The Son of Stan
Ronan tried to ignore how much his hands shook as Genesis hung up on the other end of the line. The phone bobbed around in his twitching fingers and clattered against Jack’s cell phone already on the arm of the couch. Ronan used both hands to lay it down. Living room walls reduced and expanded with each beat of his heart. The power he expended to convince Genesis of his identity throbbed inside him. He ran his fingers through his hair to give them something to do. Sundance curled at his feet, her arm wrapped around his leg. They studied one another. Ronan reached out and cupped her pale face. He wanted physical assurance she lived; lived and breathed on this plane. Her body’s warmth proved life still ran through her veins. Ash took the seat next to Ronan, and rested her head on his shoulder. Spatial contact reaffirmed life. Monk dropped down next to Ash on the now full couch. He rubbed his shoulder.
“Still tender?” Ronan asked.
“I’m trying to remember the pain and the healing of the bullet wound. It’s like it never happened…as far as my shoulder is concerned,” Monk said.
“Good as new.” Sundance smiled.
“Better than new.”
With nothing else to add, everyone’s eyes traveled to the phones. Jack’s phone remained quiet and still. No teen ringtone, no vibrating.
“Ring, damn it,” Ronan said.
Fortunatus and Zephyr left with the arrival of darkness. Left to find Jack. Ronan only had to wait for Fortunatus to call him on Jack’s phone when the vampire discovered Mara’s candle lit location. Jack captured by Mara. How had he missed it?
“It’s not your fault,” Sundance said. Her eyes read his face like a book.
“I was a complete idiot not putting the two cases together. Over and over, I told Jack the attacks on him had nothing to do with the other murders.” Ronan shook his head. If Jack died… “I just never imagined Dora worked with Mara. I never imagined her attacks on Jack being one and the same as the capture of the other high schoolers.”
Ash turned her face away and pressed it between Ronan’s shoulder and the couch. He took his her hand and wrapped his own around it. He protect this little part of her with himself.
“None of us did. Even Fortunatus.”
It seemed so clear, now. Jack’s capture made the other’s seem easy in comparison. Mara knew the level of training Jack had and the friends willing to protect him. Thus, the mercenaries and full-blown witch sent to fetch him. No mere servant witch could pull off Jack’s kidnapping . None of that mattered anymore. Jack was just one more young man in Mara’s collection because Ronan kept the cases apart. How could he have been so stupid?
“What did Genesis say?” Sundance asked.
“She said she’s going into hiding. Mara will have to keep chasing her. I hope it distract her long enough for us to get Jack. I wanna get a hold of Dora. I don’t think she understands what she’s doing. Jack’s almost an Innocent and all the other guys who have died most certainly were. From what I understand Dora’s always been one of the good guys.”
“Yeah, it seems really out of character for her to be helping Mara kill people.” Sundance agreed.
“What are we going to do now, Dad?” Ash asked.
Ronan stood up and stretched. He walked up and down the room working the kinks out of his body. Bullet and knife wounds healed by an angel did not make him feel any younger, just not dead. The healing had explained the white, glowing feather Fortunatus received the other night at Dream’s shop. Akilina cared enough for him to plead for his life. Ronan could not have asked for a truer testament to the vampire’s change of heart then the love of a being as pure as Akilina. Wolfe’s willingness to deny them access to the Door to the Plane Beyond gave the angel time to complete her healing. Ronan owed them both.
“We’re going after Jack,” Ronan said.
Ash smiled, “I was hoping you’d say that. I think I’d go crazy sitting here waiting for something to happen.”
“I wonder where you get that from?” Sundance said, smiling up at Ronan.
“It couldn’t be me. I’m always the calm voice of reason.”
“Keep dreaming,” Sundance said. She held out her hand to Ronan and he pulled her to her feet and to himself. Her warmth soothed his nerves. He forced himself to take in a deep breath and then release it.
“Let’s pack up and go,” Ronan said. “Monk you wanna tag team the driving with me?”
“Yes sir, that’d be great. Besides, I don’t know how comfortable I am with you driving anyway. What if you get a vision going 70 down the freeway?”
“Good point,” Ronan said.
“I can drive, too,” Ash said, standing up.
“Okay, let’s get going.”
