The sun shone in our faces; the only warm thing in this empty wasteland, and the cold breeze blew Duke’s ashes away from Mizander’s hand. Mizander shook his head and buried his face and in his hands. The silence was striking, there was no sound at all, and I felt like my soft sniffing was a terrible noise. Looking at Red I saw the traces of quickly wiped away tears on her cheeks, under her tightly closed eyes. I put my head on her shoulder and felt that she pulled her arm tighter around me. Butch put out his hand to Hathor, who immediately dug up a large handkerchief from somewhere deep in the pockets of his baggy trousers and handed it over to him. After he had loudly blown his nose in is, Butch gave it back. Hathor looked at it for a moment and then threw it away over his shoulder. Doc came standing next to Mizander and put a hand on his shoulder. Thermo had since long turned his back to us and I could only imagine the struggle going on in his head right now, whether to believe or not what we had just witnessed.
Red slowly took a long breath. ‘Thanks, Saris.’
‘Anytime, honey.’ I smiled, dabbing my eyes with the sleeve of my jacket.
Then there suddenly was the sound of an engine starting behind us. Red and I spun around, just in time to see Cathleen close the door of the ambulance. As she drove off, we ran after it and Thermo caught up with us. Thermo, who was faster than both Red and me, managed to grab hold of the ambulance’s back door. But as the door swung open, he was thrown backwards and fell on top of Red. I continued as fast as I could and took a mighty leap, to land rather painfully flat on my belly in the back of the ambulance. As the car accelerated, I found myself unable to get up. I was slowly slipping backward towards the open back door. Outside someone fired a gun. I desperately tried to grab hold of the bench to my right to prevent myself from falling out of the car. Suddenly the doors slammed shut; I could just pull up my feet before they were caught between them. Another shot outside and a bullet glazed off the window of the back doors. Cathleen laughed and accelerated. I stayed down to find out whether she had noticed me, but this was unlikely.
Why was she doing this?
Then I thought of Matrem Morti, which was lying next to her on the front seat. Had she been after that all along?
I slowly got up and reached for my gun.
‘You are exceeding the speed limit for no apparent reason.’
I crouched down again, in fear of being noticed, and only a few seconds later I realised that it was the metallic voice from the dashboard.
Cathleen looked around, half confused, half startled.
‘We’re in the wastelands, there is no speed limit!’
‘You are exceeding the speed limit for no apparent reason.’ The autopilot repeated.
‘Oh, shut up!’ Cathleen looked in the rear view mirror, smiled and slowed down a bit.
I got up again, and pointing my magnum at her, I said:
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
She was startled, and in her sudden fright she hit the horn, which made an awful noise and frightened her even more.
‘Unnecessary use of the horn is against the traffic regulations.’ Said the lady in the dashboard. Cathleen and I both had the same reaction:
Then Cathleen looked back at me. ‘How did you get in here?
‘Never mind that.’ I said coldly. ‘Stop the car.’
She straightened her back and turned her eyes back to the road.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t do that.’
I put on my angriest face and pushed my gun against her head, hoping she didn’t know that I wasn’t really going to shoot. ‘I said, stop the car!’
My gun suddenly flew out of my hand, and I didn’t even have time to react before I was thrown backwards as well.
‘Much as I like you, Saris,’ Cathleen said. ‘If you try to stop I’ll have to restrain you.’
I found that I was unable to move, as if an invisible force pushed me against the floor, and bound my arms and legs together.
‘What are you doing to me?’
‘I simply can’t let you intervene.’ She answered calmly.
I took a deep breath, and hopelessly tried to move.
‘Look, if you’d just release me, I’m sure we could talk this over like reasonable human beings.’
I could only see the top of her head from where I was lying pressed against the floor, and even that didn’t seem to react much. I was starting to feel very uncomfortable in this position, and my fear of magic and being helpless didn’t calm me down either.
‘Cathleen, I don’t like being held like this.’
Still no reaction. I was getting desperate, and slightly terrified too, which is pretty hard to bare when you can’t move a muscle and that’s what you’re afraid of.
