Iris studied the dying flower withering away in its vase, the way the petals became brown at the edge, the leaves blackening and curling inwards like old paper.
“Here is a glass of water,” Theo said holding out the glass. Her throat felt very dry and she was grateful.
“Thank you,” she said, sipping the cool water.
“I am still sorry for not telling you sooner,” Theo said.
There was silence.
“The flower needs changing,” Theo said awkwardly.
Iris took her eyes from the flower seeing him standing there in that nervous stance, almost scared to offend. But he had a strange beauty about him not just on the outside but his soul was like a rare jewel newly discovered.
“It is strange that I will never age, never get permanent lines on my face,” she said “People kill, sacrifice, search to the ends of the Earth for immortality and I am one of the few people to be granted it and I don’t know what to with it.” She laughed at herself.
“Don’t worry you haven’t wasted half your immortality with Will in this house.” Theo smiled and she giggled.
“Do not worry I am already getting a head start, maybe I can spend all of my immortality with him being grumpy.”
“Yeah you beat me, you only need to live with here for over twenty years,” Theo replied.
“How much are you willing to bet I will stay?”
“Hmmm I don’t know-“
“You will have to bet your soul Theo and even then it will only be worth half as much as me,” Will said, he was clean now, there was the smell of soap instead of dirt. His hair was gleamed with water and some of it had trickled down his neck wetting the collar of his shirt.
“You wish,” Theo replied grinning.
“Now we have wasted enough time we need to start preparing for this curse but Iris can you do the job?” Will asked.
“Of course I can,” Iris replied feeling offended by the way he talked down to her.
Iris pursed her lips, she twirled her hand and the flower began to gain colour again the brown receding in placement of purple, the leaves uncurled and brightened to a fluorescent green. The flower looked like it had just bloomed, fresh and full of life.
“Does that answer your question?” Iris asked, savouring the surprised expression on Will’s face.
“I guess so,” he replied.
Will was grumbling again about how the carriage was awful, the driver was awful, how the whole bloody world was awful.
“Do you do anything that does not require moaning sir?” Theo asked in mock politeness.
“Shut up,” Will growled.
Theo leaned over to Iris who was sat beside him.
“I bet my soul Miss Cadance that he cannot go through a single day without moaning,” Theo said.
Will saw how they were both starting cosy up together even Theo was more chatty with her than any other woman. He was sure he never saw Theo say more than Hello, how are you doing? Or some variation of that conversation sequence. Yet he was laughing and joking with the ex-high priestess.
“You going to disguise yourself?” Will asked impatiently.
“Yes I will,” Iris replied.
“Do it now.”
“We are not anywhere near the place,” Iris argued, pulling the curtain open slightly on the carriage door. Will leaned over and snatched the curtain close roughly.
“Don’t look out! What would have happened if-if someone saw you?” Will said, with his voice raising higher and higher with each word.
“Sir calm down!” Theo shouted.
Will scowled at him and diverted his eyes.
“How can a glimpse outside from a carriage in the dark reveal that Iris is alive? You need to calm down, I do not know what is stressing you out?”
“I just want to make it go alright,” Will replied like it was an apology.
“I will change if it makes you feel better,” Iris said.
“Please,” he said.
“You do not have to,” Theo said, looking at her and turning back to Will. “He can wait.”
She pulled at the white glove on her right hand.
“No it is fine, it is no trouble.”
Iris closed her eyes, searching deep into her soul, a whitish glow entered her vision. She went to it knowing it was the precious core of her magic, she touched it melting into the brightness. It read her thoughts and acted out her request. This happened in seconds in the outside world and when she opened her eyes. She was met by Will and Theo’s shocked expression.
Will laughed “It seems you stockpiled on the pies there Iris.”
Theo guffawed covering his mouth.
“I know I look terrible,” Iris said, covering her face with her hands for a moment before dropping them to her lap. She grinned.
“I do not know what to say,” Theo said, his eyes swept over her. “I think I prefer your normal appearance.”
“I agree with you Theo,” she said.
“I know he prefers your other appearance,” Will said, a wicked grin twisting his features. Iris’s expression went blank and Theo eyes widen and he gripped the carriage seat.
The carriage started to slow becoming joltier as it pulled to a stop.
“We have finally arrived sir,” Theo said quickly and leaned over Iris to look out of the window, he saw a rowdy pub. Some drunk was singing and swaying. “You could have warned us that you were taking us on a pub crawl, no place for a lady though.”
Will got up and opened the carriage door. He stepped out onto the hard ground breathing in the cold air.
“No Theo we are here to grab some ingredients,” Will said. He rushed ahead.
Iris went to go out when her dress got caught in the door. She tried pulling it at it but it was stuck tight.
“Iris?” Theo said questioningly.
She placed her hands onto the carriage and tried to push herself forward. She cried in frustration and slammed the carriage with her hands.
“I am stuck,” she said.
“Oh, well there is a lot more of you,” Theo replied.