Ash, already packed, headed to the kitchen to get snacks and water. After the angelic healing, they had headed to the Ritches to get their gear. They left as quick as they arrived. Ronan feared their very presence endangered the family. He wanted out, away from people. Jack might have been taken, but Mara still needed him. They had headed back to Sundance’s and everyone crashed after shield spells went up around the house. On Halloween they slept. The attack, the nightmares, and the healings took their toll on the four witches. They slept the haunted day away. On the 1st of November, All Soul’s Day, Fortunatus called on Jack’s cell phone and told Ronan his location. Ronan and Sundance spent the rest of the day tracking down Genesis’ phone number. As the 1st turned into the 2nd they called her and warned her. Now, they would follow after Fortunatus and Zephyr hoping to free Jack before Genesis could be captured. A lot of pacing happened between the sleeping during those two days. The fact that Sundance’s carpet looked little worse for the wear mystified Ronan. His feet complained enough for the carpet to be worn down to the floor boards.
Ronan went in the room he shared with the guys and gathered up the clothes they washed yesterday. He also packed a couple of things for Jack knowing when they got him out the kid would need a change of clothes. Since the magic seemed to only transfer through bare skin he would need a shirt at least. Ronan headed out to the living room and dropped his bag with the others Monk loaded into the back of the truck. Ready, he went to check on Sundance. He leaned against the door frame watching her pack. She held up two sweaters, one forest green and the other royal blue. Ronan memorized the shape of her body, the curl of her long hair, the turned-up part of her nose. He took in the freckles across her cheeks and the shape of her lips. A wrinkle appeared between her blueberry eyes as she tried to decide which sweater to take. She bent her head over her turquoise suitcase and a curtain of hair covered her face.
Sneaking up behind her, Ronan put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. She started.
“You scared me.”
He bent down, pulled her hair back and kissed her at the base of her long neck. She shivered and pressed against him.
“Take the green one,” he whispered in her ear. Her smell intoxicated him. He wanted to ditch the kids, forget about Jack and Genesis, and go somewhere alone with Sundance. Just with her. He wanted to watch her dance and he wanted to dance with her.
“Green it is!” Sundance slipped out of his arms and put the blue sweater back in the drawer. She folded the green one in with the other packed clothes and zipped up the suitcase. Ronan caught her up again. He turned her around and kissed her warm lips.
“You, sir, are distracting.” Sundance laughed.
“Not as much as you are.” Ronan kissed her again.
“Ohmygosh, y’all could at least shut the door,” Ash said from the doorway. “Trucks loaded, FYI.”
Ronan groaned and broke away from Sundance.
“When this is over we lose the kids,” Ronan said.
“I think what you have in mind, sir, makes them,” Sundance said. She picked up her suitcase and left the room. As she floated through the doorway, she looked back and winked. Ronan shook his head and laughed to himself. He ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath to clear his mind. If only Mara would call this whole thing off, so he could steal Sundance away.
As they pulled out of the drive, just an hour after midnight, Ronan indicated to Monk to head west out of the town. Letting the kids do the driving made Ronan feel old, but he knew wisdom when he heard it. A vision was not something to have while driving, and with Jack captured the visions were bound to come.
Not even out of sleeping Dorian, Ronan felt a strange tug at the back of his mind. Incessant pain, sorrow, and fear pulled and pulled at him, but none of it belonged to him. He dropped his head into his hands. One more tug and his brain might fly out the back of his skull. Sundance moved her hand to his thigh, right where he could see her long fingers through his own. She danced them up and down his leg. The tugging stopped. It weighed, measured, and examined Sundance’s distraction.
Sensing the hesitation of the impending vision, Ronan unbuckled and laid his head in Sundance’s lap. He stretched his long legs out on the back seat as far as space would allow. Collapsing on the floor during a vision left his knees, elbows, and head battered. If he could lie down, he did not wake up with new bruises. Besides, he did not want to waste a perfectly good angel healing.
“Keep driving, Monk,” he said.
Sundance ran her fingers through his longish hair. Ronan closed his eyes and left his body. He floated in darkness without stars. Darkness void of any moon or other celestial bodies. He searched for the soul damaged by fear and sorrow. A tiny pinprick rested in the blackness surrounding him. Ronan lunged towards the soul and slipped into Genesis’ damaged soul.
“This is new,” he said to himself. The lab where the scientist had died rose up from the past around him, but the people the zombie ripped apart were now all the same man.
