Ghosts of Albion: Accursed / Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen


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Tamara stared, dumbfounded, at the dead woman who lay on the cot in front of her.

The man who had cut her throat had not simply disappeared. He had translocated. A magician, then.

The woman's blood was pouring onto the cot, dripping onto the floor beneath her. Already her bulging stomach had stopped twitching. The hideous things inside her were no longer moving, and in fact her belly seemed to be diminishing in size. Deflating.

Tamara's body began shuddering with revulsion and fury, with the need to pay someone back for this crime, this atrocity. She spun around, eyes searching the makeshift hospital for someone who might help or someone to blame.

The air shimmered off to her right, and she saw the terrible old man reappear, twenty paces down the aisle from where she stood. He stared directly at her and moved his head from side to side, as if to warn her away from following him. Then with an agility that seemed uncanny for one so old, he darted down the aisle.

Her skirts flapped around her legs as she took off in pursuit of the murderer.

The man was fleet for his age, she would give him that. Thinking back to John Haversham's attire at the Wintertons' dinner party, Tamara wondered if the man ahead of her had created some similar façade to trick her into thinking he was old when, in truth, he was nothing of the sort.

At the edge of the tent, the man broke into a gallop, leaving Tamara, who was hindered by her long clothing, far behind him. Escaping the last of the cots that up until now had acted in tandem with her skirts to impede her progress, Tamara picked up speed and raced down the road after the man.

"William! Bodicea!" she yelled as she ran, her voice loud and jarring in her ears, but quickly stolen away by the wind. She tried to listen for some sign that William and the ghosts had heard her entreaty, but she couldn't wait to be certain.

William, where in Hell are you?

The Indian man reached the street and continued to widen his lead on her. She could feel frustration wash over her in waves. She wanted to scream out a spell, stopping the murderer in his tracks, but if he was indeed a magician, he might have shielded himself, and her hesitation would certainly allow him to escape altogether.

Without warning, Tamara stepped on something large and spongy. Her ankle twisted at an angle, and she stumbled. Her forward motion continued, however, and she fell onto her knees, slamming her hands into the hard cobblestones of the roadway. The wind was knocked from her lungs, and she hissed out a pitiful cry, but immediately tried to stand.

It was impossible. Her right ankle gave way instantly, crumpling rudely underneath her weight.

"William . . . !" Tamara shouted, the physical hurt she felt only intensifying her anger and frustration.

"William?"

She looked up, peering down the alleyway to see how far ahead her quarry had gotten from her, but found that he had disappeared-most likely around a corner. She sat back so that her legs splayed in front of her and pulled at her skirts so that she could see her ankle. It had already begun to swell, but she did not think she had broken it.

Tamara glanced around to locate the thing that had caused her accident, and was surprised to find that it was one of the toad-creatures she and William had encountered earlier in the afternoon. She had squashed its head into a pulpy mess when she had stepped on it. The dead creature made her skin crawl with such revulsion that she dragged herself away from its remains.

"Let's see if this can be quickly repaired," she said, looking down at her injured appendage. She grasped her ankle between her hands and began to intone a simple healing spell to stop the swelling.

"Silence!" a sharp voice said behind her.

The magic she had begun slipped away from her, back into the ether. She twisted her head to find the old Indian man standing a few feet away. He seemed wary, every muscle tensed.

Caught off guard, she quickly covered her stocking-clad leg with her long skirts.

He had a long, hollow face that seemed old, and yet ageless at the same time. His dark eyes were full of pain. If she hadn't watched him murder the young woman with her own eyes, she would not have believed him capable of such a thing.

"No magic," he said tersely. She noted his clipped, anglicized pronunciation, realizing that he must have been schooled in England, for there was almost no trace of an accent in his speech.

"You will make us both sorry-" he continued in a softer voice, but his words were abruptly silenced by a horrible noise, like the hissing of a thousand snakes distilled into one terrible sound.

Dark shapes leaped out of every doorway and crevice and up from the sewer gratings. There were dozens of the toad-creatures of varying sizes, but all with those eyes, like massive, pustulent blisters.

Tamara found herself lost in a deluge of the hideous things. They filled the street and surrounded both her and the old man. A sickening thought entered her mind, and she shuddered. If all these things had burst from the wombs of the women who had been violated by the plague-stricken men . . . how many women had been touched by this horror?

How many?

