Authors: Herbie Brennan
Tags: #Adventure, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Magic, #Urban Fantasy
Pyrgus ignored the question. ‘He’s caught the disease, Henry. He’s got TF.’
‘You said humans couldn’t get it!’ Henry snapped accusingly. He pushed his chair away from the table and began to walk nervously around the kitchen, his eyes suddenly moist.
‘I said the disease goes dormant in the Analogue World: it doesn’t seem to exist here,’ Pyrgus told him patiently. ‘That’s not the same thing.’
‘You see,’ Nymph said gently, ‘TF uses up your future.
Young people have a lot of future to use up. But Mr Fogarty hasn’t. At his age it can’t be more than a few years, even with rejuvenation treatments. It’s what Pyrgus told you, Henry – bouts of fever, except the fever burns up time. When you’re young, you can afford several bouts. When you’re eighty-seven, like Mr Fogarty …’
‘How many has he had?’ Henry demanded.
‘Just two,’ Nymph said. ‘But they’ve left him very old and very weak. He can’t get out of bed.’
‘But he could recover,’ Henry said desperately. ‘I mean, he’s basically very strong and with spells and things …’
‘Another bout will kill him,’ Pyrgus said bluntly. ‘Even without one I don’t know how long he can last.’
Henry stared at them. He hadn’t laid eyes on Mr Fogarty for the past two years, but somehow that didn’t matter. Just as it didn’t matter that Mr Fogarty was difficult and cranky and paranoid and awkward. He loved the old man and it was only at this moment he realised just how much. ‘Then you must get him here!’ he said suddenly.
Pyrgus, the older, mature, greying Pyrgus, stared at Henry almost sorrowfully.
‘Come on,’ Henry said eagerly. ‘It’s obvious. You bring him back home, back to the Analogue World. Then he won’t have any more bouts. He can do what you’re doing and just wait here for a cure.’ Some of his eagerness died down. It
obvious – too obvious. They must have thought of it already.
‘He won’t come,’ Nymph said.
‘Then make him!’ Henry shouted. ‘What’s wrong with you? Just send him back!’
‘Have you ever tried to make Mr Fogarty do anything he didn’t want to do?’ Pyrgus asked.
Henry jerked his chair out and sat down again. He leaned across the table. ‘Wait a minute.
won’t he come back? He’s still got his house here. He’s still got his cat. I can look after him.’
And bog university,
‘We don’t know,’ Pyrgus said. ‘It’s not somewhere to live, that’s for sure. Even if he didn’t want to come back here -‘ he glanced around the gloomy kitchen ‘- he could stay with Nymph and me. Or we could buy him a mansion if he wanted. Gold goes a long way in your world, Henry. But he won’t come and we don’t know what’s going on inside his head.’
‘Have you tried to find out?’ Henry demanded.
For the first time, Pyrgus showed signs of losing patience. ‘Of course we’ve tried!’ he snapped. ‘Don’t you think I
about Mr Fogarty? If it hadn’t been for him, I’d have been dead years ago.’
‘Pyrgus delayed leaving the Realm himself to try to persuade Mr Fogarty to come too,’ Nymph said. ‘It cost Pyrgus another five years of his future.’
Henry seemed to collapse in on himself. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Pyrgus – that didn’t come out the way I meant it to. Of course you’ve all done your best.’
have,’ Pyrgus said. ‘The thing is, he might pay more attention to
He never has in the past,
Henry thought. Aloud he said, ‘You want me to go back to the Realm?’
Pyrgus nodded. ‘Yes. I can’t go with you – once I get back to my world the disease reactivates. But Nymph will make sure you get there safely.’ He looked at Henry expectantly.
And there it was, all laid out in front of him. Return to the Realm. It was something he’d thought about -dreamed about - for the past two years. But how could
he go back? How could he face Blue? He could feel the hideous embarrassment rising in him even now and prayed his face had not gone crimson. He wondered if Pyrgus knew that Blue had wanted to marry him. He wondered how Blue felt about that today. He wondered how he’d been such an idiot, such a
to run away. He couldn’t go back, not if it meant seeing Blue again; and it
to mean seeing Blue again. There was
he could go back.
‘The other thing is,’ Pyrgus was saying, ‘he wants to talk to you.’
‘Mr Fogarty,’ Nymph said, as if Pyrgus’s words needed clarification. ‘He’s been asking for you.’
