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Cold Moonlight Fire

Part Three


Wyreth's treatment of Cole Draycott was direct and to the point. In case there were unseen physical injuries, he employed Res before attempting to alleviate the man's comatose condition with Arows. These were not true magic spells, but rather techniques by which a person's will could shape the magical energies existing around them in the environment. Almost anyone could learn a few techniques, though many never took the time to do so, but magic was a skill one had to be born with.

In response to the Esper's awakening technique, Draycott gave a deep groan and his eyes fluttered open. Like his sister's, they were a deep cobalt blue, and also like her he was very attractive, though perhaps too soft-featured to suit Bryn's tastes.

"What...what happened?" he moaned. "Who are you people?" He caught sight of his sister and asked, "Laura, what is going on? What's wrong?"

"It's Duncan," she answered. "He's been...murdered."


He tried to sit up, but Wyreth pushed him back into the bed. Draycott could not resist; he was still too weak.

"What? How?" he asked. "And what am I doing here?"

"We found him in the laboratory," Laura told her brother. "You were there, too, unconscious. Mrs. Saul thought that you were dead as well. I was so glad when this Esper, Mr. Wyreth, found that you were alive. With Duncan gone, I could not bear to lose you as well."

He reached out weakly and squeezed his sister's hand.

"Don't worry, Laura."

Draycott looked up at the others.

"What I don't understand is, how did I get to the attic? The last thing I recall is having a drink in the parlor at about five o'clock." He glanced at a small timepiece on his bedside table and his eyes widened in shock. "Why, that was two hours ago!"

"So you have no idea at all how you came to be found with a murdered man?" Bryn asked.

Draycott's eyes grew hard and his lips pressed tightly together as he looked at her.

"In other words, you are wondering if I killed Duncan. What I am wondering in turn is, just who are the three of you and what is your status here?"

The windowpane rattled as a gust of wind struck it.

"These are Duncan's guests," Laura explained. "Their names are Mathew Wyreth, Bryn Morgaine, and Trent Hawthorne. He asked them to come here today in connection with a new expedition he was planning."

"A new one?" Draycott seemed surprised. "I didn't think he'd finished his follow-up research from the Nahar project."

Bryn nodded.

"That does sound like Rostoke, though," she noted. He had the courage to delve into new places but lacked the patience for the painstaking work of scholarship, analysis, and cataloguing. Very much like herself, for that matter. His laboratory projects were no doubt confined to more esoteric matters like magical rituals and formulae or unusual artifacts like the idol. "He always did like to rush into each new expedition."

Draycott shrugged.

"I suppose so. I've only known him since he married Laura, so I couldn't say."

"As far as our status," Hawthorne said, "we're just trying to protect ourselves from a killer. I'm not saying it's you, but it is someone who's in this house right now." He looked around the circle of faces with hard eyes. "I doubt any one of us feels differently."

The handsome man in the bed exhaled heavily.

"I suppose there's truth in that. I still don't understand how I came to be in that room."

"You have no memory at all of the last two hours?" Wyreth asked.

Draycott shook his head.

"None at all."

There was a tight, worried expression on his face, which was only natural given the situation in which he found himself.

"I confess that those hours are a complete blank to me."

The Esper frowned and rubbed his chin.

"It may be that you have suffered an emotional shock which has driven your memories from you. If so, then there is a method of mind-to-mind contact by which I might be able to open your subconscious mind and retrieve those memories in some form."

"Is it safe?" Laura asked.

"In and of itself, yes. The memories may be frightening and experiencing them may strain Draycott's will, however. We are only starting to understand how the mind functions, and too many shocks may be hazardous."

"Look, if you can do this, then will you just get on with it, man?" snapped Draycott. "I don't need a lecture on the technical aspects; I need your help!"

Bryn glanced at Hawthorne. Neither one of them commented on the angry outburst. Neither had to; the anger drained from the man's face almost at once and he gave a deep sigh.

