JERSEY CITY 1885
I stood near the mouth of the Hudson River at Communipaw, folding and refolding my hands as I waited for the ferry that would bring me back to Manhattan. Well, folding one hand. The mechanism attached to my right wrist still couldn’t properly be called a hand, and it didn’t fare well in this damp. But at least it was hidden underneath my glove so as not to draw attention.
Besides, whatever its shortcomings, it was preferable to the hook.
The early morning mist had woven itself into a fog bank so dense that I couldn’t see the city. I shivered, starting to wonder if I would make the ferry out before it reached the dock.
I swallowed and told myself that I wasn’t unnerved. But even sounds seemed muted in this fog. I could scarcely hear the lapping of waves as the Hudson mixed with the Atlantic. And the voices of the waiting crowd sank to a low murmur, as if no one dared disturb the eerie quiet.
The longer I waited on the docks, the more the fog seemed to turn everything and everyone into an indiscriminate gray. I folded my arms over my chest, hunching into my coat. When would that damn ferry arrive?
I turned at the sound of my name. A tall fellow stood just behind me, staring down at me with a look of amused condescension. I stood up straighter, trying to compensate for my short, slender frame.
The stranger was about my own age—thirty or so—and well-dressed. There was a surprising elegance to his low topper and Inverness cape. But no finery could hide the savagery of his features or the way his stark black hair stood out, even in this bland gloom.
I swallowed again. He was clearly of native origin, though I had no way of knowing which tribe. But what was he doing here? He was the sort you would expect to find out west, not in civilization.
“Yes?” I asked.
He held out his hand. “I am Miguel Lopez. I believe we’re bound for the same place.”
He was most likely a Mexican, then, though undoubtedly of more Indian ancestry than Spanish. He spoke flawless English, however, as if he were a New Yorker born and bred—and an educated one at that.
I wasn’t rude enough to refuse his hand, and my glove was designed to hide the fact that my own was a mechanical replacement. He shouldn’t notice anything amiss for the short period our casual contact would require. But as we shook, I caught a glimpse of his cuff links. They sported the distinctive design of crossed torches.
My hand froze as I stared up at him. He was a Sun Runner. Not only a member of my own order—this savage outranked me.
“You look surprised, Dr. Rosen.” There was a gleam in his eyes, as if he understood my shock perfectly.
I blinked, collecting myself and retrieved my hand from his. “Forgive me, Mr. Lopez, but what makes you think we’re headed for the same location?” It still seemed incredible that a man of his ancestry could possibly belong to the order. The cuff links were not absolute proof, I reminded myself. They might well be a coincidence . . . or stolen goods.
Lopez smiled. “I assumed you were heading for the Persian Club. If so, permit me to accompany you.”
“You’re a member?”
The Persian Club was well protected. He would be a fool to enter by trickery. Taylor would flay him alive and keep his hide as a memento of the occasion.
I returned his bow. “I’ll be glad for the company.”
He wasn’t fooled by my attempt at pleasantry. “Don’t get your dander up, Doctor. You’ll find Nathan Taylor is well acquainted with me.”
I blinked again, vaguely aware of the muffled sound of the ferry’s bells as the boat pushed through the fog. “I hope so, Mr. Lopez, for your sake.”
He laughed out loud at that. A number of people in the crowd turned to stare at us. I reddened. On the one hand, I was embarrassed to be seen speaking to this ‘noble savage.’ On the other, I knew full well that a mere Raven had no right to speak that way to a true Sun Runner—much less to be ashamed of his company.
I turned toward the coming ferry, resolving to say as little as possible for the remainder of our journey.
We boarded the ferry in silence. It was a powerful but clumsy steam-driven vessel—the opposite of the small, yare sailboats that usually dotted the Hudson. But the fog had daunted all the sailboats; only the lumbering ferries seemed capable of cutting through it.
I sat down on a bench and watched as Lopez took the seat next to me. No one was staring at us now, despite his stark, indigenous features, and no one seemed to think it odd that he was dressed as a gentleman. But perhaps I was overestimating the average Manhattanite’s interest in his fellow men. New Yorkers were notorious for minding their own affairs.
