Charm 20/22

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Heinrich

Upstairs, Caleb and Rain are already awake and dressed. Rain has his head down, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jersey. He’s very carefully not looking at anyone.

“I felt that,” Caleb says. “He’ll have too.”

“Of course.” Zelda rummages in a dresser drawer and pulls out a battered-looking Kit-Kat. “Here.” she shoves it toward my face. “Eat.” She nods when I unwrap the old chocolate and start nibbling, and crosses her arms over her chest. “Now. I hope you’re ready?”

The chocolate tastes dusty, the wafer rubbery instead of crunchy.

Caleb nods. Rain finally looks up. He’s whiter than normal, his eye sockets grey with bruises and his eyes puffy and red. I swallow the last of the stale chocolate and wafer. I swear, I’m going to kill Caleb.

Rain must see the look on my face, because he shakes his head quickly and surreptitiously and gives me a not now, Irene, please look.

Fine. I can wait.

“He’s in Houghton,” she says. Good thing we still have my map book because my knowledge of Houghton can be summed up by the following: rich people live there.

Caleb bows his head and for a moment, I see what looks like fear flick across his face, but then he raises his head, and it’s the standard cold blank expression. “Good.” He says and picks his hat from the coat rack and sets it firmly on his head. “Thank you, Zelda Sachs, for your hospitality and your aid.”

I shrug out of her musty old coat and drape it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. The chocolate, disgusting as it was, seems to have helped.

Zelda waves her hands. “Out. And do what it is you have to.”

In the elevator I watch Rain’s face, to see if he’ll give away anything of what went on between him and Caleb. If they had a fight, it seems they’re over it now. Rain has his hand in Caleb’s like they’re out for a god-damn stroll in the park and not about to go off and fight the big bad guy. And god, I don’t want to think about that either or I am going to be the one who starts crying or has a panic attack because I am so out of my league here. I’ve managed to set some papers on fire, and that’s my grand training for this.

We’re going to die.

I shift my attention to the lights on the numbers instead, watching us flick steadily down toward the parking garage. We walk like zombies through the shadowed garage, all of our limbs stiff with fear. It might as well be radiating off us. I can taste it on my palate, like tinfoil. We turn a corner to find our parking.

It takes me a moment to adjust from what I expected to what’s actually there. Which is nothing. “Oh no.” There’s a gaping empty space where the Beetle should be sitting like a fat yellow slice of normality. “This is not happening.” I blink, hoping that when I open my eyes the car will miraculously appear.

It doesn’t.

“We have more important things to worry about than a stolen car.” Caleb walks over to a neglected red Citi Golf.

“My father’s car.” I’m still looking at the empty spot. “He’s going to kill me.”

“Not if Heinrich gets there first,” Caleb snaps. This is actually a good point, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. Strangely. The smash of breaking glass that echoes around the concrete garage makes me start. Caleb has his hand in the Citi’s broken window to open the door.

“Oh my god—are you stealing that?”

“Borrowing,” says Caleb. “We really don’t have time to waste. Not if Zelda is right. Get in.”

He pulls the wires from the ignition, and a second later, the Golf’s engine throbs to life. Caleb looks up at me where I’m still standing by the Beetle’s empty parking spot. He lifts one side of his mouth in a lopsided humourless grin. “Don’t forget the map.”

Rain’s already buckling himself into the passenger seat. Well, I guess he’s at least diligent about not breaking some laws. “Reen,” he says. “It’s not like we’re taking it for good.” His voice sounds hoarse, and now I know he’s been crying. “How is this so different from driving your dad’s car around without a licence, and without asking him?”

Point.

I get in the car and sit behind Rain. Surprisingly, he snakes his left hand backwards, out of sight of Caleb, and takes my hand. He squeezes hard and I squeeze back.

“Directions,” says Caleb.

I sigh, let go of Rain’s hand, and search for St Patrick’s Road, Houghton in the map index.

