Riding the Red Ch. 06byvampwrrr©
Julien unlocked the door to his mother's house, and let in his wife. He followed her inside, and then they looked at each other. From the smell wafting through the house, they could tell that Aurelie Blanchard was in the kitchen. As they made their way to the kitchen, they heard her call, "Ah, bon—vous etes ici!"
Entering the kitchen, they looked around at the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling, and the various pots and pans covering the walls. Looking at each other, Eiric nodded for Julien to speak first. "Ah, Maman, something smells...awful."
Aurelie looked up impatiently from where she was stirring a bubbling mixture over the stove. Her silver hair was gathered into a thick braid that ran down her back, and her normally warm brown eyes were all business. "It's the finding cantrip," she said shortly. She lifted a few strands of Adrienne's hair from a brush, and dropped them into the pot. "I'll need some blood."
Eiric picked up a dagger from the counter and pricked her finger, letting it drip into the pot. She took Julien's hand, kissed it, and then pricked his finger, squeezing until a few droplets fell to mingle with hers. She barely noticed as he slipped her fingertip into his mouth, quickly cleaning her small wound.
"Did you procure anything from her dorm room?" Aurelie inquired.
Eiric pulled a piece of chewed gum from her bag. "This is all that I could find—she had just done laundry before she left."
Julien sighed, "We should have kept an updated finding kit. Our blood, old hair, saliva from a piece of gum, do you think that it will be enough?"
Aurelie turned around, laying a weathered hand on both of their cheeks. Julien closed his eyes, and Eiric looked as if she were about to cry. "Ecoutez a moi, mes bebes. Notre Adrienne is fine. She is clever, she is resourceful, and we will find her, no question, eh?" They nodded hesitantly. "When was the last time that you slept?"
They looked at each other. "We slept some on the plane," Julien answered.
Aurelie nodded, as if confirming something. She sent a pulse through the palm against Eiric's cheek, and Julien had to catch his wife as she fell, unconscious. "Take her upstairs," Aurelie said, as she turned back to the stove. Both of you go to sleep, I'll finish here."
Julien swung his now-sleeping wife into his arms. "Merci, Maman. She hasn't really slept since she found out that Adrienne was missing. I'll take her back upstairs and then come back to help you."
Aurelie waved absently at him as she sprinkled a fine white powder into the noxious mess on the stove.
Julien carried his wife upstairs, and laid her gently on the bed. He removed her shoes, drew back the covers, picked her up again, and placed her against the warm, green flannel sheets. He drew the covers over her and turned around just in time to see his mother place her hand on his chest. Catching her son in her arms, she half carried, half dragged him to the other side of the bed, and plopped him in. Nodding to herself, she went back downstairs to finish her work.
Eiric was the first to awaken the next morning. She gently shook Julien, who looked around confusedly, and then buried his face into the pillow, groaning.
"Your mother," she said.
"My mother, he agreed.
After showering and changing, they trotted downstairs, and filed silently into the kitchen. The pot on the stove was quiescent, and there was a large map laid on the sturdy pine kitchen table. Aurelie turned from the stove with two over-sized mugs brimming with hot chocolate. She put down the heavy mugs in front of them. They watched her as she picked up a white bag from the counter, and pulled out two fresh, fragrant croissants, laying them on saucers beside the mugs. She plopped down a jar of her homemade strawberry preserves and said imperiously, "Mangez-vous."
"Je n'ai faim--" Eiric started.
"You're of no use to her drained. Eat." Aurelie repeated imperiously. Eiric and Julien sighed like recalcitrant children, and then began to make quick work of their petit-dejeuner. When they had finished, Aurelie swept aside their dishes, and pulled a crystal from around a string on her neck. She dipped it into the pot on the stove, coating the crystal with the noxious potion. Shaking it a few times to remove any extraneous drops, she brought it over to the table. "Put your hands over mine," she ordered Eiric. Hands together, they swung the crystal slowly over the map, trying to scry for Adrienne's location. The crystal began to swing faster on its own. Excited, they moved it, trying to determine where it wanted to go. With a sudden, violent tug, it pulled itself out of their hands and smashed into the wall. "Well," Aurelie said tartly, "This is new."