She thought quickly, trying to figure out how to destroy them all at once, but to her surprise they did not attack her. Tamara wasn't sure if the creatures were here at the behest of the old man, or if they plagued him just as they did her. The little beasts stank of burning sulfur, and they continued that strange hissing and closed in around her.

"Tamara?"

William called from somewhere nearby, his voice echoing off the dilapidated tenement walls. Her heart lifted at the sound.

"William, I'm here! Hurry!" she shouted, her voice more high-pitched than she liked. She sat up straighter on the cobblestones.

William and Bodicea rounded the corner back the way she had come, but William came to an abrupt halt when they hit the wall of toad-creatures.

"Bloody Hell!" he exclaimed as he almost stepped on one of the beasts. He quickly jumped back as the bloated amphibians surged toward him. Disgust was plain on his face as he stared at the squirming wave of bodies.

Bodicea did not hesitate. She began to wade through the creatures. Tamara watched wide-eyed as the ghostly queen used the butt end of her spear to grind their tiny brains into the cobblestones.

Suddenly William yelped.

"What in the devil are these . . . things?" he said, taking another step backward. "And who the devil are you?"

He pointed an accusing finger at the old man. The murderer said nothing, trapped as he was like an island in the middle of a rippling sea of toad-creatures. Instead he stood with his eyes closed, muttering something quietly under his breath.

"What's he doing? Is he calling more of these things?" William shouted.

"He killed a young woman," Tamara called back. "One of the afflicted. I saw it."

"Then what are you doing sitting over there? Come away from him."

"You must move, girl!" Bodicea called to her.

But Tamara couldn't move at all. Though her ankle was throbbing, she could have overcome that. No, she realized with a sinking feeling, someone or something was impeding her ability to make her limbs do as she wished. She was quite literally stuck to the ground.

"I can't get up! Something's holding me here!"

William raised one hand to cast a spell against the toads, but the old man shouted at him.

"No magic!"

Hesitating only a moment, William kicked several of the toad-things away and contorted his fingers, obviously intending to ignore the killer. But Bodicea darted wraithlike across the space that separated them and stood before William.

"Hold," she said imperiously. He complied, and then she turned her glare upon the murderous old fellow.

"Explain."

"You must not use magic," the old man rasped. "It will only be turned and used against you. They"-he indicated the toads-"feed upon it. Also, it will alert other dark creatures to your presence."

"How do you know this?" Tamara said, swatting away a toad that had landed on her lap.

The old man stared at her with a look of disdain. "How do you not know it, foolish girl? The creatures are feeding from the magic that is your very nature. You must learn to control yourself. Your power seeps from your very skin, allowing the dark creatures to track your every step."

"I don't understand," Tamara said. His words had captured her attention.

"You must hide your power. Like he does." He pointed to William, who raised an eyebrow. "The creatures cannot use your power against you if you hide it."

Bodicea nodded at his words. "He speaks the truth, Tamara. I can feel the magic emanating from you, like mist upon the river. If they are leaching your own magic, then you must draw it back inside you."

This man had slit the throat of a woman before her very eyes. Tamara could not trust him. But if Bodicea thought there was a chance that he was correct . . .

She closed her eyes, imagining in her mind a beautiful crystal perfume bottle, and drawing into it all the magic that surrounded her. When the bottle had taken every last drop of the stuff, she conjured a stopper to keep the magic safe inside.

Unbelievably, she discovered that she was immediately able to stand. She did so, nursing her throbbing ankle. Though she could not cross to where William and Bodicea stood-the mass of bloated amphibians was too thick-at least she once again had control over her limbs.

As she considered her options, the hissing noise that had first signaled the arrival of the toad-creatures began again in earnest.

"We must leave this place-" the old man began, his voice reedy now with fear. Yet his words were no match for the horrible sound that filled the air and made William cover his ears with his hands.

A giant hole was rent in the air behind them, exposing a deep, penetrating blackness that seemed as if it meant to consume everything.

"What is it?" Tamara screamed.

A pair of Rakshasa stepped out of the hot wet blackness and into the cool London air. They turned their sickly yellow eyes toward her and crouched over, baring those needle fangs, thick drool sliding from their jaws. They moved toward her, and Tamara did not hesitate. After all, the old man was a murderer. His word could not be trusted. And even if she could trust him, what else was she to do? Without magic, she and William would be dead.

