Zed is on his knees, head bent, still cradling Vivien on his thighs. There’s blood on her arm. I can’t tell if it’s hers or his, but the man looking closely at Zed’s wounds springs back as if burnt with red iron.
“Shit, it’s expanding!”
Kieran hurries over, still holding my hand and therefore pulling me after him. Some kind of pestilence seems to be crawling from under Zed’s black turtleneck up his throat and square jawbone to his stony cheeks, reaching up to his eyes like the dark fingers of a malicious curse. His entire body quivers, his eyeballs roll, and he loses conscience with one single moan.
“It was the Black Monks!” Men call. They’re restless, and their voices rise with alarm.
I drop to my knees by Vivien, grabbing both her arms and straining to get her away from Zed, afraid the pestilence might leak to her as well.
“No, don’t!” Kieran hunkers down by me. I look at him, at that beautiful marble face that I’d do anything for.
“What if it spreads to her?” I urge.
“It won’t. This is a curse of the Black Monks, technically a shot of the same plague they carry around as punishment for their so-called powers. Since the curse was meant at Zed it can’t expand to Vivien, but his fingers clawed into her flesh at the impact, and we can only separate them very gently. It’s practically surgery, which we need to do ASAP, but we can’t do it here.” He jumps to his feet to help his men balance Zed and Vivien on their joined arms, and we start down the catacombs toward the manor.
A number of Kieran’s men fall behind with torches that cast heat and orange light up the chilly, humid walls of the tunnels. They’re probably making sure no one breached through to chase us. Kieran glances back at me often, but I know he’s worried sick about Zed.
They drop the cargo in the middle of the manor’s entrance hall, on the cold granite floor. Kieran and his men are all over Zed and Vivien like a squad of surgeons indeed, and occasionally one of them runs down the echoing hallway and returns with scissors, chopsticks and other instruments, the use of which they must improvise.
I approach with small steps and manage to catch a glimpse of Kieran’s marble hands expertly extracting one of Zed’s blackened skeleton fingers from Vivien’s flesh. It goes slowly and painfully for her – her blood-smeared thigh shivers in the process, but she’s too drained to scream. It must be true torture. The sound is both crackly and clammy, sending a shudder through me, but I have to be there for Vivien, so I keep my ground.
As soon as they’ve separated Zed and Vivien like mother from newborn, the young butler I met a while ago lifts Vivien in his arms and, following Kieran’s command, starts towards a warm room. Kieran presses a surprise-kiss on my lips and, before I know what hit me, he turns and leads the men carrying Zed down the hall, his sleeves rolled up and his hands bloody, ready to go on working to save Zed.
I follow the young butler to a bedroom on the first floor, where he lays Vivien on a divan by the window. He runs to fetch the one person that can help fast – Joyous – while I use the scissors on the grey sack covering Virgin Vivien’s emaciated body to wash her wounds. I also begin to feel the aftershocks of chase and strain myself. The pain in my ankle is a pulsing nag as Vivien’s pale, skinny, but still beautiful shape reveals itself naked before me. The signs of hurt on her sting my heart.
The spots where Zed had sunken his fingers in her flesh are black, suppurating holes. They smell rancid but sweet at the same time. She begins moving her head from one side to the other, moaning in growing pain as her flesh starts to tremble. I’m looking around desperately for something when the doors open, and Joyous enters the room.
I get out of his way as he approaches Vivien’s divan, thanking God that he exists – by whatever miracle. He looks down at her with those eerie eyes the colour of honey, his decadent ringlets framing his unnaturally bony face like magical tentacles.
He puts his hands on her thighs. Her flesh dips as he massages upward toward her hips and ribs and breasts. It looks erotic, but the vibe between them exudes nothing of the kind. There’s an aura of blending between them as Joyous’ strength appears to flow into Vivien, and regulate her chemicals and vital functions.
Which is exactly what happens, as he explains when he’s done, lifting his hands from Vivien’s now still body. There’s an expression of heavenly relief on her face as she lets out quiet sighs, her round breasts rising and falling as she breathes with ease.
“My body chemicals act like magnets,” Joyous tells me. “Have you heard about Mesmer?”
“Yes, one of the first hypnotists, very famous. That’s where the word ‘mesmerizing’ comes from.”
“That’s right. He used to have the same effect on people, but mainstream medicine struck down his talents and gave other explanations for what happened. But there was something very powerful to what he did that they failed to understand. I for one can sense where the imbalance lies in someone’s body, I sense the deficits. Practically I sense the diagnosis. Then I use my abilities to restore balance.”
“Thank you, Joyous. For what you did for her, and for me back at the asylum, we both owe you big time.” I sit by Vivien on the divan and swiftly cover her nakedness with the remains of her sack-like gown, trying to refrain from asking the question that burns in my head, but it flies out of my mouth.
“Was it the oligarch? The one who forced your abilities on you?” I keep my eyes and hands busy with Vivien. Joyous has already reached the door, but he stops and turns – I hear the swish of his soles on the granite floor as he spins round.
“Yes,” he replies quietly. “He enhanced my born predispositions.”
His story runs through my head, the story of his having been subjected to such painful experiments that they punched a permanent grimace of pain on his face, a grimace that gets mistaken for a grin. Zed and the Marquis saved him. Zed! I turn quickly to face the healer.
“Then you can surely save Zed!”
Joyous dips his head, his ringlets dangling down his forehead.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for him. What the Black Monks do is no wounding I can heal and no disease that I can cure. Ivan Basarab’s armies are well prepared to withstand or counteract all our lot’s abilities, so they’re well prepared against mine.”
“But the abilities you guys have are special, not of this world! If you can’t face up to Basarb’s minions, I don’t want to think about what chances normal people stand against them, the poor people of this town!”
“Better chances than you imagine, actually. From us Basarab knows what to expect, but not from normal people whose talents have yet to be uncovered and polished.”
“What are you talking about, Joyous?”
“All people can become as powerful as us if they unlock their potential. Everyone is born with talents that can be, let’s say, ‘engineered’ into superpowers. We could actually use fresh additions to our ranks, since Ivan Basarab knows all of our talents, and is well equipped against them.”
A faint voice reaches us, “But not against Saphira’s. Paint him, Saph.”
Vivien’s regained consciousness! I stroke the tendrils off her forehead enthusiastically. “Viv, thank God! How are you feeling?”
She squeezes my hand weakly and whispers, “Hurry, Saph, before it’s too late. Paint him.”
To be continued on Friday.
Stay tuned for a new chapter of The Executioner on Tuesday! Until then, enjoy the previous episodes here. If you don’t feel like waiting for the episodes, buy the whole book here, and enjoy a ride of suspense, mystery and love. Looking forward to reading from you! Love, Ana.