8. The case of the sister and the zombie fish

1.

Things are strange for a while. Aphrodite is still pissed and there is not a lot of love going around. I still love who I’ve always loved (Vincent and Cassie), so I’m not much bothered by it. But a lot of other people are really cranky, and it’s frankly getting a bit annoying. Vincent is feeling badly about his part in it, but what can he do? A deal made with Kaku is not easily broken (not broken at all actually). Some days after our return, and after we have made our report to the Society, Cassie looks me up. She looks really uncomfortable, and has trouble saying what she wants to say. I wait patiently, and finally she gets it out: her mother has told her, that she (Cassie) was concieved in much the same way as Mr Humphrey’s baby – with the aid of Kaku!  Cassie is very upset about it, and I try to comfort her. It does make a lot of sense. That is of course where her darkness comes from. The darkness is the price, which Cassie has to pay for being alive. Bit unfair that. It should be Cassie’s parents who should pay such a price, not Cassie, but Kaku is a trickster. I suppose it should have been expected. Well, darkness or no darkness, I love Cassie. Whatever darkness is in her is by far outweighed by her sweetness and kindness.

We have been given a new case: a trading company in Andalus have ordered 12 kilos of MacKenzie’s magical salt. That is a bit much, and we suspect foul play, so we are off to discover what is going on. Before leaving we go out for dinner. The Golden Swan has a lot of the Gotaland cider, and I drink a lot of it! As the night progresses I apparently have a bad reaction to the fish I ate for dinner. My head is spinning and my fingers are feeling numb. My motor skills get a bit whatchummacallit… impar… I get clumsy and even my speech gets a bit slurred. Tha’s funny. Never had that reaction wi’ fish before. Niall can’t handle his fish either. Looks like it affects his intelligence as well, because he starts saying some really stupid things. Finally Vincent with a rather smirking face see me home and tugs me in.

I wake with a splitting headache. That was really some bad fish! Or so I thought… Vincent brings me a ‘tonic’ as he calls it, which helps against hangovers. He tells me that the cider, which I love and drank so much of, actually is alcohol, albeit a little less strong than gin. So yesterday I wasn’t reacting to the fish. I was drunk. Well, thank you, guys! I am never drinking that stuff again. Sad to say. I just react so badly to it. Fortunately I did not make any magical blunders last night, which might have happened, if I am not in control of myself.  That was lucky I guess.

We are going to sail to Andalus. I am getting used to sailing, I guess, but I much prefer having both feet on solid rock. Or any kind of rock, really. Max is suddenly sporting a moustache – a rather impressive one at that. It’s to avoid being confused with the cricket player (whom I hope will never grow such an impressive moustache!). It becomes Max rather well, actually. During dinner on the ship he is forced to admit that it is a false moustache. Apparently the clue he used to stick to his face is not impervious to soup.

We pass time aboard. I long for land and spend a lot of time studying the rocks in my pocket. One of the officers shows a keen interest in rocks, so I tell him all I know about the handfull of rocks I brought with me. He listens closely and looks intensely from my face to the rocks and back again. Every now and again he reaches out to take one of the rocks to look at it closer, and every time his hands touches mine. Well, there is limited space on board. You can hardly go anywhere without bumping into somebody. Finally he suggests that I should come and see his rock collection. I readilly agree. I am not dissapointed! His rock collections is bloody amazing! Way down in the bottom of the ship there is a layer of big rocks from all over the world! He says is is to keep the ship steady in the water. There is water slushing around the stones, which smell really bad and make the rocks a bit slimy, but what wonderful rocks! After a while the officer excuses himself. He has duties to attend to. But he promises that I can spend all the time I want in the depth of the ship with his rockcollection, if I want to. What a pleasant fellow!

