Chapter 27. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

Kai roared. Adrenaline coursed through him like liquid fire. Everything was a blur. He rode atop Arteeru and used the spear like a lance to stab at any enemy that he could reach. Arteeru trampled goblins underfoot and swung powerful paws at anything too big to crush. His fangs bit at men and monsters alike. 

From Arteeru’s back, Kai could see most of the battlefield. Niall’s force had retreated to a large helicopter that had barbed wire fencing set up in a ring around it. It was hard to tell faces in the flurry of snow but the simple amount of figures showed that the battle hadn’t been going well up to that point. Judging by the strange shapes in the sky, things weren’t going too well against Annis either.

The spear wedged itself into a furred creature that was slightly bigger than a man and snapped in half. Kai threw the remaining part away and swung his shotgun around, blasting at a particularly ugly goblin. They were fast approaching Niall’s warriors now.

Kai could make out Ailia up ahead. She chased after goblins who fled from her in terror, ripping off their limbs like a sadistic child torturing insects. Close to her was a woman who fought with a staff. Kai had noticed her for her looks back in the camp but had been too occupied to pay much attention to her. He thought that he would rectify that now. 

He jumped from Arteeru’s back, landing on a goblin whose bones shattered under the weight. He ran toward the woman, gunning down anything in his path before skidding to a halt at her side with a charming grin on his face.

“You need a hand?” he offered.

“Nah, I’m good,” the woman replied as she grabbed a man and rammed her staff up his arse. The weapon glowed for a second then fired a laser that shot up through the man’s body and exploded his head. Kai gulped. “Feel free to help the western lines. Me and Ailia have this side covered.”

Kai moved to do as the woman said when he hit another invisible wall. He looked around in confusion. A similar look passed over both Ailia and the red headed woman. The shield cut off the majority of Annis’ forces. It looked as though it encompassed the entirety of the battlelines. 

Magic and gunfire rained down on the army outside of the shield. Men and women in suits or cloaks appeared from every direction. Annis’ minions ran screaming. The newcomers didn’t stop killing but nor did they bother with those that fled. It was only a matter of minutes until there was only the new force and a sea of corpses beyond the magical barrier.

“Shit,” Kai heard the red haired women exclaim. “The Grand Moot’s found us faster than I thought. Déaþscúa better have dealt with Annis already.”

The shield started to fade from the top down to the ground. The Grand Moot soldiers advanced on them with the same severe looks that they had worn against those working for Annis. They surrounded the ragtag group. 

“You are all henceforth in the custody of the Grand Moot,” announced a magically amplified voice. “Lay down your weapons now or you will be executed. This is your one warning.”

“Fuck me sideways with a flaming bargepole. We were so close to winning,” the woman huffed. She dropped her weapon without argument though. The staff beeped angrily as it hit the dirt. Seeing everyone else comply, Kai dropped his shotgun. 

From then on there was a lot of being herded around like cattle and plenty of arguments. Kai tried asking after KT several times but never received a reply. If he did manage to get one of the stern faced guards to speak it was usually to tell him to shut up. He was getting sick of being shoved around too. He was tired, half frozen and ill with worry. 

Another guard ignored him when he tried again and he finally snapped. “Are you fucking deaf you ignorant prick?” he shouted. Grabbing a stone he hurled it at the man’s head.

The man rounded on him in a fury. He swung a thick truncheon into Kai’s ribs. His arm pulled back for another attack when a boot caught him in the head and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. The boot belonged to the mercenary woman. 

A crowd had quickly gathered. A dozen of the guards were advancing upon them which caused a handful of mercenaries to stand at Kai and the woman’s side. Men and women were taking fighting stances all around them on both sides.

“Break it up. Calm yourselves. We are rational adults who should be on the same team, not squabbling children,” boomed another magnified voice. 

It belonged to a large, greying man with an aura of leadership about himself. Scarlet robes were visible beneath a warm cloak. He walked through the men and corpses with no concern for anything. His steps were directed toward Kai and the mercenary. 

“Glory Valentine. I see that you haven’t lost any of that fiery spirit. That’s good. We need passionate people in the world. I only wish your passion didn’t lead you to break into restricted areas and steal dangerous information. It is a very serious thing that you’ve done,” he said to the woman. Even without magic, his voice was clear and strong. Next he looked to Kai. “And you must be Déaþscúa’s companion, Mordekai Redthorn. It seems that you too are a passionate individual. Do not allow yourself to burn out due to too fierce a flame.”

“Where’s my sister?” Kai asked again, his anger only just in check.

“Your sister is being taken to our Scottish Hall to recover from the injuries she received from Annis. Nobody here seemed able to heal her. I’m afraid her fate is in the hands of science rather than magic,” the man answered. “You will all be taken there shortly so you will be able to see her for yourself soon.”

“And Déaþscúa?” 

