Content Warning: This story contains material concerning death that some readers may find upsetting. Discretion is advised.
The white, glowing door closed behind Lorcan as he followed Lucan through. Whatever the Morrigan had done, it didn’t seem to have changed time much; Shalemont looked the same as Lorcan had seen it when he’d arrived earlier that day.
Had it really only been earlier today? Lorcan shuddered, trying to push his thoughts of the day aside. He couldn’t narrow down how many times he had relived that night at the monastery. It was upwards of 15, at least. 20? 25? It didn’t matter; he had failed. His mind was filled with so many visions of carnage and violence, and the screaming…
“Lorcan, are you alright?”
Lorcan started slightly. Lucan was looking back at him, concerned. He realized that he’d been grimacing, and relaxed his face. “Yeah, sorry, I’m okay.” He forced a small smile. “Just feeling a little tired, I suppose.”
Lucan nodded uneasily. “Okay, sure. You do look a little exhausted. That vision you received must have really taken it out of you.”
“Hm? Oh, right. Yes, that must be it.” Lorcan nodded, and gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Nothing a good night’s rest won’t fix, I’m sure.”
The brothers walked down the main road through Shalemont, the outline of MacBroin Manor just visible in the pale light of the moon. Lorcan watched Lucan anxiously, looking for any sign of pain or distress. He felt a sharp pang of guilt in his gut. ‘I’ve killed my brother…over and over…I’ve killed my brother,’ he thought. Images flashed before his eyes, Lucan, lying on the floor, slumped against the wall, in his arms, always dying, always with tears of pain rolling down his cheeks. Had he been right to use the mask on Lucan? Lorcan looked down at the plague mask he held. It looked and felt like an ordinary mask, except for the small tingling sensation on his neck that it gave him, as if by looking at it, something was looking back at him.
He didn’t know how he did it, exactly. He had been horrified by the shivering wreck Lucan had become, huddled against the ruined wall of the monastery. That much violence broke plenty of good men, Lorcan knew that very well. Was he just simply accustomed to it? He had seen death before, in the eyes of foes and friends while serving in the Order of the Rose. He always mourned for them, dug their graves, presided at their funerals before the family and friends of the deceased. Or, was it that he had suffered through nightmares of the night at the monastery for years? Had he become, in some ways, desensitized to death, where normal people were horrified by it?
“And, uh, you think that thing will save my boy?” Lucan spoke suddenly, breaking Lorcan out of his thoughts. He was looking at the plague mask in Lorcan’s hands, eyeing it hopefully, though fear still hung in his frame- a father, fearing the worst.
“Hm? Oh, I…I think it will. I was told it would, anyway.” Lorcan turned his eyes sharply away from his brother, his cheeks burning with shame.
Lorcan looked up at the moon, hiding behind thin layers of cloud. He had used the mask to erase Lucan’s memory of what had happened today. God willing, Lucan would never have to remember what he had gone through today. Despite the things he had been learning from Dyn Hysbys, Lorcan still didn’t quite understand how a spell like this worked. This mask did carry great power, and it reacted to his intentions and his willpower. Perhaps the power of the mask was largely limited only by Lorcan’s perceptions? He had commanded the mask to heal Lucan. Obviously, it could heal physical ailments, but how could it affect the mind? Could it heal trauma because it cause physical pain, or only because Lorcan considered it an ailment? Or because Lucan had seen it as such? Would he be able to erase the memories of others at will, or only if they saw their memories as painful?
Questions and dilemmas swirled in Lorcan’s mind, so he hardly noticed the his steps until Lucan held out his arm to stop him from walking headlong into the front doors of MacBroin manor. “Let’s go in, yeah?” said Lucan, smiling sympathetically.
Lorcan took a deep breath. “Yes, let’s go in. Let’s see what this thing can do.”
With quick, anxious steps, the brothers passed through the entryway into the manor. As they left the main hall, Lucan started sprinting up the stairs. “Adeline!” He cried. “Addy, we’re here!”
No response came back down the hall. Lucan kept running, but panic gripped Lorcan. Surely…surely, he couldn’t be too late? Not after everything? He quickened his steps, trying to keep up with Lucan, despite the leaden feeling in his legs. He lost sight of Lucan as his brother ascended the steps and dashed down the hall. He gave chase, desperation and fear pulling him away, despite himself.
He reached the top of the stairs and turned left, trying to pick up his pace to get to Lysander. He approached the door at the end of the hall, which was flung open, Lucan standing there, staring into the room. Staring with…horror.
Lorcan’s heartbeat faded into dull silence. No… Time slowed to a crawl. He stepped forward, mind absent, staring into the hopeless face of his brother. Lucan stepped into the room, his shoulders slumped, his eyes glassy. As he approached the door, Lorcan heard small, hopeless sobs echoing from the room.
He reached the door and looked in. A rusty light peaked in from the window, illuminating the MacBroin family. Adeline was kneeling next to the bed, arms folded over her face, leaning on the bedframe. Lucan knelt next to her, holding her close, staring at the still face of his son. Lysander lay on the bed, utterly motionless. The boy’s round face was devoid of all color, paleness beginning to yield to gray. His eyes were closed, tears that were not his own staining his cheeks. His eyes were closed, the sweet face of a young boy drifted off to sleep- the act of a mother. Small drops of dried blood rested on his lips, and a darkly stained kerchief lay on the ground beside the bed.
Lorcan steadied himself against the doorframe, his legs threatening to give out under him, too. Hot, angry tears stung his eyes. Not the boy… Not the boy… His lungs felt heavy, his throat and lips trembling and straining to keep his sobs inside. “I…I…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” He muttered it until his voice broke, able only to mouth the words. The grieving parents paid him no heed, Adeline crying quietly, but brokenly, Lucan, his face void and senseless, held her tightly.
