Chapter 14: Fools Rush In – part 8
“I don’t want to do this,” Ashlynn said again, leaning against the wall of the private room in the psych ward. She wanted to sleep for a week. By then Jake would have finished healing her bandaged, splinted leg. Right now the half-healed skin was tender and itchy. A crutch allowed her to keep her weight off of her injured leg.
Dad, who stood fidgeting near the neatly made bed, snorted. “Neither do I.” Judging from the dark circles under his eyes, he hadn’t slept a wink either.
Mum walked around the gurney bearing Ri’s prone form and wrapped her arms around Dad. “You know it has to be magic, love. If we use drugs or psionics, Almeida might be able to counteract it.”
Ashlynn turned her worried gaze from Mum and Dad to their captive, who still wore her Gibson-suit. Considering her pallor and shallow breaths, the wrist and ankle restraints were overkill. “Another witch should do it,” Ashlynn blurted.
“I don’t trust any other witch,” Dad countered.
Jake stepped up beside her. “You studied the spell all night. You know it inside out.”
“But what if–”
“If it doesn’t work,” Dad said, “Almeida will die with me. Better than having him free. You don’t want to know what he’d like to do to you.” His gaze slid to Jake, then darted away.
Ashlynn took a deep breath, then nodded. “All right. Whenever you’re ready.”
Dad met Ashlynn’s eyes and nodded as well. He hugged Mum closer for a moment, then they exchanged a chaste kiss. She stepped aside to let Jake dart in for his own hug. “We’ll be right outside,” he told Dad. Her brother’s forced smile was thoroughly unconvincing.
“Let’s go, Jake,” Mum said. Her quiet, serious expression matched her mental shields. Mum put her arm around Jake’s narrow shoulders and herded him out of the room. Ashlynn watched the door close behind them. Neither of them peered through the small, reinforced glass window yet.
Hearing bedsprings creak, Ashlynn turned around to find Dad stretching out on the hospital bed. He lay on his back, set his prism on his chest, and put his arms at his sides.
Lynn looked away; it was more funereal than she could stand. “You’re sure–”
“Yes!” Dad snapped.
“Fine!” The retort came automatically. “Sorry. I’ll just…” After taking a breath to steady herself, Ashlynn hobbled across the narrow space between the gurney and the bed to retrieve the Erlenmeyer flask on the nightstand. The flask contained one of the two requirements necessary for the spell: water from a lake or stream. Mum and Jake had collected it so Ashlynn could continue studying. Dad already had the other component.
Lynn stood beside Dad’s bed, not daring to look down at him. She held the flask before her with clasped hands, opening herself to the energy around her. One variety swirled in the captured stream water: from the silt and microbes and water itself. Dad felt like Jake–human and cold/crystalline, but even moreso with Chairman Almeida trapped inside him. Suppressing a shiver, Ashlynn reached out to Ri. She felt human and chemical, with the tang of madness and musk of death. Finally she tasted the room itself. Echoes of madness lingered, along with the bitterness of Triptych. What a horrible place the Chairmen had created!
Ashlynn tilted the flask, pouring a steady stream of the water on Dad’s chest. He flinched, making the bedsprings complain. Focusing on the water’s energy, she said, “Persephone, daughter of Zeus, follow the waters of Acherusia and hear my plea. As trickery betrothed thee to Hades, I seek trickery to free this man.” She hesitated, listening and sensing. With her psionics deliberately walled off, all she felt was the eddies of Dad’s energy. It was a wonder he was laying still.
She resumed pouring the stream water. “Take his spirit and his offering with thee to Taenarum. Return his spirit, fair Persephone; it is not yet his time. We beseech your grace–”
Wind whipped around the small room, tearing the flask out of Ashlynn’s hand. She yelped and staggered back with her crutch, colliding with the gurney as the flask shattered against the far wall. Lynn trembled from the sheer power in the room. The air swirling over Dad was the only visible manifestation, but the acrid scents of betrayal and longing raised gooseflesh.
