I could smell it too. There was gold in Berkhilda’s blood. The oddness of such a thing baffled me; how could this be?
“Father always said I was his greatest treasure,” Berkhilda laughed.
I looked down at Cinder. She ginned up at me, her fangs showing beneath red lips. I suspect she might have thought herself seductive at that moment, she was certainly trying.
“What did you do to Berkhilda?”
“Her blood will turn to gold.”
“Not before your head is parted from your shoulders!” said Berkhilda. The giant Vampire reached for her axe, gleaming in the moonlight. She grabbed it with difficulty, but her eyes widened in alarm when she could not stand.
“My only complaint,” said Cinder, “is that the whole process is not nearly painful enough. You had every advantage Berkhilda, and yet you threw it all away to be one of them.”
“Ragnar…” said Berkhilda, looking at the gold on her hands sadly.
I met Cinder’s eyes. Her smiled vanished.
“I cannot. Nor would I, even if it was possible. Let it go Ragnar. I can ease your pain with riches beyond imagining.”
“All the gold in the world could never buy back the dead Cinder.”
“Perhaps, but it would help your lovers win the Whore’s War, would it not? Think of that before you act, Ragnar. If you kill me, she still dies. If you let me live, I will reward you. There are no other choices.”
“But there is. Your formula or spell, whatever it is that you use to do this… does anyone else know it?”
“No, it is a secret known only to me. Others have tried, only I can succeed.”
“Good. I know someone who likes secrets… SKYGGE, I CALL UPON Y–“
There was a movement in the corner of my eye. I heard a catch release, and ducked. The bold was not meant for me however.
Cinder’s eyes bulged as the quarrel pierced her temple. Our eyes met one last time and then her whole skull lit up like a paper lantern. Then I was holding nothing but dust.
“Garm’s bloody–” I turned to see who the assailant was. “Carmen?”
The young assassin was not alone. There were two more on the docks. I could see them, but not smell them.
“I did not miss, Northman. There was a contract out on this one; it was important.”
“I don’t care. She was the only hope of me saving my friend.”
“Ragnar, my father–” said Berkhilda, working her jaw with difficulty.
Glaring at Carmen, I stood. A figure seemed to materialize out of the shadows at her side, a masked man, small and old.
“There is a cure, look for the bottles of absinthe that she was hoarding. You wont have time to distill the active ingredient, she will have to drink four — five, to be safe. There is an open case in the forecastle, we will watch over her while you bring it for your friend.”
The case was easy to find. I brought a bottle to Berkhilda, and helped her drink the first few sips. She seemed to relax as I did, and after half the bottle was done she was able to grip it on her own.
I sat down beside her, taking a bottle for myself. Carmen was gone, but the little man remained.
“Care for some?” I asked him.
“No, thank you.”
I took a swig. It had a powerful kick, with a strange, sweet herbal taste.
“Who put out the contract?”
“Someone who has a very great interest in the price of gold remaining where it is,” said the little man.
“Of course. You followed us to identify her, yes?”
We drank until dawn. I told her how I met Bull and Renoit, and she talked about her mother and father. I daresay that it was the first real hangover that I experience in over a decade. Berkhilda took shelter in the cabin of Cinder’s ship when the dawn came, after I hired a messenger to send word to her father.
Cinder’s secret died with her, at least as far as I know.
And that concludes Red Fangs. I will write up a post mortem and collect all the links over the next few posts, then fix it up (it needs a lot of fixin’) and put it out in the fall…