So she uncorked the bottle, and she screamed the spell at the top of her lungs, her voice cracking. She had never felt magic possess her so wholly before. The spell shot out of the tips of her fingers and slammed the two Rakshasa demons back against the brick wall of a tenement.

Behind her, she heard Bodicea give a whooping war cry, then the ghost launched herself at two more Rakshasa that had just stepped through the gaping hole in the ether.

Beneath Tamara's feet, the crowd of toadlike creatures began to disperse so that she could move freely on the cobblestones. She looked down to see where they were going, but they seemed to be vanishing into nothingness, as if they had been there only to herald the coming of the Rakshasa.

She had taken her eyes off the demons for no more than a moment, yet that was enough. Tamara screamed as she felt sharp claws rip into her shoulder in a blow that sent her reeling. Once again she fell to the ground.

Instantly she was swarmed by the toad-creatures. With the Rakshasa there, they no longer showed the hesitation that had held them back previously. The things crawled all over her, smothering her with a fervor, and Tamara screamed in disgust as they covered her entire body.

She could feel them now, silently sucking away at her magical energy.

Then there was a flash of heat that seared her exposed skin, and the creatures stopped squirming above her, some of them dropping away. William's strong hands gripped her beneath the arms, and he pulled her from underneath their charred corpses.

"Are you all right, Tam?" he asked, looking anxiously at her shoulder.

She nodded, but William was already turning away from her to continue the fight with the Rakshasa.

Tamara ripped a piece of fabric from the train of her dress and used it to stanch the free flow of blood that was coming from her wounds. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Bodicea valiantly battling three of the Rakshasa, plunging again and again with her spear, but the ghost was surrounded and could only defend herself, with no hope of really driving them off.

"Ho!" cried a voice to her right. "Come, filthy devils! Have at you!"

Nelson's ghost had appeared, with Colonel Dunstan by his side. The former sailor and former soldier both brandished spectral swords as they rushed at the monsters. Tamara didn't know if they had been delayed at the hospital, or if they had been searching elsewhere for her and only now had doubled back. Nor did she care. She was just pleased to see them.

A snarl off to her left made her snap around, and she saw that one of the demons was moving stealthily up behind William even as he cast a spell at another such creature, covering it in ice.

"William, behind you!" Tamara shouted as she raised her good hand. Whispering a spell, she struck the Rakshasa full force in the chest, shattering every bone in its body. It was a brutal, destructive spell that she had only read about, never performed. It required savagery and hatred, emotions that were not in her nature. Except when her brother's life was in peril.

The thing screamed and Tamara watched, satisfied, as it crumbled to the ground, flopping helplessly.

"Where's the old man?" she called to William, but he was in the midst of forging a massive sphere of magical fire, using both hands to do so, and he did not break his focus to answer.

She glanced around and found her quarry, battling two more of the Rakshasa with some sort of rendering spell that seemed to melt the monsters into balls of useless demon flesh. Her stomach lurched with nausea at the sight.

"We must close the portal," the old man called to Tamara. "I will need your help, child!"

She watched in horror as the demons continued to step in twos from the hole. The old man was right. The only way to end this was to repair that rip in the ether. She started to move toward the hole, but the Indian man was suddenly beside her, holding her back by her good arm.

"Wait. With haste comes error," the man said softly in her ear. He let Tamara go when she nodded that she understood.

"At least tell me who you are!" she demanded.

Yet even as she spoke those words, a cold suspicion formed in her. He had slaughtered the woman right in front of her, blinding Tamara with the violence of the act.

But what if there had been no way to save her? What if her belly had been about to burst, spewing forth more of these toad-creatures, such that killing could have been considered merciful?

"Tipu Gupta," she said, spinning to face him.

But she stood alone.

A moment later she caught sight of him again, and her heart lurched in fear. There was nothing she could do but watch as he bolted toward that portal and, with a blinding flash of light, threw himself into the rift.

The portal folded in upon itself, and almost instantly it was gone without a trace. Whatever spell he had cast, it sealed the breach behind him.

Bodicea, Nelson, Dunstan, and William made short work of the remaining Rakshasa, but Tamara did not help them. Instead she stared worriedly at the place where the hole had once been, where the old man-Tipu Gupta?-had passed out of the world.

