I will rip you apart
limb from limb,
All to put you back together
a better man,
I will turn you over to the darkness
inside and out,
So I may orchestrate
infusing you with hope.
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“Let me be your hero
Would you dance, if I asked you to dance?
Would you run, and never look back?
Would you cry, if you saw me crying?
And would you save my soul, tonight?
Would you tremble, if I touched your lips?
Would you laugh? Oh please tell me this
Now would you die, for the one you love?
Hold me in your arms, tonight
I can be your hero, baby
I can kiss away the pain
I will stand by you forever
You can take my breath away
Would you swear, that you’ll always be mine?
Or would you lie? Would you run and hide?
Am I in too deep? Have I lost my mind?
I don’t care you’re here, tonight
I will stand by you forever.”
(This is one of Those songs. I’m not really into Enrique Iglesia or his music. I’m much more of a metal girl, or celtic, or Florance and the Machine/Munford and Sons type. I like songs with a bit of depth and bite to them. But, ever since I saw the music video to this song, I’ve loved it. It is very haunting. With Ronan’s love for Sundance, the witch of Dance, this song became more important to me. Now, I think of them everytime I hear this song!)
“The storm has passed,” Vlax, Captain of the Shepherds said. “We wish to take you to the valley below where the weather is more suited to your clothing and endurance. There we have a small house with food and drink where you may rest. I have also left a map with directions to the LoreHolder, SoulDefender, so you may begin your quest when you are ready.”
Ronan bowed. The Valyni reminded him of the few vampires, or one vampire he had known – very formal. So, Ronan behaved as formally as his middle class American upbringing knew how.
“We will carry you. My women will bear up your women and our men your men.”
“Oh,” Sundance gasped. “I wish you could see the women. They’re glorious.”
Ronan threw back his head and laughed, a true and bold laugh. It surprised him as it boiled up from somewhere deep inside. His throat hurt with its heartiness, but his heart needed it. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead pulling her close.
“You must be the only woman alive who wishes I could see a more beautiful woman.”
“Hey!” Sundance protested, but he could hear the smile in her voice, “they are glorious and I do wish you could see them.”
“She’s right,” Genesis said.
“Well, someone tell me what they look like.”
“They’re gold. Their skin is soft gold, their hair sparkles with gold, their wings are golden like the sun and their eyes shine with sunlight. They’re truly magnificent,” Sundance said. “A perfect counter point to the black and silver men.”
“I see, or I wish I could see them.”
“Come, we have other places to go, and may admire our own beauty at our leisure,” Vlax said.
“I will hook a harness to you to maintain your weight below me so my arms and wings are free and I may balance on the wind,” a strong, young voice spoke behind Ronan.
A leather harness slipped over his arms and buckled across his chest. The Valyni moved in close to Ronan and buckled the harness to himself: back to chest. Ronan heard the squeak of leather and the clip of buckles as the others did the same. Finished, the man turned, backed out of the cave towing Ronan with him. Ronan’s stomach dropped as the ground disappeared out from under his feet. His heart stuttered as they fell. A rustle of feathers and a jerk pulled them up as the Valyni spread his wings and caught a rising air current. The wind pulsed around Ronan in the powerful beat of his wings. The leather harness creaked, but held him tight against the flying Valyni. Icy wind surrounded him. It blew away any warmth the morning sun provided. His clothing rippled and his face stretched taut. He heard wings and wind all around him.
“What is your name?” Ronan tried to yell. His throat headed him off at the pass and cut his words short.
“Vyen.” The creature had no problem hearing him.
“I have been made aware of your name. Would you like me to tell you what you are not able to see?”
“We are rising on the updrafts coming from the side of the mountains into the rising sun. The snow is sparkling like the King himself has sprinkled it with diamonds. Down below the green valley nestles like an emerald thrown carelessly on a white sheet. A small winding path, like a bit of string left behind, leaves the valley, cuts through the mountain, leading down into other green valleys until it reaches a broader road in a flat open plain sitting at the feet of the old mountains. Do you see it now, SoulDefender?”
The Valyni stopped beating his wings and hung in the air at the panicle of his assent.
“Yes,” Ronan whispered, awed by what Vyen’s description of the world at his feet.
Vyen tucked his wings in, somersaulted three times and dropped to the earth. The wind whistled in Ronan’s ear like a thousand times a thousand wolves howling, like a great train passing him by, like the roar of a waterfall. His heart shot all the way down to his feet as they plummeted. Judging by the cacophony of the wind, they fell fast…or they stood still in the middle of a hurricane.
With a sudden, creaking flap, Vyen spread his wings and pulled them up short. Floating like a leaf on a gentle wind they landed in soft, warm grass. Ronan stumbled and Vyen planted his feet, using the harness to stable him.
A wild giggle fell on Ronan’s ear and he heard happy quick steps which belong to only one person. Sundance kissed him on the cheek and unbuckled his harness.
“That was amazing! Amazing! I will have to write a dance for it. Some poor artist will present Ronan and the flight of the Valyni and not have a clue where he got the idea from.” She laughed and spun in a circle.
Ronan smiled. Sundance stepped away to greet the others. He heard more voices and Vyen stepped back. Ronan lost all physical contact but for the grass. A sense of great aloneness tore through him. He was lost in a big open world. For all he knew, a large precipice waited just off to the side open like a large mouth, waiting for him to fall in and be swallowed. He held out his hand, low down, and felt the long grass tossing in the wind. He remembered what grass looked like back home when the wind blew over it turning it into green waves. A whistle caught his ear and he turned his head trying to find the source. There it was! He turned his head again. Now over there! He turned around. A whistle blew in his face and fled. The wind. The wind whistled in this little green valley. A beautiful, sweet whistle.
A soft hand slipped around his arm and Sundance said, “It’s unbelievable. I wish you could see it.”
“I can hear it. I can hear the grass blowing, and the wind whistling, and you dancing with every step you take.”
She sighed and rested her head on his arm.
“Come, friends, food has been made ready for you,” Vlax said from behind Ronan.
Sundance led him across the valley after the others. Ronan could make out their steps now, Dora soft and light, her long dress a trailing whisper around her. Janie dragged and limped, always behind them all or off to the side. Ronan wondered how she had enjoyed her flight. Genesis and Sebastian’s steps echoed one another, almost indistinguishable from each other, one just a little heavier, or one just a little lighter. Judging by their foot falls alone, Ronan believed they were meant to be together. He wondered if him and Sundance were as well matched? She interlaced her fingers tenderly around his arm; he knew they were. He knew, in his heart, he would never have accepted the magic if it had not been for her. He could not imagine his side void of her. The thought scared him. It scared him to feel so dependent on someone else’s love and companionship. King, he prayed deep in his heart, leave her with me for a time, for a long time, before Wolfe has to come and take her.
