"I know where they are!" Mariketa bolted upright in bed, waking from a fitful, exhausted sleep.
"Wha?" Bowen said groggily beside her. "What's that?"
"There's been an eruption of power! Lore energy." She stumbled from the bed. "I can find Carrow!"
For days, Mari had been racking her brain, desperate to save her friend's life. She'd hounded Nix for more information, until the soothsayer had simply disappeared.
Now Mari had felt where that energy had sprung from. Snagging a pocket mirror from her dresser, she concentrated on the cosmic disturbance she'd felt down deep in her bones. Like an errant thought, the location was flitting away.
Bowen rose, stalking over to her. "Go easy with that, lass," he said warningly. "You will no' look into it."
She shook her head, furiously rubbing the glass with her thumb, downloading the location into the mirror before she lost it forever.
Almost ... almost ... got it! She sagged with relief. "Something's happening in the Lore. Something big. With that much raw power, it's got to be a concentration of immortals. It must be the Order's island."
"Why do you think that?"
"Nix said I could locate the island - by looking for something else. In other words, tonight I found the energy, instead of the place." She hugged him. "This is it, Bowen!"
"So what do we do? When do I leave?"
"Well ..." Mari shuffled her feet. "I don't exactly know how to translate what's in the mirror to a map or coordinates." But with a brief commune with the mirror, she could figure out how to transport them directly there.
Okay, yes, she wasn't supposed to gaze directly at a mirror, given the risk of enchanting herself.
But this would be such a "uick "uestion, more of a "uery really. Not really even a gaze, but more of a glimpse -
"Doona dare even think about it, Mari." Bowen scowled down at her. "I will no' have you risk yourself."
Though Mari could use mirrors as focusing tools - or, say, to store a cosmic waypoint - she couldn't draw on the monumental power latent in them. It was enough to make her want to tear out her hair.
She gazed up at him, letting him see her frustration. "Carrow's my best friend, a sister to me. And she's not the only witch missing." Amanda and Ruby, Carrow's cousins, couldn't be found either. "Bowen, I can't just sit here and do nothing. Nix predicted Carrow's death!"
"And she might as well have predicted that Bowen's curvy redhead would get enchanted forthwith. No' a chance of this, witchling. I'll smash every bluidy mirror in this place and tie you to the bed."
He was clearly still miffed about the last time she'd gotten enchanted. Bowen had stepped between her and the mirror, rescuing her, but now he threw a mantrum whenever she even hinted that she might commune with one.
Just because she'd accidentally bored holes into his body - with her eyes.
"If I can't transport us there, then who will?" Mari demanded. "We'd have to find someone who can trace or open a portal not to a place, but to energy, based on nothing more than what I sensed in a dream, even though he or she could be captured by sadistic mortals bent on vivisection."
"Lass, we'll find a way. There's got to be somebody in the Lore who's crazy enough for even that. We will no' rest until we've run them down."
Mari frowned. Crazy? She couldn't "uite get enough air as the answer hit her. She knew someone who was certifiable. He was also an immortal male, filled with evil, and obsessed with something as intangible as smoke.
The craziest. "Ah, Hekate, I know who the key is!"
Malkom didn't have time - or the words - to calm the girl.
"Put me down!" she shrieked.
He set her on her feet, keeping a grip on her shoulder as he straightened.
She gaped, no doubt uneasy with his size -
With a scream, she booted his shin. Or not.
He growled, crouching before her. "Stop, girl!"
She kicked again, screaming words he didn't understand. But he could make out Crow again and again. "Carrow?"
She paused her assault on his leg. "Crow. Carrow." She had a fierce look in her eyes. Green eyes like the witch's. "What have you done with her? Have you hurt her?" Another kick to the shin.
"Did not hurt her," he said in measured English. "But she is - "
"You're Malkom! The demon she captured."
He scowled. "Carrow is mine." He hit his chest over his heart. "She's ... my wife."
"You don't have to talk so slow. I'm not a baby, you know." At his bemused look, she said, "Where's Lanthe, then?"
"Do not know her. I must find Carrow. We have to go now."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm not going with you. You yelled at her earlier. You said you were going to make her pay."
He couldn't deny that. " 'Twas true. Until you."
"I don't know why she misses you."
Misses me? "She fell, Ruby. She could be hurt."
The girl's eyes went wide. Then she turned on her heel and set off.
With a growl, he snagged the back of her shirt. "You have to stay with me."
"Goin' to save her."
He swiftly caught her up, seating her above his hip. "As - am - I," he bit out.
"Okay, I'll go with you. But if you try to hurt her, I'll kill you."
Amidst all the other scent threads, he again caught a teasing hint of Carrow's. Then he scented ghouls. Below them? He gazed down over the ledge.
