“All weakness of the flesh passes on to the voodoo picture,” the young butler mutters to himself, staring in awe at the portrait of Zed that blackens and crumples with the pestilence that until now had been eating at his body.
The meaning of all this sends my neurons spinning, making me barge out of the room and run down the grand stairs towards Kieran’s study, my bare feet slapping the granite floor. The double doors open as I haste toward them, and Kieran appears, my heart surging at the sight of him.
Those pitch black eyes that I love beyond all reason and common sense meet mine. I lose the last bit of control over myself and jump in his arms, practically assailing him. He says my name with the reverence of a priest invoking an angel as he lifts me, and claims my lips like a starved animal.
I savor the feel of his hot, silky kiss with every fiber of my body, and I hold him so tight that my muscles hurt.
“I’ll never let you go again, never,” he says in his intoxicating, low voice. We kiss desperately again and again, only pausing to drink in the sight of each other’s faces, touching each other as if we both want to make sure this is real.
Remembering I must look much like the loser of a boxing match, I search for my own reflection in the black luster of his irises – I’m indeed disheveled and I seem a ghost, but I can’t see the bruises. I speak my mind before I think it.
“Medicine man’s talents extend to face-lifts?”
Kieran doesn’t find it amusing, and pain distorts his youthful features.
“I’d be just as crazy about you if you were a goblin,” he says. “But Jeremy Simmons and Lauren Morris will pay with their lives for what they did to you.”
“Please, Kieran, whatever happens, don’t hurt Lauren.”
A frown curls his otherwise marble-smooth brow. “Why do you defend her?”
“Long story. But fact is, she was punishing me because my father abused her when she was a child.”
“That’s no excuse for trying to beat you to death.”
“Oh, is it not?” I snap. “Didn’t you start off with the same intention? Didn’t you want to make a sacrificial lamb of me too for my father’s wrongdoings?”
His eyes become slits, his pain all too obvious as he beats his own chest with his fist.
“I wish you were inside this for one minute to feel how remorse tortures me. It sears to look at you, and yet I can’t look away. From the moment I laid eyes on you, you were like a drug, and the more I saw you, the more I wanted you until I desired you so much that it hurt, Saphira. I fell in love with you, and the deeper I fell, the more I despaired. Every time I did something to hurt you was like driving a dagger in my own flesh.” He drops his voice, a dangerous glint crossing his eyes. “I love you so much that I’d let myself be killed for you.”
He kisses me once more like a madman, taking my breath away in the most literal sense. I push him gently so I can inhale and stop my head from spinning in the wake of his love declaration that got me melting in all the right ways and places, and I catch a glimpse of the gathering behind him. I lean to the side to see clearer past Kieran, and my mouth opens as I make sense of it.
Kieran peels himself from my field of vision to clear the sight of his desk, which now serves as a stretcher for Zed. Surrounded by his peers, the Head of Security lies still as a corpse. Except that he’s very much alive, not to mention plague-free. His stony features are once again recognizable, his dark-blond hair clean, and the black skeletal fingers that Kieran had almost surgically extracted from Vivien’s flesh have skin on them again. His peers had cut the black suit off him, exposing the nakedness of his sturdy body that’s covered with tattoos, contributing even more to the intimidating look of him.
“It’s a miracle. You are a miracle,” Kieran says, turning me around and looking at me like I’m the Holy Grail.
“You know what happened with the picture I made of Zed?”
“The butler boy searched the place like crazy while we were trying to save Zed, and explained he was looking for things you could use to paint. I suspected what the whole thing was about, and as the bubonic blackness started retreating from Zed’s skin it all became crystal clear to me.”
He cups my face with his hands. “I knew there was something very special about these golden eyes of yours, I knew it all along. You see people in a way the fewest can. In the portrait you made of me you focused all humanity and vulnerability that I’d thought forever lost. It was the first thing that scared me in a very, very long time Saphira. And now it turns out you can do so much more.”
“But how . . . How is that even possible? The whole voodoo thing, I mean.”
“It’s your born potential activated by close contact with – well, with me. When I first influenced your mind with my own powers, your potential unlocked. You became subconsciously aware that the impossible is possible. Your subconscious mind pulled out that unique something that you were born with, since we are all born with one special particularity that only we can excel at, and sharpened it into a weapon. Back when you painted me you could have used that picture to hurt me; your probably did, in a way, by baring my soul in it and therefore making me love you. All people have unique talents that they can develop to more-than-human extents, but most cannot unlock their true potential naturally, like you did. Most people need psychological guidance and maybe –” he gestures at himself and his men, “ – tampering a bit with genetics. That’s why I say you’re a miracle.”
This blows my mind, and I fear I might faint. I grip tighter to Kieran’s supporting arms.
“Is it . . . magic?” I breathe.
Kieran smiles. “Let’s say it’s a kind of magic that can be explained.”
“Will this magic be enough to defeat Ivan Basarab’s Black Monks?”
A shadow falls over Kieran’s face as he understands what I’m getting at. “It could be, but it would take an enormous toll on you. Every portrait you paint using your newly discovered power draws vital energy from you, and during battle you would have to repair portraits again and again before they are consumed with plague or wounds. You can’t possibly do that for all of us, we’re two dozen people.”
“And Basarab’s Black Monks are at least a hundred. You’re greatly outnumbered, Kieran.”
“Then give me Basarab’s true name, and I will take him on, one on one.”
Joyous enters the room and intervenes. “It’s too late, Kieran. Black Monks surrounded the manor, and the catacombs are blocked halfway to the asylum. If you get out there, they’ll cast their curses on you a hundred at a time. You may be the most powerful serpent ever engineered, but with that kind of viciousness you’d be dead within the first couple of yards.”
“Plus,” I put in with a shudder, “Basarab’s identity provides more reason for worry than for hope.”
Kieran squares his shoulders and takes the powerful attitude of the leader everyone knows and needs right now. “Give me his name, and I’ll find a way to reach and eliminate him – It’s as simple as that.”
“No, it’s not.” I look around at the men’s confused faces. “Basarab has a special power of his own, and I’m afraid it’s a nasty one.”
To be continued on Friday.
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