“There’s a beautiful log cabin up ahead. Cabin being a relative term,” Sundance said, “because this is like a log mansion. It’s nestled up against the side of the mountain and surrounded by tall pines. A stone path leads up to it and all the lights are on inside. It has a lower story and then a giant front pouch with an all glass front. You can see a large living room on the other side of the glass.”
Ronan pictured it like a log cabin advertisement in one of those magazines. A perfect log cabin complete with antlers and the heads of all kinds of sheep, deer, and goats. Fur pelts would line floors and other such rustic touches like Indian blankets and Louis L’Amour books on the shelves. All he really wanted was food and a shower. A small hotel room would have sufficed, but if the Valyni wished them to stay in a large cabin they would do it.
After a moment, Ronan felt the grassy turf change to a stone path beneath his feet. Round rocks took the place of the blowing grass. They went up a small incline, and then up some steps to the large front porch Sundance had described. Wood creaked underfoot and the wind still teased him around the ears.
“Inside you will find everything you need: food, clothing, healing, and baths. The cabin will provide for you for several days, but if you stay one full day here, you will be rested enough to carry on with your journey. There is a room with maps of this plane. Some are true and some are false. This world itself is more variable than its Material twin. Only where large congregations of souls resides does it stay comparatively unchanged. But, you will find instructions on any location you may wish to travel too,” Vlax said.
“Thank you for all your hospitality,” Ronan said with a bow.
He did not know if the Valyni bowed back or not, but he heard the wings beat. The air swirled down and back up around them as the Captain flew away.
No one spoke. Ronan gathered himself together hoping the house provided everything Vlax promised.
“Shall we?” Sebastian said.
A small suction noise told Ronan Sebastian opened the door. He heard Genesis lead the way inside. Sundance tugged on his arm to guide him. He stepped through the door onto a smooth floor in a warm room. Ronan’s stomach flipped over. The most beautiful smells flooded his senses. Food. Real human food. And despite the rising sun, it smelled like dinner time.
“I was going to shower first cause I assumed we’d have to make our own food, but I don’t think I am gonna to have the willpower to shower first,” Sebastian said.
“We could eat something, shower, and eat again,” Sundance suggested.
“I vote for that,” Ronan said. He thought he might go crazy, right now, waiting for Sundance to lead him down to the food.
“There’s an upstairs with six rooms opening off a railed hall. The ceiling is open all the way up to the roof from this living room. Another set of stairs goes down to the kitchen, dining room and library, all open and connected, but divided by furniture,” Sundance described the space around them.
She led him to a set of stairs, helped him find the railing, and he walked down. His feet touched textured hardwood floors and the smell of food intensified. Ronan followed his nose until the hardwood gave way to something coarse and furry. Ronan paused and looked down even though he could not see.
“It looks like a large cow hide, but larger than any cow on our plane. This is as big as the whole dining room area.”
Ronan tried to imagine it, but the food kept invading the mental image. He gave up and reached for a chair with his wrists. He heard the others scrap out all around him followed by the dull thunk of them moving closer to the table. Ronan dropped down in his chair, but could not use his hands to maneuver himself. Another scrape through the fur and strong arms muscled him and his seat up to the table. Ronan assumed Sebastian helped him; none of the women were that strong.
“Thanks,” Ronan mumbled.
They all sat there for a moment, and then everyone started reaching at the same time. The clutter of cutlery and the clink of plates and glasses filled the room.
Sundance piled his plate high, “Mashed potatoes, so fluffy you could sleep in them. A roast like you have never seen, probably from the same cow as the one on the floor. Ribs…oh the meat just fell off the bone before I could even pick it up. Green beans, corn, and squash, sweet potatoes and all the berries you can imagine. Cheese, Ronan, cheese everywhere and the bread, rolls of white soft bread, loaves of bread, and thick sweet butter. Here drink this.”
A wooden, glazed goblet touch his hands. He picked it up with the tips of his fingers, but it wobbled between them and pain shot up into his arms. Ronan gasped and released the goblet.
“Here, let me help,” Sundance said.
“No, you need to eat,” Ronan said. The words came out more harshly than he intended. He was sick of needing help with things he learned to do as a child Everyone stopped for an instant, and then continue eating.
“I’m sorry,” Ronan said. He reached up with the same throbbing fingers. Sundance guided them to her face. He stroked her soft skin, but it hurt to do even that. This sucked.
“Drink,” Sundance held the cup to his lips. Ronan cupped his hand over hers and drank deep. The cool liquid passed down his throat, and healed the pain which burned from all the screaming. It flooded his veins. It moved through his whole body like a fast acting alcohol, but without the debilitating effects. The pain in his hands lessened, and his whole body relaxed. The smell of honeysuckles seemed to float on the aftertaste of the drink. After the first few swallows, Ronan held the glass himself. He drank it dry, set it down, and felt for his fork. For the first time since their escape, he wrapped his fingers around something. He expected to hear the sounds of cracking as he bent them, but only a dull pain sounded from his nerves. He ignored it and pick up his fork.
He bent low over his plate, and shoveled more than lifted a bite of something into his mouth. Roast beef. Nothing in the world ever tasted so good. The meat melted before he needed to chew it. No one talked. They focused on eating. Two days had passed since they had had any real food. The trauma built up an appetite for something whole and normal. Once the basic demand for calories was satisfied, Ronan pestered Sundance into giving him a small bite of everything on the table. Everyone drank goblet after goblet of the sweet liquid. How long they sat and ate Ronan never knew, but it seemed time stopped its inevitable ticking and waited for them to re-gather themselves.
As he neared the end of the meal, Ronan noticed an electrical tickle in the air. The hair on his arms stood up. He concentrated on it. A bit of magic was at work. He listened to it as it gathered on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. Something all good cooks know, and people who feed others know: souls can be healed by eating. As they ate, Ronan heard loose ends of the souls around the table tuck in, snagged threads lay flat, and small holes reweave themselves. He smiled. Souls healed.
Ronan climbed to his feet, able to push his chair back on his own. He wanted a shower and he wanted to sleep.
“Sundance, can you help me find my room, if you’re ready?”