She didn't know how long she stood there, staring at nothing, but she was so absorbed in her thoughts that she did not hear William call to her until he stepped in front of her, snapping her out of her reverie. Tamara had been focused on the magic around her, not merely her own but also that of William and of the old man. She felt as if she would have known if he had been killed.

But if he was still alive . . . where was he now?

UPON THE SIBLINGS' return to Ludlow House, Byron was released from his post as Oblis's guardian. He was glad to give up the job, even though he had once again spent an enjoyable afternoon torturing the demon with some of his more flowery verse.

He tried to escape the orbit of the house, but before he could slip into the ghost world, William and Tamara intercepted him.

"You can't leave, Byron," Tamara implored. "Nigel said that you knew more about Indian mythology and history than any of us. He also told us that you had met grandfather's friend, the Protector of Bharath."

With her dirty dress-the hem ripped away to reveal a bit of virgin ankle-and her flushed face, the girl looked particularly appealing. So Byron was only too happy to answer to stay a bit longer.

"Of course Nigel referred you to me, darling. I am the most . . . well-traveled of us, am I not?" Byron said. "My adventures have taken me to Europe and Asia, and northern Africa, as well. You can't seduce a nation's people if you know nothing of its culture."

"That's not precisely what we need to know, Byron," William said tensely. "Just tell us what you know about this Tipu Gupta fellow."

"Well, you don't have to be rude about it."

"William," Tamara said, giving him a stern look before turning once more to gaze upon the poet's ghost. "Byron, please understand. Time is of the essence. We need to discover how to track Tipu Gupta, the Protector of Bharath. We believe we may have already encountered him once, and we need his help desperately."

"If that was him, it may be he needs our help more than we need his. But regardless, we must find him," William commented.

Byron cast his mind back to his last meeting with Tipu Gupta. It had been when Ludlow was at the height of his skill and activity as Protector of Albion.

"You'd need something that belongs to him, for a location spell, something to track him with. I seem to recall that he gave Ludlow a small token of friendship. Yes, I remember exactly! A brass figurine, a man seated on a coiled serpent, representing Lord Vishnu. If my recollection is correct, it's gathering dust on one of the upper shelves near the fireplace in Ludlow's study."

"Vishnu?" William asked. "What's a Vishnu?"

"The greatest deity of Indian worship," Byron explained. "And you really should learn to keep the disdain out of your voice, William Swift. Lord knows if you do find the Protector of Bharath, you should be a bit more respectful."

William didn't reply, so Byron continued.

"With this trinket, and a proper bit of magic, you should be able to find him wherever he may be, in the land of the living or the dead. The Egyptians believed they could track the spirits of their dead, and the demons that were their enemies. You've just got to find the right spell."

Tamara frowned. "I don't remember anything of the sort. Simple locator spells, yes, but all of them referred only to the world of the living."

Byron smiled. "Ah, those Egyptians. Always full of surprises. Of course, you already know someone with a predilection for all things Egyptian. It was something he shared with your grandfather. It's ironic that he sent you to me, but now I've got to send you back to him. Nigel ought to be able to help.

"Shall I go and fetch him for you?"

"Thank you, Byron, but no," Tamara replied. "Nigel may need some . . . prompting, and he's more likely to be intimidated by Bodicea than by you. I'm afraid we'll need you to watch Oblis a while longer yet."

Byron sighed, resigned to his duty.

Yet he had to do something to fight the boredom. The challenge was to concoct love sonnets so absurdly sweet that they would cause the demon unending torment.

The ghost smiled. Perhaps the evening would be entertaining after all.

IT HAD BEEN late afternoon when they had returned to Ludlow House, and now evening was arriving, stealing across the walls and floors, darkening the house until night had truly fallen.

Tamara and Nigel were to take on the task of locating Tipu Gupta while William attended dinner at the Algernon Club. Despite her disappointment, Tamara had insisted, in much the way he had insisted she keep her date with John Haversham. There were connections among the Algernon Club, David Carstairs, and John Haversham. That much was clear. And they had not issued William this unexpected invitation without reason. Tamara was right, as usual. It would be foolish of him not to at least determine what that reason was, and learn if there was more than coincidence in Bodicea's discoveries.

Yes, they all had a great deal to do this evening, but he was determined at least to wash up and change his torn and bloodstained clothing. He had been grateful, as well, when Tamara not only agreed, but suggested that they have something to eat. There was no telling when they would next have an opportunity to refresh themselves, she had said, and it made sense to take advantage of it so they would be at their best.

