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Chapter 10 WAITING FOR THE CAVALRY

Heart attacks were rare in my time. People didn't smoke (tobacco wouldn't be introduced to our part of the world for nearly another thousand years) or eat unhealthy food. Most of us didn't live long enough to suffer the modern curse of middle-age. A few of my clan died of weak hearts, but they were exceptions.

Nevertheless, I'm a healer. Once Meera has explained Dervish's condition to me and we've laid him in a comfortable position, I set to work. Without touching him, I feed magic to his heart, softly warming it, keeping the valves open. Some colour seeps into his face and he breathes more easily, but he doesn't regain consciousness.

"Will he live?" Meera asks quietly.

"I don't know." I study his face for signs of improvement but find none.

The werewolves are hammering at the door behind us. People are attacking the other door with axes. I direct magic into the wood and walls to keep out the intruders. I also mute the sounds, so we can focus on Dervish and monitor his breathing.

"Can you look after him by yourself for a while?" Meera asks.

"Yes."

She moves away, digs out her mobile phone and presses buttons. "Hellfire! I don't have a signal."

I consider the problem, then mutter a short spell. "Try now."

Meera smiles her thanks, then makes several calls. She doesn't bother with the police. This is a job for beings of magic-the Disciples.

Meera's on the phone for half an hour. I keep a close watch on Dervish. He looks terrible, much older than he did an hour ago. I'll be surprised if he makes it through the next few days.

Meera finally puts her phone away and returns to my side. "How is he?"

"Alive. For now."

"Can you use magic to keep him healthy?"

"I can help. There's more power here than in the house, but it's still limited. If he has another attack..." I shake my head.

"Do your best," Meera says, giving my arm a squeeze. "Disciples are on their way. They'll be here within twenty-four hours. We can transfer him to a hospital then."

"In his state, that will be a long time," I tell her. "You should prepare for the worst."

She chuckles weakly. "I'm a Disciple, Bec. We always expect the worst."

We settle back and watch in silence as Dervish quietly duels with death.

After a few hours the sounds of the werewolves and their companions fade. Have they left or are they lurking nearby, trying to tempt us out? No way of telling. Best not to venture forth and chance it. Safer to sit tight and wait for help.

We have to deal with a few practicalities. There's no water or food. We can go without food for a day, but we need water for Dervish. I try finding a spring in the ground below us. There isn't one but I sense a pipe running overhead, carrying water to the house. Extending my magic, I pierce a hole in the pipe and draw a jet of water through the ceiling. We fill vases and a few of the larger, ornately designed candlestick holders. Then I plug the hole with dirt and a shield of small pebbles. It should hold for a few days. It's a plumber's problem after that.

We can't improvise a drip, so I use magic to ease water down Dervish's throat. Meera feeds it to him from a vase and I make sure he doesn't choke or swallow the wrong way.

"I always hate it when a young person has a heart attack," Meera says. I don't think of Dervish as young, but I guess in this world he isn't old. "It seems so unfair, especially if they're in good shape and have taken care of themselves. Dervish never had the healthiest diet, but he exercised regularly. This shouldn't have happened."

She looks almost as drawn and tired as Dervish. This is hurting her. She still loves him. I know from her memories that nobody ever touched her heart the way Dervish did, even if he was unaware of it.

"Who did you call?" I ask, to distract her.

"Shark and Sharmila," she says. "I tried a few others but they were the only pair who could come."

"Will two be enough?"

"They're two of the best. Do you know them?"

"Sort of. Bill-E met them in a dream once."

She stares at me oddly, so I explain about the movie set of Slawter and a dream Bill-E, Grubbs and Dervish shared when they thought they were on a mission with Shark and Sharmila. It's a complicated story. Meera knows bits of it, but not all the details. I fill her in, glad to have something to discuss, not wanting to think about Dervish and what he's going through.

A thought grows while I'm talking, and when I finish explaining about Slawter, I make a suggestion to Meera. "I can open a window to the Demonata's universe. We can take Dervish through and find Beranabus. I'll be stronger there. I can do more to help. Beranabus could help too."

"From what I know of Beranabus, he's not the helping kind," Meera mutters, considering the plan. "Could you find him immediately? Take us straight to him?"

"No. We'd have to go through a couple of realms, maybe more."

She shakes her head. "We should stay. Dervish can't fight and we don't know what we'd find. There could be demons waiting for us there."

"I doubt it."

"There might be," she insists. "We don't know who was behind this attack. Maybe it was Lord Loss."

"I don't think so. I touched one of the werewolves. I... I have a gift. I can learn things about people when I touch them."

"What sort of things?" Meera frowns.

"I read their minds. Access their secrets. Absorb their memories. I've been able to do it since I came back to life."

"Have you read my mind?" she asks sharply and I nod shamefully. "How much did you learn?"

"A lot. But I'd never reveal what I know. I wouldn't even have taken it, except I've no choice. Every time I touch someone, I steal from them. I can't stop it."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Meera asks, looking more confused than angry.

