All the shadow bits are gone now. Like something’s inside me, I feel bloated and my limbs feel so heavy it’s hard to stand for long.
My mind’s cloudy. Sometimes I feel like I’m back home, in bed, and Mum’s going to come through the door at any moment carrying a bowl of something nice.
Other times, I feel like I’m looking through the eyes of someone else.
After days of mindless boredom, sickness and terror, with nothing to do except listen to Sparks brag about some of his demonic exploits, Aisling came to the door. But Ganhook had locked the hatch, so the thickness of the door muffled Aisling’s words.
‘I rud bi bout Bonuman,’ she said.
‘What?’ I called.
‘Bronmat itman. Rud bout feever u kn . . .’
I felt like banging the door with frustration. She’d obviously discovered more about my illness, but, apart from both of us learning Morse code, I’d never learn what.
Aisling realised this too. Silence followed. Then she yelled, Sparbs!’
Sparbs! What on earth did that mean?
As if hearing me think, Sparks crackled in the fireplace, and hissed, ‘She means me.’
‘Sparks!’ I yelled.
‘Yub!’ Aisling replied.
‘What about Sparks?’ I cried, my voice collapsing from the effort.
‘She wants to talk to you through me,’ Sparks said.
I had to admit it was one of Aisling’s more brilliant ideas. While Sparks lair was deep beneath The Keep, bits of him travelled up along pipes to heat and light every part of the compound. All Aisling had to do was speak to him in another room. The part of him in my cell could forward on the message.
The idea sounded so insane it was sure to work.
Sparks was up for it too. I guess he was bored at hearing me brag about some of the ‘less than demonic’ things I’d done, because he didn’t even bargain for anything in return.
I heard Aisling walk off along the corridor. Ten minutes later, Sparks said, ‘Aisling here. You okay?’
I was so stunned a few moments passed before I could reply. ‘We should speak in French,’ I said, hoping that Sparks wouldn’t mind that we didn’t want him to understand us.’
‘D’accord,’ Sparks/Aisling replied.
I’d never liked French at school, but I muddled along anyway.
Aisling said, ‘Do you want the kind-of-bad news or the truly-dreadful news first?’
A big part of me didn’t want any news. But I had to know. ‘Truly dreadful.’
‘The Boneman Fever is associated with almost certain death.’
‘Almost doesn’t mean guaranteed,’ Sparks/Aisling replied. ‘It’s got a . . . reputation over the years.’
‘Great. I’m feeling better already.’
‘Are you sure you want to tell her that?’ Sparks said.
I stared into the fire, shocked that the spirit of a demon actually understood sarcasm. I guess he’d learned plenty living in this place. ‘No. Tell her that I . . . Wait! You understood me?’
The fire cackled. ‘I detected a change in your breathing.’
‘I also learned French from one of your ancestors.’
We started speaking English after that.
Aisling told me that the Boneman Fever was brought to the city by a traveller called Summare Tigard. Summare had sought a cure but ended up being studied by some mages instead. When the fever claimed him, it hijacked his spirit in some surreal way in order to survive. Since then, this ‘spirit’ illness has appeared intermittently, infecting and killing specific targets.
‘There are three phases,’ Sparks/Aisling said. ‘First it latches onto you. Then it gets into you. And finally, it . . .’
‘Kills me,’ I replied, doubling over by a sudden fit of coughing. And once I recovered my breath, a sudden fit of paranoia seized me. Had the fever caused that cough? Was it interfering with our conversation to stop me learning more about it?
‘It will try to kill you,’ Sparks/Aisling replied so casually my paranoia tried to convince me that everyone was quite happy I’d die in order to see what happened next. Then again, Aisling was pretty blunt at the best of times.
‘Once you’re . . . gone,’ Sparks/Aisling continued. ‘The fever will infect your spirit and move on, leaving your spirit to roam in search of suitable victims. It’s a clever thing. Real smart. It only affects those with the best chance of spreading it. Travellers. Traders. Sailors.’
I don’t think I’d ever felt so close to death as that moment—not in the past month or so anyway. ‘I’m not go die.’
‘Of course not.’
‘We should speak French again,’ I said. ‘I think the fever understands English.’
‘Two healers have arrived here,’ Sparks/Aisling said in French. ‘They’re waiting for you to collapse.’
As if the fever was angry at our language switch, a burst of cramp tore through my guts, making me want to run to the bucket. I held my breath until it passed. Tears filled my eyes, dissolving the room into a grey blur. ‘What’s the kind-of-bad news?’
‘They’ll heal you.’
‘Isn’t that good news?’
‘It’s risky. And if you . . . die . . . your infected spirit won’t ever be allowed leave that room.’