‘Cathleen!’ I screamed.
She completely ignored me.
What was she up to? What was she going to do to me? I couldn’t bare this, I had to do something, but her invisible prison was making my every movement impossible. And although I couldn’t move, my breath and heartbeat were accelerating and I started to shudder all over. Fear and anger were building up inside me, until I felt like my head was going to explode and I had to let it all out screaming: ‘Let me go, you witch!’
The force holding me down suddenly weakened, and the car abruptly came to a halt with the screeching sound of brakes. I slid forward and rather painfully hit my head against the back of the front seat. I heard the engine stop and took my head in my hands to try to slightly soothe the pain.
‘Thank you. I trust this has been a safe journey.’
The metallic female voice was the only sound left, and died out just as quickly as the others. I moaned in pain as I slowly got up to see what had happened.
Cathleen groaned, also holding her head.
‘You’re strong… Where did you learn an attack like that?’
‘In hell!’ I yelled at her. Then I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
‘Now, Cathleen, what do you think you’re doing?’
‘At the moment I’m recovering after a very powerful mental attack.’
I frowned. ‘That was just me screaming in agony.’
‘Yes, inside my head.’ Cathleen replied, rubbing her eyes. ‘And I thought you were afraid of magic.’
‘It scares the heck out of me.’ I grumbled. ‘I didn’t even do it on purpose.’
‘With a willpower like that…’ She shook her head. ‘You should find a teacher.’
‘First I’d like to know why you’re running off!’ I said angrily. ‘What are you planning to do?’
She looked away. ‘My duty.’
‘Your what?’ I gaped at her.
She sighed. ‘My duty to humanity.’
‘And what night that be?’ I asked.
‘To free the world of a certain maleficent object.’ She said coldly.
‘Do you mean Matrem Morti?’
I stared at the suitcase lying next to her on the front seat for a moment. It was all becoming clear to me now; Cathleen had been trying to get it all along, just like us. Why hadn’t I seen that before? And that was also the reason why she didn’t want to team up with us; because we might not be planning to do the same thing with it as she was.
‘But why?’ I asked.
‘Apart from the evil purposes it could be used for,’ She looked at me. ‘Do you really think an artefact this powerful would have no negative effects?’
I frowned. ‘It harms the user?’
She shook her head and looked away again. ‘Look at what it’s doing already.’
I frowned. ‘Please remind me.’
‘You’re all chasing each other around, killing people at random.
I shrugged. ‘You get used to that in this line of work.’
‘Listen to yourself!’
‘What?’ I still didn’t understand.
She looked me straight in the eyes. ‘Destroying a human life is nothing?’
I cleared my throat. ‘May I remind you that you have killed as well?’
‘I’ve never killed a human.’ She crossed her arms.
‘What about the…’
‘Not human.’ She replied.
I swallowed. Although I had known of magic’s existence for quite a while now, I still wasn’t used to things like this.
Cathleen looked outside at the dark coloured clouds that were moving in front of the sunrise.
I took a long, deep breath. ‘What are you planning to do with it?’
‘Destroy it.’ She said tonelessly.
‘Destroy it? Are you out of your…’
‘What else did you want to do with it?’
I looked at the suitcase. That was the question I had been asking myself since the first time I had got my hands on it. There was no point in keeping or using it, and I just couldn’t convince my conscience that it would be a good thing to sell it to someone else. Maybe she was right.
I nodded and climbed onto the front seat next to her. ‘Let’s get back to the others.’
She stared at me. ‘What?’
‘I think you need help here.’ I said.
She looked outside. ‘I always work alone.’
‘I used to say that.’ I answered. ‘But without them I’d be dead. And so would you.’
She nodded in silence.
‘And besides,’ I continued. ‘Do you have the means to destroy it?’
She slowly turned to look at me.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘I don’t suppose you can just take an axe and chop it in two.’
She smiled. ‘No, you can’t.’
‘Then turn this car around. I’m sure Hathor and Mizander would be able to help.’