Sundance stood up and took his hand. She tentatively linked her fingers through his. Ronan gave her a squeeze.
“I’m smiling,” she told him.
He shook his head and let her led him back to the stairs. Ronan wrapped his hand around Sundance’s glad he could encase her hand entirely in his again. She led him up to the living room, and then up another flight of stairs and down a hall.
“I guess they assigned rooms. This one has a framed image of you back tattoo on it.”
“Does it show you sleeping in here with me?”
“No,” she said dragging the word out with a laugh. “I doubt very much that the cabin trust your intentions, sir.”
She opened the door and led him into what he pictured as a very cozy room.
“It’s decorated like the rest of the house. Cowhide on the floor and things like that. There’s a closet of clothing and over here’s the bed,” she said taking his hand and leading him to it.
Ronan moved about the room touching each item in it until he had it mapped out in his mind. Last, she showed him the bathroom door.
He went in and she showed him the fixtures so he could shower.
“You’re going to have to help me out of some of these clothes. I’ve never had to undress from my TrueSelf clothing.”
Sundance laughed, “Sounds like an excuse to me.”
“Hey, I can’t see!”
“And you just found a way to put that to good use.”
Ronan smiled, “Maybe.”
Sundance stepped close to him and pulled Jack’s duster off his shoulders. She unlaced his bracers and slipped them off his wrists, before she helped him slip out of his double shoulder holster. Sundance unbuckled his vest one buckle at a time. Ronan wondered how it had become so hot in here so fast, and why Sundance had started breathing so loudly. He bent down closer to her as she pushed his vest off his shoulders and pulled it off his hands. She bent down and unbuckled his boots.
“Lift your foot,” she instructed.
He lifted one and then than the other as she pulled the boots off.
“There, you should be able to manage the rest of it. I’ll wait out here. Call me if you need help.”
She started to slip out of the room, but Ronan caught her and pulled her close. He kissed her soft lips, kissed her again and again. She broke from his grasp and put her arms up around his neck. She pulled him down to her and kissed him. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her up, feeling the press of her body against his.
A short time passed before Ronan the SoulDefender got showered, and washed all the dirt and grime from his body. But like food, drink and hot water, kissing and re-establishing love can also heal the loose and broken parts of a soul.
When he came out of the shower he felt for a towel and dried off. His fingers found a comb on the counter. He ran it through his hair, and then felt his chin wondering if he should shave. Hard to shave when he could not see. Sounded like a good way to slit his own throat. Continuing to search around on the counter with his fingers, he came to a folded pile of clothing with undergarments on top. He pulled them on using the harsh texture of the tags to tell front from back. Moment by moment feeling and nimbleness returned to his broken fingers. The pain dulled to a mere ache. He could button buttons and hook buckles. Last, he re-tied the scrap of cloth around his eyes. They relaxed once the cloth covered them. The effort of keeping them shut gave him a headache. Ronan stepped out of the bathroom with pants and shirt on wondering where his boots had gone.
“Sundance?” he could not hear her.
Ronan stood still and held his breath. He listened. He reached out and searched for other souls. Sundance’s being caressed the edge of his own, and he followed it to the bed. Sundance slept in his bed. He touched her and she woke up.
“Hey, handsome,” she said.
“Hey,” he whispered back, “why don’t you shower and come back?”
Ronan heard the swish of fabric on fabric as she got up.
“I won’t be long,” she said brushing her lips across his face.
Ronan heard her leave the room, shutting the door behind her. He sank down into the bed. Soft, light warmth from where Sundance had slept soaked into him. Ronan pulled the covers up and put his hands up behind his head. What would he do when she got back? He knew what he wanted, but he did not know if this was the place or time. He did not know if he wanted to marry her first, or just forget about such rules and regulations? He did want to marry her, but did he want to do more than that first? He wondered what she wanted? This was not his normal M.O. on the dating scene.
As he struggled within himself he fell asleep. Sundance returned to the room in a white and gold plaid shirt and smiled down at him. Slipping in Ronan’s bed, under his arm, she nestled up against him and drifted off to sleep.
Genesis watched the stars twinkle one by one into the sky from the porch of the lodge. She leaned on the railing and looked up at the heavens. The stars here seemed closer and more numerous than in the human world. The constellations told greater tales of love and betrayal in the Spirit Plane sky. As she watched the night sweep in and cover the earth in a sparkling navy blanket, an overwhelming sense of aloneness and emptiness washed over her. A sarcastic laugh bubbled up and burst from her lips, and she shook her head at the irony of it all. She had never asked for powers, but had been given them. She had never been comfortable in the magical world because she tried to do the right thing with a power always used for evil. And now, here she was missing her powers. Genesis longed to feel the connection with her Undead. She longed to feel them close. She longed to call them to her. She wanted to know what they were doing. Rail Quinn, Vertune, Fortunatus? Vertune and Rail Quinn had been tracking her when Mara caught her, but had been unable to get in her house. Did they still track her? Did they care? She no longer carried the title of their mistress; they were not obligated to care about her anymore.
What would she do now? Would she go to LeVidal? Would she go try to help save Jack and the others Mara had captured in the hopes she would get her powers back? How would she get them back? Could she even do that to another witch? Jack may not have gotten his powers the ‘normal’ way, but he still had them. She figured she should just be glad she had not aged 140 years when her powers had been taken from her. And what of Vash? Granted she did not have her cell phone on her, but they had communicated long before cell phones. Did he know what had happened?
Tears filled Genesis eyes. She looked up at the sky, and tried to blink them away. She brushed them from her face angry at herself for crying again. Ronan had helped, the intensity of the pain had subsided, but she still felt that dull ache in the back of her heart. The ache which told her things were wrong, off, and missing.
“Hey,” Sebastian whispered from behind her.
Genesis started. Another reason she missed her powers: people could sneak up on her. She had lost her sense of positioning in the world around her. She had to rely on her five senses now, like a normal person, something she had not done since before the turn of the century, not the last one, but the one before that. Genesis dropped her face into her hands bracing her elbows on the railing, hiding the tears and the pain behind her fingers. She did not want his pity, and she did not want him to know how much this hurt.
Strong hands touched her back. He moved to her side and ran his fingers through her long white hair. Genesis sighed, the stroking calmed her heart. As she relaxed, he pushed her hair aside and began working her shoulders. New tears fell at his gentleness. These tears were soft, silver, and unbroken. She let him move across the sore muscles for a while, and then she straightened up and turned around to face him. He stood in the cool evening air in an un-tucked white shirt, fitted trousers slipped into rugged boots and suspenders hanging down around his knees. The clothes from the closet, the look of the Spirit Plane, suited him.
