Aftermath

“Is David with you?” Sarah asked Julia through the portal.

“Did Rebecca just . . .”

“Yes. Is David there?”

“No, but . . .”

“Get him and send him here. I don’t know what sort of hell is about to break loose, but I want some firepower nearby just in case.”

“Why don’t you just get out of there?”

“I doubt Bailey would leave. And I want to figure out what just happened.”

“I’ll get him. Just . . . be careful.”

Julia’s tone of voice drove home how precarious everything was. She had been so standoffish as recently as a few months ago. Now she sounded genuinely worried about others.

Both Bailey and Marie were kneeling on the floor on either side of Rebecca’s body. The knife was still in her chest, and the two of them were trying to stop the bleeding. Sarah could tell that it was pointless: the bleeding had already slowed to a trickle. Rebecca’s heart was no longer beating. Leaving Bailey and Marie to their grief, Sarah’s mind turned to the question of why Rebecca killed herself.

David stepped through the portal and took in the scene. “What the . . .”

“David, I need you to be ready to defend us.” Sarah spoke calmly in the hope of keeping him calm.

He nodded while continuing to stare at Rebecca’s body. As he knelt down near Bailey, Sarah at first thought he was sharing in the grief, but then she noticed him picking up something off the floor. Before she could ask him about it, the door opened, and a man she didn’t recognize walked in.

“Mistress? What is going on?”

Marie turned around. “Phillip! We need your help. You have to heal her.”

“The Elder is dead?”

“No! You can save her! Please!” Marie’s voice cracked repeatedly with desperation.

“The Elder is dead. Finally.”

“Phillip!”

“I’m sorry, Marie. I have lived under his boot for too long.”

“Her! This is Rebecca!”

Phillip grabbed Marie’s shoulders. “Marie, listen. It hasn’t been Rebecca for months. The Elder took her over. You know this. She’s free, and he’s gone. I’m not going to lift a finger to bring him back. I am sorry about Rebecca, but this is better for everyone.”

Despite Marie’s pleading, Phillip turned and left. When she looked back, Bailey was right there.

“Is that it? Do you have anyone else who can help?”

Marie shook her head. “Phillip is our only healer.”

“Then you have to release me.”

Marie’s confusion was obvious. “What do you mean?”

“Release me!” Bailey was getting angrier.

“But it was the Elder. I can’t do anything.”

“Bullshit. It was your magic the Elder used. You can release me.”

“I don’t know how.”

Sarah watched the two going back and forth. The source of the charm Bailey was under had become clear.

“You have to do it. If you want to save Rebecca, you need to free me. If you can’t, Rebecca is gone for good.” Bailey glared at Marie, who averted her eyes and shifted nervously.

The Way Out

It had required a great deal of patience to put things together. Rebecca spent weeks studying the Elder’s habits, making sure to identify places he ignored. It took even more time to gather the materials she needed. Never knowing when her chance might come added to her anxiety. What if it came and she wasn’t ready? Still, however much she wanted to rush, that could lead to disaster. Every day brought new opportunities for her to be found out. She had to trust that there would be more than one chance to carry out her plan.

When things were finally ready, a new set of worries arose. How long would she have to wait? Would the Elder – or even Marie – discover her preparations?

Marie. Rebecca tried not to think about her oldest friend. They had shared so much together. Since her return, she and Marie never got even a moment alone; the Elder was always present. Did Marie still care about her? Or did the other woman hate her for leaving? Was she loyal to the Elder because she still believed in him? Or was it fear that kept her by his side? Rebecca could think of no way to get honest answers to those questions, so she tried to put them out of her mind.

After almost a week of waiting, Rebecca decided to take a chance while the Elder was sleeping. Once she was certain he was asleep, she carefully got out of bed and made her way to the desk. The drawer in which she had hidden the necessary items was cluttered with papers and other miscellaneous objects the Elder almost never used. Before she could open it, there was a knock at the door. She froze, unable to decide whether to rush back under the covers or not. The sudden movement might wake the Elder, so she stayed where she was.

Rather than another knock, the door creaked open, revealing Marie in the light of the hallway. The two locked eyes for a moment. Rebecca wanted to believe she saw recognition in Marie’s stare, but she wasn’t certain. Marie looked down and closed the door quietly.

Shaken by the brief encounter, Rebecca lost her resolve and crawled back into bed. Did Marie know? Would she say anything? Why had she come in the first place?

The next day, Marie told the Elder about some issue that had arisen. Rather than disturb him, she took care of it herself. The Elder was displeased and demanded to be informed next time. For whatever reason, Marie said nothing else.

Days went by, each one leaving Rebecca uncertain when, or even if, she should try again. She stayed hidden as much as possible during this time. It made it harder to learn what was happening around her, but it also kept her secrets safer.

Concern emanating from the Elder brought her out of hiding. He was using anger to mask nervousness. First was a message that Sarah was back, and he told the guard to turn her away. Then word came word that fires had started in several buildings. At that, the Elder decided to retreat to his room, leaving Marie to prevent anyone from coming into the house. Whatever Sarah might have had planned, with the Elder distracted, this might be an ideal opportunity.

When she heard Sarah calling for her, she gave the Elder a nudge, planting the idea that he could end the threat by confronting the intruding mage. The Elder took the bait and stepped into the hall. Sarah slapped a blue crystal into his hand, and Rebecca felt . . . something. Had the Elder’s control eased a bit or was that just more wishful thinking on her part?

She managed to keep him absent-mindedly playing with the crystal, hoping that it would have an effect, but there was no noticeable change. The Elder seemed more suggestible, but he was still in charge of her body. Rebecca heard him speculate that the crystal was an attempt to break various forms of mind control, but if so, she already knew it would fail. She was possessed, not charmed.

Eventually, she gave up and dropped the crystal. Turning her attention back to the interaction with Sarah, Rebecca could tell the conversation was nearing its end. Sarah sounded as though she had been defeated, so it was no surprise when one of Julia’s portals opened.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get the Elder to take even one step toward the portal. When Bailey came through it, however, he seemed to panic. He clearly thought it was impossible for them to come to the compound with the charm they were under.

The Elder’s shock gave Rebecca the opportunity she needed. She asserted control, walked to the desk, and pulled out the knife and the bottle she had prepared. Acting quickly so as to keep the Elder off-balance, she drove the knife into her chest and opened the bottle.

Screams were the last thing she heard as she slipped away.