Myriad Maia

Behind every myth...

The Key Breakers

Welcome to the new weekly serial!

If you are not familiar with Myriad Maia, please take a moment to read about the purpose of this page here.

The Current Project:

The Key Breakers will likely end up being novel length, though I cannot say exactly how long until it's finished.

It is a contemporary/urban fantasy that takes place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Go ESO! ... I'm not really into sports but I would totally be into competative symphony-ing.)

All I will say about the plot for now: When Emily, a tone->colour synestete, agrees to take part in a medical study, she discovers that her particular abilities and challenges may be beyond medical understanding or help.

I hope you enjoy it!

Bricks

Brick 1

Prologue

On April 5, 2005, the Arlington Apartments in Downtown Edmonton suffered a catastrophic fire. Though it was first thought that the nearly hundred year old building could be saved, or at the very least, its character conserved through reconstruction efforts, it was not to be. Nearly three and a half years later, the demolition order was given.

The Edwardian building had been built from floor to cornice in red brick. In a city known for its box-like architecture, this box was somehow unique.

Like any building that has stood for any length of time, the Arlington Apartments had both good and bad history. From early upscale apartments for the wealthy later to run-down accommodations for those on one of society's lower rungs, the Arlington Apartments had seen the entire range in its short century. A serial killer and those wielding black magic had called it home as much as the bankers and artists who lived amongst them.

But through all its ghost sightings and neglected stories, the most important of its histories would not be discovered until long after the last brick had been removed.

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Brick 2

Emily's fingers moved rapidly along the fingerboard of her violin. Her wrist flicked the bow with the fast notes. Bright colours danced upon the wave of the tones escaping her instrument, creating pastel ribbons that would put the aurora borealis to shame.

She watched as the colours of previous notes faded only to be replaced by the light of new greens, blues, pinks and purples. It was the colours that helped her play. When the colours were right, there was perfection of tone.

The last note, long and high, shot a ribbon of yellow. She watched it as she lowered her bow slowly. After a moment, it flew away and faded into nothing.

There were no ribbons of colours anymore. There never were when the music stopped.

Her tiny studio was bland. The walls were white. The only colour was the purple door that matched all the doors in the Alberta College. She had placed a mirror on the back of it. There was little furniture: a few music stands, a shelf where she kept her music, an old brown upright the college had provided, and a lone folding chair in one corner where her student's placed their belongings. The studio hadn't changed in ten years.

She looked at the sheets of Mozart on the music stand. She hadn't used it but she looked over it to confirm her assumption. Not a single mistake. As it should be.

There was a knock at the door.

She set her violin down in the case that rested on the top of the piano and walked the few steps to the door. When she placed her hand upon the handle, she saw her reflection.

She had been playing more vigorously that even she had thought. Half of her frizzy blond hair was flipped over to the wrong side, making her look quite crazed. Her pale blue cardigan, which had always been too big, sat lop-sided on her bony shoulders.

There was another knock.

"Just a second," she called, having a fairly good idea who it was.

She used her fingers to comb through her hair and straightened her sweater. With everything back in place, she paused as her eyes focused upon her face. Her cheeks were looking drawn. Her blue eyes were the brightest and youngest thing about her appearance. They sparkled like the ribbons of her music.

With a sigh, she opened the door.

As she stepped aside, the tall, thin man entered the room carrying a large cello case. His name was Liam and he had short brown hair and brown eyes. She had known him longer than she had had her studio.

"I keep telling you to upgrade to a studio with windows," he said without greeting.

She closed the door and turned to him. "Do you ever listen to anything I say?" she asked.

"Yeah, yeah, the colours," he said. "But it's nearly midnight. At least get a clock or something. You're looking pale. You need sleep!"

She folded her arms across her chest. "And what are you doing here if it's so late?"

He waved a hand dismissively in the air. "Concert at the Winspear tomorrow, had to practice."

"Need any help?" she offered.

He shook his head. "No," he said. "It's going really well. I think it will be fine. We've got a final rehearsal tomorrow morning anyway."

He looked around her tiny studio. "I think this may have been a broom closet before they gave it to you," he said.

"And now it's my broom closet," she replied as she first noticed her exhaustion. Her arms felt much weaker than they had a moment earlier. Her head started to pound; weakly at first, then stronger and stronger. She rubbed her forehead with her fingers.

"Another headache?" Liam asked, any playful teasing that had been in his voice had dissipated.

She nodded.

"You should really get those checked out."

She shook her head. "Everyone gets headaches," she said.

He would not be deterred. "Not all of a sudden after a lifetime of never having a single one. You are taking this way too calmly."

"I've just been working too hard. I just need some rest," she reasoned.

He smiled. "A perfect excuse for me to give you a ride home," he said. "You'll never get home on ETS at this hour anyway."

Her head now hurt too much to argue and he was probably right. The Edmonton Transit System did not exactly have a reputation for convenience, especially at late hours.

She packed up her violin and the two of them walked down to the parking lot. As they left the building, the warmth of the summer night caressed her face. Stopping for a breath, she looked around at the tall downtown buildings. Despite the late hour, the lights in several offices in several buildings were still on. The only building that was completely dark was McDougall Church.

Liam was already at his black mini and waving to her to hurry up. Unsurprisingly, his car wasn't the only one in the lot. As much teasing as he gave her, she was by far not the worst offender for late nights.

As they drove down Jasper Avenue, the main route through the downtown, Emily's headache worsened.

She tried closing her eyes but it made no difference so she tried focusing on the people walking to and from the bars and restaurants. Jasper Avenue in summer rarely went quiet.

Faint dark ribbons of browns and reds danced out the doors of the night clubs.

She opened the window and let the breeze brush over her face. It gave little relief. As they neared their turn to the High Level Bridge, her headache worsened. She focused on her breath. It didn't help.

As they passed a narrow street, she saw a long faint ribbon of black. Her breath caught as she whipped her head around quickly. It went down a full block before turning. Though it had been faint, it had no doubt been black. She had never seen any greys. There was always some hue to the ribbons. Bland greys did not happen and especially not black.

They were out of range of it before she could get a closer look. Maybe her headache was interfering and it had simply been a very dark red or green. She could not possibly have seen black.

Her head continued to throb and she rubbed it again as she straightened in her seat.

"Anything wrong?" Liam asked.

"No," she said. "I just need some sleep."

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Brick 3

"Why do you still insist upon living in this dilapidated wreck?" Liam asked.

With his nose scrunched, he surveyed the damp hall leading to her apartment. He made exaggerated gestures with his eyes as he looked up at a brown stain in the corner and then down to a stain of a different brown on the floor.

"You can afford much better than this," he added.

Emily ignored him. The insulting comments were routine when he drove her home. She lived in a basement bachelor suite in a poorly tended building a block north of Whyte Ave, which was known as the partying street of Edmonton. The rent was cheap and she was barely ever there anyway.

Usually only those fresh from their parents' home but eager to be close to the bars and trendy night life accepted such conditions. Emily did not see why she should pay more for a place that served as little more than a rest stop.

She turned the key in her door, gave it a great tug and kick, and pushed it open. She turned on the light.

Like her studio, the walls of her apartment were featureless and white. The faint brown and red ribbons from the nightclubs' music tumbled slowly through the windows and faded within a foot.

She noticed the laundry basket in the corner. A pale green and blue mound peaked out over the rim. Hadn't she just washed it all the other day?

The queen bed with its iron rung headboard and a low, white bookshelf next to the laundry basket were the only other fixtures in the room. The bookshelf was a further reminder of the state of her laundry. She kept her clothes there and at the moment it was completely bare.

She set her violin down on the floor at the end of the bed and walked over to the laundry to sort it.

Liam closed the door and walked around the corner to the kitchen. It was more of a fridge and a cupboard set in an alcove than a kitchen. He opened the fridge and tutted.

"Don't start, Liam," she warned. "My headache hasn't gone away and I'm not in the mood."

"You need to come to my place and eat some real food. At least let me get you some groceries," he said. "No wonder you're looking so thin."

"Yes, mom," she mocked as she held up a pale green cardigan and inspected it for stains.

Liam shut the fridge and leaned against it to watch her. "You need to take life more seriously," he said. "You can't just live off colours."

"It seems to be working so far," she replied as she threw the cardigan into her 'wash immediately' pile on the floor.

She was just about to add to her retort when movement flickered in the corner of her eye. She looked up at the door. A dark ribbon of colour was poking from underneath it. It was moving slowly and entirely unlike music. It moved like a snake, searching and sniffing the ground ahead.

There was no sound with the colour. She couldn't hear anything. Concentrating, she still couldn't hear anything, though that could partly have been because her ears had started to ring with the pounding of her headache. She forced her face and her mind to relax. The pounding eased only enough to dull the edge.

She watched the poking, black ribbon a moment more. She hesitated, then walked to the door and ripped it open. The ribbon faded.

She looked both ways down the hall. There was nothing inside. She could see the stairs leading to the glass main door of the building. There was laughter. She walked down the hall until she could see outside. Several university students were chatting as they smoked. Could the ribbon have come from them? She doubted it.

Her head pounded harder. She needed sleep before it drove her crazy.

As she walked back to her apartment, Liam stuck his head out the door.

"What happened?" he asked.

She waved his question away. "Just imagining things," she said. "I need sleep."

For once in his blessed life, Liam took the hint. He gave her a quick one-armed hug around her shoulders and a quick kiss on her forehead before saying good-bye and leaving.

She did not watch him leave. She closed her apartment door immediately and shut off the light. Wishing there was some kind of pill that could dent these new migraines, she climbed into bed and tried to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, she had gotten out of bed to search for ear plugs in her medicine cabinet. Fifteen minutes after that, she tried pressing her pillow against her ears. Were the bars getting even louder than usual? The ribbons of colour assaulting the windows were getting brighter, that was for sure.

A half hour later, she threw her pillow across the room and groped at the end of her bed for her violin case. When she found it, she unzipped the cover pocket and felt for her cell phone. The screen turned on, making her jump with the sudden brightness.

Scrolling her phone book, which did not take long, she found her doctor's number. She nearly sent her phone the way of her pillow when the clinic answering machine refused to take messages.

She looked at the door again. The light from the hall glowed at the bottom but there was no black ribbon this time. Looking up at the windows, she saw the ribbons of bass had gone too.

She looked down at her phone again. 2:30 am. The nightclubs were closing but her head still pounded its own rhythm. She dropped the phone onto the bed and pulled her blanket up over her head, desperate to find any semblance of rest.

The next morning, she did not wait to get out of bed to phone the clinic. She found her phone not far from her left foot.

By an unusual stroke of luck, she got an appointment for that same morning. With great relief, tempered by the still present thumping in her brain, she got out of bed in search of clothes that had not been slept in.

After finding a white tank top, a blue cardigan, and khakis in the "clean next week" pile, Emily was able to dress and rush to the downtown clinic.

Dr. Whitmore had been her doctor for ten years. He treated people out of an old house that seemed to be perched precariously over the drop off into the river valley. It had once been a restaurant and still looked as it had then, with a dark brown wood exterior and dark green awning over the entrance.

When Emily walked in, the tiny waiting room was full of business people who looked irritated at having their day so inconvenienced. A petite woman sat behind the desk at the computer. She had brown hair with drastically blond streaks, 'fake n' bake' tan, and a french manicure on fake nails. She wore a bright pink shirt that was so vibrant, it aggrevated Emily's headache.

Emily waited for the woman to get off the phone. She was talking very fast to convince a man that he did not want the appointment he was requesting because he should be calling 911 for the heart attack he was quite assuredly having. After several minutes, it sounded like the man was finally taking her seriously though still not quite thinking right. The woman was now trying to explain to him that it would be unsafe to drive to the hospital. Eventually, she was able to confirm that his wife was present and would help ensure he got medical care. She wished him luck and hung up.

After letting out a very deep breath, the woman turned back to Emily. "Can I help you?" she asked.

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Brick 4

"Yes," Emily said. "I have a 10:30 appointment."

The secretary looked at her computer screen and moved the mouse. She paused then looked back at Emily.

"Emily?" she asked.

Emily nodded.

"Please have a seat," she said. "He's running behind today. It will be a while."

Emily nodded again and turned to face the other waiting patients. The tiny waiting room held only ten chairs. Upon her re-inspection of the room, it was not as full as she had first thought. There were at least three seats she could use but the others waiting had placed their bags on them. She looked at the owners, trying to discern those who would be the most amenable to a request for the seat.

None looked particularly friendly.

There was a dark haired business woman with her hair tightly pulled back into a pony-tail. She was wearing a plum suit and was busy typing on her laptop and taking breaks only to wipe her running nose. Emily did not much like the idea of a cold.

The next option was a middle-aged man, also a businessman. He was balding and heavy set. His arms were crossed and resting on his large belly. He was not in the middle of work, nor did he look particularly sick. However, he also looked quite annoyed with his current wait and Emily noticed he had the kind of jowls from a life time of frowning.

Compared with the first two, the third option looked much more inviting. He appeared to be of university age. He had sandy brown hair tied into a frizzy pony tail and a goatee. More importantly, he had a backpack on the desired seat. He was tapping away on his smartphone as he listened to music on his headphones. She could see tiny, faint ribbons of maroon and blue jerking from them; some kind of rock or techno.

She approached him and coughed politely. When the boy did not respond, she reached out and tapped on his shoulder lightly. He jumped nearly a foot.

"Sorry," she said, as he removed his headphones and looked at her.

His cheeks reddened and he stammered his own apology. Then he stopped and looked at her. "Ms. Gordon?"

This was unexpected. She did not recognize him but he seemed to know her.

"Do I know you?" she asked.

He laughed. "Only for five fruitless years," he said. "Until my mother came to her senses and let me switch from violin to guitar."

"Oh my god," she said, realizing who he was. As she looked at the frizzy hair and the beard again, she could not believe the boy sitting before her. "Michael?"

He nodded vigorously and reached over to move his bag to the floor between his feet. He offered her the seat.

She sat down at an angle so that she could keep processing the unbelievable. The last time she had seen Michael ten years before, he was fifteen years old, quiet, and looked like his mother had dressed him. He wore polo shirts tucked into khaki pants with a brown belt every single week. He was the last person she ever expected to be wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt and looking like he might own a tattoo parlor.

"How have you been?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Alright I guess, but just got some bad news this morning," he said.

"Oh?"

"They're tearing down my building," he said. He paused and shook his head before correcting himself, "Sorry, my old building, but it's hard not to think of it as still my building."

"Good memories?" she asked.

He flipped his smartphone around nervously in his hands, staring at it as he did so. "Transformative would be a better way to describe my time there. It was a rundown old building and not very well kept but it was amazing. It had character and so did everyone who lived there. It changed my life."

He let out a long breath. "I just can't believe it will be gone for good," he said. "It had a huge fire a few years ago, right after I moved out. They were going to restore it but I guess that isn't going to happen now. I didn't even know they had decided to tear it down."

He held up his smartphone and waved it. "Just got a text from my buddy," he said. "He walked by there today and said there's only a wall left and by the end of the day, that will be gone too. I'm thinking of walking by there after my appointment."

"Where is it?" she asked, trying to recall any building being demolished nearby.

He pointed to the northeast and said, "Just a few blocks that way, a block south of Jasper and a few east of 109."

As she tried to triangulate the location in her mind, she paused. That was the same street she had seen the black ribbon the night before. Did it have something to do with the demolition?

"Michael," the secretary called.

He looked up. When he saw her with his file card in her hand, he said a hasty good-bye to Emily, scooped his things up messily into his arms and followed.

Emily had a long wait before her turn. Michael had finished and left, saying a cordial good-bye as he did so. The plum-suit woman had gone in and left in a grumble. Several others had gone through and several more had come in and were now taking up the freed seats. The middle-aged businessman was currently in with the doctor.

As Emily watched the other patients come and go, she could not stop dwelling on what Michael had told her. His news seemed far too coincidental with the events of the previous night. She too planned to pay a visit to the demolition site after her appointment.

Finally, at noon, the secretary called her in. She led her to a main floor room in the opposite side of the tiny building.

Emily walked into the room with its cabinets full of medical supplies on one side and its windows overlooking the river valley on the other. She heard the secretary place her file card in the slot on the door as she pulled the door shut.

The river sparkled beautifully on this sunny day. It almost rivalled ribbons of music. Almost.

The door opened and Emily turned to see a beleaguered Dr. Whitmore enter. He was a middle-aged man and very tall. People say everything is big in Texas. Some people even further say that Alberta is the Texas of Canada. Emily never agreed with that but there was one thing in Alberta that was bigger than anywhere else and that was its doctors. For some reason, every time she had met a doctor, especially a male doctor, he would be a minimum of 6' 3". Whitmore was a contributor to the stereotype at 6' 5".

He had dark brown hair and skin that more resembled the beach than a face.

"Sorry about the wait," he said. "There was a communication problem with my secretary."

"It's alright," she replied, though the fact that her headache had still not lessened did not make her reply entirely genuine.

At Dr. Whitmore's prompting, she explained her recent migraines, the intensity of the pain, how unusual they were normally and how frequent they had become. Though she was sure she had once told him before, she reminded him that she was a synestete.

"Are the headaches worse with the music?" he asked, then added, "What I mean is, do they seem to get worse the more you are stimulated by a trigger for your synesthesia?"

She thought for a moment and remembered her desperation the night before with the nightclub music.

"Music seems to get louder and so do the ribbons of colour," she explained.

He nodded but his eyes were focused on some distant spot on the floor. Finally, he looked up at her.

"I have very little experience with synesthesia," he said. "And it sounds like the two are very much related." He pulled out his prescription pad and began to scribble on it. "I can give you a prescription for Tylenol 3s for the pain," he said, "But that is only a temporary measure to get you through."

He pulled out one of his cards from his lab coat pocket and turned it over so that he could write on the back. "I have a friend who is involved in a synesthesia study at the University Hospital. His name is Dr. Watanabe. If you are alright with it, he might want to include you in his study. At the very least, he might have more insights than I can offer."

He handed her the prescription and the card. She looked at the name on the card. Beneath it was an office number and phone number.

"I'll call him myself this afternoon," he added. "Just to let him know I'm sending you his way."

Dr. Whitmore said good-bye and left for the next room and the next patient.

Emily kept staring at the card. Maybe he hadn't meant it that way, but she couldn't help feeling like he was saying there was something wrong with her synesthesia, like it needed fixing. She didn't much like that idea. It had been the best part of her life. Maybe the headaches weren't so bad after all.

She winced when she focused upon the pounding.

She put the card in her pocket. She would call Dr. Watanabe in a few days. For the moment, she needed to pay a visit to a demolition on her way to the pharmacy and the college.

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Brick 5

With her trip to the pharmacy out of the way, Emily walked as she waited for the medication to start working. With the strap of her violin case over one shoulder, she took her detour on the way to the college. It took only a few minutes to find the demolition site.

Large boards had been erected to create a covered walkway for pedestrians to circumvent the work safely. They offered no view except for the graffiti upon them.

As she walked along this created path, she searched for some sign. There was nothing, not even the slightest ribbon from any nearby music. The loud thumps and crashes of the work taking place behind drowned out all other sounds.

She stopped and looked up and down the walkway, hoping to see some form of black ribbon that she could investigate. She had not heard any sounds related to it the last two times but perhaps the sounds of the machinery were interfering.

She stared at the bright pink and blue graffiti in front of her, trying to make sense of it. She was learning nothing standing there and becoming only more frustrated. She turned east, planning to give up for now and go to the college.

When she saw the small black ribbon poking through a crack near the end of the boards, she blinked. It looked like an animal sniffing the air as the tip of it bobbed up and down with its movements. She blinked again.

She watched for a moment more until almost two feet of it had come through the crack. Then, she walked towards it to observe it more closely.

As she approached, it acted as though it sensed her. It turned and began extending in her direction. She had never seen ribbons act like that. They had no sentience. They were simply carried where the notes took them. This ribbon had no notes and yet it existed and moved as if it had awareness and purpose.

She stopped. This was not natural.

It continued to approach. She considered turning around. If she ran, she would not find out more than she already knew so she stayed and kept watching.

As it came within a foot of her, she inwardly cringed but, like dealing with an unpredictable wild animal, forced herself to remain outwardly calm. There were the rhythmic taps of footsteps behind her. They did not worry her but the black ribbon poking at her foot did.

As a tall business man wearing a taupe fedora walked passed, the ribbon shot forward and wrapped itself around her ankle. Instinctively, she jumped back but the ribbon holding her tightly did not move. The contrary forces caused her to fall backwards. Her violin case fell from her shoulder onto the ground. She followed and hit hard herself.

The noise of her fall onto the boards alerted the businessman. He turned around. Seeing her upon the ground, he rushed over to help her.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Did I knock you over?"

As she took his offered hand, she looked down at her foot. The ribbon was gone. There was no sign of it anywhere.

She shook her head. "No," she replied. "I think I just slipped."

"You alright?" he asked.

She nodded. "Thank you."

The man shrugged and continued on his way.

She looked down at her violin case and cringed. She was afraid of what the impact may have done to the contents.

She picked up the case and carried it to the college where she could get a good look at it in her studio.

Her suspicions had been nothing compared to the actual damage. She was surprised at how such a small fall had done. The back had a long crack, the sound post had been knocked loose, and the bridge had fallen over. It could be fixed but it would be while before she got it back and it would be expensive.

Ribbons were turning on her. Her own music was now taken from her when she needed it most. Her headache roared back to life in defiance of the prescription drugs. She hugged her violin case and cried.

 

Chapter 2

Three days later, she sat with Liam in a full waiting room in the University of Alberta Hospital. It was more of a gathering a chairs at a bloated curve in the hallway than a room. The pale pink walls and fluorescent lighting did little too comfort her nerves.

With his skill for perfect timing, Liam had shown up at her studio only moments after the start of her breakdown. She told him everything that had happened both at the doctor's and at the demolition site. He had become so worried about her neurological health that he insisted she call Dr. Watanabe right then.

Dr. Whitmore had not had a chance to call him yet so she went through the entire explanation of why she was seeking help. She even described the black ribbon though she left out the attack, not wanting him to think she was that crazy.

Dr. Watanabe had been so excited by what she had told him that he insisted she come to see him that same week. The man sounded like he very much enjoyed the subject of his research.

With the appointment set, Liam insisted upon driving her to make sure she would not be late. Though she suspected that he did not really believe she would go if left alone, she did not call him on it. Liam was a wonderful friend but could sometimes feel like a babysitter.

A Japanese man with large bags under his eyes walked into the waiting room. He was about her height and had thick, black hair that had been cut short in the back and parted on the left. He was wearing a white with brown pinstripes business shirt tucked into khaki pants. His sleeves were rolled up to just below his elbows.

"Emily Gordon?" he called to the room at large.

She stood and Liam followed.

The man smiled and held out a hand. "I'm Dr. Watanabe," he said.

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Brick 6

After their introductions, Dr. Watanabe led Emily and Liam down a long corridor and into what Emily suspected might once have been a janitor's closet.

It had no windows and was furnished simply by a small table with an office chair on one side and two folding chairs on the others. A stack of files and papers lay neatly in the corner and a laptop remained open on the desk.

"Sorry about the cramped quarters," Dr. Watanabe said. "All the grant money goes to life saving research. Mine is regarded as a mild curiosity."

"Neurological studies aren't respected?" Liam asked with a raised brow.

As Dr. Watanabe squeezed behind his desk, he said, "Nothing like that. Plenty of the doctors around here are interested in my work. Government committees giving out grant money, however, want to see 'cancer' somewhere in the proposal. Luckily, several of the doctors on such projects are also interested in my research. They have been helping me out when our interests overlap."

The three of them sat down and Dr. Watanabe went over the details of Emily's condition with her again. The only things he found confusing were the same characteristics that had begun to worry her: the headaches and the black ribbon. Though she had still left out the attack, she had explained how the black moved differently and how there were no identifying sounds with it.

The doctor squeezed out from around the desk and began to perform some basic neurological tests. He started by having her follow his finger and let him examine her eyes. After a series of several more minor tasks, he returned to his chair and said she showed no obvious signs of problems with her brain. He found the black ribbon particularly confusing. The fact that the very specialist she hoped would help her was so unsure himself was not comforting.

"I think we need to schedule an MRI," he said finally. "Given your headaches and your referral from Dr. Whitmore, it will be covered by Alberta Health. We need to see what is going on in your brain during these episodes."

"How do we know I will have one while in the machine?" she asked.

Dr. Watanabe pursed his lips and began to stroke his chin. "First, we'll do a normal scan with no stimulus. Then, we will do one with music," he said, still stroking his chin in thought and focusing somewhere in the middle of his desk. "The black ribbon has no known trigger," he added and looked at her.

She nodded.

"Then all we can hope for is that the other two scans give us enough information. Perhaps there is something going on in the brain and the black ribbon is a false firing caused by another problem."

"Like a tumour?" Liam asked.

Emily looked at him. His jaw was tense and he was focusing on Dr. Watanabe.

The doctor gave a nervous smile. "That is one possibility," he said slowly. He leaned forward and focused his eyes upon Emily's.

"It is more likely that some other factor has influenced this change," he said. "It could be anything. It could be stress. It could be the result of some kind of diet change. We are still trying to understand the normal brain. Synesthesia adds another variable to an already complicated system. There are differences with every synestete and every person's body reacts differently to change. Try not to worry too much."

"If I weren't worried, I wouldn't be here," she said.

He nodded. "I understand but these things take time. I'll look into getting your MRI scheduled right away but it will likely be a month or two before we can get you in. They will call you with the appointment time once it's set."

He leaned back in his chair. "There is one more thing," he said. "Sometimes the synestetes I deal with have had trouble relating to non synestetes. It isn't common, but it happens."

Emily could feel Liam watching her. He knew the doctor was on to something with her. She refused to admit her minimalist life was a problem even if a doctor thought so.

"There is a group of my patients who meet once a week," Dr. Watanabe continued. "If you would agree to it, I would like you to try meeting with them. It's a small group but you might find it helps."

Emily stared back at him as her mind raced through all the possible replies in an effort to find the most polite of rejections. Finally, she fell back on the old Canadian standby. "That sounds interesting," she said but did not elaborate.

Dr. Watanabe turned in his chair to the stack of folders in the corner. He ran his fingers down the corners, stopping it at the folder third from the top. After pulling it out and opening it, he removed a business card and began writing on the back.

"Here is the time and place they usually meet," he said as he scribbled the letters and numbers. "No commitments, just give it a try."

He held out the card. She took it, stuffed it in her pocket, and stood to leave. To her irritation, Liam spoke up.

"Can I get one of those too?" he said.

Dr. Watanabe looked confused. "Are you a synestete as well?" he asked.

Shaking his head, Liam replied, "No, just her nursemaid."

Further to her irritation, Dr. Watanabe actually nodded in complete understanding!

Though she said nothing more than a polite good-bye to the doctor, her blood was increasing in temperature rapidly. By the time she and Liam left the hospital and were in the parking lot, her body was nearly whistling with steam.

"To the College or home?" Liam asked as he looked for the right key on his keychain.

"I'll take the train," she said as she switched direction to walk to the transit station on the university campus.

Liam jogged to catch up. "Why?" he asked. "I'm headed to the college myself. Just let me give you a ride."

There were too many things she wanted to yell but she did not want to resort to the silent treatment like some kid. "I think you've helped enough for one day," she said. "I really don't like you right now."

Liam's face scrunched just enough to form the crease between his eyebrows. "What did I do?" he asked.

"We'll talk about it later," she said. All she needed was some time. Could he not see that?

"Just tell me!" he asked as he struggled to keep pace with her.

Luck was not on her side. The walk light turned against her just as she arrived at the road. She had to stop.

"Tell me!" Liam repeated.

Walking had helped her hold it in. Stopped in the heat, it came out as involuntarily as vomit.

"You are such an arrogant ass!" she yelled. "Who made you my mother? Always making sure I don't work too late. Telling me how to eat. Driving me to my doctor's appointments to make sure I go. Now you want to arrange my social life too. Stop treating me like a damn child, Liam. I've managed to keep myself alive this long. Can't you give me even the tiniest little bit of credit? Even once?"

Now that it was out, Liam's cheeks flushed and he pulled back. At first he said nothing. She wanted him to apologize, to tell him she was totally right and he would never do it again.

Another moment went by when he said nothing. Now she wanted him to scream back at her. She was a horrible person and he only cared about her. He was just trying to help.

The white outline of the walk light turned on. They stood where they were. The students, doctors, and others dodged around them.

It was too late to take it back. Maybe it wasn't too late to apologize. Did she want to apologize?

She had just begun to evaluate the possibility when Liam turned around and walked back towards the hospital parking lot.

"Wait, Liam," she called. "Wait. I'm sorry. Wait!"

He refused to turn around and she could not move. Her regret had punched her heart down passed her guts so that it weighed heavily and tingling in her feet, holding them in place.

"I'm sorry!" she called again but he was too far to hear her.

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Brick 7

Chapter 3

For the first time in nearly ten years, Emily went home right after her last lesson for the day.

Her violin was still being fixed and the one they had given her on loan did not create the smooth and flowing ribbons of colour she enjoyed so much. It had a rougher tone, creating a fuzzy edge and darker colours. After her fight with Liam, she wanted the familiar. The temporary violin was far from it. She left the instrument in her studio and made the slow journey home on the bus.

When she got to her apartment, she shut the door and looked around. It was too early for the nightclubs to be turning up their music. There was no violin to set at the end of the bed. She had done her laundry the day before so there was no pile to sort.

She pulled her cell out of her pocket and checked the time: 8:52. She looked back up at her apartment. She looked back down at her phone.

Liam would still be teaching for another eight minutes. She dialed anyway. The voice mail picked up like she hoped. She took a deep breath and left her message.

"Hi, Liam. I'm really sorry about earlier. Maybe it's just all these headaches making me cranky. I shouldn't have said what I did. Give me a call back so I can grovel a bit more. Anyway, thanks for putting up with me. I'll talk to you later."

She hung up and waited. Clutching the phone in her hand, she stretched out on her bed without bothering to remove her shoes.

Nine o'clock came and went. Maybe his lesson ran late.

Nine fifteen. He might be packing up.

Nine thirty. Maybe he was heading over to talk to her?

When ten o'clock came and went, she had to face reality. Liam was not calling her back.

She considered hiding under her blanket and crying. It would not be enough. She needed escape.

She jumped to her feet and left her apartment, slamming the door shut behind her. She would go to one of the bars and order something that would have caused Liam's pretention about food the most offense.

* * *

The morning after her junk food binge, Emily had woken feeling hung-over. She had thought it was just the food but as the days passed, the feeling did not dissipate.

Liam had refused to answer or return any of her calls. She had even gone by his condo but if he had been home, he had refused to answer the buzzer.

As she rode the bus to return once again to her apartment without anything for solace, she realized her life was not working.

Her music had been taken from her; her only friend hated her; and her headaches were constant. Even her MRI was a fantasy with no appointment yet given to her. No one knew what was wrong. No one could help her. She needed someone.

Her stomach twisted and her guilt amplified as her brain made the connections. The synestete group might know. Liam would be laughing at her with his own 'I told you so' if he could read her mind. If she could help it, she would never let him know.

She reached into her jacket pocket. It had become her new dumping ground for her cards, keys, money, and phone ever since she had to take her violin in to be fixed. Her fingers groped for anything resembling a paper card. After finding several, she pulled them out and sifted through the club cards until she found the business card Dr. Watanabe had given her. She flipped it over.

Tuesdays, 8:00 pm, Coffee Shop on 124 Street and 102 Avenue.

It was Monday. Could she wait another day?

Apparently she could. The next night, after rescheduling two of her students for the first time in her history as a teacher, she stood in the coffee shop scanning the tables for a group of synestetes.

It was a moderately sized shop in the corner of a building. It had windows looking out onto the street and a fireplace in the middle. Small ribbons of yellows, pinks, and reds danced from speakers in the ceiling as smooth jazz played quietly.

Unfortunately, there did not appear to be a large group and of all the tables with people, there was nothing remarkable to point her in the right direction.

"Can I help you?" asked the barista.

Emily was just about to ask if she could point out a group that met there every week when a familiar searching movement caught her eye.

From under the door, squeezed the black ribbon. It poked around as if searching.

At first, Emily stepped back towards the counter, trying to get away from her before it attacked her again. When it moved by her, seemingly not interested, her fear turned to confusion.

"Can I help you?" asked the barista again, more annoyed this time.

"I'm still deciding," Emily said, trying to pretend she was going to make an order.

The ribbon continued to push along the floor like a snake pushing through prairie grass.

She did not move.

It found its way across the floor to a table by the fireplace. There were three women sitting there as they chatted over cappuccino and pastries.

Two of the women were blond. The older of the two blonds looked as though her hair had not seen a natural day in decades. Her skin was a celebrity orange and her make-up overdone. She was wearing a pink tank top and jeans. The other blond looked to be student age, possibly in university. Her hair was in a dishevelled bun. She was heavy set and wearing a sweatshirt with the head of a roaring panda painted in green upon it. The third woman had short, straight auburn hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Even though she was sitting, she looked short. She was wearing a red t-shirt, white capris, a dark jean jacket and brown sandals.

All three women seemed happy and unaware of the approaching black ribbon.

It travelled towards the foot of the auburn-haired woman. Emily considered intervening as its motion looked very similar to just before it had grabbed her.

She stepped forward but stopped when she saw that it was poking at the woman's leg like a begging pet. Without stumbling or pausing on her words, the auburn-haired woman reached down and batted the ribbon away gently. It poked at her again and she batted it away again.

When the ribbon poked at her a third time, the woman reached down and wrapped her fingers around it gently.

Emily thought maybe she was imagining it at first but the blackness of the ribbon began to fade. Just when she thought it might be disappearing, she realized it was changing colour. The edges of it began to change to gold. When the gold began to get brighter, the ribbon jerked away and returned the way it had come.

The auburn-haired woman continued to talk as if nothing had happened and the two women with her appeared equally unconcerned.

With the ribbon gone, Emily walked over to them. When they looked up at her, she said, "Excuse me, this might sound a bit strange but are you synestetes?"

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Brick 8

"Yes, we are," the redhead said. "Are you a patient of Dr. Watanabe's?"

Emily nodded, which dislodged a lock of her wavy hair and caused it to fall in front of her face. As she tucked it behind her ear, the bottled blond offered her the empty seat at the table.

"Thanks," Emily replied, sitting. The bottled blond looked at least a decade older than Emily had first though. The numerous tiny wrinkles that had been obscured by distance made Emily think the woman was in her fifties.

"Luanne," the bottled blond said. "Smell-colour."

The university student introduced herself next without missing a beat. Emily wondered how many times they had done this routine.

"Robin, tone-colour," the girl said.

"And I'm Mary," said the red-head. She added, "movement-colour," as an afterthought.

"I'm Emily," Emily replied. "Tone-colour." She fidgeted with her fingers in her lap. She began to wonder if Alcoholics Anonymous meetings felt the same way.

"I've never met another tone-colour person before," said Robin.

Unsure of what to say to this, Emily gave a weak smile in reply. What on Earth had made her think coming here was a good idea? These were strangers. Senses in common or not, she did not know them and they were no substitute for Liam.

She had just come to the conclusion that she should leave when Mary spoke to her.

"How did you know we are synestetes?" she asked.

Emily had been so wrapped up in her inner deliberation over leaving, that it took a moment for the memory to come back to her. "Oh that," she said. "I saw you get rid of that ribbon of colour. I've never seen anyone do that before."

Mary looked directly into her eyes even as she pulled her cappuccino to her lips. "Are you sure you are a synestete and not just someone who suffers from hallucinations?" she said before taking a sip.

Emily felt her face get hot. This woman who had no idea she existed even a minute before was insulting her to her face. She knew what she had seen. Even if what Mary said spoke to Emily's deepest fears, she knew it wasn't a hallucination.

"I saw you grab it," Emily insisted. "No one has ever interacted with a ribbon I could see before and you just did."

Mary set her cappuccino down on the table and looked at Luanne and Robin. "New arrivals always make our meetings weird," she said.

Robin looked back and forth between Emily and Mary but said nothing. Luanne seemed to want to defuse the situation.

"Not as bad as the time the movement-tone guy stopped by and started arguing with you about the barista," she said.

Robin latched onto the opportunity to switch the subject. "He was convinced the tones he was hearing meant the barista was into him," she explained. "When Mary said the colours she saw indicated constipation, he... um... didn't take it as well as one might hope."

Luanne laughed loud enough that several people at other tables glared at her. "He called Mary a cranky old spinster," she added. "I've never seen you turn that red before."

Robin leaned away from Mary. "Except for maybe right now," she said as she regarded her friend.

"Have you two had enough fun," Mary whispered through tight lips.

Emily stood. If she wanted awkward rebuke and lack of support, she could just renew her efforts to speak to Liam. At least she understood him most of the time.

Before she could leave or even say good-bye, Luanne reached out to grab her wrist with the speed and accuracy of a fighter in a Kung-Fu movie.

"Sit down, hun," she said but she was glaring at Mary. "We are here to help each other get through life not make it more difficult."

As Emily lowered herself back into the chair, she examined all of the women's faces. Luanne and Mary were glaring daggers at each other while Robin stared at the table between them.

Luanne said, "And maybe one of these days, Mary will stop treating Robin and I as if we're morons. We know there is something more to your condition than you've told us. We've respected your privacy but if you start scaring people off because you're too pig headed to admit when they've noticed it too, then we won't let you keep it private any longer."

Luanne refused to look away from Mary. Though the women were no longer saying anything, their tension was evident enough that the other patrons were staring again. Luanne still had a vice grip on Emily's wrist.

After another moment, Mary finally nodded at Luanne. Was she agreeing to drop the issue? To tell them the truth? Emily wasn't sure but Luanne's grip loosened as she reached for the remaining half of a cinnamon bun on the plate next to her cappuccino.

"So what do you do for a living?" Luanne asked, finally turning to Emily when speaking to her. She ripped off a piece of the bun and popped it into her mouth.

With what had just happened, the mundane question was such a surprise that it took Emily a moment to remember. "A violin teacher," she said finally.

Luanne nodded. "Nice," she said. "I was never good with music myself. Being completely tone deaf doesn't help. I can cook better than anyone but almost killed myself with the stress in chef school. Instead, I've been everything from a vet tech to a rig pig. Right now I'm helping out with a no-kill cat shelter though it's not helping much with the bills. Do you like what you do?"

Emily nodded. "It's the only thing I can do," she said, thinking of how Liam would agree. He thought she was incapable of living without his help. Part of her had once wondered if he was right but without his presence she had managed to survive so far.

"What do you do?" Emily asked Robin who seemed nervous to be asked but also thankful the conversation was returning to normal.

"Phys Ed," she replied.

Despite Robin's attire, her body shape did not really look like that of an athlete. Emily wondered if she was just being judgemental but something about Robin's tone when she answered made her doubt it.

"Do you like it?" she asked the girl.

Robin shook her head. "My dad's a coach. He's been pushing me for years. I prefer working on my YouTube channel. I've got some friends trying to make it into the music industry so I do their sound editing. My dad doesn't know though. He's not exactly the listening type."

"I keep telling you to come stay with me," Luanne said.

"He'd probably come after you," Robin replied as she looked down at her lap. "Or call the cops."

Luanne scoffed. "I survived the men in the oil patch. He doesn't scare me."

Sensing another awkward silence, Emily took the initiative. The night had been stressful enough already.

"What do you do, Mary?" she asked.

Mary had been sipping her drink. She stopped and looked at Emily over the rim of the cup. Was she evaluating her?

"I'm a Reiki Healer," she said. "At least, that's what the certificate on my wall says. There's no certificate for 'synestete using colour from motion to diagnose ailments'."

Emily was impressed. She had never heard of anyone doing such a thing before. "Does it work?" she asked.

"My clients say so," she said. "As for the medical community, Dr. Watanabe is the only doctor I've met who believes I can even do it. You'd think as scientists, more of them would be interested."

The women began to talk about how different people had regarded their abilities. As soon as Emily had learned at a young age that no one else could see what she could, she had kept it to herself. No one had been particularly harsh to her but she instinctively knew no one would understand. Liam had been the only exception.

From the stories these women told, Emily was thankful she had never openly discussed it. Luanne had been ridiculed horribly as a teenager, being told she was making it up to get attention. Robin's father also thought she was lying, trying to come up with random health excuses to get out of practice. He'd never heard of synesthesia before and even when Dr. Watanabe had explained to him what it was, he had treated it like a nuisance. She had learned to keep it to herself.

Mary had not been ridiculed. She had experienced the opposite. People thought that what she could do was so interesting, they wanted her to 'perform' for them all the time. Social functions became a chore. She finally got to the point that she refused to discuss it outside her clinic or the synestete group.

Emily had never before admitted that her self-imposed seclusion was due to this feeling of being 'other' that these women were now describing. Hearing them put it into words, she could no longer deny it.

Though she felt some relief from this realization, it was hampered by the strong regret of having been so alone. One person had chosen to shun her and her entire support network in her life was gone.

The women talked until the coffee shop closed. Outside, Luanne offered to give Robin a ride to the university so that she could pretend she had been working out. The two of them said good-bye and left Mary and Emily on the sidewalk.

Emily pulled out her phone to check the time. She had just missed the bus and would have to wait another fifteen minutes. Though she hadn't said it out loud, Mary seemed to sense an issue.

"Want a ride?" she offered.

Though Emily instinctively wanted to decline, she accepted once her sense got the better of her.

Mary led her to the nearby parking lot and to an old car that was teal except for the large circles of rust on the fenders. Once they were in the car and leaving the parking lot, Mary spoke.

"I'm sorry about earlier," she said. "The girls don't know I'm a Key Breaker."

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Brick 9

Emily stared at her for several moments, thinking that maybe she had just misheard. The words that Mary had spoken had surely been quite different and much more understandable. Unintentionally, her fingers, which had been resting on the door, began to trace the outline of the handle.

When she did not say anything, Mary continued. "How long have you been a Key Breaker?" she asked.

Any hope that the previous words had simply been gibberish was replaced by a somersaulting gut. Not knowing what else to do, Emily asked, "What is a Key Breaker?"

Mary took her eyes off the road long enough to stare wide-eyed at her.

"You don't know?" she asked.

Emily shook her head.

"Marcus never found you?" Mary continued to interrogate, flicking her focus between the road and Emily.

Emily shook her head again, feeling like she was turning into a bobble head doll that would soon become a permanent fixture upon the dash board.

"How did you see the seeking strand then?" Mary asked.

"It has been following me around," Emily replied. "I thought I was just hallucinating until it attacked me the other day."

With Emily's answer, Mary stared at the steering wheel and whispered to herself, "Attacked?"

"I guess it doesn't like me as much as it does you," Emily said.

Mary came back to herself and focused on the road once more. When she spoke again, her voice was steady but Emily noticed how tightly Mary was gripping the wheel.

Emily looked down the road. Though there was still traffic due to those heading to the restaurants and bars, it was light. Only two cars were within a block of them. One was nearly half a block ahead of them and the other, travelling in the opposite direction, had just turned down a side street.

"This hasn't really happened before," she said. "I will have to talk to Marcus."

"About what? Who is Marcus?" Emily's stomach was still doing back flips and now her face was feeling tight and hot.

Mary did not look at her. "I've never had to recruit before. I'm not trained for it. I'll screw it all up," she said.

Emily's initial dislike of Mary had returned. First she was confrontational and insulting and now she was unfairly keeping secrets. "Recruit? Me? Does this have to do with the Key Breakers? What are they?" Emily demanded.

"I can't tell you," Mary said. She was now refusing to look at Emily altogether. "It is Marcus' job to explain."

Emily had had enough. "Pull over," she said.

Out of surprise, Mary's resolve to stare forward broke. She looked at Emily long and intently enough that she seemed to have forgotten what she was doing. As the restaurant signs flew by Mary's window, Emily realized they had missed the turn to the bridge, not that it mattered now that she just wanted to flee.

"Pull over," she said again.

"Why?" Mary asked. "I'm taking you home."

"You missed the turn," Emily pointed out. "I'm not going home now anyway. Let me out."

Mary gave a snort. "I'm not dropping you in the middle of downtown, alone, at night."

Though Mary's concern would otherwise have been reasonable, it was too similar to something Emily's only friend would have said. Now she wanted to punch Mary in the face as much as she wanted to scream at Liam.

"Stop the car," she said with forced evenness of tone.

"No," Mary said. "You'll run away and who knows if I'll ever find you again. If Marcus hasn't been able to find you, there's no way I can."

Mary just did not seem to understand that her riddles made Emily want to run even more not stay and follow her orders. "Mary," she began slowly, "If you do not stop this car and let me out, I will call the cops and tell them you've kidnapped me."

She pulled her phone from her pocket, dialed the number and held her thumb over the send button. She watched Mary's face for some sign of whether she should press it.

Mary's eyes were shifting all over the place: to the road, to the side streets, to Emily's face, to Emily's phone. Finally, her hand reached down and turned on her signal. When she had pulled over, she tried to say something more but Emily was already climbing out of the car and slamming the door.

Emily walked quickly down the street, heading for the college. When she had gone half a block, she looked back.

Mary's car was still parked and inside she looked to be talking on the phone.

What was wrong with that woman? What was all her insane rambling about? Recruiting for what?

Decade old images from news stories about suicide cults and the sex trade all flew through Emily's mind. Maybe she had managed to escape just in time. With someone like Mary around, Emily would take her chances with the drunks on the streets.

Without slowing, she looked down at her phone. The numbers 9-1-1 were still displayed brightly. She cleared them and dialed Liam's number. She had already pressed send and put it to her ear before she realized what she was doing. Feeling committed to the act, she kept it pressed against her ear.

After the sixth ring, she took the hint. He still wasn't talking to her.

She shoved the phone into her pocket. She was only a couple of blocks from the college now anyway.

She glanced back. Where Mary had dropped her off was quite distant now but she could tell the car was gone. Giving a quick look at her surroundings, her chest relaxed as she realized Mary appeared to have given up and left her alone.

The rest of the walk to the college fell into her familiar rhythm and by the time she got to the door, her stomach had stopped flipping and her muscles had relaxed.

As she reached up to grab the handle, a homeless man in pristine white sneakers, worn jeans, a black t-shirt, and a black baseball cap asked her for some change.

"Sorry," she said as she began to pull the door open.

He turned to walk away from the building and brushed her arm in the process. The touch felt familiar and sent her nerves firing through her body but that same familiarity did not come with wanted feelings. She wanted to hide. Even the trail her stimulated nerves traced felt as though it was trying to retreat into her core. It tingled the entire way and did not stop tingling even once it had entrenched itself behind her navel.

"Have a nice night, Emily," he said.

She froze. Should she run inside and make sure to pass the security guard at the desk? Should she ask him who he was? Who had Mary called?

"Call me Marcus," he said even as he continued to walk away. "We can talk later. I'll give you tonight."

She could not move. She watched him walk towards a black car in the nearest parking stall. As he opened the door to get inside it, she found her voice again.

"What do you want with me?" she asked.

He did not look up. "I'll give you tonight," he said again before getting in his car and driving away.

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Brick 10

Chapter 4

The next morning, Emily awoke cramped and exhausted. The encounters of the previous night had been so disconcerting that she dared not go home.

After Marcus had left, she had rushed up to Liam's studio and banged on the door. He was not there. She had tried calling again but even she realized there was no point. She hung up after two rings and shut the phone off to avoid any creepy calls.

With no one she trusted to escort her home, she stayed hidden in her studio. Her hands shook too much for her to play to calm herself. After several hours of sitting on the piano bench and staring at the carpet, she stretched out on the floor and tried to rest.

Though she technically slept, it had been too broken and restless to be of much help.

She tried to sit up and pulled her knees into her chest.

There was no way of knowing what time it was in the windowless room. She pulled out her cell and turned it on.

The moment it had started up, it buzzed at her with a note on the screen saying there were three unchecked messages. Vibrating with exhaustion and the thought that maybe Liam had finally chosen to call her back, she entered her code and listened to the messages.

She did not recognize the male voice on the other end but she recognized the name. Her chest tightened, her fingers when rigid and cold, and she nearly dropped the phone.

"Emily, it's Marcus. It's 7:30. I gave you what I promised; now it is time for us to meet properly, call me back at... "

She was too busy trying to figure out how Marcus found her number so quickly to pay attention to his.

The next message started.

"Emily, it's 8:00. I know this is strange but you cannot handle what will come alone. I will call again."

The third message was even less encouraging than the first two.

"Emily. I am in the lobby. When you've finally woken up, we can talk."

She looked at the lock on her studio door and wondered if it was strong enough.

Mary had thought Marcus would be less creepy in his explanations?

Emily decided she needed to be more assertive in staying away from Marcus. She dialed the security desk number to inform them of the stalker waiting for her in the lobby.

As she put the phone up to her ear and listened to the rings, she glanced back at the door.

A green ribbon of colour was coming through the bottom. At first she thought nothing of it, thinking someone was simply practicing nearby. As she instinctively tried to pick out the tune, she realized there was no sound.

She stared at the ribbon again. The movement was not that of music but that of the black ribbon. This ribbon was very clearly moss green. It poked its way through the room, slithering towards her.

She scrambled backwards, being reminded too vividly of what had happened at the demolition site.

It got closer and her back was now pressed against the piano. It was near her foot and if it had been a dog, she would have sworn it was sniffing her. The end lifted towards her. She braced.

It did not attack. It pushed up along her leg, causing her nerves to tingle and tickle as it continued to climb. It poked at the wrist of her hand still holding the phone in her lap. Only then did she realize someone on the other end was calling to her; asking if anyone was there; asking if she was in trouble.

Was she in trouble?

The ribbon nudged at the phone, causing it to fall to the floor. Somehow, the contact it had made with the device had also turned it off.

It began to advance again, sliding up her arm and onto her shoulder. She kept still, hoping not to provoke it.

It pressed against her cheek. It felt cool and made her cheek tingle in the same way as her legs.

When she did not respond to it, it lowered down to her lap once more where the end of the colour curled up like a kitten taking a nap.

She waited. There was still no sound in the room. The ribbon was completely without audible vibrations.

She waited. Her legs were beginning to fall asleep. The ribbon remained coiled in her lap.

She waited. It really did seem like a kitten.

She reached out and touched it with her fingers. It did not move. She began to stroke it, her fingers tingling everywhere they touched the colour. She continued to pet it.

After a few moments, it stretched out across her lap.

"What are you?" she whispered.

With her words, the end curled up as if it were looking at her. After a moment, it began to retreat, pulling back through the tiny crack under the door.

With great pain and difficulty, nearly falling and coming within an inch of cracking her face on the piano keys, she climbed to her feet. Considering each step before taking it, she walked to the door. She placed her hand upon the lever and paused. She suddenly knew what she would find on the other side but somehow her fear was impotent.

Consciously, she tried to revive it. The only sensible thing to be in the situation was afraid. The fear remained dormant. Her heart did not race and her fingers did not tremble. She turned the lever and opened the door.

The ribbon had just arrived at Marcus' shoulders and coiled around his neck like a scarf where it stopped and disappeared.

"I'm sorry I scared you," Marcus said. "You are not the only one who is shocked by the events of last night."

She stared at him and said nothing.

The clothing, the cap, and the asking for change the night before had given her entirely the wrong impression about his looks. She had been convinced he was shorter than she was, but he was at least as tall as Liam.

He had tanned skin, dark brown eyes, and black hair that was just long enough to fall loosely on either side of his forehead. He was wearing a loose, black t-shirt. She could not tell much about his build except that he had broad shoulders and toned forearms.

"Will you listen to me now?" he asked.

She looked back at his neck. Where had the ribbon gone?

"Please," he asked again.

She looked at him and then said the most insane thing she had ever uttered. "Come in."

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Brick 11

Marcus entered the tiny studio but did not sit down. Emily crossed her arms and waited.

"Before I can tell you anything, I need to know two things," he said.

She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The calm that coaxed her into opening the door was beginning to weaken. Her shoulder muscles were already feeling tighter.

"How long have you been a synestete?" he asked.

She did not see why that mattered but with her renewed curiosity, she did not have the desire to argue. It felt as though such an action would take too much energy.

"All my life," she replied.

His head bobbed a millimeter as he seemed to acknowledge the answer. Then he asked, "How long have you lived in Edmonton?"

She found this even less relevant than the last question but continued to cooperate.

"As long as I can remember," she said. "I think I was two when my family moved here."

Though Marcus did not say anything at first, his jaw clenched in response.

"I've answered your questions. Now explain yourself," she demanded, beginning to wonder why she had let him in the room. At least he hadn't attacked her yet.

"Are you sure of the answers you just gave me?" he asked, giving no acknowledgement of her own forceful request.

She was beginning to feel a frustration normally reserved for Liam. Already, she could feel the tightness between her eyebrows that indicated what could have been called the 'Liam Crease.' Her fingers clenched involuntarily as she wondered if he would ever be the cause of it again.

"Of course I'm sure," she said, her voice failing to remain even. If he was not going to believe her, why did he bother asking any questions at all?

For the first time in their brief knowledge of each other, she saw Marcus' brow furrow with confusion. The added twitch of his lips and the fidgeting of his fingers made her wonder if he did not experience that particular emotion very often.

"Sorry," he said. "I just don't understand how that could be true. I should have known about you long ago."

"Don't take it too hard," she said. "I'm a bit reclusive. Since my parents died, my friend Liam is the only one who really knows me."

"I should have known," he insisted.

"Why do you even care?" she asked as she gave up standing by the door and returned to her piano bench. If yet another man in her life was going to drive her insane, she might as well be comfortable.

She lowered herself onto the bench and reached out to press the C5 key softly. The pale blue note shimmied outward from the piano. She watched its shuddering dance and felt her irritation ebb. She felt warm.

As the pale colour faded out of existence, she felt a soft touch on her shoulder. She looked up into Marcus' face.

"I want you to trust me," he said. "Usually, I can gain trust without effort. It is a skill. You are different. You confuse me as much as I confuse you."

She scoffed.

"You're the one with the answers," she said.

"Fewer than I thought I had," he replied as he withdrew his hand.

She watched him turn and pace the tiny room.

"I'm still waiting for what you do have," she said.

He stopped and locked his eyes onto hers. He said nothing at first. His chest rose slowly as his lungs filled with air.

Finally, he said, "I am called a Compass."

Though she had not meant to, she snorted. With a quick and mumbled apology, she indicated for him to continue.

"Since birth, I have had the ability to seek two things: Keys and Key Breakers. That black ribbon you saw was the Seeking Strand of something that has been locked away by a Key. Key Breakers are those with the abilities required to remove Keys."

Emily stared.

Marcus stared back. "Do you understand so far?" he asked.

"Not even a clue," she replied. "What are Keys? What things do they lock away?"

"Every case is different," he explained vaguely. "Sometimes Keys are spells, sometimes demons acting as sentry. What they usually lock away are minor muses and guardians."

She blinked.