I don’t get much time down below unfortunately. Henry recognizes a couple of his old compadres from his Lady Sybil days, and he fears that they are up to no good. MacKenzie and Cassie distracts them with a couple of games of bridge, while the rest of us sneak into their cabin and look through their things. We find documents about us! Well, some of us. They have a file on Cassie and her parents, with pictures and everything! They have a file on Max, which describe him as a master of disguise. They think that the cricket player is his alter ego. There is a picture of him attached to the file. About Henry there is mostly old information from back when he was with Lady Sybil’s gang. The picture of him is old, small and oval, like one from a locket. They even have a file on me, which contains my journal from the asylum. It says that I can identify demons (which is no lie), but there is no picture attached. There is also a letter to the merchant house Mercadona (who bought MacKenzie’s salt) that the salt for ‘the big endeavour’ is in our hands until delivery and that we must be watched. What big endeavour we wonder! We sabotage the pictures and part of the files (good thing seawater is handy to splash in through an open port hole). We also falsify the letter to say that the carriors are untrustworthy. Well, good to know that we must watch our back just a little extra when we reach Andulus. Definately something funny is going on!

Finally we reach Andalus. We are transported by small boats to the harbour proper of the city Zargus. It is a splendid city! Golden and gleaming. There are temples everywhere, but very different from our own. The temples have domes and the horns of Uranus. A bit daunting! We climb out of the boats in the poorer end of the harbour. Everybody here are very exitable. They yell a lot and fling their arms about, both when they are happy and angry. Very noisy place this! We walk from the harbour into the city. The inner city is surrounded by a city wall of great height. It’s an odd city. No straight boulevards – everywhere there are narrow passages that opens up into great big plazas. It is very disorganized. Occasionally a gilded carriage tries to get through, and there is much yelling and jumping to safety. In the center of the city is a great big pallace. Near by we find our lodgings. MacKenzie is the only one with a view. The rooms are rather small, but I don’t mind. As long as I get to share with Vincent or Cassie.

Niall has a friend here in Andalusia and we leave our lodging to go visit him. We go via a string of passages. Suddenly four stooping, almost lopsided, figures appear in front of us in a passage and cut us off. They won’t move and they don’t react to anything we say. They seem wrong somehow. Like they are not really there. We turn to go another way, but there is a group behind us also. Same empty look in their eyes. The same lopsidedness. Any attempt to pass them results in them pushing us back. I don’t want to fight them. Callum said not to fight so much, so I won’t attack them, if they do not attack us. But what do we do? They won’t move and they won’t listen. Finally Niall aims at one of them with his rifle and shoots the foot of one of them. The man falls, but get’s back up! They lurch towards us and we have no choice but to fight. MacKenzie and I try to protect our friends, but the men keeps coming at us. Eerily silent. They hit us hard, and they seem completely impervious to any pain we inflict on them. They keep coming and hitting me! I cannot protect Cassie! They hit me, and I fall, and I scream, and I hear Cassie crying for help. One of them hit me in the head, and before darkness takes me, I realize another darkness is over us. Cassie. Cassie’s darkness. Then I pass out.

2.

