Chapter 6. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

Finding rest was something easier said than done for KT and Kai. Fear, worry and doubt forced out any hope of sleep despite the heavy weariness that hung over them both. The rugged landscape raced past beyond the dark windows, the moon and stars lighting up the terrain in a gentle white glow that highlighted the silhouettes of trees and hills in a veil of silver. Normally it would have been a serene scene, but now countless demons seemed to lurk in the half-light.

Unable to find peace, KT turned with the full intention of questioning the mysterious Déaþscúa further. His blue eyes appeared translucent through the gloom, hypnotic almost. They seemed to flash as they rested upon her own, bringing a strange tiredness over her that she couldn’t explain. Before she even realised what was happening, her eyelids drooped closed and conscious thought slid from her head.

Troubled dreams plagued her, making any rest she found superficial at best. She woke up in what looked to be the small hours of the morning. Kai had also drifted into sleep, either by spell or nature but unlike his sister, seemed in a calm and deep sleep. KT looked past him to see Déaþscúa staring absently out of the window.

“We’re nearly in Glasgow now,” he said without moving, his sudden voice startling her. “Ten more minutes and we’ll be entering the suburbs. Another twenty from there to get to where we need to be.”

KT forced the tiredness from her head and tried to place her thoughts in order. It proved to be harder than it should have been. “Where is that?”

“The house of a friend. It was the closest place I could think of to take your mother. Hospitals ask too many questions and don’t have the same skills that come with magic.”

“How is she?” KT asked, lifting herself up to peer into the passenger’s seat. Her mother was as pale as death and sat unmoving.

He shook his head slowly. “Not good. I’ve done all that I can but she is still slowly fading. It’s only a matter of time. We’re just lucky that we got back to the lodge so soon after the attack. An hour later and you’d have returned to find a corpse. Elizabeth is the only chance she has.”

“Is that your friend?”

“Yeah. A witch gifted in the arts of healing. Probably the strongest witch in Scotland who doesn’t work directly for our government. We just have to hope that we reach her in time.”

They both fell silent. Kai snored loudly between them and thin, barely audible breaths rattled from Tara. KT shivered and tried to huddle further into her corner. Nothing in the world made sense anymore. She was in a car with a strange man, fleeing from the scene of a goblin attack, and was now heading to visit a witch. 

“Is this everything that you wanted it to be?” Déaþscúa asked. “Does magic and adventure live up to your expectations?”

KT didn’t answer him. She wasn’t sure that she could. She kept her eyes firmly on the world beyond the window.

Houses began to dot their surroundings more and more until they fully entered into civilisation. Streetlights lit their way and filled KT with a sense of safety. It was hard to feel the same fear of monsters when surrounded by the painfully normal. They drove through the outskirts of the city and the houses seemed to grow increasingly dilapidated. The SUV finally pulled up at a rundown estate that was made up of old, cramped buildings and cracked pavement. 

“We’re here,” Déaþscúa announced before exiting the vehicle. He opened the passenger door and scooped up Tara gently.

KT nudged Kai but he didn’t stir. She shook him awake then watched as confusion worked its way across his face as his mind pieced together the previous day’s events.

“We’re at the witch’s house,” she said, indicating to Déaþscúa who was carrying Tara towards the tired buildings. He looked like he had no intention of waiting for them.

“Witch? What witch? Black Annis?”

“No. Déaþscúa’s friend. She is the one who can heal Mum.”

They both stared out of the window towards their mother’s slumped figure. Kai seemed to deflate as he watched her. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her hurt. She never even stumbles. She always seemed so damn untouchable. I always wanted her to be knocked down a few pegs to be more human. Now it’s terrifying me.” 