"Benevolent spirits," he added. "Muses and guardians are benevolent spirits. Things that create keys are malevolent."

She said nothing.

"Key Breakers are everywhere," he continued. "As are the keys that need to be broken. We think you are one of us. You must be a Key Breaker to have seen the Seeking Strand."

She looked back at the piano keys and pressed the C5 again. Taking a deep breath, she watched the ribbon's movements.

"So synestetes are Key Breakers," she said.

"No," Marcus replied. "Many Key Breakers appear to be synestetes at first but it is not the same thing. Most synestetes are not."

She pressed the key once more but she found herself less focused upon the result. She thought of how ten years before she had needed someone to believe her. The recollection faded with the ribbon.

"I'll trust you for now," she said. "But I do not believe you."

She looked up at him.

"You really will trust me?" he asked.

His shock shown by his creased forehead, wide eyes, and slightly open mouth were too comedic. She laughed.

"Yes," she answered.

She gave a start as he lunged forward abruptly and grabbed her hand.

"Then come with me," he said. "I have something I need to show you."

His palm felt warm and it caused hers to tingle. The sensation did not end where their skin touched. It continued to tickle its way up her arm. As he guided her from the studio and to the elevators, she laughed. She had never felt this impulsive and carefree in her life.

The elevator doors opened. Marcus moved to enter and stopped short.

"Sorry," he said to the man exiting with a large cello case.

"No prob..." Liam paused in mid step as well as mid word.

He looked at Emily and back at Marcus, then down at their linked hands. His eyes narrowed.

"Who's your new friend, Emily?" he asked.

"M-marcus," she replied. "We met through Dr. Watanabe's synestete group," she stretched.

Liam looked back at Marcus.

"I'm Emily's best friend, Liam," he said. He made no friendly gesture such as offering a hand. "So, you're a synestete?"

Marcus said nothing but Emily could not help but think he looked taller all of a sudden.

Liam turned back to Emily. "We need to talk when you get a chance. Give me a call when you're free."

Well, that was sudden. He refused to give the slightest acknowledgement for weeks and suddenly he wanted to talk? He did not care about being there for her when she needed him most. Her annoyance returned as did the Liam Crease. Her face became hot.

"Will you answer this time?" she asked.

Her annoyance grew and churned her insides into a tight knot.

"I've got rehearsal in half an hour," he said. "But after that, I'm free."

She felt a squeeze in her hand, which caused her to look up at Marcus.

"We need to go," he said.

"Sorry, I kept you," Liam interrupted before walking down the hall.

She wanted to throttle him. How dare he act like such a brat. Even a few hours before, she still wanted to beg for his forgiveness. Now, she felt assured that everything she had yelled at him was warranted.

Her head pierced with pain. She rubbed her temple with her free hand as Marcus led her onto the elevator.

As they descended to the main floor, the tingling in her arm spread to her shoulder and up her neck. Her muscles began to relax but her head continued to pound. She closed her eyes.

The tingling climbed to the top of her head. It felt cool like ice wrapped in a cloth pressed against her forehead. As the pain dissipated, she let out a long breath. Her strain escaped with it.

Opening her eyes, she looked over at Marcus. There was a barely discernible crease between his brows. Was Liam now having the same effect on others as well?

"You need Mary to take a look at you for those headaches," he said.

"I'll be fine," she replied. "Besides, Dr. Watanabe is trying to get me in for an MRI."

"It won't find anything," he said.

The elevator doors opened and they walked into the lobby.

"How do you know?" she asked, looking down at their still clasped hands.

Why was he still holding hers? Why had she not pulled away?

"Let Mary look at you," he said again. "Trust me."

He guided her into the parking lot and to his black car. With a button on his key, he unlocked the door for her but he did not let go of her hand right away. She looked down at his fingers wrapped around hers and back up at him but he was not looking at her. His eyes were focused on something in the west.

She turned to see what he was looking at but there was nothing remarkable, just the usual flow of traffic and pedestrians along the main road.

"What did you want to show me?" she asked.

He looked back at her and released her hand.

"That will have to wait," he said. "You need to see Mary first."

Back to Top

Brick 12

Chapter 5

Emily was not looking forward to seeing Mary again but Marcus would not be deterred. She hoped Mary would be more pleasant now that Marcus had shared the truth of who they were.

He pulled into a small strip mall parking lot and parked in front of a store. Above the door and windows was a blue sign with white text: Homeopathic Clinic.

"Is this where Mary works?" Emily asked.

Marcus turned off the car as he nodded.

They got out and walked into the tiny waiting room. There were only four chairs but all of them were taken. Between the waiting room and the front desk, there was a narrow and dimly lit hallway leading into the back of the clinic. There were four doors, two on each side, lining the hallway.

A brunette sitting at the front desk was typing something into the computer. Emily was sure the girl could not have even been 18. She was slender in a not-fully developed kind of way. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she had several braided-thread bracelets on one wrist.

The girl looked up as Marcus approached. She straightened abruptly in her chair and smiled.

"Hi Marcus," she said. "She's in the middle of a treatment right now but should be done in a minute."

Emily looked around the room, unsure of what to do while the two talked.

The room was painted a pale pink and there were pale green ivy patterns stenciled in a border along the ceiling.

"Thanks, Shelley," Marcus said. "I just need to slip in for a minute. It's a bit urgent."

As he said this, one of those waiting, a large woman with short gray hair, seemed to realize what he meant. She looked at her gold watch, which looked strained to be fastened around her thick wrist, then glared at Marcus' back.

Emily felt her face go hot.

She reached over and placed her hand on Marcus' arm.

"It's alright," she said. "We can come back later."

The last thing she wanted was to be a pain to someone else.

He looked into her eyes the same way he had when she opened her studio door.

"Trust me," he said. "This can't wait."

When she said nothing, he added, "It will be alright."

A door near the end of the hallway opened and a gray-haired man wearing a blue suit that barely hid his rounded gut walked out of the room. Mary followed him.

"Let me know if there isn't any change," she was saying as they walked to the front desk. "And speak with Shelley about booking a follow up for two weeks from now."

As they emerged into the waiting room, Mary walked out from behind the man to set his file down on the front desk and grab a new one. When she looked up and saw Marcus, she paused then set the file back down.

"Come on back," she said, not failing to look at Emily for a moment before turning around and walking back to the room she had just left.

Marcus led Emily down the hall, standing aside when they arrived at the room so that she could go in first.

"Thanks," she muttered.

It was a tiny room, just large enough for a cupboard by the door, an examination table along one wall, and a short wheeled stool. There was a large window almost the entire width of the room on the far wall.

Mary had already sat herself on the stool, crossing one leg over the other knee. The light coming through the window behind her made her glow like an angel.

As he entered the room, Marcus gestured for Emily to sit down on the examination table. Not sure what else she would do, she complied.

"I didn't expect you to bring her here," Mary said once Marcus had closed the door.

Emily was thinking her initial assessment of Mary had been correct. She was a bitch. They had not been in the room five seconds and she was already talking about Emily as if she wasn't even there.

"You didn't tell me about her headaches," Marcus replied.

Mary raised an eyebrow. "Why would I have known about her headaches?" she asked.

Marcus scoffed at her. "I guess this is proof of what I've been claiming for years," he said. "You're losing your touch. Too many sprained knees and not enough key breaking."

Mary's lips pursed but she otherwise remained motionless as she glared at him. Emily looked at Marcus. She could have sworn there was a gleam in his eyes. Was he enjoying this?

"If I could kick you out of my clinic, I would," Mary said. "Now, stop making me want to hit you and tell me what's going on."

"Look for it," he said. "You will find it."

Mary finally turned to Emily.

"Could you turn you head to the right, please?" she asked.

Emily obeyed.

"Now the left," she instructed.

Emily complied again.

Mary got up from the stool and walked over to her. "Do you mind if I touch you?" she asked, not giving the slightest indication that she would proceed without an answer.

Emily nodded. She found it strange how kind and soft Mary could make her requests. Was this her "healer" mode?

Mary placed her hands on either side of Emily's chin. Her touch was so gentle that it nearly tickled. Mary tilted her chin upward, then rubbed her fingers down the left side of Emily's neck, then the right side. She paused before following the same path down the left, this time with enough pressure that it no longer tickled. Her fingers went further this time, trailing over Emily's collar bone. When they began to trace down the left side of Emily's chest, Emily jumped.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

Mary smiled. "Sorry, I should have warned you." She let out a deep breath as she stood back.

"How long have these headaches been happening?" she asked.

"A couple of months, maybe," Emily replied.

"Are they always the same?" Mary pressed.

Emily nodded.

Mary looked back at Marcus. "Why do you think it goes from the head to the heart?" she asked.

"What? What goes from my head to my heart?" Emily asked, annoyed that Mary had reverted to pretending like she was not there.

Marcus put his hand on her shoulder. "Someone has been trying to put a key on you," he said.

Emily blinked. Her brain ran through their previous conversation. Though it technically made sense, she was having trouble understanding how that could be the case.

"Why... how would someone do that?" she asked.

"Depends on who is doing it," he replied. "There are many ways to make keys. Each one is as unique as its creator." He looked back at Mary. "Any ideas?" he asked.

She shook her head. "It's not one I can break even if it is only partially formed," she said. "Find who's doing it and you might get somewhere."

Emily looked at both of them. "I don't know anyone who would try something like that on me," she said. Marcus rubbed her shoulder. "You may not even be aware this person exists," he said. Turning back to Mary, he added, "I think I'll contact Valerie and Philip before I give up on removing it outright."

"Or maybe you should contact your Elder," Mary replied.

"Contacting Elders is my business and mine alone," he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Emily could see the muscle in his jaw clench.

Mary turned and seemed in sudden need of moving her stool back into the corner. "Don't get all angry at me," she said as she rolled the stool into place. "It was just a suggestion."

"One you can keep to yourself," he replied. He looked down at Emily. "Let's get going," he said. "We still have more to do today."

Emily pulled out her phone and checked the time.

"I've got to head back to the college soon," she said. "I've got classes to teach."

"Fine," he said. "I'll drop you off and go talk to Valerie and Philip on my own for now but we really can't put this off."

"Why?" Emily asked. "If it isn't even fully formed, why does it matter?"

"Because a key can be built in stages," he said. "Just because it isn't finished doesn't mean the maker can't or won't."

His voice sounded rough as he spoke and he did not meet her eyes.

"Can't we just find a key breaker to break it then?" she asked. "Now that you've found me, that should be easy, shouldn't it?"

Marcus did not reply but Mary did. "Not all keys can be broken," she said. "There are some keys that we have never been able to remove. The fact that just any key breaker cannot remove it despite it being incomplete should tell you, this is no simple case."

"What happens if we can't break it and they complete it?" she asked.

Marcus cleared his throat. "We don't know."

Back to Top

Brick 13

Emily had wanted to join Marcus as he investigated the incomplete key. Unfortunately, she also knew that the realities of life would not wait for when she was willing to attend to them. If she began to make cancellations of her lessons routine, she doubted she would retain any students.

Marcus pulled to a stop in front of the college.

"I'll figure this out," he promised.

She smiled even as her fingers twisted together in her lap. Should she thank him?

He placed his hand upon her forearm. "I'll be back later and I'll tell you anything I find out," he said.

The contact caused her arm to feel goosy. It did not quite tingle but she wanted to shake away the sensation. Even as she thought this, the energy she felt shifted to comfort. She trusted him.

She looked at his hand. Was that a green ribbon wrapped around it? It was so faint.

She looked up at him again.

"How do you do that?" she asked.

"It's a gift, like the ribbons you can see," he said.

"You can manipulate emotions?" she asked. The logic behind this jumped at her.

Looking at the doors into the college, she remembered how scared she had been that morning. She had only known Marcus a few hours and yet now she trusted him completely. She had gotten into the car of a someone she had not known for more than five minutes. If he had murdered her and dumped her body in a field, all the news stations would pull out their common sense safety tips to plaster on the screen, the worst of public 'I told you so's.

How was he able to manipulate her like that?

"It's not manipulation," he insisted as he withdrew his hand. "I can share my intent with others. It helps getting people to be at ease with me because they know what I want. You trust me because I showed you in my own way that you have no reason not to."

She said nothing.

"Have I done anything to violate that?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"I'll come back to your studio after I talk to Valerie and Phillip," he said.

She tried to speak but her voice cracked. With a forced cough, she cleared her throat and tried again. "Thanks, Marcus," she said. "I think Mary just makes me so uneasy. She terrified me last night and she wasn't exactly pleasant today."

He shrugged. "Mary can be hard to take but don't let her get to you. Don't take her crap and you'll learn to get along."

"Do I have to get along with her?" she asked.

He laughed. "Unfortunately," he said, "Key Breakers often have to get along."

Her fingers twisted in her lap again. "Thanks, Marcus." She reached over to pull the door handle.

"I'll try to be quick," he said as she pushed the door open.

"No need," she replied. "I teach until nine. Come after that."

He nodded and she said good-bye. He did not wait once she was out of the car. He drove off immediately.

She turned around and faced the college. It was different. It did not call to her and welcome her as it had always done. She was not eager to go inside.

The afternoon was warm and sunny. A light breeze that had been diving between the office buildings played at her hair.

When was the last time she had brushed it? She must have looked horrible in her day old clothes, rumpled from her naps on the floor of her studio. Marcus had been kind enough not to notice or at least not to say anything. She doubted the mothers of her younger students would be so unobservant.

She pulled out her phone again. It was too close to her first lesson. She would just have to live with the silent ridicule.

The air in the elevator was stuffy compared to the lightness of the breezes outside. Her mind twisted over everything Marcus had told her. Logically, she should have distrusted the entire thing and dismissed it as snake oil, but there was nothing inside her physically or emotionally that agreed.

She did trust Marcus, even if any sane person would not.

The doors opened and she walked to her studio. The rainbows of music from all the rooms she walked by danced in quickly fading ribbons on the doors. The colours, even those that clashed and fought each other in the overlapping tunes, had always comforted her. They had caused her shoulders to relax in the past.

The nostalgia remained. The appreciation of the beauty which caused birds to flutter in her chest remained. The comfort, the wanting to curl up and hide amongst the colours, did not.

As she placed her hand upon the handle to her studio, she heard her name called. She looked up.

Liam was walking towards her. His step was so light he looked as though he would break into a skip at any moment.

"I thought you had rehearsal," she said.

"Cut short," he replied. "Scheduling conflict with the room," he added.

"What has you so happy?" she asked, thinking back to their previous cold encounter and the silent treatment before that.

"I'm always happy," he said. "You're the one who's always sullen."

She opened the door and walked inside, leaving it open for him to follow.

"Yet you are the one who refused to speak to me," she said as she walked over to the stack of sheet music in the corner. She knelt down and began to sift through it, looking for the music for her first student of the day.

Liam scoffed. "Can you blame me?" he said. "You were completely ungrateful."

She slammed down the handful of music she had gathered.

"What I said to you was completely fair, Liam," she yelled. She could not look at him. She yelled to her knees. "I am not a child and I can manage my life with or without your help."

He snorted. That was the button to the fuel of her confidence. She jumped up and stomped the two steps it took to be in his face.

"Have you not noticed that I am still here and still perfectly fine?" she said. "I haven't listened to a damn word you've said in years and somehow I'm still not dying of malnourishment, I'm not being locked up for insanity, and I manage to pay my bills. Hell, I've even started making new friends without you!"

His eyes narrowed. "Is that all he is then?" he asked, his jaw taught even as he spoke.

She stepped back, then she laughed. "Is all of this really because of jealousy?" she asked. "Is that the only reason you're talking to me again? You're afraid you won't be the only man in my life?"

He said nothing.

"Get out, Liam," she ordered. "You've known for years I don't feel that way about you. If you can't let it go, I want you out."

He did not move. "Can you trust him, Emily?" he asked. "How long have you known him? A few days? How long have you known me? Years!"

"How long I have known someone is irrelevant," she said. "You taught me that when you stopped returning my calls. One insult and you ran. Get out, Liam."

He still refused to move.

"Get out!" she yelled.

They stared at each other. Neither moved. Neither talked.

There was a soft knock on the door. She hadn't realized it had been ajar but even the soft tap caused it to swing open.

Her first student, a blond five year old girl with pigtails, and the girl's mother were standing in the doorway. The girl was wide-eyed. The mother's eyes narrow and appraising. The woman looked Liam up and down but her expression remained the same.

Emily forced a large smile. "Hi! Come on in. We can get started right away," she said with feigned enthusiasm.

"Good-bye, Liam," she added quietly out of the corner of her mouth.

He turned and stormed from the room without a word.

Back to Top

Brick 14

During the lesson, Emily acted as though the embarrassing scene had never happened. This denial was made more difficult by the fact that the encounter had also left her with a renewed headache.

Her small student played through her scales. The ribbons moved with nearly imperceptible jerks from the instrument. The girl was very good for her age but even the minor errors were major irritations to Emily's head.

She had the girl move onto a rondo by Oscar Reiding, hoping a more lyrical succession of notes might help. They did not.

Each note pushed her head further and further into pain. Her breathing became shallow as she tried to cope. The ribbons got fainter but the music had not quieted.

Was that ribbon blue? Green? Yellow?

The music stopped.

Emily's body was rocking. It was not rhythmic. There were random stops and starts. Did she fall asleep on the bus again? It was too bright out to be on the bus but there were so many people talking around her. It must have been the bus.

Had it been that long of a day? She did feel exhausted. Her bed would feel so good. As soon as she got home, she would get in it and ignore everything else.

The bus made another stop.

The voices were getting louder. Someone was yelling at someone else. What was he saying? There was a soft mumble in reply.

"I'm the only person she's got!" he yelled.

"Sir, I will not tell you again," replied the calm voice. "You need to wait here and if you keep refusing to listen to me, I will have security remove you."

There was a pause. "Where will you be taking her after?" he asked, much more calm. At its normal volume, the voice was familiar. She knew someone with that same timbre. She knew him well.

"I promise we will let you know," the other replied.

The bus started to move again.

Something brushed by her cheek.

"I will be waiting for you, Emily. I promise," the man said.

Liam? Where was Liam?

She tried opening her eyes but she felt too exhausted. Her limbs must have been anchored in concrete. She would have panicked or fought but her eyes and her brain seemed equally weighted. She would ask Liam why he was on the bus later.

She stopped resisting. The noise from the nightclubs would wake her at her stop.

Giving in had been the best decision. Every muscle relaxed. She could have been floating in water.

The bus stopped again but the force against her body felt wrong. Was she lying down? Why would she be lying down on the bus?

This time, her confusion overcame her exhaustion. She tried to open her eyes. They were so heavy that they fought against her efforts. She nearly got them open but they were too strong. The exhaustion was too strong.

The movement restarted and she was floating again. It did not feel as welcoming as it had before. She knew she was not on the bus but she had no idea what had happened. She wanted to know. Where was she? Where was Liam? What was going to happen?

A megalith could not have held her back. She was going to find out. She tried again to force her eyes open. As she looked around, she was not sure she had succeeded. She was surrounded by undulating, grey atmosphere.

The resistence against her body as she tried to move felt even more like water than it had before. Instinctively, she began to move her arms and legs to keep herself afloat. After a moment, she stopped. It made no difference.

There was nothing but grey.

She squinted. Was there movement ahead of her? It was difficult to tell. There might have been the dark silhouette of something. It moved again. It was getting closer and darker. She had not imagined it.

Out of the ether pushed the black ribbon. It moved like it always did, poking and searching.

She tried to get away from it but her limbs could not move fast enough. She knew she could run. She had run at some point before in her life and she had been faster than this.

The ribbon was within an arm's length. She could not escape. It lunged at her abdomen and latched on.

The moment it did, her heart calmed. She felt as though a saviour had just grabbed her hand. There was nothing to fear. There was nothing that could hurt her. The strand moved up her body towards her heart.

It was then that she noticed another ribbon, one that was dark red. It was already latched onto her chest, just above her heart. Though she could not see the other end, the shaft rested on her shoulder.

The black ribbon lunged at it. The moment it made contact, she felt as though she had been scalded. She gasped and her eyes flew open. Her last vision was the black strand retreating, the edges glowing as if it were smoldering.

Her body was no longer moving. There were no more noises.

She looked around. She was in a bed in a hospital room.

"You're awake!"

She looked over to see Liam perched on the edge of a chair.

"What happened?" she asked.

"They aren't sure," he said. "They think you might have had a seizure but I think they are just saying that because they don't have any other ideas. You collapsed during your lesson. The mother called 911."

"How did you know I was here?"

"It caused a huge commotion on the whole floor. Once I realized it was over you, I insisted on coming," he explained. "How are you feeling?"

Her headache lay growling in the corner of her consciousness and she felt like her body had been run over. "Not bad," she said.

"I told the nurses about Dr. Watanabe," he said. "They told me they would page him. Given that you've been seeing him, I figured it would be a good idea."

"He won't find anything," she said.

The crease between Liam's eyebrows appeared. "Why do you say that?" he asked.

She couldn't bring herself to tell him about her visit to Mary's clinic. Her own conviction about what Mary and Marcus had told her had not even been cemented until the vision that had awoken her in that hospital room.

"Just a hunch," she replied.

His crease did not disappear. "Let them take care of you," he said. "We can figure this out."

"It's alright," she insisted.

Liam took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for everything," he blurted. "I'm sorry I was such an ass. I'm sorry I didn't take your calls. I'm sorry I acted jealous. I am sorry about all of it. I've been the biggest ass in the world."

She stared at him.

"They've told you I'm dying," she whispered finally.

The crease deepened. "No," he said tartly. "I am genuinely sorry because I was wrong. Thanks for being so respectful of my groveling."

He let himself fall against the back of the chair and linked his hands over his stomach. "It's clear I won't bother apologizing to you again," he added. His tone was serious but the crease disappeared quickly. He was kidding.

"Thanks, Liam," she said and gave him a smile.

Her muscles felt more relaxed again. His apology really had made a difference. She wanted to be friends with him. As mad as she had been, a life spent hating him seemed wrong.

She laughed. "You are right though," she said.

"About what?" he asked.

"You are an ass."

He laughed too.

It seemed like it had been years since they had just been silly with one another, picking on each other without venom.

Liam's laughing cut short.

She looked at him. He was looking at the doorway. She turned to follow his gaze.

Marcus, Mary, and two other people were squeezed in the opening.

There was a young looking Chinese man, maybe in his mid-twenties. He was dressed in a snug black t-shirt, showing he worked out, and jeans. His hair looked full of gel as it formed spikes in all directions.

The other person was a woman who looked to be around the same age as the Chinese man. She had green eyes and brown hair secured into short pig-tails. Despite the season, her skin was extremely pale. She was wearing a pale blue dress with spaghetti straps. Her bare legs looked almost as thin as Emily's.

Marcus and Mary looked just as they had when Emily had last seen them.

Marcus and Liam were glaring at each other again.

"Can we help you?" Liam asked.

To Emily's surprise, Mary stepped forward.

"You can get away from Emily," she said with all the force to which Emily had become accustomed.

Liam looked as if he had choked upon his own saliva. "Excuse me?" he said.

Mary looked at Emily. "That key on you has something to do with him," she said. "I can see it. It's linked to him somehow."

With these words, Marcus pulled himself up taller and crossed his arms over his chest, never once removing his eyes from Liam.

Emily looked at Liam, then back at Mary.

Marcus and Mary had said the key could have been made by anyone. Her headaches happened most often when Liam was around. Her stomach twisted into a tight knot.

She looked into Liam's eyes. Her body felt cold. Her fingers shook in her lap. "Please, please tell me it wasn't you."

Back to Top

Brick 15

"Wasn't me what?" Liam demanded as he jumped to his feet. "Have you all lost your minds? Who are these people, Emily? Are they in a cult or something? Have they been hurting you?"

"Get out, Liam," Marcus boomed.

Liam turned on him, eager for the excuse. He walked up until his nose was within inches of Marcus'. "No," he replied with equal force. "I don't know who you people are. I have no idea what gibberish you're selling but Emily is my best friend. I've looked out for her for years and I will keep doing it no matter what tinfoil hat you've given her."

"You haven't been caring for her," Mary said. "You've been binding her. Who are you really?"

Emily could not see his face from her bed but his head turned towards Mary. "You don't know anything," he said.

Mary was not intimidated. She said, "I know what I can see on her and I can see that the closer you are to her, the stronger it gets."

"Did you escape from the Alberta Hospital or something?" Liam asked. "They might be looking for you. They don't need another lost patient on their hands."

"Liam," Emily said through a tense jaw. "Come here."

He looked over his shoulder at her then back at Mary and Marcus. A moment later he turned and did as she asked.

He braced his hands on the edge of the bed and bent over so that his face was close to hers. He did not give her a chance to speak.

"What the Hell have you gotten yourself into?" he asked. "I don't hang out with you for a week and you've attracted a bunch of crazy people!"

Her cheeks were hot and she felt she would have been justified in yelling at him again but she also saw his point of view. In fact, his reaction comforted her. The idea that he was somehow involved was absurd and even the suggestion had felt so threatening she had been sure she would be crushed under its weight. If he had been involved, surely he would not seem so confused now. His confrontational response also made sense given how protective he could be and how he had been less than eager to see her spending time with Marcus even when he thought the man completely normal.

Instead of yelling or telling him to mind his own business, she placed her hand over his. She looked into his eyes. There was the crease between his brows. Whatever Mary thought she saw, she was wrong.

"I know they seem a little odd," she whispered to him. "I don't expect you to understand any of this, at least not yet. I am still trying to figure it out myself. Please, despite all of that, I am begging you to trust me for now."

The crease deepened.

"Please, Liam."

He leaned forward and kissed her on the head. He lingered and she realized it was so that he could whisper without the others knowing he was saying anything to her.

"I will," he said, "But there is no way I am letting you out of my sight with that behemoth around."

He pulled back just as they heard a quiet, "Excuse me."

Someone had arrived behind the group that was still lodged in the doorway. The two behind Marcus moved to allow him entrance.

Dr. Watanabe squeezed around Marcus. When his eyes fell upon Mary in his efforts, he smiled and said hello. She nodded with a quick smirk in reply. He then looked deliberately at the bed and smiled once more when he saw Emily.

"Given the events of today," he said, now ignoring the others, "I've managed to get you in for an MRI right away."

Two nurses pushed into the room with a stretcher, forcing the others to move in the process.

"Sorry to cut your visiting short," the doctor added, "But we're going to be taking you down there right now."

The nurses helped her onto the stretcher and began to wheel her out of the room.

"How long will it take?" Liam asked.

Dr. Watanabe considered. "By the time we get her down there, do the scan, and get her back, probably an hour or more. You're all welcome to wait here if you like."

Liam nodded. "I'll be here," he said.

Emily saw Marcus' nostrils flair.

Dr. Watanabe accompanied her down to the MRI.

"How are you feeling now?" he asked as they made their way through the fluorescent-lit corridors.

"Like nothing happened," she said. "I don't even remember it. Any of it."

He nodded. "That's why we're going to take a look," he said. "I'm sure we can figure this out."

She said nothing.

As they waited at the elevator, he looked down at her. He seemed to be in a good mood. "I see you've met Mary," he said. "You went to the synestete group then?"

She nodded.

"Do you find their company helpful?" he asked.

His question made her mind go over the last day. It had been absolutely crazy.

"I don't know," she said.

He shrugged.

The elevator doors opened and the nurses wheeled her inside. Getting to MRI took only a few minutes. She thought she would be taken right inside but she had to spend several minutes filling out a form involving questions about piercings, tattoos, and previous surgeries.

The steady stream of patients requiring scans meant that even when she was taken beyond the check-in desk, she had to wait much longer. Dr. Watanabe scurried off almost immediately. She had no idea where he had gone. The nurses had also left to retrieve another patient.

She could not see any clocks from where she was but she was sure she must have been waiting nearly an hour. There was no music to entertain her. She simply stared at the ceiling tiles.

Finally, a young lab assistant with shoulder-length black hair approached and began to wheel her into the room, all the while asking the same questions about piercings and tattoos that Emily had already answered on the questionnaire.

"Can you get off the gurney or do you have trouble walking?" the girl asked.

Emily said she could get up so the girl stopped just outside the room and lowered the side. She then led her to the MRI and helped her lie down on the bench.

"Normally we would offer you music to listen to," the girl said. "But Dr. Watanabe has requested we do something a little different this time given the nature of your condition."

Emily raised an eyebrow.

The girl explained, "We will be doing the scan three times: once without music, once with classical music, and once with rock music. Is that alright with you?"

Emily nodded.

The girl put the large headphones over Emily's ears. She then secured the head restraint and finally placed a call button in Emily's hand.

"Use this if at any point you have a problem," the girl called so that her voice carried through the thick headphones.

She left the room and within moments, the bench that held Emily moved into the machine.

Over the headphones, Emily heard the girl say, "We're going to start, please keep as still as you can."

Emily had not been prepared for the blast of noise that started with the machine. Even if she had not already been prone to headaches, she would have gotten one. There was no quality to the sound that she could even pretend to appreciate. She endured the repetitive blasts and thumps.

They stopped suddenly and over the headphones, the girl's voice came again. "Please stop moving," she said. "You have to be still to produce a clear image."

Emily's eyes moved rapidly around. She was trying to think of how she had moved. She had not even indulged a cringe at the noise.

The blasting started again and continued in the same fashion as it had the first time. Just as before, it stopped and was followed by the girl telling her to stay still.

"I am!" Emily yelled angrily.

There was silence for several minutes.

Finally, the girl said over the headphones, "We are going to try one more time."

The machine started up again but the noise was not nearly as irritating. Emily was too angry that the technicians thought she was the reason they could not get a good image.

As she grumbled in her mind, movement caught her eye. She dared not move her head to see what it was but it had been down near her stomach, so she did her best with just her eyes to look down.

The black ribbon was pushing its way up her stomach and towards her head. Its movements seemed sluggish. It was no longer like the searching dog but like an aged and dying coyote. Despite its struggle, it would not stop.

It neared her heart. The end lifted up a few inches and waivered. Then it plunged itself into her chest.

Her eyes were blinded. She opened and closed them rapidly, trying to see something. She was no longer in the MRI. It was the same dream as she had had before. She tried to look down at her chest again, this time ignoring the order to immobilise her head. Something prevented it from moving more than a centimetre but she could see the black ribbon and she could see the red ribbon.

The black ribbon refused to let go even as its edges began to smolder like before. It pressed harder into her chest. Its edges were burning away. The red ribbon appeared unscathed.

Emily wanted to help it. She wanted to do something but she had no idea what to do. Then she thought of Mary. She thought of what she had witnessed her do in the coffee shop.

She reached down and grabbed the black ribbon. She wanted to soothe it. She wanted to fix it. It looked so weary. Its movements were slow but it continued to try. It was going to sacrifice itself.

"Please," she begged. "Not for me."

The black ribbon had lost too much strength. It tried to hang on. It had twitched with one last effort to push towards her again. It was too much. It went limp and slid off her body.

As the mist around her began to swallow it, she heard a voice. It was weak and faint. "I will never give you to it," it said.

The black ribbon was gone.

The mist disappeared. The blasting of the MRI brought her back to reality.

The noise stopped and the familiar voice came over the headphones. "We're really sorry about this," she said. "We think there might be something wrong with the machine."

The girl came back into the room and unfastened the head restraints. Dr. Watanabe followed.

"Of all the horrible luck," he said. "There's another machine on another floor but with one out of commission until it can be looked at, I'm not sure how long it will be before I can get you in. They will have to put all the emergencies first. It might even be another day."

"It's alright," Emily said. She knew Marcus had been right. It would not find anything and she knew it would never be able to help her understand the black ribbon.

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Brick 16

Chapter 6

As with all things in the Canadian healthcare system, Emily's failed adventure at MRI took much longer than expected. By the time she was taken back up to her room, visiting hours had ended and Liam and the others had long since been sent on their way.

She did not mind the opportunity for peace, though she very much wished she had access to some good music. Her mind churned over what had happened with the black and red ribbons, but no matter how much she went over what she had seen and heard, it made no more sense. She flopped onto her side and looked out the window. With no one to talk to, little to do, and her mind finally paralyzed by frustration, she fell asleep.

The next morning, she learned immediately that Liam was determined to make amends. When she opened her eyes, she saw him sitting in the chair next to her bed and holding her violin case with a large orange bow on it.

At first, she thought she was dreaming. Her sight was still slightly blurry from sleep. After rubbing them to clear away the fog, he was still there and still holding her case.

"I had to go by the violin shop to get a new string for my cello. He recognized me and said he had been trying to get hold of you all day yesterday to let you know it was ready," he explained. "When I told him what happened, he said I could bring it to you."

Her smile spread so wide, she thought she might pull a muscle. She pushed herself up into a sitting position and reached for the case.

"Thank you so much," she said as he handed it to her.

He added, "You owe me $600."

"He said it would be half that. Why so much?" she asked, not really concerned. She could afford it. She had nothing else to spend her money on and she was just thankful to have it back. The loaner had been a complete disaster.

"He said the crack was worse than he first thought," he replied. "He had to take the back off and reattach it on top of all the other repairs."

She groaned. No wonder it had taken so long for him to fix it. She did not like the idea of her poor instrument in pieces.

She unzipped the case. She was so happy to have it back that her fingers shook slightly as she pushed open the lid. The now pristine violin was waiting to be played. She could not refuse it. Immediately she tugged on the Velcro strap that secured it around the fingerboard. Simultaneously she removed the bow from the case.

Within moments, she was bouncing out the Dance of the Goblins. Ribbons of all colours skipped happily from her instrument. They were old friends enjoying their homecoming. When she finished the short piece, she set the violin back in its case but did not secure it. She caressed the fingerboard and the strings. Out of all the insanity, the music still made sense. The music did not try to pick a fight with Liam or Marcus. The music demanded nothing of her.

Liam laughed.

"What?" she said as she looked at him. He had leaned back in the chair and placed his hands over his stomach just like he had the night before.

"I know why you always shot me down," he said.

She raised a brow.

"I could never compete with your first love," he explained as he indicated the violin with a jut of his chin.

He leaned forward to stand. He was still smiling.

"Why does realizing that make you so happy?" she asked.

He laughed again. "Because it means he doesn't have any chance either," he answered.

"Really, Liam. Are you going to bring this..."

He cut her off. "Sorry," he said but he showed no remorse. He was still grinning like a fool. "I have a make-up rehearsal at 11:00 so I'm going to get out of here for now. You going to be alright alone?"

She rolled her eyes. "I might have to fight off some wolves but I can use my bow for that."

"Good to hear," he said before leaning over and kissing her on the forehead. "I'll try to be back later today," he added.

He closed the door to her room on his way out. He knew her better than anyone.

She lifted her violin once more and played Bach's Chaconne.

The ribbons jumped and stretched from the violin. They expanded and vibrated. They carried her heart with them as they danced. They were security and comfort. They were everything that she wanted.

The colours changed from bold blues and greens to lighter purples and yellows. A few reds emerged and began to intertwine and twist around each other like a helix. As the notes continued and other colours joined them, the helix began to follow the path of a spiral. It turned back towards her. The blues and greens blended. The purples and yellows popped one after the other and then faded. The red remained. It reached back to her and slid itself around her shoulders. It was warm. The other notes continued their dance but always faded. The helix remained. It snuggled into her neck and rested.

She continued to play. The purples and yellows returned in long broad ribbons. More faintly the blues and greens began a conversation with their return. The red helix remained draped over her shoulder. It was all the security she had ever wanted. It was all the love she had ever wanted.

This was who she was. This was the music of her soul; the only thing she could not live without.

As she began to reign in the notes, bringing the melody to its conclusion, the red helix warmed and held her more tightly. She welcomed it.

With the final notes, the ribbon moved one last time. It pushed just far enough to press its end into her heart.

As the last note faded away, she pressed the back of the violin against her chest and held it close. They had been apart far too long.

"What the hell was that?"

She looked up abruptly to see Marcus, Mary, and the two others from the previous night in the doorway. Marcus looked like he was grinding his teeth. The two she did not know looked frightened. Mary's mouth was slack. She was the one who had spoken.

"What do you mean?" Emily asked.

"Did you not see what just happened?" Mary shouted. "Did you not see how that ribbon formed? Liam was right. I was wrong. He was not the one who put that key on you."

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Brick 17

"So you are saying I am doing it to myself?" Emily asked, clutching her violin closer to her chest. She felt safe behind it. Its music had gotten her through life and now it felt like her shield.

"That's exactly how it looks," Mary replied. "You played and it formed."

Emily scoffed. "I doubt this is the same thing as the key. You must be mistaken. I knew nothing of keys or key breakers until I met you. How would I have done any of it?"

Mary glared but before she could reply, Marcus interrupted.

"That is a very good question," he said. He walked up to her until he was standing right next to her bed. His eyes did not waver from hers. "We have been in new territory ever since we met you," he continued. "I never would have thought it possible for a key breaker to be able to be a key maker. I also never would have thought it possible for a key breaker to stay hidden from me."

Emily looked back at Mary who had crossed her arms tightly in front of her chest and was still glaring. The two unnamed companions were looking at each other with furrowed brows. She looked back at Marcus. He had none of the malice in his eyes that Mary's held.

"I think Mary's dislike of me has grown if that is possible," Emily said to him. "And you?"

Marcus' expression did not change. "Mary is unsure if we can trust you," he said. "I trust your intentions. I cannot trust your abilities until I know more." He turned back to the others. "Philip, Valerie, I need you to check out the source of that black ribbon," he ordered. "I had hoped to take Emily but it may not be wise. See if you can break the key on it. If not, find out as much as you can." He turned to Mary and said, "For the time being, you can go back to your clinic. I'll come by when I know more."

"You actually want me to leave you alone with her?" she asked. "Seriously?"

Marcus was unmoved. "The elders have not allowed you an audience with them yet," he explained.

Mary pointed at Emily. "And they have with her?" she demanded.

"I trust them completely," he said.

Emily found their exchange very curious. She found the entire situation insane. Perhaps Liam had been right about them. She found the distrust of her first meetings with them had returned and was growing. The safety and comfort she had felt with Marcus was faint.

"Perhaps you have all forgotten," she said, "I am in the hospital and under the care of competent doctors who are still trying to figure out what is wrong with me. If you think I am going to leave now, you are out of your minds."

Marcus turned back to her. The intensity of his gaze was uncomfortable. She shifted a few millimeters in her bed.

"If you think I am letting you out of my sight after what I just witnessed, then you are out of your mind," he said.

She tried her best to look back at him defiantly. She pulled herself up as tall as she could. She tried to set her jaw. She made every effort to cement herself to her physical and mental position. Despite this, she felt less confident than she had a moment ago. The situation of the last few days kept shifting beneath her feet. Getting a secure position, even in her own mind, was proving increasingly difficult with all the new developments.

Marcus gently pulled her hand away from her violin and pressed it against the bed. He set his hand over hers. She wanted to pull away but somehow felt too weak to engage the muscles necessary.

The same warmth she had felt from him before began to climb her arm, but she was aware of this game. The purring mass over her shoulder stirred. The purr changed. It felt like a growl and with it her headache emerged once more. Marcus would not be deterred. His efforts continued and the growling became stronger. Marcus pressed even more. The mass expanded and lunged at his green ribbon. The pain in her head spread out with a burst like a firework.

She saw Marcus flinch and his fingers gripped hers tightly but he refused to let go.

"Marcus, stop!" Mary yelled. "You can't defeat it like this."

Marcus ignored her. He kept his eyes upon Emily's. His muscles were tense. He looked to be enduring horrible pain but would not give in to it. He would not give up.

Emily looked down at her tingling forearm. The green ribbon was trying to push against its attacker but it was still being driven back. Marcus held her fingers even more tightly. It was the black ribbon all over again. She had seen what had happened when it refused to give up. There was no winning against the red.

She looked back up at Marcus. Her head was pounding.

"Please," she whispered. "Not for me. Please."

And just as with the black ribbon, she heard the same response, this time spoken from the man before her. "I will never give you to it," he said.

She stared at him for several moments but in those moments, he was deteriorating. The ribbon had been pushed back to her wrist. His brow was covered in sweat and he had slumped as though he were about to collapse. His eyes remained focused upon hers.

She set her violin and bow in her lap and placed her newly freed hand on top of his. "For now," she said. "You must."

He hesitated. Finally, he let go and withdrew his hand. He stumbled backwards and collapsed into the chair Liam had left empty. He was breathing heavily.

She did not know what was going on. She did not know what this red helix really was. She did not know how it was formed, whether by her or some other means. She understood very little about the situation but there was one recurring theme she had noticed. Others seemed to be trying to save her from it and their own lives appeared at risk in the process. She could not withstand that kind of sacrifice.

"Marcus," she whispered. "Please go. Just forget you ever met me and go."

He was beginning to get a handle on his breathing. After a particularly large intake and exhale, he said, "Sorry, Emily, that's not going to happen. You're stuck with me."

He leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Look what you've done!" Mary yelled. "You've attacked Marcus now. What are you going to do next?"

"Calm down," Marcus said without opening his eyes. "I'll be fine in a few minutes."

"Why would you do anything that stupid?" she asked as she stormed up to him. "What were you thinking?"

"I would do it again," he said, "And I fully intend to when I recover."

Mary was exasperated. "Idiot," she said.

She turned to Philip and Valerie who were staring at Marcus. "Didn't he tell you two to look into that black ribbon? Get going!" she barked.

They looked at each other and scurried out of the room.

She turned back to Marcus. "Maybe they will find something more than idiotic brute force to get rid of this thing. I will be staying with you until you come back to your senses," she said.

"Then you can get him out of here and make sure he never comes back," Emily added.

Mary glared at her again. It seemed that was all the effort she felt Emily deserved.

"I am not an invalid," Marcus said. "I will be fine in a few moments and I am not leaving until Emily agrees to come with me. I will fight that key over and over again until she agrees."

Emily looked around the room. She was not sure why. The medical equipment and doors held no answers for her and yet she was trying to find anything that might convince him not to do that again.

She had no other ideas. "I will go with you," she said, "After the doctors here have agreed to discharge me."

Mary scoffed. "These doctors know nothing about keys. They study the physical world. This is beyond their capabilities to understand."

"And your world is beyond mine," she said.

"Will you let me stay until the doctors release you?" Marcus asked.

"Not if Mary insists on staying with you," she replied.

Just as Mary was about to protest, he said, "Agreed. Mary, get out of here."

Mary did not agree. "What the hell, Marcus. Do you want to die?"

"Go," he ordered. "You aren't my nursemaid."

"Perhaps you need one," she shot back angrily though she did turn and walk towards the door.

"I'll call you later," he called as if they had been having a friendly chat.

"Bite me," she called back before disappearing into the hallway.

Emily and Marcus said nothing to each other for a very long time. It might have been hours.

He still had his eyes closed. At one point, she even wondered if he had fallen asleep. One thing she was sure of was that he had been hurt far more than he had admitted. She felt it best to let him have the rest he needed so she remained quiet.

Her mind was racing and she found that she was not bored during the silence. Her fingers gently caressed the body of her violin as she thought over all of it. The helix had returned to its perch and purring contentedly. Her headache had also subsided.

When the helix was happy, she felt warmth and love from it but she could not ignore what it had tried to do to others who felt they were helping her. Everyone in the situation seemed to be trying to protect her, even the helix. Protect her from what?

Late in the afternoon, Dr. Watanabe came to visit her.

Marcus did not stir and his breathing was rhythmic.

Dr. Watanabe was at a loss. The MRI machine had been thoroughly checked over. Several people had since gone in for scans and nothing was wrong with it. They planned to take her to the other machine anyway just in case.

That evening, Marcus was still asleep in the chair as she was wheeled to the other MRI. She filled out the same questionnaire as before but this time, Dr. Watanabe stayed with her. He stressed several times that she needed to put down if she had ever had surgery or any kind of metal implant at any point in her life. Once again, she affirmed that she had not.

Her wait did not seem nearly as long as it had the first time. Within a few minutes she was taken right in.

The same procedures were followed. If she had any more of these tests, she would be able to get herself ready without the technicians help at all.

It was only another minute before the bench was moving her into the machine. She braced herself for the same episode as happened before. She expected to be yelled at by the technician and even to witness another altercation between the black ribbon and the red helix.

None of that happened. The repetitive shouts of the machine did their work. The bench moved and the repetitive shouts of the machine started again. Half an hour later, the technicians were back and returning her to her gurney.

Dr. Watanabe walked up. He had a crease between his eyebrows similar to Liam's.

"I'm not sure what was going on before," he said. "We got clear scans this time and upon initial inspection, there is nothing concerning. The specialist is going to take a closer look but we should know for sure in a few hours. Unless something else happens or the specialist finds something I missed, I can't justify keeping you in the hospital. I've been pressured to discharge you as it is due to the shortage of beds."

"If you think that's safe," she said. She was only partly listening to him after he said the scans looked clean. Was it the altercation between the ribbons that had interfered before? Why would they show up then and not at all now?

"I have no idea," he replied. "Regardless, I want you to come by for a check-up next week. If you have any other strange symptoms, I want to know about them."

She agreed.

By the time she was returned to her room, Marcus was awake and Liam had returned.

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Brick 18

Chapter 7

When Emily told Liam and Marcus what had happened during her MRI, they predictably had very different reactions.

Liam was happy there was nothing wrong with her. He trusted the test fully and even that Dr. Watanabe would be releasing her. When she pointed out this still meant the headaches and her collapse remained unexplained, he brushed it aside.

"Probably the result of your starvation," he reasoned. "More evidence that you need to come to my place for dinner more often," he added.

Marcus said nothing to her news or to Liam's reaction. He was still in the seat where he had been sleeping when she left. He was watching her but otherwise giving no indication of his thoughts on the matter.

More strangely, this was the first time he and Liam were within eyesight of each other and not preparing to fight. As she waited for news from Dr. Watanabe, the atmosphere in the room was downright amicable. Marcus and Liam even began to commiserate over the city's latest planning failure that had resulted in almost every major road into the downtown being obstructed at the same time.

Their change in heart made her wonder if she had passed out again. Perhaps she was only dreaming of impossible realities.

Dr. Watanabe arrived with his news two hours later. The specialist agreed that there was nothing concerning on her scan. She would be able to go home immediately.

Fifteen minutes later, she was dressed and clutching the handle of her violin case. Liam and Marcus were standing by the door. Both offered her a ride. The result was the oddest display she had seen.

"Sorry, Marcus," Liam said with absolutely no animosity. "I'm her friend and I would feel horrible if I didn't help her."

Marcus showed none of the same desire for confrontation as was typical. His shoulders remained relaxed and there was absolutely no glaring involved. "Thanks for the offer, Liam," he said, "But we have plans. There are some people I wanted Emily to meet."

When Liam's reply was an equally cordial protest, Emily had had enough. This was worse than their open hostilities.

"What is the matter with you two? Have you both lost your minds?" she nearly yelled.

Far from looking surprised from her outburst, both men averted their eyes. A beeping followed by a commotion in the hallway filled their silence. The nurses ran by the room without paying it any heed. The beeping stopped. The men's silence remained.

"We are just trying to get along," Liam said finally.

"Why?" she asked with so much force her diaphragm gave her a twinge of pain.

"Just for your sake," Marcus said. "You have enough to worry about." He still would not look at her.

"You are both liars," she said. "You're lucky I don't slap you both and walk home."

They said nothing.

"What do you two even think you are going to accomplish?" she asked. "I'm not even involved with either of you. I have certainly made my feelings clear to you, Liam. And how could I feel much of anything for you, Marcus? We just met. Why are you two acting like you want to fight over who can drag me back to his cave?"

Marcus straightened and finally looked at her. "It isn't that," he said.

She did not know whether to feel relieved or offended. "Then what it is?" she asked.

Marcus looked at Liam who was still trying to pretend he was somehow not involved. He had taken out his phone and was pretending to check his calls.

"Come with me to the elders," Marcus said. "I can't speak for Liam but you will know my answer if you see them."

"Yeah," Liam scoffed. "Don't want to be late for the cult meeting," he said. Obviously, their views of each other had not changed.

Marcus refused to be riled. He kept his eyes on her.

Perhaps answers really could be found with these "elders." Doctors had failed to find the cause and the closest things to explanations she had were those from Mary and Marcus.

She thought of the black ribbon, of the altercation with the red in the MRI machine, of how Marcus might have killed himself trying to break it from her. As she thought of it, she could feel its presence still snuggled over her shoulder and purring. It had never attacked her. The black ribbon had. It had never lied to her or scared her. Marcus and Liam had.

She thought of the altercations again. It had attacked others. Why? Through all of it, she had only gotten more and more confused.

She looked at Liam. He had stuffed his phone into his pocket and was daring to look at her again. He had given her no answers either. He had been a pain and a jerk. He thought the entire thing was crazy and wanted to trust the doctors. She was brought back to their failure in her case. No answers were that way, only Liam's self-righteousness.

"Liam," she said, "You are such an ass."

When his brow knit and he opened his mouth to protest, she added, "But I love you anyway - as a friend. I have to do this now but I will call you tomorrow."

He inhaled to attempt another outburst but she interrupted him again. "Tomorrow," she said again. "I will call you tomorrow."

He turned to Marcus but Marcus too seemed to understand his intent and spoke first. "Yes, I know. You'll track me down and kill me or some such if she doesn't," he said.

Liam finally closed his mouth but was now looking at them both with his knitted brow and narrowed eyes. "I guess you've got it all figured out," he said. "I'll talk to you tomorrow, Emily."

She nodded and watched as he left. There were still the distant sounds of the nurses talking to each other and moving things around as they worked.

"Where are these elders?" she asked.

The edges of Marcus' mouth curved upward. "It's a short hike," he said. "Nothing too bad."

Several minutes later, they were on the road and driving South. The sun had set but the edge of its faint aura still lit the sky in the North, causing even the darkened sky ahead of them to appear absent of stars.

It was hot. Emily opened her window to get the air moving within the car but was forced to close it again when Marcus turned onto the Whitemud Freeway. They were on it for only a minute before he turned off again and headed into the thick of suburbia.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Terwillegar off-leash park," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. She was meeting strange people. In the forested river valley. At night. If Liam had known, he would never have relented.

Perhaps Marcus had made the connection too, for he said, "I promise I won't attack you."

"Comforting," she replied.

They turned onto a dark road that curved through the trees as it descended into the valley. At the bottom, it opened into a small parking lot at the edge of a large floodplain. In the dark, it was hard to tell where the field ended and the trees began.

Marcus parked the car and got out. She followed.

The air smelled of warm grass and warm bark. There were no sounds. She could not even hear the river.

"Follow me," Marcus called as he began to walk northeast from the car.

"Do I have a choice?" she asked even as she did as instructed.

"Sure," he called over his shoulder. "I'm not making you do anything."

They both knew she was not going to turn back.

He led her onto a well-used path that went through the trees. Along the path at regular intervals were garbage bins and baggy dispensers for the dog owners to use. Though they were in the middle of the woods, these signposts of urbanity were comforting in the dark.

After several more minutes, Marcus began to slow, allowing her to catch up.

"Not much farther," he said as they arrived at a fork in the path.

He took the left which passed below two trees that had grown arched into each other. He kept walking even as the defined path faded away and they were forced to hobble over ruts and roots and duck under branches.

He stopped abruptly and held his arm out to block her.

"Listen," he said.

In the distance, Emily thought she could see firelight. She heard whooping and laughter.

"What is it?" she asked.

"A stupid bush party," he explained. "It happens all the time."

"What do we do?"

He looked down at her and smiled. "This," he said. He then bellowed so loud she had to cover her ears, "Cops! The cops are coming!"

The laughter ceased and Emily could hear shouts and shrieks followed by the commotion of dozens of teenagers scrambling up the slope through the brush as they tried to escape capture.

Marcus started walking again. She followed close behind.

He was headed towards the firelight.

"The entrance has been here for over a hundred years," he said as he walked. "It went largely unnoticed until the suburbs made it this far south. That's when the first teenagers discovered it. Not knowing what it really is, they use it as place for their parties. They're always littering the place."

They walked into a small clearing on the slope. The fire she had seen from afar was in the remains of an old fur trader's cottage hearth. The cottage was gone. The only other evidence that it had ever been there was a deep hole in the ground where its root cellar would have been. A half-rotting plank lay over the opening. The bottom of the pit was covered with empty beer cans.

"We're here," he announced. "I just have to put out the damn fire."

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Brick 19

Marcus walked to the edge of the trees and scooped piles of earth into his hands. He walked to the side of the hearth, getting as close as possible to the fire without falling into the large hole in the ground.

He tossed the earth onto the fire. Though it diminished, it had not been extinguished. He was forced to repeat the procedure several more times before the flames were finally buried.

"We'll have to wait a few minutes until the stones cool," he said. "I've burned my hands too many times being impatient."

He brushed his hands off and sat down next to the pit, letting his legs dangle over the edge. Emily walked over to him and copied this action.

"Who are we meeting?" she asked.

"Those who brought the Key Breakers together," he said. "They know more than anyone about keys."

He looked down at his hands and slapped them against the thighs of his jeans, trying to clean off the remnants of dirt.

"Do you think I did all this to myself?" she asked.

He looked ahead into the dark forest. "I would never have brought you here if I did," he said.

She was starting to feel the same comfort and warmth she had felt from him many times. Her body even began to tingle. She looked down at his hands, expecting to see his green ribbon reaching out to her. It was not there.

The red mass over her shoulder was purring.

"Are you alright?" she asked, her hands now in her lap.

Her fingers twisted around each other. She felt stupid. She forced her palms against the earth on either side of her and looked up through the canopy at the faint stars.

"I'll be fine," he said.

She was not convinced. "That's not what I asked. You spent nearly the whole day passed out in my hospital room."

He shrugged. "The situation didn't go as I had expected," he said. "The elders will know what to do about it."

"Where's your ribbon?" she asked.

For the first time since they sat down, he looked at her. She could not read his face in the darkness. She was not even sure she would have been able to in the light.

She could hear the cracking of twigs in the distance. She was rarely in the forest. She told herself it was some small animal. Marcus did not seem distracted by it and he knew the territory.

"It's where it needs to be," he said finally. Then he put his hands on the ground, swung his legs around and stood up. "The stones might be cool enough now," he said.

He walked back to the hearth and knelt down at the edge of the pit. He reached through the opening of the fireplace and up into the chimney. Emily was not sure exactly what he was doing. It looked like he was groping for something.

A moment later, he gave a small grunt which was followed by a very loud click from further up the slope.

He pushed himself to his feet.

"Follow me," he said before turning to walk up the slope.

He walked several metres straight towards a nearly vertical incline. When he was right in front of it, he stopped and waited for her to catch up. When she was standing right next to him, he gestured at the wall of earth.

"After you," he said.

She looked again at the wall and realized what there was an opening. It had been so dark, she had not even noticed.

"I can't see where I'm going," she said.

"Just walk a few steps and stop," he said. "I have to close the door."