We pull up about a block away from the address Zelda gave us. It’s still too early for the sun to be up, but there’s a quality to the sky that makes me think it won’t be long. The last of the clouds have swept away, leaving only a few dark yellowy-grey smears on the low horizon. The tar is still damp, and the roads have that just-washed smell that comes after a rainstorm. My hands are shaking. I clench them tight and pretend this is all going to be okay. This is what Kerry’s do. They fight for each other. And Heinrich has—probably has—my brother. Whatever other reasons Caleb throws at me, that’s the one that will drive me on when nothing else will. I suck in a painful gasp of thick air and trudge forward, shoulders squared.

Caleb strikes out ahead of us, walking with a determined stride, his head slightly bowed. Instead of racing after him like a house-trained puppy, Rain holds back. We walk in the darkness, watching Caleb’s coat flap about his legs as he marches ahead.

“Irene,” Rain whispers. “I’ve been speaking to Caleb. I know how he’s going to kill Heinrich.” He sounds lost.

“Yeah, so do I. He’s going to make me use the golden art.” It’s a grim thought. The only thing I’m pretty sure I can do with my magic is burn things. So I guess I’m going to be frying Heinrich. Nice thought. If he really has Dale though, believe me, I’ll relish roasting the bastard alive.

“No.” Rain keeps his voice soft, but he sounds pretty certain.

I pause, but Rain tugs at me, keeps me walking along so that Caleb doesn’t notice us. “You’re just a distraction,” he says.

Oh yeah, well, we all know that dear Caleb is very good at using other people as a distraction. I grit my teeth.

“He’s going to sacrifice himself,” says Rain. “It’s the key, he says. The only thing Heinrich won’t expect.”

“Ah yeah, and see this? This is my heart bleeding lumpy custard.”

“Fuck you, Irene. Caleb told me that he knows that Heinrich has your brother.”

“How can he be so sure?” I sneer, but I go cold inside, and I can’t stop the next words that come tumbling out. “Tell me he’s okay. Rain. What did Caleb say?”

Rain is white, his voice shaking. “He says that it’s likely that Heinrich will turn him, like he did the others.”

“What others?”

“Irene.” He shoots me an exasperated look. “What did you think happened to the children Heinrich stole from Hemel?”

“You’re kidding.” I stop dead. I think of that Hunter lying on the concrete floor, its claws turned to human hands. “No,” I say, and shake my head, willing the thought away. “Caleb told you to tell me that. He’s trying to make me want to kill Heinrich.”

Rain looks down at the ground.

I knew I was right. The fear fades, and I feel a momentary pang. I have to remind myself that Rain doesn’t see Caleb the way I do, that he’s still tangled up in that stupid spell. I swallow down all my irritation. “Sorry, Rain, really, I am. But if that’s what he thinks he has to do, then he’s probably right.” Whatever. It’s no skin off my teeth if Caleb thinks he needs to play some noble hero thing. Not that I even believe that Caleb is anything close to noble or heroic.

“He’s not right,” Rain says. It’s close to not being a whisper at all, and Caleb pauses to look back at us.

Once Caleb is walking again, Rain carries on. “I know he’s only doing this because he doesn’t trust you to use your full power against Heinrich, he says you’re a sentimentalist.”

“Ah, you see, now that just hurts,” I say, clutching my chest in mock pain.

“Can you kill someone in cold blood?”

“Sure.” If I keep telling myself that…I mean, for all I know I’m not powerful enough to kill a Parktown Prawn, so this whole thing is moot. Maybe if Heinrich looks like one, that will help. A giant insectile head, big black legs covered in spikes. I shudder. Actually, I’d prefer if Heinrich were just human. Those damn prawns never die. You can shoot one with a BB gun, and it’ll be nothing more than one eye and one leg and it will still come crawling for you. Nope. Human it better be. “Yeah, of course,” I say and swallow around the thick lump in my throat

“I don’t think you can either,” he says. “But I’m not letting Caleb die because you can’t do it.” He takes a deep breath and I hear him swallow thickly. “Irene, if you don’t kill Heinrich, I’m going to make sure that I’m the sacrifice instead, if that’s what Caleb thinks it will take.”

Oh my god. That fucking spell. I wish as much hate as I can in Caleb’s direction. “Are you a complete moron?” I shake Rain’s shoulder hard enough that I swear I hear his teeth rattle in his head. “Did Caleb set you up to this? So that he’d make sure I would do exactly what he wanted?” I shove Rain away from me, and stumble after Caleb.

