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Still staying as quiet as he could, Jay grabbed Louis’s wrist. He didn’t grab hard, didn’t grab like he was trying to make Louis drop the knife—just getting his attention, looking up at him with wide, alarmed eyes, and giving a quick shake of his head.
Louis seemed to frown at him, brows drawing down visibly under the eye holes of his mask, and he gestured at Dr. Archer with a quick, irritated gesture.
Jay nodded, then sort of shrugged helplessly. Even if he could talk now, he wasn’t sure what he’d say. He’d heard just enough about Louis’s past to begin to put together a truly horrible image of Dr. Archer as the likely source of Louis’s scars—physical and emotional. Everything Louis had indicated about his predecessor painted the picture of a sexual sadist and abuser of the power he’d held over Louis. Jay couldn’t exactly blame Louis for wanting to kill him.
Or… perhaps, wanting to kill him again. Louis had been very sure that Dr. Archer had died, and Dr. Archer had implied that someone had hidden his body or otherwise conveniently ‘lost’ it. Certainly the injuries on his face were consistent with what might have happened if, say, a mask were peeled off someone it had become affixed to. Jay didn’t want to think that Louis was wearing the same mask—and certainly it was a lot cleaner than he’d expect from those… circumstances. But the evidence was pretty telling nevertheless.
Still, Jay was pretty sure he didn’t want to be party to a murder. Maybe it was deserved, and definitely this guy shouldn’t get his hands on the flute, but… this didn’t seem like the time or the place. It might be his own squeamishness—he was having trouble of thinking of reasons that he could give if Louis asked, beyond the risk that they might mess it up and have him sic all the Byakhee on them. But he still just didn’t feel great about the idea of witnessing a murder.
He didn’t know how much of that he was able to communicate with his plaintive look, his shrug, but after a long moment, Louis nodded. He tapped his chest over his heart, trying to communicate—what, Jay wasn’t sure. That his heart was calm?
“Well, Louis? I’m waiting for that hug.” Dr. Archer held his arms out, smiling, the muscles of his face stretching tightly.
Jay leaned up, quick, and gave Louis a peck on the cheek of his mask, then released his wrist, miming playing a flute. A last reminder to Louis of what they were here for. Beyond that, all he could do was trust Louis.
Louis didn’t sheathe the knife, and Jay held his breath as Louis approached the bed, sat on it next to Dr. Archer, and wrapped an arm around him.
His other hand placed the point up under Dr. Archer’s chin, making him freeze in place. “All right, Doctor,” Louis said. “You’re going to be very careful about what you say or do now, okay?”
“Or you’ll what? Kill me?” The twisting of Archer’s face was probably an attempt to be mockingly dubious about the possibility.
“Slit you ear from ear,” Louis said, in his calm, affable voice. “And kiss the wound goodbye. Jay, come help tear down some of his bed curtains so we can bind him properly.”
Jay let out a rough, unsteady breath, hurrying over to do that. The already tattered cloth tore easily in strips as he yanked it down, pulling the older man’s wrists back behind his back and starting to tie them.
“Who’s your friend, Louis? He doesn’t know how to tie a knot,” Dr. Archer said mildly.
Despite everything, Jay felt himself flush in embarrassment. “I’ve never had to before!”
“Letting my boy down. I see, I see.”
“Shut up,” Louis said, his tone still friendly. “Jay, wind that through the middle. It’s fine if you hurt him a little; it means he’s less able to break free if they’re definitely secure. He can’t feel much pain anyway.”
Jay did, winding the excess material through the loop he’d been making around both of Dr. Archer’s wrists, cinching them. “What now?” Jay asked, voice shaking a little with the adrenaline wreaking havoc on his body.
“That looks like it’ll hold for now,” Louis said, and Jay tied the ends off. “Now, Dr. Archer, what can you tell us about the thing you’ve had your minions looking for?”
To punctuate his question, Louis tapped the point of his knife under Dr. Archer’s chin, letting it dimple the flesh there just enough for a trickle of blood to drip down and further stain the collar of Dr. Archer’s white suit.
Dr. Archer’s muscles didn’t even twitch at that; he still kept smiling his grotesque smile in Louis’s direction. “I haven’t seen it, you know. All I know is it’s an item of power, meant to lure a certain power to it, bind them in lulled ecstasy. Those are creatures of ultimate chaos, not meant to serve our god—but if they can be turned to sing his praises, to dance and act out his coming, they can surely cause his arrival to happen at last.”
“You defile him,” Louis told Dr. Archer sharply. “Everything must be done properly, or it is not worth doing. With elegance, with refinement.”
“And who taught you that?” Dr. Archer retorted. “Besides, the stranger in the pallid mask, the messenger, is the one who is recognized as a chaotic force. So why can he not use the chaos that swirls around one throne to raise up another?”
“For one thing, that’s not you,” Louis said. He reached up, fingers curling white-knuckled in more of the bed curtain, ripping it down, then violently jammed the ball of cloth into Dr. Archer’s mouth. “Thank you. That’s all we needed to know. You can be quiet now.”
Jay shifted, his chest tight and anxious. On the one hand, it seemed like Louis had agreed not to kill him. On the other… “Maybe we should make him send the Byakhee some sort of message of non-aggression?”
“If he can communicate with them long-distance, we’re already in trouble,” Louis said. “If he can’t, we can use him as a shield to keep them at bay—”
And, as if summoned, a crashing, screaming force hit the window, poured through.
Jay flung himself across the bed, rolling to duck behind it and keep it between himself and the Byakhee as they swarmed into the room. As he rolled, he felt one of the four Signs he was carrying go flying out of his pocket as he rolled, though he wasn’t sure which one. He reached for Louis as he went, trying to drag him along, but missed as Dr. Archer surged up, shoulder-checking Louis toward the Byakhee before falling on his side on the floor himself, choking and gagging.
In a sudden panic, Jay crawled around the bed, keeping low. There were five or six Byakhee surrounding Louis, who had curled into a ball to protect his vitals. His knife had skidded away and glittered in the pale light from the window, among the shattered glass. No Byakhee had moved to help or arm Dr. Archer, who lay choking on the floor, jerking at bonds he wasn’t able to undo. Jay could see the Sign he’d dropped, Nyarlathotep’s ankh, under the bed, just out of reach; he’d have to flatten himself and press himself a little under to get it.
Two additional Byakhee flapped in the air, apparently watching the chaos unfold below, and one had a hideous flute clasped in its claws. It was a long, warped tube, full of holes that looked as though they’d been made from the inside out, as if by burrowing insects, and ended in a strange, uneven mass at the end.
Jay shifted his gaze in a panic: Dr. Archer, the Sign under the bed, the knife, glass, Louis, the Flute.
And for a moment he froze up, not sure what to do.
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