I was not so sanguine about his presence. How had he recognized me? If we had met before, I would surely have remembered.
A sudden pain shot through my right hand—but my right hand was no longer there. This was some strange phantom throbbing. Or perhaps it was merely the mechanical replacement reacting to the fog and the damp. Neither thought comforted me.
Lopez cocked his head at me as, without thinking, I cradled my right hand in my left. “It causes you pain? That replacement, I mean?”
“Yes.” How did he know about the mechanized hand? It was well hidden beneath its glove. “Perhaps you care to explain, Mr. Lopez, how you seem to know so much about me.”
He was unimpressed by my hostility. “Nathan Taylor summoned me because of that missing hand of yours—or, rather, because of what severed it from you. I saw you leave the club yesterday afternoon and decided to follow you. Damned inconvenient. I had only just arrived.”
I turned and stared at him. “You followed me?”
He nodded. “Just as well, don’t you think? You’re oblivious to your surroundings. Someone has to keep an eye on you.”
I wanted to laugh. He had followed me to protect me? Well, he would make a competent bodyguard. How many men would be willing to tangle with him? But I needed no protection here, outside. The busy streets of Jersey City and Manhattan—or the busy decks of the ferry that steamed its way between the two—were safe. The danger lurked inside, behind closed doors.
“I hope you enjoyed your time traipsing in and out of bookshops,” I laced my voice with as much outraged haughtiness as I could manage.
“I didn’t mind it. Though I hope that book you’re hiding beneath your coat was worth the long search and the shoddy lodgings you took last night.”
I felt my face redden. “I hope so as well.”
The Persian Club stood on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 20th Street. It was founded in 1863 by former members of the Union Club, which stood a mere block away. The building that housed us, however, dated from the Federalist era, as its plain brick façade attested.
The sign on the building depicted the torch bearers Cautes and Cautopates: Cautes with his burning torch pointed up, Cautopates with his burning torch pointed down. Flanking the front door were two iron bird perches, each graced by a cleverly contrived mechanical raven. They served a purpose beyond decoration; I wondered if my companion were aware of it.
Mr. Lopez grinned as his eyes swept over the ravens and the torchbearers. “Nathan still makes no attempt to hide our purpose, I see.”
I shrugged as we walked up to the front door, trying to hide my distaste for his informal reference to our esteemed leader. “The other clubs think the symbols a mere classical conceit. We don’t wish to hide from our friends. And as for our enemies—well, best to show no fear.”
He nodded. “Perhaps. It seems a break with tradition, however.”
“We’re not the Mithraists of old.”
He made no response. As I reached for the lion-headed knocker, I realized that the mechanical ravens hadn’t budged. Miguel Lopez had passed the first test.
An unobtrusive servant opened the door and then took our hats and coats. Soon, however, Nathan Taylor himself emerged from the front parlor and ushered us into it.
It was a large room, full of settees and over-stuffed chairs. The walls were lined with books and the local papers and journals were all within easy reach. Though the windows were small, the lighting was sufficient; we were the beneficiaries of the recent spurt of power companies, with their jungle of wires above our sidewalks and their eagerness to provide electric light to as many Manhattan establishments as possible.
My brother, I noticed, was taking his ease in one of the chairs. He lowered his paper long enough to glance in my direction and lift his eyebrows, but—perhaps seeing that Taylor had me well in hand—decided to return to his pipe and his reading.
Taylor, meanwhile, neither made himself comfortable nor invited us to sit down. He turned to Lopez instead. “I see you found our wayward lamb.”
Lopez, infuriatingly, grinned at this description of me. “In fairness, he was coming back on his own. And no one troubled him along the way.”
I bristled. “I wasn’t aware that I was a prisoner here.”
Taylor looked me over. I had never been sure of his precise age, though I would guess he was in the vicinity of fifty. His reddish hair had long since turned white, but his blue eyes were still crisp and piercing. I swallowed as he pinned me with them.
