Chapter six

Follower

___

 

Look at him, Bran thought. Striding around like the lord of creation. It was orders this way, and orders that, and the others weren't helping at all. They were just being pathetic. "What shall we do, Will?" That was Jane, or Paul, or both of them together. "How shall we breathe? How shall we think? Will you blow our noses for us, oh great one?"

 

Bran hated them. He hated Will, mighty wizard, leader of them all. When Will slept, they just sat around and did nothing, waiting for him to wake up again. Everything stopped until he ordered them to go again. Bran hated it, and he hated it most of all because he felt it, too. As soon as he had met Will, things had started happening. Before that, for all of his life, he had just been… Sleeping, his mind added. Waiting.

 

It made him want to bellow with fury. And Will hadn't reproached him once. He had barely even looked at him. "I told Paul!" Bran wanted to scream. "I've ruined your family! Me!" But Will already knew, and had said not a single word. He had concentrated on Paul, and Paul, amazingly, had soon come round, no longer furious with Will, but sorry for him. Bran wanted to shake Paul by the shoulders and shout, "He lied to you! You have to hate him!" but that, too, he could not do. He just sat there mute, and watched it all.

 

 He wanted Will to talk to him. He wanted Will to shout at him, so he could shout back, and perhaps he would feel a bit better. They had barely spoken on the long journey back from Wales, and Bran had slept for a lot of it, without dreaming. Since finding out about Owen Davies' atrocious lie, he had barely spoken a word that was not full of hatred and scorn. He opened his mouth, and poison spilled out. When he said such things, he thought they would make him feel better, but they only made him feel empty.

 

He sat on his hands. He bit his tongue. Even Jane seemed to hate him now, judging from the way she avoided him, and the horrified way she had looked at him when he had told Paul the truth. I want you to like me, he thought. I'm not really like this. But, of course, she had liked Will better from the start. Will didn't even seem to want her, but he had her, anyway, and Bran was left with nothing.

 

Does she know? he wondered, when he saw her eyes glide over him once again, without engaging with him. Had Will told her about his father? No, of course he hadn't, he thought a moment later. Will would never do a thing like that. Will kept other people's secrets… Bran paused, struggling to grasp the threads of his thoughts. Will kept secrets, of course, he thought very deliberately. He was a master of lies.

 

His hands were shaking. Help me! It whispered unbidden in the back of him mind. Instead he fired some harsh words off, hating everyone. "Stop doing this. Stop being like this."

 

They stopped, but only Paul looked at him. His eyes were almost mild, though inside he was surely screaming. "Who, Bran?"

 

Bran tugged a hand free, and swept it so it encompassed the room. "All of you. Will there, taking command. But you're worse, the two of you. He's a wizard. He knows about magic, and the past, and the secrets of the earth. Why do you expect him to know about… about how the police work, about missing persons searches, about the places your boyfriend is likely to run to when he's angry? Let him do what he's good at. Stop making him take control of the things that you can do just as well."

 

It was more than he had meant to say. It was not even what he had meant to say. They were all looking at him now, though, but Will turned away before Bran could see his expression. Angry, he thought. I've finally made him angry, because he wants to take control over us all.

 

"Bran," Jane said, almost pleadingly. There was a flicker of cold hatred in Paul's eyes.

 

"He's right," Will said, looking at Paul, and not at Bran.

 

"He's a…"

 

"He's right," Will said firmly, interrupting whatever it was that Paul was about to say. Paul yielded, older brother yielding to younger without a murmur. "You're part of this world, more so than I am. I can do lots of things that you will never be able to do, but lots of things you can do just as well as I can. Stop asking me questions. Work it out yourselves. That's what Merriman meant when he… I was to watch, not to change things."

 

"So you're going to walk away?" Paul said incredulously. "After everything you've said about what might have happened to Jon?"

 

Will shook his head. "Of course not. I'm going to look for him… somewhere else."

 

Jane was twisting her hands. "But what shall we…?"

 

"You heard him," Bran told her harshly. "We use our brains. We're not entirely helpless, you know. We don't need Old Ones there for us to be amazing."

 

Paul sank back on the couch. "But what if we find him, and he's…?"

 

"If you find him," Will said, "then I will be there. If he comes, then I will come, too."