Sebastian cupped her face in his hand and used his thumb to wipe the tears from her cheek.
“Why aren’t you asleep?”
Genesis just shook her head unsure of her voice’s ability to talk without breaking.
His thumb ran up over her nose, lightly touching the moonstone still there. Sebastian put his other hand behind her on the porch railing and leaned in close to her.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I should have gotten you out of there as soon as Janie arrived. I should have gotten everyone out of there.”
Genesis shook her head, “It would only have delayed what happened. Dora believed Mara’s lies and would have come either way.”
Sebastian’s wrapped his arm around her and put his hand in the small of her back bringing Genesis closer to himself.
“I would give up anything to be able to give you your powers back. I hate watching you like this.”
Genesis sighed and leaned in on him. She rested her head on his chest feeling the muscles under her face promising protection. She heard the beat of his heart, reliable and consistent. His arms enveloped her and held her close to himself. Was this the man she had cursed not so long ago? Genesis wrapped her arms around him and felt the tears return. She did not hold them back. Safely wrapped in Sebastian’s arms, she had no fear of the sorrow. She cried. She cried for the pain; she cried for the injustice of what Mara had done. She cried for the emptiness tangled in her soul.
When the tears would no longer fall, and her soul felt scoured clean from the crying, she leaned back to look Sebastian in the face. He let go of her and moved his hands around to her waist. His hands could almost wrap around her. A little ray of hope shined in on her.
“Did you know that when a witch falls in love with a human it’s considered a damned relationship. All a witch has done is guarantee themselves a life of sadness as they watch the one they love age and die without them. Many witches avoid those without magic for that very reason. So do vampires. Many a saved vampire has turned someone they love just to avoid this horrible fate.”
Sebastian brushed her hair back from her face. The stars twinkled high over their heads and he leaned down and kissed her, pulling her into himself by her waist. Genesis kissed him back. She kissed him for the second time in two days. She stood on her tip-toes and pressed up against him. She broke free and ran her fingers up through his hair, pulling it loose from the tight ponytail he had it pulled back in. She let her eyes run over his face and stared deep into his eyes, judging, weighing his intensity.
“Maybe it is time for me to be just a human woman,” Genesis said.
The stars sparkled above them like jewels filled with fire. As Sebastian and Genesis embraced on the porch, as their souls knit together, the stars shown all the brighter as they watched them falling in love – for love has a power far stronger than any magic any witch has ever been given. Only under the porch did an impure darkness linger, a malevolent shadow hiding something from the two new lovers kissing in the starlight. Janie’s skin turned a darker green and her hair disappeared as she heard Sebastian express a true and full love to Genesis. It became clear to her as she listened to them talk, whisper, and kiss that he had never loved her, never
“Can you lie next to her
and give her your heart, your heart?
As well as your body
And can you lie next to her
and confess your love, your love?
As well as your folly
And can you kneel before this king
and say “I’m clean”, “I’m Clean”?
But tell me now where was my fault,
in loving you with my whole heart?
Oh, tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart?
Her white blank page
and a swelling rage, rage
You did not think when you sent me to the brink, to the brink
You desired my attention, but denied my affections, my affections
So tell me now where was my fault,
in loving you with my whole heart?
Oh, tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart?
Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life
oh lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life”
– Mumford and Sons “White Blank Page”
(This song always reminds me of Jack and the fine line between good and evil he has to walk, the dark twisted first love he has, the lies and games he forces himself to play. Jack is innocents lost.)
Jack brushed back a half-curled strand of hair from her face. The bright white streaks of hair in the front contrasted with her dark hair giving off an incandescent glow. Her skin lay against his skin; her warmth mixed with his. He traced her inheritance tattoo with his eyes as her chest rose and fell. The design showcased an image of the moon reflecting on the snow with child-like lines of simplicity and shallow, artistic dimensions. He loved the strong lines and the lack of depth in the image. She stirred in her sleep, and a soft smile bloomed on her small face. Jack ground his teeth together. He leaned back in the bed and put his arms up under his head. A memory of Crow dancing with a very pregnant Olive in the early morning sun flashed in his mind. Dirt sifted throughout his insides. It turned the lining of his stomach to sandpaper and sucked the moisture from his mouth. This twisted relationship of lies with Mara in no way resembled the beautiful love between his parents. Using hallmarked this relationship, not giving. Mara used Jack in an attempt to fill the dark pit left in her heart when Cairn died. Jack used her groping need to keep his friends alive. The longer he kept Mara distracted the further away Ronan could get everyone, right?
Fortunatus broke through his dark meditations. Anger rolled off him. He thought Jack sold out too early, too fast, and too much. Fortunatus worried Mara’s suspicions would be ignited by Jack’s hasty agreement to stand by her side and profess his love. But what else could Jack do? He had to explain away the fact that Fortunatus had helped the others escape, and Jack had not stopped him. Jack wished, more than anything, that Fortunatus had left with them. Instead, he sat in a deep, damp hole with a lid, once again in need of blood. How would he get Fortunatus blood? Mara did not care if he starved to death.
Demanding voices clamored in Jack’s mind drowning out Fortunatus’ need. After Jack had left the candle filled room and his friends, Mara took him to the highest room in the house filled with windows looking out at the last of the night. A large table, hidden under all manner of food, had been prepared, and they sat down to eat. After only a few bits, Fortunatus raised hell and interrupted the beautiful dinner Mara had made for Jack. The voices came after that. Jack had stepped out into the rising sun just as the tall, blond guy with Genesis stepped through the Door and pulled it closed behind him. The jab of abandonment slipped between Jack’s shoulder blades, even though he had helped them escape. Ronan and Sundance left him behind with a deranged witch while they escaped, again. Twice he faced the choice to escape or make sure others escaped. When would it be his turn?
The sun had turned the sky pink and the voices consumed his mind. They drove him to his knees in the snow. Blood poured from his nose and ears. Thousands of vampires screamed and raged. Thousands of vampires voiced the insult perpetrated against their kind at the treatment of their witch. Thousands of vampires voiced what they wanted do to Mara. Rend. Break. Bleed.
Her hand had traced a line down his spine as he bent over. “Don’t worry, my love. They can’t get in. The sun is rising, and I have set magic in place to keep them out.”
Jack wondered if Mara grasped the magnitude of the enemy she had made. He lifted his head, and saw the magical lines shielding Mara’s castle from vampire intrusion.