“Must be her dream.” Ronan guessed. It seemed the only explanation. A man, with a basket ball players build and a blond, short ponytail, dropped as the zombie ripped his long spine out of his back . A willowy woman, her long white hair shimmering blue, gold, and pink in the light, beat on the glass walls of the lab. Her voice broke as she screamed, but the zombie ignored her orders. Genesis proved impotent, again. Ronan realized this was the nightmare she spoke of on the phone. This event occurred in her head every time she closed her eyes. People died cause she could not do her job.
“At least she has an excuse.”
Ronan went to the person needing salvation. Not the man being torn apart, but the woman weeping against the glass. He stepped over as Genesis fell to the floor. Dropping down beside her, Ronan gathered her up in his arms and held her close, held her soul close. He took all the guilt she had laid on herself for their deaths. He took the nightmares which would not fade even when she woke up. He bent over her and kissed her eyes washing what they had seen away.
“It is not your fault these people died. You do not have their blood on your hands. That is someone else’s guilt and someone else’s punishment. Let go of the nightmares,” he whispered in her ear.
As his words pulled her soul together, as she believed them, held onto them for dear life, the lab faded from around Ronan. He appeared in a room filled with men in long coats, hose, and boots. Women in full length ball gowns with hair piled high mixed with the men. Each one a vampire. Sundance stepped down a flight of stairs with Genesis in tow. The witch of the Undead wore a burgundy gown which turned her fair skin into a smooth landscape. Her white hair glistened in the flickering candle light. Small jewels collected in her hair like dew in the grass. She smiled for all those gathered on the ballroom floor. Ronan watched a man with a scar return the smile and wave at Genesis. Like a kick in the gut, Ronan realized this man was truly here. Truly in the dream, not just part of Genesis’s subconscious, sleeping imagination. She slept in the lab, Sundance sat in the truck stroking Ronan’s hair back from his face. The vampires were scattered over the whole world. But, Ronan and this man were here in the dream as well as wherever their bodies happened to be.
Not wanting to waste the dream time, figuring the man would come to him, Ronan took Sundance by the hand and led her out on the dance floor. He smiled and winked at Genesis hoping this proved her soul healed and her nightmares gone.
As the other dancers filled the floor, the dream began to fade. The man with the scar stepped to his side.
“You’ll need the help of the Inventor, this will get worse before it gets better. Remember, you’ll need the Inventor’s help when this is over.”
Ronan sat up in the truck. He grasped at the dissipating sense of contentment flowing from Sundance’s touch, the sense of control and action, but fog was easier to trap in his hands. The fleeing positive emotions left him alone with dread, a cold companion for the heart. Ronan feared for Jack, for Genesis, for what Mara planned for them.
“Two questions, who is the Inventor and who is the man with the scar?”
“The Inventor is a legend, just a myth among witches. The story is that he’s a type of angel. A powerful type which helped create the witches, who then helped create the world. As the first of our kind created the world, the Inventor tried to convince the King to give machines souls. I don’t know if he really exists. No one heard or saw those creating angels ever again.” Sundance shrugged. “It’s just a legend. A tall tale. A man with a scar? I don’t know. What happened, Ronan? What did you see?”
“I went to heal Dunlear’s dreams. Her soul was damaged by the death of some of her friends. She blamed herself, felt like their blood was on her hands. But Dora cast the spells which kept Genesis from saving them. In the dream I met a man who told me things were going to get worse and I would need the Inventor’s help at the end. The man had a scar and I don’t think he was a witch…”
“Who else would he be?”
Ronan shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Back twisting, muscle spasm causing tension settled next to dread inside Ronan’s head as they reached the edge of town. Headed west into the cold autumn night, they waited to hear from a vampire. They waited on the whim of the visions. Ronan drifted off to sleep with the sound of the tires rolling forever, Ash and Monk quietly talking, and Sundance breathing beside him. Sleep without dreams. Dark emptiness. But Ronan feared the dark.
Snitch. Agony tore someone’s soul apart. Ronan rushed to consciousness. A headache cut through his brain. He tried to get air into his lungs, and pressed the heel of his hands into his eyes. Sweat covered his body.
Physical, unbearable pain ran along the lines of someone’s nervous system. A woman. Genesis. Fear and sadness cut into her soul. Damn it! He had just healed that soul. Ronan shook his head from side to side. He bit down on his tongue and coppery blood filled his mouth. He gagged on the warmth gushing down his throat.
Sundance took his hand and he braced himself against her.