She seemed to think about it.
I looked her straight in the eyes. ‘Please?’
When we got back to the others, Doc threw down his cigarette and greeted us with some unnecessary sarcasm.
‘Had a nice ride, did you?’
I walked past him to put my arms around Mizander. ‘Are you alright?’
He closed his eyes. ‘I will be.’
I kissed him. He embraced me and repeated: ‘I will be.’
‘Okay, enough of the soppy stuff!’
I reluctantly looked at Thermo, who was trying to get our attention.
‘Now would somebody please tell me what’s going on? Would someone be kind enough to tell me why I just went through the trouble of running after the ambulance for nothing because it would come back by itself anyway? Would some…’
‘Calm down.’ Butch patted him on the shoulder. ‘Saris’ll tell us what’s going on.’
I sighed. ‘It seems we have found a solution to what to do with Matrem Morti.’
‘Did you really need to drive off for that?’ Thermo snapped.
Doc looked at him. ‘Oh, put a sock in it, will you?’
‘Solution?’ Butch looked at Cathleen and me.
Cathleen looked away. ‘We have to destroy it.’
In the following silence we all looked at each other. Doc and Mizander exchanged an understanding look and Red and I nodded at each other. Butch scratched his head, Thermo sighed and Hathor shrugged. ‘I knew that.’
‘Of course you did, honey.’ I said to him.
He grumbled. ‘I ain’t your honey.’
Mizander let go of me and went over to Cathleen. ‘What do you need?’
She flushed as she looked up at him. ‘You are going to help me?’
‘Well… It’s not like… I mean… the whole world is not against you, you know.’
She bowed her head and sighed. ‘It just seems that way sometimes.’
We all fell silent. The truth is always striking.
Mizander took a deep breath. ‘Let’s go.’ And he walked over to his car.
Doc, Hathor, Thermo, Butch and Red slowly got into the ambulance. Before Mizander closed the car door, he beckoned me. I nodded and gave a Cathleen a little nudge. ‘Are you coming?’
‘Yes…’ She whispered, without raising her head.
I approached and when I saw that she was trying very hard not to cry, I put my arm around her and took her with me to Mizander’s car. ‘Come on, you’re with us now.’
She got into the back, and I sat down next to Mizander.
As we drove off, I looked at him. ‘Are you alright?’
‘You’ve already asked me that.’ He smiled.
‘Well…’ I flushed. ‘I just want to be sure.’
He put his arm around me and kissed me.
I pulled myself loose. ‘Would you keep your eyes on the road!’
He pushed a button on the dashboard, put his other arm around me as well and whispered in my ear: ‘It’s not me who’s driving.’
He kissed me again, and it wasn’t because I didn’t like it that I pushed him off me again.
‘Don’t you have any manners?’
He grinned. ‘Manners?’
I pointed to Cathleen in the back seat. ‘I was taught that is not polite to… do this kind of thing with people watching. Unless you’re paid for it.’
He grinned even more. ‘I’ve got plenty of money.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘Okay.’ He turned off the autopilot and didn’t say another word until we reached his house. It was a large, one-floor apartment in an enormous, dark building, which had seen better times. He had to search all of his pockets before finding the key to the front door, and as we entered I almost stumbled over a large pile of magazines lying in the hall. It was not until we got to the living room that I realised the chaos of this man’s household: clothes, dirty and creased, lay about the entire room, on the square, glass table, on the straight, dark grey chairs standing around it, on the brightly coloured sofa and the television set across from it, there was even a sock dangling down from the abstract painting on the far wall. And not only was the room full of clothes, but also various other objects that seemed out of place; the frame of a painting on the sofa, several teacups on the ground and on a chair, an empty bottle of cola next to the television set, one old shoe on the table, the other under the sofa, and magazines with pictures of half-nude women lying everywhere.
It was awful! If the two of us were ever to live together, something would definitely have to change, without even mentioning his taste of furniture.
Mizander looked around at everyone, cleared his throat, and walked over to a narrow door on the other side of the room.