Eiric and Julien looked at her in shock. "D'accord," she said, nodding decisively. "Next, we'll try to fire scry. Eiric, do you know how?"
Eiric shook her head. "None of our magic is procedural...it's all inherent," she said.
Aurelie tilted her head. "I'll show you how. Given the fact that you're her mother, and it's therefore also likely that her magic will manifest as fire-based, there's a higher chance that you'll find a connection to her."
"Okay," said Eiric. "What do I do?"
"Follow me," Aurelie said, leading them to the living room. Kneeling in front of the fireplace, she motioned Eiric down beside her. "Make a fire," she directed.
Eiric held up her hand in front of the logs, and heat waves began to shimmer in the air. A crackling noise began to build, and after several moments, the logs burst into cheerful flame.
"Now look into the flames," Aurelie instructed. "Clear your mind of all thoughts, save for those of Adrienne. Picture her in your mind. Think of the last time you saw her. What was she wearing? How long was her hair? How was it done? Was she wearing any makeup? Think of the sound of her voice, the cadence of her breath, the sound of her heart beat. Remember her scent, and the way she felt when you last held her. Experience everything about her as if she were actually here—you'll have to not merely picture her, but recreate a complete mental experience of her, down to the smallest detail. Once you have that simulacrum fixed in your mind, then you can begin to try to see her in the flames."
Several minutes passed. After a while, Eiric almost imperceptibly began to rock. A few more minutes passed. Julien made as if to say something, but his mother shook her head, motioning him into another room. "We can't break her concentration," she told him. "She has never done this before—it's not going to come easily to her."
"What can I do to help?" Julien asked.
"Adrienne went missing between her dorm, and here. You can go to her dorm to see if you can retrace her steps. Do you remember how?" she queried.
"Bien sur, maman," he murmured as he left for the campus.
When he arrived, he slowly made his way around the wooded perimeter that delineated the forest from the campus. He noticed a small footprint in the damp earth, and bent down to examine it. Holding a hand over it, he felt a slight tingle of familial recognition warm his palm. This was left by his daughter. Straightening, he looked ahead, and could almost imperceptibly sense her path. It was less an obvious guide, and more of a nudging unction in a certain direction, but he had been trained to follow that feeling when it manifested. Julien started into the woods, slowly orienting on the path that his daughter had taken.
Julien opened the door to his mother's home just in time to see his wife go flying across the room.
He could feel heat pouring off of her in waves as he hurried to her side, and when he moved to touch her face, he had to draw back to keep from being burned. "Eiric," he crooned soothingly. She looked at him, dazed, eyes incandescent with heat. He looked up to see his mother crouched on the other side of his wife, her face a study in surprise and worry. Recognizing her husband's voice, Eiric began to lower her defenses. Just in time, for her clothes had begun to singe and blacken in spots.
Cautiously, Julien reached out a hand to touch his wife's hair. Still hot, but bearable. He stroked it, feeling her temperature coming down under his gentle ministrations. He risked putting an arm around her. Barely tolerable, but it was obvious that she was pulling herself under control. Her eyes were slowly lightening from molten copper to their usual shining grey, her skin no longer the sullen ruddiness of heated metal.
"C'etait froid," she started, shivering at the memory "So cold. It was like a wall of ice just...slammed into me." She turned to him, grabbing his shirt front, her expression sharpening. "I saw our Adrienne! She was...cooking something, and then..." She groaned, held her head. "And then I was bitch-slapped with a bloody avalanche."
Julien gripped her tightly. "Elle a ete comment?"
Eiric shook her head wearily. "She looked happy. Healthy. She was in a wooden kitchen. The door opened, and then..." She shrugged.
Julien nodded. "And then 'Boom'!"
His wife nodded with him, "And then, 'Boom!'"
They didn't notice that Aurelie was gone until she suddenly reappeared next to Eiric with a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau. Eiric jumped. "Seriously, how do you do that?!" she said, incredulously. Aurelie shrugged.
Shaky with relief, both over the fact that his daughter was still alright, and that his wife was unharmed, Julien indulged in a slightly hysterical laugh. "That's her way, cherie." He took the glass of wine from his mother, and pressed it to his wife's lips, still stroking her hair. Eiric closed her eyes, and obediently drank. "There," he murmured, when she had finished the glass. He rubbed her back slowly, kissed her temple. "You did very well, mon amour; I'm very proud of you," he whispered in her ear. "Now, we know that Adrienne is unharmed."