Something was wrong. This vision was different. It bound him, it tightened around his…
…throat. Ronan floated in the air, just an invisible soul, watching the events unfold around him. He took in the white walls, cold and sterile, leading to two double industrial doors. Five armed men pushed through them and raced outside. A tall man, blonde ponytail, followed behind them. He stopped and turned back to two women in the hall no longer hurrying after him. Ronan recognized Genesis even as she rolled into a fetal position. Ronan wanted to mirror her as she pulled out her hair in agony.
The man Ronan knew from the dream. Genesis had watched him get ripped apart by the zombie. Ronan did not know the woman gloating over Genesis. He reached to his own throat as he caught a glimpse of a silver band around Genesis’ neck, magical and dangerous. The necklace screamed out its name to him – Pain.
Ronan felt it, the agony. The tortures Genesis believed happened to her, surrounded him. It echoed along his soul as it ate away at hers. He clenched his jaw. His knuckles turned white as he dug his fingernails into the palms of his hands to fight the pain.
“No, no,” Ronan moaned as the hallway filled with men in black uniforms and guns. The same men who captured Jack were here to get Genesis. And with Genesis out of commission, the rest of her friends did not have a chance.
The mercs dispatched the five armed men while Ronan watch and Genesis writhed. It happened so fast their souls did not have a chance to be damaged. Wolfe appeared to take them away; they fought the witch of Death to return. Ronan could not believe his eyes as Genesis battled through the pain, regain her feet, and threw herself over the ponytailed man. Bile rise in Ronan’s throat. Again, Dora forced someone to choose between their own life or the life of their friends. Again, she forced a heart to break knowing that even as they were saved, their savior would die.
Silence filled the bloody hallway as the mercs put up their guns. They pulled Genesis off of the man she tried so desperately to protect.
“Bring him with us, we might need another body to house the power and he would be a good second,” Dora said.
Ronan froze at the idea that Jack might die, that he might not make it, and they might need another body to inherit Genesis’ power.
Jack! The images faded as Dora’s men drug Genesis, the man, and the other woman out to their SUVs and drove away with them in the back…
Ronan gulped for air as the vision faded. He clawed at his throat, but his fingers found bare skin, no Necklace of Pain. His tongue swelled in his mouth. The sharp ache stabbed up through his jaw and into his temple.
“Man, I am glad I insisted on driving,” Monk said.
“Dad, you okay?”
Ronan nodded. He felt worn out. Worn down to the bone.
“Monk?” Ronan tried to say, but it came out Mont. Tears swelled in his eyes. He used the top of his mouth to put pressure on his tongue. Sundance took his face in her hands and pulled his face down near her own.
“You poor man,” she said. She kissed his forehead.
“Monk,” she spoke for him. “Pull in somewhere and get me some ice, okay?”
“You got it.”
Ice. The very notion sounded like heaven to Ronan. He laid down, slick with sweat and sick from the pain. Sundance moved to the far end of the back bench and Ronan set his head in her lap. His new favorite place. She rubbed his arms and shoulders and stroked his hair. His heart rate dropped and his body began to forget the pain he had shared with Genesis.
“She got Genesis,” Ronan said taking each word real slow. It still came out Thee ot Ensis. He did not want to tell them. He felt like voicing it, putting it out there, made it real. But, he had to tell them, he just had to.
“What!? I thought Genesis was going into hiding?”
“Nev mad it.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” Ash said.
“Ara onlee eed ee.”
“What?” Monk said.
“Mara only needs him to be finished.” Ash translated.
“And don’t you even think about using that as an excuse to leave us behind, with some heroic protection plan,” Sundance said.
Ronan looked up into her serious blueberry eyes. No doubt remained in his mind that if he did just that, and the thought had occurred to him, Sundance would hunt him down. She would make him pay for his foolishness. He could not decide to be happy about that thought or scared. He wondered how she would decide to hurt him, and smiled at the thought. Maybe not so bad an idea, either way.
“Ou!” Ronan moaned as Sundance pinched his shoulder.
“That’s for the gleam in your eye.”
Monk pulled into a fast food restaurant and ordered for everyone at the drive through window. Ronan sat up and downed his drink. He felt the sugar and caffeine rinse the taste of blood from his mouth. It race through his veins and started to feel better. A hamburger and fries seemed less appealing. He knew his future. Sundance dug a piece of ice from his styrofoam cup. She dipped it in a baggy filled with white willow powder ground by the Healing Witch’s servants. Ronan slipped it in his mouth. He sighed as the ice and willow cooled his inflamed tongue. The willow tasted sharp and bitter, but Ronan dipped another chunk of ice in the bag as soon as the first one melted. Monk headed back towards the freeway. The sun turned the horizon a deep navy behind them.
