There was a letter in my mailbox one week later, addressed to me in a fine script.
Grabbing the fancy package, I jumped on my couch, ready to rip open the envelope. I felt jittery, almost nervous of what could be inside the envelope. I reached over to the letter opener on my coffee table and sliced paper, a crisp cut, like a single, calculated wound.
There was a thin note inside, stark white against the pale yellow of the envelope.
To my Sabre,
I have entrusted this letter with my dear friend, Mr. Seethus, you will know him as, who will, on the eve of your twenty-fourth birthday, place it at your living space, wherever that may be. I regret that I couldn't tell you everything myself, but you will have to trust that my friend will do so to his utmost.
I nearly dropped the note. My hands shook a bit, and my eyes went back up to my name. My Sabre. My father always called me that.
You must have many questions. I don't doubt it, and I encourage it. I know I sheltered you, but you have to trust me it was for your own good. But now, ask all you want. He will answer as much as he can.
His son will protect you. I believe you know him from your childhood, though I suspect you won't remember him much.
Go to the return address on the envelope. You will find Mr. Seethus waiting for you.
Your very loving, and very sorry,
I crumpled the letter and threw it to the ground. My hands still shook, even as I felt a heat rise up to my face. My father wrote me a letter, but didn't bother to come see me. I didn't even know if he was alive, didn't know what happened to him.
Curling up on my couch, sinking deep into its seat cushions, I let myself sob as much as I needed to. I buried my head into a pillow, wanting to lose myself in the gray and black and white diamonds and stripes pattern.
The pain was so real, so strong. My father, either he was still alive somewhere, or he knew he was going to die and gave this Seethus the note before he did. Either way, he never told me anything. He hid from me. And I had no idea why.
I felt so betrayed. And lost. My father wasn't around to guide me as he always did. I had no idea what to do anymore. Didn't have anyone to hold me, to comfort me with words. The words I most needed to hear at this point. To tell me that everything was going to be fine.
I reached over to my phone to call Jovi.
The line rung, but he didn't answer.
Hi, it's Jovi, leave a message and I'll get back to you.
There was a beep and silence as the machine waited for me to leave a vocal note. I hung up, letting the phone drop from my limp hand. It bounced off the edge of the sofa cushion to the floor. I ignored it, grabbing my shoes and pulling them on.
I could call Aisha, I thought, my closest friend from university. But I hated to drag her in on everything I felt. It was enough that I sat in her apartment just a few days ago, crying about Jovi. She'd held me and made me tea, but I knew she had other things to do than listen to me sob, even if she denied it.
Grabbing the letter and envelope, I left my small apartment, not even sure if I had locked the door as I stepped outside and headed towards Mr. Seethus.
His office was in the better part of the city, and I spent $22.50 on a taxi to get to his place. A thick, wooden door with a lion's head holding a wide golden knocker in its mouth was the first thing I noticed.
The second thing was a black and gold plaque, bearing the name Sir Alphus Seethus, Lawyer, Necromancer.
Necromancer, father? My father had just mentioned the term and explained it to me.
My father nodded. Trust only a few of them, if any. They would according to their own rules, not yours, not anyone else's. Most, if not all, are after power. Stay away from them if you can help it.
Do you stay away from them?
If I can help it. My father placed his hand on my cheek for a moment, giving me a sad smile. They can help you, though, for a price. Their prices are usually very high, though. That's the thing. They like power, and they like treasures.
Like gold? Or diamonds?
Oh, I wish that was all.
I had been fourteen at the time. Four years before my father disappeared. Even then, I started noticing his behavior change. He was more anxious, even paranoid, always looking over his shoulder.
Did you hear that? he would say, even when I'd heard nothing. Sometimes, I was sure he was hearing something in his mind, the way he'd cock his head, as if listening to something only he could sense.
Our head maid quit at that time, saying she was fed up with the sounds coming from the walls. Fed up with the whispering voices coming from behind the door guarded by the knights.
I almost had the urge to go back to my childhood home. Almost. I still had the key, locked up in a drawer in my apartment, untouched for six years.
I raised my hand to the lion's head knocker, then pulled back, chewing on my lower lip for a moment. I raised my hand again, the touched the cold golden ring, lifting it up, but then putting it back down gently.
What if the letter hadn't been sent by my father at all, and instead it was some sort of trick? I never knew my father to consort with necromancers, and he'd even warned me against them. But now he was supposedly sending me into hands of one of them.
It didn't make sense to me.
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I reached up again for the knocker. It also didn't make sense, though, that someone would even know about me, and then proceed to write me a note, pretending to be my father, just to lure me into some sort of danger. I didn't have a name. I didn't have money. I was unknown.