I wake up in a bed. The bed is soft and comfortable. I have a bandage around my head, and my body aches with bruises. Sunshine comes in through a window and I am not quite sure where I am. Cassie is sitting on a chair by my bed. She looks at me anxiously and flings herself around my neck. ‘Grace! You are awake! Finally you are awake! I was so worried!” She squeezes me hard and a few of my bruises gets bruises. “I am so glad that you are awake! And alive! I wanted to come sooner. I am so sorry! Sorry, sorry!”. I lean back against the pillows “Sooner? I just woke. What’s going on?”. Cassie gives me a close look “You don’t remember? You’ve been unconscious for two days, Grace! Those… people… turned out to be some sort of zombies. They kept coming no matter how much you hit them! They knocked you out, before I… When we finally got you out, you were out cold! I have been so, so worried!”. “They were strange… They didn’t seem to feel anything, no matter how hard I hit them. Two days? How did you manage? The zombies, I mean, not the days”. ” Well, we found out later that they were zombies, and that they were made by giving innocent people a mix of magical salt and fish og bulls horn. But she was stopped and is arrested now, awaiting the gallows. Ehrm, those zombies in the alley. Don’t you remember at all?” She looks rather ill at ease, and I shake my head. She flings out her arms in desperation. “I lost control again. Or rather I didn’t quite loose control. I did it on purpose. I could see they were going to kill us, and they had overpowered both you and Mackenzie. So I wanted them to die and then… they died! This time I remember everything. That’s the first time I’ve remembered everything. I did it!”. “And good thing you did! They would’ve killed us, Cassie! They would have killed all of us!” I think and say “But still… to imagine that salt and fish and bulls horn should be so dangerous”. I think I might never eat fish again. She looks at me strangely “Well, I am glad they didn’t kill us. But I am also sorry that they are dead. And angry that I had to kill them. And angry that I wasn’t fast enough to prevent you and Mackenzie to get hurt. I am actually rather cross about the whole thing!” She hugs me hard again. It is nice of her to hug me, but I am beginning to wish she wouldn’t. I am beginning to change colour to blue all over. She leans back with a firm grip on my sore shoulders. “But right now I am just really happy that you are awake and seems well! And don’t worry: it wasn’t just any old fish that did the trick! We took it and sent it to M in London” I put my hand on her arm “I understand that you got angry. I think it is a good thing that you can remember, don’t you? I mean, it’s much better than not remembering”. Cassie smiles and nods “Yes, you are probably right. I hope that M thinks so too. I mean that she thinks it is progress” I make a face and clears my throat “Urhm, does M know about the darkness?”. Cassie frowns “I suppose so. The old M knew. And consider it is Mackenzie’s mom; she knows everything! Including the things you don’t really want her to!”. I swallow “Yes. I know… But you remembered it and you controlled it! She must think that is good!” Cassie looks away a bit “Well, controlled is such a big word. I controlled it a little bit. I hope Henry can help me get better. And I hope she sees it your way. Even though I am sorry, I can’t be all sorry. It saved you and the others. I just hope I never have to do it again!” “I wouldn’t count on Mrs M seeing anything my way, but I do hope that she, like me, believes that you can control it and only use it for good. Like saving us”. “No, you are probably right, that she doesn’t. But I am glad that you believe I can control it. That must be next step. I think I will try to help the families of the men that died. It wasn’t their fault what Donna did to them” She flashes me a big sunny smile “I am so glad that you are better now!” She hugs me again, hard, before I can stop her. A little whine escapes me. “I am so glad you did not get more hurt!” My smile may be a tad forced. But my curiousity is spiked “Who is Donna? You have to tell me, what happened this past two days!” She nods “It demands tea!” She calls out the door for tea and cakes, and soon after a young boy comes running in with a tray with a pot of mint tea, two glasses and a plate full of sweet honey cakes. I sit back, sip my tea and munch on the sweet goodness as Cassie plunges into her tale. Her face and whole body is animated, and it is almost as if I was there myself. Here is her story:

“Okay. After the thing in the alley, we hid in a garden. We didn’t know who had sent them, but it was pretty clear that someone must have sent them, because clearly they did not have a will of their own. We suspected the Mercona family off course and decided to continue our investigation of them. Fortunately Mackenzie had the adresss of their warehouse (where we were to deliver the salt) and we agreed to start looking there and see if anything fishy was going on” She giggles. “The warehouse was by the river, surrounded by stalls of all kinds, so Mackenzie and I pretended to shop for hats, while we kept an eye out. There were some really nice hats, I tell you, in all sorts of colors. You should’ve seen them! While we were keeping an eye out from the hat shop, we saw a single guard in front of the warehouse, so we couldn’t just waltz in. Meanwhile some kids were playing ball nearby and suddenly they hit the guard with the ball. He got so angry that he took their ball and threw it in the river! So mean! Niall couldn’t help getting involved, so he bought a great big fish and threw it after the guard. Right in the head. I tell you, the guard got so pissed! It was so funny!” She giggles again “He didn’t see it was Niall who threw it; he thought it was the kids, so he started chasing them. Mackenzie and I looked at eachother, hung the pretty hats back and ever so descreetly walked in through the unguarded entrance to the warehouse. Fortunately the guys thought fast and joined us. It’s not like we had planned this at all.