She did as instructed. There was not even faint light to show her a floor, walls, or ceiling. The lights of the city that had been faint through the trees were invisible within the hole. Her legs felt weak as she was not sure what she was stepping into. She stopped and turned.

They were in complete darkness but she could hear Marcus' footsteps on the soil covering of dead leaves and pine cones. Then she heared the ruffling of his clothing followed by another loud click.

The next second, she was blinded and let out an involuntary, "Gah!"

"Sorry," he said as he lowered his phone. "We have to use this for light for now. When we get into the ante-chamber, there will be light. We can't risk the teenagers seeing the light around the outer door so this hall is always dark."

"Where are we?" she asked.

"In an old coal mine," he said. "There are hundreds in the river valley. Their locations are kept quiet to prevent kids from getting lost or hurt in them. Most are collapsing and really dangerous."

She began to look around but stopped when she realized the light of Marcus' phone was only illuminating a few feet ahead of them. There was wet earth and stone all around them where she could see but the state of the structure of the tunnel was impossible to discern.

"Don't worry," he added. "This is the only one in the whole city safe enough to traverse, at least for us."

He reached out and took her hand in his. Squeezing by her in the narrow shaft, he led her along using his phone for light.

"I help the Elders keep this place together," he said. "Though they've been here longer than I have."

The path curved around a corner. Marcus kept a firm grip on her hand. Serial killer horror movies were popping into her head. Liam would be having a heart attack. The path curved again and ended abruptly at a wall.

Marcus let go of her so that he could place his hand upon it. His green ribbon appeared. It looked smaller and fainter than she remembered. She thought back to earlier that day. Was it just the darkness or what had happened that made it look different? It curled down his arm. Was it sluggish?

At his wrist, it reached out slowly to touch the wall right next to his hand. For a moment, it was brighter but that moment was short. It faded again and retreated up his arm. As it did so, the wall swung open like a door.

Over Marcus' shoulder, she could see that there was a dimly lit room just beyond the opening. The strong smell of myrrh wafted out and assaulted her nose.

He took her hand in his once more and led her inside.

Her eyes were having trouble adjusting. The light was very dim and flickering but bright enough that she could make out the shape of the room. The chamber was several meters across and twice as wide. She was surprised to see that it had a rounded ceiling nearly one and a half storeys high. The floor was still covered in soft, dark earth but the walls and ceiling were orange clay and bedrock. The random bulges and curves of the walls made the room look like a naturally formed pocket within the earth.

Hanging from the ceiling was a large shallow bowl. The material it was made from was solid. It almost looked like earth but it had splotches of green intermixed with the dirt. It did not shine but she thought it might have been metal. From the bright light reflecting off the top of the ceiling and from the crackling sound coming from the bowl, she was sure there was fire in it.

Against the walls to her left and right were two more bowls, but placed upon long poles that had been stuck into the ground. There was no light coming from them but she could see smoke.

Marcus stuffed his phone back into his pocket.

"They're just through here," he said.

He walked to the other side of the room and followed the same procedure he had done with the previous door. Just as before, a section of the wall swung open, letting through bright light. Emily's eyes were beginning to hurt with all of the changes in brightness.

He gestured for her to follow. As they entered the new chamber, she heard a shrill voice.

"I don't think so Louis," the woman said. "I gave you two twenty years ago and I have yet to get that favour returned. You even had the gall to break two more just last year. You owe me!"

The new room they were in was easily four times as large as the ante-chamber. There were several of the large bowls suspended from the ceiling in this room and several more on poles. Some on the poles contained fire; others simply gave off the smoke of more myrrh.

There were three people in the room. They were standing at two of the many tables.

The tables were not organized in an identifiable arrangement except for being clear of a central aisle that went the length of the room. Each table had something different resting on top of it.

One immediately in front of Emily had several large glass bottles. Each was of a different shape and colour and each had a cork stopper in the top. There were several flasks and spatulas strewn amongst the bottles and a large book open before them.

A white-haired man was hunched over a table a few down. He was wearing a bright yellow robe that went to his calves, grey tweed pants, and brown loafers. His back was turned to them so she could see nothing more about him. Next to where he was working on the table sat a model of the planets. The small colourful balls were stuck upon metal arms that rotated around the largest ball representing the sun. As he worked, his elbow kept knocking Neptune.

In the back of the room, a dark-haired man and a light-haired, round woman were arguing over small figures on the table between them. Both of them would have been only slightly taller than Emily and neither of them looked any older than she was. The man was wearing long black pants, a white shirt and a purple tie. His hair was short but curly. One of his curls kept trying to fall across his forehead. He would run his fingers through his hair to push it back into place. There was a large crook in his nose but from her distance, Emily could make out little more. He rubbed his chin as he looked down at the figures on the table. They looked like chess pieces but there was no board.

Emily's inspection of the pieces was interrupted by the shrill voice. She looked up to see the woman storming down the central aisle towards them.

The woman had flawless skin and green eyes. Her blond hair was pulled up in random stands and pinned to the top of her head. She was wearing a long skirt with a white under layer that went to the floor and a champagne layer on top that went to where her knees might have been. More of the champagne fabric was wrapped tightly around her body. Two more chunks of this fabric were connected to the top of her bodice and draped over her shoulders. A gold cord was tied around her waist.

The softness of her round jaw contrasted sharply with the fire in her eyes as she approached. She was glaring straight at Emily.

"What the Hell do you think you are doing here?" she demanded.

Emily was unsure how to respond. As she tried to think of an answer, the woman turned to Marcus. Emily did too. In the well lit room, she saw that he had a red burn down the length of the same arm he had used to reach into the hearth.

"Have you lost your mind," the woman yelled. "You can't bring someone like her here."

"I had to," he said. "We need your help."

The woman stopped just a meter in front of them. She looked Emily from toe to head.

"Her kind does not need our help," she said with a sneer. "We learned that long ago."

From over the woman's shoulder, Emily heard a man speak.

"Whose kind?" he asked with none of the same anger in his voice as the woman.

Emily shifted to look around the woman. It was the dark haired man and he was now walking up to join them.

"I'm sure if Marcus brought her here, there is a good reason," he said as he walked.

When he had emerged at the woman's side, he looked at Emily.

"Then again," he said, "Maybe not."

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Brick 20

Emily was very quickly wishing she had not agreed to come.

Marcus jumped to her aid. "We don't need you freaking out. We need your help," he said as he stared unwaveringly at the woman.

Her cheeks flushed and she looked like she would have murdered him with her eyes alone if she could. "How dare you speak to me that way," she said.

Louis placed a hand on her arm. "Calm down, Isabella," he said. "We cannot undo what has already been done." He turned to Marcus. "You should have asked us about this first, Marcus. This is a very displeasing way for you to handle this."

"I had no choice," Marcus replied. He held out his right hand. "See for yourself," he added.

Louis grasped Marcus' hand as if he was simply going to shake it but he did not move it and did not let go. After several heartbeats, he finally released it.

"I see why you would be concerned," Louis said, "But jeopardizing the elders to save yourself is inexcusable."

Emily was confused. Had he been hurt even more than she had guessed? "What are they talking about?" she asked. "What's wrong with you? Is it the red ribbon?"

He did not speak but nodded firmly.

It was Louis who answered. "I very much dislike dealing with your kind," he began. "You annoy me to no end, but you tend to be more annoying when confused like this. That little key on you has spread a parasite of sorts to our friend here. He cannot heal so long as it is in him and there is no way to remove it. It will kill him."

Emily's heart skipped and thunked in her chest. She gripped Marcus' hand tightly. He was going to die because of her?

She wanted to ask so many questions at once. She wanted to know why it could not be removed, why it existed at all in the first place. She wanted to know what the hell all of this was. She wanted it all to be normal and make sense. She stammered gibberish for a moment then forced herself to take a breath.

"How can I stop this thing?" she asked.

Isabella scoffed. "You need to remove it first but Marcus will be lost to us no matter what," she said.

"That is why I brought her here," Marcus said. "This happened to me because I tried to remove it."

Isabella was unmoved. She looked down her nose at him. "And your stupidity is our fault?" she asked. "It is the Key Breakers responsibility to break keys, not yours."

Marcus would not back down. "And none of them had any ideas either!" he yelled. "I am not going to leave Emily to the mercy of this thing. She's a Key Breaker and you don't even care!"

Despite his yelling, the old man hunched over his table did not even twitch. Isabella still looked furious. Louis had simply raised an eyebrow. The silence that followed Marcus' outburst was punctuated by the sounds of the fires in the suspended bowls flicking and cracking.

When Isabella replied to Marcus, her voice was more steadily controlled than before. She said, "She may be many things, Marcus, but she is not a Key Breaker and that key on her is not one we will ever risk ourselves to remove."

"What am I then?" Emily asked, stepping forward. She was sick of being spoken about as if she were not there. She was sick of Isabella's superior nature. She was sick of not knowing and being treated like a thing and not a person. Despite her inner turmoil, she too kept her voice controlled and she did not shy away from looking directly into Isabella's eyes.

"You are not welcome here," Isabella replied. "Now leave."

It was Emily's turn to stand her ground. "No," she said. "Someone might die because of me. I am not leaving until you tell me what I want to know." She was determined to get what she wanted.

Isabella turned and began to walk back to the table with the figurines on it. "Then you can sit in the corner and wait for your death. It will come sooner," she said.

Louis rested his hand on Marcus' shoulder. "I am sorry, my friend," he said. "But we cannot yield in this matter. It was decided long ago."

He too turned to walk back to the table.

Emily and Marcus looked at each other.

Marcus gestured with his head to the door. "Let's go," he said. "There is no point in staying."

They worked their way silently back through the tunnels to the outside. It was still the middle of the night when they emerged. The teenagers had not returned. The forest was quiet except for the periodic rustling of leaves in a faint breeze.

When Marcus had sealed the door in the earth, he stood straight and stared at it for a moment. Emily was unsure what he was doing. She kept waiting for a sign that he would move.

Just when she thought she might say something, he gave a guttural yell and punched the door with his hand.

"I am so sick of those bastards!" he yelled. "For years I have done everything they have asked of me. I have never questioned. I have been exactly what they wanted me to be. After all of it, they cannot offer even the slightest help? Nothing? Just a scolding and then sent on my way?"

He kicked the door several times, nearly falling down the slope in the process. "After all of it they are just going to give up? They are going to let us die?"

He punched the door again but did not renew his ranting. He was breathing heavily.

She had no idea what to say. She knew nothing of their history. She knew nothing of the depth of his anger. She only knew that he was likely right about it all given what she had just witnessed.

"Marcus..." she said. "I'm so sorry." She was sorry for what he was enduring. She was sorry for her part in it. Everything in her meant those words. With trembling fingers she tried to rub his shoulder. She wanted to show him that she was still there. He was not alone.

He rested his forehead against the door. "No," he said quietly. "I am sorry. I wanted to help and I have just made things worse."

She had no idea what to say. She looked around awkwardly at the darkness around them. There were more sounds of cracking twigs in the distance.

"Maybe we should go," she suggested. Being confront by some kind of animal did not seem a good way to end an already stressful evening.

He straightened and shook his face to sober himself. "Yeah," he said. "There is no point in hanging around here. Besides, I want to find out how it went with Philip and Valerie." He reached out and took her hand but did not begin walking immediately. "I still want to help you figure this out, whether or not anything can be done for me," he said. "If you want my help, you have it."

She nodded. "Thank you."

They began to walk back through the forest, trying their best not to trip over the roots and brush. Emily was not used to walking on anything other than flat floors and pavement and found it particularly difficult to avoid stumbling.

"Marcus!"

They both stopped.

"Did someone just call you?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Marcus!" the voice came again. Emily could not tell if it was male or female.

They stayed where they were. Marcus seemed unafraid of the voice. A loud crunching if leaves and twigs came from where they had been walking. It got louder.

"Please, Marcus," the voice called. "I must speak with you."

The sounds increased in volume. Marcus pulled out his phone and turned on the screen. He directed it through the trees.

The yellow clad old man was climbing through the brush towards them.

"Isabella and Louis won't like you talking to me," Marcus said. "You should just go back, Victor."

The old man shrugged and waved his hands dismissively. "Let me... worry about... them," he said, gasping between every two words. "They always... treat me like... I'm senile. I will just... act the part... if they ask."

When he finally made it to them and stopped, he wheezed as he tried to get back his breath.

Marcus did not press him.

When Victor seemed ready to speak, he looked directly at Emily. "Young lady," he said, "I cannot tell you everything you want to know. There are certain rules I am forbidden to break. The other problem is that we do not know all the answers you will need. Louis and Isabella would never admit that they do not know everything. However, I think I know where you can find them."

He took in a deep gulping breath and continued. "The Arlington Apartments," he said. "When you have figured that out, you will know." He looked at Marcus. "And maybe you will also learn how to save my boy here," he said, giving Marcus a pat on the arm.

"Thank you, Victor," Marcus said quietly, reaching up to squeeze the man's hand in return.

Victor nodded several times. "I better get back," he said, "Or they'll come looking for me again, thinking I've gotten lost in the tunnels on my way for a pee."

Marcus nodded back. "Thank you again, Victor. I hope to see you again."

The old man turned and hobbled back through the trees.

Marcus turned back to Emily. "Let's hope Philip and Valerie have figured something out," he said.

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Brick 21

Chapter 8

Marcus drove them to where the Arlington Apartments had once stood. He parked the car down the block intending to get out and look for Philip and Valerie. Emily refused to go with him.

The last time she had been near the place, the black ribbon had attacked her. Regardless of her experiences since, she worried it would happen again. She worried it would be even worse after what the red ribbon had done to it.

Though she said none of this to Marcus, he did not press her to join him. Perhaps he was still too upset that his efforts to help her were going to kill him. She would not even have blamed him if he hated her for it. Strangely, despite it all, he had defended her before the elders. That, she did not understand.

It was very late when Marcus shut his door and began to walk down the road. The bars they had passed to get there were packed and loud with university students on summer vacation. The music had lunged from the doorways in brightly coloured bursts. Soon, even those bars would start closing up.

She looked around at the dimly lit streets. She could see no one. They were too far from the main thoroughfare. She reached over to Marcus' door and hit the lock button. All the doors locked with a muffled thunk.

Looking down the road again, she could no longer see Marcus. She turned her head as she tried to find any sign of him.

There was no imminent threat. There was still no one in sight but the darkness and being alone was enough. Her heart began to pound.

The side of her neck tingled and became warm. She focused upon the red mass on her shoulder. It nuzzled her and purred.

Far from being comforted, she wanted to run away from it. She wanted the ability to push it out of her space. Either it did not know how she felt or was unconcerned. It continued to nuzzle and purr.

"Leave me alone," she yelled at it. Her cheeks flushed at the idea of what some random passer-by would think of her talking to herself.

The mass continued its attention.

"Please," she whispered. "I just want you to leave me alone. Stop hurting everyone."

The mass went still and silent. It did not leave.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she asked it. "What is so wrong with Marcus? Why did you have to do that to him?"

It was now ignoring her, giving her its own form of the silent treatment.

"I don't want anyone to get hurt," she pleaded.

The mass perked up and pushed at her. This was not the same affectionate nuzzling from before. It felt more like it was poking at her to her attention.

She looked at it but it continued to push at her. She looked around and saw Marcus was walking back to the car. She reached over and unlocked the doors.

The red mass poked at her faster and more forcefully. It was excited.

"Leave him alone," she said.

The mass was undeterred.

Marcus got in the car and locked his door. He put his fist in front of her and opened it. On his palm rested a violin bridge. "Any ideas?" he asked.

The mass was nearly hysterical in its movements. She feared it was going to explode and she had no idea what would happen if it did.

She reached out with her fingers and took small object from him. The red mass lunged down her arm and encased the bridge. It calmed immediately and did not move.

She did not understand what it was doing. She focused upon the bridge itself, hoping that would explain why the red mass seemed so enthralled with it.

It was unremarkable as far as she could tell. A maker's mark said "Tylluan, 1918." She had never heard of such a maker but the name seemed familiar.

"Where did you get this?" she asked.

Marcus was watching her. She could feel his eyes focused on her face.

"I found it in the rubble," he said. "How would such a delicate piece of wood survive a fire and a demolition?"

She shook her head. "I don't know."

He was still watching her. "And why did that red ribbon latch onto it just now?" he asked.

She had forgotten how much he could see too. She looked at the mass and then at him.

"I don't know."

He sighed. "Neither do I," he said as pushed his head firmly against the head rest. "Philip and Valerie have left already. I will have to track them down tomorrow."

He rubbed his eyes and then rested his forehead in his palm. His eyes were closed.

"Are you going to be alright?" she asked.

He nodded. "Just a little tired," he said.

She was not sure she believed him.

When she got home, she set her violin case down in the usual spot at the end of her bed and collapsed on top of the blankets, still clutching the violin bridge. She stared at it as it poked out from beneath her fingers. It remained encased in the red.

As her mind twisted around what it might mean but exhaustion finally caught up with her.

Late the next morning, she was awoken by her cell phone ringing in her pocket.

It was one of the parents wondering if her daughter's lesson would still be happening that day. Normal life had returned to claim her.

She assured the woman that she was feeling much better and would be able to teach. She also made a mental note to thank Liam for making sure her students were all contacted when she had her episode. She said good-bye and hung up.

She felt like she had been drinking again. She was even beginning to wonder if she had become an alcoholic and all the crazy events were an alcohol induced hallucination. She did not remember drinking but something had to explain how she felt.

She stumbled to the bathroom in search of pain killers. When she turned on the light, she jumped. She looked down at her body and back up at the mirror.

The red mass was now encasing her entire left side.

She looked down at her hand and remembered the bridge. She ran back to the bed and pushed folds and mounds of fabric aside trying to find where it had fallen. She ripped off the covers and shook them over the floor. When nothing fell, she ripped off the fitted sheet and did the same. She tossed the blankets on the bed and dropped to her knees to look under the bed.

She checked every inch of her apartment. She even looked in the freezer. The bridge was gone.

She stared at the bed in disbelief. The red was purring and calm.

A knock at the door made her jump.

When she looked through the peep hole, she saw Liam standing on the other side. He was wearing a black button up shirt and black dress pants; an outfit entirely inappropriate for the hot weather.

She opened the door.

"A bit early for you to be visiting me, isn't it?" she asked.

He snorted as he walked inside. "Not everyone sleeps until noon," he replied. "Besides, I'm playing in a quartet at some corporate function today, and I wanted to make sure you are still feeling alright."

"Yup," she said, forcing herself to sound more energetic than she felt. "Not sure what that was the other day but I'm fine now."

He raised an eyebrow but changed the subject. "I was also wondering if you would come to my place for dinner tonight," he said. "I want to hear all about your adventures with Marcus."

It was her turn to raise an eyebrow.

"Alright, fine," he said, "I miss you, ok? We haven't done anything social together in weeks." He put his hands up defensively and added, "And it has nothing with trying to get you to fall in love with me. Purely friends. I promise."

As she considered his request, she realized he was right. Their lives had been crazy. Maybe dinner with him would help her feel better, less insane.

"Bistro Praha at 9:30," she said. "You're buying me schnitzel."

He smiled broadly. "I'll pick you up at your studio," he said and turned back towards the door.

She opened it. When he walked through and said good-bye, she stopped him. "Liam," she said. "I've got question for you."

"Sure thing," he said slowly. "What is it?"

"Have you ever heard of a violin maker named Tylluan?" she asked.

He looked at her and said nothing for a moment. "Looking into a new instrument?" he asked, with the dimple between his eyebrows.

She shook her head. "Nothing like that," she said. "I've just never heard of him before. Have you?"

"Sorry," he said. "Can't help you with that one. If he didn't also make cellos, I wouldn't know of him."

She stared at the button in the middle of his shirt, trying to figure out why the name still felt familiar.

"Anything else I can help you with?" he asked.

Looking up at him, she realized she had kept him standing in the hall. "Sorry," she said. "I'll see you tonight."

"See you tonight."

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Brick 22

Emily spent the rest of her morning phoning parents to confirm lesson times. She stared at her rumpled bed the entire time.

As she forced herself to focus on her conversations, the red mass at her shoulder was singing in its usual purr. Now that she had a chance to focus on it, she noticed it was different than the previous night. It was larger and she even thought it looked more defined. She had thought of it like a small animal from near the beginning. Its behaviour resembled as much. Despite that impression, it had still been malformed. Now, she could make out a body, head, and legs, even if they were not clear enough for her to identify the animal.

There was no explaining any of it at that moment. The bridge was gone with no evidence she had ever had it. She knew Marcus had given it to her but she was sure the red had ingested it.

She wanted to call Marcus but exhaustion hung over her, making her feel too tired to make the effort. She could not turn her back on her livelihood to chase mysteries. If she called him, he would no doubt whisk her off on another search. She thought of his new condition after trying to help her. The last thing she wanted was to make it worse. Besides, she had promised Liam she would meet him for dinner and she couldn't bring herself to break that promise.

Once she hung up from talking to the last parent, she slung her violin case over her shoulder and walked to the bus stop.

The day was even hotter than she had expected. The air refused to move. It hung heavily around her body, feeling sticky against her face. She took off her cardigan and tied it around her waist. The sun roasted her as she waited at the stop.

The bus was taking too long. She and several others checked the time on their phones more than once.

Teenagers and university students walked by as she waited. Most were in pairs and groups, chatting benignly to each other. The revving of engines and squeaking of breaks randomly filled the air. Every now and then, a car would go by with open windows and faint rainbows of music would eke out.

There was a new sound: rapid foot falls on the pavement. As their succession increased speed, they sounded closer.

Just as Emily decided to turn to see what was going on, she felt a great wrench of her arm as her violin case was ripped from her shoulder. The man in his early twenties and wearing a ragged cap and a white tank top was nearly a quarter of a block away before she registered what he had done. Before she had time to react, the mass at her shoulder lunged. It ran like a cheetah after the man. Within seconds it had caught up and attacked.

He fell to the ground, his face hitting the pavement hard. Emily cringed as her violin case hit the pavement with equal force. The mass was still on top of him.

Emily ran towards him even as the heads of the crowd turned to see what was going on.

She bent down and pulled her case away from him. His hand fell limply from the strap and onto the pavement.

Emily froze. The red was sitting on his back, looking up at her. Its form was clearer than ever. It had the body of a cheetah, the head of a hyena, and the horns of a gazelle. It looked at her like a cat proud of a mouse it had caught.

"What did you do?" She whispered. She lacked the strength for anything more.

People began to gather. Some were asking what had happened.

The creature hopped of the man's body and rubbed its face against her leg. It l sat on the pavement next to her, keeping contact with her. Emily wanted to escape. She had no courage to bend down and check the man.

Within a moment, there was no need. A young man knelt down and rolled him onto his back. His eyes stared vacantly at the sky. There were several gasps from the crowd. Someone called 911. Someone else asked her what had happened. She did not know who. She was still looking at the body on the pavement in front of her.

Time passed strangely. It seemed to have stopped but the people around her were continuing to move. An ambulance arrived; a police car not long after.

Several people, including Emily, were again asked what had happened. She had managed to mumble about him trying to steal her violin. She said nothing about what she had really seen. No one seemed to have seen the animal that attacked him. They had simply seen him fall.

The police wrote down her information and said she could go. In a daze, she walked back to the bus stop. She did not remember it arriving or getting on it, but a moment later she was watching the shops pass by as it drove down the road.

She walked down the hall to her studio, the animal trotting at her side. She went inside and closed the door slowly. It barely even clicked as she shut it. Mechanically, she put her case on the piano and sat down on the bench.

The animal was sitting in the middle of the room, looking at her.

"What are you?" she asked.

It cocked its head to the side.

"Why did you do that? How did you do that?" Her voice was getting louder. She was trying to keep it quiet but her hysteria could not be completely contained.

It cocked its head to the other side.

If she could have, she would have run screaming at it. She was so confused and so frustrated, she felt she needed some form of release, but she also knew there was no point.

Defeated, she stood and turned back to her violin case, determined to see how much damage she would have to pay to repair this time.

She unzipped the case and flipped open the lid. She blinked. She blinked again. It was entirely intact but it did not look the same as the last time she had seen it. On the bridge was written "Tylluan 1918."

Chapter 9

It had been more difficult to get through her lessons that day. The events of the bus stop and her discovery of the bridge on her own violin had been difficult enough but with the discovery also came fear. The instrument she loved most dearly, the one that she had had for over ten years, the one that had given her so much joy, now scared her.

When her first student arrived, she had zipped her case shut and claimed there was still a problem with it. Not being able to demonstrate on an adult instrument proved an additional irritation for her day. Finally, she got through all the lessons, said good-bye to her final student for the day, and collapsed on the piano bench.

The animal had stayed sitting next to the piano the entire day. She looked over at it and it cocked its head to one side as it looked back at her.

"After what happened today, I should call you 'Killer'," she said. The animal did not move.

She shook her head. That didn't seem right, but she did feel like she needed a name for the creature. Whether she wanted it there or not, she seemed to be stuck with it. She thought of the bridge and how its presence had changed the creature.

"Shall I call you Tylluan?" she asked.

When she had suggested it, she had expected the animal to show some positive recognition, to wag its tail like a dog or some other such thing. Instead, it narrowed its eyes as if in disapproval.

"Then what shall I call you?" she asked.

The animal stepped closer and rested its head on her lap. It looked up at her.

Despite what it had done to the black ribbon, to Marcus, and even to the man earlier that day, it looked as goofy and as non-threatening as she had ever seen an animal look. She reached out and tried to touch its ear with her fingers. She was surprised when her flesh met resistance. She rested her hand on its head and scratched it as they looked at each other.

"I know," she said. "I'll call you P.D."

It began to purr.

"You like that, do you?"

It nuzzled her.

"I wish I knew what the hell you are," she said, "And how to keep you on a tighter leash."

There was a knock at the door. P.D. jumped up and panted happily. Given the animal's moods with people, she wondered how to take this response.

"Come in," she called warily, hoping P.D. didn't decide to attack whoever was visiting her.

Liam walked in and smiled. "Ready to go?" he asked.

She nodded and got up to go with him. His eyebrow crease deepened.

"You aren't bringing your violin?" he asked.

She turned and looked at the case then down at P.D.

"Not this time," she said. "I'll come back and pick it up after."

P.D.'s eyes narrowed again.

"I need a break tonight," she added as she turned back to Liam and smiled. "Let's get going."

P.D. stayed by her side the entire walk to Bistro Praha. Liam could not see the animal so Emily felt no need to mention the matter. She even found herself caring less about talking to Marcus about it.

The bistro was as busy as ever. It was a staple of the arts community, especially those in music.

They were seated quickly at a small square table next to the front window. Emily opened her menu even though she knew what she was going to order. She noticed as P.D. curled up on the floor next to her feet. She had never had a pet before and wondered if this was a similar experience.

As Liam scanned the menu, he said, "Did you hear about that crazy failed mugging today?"

She had a feeling she knew the one but asked what happened anyway.

"They say a guy tried to steal a purse and dropped dead of a heart attack as he tried to run away," he explained.

"It was a violin case," she corrected.

He looked up from his menu. "Excuse me?" he asked.

"It was a violin case," she said again. "Specifically, it was my violin case."

He dropped his menu. "Why didn't you tell me? Are you alright?"

She nodded. "It was all a little strange though," she said, thinking to herself how strange it really had been.

"No kidding," he replied. "The guy was only 20 years old. Though the cops apparently said they've known him for years. There was even an active warrant for his arrest for a probation violation."

Emily looked down at P.D., then back up at Liam. "What kind of violation?" she asked.

He stared at the candle in the middle of the table as he tried to remember. After a moment, he said, "I think they said he raped some girl. He was a real violent type. It's a good thing you're alright."

Emily looked back down at P.D. who was now purring.

"Is something wrong with the table?" Liam asked.

She shook her head. "Sorry," she said, "I just thought there was something on my shoe."

Liam shrugged and turned back to his menu. "I'm thinking of trying the Steak Tartar tonight."

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Brick 23

Emily had trouble enjoying her schnitzel. She forked at it and watched the changes in the light glistening off the fried crust.

P.D. was still at her feet like a loyal hunting dog. Despite the assertion that he had caused her headaches, despite her having seen him attack the black ribbon, despite his vague involvement in hurting Marcus, she just could not be sure that he was the problem.

Her mind churned over the failed mugging. She thought of her violin and the bridge that had magically appeared on it as if it had always been there.

"I'm not going to bother buying you dinner if you're not going to eat," Liam teased before biting down on the toasted bread he had just finished piling with meat.

She looked up at him. Her vision was clearing as if she had just woken up.

"Sorry," she said. "I suddenly don't feel very well."

The crease between his eyebrows appeared. "More headaches?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Nothing like that."

Marcus set down the toast so that he could focus on her. "I am really not trying to start a fight," he said, "But I am getting worried about you. Ever since you met this Marcus guy, you've been acting very strange. It's obvious he and his friends believe in some pretty strange things. Are you sure being around them is the best thing for you?"

She blinked. Even the night before, she would have leapt on him for the accusation. Marcus had been trying to help her. The elders had shown they cared little for his life. Whatever was going on, he seemed as much a victim as she.

She looked down at P.D. and thought of the mugger and what Liam had said about the man's past.

"I don't know," she whispered.

"Maybe if you are that unsure about them, you should wait a few days before seeing them again," he suggested.

She thought of Marcus' condition. She had no way of knowing how much time he had. She doubted it would be long enough for her to take her time with anything. She did not want to be responsible for his death but she also wanted to know why P.D. felt the man worthy of such a fate.

She looked back up at Liam. Her eyes felt wet but she refused to cry.

"Marcus is dying," she said. She felt the need to cough expand in her chest. She knew it would break her ability to hold back her emotions if she released it.

"He's dying because of me," she croaked around the irritation.

Liam sat back in his chair and linked his hands over his stomach. "What happened?" he asked.

"I don't even know," she said. "He was trying to help me. It didn't work. We went to some people he knows; people that should know how to help. They didn't care. He's on his own and it's my fault."

A tear escaped and ran down her cheek. She wiped it away with the back of her hand.

P.D. stretched, pushing his back against her leg. She could have sworn he was made of flesh with the force that pressed against her.

Liam stood up and walked to the nearest server. After saying a few words, he sat back down. A moment later, the woman walked to the table and took their food away.

"It might be better if we have dinner a little later," he said.

The server returned with a bag and the bill. Emily kept fighting her emotions, trying to force them back into her gut. Liam paid quickly but it felt like an hour.

Finally, they were back in the open air and walking to the college to retrieve her violin.

"It can't be easy knowing you're going to die," Liam said as they walked. "I know I wouldn't handle it well."

P.D. was trotting at Emily's side, unconcerned with the events.

"I feel horrible for him," she replied. "I wish I could help him, but I have no idea what to do. I don't even really know what's killing him."

He put his arm around her shoulders and rubbed her arm with his thumb.

"Do you want to tell me what happened?" he asked. "Maybe I can figure it out."

"You will think I'm crazy," she said.

He laughed. "How would that be any different than normal?"

She elbowed him in the ribs.

"Why don't we play together when we get back?" he suggested. "It might help you feel better."

She thought of the violin and the strange bridge. "I'm not sure it would," she said.

"Of course it would! Trust me."

They did not talk the rest of the way back to the college. Emily's mind needed the quiet. As they turned the last corner before her studio, she saw Marcus sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. His face was tilted upward but his eyes were closed.

Liam stopped. She separated herself from him and went to Marcus, kneeling down beside him.

"Marcus?" she said quietly.

He took in a deep breath and opened his eyes. When he saw her, he smiled. "Sorry," he said.

"Are you alright?" she asked as she looked him over.

There appeared to be nothing different about him from the night before except his clothes. He was now wearing a red t-shirt and black jeans. He nodded as he tried to get up. "Just tired," he said as he gave up moving and rested against the wall again.

"I've come to tell you what I found out," he added.

She looked nervously back at Liam and was surprised to see that he was standing right next to her. She was not sure what Marcus might say and even less sure of what Liam would think of it. Surprisingly, Liam's face showed none of the usual contempt he held for the man now at his feet.

"You don't look like you have the energy to share much of anything, buddy," Liam said. "Let's take you to my studio. I've got a couch in there. You can rest while Emily and I practice for a little while. Maybe you'll be strong enough to share then."

Marcus stared at Liam but his face gave no indication of what he was thinking. After a moment, he nodded slowly.

"I can help him, Emily," Liam said. "You get your violin and catch up."

She was not in the mood to play with Marcus in such a serious condition but Liam seemed determined. Astonishingly, any of his pettiness seemed to have evaporated. She nodded and walked into her studio as Liam helped Marcus off the floor.

She walked to the piano and stared at the violin case. She unzipped it and pushed open the lid.

"Tylluan 1918" was still on the bridge.

She hesitated.

She lifted her fingers and ran them along the strings. They felt no different. She wrapped her hand around the neck and pulled it from the case to look at it. Movement to her left her caught her eye.

She looked down to see P.D. making small hops and turning in circles.

She looked back at the violin. With one finger, she plucked the A-string.

P.D. dropped the front of his body and stretched out his front paws. His cat-like tail twitched repeatedly. His mouth opened and he panted.

She thought of what had happened when she had taken the bridge from Marcus. She thought of the events of that morning. She looked back at the violin and at P.D.

With no more hesitation, she reached into her case and removed her bow. Within seconds she had tightened the hairs and had her instrument cradled under her chin.

Dance of the Goblins seemed fitting giving P.D.'s behaviour. She played the rapid notes and watched as the colourful ribbons burst forth. A particularly thick and red ribbon undulated its way towards P.D. who had begun to hop and skip and turn with the music. It was like animal play turned into dance.

The more she played, the happier P.D. became and the more she began to notice P.D. change. He looked a few inches taller, then more opaque. His paws nearly doubled in size and his snout became more refined . It was now less like a hyena and more like an arctic wolf. Then his back began to change. His shoulder blades became more pronounced. She reached the end of the piece before anything more could happen.

P.D. looked disappointed.

"What was that?" she asked.

P.D. tilted his head to one side.

"Are you..."

She felt stupid at the thought but as she stared at the strange and goofy animal before her, she figured there were plenty of other things to feel stupid about.

"Are you the violin?" she asked.

P.D. panted.

"I hope one of these times, you gain the ability to speak," she said as she turned to put the instrument into its case. "So far, you've been quite unhelpful in the answers department."

A few minutes later, she was knocking on the door to Liam's studio.

He opened it wide to allow her to enter. "I was beginning to wonder about you," he said.

"Just making sure my violin was ok," she said. "It got knocked around in the mugging today."

She walked into his large studio, P.D. trotting behind her.

Liam's studio was triple the size of hers. It had never been intended to be a storage closet.

It was a corner studio with windows that overlooked the river valley. There was little to see now that it was dark but during the day, the view was an expanse of trees dotted with far off buildings. Covering almost the entire floor was an imitation Persian rug. There was a black grand piano in one corner, several antique cupboards he used to store his music along one wall, several music stands, a chair he used for playing, Liam's cello on a stand next to the chair, and a long leather couch he would use for napping.

Marcus was lying on the couch. His eyes were closed and he had one arm draped across his forehead.

"Is he alright?" she asked.

Liam nodded. "Claims he is just resting," he replied. "Shall we get started?"

"Are you sure we should be doing this now?" she asked, thinking it might be better to let Marcus sleep.

He laughed. "You of all people should know that music soothes the soul," he said.

"Not some of the modern music I've heard," she replied as she set her case down on the floor next to the wall.

"Then we will play something a little different," he said.

He walked over to one of the cupboards and opened it. He reached up to the top shelf and pulled out a stack of ragged and brown sheet music.

By the time she had her violin ready to go again, he had pulled out a sheet and was holding it out for her. When she took it, she realized that it had not been printed. It had been drawn by hand in black ink.

"I didn't know you wrote music," she said.

He shrugged. "It's not mine," he said. "A friend gave it to me years ago."

She pulled one of his music stands into the middle of the room and placed the sheet on it. Before lifting her violin, she scanned the sheet to see where the tempo and key changed. It began Largamente, sped up to Adagio, then slowed to Largo for the last line. The key changed so many times, she was not sure she could keep track even with the slow tempo. There were also several chords that she knew would be an uncomfortable stretch.

"Can I have a few minutes to practice this before we try it together?" she asked.

"You'll get it," Liam replied as he situated his cello between his knees. "It looks worse than it is. Just start and I will follow."

She lifted her violin and did as instructed.

The first note stretched from her violin. It was dark blue and wide. The three notes that followed were deep hues of purples and greens. Liam's throaty cello added several deep violet chords with sporadic yellows intermixed.

After what she had witnessed in her studio, Emily had planned to watch P.D.'s reaction to the duet but she found herself unable to focus on much more than the music.

Her body felt as though it was being carried on the sounds of their instruments. It was comforting and warm. It felt like memories she had wanted to have forever but that had be replaced by the mundane until that moment. As the tempo increased, she felt as though she were flying through rainbows.

Her problems were gone. There was only the music dancing around her.

Her feet settled back down upon the earth as the last note faded. She lowered her violin and looked at Liam. She had intended to ask what friend had composed something so beautiful but he was looking at Marcus.

She followed his gaze to see P.D. nuzzling Marcus' hand. The large man was just as he had been when she entered the room. His eyes were still closed and he was still.

P.D. reached out his tongue and licked Marcus' fingers. Marcus twitched. He took in a deep breath. A moment later, he lowered his arm and opened his eyes.

"What happened?" he asked. His voice sounded stronger than it had in the hallway.

P.D. stepped back but continued to watch him.

Marcus sat up and looked down at himself. He looked at his arms and turned his palms over to stare at them. Within a moment, his hands were bathed in green. He clenched and relaxed his fist. The green extended out from his hands. He looked up at Emily.

The green reached out to her just as she had seen it do before. It touched her arm an she felt a shudder go through her body.

Marcus smiled.

"You're alright?" she asked.

He nodded and looked at Liam.

"How did you do it?" he asked. "How did you get rid of it? You saved me."

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Brick 24

Liam looked directly at Emily. She could not figure out why he was staring at her and ignoring Marcus' question. He seemed unwilling to look away. The intensity made her want to squirm. Even though she knew him well, it felt too intrusive.

After another moment, he finally looked away from her and stared at the side of his piano. The crease between his eyebrows deepened. The air conditioning turned on and a new whoosh and hum was added the to the room as she waited for his reply.

"It was the music that healed you," he said.

Marcus stood up.

P.D. was trying to nuzzle at his hand as the man moved. He looked like a dog hoping for a hidden treat in his master's hand. If Marcus could see the animal, he did not acknowledge it.

"Music alone can't do that," Marcus replied. "Tell me how you did it."

Liam looked back at Emily before setting his cello on its stand. "You're right," he said. "Music alone can't do that. This music is unique but even it has its limits."

He lifted his hand and stretched a single finger in the direction of P.D. The animal was still trying to find some prize that did not exist in Marcus' palm. "But he couldn't have done it either without the music," Liam said.

Marcus and Emily both looked down at P.D. The animal was oblivious to the attention. Emily turned her eyes to Marcus. He appeared to be squinting. Perhaps he was having more trouble than usual seeing her key.

"What is it?" Marcus said. He did not pull away or sound afraid. He remained completely still as he watched P.D. poke at his hand with his nose.

"Ask Emily," Liam replied. "I cannot tell you."

Emily looked back at Liam. She had no idea he could see P.D. and now he seemed to think she had any answers at all? Her face felt hot at the thought of all the possibilities he had kept from her. She wanted to hit him. Marcus was now looking at her too.

The breeze from the air conditioner brushed across her skin. Whether from the chill or how infuriated she was with both men, she shuddered. Her violin slipped an inch from her arms, enough to give her an unwanted jolt of adrenaline on top of her existing problems.

She walked to where she had left her case and carefully set the instrument inside.

"What is this thing, Emily?" Marcus asked again.

"How the hell should I know?" she said, jumping to her feet and turning on him. She clenched her hands tightly enough to feel like she was powerful in something no matter how small. "You're part of The Key Breakers," she continued.

"You know more than I do. Up until I met Mary, I didn't know anything was weird about me. Now there are keys and possessed violins. I don't know what to think anymore!"

P.D. stopped nuzzling Marcus' hand and looked up at her with his head tilted to one side.

"Don't you start too," she said back to him.

She paced the room. Why did anyone expect her to have answers about anything? She looked at Liam just as she swung around to go the other way.

"You have been lying to me," she shouted at him. "Playing ignorant and jealous and you never once gave any indication you knew about this. You even made it sound like you thought it was all crazy!"

She stopped abruptly and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Was Mary right?" she asked. "Are you involved somehow?"

He ran his fingers through his hair and stood. While he was not averting her scrutiny directly, he was looking more at his feet than at her.

"I was really hoping not to get into this," he said. "I've kept my promise for over ten years. I can't just break it. I can't do that to you." As he spoke, his voice got louder and faster. He continued, "I didn't want all this to happen but I couldn't stay silent and let Marcus die. Those bastards would have let me die just as easily. They are nothing but selfish children. They are the ones that deserve to die!"

"Who the hell are you talking about?" Emily demanded.

He pulled up a little straighter. "The elders," he said. "They would never have helped Marcus."

As she realized just how much Liam likely knew and had kept from her all those years, her heart picked up speed once more. She was a fool.

"How could you keep this from me?" she said, her volume getting away from her. "You are supposed to be my friend!"

"I am your friend!" he yelled back as he looked into her eyes unwaveringly. "I'm the only real friend you have left."

She scoffed in reflex but as his words sunk in, her heart constricted. She looked at his cello. "If you were, then I have no friends anymore," she seethed.

She felt pressure against the outside of her thigh. She looked down to see P.D. rubbing his face against it. His eyes were still on her. He was worried. Without hesitation, she reached down and scratched his head.

"It's alright, P.D.," she said. "I'm not mad at you."

"Petey?" Marcus asked.

"Not Petey. P. D. It's short for P.D.Q. Bach," she replied. "He really is just as goofy once you get to know him."

"Him?" Marcus seemed no longer capable of stringing together entire sentences.

She looked up and felt pity. His face held as much confusion as she felt. She would set an example for Liam and share what she knew even if it was very little. She told him what had happened with the bridge. She told him about the mugger and P.D.'s response. She told him about the animal's behaviour the entire day.

As she recalled it all, she realized how much affection she felt for her new companion. She knew little about anything in the situation except that P.D. seemed to want to protect her from everyone and everything.

"P.D. is the key that was on you?" Marcus asked, pulling back slightly as he appraised the animal. "P.D. is the same key that nearly killed me?"

Emily wanted to jump to P.D.'s defense but Liam spoke first.

"P.D. also saved your life," he said with a raised voice. "It's not his fault you tried to mess with things you don't understand."

Marcus puffed out his chest and opened his mouth to speak but something Liam had said earlier came back to her.

"P.D. used the music?" she asked.

Liam looked away from Marcus to her. He nodded. "It had to be the right music," he explained. "It gave him strength enough to remove what he had placed upon Marcus. He was a barely formed baby when Marcus tried to kill him. He was only defending himself. Now that the music has made him strong again, he could remove the same energy that would otherwise have been fatal. Only that music would work."

He had said it had been given to him long ago. She looked over to the sheet still on the music stand. Her stomach flipped. She knew the answer but asked anyway.

"Who wrote it?"

He swallowed. "You did."

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Brick 25

Emily looked over at Marcus. He appeared as confused as she. He was watching Liam for any other indications to his meaning.

"What do you mean?" she asked her friend. "I do not remember writing anything like that. Besides, that paper looks older than I am."

Liam avoided eye contact and shifted his weight onto his other foot. "Sometimes we simply forget things we have done," he said as he shoved his hands into his pockets.

"Enough with the riddles, Liam," she said, firming her tone with her impatience. "I want answers."

He let out a long sigh. "You think you do," he said, "But I know you really don't."

She clenched her fists and stamped her foot in her frustration. She was within a breath of hitting him as hard as she could. "I am telling you to give the truth. Now!"

"I am physically incapable of giving it to you." He crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard," she said.

"And yet that is where we are," he replied.

She narrowed her eyes. "Why do you refuse to tell me?"

With this question, he lowered his arms and walked forward until he was a foot in front of her. She could see in the corner of her eye that P.D. was leaning against Marcus' leg. Both were frozen as they watched Liam.

"You asked me never to tell you," he said. "You begged me never to remind you of what happened. You begged me to keep the secret."

Her heart began to run and was tripping frequently in the process. Each skip was a painful thump in her chest. "And you thought the Key Breakers were crazy?" she whispered. "This is crazy."

"Even if I wanted to break that promise," he said, ignoring her comments, "I cannot."

He looked down at his feet for a moment. Then he looked at his hand. After another moment, he lifted his left hand and held his palm towards her. "See for yourself," he said. "With everything that has happened, you may be able to see it again."

Her heart refused to give up its attempts at escape but she could not take her eyes off Liam's. It was as though she would get her answers if she just stared at him long enough. Even Marcus and P.D. seemed far away and inconsequential.

As he stood with his hand raised, she began to feel something familiar stir within her mind. He had not told her what to do but she knew.

She looked at her fingers. They were shaking. With the hysteria in her chest, she had not noticed.

She lifted them towards Liam's hand. She had forgotten how small her hands were compared to his. She pressed her palm against his flesh. His fingers reached out almost an inch farther than hers. The physical sensation alone was enough to shoot a tingle up her arm.

She looked back into his eyes. He still had not looked away.

The warmth of his touched seemed to reach out and embrace her hand. It continued to climb her arm. The familiarity to the touch of Marcus's ribbon caused her to look at their point of contact. She expected to see a new ribbon but there was nothing, only the warmth that continued to climb.

Liam's gaze had still not wavered. She returned it and did not let the changes she felt in her arm distract her from keeping her eyes on him.

The warmth made a path to her shoulder. It crossed her chest and stopped over her uncontrolled heart. It burrowed deeper. As it touched the frantic muscle, she took a sharp intake of breath. Her eyes closed without her will.

In her mind, she could see it. The ribbon was pale blue. It reminded her of P.D. before he was properly formed. It was quiet and sluggish. It lacked the silliness P.D. had come to possess but its base structure was nearly identical to P.D.'s foetal form.

There was one very noticeable difference in how it felt. It was sadness itself. The ribbon that touched her had come from a shell that tightly encased Liam's heart. Despite the weariness of it, she knew it would not let go. His heart was trapped.

The warmth retreated, following the path it had made until it was fully within Liam once more.

She opened her eyes.

Liam had not moved. His gaze still had not wavered but his eyes were glistening. A wet trail had been made down one cheek while her eyes had been closed. It reflected the fluorescent light as his body moved with his breathing.

"You knew I loved you too much to keep the promise," he said. His voice was low and rough. "You locked the secrets away so even I could not release them. I never wanted it this way."

She stared at him.

"Please," he whispered. "Please, do not ask me anything more. I cannot help you. I have done everything I can to keep this promise and still keep you safe. Don't make me fail completely. Please."

She opened her mouth to respond but found her brain still had not come up with anything she could say. Her arm had gone weak and her hand lowered to settle next to her thigh.

The air conditioner stopped, leaving an ear-throbbing silence behind. Marcus moved closer. Emily thought he might have wanted to speak. She raised her hand to stop him but kept her eyes on Liam.

"I need to know," she said. "I cannot ignore what has happened. Could you?"

"You will wish you had listened to me," he said. There was no anger in his voice. He seemed to have simply expected this outcome.

"With so little information, I have no way of knowing if you are right," she replied.

He took a deep and slow breath. "I am sorry I couldn't protect you," he said. "From the beginning I knew this would all fail eventually. I did my best to stop it. When you learn the truth, remember how hard I tried."

"You aren't even going to try to help me?" she asked. He had said he could not tell her, but she hoped he would join her on her search.

He shook his head. "I love you, Emily, but I cannot follow. I cannot betray our promises from back then."

"But you can betray me now?" she asked.

"When you learn what is really going on, you will know that is the last thing I would do," he said before turning away from her.

He walked to the window and looked out into the darkness spotted by orange lights. When he spoke again, his voice was firm. He said, "I cannot get involved in this any further. I need to stay as far from it as possible. If you insist on searching for the truth, then I must also stay away from you."

Her heart had exhausted itself. She was sure it had stopped beating and collapsed into a comatose state in her stomach. It had become an immovable lump that uncomfortably impeded her digestive system.

"After everything, this is it?" she asked. Her mouth was dry.

"I will be here if you change your mind," he said. He turned to face her for the last time. "I will be your friend until the end of time."

She looked around the studio that had been so familiar to her. They had played together there countless times over the years. He had been her only support for her entire adult life. He had looked out for her and kept her sane. His support was gone. The room was now foreign despite the memories.

The man before her was a stranger. The Liam who pestered her about her eating and was skeptical of everything was not who was standing before her. He had never really existed.

"I'm sorry too," she said as she knelt down next to her violin case. She ensured it was properly shut before standing with the handle clutched in one hand. "Good-bye, Liam," she said. She could not look at him so she focused on the side of his piano as she said her farewell.

She turned and walked from the studio, thinking about each step before she made it. Her body was weak and she wanted to collapse, but she also wanted to retain her dignity. She forced a steady pace despite her muscles fighting each movement.

Her studio seemed too close to Liam's. She went in the opposite direction towards the elevators.

Her finger shook as she pressed the button.

She tried to lock her knees to stay upright. There was no use. All she could do was slow her decent onto the ground so that she did not drop her violin. She pressed her face into her hands and cried. Her tears were not stoic as Liam's had been. They were messy and noisy, causing her body to shake.

As she unwillingly surrendered to the release, she felt large arms encase her.

"It's alright," Marcus whispered. "We will figure this out. The elders turned their backs on me and Liam has turned his back on you. We have each other. We will prove them all wrong."

She leaned into him, welcoming his solace, no matter how little she could believe it.

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Brick 26

Chapter 10

All Emily wanted was to return to her tiny apartment and hide until her insides had settled. As understanding as Marcus had been when she left Liam's studio, he did not indulge her desire to run. She was sure he would have let her any other time but the reason he had come to see her that night was too important to put off any longer.

At his insistence, they got into his car. When she opened the door, P.D. hopped across her seat and sat erect in the back looking out the window.

"We're going to meet up with Philip and Valerie," Marcus said. "They were helping me with research all day and are back at my place."

They drove south and crossed the river. The route followed that of the way to the elders too closely. She shifted in her seat. When he took the same exit off the freeway, her heart began to trot. She was not looking forward to another meeting with them.

To her confusion and relief, he immediately turned onto new street after leaving the freeway. The road curved and went up a steep hill. At the top, he turned onto another street, and then another. At the bottom of a short hill lined with houses, he slowed the car.

She thought he was going to turn onto the intersecting street but instead he turned into the driveway of a three-storey house on the corner.

It was a modernist structure that looked like someone had piled several rectangular boxes together. The exterior was painted what might have been light brown but looked orange in the light of the street lamps. There were large windows on the west half of the building. On the second floor, the lights were on and she could see what looked like a living room through the windows.

They got out of the car and walked inside.

In the middle of the foyer was a large central staircase. When she walked to the edge of it, she saw that the stairway went from the basement all the way to the top floor. The walls were white and all the trim in the house was lightly-stained oak. The walls were bare. In the corners on either side of the front door were large, black pots. The top rim would have come to her hip. Each pot was filled with stalks of wheat.

"They'll be up in the kitchen, probably stealing my food," he said as he began to walk up the stairs.

P.D. began to follow him before she had even moved. His tale was swishing to either side. He seemed to have no reservations about Marcus anymore.

She followed them up the stairs to the second floor and into the same living room she had seen from the driveway.

She walked closer to the windows. Now that she was higher up, she could see the street they were on bordered the top of the river valley. The lights of the west end of the city twinkled but the darkness of the valley obscured all else.

"Hi."

Emily turned around at the sound of a woman's voice. It was the same girl she had seen in her hospital room but her hair now hung loose and wavy over her shoulders and she was wearing black shorts and a loose, floral-patterned tank top. She held out her hand.

"I'm Valerie," she said. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to introduce myself earlier."

Emily shook her hand. The girl had a firm grip.

"We're just making some pizza," she said as she pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.

The living room opened into a large kitchen. It was a square room with a large square island in the middle. Oak cabinets lined the walls except in one corner where there was a door to a dining room and in the one spot where there was a large, stainless steel fridge.

Marcus was chatting with Philip. His arms were crossed and he was leaning against the counter near where Philip was slicing a green pepper. Philip looked no different except that his t-shirt was now white instead of black. From around the corner of the island, she could see P.D.'s tail. If she had not known better, she would have thought she had adopted a dog.

"We're making it from scratch, none of that frozen crap," Valerie added.

"Sounds great," Emily said to be polite. Food was not really something she felt she needed at that moment.

Valerie seemed determined to include her. "Could you help me slice the mushrooms?" she asked.

Emily agreed just to have something to do. They walked into the kitchen and Valerie handed her a knife and pulled over a bowl of mushrooms that had been next to Philip. Emily took one out of the bowl and tried to set it steady on the counter.

Liam would have been laughing at her even attempting to cook.

She swallowed. She held the knife over the mushroom without moving it. Would he have? The real Liam was not the man she remembered.

Her eyes began to burn but she refused to indulge the impulse to cry. She had no idea if she would ever see him again. She was still unsure if she even wanted that. She hated him. She was angry. She wanted him to grovel for forgiveness but she also never wanted him to see her face again. She was embarrassed. She had been tricked. Her stomach flipped. She was losing everything.

"Why did you want me to come, again?" she asked Marcus without looking up from the mushroom as she tried her best to make a clean first cut.

She did not really want to talk about serious matters but she did want to focus on something other than Liam. The whole reason she would not be seeing him again was his refusal to reveal the truth. If she did not continue to seek it, she would feel the entire episode had been for nothing.

"We found out who Tylluan is," Marcus said.

Philip had moved onto a red pepper. He did not look up as he said, "I wouldn't say that. We still know very little."

"And that 'very little' would be?" Emily asked, stopping her mushroom slicing to look at him.

It was Marcus who answered. "Tylluan was a tenant of the Arlington Apartments in 1918," he said.

Emily looked down at P.D. who had walked over to her and was now standing next to her leg and staring into the living room.

"He was a violin maker?" she asked as she returned her attention to Marcus and her mushroom slicing.

"We haven't confirmed it," he said, "But we believe he was."

"Do you have any reasons beside the bridge?" she asked. If that was all they had to offer, her visit seemed pointless. Marcus could have easily told her that in the car.

It was Valerie who answered her. "Last night, Philip and I encountered something when we went to the demolition site," she explained. She stopped slicing and set her hands on the counter; one resting over her mushroom, the other over the handle of the knife she had been using.

"We climbed over the fence," she said. "Philip nearly broke his neck. He was trying to..."

"Stick to the point," Marcus said. "We can laugh at Philip later."

