The last of the day’s light was fading behind the mountains to the west, leaving the sky various shades of blue as night approached. A huge moon hung in the midnight blue, just a sliver away from being full. Alone on the castle’s ramparts, Jem stood watching the light fade and the moon rise. This was the sixth full moon he had seen since his arrival at the castle. He could sense though that this one was different. A storm was brewing under this Thunder Moon.
The voice beside him was quiet.
Without turning round, he replied, “Mother.”
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“Well, you’ve found me.”
“So, it would appear,” his tone was sour. “How long is Stefan going to keep Trine and I trapped here?”
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “Till it’s over I suspect.”
“It’ll never be over. I want to go home!”
“I know, son,” sympathised Meryn, placing her small hand over his. “Are you ready for your next lesson?”
Silently, he nodded and without another word, followed her along the ramparts until they reached a small, previously unseen, door that led into the top of one of the towers.
The study behind the door was cluttered. Books and scrolls littered every surface. There were crystals and wands scattered among them, some wands even being used as bookmarks. Every shelf that lined the room was stuffed to the point of overflowing. A model of the solar system hung from the rafters, the gentle night breeze from the open window causing the planets to spin. Only one chair in the room was clear.
“Sit,” commanded his mother, indicating the chair.
Without argument, he sat down, leaning back, and stretching his feet out in front of him.
“Sit up straight!” chided his mother sharply, rolling her eyes at his overly casual pose. “Did you practice with Trine as I asked?”
Jem nodded, “Took a few attempts but I managed to read her thoughts without her detecting me.”
“Good. Did you try it with anyone else?”
“The girl who brought us lunch. She was fixated on the boy who serves Stefan’s wine.”
“Did she sense you probing?”
Jem laughed, “No. I’m fairly sure she didn’t, or she’d have blushed. She has plans for that poor boy tonight.”
Meryn smiled. “Keep practicing. Be discrete. Your next lesson is to learn how to connect with the person when they are somewhere else. Remote connection.”
Reaching for a large leatherbound tome, Meryn continued, “The incantation is longer. More complex and there’s hand gestures to go with it too. You need to be precise with them.”
He groaned. “I’m shit at those. I get left and right messed up. I get tied in knots. Can’t I use a wand or something instead?”
“No. This magic is an art form. It’s powerful. It takes concentration. It takes diligence, Jem. Focus!”
It was almost dawn before he returned to his room, a room he now shared with Trine. She was already curled up asleep when he entered. Seeing her lookin so peaceful and relaxed, a hint of a smile playing on her lips, suggesting she was dreaming, made him smile. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he lifted a strand of her long platinum blonde hair and let it glide through his fingers.
Life cooped up in the castle wasn’t easy on either of them. When he wakened the day after he’d brought the dark angel to Stefan, he’d found both Trine and his mother waiting for him in the sitting room. Initially, both of them had been furious with him for acting so rashly but, after she’d spent a day working with the healers to try to stabilise Anna, his mother conceded he had in fact acted wisely. It took him longer to convince Trine but eventually she had to admit that Meryn was right.
The past half year had been a period of learning for them both. After pleading with Stefan, Meryn had been granted permission to continue Trine’s apprenticeship as a healer. The senior vampire had taken some persuading but after his existing school of healers failed to make any progress with the stricken dark angel, he relented and agreed that Meryn could pass her skills on to Trine.
Passing her magic on had proved to be more of a challenge.
In order for her to pass on the skills taught to her by the mage all those decades before, Meryn had to identify some natural magic within Trine. Despite hours of scrying, she found none. The ice maiden’s bloodline was simply too pure.
This discovery left her with only one option – Jem. He needed to be trained but it had to be done in secret. The Court of the Elders had strict rules about the use of magic and training an apprentice without their seal of approval was considered a crime. Teaching Jem was an enormous risk, but Meryn knew it was that needed to be taken. Whether Stefan liked it or not, Jem was going to need the skills of a mage to survive killing Anna.
Jem was a reluctant student but when he put his mind to it, an adept one. His laid-back attitude to his studies infuriated his mother but in truth he enjoyed toying with her. The theory that she as sharing sat naturally with him; the complex hand gestures and symbol were proving to be more of a challenge.
Sitting on the bed, he placed his fingertips on Trine’s scalp, murmured the words to an incantation, focused his mind and within seconds, he’d tuned into her dream. He smiled as he realised that she was dreaming of flying free over the river in front of their beach hut. She was as homesick as he was.
Gently he kissed her forehead then undressed and got into bed beside her, sleep beckoning him.
Screams, blood curdling screams, reverberated round the dungeon chambers where the dark angel was being held. To prevent her from using magic and from escaping, light but unbreakable enchanted silver chains held her wrist and ankles. For weeks the team of healers had battled to control the infection raging within her. It was now under control, but nothing was curing it. She was being kept face down in bed to allow the healers easy access to work to save her damaged wing. They had it spread out, supported by a harness suspended from the ceiling. Once it was held in its natural spread position, they had been able to assess the extent of the damage it had sustained. Its root was black and withered where it emerged from her back.