“If you were a prisoner, you would know it. However, as keeping you safe is a priority, I would prefer you to remain close to the club at present.”
I felt an irrational desire to explain myself—to tell him how the walls of this place had been closing in on me, as if they were trying to squeeze the breath out of me. But that would only reinforce his current opinion of me: that I was some weakling in need of constant protection. So I held my tongue.
Taylor turned back to Lopez and said something in a foreign language—a language that was certainly not Spanish or any other European tongue. Lopez answered in kind and then Taylor addressed me once more.
“Zachery, show Miguel to your room, please. He’ll remain with you for the time being until we can make other arrangements.”
I sighed. The tone of his voice made it plain that we had both been dismissed.
In compliance with Taylor’s orders, I led Lopez to my quarters. There was a valise sitting on the bed. I assumed it belonged to my new roommate and that one of the servants had brought it up.
“It’s a small room,” I said apologetically. “Especially for two men.”
He shrugged as he opened the valise and started to unpack. “It will suit.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what was that language you spoke with Taylor? It wasn’t Spanish.”
“No. He knew my parents well—he all but adopted me when they died—and he learned a good deal of Nahautl, their native tongue.”
I didn’t understand the name he spoke. It sounded something like ‘now-what.’ But I don’t think I heard it quite right. “I’m sorry, I don’t recognize the name of that language. Will you spell it for me?”
I swallowed as he reached the last letter. I had seen mention of that tongue before, in scholarly journals. It was an indigenous language of Mexico, spoken by the people who had once ruled that land. “Then your—your ancestors were the infamous Aztecs?”
He glanced over his shoulder at me. “With their infamous blood sacrifices?”
“Yes,” I said. “Human sacrifice.”
He turned to face me, leaving his valise open on his bed. There was an odd sort of grin on his face. It was half amused and half offended. “You know, that’s the only bit of knowledge your people have about my ancestors, despite all our accomplishments.”
“My people? I assure you, Mr. Lopez—”
“I meant white society in general, not the Jews, Dr. Rosen.” He paused, raising an eyebrow at me. “You are a Jew, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “Why do you think I’m here? My brother and I didn’t bother to apply to the Union Club.”
He laughed, but then his face grew serious—although that mocking look never quite left his eyes. “My people, the so-called Aztecs whom you find so distasteful, allegedly saw all of creation as hungry for blood. As needing blood for sustenance. And they weren’t wrong; even you should know how powerful it is. Look how the God of Israel demands that the blood from the animals you eat be returned to Him.”
I stiffened at that. The enlightened Jews of my neighborhood scarcely took notice of such commandments. Not in this day and age.
He took a step toward me. “And animal sacrifice was once a major part of your religion, wasn’t it? In ancient times, I mean, when the Temple still stood.”
I paled. “Yes. But not human sacrifice.”
“True,” he granted, taking another step. “And then, when the Romans destroyed your Temple, you replaced the blood sacrifices with—with what?”
“Prayers, repentance and good deeds,” I answered, taking a step back.
He snorted. “The Christians knew better. They kept their sacrifice: Christ hung on a cross to absolve us; the last great sin offering. And they reenact that sacrifice at their Communion altar.”
He must, in theory, be a Catholic himself and not a heathen. Or so I reminded myself as I took another step backward.
My back struck the wall. Yet Lopez took another step and then another, until he stood right in front of me, close enough that I could feel the heat of his breath.
“But the people you call the Aztecs—no shoddy reenactments there. Four men would hold their human victim on the altar, and the priest would—” he paused, shaking his head a little as he put his hand on my waistcoat, near to my heart. I was so shocked I didn’t move.
“The priest didn’t plunge the knife in here. The breastbone is too protective—wouldn’t you agree, Doctor?”
I felt the familiar grip of panic as he crowded me. I couldn’t open my mouth except to gasp. I couldn’t bear to have even my own brother this close, let alone this savage.