 

How? Bran wanted to ask, but he had mocked them for their questions, so he could not say a word.

 

Will nodded a farewell, and left the room. After he had shut the door, no footsteps sounded. The front door did not open and close, and no-one climbed the stairs. But none of them went to check. All of them knew that he had stepped out of the room, and vanished. Will was no longer there.

 

"So…" Paul said.

 

Bran let out a long breath. He felt cold and empty and afraid, as if outside was terrible, and the only good thing to do was sit here and wait for Will to come back. Even though I hate him, he thought, because he… Because he…

 

He stood up, and went to put on his shoes, his fingers fumbling only slightly. What if it's me? he thought. What if I'm the enemy? What if everything I'm thinking comes from him?

 

But they were standing near him now, ready to go – strangers who knew nothing about him, who heard only the hateful words that came spewing from his mouth, and knew nothing about what was inside.

 

Help me, he pleaded silently. Help me, Will.

 

******

 

Will stepped into the past. It was morning of the day before, and he was in the shadowed emptiness of his own house. Elsewhere, he and Bran were heading off to Wales, and Jane was on a train bound for London, hoping to win over Simon where she had failed with Barney.

 

He opened the door quietly without a key, and headed along the road, shrouding his presence in case any sharp-eyed neighbours noticed him here, such a short time after seeing him drive away with Bran. Still shrouded, he headed along the road, walking into town. The city felt quiet, but he could sense the tensions gathering behind the surface. Arguments were raging behind locked doors, fuelled by the heat, and by something else. .

 

Is he here? Will thought. He knew enough now to know that the enemy's hand was at work in this, but the enemy could plant seeds of discord across the whole world. He was everywhere and anywhere. The extra came when he chose to take physical form. Then his power was concentrated, and the dead walked, and past horrors were played out again before human eyes.

 

Perhaps, even now, the enemy lurked and laughed in the body of Jon, Paul's partner. Will dreaded it, but part of him – a terrible, guilty, cold part of him – hoped it, too. He still had no idea how to defeat the enemy, but at least if the enemy was concentrated in one body, he had a place to start.

 

At least I will know, he thought, one way or the other.

 

He reached the centre of town, and stopped, concealed, near Carfax tower. The argument had happened at about ten o'clock, Paul had told him, as they were trying to decide how to spend their last hour in Oxford. Shoppers went by, red-faced with heat and tension. A mother screamed at a crying baby, and a father slapped his child. A husband left his wife, saying he refused to listen to her nagging for another minute. A group of hooded teenagers swore at a security guard who threw them out of his shop, and promised to come back and get him later.

 

Is this normal? Will thought. He had watched mankind, but he had not let himself be part of it. Too much had passed him by. He could not tell what was normal, and what was the subtle hand of the enemy. But, then, even normality was the enemy's work. His power had been growing for years, fostering hatred, inciting crime.

 

The clock struck ten. An old lady fell over, and a man laughed. A drunk staggered by, and crowds of tourists jostled to climb the tower. Will drew back into the shadows, and hid himself to touch, as well as to sight. A Japanese woman walked through the very space that he occupied, but he faded out of time for a moment, and then back in, and she did not even flinch or shiver.

 

At ten past ten, Paul and Jon appeared, their body language shouting tension and discord. Will drew himself even further back in time, so only the very surface of his awareness remained. If the enemy walked in Jon's body, there was no saying what his powers were. Perhaps he was aware of Will already, hidden as he was.

 

Will watched them as they passed, then followed at a distance as they walked down the High Street. He watched as their bickering turned into a full-blown argument, but he did not try to hear what was said. He would breach Paul's privacy if he had to, because the stakes were so high, but in this case nothing could be gained from it. He was here to find out where Jon had gone, and not to listen to the angry words that had led to his departure. Most angry words were meaningless. It was the cause that mattered, and the consequences.

 

They stopped, the two of them, Paul clearly trying to keep everything quiet, and Jon shouting, heedless of who was overhearing. More than half of the passers-by were clearly intrigued, relishing the argument, and hoping that a fight would ensue. Is that you? Will thought, as he looked at their reddened faces. Are you him? Their faces did not answer, and he did not know.

