Arc IV Interlude: The Cost of a Life


Jacob Crowley stood at the door to the most heavily guarded of all the cells in The Cove.

It’s past time I did this.

He took in a deep breath, and tried to relax as he slowly let it out.

Through the door he went.

Blaise Mathers, seated in the center of his cell, raised an eyebrow as he saw Jacob enter. He looked strange, lacking the smooth, confident sense of control that Jacob often associated with the former Head of the Council of Mages. He looked almost… ordinary.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Blaise asked. His voice had a weariness to it.

Jacob stared at Blaise with a dark, serious gaze. “You know exactly how Marion Reiner died,” he said. “You’re going to tell me the full story.”

Blaise’s lips quirked upward in the slightest of irritating smiles. “What took you so long to ask?”

“It has taken me a great deal of time to cool my rage enough so I wouldn’t kill you the moment I laid eyes on you again.”

“I see,” Blaise said, his smile evaporating. “Ever so direct, Jacob. I’ve always admired that about you. The perfect leader for the Hunter Guild.”

“If all you have is empty praise, then we’re done here,” Jacob said. “Will you tell me what I want to know?”

“Yes,” Blaise said instantly, now completely serious. “You know Marion was quite like who her daughter has become — confident, powerful, and curious. Those three traits led her to be an outstanding Hunter. But they also led her down dangerous paths, paths that led her to discovering things that she wasn’t supposed to know.”

“Put more honestly, she died because of your insistence on secrets,” Jacob said.

Blaise was silent for a moment, before nodding slowly. “A fair assessment. I had things I didn’t want her to know. She found them out. In truth… well, you don’t want to hear any of that. So, yes, she found out about my Shadows. About the secret rooms in the Underground. And she found out about all the others who had died.”

“The others?” Jacob asked.

“You know about Marion because she died in her beloved Grimoire, out in the open,” Blaise said. “But there are fourteen Hunters who have gone missing over the past two hundred years. All of them are dead, killed for discovering our operations, killed before they could tell anyone else.”

Jacob’s heart blazed with fury, but he remained silent.

“I valued secrets,” Blaise continued. “And I… I thought I was doing all I did for Grimoire. I love this city, Jacob, at least as much as you. And I have lived longer than you know, through more horrifying threats to this city than you’ve ever seen. But I suppose Marion isn’t the only one who was confident and powerful. I grew arrogant, and thought I alone — and those most loyal to me, as I steadily prized loyalty higher and higher — could save this city, could protect it forever. When those who wouldn’t be fully on board with my designs, those who I couldn’t count on to be loyal to me, discovered those plans… I couldn’t allow them to spread the truth. I didn’t want enemies within Grimoire, Jacob.”

“I didn’t come to ask about your personal history,” Jacob said. “I just want to know about Marion.”

“Yes, I know she was dear to you,” Blaise said softly.

“You know nothing,” Jacob said, his rage leaking through his voice, smoldering beneath the surface. He clenched his hands into fists.

You know nothing of our time together. I…

“You hold yourself responsible,” Blaise said.

Jacob didn’t betray anything in his face, but he was stunned into silence.

I…

I brought her into the Hunters. I trained her. I encouraged her curiosity, her penchant for going off on her own and seeking out the truth.

I let her run free, thinking she was invincible.

“Cast aside your guilt, Jacob,” Blaise said, surprising gentleness in his voice. “Her blood is not, and never has been, on your hands. It is on mine. For I alone had the choice, had the power to decide what was done about her. After killing every other mage who’d discovered us… when Marion started to see the truth… I hesitated.”

Jacob studied Blaise’s face, but saw no lie in his eyes.

“Whatever you choose to believe, I valued your friendship,” Blaise said. “I knew you would never join me, but that didn’t matter. The same went for Callum. Though you would never join me, I endeavored to keep you two alive, to entrust Grimoire to you. And Marion… I knew what she meant to you, at least in part. And she was powerful, but more than that… she was good. One of the best of us.”