Surely it was my father who had left me the note. He wouldn't forsake me for years, would he?
I lifted the knocker, then let it fall, a single, dull thud that echoed beyond the door. I swallowed a few times, wiping my hands on the front of my pants. I wish I hadn't left my phone at home. I wish I'd left Jovi or Aisha a message telling them where I was going.
I heard the door click and swing open. An old man with a hunchback stared up at me, leaning on a cane with a skull's handle.
"I'm here for a Mr. Seethus."
The old man grinned, pink gums and thick tongue was all I could see.
"Mr. Seethus has been waiting for you."
The old man hobbled to the side, letting me through. I looked back at him as I stepped into the hallway. I could swear he was looking at my ass.
"Who are you?" I said, speaking a little louder than I meant. The old man jumped and closed the front door shut, casting us in a very dim light. The hallway was darker than I'd realized.
"I'm Mr. Seethus' assistant, Mr. Magrub."
"Can I see him now?"
Mr. Magrub bowed. "Of course, right this way."
He hobbled in front of me, leading the way down the hall. The walls were covered with portraits, most of people with grim faces. One, I could swear, looked like she was making a grimace of pain.
What was I doing here?
Mr. Magrub took me to a door painted with golden leaves on the solid stained wood. He knocked with his cane.
"Come in," a voice said, low and gruff. It reminded me of one of the voices I heard once or twice coming from my father's study. The voice coughed, a thick, wheezing sound, as if he'd smoked for one too many years.
Mr. Magrub opened the door and grinned at me, letting me in past him. There was a maroon leather chairs with gold studs along its side. Its back was towards me, but a cloud of white-gray smoke wafted from behind it.
The air was thick, a bit hazy, and I blinked, glancing around, but always keeping that chair in my periphery. The door slammed shut, and I jumped. Mr. Magrub was gone. I heard a click of the door being locked, and for a moment, I thought my knees would give out.
"Mr. Seethus?" I said, my voice such a low whisper, I was sure he didn't hear me.
But he did, because he turned around in his chair, a smirk on his pale face.
"Sabre. I have been waiting for you. Just this morning I placed your father's letter in your mailbox. I'm glad you got it."
He flicked cigar ashes into a dragon's head ashtray. Its eye lit up anytime ash fell into its mouth.
"Is my father," I licked my lips, but Mr. Seethus spoke before I could continue.
"Is he alive?"
I nodded, clutching my purse tightly to my chest.
He paused, taking a long sip on his cigar. "He is, but not in the usual way you would know him."
"Then in what way?"
"It's hard to explain. But, he did want me to speak to you about certain things. About him, about your mother, even." Mr. Seethus gestured to a chair before his desk.
I went over and sit in it, waiting nervously for him to continue speaking.
But instead, he leaned back in his chair, grabbed his ashtray, and closed his eyes, puffing on the cigar.
This lasted a whole minute before I lost my patience.
"Mr. Seethus. I don't know if you don't know this, but I haven't heard from my father, or anything of his whereabouts, in six years. I'd like to know as soon as possible what there is to know about him."
Mr. Seethus opened the eye nearest me for a moment. I could see a smirk forming on his lips wrapped around the cigar.
"Patience is a good thing, young lady."
"I've impatient with trying to be patient."
"Your father always said you like direct."
"It takes the least amount of time."
"So you're concerned about time?"
"Aren't we all? Unless you're a monk living in the Himalayas."
Mr. Seethus chuckled, putting down his cigar. I fought the urge to reach over and grind it red head into the ashtray. I hated smoking.
He put down his feet, steepling his fingers as he turned to stare at me. "Your father was, is, an interesting man."
"Yes. Is. He isn't dead. He's…lost, perhaps. I'm not sure. What I do know is that you are being threatened. Namely, because you yourself are a threat."
"This makes no sense and you know it. Could we not speak in vagaries."
"You have a temper, too," Mr. Seethus mused.
"I don't have a temper. Like you said my father said, I like direct."
"Direct it is." Mr. Seethus let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair, glancing up at the ceiling. I noticed it was painted pale blue, with white puffy clouds and cherubim, each one with not two eyes, but one.
"Evil eye," I said, pointing up.
Mr. Seethus nodded. "I don't know about you, but I believe in the evil eye. It's good to have protection against it. And these little angels, well, I don't know if they work, but they seem to so far."
"Protection against what?"
"Spirits. Demons. Gods. Goddesses. The supernatural, if you will."
"I don't believe in the supernatural."
Mr. Seethus chuckled again. "Your father said you liked to deny the things you didn't understand."