Inside we found an enourmous space with great big crates of the finest fabrics. Oh. My. Gods!” She rolled her eyes and clasps her hands over her heart “It was unbearable that we couldn’t spend more time just looking at it. Mackenzie did have time to write down the name of some fabric that would be just perfect for her new ball gown. You know, for the Winter Solstice Ball. Well, we hurried along into the hall, it’s not like we were after the fabrics. In the other end of the hall, behind a lot more crates there was another door, but with another guard. He was asleep, but he sat in such a way that we could not get in without moving his feet. We did manage to move his feet onto another box without waking him up, so we could sneak past him. I’m getting really good at sneaking! Mackenzie wasn’t quite as good – maybe she was distracted by all that fabric? Anyway, we got out onto a stairway leading both up and down, and we decided to go down, because we could hear voices up above. Unfortunately whoever the voices belonged to heard us, and a man came down the stairs calling out for a Pedro. Mackenzie tried to answer in andalusian in a deep voice, but it didn’t fool him. We hadn’t quite reached the door at the bottom of the stairs, when he saw us. I tried smiling and waving and greeting him in andalusian, to prevent him from calling out to the others, and somehow that worked. Niall grabbed a hold of him and pulled him down and Mackenzie smacked him good, so he passed out. We put him into a crate in the basement, so he wouldn’t expose us before we were away.

Inside the basement it was icecold. There was ice evertwhere, I tell you, whick was really strange, since it was so hot outside! There were great big containers with a strange white and pink substance in them. Vincent tasted it, and said it was strawberry icecream. While strawberry icecream is pretty much as inconspicous as it comes, we searched on, and that was a good thing, for way down in the end of the basement we found a very strange fish. A kind that is only found in Nanga. Niall recognized it and said it is said to be of titan origin! And titan origin of the kind that brings nothing good along. Niall remembered stories about nangan shamans, who could make a drink that turned people into mindless slaves – living zombies. It was clear that there was already cut into the fish, and that certainly indicated that we were on the right track. We made preparations to take the fish with us, so they couldn’t use it anymore. But before we could leave, we had to check out the other floors to find out who it was that messed around with titan magic and zombies. Unfortunately the guard’s friend on the top floor got impatient and headed downstairs to find the other guard and Pedro. So our investigating was rather cursory. The first two floors didn’t reveal anything of interest. On the second floor we barely managed to get through the door and hide before he passed us on the stairs to find his friends. Whew! That was rather nervewrecking! We snuck up to the guardroom, where they had apparently been busy cleaning. But he heard us! And came back up again! Vincent distracted him by throwing a vase out of the window unto the balcony below, so the guard went out to check on that in stead. Finally we could sneak the rest of the way up and in. Here was something worth finding! It was a sort of office for the family, and we found both a recipe for the zombie eliksir, which Mackenzie copied down, and a diary of the Mercadona daughter, who described all the family intrigues. Don Don is the head of the family, a very unpleasant man, who treats both his daughter and his sister abominantly. The sister’s name is Donna, and she is a bit of a floosy” Cassie giggles “She sounded like someone used to getting her own way, so she and Don Don are on quite unfriendly terms. Actually they seemed to hate eachother! The daughter, Cornelia, was none so fond of either her father or his sister. She was of the goth persuasion. Have you heard of that? Quite a genre all of its own! I had to read up on it a bit, so now I know quite a bit about it. It’s quite dark and gloomy. Quite funny, actually. They think that Bretonia is a rather old fashioned country with ghosts and witches everywhere. I was very amused about it all. Well, anyway, she was very attracted to all that dark power and magic and stuff. We also found a letter from one of the family members describing how another family member would get killed during the great dinner in Uranus’ honor the next day. From the letter it seemed that the eliksir to make zombies was part of the plan, because it would make the guests not register or remember anything – at least not anything other than what the miscreant wanted them to remember. But the challenge was that we didn’t know which of the three – the boss, the sister or the daughter – was the killer or the victim. After these informations we snuck out the window, before the guard could find us. Vincent got us out. He is really good at climbing and sneaking, and he got all of us out without a sound! You should have been there, it was so exiting and Vincent was really amazing!” Her voice is full of admiration, and she sighs and stares dreamily into the wall. I nudge her and she startle, and continues to talk with a smile on her face.