KT pulled him into a comforting hug for a few brief seconds until Déaþscúa shouted to them impatiently. The two teens jumped from the behemoth and jogged to catch up with the man. He was at the door when they reached him. He knocked then waited in silence. The door opened and a beautiful woman greeted them. She wore a simple yet elegant dress of green and had a slight curl to her long, ginger hair. She had a shapely figure and a warm smile. Kai gave her his best grin despite what looked to be a ten year age gap.

She took in the group with a single sweeping gaze then ushered them through the door without a word. The house was small with cramped rooms that were filled with all manner of furniture and china pots. She tutted under her breath as she led them upstairs into a room with only a single bed. Déaþscúa laid Tara onto the bed while the woman opened the doors of a large cupboard filled with vials and herbs. 

“I didn’t expect to see you back up here,” she said to Déaþscúa. She fished out a bottle of purple liquid and poured some onto a flannel. “Now you turn up with children and a woman on death’s door. Still causing trouble then?”

“It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t,” he answered dryly.

“Make yourself useful and fetch me a bucket of hot water and my supply bag,” the woman ordered. Déaþscúa did as she asked without argument.

KT and Kai filled the space that Déaþscúa had occupied beside their mother. “Will she be okay?” KT asked. She tried but was unable to keep the quiver from her voice.

The woman placed a delicate hand onto Tara’s forehead, brushing aside blood-crusted hair in the process. Green light surrounded her hand. She tutted again. “Her wounds are serious and she has been left too long without the proper care. She’s strong though and Déaþscúa has prevented her from bleeding out. She is suffering from blood loss, infection and the physical effects of her injuries. All of which are curable.”

“So she’ll live?” pressed Kai.

“Perhaps,” she answered airily.

Before anyone else could question her further, Déaþscúa returned, carrying a steaming plastic bucket and a large leather bag. He set them down beside the woman then stepped back. 

“Was it Annis?” the woman asked.

Déaþscúa’s face became stone cold instantly. He inched his head slowly in a nod. “I didn’t even step foot inside but she burnt the place to the ground. She was the only one that was left. Elizabeth, I…”

“You have work to do and so do I,” Elizabeth interrupted. “Now go. This woman’s wounds need cleaning and no man should be present for that.”

Déaþscúa nodded then left. Elizabeth poured a green potion between Tara’s lips then turned to KT and Kai. 

“There is nothing you can do for her now. Join Déaþscúa downstairs while I attend your mother. I don’t know how you have gotten yourself wrapped up with that man but you have placed everything you know in great danger. If I was you, I’d try my best to forget it all.” She turned her back on them and began to carefully remove the shredded clothes from Tara.

KT and Kai retraced their steps down the narrow staircase and entered through an open door at the bottom that led to a joint kitchen/living room. Déaþscúa was already seated on a small wooden stool. All of the other seats were over-pillowed and bore flowery patterns. 

Kai glowered at the décor then threw himself down onto an overstuffed settee. KT joined him, her head held in her hands. Kai stared fiercely at Déaþscúa for a long while but the man showed no sign of noticing. The younger man finally snapped.

“What’s the plan then? You said that Dad and Aunt Susan are still alive so how do we get them back?”

The man finally looked up. “We don’t do anything. You are two kids who were thrust into a world you don’t understand. You can’t offer any help in finding the captives or in fighting any threats you would face.”

Kai sprung to his feet and leapt at Déaþscúa, grabbing the man’s coat in his fists. “We’re eighteen! We’re adults damn it! We can go where we want.” The anger faltered and Kai’s grip loosened. Tears brimmed in his eyes. “They’re our family! Damn it.”

“Kai…” KT breathed. She hadn’t seen him like that for years. His carefree mask had taken a long time to construct and now it was crumbling. She reached out her hand and rested it on his shoulder. 

“We need to help,” she said to Déaþscúa. Her voice was quiet but she spoke with a steel determination. “We’ve been drawn into this whether you like it or not. We know the risks. I accept them.”