"I'm sorry for that," he apologized. "I don't enjoy being under suspicion of murder, and not knowing what happened makes me feel weak and helpless."

"Maybe," Hawthorne theorized, "your drink was drugged. Once you were unconscious, the real murderer could have brought you upstairs to make you a ready-made suspect."

Bryn didn't believe that. If it was true, then why not complete the frame by leaving the murder weapon in or by Draycott's hand? Unless, of course, it was so distinctive that it would instantly identify the real murderer. Even so, carrying an unconscious man through the corridors seemed too risky. Though the manor seemed sparsely populated, carrying a man through the corridors would make stealth impossible. Besides which, no one had assumed Draycott was the killer. His unconscious condition made it more likely that he was some manner of victim.

No, Bryn was certain that whatever the true solution, it was more complex than drugs and a frame.

"Could you dim the lights, please?" Wyreth asked Mrs. Rostoke. "The process seems to work better if we minimize visual distractions."

She complied, extinguishing the room's two main sources of light, ornate oil lamps which hung on wall hooks. This left only a bedside candle still burning. A draft made it gutter, casting weird shadows across people's faces and strange glints in the mirror and windowpanes. Draycott's already golden complexion seemed to become molten bronze. Bryn watched with interest; she'd met other Espers and had seen their magic before, but this was the first time she'd encountered telemental skills.

Wyreth reached out and held the younger man's head still, then extended the first two fingers of each hand and pressed them to Draycott's temples.

Keep your gaze fixed on mine," he instructed firmly. There was an unearthly intensity to his emerald stare; Wyreth's eyes gleamed, catlike, in the dim light. "You can feel my power, Cole Draycott. You want to look away, but do not obey that urge. Let your mind relax and open to me. Feel your will slip away; do not fight it, but let yourself float free. You are safe in my hands. Safe...relax...let down your will..."

The Esper's hands began to glow, limned by a soft silver light. Next to Bryn, a gasp of shock escaped Hawthorne.

"Yes...good...that's right," Wyreth murmured. "I can feel your mind opening itself up to me. Your inner self stands revealed. Your awareness is entering into a dream, a vision through which we shall call forth your memories, the secrets that hide in the shadows of your mind."

Draycott looked transfixed, his eyes wide and staring but unfocused.

"Tell me where you are," snapped the Esper, his voice suddenly commanding, hard and stern rather than soft and soothing.

"I...I am floating in a sea of nightmares," Draycott whispered, his lips barely moving. "All around me, I see the faces of family and friends, the people that I love. They turn to me, but their eyes are hard and searching. They watch me constantly, as if waiting for something."

"Why do they watch you?" Wyreth's voice impelled.

"They want me to reveal myself, they want to learn my secrets--but they will not discover them! I will not let them!"

"Secrets?" Laura whispered breathlessly. "What secrets does he mean? Why should Cole have any secrets?"

"I'm sure that Wyreth will explain," Bryn told her softly. She wasn't sure of that at all, but a promise of later explanations seemed the best way to keep any further disturbances to a minimum. It had required power to put Draycott into the trance, and if broken it might not be possible to renew the telemental link.

As for Hawthorne, he was watching the proceedings with furrowed brow and worry etched on his face. A warrior's distrust of the "unnatural," perhaps. Bryn had met several soldiers, Parmanian and Dezolian alike, who disliked even such minor manifestations as technique use, an ability Bryn herself had a moderate talent for. Telementalism went well beyond that; the Espers were a reclusive group and most people knew nothing of any but their most common talents.

"I can see them, lurking in the shadows, eyes on me. they know? The truth could be learned, could be discovered--I must find it!"

Perspiration stood out on the young man's face and his body trembled, yet his eyes held that same fixed stare. There was something frightening in the duality, in a man caught in a terrifying world none of the others could see.

"Where?" Wyreth commanded. "Where do you look for this truth?"