 

He saw the moment when Jon stormed off, but he averted his eyes from the naked pain and incomprehension on Paul's face as it happened. He had to leave Paul there. He had to leave him to suffer, and he had left so many of mankind for the last twenty years, charged as he was to watch, and not to act. "I'm sorry," he mouthed, as he drifted past him, concealed and barely there at all in time. "I wish I could…" But he left it there, and did not finish. Paul could not hear him anyway.

 

Jon walked swiftly down the High Street, and Will followed him, as far away as he could be without fading entirely. When he reached the bridge, Jon stopped,  and leaned on the parapet, staring down into the river. People passed him. A dozen cars, a hundred cars, and a hundred more, all passed him, without him turning round. Will watched. He thought at least an hour passed without Jon moving. Then the clocks started to strike twelve, and he realised it had been even longer.

 

Why? he thought. He bit his lip, wondering how long to stay here like this. But of course he had no choice. He had to follow Jon until he had answers. If that meant staying still for a day and a night, then that was what he would do.

 

He had barely come to that realisation when Jon moved again, more slowly. He no longer looked angry, but drifting, even lost. He looked at his watch more than once, and his shoulders slumped each time. Twelve o'clock was the time Paul and Jon had to check out of the hotel, Will remembered. Perhaps Jon was just a normal man, realising that things had gone too far for a simple apology to rectify things. But perhaps he was the enemy. Perhaps this was a show. Perhaps he knew he was being watched.

 

Will followed, though. He had no choice. He followed Jon back up the High Street, and watched as he paused at the crossroads, as if tempted to take the turn that led back to the hotel, to try to find Paul, to patch things up. He watched as Jon thrust his hands into his pockets, and carried straight on instead, past shops, past the railway station, where he paused for a while, and then on to another bridge, and another river.

 

Jon was no longer hesitating. He descended down onto the bank, and walked along the tow path, heading north. Will followed, of course, but more and more uneasy. Only a few years ago, this had been a pleasant walk, but a spate of attacks had made it shunned. There were few good endings to this. If Jon was possessed by the enemy, perhaps this was a trap for Will. But if he was not, then perhaps Will was watching Jon's final walk. Perhaps within minutes he would watch him mugged, or murdered, or drowned, an innocent who blundered where he should not.

 

Jon walked for a while, seemingly oblivious to the shadows that Will imagined cackling all around him, to the grasping branches reaching for his body. Gradually, his steps petered out to nothing, and he stopped with a sigh. His lips moved, but Will was too far away to hear what he was saying. When his lips moved again, and he flapped his hand as if in argument with someone, Will dared to edge forward closer than he would have liked, but by then Jon was silent again.

 

Arguing with the whisperer in his head? Will wondered, and he felt hope again. The enemy could whisper in any man's mind, but he then moved on, and they were unscathed. As long as any part of Jon remained Jon, the enemy did not have him forever.

 

As Will mused, he was almost caught. Jon had turned suddenly, and come rushing back along the towpath. Will had to leap aside to avoid being struck, hidden as he was. He stumbled and almost fell, but as he did so, he thought Jon looked straight at him, his eyes overflowing with something terrible.

 

It's him! he thought. He knows I'm here! But he pressed his hand to his beating heart, and told himself he was imagining it. There was no proof yet. This could be anything at all.

 

Far away, the clocks struck one. Will gathered himself, and followed Jon back towards town. He came there in time to find Jon talking to a passer-by, asking directions to somewhere. The woman gestured towards the river, but in the other direction. Jon nodded a thanks, but did not smile.

 

Will followed him back into town, into a shop to buy some lunch, and into the Christ Church Meadow, where he sat down several hours with his chin resting in his hands. The clocks struck two, then three, then four. Tourists passed in crowds, and sirens sounded, again and again and again. The clouds thickened, then thinned. Will waited and watched, until his head ached with the intensity of it. He gazed fiercely at empty air, but did not see any walking dead. He saw no signs that Jon was really the enemy, but he knew that the enemy was sly and that no tricks were beyond him. In the body of Mark, the enemy had pretended to be Will's friend.

 

Just after four, Jon stood up, and squared his shoulders like one facing execution. This time he made for the tow path that headed south-east, and he began it with resolve, but soon petered out and stopped again.