Well, when we came back to our hiding place in the abandoned garden, we had to figure out how to prevent til assassination, and there was no doubt we had to get to that party! We had different approaches as to not cause too much suspicion. Mackenzie contacted Don Don as a business connection – oh, that is such a funny story! You must get her to tell you all about it! He is head over heels in her now, it’s almost sad, but he is so annoying – Niall contacted the sister, posing as a bachelor nobleman – that’s a fun story too, but you’ll probably have to drag the story out of him. He is not as good at sharing as Mackenzie is. The sister became very enamoured by him, and thought he was looking for a bride”. Cassie breaks down laughing, and it takes a while for her to stop. Her laughter is contagious, so I smile and shake my head, until she stops again and whipes her eyes. “Well, I chose to pretend that I was the author of som of the books Cornelia liked, and we became friends. They are som really amusing books. With sex scenes to boot! She was particularly interested in those, so we talked a lot about that! Well, now the three of us had invitations. Vincent chose to sneak in – by pretended to deliver goods to the party – and Max pretended to be a plumber.

We had guessed the eliksir would be served as either a drink or in the food – but we didn’t know which drink or dish would contain the zombiesalt! So we had to make sure not to eat anything at all without seeming strange to our hosts. Vincent and Max had it easy since they were not sitting at the table. We did fine, though. It was such a laugh to watch Niall trying to avoid the advances of the sister – Donna was her name. She was very hands on! You should’ve seen his face”. She laughs again. I’m beginning to feel sorry for Niall. How unpleasant that must have been! “Oh, you have no idea how hard it was to keep a straight face! And those goth people, like Cornelia, were so gloomy and dour, so I knew I musn’t laugh! I only barely managed, I tell you! It was also such a laugh to watch Mackenzie dance with Don Don. He kept trying to feel her up, but he couldn’t since she’s so strong and just held him at bay. It was really funny!

Well, we had managed to not eat any of the courses – well actually only the main course, because Max and Vincent had stolen the welcome drinks and the hors d’ouvres, so they were never served! And still nothing had happened, so we were a bit at a loss. Then somebody made a toast for the Mercadonia family, and then something happened! It was not in the food, but in the wine! Niall and Mackenzie had drunk nothing, and I had only sipped a little, so we were not influenced. And even though I had drunk so little, I could feel how I suddenly felt very tired. It was really frightening. Such power in that eliksir! Well, after the toast we could see how everyone suddenly looked blank and fell silent. We tried to mimic it, hoping we could expose the guilty party. It was Donna! She laughed and ordered everyone to dance and laugh and have a good time, while she grabbed a big knife and headed for Don Don. It was absolutely not fun anymore! Everyone moved like the zombies in the alley. Mechanical and grotesque like puppets. Sometimes they would laugh out loud, as they had been told, but is was a creepy sound, that wasn’t happy at all.

We pretended to be zombies like the others, while we tried to dance closer to Donna. Suddenly I felt something strange by my feet, and it was Max trying to hide under my skirts. Oh, my gods, it was hard not to laugh! I made him crawl back out again. He was so flurried. I don’t think he had seen it was my skirts – he probably thought it was a table or something!” She snorts “But he was on his way to Donna, and he didn’t know if we were intoxicated or not. On her way to Don Don, Donna let her hand caress Nialls cheek, and then he couldn’t stop himself. He cried out “Mackenzie, make her stoooooop”, so we all startled, and then he shot her in the hand that held the knife. Urgh! It was not a pretty sight! I managed to stop the bleeding, so she didn’t die right away. Fortunately she had lost consciousness, so she couldn’t order the zombies to kill us. I don’t think we would’ve survived that”. She shudders “Anyway, it is all over now. The guests are back to normal, and Donna is on her way to the gallows. We told Don Don about her plan and showed him the papers to prove it. We’ve sent the rest of the fish back to London, and we have confiscated the magical salt. Hopefully we won’t see anything like this again. A drink to make people into will-less slaves… I can’t imagine anything worse!” She grabs my hands and I nod. What a story! I’m glad is is over!

3.