William's thought processes weren't nearly so logical. He was simply hungry.

The rest also allowed him to help Tamara with healing spells that closed the wounds on her shoulder and mended her ankle. The Rakshasa scratches that had been on his chest had been superficial. Hers had been much worse, and though the magic was sufficient to heal them, it would leave scars. She would bear those gashes on her shoulder for the rest of her life.

The thought troubled William. How would she explain them, one day, to the man she married?

As he hurried down the stairs, distracted by such thoughts, he walked right through Nelson's ghost, which had appeared before him quite suddenly.

"Horatio!" he said, taken aback. He hated touching the ghosts. It was like being thrust out into the snow stark naked. He shivered as he collected himself, and turned his attention to Nelson's worried expression.

"It's getting worse, I'm afraid. Not only in the East End, either. More of the upper class have been infected. Percy Highforth and Lord Charles Derby for certain, and one or two others have taken to their sickbeds, and may also have been cursed."

William was thunderstruck. The plague had made its way into the House of Lords. Before William could say another word, however, Farris appeared at the bottom of the stairs. As always, he took no more notice of Nelson than he would any other guest in the house.

"Sir, you have a visitor."

William frowned. "A visitor? Now is not the best time, Farris. As soon as Tamara has rested awhile, we're to go out to-"

His words were cut short by the arrival of Sophia Winchell at the foot of the stair. Though she had seen the ghosts before, Nelson took her presence as his cue to disappear. William believed it was because he knew she was uneasy around the supernatural, but he worried that it was actually because Horatio didn't enjoy her presence.

"William?" she called, a moment before she saw him there.

The relief that flooded her face filled him with a lightness he hadn't felt all day. He began to smile as she started up the stairs, her lady's maid trailing slightly behind her. Farris stood aside to let the women pass.

"Sophia, what are you doing here?" William asked, the very sight of her renewing his strength and resolve. "Had we made some arrangement that I've forgotten, for-"

When she glanced up at him, just two steps below, his words faltered. Her expression was etched in misery.

"What is it, my dear?" he asked quickly.

Sophia practically leaped into William's arms, pressing her face into the stiff material of his dark coat.

"Oh, William, I'm just so frightened. People are talking, saying horrible things. Word is spreading about a horrible illness. Some are calling it a plague. And there are rumors of other things."

She looked up at him, gaze heavy with meaning. "Darker things."

William nodded. "Yes. I'm afraid it's true. And I'm glad that you've come."

"Where else would I go? If evil is afoot, I can't imagine being anywhere but with you. In your arms. I cannot bear to be alone this night."

He stroked her dark hair and nodded.

"All right, darling, all right. You're here now. Safe in this house. No need to worry," William said. He looked over her shoulder at Farris, who still stood formally at the bottom of the stairs. "Farris, could you please arrange a place for Miss Winchell's maid to sleep this evening? I'll show the lady herself to one of the guest rooms."

Sophia's maid frowned deeply, not at all pleased with this plan. But William found himself too troubled by Sophia's fear, and too exhausted from exertions of the past couple of days, to pay much attention to propriety.

For his part, Farris didn't even flinch. He nodded at William's request, then gestured for Sophia's maid to follow him up the stairs.

"I'm sure Elvira must be thinking the worst," William said quietly.

"She's not a fool," Sophia replied. "She has seen enough to know that in sinister times, the one place we might be safe is among the only people in London who have a chance of understanding what is going on, of fighting back the darkness."

Sophia slipped her arms around him, and held on as though her life depended upon it.

IT WAS A damp night. The air was saturated with moisture, and the pale gray clouds that hung like fairy dust around the quarter-moon threatened to erupt with cold wet drops of rain.

The moderate warmth of the day had given way to a chilling coolness, so that the pedestrians who trod the strip of turf in front of the Drury Theatre on the Strand pulled their dinner jackets and wraps tighter around their elegant shoulders. Breath came in smoky wisps, making it seem as though the ladies and gentlemen-who had only recently left the theater's confines-had all taken up their cigars and pipes at once.

The man who slipped like a wraith through their midst didn't notice the chill in the air. He was wearing a thick woolen coat, and his hands were covered in black leather gloves. His thick-soled black crepe shoes made no echo as he threaded his way through the shivering throng.