Valerie nodded. "They almost have all the debris cleared away," she continued. "In the centre of the foundations, we could see the black ribbon poking out of the ground. It wasn't doing much so we approached it and it reacted to our presence. It tried to come towards us but it looked tethered to the spot, like the ground was holding it back."

She turned around, leaned against the counter and crossed her arms in a mimic of Marcus' posture.

"I wanted to see what kind of key was holding it," she continued. "Philip was afraid I was going to get hurt because of everything that has happened but I need to be able to touch to see a key. I wrapped my hand around the end of the ribbon and what happened was not what I expected."

"Did it hurt you?" Emily asked as she took another look at Valerie's body. It appeared unscathed to her.

Valerie shook her head. "I could hear music," she said, "And in my mind, I could see a man. The music sounded like a violin but I didn't recognize the tune. The man looked like he would have been in his mid-thirties. He had dark, short hair. I couldn't tell what colour his eyes were. He was wearing a three-piece suit."

Emily considered what she was hearing. She felt lost. "Do you think the man is Tylluan?" she asked.

"I have no idea who the man was," Valerie replied with a shrug of her shoulders. "He might have been but it is the music that tells us something."

Emily could not follow her meaning. "Why?"

"Because that was the key," Valerie explained. "Whatever has been imprisoned in that spot was imprisoned with a key that had been created by music, the music of a violin. Then Marcus finds that bridge right after we were there. They must be connected."

Emily looked at Marcus who had been watching their exchange. "What do you think?" she asked him.

His lips pursed in thought for a moment. Then he said, "I am thinking that Tylluan wasn't just making violins."

Emily felt one of her eyebrows rise involuntarily. "You think he was a key maker?" she asked.

He nodded before looking at P.D. "Maybe that's why his bridge has had such an effect on your key," he suggested.

She looked down at her strange animal companion. He was still staring into the living room, every muscle in his body taught.

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Brick 27

P.D.'s head lowered but he was still looking into the living room. This unusual behaviour kept Emily's attention. She watched as several moments later, P.D. walked into the living room. He moved each paw carefully, slowly shifting his weight onto the one he had just set down before lifting another. His head remained bowed low. She could not see his eyes but she was sure he was still focusing on something ahead of him. When he growled, she nearly jumped.

The sound was deep and gravelly as though someone had blended the sounds of a raven's jagged caw and a large dog's deep rumble.

Valerie had returned to slicing the mushrooms while Philip had retrieved a block of cheese from the fridge and a grater from a nearby drawer and was now grating the cheese into a bowl. Neither of them seemed aware of P.D.'s movements at all. Marcus, however, was watching closely. P.D. growled again.

"What is it?" Marcus asked, his eyes flicking back to Emily momentarily.

She shook her head. "I don't know," she whispered.

Philip and Valerie stopped what they were doing. They followed Emily's gaze before looking at each other in confusion. Neither of them seemed to be able to see P.D. who was now halfway into the living room. When he continued to move forward, Emily realized it was not the living room that held his attention. He was looking through the living room window to the trees across the street.

When he stopped at the window, she walked to stand next to him. She scanned the trees below and her eyes almost immediately fell upon a white dress shirt. When she looked up to try to see the figure's face, she saw only the curly hair of Louis as he turned and fled into the thick brush. He moved fast. Within a moment, she could no longer tell where he was.

Marcus arrived at her side. "Do you see anything?" he asked, scanning the trees himself and even looking further to the western horizon.

She looked at him, trying to consider what to say. She had no idea why Louis would be outside, seemingly watching them. After their last encounter with the Elders, she could not think of why Louis would care enough to bother. "It was Louis," she said finally as she turned her eyes back to the spot where he had disappeared.

Marcus said nothing. After another moment of his silence, Emily looked at him again. He too was staring at the woods. His jaw was tense. A vein along his temple was throbbing.

"What's going on?" Valerie asked from the kitchen.

Marcus turned to look at her. "I'm not sure," he said. After another moment, he asked, "Has anyone contacted you recently, claiming to be a Compass?"

Valerie's mouth slackened. "Why would that happen?" she asked. "We've got you."

"But the Elders didn't know you would still have me. Remember what I told you earlier? I bet Louis is surprised to see me still around."

Emily felt a chill. Every time the Elders were involved, she felt uncomfortable. The fact that P.D. seemed equally upset by them only confirmed her worries. "They didn't care about you when you asked for help," she said. "They were indifferent to the possibility of you dying. They didn't even care enough to wait for you to die before washing their hands of you."

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at some unidentifiable spot on the living room carpet. "Were they indifferent or accepting?" he said. "They didn't care if I died but maybe they care if I live."

Valerie snorted. "Why would they want you dead?" she asked. "That's absurd. You've been working as a Compass for them for years."

He nodded. "Right until I brought Emily to them," he said. "And Victor wanted to help us but was afraid they would find out."

He then looked down at P.D. The animal's muscles had relaxed and he was sitting next to Emily, leaning into her leg.

"One thing I know for sure," he said, "Everything they ever told me about keys has been proven inadequate since I met you, Emily. Do you have any idea what P.D. is?"

"Who's P.D.?" Valerie asked.

Marcus looked up at her sharply. "The creature right here," he said as he gestured with his hand to the beast.

Philip raised an eyebrow. "You seeing things?" he asked. His eyes and tone were serious but the corner of his mouth turned up in a small smirk.

Marcus gave him a sardonic look. "Because we're all just hallucinating, right? Seriously, you don't see him?"

Both Valerie and Philip shook their heads.

"I didn't see him right away either," he recalled. "Maybe you will in a minute."

"That would be an odd sort of key," Valerie said. "I can usually pick them out really easily."

Marcus nodded firmly. "Exactly. That would make him a very weird key, which is exactly why I am not convinced that is what he is anymore."

"But I could see the red ribbon on her in the hospital," Valerie added. "I can't see it now, but I saw it then. If P.D. is whatever came from that, it doesn't make any sense. I should be able to see him just as easily."

Marcus nodded again. "Unless in his fully grown form he can hide himself."

He turned to Emily. "You have always been a synestete," he said.

She nodded.

With her confirmation, he asked, "When did you start seeing colours and ribbons without music?"

"The black ribbon only a few weeks ago," she said. "It was the first time that's ever happened."

"When did you first see the red on you?" he continued to probe.

She considered for a moment. "Not until I was in the hospital," she replied finally.

He walked over to the couch and nearly collapsed onto it. He draped one arm over the armrest. With his other hand, he rubbed his forehead.

"The timing all works," he said. "But why?"

"The timing works for what?" she asked.

He looked up as if he had gotten lost in his own thoughts and her words had brought him back to reality.

"P.D. isn't a key," he said. "P.D. is what a key was sealing away. I bet P.D. is your guardian spirit."

Emily looked down at the animal leaning against her leg. She thought of all the times he had intervened and how he had acted.

He began to pant with his tongue hanging out the right side of his mouth. She smiled. He really did make her feel better.

"My only question now," he continued, "Is why would the Elders not want him freed?"

"Maybe they are the ones who made the key," Philip offered.

Everyone in the room turned to look at him. Emily considered what she had just witnessed. P.D. definitely did not like Louis. Was that why? Had Louis sealed him away?

"Why would they do that?" she asked no one in particular.

Marcus pushed himself to his feet. "Maybe I should go ask them," he said as he began to walk towards the door.

"That would be stupid," Valerie said causing him to stop and look at her. "If you're worried they might want you dead, then confronting them outright would likely not be beneficial to your health."

He stopped. "I have to do something," he said. "This whole situation is insane. They have no right to put us all through this."

"And yet they are," Valerie replied. She turned to Emily. "I think you need to take another look at that black ribbon. P.D. and that ribbon are linked somehow. I am sure of it."

Emily did not like the idea of returning to the demolition site. After what had happened the last time, she was as confident about her safety with the black ribbon as Marcus could be about his with the Elders.

"I'm not sure that whatever is sealed away there is on any better terms with P.D. than the Elders are," she reasoned.

Valerie shrugged and returned to slicing the mushrooms. "Then your only other choice is to find Tylluan."

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Brick 28

Chapter 11

Emily's eyes opened slowly and closed again. As she tried to recall how much wine she had had with her pizza, she rolled over and buried her face in the pillow. She took a deep breath and tried to shut out the world but stopped.

The pillow did not smell as she remembered. It was familiar but not a sent she often noticed. It was Old Spice.

She pushed up onto her elbows and looked around. P.D. was curled up next to her on the bed and looking extremely comfortable and relaxed, but they were not in her bed. It was a king bed instead of her queen and the mattress was soft. There were also several other pillows on the bed other than the one she was using. The sheets were beige and the comforter was taupe. They were definitely nicer than anything she had ever bothered to purchase.

As she looked around the room through her waking haze, she saw there was little else except for a potted plant in one corner. There was actually very little room for anything other than the bed and the plant and there were no windows. It was only the light coming through the open doorway that told her it was morning.

She tried to figure out where she was. She could not remember being driven home or anywhere else. Was she still at Marcus' house?

She looked down at her body quickly and was relieved to see that she was fully clothed. At least she had not done anything stupid. She did not need more complication in her relationships given everything that had been happening.

She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Her vision was still covered in a fog and her attempts to rub it away were only partially successful. When her muscles protested at even that small movement, she let her arms flop back onto the bed and kept staring at the ceiling.

She lost track of time and might even have fallen back asleep but she was sure it was quite a while later when she heard the front door close somewhere below her. As she heard someone walking around the house, assuming it must have been Marcus, the smell of a double-double wafted into the room.

As enticing as the promise of caffeine was, she stayed put. Her weak muscles were simply too persuasive. She listened as Marcus moved around the kitchen, opening and closing drawers as he did.

The image of Louis retreating into the trees flashed through her thoughts, bringing her attention back to the night before. Valerie had said she needed to find Tylluan but that seemed as fruitless a task now as when they had first found the bridge.

She tilted her head to look at P.D., still curled up against her side.

"I don't suppose you can tell me who he is?" she asked.

P.D. lifted his head to look back at her but indicated nothing.

She turned her eyes back to the ceiling. Her guardian may have proven vigilant as a protector but he was a lousy helper when it came to research.

"I wish you could talk," she said without looking at him.

He growled low in response.

"Sorry to offend," she said without really meaning it.

P.D. accepted her apology anyway and rested his head on his front paws.

In the silence between them, Emily heard footsteps getting closer. A moment later, Marcus peeked around the corner of the door.

"I thought I heard you talking," he said as though he were confirming his suspicions.

"Just to myself, as usual," she replied.

He walked into the room and sat next to her on the opposite side from P.D. When he did not say anything immediately, she looked over at him. He was staring at some random spot far beyond the edge of the bed.

His silence had yet to be a good sign in their time together.

"What is it?" she asked.

Broken from his daydreaming, he looked at her. "I was thinking about what happened last night."

"With Louis?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, after that," he said. "I was thinking of how Valerie and Peter couldn't see P.D."

"Didn't you say that's why you thought he's my guardian?"

He nodded. "But what doesn't sit right with me is that if he can conceal himself, he felt he needed to from Valerie and Peter. My trust in them is without fault. There is no way P.D. would have a reason to stay hidden from them."

She considered this for many moments. Though she never felt unease around either of them, she logically had to admit to herself that she had only just met them. She knew almost nothing about them. Marcus may trust them but she had no reason to justify such trust. The only people who had indicated they could see P.D. were Marcus and Liam. She trusted both of them.

The thought evoked the sting of embarrassment. She had trusted Liam but she had no idea what to think of him now. Still, P.D. had shown himself to Liam before she had learned of the gravity of the secrets he had been keeping from her.

She shared her thoughts with Marcus but he did not seem convinced. His brow was still slightly furrowed.

"The guardians I have encountered in the past were all in tune with those they protected," he said, "But usually they sense much more than the one they guard does. Even if you trusted them, if there was a reason to stay hidden that you did not see, he would."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"I'm not sure of any of this anymore," he said. "I cannot trust what the Elders told me in the past because I fear I was their pawn in some plan I have yet to decipher. Who knows how much they taught me is truth and how much was a lie to serve themselves."

As he spoke, his voice became rougher. The sting of their betrayal had yet to settle within him.

"And how to we figure out what was true?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I'm open to suggestions."

She looked down at P.D. and ran through the events that led to his formation. She thought back to the beginning of it all, back when she first started to get the headaches. As she thought of Liam, she realized that could not have been the beginning. He said he had been keeping his secrets for years. He had even claimed she was the one who made him promise. She could remember back to her early childhood and she could remember no such event. She was sure she would have remembered something like that.

Liam and the Elders held all the answers but neither would give any to her or Marcus. Of what little they did know, everything seemed to come back to the Arlington Apartments in 1918.

She thought back to the black ribbon. It had tried to take P.D. from her. It had grabbed her, causing her violin, the very thing she was sure had released P.D., to break. Her apprehension to that ribbon was stronger than ever. She wondered if the key holding it was actually protecting her, jailing away some horrible demon.

Her body went cold at the thought but she also could not ignore that all indications of this mysterious past she had never known existed led back to the imprisonment of that thing.

"I need to see the key holding the black ribbon myself," she said finally.

Marcus said nothing but looked directly into her eyes.

She let out a large sigh. "It is the only suggestion I have," she said.

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Brick 29

Within the hour, Emily, Marcus, and P.D. were driving downtown. Marcus had insisted they have breakfast before leaving. He had brought her back a double double and made omelettes. Now that she was determined to go to the site herself, she found the frivolous delay agitating but her nerves prevented her from vocalizing any complaints.

The heat wave was coming to an end. The sun was rapidly dodging behind puffs of cloud as they were forced across the sky. The winds always meant a dramatic change in the weather was on its way. Being Alberta, there was no telling what that change might be. As they drove across the river to downtown, Marcus mentioned there was a forecast for rain.

She looked up at the clouds again. She doubted it. Rain was always more a hopeful guess than a successful forecast in Edmonton. The farmers needed it but never seemed to get the right amount at the right time.

"You might not be able to get right up to the key," Marcus said as he began to drive up Victoria Hill, a road carved into the side of the ravine. High-rises towered above it and a golf course was nestled below it.

"Valerie and Peter did," she replied, confused by his meaning.

"And they went at night," he said. "No one to see what they were up to. Especially if they are working on the site right now, we won't be able to get inside."

She was sure if she had to wait until nightfall, she would lose her nerve. Looking over her shoulder, she saw P.D. sitting erect in the back seat. He was staring intently forward. He knew where they were going.

"We'll get as close as we can," she said.

Within minutes, they had parked in a paid lot a block away from the demolition site. As Emily closed her door, she felt P.D. press against her leg. He was looking up at her with wide eyes.

"It's alright, P.D.," she said though she felt quite strongly that P.D. likely had a better grasp of what she was walking into than she did.

The demolition site was quiet when they arrived. It was also shut tight with locks on the fences.

"Where is everyone?" she asked.

"Probably some administrative delay," Marcus suggested. "But I don't dare climb the fence in the middle of the day," he added as he looked around at the handful of pedestrians within view.

Emily nodded.

She walked along the fence until it joined with the temporary sidewalk she had used before. She stopped and looked at the spot where she had fallen. She felt more unsure and conflicted than ever.

"You alright?" Marcus asked.

She opened her mouth to assure him she would be fine. Before she could speak, a whisper interrupted her.

"Tylluan."

Emily and Marcus stared at each other. It was clear they had both heard the whisper.

"Do not bring him here Tylluan," it said.

P.D. lowered his head and began to growl.

"We warned you this would happen, Tylluan. It is too weak now," it said.

Emily and Marcus looked further down the walkway. Emily's eyes stopped on the same crack the black ribbon had squeezed through when it had lunged at her.

"The violin, Tylluan. We need the violin," it said.

Together, Marcus and Emily walked closer, P.D. stalking in front of them. His ears twitched with each syllable spoken.

"Tylluan!"

When they reached the crack in the boards, Marcus knelt down and looked through.

"I can see it," he said. "I can see the seeking strand."

His green ribbon extended down his shoulder and through the hole. He closed his eyes as he concentrated.

"Tylluan, do not let him do that!" the voice said, almost frantic. "Get him away from me!"

Marcus opened his eyes to look at her.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I was just trying to touch the key, just like Valerie did," he said. "But the seeking strand won't let me close to it."

"It's the seeking strand speaking to us?" she asked.

His green ribbon retreated from the hole and returned to its place around his shoulders before disappearing. He pushed himself to his feet. "I think so," he said.

She knew the ribbon had been addressing them. It had wanted Marcus to stay away. It begged Tylluan to stop him and it asked for a violin. Valerie had said the key was made of violin music. Emily was almost certain but her guess alone was not enough. She needed to know for sure.

She knelt down next to the crack. She had no strand to send through like Marcus and she wanted to keep P.D. close. She placed her hands on the boards, realizing how dumb she must look but hoping that not too many people would notice. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing upon the black ribbon. She imagined it before her and tried to reach out to it with her heart.

When she spoke, her voice was so quiet that the city noises drowned out her questions even from her own ears. "Am I Tylluan?" She asked. "Is that why you want me to help?"

She could feel her fingers trembling against the dusty plywood.

"Tylluan," said the voice. "Feel it."

She had no time to figure out what it meant. The second it had spoken, she could hear music in her head. She could see the ribbons dancing before her in an intricate display. They braided and twisted around each other. They did not dissipate as the notes faded. They built upon each other.

She opened her eyes but did not see the wall before her now. She could see the black ribbon clearly poking out of the dirt several meters away. The braids and ropes of colour continued their dance until they encircled the spot in the ground. They began to dance faster but then she heard the first off note. Then another. Some notes began to fade; others were missing altogether. The song ended and the circle of colours remained but some were missing and others were dull. She could see the gaps in the braid clearly.

"Get the violin, Tylluan."

The wall was back in front of her nose. She was breathing heavily. She could feel someone to her right watching her. She turned her head to see P.D. looking at her with his head tilted to one side.

"What is it?" Marcus asked. "Are you alright?"

She swallowed and looked up at him. "I am Tylluan," she said. "And I created that key."

Marcus blinked back at her.

As she tried to get back to her feet gracefully, she added, "But the strangest part is that whatever it is holding seems to want to stay in there. It's worried because the key is weakening."

"Keys don't just undo themselves," he said. "That does not happen."

She brushed the dust from the knees of her pants. "Are you sure about that?"

He said nothing at first. When she had finished brushing off the dust, she looked up at him once more. He looked as confused as P.D.

"What do you want to do?" he asked finally.

She let out a long sigh. "I want to strangle the truth out of Liam," she said. "But I doubt that would work. We need to come back here tonight, with my violin."

"You're going to fix the key?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I haven't figured that out yet."

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Brick 30

Marcus drove Emily to the college. She still had lessons to teach that afternoon and evening so they agreed that he would pick her up afterwards and they would return immediately to the demolition site.

Emily did not mind the wait. She was still apprehensive about doing what the black ribbon wanted. Most of her reservations came from her previous experience with it and how it had not exactly been kind to P.D. However, she also could not deny the one thing she knew in her heart to be true. Even if she could not remember it, she had made that key.

Marcus did not bother to go up to her studio with her. He dropped her off in front of the college and drove away. She did not mind. Her thoughts were on her violin. She was Tylluan. She had made the bridge, or at least marked it, yet she could not remember any of it.

She had a vague sense of walking through the lobby to the elevators. Her focus was entirely upon the violin case draped over her shoulder and her guardian padding along beside her.

Her violin had helped create P.D. and she had had some involvement in its creation. Excitement stirred within her chest as she realized what she needed to do.

In her studio, she set the case down and immediately withdrew the violin and began to tune it. As the ribbons oscillated with her miniscule adjustments to the pegs, P.D. began to swish his tail from side to side. His mouth dropped open and he began to pant like a dog. Despite his horns, she had come to think of him as a dog. His presence was comforting and so familiar she could not remember what it was like not to have him with her.

As the colour of the ribbons evened out and stretched into the exact hues she was seeking, P.D. dropped his upper body to the ground and looked up at her expectantly.

"Yes," she said, "We are going to play."

She rested the bow on the A string and took a deep breath. She had no set piece in mind. She knew playing someone else's music would not help her learn anything new. Despite having no plan, she drew the bow quickly across the string. Then she put down a finger on the fingerboard. She changed it quickly to another. She had no idea what she was doing but she refused to stop.

The colours came out in weird combinations; blues and greens that clashed so horribly they hurt her eyes; blue-reds with orange-pinks; muddy browns. P.D. was looking a little disappointed and a little pained by the clashing sounds, but she refused to stop.

Her heart began to thump faster. She played a chord that she had expected to sound horrid but it came out in a clear tone that made her want to laugh. To her surprise, instead of a ribbon of muddy colours, a clear gold ribbon shot from the instrument. P.D. perked up.

She played it again, then changed a single finger. The colour changed to shining silver. P.D. began to hop with excitement.

She began to feel like she had finally unlocked something familiar. The sense of having no clue what she was doing dissipated as it was replaced by confident nostalgia. The colours were now beautiful and exciting to watch as they danced from the sound holes. P.D. too began to dance.

As she watched him move with her music, she noticed that the ribbons always moved in his direction, regardless of the sound. He began to nip at the colours as they came close. Finally, he grabbed a ribbon that sparkled like a mountain lake. He jumped and twisted in the air with it. Then he pulled it as he skipped in a figure eight upon the floor. He held it down with a paw and nipped at the next ribbon.

She watched as he began to braid the approaching colours into an intricate knot. As he did so, the colours ceased to fade. It was as though they had become cemented into existence. She could still hear them ringing even though she had moved onto new notes. When he had braided a green, white, blue, and gold ribbon, she played the chord that had produced silver. He jumped at it and pulled it into the knot. The moment it made contact with the centre, Emily was no longer in her studio.

She stopped playing abruptly. She lowered her violin into her lap.

She was sitting outside on the grass, clad in a long purple dress. Ahead of her stood the Arlington Apartments; the red brick more pristine than she had ever seen. P.D. was lying in the grass next to her. He looked like he was asleep and had been for some time.

She looked back at her dress. It had a long pleated skirt, long sleeves, a belted waist, and a flat panel in the front that was trimmed on the left and right by three large buttons. She could feel that her hair was no longer loose but tucked up under a large brimmed hat. She reached up and felt a bun at the back of her head. Her hand jostled her hat causing a lock of hair to fall in front of her face. Instead of the curly blond she was used to, it was reddish brown and straight.

The front door to the building opened and a tall man walked out. He had short, dark hair and was wearing a three-piece suit. Following close behind him was a creature similar in strangeness to P.D. It had the body of a black bear, the head of a falcon, and the wings of a bat. The wings were folded in against its body as it walked.

When the man saw her in the grass, he waved and walked towards her.

"Is it finally finished?" he asked, looking at the violin in her lap as he approached.

Without knowing why she did, she shrugged. "It's as close as we have time for," she heard herself say.

"But it will work?"

She nodded. "It should work," she said. "I just hope it will hold."

He gave a nervous smile. "We'll just have to try our best and hope that is enough."

She looked down at the instrument and ran her fingers along the strings. It looked different than the violin she knew. The difference was not one anyone else would have been able to see. Through one of the sound holes, where a makers label should be, there was a shallow carving in the wood. It looked like an S with a line coming out the top and another longer line crossing diagonally over the S itself.

"We've been together for so long," she heard herself say as she continued to caress the strings, "I'm not sure how I'm going to manage without you."

The man squatted in front of her and lifted her chin with a finger. He had brown eyes with flecks of gold. She felt her body go weak as she looked into them.

"If we do this right," he said, "You will never remember me."

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek. As she looked back at him, the gentle summer breeze tickled at the wet trail it had left.

"How could I ever forget you," she said. "I love you."

"And I love you, Tylluan," he said as he reached up with both hands to cup her face. He touched his lips to hers.

It was not enough. She wanted to press into him, to have more from him, but he pulled back.

Dropping his eyes to the grass at his feet, he whispered, "Damn those petulant children." He let out another sigh. "All this ludicrous business of keys and key breaking," he said, "If Isabella were capable of thinking of anyone but herself, we would never have to do this."

She nodded in agreement. "But we have no other way to show them how serious we are about this," she said. "What they are doing is wrong and we can't keep ignoring it."

He let out a large sigh. "You're right," he said. Still talking to the grass at his feet, he asked, "Shall we do it tonight?"

Her mouth felt dry. "I suppose we must," she said.

Emily felt a sharp pain in her knee. She looked down to see P.D. looking up at her. He had nipped at her. She was just about to ask what he thought he was doing when she realized the vision had ended. She was back in her studio and it was the modern P.D. that had nipped at her, bringing her out of her trance.

"Did you want me to remember that?" she asked him.

He panted back at her.

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Brick 31

There was a knock.

Emily set her violin down in its case and walked to open the door. Her first student, a ten year old boy named Jacob, was looking back at her. When she beckoned him inside, he said, "Sorry, I think there was someone here to see you but he left when I walked up."

Though unexpected, she thought she knew who it might have been. "Tall, thin guy with a pronounced dimple between his eyebrows?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Don't worry," she said. "I know who it is." She forced herself to sound carefree in the matter to ease Jacob's mind. In reality, she was confused and wary about why Liam would be hanging around. He had made his position perfectly clear. The faint hope that he had changed his mind and would tell her everything sparked in her gut but faded quickly. She doubted that would happen. He was too stubborn and he had been determined to stay quiet.

She pushed it out of her mind and started the lesson. While she found it easy to ignore Liam's non-visit, she found it difficult to ignore what P.D. had shown her. As each student hammered through scale after scale and study after study, she found herself not focusing upon the colours. For the first time, she ignored them completely.

She could not stop thinking about the face of the man crouched before her in 1918. Her heart began to race with longing as she thought of his kiss. She still wanted to finish it properly even after all that time, even having only that one memory of him. He had said he loved her. She knew she had loved him too.

She needed to tell Marcus what she had seen and needed to get back to the demolition site. She became acutely aware of each second as the lessons continued through the day. When they were finally over and she heard his knock, she nearly lunged at the door to opent it. Her shoulders fell when saw his face. His jaw was set and his eyes refused to focus on any one thing. Even the most social awkward would have noticed his agitation. She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the studio.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"I went to see the elders," he said.

She had not expected that. "Why would you bother?"

He let out a long breath. "I wanted to confront Louis," he said. "I wanted to ask him why he was watching us last night. After what you said at the demolition site today, I couldn't shake how much those bastards had lied to me, how much they had used me." As he spoke, his voice got louder and his words came faster. He started to pace the tiny studio. "When I got there, Isabella and Louis were hunched over that stupid table as always," he continued. "I walked right up to them and demanded they explain what's happening. I didn't expect them to answer but I felt like I had to do something. I even thought I might just punch Louis right in the face to make myself feel better. They started to scold me for not listening to them and for staying around you. I wasn't really listening to their words because I noticed Victor wasn't there."

He sat down on the piano bench for only a moment before standing up and pacing the room once more. "I can't believe they would turn on Victor," he ranted, throwing his hands into the air.

P.D. pressed against Emily's leg. When she looked down at him, she saw that he was watching Marcus.

"What do you mean?" she asked, taking her attention away from P.D. "What did they do to Victor?"

Marcus stopped pacing and looked at her. "I don't know," he said. "I asked them where Victor was and they tried to tell me he had died, that the old age had caught up with him but there was something in the way they said it. I didn't believe them. Victor hasn't aged a day since I've known him. He was old but wasn't at death's door. You remember how he chased after us in the woods. He could manage. Then there is the simple fact that I can't trust anything Louis and Isabella say so I pressed them on it. I asked them when it happened and why they didn't tell me. I asked them where he was buried so that I could pay my respects. I was owed that much at least. Victor was like a father to me. That's when I knew for sure they were lying. The look they gave me said it all. He isn't buried anywhere."

"Then where is he?" she asked.

He returned to the piano bench and sat down. "I have no idea but I do know they are involved somehow. You remember how nervous he was that they would find out he helped us. He does anyway and now he's gone?"

Emily walked over and sat next to him. She was worried about Victor but she had no idea where to start. Marcus' rant proved he felt no differently. The two of them sat in silence, staring at the floor. P.D. was still standing where he had first pressed himself against Emily's leg. He was watching them both.

"I'm worried they've locked him up somewhere," he said finally.

"You mean they sealed him away with a key?" Emily asked.

Marcus scoffed. "Who knows. They had told me it was impossible to lock away physical beings. Keys locked away demons and spirits." His eyes closed. "It was all a lie. Anything is possible."

She wrapped an arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Why is it that you and I can't seem to trust anyone?" she said. She had meant the comment to hold a little mirth but the spoken words only depressed her more.

Marcus wrapped an arm around her shoulders and rested his head on hers. "The world is full of liars," he said. "I guess we just happened to find their den."

She chuckled. "Thanks for sticking with me through all of this," she said.

"No problem. I love nearly dying and finding out I'm losing everyone important to me." His tone was getting brighter despite his words.

A moment later, his free hand was under her chin, tilting her face toward him. She looked into his eyes with no desire to pull away. Perhaps it was the lingering memory, but when he leaned in to kiss her, she closed her eyes and welcomed it. She wanted to finish the kiss from almost a hundred years before and at that moment, she barely registered that it was Marcus in front of her.

His hand rested on the side of her jaw; his fingers tickled her skin. The kiss became deeper and she followed his enthusiasm. She resisted when she felt the end of it nearing a moment later. She wanted more. She wanted it to continue forever. She had deprived herself for far too long.

Even after their lips no longer touched, he kept his head close to hers.

"I lied in the hospital," he said. "I wanted you even then."

She smiled. "I figured."

Her smile faded. She was Tylluan and it was the man in her memory that had brought these emotions to the surface. Her chest constricted as she felt painted in a fresh coat of bright blue guilt. Had she betrayed him? How could she tell Marcus about her memory now, after what had just happened between them?

She felt a poke at her hand and looked down to see P.D. nuzzling it before resting his chin on her lap. He seemed unconcerned by what he had just witnessed. Perhaps it was her desperation to explain away her shame, but his lack of judgement was comforting. She had never wanted a pet before but now she knew she could never again be without her P.D. She looked down into his large eyes and something within her stirred just below her diaphragm. The sensation trailed up her spine to her brain, causing her thoughts to churn over something unfocused and abstract. She felt a flush of excitement as they clicked into place. She knew what her key had sealed away.

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Brick 32

Chapter 12

Emily and Marcus stood before the fence around the demolition site. She had the strap of her violin case over her shoulder and P.D. on her other side. Marcus reached out with his fingers to pull her hand into his.

She did not pull away but the uncomfortable tingling of her guilt rushed under her skin. If she had only realized how much she liked him before her memory of the other man, she would have welcomed him without reservations. As it was, she felt as though she were lying to him and being unfaithful to someone who had lived a hundred years before. He might not even be alive and yet she could not shake the betrayal.

Through the chain-link gate, she could see the end of the black ribbon. There was no one around and they would have no trouble getting inside. The street was quiet; there was no one to see them climb the fence.

That morning, Emily had not known what she would do when she returned with her violin. She had to admit to herself that her options had been to do nothing or to do her best to fix the key. With what P.D. had shown her, with her realization of what it held, she could not bring herself to fix it. Her lips tingled.

Was it the memory or the lasting effect of Marcus' touch?

"We better go in quickly before anyone comes," Marcus said.

She nodded. Grabbing the strap of her case, she pulled it over her head so that it secured the case across her back. Marcus held out his hands to form a foothold for her. A moment later, she was at the top of the fence shakily trying to switch to the other side. Marcus and P.D. wasted no time in following. She tried to control her descent but succeeded only in slowly her drop down. Marcus had already dropped and held out an arm to steady her as she landed.

"Thanks," she said as they turned to approach the ribbon.

She set her case down on the ground and unzipped it. P.D. looked at her and panted happily.

"Yes," she said, "We are going to play but I will need your help. I don't really know what I'm doing."

He tilted his head to the side so that his tongue was hanging out of his mouth.

Marcus walked to stand several feet away as she stood, pulling her instrument to her shoulder.

"I will try to make this quick," she said.

He nodded.

She looked down at the ribbon in the ground, undulating like a tentacle of an anemone. She focused upon it and, as she did so, she ran over the memory. This time, she did not focus upon the man who had loved her. She focused upon his companion. She recalled every detail as best she could, upon how its beak curved, how its body moved. P.D. was alert but prone to silliness. As she recalled this other creature, she knew it was all business.

With the clear image in her mind, the music came. She played the first low note with a slow, long stroke. She deliberately exaggerated her vibrato. Before she had reached the end of her bow, she slid her fingers up the fingerboard without breaking the sound. As her bow changed direction, she tilted it to the next string, pulling her fingers back down to near the pegs. She did not force the music. She trusted her hidden memories to know better than her consciousness and she trusted P.D. to know what to do with the dark reds and burgundies that stretched from her instrument.

P.D. did not prance and skip like he usually did with her music. He circled the black ribbon, watching it intently as the colours swirled around them. After several steps in one direction, he would switch to circle the opposite way for a while. At first, he appeared to be ignoring the colours completely and she wondered if she was managing to do anything at all. Despite her worry, she did not stop. She had no other ideas and she had to trust her instincts. The music was still coming to her and that must have meant something. She had never intended to bring out memories when she had played in her studio, and yet that was exactly what had happened with P.D.'s help. She hoped something similar would happen now.

As more and more ribbons joined the others, she realized that P.D.'s changes of direction were not random. Each time P.D. switched direction, the ribbons waved in the air as if buffeted by wind. These movements pushed them to twist around each other. The result was not the single thick braid of her earlier attempt. Instead there were two thinner braids circling above the black ribbon.

"What are you doing?" she could hear the black ribbon's question in her head. "Have you lost your mind completely? We wanted to prevent this!"

She ignored the protests.

The notes continued and P.D. continued working the colours into two braids.

The notes skipped and began to slow. She knew they were coming near the end though she was not sure exactly what form that end would take. A maroon note undulated from her instrument and P.D. twisted it around one of the braids. Without waiting for the next note, he lunged at the braid, bit it, and pulled it down to the black ribbon with his mouth.

The final note echoed from her instrument. P.D. guided it into place around the other braid as she slowly lowered her bow. Repeating his previous gesture, he grabbed it with his mouth. Her breath ceased as she watched to see what he would do.

To a shock so complete that she nearly dropped her violin, P.D. pounced on Marcus and rammed the end of the braid against his neck. Marcus too had been caught off guard and had nearly fallen backwards in shock even before P.D. had reached him. With the force of P.D.'s efforts, Marcus' balance was pushed beyond recovery and he fell.

Before he hit the ground, Emily could have sworn she saw his green ribbon emerge but within a moment the reds of her braid had combined with it, turning it black.

"Marcus, no!" All she could think of was what had happened when he had tried to remove P.D. from her, how close to death he had come before Liam had helped them. She ran to his side and knelt over him.

His eyes were closed.

She hastily set her violin on the ground so that she could use her hands to feel his face and neck, hoping for any twitch or indication that he was alive. His chest rose slowly and fell. With it, her own collapsed in relief.

She was about to turn to P.D. to scold him for hurting Marcus but froze. She could hear the high tone of a violin. For a moment, she looked down at her own instrument. She blinked. The ribbons from the braids were still connected but there was nothing new.

She spun around and looked at the ground. Faint yellow ribbons were beginning to poke out around the braid. The tone increased in volume and the ribbons became thicker and longer. The yellows changed, becoming more like gold. As they did, her braid became fainter.

She looked down at Marcus quickly and saw that the braid attached to him too was fading. The violin tone continued to grow and she turned back to the golden ribbons. They had become so bright that they were now nearly white. She squinted against the light.

As the tone reached a harmonic level, the braid had faded completely and the white light exploded from where it had been held, bathing the entire demolition site in light. She threw up her arm to shield her eyes. As the light faded, she lowered it.

In the spot where the black ribbon had been lay the eagle-headed bear motionless. P.D. nuzzled its side.

She looked down at Marcus, who was also still motionless.

"Marcus," she called. "Marcus!"

His eyes twitched but he did not open them.

She placed her hands on either side of his face and called to him again. "Please, Marcus. Wake up! Please!"

His eyes opened drowsily and rolled around until they focused upon her face. A small smile parted his lips. "My dear Tylluan," he said. "Together again." His eyes closed once more.

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Brick 33

The next morning, Emily sat next to Marcus' bed, waiting for him to wake up.

His room was much larger than the one he had given her to sleep off the alcohol. It had several large, frosted windows along one wall, an open archway to a bathroom big enough to have both a tub and a shower, and a king sized bed with black sheets.

At the construction site, she had used his phone to call Philip for help. By the time he and Valerie arrived at the demolition site, the eagle-headed bear had regained unsteady consciousness and was able to stand with P.D.'s assistance of a nose poke in the ribs here and there.

Marcus, however, had remained unconscious. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Every now and again throughout the night, his lips would curve into a faint smile or his brow would furrow. Once or twice he muttered an unintelligible syllable.

Emily had hoped it was a sign that he was simply adjusting to the release of his guardian but that hope was faint as it was based purely on speculation. Her lack of knowledge allowed her fears equal footing.

His guardian was now snuggled against his other side. P.D. was stretched across Marcus' feet.

His guardian slept too but his rest was more fitful. His eyes would open, he might even lift his head for a moment to look around, but always, he set it back down slowly and closed his eyes again.

Though P.D.'s chin rested on Marcus' shin, his eyes were alert and appraising as he watched both of them. Every twitch from either Marcus or the bear made P.D. lift his head for a closer look or sniff at the sheets as if the smells would give him better answers.

Emily reached out to clasp Marcus' hand in hers. She closed her eyes, hoping that somehow she would feel more from him. But there was little comfort given. He could not send his ribbon down his arm. It could not caress her and bring her emotions to the same confidence and happiness he had shown her their first day together.

Resting her elbows on the bed, she lifted his hand to her forehead to rest against it.

"How the hell have you tried to kill him this time?"

Emily gave a great jolt, dropping Marcus' hand as she looked up. Mary stood in the doorway, glaring at her. She was one of the last people Emily was in the mood to see.

"Nice of you to show up finally," Emily said without any attempt at civility.

"I was trying to find a way to save him from the last thing you did to him," Mary said as she walked up to his bedside and reached out to put her hand on his head.

"Don't," Emily yelled, adding more quietly, "Don't you touch him."

Emily's initial outburst had made Mary pull back but then she sneered and defiantly reached out again.

Emily jumped to her feet, as did P.D. She grabbed Mary's wrist.

"While you were off thinking yourself the hero, Liam saved him," Emily seethed. "And what has happened now is no concern of yours."

Mary's eyes narrowed. "You think awfully high of yourself," she said. "I have been friends with Marcus for years. You show up and within days you think you know anything about our relationship? It's you who should leave him alone."

P.D. began to growl, once again proving his impeccable judge of character. Mary took no notice to his hostility, which made Emily feel vengeful satisfaction. She and Marcus shared something Mary could never understand.

"I don't know what you think your relationship is with Marcus," Emily said quietly, "But before you go picking fights over it, you better be sure he would agree with you."

Mary's glare faltered and Emily took that moment to add, "I am sick of dealing with your crap. I don't trust you and if you think I would let you set a hand on him, to do who knows what, then you're stupid as well as mean. If you could get over yourself, you'd know Marcus loves me."

Mary did not back down. "The Elders were right about you," she seethed.

Emily was confused. Marcus had indicated Mary had never been granted an audience with them. How would she know what they thought?

Mary smiled as she saw the confusion on Emily's face. "Apparently, I'm not the only one who's stupid," she said. "How do you think I tried to help Marcus? When I couldn't figure it out on my own, I went to see them. They told me the truth about what you are doing, how you are trying to hurt Marcus. They told me everything."

Emily was unable to stifle a loud scoff. "Even Marcus doesn't trust them anymore," she said. "Isabella and Louis wanted him dead."

"They told me you would say that," Mary spat as she wrenched her wrist from Emily's hand. "They told me about your special ability: key making. You're trying to stop our work and the best way to do that is to make sure Marcus can't find the keys. Isabella is terrified of you. She was practically sobbing when she told me the truth."

Emily's blood had pushed up to her cheeks and would soon be bubbling in her ears. If there was one thing Emily was sure about in regards to Isabella, it was that that woman was incapable of a shedding a tear for anyone except herself. Mary had been blinded by jealousy and her desperation to keep Emily away from Marcus. If she could so easily believe Isabella of all people, there would be no reasoning with her.

"Philip," Emily called.

Several moments later, Philip entered the room. Emily and Mary were still watching each other.

"You need to get Mary out of here," she said. "She has picked her side and it is not ours."

Mary turned to Philip. "The Elders told me the truth. You cannot believe a word this woman says," she pleaded.

Philip looked back and forth at them for a minute but then settled his eyes on Marcus. Emily had no idea what thoughts his mind was examining, but after a moment, he turned to Mary and said, "I trust Marcus. You better leave."

Mary's eyes flicked around the room as if she were looking for a weapon. Her breathing was rapid and her hands were clenched. Finally, she said, "I will go for now, but don't you leave him alone with her. She's hurt him enough already."

To both Emily and Mary's surprise, he said, "You assume he is hurt."

Mary looked as though she was surrounded by madmen but knowing she was outnumbered, she left in a huff. Philip followed, possibly to see that she held to her word and really left.

Emily looked down at Marcus. His guardian had slept through the entire exchange. P.D. sat down at Marcus' feet but did not relax. Mary's visit had put him on alert.

"What a crazy bitch," she said. She knew P.D. agreed.

When Emily looked at Marcus' closed eyes, her anger at the confrontation was forced out by her worry. As she had pointed out to Mary, Liam had helped save him last time. She wondered if that is what Marcus needed again.

The music would be worth a try but Liam still had it. He had made such a big deal about his promises to keep secrets but saving Marcus' life had proved an exception. Knowing what that music could do, she hoped it would prove enough of an exception again.

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Brick 34

Chapter 13

Emily gripped the handle of her violin case tighter as she knocked on Liam's studio door with her free hand. She had not bothered to call. She was too afraid the warning would ensure he would not answer.

Instead, she had left Marcus and his guardian in the care of Philip and Valerie. Both agreed not to let Mary into the house again but that had barely comforted Emily. If Mary was convinced that Isabella and Louis were telling the truth, she could not be trusted. Emily was sure they were not above manipulating Mary into doing something drastic.

There was no answer. Emily knocked again, impatiently pulling out her phone to check the time. 11:30 am. He was usually around by this time. She looked down at P.D. He was sitting patiently next to her leg.

After another moment, the door opened. Liam's eyes went wide.

"Hi, Liam," she said in greeting, trying to smile but thinking it felt more like a grimace. "Can I come in? I need to ask you for a favour."

The crease between his eyebrows deepened. "I meant it when I said I wouldn't break my promise even if I could," he said.

She nodded. "I know. That's not what I was going to ask you to do."

He raised an eyebrow before standing back and opening the door wider. "Come on in," he said.

As she entered, her eyes - like those of everyone else who walked into the room - went straight to the lush river valley. The sky was filled with intricate clouds that collided and separated, threatening to send down the rains but never releasing a drop. Shafts of sunlight shot through the ever changing openings to illuminate the trees on either side of the river.

Liam closed the door behind her. "What do you need?" he said conversationally as he walked over to a stack of music on the piano bench. Several pieces of sheet music were grouped into two smaller piles on the other side of the bench. He picked up the top piece from the largest stack, looked at the front and placed it on one of the shorter piles before reaching for another.

"I need the music that saved Marcus," she said.

He paused in mid sort. "Why do you need that?" he asked.

"Well," she began, feeling her cheeks get hot. "We ... Marcus sort of ... He's not well again."

Liam looked up at her. "He had a relapse?"

"No," she replied. "We were trying to find out about Tylluan. What we did went a way we weren't expecting. He's unconscious and has been since it happened." She felt her mouth go dry and tears began to sting her eyes. She refused to let them fall. She had wanted to seem knowledgeable and in control. She knew Liam would never help her if he thought it was making her a wreck. "I'm afraid he will never wake up," she added, still trying her best to keep her voice steady.

Liam sat down on top of the two short piles of music and put his hands on his knees. He was not looking at her. His head was turned to the side so that he was staring at the wall.

"Tell me exactly what you did," he said.

"Why?" She wanted him to know as little as possible. That way there would be less to make him hostile to the idea.

"Because that music might not do a thing for him depending on what caused this."

"We were just trying to find out what happened in 1918," she said.

"You went to the Arlington Apartments, didn't you?" he asked, still not looking at her.

She hesitated. "Yes."

"You removed the key, didn't you?" His voice was rough.

"Yes," she whispered.

His eyes closed. "There is nothing that can help him," he said. "He will wake up when he is ready."

"How can you be sure of that?" She demanded.

He might be content in such an unsatisfactory explanation but she was terrified. She had no way of knowing if he was right. Even if he was, when would Marcus wake up? Later that day? Fifty years from now?

"That is how these things work," he said.

"That's all you have to offer me?" Her anger spilled into her voice. There was no way she could hide it but when Liam glared at her, she wished she had managed it somehow.

"That is all I can offer you," he said. "I am impotent to help you because it was what you wanted. After everything I have done for you, you have the nerve to treat me like I am just playing games to piss you off."

"I have no way of knowing what you are doing because I can't remember!"

"Exactly like you wanted," he said. His jaw was tense.

"I don't want it anymore!" she yelled. "I'll remove that damn key and then you can tell me everything. I removed Marcus', I can remove yours."

He let out a long breath. "I don't want you to remove it," he said. "And good luck trying without my consent."

Her breath stopped in her throat. She opened her mouth to reply and closed it again before she could think of what to say. "Why don't you want me to remove it?" she whispered.

"Because I don't want to have this conversation," he said.

She was so mad she wanted to throw something at him, but as the only thing she was holding was her violin, she resisted the urge. The vitriol of it, unable to escape through force, trickled through her insides, turning her organs upside down. "You would let Marcus die because you are too much of a coward to talk to me?"

He jumped to his feet. "How can you accuse me of such a thing? I already told you he will be fine! I can't take talking about this. I hoped we would never have to talk about this again. You aren't the only one who wanted to forget about the past." His voice was getting louder and faster as he spoke. He began to pace the room. "I wanted to prevent you from remembering just as much as you did. I thought if I stayed away from you, you wouldn't go any further. You'd come up empty and it would all go away. I had no idea you would figure it out so fast. How did you do it? It was supposed to be impossible. I needed it to be impossible."

"Why?" Her voice was quiet. She felt completely vulnerable standing in the middle of his studio with him ranting. She wanted to curl up in the corner and hide.

He stopped pacing. "You already know why. Do you really want to keep torturing me? It's because I love you!" he yelled. "It was supposed to be my chance. You were never going to see him again. It was supposed to be impossible for him to come back. With him gone, I saw no reason why you couldn't move on. Why couldn't we deserve to be happy together? Why would you never give me the chance?"

She blinked back at him. "Liam," she said, "I am in love with Marcus. I realized last night that I always have been."

He snorted. "You love him and you cannot even remember his real name, Tylluan."

"That's not fair. Until a couple of days ago, I couldn't even remember my own name."

"And yet you insist on clinging to a past you cannot remember. Even before Marcus came back, you never gave me a chance. Even when you couldn't remember he had ever existed, you couldn't let him go."

Liam's jealousy had finally exasperated her too much. Her legs went weak. She walked over to the couch and sat down. She stared at the floor. She couldn't bring herself to keep looking at him.

"I'm sorry, Liam," she said. "You have been a wonderful friend but I just can't give you what you want, whether or not you help me now."

The air conditioning came on, creating a steady hum in the room. The draft from the vents tickled at a lock of her hair that had fallen in front of her face. She reached up to tuck it behind her ear.

When Liam spoke again, the calm in his voice caused her to look up. He was looking out the window.

"I know," he said. "Dammit, I am such an idiot." He turned away from her. "I've known this for a long time. I had even thought I had begun to accept it but when all this started again, those wounds were all ripped open. I'm sorry." He took a large breath. "I'm a pretty bad friend."

"It sounds like what I put you through makes me no better," she offered.

P.D. walked away from her side and began to nuzzle at Liam's hand. Even her guardian wanted to make peace. Liam looked down at him and forced a grin.

"Liam," she said. "Please, let me remove the key."

He finally turned back to look at her. "Alright," he said. "I'll let you remove it."

Despite all their fighting, she felt as though she had known he would finally relent. It was only then that she realized it.

She reached down and opened her violin case and removed her instrument. After the few moments it took to tune it, she began to play immediately.

Unlike the last few times, P.D. walked to the side of the room and sat down, simply watching the colours as she played. It took a few more minutes for her to find the right combination of notes. When the ribbons began to emerge bright orange, she felt she had gotten it. Liam's eyes were focused upon hers.

She followed the pattern of notes she had discovered and the orange ribbons danced their way to Liam. Very quickly, they began to caress his chest. They danced around his shoulder and back down to his heart. As they penetrated, he took a sharp intake of breath. His eyes did not waver as he continued to watch her.

The melody was coming to a very quick conclusion and only then did she realize the key she had made had not even been that strong in the first place. Perhaps even at the time she had made it, she knew she did not truly want to forget. Perhaps it had only remained strong due to Liam's willingness to keep it that way.

A final golden ribbon joined the others and a moment later they pulled the last threads of the key free from Liam's heart.

She lowered her violin and watched as they faded.

"I don't think I will ever get used to it not being there," he said.

She put her violin back in its case.

"Are you alright?" she asked, just to be sure.

He nodded. "Yes, and Marcus will be too."

"How do you know for sure?" She had no hostility in asking this time. She knew he would answer.

"Don't you remember your recent stint in the hospital?" he asked. "It's the same thing with Marcus now. Give him a few days. He will be back to normal soon. His body is adjusting to the release of his soul."

"His soul?"

He gestured with his hand to P.D. "You released your own not long ago," he said. "Though P.D.'s development has been gradual and is still incomplete. It might take Marcus a few more days as you likely released his all at once."

As she considered what he was saying, she asked, "Why did I ask you to help me?"

"Because that was my job," he said. "I helped the Elders until they showed as much regard for me as they did for Marcus. I am a compass, a real compass, and you and Marcus are Elders."

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Brick 35

Liam ran his fingers through his hair. "I should say Marcus was an Elder until you locked his true self away. You told me he would remain sealed forever. I thought you wanted it that way but I guess your heart wasn't really in it. Some of him remained free somehow. I assume that is when the others decided to use him like one of their servants. They probably took great glee in it, knowing the whole time who he had really been. Isabella and Louis' sadism has never waned."

"This is crazy," Emily whispered to herself. "I don't remember any of it. Why don't I remember any of it?"

"You will," he said. "Give it time. You only released P.D. a few days ago. You sealed your memories with him. Over time, he will bring them back to you."

"And is that what will happen to Marcus when he wakes up?" she asked. "Will he also remember everything?"

Liam nodded. "It may take time, as it has with you, or it could be all at once due to the suddenness of the events."

Emily stood up and began to pace the room as she considered everything he was saying. "Why did I ever try to seal him away? Did he know that was what was going to happen?"

Liam sat down on the piano bench again. "I honestly don't know," he said. "Something strange was happening around that time. I was only a compass, so you and the other elders never bothered explaining much to me but I saw how you were all acting. You were increasingly impatient with each other. You and Marcus did not approve of something that Louis and Isabella were doing. Then one day, Marcus was gone. For weeks, I wondered where he went but no one would tell me anything. Isabella muttered something about him being a traitor. You only told me that you hoped he would come home soon."

He reached forward and pressed a single key on the piano so that a quiet note garbed in a faint purple ribbon undulated from under the lid.

"Then, years later, you came to me in the middle of the night," he continued. "You were distraught. You were almost incoherent at first. You said Marcus was sealed away forever, that he would never be free again. You wanted to kill yourself but you can't die so you begged me for help."

He stood up once more and walked to the cupboard. He opened it and looked to the same shelf from which he had once retrieved the music that saved Marcus' life. He pulled out a stack of weathered sheets and began to thumb through them. He stopped and examined one of the pages. After a moment, he turned back to Emily and handed the page to her.

She did not recognize the music but she knew, as Tylluan, she had written it. As she went over the notes in her head, she tried to feel the intent. What would those notes do?

"You begged for me to help you," he said. "You could not live with what you had done. You told me you had sealed him away and that he would be gone forever. You had been living with that and could not take it anymore. If you could not end the pain through death, you would need to end it in another. I had no way to seal you, which is what you wanted and you could not completely seal yourself. You had come to me after begging Victor to do it, but he had refused, so you wrote this. It sealed away as much of what made you as you could manage. Your memories, your abilities, even how you had looked, were all sealed away so that there would never be any reminders of what had happened and who you had been. You begged me to stay with you, to help make sure you never again remembered."

She continued to scan the music he had given her, and all she could think as the tune played in her thoughts was that it would not be capable of doing what he said.

"Is there more to this music?" she asked.

He nodded. "I see your memories are coming closer to the surface," he said. "There are two other pages for two other instruments. One is for the piano and one is for a cello."

She looked up at him as she realized what that meant. "Who played the third instrument?"

"Victor," he said. "He was willing to give you a temporary reprieve from the memories but after what he had seen happen to Marcus, he refused to seal you away entirely. Marcus' supposedly permanent imprisonment had hit him almost as hard as it had you."

Emily's heart sank as she recalled how Victor had risked helping them. She thought of how pleased he would be to know Marcus had been freed but it was too late. He was gone.

Her breath caught. "You said I cannot die?" she asked.

Liam nodded again. "None of the Elders can," he said.

Her hand clenched around the edge of the music. "Isabella and Louis said he died," she explained. "They were lying."

"They usually do," Liam replied. "If Victor is gone, he either left or he had been sealed. Given that Isabella and Louis lied about it, you might want to consider it to be the latter."

Emily released a breath of relief. "Then we can break his seal," she said. "I was able to break Marcus' this time even if I couldn't years ago. Maybe I have gotten better."

Liam said nothing but the crease between his brows was as deep as it would go.

"Now that the key is removed, will you help me?" she asked.

"If Victor is in trouble, I must."

Emily was just about to thank him when a vibrating in her pocket took her attention. She took out her phone and answered it. She was surprised to hear Dr. Watanabe on the other end.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, concerned.

"I've been feeling fine," she replied. "Thank you for asking."

"Any other headaches we should be worried about?" he asked.

"They have disappeared completely," she said. She neglected to explain that they had disappeared once P.D. had been fully released.

"Good. Good," he said. "Any other worrying symptoms from your synesthesia?"

"Nothing at all. I've been feeling great."

"And what about the red and black ribbons?"

She froze. She had told him about the black ribbon in as cursory a way as possible but she knew she had never mentioned the red.

"How did you... "

"Listen, Emily," he said. "I've had a rather disturbing meeting this afternoon with Mary. She told me about what you have been claiming to see. I am concerned for your safety."

Emily closed her eyes and clutched her fingers tightly around her phone at the mention of Mary's name.

"I am perfectly alright," she said. "Even if I am seeing things."

"And what happened last night? Was that simply seeing things?"

