Castle O'Donnell, Coulagh Bay, Ireland--Monday 0900 GMT
They rounded the crag below the castle and walked into an errant shaft of morning sun. Eva looked back at her brother as he spoke.
"Maybe the clouds will break, kiddo, and it won't rain on us for once."
Eva stopped, staring at him. The color of his blue-green eyes mirrored the color of the waves offshore. Strange memories flooded in, not hers, but caring and cocooning. The love in her brother's eyes transfixed her and shadowy figures formed behind his shoulder. A gateway seemed to open in her mind.
He holds the light for you, child. One day you will hold it for him.
"Eva? What is it? That's a strange look." Joshua glanced over his shoulder at the open water then back at her quizzically. A gull wheeled in the sky behind him, brilliant white in the sun. A vision of her mother formed in its place: white-robed, a goddess. She wore exactly the same smile as Joshua.
A genetic thing, dear.
The shadowy images shifted shape, brightening, flying on gull wings. Diffuse and unformed, inexact images of her mother, they played softly across her mind.
We are with you, always.
The light on her brother's face faded as the break in the clouds moved northward. Sun shone briefly on the dark castle behind them. She smiled back at him.
"I love you, Josh-wa."
"I love you too, kiddo. But what was that about? You left me for a moment, I think."
She struggled, but hadn't the language. "Dreams," she said finally.
"Your nightmares? Of last night?" He looked worried.
"No, good dreams. Mom. Grandma. Lots of Grandmas."
"Ah. Too bad your Grandmas aren't still alive, kiddo. They'd love you."
"They do." She giggled and ran down the cliff path, smiling all the way. At the bottom the path turned inland and intersected the road to the village of Allihies. The sky turned darker, and her smile faded.
When the path finally widened to meet the road, uneasiness gripped her, and she reached for her brother's hand. She felt it twitch as her sensations were transmitted.
"We should go back, Josh-wa."
"To the castle?"
"You scared of something?"
He studied the road, and Allihies beyond. Another break in the clouds illuminated it. "Well, we really need the fresh fruit, and it'll all be picked over by noontime. Tell you what, kiddo. You start walking back up the road to the castle. You'll be inside the locus, protected. I'll zip down to the village, get what we need, and catch up to you."
He gestured at the small cluster of houses and buildings down the road. "Seems pretty quiet down there, Sis. And that's old Grogan's grocery truck just leaving. We're right on time."
The village is not what it seems, instinct pounded her, go with Joshua.
Eva let go of her brother's hand and ran ahead down the road to Allihies. Clouds moved back over the sun.
Village of Allihies, Ireland--Monday 0935 GMT
Her station behind the hedgerow concealed the Crone from the road. Light morning traffic had abated. Morning ground fog lifted gradually, stretching her view to the north horizon, toward the castle, but its higher elevation was still obscured in swirling mist. The road draped lazily southward, carving a path to brightly colored buildings nestled in green hills.
Through the hedge and across the street, she saw into two side windows of a building; one half a grocery, the other half a pub. An elderly man opened the grocery windows to the morning light, and commenced unloading grapes onto a display shelf. The delivery truck pulled away, heading southward. The ordinariness of their rituals assured her that the men had heard nothing amiss through the adjoining wall of the pub. Good, the team is capable.
In the small space behind the building, the Crone could just see the tail end of their rented van peeking out. Her fingers trembled above the communicator on her belt, brushing through unfamiliar clothing. She wore a tourist's hiking outfit, late for the season, but not uncommon. A scarf of Irish linen had replaced the veil of the burkha; it chafed at her in unfamiliar ways. But I have dressed this way before, the querulous whisper of lost memories objected in her mind. She dismissed it, and switched on the device.
"Respond," she whispered into the microphone in her scarf.
"We read you," a voice answered.
"Confirm your position," Hessa prompted.
"In the pub, ould darlin'. Got the proprietor in the back, gagged in the storage room."
"Was there anyone else?"
"Nope. Just like you said."
"And your others?"
"They're with me in the pub. Three."
"Good," she said. "Hold your positions. I'll say when it's time."
She clicked off the communicator and reached into her satchel. Her palms were slippery on the binoculars as she pulled them out.
