"My sister," came the hiss from the other side of the temple's door. "My sister."
Cormia looked up from the parchment on which she had been recording the scenes she'd watched of the Primale saving those civilians. "Layla?"
"The Primale is ill. He is calling for you."
Cormia let the quill fall from her hands and flew to the door. Sweeping it open, she stared at her sister's pale, frantic face. "Ill?"
"He is abed, shivering in coldness. Verily, he is unwell. He wouldn't let me help him for the longest time, I dragged him from the vestibule when he lost consciousness."
Cormia put the hood of her robe up. "Are the others¡ª"
"Our sisters are at meal. They are all at the meal. There is no one who will see you."
Cormia hurried out of the sequestered temple, but was blinded by the brilliant light of the Sanctuary. She took Layla's hand until her eyes adjusted, and the two of them raced for the Primale's temple.
Cormia slipped in through the golden door and swept aside the drapery.
The Primale was lying on the bed with nothing but the silken bottoms of his Sanctuary dress on him. His skin had an unhealthy glow to it and a sheen of sweat. Racked with the shakes, his big body seemed horridly frail.
"Cormia?" he said, reaching out with a palsied hand.
She went over to him, shucking her hood. "I'm here." He strained at the sound of her voice, but then she touched his fingertips and he calmed.
Good God, he was on fire.
"What's wrong?" she said, sitting by him.
"I th-th-th-think th-this is d-detox."
"N-n-no... d-drugs... n-n-nnno mo-mo... d-d-d-drugsss..."
She could barely make out what he was saying, but knew on some level the last thing she should do was offer to get him any of the hand-rolled he'd always smoked.
"Is there anything I can do to ease you?" When he began to lick his dry lips, she said, "Would you like some water?"
"I shall get it," Layla said, heading for the bath.
"Thank you, my sister." Cormia looked over her shoulder. "Bring cloths as well?"
As Layla disappeared behind a curtain across the way, Phury closed his eyes and started turning his head back and forth on the pillow, his speech abruptly evening out. "The garden... the garden is full of weeds...oh, God, the ivy... it's everywhere... the statues are covered in it."
When Layla returned with a pitcher and a bowl and some white cloths, Cormia said to her, "Thank you. Now please leave us, my sister."
She had a feeling things were going to get much worse, and that Phury wouldn't want to be seen by others in his delusional state.
Layla bowed. "What shall I speak unto the Chosen when I appear at the meal?"
"Tell them that he is resting after your mating, and that he has requested time to himself. I shall care for him."
"When shall I return?"
"Does the sleep cycle begin soon?"
"Following Thideh prayers."
"Right. Come back after all are settled. If this persists... I'll need to go over to the far side and fetch Doc Jane, and you'll have to stay with him."
"A healer. Go. Now. Extol the virtues of his body and your station. Be loud about it." Cormia smoothed Phury's hair back. "The louder you are, the better for him."
"As you wish. And I shall return."
Cormia waited until her sister left, then tried to give him something to drink. He was too out of it to take water, though, unable to focus on what she held to his lips. Giving up, she wetted a cloth and pressed it to his face.
Phury's feverish eyes flipped open and clung to her while she blotted his forehead. "The garden... is full of weeds," he said urgently. "Full of weeds."
"Shhh..." She dipped the cloth in the bowl again, getting it cool for him. "It's all right."
On a desperate breath, he moaned, "No, it's covered them all up. The statues... they're gone... I'm gone."
The terror in that yellow stare made her blood run cold. He was hallucinating, clearly out of his mind, but whatever he was seeing was very real to him¡ªhe was getting more agitated by the second, his body twisting and turning in the white sheets.
"The ivy... oh, God, the ivy is coming for me... it's all over my skin¡ª"
"Shh..." Maybe she couldn't handle this on her own. Maybe... Except if his mind was the problem, then¡ª "Phury, listen to me.If there is ivy overgrowing things, then we shall clean it up."
His thrashing slowed, his eyes focusing a little. "We... will?"
She thought of the landscapers she'd watched on the far side. "Yes. We are going to get rid of it."