 

Will followed him everywhere. He moved when Jon moved, but stopped when Jon stopped. More than once he was certain that Jon knew exactly where he was, and that his whole wandering was an elaborate charade to distract Will and lure him far from help. Other times, he was sure that Jon was just an ordinary man, wrestling with something, and unsure. He wished he could step forward and ask, but he could not take the risk, in case Jon's body housed the enemy. Even if it did not, Will did not know what words he would say.

 

Once Jon stopped for over an hour, so close to the edge of the river that Will thought he was going to throw himself in. He watched, intent for any change, but his mind started wandering, to Paul, who had been so quick to understand, and to Bran, lost in his own anger and pain.

 

Please just be you, Jon, he thought, for Paul's sake. He bitterly regretted ever thinking that it would be a good thing if the enemy had once more confined himself to a single body. Please find your way back to Paul. Because then this would be over, and Will could return to Bran, who needed him, even as he shouted and pushed him away.

 

Well after six, Jon started moving again, but horribly slowly. His hand kept rising to his brow, as if it hurt, and he started to mutter things under his breath. Will did not dare come close enough to hear them. If Jon was just Jon, then he would not know, but if Jon was the enemy…

 

The tow path reached a lock, and Jon crossed it, and made for the ancient church. He ran his fingers along the wall, and sat down among the grave stones. Soon the clock struck seven. By the time it was striking eight, the light was beginning to fade. It was only early August, but already the nights were getting earlier, and the clouds had come in from the west, hiding the sun.

 

Will shivered. His stomach rumbled, but hunger at least was something that an Old One could ignore, for a while. Jon was talking again. "Don't," he said, and, "Can't." Will held back, watching, but not really there. As dusk fell, he was terribly aware that, somewhere else, he was preparing to face the walking dead, and that Bran was beside him, as yet unaware that Owen Davies was not his father.

 

Darkness came. Youths spilled into the churchyard, shouting and drinking. Jon leapt to his feet, shouting something that Will could not catch. The youths heard him, and came towards him, but bizarrely silent, eerily slow.

 

Will stood up.

 

"You," one of the youths said. "He knows you're there."

 

"You cannot win," another said.

 

"He knows everything."

 

Jon turned from one to the other. His face was hidden by the darkness, and Will could not see it.

 

"Old One," one of the youths sneered.

 

"Hiding in the dark."

 

"He knows. He knew. He has you."

 

They all joined in, jeering it again. "He has you."

 

"Heart," one said, low and teasing. "Soul. Family. Friends."

 

"This one here. That one. All of them."

 

Will dug his fingers into his palms hard enough to hurt. He wanted to surge forward, to reveal himself in a blaze of light. He had done as much in Wales, when he had forced his command on the minds of his enemy's minions. Not this time, though. He could not say why this time was different, but it was. This time, that was something that he would not do. This time he would watch, and let them goad him, and remain hidden.

 

Jon's head was turning from youth and youth. Commanding them, Will wondered, or confused by them? The youths turned towards him, and laughed. One produced a knife, and another bared his fists.

 

Will decided in an instant. Before he could hesitate, he was onto them, moving unseen, shining bright. He knocked them down, felled them, but one did not fall. "He will devour you," he said, looking straight into Will's eyes, where they were hidden in the blaze of his power. He fell then, but not from anything that Will had done. But he was still breathing as he lay on the ground. Will saw that when he had time to think. They were all still breathing. They had been influenced by the enemy, but not possessed by him.

 

"What was that?" Jon was calling. "Is someone there?" He crouched beside the nearest youth, touching his throat gingerly. The other hand rose to his brow. "I thought I heard…"

 

Will was breathing fast, heart pounding in his ears. He pressed his hand to his chest, and gathered in the threads of his magic. Four youths lay at his feet, unconscious but alive. He had done that. If the enemy was in Jon's body, then he knew everything, and Will was utterly exposed.

 

"Who is there?" Jon shouted.

 

If he was the enemy, he knew. If he was the enemy, this whole thing was a trap. If he was the enemy, he had known all along. He consumed Will's emotions like honey. He had said as much.

 

Will said nothing, but someone else spoke. "Who's there?" A woman with a torch in her hand, and dogs yapping at her heels. She was standing at the church gate, looking in warily. "Jon?" she said wonderingly.

 

Jon nodded. "Yes," he said, and he went towards her, through the gravestones of the dead.

 

******

 

Chapter six