‘Has he?’ Henry asked foolishly. It tumbled through his mind that Mr Fogarty might want to sort out legal stuff. His will, or what to do with the house or whatever. Except he’d already done all that; and besides, there was absolutely no need for Mr Fogarty to die now, not when he could just come back and wait for a cure the way Pyrgus was doing. Surely even Mr Fogarty couldn’t be batty enough not to realise that?
‘There may not be a lot of time,’ Pyrgus said soberly. ‘Is it possible for you to go straightaway?’
Of course it wasn’t possible to go straightaway. He had school and exams and his mother and the business with Charlie, such as it was, and besides, there was absolutely no way he could ever face Blue again, not after what had happened.
Henry squeezed his eyes closed. ‘Yes,’ he said.
She could see the splash of blue on the Palace steps even before she landed the flyer. Chief Wizard Surgeon Healer Danaus was waiting for her in his full regalia, which meant the message was true – although she’d never doubted that for an instant – and suggested the situation might even have grown worse.
Blue slid from the craft and ran across the lawn. Her demon guards took wing to keep up with her. Danaus hurried down the steps to greet her. He was a big man, shaven-headed and overweight, but he managed to move nimbly with speed, so that they met by the rose bower. Danaus bowed deeply, a little out of breath. As he straightened, he glared at her flanking demons with distaste. They stared back at him impassively, their red eyes unblinking.
‘Is he …?’ Blue asked anxiously.
‘Another bout of temporal fever, Majesty,’ Danaus said. He was one of the old school who had been trained never to look a royal in the eye, so his gaze was trained on a spot beyond her right ear. It gave him a curiously shifty look, but Blue would have trusted his judgement anywhere, particularly in matters of medicine.
‘But he’s not…?’ she asked again, softly.
Danaus shook his head. ‘He still lives, Majesty. But I fear …’
‘Is he in pain?’
‘Can you do anything for him?’
‘We have introduced support elementals into his blood. They have raised his energy levels slightly. He continues to refuse stasis. Apart from pain control, there is nothing else we can do. I fear a cure for the condition eludes us. And even if one were discovered tomorrow -‘ He hesitated.
‘You think it might be too late?’
‘I want to see him,’ Blue said.
A pained expression crawled across Danaus’s fleshy features. ‘Majesty, his condition has deteriorated considerably since his second bout of temporal fever. I fear the sight of him might prove distressing to Your Majesty …’
‘I’m sure you’re right, Chief Wizard Surgeon Healer,’ Blue said shortly, ‘but I still want to see him.’ Before he could protest further, she swept past him to hurry up the steps of the Palace.
As they followed in her wake, one of her guardian demons, perhaps sensing her dislike of the man’s pomposity, turned round to bite him in the bottom.
There were flowers in the sickroom, but the place smelled of old age and decay. Mr Fogarty was sitting up in bed, propped by a mountain of pillows. Madame Cardui was seated in a chair beside him, holding his hand, but apparently asleep. Despite the Surgeon Healer’s warning, Blue was shocked by his appearance. He’d always been a thin man, but now he was cadaverous. His skin stretched parchment-thin across his skull, his lips were drawn back over discoloured teeth and his eyes looked huge, yet sunken. She could count no fewer than seven glass containers of healing elementals on the shelf above his head. The creatures swam down translucent tubes to enter his body at the top of his spine. She suspected they were the only things keeping him alive.
All the same, his voice sounded strong as he shook Madame Cardui’s hand and said, ‘Wake up, darling -Queen Blue’s here.’
Madame Cardui’s eyes jerked open. After a moment of obvious disorientation, she scrambled to her feet. ‘Oh, forgive me, my deeah – I must have nodded off.’ She gestured to the chair she’d just vacated. ‘Please sit down, Your Majesty.’ Some of the spirit returned to her eyes and she added, ‘Perhaps
can talk some sense into this old fool.’
‘Do sit, Madame Cynthia,’ Blue said. Although her spymaster hadn’t contracted the temporal fever, she was looking almost as old as the Gatekeeper. She must be worried out of her mind about losing him. To Mr Fog-arty, Blue said, ‘How are you, Gatekeeper?’
‘Remarkably well, considering I’m dying.’ Mr Fogarty’s voice sounded like dry leaves.
‘Blue, deeah, tell him he
go back to the Analogue World. Order him, if you have to.’
Mr Fogarty turned his head to look fondly at Madame Cardui. ‘You know she won’t, Cynthia. And if she did, you know I wouldn’t go. What’s she going to do then? Throw a sick old man through a portal?’
