Janet placed a restraining hand on her sister’s arm to stall the blistering retort she saw damming up behind Andrea’s tightening lips. Janet was impressed by Marko’s restraint in not rising to Andrea’s bait. Janet softened her tone and said, “Now that you know our predicament, I would be interested to hear your take on what we’re up against.”
“I’m not going to sugar coat it. Sounds like you’re up against a formidable opponent. These attacks by Charles indicate both telepathic and spell casting talents. Of course, it remains to be seen if they are gifts or if the true source of his powers is an enchanted object.”
“What do you mean by an enchanted object,” Janet asked.
“A talisman like yours or a ring or even a crystal that amplifies natural abilities. Any object can be imbued with supernatural power. The older it is, the more potent it tends to be.”
“Where do you propose we go from here?”
Andrea could no longer contain her indignation, “Really Janet? We just met this guy. You can’t seriously be about to let him start calling the shots.”
Janet silenced her sister with a fierce look, “Nobody is calling any shots. We are a team. If you had paid attention, you would have heard me asking him for a suggestion. Last time I checked, the three of us were all tapped out of good ideas.”
She glared at Andrea, waiting to for a sarcastic reply that didn’t come. Instead, Andrea rolled her eyes and irritatedly gestured, with an upturned palm in Marko’s direction, for him to speak. He raised an amused eyebrow, “I suggest we get some rest. You all look dead on your feet.”
Ethan spoke up, “This bloke were going up against seems to only attack at night. Don’t you think it would be best to get on down the road while the getting is good and then hole up somewhere and rest tonight?”
“Then we’d be sitting ducks. It’s hard to see an attack coming with your eyes closed. Besides, how long do you think you could fight or even run when you’re exhausted and not thinking clearly? If you want a real shot at beating this guy then you have to stay healthy.”
“Point well taken. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind a little shut-eye I really am knackered. While we’re on the subject of fighting chances, do you think this could help? I only had time to flip through it.”
Ethan pulled out the book he’d kept tucked in the back of his jeans and slid it across the table. Marko leaned forward and looked down at the book. His eyes grew wide. He abruptly sat back. The trio watched him look cautiously around the room before leaning lowering his voice to a stage whisper.
“Is that what I think it is? It is isn’t? Leave it to you to walk something like that in here. Put it back wherever you just pulled it from. Hurry up before someone walks past the table and sees it!”
The trio took in his alarmed expression and exchanged bewildered looks. Ethan shrugged his shoulders and slowly returned the book to his waistband. He chuckled.
“What gives? You act like the book is radioactive. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were afraid to even touch it.”
“I’m not afraid of anything. But I am cautious about touching things reeking of bad juju. I don’t want to risk infection.”
“Bad juju? Infection? What old wives’ tale did you get that from? Don’t tell me you’re superstitious. Quick, throw some salt over your shoulder to ward off evil spirits,” laughed Andrea.
“Why do you mock everything you don’t understand? That’s one bad habit that is dangerous in the supernatural realm. A dismissive attitude can cause you to underestimate or even ignore danger,” Marko admonished.
“I’m not stupid….” began Andrea.
“The verdict is still out on that case,” quipped Ethan.
He pretended to shrink from the dirty look Andrea shot at him. She punched him in the arm. Ethan laughed and rubbed his arm, “sorry love, you opened the door for that one.”
“What did you mean by bad juju,” asked Janet.
“All things that come from nature have a spark of life force in them. Simply put, books come from trees, therefore there is a faint vibration that remains even after the wood is processed into paper. The right enchantment can strengthen that vibration and tune it into any frequency, good or bad. If that book happens to contain word magic of any kind; spells, curses you name it…then the magic is much more potent and the book itself becomes infused with some of that power. But enough about that. We need to move on before one of these bastards senses the presence of that book. Follow me.”
Marko lead them into the manager’s office in the back hallway. He closed the door, walked over to the bookshelf and waved his hand in front of it, murmuring an incantation under his breath. Janet gasped as the bookshelf appeared to dissolve, revealing a large oaken door. The trio followed him through the door and down the stone steps beyond the door, feeling a gust of air stir their hair. Janet was relieved to see normal living quarters instead of the dungeon implied by the stone walls and winding staircase. Marko lead them to a sitting area framed on one side by a large sectional couch and large pillows scattered on the carpeted floor in front of the couch, inviting them to make themselves at home.
“We can talk freely down here,” he said.
Andrea looked around incredulously, “What is this place?”
“It’s a safe house,” Marko explained.