He settled comfortably next to her. "You're going to be very proud of me, too. I went to her school, and was able to track part of her path through the forest. I was worried, because it appears as if she had been chased by wolves. Her trail ends near where a set of human male tracks begin. There are no signs of a struggle, but it does look like someone fell—probably Adrienne—because the male tracks lead away alone. It's obvious that he's carrying something substantial. Unfortunately, these tracks are impossible to follow."
"Pourquoi?" Eiric inquired anxiously. "Do they just disappear?"
"Non," he grunted. "It's just that...the forest in that area looks pretty messy. Like someone went over it for miles in every direction, trampling, breaking, rending, tearing. Any trail made has since been obliterated."
"Cold," Aurelie murmured thoughtfully. "You know, we have been having a lot of unseasonably cold weather for the past few days. Do you think that there's a connection?"
"Probably," Eiric answered absentmindedly. "Papa would know to counter me with people using cold." She grew excited, "And what better way to keep someone somewhere, without force, than snow?
"So, all we do," Julien began slowly, "is find the locus of the cold." His wife and mother looked up at him, as they all experienced the same feelings of flaring hope tempered with caution.
"In theory," Eiric said slowly, wrapping her hand around his. "It's highly probable that there are more deterrents—after all, my father is nothing if not thorough—but...it's a place to start. The question is...how do we find said locus?"
Julien bit his lip, thoughtful. "There is a spell that turns a regular map into a magical relief map. It would make sense that, wherever Adrienne is would currently display the highest level of magical concentration."
"What do you need?" Aurelie asked.
"Unfortunately, this will require some specialty items," Julien responded. He retrieved a bit of paper and pen from a drawer, and made two lists. "Here, Maman, you take half and we'll take half, and go to the local markets, and magic shops. Whatever you don't already have, we're going to have to try to find, but if we can't," he sighed. "If we can't, I may need to contact some friends to see what they can locate." They split up to go shopping for the things on his list.
Eiric followed Julien into his old haunts in the various markets and dusty, hole-in-the-wall shops, her eyes taking in everything as she watched him search, weigh, haggle, bargain, and gather his way through the afternoon. She had always respected her husband's magic, but to date, had never had overly many chances to see him work. She felt a deep sense of relief that Julien had received such a thorough, and varied education at the hands of his mother, aunts, and uncles.
She bit her lip, as she watched her husband bargain with the shopkeeper for a fresher item. Her father was so stubborn, refusing to believe that any procedural magic was worthwhile. It had stunted her education, she realized, because now she had to rely and her husband and mother in law to take the lead in finding her child. Though she loved, trusted, and respected them immensely, it still galled her to know that, for all of her purported great MacTavish-line power, she was no more helpful in this than a particularly precocious child.
She burned with the desire to be out, to be actively doing something to search for her daughter, but she quelled her passions, knowing that they could not help her, now. The tie that she normally had to her daughter was being quelled by the people working for her father, and no amount of brute force would overcome that. This took strategy, and delicacy; this took her husband. Unless...
"What are your thoughts?" her husband gently interrupted, taking her chin, and using his thumb to coax her bottom lip from her rending teeth.
Eiric sighed. No, she could never hide anything from her perspicacious husband. She gestured to some herbs as he guided her out of the shop. "I was just thinking how grateful I am to have you. To have married into your family. I wouldn't know where to begin on something like this. I feel so useless."
Julien rubbed her back, listening to her, as they walked to the next market. "You are many things, ma petite femme, but useless has never been one of them. Without you, we wouldn't know that Adrienne is alright. We wouldn't have known about the cold weather connection. And without you, even if we found her, there is a possibility that we wouldn't have enough power to take her back." He put his hand in the small of her back, gently directing her across the street. "We'll need your power and strength soon enough. You are our weapon," He lowered his voice, "Tu es mon coeur. " He wrapped a hand around her hip and kissed her temple as he guided her though the winding stalls of the next market. "Don't ever forget that."