‘We should be able to find most things we need in my work room here, and…’
‘Look guys,’ Thermo interrupted. ‘You can go on with this if you think you need to, but I’d like to go home and close my eyes for a while.’
Hathor looked at him. ‘You ain’t helpin’ us?’
Thermo sighed. ‘What do you expect me to do? Stay here and loose sleep over the fruit of you imagination?’
‘He is very stubborn.’ Cathleen whispered to me.’
I nodded. ‘You haven’t seen half of it.’
‘I don’t get it.’ Red said to him. ‘You’ve seen it all, but you still don’t believe in it?’
Thermo looked away. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Like, Duke burnin’ up in the sunlight, maybe.’ Hathor suggested.
‘Duke wasn’t even with us.’ Thermo said dry-as-dust.
I couldn’t believe it! But I was too tired to get angry, so instead I burst out laughing.
Red gaped at him, as did Mizander, and Butch scratched himself on the head, mumbling: ‘Okay.’
Hathor turned to Doc. ‘I think ya should check his eyes.’
Doc too was tired and just shook his head.
‘But Duke was with us!’ Red tried to convince him.
‘Oh yeah?’ Thermo crossed his arms. ‘Then where is he now?’
Cathleen gasped. ‘Incredible!’
Butch put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Think you’d feel a lot better if you stop doing this.’
But Thermo just wouldn’t listen. ‘Doing what?’
Mizander held up his hands. 'I could show you things… right now… that would…’
‘Mizander,’ Doc said. ‘Let it go. He can leave now if he wants to.’
Thermo nodded harshly. ‘Thank you, goodni…’ He looked outside and corrected himself: ‘Good day everyone.’ And he left.
Cathleen shook her head. ‘I’ve never seen anyone like that.’
‘Thermo is quite unique alright.’ Doc agreed.
I smiled. ‘And that’s why we love him.’
‘I don’t love him.’ Hathor grumbled.
Red yawned. ‘I don’t blame him for wanting to get some rest, though.’
Cathleen looked at Mizander. ‘You were going to show us your work room?’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Don’t you want to…’
‘I have my priorities.’ She said.
‘Of course, it’s this way.’ He walked over to the narrow door and opened it.
Cathleen and he walked into the work room, followed by Hathor who was rubbing his hands together. ‘Oh boy, oh boy, this is gonna be fun!’
Butch and I looked back at Red, who was sitting down on the sofa. Doc moved the frame of the painting and sat down next to her.
‘You go ahead, I think we’ll just sit down here for a second.’
I nodded and followed Butch into the work room. It was a large, quite dark room with a low ceiling. Most of the walls were covered with bookshelves and cupboards, and the only window was large, round and bore the image of a dark silhouette riding a white horse in stained glass. Two heavy, wooden tables dominated the centre of the room, and were covered with magazines of which pages were ripped or cut out, with empty or half-empty boxes and bottles, with strange knives, chisels and other tools, and with pots and pans and bowls. The mess in here was just as bad as (if possible worse than) the one in the living room.
Cathleen and Mizander were searching among the books which covered most of the walls, and Hathor was sitting at one of the tables in the middle of the room, examining an odd-looking tool.
‘Cool. I been lookin’ for one of those fer months. Where’d ya get it?’
‘I’ll give you the address later.’ Mizander said, absently, while flipping through the pages of a book.
Butch picked up a box from one of the tables, looked inside it and made a wry face.
‘Are those dried?’ He asked.
‘Of course they are!’ Hathor said. ‘If not, they would’ve gone green, don’t ya think?’
Butch offered me the box. ‘Want to see, Saris?’
‘No thank you.’ I swallowed and looked away.
Mizander put down a big book on the other table, and motioned Hathor to come.
‘Would you help me find the ingredients for this?’
Hathor got up and looked at the book.
‘Just like cooking.’ Butch said, and went on examining the things lying on the table.
I approached Cathleen, who was just putting a book back on the shelf.
‘Do you think you can find everything you need here?’
She nodded. ‘Mizander has a very complete laboratory.’