Madame Cardui glared at him. ‘Your last bout of fever nearly killed you. Your
bout of fever nearly killed you, come to that. You know you won’t survive another. Alan, we care about you. Nobody wants you dead. The minute you translate, it puts the disease on hold. Our healers are working hard to find a cure and when they do, you can come back.’
‘I know all the arguments, Cynthia,’ Fogarty said in a tone that dismissed them utterly.
Blue said, ‘She’s right, Gatekeeper. You know that too. What I can’t understand is why you won’t listen to her.’
‘I can’t tell you that.’ He stared into the middle distance, his face like granite.
‘Can you tell me
you can’t tell me?’
Fogarty glanced at her sideways and the smallest hint of a grin twitched at his lips. ‘You never give up, do you? Few more years’ experience and you’ll make a memorable Queen. They’ll sing about your exploits in the next millennium.’ He shook his head. ‘No, I can’t tell you why I can’t tell you. It’s important I stay here. Out of stasis, before you bring that up again. And believe me, I know the dangers. I know how ill I am, I know how close to death I am and, yes, Cynthia, I know another fever bout will kill me. And before you say it again, I do know another bout could hit me in the next five minutes.’
‘Then why -?’ Madame Cardui began.
‘None of that matters,’ Mr Fogarty cut her off. ‘I won’t be going home to the Analogue World and that’s an end to it.’
Blue said, ‘Is there any way we can make you more comfortable, Gatekeeper?’
Fogarty said, ‘Get Henry here. I’m running out of time.’
‘Can you see anything?’ Brimstone asked.
‘Nothing,’ Chalkhill confirmed. ‘Not so much as a chink.’
‘Put your wrists behind your back.’
‘What are you going to do?’ Chalkhill asked at once.
‘Bind them!’ intoned the Praemonstrator. Outside the Brotherhood his name was Avis and he made a living hiring out ouklos, but the jackal mask gave him a certain gravitas.
‘Oooh!’ Chalkhill exclaimed and crossed his wrists behind his back at once.
Avis tied them expertly with a soft piece of silken rope. ‘Let the Initiation commence!’ he commanded.
Brimstone took Chalkhill by the elbow and began to lead him towards the Lodge Room door. As they reached it and stopped, Chalkhill leaned over to whisper, ‘Silas, he hasn’t tied me very tightly. I could get free if I wanted to.’
‘It’s symbolic!’ Brimstone hissed back impatiently. ‘I told you that before. It’s
symbolic. Death and resurrection. If it wasn’t symbolic, we’d have to kill you.’
‘Wouldn’t want that,’ said Chalkhill cheerfully. ‘What happens now?’
‘What happens now is you shut up and let me get on with it,’ Brimstone told him. But he relented enough to add, ‘I introduce you to the assembled Brothers and propose you for membership. You’re not allowed to see them until you’ve been accepted. That’s why you’re hoodwinked and Avis is wearing the mask.’
‘That’s not Callophrys Avis, is it?’ Chalkhill asked. ‘The one with the funny wife?’
At his own initiation, Brimstone swore an oath never to reveal the name of another Brother on pain of having his tongue removed, his eyes gouged out, his breast ripped open and his heart stopped by a magical current that tapped the fundamental power of the universe. ‘That’s him,’ he said.
From behind them, Weiskei said, ‘Are you two ready?’
‘Yes,’ Brimstone told him shortly.
‘Knock thrice on the door, Brother Sponsor,’ Callophrys Avis instructed. ‘In your own time.’
‘Here we go,’ Brimstone whispered to Chalkhill. ‘I want you to do what you’re told, keep your mouth shut unless you’re spoken to and, above all, don’t camp it up.’
‘Of course,’ Chalkhill whispered back in the shocked tones of one wrongly accused. ‘I’ll be good.’
Brimstone reached out and knocked thrice on the heavy oakwood door. The sound reverberated hollowly.
It was peculiar working blind. After an expectant second, Chalkhill heard the door open, and a waft of heady incense assailed his nostrils, overlaid by the distinctive scent of magic. Darkness knew what sort of spells were operating in the Lodge Room, although he expected he’d find out soon enough. A strange voice asked sonorously, ‘Who knocks?’
‘One who stands without…’ Brimstone whispered in Chalkhill’s ear.
Chalkhill frowned under his hoodwink. ‘Stands without what?’ he asked softly.
‘Just repeat the words!’ hissed Brimstone.
‘One who stands without
‘One who stands without,’ said Chalkhill loudly. It occurred to him he couldn’t be looking his best with a bag over his head, but there was nothing he could do about that now.