Emily opened her eyes to see Liam looking at her, confusion on his face. She turned around to focus on her phone conversation.

"That was none of her business," Emily said. "She doesn't understand what is going on."

Dr. Watanabe sighed. "Emily, this is serious. You trespassed into the middle of a demolition site and someone got seriously hurt. Surely you must see how that is a problem."

Emily's anger rose into her cheeks. "He's fine," she said snappishly. "He just needs a few days' rest."

"He's in a coma," Dr. Watanabe said.

Emily would not be deterred. She had seen Marcus. He was not in a coma. "I had my own episode, if you remember, and I was fine within hours."

"Just because we could not find what was wrong does not mean you were fine, Emily. You need to see how important this is. You put a man in danger and refused to seek appropriate medical attention when he was hurt. Now, what happened to him? Was he hit in the head? Did he fall?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she said.

"And this is exactly the problem," he said with forced calm. "Emily, thanks to Mary's help, we are getting Marcus to the hospital for proper care. I would like you to meet us there."

She was wary. If he thought she was crazy and a danger, she did not like what he had planned. "I'm sorry," she said. "I have other matters that need to be taken care of."

"Emily," he said more sternly. "I will be sending someone to your apartment and to your workplace. You need help."

"Good-bye, Dr. Watanabe," she said and hung up.

For a moment, she thought she could manage to keep calm but the anger caused by what Mary had done was too much. Every muscle in her body tensed. Her fingers wrapped around her phone so tightly they turned white. She let out a shriek and cursed before throwing the phone across the room.

"Do I dare ask?" Liam asked.

"Mary has managed to get me declared dangerously insane and the authorities have taken Marcus to the hospital. They say he is in a coma." All the strength went out of her. She walked to the couch and sat down. Her arms went weaker still, falling limply against the edge of the couch cushions.

"Are the police after you?" he asked.

"Most likely," she replied as she stared at the floor. "What am I going to do?"

"Exactly what we were planning," he said. "We are going to find Victor. Marcus will be alright. When he wakes up, they'll question him, he will defend you to the authorities, and they will likely let him go and drop the whole issue. But first, we need to get you out of here before the police come looking."

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Brick 36

Chapter 14

That evening, Emily sat on a lumpy motel bed looking over the old sheet music Liam had given her.

He took keeping her hidden very seriously. Before they could look for Victor, he wanted to make sure she was somewhere safe. He had driven her out to a motel in Stony Plain, a town outside Edmonton. He insisted on being the one to sign out the room, even making her stay bent over in the car so that the hotel manager did not see her. He also paid in cash.

Once he was sure she had gotten into the room unseen, he gave her the stack of weathered music, telling her it was everything she had given him, and left to return to the college.

Though there was no sign of anyone around and there was little to do, P.D. sat alert near the door. At first, this made Emily uneasy as she assumed there to be danger lurking outside. When several hours went by, she began to relax as she reasoned he was simply as stressed as she was. If he was indeed a part of her, it made sense that his signs of stress reflected hers.

For the third time, she scanned through each note on each page of music. No matter how long she stared at the passages, she could not remember having written them. She also could not remember what the purpose for any of them had been. Even the page Liam had given her the day they saved Marcus' life had no writing on it that indicated its intended use. However, Liam had known what it was for and she hoped he would explain more when he returned.

She looked down at her violin case, her fingers twitching involuntarily at the thought of opening it and playing. She forced her eyes back down to the page in front of her. All Liam's efforts to keep her presence secret would have been for nothing if she started playing. Even with a mute, the sound would be enough to get the attention of someone through the flimsy walls.

She tried to imagine how the music would have sounded in her head. While she was successful in grasping the melody, she had no success in imagining what the ribbons would do if the written notes were actually played. P.D.'s influence accounted for so much she still did not understand.

Later that evening, long after she had given up trying to decipher the notes and had tried and failed to entertain herself with the abysmal television programming, she rested on her back, staring at the ceiling. P.D. remained sitting near the door as if he expected an enemy to burst through at any moment. Her stomach growled for the fourth time that hour but she did not dare leave the room. She did her best to ignore it as she began to look for patterns in the stippled ceiling.

The sound of rustling outside the door followed by a key being shoved into the lock broke her trance. She sat up, willing to fight if it became necessary. Within a second, the door opened part way and Liam was trying to squeeze through while balancing an arm full of take out. P.D. stood and walked to Liam's side, sniffing at his leg.

"I didn't have time to cook," Liam said, "So I called Haweli and got them to whip something up for us."

Haweli was an Indian restaurant several blocks from the College and one Emily loved to frequent. Nothing about her current accommodations felt familiar and comforting but having the smell of fresh naan and curries fill the room was a welcome token of her normal life.

As she watched him set the stack of food on the small table in the corner, she noticed a package on the top that did not look to be part of their meal. It was rectangular, the size of a brick, and wrapped in fabric.

"What's that?" she asked.

Liam looked at it and said, "I'm not sure. I nearly tripped over it when I went to open the door. It was sitting on the floor."

"Did you see anyone?"

He shook his head. "The hall was completely deserted."

She reached over and picked it up; discovering it did not just looked like a brick but was as heavy as one too. Setting it in her lap, she began to unwrap the fabric. As the parcel lay open before her, she blinked. It was a brick, weathered and cracked. P.D. sniffed at the brick with wide eyes. She picked it up and a folded piece of paper that had been under it glided to the floor.

Setting the brick back in her lap, she leaned over to pick up the paper and unfolded it. In scrawled cursive, it read, "Agocara have found us. Isabella and Louis refuse to run. Don't be that stupid. Get Marcus. Forget Edmonton. - Victor"

"What is it?" Liam asked, pausing in the middle of unwrapping some plastic cutlery.

"A warning from Victor," she said before reading the note aloud.

The crease between Liam's eyebrows deepened. "Agocara? Have you ever heard of it?" he asked.

Emily shook her head. "Unfortunately, I still cannot remember much of anything. I wish Victor would remember that much at least and be less cryptic," she said, looking back at the brick in her lap. "And why would he bother including this?"

Liam set the plastic forks, knives, and spoons down so that he could pick it up. He turned it over and examined every side. "It was part of a key at some point," he said.

"One of mine?" she asked.

He looked it over again. "No, and yet there is an echo of the same key that held Marcus." He shook his head as if to scold himself. "That's crazy. I've never heard of such a thing as a double key. What would be the point of putting a key on a key?"

Emily looked at the brick and considered. There had been only one key on Marcus when she had freed his soul and that key had been hers. That much she knew. Where this other key had come from, she had no idea.

Liam set the brick down next to her on the bed and returned to opening the containers of food. He passed her a piece of naan.

"As strange as the double key is," he said, "This note poses another problem."

"What's that?" she asked before ripping off a piece of the flatbread with her teeth.

"It likely means Victor is gone and does not want to be found," he said. "We won't be able to count on him for information after all."

Emily's shoulders fell. That had not occurred to her. Reading over the note again, she was further discouraged. Victor seemed concerned they were in danger and it sounded like the threat was imminent. With her a fugitive and Marcus under the watchful eye of doctors and likely an armed guard, how was she ever going to get him safely away from the city? Did they have enough time to wait until he woke up?

She swallowed her mouthful of naan, which made a larger lump in her throat than it should have, and looked at the rest of the bread. Her appetite had fled completely.

"We need to figure out what 'Agocara' is," she said. "Otherwise I have no way of knowing if I should risk arrest to get Marcus out now or if we can wait until he wakes up and clears up this whole mess with the authorities."

"I just hope we have enough time even for that," Liam said, lifting a spoonful of rice to his mouth. "Victor was never the alarmist type. If he's working so hard to hide and send you cryptic warnings, he must be terrified."

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Brick 37

P.D. sniffed at the brick next to Emily. The movement caused it to brush against her hand. When she looked down in response to the touch, she saw that P.D.'s eyes were dilated. His sniffing of the object became more fervent. For several seconds, it seemed as though he would inhale the entire stone if he could. With a great snort, he jumped back a foot and stared at the stone. Every muscle in his body was tense. Then, with a great inhale, he sneezed so hard that it sent him back almost another foot.

"You alright?" Emily asked him without concern as she figured the dust from the battered brick had irritated his nose. Then her breath caught. Could it even do that? How physical was P.D.? No one else could see or interact with him, but she could. Was he physical enough that dust would cause such a sneeze?

P.D. was staring at the ground. His muscles had not relaxed.

"P.D., are you alright?" she asked again, now worried that something about that brick had hurt him.

He gave another large sneeze.

By this time, Liam had set his food on the table and was leaning over to get a closer look.

"He looks alright to me," he said. "At least, I can't see anything strange around him."

P.D. looked up at Liam but seemed to be having trouble seeing straight. He kept moving his head as if to get a better look. Then he shook it as if to clear his vision. Still trying to see straight, he stumbled towards Emily's violin case at the end of the bed. He looked at her with unfocused eyes before nudging the case violently.

When Emily did not immediately respond, he repeated the gesture.

"I can't play it," she said, looking at Liam. "Someone might hear."

He looked at the hotel room door. A moment later he said, "Leave it to me. You do what you have to," before getting up and leaving the room.

As she reached for the case and opened it, P.D. shifted weight nervously. He gave another large sneeze.

"Just hold on another minute," she said as she tightened the horse hair of her bow.

She tuned the instrument as quickly and quietly as she could; afraid even that would draw too much attention. Not knowing how much time she would have, she began playing immediately.

Her stress interfered with the notes at first. The ribbons that emerged looked completely wrong and they quickly faded. P.D.'s agitation was not eased either. The more stressed she became; the further she felt she was from playing the notes she needed.

In desperation rather than sense, she stopped and forced herself to take a deep breath. After another moment, she allowed herself to try again.

The familiar notes came to her. They were almost the very same as those she had played in her studio when P.D. had revealed the memory from 1918. There were some greens and yellows where there had previously been blues and reds, but most of the colours were unchanged. P.D.'s movements were an exact re-enactment of that previous session.

As the completed braid touched her, she was no longer playing her violin in the hotel room, but neither was she near the Arlington Apartments in 1918.

She was walking along a river. In width it resembled the North Saskatchewan, the river that cut through the modern city of Edmonton, but this particular stretch was unfamiliar to her. She appeared to be walking west. Far ahead of her she could see the silhouettes of three people and a knee-height animal against the late day sun.

"If the distance between cities doesn't hide us, I don't know what will."

The speaker was walking alongside Emily and gave a great huff to emphasize her statement. Emily looked down and saw P.D. trotting along on her other side.

"Victor thinks we will be there soon," Emily heard herself say. "Maybe another day or two."

"Or twenty," said the voice, which was now beginning to sound distinctly female. "It might as well be anyway."

Emily found herself putting an arm around the woman and giving a gentle squeeze. "It will be alright, Isabella. I know it seems like it will never end but two days is nothing after as many years."

"I suppose you're right." She paused before adding, "What if it isn't even a real city? I don't think I could lower myself to be guardian of a few huts."

"If we want to remain guardians at all, we might have to accept giving help no matter where it is needed. These new towns are popping up so fast, I'm not even sure the Masters would have been able to assign guardians fast enough."

Isabella scoffed. "Masters indeed. A whole lot of good they've done us."

"Careful," Emily cautioned. "You've seen the path that comes from such thoughts. Try to focus on the bright side."

When Isabella spoke next, her voice quavered and Emily knew even without looking at her face that she was beginning to cry. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know. I've been having such dark thoughts. I've been trying so hard to push them away but they keep coming back. Ever since those Agocara found us, I can't seem to stop thinking such horribly dark things. What if I become just like them?"

Emily squeezed her friend's shoulders once more. "You won't."

Isabella gave a half-hearted chuckle. "You're a bad liar," she said.

"Well, even if you can't fight it, that's what Marcus and I are here for. We'll remind you of who you truly are. We'll always be here to bring you back to your true path."

"A whole lot of good you two turned out to be. You can't even fix yourselves properly," Isabella said as she waved a hand in P.D.'s direction. Though the words were spoken with venom, Emily knew that they were not representative of how Isabella truly felt.

"We will figure it out together," Emily said, still trying to remain encouraging.

Isabella gave a large, exhausted sigh. "I'm sorry, Tylluan. I just can't seem to hold back this anger. I really don't mean to attack you like this. You are my best friend outside of Louis." She dropped her head onto Emily's shoulder. "Promise me something," she whispered.

"I'm not going to keep secrets if that's what you want," Emily said.

Isabella waved her hand dismissively. "Nothing like that," she said, still keeping her voice low. "Promise me you won't hate me when I'm consumed. Promise me you will forgive me."

"Don't talk like that. You will stay strong. I know you will."

"That is what Louis is always saying too but I see it in his eyes. He feels the pull as strongly as I do. We are both destined to be lost."

Emily did not respond. Her mouth felt dry. Even a breeze whispering of a refreshingly cool evening to come did little to improve her mood.

"Promise me something else," Isabella said, but without waiting for a reply this time, she immediately continued with her request, "Don't ever let them do to us what they did to Victor. I don't know how he goes on. I know I never could."

"I haven't given up hope for Victor," Emily said. "He'll find a way to break that key someday. When he does, we might finally be ready to stop running."

"You're a dreamer, Tylluan. You always hope for the best but you never seem to realize the best doesn't come to pass."

"Maybe not yet but that doesn't mean not ever."

The four silhouettes before them had stopped and turned. Emily heard Louis yell back to them, "There's a perfect place to camp for the night just ahead."

The end of his sentence faded into nothing as did the rest of her vision.

Emily blinked several times. As the hotel room came back to her, she set her violin back in its case and sat on the edge of the bed.

P.D. was pawing at his nose, as if still trying to dislodge something, but he seemed less concerned. With a final sneeze just as exaggerated as the others, he returned to his normal self. His eyes were clear as he walked over to her and rested his chin on her lap.

There were loud voices coming from down the hall.

"The song's ended anyway," Liam yelled. "I told you I won't turn it on again."

"Just keep it down or you're out," a man yelled back.

A moment later, Liam opened the door and came inside. "How did it go?" he asked quietly.

Emily shrugged as she was still trying to process that herself. "What do you know about Guardians and Masters?"

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Brick 38

Liam blinked. "Never heard of them," he said.

Emily let out a sigh. "I was afraid you would say that. Marcus seemed to know something about Guardians but even that information must have been wrong."

Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Liam said, "I doubt we can go by any of the information Marcus had. His true memories were sealed and the only knowledge he did have was fed to him by Isabella and Louis."

She nodded. "I think you're right. He thought P.D. was my guardian because Valerie and Philip couldn't see him."

"Only Elders or a Compass could see P.D. and even then, not all of them. In most cases, only those you are close to would be able to see him clearly. That is simply because he is your soul. If you don't wish to share him, others won't see him. Do you trust Valerie and Philip?"

She shrugged as she reached out to stroke P.D.'s head. He pushed himself against her touch. "I don't know them that well," she replied.

Liam began to poke through the take-out containers again, looking for something different to eat.

"If you are a Compass, you must have found many keys," she asked as everything Marcus had ever told her churned through her mind, despite her lack of confidence in the information.

"I suppose," Liam said before scooping a red curry into the container of rice from which he had already been eating. "They aren't all that common."

She stopped petting P.D. and looked at him. "Really? With the way the others talked, I figured they were finding and breaking them all the time."

"I should clarify," he said. "There are key-like things all over the place. If I paid attention to all of them, I'd be so distracted I'd be walking into walls. I tend to focus upon only the serious ones. The strong ones that are obviously holding back something significant. Those are rare, and no offense to Valerie or Philip, but not ones they could handle. You saw how lost they were dealing with the key on Marcus, even dealing with your own key. Yours was so decayed it fell apart on its own, yet Mary was nearly beside herself when she saw it in the hospital."

"Why was that?" she asked. "Why did it fall apart? It was younger than the key on Marcus but didn't last as long."

He shrugged. "That wasn't the first time it's happened," he said. "That was the third. The second happened ten years ago; the first, twenty years before that. Victor refused to put a permanent seal on you. He insisted they be temporary or he wouldn't help you."

She was trying to process what he was saying but it made no sense. "Ten years ago the last one broke?" she asked. Her blood felt as though it had turned to acid. Her limbs tingled painfully as the memories of what had happened resurfaced. She had succeeded in not thinking about it for so long. Now, she was confronting it all again against her will.

"That's impossible," she said. "I remember ten years ago clearly. I knew nothing about keys or Elders then. I remember that my parents died. I remember that I killed them. I was driving that car and I was the one who screwed up. You know that. You are the one who helped me through it. You did my laundry and kicked me out of bed. You made me dinner every night for months. You saved me from the railing of the High Level." The memory of balancing on the edge of the tallest bridge in the city came back. She could feel the wind in her hair. She could feel the constriction in her chest as she swallowed, prepared to fling her body toward death.

"I did," he said, "But not because your parents died. That's what you convinced yourself had happened. When the last seal broke, Victor refused to place a third on you at first. It was several weeks before he relented but in that time, you went to a very dark place inside. You wanted death more than anything and the fact that you could never have it was beginning to affect your mind. When Victor finally gave in, seeing that you were worse off remembering what you could not face, you were not the same. It was like you still felt all the pain but you had no idea why. All the rest were false memories that you had created to help hide the truth."

Everything he was saying sounded completely invented and yet she found herself agreeing with his description of the events, even as those false memories remained and obscured reality. She could still clearly see the tree-lined river valley stretching out below her. She could remember every crack in the pavement she planned to hit. Despite the clarity of it, she knew Liam was telling the truth about what really happened.

"Why have I had so little trouble coping this time?" she wondered. "I may not remember much yet but I also haven't felt the despair you are describing."

"Because you found Marcus just in time," he said. "If Marcus hadn't come back into your life, I would probably be making you chicken soup and doing your laundry instead of hiding you from the authorities." He gave an impish grin.

At that moment, her cell rang. When she pulled it out, her chest tightened at the same time her heart leapt. It was Marcus' number.

"Are you alright?" she asked without saying hello.

"Emily?" The voice on the other end was not Marcus but it sounded familiar.

"Philip?" she asked.

"Yeah, it's me," he said. "I'm at the hospital."

"What's going on?"

"Not much in Marcus' room," he said. "He's still asleep but I thought you should know something. After the police let me and Valerie go, we came straight down to make sure he would be alright. We couldn't believe what Mary did. These doctors don't know crap about what's going on."

"You didn't phone just to tell me what I already knew, did you?"

"If you would let me finish, you would know why I called. We've been hanging around the hospital for hours, trying to make sure he is alright. A few minutes ago, we took a break and went to the food court. When we were down there, we saw Mary walking down the hall. We hid and she luckily didn't see us but we overheard her talking on her phone to someone."

"Do you know who?"

"Not the slightest clue," he replied, "But what she said worried us. She said she had taken care of Marcus and that all she needed to do was wait for you to show up. Then she asked the person if they had sealed Victor yet. By that time, she was walking away from us so we didn't hear what she said, but she did not look happy at whatever the person on the other end told her."

"I am guessing they failed," Emily said. "Victor dropped something off to me tonight."

"Well let's hope they keep failing," he said. "This isn't just jealousy anymore, Emily. Mary is up to something. Given her tirade back at Marcus', I wouldn't be surprised if Isabella and Louis have tricked her into doing all of this. Who knows what they are getting her to do."

"Do your best to keep an eye on her. As much as I want to, I need to stay as far away from that hospital as possible."

"You need to stay away from the city too," he said. "I'm looking at your face on one of the hospital televisions right now. They want anyone who has seen you to call the police."

Emily's eyes turned to the ceiling. "Just great," she said, "Well, when Marcus wakes up, he'll clear me."

"You better hope that's soon, unless you've got a really good hiding place."

Her eyes fell upon Liam and she gave a forced smile in response to the crease between his eyebrows. "Don't worry," she said. "They won't find me. Just make sure you call me when Marcus wakes up."

"Sure thing," he said before saying good-bye and hanging up.

Emily's fingers clenched around her cell. She took a small pleasure in watching her knuckles turn white.

"If there were one person I would seal away right this moment if I could," she said, "It would be Mary."

Liam's crease deepened. "What's she done now?"

"Nothing new as far as I can tell but she's working with Isabella and Louis to cause trouble, "she explained. "Taking Marcus was just to set a trap for me."

"You hadn't figured that out already?"

She stuck out her tongue. "I've had a lot on my mind."

She let herself fall back onto the bed and closed her eyes. "I wish I could sleep until everything is fixed," she said. "But I'm not that lucky, am I?"

"Not at all," he replied as she heard the paper take-out bag rustle.

She took a deep breath and focused on releasing it. Her muscles remained tense.

"Liam, tell me a story," she said.

He chuckled. "Do you want Goldilocks or Red Riding Hood?"

"No," she said, still keeping her eyes closed; still hoping sleep might come to her despite her stress. "Tell me something of the past."

"I've told you everything helpful I know," he said.

"Then tell me something that isn't helpful. Tell me what it was like back then. Tell me how we met."

There was silence.

She opened her eyes just enough to see what he was doing. He was standing with his back to her. He was still; his hand clutched around one of the flimsy aluminum containers and hovering over the opening of the paper bag.

"Can we talk about something else?" he asked; his was voice quiet and rough.

She closed her eyes again. There was another long silence.

After several more heartbeats, she had given up on him telling her anything about it. Her body began to relax against the lumpy mattress and she smelled wet bark. A breeze brushed against her cheek. She did not open her eyes.

"It was raining," she said.

"And you looked like a drowned rat," he added.

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Brick 39

Chapter 15

Tylluan huddled closer to the stone wall on the stairs, trying to keep out of the wind. Though the spring morning had lured her outside with its sun, it had quickly turned cloudy. The rains came not long after and felt more like ice hitting her cheeks than water droplets.

Her soul pulled closer, pressing the side of his body against hers. He lifted his nose to sniff the wind.

She looked up at the large building she was using as a wind break. The granite and sandstone structure was not yet complete; the dome in the centre of the building still needed to be finished. Despite the remaining work to be done, the site was deserted. The workers were at church enjoying a day of rest under their god's supervision.

The large pillars and arches of the building reminded her of more painful times. She pulled her knees closer to her chest and looked down at her soaked shoes. Her home was just far enough away that she had decided to wait for the rain to stop. She pulled her wool coat tighter around her.

She and the others told themselves that this new city needed them–every city needed guardians–but she could not help thinking they were doing little for this particular city. It seemed to be doing just fine without intervention. Even on this day when she went looking for trouble to mend, the only trouble she found was a rainstorm.

She thought of Victor. After everything he had been through, she had no right to wallow in self-pity. She still lowered her forehead onto her knees and cried.

"What kind of creature is that?"

Tylluan sat up straight. There was a thin man in a three-piece suit, a great coat, and a bowler hat looking down at her. His appearance was no different than any of the many bankers that lived in her building. A deep crease appeared between his eyebrows.

"Where did it go?" he asked. His voice had a familiar accent that she knew she could have identified long ago. At that moment, the answer was elusive.

She looked over at her soul, still sitting obediently against her side.

"What are you talking about?" she asked, pretending the creature beside her did not exist. Her heart convulsed painfully in her chest. Why had he seen her soul? No one except her family could see it. Had she let her guard down during her wallowing?

The crease between his eyebrows did not go away. "I know what I saw," he said. "I've never seen a creature like that before. What is it?"

"Has the cold gotten to your mind?" she asked, still clinging to the hope that he would stop asking questions and go away.

He shrugged. "I'm used to this kind of weather."

She sniffed. She had been too, once. It had been a long time since she had been in Wales and their recent travels had been far from the sea.

"I've seen enough keys to trust my eyes," the man said. "But that was no key. Are you going to tell me what it was or not?"

"What did you say?"

He smiled. "Don't take me for a fool."

She stood up and began to walk down the steps. Rain or not, she needed to get back to the others.

"I have to go," she said, trying to avoid looking at him.

"You're an Elder, aren't you?" he asked.

She stopped at the term and turned around. "Who are you?"

"Liam," he said holding out a gloved hand. "Elderless Compass."

She ignored the offered hand. "Compass? What is a Compass doing here? There are no Elders or keys out this way." She could have kicked herself when she realized what she had given away but she forced her worry from showing in her face.

His crease appeared again. "No Elders. Do I need to say it again? I am no fool."

Though she had been doing her best to avoid looking at her soul, she could not help but glance at him. To her surprise, he was calm. He was often more wary of strangers than she was. At that moment, he was sniffing the air as if trying to evaluate the man before them.

Her mind raced through all the possibilities of those who could have followed them.

"Don't think me one either," she said before turning and walking as fast as she could through the muck. She needed to get back to the others.

She looked over her shoulder several times but he appeared to have given up and was walking in the other direction. By the time she reached the Arlington Apartments, she was nearly soaked through and smelled of wet wool.

She ignored the elevator and climbed the stairs to their apartment. As she had hoped, everyone was inside.

Victor was sitting in a chair near the window writing very quickly in a poorly stitched together book. Louis and Isabella were in the midst of a game of chess. Tylluan's love had been sitting near the fire, his soul resting at his feet like a loyal hunting hound. When he saw her state, he jumped to his feet and came to her.

"Tylluan, what's happened?" he asked.

Her breathing was still heavy, giving her great difficulty in speaking. She looked into his eyes. Her muscles were finally willing to relax now that she was safe with him and at that moment, she knew him more clearly than ever. She had nearly called him 'Marcus' but that had been wrong. Her mind cleared away the distractions. They had been together too long for her to have truly forgotten. The memory of a castle on a Welsh coast came back to her and with it, his true name more clearly than ever.

"Arthen, a compass is here," she wheezed.

A chess piece fell to the ground.

"What do you mean 'a compass is here'?" Isabella demanded as she got to her feet. "Why would a compass be here? There are no keys. No one knows we are here and there are certainly no Elders anywhere nearby."

Tylluan nodded. "He claims he has no Elders."

Isabella scoffed. "I'm sure he would like us to think that. He probably thinks we have keys hidden nearby and is running errands for his owners."

"We should leave," Arthen said. "We can't risk Agocara finding us. If a compass can track us down, they certainly could."

As uncertain as Tylluan had been feeling about their usefulness in this new city, she hated the idea of having to begin their travels over again. It had been hard enough the first time. Regardless of her feelings, she did not have a chance to respond.

"We stay," Victor said.

They all turned to look at him. He was still scribbling in his notebook and had not looked up from it. "If we interpret every small event as a threat, we will never find sanctuary," he said. "He has seen us now. If we run, he will know and that will draw more attention than if we stay."

Isabella crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Then what do you suggest we do?"

He closed the notebook and set it on his lap but he did not look at Isabella. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes.

"Sometimes I can still smell her," he whispered. "When rains like this come, I can almost pretend she is here and that the world did not turn upside down."

Isabella looked impatient but said nothing. Louis stood and stepped behind her, wrapping an arm around her waist. Tylluan saw Isabella squeeze his hand.

After another moment of silence, Isabella finally spoke. Her voice was soft. "Victor, what do you think we should do?"

He kept his eyes closed. "Keep each other close. Do not let them separate you. You know that's how they do it."

"And?" she pressed.

"And keep an eye on this boy. There is no reason he needs to know who we really are. Let him think we are Elders if we must." He lowered his chin and opened his eyes to look at Tylluan. "He has made himself known to you so it is likely you that he will seek you out again. You must be careful."

Any rest that Tylluan's chest had gotten was undone. It constricted painfully once more and tighter still when she realized it was her fault the Compass had taken any notice at all. She looked down at her soul. How could she tell the others that her carelessness could have jeopardized them all?

Arthen wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "I will keep you safe," he said. "It won't let anything happen to us again."

With great effort, Victor pushed himself out of the chair and to his feet. He walked to the door and rested his hand on the knob. "I need some fresh air."

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Brick 40

Victor did not return until late that night. It had not stopped raining and his delayed absence had caused them all to stay up late in the sitting room, not talking. Louis and Isabella played chess as Tylluan and Arthen stared at the fire.

The living room smelled of damp and burnt wood. The mustiness of the humid room mixed with the smoke of the fire contributing to everyone's drowsiness. Louis moved his rook with a drawn out ark of his hand. When he finally set it down, his hand fell limply to the side of the board.

The cracks and pops of the fire were not even enough to stir the group into alertness. They remained awake through only determination.

At two thirty, they were finally jolted from their trance by a creak. The front door opened several inches and Victor tried to squeeze around it.

"Where have you been?" Isabella demanded.

His head was down; his shoulders slumped. "This old man needs his bed," he said in reply.

"We were terrified something had happened to you!" Isabella yelled. "First we hear a Compass is lurking about and then you disappear without explanation for almost the whole day. What gives you the right to scare us like that?"

Victor did not look up. "I am sorry to have worried you," he said before walking to his room down the hall.

When Isabella's nostrils flared and seemed intent upon tearing into him, Louis put a hand on her arm. "He's been through more than all us," he said. "Let him cope with the arrival of this Compass in his own way."

Isabella folded her arms across her chest and said nothing. She was not one to admit she could be wrong about anything; her glare at the now empty hallway was enough to show that was exactly the case at that moment.

The four of them remained still and in awkward silence for several minutes before Arthen stood up and announced he was going to bed. His soul, looking more tired than he did, shuffled behind him out of the room. A moment later, Louis followed with Isabella.

Tylluan stayed by the fire. She knew she wouldn't sleep. There were too many unknowns on which to obsess. She stared at the flames and let her mind churn.

Victor was rubbing her shoulder. "You would sleep better in your bed," he said.

She twitched her head left and right. The fire had since gone out but the room was not dark. The sun would be up soon.

When Victor saw that she was awake, he sat down in the chair opposite her. "Sleep proved difficult for you too?" he asked.

"Not as difficult as I thought it would," she replied as she attempted to stretch. A sharp pain erupted in her neck; a protest of her poor sleeping position. She rubbed it with both hands but there was little relief.

"I found the Compass," he said.

Her hands fell to her lap. "What happened?"

He shrugged. "We talked."

"And do we need to fear him?"

Victor considered. "I don't know," he said. "But he is not dangerous."

Tylluan yawned and hoped it would clear the blockage from her ears. "I don't think I understand," she said.

"He is not the threat but his presence might be. If he is here, more could follow. It is even possible someone is following him. I don't think he has any idea who we truly are. I also don't think he would care even if he knew. To be honest, I am not even sure he knows who he is."

Tylluan's breath caught at his words. She looked down the hall towards Louis and Isabella's room. Isabella had been so afraid of what they would turn into.

Tylluan looked at the chess board. They had definitely been different. They were always playing that game. Their single-minded obsession with it had worried her but until that moment she had reasoned there had been little to do in this new city. Had she not been lamenting that same fact the day before?

"I always thought Compasses had to be willing," she said.

Victor let out a long breath and nodded. "As did I but it seems that not all who rebel are locked away after all. They never seem to run out of creativity."

"When you cannot kill your enemies, you have to be content torturing them," she said, looking down at her soul, who was curled up at her feet.

"You and Arthen have managed well," he said. "You've even managed to turn such injuries into a blessing. Your souls seem like loving companions now, much better than when it first happened."

She chuckled but felt none of the gesture in her heart or her face. "It has never been the same," she said. "We were so strong once and so close but Arthen feels so distant from me now."

"Don't you ever say that, girl. Never let them do that to you. If you give in to such thoughts, they will win whether or not they are here to do the deed themselves."

She wiped away a tear and stared at her knees. "I know. I'm sorry. Our wounds are nothing compared to yours," she said.

"You all say that but you are wrong," he said. The forcefulness of his voice caused her to look up. "I may not know how to get her back yet," he continued, "But I focus on the goal of freeing her. That drives me. But you four seem lost. You have each other and yet fail to see what you have to live for. I cannot begin to comprehend Isabella and Louis' pain. To be honest, I think they have it worse than I do. I think we all know there is nothing that can be done for them. It is only a matter of time. But you and Arthen have hope. You won. You escaped. Not without scars of course but you have hope of getting back to normal. That is more than any of the rest of us."

"I know," she said, shivering and wishing she had a blanket to snuggle into or at least a shawl to wrap around her shoulders. "I wish I could get rid of these feelings. I have no right to be so depressed."

"You have every right but you can choose to indulge it or you can fight it." He emphasized his last point with a shake of his fist.

"What are you two talking about?"

Victor and Tylluan turned towards the door. Arthen was standing there. He ran his fingers through his messy hair. He was already dressed in a white shirt and grey pants but they lacked the neatness that was customary for him. Tylluan thought it looked like the back of his shirt was even untucked.

"Our survival," Victor replied.

Arthen sat down in the chair next to Tylluan and his soul curled up on the floor next to hers.

"I talked with the Compass," Victor said. When Arthen did not react, Victor continued, "I think you two should talk to him. I get the feeling you may have some things in common."

"And what of the dangers of his presence?" Tylluan asked. "You said his being here could be dangerous for us."

He nodded, "It could, but in such a small city, I doubt talking to him will increase the odds any higher than they already are. You never know what you could learn from him."

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Brick 41

After Victor returned to his room in search of sleep, Tylluan and Arthen readied themselves for the day. By the time they were leaving for the bakery, the sun was fully up and burning away the puddles. The air was crisp, poking its cold at Tylluan's cheeks. She pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.

"Any food?" a small voice asked.

Tylluan looked down to see a plump girl with blond hair pulled into a messy bun. She was sitting against the wall of the building and staring at the ground between her feet. She had a black eye and was covered in dirt. Tylluan found something about the girl familiar but she was sure she had never seen her before in her life.

"What's happened to you?" Arthen asked as he knelt down to get a closer look at her.

"My father kicked me out, sir," she said. Her head wobbled as she tried to get a better look at him through her swollen eye.

"Do you need a place to stay?" he asked.

She shook her head. "He'll let me back in a day or two but I am just so hungry."

Arthen looked up at Tylluan. She could tell he was concerned about the girl going back to such a home but he said nothing.

"We are headed to the bakery for bread," he said, turning back to the girl. "Stay here and we will bring some for you, alright?"

"Thank you so much, sir," she said. Her stomach growled as if to accentuate her point.

Arthen took Tylluan's hand in his and they walked quickly to the bakery. With the touch of his fingers, she thought of what Victor had said and at that moment, she completely agreed. She even wondered if that distance she had felt had simply been in her mind.

Despite the early hour, there were already several people in line at the bakery, mostly workers clad in overalls or worn and dirty pants. They were grabbing their lunches before heading over to their work on the new government building Tylluan had been at the day before.

Arthen walked up to the counter and asked for three loaves of bread. Tylluan hung back and waited.

"I did not expect to run into you here."

She looked at the man who was standing beside her and surveying the offered breads for the day. It was Liam.

"I have to say I am glad to see such a beautiful person this early in the morning," he said. "The weather appears to be taking pity upon you today."

She said nothing and turned her head to watch Arthen getting their breakfast.

"How are you this morning?" Liam asked. Though she felt she had made it quite clear that she was not inclined to speak with him, his tone remained cheerful.

"Well," she said. "And you?"

"Grand," he replied as he rocked back on his heels. "I met one of your friends yesterday," he said. "We had a lovely talk over tea."

She still said nothing. She had no idea what to say and the compliment he had given made her feel uncomfortable.

"I had hoped he would vouch for me," he said. "But it seems you still do not want to trust me."

"Want and can are not the same thing," she said, daring to look at him again.

He smiled. "There is hope for me then," he said. "I was afraid you did not want to trust me."

"Hope for what?" Arthen asked. Tylluan could see he was appraising the man before him. Arthen's soul had wide eyes and appeared to be on alert. She looked down at her own but he was relaxed and unconcerned. The difference in their reactions confused her.

"Who is this new friend of yours?" Arthen asked when no one replied to his first question.

"Allow me to introduce you," she said, turning away from their souls. "This is the man Victor spoke with yesterday."

Arthen lifted his chin, almost in defiance. "I see," he said.

"And this," she said to Liam, "Is Arthen."

"Another friend?" Liam asked.

"Much more than that," Arthen replied.

"Ah," Liam gave an exaggerated bob of his head. "I understand. My apologies."

"Not all of us are like Victor," Arthen added.

The crease between Liam's eyebrows deepened. "I apologize if I have caused you any offense," he said. Then he looked at the counter before adding, "If you would wait for me to get my own treat, I would like to speak with both of you."

Tylluan nodded.

As Liam purchased his bread, Arthen stood close to her side. "Why did you agree?" he whispered.

"Because Victor said we should."

"I don't like him." he said.

"I noticed."

"I am staying close so long as he is around," he said. "I saw how he was looking at you."

She could not help it. She laughed, hard. "You should know better than to be jealous. I would never pick him over you."

Arthen's cheeks turned pink but he did not back down. "I trust you," he said. "It's him I don't trust. He could be working for anyone, even Agocara."

Liam rejoined them. "Shall we go?" he asked.

They walked towards the Arlington Apartments. Arthen wanted to make sure the girl got the loaf of bread he had promised her.

"I was telling Victor yesterday how surprised I was to find Elders here," Liam said. "Most of them are still in Europe and Asia. I came across a few on the East Coast but they had no need for me."

"I thought a Compass had to have Elders," Tylluan asked. "I've never heard of a Compass not having them, which is why what you said yesterday was so confusing to me."

He shrugged. "It is becoming more common. I've met others like me, wandering in search of a purpose. Some find Elders willing to take on an extra Compass."

"What are you doing this far west if you are looking for Elders?" Arthen asked; his tone harsh.

Liam ignored the open hostility. "I was looking more for purpose than Elders," he said. "It is just lucky that I found you."

"We don't need a Compass," Arthen said.

"If you give me enough time to prove myself, maybe you will change your mind."

"I doubt it," Arthen muttered before giving an irritated sigh. "We really have to get back now," he added.

Liam looked at Tylluan as if he hoped she would intervene.

"Perhaps we will talk another time," he suggested when she did not.

"Perhaps," she replied.

After another moment, Liam relented. He said good-bye and walked away.

"I told you he can't be trusted," Arthen said. "A Compass with no Elders. It would never happen. The Elders would seal away the Compass just as easily as his owners."

"Unless he wasn't a willing Compass in the first place," she said.

He scoffed. "Not willing? They must be willing. They are traitors, remember?"

She shrugged. "Victor seemed to think this one was an exception."

They reached the Arlington Apartments.

Arthen stopped and looked around. There was no one sitting against the wall now. The girl was gone. There was no trace of her.

"Maybe she tried to go back home?" Tylluan suggested.

"Maybe," he said before leading her inside.

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Brick 42

When Tylluan and Arthen returned to the apartment, all was quiet. They had expected Isabella and Louis to be awake but the apartment was silent. The crispness the rain had given the air had subsided outside but the sitting room still smelled of wet wood. Nothing in the room had been disturbed since they had left, so they quietly pulled out a jar of rhubarb jam and sat at the table by the window to enjoy their breakfast.

As they ate, they discussed the construction of the government building and nearby bridge and the increasing number of people coming to the area in search of land or work. Though they had only been there a short time, the small village had quickly taken on the form of a town and in a few years would have the character of a city. Tylluan was feeling optimistic about their new home despite her stresses of the day before. Everything seemed better in the sunshine. In time, this new home could be as big as the cities of the Old World and have just as much to keep them busy.

She wondered what kinds of troubles it might face. Would it be a peaceful place or would they one day have to protect it from invading armies like they had in the past? Though it was still too early to tell exactly what character this city would have, she was feeling hopeful that she could manage whatever would come. For the first time since their lives had changed, she felt it possible they could overcome any troubles that they faced.

As she bit into another slice of bread, she realized how curious these feelings were. A compass had shown up with no warning and logically it was possible for the Agocara to find them, no matter how unlikely in such a distant place. Then there were Isabella and Louis and their inevitable problem. As her mind itemized every reason she should be miserable and not happy in the slightest, Arthen spoke.

"Isabella and Louis are sleeping late, don't you think?" He leaned over in his seat to look down the hall.

Tylluan looked at the small clock on the mantel. It was nearly 11 o'clock. "Perhaps we should wake them," she suggested.

He nodded, stood, and walked down to their room. She heard him knocking on the door at the end of the hall. A few moments went by and he knocked again. She heard the door open but only a moment later, Arthen was walking back into the sitting room. His brow was furrowed.

"They're gone," he said without looking at her.

Though he seemed relaxed, his soul was now pacing the room. It gave short glares at hers as if wondering why it too was not agitated. Though this news worried her, her soul only perked its head up but did not move from its place curled at her feet.

"Maybe they went for a walk together?" she reasoned as she spread more rhubarb onto a slice of bread.

Arthen slowly sat down at the table. He said nothing. His soul continued to pace.

Several minutes later Victor shuffled from his room with large bags under his eyes. His notebook was tucked under one arm. He sat with them, placing his notebook on his lap, and took some of the offered bread.

"We met the Compass this morning at the bakery," Arthen said.

"Were you able to talk with him?" Victor asked as he reached for the jam.

"You told him we are Elders." The bite in Arthen's tone caused Victor to pause.

"Is that not what we agreed?" He asked.

Arthen shifted in his chair, the floor board creaked beneath his movements. "I suppose it was," he said, "But I am not comfortable with him being here. He seems to have it in his head that he can become our Compass. We don't need him getting that close."

Victor shrugged, "He's close whether we like it or not. Besides, having him around might be useful. I have the feeling a relationship with him would be mutually beneficial."

"I know what he thinks he can get from us," Arthen said, "But I fail to see anything we could gain from him."

Though he had tried to hide it, Tylluan had seen the brief moment his eyes had flicked at her. It was not Liam's desire to find work with Elders to which he was referring. She wanted to smack him but she was also shocked he could be made jealous so easily. After all their time together, with neither of them ever once looking at any others, this new insecurity of his stole all intelligible thoughts from her mind. Even if she had wanted to yell at him, she had no idea what she could yell.

It appeared even Victor felt there was little point in speaking of the matter further. Either that or he had simply decided his breakfast was more important. He focused upon eating and Arthen joined his soul in pacing the room in silence.

It was late afternoon when Isabella and Louis returned. The couple walked straight to the table with the chess board and sat down to start a new game. Their faces were sun burnt. Neither, it appeared, had bothered to take a hat.

"Where have you been?" Arthen asked.

Louis did not respond. As Isabella moved her first pawn, she replied, "Walking."

"Anywhere in particular?" he pressed.

She said nothing as she watched Louis make his move.

Arthen looked at Tylluan; his jaw tense. "Are you going to answer me, Isabella?" he asked.

"I'm in the middle of a game," she said, an edge to her tone.

"The game can wait."

She jumped to her feet and rounded on him. "No it can't. Don't you see that! We need to finish it. There are still pieces on the board!"

Tylluan reached out to touch Isabella's arm. "It's alright, sweetie," she said. "The game will always be there. You can finish it any time."

"No I can't!" Isabella yelled. "Don't you see those pieces? I have to get rid of them."

"No, you don't," Tylluan insisted. "It is alright if they stay."

Isabella shook off Tylluan's hand. "Get away from me," she seethed before turning around and sitting back down at the board.

Tylluan would not be deterred. She knelt down next to her friend. "Isabella," she said quietly. "Please look at me."

Isabella moved a knight and said nothing.

"The pieces do not matter," Tylluan said. "The game does not matter. You do not have to play. No one needs to lose."

Isabella moved another piece, capturing one of Louis'. He captured one of hers. Tylluan could see sweat forming on the woman's forehead.

"Isabella," she said more loudly. "Look at me. I am Tylluan." When Isabella did not respond, she shouted, "Look at me!"

Isabella kept her eyes upon the pieces, looking at each one, waiting for Louis to take another. Tylluan had had enough. She grabbed the chess board and threw it across the room. The pieces scattered, hitting the wooden floor in a series of pops and clacks.

"Look at me, Isabella!" she shouted.

Isabella finally listened but she looked murderous. "What have you done?" she seethed. "How dare you!"

"I am your friend," Tylluan continued to yell. "I made a promise to you and I intend to keep it. Look at me. Look at Arthen and Victor. We are your family. We are what's real. Don't let this consume you. Don't let them win."

Isabella stood, her face inches from Tylluan's. "I will never forgive you for that," she said. "I will make you pay." She pushed passed, knocking Tylluan so hard she almost fell backwards, and stormed down the hall to her room, slamming the door behind her.

A moment later, Louis followed and locked himself in with Isabella.

"It's gotten worse," Arthen said.

Tylluan nodded. "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know."

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Brick 43

Chapter 16

Emily sat up and blinked. She had been awake. She knew she had been conscious for all of it but it had been such a vivid memory that she still felt groggy as her focus returned to the hotel room. The air was stale but she lacked the strength to get up to open the window.

She had been telling Liam the entire memory. She could still hear her voice echoing in her brain as she recalled what had happened with the chess board. As her mind cleared, she ran over each detail, now with the increased clarity of hindsight.

"You are not Elders?" Liam asked. His voice was rough and his arms crossed in front of his chest. "You were lying to me?"

She swallowed hard. "It sounds that way, doesn't it?"

"All those years, all the things I did for you, I trusted you and you were lying to me?" He began to pace the room. He pushed his hands into his pockets, took them out again, clenched his fists, and then stuffed them into his pockets once more. "You've been using me and playing me a fool this whole time?"

"No!" she yelled, but immediately regretted it. She had no right to claim innocence. "I don't know," she whispered. "I can't remember. I don't know what is going on."

He walked to the door and put his hand on the knob and gripped it hard. For a moment, he did not move, and then his hand flopped to his side as he dropped his head against the door and sighed. "I want to tell you to go to Hell and just leave you here," he said.

She was afraid to speak. If it were her, she would have done the same thing. She had done the same thing. "Then why don't you?"

He said nothing but rested his fingers on the knob again. She expected him to wrench open the door at any second and leave her forever.

Finally, he asked, "How much did you want to strangle me when I refused to help you?"

"I wanted to squeeze until my fingers fell off," she replied.

He chuckled. "I want to say you had no right. I was keeping those secrets as a favour to you after all. But you didn't know. You still don't really remember. You know as little as I do at this moment. You're as lost as I am."

He pulled his hand away from the knob and straightened. "I'll stay," he said before turning to face her. "At least until we both know the whole story. I can't make any promises about what I will do then."

She nodded in agreement. He was being more than fair. She had not given him half that chance. She smiled and thanked him.

With the tension between them waning, the memories resumed their re-run in the back of her mind. Her face fell.

"The girl outside the Arlington Apartments," she whispered.

"What?" The crease deepened.

"I know that girl," she said. "I've met her; the very same one."

"What do you mean?"

"Her name is Robin. She was at the synestete group." Emily's head fell back and her eyes closed as she realized she had been tricked. "She gave the same story. The abusive father."

"Tell me what she looked like again," he said.

Emily went over the girl's features once more, adding that the black eye had thrown her off. Liam's crease was as deep as she had ever seen it.

"What is it?" she asked.

"You were concerned that Louis and Isabella seemed to be getting worse. Do you remember what you were worried about?"

"I can't remember exactly," she said, "Just the feelings. It was like we were worried they were losing their minds, losing who they were."

"And did they seem to get worse all of a sudden that day?" he asked.

She thought over the memories she had regained. There were so few to help her. "I don't know," she said. "I suppose. It really seems like we thought so."

"After Marcus so subtly told me to bugger off," he said, "I saw three people walking together. I now know that two of them were Isabella and Louis. The third was a girl with a black eye."

"Do you think she is Agocara?" Emily asked, her chest tightening into a painful knot at the thought.

"Whatever or whoever it is, I bet they are related." He began to pace the room but with none of the agitation of before. P.D.'s head moved back and forth as he followed Liam's movements.

"We have a problem if she is Agocara," Emily said. "Mary knows her and I bet she tries to keep pretty close tabs on anyone related to keys. She likely knows about Marcus by now."

Liam nodded. "I assumed that right away but there is still nothing we can do about it yet. We can't risk going near that hospital."

Emily looked at Victor's note. Isabella and Louis were staying. They weren't running. Her stomach flipped. They weren't staying because they were friends with Agocara. She knew that. She knew they would never aid Agocara. As little as she remembered, she knew the feeling of Isabella's companionship, of knowing she once told her everything, once sought her as a source of comfort in dark times. Isabella and Louis were in trouble as much as Marcus but they seemed incapable of comprehending it.

She had made two promises to Isabella: to forgive her and to make sure she never suffered the same fate as Victor. She suspected it had something to do with being separated from Louis but she could not be sure without more memories. Regardless, she had made those promises as a friend. Their sickness may have made them hate her but that was all the more reason she could not give up.

She secured her violin and picked up the case.

"Where are you going?" Liam asked, his focus flicking to the door and back to her.

"I am going to get Isabella and Louis to help me," she said.

He put himself between her and the door. "What makes you think that's possible? It's obvious they were too far gone long ago. Even Victor has given up on them and he never gives up on anyone. And when Philip called, you were sure they were the ones that put Mary up to all this Marcus-napping."

"Even if they are, I made a promise that I have been very bad at keeping the last 90 years," she said. "It is about time I make up for it."

"And if they try to lock you away like you did to Marcus?"

"If they could, they would have by now. They don't have it in them."

Liam was unconvinced. "And what about Agocara? What if she shows up? Mary could lead her straight to them. Victor was spooked enough to run. We should heed his warning."

She made sure to look directly into his eyes. "I am going to Isabella and Louis."

His jaw tensed but after another moment relaxed again. "If I find out I can die because of you, I will haunt you for the rest of your life no matter how long that may be."

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Brick 44

Liam insisted upon driving at the speed limit to avoid any reason to be pulled over by the police. His shirt was covered in the brown stain he claimed the coffee machine in the lobby had spurted all over him. Though the manager was annoyed to be dealing with yet another uproar from Liam, he was distracted enough that Emily made it to the car without notice.

As they made their far-too-long drive down highway, every car that came near caused Emily's pulse to jump. It would not calm until the car had passed them and she could see that it did not have 'Police' painted across the doors.

By the time they pulled into the unlit parking lot of the Terwillegar Park, her stomach was a torrent of acid. Even as she got out of the car, all she wanted to do was double over and vomit onto the gravel. With the support of the door, she managed to stand upright.

"Never thought I'd be back here," Liam said as he walked around the front of the car.

"I can't say I had the same confidence," she said, "But I had hoped."

"No point in worrying about it now. Let's get going."

The forest was silent as they made their way through the trees. There were no shouts or cheers of partying teens this time. Emily thought of Marcus and their history and how much neither of them had known and of how much of that had been of their own making. She swallowed hard. With no sounds, there were also no ribbons to distract her from the torture inside her mind.

P.D. padded behind them. Every other minute, he would stop and sniff and look in all directions. Then he would hurry to catch up. He was agitated and she could understand why.

They came to the edge of the old root cellar. Without hesitation, Liam walked around to the other side of the hearth, knelt down, and reached his arm up through the opening just as Marcus had her first time there. The expected click echoed in her ears. There were no other sounds to obscure it. Even the dampening effect of the leaves and the underbrush seemed to be absent.

Liam took her hand and they climbed the slope together. He did not even need to use a light to traverse the subterranean tunnels. How many times had he been there before over the years?

The cool dampness of the rock around her would have been refreshing. Combined with her stress, however, she found the chill only contributed to her queasy stomach. Being so close to danger, she was seeing with complete clarity how stupid her plan was.

When they pushed the door into the ante-chamber open, Emily heard quiet sobbing. The door to the main chamber was ajar.

She ignored Liam and ran.

The main chamber looked as though it had been hit by chaos. It was dim as it appeared the light source was near to going out. The tables were askew, one overturned entirely. Victor's models lay scattered on the floor. In the corner, Isabella was draped over the edge of one of the tables; her head buried in the crook of her arm and her body shaking with her crying.

"Isabella!" Emily called as she ran to her.

Isabella gave out a loud sob. "They took him from me!" she cried. "Louis is gone ... Kill me. Why can't someone just kill me?"

"Who is 'they'?" Emily asked as she wrapped her arm around Isabella's shoulders and tried to hold her close. She knew what Isabella would say, but until that moment, she had been truly afraid to entertain the thought that their threat numbered more than one. Her question was the last of her hope grasping at even a remote possibility that what they faced was still manageable.

"The Agocara!" Isabella yelled as she slammed her clenched fist on the table. Her hand went limp and a black chess piece rolled from it and onto the floor. It was Louis' king.

Emily gave a squeeze to Isabella's shoulders. She had little else to offer and her friend seemed beyond being questioned. But Isabella surprised her. She seemed determined to speak. She lifted her head.

"When ... when..." Her next words could not come as her sobs kept stealing her breath.

Emily ignored Liam. She could feel him standing only a few feet away and watching them but she needed to be there for Isabella. She hugged her close as best she could. P.D. nuzzled Isabella's side. They let Isabella wail until her cries were exhausted enough to talk. The vibration of the echoes within the chamber cut into the deepest part of Emily's chest.

"When they sealed him," Isabella said finally after a long shaking breath, "All his keys broke." She swallowed. "I remember everything." She gasped. "By the Masters, I remember every last thing I did."

"What did you do?" Emily asked. Her voice came out quiet and choked, she was worried Isabella had not even heard her.

But Isabella answered.

"The keys," she whispered. "All those keys. All of him. Piece by piece, I locked him away. I tried to ignore the impulse. I tried to remind myself every day of who I was. Then they found us at the Arlington Apartments and locked away another piece of each of us. I could not hold onto reality anymore. I ripped at his soul and with each key, there was less of him left. Then they came again today. They found us and they led me in making the very last key."

"What do you mean?" Emily pressed, trying to sound as understanding as possible but her worry forced her voice nonetheless.

"Louis," she said. "I am the one that locked him away. But they were smart. They were here to help me do it. They made me think they were helping me win. They are as much a part of the key holding him as I am. I could never hope to break it."

She slammed her head into her arm and gave a long screech. An Irishman would have thought it was the Banshee.

"I am no better than they are!" she yelled. "I'm as sick and deranged as they are. It's what they wanted the whole time. They made me this way. They made us both this way so that we would devour each other. We did their work for them and they ensured our torture was complete." She looked up at Liam. "And we pulled you into all this," she said. "Sending you after our own keys as we tried to outdo each other. All we could think of was winning. We couldn't see each other anymore. We couldn't even hear ourselves anymore. We were just damn pieces to be captured!"

Liam blinked. "Those keys you had me find? Were Louis?"

She nodded. Her nodding turned into a shaking of her head as she hiccoughed. "And he sent you to find mine," she said. "But then you left us to care for Tylluan and we just kept making keys with no way to really find them."

She once again sought the refuge of her arm. "Until Tylluan locked Arthen away to show us what we had done, to remind us of what would happen if we did not wake up. You promised to suffer with us, hoping that seeing your suffering would remind us of who we are. But it didn't work. You could not cope and we were too far gone to see anything but the game. When Marcus turned up, all we could see was a Compass to use. We did not know. Even if we had, we would not have cared."

She jumped up and grabbed Emily by the shirt. "They made me do it," she said. "They knew I would remember everything when I sealed Louis away. They knew the torture they were inflicting upon us. They planned it all to get what they want."

