„I have to tell Kieran right away!“ Again I try to get up, but the pain in my ribs knocks me back down. I groan, and this time it takes Yvette an eternity to muffle the pain with shots of God knows what. Only after I’ve calmed down she tells me it’s morphine. I’m seriously dizzy and sick.
“You shouldn’t have, I need a clear head,” I manage.
“Without the morphine you’d be squirming in pain. You wouldn’t be able to think straight, trust me. We’ve been keeping you on it since you got here.”
“Why should I be in so much pain to need morphine?”
“The jets of water broke several of your ribs and a hip.”
Everything in my head turns foggy, and I feel a bit high. “I need to get to Kieran.”
Yvette keeps her hands on my body, arranging everything from the duvets to the cables that spring from my fingertips, and I understand she’s nervous.
I fall asleep soon, and wake up at a certain point to see Joyous’ big-boned head in a fuzz above mine. He’s holding my hand, his eerie sunken eyes the colour of honey intent on my face, his ruffled decadent ringlets framing the unusual sight of him. He seems very focused, like some shaman at work. There are hushed voices around, but I don’t understand what they’re saying and soon I fall asleep again, this time feeling light and relaxed in a natural way, like someone who’s taken in a lot of oxygen in the woods.
When I come back to awareness I feel so strong I could take on the world, but before I even think of sitting up the voices in the room become clear. I lift my head to see Yvette standing at the foot of the bed facing none other than Zed Stone Mask and, to my huge surprise, he’s holding her hands in his. The shock must play a part in my remaining still enough for them not to notice that I’m awake and to continue their conversation.
“Only a few of the others returned from the South where they played the bodyguards for Vivien Grant,” Zed says. “Basarab’s Black Monks ambushed them, got Vivien, then followed the few survivors here. We’re greatly outnumbered.” His voice is no longer flat and inflection-free like I know it, but nuanced and worried.
“Saphira said she knew Basarab’s true identity. But the meds knocked her out before she could tell me.”
“Joyous fixed her. She’ll come back to herself soon, and she’ll tell the Marquis directly. We’ll smuggle her through the catacombs and get her to him.”
“I knew Joyous had Healer talents, but watching him at work was utterly fascinating. Three special men – you, Joyous and The Marquis – each with their unique gifts.” Yvette lifts her hand and strokes Zed’s cheek with an expression that makes me think both of a caring nurse and a lover at the same time. She looks at him as if he’s hurt, and I remember the scar Kieran left on the Head of Security’s cheek a while ago. “The Marquis is making it very difficult on you lately, isn’t he?”
Zed cuddles into her palm like a kitten, and once again I marvel at the tenderness of this scene. I would’ve never imagined Stone Mask even capable of such expression of feeling. To be honest, I always thought him emotionally crippled. He goes even further and kisses the heel of her palm before he replies.
“He’s mad with pain. Joyous and I barely managed to keep him back the other night, when he found out what happened to her. He howled for hours in his study. We all had to come together and seal the place to prevent him from leaving, while also guarding against Basarab’s Monks. It was dramatic.”
Kieran is in pain! Zed’s words tear like knives through my heart.
“You said Saphira told the Marquis she had a plan that night,” Yvette says. “What was that plan?”
“She said she’d manage to get to Lynn Grant, Vivien’s mother, who knew Basarab’s identity. How very different things turned out . . .”
Indeed, how very different. Nothing went according to that plan. As soon as I’d gotten inside the asylum I’d seen poor Vivien – surely brought back by Basarab’s Black Monks that ambushed Kieran’s men in the South – writhing in pain during electroshocks. Her mother was already dead. And I almost made it in a plastic bag myself. I can’t keep back anymore.
Both he and Yvette turn to face me. His features regain the stony aspect I know in a second, and his eyes sharpen into steel blue, while Yvette’s red-lipped mouth opens in surprise. Her full-moon face is bright and wrinkle-free, and yet the age difference between the two of them is glaring. He’s a tall bodyguard in his early thirties, German-style stony face, while she seems a middle-aged – however chic – career woman who comes home from work to a glass of wine and a Shepherd dog in the evening. So Zed’s the reason why Yvette is so devoted to our cause.
“You’re awake, Saphira darling,” she says, drops Zed’s hands as if she still hopes I haven’t noticed, and hurries to my side, checking my forehead and the machines.
It’s easy for me to sit up, but still, I’m careful. I’m pain-free and I feel strong, but you never know. I look straight into Zed’s eyes.
“Come closer, please. The walls might yet have years.”
He doesn’t look surprised at my being fully restored – he clearly had complete trust in Joyous’ miraculous skill that I’m extremely curious about, but other matters are more pressing now.
Zed approaches and bends to me. Yvette wants to give us privacy, but I grab her hand and signal that she do the same as Zed. As our heads come so close together that they form the tip of a triangle, the name of the villain leaves my lips in the faintest whisper. I can barely hear myself, but by the way they blink, staring at me and then at each other, there’s no doubt they got it.
“Are you sure about this?” Zed inquires.
“Positive. Things can’t wait any longer, Zed. Please take this information to Kieran right away, he said it’ll help a lot against Basarab.”
“Yes, it will. But you can tell him yourself. You’re no longer frail, you’re fit enough to take the chill and the damp of the catacombs. I’ll carry you.” He takes my hand and takes some distance to allow me to get off the bed. I smile and squeeze his hand as a sign of friendship, but I must refuse.
“I can’t leave here without Vivien, Zed. If we abandon her, she’ll die. Seems the life expectancy of whoever knows Basarab’s true name is dropping by the minute.”
Zed shakes his head vehemently. “I can’t let you do that. It’s extremely dangerous.”
“Then come with me. Help me free her.”
“That’s easier said than done, Saphira,” Yvette intervenes. “This place is heavily guarded by Inspector Simmons’ officers. It already took effort to get Zed and Joyous in here unnoticed. The bigger the party, the slimmer the chances that you’ll make it out.”
“I understand, Yvette, but I can’t just leave Vivien behind knowing that it would mean certain death for her.” An idea hits me. “Look, let’s do it like this: You tell me where to find her, and I go alone. You and Zed wait here, without exposing yourselves.”
“No way,” Zed reacts. “It’s too dangerous, and if anything happens to you, Kieran would face the Black Monks bare-chested and seeking his own death.”
Those words crush my heart, but this is not about me. I search Zed’s steely eyes that show so much emotion this moment. “You care about him a whole lot, don’t you? It’s not just loyalty and respect.”
Zed hesitates for a moment or two but then, to my great surprise, he decides to speak – more than he ever did before.
“Kieran and I first met when our makers teamed us up against a very dangerous oligarch – a man that commanded not only great riches, but also influence to move an army in his own personal interests, and who also had genetically enhanced physical abilities. Taking him down required combat skill, sharp brains and subversive methods. The Marquis was the best of us serpent-killers, and the highest ranked. He was famous among us, and before I met him in person I thought he’d be arrogant and just plain cruel, but he turned out to be very different. The oligarch got me, and Kieran saved my life. He risked his own to do it. He got Joyous out of the bastard’s lab, where Joyous was kept in a steel cage – he’d been bred there, and given the name because during the experiments they did on him, which were highly painful, his grimace resembled a grin. Kieran’s other men have their own reasons to respect and . . . yes, love him. He was the only person who ever showed us consideration.”
He looks down as if in a short moment of meditation, and when he looks at me again emotion shows vivid in his otherwise unreadable face, as if his own story inspired him.
“I’ll go with you to get Vivien Grant. Then I’ll see you, Yvette and Vivien out of here unscathed, cost what it may.”
To be continued on Friday.