He stared at me for a long moment. His eyes locked on mine and I don’t think he ever blinked. He sat and stared, as if trying to find a way to broach a subject. Finally he sighed, then reached up a sleeve on his robe. He took a few moments to locate something by touch, then removed his closed hand and placed on my desk in front of me. He opened his hand and withdrew it, leaving behind a small metallic-like blue glass bottle. The same kind of bottle that cost my friend Zhirk his life and Hervald Thensome his soul.
I’m not sure if I shrieked and scrambled back or just teleported to where I was, mashed back against the wall next to the window that had been replaced during that first hellish case. The Judge, thoroughly alarmed at my reaction quickly grabbed my coffee mug and placed it over the bottle, covering it and hiding it from sight.
I struggled for breath for a few moments before the adrenalin shakes hit. I was scared to death. I had smashed that thing! At PEI Anolyn had deliberately targeted the box with glass bottles and burned it to ash, along with the huge oak tree that Cobb had used as a torture chamber to make them from the agony and despair of his victims.
I could hear Kent Nix and Kevin Love scream their lives out all over again. More than anything at that moment, I wanted to grab the bottle of scotch and drown my fear in the bitter alcohol and forget that cursed thing under my upended coffee cup. It’d taken the better part of a year of twice-weekly therapy to finally get a control on all the trauma that went with the previous jobs. My head was more or less back on straight, and I didn’t wake up screaming or paralyzed by nightmares.
Now, that thing shows up on my desk out of the blue. Well, blue robes anyway. Snark and sarcasm has always been a way I handle stress. It just isn’t the best choice because giving someone attitude when they’ve got the upper hand is just begging for bad things to happen. It had more than once and somehow I managed to avoid most of the bad intentions sent my way. I rubbed the nub of my little finger while Judge Caddus attempted to apologize by bowing his head almost to the desk top in contrition. Now was the time to use that diplomatic moment.
“Judge Ca-ddus. I apologize for alarming you.” I took a shaky breath and walked back to my chair, turned it deliberately slowly back to the desk and sat down. “That item you thoughtfully brought me has many bad memories and experiences tied to it. I, uh, did not realize that any still existed.” Another shaky but calmer breath helped focus me. I closed my eyes and pictured my room mentally, using its familiarity as a calming influence for my body. I could feel the wire-tight tension ease as I mentally pictured each item in the room.
“I humbly accept your generosity and would have you know I meant no disrespect nor harmful intent. You are one of the few that know the nature of that creation and I am very desirous of temporarily procuring your abilities and expertise to determine the reason for its reappearance.” He gestured at my cup. “This was found in the hands of an Elf that had used it to overwhelm a Troll. The Elf has been judged and executed in accordance and balance to the crime committed. I have brought this to you to request your expert assistance.”
In truth, I never had a job I wanted to turn down so badly as this one. But one thing had changed my mind. The Troll. I saw Zhirk, who Zhira was named after in my head. His face dissolving in the shotgun blast. I shut my eyes again and went through my office again mentally, remembering where each item of my office was. It helped divert my mind from the horror of those vivid memories and let me release them instead of replaying each one again and again in my head.
“Judge Caddus, I must admit I would rather never to have anything to do with that object you brought.” I held up a hand as his face screwed up in stricken despair, which was a shock to see on his normally serene and stoic features. “I will help you. One thing I am sure we both have learned is that if you do nothing, evil like that flourishes.”
There was a faint ‘snap’ like a static shock. I, for better AND worse now, had a binding fae contract with the Judge. Gods and powers, I sounded like a freaking superhero or something. How much more pompous could I sound? I guess it was the right bit of bombast, because the Judge’s features smoothed out and I think I detected relief emanating from him.
“I thank you for your reminder that no one being need stand alone. We have to trust, and reach out to confront imbalance and chaos.” That was one way to put it. I’m certain I don’t mind imbalance and chaos, we humans live with that all the time. Perhaps they look at Imbalance as Injustice. I don’t know for certain. What I was absolutely sure of however, was that bottle was made to make misery and death. Ahiah had drunk from it and become immensely powerful.
That was burned into my memories. What I wasn’t sure of was the ‘why’. Why did it show up? Why did and Elf have it? I could somewhat understand his coming here. I was mixed up in that horror before. Both I and Fawn.
I’m certain he came to me because of our prior meeting, rather than go to Fawn. She represents human law, and Elvish law is not close at all to it. What we judge by is intent and morals of our society. What Elves judgment are certainly not on those qualities. I’m not certain what they are based upon, but one thing we are certain of is Elves despise Magick used for ill. They rightly hate and fear those powers that have free will to meddle in the physical world, especially those of malevolent nature.
Be it human, fae, or other, it was a monster that needed be caught and put away. I’d prefer it gone and buried and the bottles broken and tossed in the ocean. The problem would be to hunt it down. Which meant locating the source of the one the Judge had brought.
I looked over at the cup resting over the cursed bottle. “Judge Caddus, where did you acquire that particular item?” Diplomacy. Yep. No vicious names for things. No strong emotions. Nope, not a thing to unbalance the calm, or whatever passed for it currently.
“The bottle was procured from the remains of a burned oak on what you name Prince Edward Island.”
I went cold with memories again. Cobb. The tree. Kent and Kevin. Anolyn. Being possessed by him, and his rage at Cobb for making those abominations. I’d thought the dragon fire would have burnt them all. I looked up at the Judge, who seemed anything but calm now that we were discussing the main reason for our meeting. He appeared suddenly careworn. Deep lines were etched on his face that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Fae magic or just normal human inattention. Neither he or I reached for the cup to expose the bottle underneath.
“In the reopening of the way to PEI, we found the devastation that had been wrought upon the tree, and the abominations that were warped into its heart. We found the remains, and the tools to create.” He paused, as if to add a more colorful term, but refrained and continued. “We found a crate made of bespelled wood which had been destoryed by dragon fire. The Bottles inside broken and rendered inert.” He paused for a moment, like he was a movie actor about to dispense an ominous statement to make the audience gasp.
“There were four empty locations in the crate. We procured this one from an Elf that had used it on his own.”
My stomach churned at the thought of three of those things loose. But why Halifax? Wouldn’t Europe be a more fertile hunting ground for the users? Why here?
“I have found myself wondering why we are the recipient of such a menace. It would much simpler to go where the population is greatest. There one could hunt and use the bottle to their heart’s content. Disappearances would be lost in the myriad of other disappearances that occur daily in large populations. Your Nova Scotia is far from being a huge metropolis such as London. What would bring something so dangerous here?”
We were on the same wavelength, which made me wonder at the apparent coincidence. With Elves, never expect coincidence. I learned that already. Never ever trust in coincidence. It will trip you up at the worst possible time. So using the ‘there are no coincidences’ rule, the Judge was reading my mind or following my intent and using that to reinforce the idea in hopes of something breaking loose. I suppose it’s his method of helping, but, soooo not helpful.
“If you’re observing my thoughts, I recommend against it. Agreements of that nature do not help discovering new paths. Right now I’d love to talk to the person who had this bottle in their possession. Asking the right questions could get us answers where the others are.”
He bowed contritely. “I do apologize. This is a very dangerous investigation. I had hoped to assist in creating active thoughts that would find a method of advancing along this perilous conundrum. Please forgive my earnest error. I meant no insult nor harm.” Take note. He did apologize for his enthusiasm, not for trying to manipulate my thoughts. Always pay attention to what Elves say, and more to what they DON’T. I decided to let it go. In his own way, the Judge was doing his best to be helpful and cooperative. My job, as I saw it, was to track down the rest of the bottles. Just how was the real question.