So this is what happened.
Curious moment. Some brutal sense of Ian as a vessel which I might plunder, my tongue in his heart. As I approached, he stood fast but something in him which clung to life shrank back.
And I really was going to drink from him. If one thing was certain it was the unquenchable hatred that this thing had for the Talamasca. It took every opportunity to attack or possess them and this vengeful anger was locked inside me. Hours of talking had produced one terrible solution. When the demon recognized Ian, it would pass to him through the mingling of our blood. Ruth would trap the thing inside his living body ending the terrible danger I posed, both to the Talamasca and the world at large.
For now, I didn’t want to think about what would come after that.
Louis, Ruth and Greg were there, but I let all awareness of them fall away. Just Ian. Just this. I let the possibility of his blood quicken my pulse. I hadn’t fed in weeks, but I would not allow my hunger free reign.
I brought his throat to my mouth. His breath gasped against my skin. A human hand warmed my back. No pain, my silent voice soothed. The thing inside me stirred, but this gentleness was mine alone to give.
The blood was warmer and all the sweeter for this old connection between us. I tangled my hand in his hair. His heart opened up to me. And with what was left of my soul I formed a single thought Talamasca, as if every thump of my heart could give that word power and urge the spirit out.
Almost against my will the dreams came, and I gave myself over to the full sorcery of them.
It seemed at once that I rose up and the dark spirit inside me, like rolling fog, rose with me. It enveloped me, swelling tightly in my heart and my head.
Yes, Talamasca. The thought surfaced again and I put the full force of my will behind it. A stab of fury. The visions lost their vibrancy and dissolved. Alarmed, I hung on a thread of knowledge that I was still flesh and blood but gradually these things were nothing more than a memory. I was aware and drifting and unable to move.
Talamasca. The word was there in the darkness with me. It vibrated with urgency as my panic crested. Something constricted inside me and I felt a rush of pure malevolence that was not my own and yet consumed me.
A kaleidoscope of images came, dizzying and fast. I saw a place made of stone and the slit of a window without glass. I felt the inky cold of deep shadow and the collective terror of mortals which quickened me like hot blood. I saw the cowering figure of a man in filthy robes, his head concealed within the folds of a hood. Others came, all in homespun clothing, their booted feet shuffling across the stone floor. They raised their arms as if to ward me away and I sent out a taste of my fury and they blew away like so many curls of paper. Sudden triumph.
Light and heat. The sound of voices crying out. I drew on my senses like I was gulping air. I had weight and form. I could move! I heard a low sound like a large, captive animal. Someone cried out.
I opened my eyes.
I saw Greg. His arm was on Ruth’s and in her hand was a knife. Ruth’s other arm was extended, dripping with blood. I remembered the spell which she had used on Greg. I remembered how she had cut her own hand to bind the magic. Then I saw Ian lying motionless at her feet. I had killed him!
I blinked away the cloud that lingered on in my mind. No, I could hear Ian’s heart. I could see life in the tissues and sinews of his flesh. He was unconscious and weak, but alive. And as he slept, the demon slept with him.
Ruth was looking down at Ian. Her blood spotted his face. Greg moved away. He had the knife. Ah, but Ruth was in danger too. Didn’t she remember that it can move through blood! Then I recognized the spell, the melodic rise and fall of intelligible words, the spell that would bind the demon to living flesh. But the sound was different somehow, the rhythm was wrong. The chanting came from Greg, not Ruth. My head was swimming. The fear in that old stone room still pricked at my skin.
I felt Louis’ hand on my shoulder. I clamped my own hand to it. Gone. Yes. Little smile.
The chanting continued. I could smell the ointment that Ruth had once used on Greg. More candles burned on a table top. They guttered in the salty breeze from the open windows. Light flickered over Louis’ face. I fancied I could see the white bone beneath. I heard the swish of robes over a stone floor.
‘Something is wrong!’ I called out to Louis, but he was looking past me.
I followed his gaze back to Ruth. Her eyes were slitted black. The animal noise came from her, thrumming through her chest like a growl and a trail of spit hung from her mouth. She was blazing with rage, but it was not for me. Talamasca.
Suddenly, she lunged for Greg.
In an instant, I had caught her. Twisting in my arms she went instead for Ian, her whole body thrusting after him so that if I had not been hold her tightly she would have launched into the air and landed on top of him. I stood like stone as she struggled against me. Human teeth against my skin. Rings grazing my face. Her clawed hand in my hair, her own hair catching on the buttons of my shirt but she could not break my skin.
Then she let out a wail. The spell had been cast.