“It will be sunrise in a few hours. How long do you think we have before she tries?” Sundance asked.
“It depends,” Ronan tested his tongue. If he talked slowly he sounded normal. ”If she waits until midnight tonight, we have quite a while, but if she starts trying to see what’s going on, we may only have a few hours.”
Sundance sighed and snuggled up under his arm. He pulled her close and she wrapped her arms around his chest.
“When this is done, we’ll shed our mortal skins and go somewhere together, just us as we truly are,” she whispered against him.
Sipping some strong coffee, Monk continued to head west, west into the unknown and away from the rising sun. Behind them, the horizon turned a pale gray and then a pale pink as the sun lit up the cold autumn morning. Ash and Ronan both nodded off while Sundance and Monk watched the road and them. Several hours after the sun reclaimed the world from darkness, Ronan struggled awake. His body ached from head to toe. Being a witch might extend his life, but it did not make him feel younger. So many visions, so many battles, so many healings took their toll. He wondered if a two or three hundred year life span was a curse or a blessing.
“Anyone heard from Fortunatus or Zephyr, recently?” Ronan mumbled as he sat up and looked around for his cell and Jack’s. The sun had traveled the sky while he slept. Soon it would set.
“Nope. I was about to wake you up and see if we were still going in the right direction. I didn’t have any instructions on exits,” Monk said, glancing back at him in the rear view mirror.
“That can’t be good. It’s been over 24 hours since we heard from him.”
Searching through the pockets of Jack’s duster – Ronan wore it as a personal memorial for the kid – he found his cell phone. No missed calls, no text messages, no emails. Nothing. Ronan scrolled through Jack’s list of contacts, pausing at the name Olive Galloway. His finger hovered over the number, tempting him to call Jack’s adopted parents and beg for help, but Jack had not called them even while being under attack from Dora. Ronan figured he had his reasons. He respected the kid so he scrolled down a little further to Fortunatus’ name. He pressed the call button.
The phone rang and rang. Six times, seven times. Ronan started to hang up when someone picked up.
“Fortunatus? What is going on?”
Silence on the other end. Ronan pressed the phone to his ear. He heard gasping.. The noise sounded far away.
“Tell him,” a woman’s silky-sweet voice said. She did not speak to Ronan, but to whoever held the phone.
“SoulDefender?” It was Fortunatus.
“Fortunatus? Where are you? Who is that…?” Ronan stopped. Who else could it be, but Mara? There were not many options. Ronan ran his hands through his hair.
“Listen to me, SoulDefender. Mara the witch of Darkness wishes to come to an agreement with you.” He sounded like he read from a script.
“No! Fort, don’t let him agree! Fort!” Jack yelled in the background. Ronan realized the gasping came from Jack.
A flashing image raced through Ronan… Fortunatus chained to a cold, stone wall. Mara stood in front of him holding his phone to one ear. She threatened him with a covered window facing west and the setting sun. Her hand hung in the air ready to open it with the flick of her wrist. Small beams of light touched his arms, and the smell of burning skin filled Ronan’s nose…
“Ronan, you must not let her take Genesis’ powers! You must not do what she wants. You must find a way to save Jack,” Fortunatus broke from the script.
Screaming came through the phone. Ronan yelled for Fortunatus or Jack until the screaming cut short as the phone hung up. He clutched the phone. His only life line to his dying friends. If Mara wanted to bargain again Ronan would insist on talking with Fortunatus and Jack both. He closed his eyes and explained to Sundance and the others what had happened. A sickness settled down in the pit of his stomach. Mara might have just killed Fortunatus. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Ronan had to stay away from any soul holding.
But how could he? His friends needed him. Ronan reached out tentatively for Fortunatus’ soul. He had never looked at the vampire’s soul, but it could not hurt Fortunatus if Ronan held his soul while the sun burned away his flesh. Ronan felt for him, searched for him. Unable to locate the vampire, Ronan went back to the lab parking lot and the three piles of almost-blown-away ash. Not a soul to be found. Ronan decided if he got a chance he would have to ask Wolfe or even Genesis about vampire souls. He tried to find hope in the lack of one. Maybe they did not need holding or maybe, God forbid, their souls were already gone.