“No, the priest must have cut his way into the stomach instead,” he continued, his eyes sharp and merciless as he traced a triangle on my upper abdomen, as if finding the optimal spot. “The victim would probably survive that—he would probably survive even while the priest pushed his hand under the breastbone and grabbed the heart itself, yanking it out—though that must have brought death quick enough.”
He paused again, his eyes intent on mine now. “Tell me, doctor, do you really think the heart could have kept beating once it was out of the body?”
“P-possibly,” I stammered, finding my voice as I forced the panic down. “The heart muscles are believed, by some, not to depend on the brain . . .”
I let my voice trail off and tried to shrug.
Lopez grinned again, damn him. “Quite the swan song.”
Stop,” I whispered. “Stop and step back. Please.”
He held up his hands—as if to prove himself unarmed—and stepped back from me, giving me space to breathe again.
“You—you are a Catholic, are you not?” I demanded. “You don’t—you don’t worship the gods of your ancestors.”
“No, Doctor. But I’m not a Catholic either, or a Christian of any stripe.”
“Why not? Are you an atheist?”
“No,” he answered, that mocking grin still in place. “I just don’t hold with human sacrifice. I don’t want Christ or anyone else dying for my sins.”
And with that, he turned back to his valise and resumed the chore of unpacking.
The small guest room I rented from the club boasted only one bed. While it was scarcely uncommon for two or more men to share such lodgings, I was nonetheless apprehensive. It was not his race, I told myself. His ancestry might be savage but, to do him justice, he had acquired at least a veneer of civilization. Nor did I think he had any indecent designs on my person. It was only that I valued my privacy.
There was also the matter of proximity. I did not care to have any person close to me. Even handshakes were, for me, distasteful. Worse, the nightmares came all too often. If I suffered one in his presence, it would not escape his notice.
I sighed as I changed into my sleeping gown and risked a glance at him. He had a revolver in an odd sort of holster—one fitted to his shoulders. He removed the gun, checked it, and made sure it was in easy reach before he finished changing and climbed into bed.
So he walked about the streets of Manhattan armed. I should have been shocked, I suppose, but instead I was relieved. Nathan Taylor was apparently quite serious about keeping me protected, and he seemed to think this man could do the job. Not that I wished Lopez to be in any danger on my account—but I pushed that thought aside.
He kept scrupulously to his own side of the bed with his back turned toward me. I lay awake for a long time, staring at the ceiling. Strangely, I felt no particular anxiety, beyond concern that the slightest sound would wake him. That intuition proved correct; he woke up even when I did nothing more than quietly stand to adjust the window—I preferred to sleep with it wide open.
He made no complaint when he saw what I was doing; he just rolled back over. I found that I was oddly comforted by his keen ears and even his presence. I slid back into the bed, and at length slipped into a sound sleep.
Lopez turned out to be a tolerable companion. That was just as well, I suppose, as he seemed determined to make himself my shadow. Yet his constant presence was not really a hardship. He seemed to enjoy long stretches of silence almost as much as I did, and when we did speak I found him intelligent and well read.
We spoke nothing of rank. He was the only Sun Runner I knew of, which put him, at least in theory, second in command to Nathan Taylor. If so, it seemed to be a matter of indifference to him.
He did not make a habit of crowding me; not after that first conversation in our room. He seemed to grasp that I disliked and distrusted physical contact, no matter how innocent.
And so by the time a week had passed, I found myself almost at ease with the man—until I walked into our room and discovered him pacing back and forth, perusing the book I had purchased in Jersey City and carelessly left on my bureau.
“Put that down,” I ordered. “It’s no concern of yours.”
He turned toward me with that sardonic grin of his. “A book on ghosts, demons and revenants? This is what you bought on that trip across the Hudson?”
“Yes.” My voice tightened. “Now please hand it back.”
He made no move to do so. “Our library here has extensive information on just these subjects, Doctor, thanks to Nathan’s dedication in procuring books on the topic. Were the fruits of his labor insufficient?”
“Obviously, or I wouldn’t have had to go scouring shops for that one.” I held my good hand out, waiting.