He’d only known the child for so long; he hadn’t exactly been present in his family’s life after all. He wondered, darkly, if it wasn’t even his nephew he missed. Just, after the mistakes he’d made, his family had made, finally someone didn’t seem tainted by the MacBroin name. Finally, something had gone right, and it was gone. When people mourned, what was it they mourned, exactly? An absence of a person, or what that person did? When someone died unexpectedly, by some accident or illness, there was shock and fear. Do we all just hate the reminder of the fragility of our lives? Do we fear the knowledge that no matter how important we think we are, how much more we have to do, our lives can end as suddenly as a bolt of lightning? When we mourn, do we fear, perhaps in spite of faith and belief, that there is nothing to come? No mercy, no life, no light to step into?
Lorcan stared into the motionless face of his nephew. He pictured Lysander’s sweet, enthusiastic smile, his wild giggle, and he gritted his teeth. It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t going to allow it. Not today, not ever.
He gripped the plague mask tightly and raised it to his face. Time to see what this thing could do. As he tightened the mask on his head, purpose filled him. He stepped into the room. “I can save him.”
Lucan’s head snapped around, startled. “Lorcan, no, he’s-
“I can save him.” Lorcan said, his voice cold. He stepped to the end of the bed. Then, more compassionately, “Let me try.” He looked in his brother’s eyes. “Please.”
Lucan stared at him, considering. Then, slowly, he nodded.
Lorcan turned to the child. He reached into the back of his mind for his magic. He punched through his barrier and let it flow through him. His trial with the Morrigan had forced him to use magic again and again. It was easier for him now. The mask buzzed with energy, even…excitement. Lorcan channeled his power through the mask, his intent fueling the spell. The magic filled the mask, activating it. It was old magic, very old indeed, and it felt like awakening some ancient beast. Lorcan locked his eyes on Lysander’s face and focused. He knew he was grieving, and his emotions were tired and skewed, but today was not a day for mercy. Today was a day for justice. A child had died, and it was wrong. It was time to correct that imbalance.
Lorcan reached out for the boy. A golden light, which Lorcan somehow knew was only visible to him, rose from Lysander’s chest and hovered in the air above him. A ball of shimmering light sat there, wavering, shrinking, but THERE. Lysander had passed, but he wasn’t gone yet. Lorcan spoke softly, but the mask magnified him.
“Lysander, wake up. WAKE. UP.”
Steely gray tendrils shot from Lorcan’s fingertips, stabbing into the golden ball. Lorcan started, focus wavering for a moment. The cords seemed to strain against something within the ball, as if trying to pull a plant by its roots.
A voice, vaguely female, but cold and emotionless, spoke to Lorcan through the mask. “Is the price ready to be paid?”
Lorcan grimaced. “The price is already paid. An innocent has died unjustly.”
The mask buzzed, as if disapprovingly. “A price will be paid.”
He growled back. “Not today it won’t.”
The steel cords shifted, succeeding at pulling something in the ball. Slowly, they retracted, pulling with them a strand of something dark and red. It looked like a string of blood, shimmering and faded. As the strand left the ball, the light began to shine more brightly, gaining some radiance and size as Lorcan looked at it. The tendrils left the strand hanging in the air, where it began to dissipate, and they retracted into Lorcan’s hand, which began to tingle uncomfortably. The ball, shrinking a moment ago, was now pulsing as if with a heartbeat. Gently, it descended back into Lysander’s chest.
The surge of magic energy faded from Lorcan, and he fell back against the wall, suddenly winded. He pulled the mask from his face and threw it to the ground. He shut his eyes tight. “Please…please…” he whispered.
Several unending moments passed, then, Lysander took a loud, shaking breath. Lucan gasped, and Adeline screamed a little, flinging herself at her son. Lysander coughed several times, trying hard to breathe, like a swimmer after being submerged for too long. But, as he coughed, not a single drop of blood fell from his lips. Indeed, even as Lorcan watched, dumbfounded and immeasurably relieved, pink color began spreading throughout Lysander’s face and arms. His fingers moved weakly, his heart trying to pump blood back into them, his lungs trying desperately to suck in some air.
Lucan and his wife embraced their son, who, despite his obvious discomfort, smiled at them. He kissed his mother on the head, which was planted firmly on his chest, her ear against his heart. “Good morning, mama,” he said, smiling at her.
Then came the happy tears, the sobs of overwhelming joy, clinging to life as the child breathed again. Lorcan stood to the side, smiling in relief and breathing slowly to regain his strength. This…this was good. Not everything today was okay, but rather far from it. But, perhaps, this could be considered a victory for today. Maybe today, when there had been so much death, one person could be spared. Mother and father with their son, embracing, kissing, Lucan lifting the boy into the air and swinging him around while he squealed delightedly. This was a good thing.
Lorcan looked down at the mask on the ground next to him. Deflated and dusty, it stared up at him, the dull glass lenses looked accusingly back into his eyes. He rehearsed his short exchange he’d had with…he didn’t know what. “Is the price ready to be paid?” It had asked no such thing when he had cast his spell on Lucan. Why now? Was healing allowed, and raising the dead costly? Surely, there had been no negative effects visible. It didn’t seem to be necromancy, as his nephew looked very well alive, so what was it? Had that…force actually listened to his reasoning. Lorcan didn’t think so.
For now, he was going to bring his family back to Woodland. There was nothing for them here. But, he was going to keep a very close eye on each of them from now on. As far as he was concerned, that family would be paying no price. He would make sure they stayed safe.