didn’t bother trying to answer. All of my focus had to be on the two parts. Leaving the one in place, I drew the other back along the trail, carefully negotiating the way out from behind the marking.
“Do you see it?”
I moved the other part into a position further down my trail, getting a good view of the marking. My chest seized. The marking shifted abruptly as my grip on the one part of me started to fade.
“Michael!” Silas hissed sharply.
Clenching my teeth, I refocused. I’d lost two blocks in the process, but I managed to regain my grip on both parts of me. The other blocks held, and the marking stopped moving.
“What is it?”
I’d never seen one before, either, but I could see exactly what was woven into it. It was impossible. Well, it should be, anyway. Even I couldn’t think of how a marking like this would be formed.
The marking itself, for the most part, was the same. Dum would die. Silas and I would go zombie. But the change had revealed what else was lying just under the surface. Woven throughout the structure of the marking were threads of hatred, rage, violence, and fury. They’d been set with a massive radius and immense power. If this thing went, everyone in this building – and probably the neighboring blocks as well – would be overcome with those emotions. They’d tear each other to shreds within minutes.
“Michael? What is it?”
“I’m gonna kill her,” I managed to grunt through clenched teeth.
My focus was slipping again. I quickly drew the other part of myself back through the trail and returned to wholeness once more. The space between the block and the marking had shrunk considerably, forcing me to spread myself even flatter against the icy block.
“Michael, what is it?”
“If this thing goes, everyone in this building turns homicidal.”
Silas was silent for a moment, mouth agape once more. I understood his feelings. Everyone in this building was thoroughly trained in the use of offensive magic. Having all those people turn homicidal…
“We have to get more people in here. We have to get a containment field!”
“You want to risk triggering the marking by pulling out now?”
He was silent.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. I carefully repositioned myself, strengthened a few more blocks, and contemplated how to continue. I hadn’t had time to study the marking in any depth, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen any indicators that breaking the seal would trigger the marking. But removing the seal would likely jolt the marking, and that jolt could wind up triggering the thing.
“Silas, you’re going to have to catch it.”
“Are you nuts? I’d trigger it!”
My jaw tightened. It was aggravating, working with idiots. “You don’t catch it bare, Silas. Work protections around yourself and get under it. When it drops, catch it and fold the protections over it. That should keep it stable enough to be removed.”
“You think that’ll work?”
“You got a better idea?”
He didn’t answer, but I could feel him moving into place.
“Just a sec. Michael, I’m not sure this will work.”
“Just get as close as you can.”
He let out a frustrated sigh. “Okay. I’m there.”
I moved forward, taking it much slower as I cut through the bonds and put my blocks in place. The wrong move now could end everything. The marking slowly shifted around as the bonds were cut, but it was moving toward Silas, not me. As long as he had his protections up, he’d be fine.
“Last one,” I said. “Get ready.”
I don’t think either of us were breathing as I cut through the final bond. The marking twisted, then dropped forward. Silas jerked beside me.
No longer needing to keep my focus on the blocks, I turned back to the trail and found him. “Silas?”
“I’m fine,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’ve got it.”
I drew back to observe his position. He’d done exactly as I instructed and wrapped his protections around the marking. It hadn’t been triggered.
I couldn’t help a grin. “I told you it would work.”
“Sure. You’re a genius. Now help me get this thing out.”
After letting the blocks dissolve away, I turned my energy to Silas, bringing up a few protections of my own around his to double the security around the marking. We followed our own trails back, moving slowly and carefully, until finally we reached the edge of Dum’s mind.
“Careful,” I said. If we didn’t coordinate this right, the protections would fall apart. A protection inside a mind is very different from a protection outside. “Get your protections ready.”
“On the count of three.”
“One… two… three!”
We slid out, drawing the marking from the protected pouch inside Dum’s mind to the protected pouch we’d created outside. It slid easily into place without the faintest tremor.
Silas slumped back against his chair, letting out the breath he’d been holding. “We did it.”
Dum slumped, too, as I maneuvered the pocket away from him and toward the disposal unit on the wall. I pushed the marking through and smiled triumphantly as it dropped to oblivion. Take that, Willsey.
I turned to see Silas frowning at Dum. “It didn’t kill him, did it?” Silas asked.
Dum’s eyes were closed, and he didn’t seem to be breathing. I frowned. “It better not have.” Striding forward, I dropped back onto my stool and reached for Dum’s pulse. It was then that I realized that my hands were frozen into clenched fists. Frost coated both of them, sparkling in the dim lighting.
For that matter, frost broke off me with every move I made. Apparently I’d spent a little too much time getting cozy with that memory block Willsey had put in place.
“You check him,” I said. “I’m frozen.”
Silas glanced at me and suppressed a laugh. “No kidding.”
I used one solidified fist to brush the frost from my hair. “Just check him already, will ya?”
Silas leaned forward and pressed two fingers against Dum’s neck. After a moment, he sat back and nodded. “He’s alive. We’ll need to get him to the treatment ward, though. That took a lot out of him.”
“We still didn’t remove the block.”
“Are you kidding?” Silas laughed. “I think we’ve done enough damage here for one day, don’t you? We’ll take on the block after he’s had some time to recover. Besides, we can’t go in his mind while he’s unconscious. You know the law.”
I scowled at him, hoping the frost covering my face enhanced my fierceness. “I know that. I’m not an idiot, you know.” I glared at Dum. Willsey had gotten a momentary reprieve, that was all. As soon as Dum was back on his feet, the block would be gone and I’d know where she went.
And then that Lillyan wouldn’t stand a chance of escape. Not a chance.