"There's nothing to understand. The supernatural's not real. I don't believe in it."
"Many don't. But belief has nothing to do with the reality of things. Things don't stop existing simply because you don't believe in them."
"But many things people believe in don't exist at all, except in their minds."
"Some things, though, don't even exist in the mind, and yet they exist. Creatures mankind has never seen, and likely never will, but that do exist in their own realms."
"That's beside the point, though," I said. "What about my father. Why did he want me to talk to you?"
There was a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" Mr. Seethus said.
"It's me, father."
The voice sounded familiar, though muffled, and my heart leapt. I wanted to hope, just for one moment, but quickly killed the thought. It was no use hoping for something that wouldn't come true.
There was a stall, then the voice again. "I'll be right back. I forgot something."
That voice, I held on to it. Could it really be him, I thought.
"My son," Mr. Seethus smiled, "He's…something."
"Is it?" Mr. Seethus took another long sip of his cigar, one eyebrow raised at me.
The door swung open smoothly, and a figure I knew well stepped in. He was tall and pale, a stubborn black curl on his forehead.
We said in unison.
"I see you two already seem to know each other well enough that we can do without the introductions."
"Sabre and I have known each other for a while."
"Ah, so you two are well-acquainted. How nice," Mr. Seethus said. He gestured to a chair and Jovi moved towards it, his eyes keeping on me.
"So she's the girl I have to look out for?"
"She's the one," Mr. Seethus said to his son.
"Then, then, we don't have to end," Jovi said to me.
I couldn't help but grin. "I guess not."
"Ah, young love, how nice," Mr. Seethus said, "But, love can wait. We have more pressing issues at hand. Jovi, you have your skills, and will know what to do with them. And Sabre, you have skills you know nothing about, unfortunately. Your father failed you in that, thought he was protecting you, but I think he really endangered you more than anything. However, time lost can't be regained, but you can use your time going forward."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said. "Direct, remember."
"Direct. You're going to have to unlearn this direct thing of yours, you know." Mr. Seethus picked back up his cigar. "Where you're going, not everything is direct."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Sure about that?" Mr. Seethus raised an eyebrow at me, but said nothing else for a moment.
I looked over at Jovi, who was watching me. He flashed a quick grin, but then let it drop when his father cleared his throat.
"Your father, Sabre, he was, is, a stubborn man. Very set in his ways. But he loves you very much. Your mother, too. But she, she had her own way of doing things."
"Where is my father? I want to know," I said.
Mr. Seethus raised a finger. "I'm getting to that part. Patience. Learn it."
He flicked ashes, the ashtray dragon eyes glowing again.
"Now, your father is in some trouble. He doesn't want you to help him, though. Let him be. However, you," Mr. Seethus pointed his forefinger at me, "Are in even worse trouble than he is. Do you know who your mother was?"
I shook my head. "She left when I was five."
"Yes, well, she did what she felt was right. Well, your mother is the daughter of the king of the Avedas."
"Avedas?" I said. I turned to look at Jovi. "You know who these Avedas are?"
"My son knows much, and yet, not a lot."
"They're deities," Jovi said, ignoring his father. "But they're not the friendliest. Or at least, most of them are like that."
"Yes, he's right," Mr. Seethus said. "Not the friendliest doesn't quite describe them, though. They're driven by this need to have power over others. Not so much mastery over self, they don't care about that. What they're interested in is controlling others. And what best way to control others than to steal pieces of that person's soul."
"Steal pieces of their soul?" I scoffed.
"Yes. It's a real thing, the soul. And it's even more real that it can be stolen, or broken apart and pieces of it stolen."
"Assuming this is true, what does this have to do with me?"
"Your soul, it's, I wouldn't say special, because there are others like you, but it's something coveted."
"Why?" I scrunched up my face, not believing a word the supposed necromancer was saying.
"Your mother, like I said, she was the daughter of the kind of the Avedas. But her mother, your grandmother, was the queen of the Bodhisas. They were, are, a more peaceful group. Much more selfless. The good guys, if you will. Your grandfather, Lord Aveda, raped your grandmother, Queen Bodhisa, when she was young, just new to the throne, and your mother was born."
Mr. Magrub came in, a maid behind him. She set down a tray, and Mr. Seethus gestured at the glasses of water, cups of tea, and biscuits. "Help yourself."
He gestured at the maid and she left, shutting the door with a click behind her. Mr. Magrub stayed behind.
Jovi reached over and handed me a glass of water. I gulped it down, my throat still feeling dry even after finishing the glass. I reached over for the second one, drinking half of it.