“I knew there would be a few loyal vampires, probably from that Requiem, who would try to save her. So, I set things in place to keep them from getting in.”
Jack had heard all his life about the magical lines which showed the spell a witch had cast, but he never imagined them to wave and vibrate with such brilliant colors. Nauseous churning rose in his throat. He squeezed his eyes shut. A commanding voice rose above the din.
“Silence.” The voices turned down to a dull clamor. “Jack Galloway, I am Nickolaus the Eldest. Gain Mara’s trust. I will help you set a trap for her which will rescue your friends and end the dishonor she has inflicted on us.”
The voices stopped. Last to leave were two vampires, Vertune and Rail Quinn. They communicated to Jack that they followed Genesis and would keep him abreast of her plans. Jack realized Mara had an inaccurate estimation of the vampires anger. The most powerful and most dangerous vampires took on the mantle of revenge, not just the forgiven Requiem.
With Mara’s help, he got to his feet, imprisoned his best friend, and started playing Mara’s game.
Now, Jack laid in her bed. All day he tried to convince Mara, show her, that gaining magical powers fulfilled his one true dream. He considered himself in her debt for making it happen. Screw Genesis. So why did he feel so dirty? Why did he feel guilty? He lied to Mara, he tricked her, he used her greatest weakness to help her enemies destroy her. She had earned each drop of justice they planned to extract. And yet, a small, lonely woman looking for her love slept under the down comforter next to him. Bile rose in Jack’s throat.
He swung his legs out of bed and slipped into his jeans. In Mara’s home, he retained his TrueSelf at all times. The new look surprised him at first. His TrueSelf image possessed less fashionable polish than he did as a human. It leaned more towards a mangy, gamey style. His gray hair had tips dipped in black ink. It rested in long shaggy lengths around his head. Some of his muscle mass faded when his TrueSelf manifested, but he added a good six inches to his height. He always wanted to be taller. Jack found his new eye color more disturbing than any of the other changes. They had turned a strange golden color which glowed when they caught the light. His teeth had elongated and sharpened, too. Jack could not discern where the vampire parts and wolf parts stopped and started. Surprised? Yes. But also comfortable. After years of attempting to be only human, Jack was who he was supposed to be.
Pulling a t-shirt on over his head, Jack headed down to the pit Fortunatus waited in. He wanted more of Genesis’ blood. He longed to taste its sweet, iron heat. He longed to feel the fear pulsing against his lips as he drank her dry. Outside their room, Zephyr waited for Jack. Life had grown a garden of complication. Jack wished, more than willing to give up the world, that Crow and Olive were here to put things right for him like they had when he was a child. Would they even accept him now? Crow would never have slept around with one of the Gray to get closer to killing Manson. Would he? Damnation stare Jack in the eye and he could find no way around it. The wiznit fluttered down to his shoulder, and held onto his ear. She would not look at him.
Jack started down the hall, just as Ash walked around the corner. The glazed look had disappeared from her eyes replaced by fear. She halted, her big eyes searched his new face until something clicked. A small sob escaped her lips. She ran up and threw her arms around him. Jack pulled her close ridiculously relieved to see someone he knew; someone who knew him before the power transfer. He held her until she pushed away.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked.
“I just, I just woke up here. I don’t remember anything since we were driving down the road and Monk is just sitting there and -” Her eyes reexamined his appearance. They widened as she took in the gold tinge to his eyes and the tattoos on his arms. Ash gasped. “She did it. Oh no, no. Where’s Dad?”
Jack took Ash’s hand, clasping it in his own. He gave her the quick version of what happened in the cold candle lit room. Tears spilled down her cheeks leaving clean lines as they washed away the grim. Jack stopped talking after he told Ash everyone escaped through the Door. Everyone but them.
“So how are we going to escape?” Ash asked.
“We aren’t, and I can’t talk about it, but you need to trust me.”
“What are you doing, Jack?” She tilted her head to the side and looked back down the hall at Mara’s room, which he had just left.
“Look, I just need you to do what I asked, and I need you to take Zephyr.” Jack reached his hand up to his old friend. “I freed her from the cage, and I want her to go wait at the pit where Fort is.”
Ash accepted the spotted wiznit, and Zephyr snuggled down on Ash’s shoulder hidden under her hair. Ash opened her mouth to speak when Mara came out of the room wrapping a robe of black silk around her. Jack caught a flash of her fair skin and flushed. She walked towards him with a lazy, unconcerned step. Ash and Jack both stared at her. When she reached them, Mara put one arm around Jack’s waist and pulled his head down with the other. She kissed him.
“What are you doing?” Ash screamed.
“Look Ash, you can’t understand how hard it’s been growing up as the only human around all those witches and vampires. For the first time in my life I can understand what the world is truly like.” Jack used the lame lie he had fallen back on.
Ash’s hand flew out and smacked Jack across the jaw.
“You jerk! You bastard! Did you forget what she’s done? Did you forget about Chase? My Chase? What about Archer and Monk and me?” Ash screamed. Each name cut into Jack like a knife.
Mara backhanded Ash across the face. The glazed look returned to her eyes, and she stumbled off down the hall.
“I should have controlled that magical inheritance better.”
Jack did not like the troubled look furrowing Mara’s forehead. If Ash would just trust him and keep her mouth shut, Mara would not have to worry about her. Jack knew one way to remove the lines on her face. He pulled her close and kissed her.
“Why are you up, my love? It is almost dawn.”
“I just wanted to stretch my legs and get something to eat.”
Mara ran her hands up over his chest. “Well go eat, stretch, and then come back to me.”
She kissed him again and then turned back to her room. Jack watched her go liking the way the robe swayed around her, liking her small shoulders, and the white streak in her dark hair. Focus, fool. Jack held onto the list of names, and the images of all he had seen that perfect little woman do. He clung to them even as he began to swirl into doubt and dangers. The eddies and undercurrents of his game of lies threatened to carry him under.
“You’ve changed,” Zephyr said. She stood on the edge of the pit a glowing light in her hand. Smaller than a dandelion tuff it still filled the chamber around the pit with light. Jack leaned over the edge and peered down at Fortunatus.
“I’m a witch, Zeph, a witch of the race I admired the most. That changes a man. To go from trying, but failing, to ever be as strong as they are, to being in command of them all…” Jack shook his head.
“You cannot force your will on the vampires, Jack,” Fortunatus voice floated from where he sat with his head bowed.
“I’m your witch!”