“Thanks I just noticed!” Iris shouted, “where has Will gone?”
“I don’t know I am stuck in the carriage,” he replied.
“Wonderful,” Iris said in the most sarcastic tone she could muster. She saw with dismay the flabby arms of a glutton. “I should have gone for a thinner disguise,” she thought making a mental note to never go for such a big woman again.
Iris heard laughter and turned her head to see Will clutching his stomach.
“Shut up,” Iris snapped.
“That is no way to talk for a-” Will laughed. “A lady Iris.”
“Can you help me?” she asked.
“Just let me savour this moment,” Will said, pausing for a second before he grabbed hold of her hands. He pulled her gently free.
“I hate you already, I don’t think I will win my bet with Theo over lasting twenty years with you,” She said, rubbing down her creased dress.
Theo came out next squinting in the glow emanating from the pub.
“You took your time,” he remarked.
“Well I thought you had followed me,” Will said. He placed a hand on Theo’s shoulder. “However I did not realise you were stuck behind a whale.”
“Stop it with the insults,” Iris said, placing her hands on her hips. She stormed past them into the pub.
Stale sweat and beer made her eyes water she sneezed.
“Bless you,” Theo said, taking her arm. She looked at him strangely. “No one will really bother you if they think we are together.”
“Of course,” she replied.
The pub was filled with misshaped wooden tables cluttered about covered in beer and reddish stains. Iris didn’t like to think what they were. There was a round bar in the centre where the customers were drawn to it like a moth to light shouting in loud, rough voices in common English their orders. Or at each other in insults.
Will was talking to a woman, smiling a charming smile at her. A big woman wearing a very revealing dress. She laughed and leaned in close to Will whispering something in his ear. She passed him something, small enough to fit in her palm. Will seemed very pleased, kissing her hand in a gentleman style.
“We should sit in a quieter corner as we wait for him to finish up his business,” Theo said loudly, so she could hear him over the roar of voices.
“Yes please,” Iris said, wanting to get some space.
“Hey darling,” an old man said, grinning with his blackened teeth. She moved quickly past but felt fingers clawed through her dress.
“Stop that,” Will said slapping away the man’s hand. The man’s nostrils flared open.
“Who you tellin’ me what ta’ do?” he said.
“You do not insult a woman like that pig,” Will insulted, grinning even wider when the man stood up. He was at least two feet taller than Will.
“Will.” Theo said cautiously, pulling Iris to one side. She held onto him.
He was not listening and neither was the man when his friends tried to cool his temper. The pub had gone unnaturally quiet.
The door crashed open making everyone jump. Everyone’s heads turned to see this boy dressed in filthy clothes with a rat-like face. He even snivelled like a rat and was all drenched like he had crawled out of the sewer himself.
“There’s been another murder by the beast!” the boy shouted to everyone.
This caused an outbreak of murmurs.
“Murders?” Iris said, looking to Theo, he shrugged his shoulders. It was the first time he had heard of it as well.
“The streets are washed with blood again,” a woman screeched from the corner of the pub.
“We are all in danger,” a small balding man said.
“Shut up you are all panicking,” the barman shouted.
This caused more arguments.
“What if the murderer was among us, the beast?” a man said in a composed manner like he was giving a formal idea. The chatter slowed and all eyes were drawn to him. He had small, round glasses that made his eyes look perfectly circular, pale, milky blue globes. His suit was neatly cut, all sharp lines, black in colour.
Coldness tensed around Iris who felt breathless, bile could be tasted in her mouth, dread made her tremble and she gripped Theo tighter until he made a little cry of pain. Those man’s eyes sought into the crowd, peering into them, dissecting who they are in the briefest of moments. Iris felt sick to be in his presence.
“Oh god, oh god,” she whispered feverishly. Her legs grew weak.
The man stood up with everyone watching him.
“I need to leave,” she cried into Theo’s chest. Her breathing becoming laboured.
“What’s wrong?” Theo said, his face creased in concern.
The man opened his mouth. “I think the boy looks like he has a wolfish look about him,” he said, in a tone the doctors use when making a diagnosis.
“I need to leave,” she said in a strangled voice. She unhooked her hands from his jacket and hurried away, pushing through the crowd. Theo followed unsure of what to make of it.
Will hardly noticed them leaving, they had gone by another route and had not gotten close to him otherwise he would have followed, or Theo would have dragged him along. Will was could feel fear set in his bones. It made him tense his muscles until they hurt.
“The boy over there.” The man pointed a thin finger at Will.
All eyes fell on him in that moment filled with a sudden hostility.
“Iris, Iris!” Theo shouted, he had lost sight of her temporarily. He wanted to protect her, she was his responsibility because he was an expert of resurrection and knew how vulnerable she really was now. Even if she didn’t realise it yet.
Movement caught his eye and he saw a hunched shadow further ahead. He was drawn to them immediately and saw Iris griping the cold wall, gasping and shaking. He put his hands on her shoulders that decreased in size until his hands felt around her thin, bony shoulders. Her disguise had disappeared.