Fists pounded on the other side of the door. “Lynn! Lynnie! Now! Out here!”
Jake slammed the door shut the instant Lynn slipped past. Mom gathered Ashlynn in her arms as Jake stood on tiptoes to peer through the window. He didn’t want to watch, but someone had to. They had to know if it worked. Which it had to. Had to!
The whirlwind, which supposedly was Persephone, tightened over Dad’s still body. Was he dead already? The thought didn’t terrify Jake as much as it did his mother and sister. Bodies could be revived. There was even a chance they might be able to bring Captain MacKenzie back since they got him in cryo right away. The bullets had torn up his brain something awful, though.
“Jake,” Ashlynn sniffled, “what’s happening?”
Jake felt more than heard her step up to him. He reached back with one hand to grab his sister’s. Her fear and guilt coursed into him. Jake wished he could reassure her, but he was pretty freaked out himself. “It’s–she’s–going for the prism, like you said.” The windstorm had contracted into a tiny tornado centered over Dad’s crystal. His eyes were squeezed shut. Still alive.
Mom’s hand rested on Jake’s shoulder, and he smelled her perfume. He glanced up and back to see her and Ashlynn shifting to get a view through the window. Anxiety was plain on Lynn’s face; absent from Mom’s. She was really good at shielding and denial.
He looked back through the window in time to see the tornado get sucked into the prism, then vanish along with it. Dad’s eyes went wide as he gasped… and stopped.
Jake’s blood ran cold. Tears blurred his vision. Jake frantically blinked them back. It was a counterproductive reaction to stress, a situation in which you needed all–
“There he is,” Ashlynn breathed.
Jake pressed his face against the glass. A luminous mist rose from Dad’s body, gathering into a gently twisting diaphanous form. On one hand, it was beautiful. Something like that was in him and Dad. It made them special, Dad had said over and over when Jake was little. But this “special” thing had hijacked his father without regard to his life! As curious as Jake was about his grandfather, it deserved to die.
Mom’s hand tightened on his shoulder. “He can’t come through the door, can he?”
“No,” Jake bluffed. He had no idea if the alien could pass through steel. It depended on its wavelength. But Lynn and Mom didn’t need to know that now.
The twisting, glowing haze drifted to Gibson’s– Ri’s body. It hung over her for several long seconds. Then it descended and melted into her.
Ri’s back arched as she pushed against the restraints. She twisted and panted before going limp. For a moment Jake thought she was dead, but her chest rose and fell.
Mom’s roiling emotions nearly knocked Jake over. She pushed Ashlynn and him aside, yanked the door open, and darted into the room. Her voice carried clearly. “Shane!”
By the time Jake and Lynn caught up with her, Mom was frantically searching for Dad’s pulse. “He’s not back. Lynn!” She rounded on her daughter. “Why isn’t he back?” She waved at Ri, who lay unconscious on the gurney. “He’s–it’s in there! He should be back!”
Jake felt Ashlynn swallow a knot of fear. Help me with Mum. Grim determination colored the thought.
The two of them pulled Mom back, trying to hold their own worry at bay long enough to ground their mother. “It’ll be soon,” Lynn said. She sounded sure, but Jake knew better. No deadline had been set.
“‘Soon?’ What’s soon to the sodding daughter of Zeus?!” Mom exclaimed.
Lynn, I think we need to get some tranquil–
A shuddering breath drew their attention. Dad’s eyes fluttered open as he coughed and wheezed. Jake, Lynn, and Mom descended on him, which didn’t help his breathing any. Relief, love, and hope flowed between them.
They pulled back to give Dad some air. Mom perched on the edge of the bed, laying one hand on his chest. Ashlynn had already claimed Dad’s hand, so Jake was content with being close.
Dad managed a weak smile. “That…” he murmured.
Dad swallowed and coughed again. “…was weird.”
Jake grinned, Ashlynn rolled her eyes, and Mom, after grunting her frustration, kissed Dad full on the mouth.