Crow walked up to the kid and squatted down beside him. Something, smelled like a kitten, hissed from inside his coat. Crow swallowed. His dry mouth tasted like demon. He scrubbed his face with his hand lost for words. He had just killed this kid’s mother. Manson’s mocking voice rang in his ears laughing as Crow inflicted death on another boy. But what choice had Crow had? If he hadn’t killed the woman they’d both be dead. But Manson would still laugh. The murderer would find a sick delight in knowing Crow had orphaned an innocent kid, just as he had been orphaned. Crow dropped his face in his hands. Rage like a volcanic eruption of magma filled him and spewed up and out. Crow lunged up with a growl and drove his fist through the back alley wall. The bones in his hand crunched. He had orphaned a kid. Another flying punch at the wall. He had given Manson the opportunity to mock him. Why hadn’t he stayed in the hotel? Crow relished the pain in his broken hand. This kid’s mom lay dead beside him, the least Crow, the killer, could do was take on a little pain.
A new voice rang out in his head. Murder and killing were not the same thing, it pointed out. Manson embraced murder. He destroyed his soul with a passion while destroying others. Killing, the voice spoke with a sad smile, could be good. Killing, the voice said with a tear, could save. Crow struggled with the battle between the two voices. Manson and the other. The other? Olive? The sad smile. The silver tears. All his beautiful Olive. From afar she reached towards him. She helped him.
He braced himself against the alley wall and took a deep breath. Peace calmed his soul, something he could not remember every happening in the past. He never felt calm. He never felt soothed. He took another deep breath.
“I’m sorry.” Crow found his voice. He found his strength not in her blood, but in her beauty. “I’m sorry this had to happen.”
Fear rolled off the kid in stronger waves than the rotten, decomposing smell of the trash. His large eyes took in only the dead woman. He did not move closer to her, or her moat of blood. He did not cry.
“It came one night.” The kid shuddered. “I was scared.”
“The demon?” Crow lifted his head.
“Yeah.” The kid nodded.
“Well, it won’t be coming back, for now anyway.” Crow watched his hand heal. He regained his composure while his bones re-knit. Healing done, he came back down to eye level with the kid. “But, I’m still sorry about your mom. I wish there’d been something I could’ve done to save her.”
“She wasn’t my mom anymore.” He took his eyes off her body and turned them on Crow. “My mom went away the night that monster came. She won’t come back will she?”
“No,” Crow said. He hated to say it, but lying wasn’t going to help the kid move on. “You got a Dad? Or a place we can take you?”
His coat hissed again, and he reached inside to quiet the kitten.
“No. The monster ate him first.”
The deadpan voice and glazed eyes told Crow all he needed to know. The woman had offered her husband first to the demon while her son watched. If Crow had not come when he did, the kid would have been next. He was right, she was not his mom.
“Are you a Super Hero? Like Thor or Wolverine.”
“Meaning I’m not Captain America?”
“You don’t have a shield.”
“At least he didn’t ask if you were Tony Stark,” Zephyr whispered in his ear.
Crow cringed. He’d take Wolverine. At least that guy had the guts to not just blindly follow whoever spoke the most eloquently. And he knew how and when to fight. Yeah, a Wolverine comparison would do.
“It’s hard to explain, kid, but I’m one of the good guys. I’m not gonna hurt you.” Crow held out his hand.
Zephyr kicked him in the neck. “You doofus. He hasn’t got any tattoos.”
“What?” Crow said. He could see the kid didn’t have any tats.
“He can barely see you.”
“Quit sitting there like a useless fairy and get us a light then.”
“Don’t be mean,” she said.
“Are you talking to me?” the kid said.
“No, hold on and you’ll see.”
Zephyr took a dandelion tuff from the belt at her waist. The white feathery pappus glowed. One by one they opened and fluttered up, up, down and over the kids upturned face – always refilling, always falling.
“What’s that?” the kid whispered.
“It’s magic. Demons aren’t the only supernatural thing in the world. There’s a fair number of good things out there too….and lots of beauty,” he mumbled the last part. Images of Olive dancing in her garden, laughing in a field of flowers, and tidying the room around sleeping friends washed through him. There was great beauty in this damned world.
“Is she you’re sidekick?”
Zephyr grinned from ear to ear.
“I guess you could call her that.”
Crow held out his hand and Zephyr fluttered over to it on silent wings. The dandelion pappus fell on his fingers like a tiny firework without the heat. Crow held her out between himself and the boy.
“This is Zephyr. She’s my friend and has been a long time.”
Crow held out his other hand, Zephyr’s light catching Olive’s seasonal tattoos.
“The name’s Crow. And while I’m not a super hero, I am a dhampir.”
“A dhampir? What’s that?”
“You probably won’t believe this, but it means I’m half vampire, half human.”
The kid gasped taking his hand and shaking it. “You are a super hero. You’re Blade!”
“Okay,” Crow said. “You watch too much TV.”
“I don’t watch TV,” the kid said moving closer. “Why do you have a such girly tattoos on your hand?”
Crow held his hand closer to the light taking a fresh look at Olive’s servant tattoos. Out of context, he guessed they were feminine, what with the rain drops and the star, but at least he did not have a flower or something on his fingers.
“These belong to a young woman named Olive who has powers over the seasons. I am her guardian. That’s why I have them.” He pointed at another tattoo on his left forearm. “A candle with a moth is Zephyr’s symbol. It tells everyone I’ve got a Wiznit as a sidekick.”
“What’s a wiz? A wiz? A wiz-what?” he stumbled over the name.
“A Wiznit!” Zephyr spun in a circle on Crow’s hand sending a spray of light raining down on them.
“It’s kinda like a fairy, but not. And don’t ever call her that.”