Her cover story had been impeccably assembled, but so far she hadn't needed to offer it. The K'Shmar device, on its lightweight tripod, was artfully constructed to look like a camera with a large zoom lens. A crazy old birder: if anyone stumbled across her in these Irish hedgerows they wouldn't think twice. She raised the binoculars to her eyes. Nothing. Where are they? She slowed her breathing, trying to relax. What if these mercenaries can't be trusted?
The Mullah had laughed at her worries. "Witch, these mercenaries were abandoned by their cause for doing anything for a price. They've been disowned as morally unsuitable. They'd never be in league with the castle; no money for them there. Foolish woman."
Breathe, she coached herself. The tension faded. And where did I learn that? Hessa glanced back at the windows of the grocery. The old man had moved on from stacking grapes to shiny red apples. The delivery truck puttered off around a bend and out of sight.
She felt them before she saw them. Through the binoculars she watched the child they'd seen in the kayak run down the road toward Allihies. The One caught up to her quickly, reached her hand and crouched down, saying something. A moment later they both started toward her. She slid the binoculars into her satchel, and clicked the communicator back on.
"They come," she whispered into the communicator.
Village of Allihies, Ireland--Monday 0942 GMT
"Eva! What's gotten into you?"
"Don't know, Josh-wa," she wailed.
They stood in front of the small store next to the village pub. The grocery truck chugged slowly up a distant hill and was gone, leaving the road deserted. She looked up and down it frantically.
Joshua squatted to eye-level, hands on her shoulders. "It's okay, Sis. I'm here."
She stared into his turquoise eyes, then up and down the road again.
"Come on, let's go see Mr. Dannehy, find out what kind of fruit he's got for us this morning."
Eva shook her head no, trembling. She struggled to get words out of a mouth gone dry with fear. They're coming for him!
"Wolves," she finally whispered.
"Ah. The bad dream again, honey? While you're awake?" His face was troubled.
"No! Wolves! Here!" she gasped. "I ... I taste them."
He looked up and down the street quickly, following her frantic gaze.
She also tasted his lightning logic as it evaluated the data, and tasted its wrong conclusion. But almost in the same instant she felt him concede to her instincts.
"Okay, we're outta here!"
Glancing upward toward the castle, he bent down to pick her up off the cobbled sidewalk, but a curtain of darkness rolled between them. The bitter, coppery taste of her wolf-dreams filled her mouth. Like blood, she thought, and screamed as Joshua dropped to his knees.
She moved to help, but the darkness rejected her; her hands slid off it like the wave-polished wet basalt of the castle's cliffs.
"Run, Eva! The castle! Get inside the locus!" He grabbed his head, gasping. Then he pushed her away, so hard she fell and rolled.
She stood up, shocked and uncertain.
"Go!" he screamed. "I can't move!"
As if it heard, the dark curtain extended and enveloped her, dimming the surroundings. She felt it seek a hold, its bitterness sharpening. Despair spilled into her mind, a torrent. Fingers of the darkness snatched and clawed inside her head, seeking purchase.
Through the haze surrounding them, a gull wheeled offshore, into a shaft of sunlight that played on the castle. A distant fuzzy point of whiteness formed in its place and spoke in her mind.
Deflect it, child.
The voice showed her how, and she did.
The darkness around her ran into the cobblestone walk at her feet. It disappeared almost instantly, like the incoming tide running up on a dry sand beach.
"Josh-wa!" she moaned, wading into the darkness, breasting its waves, forcing it down. She grabbed her brother's hand, forcing the blackness to slide off into the ground. She pulled him up the walk, staggering, toward the castle. But they got no further than the pub door, and the darkness redoubled. Joshua's hand was ripped free as he dropped again to his knees.
More power. The voice was an urgent whisper in her mind.
"How?" she screamed.
The castle. Draw it to you. Closer.
But then hands grabbed her and pulled her backward through the pub door, and the thought was lost. Dimly through the haze, she saw Joshua trying to flail off the dark shroud enveloping him. His hands clawed at the cobblestone walk, fighting for balance against rolling waves of darkness. He came off his knees into a crouch, snarling defiance. His face turned upward, seeking her. For a split-second their eyes met; his were red, hot, burning. Blood ran off his teeth and out of his mouth. The face of the wolf.
She screamed his name as the door slammed shut.