“No.”, was all he said, his voice crackling slightly over the phone, but the determination in it clear nonetheless, “I will not help you with this.”
“Noah, c’mon!”, she growled, clutching her mobile phone tightly in her hand, “You can’t leave me hanging now.”
Her only answer was a pained sigh and she knew exactly how he looked in that very moment, his free hand probably in his long brown hair and his dark eyes closed in both exasperation and hurt, but she paid it no mind. Instead she said challengingly: “You won’t help me? Fine, I’ll do it on my own.”
Silence followed, she almost believed he had simply hung up on her, but then she heard Noah again.
“Sharon.”, Noah said, his voice flat, almost lifeless, “If you do this, you will be dead to me.”
“Noah, I have to, I…”, she began, but then realised that he had in fact hung up on her.
“Bastard.”, Sharon muttered and threw the phone onto the couch, glaring at it while thinking of Noah. Uptight bastard. Uptight bastard with a stick up his arse.
Stifling the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes, Sharon snatched up her phone and got dressed. There was no time to lose after all, as there was a full moon tonight.
When she left her apartment, she thought about sending Noah a text message saying that she was sorry, but then she scoffed and dismissed the idea. She had nothing to be sorry for, nothing.
During the short drive to the dock, Sharon went over her mental notes again, checking them probably for the hundredth time, but she had to be sure, otherwise this whole endeavour would be for naught.
But she had everything, the old letter, the lock of Noah’s hair, stolen from him as he had been taking a nap on her couch, her mother’s blood…
Now the only thing missing was the full moon.
Checking her watch nervously, Sharon realised that only an hour of daylight remained, but it was enough, it simply had to be enough. Still she glanced nervously at her watch as she parked the car and quickly walked over to her father’s boat. Forty minutes of daylight remaining as the old, rusty boat made its way through the dark murky waters of the lake, pushed towards the lost little island in the middle of the lake, the Isle of Archer, all but abandoned nowadays except for the occasional a bit too adventurous youngster trying to prove himself by spending a night there. No one ever managed the task, but Sharon knew she had to at least stay there long enough to get the answers she needed, just a few minutes.
Her arms were burning and her breath already ragged as the sun dimly vanished behind the thick, black forest surrounding the lake, engulfing her in darkness. And she was still so far away from the island.
She had to hurry, or she would miss the window, would miss the crucial time for the ritual and have to wait for another month. Her mother did not have that kind of time. Not anymore.
Tears threatened to spill, but Sharon choked them down and instead put all the energy into rowing the boat across the lake. It was not long before the keel hit the gravelly shore of the Isle. As she stepped out of the boat, her hands were shaking and admittedly, it was not only from exhaustion. She was afraid. She had sworn herself to not fear this moment, to be brave, for Mom, but she could not do it.
No matter, she had to pull through despite her fear then. Nothing else mattered.
Checking once again whether she had everything, Sharon made her way over the island, flashlight in hand. A motion at the corner of her eye made her jump before she realised that it had only been a bush and the flashlight casting weird shadows. Pathetic.
With new resolve, Sharon briskly walked onwards and soon the old cottage was in sight. It was in an abysmally bad state, all windows shattered, the door unhinged and the roof rotted, caved in. No one had been here for an entire century, she was sure of it, and had it been up to her, she would not be here either, but she pushed the thought and the lump of ice in her stomach aside and instead proceeded into the abandoned cottage, ducking under cobwebs and trying her best not to stumble over the omnipresent rubble.
She stubbed her toe, but the pain was forgotten within an instant as she found it. The altar.
Shaking her head, Sharon silently cursed Noah once again. Bastard, he had to have known about this. The whole town knew about the Archers’ connection to dark powers, but they only ever talked about it in hushed voices and never with one of the old clan present. She had once dared ask Noah about it and that rat bastard had denied everything. But he had tried to keep her away from the island nonetheless, even successfully up until now. Now though, something was more important than him, more than her. Or anything, really.
With a sigh of determination, Sharon walked up to the altar, almost mesmerised by the way the moonlight was caught in the silvery surface, making it shine with an eerie glow that somehow was too strong for that wee ray of moonlight, but she ignored it. More pressing matters.
With shaking hands, she produced the items she had painstakingly collected over the last few weeks, ever since she had heard that the altar could actually be more than just the village legend.
First the old letter she had found in the mansion of Noah’s family, now abandoned, but still filled with the riches of the Archer clan. Alright, so she had stolen it, but who cared? It was for a good purpose.
The letter told her what to place where and so she followed the instructions to the letter.
“Hair of the heir, bound by blood.”, Sharon mumbled and placed the lock of Noah’s hair in the lacuna right in the middle of the altar.