Against her better judgement, Meryn had agreed to try to regenerate it by using herbs and mosses that stimulate growth. Her potion was the mirror of the one that Anna had given Jem all those years before to stunt the growth of his wings.
“Anna, enough!” snapped Meryn as she finished pouring the phial into the exposed wing root. “Your histrionics aren’t impressing anyone.”
The dark angel hissed then spat at Meryn, her pale face contorted with fury.
“Maybe it really does hurt,” suggested Trine, passing Meryn a second phial to apply.
“And maybe our sister here just enjoys being melodramatic,” countered the older woman accepting the phial and pouring it carefully into the holes that had been bored in the dark angel’s wing root. “Trine, can you oil those new wing feathers lightly, please?”
Lifting a jar of salve, Trine asked, “Do you think we have done enough to restore the wing’s function?”
“Another couple of days and we’ll see,” replied Meryn. “The infection still concerns me but its contained. I’d be happier if we’d managed to eradicate it entirely.”
The arrival of a messenger from the Court of the Elders interrupted them. He cleared his throat then said, “The head of the Court of the Elders commands that you appear before him immediately. I am to escort you to him.”
“Which one of us?” challenged Meryn, angered at her work being interrupted.
“Both of you.”
When the two women entered Stefan’s private study a few minutes later, they weren’t surprised to find Jem already present.
“Apologies for dragging you away from your work,” said Stefan sincerely. “We need to talk though.”
“About what?” asked Meryn, taking a seat.
“Anna. You have two days left to restore her to full health to allow her to face trial according to court law,” stated the senior vampire bluntly. “That leaves us one week for a full court trial before I’m bound by our own laws to release her.”
“Release her!” exclaimed Trine, her eyes wide. “But why?”
“Our laws don’t permit me to hold her unless she is found guilty of a crime for more than six months. I can charge her and try her for her attack on you and her attack on Jeremiah. I can try her for breaking the golden rules on countless occasions, but those crimes are historic. Regardless I need to have the court’s verdict no more than one week after the full moon,” explained Stefan. “While you ladies have been busy healing our guest, I have had Alessandro building a case for this trial.”
“And when she’s found guilty, what happens?” asked Jem.
“A custodial sentence.”
“Of what length?” quizzed Meryn. “Isn’t that rather pointless for an immortal?”
“Arguably,” conceded Stefan. “But as far as we can determine, there’s not enough to merit the death penalty. The crimes that Alessandro has uncovered that could have resulted in that judgement are more than twenty-five years old and must be discounted.”
“And if I was to kill her?” began Jem. “Would I face trial?”
“Potentially, depending on the circumstances.”
“So, we’re fucked either way?”
Stefan nodded. “Unless we can come up with fresh crimes, more recent crimes, then I fear we are.”
“Remind me again why we’ve just spent six months healing her?” Snapped Meryn angrily. “Your outdated laws have us tangled in knots, Stefan. Time you brought in some legal reforms!”
“Believe me I have been trying but some of the elders on other continents are not in favour. I have called for a full Council of Councils meeting but there is no date agreed for it yet.”
“Wonderful,” muttered Meryn. “Just wonderful.”
The candles were flickering from the draught caused by Meryn pacing her tower top study. Knowing better than to interrupt, Jem sat silently, waiting for her fury to abate enough for his lesson to begin.
“There’s just not enough time,” she muttered. “You’re nowhere near ready.”
“So, we need another plan,” said Jem quietly.
“And do you have one?” snapped the vampiress, her eyes still blazing with anger.
“Give her enough rope to hang herself.”
“Accidentally let her escape before this trial,” Jem began. “She’s so narcissistic that she’ll think she’s beaten us, but we can track her. If we’re patient, she’ll get reckless and make another mistake, break another golden rule, then we swoop in.”
“And just how do you suppose we track her?” challenged his mother sharply.
“Can you insert a GPS device like they use to track animals? Slip it into the root of that damaged wing. Cloak it in your voodoo so she doesn’t sense it?” he suggested.
“You could be onto something…”
“But we can’t tell Stefan,” stated Jem. “Or Trine.”
“Agreed,” nodded Meryn. “Where will I find what we need?”
Jem shrugged, “No idea.”
“Leave that thought with me,” mused Meryn, an idea forming in her mind. “Meet me back here tomorrow night.”
Next night when Jem entered his mother’s study, he was surprised to find the window wide open.
“Feeling the heat, mother?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Waiting on a delivery,” she replied.
Meryn nodded, “And its late.”
Before the runner could reply, a large raven landed on the windowsill, hopped into the small room then in a cloud of feathers transformed into a wizened old man.
“You’re late,” commented Meryn dryly.
“Apologies,” replied the man in a thick German accent. He rummaged inside his shabby jacket, produced a small package and set it down on the desk. “Everything is there, Frau Meryn.”
“Thank you,” she replied passing him a goblet of blood infused wine. “For your troubles.”
He drained it in one long mouthful then transformed into a bat and disappeared back out of the window.
“Who was that?” quizzed Jem staring after the bat.
Closing the window, Meryn said, “Better you don’t ask, son.”
