Augustus tossed his book onto the floor beside his chair and let out a long sigh. He couldn’t concentrate. He never could when Alrik was missing. Sitting with her feet pulled up beneath her on the chair opposite his, Sharna appeared to be engrossed in whatever she’d loaded onto her Kindle, but Augustus was aware that her eyes flicked constantly in his direction. She was worried about him. He was worried about her. They were both worried about Alrik.
The sight of her reading brought back memories of happier times. The written word had been unknown in the world from which he’d rescued her. Her initial dependence on him even for things as simple as reading a menu had perhaps made him love her even more. He’d taught her to read. The lessons had drawn them together. Happier times indeed. Pre-Alrik times. Where the hell was he this time? He glanced down at his hand. His fingers had clenched into a tight fist. More and more often his concern for Alrik turned to anger, then hatred, for the son who had turned their dreams of a family life into a living hell.
Where had they gone wrong? They’d asked that question so many times over the years that they no longer verbalised it. He couldn’t put it down to the hormonal chaos of adolescence. Alrik’s tantrums and inexplicable bursts of anger had started even before he could walk. They’d tried everything, read every childcare book they could find, trawled the internet for advice, nothing had made an ounce of difference.
Pet therapy—Augustus snorted. Something small and vulnerable to have to care for, something for which to be responsible, Alrik had been six years old. They’d bought him a golden Labrador puppy. He had disembowelled it on the kitchen floor. ‘To see how it works’, he told Augustus, when his father walked in on the scene of bloody carnage. More oft-visited memories formed an orderly queue in Augustus’s mind. He felt as if he were standing and looking back over the line of patiently waiting torment. He unclenched his fingers and pushed himself up from his chair.
Sharna glanced up from her reading and smiled.
He tried to smile back, but his lips only twitched. He walked around the back of her chair, ignoring the hand that reached toward him for contact.
His laptop lay open on a small desk against the back wall of the room. He brushed his finger over its touchpad and the screen flashed out of hibernation. An image of Dun Mor, the iron-age promontory fort on Inishbofin and scene of their last encounter with the Power, stood formidable and green against a bright blue sky. Centre-screen, the white square of the message box stood empty. The cursor in its top left-hand corner blinked mockingly.
Augustus clicked on ‘check for new messages’ more out of frustration than in the hope that anything would appear. The Cycles must be turning as they always turned. Covens across the world must still be regenerating. He couldn’t believe that their victory over Edward Braine had been the end of it, so why was he not needed? Why had he been chosen and then not used, not in almost twenty years?