Baghdad Café (The Barrowman Remix #4)
“What’s taking them so long?”, Hermann almost screams.
“Relax. They’ll be here. And who are ‘they’ more precisely?”, Greyscale asks.
Hermann shrugs. “People who live here in Fallowfell. That-” Knock.
Two people enter the house- a woman and a man. The woman walks in front of the man, the walk of a person who is in command and who knows it. She has wavy auburn hair, the thin body of a fashion model, and blue eyes, sharp and filled with intelligence. Greyscale inhales, and as he does, he can understand her self-assurance. She smells like mercury, sulphur and acid, a scent which marks her as unedible, not to mention dangerous to most beings.
And the second part of her confidence probably springs from the man behind her, a man who Greyscale recognizes, unlike the woman. He isn’t much to look at; one-armed, with short strawberry-blonde hair and brown thoughtful eyes, but in the small world which supernaturals inhabit, everyone has heard about him; Ricardo Corazon, the man who was born Richard de Couer. Lionheart.
They in turn look at Greyscale. Lionheart gives a small nod, which Greyscale returns. The woman however extends a hand. “Perenelle Flamel.”He manages to keep his surprise under lock. Perenelle Flamel, the Black Alchemist- the author of the Black Death. “Nidar Greyscale.” “Ah, a member of the Flight. I am so ever touched, and yet slightly worried.” “Don’t be, we’re all here to look at the kid.” “The kid?” Greyscale motions to Rune’s inert form on the loveseat.
Perenelle turns to Hermann with an accusing look. “Had you said there was a child, I would have come unprompted.” ” I wasn’t certain… not with the….not with the history between the two of us.” Perenelle and Hermann looks at each other.
The tension spikes, creating its own localized gravity. That is, until Greyscale burps, a fiery blast which echoes across the room. “Sorry. I had me some chili-dogs for breakfast. I think they gave me some indigestion.”
“So, what are we waiting for?”, Lionheart interjects. “We’re waiting for Merith”, Hermann says in a curt voice. “Yes, while you children have been nagging, I have been checking up on young Rune.”
The addition of a fifth voice to the conversation produces different reactions; Perenelle slips a manicured hand in her 3000 kronor vest; Lionheart frowns, unbelieving that someone could slip him by; Hermann unsheaths a scimitar seemingly from his elbow; and Greyscale’s neck almost snaps due to the speed and force with which he turns.
Next to Rune sits a middle-aged woman. She is holding up a vial of blood, looking at it like it holds all the answers of the Universe. Her skin is close to Rune in tone, Egyptian Greyscale thinks, and her hair is cut in a bob which frames her face. Dark eyes scold them all. “A man, a young man, is dying. And you all squabble, like little children.” Perenelle opens her mouth. “Now hold on-” Merith raises one immaculate eyebrow, and she stops, chastised.
Greyscale extends his tongue–
— and gets nothing. That’s not possible. She has to have a scent. But no matter how he tries, he gets nothing. No scent, no heartbeat, nada. He can’t even tell if she walked past them, or if she was there all the time. As if reading his thoughts she gives him a subtle look. Suddenly he can feel magic grinding like sandpaper against his skin, a latent thunderstorm on the horizon, like at a Place of Power, only this is coming from a mere human.
Which is supposed to be impossible. No, not impossible, he remembers, but according to his lessons merely improbable. An archmage, a mature archmage, the rarest breed of magic-users is supposed to burn like that. And although he lived in Rome at the time, he remembers the last time the world heard about an archmage in truth. Merlin.
Merith tosses the vial to Perenelle. “Here little alchemist. Tell me what you find and I’ll share mine.” Perenelle takes out a blocky device from the bag at her side, pushes one button which in turn opens a hole, and pours the blood in it.
Hermann clears his voice and looks meaninfully at Greyscale. He faithfully reiterates what he knows about barrowmen; their abilities, the history of their creation, the unexpected addition of the poison. He looks at Perenelle through the periphery of his eyes. She has used her little device thrice, and the frown on her forehead now looks like a small delta.
“… and the blood is blue, not if I know if that has any bearing.” Merith turns to Perenelle.”So?” Perenelle in turn looks at Hermann. “I am so, so sorry Hermann. But I don’t have a clue as to how to fix this.” “I concur”, Merith echoes in agreement. “Explain”. Hermann grits the word out.
Perenelle’s voice takes on a lecturing tone. “Using magic to hurt someone is a waste of efficient power. It is far easier to blow someone’s brains out, or decapitate them or dismember them. When using magic in tangent with, say diseases, one would normally take a disease and add a little tinge of magic. That little nudge of magic would boggle most normal people, and the person in question would die, if not helped. Think two thirds disease, one third magic.” I am thinking of the Plague right now.
She continues her lecture. “What we have here is almost the complete opposite. The barrowman’s poision is necrotic in nature and is causing the equalivent of very slow ionizination- it’s breaking his molecules asunder, which will in the end cause his body to virtually fall apart . Using the same analogy, I would say that the disease is four and half fifths magic, and a half fifth actual disease. But that very small part which is the disease is breaking down his body whereas the magic will kill his soul. So, in order to cure him, we need to do two things. First we need regenerate the cells and blood that is currently breaking down. Second we need expunge that magic.”