Déaþscúa didn’t move. “This isn’t your world. Only death awaits you if you continue down this path. Powerless humans may as well be babies to us. If you try to save them, you’ll only place them and yourselves in greater danger. Just leave it to me. You two should stay here and look after your mother. She’ll need your support after what she’s experienced.”

The younger man released Déaþscúa and slumped back into the chair. He clenched his fists so tightly that his entire body shook. “I hate not being able to do anything. I feel so damn useless. It’s funny really. I use uselessness as a shield and now it’s come back to haunt me.”

It was at that moment when Elizabeth entered the room. Both KT and Kai jumped to their feet.

“Is Mum… Will she live?” KT said, struggling to get the words out.

“Yes, yes. She will be fine. She just needs rest and a daily healing session. Minor scars will remain but she should make a full recovery. She will be better off than if she had been in the care of a powerless hospital.” Even as she spoke, Elizabeth made her way past the teens and lowered herself onto an armchair. No sooner had she seated herself her attention turned solely onto Déaþscúa, completely ignoring KT and Kai’s presence.

“Are you really up for this?” she asked in a low, careful voice. Her eyes were locked upon the man but he didn’t raise his head. “I don’t think that you’re prepared to face her again. You-”

Déaþscúa cut her off. “It’s been almost twenty years. I can’t keep hiding any longer. This has to end. Annis will die.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Just as long as you are prepared for the consequences. For someone whose entire life revolves around death, it still affects you.”

The man remained quiet. Without looking up he rose to his feet. “I have some leads to follow up. When I have her location I’ll go there. I’ll kill Annis, save the innocents and protect the world as usual. It’s what I do.”

“I’m coming with you,” Kai told the man. He too stood and tried to face up to the taller man, his young eyes blazing.

“Like hell you are,” Déaþscúa snapped. His face relaxed slightly as he went on, offering both teens a soft smile. “Your mother needs you here. Can you imagine how she’d feel waking up and not knowing where her children are after all that she’s already been through? If you come with me, Annis will kill you. I am responsible for too many bereaved women already. I promise you that I will get your family back.”

Kai continued to look defiant but then looked away. “You have until mum is better. Once I’ve spoken to her, I’m following after you whether you like it or not.”

“Whatever,” Déaþscúa said with a shrug. He strode out of the room and left the house. There was a few seconds of silence then the sound of the SUV starting up and speeding away.

Kai slumped back into the chair with a defeated look plastered upon his face. KT could tell that he didn’t know what he should do and wasn’t happy with any option. She too wanted to help save their dad but she couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning their mum until she was well. Her hand crept up to Ava’s necklace and clutched it tightly. The cold of the metal was strangely comforting in the stuffy room. Kai was right, feeling useless really sucked.

An agitated tutting came from Elizabeth. “Well, it looks like you two are staying here for a few days.” She stood and went into the kitchen. The sound of pots and cups clattering filled the air. The whistling of a kettle cut through it all until she re-entered the living room carrying a metal tray with three large cups on it. She handed one each to KT and Kai before settling herself back into her chair with the final cup.

The thick scent of the drinks filled the room. KT stared into the brown liquid and inhaled the sweet, almost flowery smell. That alone seemed to relax her. She took a small sip. It scalded her mouth but the taste instantly refreshed her. It was only then that she realised just how long since she had last had a drink. Or food for that matter.

“How long until mum wakes up?” KT asked the woman between warming sips. 

“A few days,” Elizabeth responded absently. “I can heal her wounds quickly but her bod will take a while to regain its strength.” She leaned forward with a tin in her hands, offering the two teens the assortment of biscuits within. They accepted them eagerly, Kai giving both the biscuits and the witch’s cleavage a hungry look. Even anger and grief couldn’t completely smother his spirits.

“In under a week she should be back on her feet and will hopefully remember nothing that happened to her. No one wants that kind of experience in their memories. It’s always better for those without powers to forget the terrors of our world.”

