The two children sat waiting by the reception desk. Clarice was on Lydie's lap and they had both been crying. Jasmin had decided to put on a brave front before his daughters, but he almost broke down himself when Clarice turned, ran over to him and asked where her mother was. "They explained it to us, they did as gently as they could, but she won't believe it." Lydie cried.
Orage guided his daughter back to Lydie and sat beside the older girl. He pulled little Clarice onto his owm lap and pulled them both into a tight hug. "Your mother's gone to a better place, Clarice. A nice place for people who have done good things with themselves. She's gone to look after Alice."
"When are they coming back?" Clarice asked as Lydie began to sob.
"They can't come back. They're not allowed. Some day you'll see them again, but not today."
There was a little squeak of words from Lydie through her own tears. He asked her to repeat herself and wished he hadn't. "It's all your fault, I said!" She pulled away and was glaring at him now. Jasmin heaved a deep sigh and fixed her with as stern a look as he could muster at the moment.
"Lydie, please. I send myself on enough guilt trips, and yes, I'll blame myself for the deaths of the British Mages who followed me in, I'll blame myself for the death of Alice, I'll blame myself for Surgele or Felin now I'm in the position I'm in, I'll blame myself for the deaths of ten of my closest friends a month before you were even born. I don't need any more blame, whether I deserve it or not..." He stopped, thought about it, wondered if things would ever get so bad in his head that the girls would lose him as well. Not to Mevolent or his forces or to any stupid criminals or damage to the Sanctuary. He wondered if it would ever come to the point where they would lose him to himself. "Lydie, now is not the time to play the blame game." He reached for her but she moved away.
"It's your fault for going off with that English girl, running into fights, just being you in general! Why the hell do I even have to be related to you?!"
He had no response to this. He simply turned away, bringing the arm that had previously been cuddling her round to cuddle Clarice instead. Was it sad he couldn't speak to his eldest without almost having a panic attack? He wouldn't have a panic attack, right? No, he was definitely going to have a panic attack. Clarice looked terrified as he began to hyperventilate and Lydie looked shocked. "Keep a civil tongue!" He managed to gasp out. "For once in your life stop blaming others or making them feel like crap and just behave like a normal, decent human being." The younger child was wailing now, clinging onto her father like there was no tomorrow.
"You're freaking her out, dad!"
He tried to calm down and she looked at the burns on his hands and sighed. She gave up and clambered onto the seats, cuddling him, apologising.
Garnet was tired. Mortis had noticed it. He used to be brilliant, so much stamina, practically limitless, but not any more. He was sick. He had collapsed once, back when his stamina was still so high. The doctors had said it was something bad. He couldn't remember what. Heart failure or conditions or a tumour in his lungs. If it was a tumour it was currently inactive, but it still took up enough room in there to screw the poor guy up. He was tired after that last journey, breathing hard, a little red-faced. Mortis watched him trudge along. The stupid man was pretending he had planned to surface this far away, but he had been moving a lot recently, the Necromancer assumed, and he had had to come up or risk exhaustion. The three killers were walking the rest of the way to the castle. Garnet said the people there had measures put up against his powers, but Mortis could easily see through that lie.
Further proof came when he had to take a deep breath and ready himself to step through the front door. There was the longest pause once he had disappeared through. Jayden frowned. "You think he's in trouble in there?"
Mortis shook his head softly. "He's fine. He always knows what he's doing." The door unlocked and swung open, and Garnet stood on the other side, grinning. Breath back completely. He gestured for his friends to follow him to Maleficent's room.
B-J was curled up next to the ex Czech Elder. "I think I understand." He said.
"You do?" She asked, frowning.
"I understand the feelings. I've had something similar. Against my wishes, these hands have drawn lifeblood before. Your friend running off like that can't have helped."
"No...no, it didn't..."
He rested a hand on her leg and offered a reassuring smile. "I don't judge people, I promise. You can trust me...I've been through a lot, I'll be able to understand everything except child molesting."
She nodded, smiling with an almost silent laugh. "Good thing I don't do any of that then, huh?"