Ethan spoke up from the floor with his head and shoulders couched on a big pillow, “Let’s get back to my book and this juju biz. Are you saying the damn thing is possessed? I’ve already got a devil’s mark. I don’t need some spirit trapped inside a book seeping into me.”
“It’s not possessed in that sense, but it does posses some power in the form of word magic.”
“You must be daft. Holding this book feels no different from holding any other book.”
“That’s not any ordinary book. It’s a grimoire. The power sometimes lies dormant until it’s activated.”
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense Marko. How do you activate it?”
“Knowing how impulsive you can be Ethan, I’m not sure telling you would be wise. That grimoire is used to evoke spirits and lesser demons.”
“That sounds exactly like what we need. Fight fire with fire I always say. Let them fight our battles for us or maybe we could use them to spy on Charles and find out what his next move will be,” said Ethan excitedly.
“Divination is not something that should be used for convenience. Any form of divination is dangerous. Each time you use it, a portal opens that gets harder to close and the beings you summon may not willingly return to their realm.”
“Don’t be so dramatic man. We wouldn’t need to do it more than once or twice.”
“Everyone says that in the beginning. But having that much power at your fingertips is too tempting. You will eventually be seduced by it. Many turned to divination with good intentions that became skewed when the power corrupted them and they sought justify using divination for self-serving reasons. Now, I have a few questions I wanted to ask. I guess I’m having trouble understanding why the doorkeepers would ask novices to undertake such a dangerous mission.”
Andrea sighed, “I’ve been wondering the same thing. Of course, after our little jaunt through the woods with wolves nipping at our heels it became glaringly obvious that we’re just a distraction those bastards are using to buy themselves time because they have no idea how to defeat this guy. They know we have no chance of winning but they figure they can watch from a distance and learn from our mistakes.”
“So this is a suicide mission? How on earth did they talk you into this fool’s errand? Did you get sworn in as doorkeepers?”
“Not really, you might say that we’ve sort of been deputized to act on their behalf.”
“So what do you get out of all of this?”
“Well, they did train us and provide some supplies.”
“How long was the training?”
“Three weeks, give or take a day or two. It would have been longer but Ethan got a wild hair up his ass and decided to kidnap my sister.”
Andrea glared at Ethan who winked at her. Marko’s pensive expression broke into a grin. He threw his head back and laughed. Janet and Andrea didn’t know whether they should be offended or join in. Ethan surveyed them all with his customary smirk. After a minute, Marko’s laughter subsided. He shook his head in amazement.
“Sorry ladies, I shouldn’t have laughed. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t making light of your situation. You have to admit the whole thing is absurd. Granted, I’ve never had a high opinion of the doorkeepers. Their philosophy has long seemed outdated and their tactics reactionary rather than proactive.”
“So you know of the organization?”
“Yes, you could say that. They have conferred with me from time to time over the years. That contact, though admittedly limited, has afforded me some insight into the way they operate. Not a very inspiring group, if you ask me. Don’t tell me they actually convinced you two that you would be ready to take on this mission after some insane crash course.”
“Well, I have to admit that at the time, I didn’t believe in all of this supernatural mumbo jumbo. I figured we could just get over on them by just going through the motions.”
“To what end? I can see you’re a very shrewd, street smart individual Andrea. You wouldn’t waste your time even just going through the motions for the sake of some lofty ideal. There would have to be some sort of payoff in the offing. So, what was promised?”
Andrea shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “What difference could that possibly make to you?”
“You’re asking me to throw my lot in with you and risk my life without pay. Don’t you think I deserve to know the back story?”
“How do I know that I can trust you,” asked Andrea.
“How do I know that I can trust you,” came Marko’s reply.
They stared into one another’s eyes for a few tense moments. Marko was surprised to see fear in hers. Realization dawned slowly.
“They’re holding something over your head aren’t they,” he asked quietly.
Andrea dropped her eyes to hide her shock. How could he possibly know that…unless someone told him. She shot Ethan a dirty look and then recalled that he hadn’t been with them when Palin had sealed her gun into an evidence bag with the promise to return it when they successfully completed the mission. Andrea still couldn’t believe she had killed someone. That made her a…a murderer. Andrea could feel herself getting upset. She quickly shoved the troubling thought to the back of her mind and forced her thoughts onto the matter at hand. Ethan had looked as surprised as she felt when Marko made his pronouncement. Clearly, Ethan knew nothing about the arrangement. She looked up and saw both men gazing speculatively at her. Marko spoke first, “I’m not going to ask you how they’re blackmailing you. Maybe one day you’ll trust me enough to tell me. Or maybe you won’t. No matter, I’ll find out sooner or later. The truth always comes to light in one way or another. But right now, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Let me show you to your rooms.”