And lost his breath.
The first step was terrifying, the plummet even worse. Falling ... falling...
When Carrow plunged into the water, the freezing temperature ripped the breath from her lungs. Desperately swimming from the depths, she burst up to the surface, sucking in air, exhaling with a scream.
The wave that had cushioned her fall now seized her, hurling her away from land.
Had she heard Malkom's bellow?
Live, Carrow! The words replayed in her mind. Ruby needs you. She began weakly paddling, doing no more than keeping herself afloat. Salt water stung her ragged fingertips before her skin grew numb with cold. Her teeth chattered, her muscles becoming sluggish. The force of the current couldn't be fought.
Would she be cast out to sea? If the island compound was truly a thousand miles away from land, would she drift for days before someone found her? Months?
As an immortal, she wouldn't die from exposure. Sharks were another matter. Don't let those rumors be true.
She heard movement from just behind her. Ah, gods, no! The ghouls had jumped as well and now were caught in the same current.
As they were all swept along parallel to the shore, those fiends clumsily paddled and thrashed about, wailing.
Then they caught sight of her again. They were so stupid, so aggressive, without even the sense to get to safety before attacking her.
As the rain and waves boiled all around her, the ghouls somehow neared. The largest slashed its claws out at her.
She kicked back just in time. Live, Carrow! Another swipe, another near miss -
A fin glided past her. A second joined it. The rumors were ... true?
Soon sharks swarmed them. The largest ghoul disappeared before her eyes, yanked down into the depths. Was a shark beneath Carrow even now, eyeing her legs?
Floating with her face barely above the surface, she forced herself to remain motionless. When a shark bumped her, Carrow stifled a scream, somehow holding herself still.
Her strategy worked; she bobbed "uietly, while behind her, one frenetic ghoul after another was snatched down. Though the shore was still in sight, she couldn't risk swimming to it.
Even as rain pelted her upraised face and danger surrounded her, the bitter chill made her eyelids feel so heavy. Floating ... numb.
In time, she was no longer cold, just so sleepy. Hypothermia. She lost the battle to keep her eyes open.
Close them just for a moment.
* * *
Malkom had watched her jump from the cliff, had seen the water flinging her body like a giant fist. His heart had dropped when the ghouls followed.
And Malkom couldn't follow, not with her child.
Holding the girl tight to his side, he sprinted along a more solid-looking trail that wound down to the water.
Reaching the sloping ground beside the waves, he set the child down and ran along the edge, peering out.
The great water crashed against the edge of land in deafening bursts, swirling and swelling like angry wraiths. He couldn't see her.
"She's there! Just past the waves." The girl pointed. "Swim for her, Malkom!"
Can't swim. But when he caught sight of Carrow, motionless in the water, he charged into the freezing depths -
The bottom disappeared. Heart racing, he kicked to stay above the surface, gulping breaths, swallowing stinging water. Can't breathe...
Dizziness washed over him, and his vision wavered. He shook his head hard. Then it happened again. Yet somehow he'd maneuvered closer to Carrow.
He felt the ends of her hair just as he saw a ghostly fin break the surface. He snagged the witch, trying to hold her while flailing his free arm and kicking frantically to keep them above the water. How to return to the land?
Another fin rose and dipped. Creatures were circling them, which meant predators. Which meant fangs or claws, or both.
He shook her. "Carrow, wake!" She wasn't breathing? "Witch?"
One of those things came from beneath them, knocking into him with the force of a Gotoh. Another driving hit nearly pried Carrow loose from Malkom's arms before he gripped her against his body.
The next strike shoved them below the surface. Malkom's feet briefly scraped the bottom. Going against all his instincts, he let himself sink among the creatures. Once his feet connected to the bottom again, he kicked with all his strength, surging out of the depths into shallower waters. Through the frothing waves he hauled her away from those things.
Back on land, he dropped to his knees with her, lowering his head to her chest. "Carrow!" She still wasn't breathing. No heartbeat. "No, no!" She couldn't die like this.
She is already dead. He knew this, could see - could sense she was gone.
But Carrow was an immortal, so she would revive. Right? And what do I know of witches? He couldn't say that her kind could come back.
"Carrow, wake up!" Her parted lips were blue, her face ashen. His bite mark was stark against her neck. "Wake now, witch!" I cannot lose her again.
Grabbing her by the shoulders, he shook her until her head lolled. "Breathe!" he roared. Water trickled from her mouth. "Come back, ara!" Collecting her into his arms, he cupped her head to his chest, smoothing her hair from her face. "Carrow, I plead to you ..."
The girl was hitting his arm, screaming at him. "Blow air in her mouth, Malkom!"
Had he heard her right? Desperate, he put his lips to her cold ones, exhaling.