Aunt Midnight and Aldrin returned to the house mid-morning. Aldrin had an ugly mark on his face, like someone managed to dig their fingernails onto the side of his muzzle and tear his skin; whilst Aunt Midnight was in a state. It was hard to believe she could walk upright, even if she had Aldrin's help. I managed to sit her down and tweeze the shards of glass in her arms and neck, as well as clean out all the cuts and grazes and shallow teeth-marks. She had an especially deep cut in her back.
“Remember when you used to clean all of my cuts?” I asked her, with a fake sheepish grin, hoping the irony might at least make her smile a little.
She looked at me with dead eyes and patted my head, “I remember. Thank you,” she said, “I'll need to take a very thorough shower, so don't wrap anything up just yet, okay?”
Aldrin made his mother a cup of tea and sat down at the table. They didn't say anything, but they weren't fighting which was a relief.
“Aldrin?” Aunt Midnight said.
“Yes, Mum?” he said.
“Could you find Mr Kenobi and Mr Cortés and ask them to wait in the living room for me? Oh, and call Queenie as well?”
Aunt Midnight smiled sadly and touched the wound on Aldrin's face, “Thank you, Sugarcube.”
“Mum...” Aldrin muttered irritably.
It made Aunt Midnight laugh softly.
Aunt Midnight left the room after I was done to clean herself of muck and dirt, cracked twigs and dead leaves. I went to the living room and found Aldrin setting things in order.
“Everything alright?” I asked him.
He paused and looked back at me, “You mean other than the fact that my father just died and I tried to kill my mum last night?”
“Yeah. Other than that.”
Aldrin touched his sore wound and sat down, “I'm beginning to think nothing will be 'alright'. Ever. It's like as soon as one crisis ends, the Fates just shit out another one for us. I mean, you get it, right? Queenie murders her boyfriend, then you get kidnapped, mum tries to save you but you want to be a gladiator, you win but end up in a coma, Dad goes looking for some phoney-baloney fountain and actually finds it to wake you up, Mum gets miraculously knocked up, Annabeth's dad ninjas out of hiding, Mum sends me and Bex to find some Spanish guy who might know something or the other with a complete nut-case she used to know and love, we come back and Dad gets murdered!” Aldrin huffed and leaned forward on his knees, “And now Mum wants to go back to Normandy and all of this,” he gestured around him, “all of it is suddenly my responsibility. I mean, I've watched Mum and Dad go crazy around here... How the hell am I going to do that?”
“You're not alone, Aldrin. There will be others around to help you,” I reassured him, “I mean, yeah, everyone has issues around here, but we're still here, aren't we? Give it time. We'll figure this out.”
“Not you. Mum wants you to go with her.”
“I heard,” I told him, “But if you want me to stay...”
“No. I want you to go with Mum, I haven't got a problem with that... She'll need someone like you. You're just... the last sane person, I guess.”
“There's always John.”
“Yeah, but he's like Alex and Ted-”
“No, he's not,” I shook my head, “John is leagues better than that. And there's Damon.”
“But Damon... smells funny.”
“I thought he didn't smell of anything.”
“That's my point. I mean, he used to irk Dad and he irks me too. He's alright though, I guess.”
“You should think about calling Amethyst.”
“Not your daughter.”
He paused, “I don't know...”
“Nobody's iron-clad, Aldrin. When a kettle boils, the steam has to go somewhere.”
Aldrin blinked, “You've spent way too much time with my mum and dad.”
“You called?” Queenie said, coming in.
“Yeah,” Aldrin said, getting up, “just wait a minute. I'll be back,” he left the room.
Queenie sat down in a comfy chair and nodded at me, “Do you know what this is about?”
I just shrugged.
Then Mr Cortés came in and sat down. He didn't say anything, but I could see Queenie was shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
And then Midnight came in.
I hadn't seen her this way before. She wore a leather bodice, black sleeves, tight black trousers padded with brown leather and heavy boots. She had patched herself up, covering all her cuts with bandages - but also she had put marks on her face. A straight scar adorned her bottom lip and another cut just next to her eye. She had shortened her hair and there was a black tricorne hat on her head, a sword at her side, four pistols on her person - two in holsters around her hips and two hanging from a belt across her chest - and a cross-bow over her shoulder. A worn travelling cloak was pinned to her shoulders and flowed down to the ground.
Mr Cortés didn't say anything, but Queenie raised her brows and said, “Holy hell, what's gotten into you?”
Aunt Midnight's eyes skimmed around the room and they narrowed, “Where's Mr Kenobi?” she asked.
Aldrin came up behind her and said, “He's not in his quarters or any of the other rooms. He's gone.”
Aunt Midnight sighed. She stepped in and shut the door behind her. She looked at Queenie and Mr Cortés.
“I don't need to tell you why you're here. What I do need to tell you is that the map to the Fountain of Youth is gone,” her voice was tight and rigid, “You will also need to know that the longer either of you play dumb with me, the longer we will be here. And the longer we're here the thinner my tolerance will get. So, I'll start with something simple - Queenie, what are you doing here?”
