Beyond the archway is a massive courtyard filled with large garden beds and ornate fountains. A few vines and ivies cling for survival on the colonnade surrounding the court, stubbornly resisting the autumn frost. The remaining plants are already dead or dying, brown husks of their summer magnificence.
Yagher leads us over a twisting path of cobblestone to a set of stairs under the colonnade. They lead down to a heavy, metal door. When he reaches the bottom step the door swings inward and we are permitted to enter.
The room inside is comfortably dim and the air is significantly warmer than outside. A young man holds the door for us and I note his vague resemblance to Yagher. Further inside are all the makings of a typical den – a wooden bar set into one corner, a billiards table to the right, and a long, rich-looking dining table dressed in red cloth at the centre. About half a dozen people wait for us, but there is only one face I recognize.
The man seated at the head of the table is heavy set with greying hair. He leans on a cane, clutched in his right hand, as he watches us enter. His smile is one of wisdom and self-confidence. Last time I saw him he was covered in his son’s blood and was begging me to save his life.
“Harvey, you should have warned me we’d be having company,” he shifts his focus to me and I can feel a weight to it, like that gaze holds great expectations for the person it falls on, “Miss Selene, it has been a long time. I never had a chance to thank you for what you did or even to introduce myself. I am Harvey’s father, Marle. Forgive me for not standing to greet you, my health has not been… ideal… since we last met.”
Yagher must have told him that I regained my memories. I nod towards him, unsure of how to respond. I notice that he doesn’t mention or inquire about Mirena’s presence. I get the impression that any admission of ignorance would be beneath him and therefore avoided at all costs.
Yagher shoves Mirena toward the table. She remains silent but I can see her lower lip trembling. “This snake kidnapped Selene. She interrogated her. It seems we’re not the only ones looking for Hunter.”
“So then, she knows the manner of your relationship with Miss Selene.” It’s not a question. Harvey nods but I shake my head.
“No,” I correct them, “She only knows what she’s heard in this room and on the ride here.”
Marle smiles and tilts his head at me, as if I’m a child who has said something so incorrect as to be funny. “She would have taken the information from your mind. That is how she retrieves the answers she seeks.”
“I didn’t let her,” I say indignantly. I have no idea why Yagher has dragged me here, but I’m not letting this man – the one who took my memories from me – treat me like an idiot.
There’s a hint of laughter in his voice when he speaks next, and it only serves to heighten my frustration. “You would require a great amount of mental control to resist the proddings of a witch like her. It is unlikely someone as inexperienced as you could manage it.”
“And yet she did,” Mirena purrs, and it makes me nauseous to realize that we are both taking pleasure in the same challenge – proving this arrogant man wrong.
“She would require intense mental training,” he raises his voice but then stops, his expression one of realization, “Ah… yes. You have had many years of counselling and cognitive therapy. That may have been enough to assist you.”
His expression is one of pity and he smiles at my obvious discomfort; this epiphany was intended to undermine me. To demonstrate that he knows much more about me than he should.
“Cognitive therapy?” Yagher asks and I can feel my face growing red.
“She suffers from severe depression,” Marle answers for me. He turns towards Mirena, “Regardless of Miss Selene’s mental fortitude, I think this one has already heard more than enough to puzzle out the details for herself. It would be unwise to set her free.”
“What are you going to do to her?” Judgement at the hands of this self-righteous prick is too much. Even for her.
Marle ignores my question. “Harvey, I’m concerned for Miss Selene’s well being. Her mental well being in particular,” he turns to look at me. I refuse to disguise my fury, but hope he can’t see my legs shaking. Unfazed, he continues: “I wonder if it wouldn’t be in her best interest if we let her go back to her old life.”
“Old life?” Is he suggesting Yagher distance himself from me?
Yagher holds Mirena securely, but his gaze is settled on me. He looks troubled and thoughtful. “I think you’re underestimating her, father,” his tone is polite and respectful, without sacrificing an ounce of confidence, “I think she’s done well considering what she’s been through. Please, let her keep her memories for now.”
My memories? For now?!
My attention snaps to Marle. I want to shout at him, to blame him for stealing my memories in the first place. To remind him that I saved his son’s life. But I know my best chance at walking out of here with my mind intact is to place my bets on Yagher’s plea. So I wait, watching Marle consider his son’s words.
“I will leave the decision with you,” he concedes after a moment’s pause, “It is your life she saved after all. And it seems we have our hands full for the time being anyway.” He looks coldly at Mirena. Without having to be told, the young man from earlier puts his hands in place of Yagher’s, holding Mirena tightly. Yagher lays his hand gently on my shoulder and leads me back towards the door.