The man patted his shoulder reassuringly. “Déaþscúa is alive and well. There is no need to worry about him. Now, I must go and attend to business. Annis didn’t fully break the seal but she has left it paper thin. It could crack at any minute, and none of us want that. If you need anything then ask for Arch Councillor Forenine.” Then he vanished into the snow.

“Look at you, making friends in high places,” Glory smirked. “Your new buddy is the leading member of the English branch of the Grand Moot. That makes him the most important man in the country. With the recent actions the Moot’s taken recently, it also makes him very incompetent or completely untrustworthy. Keep that in mind.”

“Lucky him. I don’t much care for important folk. In my experience, the more important you are the bigger dick you are. It’s all pretty correlative,” Kai muttered dismissively. 

“Oh I like you,” Glory laughed. “I’m Glory Valentine, by the way. Leader of the world’s largest international mercenary cartel. That’s about as important as you can get without corrupting yourself with politics.” Her smile unnerved Kai slightly but she only laughed again.

True to Forenine’s word, it wasn’t long until the remaining warriors were led to a line of vans. They were loaded into them then had no option but to sit and wait as they were driven to the Scottish Hall. Time dragged inside the confines of the van. It was only an hour or so journey but Kai felt every second of the time. Glory brought out a set of dice and invited Kai to a few games with the other mercenaries but none of them seemed focussed on it. 

When the van’s engine cut off it was still several minutes until the doors opened. Kai stepped stiffly out into a large courtyard surrounded by brown stone walls topped with towers and spires. Patterns and sculptures were carved across the surfaces. It looked like some grand manor house or something similar. 

Soldiers in black and red uniforms came to guide away Glory’s mercenaries and the remaining Scottish warriors after clamping them in chains that suppressed their magic. Kai was taken aside by another soldier who led him into the building through a separate door. His feelings that the building was a grand house were confirmed by the interior. Old looking paintings covered the walls while more carvings worked their way up columns and across skirtings. The place even smelled old. Despite all of this, every room was flooded with light and warmth. 

Kai tried to pry some information from the soldier. It was a fruitless effort. The man kept a stoic silence. He led Kai at a brisk march through the corridors to a set of double doors. The soldier opened one door and ushered Kai inside. It was a long room filled with half a dozen beds. Only one was currently occupied.

“KT!” Kai was at her side in two great strides. She opened her eyes and winced.

“Geez, keep it down. I feel like I’ve been through a meat grinder,” she said weakly. Dozens of tubes were connected to her body. “A doctor told me I should be dead. I’m getting tired of people saying that. I’ll heal perfectly fine but I’ll have some pretty nasty scars. They tried to use magic to save me but it didn’t work. I think the fairies did something to the wounds. The doctors had to rely on potions and stitching. I look like Frankenstein’s monster.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Kai breathed. A smile slid across his lips. “I’m going to have to stop letting you out of my sight. Every time I leave you alone I find you injured in a sickbed afterwards.”

“Only because I actually do things. I make myself useful.”

“Yeah, as a practice dummy apparently,” Kai countered. They both laughed, almost deliriously despite the pain it was clearly causing KT.

The laughter stopped when the doors were opened again to admit a small group of men into the room. Kai only recognised Arch Councillor Forenine. He greeted them both kindly. The other men stood behind him without expressions. They weren’t in soldier uniforms but white robes.

Forenine spoke gently but his voice was still official sounding. “Katherine and Mordekai Redthorn, you both have my formal apologies for being wrapped up in all of this. You should never have been aware of our world and you certainly shouldn’t have been placed in the danger that you were. As a rule, we try to keep regular, powerless humans from any knowledge of us. It is better for everyone that way. As such, the Council has voted to wipe your minds of any events linking to magic and monsters.”

Kai choked. “You what? We fought tooth and nail for your world. We chose to be a part of it. If you think that you can mess with my brain you’ll get a nasty surprise.”

“I am afraid that you don’t have any choice in the matter,” Forenine informed them. “It has been deemed a matter of security risk. Whether you try and fight or willingly comply, the results will be the exact same. You will have no memories of the time since first meeting Déaþscúa. New memories will be given to explain your injuries. It will not harm you in any way.”

Kai was about to argue until KT placed her hand on his arm. She shook her head weakly. 

“This is a battle we can’t win. I don’t want to see you get hurt needlessly,”

Forenine nodded approvingly. “You are a wise young woman. I’ll be sad to see you go.”

“Can we at least say goodbye to those who helped us before we forget them?” she asked.

Forenine ran a broad hand through his beard thoughtfully. “I think that that would be acceptable. You may say your farewells to all except for Déaþscúa. He is currently being debriefed. If you can walk, I will show you to where the others are.”