“Is that so? Yet your brother and Nathan both told me that you refused to look through the library here.”
I felt my face heat up as I dropped my hand back to my side.
His words hung in the air between us.
At last I sighed and took a seat on the bed, staring down at the floor. “I can’t have them looking over my shoulders as I—as I try find something that will help me identify what attacked me and took off my hand.”
“So you believe it was something other than a human being? Other than the man your brother shot, I mean.”
So he knew the story. “I believe it was something using a human’s body,” I said simply.
Lopez made no answer to that. I forced myself to look up at him, but his face was blank. He might believe me or he might think I was a lunatic. I certainly wouldn’t blame him for the latter. I almost didn’t believe myself. I considered myself an enlightened man—not someone mired in superstitions that belonged to the Middle Ages.
“Very well,” he said at last. “You know why our club exists, Doctor. You’re in the midst of a group of men who won’t dismiss your theory outright.”
“No,” I agreed. “They are willing to humor me, because I’m so adamant, but since—since the man is dead, they believe the threat has ended.”
Lopez leaned back against the bureau, folding his arms over his chest, the book still in his right hand. “If Nathan or your brother believed that for certain, they wouldn’t need me to help guard you.”
I swallowed. “They didn’t see what I saw. They’re being cautious, yes—but that’s just in case the fellow who, ah, attacked me was part of some larger cabal. Isn’t that what they told you?”
He made no answer, which I took as confirmation.
“You see?” I stood up and turned to leave the room, but turned back again as I sensed him making to follow me. “I’m only going downstairs, Mr. Lopez, I promise. No need to serve as my shadow today.”
I had meant to seat myself in the parlor, amidst the easy chatter and pipe smoke of the club members, and force myself to read the Times. Or round up my brother and lose myself in a game of billiards, however imperfectly I played since losing my hand. The Persian Club, after all, had all the trappings of any other club in the city.
Instead, I found myself descending the narrow staircase that led to the cellar. Not to the part the servants occupied; this was quite separate.
What drew me down there? It was a terrifying place for me. All enclosed spaces were, but the stone walls here were especially oppressive. They reminded me oddly of Lopez: there was something savage and intimidating about them despite a civilized exterior.
I can only suppose I had something to prove to myself. Our most important meetings, after all, were held down here, where allegedly there were added protections. If I wanted to be more than the ‘wayward lamb’ of the club, I would have to conquer my abhorrence of this spot.
But I made it little further than the last step. By the time I got that far, I was so overcome that I had to lean against the wall for support. I shut my eyes, trying to keep the terror at bay. Breathe in, breathe out. Concentrate on harmless things: the last article I read in the Times. The most recent medical journal that captured my attention. Anything but that hard wooden table . . .
I opened my eyes and clenched my fists. “I asked you not to follow me, Mr. Lopez.”
“That was over an hour ago.”
“What? That’s im—” I cut myself off, realizing it wasn’t at all impossible. I had done this before; gone into reveries so deep that I lost all track of time.“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
He walked the rest of the way down the stairs, pausing to glance at the chamber ahead of us which—through some miracle of electrical illumination—was effectively but unobtrusively lighted. Somehow the lights down here were nothing like the harsh, glaring lights on the upper floors.
“You don’t care for it here, do you?” Lopez asked.
“The club? It suits me well enough. I’ve made it my home, after all.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, but mercifully didn’t comment. He knew full well that my brother and Taylor had all but forced me to stay put at present.
“I meant this room in particular, Doctor,” he said, moving his arm in a sweeping motion that encapsulated the entire Mithraeum.
I took another deep, steadying breath. I would not panic in front of this man. Then I forced myself to peruse the room as if seeing it for the first time.
It was a first rate reproduction. Though we were in a proper cellar, it did manage to suggest an ancient, secret cave. The narrow passage in which we stood opened up into that wider chamber, where the mural depicting the tauroctony dominated the far wall.