“Yes, but we are sentient beings with hearts and minds. We will serve you, but we will not put ourselves back in the bondage we were under with Cairn. Genesis ruled very freely.”
“Genesis be hanged. She never wanted these powers, and now I have them. They’re mine.” Jack swallowed a large lump sticking behind his Adam’s Apple. He had no choice but to push his two friends away. If they believed in Genesis and Ronan, he had to show solidarity with Mara. How else would he keep them alive? And, if they did not believe him, how would Mara ever fall for the trap. His stomach rolled over as an image of Mara using them to test him passed through his mind. He needed to get them the hell out of here.
Fortunatus studied him.
Jack could see the hollows in his cheeks highlighted by Zephyr’s glowing tuff. He could sense the pounding lust in his veins. Fortunatus’ body screamed for blood, the blood of Genesis. Two years had passed since he had had unmixed blood. Jack wondered if drinking Genesis blood would push him back into the evil vampire camp. He had only been a member of the Requiem for a short time. A short time for such an old creature.
“HO-LY fuck,” Jack whispered. The exact age of his godfather was now his knowledge. “Are you really that old?”
“You are convinced,” Fortunatus said, ignoring his question, “despite the young men Mara killed, that the powers belong to you?”
“Why does everyone keep throwing that in my face? I know who I’ve slept with!”
“Oh, grow up,” Jack growled. He stalked out of the room and back out in the hall. Heading back towards the kitchen, he told himself he could do this without their help. In fact, it was better without them. He did not need them to believe in him even as he told them lies. Damn them all. But how was he going to get them out? And how was he going to get Fort some blood? He had thought he could keep Zephyr with him, at first, but now he wished he had sent her with Ronan and Sundance. Mara could hear everything said in the house. Nickolaus contacted Jack so quickly after the infusion of power, that Jack had to start playing Mara right away. He shook his head as he stepped into the kitchen. Slaying a demon as a scrawny twelve year old was a walk in the park compared to this. Jack opened the first cabinet he came to. He would need a goblet of some sort to give Fortunatus some blood.
The Son of Stan
Disorientation washed over Ronan as he lifted his head to look around. The smell of musky furs, thick with mold and old scents wafted around him. He fingered the bandage over his eyes. While he slept, he forgot he lost his sight. Disorientation came not only by the lack of sight, but by the lack of timing blindness brought. Was it day or night? No sun, no moon, no stars, nothing. Just his internal clock which told him to wake up. The healed souls and Sundance’s dancing penetrated his darkness, nothing else. What had Mara done to him? And how had that man with the scar, Vash according to Genesis, known something would happen? His mention of the Inventor came before Ronan lost his sight.
Ronan sat up. He sighed and wondered when Captain Vlax planned to return. Hunger gnawed at the edges of his stomach. Gnawed? Hunger devoured the edges of his stomach and demanded more. Ronan could not remember ever needing food, any food, so badly in his life. Pain clenched his stomach. Dizzy, light headed, and weak tremors passed over him. He knew he lost a lot of blood in the dungeon. Blood lost to rip Genesis powers from her and give them to Jack. Fuck. Fuck. Ronan fought the urge to vomit at the thought of his daughter sitting in one of Mara’s cells, or worse, the glazed over look in her eye as she followed Mara’s commands. He feared the hell Mara would put Jack through for not being Cairn, even after she gave him Genesis’ powers. For all Ronan knew Jack, Fortunatus, and Monk where all dead. Mara could not kill a wiznit any more than she could kill an angel or a demon, but immortality could be a curse to Zephyr as much as a blessing. Ronan did not believe Ash was dead. Something deep within him told him he would know if his daughter was dead. He would know. He would know…
Disengaging himself from the furs, Ronan climbed to his feet with the help of his elbows. Sundance stirred. He squatted down and reached out with his injured fingers for her hair. He pictured its golden waves as he ran his hand over it until she breathed softly again. Hoping she slept, he half crawled, half stepped over her. The smooth cave floor opened up under his feet. He straightened up, knowing they way he went left his course free of other sleepers. Shuffling his feet, he felt out with them as much as with his outstretched fingers for the shield blocking the cave entrance. His slow progress over the hard packed earth made him feel older than old. He hobbled as he walked. Maybe he should ask for a cane? Always thought he would be a lot older before he needed one of those. Not like his fingers could manage one anyway. Perhaps a seeing-eye dog?
His twisted, broken fingers grazed something which shot tingles up the destroyed nerves. He pressed them gently against the cold, glassy surface of the Valyni’s shield. Ronan rejoiced for any sensation in them beyond pain. Would they heal? Where to find a healer? Fleeing to the Spirit Plane changed the rules of the game just when he began to understand what his powers could really do. Ronan groaned quietly and pressed his face to the cool surface of the shield. He could not remember when he had last moved without something hurting. Did a time exist when he escaped this emotional and physical ringer which trapped him now? Would he ever escape?
Ronan heard someone approach and backed up from the shield. He guessed Sebastian from the heavy foot falls. Both Sundance and Genesis moved like dangerous cats ready to fight tooth and nail.
“So what did you do before you became a witch? Witch? Warlock?” Sebastian asked.
“Witch. It is used as a neuter term, I guess,” Ronan said. “I was a detective before I was given my powers.”
“Who had them before you?”
“A serial killer. He was one of the worst and used the powers to get a high from the torturing and killing people. You can historically track his growth in power during the 50s as the rise of the American serial killer. The way I healed you…he used it the opposite way and tore souls apart.”
“Sick. That can’t be very comfortable, taking over the powers of a serial killer when you’re a cop.”
“It’s not. Jack’s father killed the guy about three, four years ago.”
“I see. Where’s Jack’s father now?”
“Adopted father, and he’s somewhere on this plane with the witch of the Seasons having their first baby if I understand properly.”
“Out of the picture, you mean.”
“Yep, this is our problem.”
“Damn,” Sebastian said.
“So what do we do next?”
“We rest up and see where the Valyni are taking us and then we go find the Inventor or this guy Vash with the scar. Hopefully, he can help us rescue Ash.” Even saying her name drove Ronan mad. That bitch had his daughter, servant witch be damned. “I wanna fix this and I wanna take care of Mara.”
“Who is Ash?”
“My daughter. She inherited the powers of one of Mara’s murdered servants. Now she’s forced to serve her.”
“We need to get moving.”
“You’re telling me.”
“So how do we wanna deal with Mara?” Sebastian said. Ronan heard him turn his head and guessed he looked back at the sleeping women.