"I would have eventually, but there was so much else to deal with..." I shrug it off. "Anyway, I touched one of the werewolves and saw into its mind. It was a jumble, shards of memory all mixed up. I couldn't make sense of most of what I saw. But I learnt his name, who he was before he changed and who he was passed on to."

"Well, come on," Meera says when I hesitate.

"His name was Caspar," I tell her. "He was a Grady. He turned into a werewolf when he was fourteen. His parents did what many of their kin do, and turned him over to the family executioners-the Lambs." I know about the Lambs from the memories of Bill-E and Beranabus.

"But the Lambs didn't execute him," Meera says, her expression fierce.

"No. I'm assuming the other werewolves were family members scheduled for execution too. But all of them wound up here."

"The guys with the guns..."

"They were probably working for the Lambs."

We stare at each other, then at Dervish lying unconscious by our feet. And the temperature of the room seems to drop ten degrees.

Meera doesn't understand why the Lambs would do this. They sometimes keep werewolves alive, to experiment on them in an attempt to unlock their genetic codes and discover a cure. But only with the parents' permission.

"I can picture them keeping the beasts alive on the quiet," she says. "Very few parents care to commit their children to a lifetime of laboratory misery, even if they've turned into werewolves. It's no surprise if the Lambs told them their kids had been executed, then kept them alive to study.

"But why bring them here to attack us? And how did they organise them? They were working as a team, as if they'd been trained. I didn't think you could do that with werewolves. Even if you could, why send them against us?"

That's the key question. According to Meera, Dervish never had much love for the Lambs. They originally formed to execute children who'd turned, but over the decades they acquired more power and branched out into more experimental areas. Dervish didn't approve of that, especially since he didn't think science could find a cure for a magically determined disease.

"The Lambs never liked Dervish either," Meera says. "They thought if he explained more about demons, it might help them with their studies. But they'd no reason to attack him. At least none that I'm aware of."

"Maybe it's me," I mumble. "Grubbs turned into a werewolf-temporarily-and because of his magical powers, the Lambs couldn't stop him. Maybe they're afraid I'll turn too and become a menace."

"But they don't know you're one of the family," Meera says. "Dervish told them nothing about you. There's something we're missing..."

We spend hours debating the mystery. We get no closer to the truth, but at least it helps to pass the time. During the discussions, I think of another reason why the Lambs might have targeted me. But I say nothing of it to Meera, deciding to wait until the other Disciples arrive, so I don't have to repeat myself.

Someone knocks on the door leading to the yard.

Meera and I were both half-dozing. We jolt awake at the sound and I strengthen the magical fields around the doors and walls. Then a man shouts, "Little pigs, little pigs, let us come in!"

"Idiot," Meera grunts, but she's smiling. "It's Shark."

"I know. I remember his voice from Bill-E's dream." I remove the spells and the battered door swings open. A tall, burly man in an army uniform enters, followed by an elderly Indian woman who walks with a limp.

"Sorry we're late," Shark says, hugging Meera and lifting her off the floor.

"How is he?" Sharmila asks, hobbling directly to Dervish.

"He's been like that since the attack," I tell her. "No change."

She stares at me suspiciously. "You must be Bec. I have heard about you."

"The dead girl who came back to life," Shark says. He's looking at me oddly. "I thought you'd be more like a boy, considering..."

"...I stole Bill-E's body?"

"Yeah."

"There's nothing of Bill-E left," I tell them. "Except his memories. That's how I know you and Sharmila."

Shark frowns. "I never met him."

"I did," Sharmila says, "but many years ago, when he was very young."

"I know. But he met both of you." I grin weakly at their confusion.

"Bec can tell you about that later," Meera snaps. "What's happening outside?"

"Nothing," Shark says. "All quiet. Your birds have flown the coop."

"You're positive? It isn't a trap, to lure us out of hiding?" Shark shakes his head. "Then let's get Dervish straight to a hospital. We can talk about the attack on the way. But I'll tell you this much-they weren't birds. They were Lambs."

Shark and Meera carry Dervish up the steps out of the cellar as gently as they can. Shark grumbles about what he's going to do to the Lambs when he catches up with them. He drove here in a van. There's a hospital trolley in the rear. We strap Dervish down and Sharmila produces a drip and heart monitor. She hooks Dervish up. I watch with interest-it's the first time I've seen such apparatus.

When Dervish is as secure as we can make him, I ask Shark if he's absolutely certain we're not going to be attacked.

"Nothing in life's an absolute," he replies, squinting at the trees, the mansion, the sky. "But if this was a trap, the time to attack would have been when we were moving Dervish up from the cellar. That's when we were most vulnerable. I'm confident we've nothing to fear for the time being."

"Then I've a favour to ask." I feel strange being so forward but this is no time to be shy. "I can open a window to the Demonata's universe from the cellar. I'd like you to go through and find Beranabus."

Shark blinks slowly. Sharmila is frowning.

"Have you ever been to that universe?" Sharmila asks.