“Death, death,” she said rapidly. She craned her neck, her eyes focused on him pure white threaded with red blood vessels. She collapsed in his arms.
“Iris!” Theo said in alarm, as her whole body shook. Her eyes closed unable to keep open. He had to do something quick.
He glanced round to see if anyone had seen them and carried her to the alleyway to hide. He fell against the wall with Iris in his arms.
“Death embodies form,” she cried, gasping for air. “Death near so near, behind you,” she whispered and lost consciousness.
Her words caused Theo to look left and right but he saw nothing only the dark.
“Iris wake up please.” He shook her lightly but she was not responding.
There was shouting and screaming breaking out into the street. Theo picked up Iris in his arms. He carried her to the edge of the street.
Will darted past.
“Sir!” he shouted.
Will stumbled to a stop and sprinted to the alleyway. He hid behind Theo. An angry mob of people went by shouting curses and threats.
They waited until they had gone.
“What happened?” Theo asked.
Will was panting for breath leaning against the wall, his eye was swollen shut with an ugly purple bruise.
“Iris,” he said, standing up straight. He took her head into his hands staring at her face, he opened her eyes with his thumb.
“She started to shake and blacked out,” Theo explained.
“We need to get to the carriage, I told the driver to park it nearby,” Will said. “Do you need help carrying her?”
Theo shook his head.
They hurried under the cover of night to the carriage. She was so cold and thin. Theo carried her close to his chest to try to keep her warm.
It splattered down in thick rain and howling wind whipped at them. Theo's teeth rattled and he clutched Iris to his chest trying to protect her face from rain's lashes.
The carriage shone in the rain like it was made of black marble.
Will stopped grasping the door handle.
"I murdered someone Theo," he shouted.
Theo’s heart stopped in his chest.
"According to those idiots!" he added, and Theo relaxed. How could he think Will could kill someone.
"I am sure you haven't sir," Theo replied, but Will didn't say anything. His hands clenched into fists. A strange look appeared on his face almost guilty but it was gone quickly.
"Get her inside," Will instructed, swinging the door open. "Driver we need to go now!" He barked but there was no reply. "Bloody driver!" he cried, and stomped round to the front of the carriage.
Theo gently place Iris on the seat laying her down carefully, her wet clothes instantly soaking the seat. She was sleeping fitfully, her face contorted fear or anger. His hand gently brushed a strand of hair out of her face.
"Theo," Will said, his face appearing in the carriage door. His face was paler like all blood flow had been cut off, his mouth shaped to form other words but his vocal cords had been paralysed.
"What's happened?" Theo demanded, moving forward to get out but Will put a hand out to stop him.
"We- we have to go, oh god," he said his voice becoming chocked. "Stay with her, I'm driving." He slammed the door shut. There was slap of his footsteps on the wet ground churning up mud.
"Will!" Theo shouted, and went to open the door when the carriage lunged forward, he fell backwards, striking the back of his head on the opposite door. He yelled in pain and tried to call Will's name.
A dull thump of something heavy falling to the ground was from outside, sucking up the mud. It evoked a terrible, tense feeling in Theo's gut that he only associated with death.
Unease clung to Theo like a disease. He stared at Iris who was growing more feverish by the minute. Yet it was what she said that caused dread to take a seat next to Theo.
That name haunted him, it was written into the scars on his back. The name of his nightmare being spoken in her voice was wrong.
The carriage pulled to a stop slowly the way a funeral procession slows when it arrives at the church.
Theo went to the door, glancing back at Iris for a moment as he exited. He landed on muddy grass on the far side of the estate, away from the usual path the carriages took. It was dark and it took a moment for Theo’s eyes to adjust, he groped the side of the carriage to guide himself to the front.
He found Will sat on the seat crying. He had never cried since his father died.
“What happened Will?” he asked, going nearer to him.
The crying quieten. He turned his head to Theo.
“The driver is dead,” he said monotonously.
Any comforting words got lodged in Theo’s throat. He saw the red gleam covering Will’s arms to the elbow.
“I don’t understand,” Theo said.
Will got up and jumped down from the seat.
“He was murdered Theo, someone had slit his throat open.”
He saw the pool of blood covering the seat and down the side of the carriage.
Theo stumbled away, he hunched over feeling a sharp pain in his stomach.
“Someone is trying to frame me.”
The image of the driver with a gaping slit in his throat gushing blood, the name Arkmas being repeated caused Theo to throw up onto the ground. He retched up whatever food resting in his stomach.
“I saw the body and you are sick at the mention of it,” Will laughed non-humorously.
Theo wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he straightened up.
“Why was he murdered?” Theo asked.
“Do you think I would be freaking out if I knew the answer?” Will cried. He kicked the ground unleashing an angered shout from his throat. His foot flinging up bits of grass. He went up to Theo and grabbed his shoulders, staring into his eyes, searching for help. “I think I am being framed for those murders.”