“Right now I wanna kill her, but I have a feeling this is going to play out a little differently. I’m not sure what the witch laws are about killing other witches. I’m not sure I care. What about Janie?” Ronan asked.
“Janie was my girlfriend until a few days ago. I broke up with her.”
“Before or after hooking up with Genesis?” A standard cop question.
“Before. I think all Genesis and Tell and his men did was show me how shallow my relationship with Janie was. I saw in them something richer and deep. All of life seemed more important to them, probably cause it could be over so soon.”
“I’d drink to that if I had something to drink.”
“How about you? Is Ash Sundance’s daughter, too?”
“No. From my marriage. My wife didn’t take to well to my sudden ability to do magic, and seeing as how I didn’t want to believe it myself, it destroyed any amount of friendship we had left. Ash has been living with her mother for the last year or two and just recently, a few days ago – damn, I can’t believe it was just a few days ago – inherited her powers. That went over even better with my ex-wife,” Ronan said sardonically.
Ronan squatted down and leaned his back on the shield. He heard the scrape of Sebastian’s clothing against the shield as he follow suit.
“So how did you get tied up in this?” Ronan asked, trying to put all the pieces together.
“The lab where Genesis was conducting her experiment on zombies was owned by my Father’s company. We provided the funding for the research. I was given the task of assessing the company’s losses, and finding out if we needed to pull out of the project or not after Dora attacked the first time. I helped Genesis remove the curses Dora placed in her. We started trying to sort out where the company ended and the world of magic began. But Janie put that damned Necklace on Genesis. In fact, now that I think about it, she seemed to know Mara when we were dragged into her dungeon. She must have gotten that Necklace from her. Without Genesis’ help, we didn’t have a chance against Dora’s mercenaries.”
Sebastian paused and Ronan heard him take a deep breath, “I can’t believe all those guys are dead. We lost some good men cause of her.”
“There are a lot of people dead. A lot of blood on Mara’s hands.”
“I want you to know I’m sticking with this. I’m going to help you and I’m going to get Genesis her powers back. I don’t care if the company’s interest in this is over, mine’s not.”
Ronan tilted his head in the direction of Sebastian and nodded.
Sundance came towards them with a good morning. Her skipping footsteps echoed off the walls in a cheerful beat. Sebastian excused himself. Ronan heard Sundance moving around.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m getting some snow to clean your hands with. There’s some just inside the shield,” she said. Ronan heard the crunch of snow from off to his left, and then her light footsteps came his way. His skin sensed her heat, and he knew she bent down over him. She took his right hand in her soft fingers and un-bandaged it. Moving in tiny circles with the cold snow, she scrubbed. First the right, then the left.
“The bloods all gone, now I’m going to re-bandage them.”
The snow-wash twitched his fingers with pain, but it also cooled the gaping wounds.
Sundance shuddered, “I can see through your hand.”
“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks.”
“How do you know? You can’t see how bad it looks?” Sundance said with a giggle. Ronan thought he had never heard such a beautiful sound – that she could laugh after all they had been through stunned him.
“I think what you need is a morning dance.”
“I wish I could see you dance…”
“You don’t have to see me. You’re going to dance at my side SoulDefender!” Sundance grabbed his wrist and pulled him up and back towards the fire. Ronan sensed a small open place of packed dirt. Heat flickered over his skin. Magic tingled Ronan’s skin as Sundance called up her lifeless band. The five young men plucked at stringed instruments, blew on tin whistles and played pat-a-pan on the drums wedged between their legs. A haunted melody picked up the wind blowing past the cave. It twisted around and around the sigh and moan of the last of the storm chasing off the fear, sorrow, and darkness of the night before by turning it to song. The drum began to pound and the bows began to rub over strings. The haunted melody began to draw up pictures of green hills and circles formed of rune rocks. Sundance started with stamping feet, one or two slow stamps and then more and more, faster and faster her feet kicked and stamped to the beat. The drums pounded, the bows sighed and the whistle blew.
Ronan heard the beat of Sundance’s kicking feet. She turned the swish of her skirt into part of the song. Around and around, she circle Ronan. After two passes, Sundance grabbed up his arm. The music grew wilder as the sun outside rose and the storm died away. Sundance let out a happy laugh filled with love and life! Ronan soaked himself to the brim with the feel of Sundance dancing, of his strength paired with her grace. The pain faded from his broken hands as he slipped them around her slim waist. Light as a feather, he lifted her in the air. Everyone clapped in time to the wild highland band. A glimmer of light at the edge of the band tied around Ronan’s eyes drew his attention even as he managed the complicated dance steps. The holes in Janie’s soul closed just a little as she listened to the music.
“The Valyni is back,” Genesis said.
Ronan had not heard them approach. He stumbled as the dancing stopped. Sebastian reached out to steady him.
The old man feeling crashed back over Ronan. Sundance weaved her arm through his. He thanked the King she stood by his side. Sundance led him to the shield at the entrance to the cave and the others followed. The magic of the Valyni hammered against his chest. The shield fell and the beat of large wings surrounded him in a small hurricane. A quick, cold wind sucked the trapped warmth from the cave and Ronan shivered under his duster.
“The most identifying trait of humanity is our ability to be inhumane to one another.”
– DEAN KOONTZ, Odd Thomas
Dean Koontz. How I love this teller of tales. He’s not the greatest in many ways, but I love his books. I love the words he chooses, his perspectives on life. They resonate with me. There are descriptions from his novels I remember to this day and I read a lot of books. His wordsmithing is unbelievable. I also appreciate his endings. No matter how dark the subject, how intense the tale, the ending is always good. He never leaves you with the eviscerated feeling Steven King does. For some of you, this makes you love King more. I understand. King has a way of ripping you open and leaving you bare to the world. He leaves you feeling sick, dark, and grim, which is all well and good, but easy to overdose on. I can only read so many King books before I have to go find rainbows and silver lining.
With Koontz, I get both my gore, grim evil, and scary villains along with my love story, happy ending, good winning over evil in a way which lets me face my day without wanting to hide under the blankets.
Now, Odd Thomas. Odd Thomas is more about Odd than anything else. I honestly found the main villains a little too contrived and easy. I found them to be a little too predictable. I never once felt my gut clench or shivered over the vile destruction they waged. In fact, the villains felt like cardboard cutouts, while Odd’s parents presented a far more frightful visage of the damage one human can bring upon another. They are the true villains in Odd’s life.