"No."

"Then you do not know what you are asking. It is a place of chaos and peril. We have never been there without Beranabus to guide us."

"I know how dangerous it is," I mutter, flashing on some of Beranabus's many memories of the hellish universe, "But I'll try to open the window to one of the less savage zones. Did Beranabus teach you a spell to find him once you're there?"

"No," Shark grunts. "But Dervish did."

"We have never tested it," Sharmila notes. "What if the window closes and we cannot find him? We will be stranded."

"Dervish might be dying," Meera hisses.

"I have sympathy for Dervish," Sharmila says coolly. "That is why I came when you summoned me. But can Beranabus heal him? And even if he can, why should we risk our lives for his?"

"It's not about helping Dervish," I say quickly before an argument develops. "We don't know who the Lambs were after. Their target might have been Dervish or Meera, but it was probably me."

"What if it was?" Shark asks.

"I'm important," I mutter, feeling embarrassed. "I can't explain-there isn't time-but I'm part of a powerful force which might mean the difference between winning and losing the war with the Demonata."

Sharmila's eyes narrow. "The Kah-Gash?"

"You know about it?" I sigh with relief.

"We helped Beranabus search for a piece once," Shark says. "It wasn't our most successful mission."

"I am not convinced of that," Sharmila says. "I always suspected... Kernel?" She raises an eyebrow.

My smile broadens. "Yes. He was a piece. Grubbs is another. So am I."

"What are you talking about?" Shark frowns.

Sharmila waves his question away. "Does Beranabus know?"

"Yes."

"Then why are you not with him?"

"He didn't want to keep us together until he found out more about how the weapon works. He thought I'd be safe here. Nobody else knew. At least we didn't think so. But if the attack was directed at me, maybe my secret's out. If that's the case..."

"...Beranabus must be informed." Sharmila nods. "I understand now."

"Care to explain it to the rest of us?" Shark asks, bemused.

"Later." She thinks about it for a few seconds. "I would go but I am old and slow, even when pumped full of magic. Besides, I know a lot about healing, so I might be of more help here. Meera?"

"I'm not as strong as you," Meera says.

"But you are younger and faster. In this instance that is important."

"I don't like that other universe," Meera mutters.

"Neither do I. Believe me, I would not send you there lightly."

"You really think this is necessary?"

Sharmila nods slowly. Meera sighs and agrees reluctantly.

"Shark?" Sharmila asks.

"You want me to place my life on the line without knowing the reason why?" he scowls.

"Yes."

His scowl disappears and he shrugs. "Fair enough."

"You understand how time works in that other universe?" Sharmila asks me. "It can pass quicker or slower than it does here. They might find him in a matter of minutes as we experience time or it could be several months."

"I know. But we don't have a choice. I'd go myself, except if it's a trap..."

"...demons might be lying in ambush for you. Very well. Let us not waste any more time. I will stay with Dervish. Shark and Meera will accompany you to the cellar." She smiles tightly at Shark. "You have been to hell in a bucket before, my old friend. Now it is time to go there without the bucket."

In the cellar. I'm working on a spell to create a window to the demon universe. It's an area Beranabus goes to frequently-his father took his mother there when he abducted her. Because Beranabus has opened a window to that realm many times, it's a relatively quick and easy procedure, though it still takes me an hour.

As I complete it, a thin lilac window forms in the cellar. I get a shiver down my spine. I never saw a window like this in my own time, but Beranabus has been through thousands of them. He acts like it's no big thing, but he loathes these demonic passageways. He always expects to die when he steps through, having no real way of knowing what's lurking on the other side.

"Will you be all right staying here with Sharmila?" Meera asks.

"Yes."

"We should come with you and enter the demon universe later," Shark says. "If the Lambs attack you on the way to the hospital..."

"I might not be able to open a window there," I explain. "It's easier if I'm in an area of magic."

"Even if Beranabus doesn't come with us, we'll return," Meera says.

"He'll come," I smile confidently.

"Because you're part of the Kah-Gash?"

"Yes. But also because we're old friends."

"I didn't think Beranabus had any friends," Shark grunts.

"Maybe not now. But he was a boy called Bran once and I was his friend then. He'd do anything for me."

"You're sure of that?" Meera asks.

I think about the night I sat with Beranabus and absorbed his memories. He always wears a flower in a buttonhole, in memory of me. "I'm certain."

"Right," Shark says, rubbing his hands together. "Keep a light burning-we'll be back in time for supper."

Shark steps through the window. Meera smiles wryly, then moves to hug me. I take a step backwards.

"I'd rather not touch. I don't want to steal any more memories from you."

"Don't be silly," Meera says, wrapping her arms around me. "If things go badly over there, you can remember my life for me."

We grin shakily at each other, then Meera slips through the window after Shark. I wait a couple of minutes in case they run into trouble and need to make a quick retreat. Then, as the window breaks apart, I douse the lights and climb the steps to help Sharmila escort Dervish to the hospital.

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