"Now," Mr. Seethus continued, "Lord Aveda, he wanted to keep your mother. A child mixed of Aveda and Bidhisa blood was a special child. Strong powers, enlightened mind. So Lord Aveda stole your mother from her own and raised her himself. But she refused to become like him, empty, cold, ruthless. She had too much Bodhisa blood in her, I suppose. For some reason, he couldn't bring himself to kill her, or so the story goes, so he shunned her instead."
"Then what?" I said.
"Then she wandered around, shunned by the Avedas, unwelcome by the Bodhisas, as good as they were. They were afraid of taking her in and starting another war with the Avedas, like had happened some years before, even before your grandmother took the throne."
Jovi handed me a biscuit, but I waved him away.
"Then your mother met your father. And they lived happily ever after. Well, not quite, obviously, since your mother left your father, and your father is imprisoned somewhere. And so is your mother, for that matter."
"Imprisoned. Tell me where. Tell me where my father is." I found myself at the edge of my seat, leaning quite close to Mr. Seethus' desk.
"Imprisoned deep within death. You cannot get to him easily, if at all. He doesn't want you to help him. Leave him be." Mr. Seethus looked away. "Those are his wishes."
"What do you mean he's imprisoned in death? That means he's dead." I slumped back in my chair. I let my purse slide from my lap to the floor, not caring.
"Not quite. Being imprisoned in death by a deity is different than being dead."
I squinted at Mr. Seethus. "That makes little sense to me."
"It makes little sense to many small minds."
I bristled, feeling a heat rise up to my face.
"As I was saying, your mother is imprisoned by Lord Aveda. As is your father. Now, Lord Aveda knows about you. Your father was a Sultan of the Mogahistis. A powerful man, but he gave up his title and treasures, tired of it all, or so he says. He himself is of powerful blood. And so, you, Sabre, are of powerful blood yourself. Lord Aveda knows about you. And he wants a specific part of your soul, the core, full of a treasure that will make him the most powerful necromancer there is."
I scoffed again, glancing over at Jovi and shaking my head. "There is no soul."
"So says the girl whose soul is wanted," Mr. Seethus said. "Lord Aveda, he's after you. Your father hoped by protecting you from the dark arts that you wouldn't be as easily found, but Lord Aveda is getting closer and closer to finding you. Don't ask me how I know, just take my word on it."
He noticed him glance over at Jovi, but neither said anything.
"Then let him find me. And how could my father protect me from the dark arts anyway?"
"If you don't practice the magic, your blood is never stimulated. The moment you begin learning of the dark arts in a meaningful way, your blood changes. It's changed a bit, at first, a special tag, if you will, flows through your veins. Seekers, they work for the Avedas, sense these tags, and find those the Avedas want. Your father never wanted to expose you to the dark arts to protect you from creating these tags. The more you practice, the more tags, the more easily you are found. Ever heard sounds, seen strange things, that you couldn't explain?"
I licked my lips, looking away from Mr. Seethus.
"Those were probably Seekers after you. Your father could only protect you so much. And your mother, she is imprisoned by her father and could do nothing."
"Why did she leave me?"
"Your mother, she, she lost a lot when she was shunned. I think after a while, she felt lonely. And with Aveda blood in her veins, there was a sort of darkness to her that even the Bodhisa blood couldn't overpower. She wanted her father's acceptance, and so she went back to him, leaving you behind. But, she also left you to protect you, I think. Her blood tag is strong, easily found by the Seekers. She had to get away from you, to protect you and your father."
"Didn't my father have tags? Why didn't he leave me? Or, at least, leave me earlier than he did?"
"He thought it was better if he stayed close to you, and didn't practice the arts. Over time, the tags wear away if the dark arts aren't practiced. That's what your father was hoping for."
There was a heavy pause. The room was hazier than before, smoke filling it up. Mr. Seethus puffed away, staring at me. Jovi reached out to me, taking my hand and squeezing it. I smiled at him.
"You said something about me going somewhere."
"Ah, yes." Mr. Seethus moved to put his feet back up on the desk. "You must go to Old Woman. She will help you."
"She will help you."
"You can't just tell me to go to someone and not tell me why. Help me with what? Who is this Old Woman?"
"She is one of the Gifted Ones. I don't know why, but your father told me to tell you to go to the Old Woman. I'm guessing he has already spoken to her, and she has her instructions from him."
"And where is this Old Woman?"
Mr. Seethus gave me a smirk. "I think you know."
"I have no idea where this Woman could possibly be."
"Think. Think back to your childhood. A special place, guarded, perhaps."
I thought of the knights guarding that door.