They reconnoitered at Aurelie's house that afternoon, where she had lunch ready. Eiric groaned inside, but sat dutifully at the table. Her mother in law filled her bowl with chunky, herbaceous, steaming turkey soup, pulled a fresh still-warm crusty loaf from the shelf, deftly broke it into chunks, and liberally spread them with sweet-cream butter that melted over the fluffy insides as she firmly set it on the saucer beside Eiric's bowl. A fragrant glass of Sauvignon Blanc completed the meal.
After serving Julien, they ate in silence, with no interruptions except for a sharp look from Julien to his wife, when he thought that she wasn't going to finish her meal. He understood that she lost her appetite when she was upset, but he wasn't about to let her starve herself until their daughter was back.
Julien finished first, and took his dishes to the sink. While washing them, he asked his mother if she had had any luck.
"I was able to procure everything that you need," she said comfortably. He smiled to himself. His steely little mother was ever-capable.
"Well, you've gone further than we, unfortunately," he told her. She looked at Eiric, who nodded. "Unfortunately, there were three key ingredients that had been all bought a few days ago."
"What are you going to do?" Aurelie inquired.
"Julien has friends back in The States that are going to procure the items for us," Eiric answered. "He has already made all of the necessary calls."
"So, now..." Aurelie started.
"So now, you two brainstorm other ways of trying to find her," Eiric answered. "I'm going to see some people that I know, see if anyone has heard anything. Something this big takes planning, supplies, and not a small number people for execution. Someone has to know something."
Julien turned to his wife, understanding gnawing his insides. "You mean to track down these people."
She stared at him levelly, "Yes."
"Without me," continued.
"Yes," she coolly responded.
He paused, then shook his head. "Unacceptable."
She held out her hands, palms up, and made her voice gentle. "Julien, consider it logically. It makes more sense for us to attack this problem from as many sides as possible. You two have your talents, I have mine--"
He interrupted her, "I don't know where my child is. I will not let my wife go."
Eiric lifted her chin. "You don't trust me. You think that I'm going to get myself hurt. Julien, I've been doing this since I was 16 years old--" he cut her off again.
"You didn't have me at 16," he said, low.
"Julien," she started carefully, unsure of how to make the point that her powers were stronger than his without hurting his feelings. She paused, unwilling to damage her husband's pride to make her point.
As usual, however, he read her easily. He clenched his jaw. "I know that you're more powerful than I am in a magical fight," he gritted. "I know that, because of the way that you were raised, you are an eminently dangerous person. But you are my wife," here his voice broke, and she looked up at him in surprise. Voice low, almost growling, he continued, "You are my wife, and I will maim, kill, and die before I allow anyone to harm one inch of you. You go, I go."
Eiric looked to his mother in supplication.
Aurelie just shook her head sadly. "I will call my brothers and sister," she said, resigned. "With all four of us, there should be more than enough accumulated knowledge to accomplish what I could with Julien." She sighed, stroking her son's arm wistfully. Then she hardened her jaw, though her eyes were shining. "Go! Do what you need to do. Your wife is right, we should be trying as many avenues as possible."
Eiric hung her head, unwilling to admit that she would be immensely grateful for her husband's company. She didn't want to put him in danger, but without him, she always felt a little unsettled. A little raw. He was her safe place.
Julien wrapped his hand around the back of his wife's neck, pulling her into his chest, and resting his chin on top of her head. They just stood there for a few moments, gathering strength from one another.
They broke apart in surprise as the doorbell chimed. They looked to Aurelie, who looked as surprised as they. She hurried to the front door, just as it opened in a flurry of boisterous, garrulous voices. Julien hurried just behind his mother, to the front, shocked to see the familiar faces of his aunt and uncles.
"Why are you here?" Aurelie asked in shock.
Her sister walked over to her, and gave her an all-encompassing tight hug as she said, "You know that I always know when one of us is in trouble, little sister. I called Alain and Felix, and here we are."
Her brothers moved to hug her, and then all stood around her protectively. "So, what's wrong, Aurie?" Felix asked in his deep, rasping voice.
Eiric had silently come to stand just behind Julien as she watched the scene. She stood on tiptoe, and whispered into his ear, "So. Your mother doesn't know everything."