I looked at her. ‘I admire you.’
‘Why would you do that?’ She asked surprised.
I shrugged. ‘I guess I admire your courage to do what you think is right.’
She flushed and looked away. ‘Sometimes I do take my ideals a bit far.’
‘At least you have ideals.’ I said. ‘People like us are usually too selfish and too busy making money to worry about anything like that.’
‘I guess so.’ She sighed.
Then I heard Hathor behind me. ‘Cathleen, gimme a hand, will ya?’
She smiled at me. ‘Excuse me, it seems I’m needed.’
Mizander had made a small fire with blue flames in a ceramic bowl, and now Cathleen was helping Hathor translate a passage in a book. I looked at Butch, who was standing near the door.
‘Don’t think we can help.’ He said.
I agreed and followed him back into the living room. There was a strange whistling noise and a flash of light behind us. I shivered and closed the door.
‘I don’t like magic.’
‘Already knew that.’ Butch mumbled.
I looked around the room. After a few long, passionate kisses, Red had fallen asleep in Doc’s arms, and now Doc looked at us and put a fingers against his lips. Butch smiled back at him and nodded.
‘What do you think we should do?’ I asked him softly.
He shrugged. ‘Don’t know about you, I’d like to take a nap.’
‘You do that.’ I said.
He wanted to walk out of the room, but then turned back.
‘Saris,’ He said. ‘This assault didn’t go so bad.’
I smiled modestly. ‘Well, it was my plan.’
‘Yeah, and it didn’t go bad.’
Doc sniggered softly, trying not to wake up Red.
‘Thank you so much!’ I muttered.
‘Well… Be going now.’ And Butch left.
‘Sleep tight, Butch.’ I mumbled.
I looked at Red sleeping in Doc’s arms again.
‘Sweet, isn’t she?’ Doc whispered.
I smiled. They did make a cute couple, even though Doc was a bit older than she was. I remembered what he had said to me a few days ago; he would love her and give her love. I just hoped he wouldn’t take it back as soon as he usually did. Although I didn’t really have to worry about that; if he would ever break her heart, I could be sure that she would break his neck.
The narrow door behind me slowly opened a bit, and Mizander came sneaking out.
‘I think they can do without me for a while.’ He said, softly closing the door.
After listening at the door for a moment, he looked Doc and Red on the sofa, and then at me.
‘They seem very comfortable, don’t they?’
Doc lit another cigarette and winked at us. ‘Just pretend I’m not here.’
‘You should get some sleep as well, Doc.’ I said, before turning back to Mizander, who had now fixed his eyes on me. ‘What's happening in there?’ I asked him.
‘A long ritual, but they can do that together.’ He put his arms around me and started kissing me.
He was a great kisser, but still… ‘Mizander…’
He looked me in the eyes. ‘Why don’t you stop worrying your little head?’
‘Everything will be alright now.’ He kissed me again.
I stopped the kiss and looked at him. ‘What about Duke?’
He suddenly seemed sad again, maybe I shouldn’t have said that. He closed his eyes.
‘I think all good people go to some kind of heaven.’
That was a nice thought. I sighed.
He looked at the floor in silence.
Seeing him like this, I felt a sudden desire to make him happy again. I took his head in my hands and gave him a long, soft kiss.
‘I guess I won’t be going to heaven then.’ I whispered in his ear.
‘Huh?’ He frowned.
I grinned at him. ‘Because I’m a very bad girl.’
He smiled and put his arms tightly around me. As we began to kiss again, he slowly moved me across the room towards another door. It took him a while to open it, because he was very reluctant to take his hands off me, and when it was open, he immediately put his hands back, and whispered: ‘My humble bedroom.’
That warm feeling that had been present for the past few minutes was all around me now and I felt a very sudden happiness.
There was a noise of breaking glass and china from the work room and Hathor yelled: ‘Mize!’
I sighed. ‘Oh no…’
Mizander kissed me and pulled me inside his bedroom. ‘My name is not Mize.’
And he closed the door.