"What do they want?" Liam asked.

Isabella ignored him. She looked into Emily's eyes. "Tylluan," she whispered. "You are the only one who ever survived them. You are the only one who has ever defeated them. Please. Please, help me, Tylluan. Please. I cannot become one of them and I cannot become a Compass. I cannot do it. Please. You are the only woman who ever managed to break ranks with the Agocara."

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Brick 45

Emily felt as though she had been knocked backward. Indeed, as she comprehended what had just been said, she had somehow put several feet between her and Isabella. She looked at Liam. He was staring at her. Just. Staring.

"I am Agocara?" Tylluan asked, her breath escaping her too swiftly to carry the words.

Isabella stood and walked to her. She grabbed Emily's arms firmly with both hands.

"Come back to me, Tylluan!" she shouted as tears continued to follow the already wet trails on her cheeks. "Look what you have done to yourself." Her eyes lowered. "Look what I made you do," she said. "I need you back. I can't do what they've asked of me but Louis will remain locked away if I don't."

Liam came closer. "What do they want you to do?" he asked for the second time.

Isabella hesitated for a moment. Her eyes were focused upon her feet. The light in the room was becoming increasingly dim. Emily could no longer see the opposite wall clearly.

Isabella rocked her head back and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath before opening them again to look at Liam. She was no longer crying but her eyes and her cheeks were still wet.

"They want me to bring them Victor and Tylluan," she said. "Victor has disappeared and until this moment, so had both of you. They wanted me to lure you out and help seal you away. They promised they would free Louis and let us go if I did."

The crease between Liam's eyes deepened and his jaw tensed. "Is that what you've done then?" he asked.

She threw up her hands. "Of course not!" she cried. "I didn't even know you were coming. I had no plan to seek you out. Do you honestly think I would betray Tylluan that way now that I remember everything? Do you honestly think I would be stupid enough to believe their false promises now?"

Liam swallowed and averted his eyes. "Sorry," he muttered.

Emily leaned against the wall as she considered what Isabella had said. "If all they wanted was me," she began, "Why didn't they just take me themselves? We already know who one of them is and she has had plenty of opportunity."

Isabella gave sardonic chuckle. "This is entirely how they work. Their goal is never simply to capture. Their goal is to torture. A traitor must feel the pain of turning against the others. They must learn the horror of what it is to fail in your allegiance. For those who cannot die, much worse fates are devised; fates that make us wish with everything inside us that we could." She paused and swallowed hard. "I pity you for having to remember it all over again," she said. "When you remember exactly what you have endured and how far we have tried to run, you will remember the extent of their sadism for yourself."

"Well, haven't they done all that torture already then?" Liam asked. "If what all of you have gone through has been so horrific, haven't they already had their fun?"

Isabella nodded. "Which is why they want Tylluan now."

"Indeed we do."

The three of them turned. Standing where Victor's table of models had once been were Robin, Mary, and Luanne. Mary's chin was held high in triumph.

Though Emily's heart began to beat at a painful rate, she was impressed at how well she was keeping her own head. She had expected that she would scream hysterically if she were ever truly faced with the Agocara. But that had been before she knew who or what they were, when her mind was able to devise the most abstract of monsters to fill the gap in her knowledge. With the three women standing before her, her heart was beating faster due more to the rage of hatred and betrayal than to tangible fear.

"Go to Hell," she yelled at them, keeping her eyes locked upon Mary's as she said it.

Mary was not deterred. She returned the steady gaze even as she shrugged and said, "Time to clean up. We haven't forgotten what you did and we are going to make sure you and Victor never cause trouble again."

Robin, Mary, and Luanne crossed their arms and linked hands. Mary closed her eyes. They began to sing and move their feet around each other in a complicated series of steps. As they did so, a glow emanated from their bodies. It was so faint at first that there was no discernible colour. Then it grew in brightness and changed from greens to blues and then to purples as the ribbons of the same colours began to dance outward from the women's forms.

P.D. growled and nipped as the ribbons approached but they were not yet close enough for him to attack. His reluctance to lunge forward at them made Emily wonder if he was unable to touch these like he could hers. Emily cursed having left her violin in the car. If she could play, she might be able to send something back at them. She had always had trouble carrying a tune with her voice. The mechanics never seemed to work right.

The volume of the singing increased with each note they sang. The ribbons grew closer. Emily, Isabella, and Liam were already pressed against the back wall of the chamber. There was nowhere for them to go.

"Isabella," Emily called over the chorus. "What do we do?"

Isabella's eyes were focused upon Mary. Her jaw was clenched. She did not move or say anything at first. Then she balled her hands into fists and said, "You will have only moments to get out of here. Remember who you are, Tylluan. It is the only way."

Then she rushed forward in a spin. As she waved her arms in a spiral of dance, vibrant pink ribbons trailed from her movements. Her ribbons began to tangle amongst those of the Agocara, which seemed unable to advance any closer to Liam and Emily so long as their efforts were so ensnared.

Liam grabbed Emily's hand and pulled her as hard as he could as he ran in an arc towards the open door.

Mary's eyes flew open and her nostrils flared as she saw what Isabella was doing.

"This seal was not meant for you!" she yelled. But it seemed there was little that she could do about it as her ribbons were pulled towards the still spinning woman.

Isabella looked like a dancer draped in chiffon strips that floated on the air of her turns. At that moment, the glory of her pirouettes brought back years of love and emotion that had been between them. Emily could feel memories bubbling to the surface. She could see Isabella's innocent smile as they stood outside a villa, fields of vines stretching out over the slopes below them. Isabella had been beautiful. She had been kind-hearted and happy once.

The exploration of the past was cut short. Emily did not even see what happened within the chamber. Liam had pushed her through the door and pulled it shut behind him. The only remnant of her brief trance was a hot tear upon her cheek.

"Once that key is complete, they'll come after us," he said as he grabbed her hand again and continued to run for the exit.

Thinking of her own key making, she knew they had minutes but no more than that. They ignored the roots that tried to trip them and the branches and twigs that scratched at their faces and arms. They did not stop running until they reached the car. They jumped in. The wheels spun in the gravel for a heart-stopping moment before they sped away.

With nothing left for her to do to aid their escape, Emily looked back through the trees that were quickly fading into indistinguishable blackness behind them.

Now Isabella was gone too.

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Brick 46

When they reached the main road, Liam slowed to the speed limit, but his fingers kept tightening around the leather of the steering wheel and every few seconds, he would shift the position of his back against the seat.

"What are we going to do?" Emily cried. "They are hurting everyone. They have been hurting everyone this whole time. It was them we came here to avoid. We were running from them when we came to this city. We never wanted them to find us again and they have."

"Isabella said you could beat them," he said.

She shook her head. "She said I was the only one to successfully break ranks with them. Obviously, I must not have truly defeated them. They are still here! We're doomed!"

"Let's get you restored to your former self before we make any assumptions about that," he said.

She threw her hands up in frustration. "Sure thing," she said. "I'll get right on that. I've had so much success so far."

"Don't you start all that defeatist crap on me now," he said. "Back when I wanted you to give up, you fought me tooth and nail. You don't have the right to change your mind now."

"I'm not changing my mind," she barked back. "I'm just not very hopeful about our chances."

"I think they are better than you realize."

This unexpected response made her raise an eyebrow. "How do you figure that?"

"You remembered the first time we met without the help of P.D. or your music. When we were trying to escape, I saw you space out when you looked at Isabella. You remembered something in the middle of all of that. What was it?"

She shrugged. "Nothing that will help us," she replied. "Just that we were once great friends and we were happy."

"Anything more?" he pressed.

"It got cut off when you pushed me through the door," she explained.

"Sorry about that. I didn't really have a choice."

Within twenty minutes they were back at the hotel. Liam caused another disturbance at the front desk, his third for the night. This time he feigned tripping on the rug, which resulted in him spilling an entire bucket of ice from the ice machine onto the manager.

Emily hurried by the desk. She was sure the hotel manager would throw a parade when he finally got to see the last of Liam.

Safely hidden in the room, she collapsed on the bed. Behind her closed lids, she could see the pink whirlwind that had been Isabella. Despite every way Emily had failed, Isabella had blamed her for none of it. She had still begged for Emily's help and treated her like a trusted friend. The echoes of Isabella's sobs of guilt came back to her too.

Perhaps it was better for her this way, to be sealed away like Louis. She would not have to endure the pain of Louis' loss that way. At least, that is what she hoped. She had never been locked away as completely as Louis.

Liam squeezed through the door and locked the deadbolt.

"We have got to find a better way of getting you in and out of here," he said. "I think that guy is going to punch me if I do anything like that again."

Emily's phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out and saw Marcus' number.

"Philip?" she asked without saying hello.

"Yeah," he said. "I've got great news."

"At least someone does," she said with a frustrated sigh. "What's going on?"

"Marcus woke up!" he announced. "He and the doctor both have lumps on their heads from it though. The doctor was examining him when he just sat straight up. As far as we can tell, he's been awake for about fifteen minutes."

"That's wonderful!" she replied, unable to keep the smile from her face. They would be back together soon. "Has he cleared me yet?" she asked as the practicalities of the situation returned to her mind.

"Not yet," Philip said. "The doctor hasn't let the police in to question him. He's still trying to make sure Marcus is really alright. Valerie has been keeping pretty close watch on the room though. That girl could be a spy."

Emily's heart sank. She was sure Mary would head straight back to the hospital at the first opportunity. She doubted things would go well for him when she got there.

"Philip, you and Valerie need to do something," she said. "You need to get Marcus out of there right now."

"Now? But what about the police?"

"Mary is coming and she is not who we thought. If she gets to him, she'll put a key on him for sure, one I'm not sure I could break."

"Mary putting a key on Marcus?"

"Yes!" she nearly shouted in frustration, restraining her volume at the last second. "Get him out of there!"

"I'm not sure how we're going to manage that," he said, "But we'll try."

"Call me back in half an hour."

"Let's hope Valerie and I aren't in a cell in half an hour," he replied before saying good-bye and hanging up.

Emily sat up and informed Liam of the situation. He flopped into one of the chairs at the table.

"Can I just say that I actually preferred the quiet days when you couldn't remember a thing?" he said as he let his head fall back. "You people are just too much work."

"You're not so easy to deal with yourself, you know," she retorted as she let herself fall onto her back.

Any mirth or even exasperation that had been in Liam's voice disappeared as he said, "Seriously though, you need to remember something. If we end up needing to save Marcus, Valerie, and Philip, you will need to know how you thwarted the Agocara last time. You may not have defeated them but whatever it was, it really pissed them off."

"If I play my violin now, that manager will break down the door for sure."

Liam scoffed. "Forget that fiddle of yours," he said. "You didn't need it to remember Isabella or me. You can remember what you did on your own. You didn't always have that instrument. What did you do before you made it? If you think hard enough about it, I'm sure it will come back to you and we will have something to use against them."

Emily closed her eyes. Despite the pressure, she was not thinking of ways to thwart the Agocara. She was thinking of Isabella. She tried to remind herself that they were all immortal. Isabella would be sealed, not dead. Breaking a key might not always be straightforward but at least it was possible ... someday.

She tried not to let those thoughts include Marcus. If Liam was right and they ended up needing to save everyone, she was not sure if she could manage. Being knowingly separated from Marcus had obviously not been something she had managed well. Isabella's hysteria at losing Louis was too fresh in her mind to pretend this time would be different.

She lay in silence, waiting for Philip's next call. Liam walked to the other bed and lay down. Perhaps he thought she was in a trance. Whatever he thought, he did not press further conversation.

P.D. curled up against her side. She rested her hand on his head between his horns and scritched. The rhythmic motion was calming. With the late hour and their extreme adventures, her adrenaline had finally given out. She was just beginning to fall asleep when her phone vibrated.

It was not a call but a text from Marcus' phone. "Not safe. Call later," she read aloud to Liam.

"That's a better sign than silence," he said. "I guess we just have to keep waiting." He sat up and pulled off his shoes and socks before setting his head down on the pillow. "I'm going to sleep."

Emily dropped the phone onto the bed and continued to rub P.D.'s head. Within minutes, Liam was snoring but her brief respite from a racing heart and mind had ended. She was too worried about Marcus. She would drive herself crazy with all the horrible possibilities so she tried to think of something else. Liam was right. She had only had the violin since 1918. What had she used before that?

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Brick 47

Chapter 17

"Do you think Victor is really a friar?" Arthen asked.

Tylluan was trying to figure out the strange stringed instrument in her lap. It was a long rectangular piece of wood that had sections cut out on either side of a fingerboard. Long strings were pulled from pegs at one end of the fingerboard, over a flat bridge, and then secured at the base. She knew it was called a crwth but she had never held or played one.

After she had been given the unexpected gift, she and Arthen had walked onto the hills overlooking the castle and the sea. Though it was sunny over the green hills, there were dark clouds hanging low over Snowdonia in the distance. The breeze had a refreshing chill that blunted the heat of the sun.

When they came to a small grouping of trees, they stopped and sat in the shade. From this spot, the enormous gatehouse of the castle was easily visible.

"Who do you think he really is if not a friar?" she asked as she plucked one of the strings of the instrument with her finger and watched wide-eyed as a green ribbon of light undulated from the instrument. It was not often she got to see the ribbons.

"The Lord worries he's a spy for rebels," he replied. "He's considering sending a letter to Edward."

She plucked the second string which created a ribbon of reddish purple. "And what did you advise him to do?" she asked. As the ribbon rose above her and reached the canopy, the leaves began to chatter in the wind as if applauding the spectacle.

He shrugged. "I told him he was right and he should be worried. Of course that means he's having second thoughts and thinking he should wait. He is still convinced we could turn into Welsh traitors."

She examined the leather strap that was connected to the instrument. As she tried to determine what it was for, she said, "These people distrust anything that does not involve killing. At least you know how to deal with him, otherwise this place would see more conflict than it already does."

"It might if that friar really is a spy," he said. "It's not normal for a friar to bring gifts, especially when he intended one of those gifts for the Lord's advisor's wife." His voice dropped in volume and he spoke out of the side of his mouth, "Especially when that gift so perfectly suits her hidden talents."

She stopped her examination of the instrument and set it in her lap, but when she looked at Arthen, his gaze had already turned to the sea. He was sitting with one of his arms resting across his bent knee. Though his posture indicated he was relaxed, the repeated flexing of his wrist indicated his underlying agitation.

"Do you think he is a Guardian?" she asked.

"I don't know," he replied, "But why would a guardian hide himself from other guardians?"

She swallowed and became aware of how cold her fingers felt. "Unless he is one of those who has turned his back on the masters," she suggested.

"That lot would say the Masters turned their backs on us. They conveniently forget that we don't know what happened to them."

Tylluan stared at the strings. "Do you think it's true what we've heard?" she asked.

"That they are using their talents to seal each other away?"

She nodded.

"Louis seems to think so," he said. "He would know. They are so close to other guardians down there. He says the ones doing it see it as a game. They become enthralled with it. They see the pieces they rip from each other as little more than toys to be hidden. Those who lose the most become weak. Those who can lock away the most become powerful."

Her guts felt turned upside down as she tried to imagine what that felt like. Would it be like a human losing a limb? Would it be like stripping away a part of who she was? Or entire memories? How could a guardian survive so mutilated? She wrapped her arms around her middle and twisted the fabric of her dress between her fingers. She hoped she would never know. "How could anyone treat their soul so flippantly?" she whispered.

"I don't know but it is strange. Guardians have always had such honour and commitment. I never thought it was fearful obedience." He let out a long breath. "With the Masters gone and them acting this way, I guess it was. I never saw it that way."

"Neither did I," she said. Her guts were refusing to calm. In hopes of distraction, she plucked a third string and watched the dance of the blue before it faded. When it did not work to calm her, she set the instrument on the moss and snuggled into Arthen's side. The breeze and the conversation chilled her beyond comfort.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and held her close. "The appeal seems to be spreading," he said. His voice no longer soft and blown away by the wind but loud and clear as she had her ear pressed against his chest. She focused upon the rumble of his tones as he continued, "Louis said that two guardians he knew well were very much against the practice. Then, one day, he found out they had tried it. Not long after, they were playing this game as fervently as those who had been for the idea."

"Does he know why they changed their minds?" she asked as she closed her eyes. Even awaiting his answer, she tried to ignore the pain and the stress such thoughts caused. She focused upon the sounds of the leaves buffeted by the increasingly strong winds. Though they were mostly sheltered amongst the trunks, the wild air still managed to tickle her as it tugged her hair. Errant strands blew against the exposed flesh of her face and neck. A lock fell across her eyelashes and she pulled it away with a tired finger.

"No," Arthen said. "He says they don't speak to him anymore. They called him and Isabella traitors to their kind for not taking part. They even offered to show them how to do it."

"That doesn't sound like a game to me," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around his body.

"Nor to me," he said. "Especially when one of them is locked away entirely."

"They can do that?"

"It was only a rumour. We don't know for sure. But it is said that some have locked away their other halves entirely."

Her eyes opened of their own volition and she stared at a tree trunk that was a few feet away. "What happened to the one who was left?"

"I doubt anyone knows." He squeezed her shoulders. "We will never do that to each other," he said.

She nodded. "I can't imagine ever doing such a thing."

"I cannot live without you, Tylluan. I could never hurt you and I could never be apart from you."

She lifted her head to look at him. His hand was already cupping her face; his thumb caressing her cheek. She welcomed the kiss he placed upon her lips. Even after all those centuries, her heart still leapt and danced at his touch. How could anyone choose to deprive themselves of that kind of connection?

When the kiss had ended, they remained in their embrace, breathing heavily against each other.

"Arthen," she whispered. "We will always keep each other safe. I vow that I will never let us be separated."

He touched her lips briefly with his and then said, "Nor will I."

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Brick 48

That evening, Tylluan walked to the Great Hall for the evening meal. The wooden structure was in the far corner of the inner ward of the castle walls. The windows overlooked the rear outer ward and the sea. Though it was still daylight outside, the sun was low enough in the west that the light over the ocean was grey and flat. The draft from Tylluan's opening of the door intruded and attacked the fire in the hearth between the large windows.

As she took her seat at the main table, she was glad she had decided to fetch her shawl. She pulled the knitted wool more tightly around her shoulders. She sat alone as she waited for Arthen, who had gone to the gatehouse to receive the daily report from the head of the guard.

She closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of damp stone and wood smoke. She had been the first to arrive and the silence of the hall was comforting.

The door to the hall creaked and she opened her eyes, expecting to see one of the kitchen servants bringing in the first of the food. Instead, it was Victor.

His face brightened when he saw her and saw too that they were now alone. She could not say she had the same enthusiasm. Her heart and stomach flipped, sank, and began to wrestle with each other in the spot just behind her navel. In desperation, she closed her eyes again, trying to indicate her desire to be left alone. The last thing they needed was the Lord to walk in with just the two of them there. His suspicions would be confirmed and all her and Arthen's efforts to protect the people would be for naught.

Her jaw clenched involuntarily as she heard Victor approach and speak, despite her unwelcoming demeanor.

"I have been hoping we could have a chance to talk," he said.

"Really? Because I have felt it likely the worst idea in the world," she replied as she opened her eyes and focused upon him with what she hoped was an intimidating glare.

He was unfazed. He walked around the table and relaxed himself in Arthen's seat.

"As you have probably figured out," he said. "You are the reason I have travelled this way."

She said nothing, hoping her unwillingness to cooperate would make him leave her alone. She also was terrified of the Lord entering the hall in the middle of her saying exactly the wrong thing for his ears.

"Have you tried the crwth I gave you?" he asked.

She did not respond.

"I am sure it you could make the most beautiful colours with it."

He was a Guardian after all but Tylluan was still confused. If he was, why did he seem to lack any interest in Arthen? The fact that he was alone was not comforting. Her conversation with Arthen upon the hill came back to her. Was he there to recruit them for the strange game? Had he locked away his other half? Nothing about him encouraged her to continue their conversation.

"Have you ever used the colours you see for anything?" he asked.

She had not planned to respond but even if she had, the door of the hall opened. The flames of the fire leaned hard to one side before fighting their way back to upright.

Arthen had walked in with the castle priest. When he saw who was sitting next to Tylluan, his face blanched. It was only fortune that saw his companion be the priest, a man who was often oblivious to everything except the next prayer he was required to say or the next blessing he was required to give.

Arthen forced a smile and a chuckle.

"That is my seat," he said to Victor. "Would you not be more comfortable next to Father Dufray? I am sure you would have much more in common than you would with my wife."

Victor stood and nodded his understanding. The seat he was offered was on the far end of the table from Tylluan and Arthen. They hoped he would not be able to make any trouble there.

The kitchen servants began to enter with the plates and bowls of food. There were peas, cheeses, breads, and even roast lamb but the sight of all that food made Tylluan want to vomit. The smells poked at her nose with too much violence to be pleasing. Her stomach flipped. She was never one to be able to eat when stressed.

As the pitchers of wine were set upon the table, the Lord and Lady arrived. The Lord was an older man with a gaunt face. His hair had long since gone grey except for where it had fallen out completely upon the top of his head. He wore the rest long over the back of his neck. Even in the summer, he complained of cold and was now wearing a thick wool tunic that had been dyed red.

His wife was many years younger and proud of her position. Her black hair was braided close to her head and secured with pins and netting. She refused to appear before anyone without being perfectly dressed and primped. Even Tylluan, who was supposed to aid the woman in dressing and undressing had never seen her with imperfect hair.

Tylluan and Arthen stood on reflex as the Lord and Lady walked to their seats. Though Tylluan made it a point to appear as oblivious as possible in front of the Lord even on an uneventful day, she could not help but notice the suspicious flick of his eyes as he looked at her and Arthen and then to Victor. It appeared the castle priest's presence did little to assuage the Lord's suspicions. She forced her focus onto a speck on the wall across the hall but could not drown out the hammering of the stress in her ears.

Once they were seated again and able to partake of the food, Tylluan poured herself some wine, hoping it would settle her stomach. It did nothing of the sort. Arthen seemed to have noticed her state. He offered her a roll and suggested she keep to that.

"Are you with child?" the Lady asked, having witnessed their exchange.

The question caught Tylluan off guard. For one thing, the Lady rarely spoke to her.

"I do not believe so," Tylluan said, deliberately forgoing the explanation of how Guardians were incapable of human reproduction. "My stomach is simply upset," she added.

The Lady seemed satisfied with the explanation and returned to her own meal.

"A message arrived today," the Lord said to Arthen. "We will be receiving a visit from the three daughters of one of my cousins within the week. I want you to make the preparations for their arrival."

Arthen nodded. "Of course, my Lord," he said.

As the Lord took a drink, the Lady said, "I have no idea why they would want to come to this place. There are nothing but barbarians all around us."

"They are near marrying age," the Lord replied. "Their nerves likely crave adventure or escape."

The Lady was unsympathetic. "I never had such impulses," she said, "But I was raised properly."

"They are ladies as much as you are, my dear," the Lord countered.

"You have met them?" she asked down her nose.

"Of course not," he replied. "I have never met their father either but they are family. We are expected to accommodate them." When his wife seemed even more scandalized by this news, he added, "See this as blessing. You will have weeks with the company of ladies of real breeding; something of which you are normally deprived."

Tylluan was accustomed to such slights against her and was intelligent enough not to rise to them. She sipped her wine instead. Her stomach flipped in protest.

"We shall see what kind of ladies they are when they arrive," the Lady said.

The Lord was determined to settle his wife's ire. He suggested, "Perhaps their father hopes you can polish their education before he makes matches for them."

He had proven he knew his wife well. This new point of view seemed to settled upon her shoulders with as much welcome as the robes of royalty would have been.

"I could teach them how to remain noble in adversity," she affirmed.

"Exactly," her husband encouraged.

With the Lady satisfied, the Lord turned to Arthen and requested the daily report. they discussed the state of the fields, the livestock, and the castle for some time. Finally, when the Lord appeared to have grown tired of business, he quieted and sipped his wine.

Usually, he would have excused himself for the night but Tylluan was sure he was unwilling to leave them alone in a room with Victor where they could plot rebellion. The castle priest had Victor firmly within the grasp of his conversation and did not sound as though he would relinquish his hold any time soon. This stalemate could last the entire night. However, Arthen had had enough.

He leaned in and whispered in her ear, "You best head to bed. If he ever frees himself from Father Dufray, he might try to speak to you again."

He then leaned to his other side and whispered in the Lord's ear. The lord nodded and said, "You may leave if you wish, wife. I have matters on my mind and will need more time."

The Lady nodded her understanding and stood. Tylluan was expected to leave as well so that she could aid her. That night was one of the first that she was thankful for the opportunity. She followed the Lady from the hall, pretending not to notice Victor watching her.

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Brick 49

The next day, Arthen and Tylluan were expected to join the morning mass in the chapel.

The Lord and Lady sat in the front. The other high ranking members of the household were gathered behind them.

There were so few windows, that even on a bright morning, candles had to be lit. The heat from the small flames in such a cramped space that was also filled with people always made it uncomfortably warm and stuffy, even in the middle of winter.

Father Dufray stood at the front of the chapel and began the mass. When he reached the point when he would usually begin the sermon, he broke with routine and invited Victor to join him in the front of the chapel.

With his hand on Victor's shoulder, he said, "I would like our new friend to share his wisdom with us today so he will be giving the sermon."

The room fell silent. Even the shuffling of those gathered had ceased while they waited for Victor to begin.

He began speaking with confidence. He had not even needed to clear his throat and there was no quaver from nerves in his voice. He spoke as if he had given this same sermon to that same audience every week. But far from the Biblical trinkets that most of those gathered thought they were getting, he was speaking of something more serious and he was speaking of it directly to Tylluan.

"You have all no doubt heard of how God created the Earth and had created man," he began. "I will not bore you with what you already know in that regard. However, I will speak of what that means for each of us and how we must live every day."

His eyes remained focused upon Tylluan. She could feel Arthen's agitation next to her as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. Though she could not see the Lord's face, she was sure even he had noticed if for no other reason than his paranoia.

"When God created man in the Garden of Eden, he made a simple request of Adam and Eve. We are all aware of that request and the consequences of not honouring it. However, we rarely focus upon the immense gift he had given man: dominion over all the Earth."

Tylluan wondered why Victor could not look at someone else. If he truly was a Guardian, had he not learned better how to adapt to human's way of doing things? Had he not learned how to keep himself from being so conspicuous? Tylluan's stomach returned to his flipping state.

"Dominion sounds lofty and powerful," he continued. "But it is something far more subservient. Our dominion over the Earth means we must protect it. We were chosen by God to protect that around us. He could have chosen tigers or even fleas to perform such a task but he gave it to us because we are the best suited. We are the closest beings on this Earth to being like him. We are the only ones that can protect more than ourselves."

Tylluan was sure she was going to vomit on the chapel floor. She had never felt so much panic in her life. She wanted to run outside but she did not dare. The Lord had already taken too much notice of her already.

"But God is nowhere to be seen," he said. "We do not know why God does not speak to the people anymore. But that does not mean we are no longer entrusted with protecting this Earth. That does not mean we may turn our attentions to selfish pursuits of power. The devil would be very pleased to tempt us into such things. He would eagerly trap the souls of every single person here if it meant he could gain power greater than God.

"The Devil may appear with many faces and with many offers. He may tease and tempt with the face of a beautiful woman or even three. He may offer you everything you have ever wanted. But you must hold firm, for showing weakness even once means a part of your soul is locked away. If even one part, no matter how small is trapped by devils, then you are lost until your saviour comes.

"Eve was tempted once and for it we were forever banished from the Garden of Eden. Faltering even once is too much. That is why it is so important that every day, we remember the gifts we have been given and that we use them as our Masters wanted and only as he wanted."

Did no one else notice his slip? Tylluan looked around but all were focused upon Victor. Even the Lord seemed enthralled by his words now and was no longer concerned with the object of Victor's focus. All seemed unaware of his use of "Masters."

Victor was not finished. He said, "For the rest of your life, remember your Master and remember that just because you cannot see God, does not mean he is not there. It does not mean he no longer wants you to do his work. It does not mean you can give into temptation. Hold strong and you will forever be blessed."

Father Dufray stepped forward and thanked Victor for his sermon before continuing with the mass. She was still trying to calm her stomach but Arthen was looking at her.

"Join me on my ride this morning," he whispered.

She nodded but lacked the clear head to respond audibly with any sanity or calm.

At the end of the service, the Lord and Lady thanked the castle priest as they did every week. The Lord thanked Victor for his words and even asked if he would speak again the next week.

"I am afraid I cannot," Victor said. "I had intended to leave tomorrow for Dyfed."

Though the Lord was unable to keep a hint of a smile from his lips, he expressed his regret in not being able to hear Victor speak again. He said good-bye and left the chapel with his wife.

Arthen and Tylluan thanked Father Dufray and Victor.

"It is a sermon I have been trying to spread as far as I can," Victor said. "I am especially happy that I was able to give it to you."

Tylluan muttered another thank you but said little more. Victor did not need encouragement.

"Please," he added. "Practice that instrument I gave you. You may find that your music is particularly good at keeping the Devil at bay."

Father Dufray, oblivious as always but trying to appear wise, nodded and said, "Yes, very much. If you are occupied. You will find the Devil has little opportunity to whisper his temptations to you. It was Eve who was tempted after all. You women are especially vulnerable."

"Thank you for your concern," Arthen said. "We will not keep you any longer."

They bid good day to the priest and the friar and left immediately upon their ride.

The weather was similar to that of the day before. The clouds still hung over Snowdonia but seemed unable to touch the lands around the castle.

It was not long before they had left the walls far enough behind to speak freely.

"Do you think Father Dufray is right?" Arthen asked.

Of everything Tylluan had been expecting, that was not it. "Father Dufray?" she asked. "Is he ever right about anything?"

"I mean about women being more easily tempted," he said. "Victor seems to be most concerned about you. He has not bothered to give me a second glance since he arrived but he obviously knows who we really are. Yet he focused upon you during that sermon. He spoke of Eve's temptation. He gave you the instrument. He asked you to learn how to use it to keep the Devil at bay. He seems to think it is all about you."

She swallowed.

He continued, "And he was oddly specific in mentioning three women. I do not think it was a coincidence that he showed up now. Next week, those three daughters of the Lord's cousin should be arriving. What if they are the ones who have been recruiting people for their games? What if he came to warn us?"

Her stomach flipped again. It was becoming excruciatingly sore with all the turmoil. "If that is true," she said. "Then I have one week to figure out what he wants me to do with that instrument."

Arthen nodded.

"Great," she said dryly. "One week to figure out how to stop other Guardians with nothing more than the notes of a few strings."

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Brick 50

Chapter 18

Tylluan failed to stifle a large yawn. She had been sitting amongst the trees upon the hill, hidden by an old Roman wall, while she practiced the crwth. The practice had not been going as well as she had hoped. Her mind had refused to calm enough to allow her sleep and it was finally beginning to catch up to her.

She set the bow and the crwth upon the grass and stretched. When she received far too little relief from the motions, she flopped onto her back and stared up at the sky. It had rained early that morning and remained overcast ever since. Through a small break in the clouds, she could see the blue. It sealed itself and the grey blanket continued on its journey.

"I wish you would have waited for me before leaving the castle," Arthen called as he rode up.

"You were busy with the Lord," she said. "I didn't want to bother you and I needed to practice."

He dismounted and tied the reins to the branch of one of the trees.

"And regardless of our feelings for the people here, they do not think favourably of those who live in the castle. What if they had decided to hurt you?"

She scoffed. "They wouldn't waste their time or risk their lives on me," she said. "Besides, I could calm them easily enough."

Arthen was not deterred. "No you could not," he insisted. "We cannot risk them realizing there is something odd about their shifts in mood. You know that."

She sat up. "I was only joking. If I planned to take that kind of risk on anyone, it would be the Lord."

He stood above her and looked down at the crwth. "Any luck with it?" he asked.

"Depends on what I am supposed to be doing with it," she replied. "I still don't really know the point of it."

He sat down next to her and picked it up to examine it for himself. He looked down as he sought out the bow. When he had it, he placed it upon the strings and pulled it across. Several colourful ribbons glided from it and twisted into one.

"It allows you to control more ribbons at a time," he said as if that solved the matter.

"Thank you," she said dryly. "But why do I need to do that? I have only ever needed the one to change the heart of another."

"Maybe changing the heart of a Guardian takes more than one," he reasoned.

She did not reply. The thought had occurred to her immediately but had quickly been usurped by Victor's sermon. He had spoken of protection and standing firm. She had tried to guide the ribbons around herself to form protection but they dissipated as quickly as the sound of the notes. Perhaps she just wasn't doing it right.

She closed her eyes, hoping that doing so would make the outside world go away. The three daughters would be arriving any day and if they were the ones Victor had been trying to warn her about, she felt entirely ill-equipped to face them. Taking slow, deep breaths, she focused upon the smell of the damp earth and the moss. If she were not so weighted with problems, she could have fallen asleep.

Arthen brushed his finger down the side of her cheek. "We will be alright," he said. "We would never get involved in that game."

She did not open her eyes. "And if we have no choice?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Victor seemed to realize we have not turned our backs on our duty. He seemed to understand that and yet he was worried. He said that if even one tiny part of the soul was lost, it was over."

Arthen stroked her hair. "He also said that to give up that piece of soul was the result of giving into temptation. It is ultimately your choice."

She stopped his hand with hers and savoured his touch for a moment. When a small trickle of comfort began to penetrate her fear, her eyes flew open.

"Did you not just scold me for even joking about doing such things?" she demanded.

He was unremorseful as he gave a shrug. "I hardly have to worry about you claiming I'm a witch or agent of the Devil."

She was about to scold him further when he jerked his head to look down the hill. Before she could ask what was going on, she heard the sound too. The creak of a carriage and the pounding of several hoof beats was getting louder.

She sat up and followed Arthen's gaze.

Several horses carrying soldiers trotted in front of the carriage. Behind it, there was a cart piled with trunks, a page holding the reins of three more horses, and three more mounted soldiers.

"How long are they staying?" Tylluan asked, looking at the cart and extra horses.

"I was told only a few weeks," he said.

"It looks like they will get along with the Lady just fine."

Arthen chuckled. "At least they will leave you alone, then."

She could not share his humour. "If they are who they claim," she reminded him.

He gave her a hug and a kiss. "We can do this," he said again before standing and helping her to her feet. He mounted his horse and held out his hand to her. With her crwth and bow tucked under one arm, she reached up with the other to take his offered hand. He pulled her onto the horse just behind him. She held onto his waist tightly with her free arm as he put the horse into a gallop, trying to reach the castle before the slowly moving contingent.

Though Tylluan had nearly dropped the crwth several times, she had managed to stay on the horse. They made it to the drawbridge before the carriage. Arthen pulled the horse into a trot as they went beneath the portcullises. Tylluan's heart was racing, but it had nothing to do with the ride back to the castle.

Arthen offered his arm again, which she held onto as she lowered herself to the ground.

"Put that away," he said, indicating the crwth. "Then fetch the Lord and Lady. I will wait here for them."

She nodded and ran to the spiral stairs that led up one of the towers to their chambers. She set the crwth down in the corner by the bed and immediately ran back down to the inner ward to look for the Lord and Lady.

A page had already informed them of the impending visitors. The Lady scolded her for not being better prepared, which she swallowed with a grumble audible only within her own mind.

The Lord and Lady climbed the inner ward steps that led to the gatehouse and stopped at the top, where they waited for their visitors. Tylluan took her place behind the Lady where she was finally able to breathe again, though her heart refused to slow.

Moments later, Arthen emerged from the gatehouse followed by three young women. The eldest was a tall brunette who looked as though walking into new castles were a daily occurrence for her. The second, who had deep auburn hair, appeared younger for the simple fact that she was not as at ease as her elder sibling. The final girl, who looked no more than twelve, had golden blond hair that contrasted sharply with the hair of her sisters. She seemed to be following the lead of her sisters and at times appeared a little lost.

To Tylluan's surprise, it was the middle girl who stepped forward first when Arthen introduced them to the Lord. Her name was Malle. She curtseyed and thanked the Lord and the Lady for their welcome but when she stood, her eyes fell upon Tylluan. The tallest of the girls was named Ann and the youngest and shortest was named Rohese.

Though it would normally have been Tylluan's job to show female guests where they would be sleeping, the Lady seemed skeptical of her ability to appear proper in front of ladies who had lived in England. She dismissed Tylluan and took the girls under her own care.

The Lord instructed Arthen to see to the girls' entourage before descending the steps of the inner ward on his own business.

Arthen held back a moment, standing close to Tylluan.

"Devil's women," he whispered out of the side of his mouth. "I am sure of it."

She nodded. "As am I."

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Brick 51

Tylluan kept her hands in her lap under the table. Her fingers were shaking and she was trying to hide that fact from anyone except Arthen. Why had Victor placed so much importance on her and her ability? Arthen wrapped an arm around her shoulder just long enough to whisper in her ear.

"I doubt you have to worry during dinner," he said. "Try to calm yourself."

She had been trying and failing.

They were waiting for their guests and the Lord and Lady to arrive for the evening meal. The servants had already placed an even larger than usual feast upon the table; one that included roast boar that had been hunted the previous day. As usual, the strong smells and her stress rallied against her. She did her best to ignore them.

The fire danced wildly with the encroaching drafts as the three women entered the hall. Tylluan thought she would die at that moment. Even Father Dufray had yet to arrive. They were alone in the hall except for the last of the kitchen servants bringing pitchers of wine.

To Tylluan's relief and suspicion, the women said nothing as they took their seats at the opposite end of the table. The youngest had barely sat down when the flames of the fire were thrown about once more with the arrival of Father Dufray, the Lord, and the Lady.

Tylluan, Arthen, and the three girls stood and waited for the others to take their seats.

Arthen's reassurances had turned out to be correct. The most eventful part of the meal was when the Lady caught the girls looking down their noses at the offered food. She hastily made up some nonsense about their dinners usually being much grander but that they had expected another day before the girls arrived.

Tylluan saw nothing wrong with the food. Her stress may have decided to churn her stomach over it but as far as meals went, only royalty had grander feasts every night. She thought the girls were acting spoiled.

Their small measure of scrutiny had put the Lady on an insecure footing that Tylluan had never before seen. If she had been a vindictive person, she would have found it entertaining. As it was, she felt even more awkward under the stress in the room.

When it came time for the Lord and Lady to retire, the Lady had no doubt reached the end of her patience playing servant to the girls, or perhaps she wanted to reaffirm to them that they were in a noble's castle. She instructed Tylluan to tend to the ladies' needs that evening. Tylluan nodded but squeezed Arthen's leg beneath the table.

The moment the Lord and Lady had left the hall, the three girls wasted no time in following. They rose from the table and began to leave. With one last silent plea to Arthen, Tylluan stood and followed them.

They had been given one of the visitor's solars. It was located on the uppermost floor of the main stone building. The room was warmed by a large fireplace. Furs covered the wood floor and several chairs were placed near the fire. Three beds had been brought into the room with each one set against its own wall. The girls' trunks had already been unpacked by the lone serving maid they had brought with them.

The maid was sitting near the fire and sewing when they entered. Malle instructed the girl to leave them while Tylluan helped attend to them. Tylluan said nothing.

She was terrified but in the presence of the three women, she was also trying to figure out why. Perhaps it was because of how ill-prepared she felt. Until Victor's visit, she had no idea she should be prepared for anything let alone threats from other Guardians. She had thought the strange games were something in which Guardians chose to partake. Not until Victor had she considered it possible to be by force.

And who was Victor anyway? He had given cryptic warnings and advice and left without ever confirming that he was one of them. He had gotten her into this state and there was no reason to believe any of it. Aside from the riddles, he had shown nothing that indicated he really was a Guardian.

She looked at the three girls. They seemed entirely normal. None of them had Guardian partners and they were related to the Lord, making them much too young to be Guardians of any sort. With this realization, she felt her chest loosen and her fingers relax.

"Comb my hair, please," Rohese asked, holding out a carved bone comb.

And for noble girls they were quite pleasant despite their scrutiny of the food. Perhaps they were simply accustomed to different fare. Tylluan found herself thinking that she had jumped to conclusions too quickly. Even Arthen had said over and over again that she had been worrying too much, despite the fact that he believed Victor's warnings.

She walked across the room to where the girls had seated themselves by the fire and took the offered comb. As she pulled it through the girl's hair, her shoulders relaxed even more. Rohese's hair was very soft and Tylluan found the repetitive motions of the task calming. They had been alone together in the room for several minutes. Surely, if she needed to worry, something would have happened by now.

When she finished with Rohese's hair, Malle asked her politely to do the same. As Tylluan pulled the girl's braid loose, the sisters began to talk.

They did not address Tylluan and they seemed unconcerned that she was listening to them. As their conversation wore on, Tylluan figured out why. They spoke of very little of consequence to anyone and said nothing that likely had not already been said by every girl of marrying age for hundreds of years.

She learned that they had already indeed been matched with three lords in Dyfed, Gŵyr, and Ceredigion. None of them were pleased with the arrangement. Malle felt it disgusting that Rohese be matched at such a young age. Ann was resigned to their fate as there was nothing they could do. Her attitude incensed Malle who then began to rant about being the plaything of Lords.

"We are no better than cattle," she said. "We are payment to keep the men happy. What about what we want? What about giving us a choice in how we live our lives? What if I don't want to be a lady?"

"You would rather be a peasant?" Ann asked as she examined her fingernails and began to pick dirt out from under them.

"Of course not," Malle said. "But why can I not stay home and inherit father's lands? I am more capable and literate than that infant boy but he is above me. I am sick of being treated like a servant and a slave. It isn't right."

The girl's words burrowed into Tylluan's brain. She thought of Victor's sermon. Guardians served the Masters and did so even when those Masters could not be seen. The work of Guardians was noble and that is why she had always done the best she could under the circumstances. But maybe those who played the game felt trapped like these girls.

"Do you think my new husband will be kind to me?" Rohese asked in a quiet voice.

Malle scoffed. "You are his property," she said. "He can treat you any way he wants."

Ann shot Malle a glare before looking back at Rohese. "Father would never have matched you with someone he thought would be unkind."

But Malle was not about to let the issue slide. "If he even knows the man," she said. "And if he did all this under orders from the king, then who knows."

"Stop it," Ann hissed. "You're terrifying your own sister."

Rohese's face had definitely gone pale.

"I am preparing her for reality," Malle insisted. "It's not my fault such a young girl is being forced to face it."

Ann said nothing but folded her arms across her chest and stared at the fire. The girls stopped talking.

Tylluan finished combing Malle's hair and helped the girls out of their gowns. Not another word was said as she worked. The chill in the room had dissipated any calm she had felt from the hair combing but she did not fear these girls any longer. She feared for them.

When she left the room, she fell against the wall of the spiral stairs. She was breathing heavily and her eyes had become wet. She wiped at them with the back of her hand.

What kind of Guardian had she become? She let the fear of being called a witch and the fear of the Lord's retaliation stop her from using her gifts to their full extent. At best she and Arthen had prevented massacres but they had done little to truly help the people of Harlech. The people were still effectively prisoners under the King's thumb. She had become no better than the Guardians playing their games. At least they were using their powers for something. She wasn't using hers at all.

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Brick 52

After Tylluan caught her breath, she walked slowly down the spiral steps and out into the inner ward. The sun had long since set and most of the servants had already retreated either to the kitchens or their sleeping spaces. She stopped and looked up at the sky.

It was one of the few times it was clear. The stars sparkled above her as a breeze played at her dress. As beautiful as those stars were, they gave her no answers. All she knew was that she did not like who she had become. She longed to be the Guardian of long ago that helped keep balance and peace to the world. Such a dream seemed impossible. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There was no comfort in it. After another moment, she opened her eyes and walked to her room.

The creak of the door seemed painfully loud as she opened it. A single candle was lit in the room, which was just large enough to accommodate her and Arthen for sleep. A narrow window overlooked the sea. In the night, there was little to see as it all appeared like a black blanket. Despite its modesty, she was thankful for the small space. They had privacy there, which was more than most of the castle inhabitants were offered.

She closed the door and turned to look at Arthen, who was resting fully clothed on their bed and staring at the beams of the ceiling. He looked up at her.

"You alright?" he asked.

She was not sure if he was asking because of where she had just been or because the remains of her crying fit were still obvious upon her face. She took a deep breath. "I think they are just three girls," she said before telling him exactly what had happened in the solar. She hesitated in telling him the crisis their words had evoked. She was not sure why. She trusted him completely and always had. He was her other half. She did not need to keep anything from him. After another deep breath, she walked over to the bed and sat next to him as she confessed her thoughts.

When she had finished, he said nothing. He had returned to staring at the beams in the ceiling. She felt it unfair for him to remain silent after she had shared such important thoughts with him. "What do you think?" she prodded.

"I think you should be careful," he said slowly. "Everything they said is exactly the opposite of what Victor told us."

"And?" She asked, trying her best not to shout. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep her volume low. He had said nothing of her own concerns, the very thing she wanted his input on the most.

"And he warned about temptation. Temptation is something that is attractive and logical. It is hardly tempting if it is obviously negative."

"But they do have a point," she said. "We've done very little to help the lives of the people here. We've done our best to keep them alive but we used to do so much more. We could stop a war in the middle of a raging battlefield. We could guide their hearts to treat each other with kindness. We did all of those things once. Now we wield no more power than what a human could achieve. We've let the hatred and despair of the humans pull us down with them."

Arthen took a deep breath. She watched his chest fall as he expelled the air. "Say we did what you are proposing," he said. "Say we did all that while the Guardians are fighting each other as they are and playing their games. Do you think it would turn out as well as it did when we were rallied behind the masters?"

"Why not?" she asked as she felt her cheeks redden. She stood and paced the small room. As much as she wanted to deny it, he had a point but his concerns also made her feel like her own were being attacked. She was beginning to feel very stupid and worthless.

"Why not?" he repeated as he sat up. "Because we have Guardians cannibalizing themselves and each other just for fun. What do you think would happen if it wasn't a game anymore and the fate of entire countries were at stake? Do you honestly think humanity or the Guardians would survive any of that?"

With everything that humanity had done and endured, they had survived so far, even with impotent Guardians watching over them. She wanted to have hope for once, something that seemed like such a distance memory. "What if returning to the old ways it what the Guardians need to stop these games?" she countered. "They started doing it out of boredom after all."

Arthen stared at her. "Tylluan," he whispered. "Think for just a moment. In the thousands of years since the masters disappeared, the humans have murdered and raped each other. Massacres have happened with no one to intervene. All of those things are terrible. All of them are awful and it guts me every single day that I have to listen to that Lord out there talk about wanting to cut down every single Welshman. But can you imagine the level of death and torture that they would achieve if they had Guardians helping them? It would not just be lives that are lost. The Guardians must return to being unified before we can ever reveal ourselves again."

"And sitting here, acting like weak humans is going to unify us?" Her fists were clenching involuntarily. She forced herself to swallow and stabilize her breathing. She did not want to be angry with Arthen. They rarely fought. It felt like the end of the world when they did. But her newfound doubts refused to release her.

He got up from the bed and walked over to her. He placed his hands upon her arms and looked into her eyes.

"It has a better chance than playing those games does," he said. "Please, Tylluan. Do not give into these thoughts. We know where they lead."

"No, we don't," she shot back. "We know where sealing each other away leads. That has nothing to do with this. I am talking about using our abilities to help the world. I would never lock you away and I cannot believe you would thing that is what I am talking about. I love you! But we cannot just keep sitting her being obedient pets for humans."

He pulled her into him and held her close. Perhaps he had sensed that she wanted to push him away and hit him, for his embrace was firm and stiff.

"Guardians do what they must," he said. "Even if that means pretending we are what we are not."

He was not listening to her and it was driving her crazy. Why was he not as horrified as she was at how far they had fallen?

"We will figure something out," he said. "Perhaps you are right and we have not been doing as much as we can, but subtlety is what we need now. If those girls are really who they claim, then we have nothing to fear from them. They will be gone in a few weeks without incident. As for the people, I will try to think of something else we can do and you do the same. Alright?"

She grunted into his shoulder. She lacked the energy to vocalize that she saw his point.

He gave a small chuckle before pushing her back just enough to look into her face. He pressed his lips against hers. His touch did not send sparks through her. The crisis within her mind was too much and made his attentions feel an unwelcome distraction.

He pulled back once more and smiled at her. "Good-night," he whispered before turning from her to ready himself for bed.

She stood staring ahead, trying to figure it all out. Victor had warned against turning their backs on what the masters had wanted from them. Were they not doing exactly that by hiding who they were? Victor had even given her an instrument to further her abilities. Even he had not wanted them to hide who they were. It felt like everyone but Arthen was telling her the same thing.

She looked at the crwth still leaning against the bed. Could she use it to change the world?

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Brick 53

Chapter 19

The following week proceeded no differently than if they had been hosting normal guests. The girls were polite for the most part and complained little. The Lady had decided she did not like them one bit and had complained to Tylluan one evening as Tylluan brushed out her hair that she could hardly see how they were noble at all. They did not carry themselves right. They were too polite to the servants. They wore almost no jewellery. In her opinion, there was little that separated them from Tylluan.

Tylluan had decided she quite liked them and had long since given up imagining them as wrong-way Guardians, intent upon destroy others of their kind. They had said nothing to indicate such a thing. They treated Tylluan well, at worst ignoring her completely and at best being kind and gracious.

Rohese had gained little confidence since her arrival. In fact, the longer they stayed, the more nervous she became. From the sisters' conversations, she was sure it was simply because the date of the girl's wedding was approaching and there was still little she could do about it. Tylluan had wanted to offer the girl comfort. She dared not take such liberties nor did she feel herself qualified to comment. She had never been subjected to an arranged marriage. She did not even know what it was like to be alone. She had been created, not born, and she had been created with Arthen. There had not been a single breath of her existence that she had existed without him.

She twisted Rohese's hair into a braid one morning a week after the girls had arrived. Her inner turmoil had become its strongest when in the girl's presence. Rohese evoked sympathy even without speaking and Tylluan herself becoming obsessed with the girls fate. Would she end up in a wonderful match and enjoy the company as much as she had enjoyed Arthen's?

Her fingers faltered. He had been different since the sisters had arrived. For the first time, it felt as though there was distance between them. He was still convinced the girls could not be trusted even though he could not explain why that was. He held firmly to Victor's warnings. If either of them lacked sense, it was him. She had never known him to be so stubborn.

When Tylluan had finished the braid, Rohese thanked her.

"Can I ask you something?" Rohese asked.

Tylluan tried to push away her surprise. The girls had never bothered to ask her anything of consequence but Rohese's tone indicated this was no mere request for wine. Tylluan nodded.

"Could we go for a ride today?" she asked. "It is very beautiful here but I am feeling rather caged within the walls."

Tylluan nodded. "I will fetch Arthen," she said. "He will accompany us."

Rohese's shoulders fell. "I was hoping to be in a woman's company," she said. "Malle is right. These men treat us like precious property. I want to ride without being scolded or watched."

Tylluan hesitated. "I understand," she said, "But we could get in quite a bit of trouble if I took you out without an escort; even more if anything were to happen to you."

Rohese flopped herself into the chair by the hearth. "All I want to do is go riding," the girl whined. "Why should I have to ask permission for that?"

Tylluan bit her lip. The poor girl was going to be the bride of who-knew-what-kind-of lord. She might never find another person willing to give her even one moment of freedom. If Tylluan were caught allowing this, she would be punished severely but she was sick of not being able to do anything. The call of rebellion teased her. She nearly succumbed to it.

"No," she said firmly. "We cannot. Too many people could get in trouble if we did. The stableman, the guards, Arthen, me, and even you."

Rohese crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Malle is definitely right," she grumbled.

"I'm sorry," Tylluan offered, feeling it was entirely inadequate a response.

Rohese stomped to her feet and left the room without saying another word. Tylluan sighed and followed. When she reached the inner ward, Rohese was far ahead and walking into the Great Hall. She was so focused upon the girl that she nearly toppled into Arthen.

"You alright?" he asked. His brow was knit as he looked her over.

She nodded. "Sorry," she said. "I'm just worried about Rohese."

His lips pursed for only a blink.

"I know what you are thinking," she said, "But that girl is innocent. She is having trouble coping with her arranged marriage and I can't say I blame her."

"Arranged marriages keep these people from killing each other," Arthen pointed out.

Tylluan's cheeks flooded with heat. "How can you say that?" she demanded. "It keeps them all miserable!"

"Miserable and safe," he said, refusing to rise to her ire.

"Until they use those marriage alliances to kill a common enemy," she grumbled as she turned her head to look at the wall. Her anger would have burst the comment from her but she had not lost her senses completely and was able to rein it in at the last moment.

"It is too dangerous to get involved in this," he warned.

"And can I live with myself if I do not?" she whispered.

Arthen grabbed her by the shoulders and guided her around the corner of the gatehouse steps. "What are you saying?" he asked in an agitated whisper.

"All she wants is to go on a ride with no escorts and without having to ask for permission," she explained. "That is all she wanted... and I nearly let her have it."

Arthen's head fell back as his eyes turned to the sky. "Have you lost your mind completely? If we weren't banished from the castle, life would be even worse. They would likely flog a few of the guards too. If anyone hurt her while you were out there, the tenuous peace we've manage would be destroyed. All for a ride?"

Tylluan's jaw clenched. "I said I nearly let her, not that I did," she growled. "I am not a complete fool."

He was breathing heavily but she could see he forced himself to calm as he looked at her. "Victor was right," he said. "They are tempting you with the promise of carefree days and a world without responsibilities. If we did what made them happy, this place would be in chaos. The Lord would be killing Welshmen for sport. You need to stop and think."

"I have been thinking, Arthen," she shot back. "That is exactly what I have been doing. Instead of going along with all of this as if there is nothing I can do, I am beginning to remember who we once were. We are better than all of this. We are capable of more than all of this. We are Guardians!"

He slapped his hand over her mouth and looked around before looking into her eyes. "I don't know what they have done to you," he said, "But I will figure it out and stop them. I will not let them do this to you and to us. Just promise me you will stop listening to them. Promise me you will not do anything they want of you that could get us in trouble."

With his hand still over her mouth, she simply stared at him. She had not noticed how rough the skin on his hands had become until she felt it against her face.

"Please," he begged. "Promise me."

She did not agree with him and she was not sure she could live with herself if she did not act, but if her choice was between him and the world, she chose him.

She wiggled out from behind his hand. "I promise," she said.

He pulled her into a hug so strong it nearly winded her. "Don't you ever scare me like that again," he whispered before kissing the top of her head.

"Never," she replied.

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Brick 54

Tylluan could not stand being in the castle. There was too much swirling in her mind and her guts were churning with an equal measure of frustration. She did not bother going to the Great Hall but walked to her room to fetch the crwth.

The weight of it felt reassuring under her arm as she walked back down to the gates. Her heart began to jump not with the anxiety she had been feeling but with an emerging excitement over the notes she would hear as she played it.