KT wanted to make a comment against her sentiment but another sip of tea made the words fade away on her lips. Instead she found herself asking, “Who is Déaþscúa?” 

“A man with a list of troubles longer than any man has the right to bear,” Elizabeth muttered over the top of her cup. “But enough about him. Tell me about yourselves. You’re my guests so it is only right that I know a little about you.”

Suspicion clouded in KT’s head but dissipated just as fast. She hated talking about herself, and Kai did even more so unless there was a pretty girl involved, but they both told the woman every detail that she asked for. She was constantly telling herself to shut up, but the message never seemed to reach her mouth. It was like she wanted to tell the woman everything. 

They talked for what seemed to be hours, the words only interrupted when Elizabeth would refill their cups with more tea. KT quickly lost count of how many cupfuls she had drained. Then there was suddenly no new questions and Elizabeth abruptly ushered them to a room opposite the living room. The single bed was already made up while a sleeping-bag had been laid-out beside it. The room was small and simple with dull floral wallpaper and a brown carpet.

It was still daytime but Kai gratefully collapsed onto the sleeping-bag and was snoring heavily before KT had even entered the room. She too felt very drowsy. She shuffled to the bed and threw herself into the covers. The sheets smelled slightly bitter but that barely registered in her mind. She too was asleep before Elizabeth had closed the door.

Her dreams were once again filled with nightmares but she took a strange comfort from them. They belonged to her and her subconscious clung to them like a hellish teddy bear. She awoke in a sweat but the usual adrenaline of a nightmare didn’t course through her. Instead she felt groggy and numb as though she had not slept in a week. Her mind felt fuzzy and her thoughts didn’t quite fit into place. 

There was a knock at the door shortly followed by Elizabeth’s head peering into the room.

“Breakfast is almost ready. The bathroom is just over there. Get washed and freshened up before we sit down.” She was gone again before KT could respond.

KT wanted nothing more than to roll over and go back to sleep but a deep feeling within her told her that she didn’t want to disobey the woman. She reluctantly slid off the bed, stepping on Kai in the process. He woke with an “Oof” and glared angrily at her. The look quickly became vacant. 

She padded down the corridor to the bathroom. It was cramped but neat like the rest of the house, with white surfaces and blue mats and shower curtain. KT started up the shower and washed with lethargic slowness, the water doing nothing to revive her senses. Once dry and redressed, she walked back into their room and kicked Kai in the gut since he had fallen back asleep. He groaned but finally got up and ventured off to the shower. 

A few minutes later they made their way into the living room together. Kai’s hair still dripped slightly, drawing a disapproving look from Elizabeth as she exited the kitchen holding a tray of yet more tea. The first sign of real emotion appeared on Kai’s face when he noticed that the tray also contained two large English breakfasts.

They all sat down and the twins tucked into the food ravenously. Elizabeth sat and watched them eat over the brim of her cup. The meal quickly vanished and the cups of tea soon followed. KT felt more awake now but her head still didn’t feel right. Her memories were becoming blurry and were merging together. It took all of her concentration just to remember why she was here.

“How is our mum doing?” she asked. Kai’s eyes suddenly sharpened, showing that he too had only just remembered. But why was she hurt?

Elizabeth met their looks with a steady gaze. “Your mother is doing well. Her fever is dying down nicely.”

The words processed through KT’s head slowly. Fever…That made sense. Their mum was sick so they had come here for medicine. But how had they gotten her? Where was their dad? These thoughts brought piercing pain to her brain. She shook her head and warded the thoughts away.

“I have to go out and buy some warm clothes for you both since you forgot to pack properly. I need you two to look after your mother while I’m away. She should be okay for an hour or two without me,” Elizabeth told them. She put on a thick red coat and grabbed her handbag. “Be good,” she commanded as she passed through the front door.