"No... we can't. It will win... It will¡ª"
She leaned down, getting right in his face. "Says. Who." Her forceful voice seemed to get his attention. "Now tell me, where should we start cutting it back?"
When he began to shake his head, she clamped her hand on his jaw. "Where do we start."
He blinked at her command. "Ah... it's worst at the statues of the four stages..."
"Okay. Then we go there first." She tried to picture the four stages... infancy, youth, middle age, and the eve of passing. "We will start with the infant. And what tools shall we use?"
The Primale closed his eyes. "The shears. We will use the shears."
"And what shall we do with the shears."
"The ivy... the ivy is growing all over the statues. You can't... see the faces any longer. It... chokes the statues. They are not free...they can't see..." The Primale started to weep. "Oh, God. I can't see anymore. I've never been able to see... past the weeds of that garden."
"Stay with me. Listen to me¡ªwe're going to change that. Together we're going to change that." Cormia took his hand and pressed it to her lips. "We have shears. Together, we're going to cut free the ivy. And we're going to begin with the statue of the young." She was encouraged, as Phury took a deep breath, as if he were approaching a big job. "I'm going to peel the ivy from the face of the young and you are going to cut it. Can you see me?"
"Can you see you?"
"Good. Now I want you to cut the piece of ivy I'm holding. Do it. Now."
"Yes... I will... yes, I am."
"And you place what you've cut on the ground at our feet." She brushed his hair back from his face. "And now you cut again... and again..."
"Now... can you see some of the statue's face?"
"Yes... yes, I can see the young's face..." A tear ran down his cheek. "I can see it... I can see... me in it."
In Lash's house on the far side, John stopped on the stairs and thought maybe the creep factor in the Tudor had shorted his brain out.
Because that couldn't possibly be Lash down below, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the foyer, a warping blur swirling around him.
While John's brain tried to tease out what was reality and what couldn't possibly be real, he noticed that the sweet smell of baby powder permeated the air, nearly turning the shit pink. God, it didn't eclipse the nauseous bouquet of death¡ªit enhanced that godawful rotting stench. The reason the scent had always made him sick was because it was just like the bouquet of death.
At that moment, Lash looked up. He seemed as shocked as John was, but then he gradually smiled.
From out of the malestrom, the guy's voice drifted up the stairs, seeming to come from a distance greater than the number of yards between them.
"Well, hello, John-boy." The laugh was familiar and bizarre at the same time, echoing strangely.
John palmed his gun, steadying it with both hands as he trained it on whatever was down there.
"I'll see you soon," Lash said as he went two-dimensional, becoming an image of himself. "And I'll give your regards to my father."
His form blinked on and off and then disappeared, swallowed up by the warping rush.
John lowered his weapon, then holstered it. Which was what you did when there was nothing around to shoot.
"John?" The beat of Qhuinn's boots came from behind him on the stairwell. "What the hell are you doing?"
I don't know... I thought I saw...
Lash. I saw him right down there. I... well, I thought I saw him.
"Stay here." Qhuinn took his gun out and hit the stairs, doing a sweep of the first floor.
John slowly went down to the foyer. He'd seen Lash. Hadn't he?
Qhuinn came back. "Everything's tight. Look, let's go back home. You don't seem right. Did you eat tonight? And while we're at it, when was the last time you slept?"
I... I don't know.
"Right. We're leaving."
I could have sworn...
As they dematerialized back to the mansion's courtyard, John thought maybe his buddy was right. Maybe he should grab some food and¡ª
They didn't make it into the house. Just as they arrived, the Brotherhood filed out of the grand double doors one by one. Collectively, they were wearing enough weapons to qualify as a full-on militia.
Wrath pegged him and Qhuinn with a hard stare through his wraparounds. "You two. In the Escalade with Rhage and Blay. Unless you need more ammo?"
When they both shook their heads, the king dematerialized along with Vishous, Butch, and Zsadist.
When they got into the SUV, with Blay riding shotgun, John signed, What's going on?
Rhage stomped on the gas. As the Escalade roared and they shot out of the courtyard, the Brother said dryly, "Visit from an old frenemy. The kind you wish you never saw again."
Well, wasn't that the theme for the evening.