Later I wake up, as Mackenzie rushes into the room, and slams the door behind her. She sneaks to the window to peek out. She trips over a small table and curses “Dratted man!” I’m glad to see her “Hello Mackenzie” I smile at her “What man?”. “Don… Don!” she hisses, making the name sound like a swear word. “He is such a godsdamned… bamboot!” I am unfamiliar with the word. A sound from outside makes her drop flat to the floor “Hush!” We are very quiet. I barely dare breathe “He is everywhere!” Mackenzie whispers and looks over at me. Her face seems to clear “How are you by the way?”. “I’m fine” I whisper “A little woozy, but that’s all. Cassie did mention a Don. And a funny story?” I sit up and get comfortable hoping to hear said story. Mackenzie opens her mouth, but closes it again. She peeks out the window “Well, funny… I guess so…” She sits up under the window, and looks at the table she tripped over. My hairbrush is on it. She picks it up absentmindedly, then she comes over, and sits by me and starts brushing my hair. It feels nice.

“Well, it all started when I discovered that the Mercona company had bought 12 kilos of magical salt” she begins “I knew that Don Don owned the company, so it was easy to start looking at his warehouse. How much did Cassie tell you?” I tell her that Cassie told me about the fish and the salt and the party and the assasination. Mackenzie nods “Okay, we had to get to that party, and it was logical for me to look up Don Don, as a business partner, since he had bought the salt from me. He was… quite intolerable. Handsy, you know. Kept touching, or trying to” She shudders, and I do too. “When I threatened to remove his hand, and I mean remove his hand from his body, he got all exited in stead and seemed even more interested than before!” I frown “What a strange man!” Mackenzie nods “Well, I know that they are very direct and noisy down here, but Don Don really takes that up a nudge. I ended up getting invited to the party like I wanted to, and I somehow managed to get talked into dancing with him…” I can see how her skin visibly crawls at the thought, like a thousand ants was suddenly crawling all over her.

“Well, we got to the party. What I didn’t know, was that Donna, Don Don’s sister, had her eye – and hands and about everything else – on Niall. You should have seen her. She was like an octopus – and Niall just looked more and more desperate! I had promised to dance with Don Don, and his hands and legs and, well, all of him was at places where he really shouldn’t be – all the time! Fortunately I am strong enough to keep him away. Niall was less fortunate. And can you believe it? In the middle of it all, Don Don sees Donna and Niall all tangled up, and he moved as if to … what? Challenge Niall to a duel? I tried to stop him, and point out the double morality of challenging Niall for doing what he was doing to Niall’s little sister. It  didn’t seem to hold him back any.” She makes a face “I guess, I can see the fun in it” She smiles “But it is very annoying! He is there every time I turn around. He’s send flowers, chocolate, wine and somehow he found out there was some fabric I really liked, so he sent me that too. I sent it back, and it was really nice, and now I can’t buy it” She sighs deeply, and looks a little lost “I even told him that I have a boyfriend, but he just took that as a challenge – or he didn’t believe me” She shakes her head “And now he was just here to celebrate our business venture, because seemingly Sofia have signed a four year trade contract with the Mercadona Company”. I pat her awkwardly on the hand “It sounds bad. Not funny at all. I don’t know what I would do if it were me. I don’t get those games at all. Why doesn’t he understand that you don’t like him? It can’t be nice to be married to someone, who don’t like you? It is very odd. But if Sofia signed a contract with him, let her deal with him. I think we should go home. The sooner the better!” Mackenzie nods “Right? Well, we are going home soon, and then I’ll be rid of him” I frown “Some people are just really strange…” “That whole family is bonkers” Mackenzie bursts out “I wonder what Cassie will do, when Cornelia finds out that she didn’t write those books?” I shrug “Run?” “Probably” Mackenzie says “I guess we’ll cross that bridge, when we get to it”. “Well, I think we should get home now” I say “As soon as possible!” Mackenzie nods vigorously “It’s too hot here anyway!” I nod “And I don’t like their rocks! Too porous!” “Good thing we sail tomorrow” Mackenzie smiles and keeps brushing my hair.

Offentliggjort af Den tatoverede børnebibliotekar

Bibliofil rollespiller, Æventyrer, lystløgner, mor og zeppelinerstyrmand. Jeg har knytnæverne resolut plantet i siden og med en kappe, der blafrer i vinden

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