After a few seconds I hear the soft squeak of his trainers as he follows. My chest is tight; part fear, part rage. I believe Rain is willing to go and jump in a lake of fire for Caleb, and that Caleb is only too happy to let him. If this was Caleb’s little plan—and I’m betting it was—he’s got me well and truly. I’ll do what ever it takes to stop Rain from getting toasted to save his ancient boyfriend-thing. My eyes burn and I can feel the slow sunburn tightness of magic on my skin.

“Will you stop that?” Caleb hisses back at me through the grey pre-dawn. “We might as well be going in with a beacon and a marching band.” He points up a few houses ahead. “That’s it.”

We sneak through the shadows of the trees until we’re in front of a stone-walled mansion half-hidden in black trees throttled by bougainvillea.

If the itch I feel around Lily or Caleb is anything to go by, this is the right place. My skin crawls. Magic as scabies. Fun fun fun.

Outside on the pavement, large black rubbish bins overflow with uncollected bags. Looks like the strikes affect the rich too. The eerie light from the street lamps and the garden lamps make silvery halos in the darkness but the light shows nothing moving. It’s a little disturbing that there are no rats. No flicker of movement around the scattered junk.

Caleb rubs his hands together, the only sign he feels it too.

The house is still, no-one’s awake. The windows are dark and the whole place is dead quiet.

“Hunters?” There’ll be time enough for me to hate Caleb after this little stunt is over. Right now, he knows more about what’s going on than I do.

Caleb shakes his head. “We must have killed the last ones he had.” I hear the triumph in his voice. “He’s spread his magic too thin with the rats to make more.”

“Speaking of which, where are the little rodenty bastards?”

Caleb shrugs. “Everywhere in Johannesburg except here, after he sent them out looking for us.”

I really hope Caleb’s right and that we’re not about to walk into a house crawling with giant rats. One or two I can handle—en masse, no thanks. Of course, that’s assuming we can get in. The gates are high and topped with spikes, and above that, the thin wires of electric fencing.

“Great,” I say. “Did you plan for us to fly over?”

Caleb presses his hands together. “No. You’re going to take us in.”

“The golden art?”

“Art and charm.” He looks like a death’s head, all grin and no humour.

“And that’s not going to alert him that we’re here?”

“Now’s as good a time as any. He’ll know soon enough.” He holds out one hand and Rain leaves my side to go stand by him. Caleb nods at me. “Do it, it’s just a small thing.”

This is a test, of course. Though I for one think it’s too bloody late to go seeing where my limitations are, when we’re right at the monster’s front door. I close my eyes and see the electric fencing wires. They ripple in my head, crackling with energy. I picture them dead, just like that.

Empty.

“Oops,” I say, when I open my eyes. All the lights in the street are out. At least any non-magical people will just blame it on Eskom’s cruddy service. My body is fluttering, like my skin is rearranging itself over my bones. I can’t help smiling. I’m good at this. Now that my mother’s charm is gone, it’s coming to me naturally. As easy as breathing.

And sometimes we drown. I push the thought away. No. I was born to do this. It’s in my blood, passed down from Hestia to me. Through god knows how many generations before that. I flex my hands, marvelling.

Caleb’s already kneeling, one hand through the gate bars, and fiddling with the motors. Guess Heinrich doesn’t know enough about the modern world not to put his faith in electricity. The gates swing open. Instead of walking in, Caleb grabs Rain and crushes him close, one hand cupping the side of Rain’s face.

Like we’ve got time for the old man to make out. “If you’re ready,” I say. “You guys can save this shit for afterwards.” I block out the idea that Caleb really believes he’s going to die. It’s all just trickery to make me do what he wants. Manipulative bastard.

They pull apart and Caleb faces the house, one hand still on Rain’s shoulder.

In an arched second-story window, a flickering tell-tale light has gone on. Seems Heinrich stocks up on candles like all good South Africans.