“What’s in the package?”
“Everything we need to track our friend as you suggested,” she replied. “Now, in a change to your planned lesson, we’ll talk about cloaking spells and charms.”
“Cloaking spells?” he echoed.
“Yes. We need to disguise this tracker bead thing carefully. I want to add several layers of magic to it.”
“Where are you going to put it?”
“In the root of her wing as you suggested.”
“Then disguise it as a feather,” suggested Jem simply.
“When did you grow to be so wise, son?” questioned Meryn, smiling at him warmly. “A simple but ideal suggestion for one of the layers. Now, let’s begin.”
The first light of dawn was streaking the sky as the runner fell into bed beside Trine. His mind was whirling with all the information his mother had shared with him. He had however proved to be adept at casting concealing charms and between them, they had succeeded in cloaking the small pea sized tracking device in several layers of magic. As he drifted off to sleep, he hoped his mother could implant it without detection.
The dark angel was sound asleep when Trine entered the dungeon chamber late the following afternoon.
“Meryn, do you ever sleep?” teased the younger woman, watching Jem’s other focusing on a flask of some hot liquid on the table in front of her.
“I don’t need much sleep,” replied Meryn. “Not when there’s work to be done.”
“What’s in the flask?”
“Something to heal over the holes in the root of that damaged wing. Time is against us as your father said,” replied Meryn hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. “We’ll seal the wounds up. Allow this to set for four hours then we can see how much control of that wing our friend has.”
“Ok. Do you need me to do anything?” asked Trine, following the logic of the plan.
Keeping her eyes averted for fear of her lie being detected, Meryn said, “Could you fetch me some more of the sea moss, please. Its in the storeroom. I used the last of it making this, but I’d like to apply a seal of it once I’ve poured all of this in.”
Taking a deep breath, Meryn whispered her final charm over the tracking device then dropped it into the bore hole. It stuck part way down the narrow hole but the vampiress guessed it was far enough in that she could cover it with the sealant. She could hear Trine returning. No time to try to insert it any further. Carefully, she began to pour the hot viscous sealant into the hole, covering he tracker just as Trine arrived back with the moss.
“Do you want me to grind this up?” asked Trine. “A powder might help form a smoother seal.”
“Please,” replied Meryn as she filled the remaining holes.
Stepping back from the bed a moment later, she declared, “That should heal as strong as the original cartilage. Now, pass me the powdered moss.”
Satisfied that they had done their best, both women stepped back.
“Now what?” asked Trine.
“We wait on it setting,” replied Meryn. “I’ve a confession. I gave her a sleeping draught when I arrived. She was screaming and hurling abuse at the apprentice healers. I had to silence her somehow. She should sleep for another few hours.”
“Naughty,” teased Trine, wholly understanding how wearing the constant screaming was on the nerves. “Let’s see if my father will let us hunt for an hour or two then we can come back before he wakes up.”
“On you go, my dear,” said Meryn warmly. “Take Jem with you. I’ll wait here just in case the draught wears off early.”
Alone in the chamber with the sleeping dark angel, Meryn quietly whispered an incantation over Anna’s bound wrists and ankles, removing the enchantments from the chains. From here on in their plan was in the lap of the Gods and dependant on how well that wing had healed.
The full moon shone clear and bright as Trine and Jem stood together on the castle ramparts. Satiated after their hunt and an hour alone, they stood in silence, content just to have a few minutes together.
“That moon looks so close,” commented Trine wistfully. “Feels as if you could almost reach out and touch it.”
“It’s pretty,” said the runner, studying the clearly visible craters.
Gently Trine kissed him on the cheek. “I need to get back. Our friend should be awake soon. Your mother might need me.”
“Want me to tag along?”
The ice maiden shook her head, “It’s fine. Seeing you might just agitate her.”
“Be careful,” cautioned Jem softly.
As the ice maiden entered the dungeon, all hell was breaking loose. She had heard Anna’s screams echoing down the corridor as she’d approached. Her instincts were telling her something was wrong – very wrong. When she entered the room, the dark angel was crouched on the bed, screaming obscenities at Meryn and the three apprentice healers. The first thing that Trine noticed was that the silver chains that had been holding the injured angel were hanging loos, their links broken. She was using the one attached to her right wrist as a whip and had already slashed two of the young healers.
“Anna, enough!” snapped Meryn, taking a tentative step towards her. “No one wants to harm you. Please sit down. Let me examine you.”
“Get to hell!” spat Annam flicking the chain in Meryn’s face.
The senior vampiress only just managed to step aside in time to avoid being injured.
“Anna, please,” she repeated calmly.
“Please what? Sit down and be a good little girl. Let Auntie Meryn check your sore wing. Let Auntie Meryn kiss it better?” sneered the dark angel venomously. Folding her wings around her, she spat, “Fuck you, Meryn!”
As Anna’s wings closed around her, there was a puff of purple smoked. The acrid smell of the smoke instantly choked the healers in the room, causing them to collapse to their knees gasping for air. The first to recover was Trine.
When she stood up and looked around, her worst fears were confirmed.
The dark angel had vanished.