Merith tangents Perenelle’s little speech. “Now, this is very it gets complicated.If Rune was like us, the actual disease would heal by itself and he’d need no help. The magic would require some help, but could be managed in the end.” Hermann catches the implication immediately. “So you can fix whatever is attacking his soul, but not his body.” “I mean that I think I can fix the whatever is attacking his soul.” She stops. “The irony really, is that even if we cure the magic, he’ll die by perfectly mundane means.”
Merith turns to Perenelle. “How about using the Quintessence?” She shakes her head abruptly. “The Philosopher’s Stone needs to be attuned to the subject in question. There is no time.”
“An atypical exorcism then.” “An exorcism?”, Perenelle asks, surprised. “I am thinking a reverse one, where we bind and distort the magic to his corpora and some of the rituals they used in mummification….” She and Perenelle bands ideas forth and back, and Lionheart writes them down on a pad.
Something about what she said nags at Greyscale. What was it? “I’ll need-” Rune coughs up a big hunk of blood. At the same time a dog howls high. Merith continues. “I’ll need linens and restraints.” Hermann breaks in. “But what about the disease that is killing his body? Any ideas for that?”
“I told you; I don’t know-” She stops suddenly, with a speculative look. She turns towards Nidar. “You said that these barrowmen… that they were bound to something, or someone?” “Yes.” “What…. what if we take the disease which is obviously killing him… and let it?”
“What do you mean?”, Hermann asks. “I mean, that between Perenelle and me, and the disease we could probably turn him into a barrowman, or something of a similar order. It would be a proactive solution; by killing him we’d fix the problem of his cells dying, while at the same time twisting the magic inside of him, to make sure that it doesn’t kill him, merely change him.”
“Whoa, that’s pretty cold, Merith”, Greyscale says.”It would save him. And I am sorry, Greyscale, that I cannot come up with a more convenient solution.”
“You would turn him into one of the Undead.” This from Hermann. He continues to speak. “He would have to feed of life, partake of flesh even.” The last sentence is delivered in a dead voice. ” We all eat something. Greyscale here eats deer or moose when the mood takes him. Lionheart looks like a bacon-man. Perenelle likes salad. There’s less difference between us and the Deadborn than you think Hermann”, Merith adds.
As Merith, Perenelle and Hermann discuss what to do, Greyscale sits leans back against a wall. He can’t help but feeling that there is something he is missing. Some crucial detail.
“Oh, but you’re so close.” For a second time in less than ten minutes, Greyscale jumps. An ethereal voice slips through the room, like a breeze, causing a few blinds to move. But Hermann and the others are too busy to notice it. Or… he looks suspiciously around… they can’t hear it.
“Who are you?”, he subvocalizes. “You don’t recognize my voice, little Ófis?” “Tiresias?!” “The very same.” But Tiresias is dead. She died a score of centuries ago. And who is to say that this is Tiresias?
“How do I know that it is you, Tiresias, and not some sprite or spirit?” “Because I remember that time when you switched out my amphorae, in Thebes– vinegar taste like horse-dung you know.” “Hhahaa. You deserved that for forcing me to listen to that dreary philosopher.” He stops, filled with amusement over an ancient memory.” But why is that I think it’s no coincidence, you talking like this, to me, right now?”
” Because it is not happenstance. I have little time, Nidar. Soon I will have to go the place where spirits Rest. But I wanted to tell you that the answer to Rune’s plight is much, much closer than you realize. In fact you know the answer, you just haven’t realized it.”
“I suppose you can’t tell me anything… more informative?” “The Powers That Be have explicitly forbidden me from uttering such, but I have a little rhyme, and nobody can object to a little rhyme.” She emphasizes the word ‘rhyme’ and Greyscale groans. “You and your prophecies.”
“Yes, yes, here it comes-”
The ethereal voice slices through his bones “-
To make a beast of leashed emotion
a piece required with the release of Soul’s erosion
and then comes the time of surcease and corrosion.”
“Bye, Greyscale….. we shall chance upon each other before the End...” Tiresias’ voice dies on the wind. “Tiresias, wait! What end?!”. Dammit. He forces himself to mull on her rhyme rather then on her parting shot. So I have the answer in my head. He thinks through his long life, of the things he has seen, the horrors and the wonders, while simultaneously taking the Tiresian rhyme and looking at it from every conceiveable angle he knows.
To make a beast of leashed emotion. A wyrm? A crocotta? A homenculi? One of the Yōkai, the Dusk-folk?
A piece required with the release of Soul’s erosion. Magic? Soulbreaking? Animus-style magic? Sundering?
And then comes the time of surcease and corrosion.It’s connected to the other two… so a magical creature, something about soulrending and a time when you wait and where something disintegrates. What disintegrates? The soul? The soul…..
And just like that–
—all of the pieces of the puzzle connect, and Greyscale knows what they need to do- the answer.
“Guys.” They all stop and look at him. “If… this was caused by Norse magic, right? What if we fix it with Norse magic?” He quickly outlines his idea, the materials it will require, the ritual behind it. “Amazing”, Merith whispers. “What? Was it an stupid idea?” “No, on the contrary. It’s brilliant. Perfect even although….” Merith gives him an look. But it’s Lionheart that actually speaks. “You do realize that this will make you…. less than you are?”
Greyscale shrugs. ” If it saves Rune, then I will gladly do it again. Besides, we’re not quite out of the water yet, are we?” They quickly decides who will take what and disperse.
As Greyscale goes to climb the Thrymheim to get a root buried deep within the mountain, he hopes that he has made the right decision. For himself. For Rune. For the world.