The boy smiled. “I never knew magic was real. I thought all the stuff in my comics was made up.”
“Most of it is, kid.”
“Do you have any tattoos, Ms. Wiznit?”
Zephyr laughed, a sound like spring – full of life and light. The alley warmed with the sound.
“Only one, and my name’s Zephyr.” She held out her hand showing the boy the black silhouetted of a crow etched there.
“I have one of those!”
“A crow tattoo?” Cold fear rushed through Crow.
“No. Watch.” The boy raised his arm. “Acorn, here!”
Crow ducked. Out of the night sky a small sparrow fell. He landed on the boy’s arm, and plucked at his coat in a friendly way.
“I see.” Feelings of annoyance at his servant tattoo being compared to a sparrow, and relief because the boy did not have a similar tattoo washed through Crow in two consecutive waves.
“I don’t have any cool tattoos,” the kid said hanging his head.
“You don’t have any ties to the other planes and their magic,” Crow said. “That’s the only way to get tats like this.”
A kitten poked its face out of the top of the kid’s jacket. And then another. They both eyed the sparrow, Acorn. He hopped a little further down the kid’s arm, well out of reach.
“But you do seem to have an animal affinity,” Crow sighed. “You got a name?”
Crow’s stomach dropped. What were the odds of finding a lost boy who just happened to be named Jack? Jacks did not have real good luck in his family. He reached up and rubbed the list of names on his arm. Old man Jack’s was there right along with the others.
“Do you have any grandparents, Jack? Someplace I can take you?”
Jack tilted his head to the right. Zephyr’s light played across his round face. Sky blue eyes, too serious for his age, moved back and forth in thought. He reached up and brush back a mop of brown hair. Another jerk clenched Crow’s gut. Jack could be Olive’s child, so closely did his face and hair, other than being only one color, resemble her. Even his eyes were shaped the same, just blue instead of green.
“No. I don’t know.”
“Okay, let’s get you back to the hotel and clean you up. We’ll go from there.”
Jack’s stomach rumbled.
“I second that,” Crow said. With his enemy defeated, his body demanded food.
Crow stood and sniffed the air. Jack stood and did the same thing.
“Zephyr?” Crow said.
“Nothing now, but you both reek of demon and trash.” She covered her nose with her hand.
“Thanks. But it’s not us I’m worried about. Let’s go.”
Jack took his hand. Crow squeezed his fingers, awkward, but touched by the kid’s trust.
“Sorry Jack, we’re not walking out of here. Too slow and too easy to get tracked.”
He lifted Jack up with a quick swing and flung him on his back. The kittens between Crow’s back and Jack’s stomach wriggled. Acorn fluttered down to the ground.
“Wait. Put me down.”
Crow set him back down.
Jack reached in his jacket for the two kittens. He moved them into side pockets.
“Any more pets?” Crow helped him climbed back up in a piggy back position.
“No, just these three.”
Acorn flew up out of the alley and waited for them on the roof.
“Good. Now hang on.”
Crow leapt for a window sill and then to the top of a building.
“Holy cow, you are Blade,” Jack said in hero-worship awe.
“No, I’m a dhampir.” Crow crouched on the building scenting for any follow-up demons.
“Can you go fast?”
“You have no idea,” Crow said. He shifted away from the alley with the dead woman back across the buildings to his Olive. Like a warrior returning from battle with the spoils, he headed back to his woman, victorious. But did a little boy with kittens in his pocket and a sparrow following behind count as spoils? How had he managed to add to his rag-tag band such a seemingly useless member? Like Jack needed to add ‘hunted by serial killer, demon summoner, vampire slayer’ to his list of woes. Crow guessed that beat getting eaten or possessed by a demon most days, but not by much. And he could still end up dead. But, Crow couldn’t just leave him in the alley next to the monster his mother had become. Besides, he had a feeling Olive would be more than delighted to take in the kid, pets and all.
Jack cheered in his ear thrilled by his exhilarating ride. Crow shifted faster and faster leaving the kid breathless in the wind of their passing.
Something was wrong.
Crow slowed before he could even see the hotel sensing something…what?
Jack, arm wrapped around Crow’s throat, bit off the last of a yell going quickly silent. Zephyr stood. She tensed sensing Crow’s unease. He moved closer shifting from shadow to shadow while he sniffed and listened. Nothing. He could not smell a thing.
Their hotel window came into view. Crow stopped.
“The candle. It’s out.”
He rushed across the last three building tops and straight through their hotel window, broken and open to the dark night.
Something had ripped their rooms to shreds, torn apart, and destroyed beds, blankets, chairs and clothing. Crow looked around, dismayed. He did not registered Jack letting go of his shoulders and dropping to the floor. Stunned, he stood there. Dread ballooned inside him. He doubled over and threw up. His stomach revolted as a fear he could not stop avalanched him. Olive?? What had he done? How could he go bust a demon like some high school jock needing to prove his testosterone levels while something attacked the people dependent on him?
A groan came from under the overturned entertainment center.
Crow shifted to it. Lifting it up with one hand, he set it aside. A bruised, broken, and bleeding Stan moaned on the floor. Blood bubbled on his lips. Crow dropped to the floor. He cradled his old friend in his arms.
“Crow?” Stan gasped. “They took her. They came after you left, and took her.”
“Who?” Crow’s voice was ice. Never split up, never split up, never split up, his heart pounded. Why had he left? How could he have been so stupid?
“The Gray Coven,” Stan whispered. His eyes fluttered and closed.
“Crow!” Zephyr called from the other room. “It’s Rose. She is hurt, but alive.”
Crow held his friend unable to comprehend that while he had been saving Jack, Olive had been taken from him. He had just found her. He had just filled that hole deep within his soul. Now she was gone.
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…