“Well, he sure as hell knows we’re here now.” The shivers start, just small little ripples up my spine. Not enough to put me out of action. I don’t want to know what they’re going to be like after I fricassee Heinrich. Dammit, I should have stocked up on chocolate.

I don’t even like chocolate.

The three of us draw closer together and follow the slate path picked out between the rockeries and cycads and date palms. From somewhere in the black garden comes the faint lap of water; a swimming pool or fountain. We take the low steps to the stoep, half expecting to be pounced on at any moment, but no-one pops out of the undergrowth to stop us and I’m tempted to ham it up in my best B-movie performance. Somehow, I don’t think Caleb will appreciate me going, “It’s quiet…too quiet,” quite as much as I will.

The front porch is farmhouse-wide, painted with that slick red paint that seems to be on all South African stoeps. I try the front door, and it swings open, unlocked. Heinrich is inviting us in, and that thought really scares me. This whole time I’ve been treating this like a joke but it’s real. One of us could die, and I’m hoping that it’s only going to be Heinrich. The golden art flexes under my skin like a live thing. It’s waiting, greedy and its greed makes my skin feel tight and sweaty. Already there’s a headache knotting up behind my eyes, and shivery cramps pulsing under my skin.

For the first time, I have a really good idea of why Zelda doesn’t want her magic back. It might be power, but there’s a cost. The golden art is a parasite. A hungry parasite. We’re just the hosts.

“Caleb.” A voice soft and burred with a lisping accent coils around us.

I freeze, half-crouched. Magic is blistering under my skin. Heinrich is powerful, and his charm crawls about us, probing, scratching.

Caleb stands straighter. He’s tall, taller than I actually realised. “Come out,” he says, tiredly. “I’m not going to play games.”

“You’re very certain of yourself,” says Heinrich. “I don’t know what you hope to achieve. You know as well as I do that your magic is gone.”

“I still have a little,” Caleb says.

The voice laughs, a crackly sound, surprisingly friendly, like they were two old friends sharing a joke. “Please, it’s barely enough to do a binding spell.”

Caleb shrugs. “It’s all I need.”

“You are one for melodrama, aren’t you?” The voice has lost the echoey sound, it’s real now and coming from above us. I look up a flight of stairs to an old man standing at the very top. He’s spry, dressed in a dark crimson suit. Patterns of light dance around him. The faint sound of pipes echoes in my head, making me slow, but he’s not breaking out the big guns yet. Heinrich looks amused, like a cat being challenged by three mice armed with sewing needle swords.

Shut up, Irene. He’s one old man. I can fry one geriatric magician. Oh god. I unclench my fists and call up the magic inside me.

Heinrich’s pipes are making me slow. I feel the golden art rising, the air going gelid and thick as I try to move forward. His music hooks under my skin, tangles me up.

It’s useless to fight him. Caleb has no magic left, and I don’t know the first thing about how to use my own.

He’s stolen everyone’s magic, he’s grown fat on it and this is not going to end well.

I can’t even blink. My eyelids are pinned in place by the eerie piping that rises and falls around us.

My bones are icicles, my blood is frost.

We’re dead, and we didn’t even so much as scratch him.

Rain lurches out in front of me—the only one of us not affected by Heinrich’s spell. All I can do is watch as Rain takes the steps, two by two and shoves at Heinrich with all his pathetic strength. I want to scream, to tell him he’s an idiot. To stop.

Nothing.

Heinrich knocks Rain back like he’s a fly, but the moment has broken the old bastard’s concentration, and the music ends. Rain tumbles back down the stairs.

The idiot, if he’s hurt I’ll kill him.

Rain darts forward again, ready to throw himself in front of Caleb like a bloody romantic girl.

Not this time. Not if I can help it. I take my chance while Heinrich is distracted, shooting forward to punch Rain in the side of the head, which is the only thing I can think of that doesn’t involve wasting magic. We tumble to the ground with Rain tearing at my hair. I knee his upper thigh, feeling bone hit bone.

“What…exactly are they trying to do?” Heinrich sounds like an old woman who has just discovered her poodle has piddled on the rug.

I twist my head and pin Rain down. “Don’t move, you bloody idiot,” I say.