“ ‘Us?’ ” Jacob asked.

“Of you,” Blaise said. “Of those of you who lived in the open, in the light, those who I hoped to entrust Grimoire to after my purpose was ended. I know that was part of it. But perhaps I also felt the weight of the deaths of all those who had come before her. I’m not sure. I told all to leave her alone, to not harm or ensnare her. And yet... “ He bowed his head, hiding his eyes in shadow. “A darkness has hovered over everything. A man who could become darkness itself. He called himself Jormungand. And he was introduced to me by an old friend, a friend I had long thought dead.

“It was this old friend, and Jormungand, who encouraged me to kill Marion. To do as I’d done so many times before. I resisted, at first. But Marion continued to discover more, to know more, to get closer to us, and if she got close enough, she could perhaps undo all I had worked for. So I… I gave the order. Jormungand took her life, but he would never have acted without my permission.” Blaise looked up. “I took your dearest friend from you. You will never believe me, but I am truly sorry.”

Jacob said nothing for a long time, and Blaise fell into silence, as well.

Jormungand…

Callum and Deirdre spoke of him. I still have yet to meet the shadow.

And this old friend… you don’t name him. But I doubt names would help me. Clearly, your allies are ones who have been in the shadows for longer than I can imagine, longer than I’ve been alive.

How you hid your age from us all, how you hid the fact you’ve ruled over Grimoire in secret for centuries, I’ll never know.

Why you’ve stained your hands with so much innocent blood, all to hide secrets! I will never know. I don’t want to know what wickedness, what cowardly desperation drives men like you.

“You have no idea the fallout you caused, do you?” Jacob asked in a low, dangerous voice.

“I know all of it,” Blaise said. “A husband and father who took his own life. A daughter and mentor both who fell into grief and quiet vengeance. A city bereft of her greatest defender. Friends uncountable bereft of their brightest light. I know from a distance, but I well know the cost of a single life goes far beyond the one.” He sighed, bitterness heavy in the sound. “She died fighting. Jormungand will ever bear the scars she forged in his flesh. I used to take solace in that. Used to think —”

“Enough,” Jacob said. “Do you know where Jormungand is? Or the ‘friend’ of yours who introduced him to you?”

“No, on both counts,” Blaise said. “Jormungand said he had his own business to attend to before I and my Shadows marched out to fight, before Isla enacted her Total Labyrinth. I have not seen him since.”

“Could he reach this cell without us knowing?” Jacob asked.

“I doubt it,” Blaise said. “I don’t fully understand his powers, but I understand two things. Firstly, that I am far more powerful than him. Secondly, that I know the security measures of this cell most intimately, and I stand no chance of escaping — or breaking in from the outside, if I so wished — even at full strength. It is unlikely he could reach me in secret.”

“And your friend?” Jacob asked. “Any clues as to his last whereabouts?”

“The Enchanted Dominion,” Blaise said. “He… rejected Grimoire, and Earth with it, a long time ago. Why he came back that one time, to introduce Jormungand to me, I still do not know. I cannot pinpoint an exact Location for him in the Dominion — I have not been there very often myself, and I know that he was always filled with wanderlust.”

The Enchanted Dominion. Where Madeline is now, along with Chelsea, and all the Greyson children.

To think such a place existed in the first place…

“Is he dangerous?” Jacob asked.

“All of my friends are,” Blaise said. “But he… he’s more a danger because of what I don’t know. I wondered a great deal about him when I last saw him. There was something… new, and strange, in his eyes, his voice, his demeanor. He’d changed, in ways I don’t understand.”

“Does this friend have a name?” Jacob asked.

“We always called him ‘Sal’,” Blaise said. “His full name… he wasn’t fond of it. Kept it a secret. I only know it because I knew him when he wasn’t so disgusted by his heritage.”