"Right you are."
"But what is that room?"
"That is something you will have to find out for yourself. Jovi here will go with you. He has his special skills. It's why your father wanted him with you."
"And you knew about this but never told me?" I turned to look at Jovi.
"I didn't know about you. I just knew about me."
"And yet you never told me anything."
"How could I? I mean, I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
Jovi looked away, fumbling for a biscuit. "That you wouldn't like me. would reject me." He glanced at me, and then looked away again.
"Why would I reject you?"
"Because you have such a dislike for the supernatural. And I'm, well, supernatural."
I took a deep breath, leaning back in the chair. "What are your skills, then? Your supernatural skills?"
"I can do different things."
"I can do strange things with my mind."
"So can everyone else, Jovi. Every time you use your imagination, or think, you're doing strange things with your mind."
"No, I mean, I can," Jovi shook his head. "You'd have to see me in action to understand."
Mr. Magrub coughed, catching Mr. Seethus' attention.
"Well," Mr. Seethus said. "I've told you more or less what your father wanted me to."
"Of course," I said, grabbing my purse.
Jovi took my arm, walking with me to the door.
"Jovi, come here, I want to speak to you," his father called him back. "Mr. Magrub will see Sabre out."
The old man grinned at me and shuffled over, leaning most of his weight on his cane. He put his hand on the small of my back, but I twisted away.
"Don't touch me," I said.
"Can't even give an old man some joy, eh," he tsked.
I ignored him and stalked out of Mr. Seethus' office, but not before giving Jovi a small smile. He grinned back as Mr. Magrub shut the door, leading me down the dark hallway.
"Come back any time," he yelled at me as I stepped outside and walked off. "I'm here all the time."
I ignored him and hurried off to my apartment.
Jovi called me that night.
"Can I come over?"
"Now? It's rather late."
"I'm only teasing. I actually do want you over."
"I'll be there as fast as I can."
Grinning to myself, I set my phone down and waited for Jovi.
"You never told your father about me?" I asked Jovi as I snuggled against him on the couch. His arm was tucked around me, warm and soothing.
Jovi shook his head. "He and I aren't close like that. It's always something more formal between us. And he's always so, something, I don't know. He doesn't tell me much. I always felt like he was hiding something. My mother felt that way. I think it's why she left."
"But why would she leave you with him? I'm sorry, but your father," I shook my head. "I didn't like him."
Jovi shrugged. "I don't think she had a choice. My father, he gets his way, most of the time. Even with me. Especially with me."
"You don't have the same last names."
"He uses an alias. I use my mother's name." Jovi shrugged. "It's been like that for as far as I can remember. I never really questioned it."
A few minutes passed, neither of us saying anything.
"You're quiet," Jovi said, breaking the silence.
"You're quiet, too."
He chuckled. "Yes, but that's usual. It's unusual with you."
"Well," I said, reaching up to trace his jawline with my finger. "I'm just thinking."
"Thinking about what?"
I shrugged. "Everything, and yet nothing. It's one of those things."
"Are you going up to your father's house soon?"
"I think I'm going to. Tomorrow. I don't know. I want to, though simultaneously, I don't want to."
"You're curious, but you're scared."
"I wouldn't say scared. Well, yes I would. I'm scared of feeling hurt. Of opening old wounds. I haven't stepped foot in that place in years. I left it because it hurt too much, seeing the things that reminded me of my father everywhere I turned. It hurt me when he just up and left, without a word, without a trace. I mean, the police never found anything. It's like he left and didn't want to ever be found."
Jovi stroked my hair. "You're going to have to face fears at some point."
You know, your fears tell you something.
They tell me I'm scared.
They tell you more than that. They tell you what you're scared of.
My father shook his head. They tell you your deeper fears.
And what's my deeper fear?
Well, maybe not fear. But need.
"Your faraway look is back again."
Jovi snatched my attention away from my thoughts. I looked up, noticing him peering down at me. He had a soft smile on his red lips, and I craned my neck upwards, pressing mine against his. He kissed me back, deep and soulful, like he meant it.
"I was just remembering what my father once told me. He said our fears tell us something of our deepest needs. And I was just thinking, I'm afraid of feeling hurt by seeing my childhood home. And so I was wondering, then, what need do I have that ties in with those fears."
Jovi sighed. "You think too much."
"Better too much than too little."
"Better, though, to keep yourself sane than otherwise."
"Sane is boring."
Jovi smiled and kissed my forehead as he shifted me up from his body. "I knew you'd say that."
He let out a yawn. "Do you mind if I stay the night. I'm awfully tired."
"I'd like nothing more than that."