Caleb’s dropped to his knees next to us. “What are you fools doing?” His face is white. Fear radiates off him.

“Oh really, Caleb,” Heinrich says. “Is this the best you could manage?”

I shift to focus my attention and my coiled-up art in Heinrich’s direction.

The old magician dances his hand on one polished rail. “This is a farce. If you’re attempting to amuse me to death, it may just work.” He leans on the balustrade.

I twist my head to look back at Caleb. Rain is struggling underneath me, and he clamps his teeth on my wrist. Hard enough to break skin. “You shit,” I say. “I’m doing this for your own good.”

Caleb is twisting his hands, making patterns I remember seeing before. That night when we met him at the Red Room, Caleb was pulling Rain deep into his trap, tricking him. A low hum like a plucked string on an electric guitar fills the room. Caleb’s charm is just enough to stop Heinrich from freezing us again.

Not that it slows Heinrich. The piper’s tune starts again. It’s one I haven’t heard before. It’s a sharp song that stings across my skin, raising fine lines of blood. I twist to see what Caleb’s doing, and I realise the magic isn’t even aimed at me, that I’m picking up just the edges of the charm that Heinrich’s cast. Blood is pouring down Caleb’s face and hands, and dark patches stain his clothes. Heinrich is slicing him up like a Sunday roast. On Caleb’s right hand one cut is so deep that I can see bone.

The stairs creak as Heinrich walks towards us. I feel a tug just below my navel, at the root of where the golden art sits. Heinrich is already drawing my own magic out. Just like he did with Caleb on the train. I lash out at him, pouring fire through the air.

Burn, burn, burn, I think furiously, concentrating all my emotions into a wall of fire, feeling the heat pouring out of me.

Heinrich twists, ducking out of the way of the blast.

Damn. He’s fast. Between struggling to keep Rain pinned down, and directing lashing art I can barely control, I’m getting dizzy.

Heinrich laughs. He’s just toying with us now. “Is this what you brought?” He mocks Caleb. “A girl who doesn’t have the faintest idea how to fight?”

He moves like a dancer; fast, easy grace. Pulls a thin pipe from the pocket of his jacket, sets it to his mouth and plays.

This is no faint echo of a music charm. It’s the real thing. The air is so thick that I can’t even draw it into my lungs. My whole chest is tight and dry, and gasp raggedly. I can still move though. Caleb’s fading art is keeping us free.

For now.

Heinrich’s tune changes. My hands slide up, out of my control. My fingers slide around Rain’s throat and begin to tighten. The tunes spins, and pain lances up my side. I feel like I’ve just been kicked by a horse, and I’m sure I’ve cracked a rib. Or rather, Heinrich’s cracked my bloody rib for me.

Rain’s face is turning red, and his fingers are prising at mine, but he just can’t break my grip. And I’m crying, the tears run slick down my cheeks, stinging over the fine cuts that Heinrich’s made.

“And what are you going to waste the last of your golden art on?” Heinrich says to Caleb, as he breaks his tune to watch his handiwork.

My grip loosens as the music stops, and Rain gasps in a lungful of air.

The gold light of the binding charm wraps around Caleb’s fingers, dancing patterns in the air. I swallow hard. He’s been using the time while Heinrich’s been concentrating on me to finish the last of his charm. Blood flies in fine drops as Caleb moves. His face is twisted up in pain. “A binding.” He lurches to his feet and casts the net of magic over Heinrich.

Heinrich stalls, one foot poised above a carpeted tread. “What good exactly, is that going to do?” The threads settle over him like fine wires, shimmer and sink into his skin. “Are you planning on trying to add me to your harem?” He raises one grey and manicured brow. “A little pointless, I think.”

Caleb’s Adam’s apple bobs, and he turns to me. There’s something in his eyes I can’t quite place. Triumph and fear and relief all jumbled together in a mess. His hat has dropped to the ground, and he looks naked without it. “I told Heinrich how to find your brother,” he says, his voice calm. “He’s here in this house. Heinrich might even have turned him by now.” He takes a deep breath. “And I told him I’d bring you here too, in exchange for my magic back.”

 

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Till Wednesday!

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