The pagan imagery discomforted me. And yet, the lucent figure of Mithras, looking away from the bull and up toward the cosmos just as he plunged his dagger into the creature’s throat, never failed to command my respect. I stared at the blood at the bull’s throat. Perhaps Lopez was right, and there was a power in sacrifice.
“They never sacrificed a bull, as far as we know.”
I blinked as Lopez’s words broke into my thoughts. “Excuse me?”
“The Roman Mithraists,” he explained. “We have no reason to think they literally sacrificed bulls.”
“True,” I agreed. “I suppose—I suppose the bull represents Taurus. The entire tauroctony seems to be comprised of constellations.” I paused. “That suits you, doesn’t it? To have the symbolism of sacrifice without the literal blood.”
“Yes. I respect the power of the blood sacrifices of old, Doctor—among my people and yours—but I’ve no desire to emulate them.”
We both fell silent at that, each of us still staring at the mural, still making what we could of the god the Romans had seen as more powerful than the sun.
“Was it in a cellar?” Lopez asked suddenly. “Where you lost your hand, I mean.”
I refused to be discombobulated by the change of subject, so I merely nodded.
“How did he do it?”
His voice was curious, but casual. No different, I thought, than if he had asked how a short fielder had handled himself in a game of base ball. And yet that didn’t offend me. On the contrary, it made the question easier to answer.
“How are you imagining it?” I asked.
Lopez met my eyes. “The man was a butcher, according to your brother. I assumed he chopped your hand off with a cleaver.”
I laughed. To this day, I can feel my face heat up whenever I remember that reaction. But, yes, I laughed—a giddy, strained sound even to my own ears.
“No,” I managed at last, once I had recovered. “He wasn’t a butcher. Not in that sense. Not once he—”
I stopped, remembering the awkward, jerky movements of the man, as if something that wasn’t accustomed to his body was suddenly animating it.
“Once he?” Lopez prompted.
“Once he, ah, settled down, he had all the skill and precision of an experienced surgeon. He knew precisely what he was doing as he amputated my hand. He just didn’t give me the courtesy of ether.”
I must give Lopez credit. He face still betrayed nothing. “How did he lure you down there?”
“He was a friend of mine. You didn’t know?”
Lopez shook his head.
“I went to medical school with Ned. He didn’t lure me down to his cellar—only into his house for dinner. But the port he served afterward must have been drugged.”
It was an old bottle of tawny port—dark and red in the glass, heavy and sweet in the mouth. I savored each sip, wishing Ned would drink more of his own. Perhaps it would relax him. He had seemed tense and anxious throughout the meal.
“I nodded off, and when I awoke I was strapped to a hard wooden table. Not one I’d ever use for operating myself.” I shivered as the haggard face of my former friend—and his meek, rambling voice—flooded back into my mind.
“I’m sorry, Zachery,” Ned whispered. “This is not my choice. But you’ll live—I’ll see that you live. He’ll have more use for you in the future. I’ll convince him of that.”
“Ned was himself at first,” I continued. “Even though he had clearly taken leave of his senses, he was still himself. Still the same fellow I’d gone to school with. And I think he was terrified. But then—”
I broke off, searching for the right words. “There was a moment. A particular moment when something that wasn’t him stared out at me through his eyes. And I caught a glimpse of it, I swear it. It transformed Ned’s face somehow, stretching it. I could see the bones of that thing, and they weren’t human.”
I nodded and spent the next few minutes just breathing. But then I found my voice again. “And when he—no, when it—started moving again . . . it was clumsy at first, lumbering about the room. But then it seemed to grow accustomed to its body.”
“And this—this thing performed the amputation?”
“Yes. As neatly as any surgeon. I recall a good deal of it. I should have passed out much sooner than I did, I suppose. But unless my mind is playing tricks on me, I remember him tying the tourniquet, picking up the knife and carefully slicing through my skin and muscles. I even remember him beginning to saw through my bone . . .”
I squeezed my eyes shut, hearing his clipped, brusque tone—so different from my friend’s—once again. “He explained everything he was doing in patronizing detail, as if I were a callow student instead of a proper surgeon. As if—as if my own amputation was a customary lesson.”