Kai picked up a nearby magazine and began to read. KT couldn’t shake her feeling of unease so she climbed the stairs to see her mum. The woman was tucked tightly into the bed and did have the look of someone suffering through a fever. She had small cuts crisscrossing her face though, something that KT knew wasn’t there before. Why couldn’t she remember them? Now that she thought about it she realised that she couldn’t even remember coming to this house. Her family had been driving to visit their Aunt Susan and then…then she was here with Elizabeth.

She sat on the chair beside the bed and gently moved a strand of blonde hair from her mum’s face. The woman’s breath was shallow and rattled slightly with each rise and fall of her chest. Her skin was sickly, sweat-slick and pale. She was so unlike how KT remembered her.

Several minutes passed as KT watched her. The house was quiet and the only sounds were the faint hum of cars and the occasional shouts from nearby. After a while she returned downstairs. Kai was still in his chair but the magazine was discarded at his side. On his knees was the tin of biscuits.

“Does this all feel wrong to you?” she asked. She remained standing but helped herself to a chocolate biscuit. 

“Maybe. I can’t remember what should feel right,” Kai answered, chewing thoughtfully on a wafer. 

“And that doesn’t strike you as weird?”

He shrugged. “I am pretty weird. My mind might just be confusing itself. It gets like that sometimes if I’m away from girls for too long.”

There was a bang as the front door opened. KT’s response died on her lips. Elizabeth entered the room carrying a shopping bag filled with clothes. 

“I see that you managed not to destroy the place while I was gone. Here,” she said, handing a bundle to each of them. “Try these on while I get the kettle going. They will fit you. I have an excellent eye for measurements.”

They wandered into separate rooms and changed out of the tattered remains of their black jeans and band shirts and into the clothes that Elizabeth had bought. KT couldn’t remember why her clothes were ruined but it did look cool. Perhaps that was just the style. In the bag was a floral dress that drew a sour look from her. She considered putting her old outfit back on but again felt unable to disobey the woman. Who was the woman?

She returned to the living room with a scowl. She had always hated dresses. Kai had beaten her in and now wore black trousers and a long sleeved shirt. He too looked far from pleased. 

“You two are looking wonderful,” Elizabeth stated. She placed the tea down then circled them both, admiring her choice of clothes. “These are so much better than those scruffy rags you had before. Far more age appropriate. Say thank you to your marvellous aunt.”

“Aunt?” breathed KT. They had come to visit their aunt but wasn’t that Susan? Aunty Elizabeth sounded so natural in her head, as though it had always been there. But then who was Susan? A raging migraine flared into existence, stronger than ever. She took a quick sip of tea to ward off the pain and it helped greatly. Both the pain and the confusing thoughts died away.

The rest of the day passed by much the same as it had the day before. This time Elizabeth drilled them on their future rather than their past, pressing them for answers about their dreams and aspirations. KT had always wanted to be a vet but didn’t think that she could cope with the death and suffering while all of Kai’s plans revolved around winning the lottery. Elizabeth didn’t appear impressed by either.

The sky darkened early and KT was grateful when Elizabeth finally told them to get some sleep. They had a final check on their mum then slumped off into their room. The air within was bitterly cold but the teens felt numb to it. They crawled into the covers and were asleep before they’d been in there five minutes.

The nightmares returned to KT again. The images were clear and invoked powerful emotions within her. There was fire and blood everywhere. Goblins and werewolves terrorised her but always there was a blond haired man stood at her side protecting her. He looked familiar but she would have remembered the pistol and sword…and those eyes. Kai was there too. Their mum was crucified on a cross while her dad and an older woman, who KT finally connected the name Susan to, were fading into darkness. 

The dream shifted. They were all in an SUV driving through the countryside. She blinked and the surroundings warped into a city street. The car pulled up in front of a house. As the engine died the front door of the house opened. Elizabeth stood behind the door but her emerald dress was black and she wore a pointed hat atop her ginger head. A wart was visible on the tip of her nose and a black cat circled her feet. In her hand was a cup of tea that bubbled and frothed. 