The guards gave little more than a quick glance at her. They had no issues with her but they knew their lord and they knew it best to remain distant and no one had ever cared of the risks to her if she chose to leave the castle; only Arthen had worried about it and only because the Lord might become suspicious. At that moment, she cared very little about the Lord.

Though the wind pressed her skirts against her legs, she had little difficulty climbing the slopes to her haven by the old Roman wall. The ground was moist from rains that had fallen in the night but the sky was now clear despite the wind.

When she reached the small grouping of trees where she had often sat with Arthen, she decided to stop and take her seat there. The trees had sheltered the spot just enough that the moisture did not soak through her dress when she sat down.

She had planned to begin playing immediately. When she had grabbed the crwth, she had felt she needed to play it that second. Now that she could, she simply stared at it in her lap, the pounding of her heart dissipating the strength in her fingers.

As awful as the situation at the castle had always been, it had at least made sense and in a way it had been comfortable and predictable. Since the sisters' arrival, Tylluan could no longer see the path before her. She knew what she was being told by Arthen. She knew what was expected of her. She knew the consequences. And yet she could do none of it. Doing what she should was a prison; one that had been holding her for many centuries longer than she had realized.

Despite the consequences, she wanted to act.

She took the bow of the crwth in her hand and pulled it across the strings. As she watched the blues and yellows spiral out from the instrument, she lifted it to her neck and wrapped her fingers around the fingerboard. She closed her eyes.

The wind teased at her hair and created a chill down her spine. She ignored it and pressed her fingers down on the strings as she pulled the bow across. She had no reason for the notes she played. She simply put her fingers where she was sure they needed to be. Though she kept her eyes closed, she knew the colours that she was creating. In her mind, she could see pinks, yellows, greens as they wrapped around her. Their embrace provided more comfort and understanding than even Arthen could provide.

"Those colours are so beautiful!"

Tylluan jumped, dropping the bow and opening her eyes in the same startled moment.

Rohese was standing a few feet away down the slope and at the edge of the trees.

"How did you get out of the castle?" Tylluan asked as her mind flashed to the Lord ordering a massacre.

Rohese shrugged and walked up the slope towards her. Her eyes were on the crwth. "It actually isn't that hard," she said. "But how did you do that? What were those ribbons?"

A lump in Tylluan's throat dropped into her stomach where in swished around painfully. She was sure she was about to vomit. "You could see them?" she asked. She was not sure if Arthen had been right all along or if Rohese was one of the few humans who could see her work.

Rohese nodded. "Don't worry," she said, "I won't tell anyone. I just want to know how you did it."

Tylluan kept quiet. She had lowered the crwth and was holding it against her chest. For lack of anything better to do, she picked up the bow and tucked it in next to the crwth.

Rohese stopped in front of her. Given the slope of the hill and how short Rohese was even on flat ground, the two were nearly at eye-level.

"Are you a witch?" Rohese asked.

"No!" Tylluan nearly shouted. Arthen's warnings stirred her guts further.

"Can I try then?" Rohese asked.

Tylluan held the crwth closer. "It doesn't work that way," she said.

The girl took the few extra steps to sit down next to Tylluan. She sighed as she looked over the hills below them. "So it isn't anything that could help me then?" she asked.

Regaining her control, Tylluan did not answer.

"Malle is right," Rohese said. "She has always been right. I have never handled confinement well, neither have my sisters, and yet that is all we find for ourselves. We keep searching but find only more walls. We keep hoping that one day we will find someone with enough power to protect us even from the King. It will never happen." She paused and turned to Tylluan, "You must understand that. Even your lord has enough power to keep us from a simple horse ride."

Now Tylluan's silence had little to do with tactics and everything to do with confusion. Was Rohese a Guardian? Was she speaking of Guardians and the problems of the world? Or was she a simple girl rambling her stress?

She continued, "What you did with your music filled me with the hope that maybe there is something or someone who could save us all from being the slaves of our masters. Maybe one day I will be free."

Tylluan's sense was sluggish. She could feel the edges of it in her mind and was trying to grasp it firmly. As she touched it, she came to two possible conclusions. If Rohese was simply a girl, no one would believe that Tylluan had nothing to do with her adventure outside the walls and Arthen's worst fears would be realized. However, if Rohese was a Guardian, Tylluan was alone with her and completely at a disadvantage.

"We should head back to the castle," Tylluan said. "How did you get out without being noticed?" She began to stand but Rohese set a hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down.

"You stay," she said. "It is easier if I go alone." The girl stood and walked down the slope without another word.

Tylluan hid behind one of the trees and watched Rohese walk back towards the gates, hoping to see what the girl would do. There was little to see as Rohese walked straight up to the gate with no effort to remain hidden. The guards saw her and rushed out. Though Tylluan could not hear them, the men repeatedly shifted weight and flicked their heads. She was sure they were quite worried about the matter. They looked up to the hills. Tylluan pulled her head farther behind the tree and waited. Several moments later, she risked peeking out once more and saw as Rohese was escorted inside.

She turned and leaned her back against the tree trunk. She dared not return so soon after Rohese. She would wait and she knew that the entire time she would be worrying about what the Lord would do.

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Brick 55

Tylluan did not dare move from her hiding place behind the tree. If anyone had seen Rohese with her, there was no telling what would happen. She held the crwth close but it did little to comfort her. She was still an inept wielder of the instrument and, in her current situation, she was not sure how it could help. She had proven an unworthy recipient of Victor's gift.

She shivered and held the crwth closer. The clouds moved swiftly upon the winds but they gave no real threat of rain. The air smelled sharply of cold and sea. Her stomach growled. She had little choice but to ignore it.

Long after her backside and legs had gone numb, she heard heavy foot falls upon the earth. Someone was getting closer. She silently hoped it was Arthen but as her ears pricked at the sound, she realized it was more than one person. Her breath caught in her throat.

The clouds continued their journey, oblivious to her fear. The world refused to wait until she was ready.

Three soldiers stepped around the tree and looked down at her. She recognized them as three of those who had been watching the gate that morning. The largest of them bent over and grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up. She struggled to hold onto the crwth with her free arm.

"Time to go back," he grunted.

Even if she had wanted to resist, the strength of his grip was too strong. She went willingly, hoping that her cooperation could still mitigate the lord's anger. Even if Rohese had confessed everything, the very fact that she had been with the girl outside the walls at all would be grounds for punishment. She just hoped the lord did not use it as an excuse for anything drastic.

The soldiers showed her no animosity as they escorted her down the slope back to the castle. They were silent and kept focused upon their destination. She had trouble holding on to the crwth as the soldier's grip jerked and bumped her arm in unexpected directions as they walked.

The hollow echoes of her steps upon the drawbridge made her stomach sink. There was no way she was going to avoid some form of disaster. They might as well have been escorting her to her execution.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness within the gatehouse, she realized their path was blocked. The lord stood before her. The wind passing through the gatehouse tugged at his tunic but he seemed oblivious to it as he stood with his feet apart and his hands clasped behind his back.

Rohese and her sisters were behind him and to his side. Her faces was blotched red and still wet. Malle and Ann looked murderous.

On the Lord's other side stood Arthen, who was watching her. His jaw was tense but there was no other indication of his mood.

Though the soldiers had been kind to her on the hill, the one holding her had chosen to emphasize his loyalties as they stood before the lord. He threw her out of his grasp and she fell to the ground. The crwth hit the stones. Several of the pegs and strings popped out and she saw a large crack on the body as it slid along the floor away from her.

She dared not look up. She could not bear to see Arthen's face. She would not blame him if he thought she had deliberately defied his wishes. She kept her eyes lowered also to avoid risking the lord's anger. The most she dared was climbing to her knees.

"Tylluan," the lord boomed. "Did you take Lady Rohese out of the castle, thereby risking the life of a daughter of a dear friend? One, I might add, who, on the king's orders, is betrothed to an allied lord?"

"I did not, my lord," she said. "I left early..."

"Liar!" The lord screamed. "Rohese has told us the truth. She told us how you convinced her to leave. She told us how she had to sneak back. What were you planning? Were your welsh friends waiting to abduct her?"

It did not matter that the soldiers at the gate could have supported her story. The lord had found what he needed. She could only hope to soften his response. "Please forgive me," she begged. "I was foolish. It was just girlish fun. There was no harm meant by it."

"You are pathetic," the lord sneered. "After our generosity, you risk the well-being of our own with such foolishness?"

She dared not say a word.

The lord moved and she still did not look up. It was only when he walked to the crwth upon the ground that she dared look out the corner of her eye at what he was doing. He picked up the wounded instrument before swinging it hard against the wall. The sharp snaps and cracks of the wood as it shattered made her jump. Her stomach's churning did not increase only because it could not go any further without her vomiting.

He had broken the fingerboard and a large chunk of the body loose. He appraised the stick he had created. It was apparently to his liking, for he walked over to Arthen and held it out.

"Take it," he ordered.

Arthen did as he was told.

"Now discipline your wife. You have been too lenient with her. She is a threat to this castle and must be taught the consequences of stupidity."

Tylluan could not help but look up at her mate. She knew he would never want to hurt her but he was always so concerned about keeping the lord happy for the good of the people that she had no idea what he would do. Would he beat her for show, apologizing and tending to her later when they were alone? Would he risk it all and defy the lord, proving that he really was her other half? Proving that she was still worth something?

She swallowed. Arthen appeared to be enduring that same struggle within himself. He was watching her. He was not moving. He was not defying.

"Do it now," the lord said.

When Arthen still hesitated, the lord added, "Or perhaps you are afraid your Welsh followers would not approve? Should I send my men to get rid of them so they are no longer on your mind?"

Arthen's eyes turned back to the lord. "The people have nothing to do with this," he said.

The lord shrugged. "Then prove you are not a traitor."

Tylluan looked at the three sisters. Rohese's face, though still blotched red, was now dry and her eyes were clear. She appeared entirely unremorseful and unmotivated to admit to her lies.

Arthen stepped forward and his fingers flexed around the broken fingerboard. He took another step, still looking into Tylluan's eyes.

Perhaps it was her own fear blinding her, but she could not read his expression. It was as hard and cold as a statue.

"Please," she whispered. "Please, don't."

Not even a twitch betrayed what he was really feeling.

"I didn't do it," she mouthed. Her arms wrapped involuntarily around her middle.

She kept her eyes locked upon his even as he stopped only a foot in front of her. He raised the weapon high.

"Please," she whispered as all other function within her body ceased. He was going to do it.

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Brick 56

The lord's eyes were wide with excitement as he waited for Arthen to bring down the jagged fingerboard. Tylluan's were wide with heartbreak and fear. She could not withstand seeing Arthen's eyes as he beat her, so she lowered her chin and shut them tight as she tensed in anticipation of the blow. The air had stilled within the gatehouse. There was nothing of the outside world that she could sense and in that lack of sensation, she hoped it was all just a horrible nightmare.

When the blow did not come, she opened her eyes. A faint glimmer of a rich blue-green caught her attention. She knew that colour but it had been so long that she wondered if her desperation were simply conjuring it in her mind.

She dared to look up at Arthen's free hand, which was still down at his side. No one had been looking at it, it seemed. Not even the sisters had noticed the colours that were now undulating from it and in a long ribbon similar to those she had made with the crwth, it had pushed through the air until it had wrapped around the Lord, who seemed oblivious to its presence.

Tylluan's focus jerked to the lord's face. His eyes were not so wide any longer. He looked calm and relaxed. The return of the breeze through the corridor pushed a lock of his hair into his face but he was oblivious.

She looked at the sisters. She had been wrong that they hadn't noticed. Malle's nostrils were flaring. All of Victor's warnings returned in a flood that drowned her heart in the depths of her gut.

"Stop," the Lord called quietly.

Arthen lowered the weapon but did not turn around.

The lord added, "That will be unnecessary."

Tylluan looked up at Arthen, who was already looking down at her. She said nothing but relief spread like rapids through her body. His face was still tense as he concentrated upon his efforts to calm the lord but she knew he would protect her. She dared not move or speak but inside she was cheering Arthen. Her enthusiasm for his efforts was dampened only by the seriousness of the situation and her guilt for ever having doubted him, even for the briefest of moments.

Arthen flinched and jerked his hand forward. Tylluan was confused. As he massaged it, she looked at the sisters.

Malle's nostrils were no longer flaring. She was smug. The sisters were holding hands and focused upon the lord.

As Tylluan also turned her eyes to him, he shouted, "What is the meaning of all this?" He shook his head as if to clear it. He froze as his eyes fell upon Arthen once more. "What in God's name are you?"

"Your servant," Arthen said as turned to the lord. His tone was even but his jaw remained tense. He was still flexing and releasing his hand. Whatever had happened, it had hurt him.

"You are a traitor! You are a Devil!" The lord seethed, "Get out. Take your whore and get out of my castle. If I ever see you again, I will put your head on the walls!"

Arthen did not hesitate. He spun around and reached down for Tylluan's hand. He was already running even as he pulled her to her feet. To her own surprise, she managed to gain her footing easily and run as fast as she could to keep up with Arthen. His stride was larger than hers resulting in him pulling her faster than her feet could cope. Through sheer fear, she avoided pulling them both down.

"You have until midday to be off my lands!" the lord shouted after them as the boards of the drawbridge boomed and creaked beneath their feet.

They ran up the slope in the direction of their sitting place beneath the trees. They did not stop there. Even as Tylluan's chest felt pierced and her breath torn and ragged in her throat, they continued to run. They left the low roman walls behind. They crested the hill. All that lay before them were the ever-clouded mountains.

Tylluan managed to keep running until her breath finally gave out, nearly taking her legs with it. Arthen said nothing as he lifted her over his shoulders and kept going. With her added weight, his own lungs gave out not long after and they were finally forced to stop.

They collapsed upon the earth next to the dried remains of a seasonal stream. The moistness of the earth still filled the air with a pungent texture but there was no water for refreshment. For several minutes, they could do nothing but cough and wheeze. Even as Tylluan's breath began to return a painful prickle remained in the bottom of her lungs.

"That could have gone much worse," Arthen said as he pulled himself up to sit with his back against a tree.

She nodded her agreement.

"I'm surprised he didn't order us executed or his men to massacre the people," he added as he closed his eyes.

"You're welcome."

They both jumped and looked in the direction of the voice. Malle, Rohese, and Ann were standing several paces away. Arthen jumped to his feet.

"We won't play those games," he barked. "You can do whatever you want to us but we refuse to hurt each other. We are guardians and we are better than that."

Malle rolled her eyes. "You think I care what you want?" she asked as she stepped forward. "I don't need your consent."

Arthen's eyes widened and, though it was nearly imperceptible, Tylluan saw his weight shift uncertainly.

"I can already have what I want," Malle said. "There is just one step left."

Arthen forced himself to pull up tall as she neared but his efforts to intimidate her appeared to have no effect. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

She smiled as she stopped close enough to him that Tylluan felt a protective jolt shot through her nerves. Her pained lungs, sore legs, and fear kept her kneeling where she was.

"We have all of Tylluan that we need," she said. "The last thing we need to make her truly ours is you."

Arthen's hand flew up as if he intended some attempt at a defensive attack. Nothing happened. He was immediately forced to lower it and he shook it as if he were enduring an uncomfortable sensation.

Malle turned her gaze to Tylluan. "You have been so cooperative with the brush so far," she said, "With each stroke you gave us more. The betrayal you felt at your brief moment of doubt in your other half was all we struggled to get from you. Once he is sealed, you can finally be one of us; an Agocara."

"I don't want to be one of you!" Tylluan shouted. She was surprised when the force of her yells did not bring with it the contents of her stomach.

Malle shrugged. "Hardly an important point," she said. "We need you and that is all that matters."

Tylluan climbed to her feet. "I will not let you have him," she growled.

"How many times do I have to say that you have no choice?" Malle groaned. "It is done."

She stepped back and only too late did Tylluan realize Arthen's body was crumpling. She wanted to reach out and grab him but before his body hit the ground, everything before her disappeared. Her mind went blank.

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Brick 57

Chapter 20

Emily's eyes opened slowly. She felt like she had been up all night drinking. Even her eyes felt congested. She did not need any time to remember where she was. She was flat on her stomach on her bed in the motel room; the phone still clutched in her hand.

As she comprehended that it had made no sound in the night, Liam walked by her vision. He was sifting through the remains of the take-out as if he hoped to find something edible amongst them. After another moment, he pushed the large paper bag away from him in disgust.

"They never called," she whispered. As the grief of what that could mean hit her, she felt wetness on the sheet beneath her face.

Liam turned around. Her eyes were still blurry from her sleep and she could make out little more than his silhouette as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She wanted to get up but her muscles refused to cooperate. All she could really do was lay there and stare at the silent phone in her hand.

"No," he said quietly back to her. "They haven't."

The now fresh memory of what had happened in Wales stung. The feeling of Arthen sitting next to her beneath the trees lingered in her system and burned her organs like hunger moved to the point of nausea. She tried to swallow but her throat was dry. As her mind sped through the dream and reached the dry stream, she squeezed her eyes shut. Her fingers tightened involuntarily around the phone.

"It might not be safe yet," Liam said in the same even tone.

She did not respond.

It was strange how the dream had seemed more alive than what she was witnessing now. With difficulty, she tried to remember the previous night's events. It was a strange haze. The dream refused to relinquish its hold upon her mind, insisting upon being the more vivid in her memory. She thought of Marcus. He was so different from Arthen and yet so much the same. She knew they were the same man but he looked nothing like his former self.

She felt her brow furrow as she considered that. She was different too. Liam had said she had changed how she looked. She wondered how she had done that. Mary, Rose, and Luanne were different too, though she had to admit the differences were not nearly as pronounced.

"Liam," she called as softly as he had spoken.

"Yes?" There was a slight impatience to his response. She tried to think over why that might have been and finally recalled his revelation about her having lied to him years ago. She would not blame him for holding onto that, even if he chose to carry the hurt for decades. It was only fair. She tried to shove the regret from her mind.

"Do I really look that much different than I did back then?" she asked.

He seemed to find this question unexpected as his hands lowered to his sides. "To anyone else," he said, "Probably."

"And to you?"

"Your hair colour is the biggest difference, and you are thinner but that is mostly because you insist on abusing yourself through nutritional deprivation." He sucked in a breath that she was having difficulty deciphering. "Your eyes," he tried to continue but seemed to think better of it.

She did not move. "Please tell me."

He crossed his arms again as he leaned against the table behind him. "The grief changed them," he said. "You've never had the same look in them since you sealed Arthen."

She found that an odd observation. Her eyes were the most youthful thing about her. Wouldn't grief have made them the opposite?

Liam seemed to understand her silence. "They used to be vibrant in a whole other way," he said. "They were green once. They were more brilliant than the forests and it was easy to feel like they were older than the most ancient trees. But that is what made them so amazing. There was no ignorant innocence in them. There was full knowledge and still love and goodness."

While she was intrigued by his description, she was also uncomfortable. He was describing them as if he still wanted her and not like he had just discovered her betrayal.

"The longer you grieved, the more that wisdom faded," he said. "The life left them. As you sealed yourself and willed yourself to forget, they became more ordinary, less remarkable."

She was not affronted by his words. She understood what he was saying.

She had though he was finished but he continued. "To those of us who knew you, there is not so much difference between then and now. You hair lightened so gradually, except for when you first sealed your memories away. There was a more sudden shift then but you still did not look as you do now. Your eyes changed much more gradually. As the weight dropped off you, your features appeared to change but not really. For those of us who knew you, we can recognize what remains. The shape of your nose and the curve of your jaw. Those have never changed."

"I wonder how Arthen changed so drastically," she said. "He looks nothing like he once did."

"A better question to ask would be how any of him got out of the seal in the first place."

She looked away from the phone in her hand up to his face. Her vision was clearer now and she could see his lips were in a firm line, the crease between his eyebrows as deep as ever. She had no hope of answering that question but she was quite sure the Agocara were somehow involved.

The light on the screen of the phone lit up before it began to vibrate. She was already pushing herself up at the same time she pressed talk halfway through the first ring. She pressed the phone to her ear and tried to say hello, only realizing at that moment that she had no breath in her to carry the word.

P.D. had jumped to his feet and was now anxiously nosing her ear.

"Emily?" It was Phillip and he sounded unsure. There was some kind of strange noise in the background. Muffled sounds that she could not tell if they were movement or speech.

She tried to cough out a yes but mangled the word in the process. She coughed again and answered him more clearly. "Yes," she said. "It's me. Where are you?"

Phillip hesitated. "I'm not sure seeing Marcus right now is the best idea."

"What?" she shrilled, her ears automatically focusing upon the muffled sounds. "Of course it is a good idea. I need to see him right now. We can't wait. We don't have time to be cautious."

"He's..." Phillip was hesitating again, making Emily want to reach through the phone and strangle him.

"Tell me," she said, trying to brace herself for the worst. They had failed getting him out. He was sealed away by the Agocara. Phillip and Valerie had been arrested and failed. Did any of those explanations explain the sounds? Were they in a police station? Did police stations sound like that?

"The memories are coming back to him rather quickly and he's having a bit of trouble," he said.

This time, she felt it when her breath caught. The lump was painful as it stuck in her throat, blocking the breath. "What kind of trouble?" she asked after swallowing it out of the way.

Phillip hesitated again. "It isn't safe for you to come."

"Where are you?" she demanded. If Marcus was having trouble, especially with recalling what had happened, she was sure that she was the only person who could help him. Staying away seemed like unnecessary torture.

In the new hesitation that stretched on the other end,the muffling continued but through it, she could have sworn she had heard the syllables of her old name.

"Tell me where you are, Phillip," she barked. "Now!"

There was no answer right away and she was beginning to suspect he wasn't even on the phone anymore.

"Phillip?" she called repeatedly and with increasing agitation.

After several more seconds of the muffling, he came back on the line. "Miette and Birch, Blue shingles," he said.

She repeated his words aloud, trying to figure out his code. What the hell did that mean?

"They're in Jasper?" Liam asked.

She looked up at him; sure that is what he meant. It might explain why it had taken so long for Phillip to call.

"I'll be there as fast as I can," Emily nearly shouted into the phone.

The muffled sounds seemed to get louder and Phillip said a hasty good-bye before hanging up.

"It will take at least four hours to get there," Liam said.

"You can get us there faster than that." She did not think she could last four hours without exploding.

"Not if you want to keep avoiding the cops," he said. "You are just going to have to find patience somehow."

She wanted to hit him. Patience was something that no longer lingered in her cells.

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Brick 58

After Liam had finished apologizing for spilling grape juice all over the motel manager and his carpet, he joined Emily in the car and they set off for Jasper. Emily had thought she had been there two or three times as a child but now that she knew her childhood was nothing more than a delusion she had created, she realized she had no genuine memories of the town. Yet, the hills of the highway and the green blur of the trees on either side of it were familiar if only for how generic they were.

She ran over Philip's call in her mind and time shifted strangely around her. In both years and no time at all, they were passing through the gates of Jasper National Park. It would be only minutes more before they reached him.

The mountains they passed now were nothing like those in Wales. They were on a scale that made the Welsh ranges look like nothing more than foot hills. Despite the hot summer, snow remained upon the jagged peaks and sparkled in the sunlight.

Liam turned off the main highway onto a road that passed beneath a railway bridge. The road flattened and straightened as it turned into the main street of the town. Only a few blocks along, Liam turned onto a side street and it was only a few blocks more before he stopped in front of a house with blue shingles.

"We're here," he said.

"Have you been here before?" Emily asked as she looked up at the small house, wondering how he found it so easily.

"It's difficult to get lost in Jasper," he said. "Not that many streets to begin with."

Her dream of Wales came back to her. The memory of losing Arthen in the clearing seared her senses. She gritted her teeth and swallowed before opening the car door.

Liam was already halfway up the walk while she was still torn between staying back and running forward. She needed Marcus to remember who he was but if he had remembered everything, then had he also remembered things she would not have wanted him to remember? The fights they had had in the castle pulled at her chest.

The door opened and Valerie stood looking down at them. "Hurry up," she said. "Philip can't restrain him for long."

The immediacy of Marcus' need speared Emily's doubts. She hurried up the steps after Liam and squeezed through the opening between Valerie's body and the door. Valerie did not hesitate to close it tight and lock it.

Emily had not waited for any further greetings or explanations. She began to walk through the house in search of Marcus but the tiny living room and kitchen were empty.

"They're downstairs," Valerie explained, walking to a door near the back of the house and holding it open.

The stairs went straight down to the bottom but Emily could see nothing. She could hear the heavy breathing and grunting of a struggle. She ran down the stairs.

The basement was a single finished room. The only furniture, a small round coffee table and three chairs, had been thrown into a pile against one wall. Tossed on top of the pile and on the floor around it were bits of broken rope. In the corner, the eagle-headed black bear was crouched and opening its beak as if it were shrieking but there was no sound. Only a foot away, Philip was struggling to hold Marcus against the wall. Philip's arms and face were covered in bruises. Marcus had Philip's arms in a death grip and was trying to push him away. His eyes were clenched shut in the struggle.

P.D. trotted over to the corner. Marcus's soul snapped at him at first but P.D. was persistent. He lowered his head and tried to nuzzle the feathers on its neck and dodged another snap before trying again. The third attempt was more successful. Marcus's soul seemed to have realized that it was looking at P.D. Slowly, its muscles released and it began to nuzzle back.

"Marcus," Emily said quietly.

"He will never forgive himself if he hurts you," Philip grunted over his shoulder to her. "He's not seeing straight."

"He can see me," she said just as quietly as before.

"He can't see anyone," Philip grunted. "He thinks we are all trying to kill him."

Valerie stood next to Emily. "He's been spending the night trying to kill us," she said. "We've tried tying him up several times but it's like he's inhuman now. He just breaks through anything we use. Only holding him ourselves has even come close to working."

"How did you get him here?" Liam asked. Emily had forgotten he was next to her and jumped at the sound of his voice.

"That's the strange thing," Valerie said. "He was completely fine and trusting when we were taking him from the hospital. He knew who we were. He knew what we were trying to do. There was nothing wrong with him. He was completely Marcus. He was the one who told us to come here. This is his house. But on the way, he started acting strangely. He started talking in a different language. He became more confused and more belligerent. He started yelling for Tylluan. By the time we got here, we could barely get him to come inside with us. He acted like we had kidnapped him or something. It has just gotten worse. At first he wouldn't listen to us, now it is like he can't."

Emily looked over at P.D., still consoling Marcus' soul, which was no longer snapping but its eyes were still flicking around the room as if it had not entirely ruled out an attack.

"Is this just the memories coming back?" Emily asked Liam.

He nodded. "Yours have been slow to return so you have been absorbing them easily," he explained. "It seems that whatever you did when you released him is too much for him."

"But you said that was why he was in a coma," she pressed. "You said he would likely be better when he awoke."

He nodded. "Unless... "

"Unless what?" She was near to strangling Liam for his hesitation but he never finished. He hesitated a moment longer and even if he had intended to answer her, Philip let out a loud shriek of pain.

She whipped her head around to see Valerie lunging for the struggling pair to save Philip from Marcus, who had bent down and dug his teeth into Philip's neck.

Liam was only a second behind Valerie.

"Arthen!" Emily shouted as she joined the fray. "Arthen! Wake up!"

Valerie got Philip loose and pulled him away, Liam taking his place in restraining Marcus who was still trying to get free.

"Open your eyes!" Emily shouted at him as she tried to push Liam aside. Liam would not give. She pushed harder. Between the forces exerted upon him by both her and Marcus, he lost his grip and stumbled sideways. Emily threw her arms around Marcus' neck and held on. If he charged forward, he would have to take her with him.

"Arthen," she whispered in his ear. "It's Tylluan. I'm here. Please. Please, wake up."

She kept her cheek pressed against his and repeated the words. He did charge forward as if she was the enemy, yet his hands did not seem to find her as easily as they had Philip. He flailed against air as she clung to his body, letting him move as he needed. "You know it is me," she whispered. "You can feel my presence. You know I am here. You know I am Tylluan. Please, wake up." He was still moving forward. In another few steps, he would be ramming her body into the opposite wall. She did not care. What broke her heart was not that he might hurt her body but that he seemed oblivious even to her words. "Please," she begged. "Please, Arthen. Hear me. Please, hear me." Her cheek was wet against his. "Wake up, my love. Wake up!"

Her back hit the wall with the full force of his charge. The pressure of his body against her ribs knocked all the air out of her. Her arms went weak as both their bodies fell to the ground, his atop of hers.

"Please," she continued to beg through her gasps for breath. She refused to give up even as Marcus' full weight pressed down on her bones, pressing her joints into uncomfortable positions.

"Please," she wheezed, closing her eyes as she continued to plead.

There was silence in the room except for her breathless whispering. Marcus was not moving and she lacked the strength to push him off her.

There was a soft poke against the side of her head. She opened her eyes and looked over Marcus' shoulder, expecting to see P.D. but it was Marcus' soul blinking down at her.

"Arthen?" she whispered.

The weight upon her body lessened. Marcus' soul stepped back. Marcus pushed himself back onto his knees. His face was tense but when his eyes locked upon hers, she could not help but smile. At this small gesture, he reached down and pulled her into his arms.

"Arthen?" she asked gently as she returned his embrace. "Are you alright?"

A trembled shook his body and she could feel his breath on her neck but he did not answer.

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Brick 59

Marcus was breathing heavily against her neck. She could feel his grip tighten as the trembling threatened to get worse.

"I don't know what is happening to me," he whispered in her ear. "I feel like I am going to rip apart at any second."

"Tell me as much as you can," she whispered back, held too tightly to offer him physical reassurance and left hoping that her gentle tone would be enough.

He hugged her harder. "I don't know where I am. I am having trouble figure out what has happened. The last thing I really remember is you sealing me away. But I remembered other things, things before you released me. For a while, they were more real than who I am. They are still trying to take hold but I know they aren't real. I was locked away. How could they be? Yet now you look like you did in those false memories. I do not understand any of it. What is happening to me?"

She knew they were all real. He was remembering Arthen and Marcus at the same time, not realizing they were the same person. Her guts churned as she thought of the pain he had been putting himself through for nothing.

"Part of you escaped the seal," she said. "You were Marcus when I found you again. They are both a part of you."

She had hoped this news would reassure him and end the fit but he began to tremble more violently. He shook his head with an equal force and lack of control. Had she not pulled away, he would have knocked it against hers.

"You cannot escape," he said. "Unless you find the key that made it and break it, you cannot escape a seal."

Though she knew what had happened, his words emphasized in her mind that she had never known how. She swallowed with the uncertainty that snapped awake inside of her. "Somehow, you did. You don't remember that?" She asked more out of desperation for there to be some sense than any real hope. Delving deeper into confusion and questions was not what she wanted when they still had the Agocara to worry about. Every unknown was a threat. She did not need any more of those.

He shook his head violently again. "I didn't," he insisted. "I had no reason to. I was waiting for Isabella and Louis to break it. That had been the plan. I would never have tried to get out until we knew they had come to their senses."

Her heart cracked at the memory. It had all been for nothing anyway. Isabella and Louis were being controlled in a way they could never have hoped to fight. All her efforts to make their friends see reason were pointless. All the pain those efforts had caused were equally pathetic.

"Isabella and Louis are gone," she said. The words had trouble coming out. The air was not there to carry them and so they were nearly inaudible.

He looked up at her, trying to find some exception or lie in her eyes. "That is why you freed me?" He asked. "Where did they go?"

"The Agocara found us," she said, feeling too drained to give him the unedited explanation. She knew that he would demand to know why she released him before Isabella and Louis were gone, why she had done anything she had. He still did not know she had forgotten herself too. He still did not know how sealing him away had made her suffer. She refused to put that onto him while he endured such a tumultuous struggle with his own identity.

His eyes widened. "That was not a nightmare?" As he seemed to realize the truth that Marcus' memories were as valid as Arthen's, he looked like he was going to vomit.

"Emily." Liam's voice sounded hesitant. She looked at him and his body showed his concern as he shifted his weight and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Can I speak to you upstairs for a minute?"

She looked back at Marcus who was now glaring at Liam. "It's alright, Arthen," she said. "I'll be right back."

"I remember enough to know not to trust him," he growled.

"And if you remember that much," she said, "You will also remember that he has little reason to trust us either."

"We protected ourselves," he said. "He used my absence to try to steal you away."

Liam said nothing and did not back down as he looked into Marcus' eyes. Emily refused to let the situation escalate. She wrapped her arms around Marcus' shoulders and whispered in his ear, "And he never succeeded because it is you I love. Never forget that."

She stood up and left with Liam. Marcus let her go but the venom he held in his eyes for Liam did not fade. She followed Liam up the stairs and into the kitchen.

It was a tiny room with white cupboards and a window over the kitchen sink. Liam filled up nearly a quarter of the room just standing next to the counter. Emily stood just inside the door.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I think we have another complication on our hands," he said. "When we were talking about how you're looks had changed, it got me thinking about Marcus and while I was watching him downstairs and listening to what he was saying, I became only more convinced."

"Of what, Liam?" She asked, crossing her own arms in front of his chest. "Stop being cryptic."

"Marcus doesn't just look a little different from Arthen. He looks nothing like him," he explained. "There is no similarity at all. And he was supposed to have been sealed away. Seals don't just break or fade on their own, especially if the one inside is a willing prisoner. He was locked up and, when released, should have been no different. You were going through decades of excruciating pain and even then you changed over time."

Valerie and Phillip walked up behind Emily from the living room. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw that their eyes were on Liam. They had heard everything he had said.

"Do you know how that could have happened?" Phillip asked.

Liam shook his head. "I'm not even sure I know what is going on right now, let alone what happened," he said. "But I am getting worried. He seems to be having trouble coping with this, not just mentally but physically. It's like his body is rejecting his simultaneous memories."

Emily thought over what she had seen and felt downstairs. Marcus had been trembling even when he managed to talk calmly and coherently. He had said he felt as though his body was going to be ripped apart. She swallowed. If Liam was right to be worried about this, she did not know how much time they had to fix it. She was feeling very much like Tylluan trying to learn how to use the crwth. She was too late then. She could not see how things would be different this time.

"How do we keep him intact?" Valerie wondered, echoing Emily's concerns.

Liam thought for several moments. Emily hoped he was devising something but when he spoke, his words gave her little hope. "We need to figure out how even part of him got out of that seal and how it formed who he is now. What worries me most is not even what is happening to him right now. What worries me is that I do not think it is possible for him to have done any of it on his own."

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Brick 60

"Do you think he knows who did it?" Emily asked. Regardless of Liam's feelings on the matter, her first concern was still to make sure Arthen survived.

Liam raised his brow. "Do you think he knows?" he said as he gestured towards the basement. "He barely knows who he is right now."

She did not believe that mattered. He was confused because he was enduring something none of them had anticipated, but he knew both Marcus and Arthen. He had both their memories. "He might have that knowledge inside him somewhere," she insisted.

Liam was not convinced. "He's barely surviving right now. You can't honestly expect him to be capable of anything that will help us."

Emily turned and headed for the basement. "If he is going to die, if that is even possible for a Guardian, then he at least has the right to try to figure out why."

"You're being emotional," Liam grunted.

She stopped and turned on her heel to face him. When he did not appear inclined to take back his words, she walked up to him and slapped him across the face. "That is for thinking I should be any other way right now," she yelled. "Get over yourself, Liam."

She ignored him as she left the kitchen, Philip and Valerie pulling themselves against the wall to let her pass.

Her hand stung from the force of contact but she smiled. She had wanted to slap Liam for years. Granted, all her past reasons for wanting to do just that seemed trivial compared to what they were dealing with now, but it still felt good to finally do it. She knew she would apologize for it later when she finally calmed down but she also knew that part of her would never really mean it.

Marcus was still huddled against the wall in the basement. His soul still agitated but doing better with P.D.'s companionship. When Marcus looked up at her, she nearly broke. Physical and mental anguish contorted his face into a tense mess. But the fact that he was no longer yelling or trying to kill anyone made her hopeful.

"Arthen," she said as she knelt down in front of him. "Is it getting worse?"

"About the same," he said as he clutched his stomach. "Every nerve all the way up to my brain feels like it's counting down before it explodes."

"I need to know something if you can manage to remember it," she said.

He scoffed. "I'm remembering everything."

His eyes locked with hers and she could not help but feel there was accusation in them. She swallowed hard as she too remembered the clearing and the Agocara being able to seal him away because of her weakness. For a moment, she forgot what she had wanted to know. So much of her wanted to take back everything that had happened that she had forgotten the present was far more dangerous.

"What do you need?" he asked. His voice was rough and there was still a visible trembling to his shoulders but he was forcing his tone to remain steady. He had told her how it felt but she was sure he was trying to hide the full extent of it.

"What is Marcus' very first memory?" she asked. "Not a childhood memory that is vague and distant. I need to know the very first clear memory you have of being Marcus."

His brow knit and he clenched his eyes shut as another wave of pain hit him. His Adam's apple gave a pronounced bob as he swallowed. His breathing came more ragged. He was in too much pain to concentrate. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hoping her presence would be enough. The shaking increased in violence. After several more moments, he finally began to calm. His breaths were deeper and more relaxed. After another moment, he answered.

"My most vivid memory of being Marcus, I was lying in a hospital bed."

"Right before Valerie and Philip got you?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Not that hospital. Not now. It was a long time ago. Thirty years maybe?"

"And?"

"I was not thinking of keys or guardians. I did not even fear the Agocara. I knew nothing of them. My only care was that I was dying. I was bitter about what was being taken from me. Some trivial sport I would never play again. It felt unfair that everyone else around me would go on to make their lives and mine would end in that room. I sent my family away, claiming I felt fine and would see them the next day. I knew I wouldn't but I was selfish. I needed to die alone with my bitterness."

He pulled back and looked at her, blinking away his surprise. "And when they were gone, an old man came into the room. I remember thinking he looked like he was out of a fairy tale. It was Victor."

Emily was breathing heavily now too. She felt stupid for it but she also felt too much excitement. They were so close to what they needed. "What did he do?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I don't remember anything else about it. I just remember seeing him."

Emily sat back on her heels and considered this information. Victor had chosen a dying human to hold Arthen. How he had done that, she had no idea. Why he did it, she had her suspicions. She was not the only one who grieved for Arthen's loss. Marcus himself had told her that Victor had always treated him like a son.

But guardians were very different from humans. In their normal state, Guardians did not forget. Emily had gone to great lengths to seal away her memories and even those efforts had crumbled eventually. There were better seals, like the one that had kept the bulk of Arthen and his past locked away. That seal was the only reason that even as Marcus, Arthen did not remember. Seals could lock away memories but otherwise it was simply not possible for a Guardian to truly forget in the way a human did.

Human memories were fragile even at their best. Humans could not keep it all inside their physical brains. Over the years, memories faded and had new ones take their place. Now, the human body of Marcus was trying to absorb not just human memories, but the clear memories of an unsealed Guardian who had lived for thousands of years.

Though Emily had no idea how Victor had done it, she could guess what he had done. He had somehow pulled a part of Arthen free. It was likely too small and too fragile to exist on its own so he put it inside a human body. In that way, the dying body and the glimpse of a Guardian's soul somehow formed a whole person.

Had the real Marcus been asked? Did he consent to this? Did Victor know what would happen if the rest of Arthen were freed? Did he ever expect that to happen?

Marcus cringed and doubled over in another bout of pain as his brain failed to regulate his nervous system.

She looked at P.D., curled up against the animal that was the mutilated part of Arthen's soul. P.D. had pulled her memories forth. He had broken the seal that held Arthen locked away. He could manipulate what others could not see. As her feelings solidified into coherent thoughts, he lifted his head and looked at her, waiting for her to call him.

"Let's get Arthen out," she said.

P.D. jumped to his feet and bounded alongside her as she left the basement to fetch her violin.

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Brick 61

Emily ignored the others as she passed the kitchen on her way out of the house. By the time she had her violin case in hand and was walking back up the steps, all three of them were gathered around the door.

"What are you doing?" Liam asked.

"I'm fixing Arthen and Marcus," she said as she pushed past him. "Well, at least Arthen. I'm still not entirely sure what will happen to Marcus."

She had no idea what Liam's reaction was to that. She was paying him as little attention as possible as she headed back into the basement.

Marcus now had his legs pulled up in the foetal position and his face glistened with sweat. Emily tried not to get distracted by the heart wrenching site. She set her case on the floor and unzipped it. P.D. began to skip and bound. At one point, he skipped over to the Arthen's soul and nudged it with his nose. It was calmer now but not in a reassuring way. It looked as drained and lethargic as Marcus.

Emily tightened the hair on her bow and ran the rosin over the horse hair. She pulled out her violin and placed it between her chin and collar bone. She pressed down on the strings with her bow to check the tension. After another minor adjustment of her bow, she tuned her violin. The colours stretched out with her long bow strokes. When she was satisfied that both the colour and the sound were exactly right, she lowered her violin and looked at P.D.

He was standing between her and Marcus, his head cocked to one side.

"Ready?" she asked him.

His mouth fell open and he panted like a dog.

"I think you are where my joy in life has gone," she teased as she lifted the instrument back to her shoulder.

In the same method that had proved so successful for them before, she simply let the notes come, trusting her fingers to find the right place. As the ribbons reached him, P.D. nipped and pulled at them as he moved them where he wanted. When she found the melody that felt right, the colours began to twist from greens and pinks to a more golden colour. The knot that P.D. twisted before her looked strong and welcoming. She imagined comfort and happiness.

Even as she still played more notes, P.D. pulled the braid he had created toward Marcus, whose eyes had fluttered shut and who was no longer aware of anything going on around him. Emily could see his shoulders rise and fall in sharp jerks. He was not doing well but he was breathing.

P.D. nudged and tugged the braid until it was fully connected to Marcus' body. Emily did not stop playing and P.D. did not stop weaving. He began to move so that the braid coiled around him. It did not let go of Marcus but stretched and thinned. He grabbed nearby ribbons and added them to the braid even as he continued to twist the entire mass around his own body.

Marcus' face twisted into a cringe of discomfort but he did not cry out or writhe in agony. Whatever was happening to him, Emily knew he could manage it.

Arthen's soul wobbled to its feet. With slow, focuses movements, it walked towards P.D. and stopped. With great effort, it lifted its head and looked at the braid and then at Marcus. Its eagle beak snatched an errant ribbon and forced it into place. Then it grabbed the braid itself, dug its bear paws into the ground, and began to pull.

With each added note, P.D. added the colour to the braid where it too would brighten to gold. Emily kept playing. She felt herself running out of the proper notes. Something felt wrong about trying to repeat the melody to give P.D. more time. The tune needed to come to its end, whether P.D. were finished or not.

She knew there were only a few more notes and she could see no progress in the souls' efforts. She closed her eyes and focused upon the sounds of the notes. She did not trust her eyes when there could be such horrible things to see.

The last of tones rang out and though Emily's bow was now frozen upon the strings, she did not dare lower the violin yet. She did not open her eyes either. She wanted it to be over. She wanted nothing but a happy ending. The room was so quiet. She could hear the breathing of the others. It sounded like they had stopped at the base of the stairs. The sensation that the tune may need to be played again fled. She lowered the instrument but hesitated in opening her eyes.

"Oh my god," Valerie whispered.

With this prompting, Emily held back no longer. Her eyes opened and she took in the site of P.D. and Arthen's soul standing over two men collapsed on the ground. The ribbons had faded; their work complete.

Arthen lay nearest. He looked no different that he had when they lived in the Arlington apartments. Marcus looked no different than he had minutes before. Both men were still.

"Arthen," Emily whispered. "Arthen?"

She pushed her violin aside and moved to Arthen. His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. Emily was both relieved and confused by what she was seeing. With tentative fingers, she reached out and stroked his face. It was as solid as any other person. It was as warm too. When Arthen was back to himself, she would have many questions for him, but now, she just wanted him to wake up.

"Arthen," she whispered again as she took his face in her hands. She pressed her forehead to his and closed her eyes. It had been so long since they had been together and if he would just wake up, all her anguish and her pain would finally be gone. "Arthen," she pleaded as she felt a hot tear trickle down her cheek. "Please wake up. Please."

Her mind went into blissful shock as two strong arms wrapped around her and Arthen's warm lips pressed against hers. He had returned to her and all the happiness of her entire life washed over her, forcing the remnants of her pain to flee. She felt warm and her skin tingled at finally having back the only person who mattered to her. Their kiss concluded slowly and not entirely willingly.

She opened her eyes to see the clear depths of his looking back at her.

"Tylluan," he whispered as he lifted his hand to pull her hair aside. He smiled as he looked at it. "I'm still getting used to this colour," he said.

She laughed. "And you are really you?" she asked.

He nodded. "As much as I was a hundred years ago at least." He tilted his head to look at his animal counterpart as if to confirm what he had just said. Then his head turned to the side as he looked at Marcus.

"Is he alright?" he asked.

Emily blushed as she realized she had forgotten him completely. Her heart and mind had been so consumed with Arthen that there had been no room for Marcus. His body was still but his chest moved with his breathing. Valerie had kneeled down next to him and was looking him over.

"Marcus?" she called. "Marcus, can you hear me?"

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Brick 62

Marcus' head lolled to the side but he did not open his eyes.

"Marcus," Valerie repeated more firmly. "Marcus, you need to open your eyes. We need to make sure you are alright."

His eyes slowly opened and closed again. "Just let me sleep," he groaned.

Valerie smiled at the response but did not let him have his way. She poked him hard in the cheek. "Wake up," she said. "You can sleep later."

"Go away," he whined at her before rolling onto his side.

Valerie shook her head. "He's fine," she said, "Though still a pain in the ass."

"I'm never a pain in the ass," Marcus grunted. His voice was sounding stronger. "You and Philip are the ones always eating all my food."

She smiled. "And now that you're awake, you can go get us some groceries," she teased as she rubbed his back in easy and deliberate circles.

His shoulders shuddered with a heavy sigh before he pushed himself into a seated position. Emily could not believe the difference. He no longer looked near death. He barely looked under the weather. His skin no longer glistened with his cold sweat. The deep circles under his eyes had nearly faded. At most, he looked like he had had a single rough night.

His eyes scanned the faces in the room, lingering upon Emily's longer than the others. She could feel her cheeks getting hot under his scrutiny but she found that all she wanted was for him to look away. He had the physical features that she had come to know and yet she felt none of the same familiarity she had while Arthen had been inside him.

She looked down at her counterpart, who was still on his back looking up at her as if examining a painting he particularly enjoyed. In his eyes, she found that familiarity she remembered and her heart melted.

Without her needing to say a word, Arthen sat up and wrapped his arms around her. She sunk into him without hesitation and closed her eyes. Her bliss was disturbed only by a huff from Liam before he stomped up the stairs. Each foot fall created a boom that filled the basement.

Emily's eyes flew open and she looked at Valerie and then Phillip, hoping they could give some indication as to what had just happened with Liam. They simply looked back at her, stone faced. Marcus was looking down at his knees as if he had not been paying attention. The air in the room was too thick.

As they sat there in an inexplicable stalemate, Emily's mind churned over all the possibilities that could have led to the tension but it also pulled in information that involved the outside world. In its search, it managed to bring her back to more pressing matters.

"The police!" she said. Her sudden outburst caused Valerie to jump. Philip nearly fell over but regained his footing before he collided with the wall.

"What?" he asked.

"The police," Emily repeated. "Marcus can go to the police now and straighten the whole thing out. We don't even have to worry about Mary and the others now. They won't care about him if Arthen isn't in him anymore."

When her logical plan was not met with the immediate agreement and enthusiasm she had been expecting, her lightened mood regained its weight and sunk into the depths of her gut, settling behind her navel.

"What?" she asked as she looked at everyone in turn. Even Arthen seemed concerned by her suggestion.

"Mary doesn't know what's happened here," Valerie pointed out. "Her lot won't know Marcus is a normal human. Even if they did, that doesn't meant they will leave him alone."

Emily pursed her lips. "Why not?" she asked. "He can't help them and he has no companion to seal away. He can't be made one of their slaves. Why would they bother?"

"Because of you," Philip said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Because of all of us. Because they will know Marcus means something to us, Guardian or not."

Emily swallowed. His words had made her realize she had been selfish. She felt guilty and yet not as guilty as she thought she should. Just a moment before, she had felt the very opposite. Marcus did not mean anything to her, not unless Arthen was inside him. Logically, she knew Marcus deserved better treatment. Emotionally, she just wanted so much for the nightmares to end that she was willing to sacrifice the human Marcus to accomplish that, even if it was only settling a minor part of her problems.

Marcus broke the silence. His voice was no longer full of the bravado that had coloured his responses to Valerie. It was quiet and tentative and he was still looking at his knees. "I can go to the police," he said. "At least let them know Emily didn't do anything to me. At least get that worry off us."

Philip shook his head. "No way," he said. "If you go to the police, then I'm sure Mary and the others will hear about it and learn where you are. It's too risky. I'm not letting you do that."

"And it isn't like the police know where Emily is either," Valerie added. "For the moment, there is no need to act rashly. We need to take our time to think this all through."

Arthen let go of Emily and pushed himself to his feet. "We need Victor," he said.

"Victor left," Emily told him. "He said he was running from the Agocara and that we should too."

Arthen's face flushed with anger. "Did you ask him why he would leave us like that?" He demanded. "We do not abandon our own like that. He is the one who fought so hard to keep us all together!"

Emily swallowed before explaining, "I couldn't exactly ask him. He left me a note tied to a brick."

The anger that had risen so swiftly changed to confusion as his brow knit and his eyes narrowed. "A brick?" he asked.

She nodded. "Liam said it had an echo of the key that held you, that at the very least it had once been a part of a key."

The confusion on his face did not fade. "But your key was linked to your violin. The bridge was the physical manifestation of it. It had nothing to do with a brick."

"It made no sense to me either," she said, shrugging. None of the memories that had come back to her since the strange delivery had helped her understand it.

"Can I ask you something?" Philip interrupted. Without waiting for a reply, he asked, "If Mary and the others are these Agocara, it sounds to me like they have some interest in sealing you away. Is that right?"

Emily nodded. "They sealed Arthen completely once before," she said and, indicating P.D. with a twitch of her head, she added, "And did the same to a part of me."

Philip nodded his understanding. "I bet that brick was from the Arlington Apartments. I bet they put their own key on Arthen to make sure you could never release him. I just don't understand how no one realized it was there before."

"That isn't strange," Arthen said with a shrug. "It is exactly how the Agocara's keys always appear - or rather, don't. It's what they are. Agocara means 'invisible'."

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Brick 63

There was silence in the room. Arthen raised an eyebrow at Emily but she was as clueless as the rest.

Arthen took a breath and explained, "The Agocara are Guardians who have chosen to cannibalize their own kind in some perverse search for power. They are not like Isabella and Louis. Isabella and Louis were victims. The Agocara want those unwilling to follow them to destroy themselves. Those like Isabella and Louis do not even realize what they are doing; they think it's a game. This is no game to the Agocara even though they try to claim it is. They learned early on that appearing human to other Guardians was a great advantage. They have made it so that Guardians cannot sense their energy or that of their keys. That is why they are called invisible."

Though everything Arthen was saying was important, it was the mention of Isabella and Louis that tugged at Emily's thoughts. She began to realize something she had never before considered. Every Guardian had a counterpart, a companion who was their perfect compliment. Mary, Robin, and Luanne had no such counterparts. And with that simple awareness, she remembered all at once what had happened after meeting the Agocara in the clearing in Wales. She also began to suspect how the Agocara made themselves invisible in the first place.

The details of these newly returning memories were slower to come as it was the major events that burst into her consciousness first. However, she remembered the most important point: Arthen had been sealed to make her one of the Agocara. Part of herself was sealed with him to make sure she remained obedient. Her will was locked away so that all she could do, all that she wanted to do, was serve the Agocara.

There was no explanation of what they had done to her. They talked to her as if she had always been one of them.

"Sister," the woman who would one day be Mary had said to Tylluan. "We will need you to travel east now. You know what we require of you."

Tylluan had nodded, knowing no family other than the three women who stood before her. Her cheeks became hot and wet at the idea of leaving them behind and travelling on her own but she loved them and knew they sent her only because they must.

They had sealed and suppressed her knowledge of anything else. She knew only them. She loved only them. She was being sent on her journey because she was different from other Guardians. She and the other Agocara had never known the fulfillment of having a compliment. She had known only being alone until they had found their sisters in loneliness. Tylluan was to make other Guardians understand that not all had been fortunate enough to be a part of a pair.

Ideally, if she came across those hostile to the Agocara, she was to convince them to try their new game. If simple persuasion did not work, she sealed away just enough of each in a pair of Guardians to make them cannibalize each other. If they were able to resist even this manipulation and proved too strong, then the male counterpart was locked away entirely along with the will of the female Guardian. The faded echoes of dozens of faces cleared in her mind. The signs of anguish would have been better than the blank and obedient expressions that remained on her victims.

Tylluan travelled as far East as modern Syria and as far south as North Africa. In Italy, she managed to seduce a violin maker into giving her one of his instruments. It resonated with her abilities and she found it much easier to create strong seals with the many tones it could create.

Each person she sealed, each time she did the Agocara's bidding, she could feel something wrong in what was happening. As much as she wanted to please them and as much as she loved them, she began to feel eaten by a shame she could not understand.

As she attempted to sleep through a hot Egyptian afternoon, the silhouette of a man refused to be pushed away from her dreams. No matter what she did or where she went, he was by her side. Enduring a Russian winter, the facial features of the blackened form became more defined but so too did her anguish. She was not just remembering the sight of him but his smell, his voice. Each part of him that returned to her mind tugged at her insides and battered her emotions until they sat as a sunken brick in the base of her gut.

The pain was enough to overcome her desire to obey the Agocara. It was enough to have doubts. Each seal came with more difficulty and afterwards, she could not feel proud of what she had done. She had just sealed away the male counterpart of a Guardian in Paris when she realized what she had done and what it had meant for her.

But as she stared at the innocent guardian kneeling before her, the woman that she - Tylluan - had made solitary, she realized what she could not before bring herself to face. She was no different than they were and the man that haunted her dreams was no illusion.

She broke her own key right there but could not watch the reunion of the two Guardians. It was too painful to realize what she had been doing to so many others. She left before they had even fully embraced and set out immediately for Wales. The clearing had seemed no different. She could not even tell there was a key. It was only the hint of a memory that convinced her the key was there.

She placed her hands upon the trees but felt nothing that differentiated them. She knew there had to be a physical counterpart but it could have been anything. She could have spent a thousand years in that clearing checking every rock and leaf and still not be sure. Instead, she took out her violin and began to play just like she had all those times over hundreds of years.

She did not create a key. She played to send the ribbons through the clearing, to see if there was anything they could not touch. Her keys were invisible to all but her. Without Arthen free, her energy could not be read by others. She knew it must work the same for the Agocara.