I opened my eyes and laughed again—that same irritating high-pitched squeal of mine. I couldn’t help it; that was the first hint of shock I’d heard from Lopez.
But I was shaking as well as laughing, I realized.
I slid down to the floor. The old stone was hard and unforgiving as I buried my head in my hands. Worse, I could feel Lopez staring at me. My God, what must he think of me now? But I was past caring. So when I finally stopped laughing and trembling, I uncovered my face and looked at him without shame.
He was crouching in front of me, and there was a surprising sympathy in his voice as he spoke. “Your brother did the right thing.”
I watched, horrified, as Daniel calmly raised his revolver, taking aim . . .
“My brother shot Ned when he found me. In the face.”
“He shouldn’t have,” I said, shaking my head. My voice was hoarse and strained, and the vision of that shot, of Ned’s face blown off, seemed burned into my retinae. “That man was innocent. I tried to tell Daniel that he had no control—”
“Even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because whether this Ned was a madman, or an innocent overpowered and possessed by some—some demonic entity, he was an immediate threat. Your brother had to shoot. Don’t blame him, Doctor.”
“So you would have done the same?”
There was no hesitation in his voice as he answered. “Yes.”
I took a deep, ragged breath. “Perhaps I don’t belong here. I’m not—I’m not really one of you.”
“You serve a different purpose than your brother and I do. We don’t have your talent. We can’t see what you see, so we need you to be our eyes.”
“I would claw my eyes out not to see what I saw that night. And I don’t mean the aftermath of that shot.”
“I know.” He smiled just a little. “But I don’t think it would do any good. It’s not your physical eyes that saw that thing.”
I digested that. “So you believe me? You believe I saw what I saw? And that—that it forced Ned to do what he did?”
“I believe you. And, trust me, your brother and Nathan haven’t dismissed the possibility.”
“Ned was just a vessel, I swear it. That thing—that thing that inhabited him is still at large.”
“I said I believe you. I wasn’t lying.”
I nodded, unduly grateful for his affirmations. But I had one more question. “Do you think that thing will leave me be?”
I felt my body relax. His plain speaking was exactly what I needed.
“Then you understand,” I said. “And you must also know that—that I shouldn’t be here. I’ve been taking advantage of you all for far too long. I have no right to put you in danger.”
Lopez shrugged. “That danger is part of our duty. It’s what we signed on for, Doctor. It’s our job to protect you.”
“No. It’s—it’s my brother’s job, perhaps. We have a responsibility to protect each other. We’re family.”
“We’re all brothers in this order.”
“That’s not true and you know it. It’s just a polite fiction.”
“So only blood makes a brother?” He cocked his head at me, waiting for my response.
I shrugged as I drew my knees up to my chest, huddling. “You’re the one who spoke so eloquently about the power of blood.”
He smiled again. “Not of blood ties, but I see your point.” Then he paused, giving me a thoughtful look. I watched as he dug his jack knife out of his waistcoat pocket and opened it. “Give me your hand,” he ordered.
I furrowed my brow, confused, but held out my right arm, offering him the mechanized hand.
He rolled his eyes. “Your left hand, Doctor. The good one.”
I gave it to him slowly. I had an inkling of what he had in mind now.
He took the jack knife and carefully sliced my palm open—a thin slice that was in no danger of harming me, though it bled profusely. And it hurt. I had to bite down on my lip to stop myself from gasping.
Lopez sliced his own left palm open immediately afterward, and then grasped my hand, mixing our blood. “There,” he said. “Now we’re brothers.”
Despite the pain and the blood—not to mention the unease I felt at the contact—I couldn’t help but smile. “You might live to regret this.”
“Quite possibly,” he admitted. “But we are family now.”
I wanted to object that this superstitious ritual didn’t mean any such thing, but somehow my words deserted me. I ended up nodding.
“Yes.” I kept hold of his hand and grasped it even harder. “I suppose we are.”
© 2014, Jennifer R. Moss. All rights reserved.