He chuckled. "Yeah. You feel better?"
"Much. Feels good to just get it all off my chest." There was a knock at the door and she jumped. Frowning, she got up and opened the door, expecting Twist. Instead, she saw Garnet and immediately lashed out with a slap. He yelped and fell back, and she caught sight of his friends. "I needed you as a friend and you just disappeared! You always disappear when I need you most and suddenly come back as soon as I'm happy without you there!" He didn't reply and she went on. "And you have the balls to bring those two back? Those two who murdered a good man? Back here with me?!"
Mortis put up his hands in a sign for surrender. "Investigative purposes. I'm good at investigating. Is that the necklace, Gar? The one she's wearing now?"
Garnet nodded and reached out to touch it.
"It doesn't say 'friends', Gar."
"Like me or her could tell the difference. Reading is for chumps."
"You were right about it not being big enough for a single item curse rune. Don't touch it."
Garnet nodded, fingers closing around the necklace, before hissing in pain and snatching his hand back as though burnt.
"I said don't touch it! What is it with you two?! Why don't you ever listen?!"
"Shut up, Mort!"
He reluctantly obliged and grabbed his friend's burnt hand. "Lucky you, it's a one person only curse, just hurt you rather than passing on to you. I think. I'm not an expert at these things, but you sure as hell don't need any more bad luck."
"I don't know what you mean by that."
Mortis gave up and turned to B-J. "We have reason to believe your necklace has been cursed."
The elemental girl smirked. "Oh yeah? Who by?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps someone working for or with Mevolent who knew you weren't really dead or someone hoping to curse those around you during the funeral service."
Now she frowned and leant against the doorframe as Rasputin came to stand beside her. "Why in blue blazes should I trust you?"
Again, he shrugged. "I thought you'd say something like that."
Garnet spoke up. "I needed to get away because I couldn't deal with what had happened. I came back so soon because I seriously felt you were in danger. I consider you a friend. Not the kind of friend I would share things like what happened with whether you were there or not. Face it, we're not close. I don't share my feelings with you, I don't share illnesses with you, I don't share my troubles with you. While I met you long before I met Mort or Jay, I've been in contact with them way more than you have. I'd therefore say I know them longer, better, etcetera. If I need to talk to someone or if I get traumatised or in trouble, I will automatically go to them, okay? Not you, them!" She shied away a little. "Don't act so spoilt because I have closer friends than you. Yeah, I have a crush on you, no you're not my best friend. Secondly, I dragged these two along for a reason. Mortis knows more about motive or symbols than you or I ever will. Thirdly I returned because I had reason to believe you or the others in this place were in serious danger. There are innocents in this house who have nothing to do with Mevolent. Children. I couldn't let you and your curse hurt them, and now I know you're definitely cursed!"
She hesitated before responding. "I don't make many friends. There's you, Arachne and Esra. One's in Mevolent's castle, one's dead and before that, insane, which leaves you."
"B-J, find yourself some proper friends. Like him." he gestured loosely to Rasputin. "You just sounded like a friendless freak...the crazy cat lady variety."
She went to slap him again, but he caught her wrist. "Garnet, are you going to say anything constructive?"
He looked to Mortis. "Okay, B-J, with a little help I might be able to undo the curse, but we either need to get you or your necklace away from here and the innocents...or both. Take the necklace off."
Suspicious, she turned the necklace so she could see what she was doing with the clasp. It looked kind of like it had melted together. "Level four." Mortis mumbled as B-J gave him a 'what the hell?' look. "Try and pull it apart..."
She tried, but couldn't. The problem there was that Mortis, Jayden and Rasputin were all no doubt stronger than her, but they would be unable to touch the necklace safely. The Necromancer hesitated and tried to think. "I think I know someone who isn't dead who can help. D'you have a car?"
Her eyes flickered to Garnet, but he saw and shook his head, looking pained.
"I can't, B-J. I'm exhausted. Take a car, please."
She hesitated. "Advantageous Twist has a pretty big car...but he was going to use it to transport the Grotesquery...hide it..."
Rasputin nodded. "He could use the extra security."