On the cusp of dawn, Phury went to his bedroom and packed an L.L. Bean bag with workout supplies, such as a towel, his iPod, and his water bottle... and drug paraphernalia that included a spoon, a lighter, a syringe, a belt, and his stash of red smoke.
He left his crib and headed down to the hall of statues, walking like he was all about healthy purpose. He didn't want to be too close to Bella and Z, so he chose one of the empty guest rooms that was nearer to the grand staircase. Slipping in through the door, he almost went back out to pick another: The color of the walls was a dusty lavender, just like the roses Cormia had enjoyed.
Voices of doggen passing by outside in the hall made him stay put.
He went into the bath, shut that door as well, and dimmed the lights until they glowed like a banked fire. As the shutters came down for the day, he sat on the marble floor with his back against the Jacuzzi and got out the things he was going to use on himself.
The reality of what he was about to do didn't seem like any big deal.
It was kind of like immersing yourself in cold water. Once the shock was over, you got used to where you were.
And he was encouraged by the quiet in his head. Since he'd started down this road, the wizard hadn't said a goddamned thing.
Phury's hands didn't shake at all as he tapped out some white powder into the belly of a sterling-silver spoon and added a little water from his bottle. Flipping open the top of his lighter, he struck up a flame and brought it under the mix.
For no apparent reason, he noted that the silver spoon's pattern was Gorham's Lily of the Valley. From the late nineteenth century.
After the sauce had boiled, he put the spoon down on the marble floor, loaded up the syringe, and reached for his Herm¨¨s belt. Extending his left arm, he looped the leather through its shiny gold buckle, pulled the thing tight, and tucked the end under his arm so he could hold it in place.
His veins popped at the crook of his elbow and he prodded them. He chose the thickest one, then frowned.
The shit in the needle's belly was brown.
For a moment, panic flickered. Brown was a bad color.
He shook his head to clear it, then pierced his vein with the needle and drew up the plunger to make sure he was in properly. When he saw a flash of red, he pushed his thumb down, emptied the syringe's load, and let the belt go loose.
The effect was so much faster than he'd imagined. One second he was letting his arm fall lax, and the next he was viciously sick to his stomach and crawling for the toilet in a bizarre, rushing slow motion.
This shit was definitely not red smoke. There was no mellow easing, no polite knock on the door before the drug stepped into his brain. This was an all-guns-blazing assault with a battering ram, and as he threw up, he reminded himself that what he'd gotten was what he'd wanted.
Dimly, in the far background of his consciousness, he heard the wizard start laughing... heard his addiction's cackling satisfaction get rolling, even as the heroin took over the rest of his mind and body.
As he passed out while throwing up, he realized he'd been cheated. Instead of killing the wizard, he was left only with the wasteland and its master.
Good job, mate... excellent job.
Shit, those bones in the wasteland were the leftovers of the addicts the wizard had worded to death. And Phury's skull was front and center, the newest casualty. But certainly not the last.
"Of course," the Chosen Amalya said. "Of course you may be sequestered... if you are sure that is what you wish?"
Cormia nodded, then reminded herself that, as she was in the Sanctuary, she was back in the land of the bowing. Lowering her upper body, she murmured, "Thank you."
As she straightened, she looked around the Directrix's private quarters. The two rooms were decorated in the tradition of the Chosen, which was to say that they had no decor at all. Everything was simple, sparse, and white, with the only difference from the other Chosen quarters being that Amalya had a seating arrangement for audiences with the sisters.
Everything was so white, Cormia thought. So... white. And the chairs they were both sitting on were stiff backed and without cushions.
"I suppose this is timely," the Directrix said. "The last remaining sequestered scribe, Selena, stepped down with the advent of the Primale's ascension. The Scribe Virgin was pleased to have her relinquish the duty, given our change in circumstance. No one, however, has come forward to replace her."
"I'd like to suggest that I function as a primary recording scribe as well."
"That would be very generous of you. It would free up the others for the Primale." There was a stretch of silence. "Shall we proceed?"
When Cormia nodded and knelt on the floor, the Directrix lit some incense, and performed the ceremony of sequestering.
When it was through, Cormia stood and walked over on the far side to an open expanse in the wall that she would have called a window.
Across the white expanse of the Sanctuary, she saw the Temple of the Sequestered Scribes. It was annexed to the entry into the Scribe Virgin's private quarters and had no windows. Inside its white confines, there would be no one else but herself. Herself and licks of parchment scrolls and pints of sanguinary ink and the unfolding history of the race, hers to record as a viewer, not a participant.
"I can't do this," she said.
"I'm sorry, what did you¡ª"
There was a knock on the jamb. "Enter," Amayla called out.
One of their sisters came in and bowed low. "The Chosen Layla is readied from the baths for His Majesty, the Primale."
"Ah, good." Amalya reached for an incense burner. "Let us install her at his temple, and then I shall summon him."
"As you wish." While the Chosen bowed her head and backed out of the room, Cormia caught the smile of anticipation on the female's face.
She probably hoped to be next in line for a trip to the temple.