KT’s eyes snapped open. It was still dark, but then it was Scotland in winter, so that was no indication of time. A fierce rage burned through her body, dispelling the sleep like flames through a wheat-field. She leapt from the bed.

“The bitch drugged us!” 

Kai muttered something in his sleep. KT grabbed the zip to his sleeping-bag and pulled it down. He stirred, opening his eyes wearily as the cold hit him.

“Just once, couldn’t you wake me up with gentle words or the smell of breakfast,” he grumbled dryly. He stood up to face her, yawning loudly. 

“Do you remember Déaþscúa?”

“Déa-who-a?”

“The blond haired man with the sword who saved us!” KT pressed desperately. 

Kai scrunched up his face in an effort to remember something but he shook his head slowly. “No. It’s all fuzzy. I…I think you just had a strange dream. Yeah, a dream.”

“That’s what she wants us to think! She’s been drugging us. That’s why the tea smelled funny. Every time we drank it we lost a bit of our mind,” KT hissed. Kai pulled himself up, swaying slightly where he stood. He clutched his head in pain.

The door opened and Elizabeth strode into the room. She wore a flowing white nightdress that clung to her shapely figure. “What’s with all this noise?” she demanded. 

Kai gaped at the faintly transparent material that hinted at flesh beneath. It was as though KT’s revelations had already been forgotten. She rounded on the woman in a fury.

“That noise is the sound of your plans failing, witch. I can remember everything.”

A look of surprise flittered across Elizabeth’s face but she was quick to regain her neutral expression. She stared down KT without emotion. She glanced across at Kai. He was making no move to back his sister up.

“What are you babbling on about, girl?” she said sternly yet not unkindly. “Have you had disturbed dreams?”

“Nice try. You can’t trick me. Nothing you do could erase the memory of my mum crucified on a cross with the lodge burning behind her. Your little trick with the tea won’t work again.”

Kai furrowed his brows. “I remember. It’s all coming back.” He started to shake and his muscles tensed.

Elizabeth shook her head sadly. “I had hoped that we could avoid any unnecessary conflict. The herbs should have worked but there is more than one way to get the job done. I am a witch after all.”

She raised her hands to weave a spell. Blue light snaked around the two teens. KT slammed her fist into the woman’s nose with a powerful right hook. Elizabeth stood for a moment, a bewildered look on her face, then dropped like a rag doll. She smashed her head into the corner of a small table on the way down then lay motionless over the door’s threshold. Blood dribbled from her nose.

Kai looked stunned but shook off the last vestiges of his drug-induced stupor. “We have to leave. Find our old clothes and I’ll get mum.”

KT made no move to go. Her face was set in a grim frown. “We can’t take her with us, Kai.”

Kai whipped around to face her. “What are you talking about? Of course we’re taking her. Is your mind still messed up? We can’t leave her here.”

“Think about it,” she said. “Mum is injured pretty bad. We would have to carry her wherever we decided to go. It is freezing outside so she’d just get ill on top of everything else. She has to stay here to recover.”

“We could call a taxi and take her straight to a hospital. She’d be safe there,” Kai insisted.

“Déaþscúa brought her here. He seemed to trust Elizabeth.” KT paused for a moment in thought. “She never tried to hurt us, just make us forget. Maybe…Maybe she and Déaþscúa are right. Maybe she would be better not to remember. That is her though, not us.” 

Kai weighed their options up. A stirring from Elizabeth below them sped along his thinking. “I suppose you’re right. We don’t have time to wait and she would never last outside. We will come back for her though.”

KT nodded. “We won’t leave her long. We won’t abandon Dad and Aunt Susan either.”

“Agreed.”

With that said, they grabbed their old clothes from a rubbish bag and dressed. After paying their mother a final visit, they left the house, entering into the frozen dark of Glasgow’s streets.

Previous – Chapter 5.

Next – Chapter 7.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 6. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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