“I understand how you’ve lived so long, in theory at least,” Jacob said, having heard explanations from Anastasia about how Blaise had uncovered the secret behind Celestial Magic. “But what of your Shadows? It’s as if all of you have lived for centuries together.”

“They’re a different story,” Blaise said, smiling slightly. “I was the odd one out, you could say. My search for the secrets of immortality, those came out of necessity, and a hope that my dearest friends wouldn’t outlive me. You see, Anastasia, Bronn, Stride, Sal, all the rest… they aren’t fully Human.”

“What do you mean?” Jacob asked.

“The people of the Enchanted Dominion — known as Enchanted — live for centuries, sometimes millennia. And while their world is a secret to many Humans, there are more Humans than you’d expect who know of the Dominion and freely travel there, some even choosing to live there. No surprise, then, that romance would blossom in some cases. When a Human and an Enchanted have a child together, that child always has the long life their Enchanted blood provides.”

“They’re half-Human, half-Enchanted?” Jacob asked.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Blaise said. “With all the wild things we Humans can do, all the incredible possibilities of Magic, it’s no surprise that there are even more amazing secrets to this universe.”

Jacob was silent for a moment, taking all of this in. He thought, considered things, and then turned on his heel, striding towards the door.

There was no more to say. No more to ask.

“Hold a moment, Jacob,” Blaise said. Jacob stopped just as he raised his fist to knock on the door. “I didn’t tell you Sal’s name. It may prove useful to you.”


When Jacob emerged from the cell, he spent the entire long climb up to The Cove proper in stunned silence.

The name… to think something as simple as a name would contain so much! His mind whirled with questions, turned towards where he could go to verify what Blaise had said, if it was even possible to do so.

And why tell me? What can I do with that information? Even considering who he is…

There’s no one but you and your Shadows alive today who’s connected to him.

Even so…

Jacob couldn’t just let it go at that.

I need to know more.

He was so deep in his own thoughts, it took him a moment, standing in a swirl of Inquisitors — the Hunter Guild’s detective and policing branch — to realize that he was being addressed directly. And when he looked up, and then around, he still didn’t register the words spoken to him.

“What happened here?” he asked.

Many of his finest Inquisitors, powerful mages whose training he’d overseen personally, were on stretchers, in makeshift beds, or still lying on the stone floor, injured in all cases, unconscious in most. There were broken arms, broken legs, bloody gashes, swollen bruises.

“While you were below, we were attacked,” said Grace Fields, one of three Inquisitors in charge of Cove security. She had a bandage wrapped around her head, lightly stained with blood, and her dominant left arm was in a sling. “Two individuals. They broke in, overpowered us, freed the prisoner Nyx, then escaped with her.”

“Two?” Jacob asked, staring at Grace. “Dozens of Grimoire’s best were overpowered by two individuals?”

“We’ve identified them,” said Howard Margrave, a younger Inquisitor, rushing over to Jacob and Grace. “Titan and Platina, of the Radiance.”

“Here to save one of their own,” Jacob said with a grimace.

“We had trouble identifying Platina, given her burns,” Howard said. “But it’s clearly her, judging from her choice of weapon.”

“How did we not even know they were still in Grimoire?” Jacob asked. “We thought all the Radiance were dead or escaped.”

“We’re still working on figuring that out, sir,” Grace said. “But it’s clear they’ve been studying us for some time. They knew our schedules, and they knew the route to Nyx’s cell. They struck at the changing of the guard and went through here like it was old familiar territory to them.” She looked around, her business-like demeanor faltering for a moment in confusion. “The strange thing is, sir… they didn’t kill anyone.”

“All these casualties, and not a single fatality?” Jacob asked, looking around at the mages being tended to. A tiny measure of relief shone through his anger. “Titan and Platina… those are the two weapon wielders. They were vicious in the battle for Grimoire. What held them back now…?”