She watched as the ribbons danced, not pausing when she realized that they did not go near one of the trees. She kept playing, directing the colours to the tree but they always found ways to avoid it. When she knew which tree it was, she walked up to it and pressed her back against it as she played. She forced the ribbons near it. They still tried to flee. Through little more than love, persistence, desperation, she penetrated the seal. She pulled both Arthen and that part of herself that had been sealed from under the key.

She had not broken it. She could not break it no matter how strong the vibrations she tried to send at it. She could not even see there was a key even when she knew where to look. But because she had not broken the key, and only wrenched loose everything she could put her senses around, the extraction had not been as easy as it had been to break her own key in Paris. It had been like pulling a whale through a keyhole.

P.D. had been that part of her that had been sealed away and he had never fully reabsorbed into her, even after all that time. He was the best of her senses and her will. Even though that part of her had been sealed when she travelled the world as a key maker, he was still better at controlling the vibrations than her conscious mind.

Arthen had come out much worse. When she could pull no more free, and was not even fully sure there was any more of him left, his soul was in pieces. Strange and monstrous animals were all that were left of him. There was nothing identifiable as a man.

She played her violin, hoping to weave him back together. It had limited success. It was time that healed him more than anything. It took two more years before he had joined together enough to have a human form again. Still, several strange creatures followed behind him just as P.D. did with her. By the time they had travelled to everywhere she had made keys and broken each one, he was as much Arthen as she had remembered, with only one chimera by his side.

Only moments had passed in Marcus' basement in Jasper but everyone was looking at Emily. Arthen's jaw was tense.

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Brick 64

"I finally remember," she whispered. "I really was one of them."

Arthen nodded slowly. Valerie and Phillip were motionless as they watched her from their places next to Marcus. He was still flicking his eyes to her every few seconds before looking away. The way he looked at her was uncomfortable, too similar to the way Arthen looked at her. With her newfound guilt over her past, she was even less able to withstand the attention than she had been moments before.

Her blood prickled like it was soda being pushed through her veins. The smell of stale basement became distracting and sickening. Her mouth felt dry. She attempted to swallow but it didn't work. Instead, she tried to keep her mind moving to dull the physical pains. She focused upon the memories that were becoming ever more defined in her mind. She could remember even the textures of the clothes her victims wore, the smells of horses and open gutters, and the sounds of renaissance cities as if she had just experienced. She remembered Arthen, Victor, Isabella, and Louis; her fugitive companions.

She had fled Wales with Arthen as they sought out their best friends Isabella and Louis. They had managed to go unnoticed by the Agocara, or at least, they had yet to be visited by them. Tylluan and Arthen arrived at their friend's villa seeking refuge.

When Isabella had opened the door, Tylluan nearly squealed in delight. Her old friend had not changed a bit, except for her clothes, which now matched the local styles of puffed sleeves and wide, multi-layered skirts. The top layer had been dyed with indigo, the bottom was yellow.

Tylluan's enthusiasm was short lived. "Get inside before you are seen!" Isabella had growled.

"You have been visited by the three women too?" Arthen asked, his hackles immediately piqued.

They squeezed by her to get through the door, the remnants of their mangled souls padding along behind them. Tylluan had expected Isabella to mention them at the very least but her movements indicated she was not aware of them at all.

Isabella blinked in confusion at Arthen's question as she shut the door behind them. "What? Visited by three women? No. Why would I care about three women? I don't want any other Guardians seeing you here," she said. "A few from the neighbouring towns have been coming by more often."

Louis was standing in the archway leading into an adjacent room. His thick surcoat made his shoulders look abnormally broad. He smiled and nodded in greeting but said nothing. He seemed unable to see their strange animal companions either.

Tylluan smiled back at him and set her violin down against the wall nearest him before wrapping her arms around his shoulders for a hug. It had been a long time since she had felt like she had allies.

Arthen was still focused on Isabella. His brow was raised.

She shrugged before explaining, "It's that strange game of theirs. They pestered us for years to join them. We kept refusing but they began to scare us. They would show up daily and kept trying to get one of us alone."

Tylluan shuddered at the knowledge of what those Guardians had likely been trying to do and how close Isabella and Louis had come to falling victim to them. "How did you get them to stop?" she asked.

"We told them we had tried it," Isabella replied. "We noticed those who have act a little different, like they are constantly distracted. We started pretending and it worked, for a while. Lately, they've started visiting more often again. We're worried they suspect our ruse. I don't think what they are doing is a game at all. I think it's warfare."

Arthen nodded and immediately began to tell her about the Agocara. He had been kind enough to make it sound like Tylluan had actually tried to fight them off when it had all first happened but she knew the truth. She had been their willing servant for hundreds of years. At that moment, standing next to Isabella, her shame kept the full extent of the truth sealed in a painful lump somewhere between her shoulder blades.

When Arthen explained how Tylluan had released him and the unusual side effect of the process, both Isabella and Louis began to look around them as if hoping to see the strange animals in the room. At that moment, it was still too much to expect.

The villa had proved a quiet and welcome retreat. When Louis and Isabella had begun to feel threatened, they had slowly allowed the staff of the household to dwindle; not replacing those who left or died. They had become increasingly wary of strangers, especially if those strangers were not human. By the time Arthen and Tylluan had reached them, it was just the two of them living a reclusive life out of necessity. Isabella had begun to feel like a prisoner, but after what Tylluan had seen and done, the villa felt like the only place out of the Agocara's reach.

Tylluan's peace was short lived. The boom of the door knocker echoed through the house one Saturday morning only weeks after they had arrived. As planned, Tylluan and Arthen kept quiet and out of sight while Isabella and Louis saw to their visitor.

Though Tylluan and Arthen were locked in their room and could not see who it was, they could hear the cadence of the conversation taking place in the room below them. Isabella's voice was flat, with none of the matter-of-fact assertiveness that was so characteristic it was nearly a nervous tick. She sounded lethargic. Tylluan found herself feeling sleepy as she listened to the quiet rhythm of her friend's speech.

The visitor was a woman, that much they could hear, but her voice was quiet enough that they could make out no words. Though her voice was also subdued, it did not sound as listless. Tylluan wished she could hear what she was saying. Louis was not speaking at all but that was not unusual.

Isabella shouted but it had been too quick for either Tylluan or Arthen to make out if the sound had been a word. The rhythm of her voice changed after that outburst. It was rapid and strong. She was no longer bothering with her pretense. There were more shouts from more voices, one belonging to Louis.

Tylluan and Arthen jumped to their feet and ran to the door. It fell off its hinges and banged against the wall as Arthen threw it open. There was a human humming. It grew in volume as Tylluan and Arthen jumped down the stairs.

They ran into the room and the humming stopped. Rohese was looking back at Tylluan. She blinked and then a smile spread across her lips. Tylluan's eyes flashed to Isabella who was bent over Louis who looked as if he had passed out. She was staring at him in disbelief.

"My sisters will be pleased to have you back," Rohese said to Tylluan. Her eyes flashed to Arthen. "Did Victor free you?"

"Go to Hell," Tylluan shouted.

Rohese's smile did not fade. "Already been," she said. "But I can make a hell just for you if you'd like." She began to hum and Tylluan saw the ribbons of colour begin to fill the air. They were headed for Arthen.

Rage filled Tylluan right up to her follicles. She lunged forward and swung her fist as hard as she could, aiming directly for Rohese's face. It was not just her fist but her entire body that felt like it had been thrown up against a solid wall. Tylluan fell backwards onto the stone floor and was gasping for air. When she looked up, there was no hint of a smile on Rohese's face. For only a moment, the ribbons had blocked Tylluan's attack. They returned to their assault upon Arthen.

Tylluan lunged again but not towards Rohese this time. She lunged for her violin, which was still sitting against the wall near the entrance. She threw open the lid with nearly the same force as Arthen had used upon the upstairs door.

She had no time to tune it. She played the first note. It was off but she could tell exactly how. She moved her fingers to compensate. She began to play the same tune she had to seal those unfortunate Guardians. The tune did not come right away as she kept having to compensate every time she switched strings but after only a few seconds worth of false starts, she managed it. She guided the ribbons toward Rohese who had managed to get three of her own strands around Arthen. As she saw Tylluan's attack approach, her eyes widened. Her humming stopped. She ran.

Though Rohese had managed to lock away tiny parts of Louis and Isabella, Tylluan suspected their interruption had saved her friends from a worse fate. At first, they seemed no different and they all thought themselves lucky to have survived. Within minutes of Rohese's retreat, Louis had regained consciousness. Within minutes more, all four of them were running from the villa they would never see again.

Tylluan looked at the others gathered in Marcus' basement. She did not know how long she had been inattentive but no matter how long it was, they were being very patient with her. She was thankful, for the clarity of her memory of the villa brought with it important nuance. Her recollection of this one fact had been slow to come because it had not been something she had ever seen or experienced but simply been told, and only ever once. It was Rohese's question about him that had brought back that important fact.

"I was one of the Agocara," Tylluan repeated, "And Victor was too."

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Arthen nodded again. "That's why he came to warn us in Wales," he explained. "He had escaped and was trying to stop them. He failed."

Though Arthen's explanation had come out with no more emotion than if he had been reading the ingredient list on a packet of crackers, Tylluan's guts twisted at his words. She had failed. Victor hadn't. Arthen hadn't. Arthen had been a victim of her failure.

Her mouth was no longer dry. It was coated with the saliva and bile demanded by her churning stomach. This time she swallowed with more success but it only increased her nausea. "He admitted being one of them once," she said. "But he refused to talk of it again."

"His own way of escaping the consequences of his weakness," Arthen said as he rested his back against the wall. There it was again; his tone lacked any hint of judgement or animosity but his words seared Tylluan's flesh. She knew he held none of it against her. He never had. But she could not forgive herself.

The light in the room dimmed causing Tylluan and the others to look up at the lights. Nothing about them had changed. She looked out the lone window. It had clouded over.

Tylluan did not blame Victor for running now that she remembered her enslavement. Guardians could not be killed. One of a pair was locked away, the other enslaved. If they were defiant enough, both would be sealed. Without death, there were no other choices. Tylluan wished death were possible.

She had never known the details of Victor's story but she knew enough to realize that she and Victor were the same in one way. The Agocara had sealed his companion in their attempts to control him. In others, they were different. He had never succumbed to their control but he also had never succeeded in releasing his partner from their seal.

With her and those she had imprisoned, one of a pair of Guardians was sealed completely while the other had only enough to subjugate them locked away. In that, Victor was different, even from Tylluan. Victor was as whole as he could be with his partner sealed. There was none of him locked away with her. He was fully himself and fully defiant in the face of the Agocara and always had been. That could have been enough to explain his lack of servitude but something did not sit right in Tylluan's mind. The Agocara had been adamant in their instructions to Tylluan.

"The Agocara always wanted the males sealed," Tylluan whispered.

"What was that?" Philip asked from across the room.

Tylluan looked only at Arthen. Marcus was still glancing in her direction every now and again but she refused to look back.

"Victor is the only male Agocara I've ever met," she said.

Arthen nodded but his brow knit. "So what? Those women are nuts and must have a problem with their male sides. There are gender wars amongst humans all the time."

She refused to explain it away that easily. "But we are not human," she said. "We do not have male and female for reproduction. We have the two for different reasons."

He was no less confused but he seemed to see at least part of the direction she was headed. "Yes, because the two sides offer different skills and energies. We fit in better amongst humans being split rather than blended into one. They trust us more easily this way and we can be in more than one place if necessary."

"All true," she said, "But it is specifically the difference in energy that is important. I don't think the Agocara can control males like they can females. Maybe they tried with Victor and discovered it didn't work. They were very explicit that I was to seal the men and leave the women free if possible. Victor must have been a mistake."

Arthen finally seemed to see her point. "You think the difference in energies prevents them from controlling the men?"

She nodded. "Exactly."

The room was silent for several moments as Arthen considered her words and the others stared at both her and Arthen in confusion. They did not speak and Tylluan made no effort to enlighten them. She was feeling too exhausted to repeat herself and it was really only Arthen's opinion that concerned her.

Tiny taps and pops against the window echoed through the room as a mixture of rain and hail hit the glass. As Tylluan looked, she realized Liam had been gone a long time. Had he left the house? Was he caught in that downpour?

"Is Liam ever coming back?" she wondered aloud.

"I'll go check on him," Valerie offered. "Maybe he has some ideas about this male/female energy. He might have noticed the same thing on his travels."

Tylluan's breath caught. In the war that the Agocara so fondly pretended were games, where was there room for a Compass? Sure, a Compass was useful, but where did a Compass come from? A Compass had greater abilities to find keys than even a Guardian, or so Liam had believed. They had once thought Compasses were willing traitors to their kind but Liam was definitely no traitor and even if he were, how was he able to see so much more than a Guardian?

"Liam?" she shouted even as Valerie was already near the top of the stairs. The tapping against the windows was quickly turning into bangs as the hail increased in size and number. The room brightened as lightening flashed nearby. Within seconds, a thunderclap that was amplified as it echoed off the surrounding mountains shook the house.

If Liam had responded, the sound had drowned him out.

"Liam?" she called again.

Valerie echoed her calls upstairs but there was no hint of a response. Tylluan had not heard any of the doors open or close. She had thought he was still in the house. Why would he run off like that?

She jumped to her feet and began to run up the stairs to look for Liam herself.

"What is it?" Arthen called after her.

"We need to find him," she yelled over her shoulder.

"He's probably fine," Arthen insisted with a slight edge to his words. "I'm sure he's running back here to get out of the rain right now."

"I need to find him," Tylluan called back.

Now Arthen was running up the stairs, two at a time, as he followed her. "Why?" he asked. The bite to his words was stronger.

Tylluan snorted to herself as she realized what Arthen was so worried about. "Relax," she said as he caught up with her outside the kitchen. "I just need to ask him something."

Arthen raised his brow. "Such as?"

She smiled back, refusing to hurt his pride by admitting she had deciphered his jealousy but unable to entirely hide her amusement. He had never been fond of Liam hanging around, not since the first day they had met. Liam had been chasing after her for close to a century but he had never had a chance. Even he knew that but Arthen was still unsure. In Wales, even if Victor had been an attractive young Guardian, Arthen never would have felt so unsure. So much had changed since then. Her smile faded.

She reached out and wrapped her arms around Arthen's middle. "I need to ask him about his first memory," she said.

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Arthen placed his hands on Tylluan's shoulders before pushing her away from him. He looked into her eyes but said nothing.

The front door slammed shut. "Well, he's not inside and I can't see him down the street either," Valerie said as she brushed the hail from her hair. "His car's still out front so he couldn't have gone far."

"I'm going to go look for him," Tylluan said as she pulled further away from Arthen. "He shouldn't be alone right now."

"I'll help you," Arthen offered.

Tylluan suspected this was simply out of more jealousy until he added, "I'll check the East side of town, you check the West."

Too stunned to say anything, she simply nodded in agreement.

She had no coat with her and neither did Arthen. Despite the weather, she felt he needed one more than her. His suit was a little too obviously outdated; though it was possible people would just think him a hipster of some kind.

Arthen turned to Valerie. "You and Philip should stay with Marcus," he said. "I don't think it fair to leave him alone after all he's been through and Liam might come back while we're gone. Keep him here if he does."

She nodded. "Of course."

Moments later, Tylluan was doing her best to shield her head as she and Arthen hurried down the walk.

She gave one last look at him and a tight lipped smile spread across his face. "I trust you," he said. "See you soon." Then he turned and ran towards the busier part of town.

The rain had her soaked through by the time she reached the next street. It was very difficult to get wet from rain in Alberta, where it was so dry that an umbrella was something to collect dust in the back of a closet if a person had one at all. Yet her clothes were already sticking to her as if she had forgotten to take them off before swimming. It reminded her of her home in Wales.

Her progress was impeded by the downpour. She had to shield her face from the rain so much that she could barely see.

She had little luck in the town but as she worked her way back towards the hill leading up to Pyramid Lake, not as much rain escaped the hold of the trees and she was finally able to look around properly. There was no one outside that she could see.

A thunderclap cracked and boomed overhead, its intensity growing as the sound echoed off the rocks on its way through the valley. Everyone else had been smarter and stayed inside.

She looked back the way she had come. Maybe Liam had gone back too? She knew that was wishful thinking. Liam never sorted out his temper in short time. A single slight against him outside the hospital had kept him away for days.

She turned around again, intending to keep looking when movement further upslope from her caught her eye. She tried to focus on it but the figure was moving through the trees and every few trunks, she would lose track of him.

She crossed the road leading up to the lake and hurried up the slope after the figure.

"Liam!" she called.

Even if it had been Liam, she would understand if he had not heard. He was so far ahead of her and the sound of the rain was louder in the trees as each droplet took its turn to drum several leaves.

She ran but had to slow several times to survive the terrain. Despite the delays, she was gaining on the figure. Whoever it was had only been walking. As she neared him, she called again. This time, he stopped and turned. Her eyes fell upon the crease between Liam's eyebrows. She could not help but smile in relief.

"Liam!" She yelled again. "I need to talk to you."

"In case my coming out here in this weather didn't make it clear, I would rather be alone right now," he said.

Any remnants of her smile faded. "What's wrong? Why are you so upset all of a sudden?"

He scoffed, opened his mouth to reply, shut it again, and stared at her. Finally, he said, "You really need to see someone about your self-absorption. In case you haven't noticed, it's claimed another victim."

"Marcus?" she asked.

He nodded.

"I had nothing to do with that!" She yelled as her cheeks felt like they were bursting into flame. "Victor is the one who did that. I had no idea and I never would have let him if I had."

He shook his head. "That's not what I'm talking about," he said. "I'm talking about how you went out of your way to ignore him back in that basement. You have no idea what that guy is feeling right now."

"And you do?"

"Yes," he seethed. "I do. I know exactly everything he is feeling right now because I too had been in love with you despite there never being a hope. In his case, he had no choice. In mine, I was just stupid."

"He isn't Arthen," she said. "There is no reason he would love me."

"Is that what you've decided to believe to make yourself feel better?" He asked but without waiting for a reply, he said, "Marcus and Arthen were the same person for over thirty years. Marcus loved you because Arthen did but he had no way of knowing that. It's obvious he still has those memories. Can't you show even a little compassion for what he must be going through right now? He didn't choose this. Even if Victor asked for his consent, I doubt Marcus understood what was going to happen. How could anyone?"

The thick smell of wet pine filled Tylluan's nostrils. Her wet clothes were still clinging to her body. Her mind latched onto these sensations, reminding her that she was not having a nightmare. Liam was right. Arthen was back but her life was only more complicated. But what was she supposed to say?

Liam sighed. "Guardians," he muttered. "You all must be the sickest, most self-absorbed lot on the planet. No matter what you all fancy your motives to be, you use people and manipulate them and care nothing for what happens to them after you get what you want."

"I care," Tylluan whispered.

Liam looked her in the eye. The muscles in his face were taught and even after several seconds, he did not blink. "You never cared about me."

The heat rose in her cheeks again. "That's not fair," she growled. "Just because I have never returned your advances does not mean I never cared. And self-absorbed? What about you? You've been nice to me all in hopes that each act of kindness is some kind of down payment on a future with me. How is that noble? That's sick!"

He blinked several times, all strain in his face gone. "What?"

"You like to act like you're better than me all the time," she continued as she walked closer. "Even when you claimed to be my friend, you always treated me like I was pathetic and you were some great teacher." She stopped and smiled to herself as she recalled one of their more recent disagreements. "We've had this fight before," she said. "And you stormed off like a child because you couldn't accept that no matter how rude I had been about it, I had a point. Though, if you hadn't, I might not have come across Mary and Marcus, but it doesn't excuse it. You need to stop thinking about yourself just as much as I do. If you had done any of it just for me, you wouldn't be so sullen now."

His jaw tensed. "Fine," he said. "I won't run this time but you're out of line. I did everything for you. I've endured everything for you."

"Have you?" she asked. "Is what you've endured with me really worse than anything else you've endured in your entire existence? You're immortal and I'm really the worst thing that's happened to you?"

She was getting to the reason she had sought him out. He had no idea but with his emotions high, she hoped that maybe using their spat might help bring out memories he might not even have realized were still inside him somewhere.

"What is the worst thing that's happened to you?" she asked. "Where did you come from before you found me in Edmonton? You had been searching for Guardians to serve. Was that life really so wonderful? Think hard, Liam. What happened back then?"

His brow knit but the gesture held so much more significance for Tylluan now.

"Think about it, Liam," she pressed. "What is the first thing you remember as a Compass."

"Go away," he grunted.

"Tell me," she said. "I know it's coming to you. I can see it on your face. Tell me!"

"Get away," he said low. "Get away now, Tylluan."

His face was contorting into rage and pain. Tylluan could not tell which emotion was dominant because it kept changing.

"Tell me!" She yelled. "You were a Guardian once. I know you must have been." She suspected he was much more but she dared not say it yet.

Liam fell to his knees with his face in his hands. "No!" He yelled back, shaking his head. "No. I was never a Guardian!"

If there had not been so much conviction in his words, Tylluan would have thought he was simply in denial. The force in his tone confirmed her suspicions and told her he had realized the same thing.

"Get away, Tylluan."

She stepped closer. "I'm not going anywhere," she said. "I would have to be crazy to abandon you now ... Master."

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"Get away," Liam whispered again through his palms. His voice was weakening.

"No," Tylluan insisted. "I am staying right here."

The ground beneath Tylluan's feet began to rumble; softly at first so that she thought she was only imagining it but then strong enough that she looked up around her. As if in response to this low vibration, the trees began to sway and the leaves overhead roared their worry.

For a moment, she was unsure if she should heed Liam's warning. He was crouched low into a ball with his hands still over his face. All he kept saying was for her to go away but what would happen to him if she did? Would he be alright?

"Liam?" she said almost as quietly as his last whisper.

"He's not ready to face his own demons."

Tylluan spun around at the familiar voice. Her hands were clenched into painful fists as she glared at Mary, who was flanked on either side by Luanne and Robin. They looked the same as they had the night Tylluan had walked into that coffee shop, believing herself to be nothing more than a synestete and music teacher named Emily.

"Demons?" Tylluan scoffed. "Masters don't have demons. Masters are perfection." She tried to ignore the heat in her cheeks and the churning in her guts. She pressed her feet into the ground. Mary would not scare her off this time. She had no violin and could think of no way to defend herself but the sight of Mary's face had become so incredibly annoying that defense seemed a trifle.

Mary laughed but the hollow sound was easily consumed by the violent forest around them. "They were slave masters," she barked. "They controlled Guardians but they are no more powerful than us."

"They created us! Of course they are more powerful!" Tylluan still did not have the nerve to move but her lack of courage would soon be overridden by her hatred for Mary if their conversation took too long. She could feel the loathing awakening every pore in her body.

Mary raised a brow. "And do you not create? What are those ribbons of yours? Those keys you have made?"

"You're comparing chopsticks to Beethoven," Tylluan shouted back.

Mary laughed, this time a full bodied laugh. "Maybe some of us have managed to learn," she said.

Tylluan was not convinced by the bravado. The whipping wind smacked a lock of her hair against her face. She tried her best to ignore it but was forced to tug at it with a finger to keep eye contact with Mary. "If you've learned to do as much as the Masters, then why all these games?" She asked.

"Because the Masters aren't that powerful," Mary shot back. "It's nothing but vibrations of energy; them, us, everything in this entire stupid world. Once we realized that, we were no longer limited. The only ones who stood in our way were people like him!" She jutted her chin out in the direction of Liam.

"They wouldn't let us join them as equals," she continued, "And when we threatened to share what we had learned with other Guardians, they threatened to lock away our companions as punishment."

"So you did it for them?" Tylluan shot back. "And then did it to others?"

"Who are you to judge us for locking away our companions, Tylluan?"

"I never wanted to do it!" She shouted as she took a step forward and had to concentrate on stepping back once again to maintain the distance between them. Mary had nearly provoked her into action. Her skin tingled with her desire to throttle the woman in front of her and the episode would be pointless. The Agocara would seal her and she had no way to stop them. Even though their keys did not work well on female Guardians, the Agocara would use even a small delay to get everything they wanted.

Mary was still glaring back. She too had stepped forward and it made Tylluan wonder if Mary too weren't in as much control as she seemed. "We never wanted to do it either!" Mary screamed so loud that for a moment, it seemed like even the trees and the rumbling earth were silenced. "Our companions agreed, much like Arthen agreed in 1918. They agreed it was necessary; to help keep us hidden from the Masters until we could hunt every last one of them and make this world safe for Guardians to live freely."

"Freely?" Tylluan scoffed. "You're not interested in freedom for anyone but yourselves. If what you are saying is true, you usurped one slave master only to take his place."

"That was never what we wanted, but the Guardians were too indoctrinated. No one would listen. In Asia, the Masters sent Guardians to hunt us simply for trying to spread the truth. We had to imprison everyone until we could be sure the Masters were gone."

"The Masters have been gone for millennia. You've had plenty of time to prove your benevolence."

Mary shook her head. "No. The Masters never left. Some pretended to be simple Guardians. Some hid themselves in the same way we did. When we find them, we lock them away in the same way they threatened to do to us and with half of them sealed, we were astonished to learn the other half would become subservient, forget themselves, or simply become so despondent they were no longer a threat. We agreed that we would seal away any Masters that threatened us and because so many were pretending to be Guardians, we had to lock everyone away. We soon learned that the mixture of our vibrations with those we sealed determined how strong our keys were. If we sealed the males first, it worked."

"You've lost your minds." Tylluan was no longer glaring back. Her fists had even relaxed without her conscious effort. She could only blink back at the women before her; the women who seemed to have lost all logic or grasp upon reality.

"No! We are trying to save the Guardians. If Masters like Liam had their way, Guardians would never grow, never question. They would do as they are told. They would sacrifice themselves to keep peace amongst humans. Don't we deserve more than that?"

"No," Tylluan said. "We were created by them for that very purpose. We don't deserve anything from them."

"We are their children!" Mary insisted.

"We are Guardians," Tylluan said evenly. "We are far better than children. Guardians should be wise enough not to need coddling."

"You always have been too tied to those slavers," Mary spat. "Why can't you and Victor understand?"

"You never tried to tell us!" Tylluan spat back, the level of her anger growing inversely proportionate to her patience for Mary's revisionist history. "You never told me any of this. You locked away Arthen and took joy in separating us. You revelled in making me your minion. I can't believe a word you say."

Mary's eyes darkened. "Then turn to your beloved Master," she growled. "Ask him to tell you. If you know him to be so noble, then you have nothing to fear from his words."

Tylluan turned and looked at Liam, who was still crouched low to the ground; his palms still firmly affixed over his face. The earth was still rumbling around her. The trees were still being throttle by the vibrations and the growing wind racing between them. Liam's fragile form before her dulled all of that.

She stepped closer, reaching out a hand as she did so. She spoke loud enough to be heard over the trees and the earth but did her best to keep any fear or accusation from her voice. "Liam, is what they say true?"

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Liam did not answer.

"Liam, please, tell me this isn't true," she begged.

"Get away, Tylluan," he said.

"No! I deserve to know the truth."

He wobbled his head from side to side as he attempted to cover it with his arms. "I don't know. I don't want to remember. So much time... so lonely... "

She crouched down in front of him but was no more successful looking into his face. "If you want to remain alone, then keep denying your past," she said. "If you want to fix it, face it."

"What do you know? I spent nearly a hundred years helping you run from yours!" He pressed his face harder into his knees. His arms tightened around his head. The cacophony around them grew louder.

"And that's why I know it doesn't work!" She yelled only because the wind would have carried away her words otherwise. "That's part of the reason we're here now. We can't keep running. It doesn't work. It never works! We have to face everything. We both do."

The roaring of the leaves surpassed deafening. If Liam had said anything, Tylluan did not think she could have heard it. She looked up, worried the trees would topple over. Their trunks bent at unbelievable angles but did not snap. She had little confidence it would remain that way for long.

Her feet were wet. She jumped and looked down to see water seeping out of the ground. P.D. was now hiding behind her. She blinked and in that short moment, the speed of the water's flow increased. It was quickly turning into a stream that passed over her feet. She watched the direction of it to trace the source and realized the heaviest flow was coming from beneath Liam's feet.

He dropped his hands to the ground and looked up at her. She stumbled back. His eyes were shifting through every brilliant colour at once.

"Liam?" Tylluan asked.

His jaw tensed and he leaned to look around her to the Agocara.

"Playing the victims again?" he barked at them. His voice was much stronger than it had been but a quavering in the muscles of his jaw and the volatile forest around them told Tylluan that he was still not in control.

Mary either did not understand these signs or was choosing to ignore them. Her eyes flashed with excitement at the promise of a confrontation. "Only because you made us so," she shot back. "Go ahead. Tell Tylluan about how the Masters really treated us."

Liam stood and as he moved, the mountain shook beneath them. He paid it no heed and moved as easily as if he were on solid ground. Tylluan had to struggle to keep her balance, managing to only when she stumbled to a tree trunk several feet away and wrapped her arms around it.

Liam stopped. "Did you tell her, or anyone for that matter, that I stood up for you? Did you tell her I was the first Master you sought to destroy? That you sealed away my companion at the first opportunity? Did you tell her that?"

"You said we were unskilled children!" Mary screamed.

Liam nodded, keeping his eyes locked on Mary's. "You still are."

Her face hardened and without responding, she took the hands of her sisters.

Liam froze and, to Tylluan's surprise, the earth stilled with him. The shaking and the flooding stopped. The trees did not even sway. They gave no indication they had been wrenched near to uprooting only moments before. He dropped to one knee, put his palms on the ground, and stared at it.

The women began to sing. Tylluan knew what they were trying to do and filled with panic.

"Liam, we have to run!" she yelled.

He did not look up, even as the singing grew louder. Tylluan dared not look towards the sound. She knew the ribbons were coming for them. She could feel them. She could hear P.D.'s growls even as he shied away from them. Liam remained kneeling on the ground.

She walked closer to him. "What are you doing? Are you nuts? We have to get out of here." She was beginning to consider leaving him and saving herself. She nixed that possibility. No matter how annoying he could be, she couldn't leave him in danger like that. She was about to grab him by the arm to wrench him to his feet when she realized his lips were skipping out some kind of mantra. She stopped and listened.

Whispering in an endless loop, he said, "Please forgive me the favour I ask, Mother of us all. I offer my essence to you as your servant and your slave."

His eyes closed even as he lifted his face to the sky. The corners of his mouth twitched as if he were going to smile but the full gesture never came. From his body, emerged fully formed ribbons of vibrant colour. Tylluan gasped and stepped back.

The singing stopped and when she looked to see why, she learned that the ribbons were not just coming from Liam, but from every tree and rock that surrounded them. Hundreds of intricate braids advanced upon the three women, who were wide-eyed.

"Do you still wish to play these games?" Liam called to them. "I meant what I said back then."

Though Mary still took a step back, her face darkened with rage. "Why would I care about you teaching me if I have to take a vow of slavery? I was already a slave! I learned to be a Master without your help."

Liam lowered his chin and opened his eyes to look at her. The ribbons continued to advance, though slowly, as if Liam wanted to give the women more time. "When will you learn for yourself then that titles mean little? We are all slaves."

"You control everything!" she shrilled. Robin and Luanne were looking at each other behind Mary's back. Tylluan was not sure they would stay much longer, even to hold ranks with one of their own.

"I control nothing!" Liam yelled back. "I am nothing but a vessel and I could do nothing without the essence of existence that chooses to flow through me. The freest of all beings is a Guardian. You have coveted my power but you refuse to make the sacrifices that are required to wield it."

"You're lying!" Mary insisted. "You were never willing to teach us or accept us. You will always treat us as beneath you!"

Liam began to walk forward again. "Please," he said. "It does not have to be this way." The ribbons were nearly at the three women. Even if Luanne and Robin wanted to flee now, they would likely still be entangled in the colours.

"Please," Liam pleaded.

Mary's jaw tensed. "No."

Liam's eyes fell. "So be it, but you know all this is not for making some key."

"Guardians can't die," Tylluan whispered in confusion.

Liam looked over to her. "You know very little about death. Think of this more as dismemberment."

Tylluan looked at the Agocara but Luanne and Robin were down slope, trying to run. Several ribbons emerged from the trees nearest them, blocking their way. Mary refused to take her eyes off Liam.

"You'll never get her free," she snarled at him.

"She, and many more, will be freed by your end," he said. "Though you are right that I will never see her again."

Mary smiled.

The ribbons lunged. Within a second, Mary's body was encased. Within a second more, the ribbons were stretching and pulling at her. She screamed but whatever she was going through was obscured by the brilliance of the ribbons. The screams of Luanne and Robin echoed up the hill but were soon completely drowned out by Mary's, which were coming in quick succession and with increasing volume.

Tylluan's stomach churned, but she could not look away.

The ribbons burst apart and dissipated. Mary's screams were still fading even when nothing of her remained.

Tylluan blinked. There was still no Mary. She blinked again, but her foe was gone.

"She's dead?" she asked in disbelief.

Liam coughed. "In a way," he said. He coughed again.

He was clutching his chest. The confident posture of only moments ago was gone as his shoulders hunched.

She ran to his side, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Liam, what's wrong?"

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"The energies have taken their required payment," he wheezed.

She could not fathom exactly what he meant, but she was sure of the most important point; Liam had sacrificed himself to destroy Mary and the others. P.D. nudged her arm but she ignored him.

"Please," she whispered. "I don't understand. Why?"

"Because he still loves you."

Tylluan looked up to see Arthen standing where Mary had been only moments ago. His soul stood by his side. He was examining the scene before him with his hard gaze. Despite Arthen's words, there was no sign of the same jealousy as he had shown before. If anything, he looked saddened.

Liam gave a weak chuckle. "I suppose that's partly true," he said as he lowered to his knees. "I am still very fond of you but that is not why I did it. Their games have gone on for far too long. They would have destroyed everything."

Arthen scoffed. Any sympathy he had been feeling seemed to have been erased. His face was hardened by anger. "Too long?" he growled. "Why didn't the Masters stop them before? The Guardians have been nearly destroyed. Their cities lie in ruins or are at war. Any good that remains has been by luck. Everything we were meant to do has fallen apart and you could not have been bothered to stop them sooner?"

Liam stared back. He did not rise to the anger Arthen spewed at him. Perhaps he was too weak to respond in kind but Tylluan thought it was more that he simply knew too much to see the point.

"We were divided," he explained. "I know that must sound pathetic to you but Masters are not some kind of infallible gods. Some of the Masters wanted to stop Mary and her sisters before they could become a threat. Others, like me, wanted to show them what being a Master truly meant and let them join us. I never expected I would be the one they turned on first. I had underestimated their arrogance, how offended they were that I thought they needed training. They did not understand. They knew the steps to create the keys but not why those steps worked."

As he spoke, Arthen approached. The soft thuds of his footsteps grew louder. He was only a few feet away when he stopped. Tylluan tried to look into his eyes, hoping that without words she could calm him and make him see that the man before him was dying, but he kept his eyes focused on Liam. His face was still hard with all the blame he wanted to place on the Master who he felt had failed them. "Why did they work?" he pressed.

Liam doubled over. His face contorted with pain. He did not cry out but his clenched teeth and the strain in the muscles in his neck told Tylluan he wanted to. After a moment, his features relaxed but he gasped and panted in an effort to reclaim the breath that had been cut short by his agony.

"You do not need to push yourself," she said. "Please." She looked up at Arthen, hoping again to indicate to him that he needed to lay off Liam. What she saw told her there was no need. It was the familiar green ribbon extending from Arthen's arm. His face had softened, returning to the pure sadness that had washed it when he had arrived. His eagle-headed soul grasped the ribbon in its beak and pulled the end towards Liam.

"No," Liam said. "To help me, you would both have to give the last of yourselves. Please, don't."

Arthen's soul stopped. The ribbon faded.

Despite his obvious discomfort, Liam continued, "I may not have long, but I will tell you what Mary never understood." He did not look at them as he talked. He stared at the ground in front of him as he concentrated on each word. "Everything is made of energy of differing vibrations. That includes the trees around us right now, the soil beneath our feet, and each other. To be a Master means knowing how to manipulate those vibrations in every way but what Mary did not understand is that the energy one wields must come from somewhere.

"If you trace it all back to its beginning, we all come from this planet, and even the Earth comes from the energies of the events that formed it. We all came from those energies and as such are all linked. However, our most dominant link will always be with the Earth that birthed us.

"Both Guardians and Masters can wield their own energies but Masters can wield energy that is not their own. To use the energies the way the Agocara were took from the pool of vibrations around them, but the earth has its own way of keeping balance. Keys always had a physical counterpart because that was what provided the energies of the earth, but Mary and those who made them had to use too much of their own energy to force them into submission. Because they did not understand the source, they had not truly mastered the manipulation of those vibrations. Through brute force, they had convinced themselves that they had. But if they had continued in their methods, they would have destroyed themselves eventually. They were so blinded by arrogance and hatred that they did not even realize they had been cannibalizing themselves more with every key. They thought they were becoming more powerful with each Guardian sealed or forced into submission. They were becoming weaker. Their keys were becoming weaker."

That explained why their key on Arthen at the Arlington apartments had failed. Perhaps it even explained why their key on Victor's companion was so strong but Tylluan had managed to pull the sealed part of herself and Arthen free in Wales. Victor had sent her the brick, the physical counterpart to the key, had he figured it out? Had he realized the key on Arthen was weakening? Was that how he had extracted enough to put into Marcus?

"That does not explain why the Masters did not stop them long ago," Arthen said.

Liam looked up. His skin was pale. Tylluan could feel his shoulders trembling within her embrace. "By the time I realized the others were right, it was too late," he said. "I was the first they attacked. As for the others, I have only my suspicions. I have wondered if the Earth did not allow them to stop the Agocara.

"Guardians are free to work as they need. We created them as self-contained units of energy so that they could do what was needed whether the energies of the earth cooperated or not. Masters can do nothing without the consent of the energies that are not our own. Perhaps the earth never gave consent before. The energies can be chaotic and sluggish, feeling like they are working against the wielder. The Masters have learned it is the Earth's way of telling us to stop. Mary never learned that lesson. I wonder if the Earth wanted them to do what they did. Even now all that it granted was breaking them apart. They still exist in a way, at least the bits that had added up to them as individuals still exist. They are now spread out over the world. But to break them took a great expense of energy, which the earth took from me."

"The earth wouldn't let the Masters stop them? How can you be master of something that can defy you?" Arthen crossed his arms in front of his chest, but his tone was too soft to be of anger and his brow knit with confusion.

Liam smirked. "If I had so chosen, I could have made keys even stronger than Mary's. Knowing how and even having the ability to do so do not mean it is wise or right. The Earth knows better than we do and when it fought our efforts to stop the Agocara, we had little choice but to listen. It has its own way of setting the balance right again. I am evidence enough of that now."

Tylluan's stomach clenched into a painful knot. "You are dying, aren't you?"

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He gave a weak smile that was difficult to distinguish from a grimace. "That is it for me, I'm afraid," he said.

"And your other half?" Arthen asked. His voice was ragged.

"Maybe the key on her will break someday now that I have destroyed those who sealed her," he said hopefully.

"And when it does?" Arthen pressed. Tylluan could not understand his worry until he added, "How will she go on without you? I assume you are like Guardians in your bond."

Liam nodded.

Arthen looked at Tylluan. His jaw was clenched. "I could never leave you like that," he said and inside she agreed. It had been hard enough having Arthen sealed away. She could not imagined continuing with him dead.

Arthen knelt down in front of Liam. He stared at the ground between them for a moment befor speaking again. "The Masters need to come back," he said. "Without them, the world has been descending into ruin."

"But Mary and her sisters are gone," Liam countered. "Everything should go back to normal."

But Arthen shook his head. "No," he insisted. "It has been thousands of years. There is too much damage. And their counterparts still exist somewhere. They may prove just as troublesome. The Guardians need their leaders back. They need to be reminded of their purpose. They need people like you."

Liam was shaking his head at these words. "Whatever you are considering," he said, "I will not consent. You and Tylluan have finally been brought back together. You can fix this. You can rally the other Guardians."

"No, we can't. It is the Masters that are needed now. Let Tylluan and I make sure they can return, by ensuring you survive." He looked at Tylluan. "The earth used his energy. We should give him ours."

Her chest went cold at the idea. She had thought she was immortal. There had been many times in her life she had thought that a curse and begged for death. Now that she finally had the chance to have everything back, to return to Edmonton and live as a simple Guardian at Arthen's side, she wanted to live. She wanted to have the safety and the hope she had been dreaming of. She wanted to have even a day of the life she had had before the Masters had disappeared.

She wanted to vomit. She would never have any of that again. Even if she chose to be selfish and let Liam die, she would never again relish a carefree day. She would remember his own sacrifice too much and hate herself for it.

"We are a small sacrifice compared to you," she said. "So long as it is both of us, I think I can accept such an end."

Liam shook his head again. "I want you both to live on."

"And we want you to make sure many more do just that," Arthen pressed. "Please, Liam."

"I'm sorry," he whispered too quiet for Arthen and Tylluan to hear. It was only through the movement of his lips that Tylluan understood.

She protested his apology with a small shake of his shoulders. What did he have to apologize for?

"Please let us do this," she pleaded. "You were right. I've always been selfish. Let me do something for someone else for once."

He looked into her eyes, perhaps searching for a way to counter her argument.

"I'm sorry the Masters failed you," he said. "I'm sorry we failed the Guardians."

"Then take this chance to set it right," Arthen growled.

Liam's Adam's apple flipped in his throat. "I wish I were as convinced as you two that this is the way to do it."

"You're just afraid you will fail again," Arthen said. "I won't let you run from it. I won't let you be a coward."

Liam shut his eyes at these words. After heaving a sigh, he spoke. "Fine. I accept. Say your good-byes."

Arthen and Tylluan's eyes met. At the same moment, their gazes flickered to their animal companions. P.D. was sitting next to Arthen's soul; both looking back at them. They were calm and showed no sign of the fear and agitation that Tylluan felt inside her chest. Perhaps P.D. was her sense of self-sacrifice or her bravery, or her compassion for others; all things she had been without for too long.

Arthen caressed her hand with his fingers, causing her to look back at him. They had had thousands of years together, much more than humans ever experienced. They had enjoyed bliss before the Masters disappeared. They had taken pride in their devotion to the people. They had revelled in their devotion to each other. Despite those times, it was still the horrors that Tylluan remembered best, even with her Guardian's memory. It was the horrors that insisted upon haunting her. She and Arthen had been through so much and they would be separated once more. As she looked into his eyes, she simply hoped that in death there would be no more pain.

Arthen stood and pulled her to her feet. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. "I love you," he whispered.

"I wish I knew what to say," she choked into his chest.

He chuckled. "Telling me you love me too might be nice," he said.

She smiled. "I love you too."

"More than my own soul," he added.

"And more than mine."

He lifted her chin with a finger and looked into her eyes once more. "Thank you," he said. "For everything."

"Even my stupidity that got us into trouble in the first place?" she asked.

He smiled. "Even you saving me in the end," he countered, before leaning down and pressing his mouth against hers.

It was everything she had ever wanted and everything that was about to be taken from her again. Part of her wanted to hate him for this noble act he was pulling them into. That part wanted to rage against him and scream. She refused to indulge the tantrum. He was right and she had meant what she had said to Liam, it was time she remembered her true place and made a sacrifice for others, like the Tylluan she had been long ago.

Her heart raced with the thrill of Arthen's touch. Her body tingled and she had trouble distinguishing the sensations from fear or arousal.

Arthen pulled away too soon. The still alive selfishness within her want to grab the back of his neck and pull him closer again but she knew it would never be enough. If she indulged such impulses, Liam would die.

She opened her eyes slowly, making a deliberate effort to remember every detail of Arthen's eyes one last time. Then, together, they turned towards Liam.

"We're ready," Arthen said.

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Chapter 21

Liam nodded. He reached out for their hands, taking Tylluan's in one and Arthen's in the other. He focused upon the earth beneath their feet, the ground that connected them and the touch of their skin against his.

"Forgive me for what I ask," he said. It was the mantra he said to the earth but he meant it as much for Tylluan and Arthen. "They give of themselves to me," he said. "Forgive me for what I ask, they give of themselves to me."

He wanted to close his eyes as he spoke. He did not want to see what he was about to do to them. He remembered his companion. He remembered her fully now and how difficult it had been to have her taken away. He had witnessed Tylluan's pain but he knew his had been worse. He would have been willing to destroy the whole world to end it. Despite that, he still remembered how he had felt for Tylluan. The love he had had for her was a pathetic ember compared to his true bond but that ember was enough for him to truly mourn what he was about to do.

Arthen had told him not to be a coward. He would not be. He kept his eyes fully open to the horror before him as he stole from their souls.

Arthen and Tylluan's entire bodies turned into statues of fire. He could see their eyes through the flames. They did not scream or writhe in agony but there was sadness in those eyes. It was sadness he wanted nothing more than to escape but he could not look away.

The fire billowed in the wind. The heat of it grew white and as it did, the feathery caresses of it against the surrounding air turned to zips and sparks. Their eyes closed and faded as the light obscured them. The speed of the flames' dance increased. The sparks no longer sounded like fire but like electricity. Liam knew what was coming. He braced himself even as he knew it was pointless. The electric fires before him combined into a single bolt of lightning that struck him square in the chest, throwing him back several feet.

He rolled on the ground, trying to regain his senses. His body tingled in shots of excitement that alternated with pain. At the same moment he felt he could run ten marathons, he felt complete agony as the tingling in his muscles oscillated from pleasure to pain. He blinked, then blinked some more. His rhythm of his breathing began to sort itself out. The intensity of pain lessened. His vision went back into focus.

He lifted his chin and looked at where Arthen and Tylluan had been standing. There was no one there. Even the strange animals that had been a part of them had disappeared.

He focused on the sensations within his body. Nothing seemed different. He felt the same as he had he last time he remembered being a Master, the last time he had tried to get Enid out before going insane and resorting to the only avenue left him: denial. Bitterness coated the inside of his mouth. He should have felt different. He should have felt something of the two of them within his chest to remind him of their sacrifice; to torture him for what he had taken away. But there was no warmth of love or twinge of resentment. There was nothing but his own autonomous guilt.

He looked down the mountain and through the trees to the town below. Valerie and Philip were still there with the poor Marcus, the human who had been pulled into the matters of failed gods. Mary and her sisters were not the only ones who had been arrogant. The Masters had been downright narcissistic.

Valerie and Philip.

Liam's eyes widened. There were no such things as Key Breakers in reality. There were Guardians and Masters and as Liam's memories returned to their former clarity, he knew which ones they were.

He traversed his way down the hill, giving into the momentum the slope created. He needed to get back and tell them everything. He needed them to remember. Then he wouldn't be alone.

The tiny house looked exactly as it had when he had left it in his tantrum. He had been too hard on Tylluan. He had been right, but in his own weakened state, he had handled matters with her entirely wrong. There was no point in dwelling on it now.

He skipped up the steps and pushed through the front door. Inside, Valerie, Philip, and the fully human Marcus were gathered in the tiny living room. Marcus was sitting on an old sofa and Philip in an armchair next to the window. Valerie was standing in the middle, chewing her nails. When Liam walked in, she looked up.

"You're safe!" She said with a smile. "Thank goodness. I hope Emily and Arthen return soon. They will be so glad to know you're alright."

Liam blinked. The uncomfortable news would have to come first.

He explained exactly what had happened on the mountain. Retelling the part about Mary's arrival and destruction were easy. Even easier was passing on the information he had shared with Arthen and Tylluan about the energies. Confessing that he stood before them now only because Tylluan and Arthen had sacrificed themselves was much harder, especially after confessing to his real identity. He could see on all of their faces that they felt the same way Arthen had. Why could the Masters not just make everything better. He did not bother to explain. Valerie and Philip would understand when they remembered. He feared no long lasting grudge from them. Marcus might never understand.

"Emily is dead?" Marcus whispered. His eyes were focused upon an indistinct spot on the floor.

"Yes," Liam confirmed.

Marcus swallowed. For a moment, there was only silence in the room. Then Marcus looked up. "You're a Master. Why did she have to die for you? Why did any of this have to happen? Why didn't the Masters stop the Agocara? Because the Earth stopped you? Why would it do that?"

"Like I told Arthen, I can only guess," Liam said. "The Earth wanted them to do those things for some reason. I have no idea why it let me stop them now when my brethren had obviously failed."

"I know why," Marcus said. He stood and crossed the room, stopping only a foot in front of Liam. "Because you messed up. You created the Guardians to get around the natural laws. You created them to stop wars and conflict but that is exactly what the Earth ensures happens every day. The Masters couldn't stop the Agocara, because they were ridding the earth of Guardians. They were sealing them away so that they could no longer interfere. And after millennia of stuffing your mess into closets, the Agocara still showed no sign of stopping. That's why the Masters failed then and why you could do it now. You screwed up."

Marcus was breathing heavily by the time he had finished. Liam wanted to show Marcus how wrong he was, that the Masters had tried so hard to listen to the Earth, but Marcus was right. They had created the Guardians because they had witnessed wars and misery amongst the humans, who were so much like them. They felt pain at all the agony caused by selfishness. They wanted to stop it and the Earth did not let them. They created the Guardians, and those Guardians, without their limits, were able to bring peace to the world. It had been a short-lived peace. Perhaps the Earth itself had corrupted Mary's mind. Perhaps he had been wrong and Mary had not even needed to fight the energies into submission. Perhaps they had submitted willingly and he was too deeply in denial to realize it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. He and the others had messed it all up.

He looked over at Valerie and then at Philip and swallowed. Telling them who they really were now did not seem a blessing. How would they react?

"There is something more I need to tell you," He said. "Valerie, Philip, I know who you really are."

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Valerie raised an eyebrow. Philip crossed his arms in front of his chest. Marcus blinked but did not back down. Liam's mouth felt dry as he endured their scrutiny. After what he had just shared, he could understand that he was not their favourite person. He had never had what could have been called a positive relationship with any of them as far as they knew. He was not surprised that Marcus seemed very much like Arthen at that moment. Though the echo of Arthen's soul in Marcus made him feel all the worse for Tylluan's death. He could still feel nothing of her within him.

He took a deep breath and looked at Valerie. At the same time, he had to force himself to ignore Marcus who was still standing nearly in front of him. "Valerie," he said, "I know who you are because we once knew each other very well, as well as siblings."

Her eyebrow remained raised and she said nothing. She was not going to make any of this easier for him. The air in the room tasted stale. There was certainly not enough of it to satisfy his lungs. There was no point in delaying the issue no matter how he felt.

"Do you know where Mountsandel is?" he asked. He hastened to add, "We did not call it by that name back then."

Valerie stared but said nothing.

"It's in..."

Her eyes widened and she cut him off. "Northern Ireland, likely north of where Belfast is today."

He nodded. "Where we're both from," he said. "You're one of the lost Masters."

She threw her head back and gave a full body laugh. He let her have the moment but did not join her, neither did Philip or Marcus. When she had calmed, she said, "I remember my childhood and growing up in Alberta," she said. "I know it all. There are no missing memories in my past."

"And there were none in Emily's either," he countered. "Until she met Mary again, she thought she had as mundane a history as anyone could have. She blanketed herself in lies to avoid facing her truth. I did too. Until minutes ago, I thought I was a Compass. All I needed was for someone else to see my facade for what it was and the denial crumbled. Think about it. Really think about it."

She looked unwaveringly into his eyes as she said, "You tell a good story but I'm sure I would have remembered that."

He had hoped her memories would have come back as easily as his had, but his had not been sealed with Enid, they had been supressed by his own mind. It was possible Valerie's memories had been sealed. After all, he had been the very first to be victimized by the Agocara and their failed attempts to convert Victor had shown that they had needed time to perfect their techniques. What kept Valerie in denial could be an external force.

It was also possible that after Marcus' revelation, she was so opposed to the idea of being a Master, that any denial became ironclad. Pressing her would do little good but he could not lie to her and take it back. Arthen and Tylluan had sacrificed themselves so that he could ensure the Masters returned. If he failed at his first test, their deaths would be for nothing.

"I am telling the truth," he said. "You are a Master and so is Philip. If you come with me, I will prove it too you. I will help you remember. I will help Philip remember too."

Philip swallowed but did not deny the suggestion like Valerie had. All eyes were now on him but his were focused upon some spot on the opposite wall. Liam's chest tightened further. He had to make them see. There was so much to set right and he could not do it alone.

"You alright, Philip?" Marcus asked, when Philip remained silent.

There was still no response.

"Philip?"

When Philip finally answered, he kept his eyes focused squarely upon Liam's. "I want to say you're full of it, but I just can't bring myself. Emily had no idea she was a Guardian. Marcus - I mean, Arthen - had no idea either for a long time. Marcus couldn't even remember his life as a normal human." He looked at Valerie. "What if he's right?"

"You'd believe him?" She growled.

Philip glared at her. "Is that what I said?"

She crossed her arms in a jerk and returned his glare. When she said nothing, Marcus turned to her and rested his hand on her shoulder. "You can handle this," he said. "So what if you are one of them? So what if you were even one who helped start this whole mess? You can handle it. But if you are, running from it won't help anyone, even you."

She pursed her lips and kept her arms tightly folded across her chest.

Marcus smirked, "You've put up with my demands this long. Indulge me one more time. Consider it payment for always emptying my fridge."

Despite herself, she smirked. That simple involuntary gesture had been enough to crack her defenses. "Fine," she said, "But what do you expect me to do? I have no idea how to get such memories back if they even exist."

"You have to do what Arthen and Tylluan did," he said. "Put yourself aside for the sake of truth."

Her eyebrow shot up again. "You just trying to get rid of me?"

Marcus laughed. "Always."

Liam could not help smiling too. "Come with me to Ireland," he said. "I need to find Enid. It's possible that with the original three Agocara gone, that her key will be weakened or gone entirely. Please, if nothing else, I want you to come with me for that."

Her face twisted in disgust but the effect of the expression was ruined as smile teased at the corners of her mouth. "I am not travelling alone with you. Can you imagine how awkward that flight would be. We barely know each other and you're a bit of a twit."

"I will go with you," Philip volunteered. "And if Marcus will agree, I want him to come too."

Marcus shrugged. "Why not. There is nothing left of my simple human life keeping me here." He opened his mouth as if he were going to add something but closed it again without saying a word more.

Liam hoped their journey together would help Marcus' animosity fade. The negative feelings he had were likely the result of Arthen's jealousy, which had really been unfounded anyway. His jaw clenched at an involuntary intrusion into his thoughts. That was not the only reason Marcus might hate him. There was a far more recent event that ended far worse. The bile rose in Liam's throat. It was so easy to slip into denial after nurturing it for so long. He had hoped that with his memories returned and the Agocara dead, that his struggles had ended. Unfortunately, it seemed there might be more work before he was entirely back to normal.

He looked at the three standing before him and took a breath. "If you've taken care of everything here, let's go."

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