"Will you excuse me?" Cormia said, heart beating erratically, an instrument that couldn't find its beat. "I'm going to retire to the Scribes' Temple."
"Of course." Abruptly, Amayla's eyes grew shrewd. "Are you sure about this, my sister?"
"Yes. And this is a glorious day for all of us. I'll be sure to record it properly."
"I shall have meals delivered unto you."
"Yes. Thank you."
"Cormia... I am here for you should you need counsel. In a private capacity."
Cormia bowed and left in a hurry, going directly to the solid white temple that was now her home.
When she shut the door behind herself, she was enveloped by a dense pitch-black darkness. At her will, candles positioned at the four corners of the high-ceilinged room lit, and, in their glow, she looked at the six white desks with their white quill pens standing at attention and their pots of sanguinary ink and their crystal bowls of seeing water. In baskets on the floor, sheaves of parchment were rolled and tied with white ribbon, ready to accept the symbols of the Old Language that would preserve the race's progress.
Against the far wall, there were three double-layered bunks, each set with a single pristine pillow and made up with sheets that were precisely folded. No blankets were bundled at the feet of the beds, as the temperature was too perfect for extra covers to be required. Off to one side, there was a curtain that led into the private bath.
Over to the right there was an ornate silver door that led into the Scribe Virgin's private library. The sequestered scribes were the only ones to whom Her Holiness dictated her private diary, and when they were summoned, they used that door to take the audience they were granted.
The slot in the center of the portal was used to slip parchments generated by both recording and sequestured scribes back and forth during the editing process. The Scribe Virgin read and approved or edited all history until she found it appropriate. Once accepted, a scroll was either cut to size and bound with other pages to become one of the volumes in the library, or it was rolled and placed in the Scribe Virgin 's sacred archives.
Cormia went over to one of the desks and sat down on the backless stool.
The silence and the isolation were as agitating as a teeming crowd, and she had no idea how long she sat there, struggling to get control of herself.
She'd assumed she could do this¡ªthat the sequestering solution was the only one that would work. Now she was screaming to get out.
Maybe she just needed something else to focus on.
Taking the white-plumed quill into her hand, she opened the pot of ink to her right. To warm up, she began by composing some of the simpler characters of the Old Language.
She couldn't keep it up, though.
The letters became geometric designs. The designs turned into rows of boxes. The boxes turned... into building plans.
Back in the Brotherhood's mansion, John's head lifted from his pillow as he heard a knock on his door. Shifting off his bed, he went over and answered the knuckle-rap. Out in the hall, Qhuinn and Blay were standing side by side, shoulder-to-shoulder, just like they always did.
At least one thing had apparently gone right.
"We need to find Blay a room," Qhuinn said. "You got any idea where we should stuff him?"
"And I should get some of my things at nightfall," Blaylock tacked on. "Which would mean a trip back to my house."
No problem, John signed.
Qhuinn was in the room that adjoined his, so he went down one farther and opened the door into a pale lavender guest room.
We can change the decor, John signed, if it's too girlie.
Blay laughed. "Yeah, I'm not sure I can rock this."
As the guy went over and tested out the bed, John walked to the bathroom's double doors and pushed them open¡ª
Phury was passed out with his head next to the toilet, his huge body lax, his face the color of candle wax. At his feet were a needle and a spoon and a belt.
"Fuckin' hell!" Qhuinn's curse echoed around all the creamy marble.
John wheeled around. Get Doc Jane. Right now. She's probably in the Pit with Vishous.
Qhuinn tore off as John rushed over and rolled Phury onto his back. The Brother's lips were blue, but not because of all the bruising John's fists had done. The male wasn't breathing. Hadn't been for a while.
Against all odds, Doc Jane came in with Qhuinn literally a split second later. "I was on my way to see Bella¡ª Oh... shit."
She came over and did the fastest vitals check John had ever seen. Then she popped open her doctor's bag and took out a needle and a vial.
"Is he alive."
All four of them looked toward the bathroom's doorway. Zsadist was standing there, feet planted, scarred face pale.
"Is he..." Z's eyes drifted over to what was on the floor next to the Jacuzzi. "Alive."
Doc Jane looked at John and hissed, "Get him the fuck out of here. Now. He doesn't need to see this."
John's blood went cold from what he saw in her face: She wasn't sure she could bring Phury back.
With shock rolling through him, he stood up and went over to Z.
"I'm not leaving," Zsadist said.
"Yes, you are." Doc Jane held up the syringe she'd filled and pressed the plunger. As a hair-width stream of something shot out the tip, she turned back to Phury's body. "Qhuinn, you stay with me. Blaylock, go with them and shut the door."
Zsadist opened up his mouth, but John just shook his head.
It was with the oddest calm that he stepped to the Brother 's face, put his hands on both the guy's arms and pushed backward.
And it was in stunned silence that Z let himself get walked out of the room.
Blay shut the doors and stood in front of them, blocking the way.
Z's bleak eyes held on to John's.
All John could do was stare right back into them.
"He can't be gone," Zsadist said hoarsely. "He just can't be..."