“Ma’am!” said a younger Inquisitor, Rachel Dawson, rushing up to Grace. “We were able to follow them to the Bay Overlook, but then they vanished through some kind of portal.”

“Portal?” Grace and Jacob asked in unison.

Jacob hissed through gritted teeth. “Then they’ve escaped to the Enchanted Dominion,” he said. “Running back to their master, no doubt.” He snapped his fingers. “Triple the guard. Go through everything that happened, step by step, and take the necessary steps to ensure no break-in like that can happen again. And next time, even if I’m meeting with Blaise, even if I’ve explicitly said don’t disturb me under any circumstances… if we’re under attack, you let me know. Immediately.”

Grace nodded. “Yes, sir.” She immediately went around to the Inquisitors still standing, delivering orders with well-trained efficiency.

Jacob found a chair and sat, staying close to his Inquisitors, ready to aid wherever he may be needed.

For the time being, at least, he couldn’t look into the new question Blaise had brought up. But the name remained, and Jacob would never forget it.

———

“This is the least satisfying victory I’ve ever experienced,” Platina growled, trying her best not to move as Titan spread a salve over still-healing burns.

“Because someone fancied himself the leader,” said Nyx, eyeing Titan with a characteristically predatory smile.

“We had no orders to kill anyone,” Titan said calmly. “When we return to our King, you may freely ask Him if my decision was right, and I will freely admit I was wrong if He says so.”

“We don’t need orders to kill,” Platina said. “We were fighting some of Grimoire’s best mages to free our comrade. Why handicap ourselves?”

“Because you and Nyx are too bloodthirsty,” Titan said. “Once the killing started, you wouldn’t be able to stop. And speed was of the essence if we were to avoid Crowley.”

“Why worry after him?” Platina asked. “He’s just another human. None of them have the experience and power that we wield.”

“He is far stronger than most,” Titan said. “And it matters not. We accomplished our aims, and are on the way back to our King. There’s no need for further debate.”

“So efficient,” Nyx said with a chuckle. “Well, I’m sure our King has marvelous plans for the future.” She sighed as a breeze blew by. “Freedom is exhilarating.”

Platina hissed in pain as the wind brushed over her burns. “If I see that fire-spitting witch again…”

“Don’t leave me out of the fun if you do,” Nyx said. “She seemed the strongest of them all. She defeated Ignis, after all. And that silly boy who tried to reason with me like a child… he seemed connected to her. I’d love to kill them both.”

“As I said,” Titan said. “Bloodthirsty.”

“Don’t be so judgmental,” Platina said, standing and walking several paces away as soon as Titan said he was done tending to her wounds. “You escaped that battle untouched. As did you, Nyx, captive though you were for a short while.”

“It’s ever so puzzling why they wouldn’t torture me,” Nyx said, twirling her staff. “They questioned me a few times, like the mere act of asking would pry answers from my lips. They’re such adorably soft-hearted children.”

“Children who fancy themselves adults,” Platina said. “As if a handful of decades is anything more than a drop in the ocean. Pathetically naïve, foolishly humble, shockingly ignorant.” She clenched the handle of her metal weapon with her right hand, gritted her teeth with the effort.

She couldn’t close her fist around it, not completely. Her thumb simply wouldn’t cooperate.

“Just use your left hand,” Nyx said. “Why be so attached to the right one? You fight more with magic than your body, anyway.”

Platina glared at Nyx, the centuries-old comrade of hers who yet looked like a child, no more than ten years old.

The eyes gave her away more than anything. They were the eyes of one who had seen the passing of the ages.

“You would never understand,” Platina said, turning to stare off into the distance.

Soon, my King.

Soon I will return to you.

I will not be useless. And despite my hideous appearance now…

Do not cast me away. Do not give up on me.

I can still fight for you. Just as well as I ever could.

No.

This rage inside me gives me strength. Forgive my appearance. For I can fight for you better than ever.

I will not allow this loss of ours to stand. Vengeance will be ours, my King.


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