Greg turned his back to hide his anguish. I looked to Ian. He was propped up against the wall, weak but lucid. He nodded. We knew what must be done.
My tone was firm. ‘Greg, it’s time.’
‘Are you sure it will work?’ Ian’s eyes were closed in exhaustion. I understood. Greg had worked with Ruth. Greg must be the one to give the signal. He looked from Ian to me then to the knife in his hand.
Ruth’s breath came in short pants. Did the demon inside her know what I must do?
Louis loosened the knife from Greg’s fingers. Its blade was streaked with blood. Then Greg took a deep breath to speak and I knew that was the moment.
With a rapid motion, I broke Ruth’s neck. The body sagged in my arms. Ruth’s suffering ceased.
It was done.
Louis met my eyes. His mouth was as impassive as ever, but I could see a flicker of relief in his eyes.
Greg’s hand was pressed hard to his mouth. He had forgotten to breathe.
Then suddenly Ruth’s back arched in my arms. Her whole body jolted. Horrified, I stepped back.
I heard Ian gasp. The lips moved but nothing but a rasping breath came out. The heart wasn’t beating. Her eyes were dead. She reached out a wavering arm, her head lolling at a dreadful angle.
‘Don’t!’ Greg’s anguished voice caught in his throat. I understood. Don’t let her move, he meant. Don’t let her tear her own flesh. Keep her safe.
Don’t make me watch this.
We acted quickly.
I used my yacht to transport Ruth to the mainland. She was sealed in a long box which I secured to the back of a waiting truck. She had scratched at the lid all the way. Horrid noise. The thought of being imprisoned in dead flesh appalled me.
Ian stayed on in the guest house, too weak and dispirited to move.
Greg stared out beside the nameless driver. He held one of Ruth’s silver rings in his hand. The truck would take Ruth to a place where she could be cooled to an impossibly low temperature. Magic would give way to science and the body could never decay.
We sat in silence as the waves rolled and ebbed, like the push and pull of a breathing animal. The night was old and the distant lights around the bay had turned to black. Louis was deep in thought.
‘What?’ I asked, finally.
‘What right did we have to imprison it?’ he said. ‘It’s alive and eternal like us. We’re malignant things too.’
I watched the sea for a moment.
‘It wasn’t intelligent,’ I said. ‘We got that wrong. We thought that it had a purpose but it was angry for what the Talamasca had done to it and nothing more.’
‘It was clever enough to use you.’ Louis’ voice sounded bitter.
I shrugged. I’d felt nothing from it but raw emotion. I had learned nothing of Magnus from it. I felt deflated.
‘What if it didn’t know what it was?’ Louis continued, softly. ‘It might have existed without any knowledge of where it had come from.’
Ah. I merely watched him, the breeze spiking in his hair, the way he held his hands tightly in his lap.
‘There are no answers,’ I said. But for once there were.
The call came soon after. I wasn’t surprised that the Talamasca had my cell number but I was astonished at their audacity. Before I could hang up, the voice pleaded for a chance to speak.
‘You must hear this!’
I didn’t recognize the voice. Little tang of some accent I couldn’t place. I didn’t care.
‘Don’t tell me what I must do.’
‘There has been a terrible mistake, monsieur de Lioncourt.’
‘Who are you?’ I snapped. ‘How dare you use this number! Who are you to use my name!’
‘My name is William Marshall. Please listen because this concerns you. We must make amends. We’ve just uncovered a terrible lie.’
‘What is it now?’ There was a pause. William Marshall was clearly taken aback by my acidic tone.
‘If you are wasting my time I will pay you a visit next time I’m in England. Tell me now or go to hell.’
‘It’s about Magnus.’
‘I’m not interested in anything you have to say about Magnus.’
‘Please, you must listen! James Belfort Gray was a member of our Order over two hundred years ago. He chronicled many of our important findings.’
‘Terrific. I’m on my way.’
‘Wait! We used his letters to piece together what had happened to Magnus. He wrote many things, but among them he claimed that the entity had chosen you as the perfect vessel for it.’
The speaker paused, unwilling to deliver the punchline.
‘Based on this, we thought it was vital that you became involved in the project. We thought it was still trying to claim you!’
‘What are you saying?’
‘Monsieur, it’s all been a terrible mistake! The demon didn’t choose you then and it didn’t want you now. It didn’t have a purpose for you! We were wrong. Please…’
I hung up and went back to where Louis waited for me on the beach.
I resumed my study of the ocean. Louis gave me a quizzical look.
‘My grand love affair with the Talamasca is over!’ I announced.
He merely smiled.