Leaving the crowd and turning off the Strand, he went quickly down the street, his heartbeat keeping time with his footfalls. He stayed close to the walls of the buildings that towered over him as he walked, keeping his head down and his eyes on the few paces of road that lay ahead.

He slowed, then came to a stop at a low brick wall. He crossed in one smooth leap, and made his way to the nearest side of the imposing two-story home that sat there like a sleeping giant.

With its graceful lines and decorative columns, the Palladian villa looked much better suited to the more temperate climes of Italy and the Mediterranean. The harsh English weather imposed an air of neglect and gloom upon the stately structure, obscuring its architectural beauty.

The man ignored the building's merits, instead finding more interest in its entrances and exits. Bypassing the front door, he moved stealthily toward one of the first-floor windows.

The appearance of the two peelers gave the man a shock. He hadn't been prepared to encounter policemen here. He threw himself quickly into the thick shadows and shrubbery that graced the side of the building, and held his breath as the men passed almost directly in front of him.

Then it must be true, he thought. Lord Derby's been infected.

Waiting for the two men to pass him and move to the back of the house, he knelt rigid as a statue underneath the safety of an overgrown shrub. When the two men were no longer in his view, the man whispered a quick spell under his breath. A protection spell. He hoped it would work.

Then he made his way to one of the windows at the rear of the house and did another quick spell. Small magic. The best he could do. The glass was gone, and he slipped inside without a sound.

He moved quickly through the house until he found the foyer, which housed the ornate spiral staircase that led to the next floor. He took the stairs slowly, trying to tread softly. At the top, he turned right and opened the first door he came to.

It was a library with a huge collection of books. In the darkness, he couldn't make out the titles on the hard leather spines, but he could guess at the contents: Shakespeare, Jonson, Keats, Marlowe, Shelley, Byron. Lord Derby was a noted collector of Elizabethan drama and British poetry. His library was the envy of many an English bibliophile.

The man stalked over to a small glass case on a walnut stand that housed the item he truly sought. The little deformed idol sat like a skull, grinning under the glass. Its three eyes stared at the man as he lifted the glass and gingerly picked the stone creature up.

"I've got you," the man whispered under his breath as he pulled a small, dark, cloth bag from his pocket and slipped it over the statue. Holding the bag tightly in his fist, he moved to one of the library windows and began the spell that would grant him his freedom.

"Stop! Thief!" a voice erupted behind him. He turned to see one of the peelers standing in the library doorway, pointing a wooden club at him.

The peeler was tall and probably outweighed him by a good two stone. But did the uniformed fellow know how to fight? Only one way to find out.

Confident in his ability with his fists, he moved toward the brawny policeman, but stopped when he saw his opponent's partner standing quietly in the shadows of the darkened hallway, holding a dripping candle.

Damn, the man thought. There was no way he could take on the two of them.

In the moment of his indecision, the peeler who had discovered him lunged and tackled him around the waist. The bag containing the idol slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor. The two men landed in a heap on the cold wood.

The peeler made a grab for his head, but the man was too quick for him, slipping easily out of his grasp. He grabbed the peeler's head and slammed it hard into the floor, likely breaking his nose and knocking him unconscious.

He hurried to his feet even as the second peeler started for him, raising his wooden club as he attacked. This time the man didn't hesitate. He knocked the club away and drove his fist into the peeler's stomach.

The policeman staggered back, the wind knocked out of him. It took the thief only a moment to realize his mistake. The tallow candle had fallen from the second peeler's grasp and rolled over to one of the long velveteen drapes that encased the library window.

Fire licked along the drapes and quickly leaped toward the ceiling.

"Damn!" the thief snarled, looking around wildly to see if there was any way to stave off the fire. But there was nothing he could do, save let it burn. He grabbed the sack containing the idol and made his way through the smoke to the library doorway.

"Get out while you can!" he yelled back to the peelers over the roar of the flames. Then he disappeared into the darkness of the hall, flickering shadows nipping at his heels.

He nearly leaped down the stairs. It was only as he reached the ground floor that he realized his protection spell had dissipated. He was no real sorcerer, and didn't know how this had happened-possibly something to do with the fire, or the fighting. But he could feel the idol's magic working on his exposed flesh, slowly burrowing into his skin.

Immediately he tried to reconjure the protection spell, but knew instinctively that it was too late. He was as good as dead. He had been in close proximity to the dark idol, unprotected, and now, rather than being its savior, he was its latest victim.

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