“Thank you,” KT told him. She tried to stand but needed Kai’s help to get out of the bed. She was in a regular looking set of checkered pyjamas. “What happened with Annis and Heaven’s Gate? Did we stop her in time?”

“I’m afraid that information is classified.”

Kai snorted. “Classified? You’re about to delete our memories. Does it really matter if you tell us?”

“Rules are rules, young man. Suffice it to say that everything is in hand.”

It took a fe4w minutes to fully unplug KT from her bed. With Kai’s assistance, she shuffled across the room and out of the door after Arch Councillor Forenine. As they walked, Forenine would point out pieces of art or architecture and explain its history. He seemed to know everything about the building. Men and women moved purposefully everywhere. A sense of urgency and near panic seemed to be fueling the torrent of activity.

It wasn’t long before they entered into a vast chamber that looked even grander than the other rooms. A large fireplace stood at one end and a heavenly fresco was painted on the ceiling above. A dark-wood dining table had been pushed to one side to make room for all of the people who loitered frustratedly within the room. 

Kai could see Ailia, Arteeru and Glory but there was no sign of Niall. That observation was pushed from his head when he spotted Jearl and Elizabeth. Anxiously, they edged through the crowd to the two. Elizabeth rushed to them and immediately began to check on KT’s health. The girl weakly brushed her off once she had made it clear that she was okay.

“Your father is in as good health as can be expected. He is here too somewhere, as are the other survivors from the lodge,” Elizabeth said. She was the only person present who did not look dishevelled other than the Moot’s soldiers.

Jearl had not been anywhere near the battle yet still managed to appear as though he had been out in the wild for a week. He always looked like that. What did look out of place on him though was a scowl. It was the first time that KT or Kai had seen him look angry. 

“You’ve not been told, ‘ave you?” His statement drew blank stares from the teens. “They’ve arrested Déaþscúa. Got him locked up tighter than Annis. She’s tucked away somewhere nice and cushy, safe from harm. Half the Council want Déaþscúa executed.”

“They can’t kill him!” KT exclaimed. “He’s only ever fought to protect people.”

“They know that,” said Jearl. “Only, Déaþscúa scares ‘em. He can’t be stopped or controlled by them and that leaves a nasty stain in their underwear. Don’t worry about him though. Déaþscúa has never been held against his will for long. Hell, he’s been executed more times than I’ve had hot meals. It’s the name he mentioned as they dragged him away that’s set me on edge.”

“Yes, Déaþscúa and the rest of us will be fine,” Elizabeth soothed loudly, overriding Jearl’s sentence. She glanced at him then returned her eyes to the twins. “We were told what is to happen to you. I’m sorry.”

KT hugged her. “Don’t worry. It’s alright. You and Déaþscúa wanted to do the same to us. It’s the sensible thing to do I guess.” She sighed sadly. “Well, this is goodbye then.”

Kai didn’t speak but offered Elizabeth and Jearl a nod of his head. He and KT moved across the hall to say farewell to Ailia too. Arteeru and Glory joined them. 

“You were both funny,” Ailia grinned. “You’d have both made excellent thralls.”

“Cheers,” Kai muttered. 

Arteeru clapped him on the shoulder. “You are a good man, Kai Redthorn. It was an honour to battle at your side.”

Kai grabbed his hand like an old friend. “Same. I could have gotten used to my own personal werewolf war mount.” Arteeru gave a sly grin at that and Ailia snorted. He then turned to Glory who headbutted him.

“What the hell?”

“It’s how we show respect,” she told him as though it were the most logical reason in the world. A black collar encased her neck. Glory noticed his look. “I know things that the Moot don’t want other folk knowing. I say certain words and my head explodes like an overripe melon being body-slammed by an obese elephant with the shits.” 

She drew closer to them and lowered her voice. “Listen. I won’t sugarcoat things. The Moot is behind some real questionable things and all of us here are in very real danger. It is only a matter of time until they try to consolidate their power by removing dissenters. That means everyone who supports your mate Déaþscúa. Things are going to kick off. Try to stay safe, okay?” 

A looming presence behind them caused them to turn. Forenine and the white robed men stood with eyes fixed on the two teens. “It is time,” the arch councillor announced. He motioned for them to follow.

They began the walk to leave the room with the slow footsteps of the condemned. Jearl stood beside the door. “Mind wipes aren’t too bad. They used to do it to me every other week. It never stuck long on me for some reason. Apparently it takes a great deal of skill and power to do though. They got sick of repeating it. Never did me any harm. Probably.”

Then they were out of the room and away from any form of comfort. The doors shut behind them, cutting off sound to a dull murmur. Forenine walked at the head of the group while the white clad men penned in KT and Kai. The arch councillor stopped in front of a door that looked like any other.

“Through here, if you please. We will begin as soon as you are both settled. Don’t worry. You won’t feel a thing.”

Previous – Chapter 26.

Next – Chapter 28.

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