"It is hidden...I must find the place, but it is sealed away, kept safe by faithful hounds who guard the bronze gates. Where? Where? I search everywhere, but cannot see...No! He has been my greatest ally of all, but now he too has turned--is my most fearsome enemy. Now, his accursed knowledge...threatens my very life!"

Wyreth's voice was still soft, but it held a furious intensity that seemed to roar in Bryn's ears.

"What is this knowledge you fear?"

"The ancient lore! That which has been forbidden. The green mist rises as they close in around me." A terrible shudder passed through Draycott's body, leaving him trembling and twitching. Laura gave a little moan of sympathy at her brother's pain.

"I have to stop him," he whispered in a dreadful voice. "I must, before he has the chance to join them all against me...but he is too quick--the mist obscures him! My friends and loved ones tear at me with burning claws. Their eyes--eyes of fire! I gasp for breath and struggle, but my world dissolves until there is nothing but flame..."

"Rest, Draycott," Wyreth ordered. "You are safe once more, not caught in a dream. Wake, and be whole again."

The glow around his hands faded, and he took his fingertips from the subject's head. There was a moment of transition, and then Draycott's expression returned to normal. He shook his head as if to clear it of the last remnants of a bad dream.

"Was...was it of any use?"

"I don't see how," Hawthorne snorted, hitching his thumbs into his broad, studded leather weapon-belt. "All that rot about burning claws and green mist and secret truth. It sounds like the kind of dreams you get when you drink too much nyshar. Or maybe something like this one merchant from Meese would say. He thought everyone was a spy for his competitors, got obsessed with the idea. One day he went off his head completely and accused his daughter of passing on secret information to a rival, and when she denied it, he choked her to death. They locked him in an asylum. I hear he feeds half his meals to the rats to test them for poison."

"Was his daughter really betraying him?" Laura asked.

Hawthorne smiled humorlessly.

"As eight years old?"

A look of shock and horror flooded Draycott's face. Clearly, he was asking himself if he, too had that kind of canker gnawing at his soul, if he'd murdered his brother-in-law in a fit of insanity.

"You mistake the nature of the telemental trance," Wyreth told the mercenary sternly. "It draws out lost memories in the form of allegory, a dreamlike play, according to the logic of the subconscious. As the rational, conscious mind is not involved, it is not a precise recitation of facts and events, or even of thoughts and feelings."

"Then what did it all mean?" Bryn asked.

Wyreth frowned.

"I'm not sure," he said, and it was obvious that the admission troubled him. "From touching his mind I've learned a few things, but not enough to explain everything. One thing strikes me as significant, though. I speak of his reference to 'the truth.' That truth is important; I am certain of it."

"So what does it mean?" Bryn asked again. "Does it mean the truth about the murder? Or something else?"

She looked at the Esper. He was nodding slowly.

"The idol," Laura breathed. "That must be it."

Bryn snapped her fingers.

"Rostoke's research notes," she exclaimed. "If there is anything about the idol or the rest of his latest project to explain this killing, those notes would be the best place to look."

Draycott looked at her nervously.

"To you mean, as a motive? Duncan has located valuable antiquities before, or it could be that he discovered something that disturbs someone's ideal of the past. That could mean something..."

Perhaps that was what she had meant, yet Bryn was not certain. There was something more than murder here, she was sure. She could feel it, the sense of something unnatural. It was more than just the surroundings, the antiquities in the manor, the strange statuette, the storm that had blown up out of nowhere. What had Draycott been doing in the laboratory? Why had he fallen unconscious?

There was a technique to induce sleep, but as far as Bryn knew, it did not cause a loss of memory. Nor did it explain what Draycott had said under the influence of Wyreth's telemental skill.

No, there was definitely something more happening here, something truly evil.

"Mr. Wyreth," Laura said, "can you at least tell us whether you believe my brother is guilty?"

The Esper nodded.

"That is one thing I can say with certainty. I am absolutely positive that Cole Draycott did not kill your husband."

Bryn raised a curious eyebrow, but the Esper's face was as uncommunicative as a stone.

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