“Woah, okay...” Queenie hesitated, “I'm only here because Aldrin and Bex found me shipwrecked.”
“That's how you got here. Irrelevant. Why did you just happen to be shipwrecked in front El Tívu? Why are you here?”
“It was a fluke.”
“I refuse to believe that. If it was a fluke, there would have been other survivors, your enemy ship leaving on the horizon, smoke - it seems too much of a fluke that there was only you and nothing else.”
“How would you know? You weren't there!”
“That's correct. But Patrick Reilly was. And so was this,” Aunt Midnight took out a plank of wood from behind her and handed it to Queenie. The paint was peeling, but it read 'Eleanor', “Explain.”
“You want me to explain why a bit of wood has a woman's name on it?”
“You know what I want you to explain,” Aunt Midnight said, “The HMS Eleanor belonged to a British fleet, but it was captured in a Polish raid. Being a schooner, it had little hold and little use to Polish mercenaries. So: what would an expendable ship and a single Polish mercenary be doing in the middle of the Atlantic, waiting for El Tívu to arrive?”
“Queenie, I don't have time or mind for games. Why are you here? What have the Chess Pieces assigned you?”
“I thought I said playing dumb is a stupid way to go.”
Queenie paused, “You promise to believe what I say?”
“You haven't exactly given me a good reason to do such a thing. But I'll judge once I've heard it.”
Queenie sighed, “I swear I wasn't sent to kill anyone. Not Thomas, not anyone. I was sent here to just find the map and bring it back.”
Aunt Midnight's face crumpled, “I don't want to accuse you, Queenie, but it just seems... too coincidental.”
“You don't honestly believe-?! Look, Midnight, I know I'm not the best person in the world, but I would never-”
“Don't you think I know how the Chess Pieces work? They send relatives to take out relatives! To lessen the chance of vengeance within their ranks!”
“On my life, Midnight, I-! I'm not the one that ran. Kenobi ran, isn't it obvious it's him!”
“I haven't ruled him out, but my suspicions stay for you!”
Queenie pulled out a shining piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Midnight, “This is my contract, I swear to God, it is! I wasn't sent to kill anyone, only to get the map! Besides, what purpose would Thomas's death have served? Globally, he's just a nobody. We just wanted the map, Midnight, I swear.”
“Nobody?” Aunt Midnight crumpled the piece of paper in her fist, “A nobody?”
“That's... not what I meant.”
“Everything you are, everything you have been and could have been, was because of that man! This house and everything in it could not have been possible without him! Bloody fuck! If it wasn't for him you'd've been stuck in some lonely cave somewhere in Tibet!”
We all stared at her.
“What?” I asked.
Aunt Midnight breathed in shallows breaths trying to calm down.
“So that's how you've been doing it,” Mr Cortés spoke.
Aunt Midnight looked over at him, “I know you're not working for Isabella. You aren't working for the fun of it either, Miguel. What do the Sons of the Sword want with the Fountain of Youth?”
“I won't try your tolerance, Midnight. I've had my share of lunatics in the last few months to last me a lifetime. The Sons of the Sword have dedicated their lives to... preserve mystical artifacts.”
“Why else? To keep them away from prying eyes and greedy hands. To keep them safe and out of the danger of some ignorant force that would use them for ill,” he glanced at Queenie.
Aunt Midnight pointed to the sword at his side and raised a brow, “While using them yourselves?”
“I assure you, Excalibur is an exception. A symbol.”
“You'll assure me nothing. Where is Kenobi taking the map?”
“What has this-?”
“Answer the question.”
“I don't know. Probably in one of the bases in Syria or Lebanon.”
“I need specifics, Miguel.”
“I'm sorry, Midnight, but I don't have specifics.”
“Mm,” Aunt Midnight turned away and looked at Aldrin, “Find Vera and bring her to me. Call Bex here as well.”
Aldrin nodded, “Of course.”
“And the Chess Pieces?” Aunt Midnight said, “What did they want with the Fountain of Youth?”
“What do you think?” Queenie replied, “Chaos. Hand it out to every king and queen and just see where that gets them.”
“I still cannot believe you've thrown in with that lot.”
“You said I had to make my own story.”
“I didn't think it would lead you to crafting a story that would betray all of us.”
“I'm not talking about Thomas. The Chess Pieces are unpredictable, they could send you to kill literally anyone of us. And now, none of us can rule you out as a suspect. Don't you understand what that means? You've said it yourself - you're not a child anymore. And everything you do will be seen in that way, suspected in that manner.”
“I know what I'm responsible for.”
“So long as you're proud of everything you're responsible for - who am I to argue?”
I cleared my throat and said, “What did you mean? About a cave and Tibet?”
“It's a story that I'm sure Mr Cortés will be obliged to help in telling,” Aunt Midnight said.