“Blood of the ailing, thereby bound by blood.”, she continued, her voice breaking as she emptied the vial of her mother’s blood into the lacuna as well, wetting Noah’s hair with it. It looked like normal blood, but Sharon knew that it was riddled with cancerous cells, slowly killing her mother, taking away the most important person in her life. And for what reason? Fucking bad luck.
But not on her watch. She would get answers, a bleeding wonder if she had to.
“Bound by blood, freed by fire.”, Sharon read in the letter and lighted the match which she then gingerly guided to the bloodied hair. It exploded in flame making her shriek in shock, then the flame calmed, but it burned in brightest blue, painting the empty cottage in a pale blue and casting unfamiliar shadows while engulfing both the lock of hair and her mother’s blood, slowly consuming both.
Sharon was mesmerised; she kept staring until she realised that once the blood had been burnt, her chance would be gone. So she composed herself and read the chant in the letter aloud: “Freed by fire to roam in your realm, seeking the answer. Seeking freedom of this ailment. I beseech thee, grant this freedom.”
Only the crackling of the flame broke the following silence, then the lock of hair caught fire and burnt in blood-red before, in a flash of light, it went up in ashes.
Darkness descended with the fire now gone and only the moonlight remained.
“No…”, Sharon mumbled, “No. It has to wo…”
Her words were cut off when she gasped in agony, her wrists burning hot like the blue flame that had consumed her mother’s blood. Sharon’s breath was taken away by the mind-numbing pain and even though she tried to scream, nothing could be heard.
Only a whisper in her head, ice-cold in its malignity: “Your offer is…acceptable.”
The pain on her wrists doubled, something burning into her flesh, scorching her very soul, blackening it. She had no idea how she knew that. But she did.
“Begone!”, a voice boomed through the dark night, soothing Sharon’s soul, soothing her burning wrists like balm, “I command you, be gone!”
The pain on her wrists vanished like a grip that had suddenly been shaken and it only left a dull ache behind as she found herself kneeling before the altar, not knowing how she had ended up on the dusty floor.
Panting and barely able to move, Sharon nevertheless turned around, sitting on the cold, hard floor of the cottage and as she looked up, she saw the familiar, most welcome sight of Noah. Two metres of comfort, of friendship, even though he looked positively feral with his broad shoulders, his long hair in tangles and his right palm bleeding from a cut he had apparently inflicted on himself with the knife in his left hand.
“Noah…”, she whispered, tears of relief now running down her cheeks, “Noah, I’m so gla…”
“Shut up.”, he said, his voice almost as cold as the one she had heard in her head before and Sharon winced as if slapped.
“Noah…”, she began, but he cut her off, “I told you that if you did this, you would be dead to me. But you did it anyway.”
“I had to!”, Sharon argued, hands balled to fists, “My mother…”
“Is dying.”, Noah harshly said, “Everyone dies eventually. Get over it.”
“How can you…?”, Sharon said, jumping to her feet, but finding it hard to stay upright as nausea hit her and the ache in her wrists pulsated.
“How can I say that?”, Noah guessed her question and shook his head, “How could you do this? Are you even remotely aware of what you could have done?”
“I could have saved my mother!”, Sharon cried and Noah merely shook his head before he calmly, flatly said, “Some things are worse than death.”
Sharon glared daggers at him and then hurled herself at her oldest friend, hitting his chest with her fists as she hissed: “You’ve seen her in that hospital bed, barely a shadow of herself. I could have saved her from that.”
“No.”, Noah said and gently stopped her fists, “No. You could have only delayed the inevitable. And doomed both your soul and mine in the process.”
“I wouldn’t ha…Ow!”, Sharon hissed as Noah touched her wrist and then roughly pulled at her arm so she saw her own wrist in the pale moonlight. There was a terrible scar on it, bulging and red, despicable and ugly.
“The demon is bound to my family. This is the demon’s way of marking his servants. This is the pact you have willingly entered.”, Noah told her, once again pressing his thumb against the scar and making her groan in pain, “Pray that I have come here just in time to save you. You’ll know when you die and do not serve a demon.”
With that he dropped her wrist as if he had scorched himself on her skin, then he turned and walked away.
“Noah.”, Sharon said and he stopped, but merely turned his head a bit, yet he did not face her as he spoke, “This is the last time you have seen me. You will never talk to me again, never call me again, never see me again. You are dead to me.”
“Noah…”, she murmured in disbelief, shaking her head. But he walked away.
“Noah!”, Sharon called after him, but she only saw his tall silhouette merge into the darkness of the night.