“Thank you, father,” he says.
“Miss Selene, I hope to see you again sometime under less… uncomfortable circumstances.”
I refuse to turn around to see the smirk I can already hear in his voice. I nod curtly and walk out the door ahead of Yagher. The darkness is disorienting until I realize that the sun must have set while we were underground. I hear the click of the heavy door echo behind me as Yagher closes it.
“What is he going to do to her?” Fear and anger are bubbling inside of me and I almost feel bad that Yagher is about to take the full brunt of my fury. Almost.
He continues walking to the car and he answers with disinterest: “They will pass judgement on her.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” I hurry to catch up with him, following his lead as he ducks into the driver’s seat.
“They will consider the risk she poses to the families, the pain she’s inflicted on other people, her intentions moving forward,” his sentence tapers off and I know he’s avoiding my real concern.
“That’s nice Yagher, but what is going to happen to her?”
He sighs as he drives down the long, dark path. When we reach the end he stops and turns to look at me. “I told you, it’s up to them. Maybe they’ll just erase her memories of our conversation. Maybe not.”
“Maybe they’ll kill her,” I snap accusingly, “Like they killed Johannes.”
He runs both hands through his hair and looks at me, his face filled with anger and that familiar righteousness. “Maybe they will! Jesus Christ Selene, why are you taking their side all of a sudden? Johannes killed people. He almost killed your best friend and her boyfriend, who also happens to be one of my friends by the way. Mirena tortured you! Why are you trying to protect these people?”
Why am I protecting them? I wonder. I drop my eyes from his for a moment and I can feel the tension dissipating. Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. Maybe it’s better this way.
“No,” I say out loud, raising my eyes back to his, “I’m not wrong, Yagher. How many people have your family executed? Did anyone speak up for them? Was anyone ever given a chance? I hate Johannes and every time I see Mirena’s face I want to tear myself apart so I don’t have to remember what she put me through. But how does someone become like that, Yagher? What drives someone to kill or torture? I’m not saying it makes what they did okay, but I’m not sure it means their lives should rest on the judgement of a couple of old men in a basement who worry more about whether the world might accidentally stumble upon them than actual justice.”
“What would you know about justice? What do you even know about our world?” The muscles of his face tremble and for a moment I see my father in front of me. His face so close to mine I can smell the alcohol on his breath. His face shaking with anger because I dared to stand up to him.
“I know that you and your father stripped me of my memories after I gave up everything for you. I know that your father somehow knows I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for the past couple of years.”
“I’m sure he was just looking out for me. He probably wanted to know what kind of person was guarding his son’s life,” he says, but I can hear the doubt in his voice.
“So justice is nepotistic?” He looks away from me, knowing I’ve found a chink in his armour.
“He’s different when it comes to me. He’s protective,” his voice is meek and growing softer.
I remember the man crying on the sidewalk and I try to imagine him as the arrogant patriarch I’ve just met. It’s nearly impossible for me to accept that they are the same person. That Marle would ever show a hint of weakness, let alone leave himself so vulnerable. Is that why he resents me? Why he’s so eager to take my memories? Did I witness something taboo?
“Look, I’ll try to see that he goes easy on her,” Yagher says suddenly, “She’s a skin mage and not many people would vouch for her… but as far as I know she’s never killed anyone. I’ll talk to father.”
“Thank you, Yagher,” I smile at him slightly, relaxing for the first time in well over an hour.
“Just promise me one thing,” he begins to drive again and I turn to watch the dark shapes of the trees slink by my window.
“What?” I ask.
“Wear the protection spell I gave you. Please. I’ll feel better if I know you’re safe,” his voice is gentle now. His anger burned out. Unfortunately, mine still smoulders quietly within me.
“You mean so you know you’re safe?”
He is quiet for a moment and then speaks so softly I can barely hear him, “If that’s what it takes for you to wear it. I don’t care if you hate me, Selene. As long as I know you’re safe.”
“I’ll wear it,” I answer without turning around.
The rest of the drive is silent. He lets me out at my building where we both mumble a quick good night. Inside my apartment I lock the door before running straight for my bed. I drop onto the soft covers without even taking off my shoes or jacket and sob violently into the pillow. If Wynn notices my puffy eyes when she comes home, she doesn’t let on.
As I fall asleep later in the evening, I realize that she probably assumed I was still crying for my father. That his funeral was only this morning. I begin to sob once again, but blissful sleep washes over me before I decide whether I’m mourning for my father or a life I once had not so long ago.