I did like Odd Thomas. For him, I continued to read the book and enjoy it. Koontz’s dialogue is fun, clever and sarcastic. His heroes are weighed down with the difficulties their powers bring in their lives, but not broken. Odd’s friends keep him going, his love makes him strong, and his powers are used to help others.
The magic of this story came when Koontz made you forget Odd’s unique power just when you needed to remember it the most. Pure magic!
I plan on finding time to read the other Odd Thomas books along with anything else Koontz writes. I would describe him as one of my biggest literary influences in my own writing. (Though my brother tells me he likes my serial killers better. :-) )
Just a few thoughts…how did you like the book?
“You fill up my senses like a night in a forest,
Like the mountains in springtime,
Like a walk in the rain, like a storm in the desert,
Like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.
Come let me love you, let me give my life to you,
Let me drown in your laughter, let me die in your arms.
Let me lay down beside you, let me always be with you
Come let me love you, come love me again.
Let me give my life to you,
Come let me love you, come love me again.
You fill up my senses like a night in a forest,
Like the mountains in springtime,
Like a walk in the rain, like a storm in the desert,
Like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.”
-Annie’s Song by John Denver
(This is the song Sundance sang in the cave in yesterday’s post. It is also one of my favorite love songs.)
“But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight
So hold on to what you believed in the light.”
-Hold on to What you Belive by Mumford and Sons
(I’m doing two quotes today, cause they both fit the story. This one is for Ronan who is now blind.)
“Did you see my daughter? Did anyone see Ash?” Ronan moaned. A frigid wind stole his words tumbling them across the white mountain face.
Genesis’ teeth chattered. She clamped then together and received an instant, piercing headache. The wind stabbed at the cavities in her ears. She opened her mouth and her breath froze on her lips. Landing in fresh, soft snow when Ronan pushed her through the door made Genesis happy. She welcomed the winter chill as they rushed out of Mara’s hell hole.
But, she had to acknowledge the danger which surrounded them. The Door remained their only option of escape. They could have done no better. Charging through it turned out to be like jumping in a river in the winter. Or magically appearing on the side of a snow-capped mountain minus winter clothing.
The frozen North wind blew down from a cloud shrouded top. It bit through Genesis’ black coat and her pants tucked into boots with little effort. She wrapped her arms around herself shivering. Snow melted against her inflamed skin and soaked her before refreezing. It both surprised and did not surprised Genesis to see herself manifest as her normal TrueSelf her on the Spirit Plane. 140 years of walking this plane dressed in black was a hard habit to break. She wished her TrueSelf dress warmer. Something with fur and a real coat, not this old patched one of Vash’s. The guns tied down at her hips felt good, though. She wanted to turn around, go back through the door with them, and put one bullet in Mara’s brain.
Her breath turned to ice each time she inhaled and exhaled. She scratched the build-up off her upper lip. Genesis knew hypothermia endangered her and the other normal humans. Already her shivering and chattering lessened and the desire to sleep whispered at the edges of her mind. Dora, Ronan, and Sundance had taken on their TrueSelves. Sundance’s jeans and sweater had given way to fur-lined boots, tan deerskin leggings, a skirt with a high split which caught the wind, and a wide belt over a loose, wool tunic. A fur-lined, ankle-length vest stopped some of the wind’s chill. Dora’s TrueSelf provided no protection. An empire-waisted, sky blue dress with a sheer wrap left her chest, neck, and arms exposed. Small ballet slippers covered her feet and soaked with melting snow. Frostbite already attacked her toes. The wind tore at the bun in her hair pulling parts of it loose. Old eyes blinked back tears in her young face.
Ronan dropped down in the snow and Sundance stabled him with her hand. Even sitting down in the snow, he looked taller and more muscular with thick, long hair. His white shirt tucked into dark fitted pants while a soft, leather vest with many buckles wrapped around his torso. Leather bracers protected his wrists and buckled on the sides. His trousers were stuffed into scuffed, nicked and squared off boots. A large watch, filled with gears wound and ticked on his left wrist. Jack’s long duster, which he still wore, gave him some protection from the wind.
“I didn’t see her, I didn’t see Ash, Monk or Zephyr, only Mara and the mercs who attacked us before,” Sundance responded to the empty question Ronan asked. She reached down and struggled against the wind to tie a new scrap of fabric around his eyes.
“We need to get off this mountain!” Sebastian yelled, but the wind carried his voice away. Genesis fell to the ground. Her legs just gave out. Sebastian hauled her up out of the snow and wrapped his arms around her. She huddled against him. Genesis’ eyes caught sight of Janie. She jumped. Janie’s passage into the Spirit Plan undid years of careful primping. An ugly, monstrous form twisted her limbs and thinned her hair. A long hooked nose and large, bulging eyes destroyed any beauty her face ever claimed. Her track suit ripped and stretched over her gray skin.
“Oh dear, it can’t be,” Sundance said as she gazed at Janie.
Sebastian moved Genesis further away from her and her long claws.
“What?” She snapped. Janie’s high-pitched voice issued from the mouth of the twisted creature confirming her identity.
“Look at yourself,” Dora said. “I should look like you.” She hung her head and turned away.
Janie looked down at her hands and her legs. She probed her face feeling out along her new dog-like muzzle and long teeth. A shameful wail billowed from her mouth.
“What happened to me?”
“You are here in the Spirit Plane as you are in your heart,” Sundance whispered.
“You bitch!” Janie leapt towards Sundance more beautiful now than on the Material Plane. Ronan came to his feet with a growl. Blind or not, he had no trouble putting himself between Janie and Sundance.
“Janie!” Sebastian hollered over the wind. “Now’s not the time. We’re going to freeze to death!”
She stopped, but sneered at Sundance. Sebastian pulled them all together, huddled with their backs to the cold. He kept Ronan, back on the ground, and Genesis in the middle of the circle. The wind blew, singing and dancing over the sides of the mountains. Genesis watched as Sundance started to tap her fingers on her thigh to the beat of the wind’s song. Bitterness reared its ugly head in her heart. Once, long ago it seemed, yet so fresh, Genesis’ level of comfort in her magic equaled Sundance’s. Genesis never dreamed someone could take the magic away from her by any other means than death. Sweet death, how much easier would it have been if she just died when the magic was removed?
“Dora, we need to do something here or everyone is going to freeze to death,” Sundance said, cupping her hands around her mouth against the wind.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad idea,” Genesis said. Her eyes grew heavy and she stopped shivering.
Dora and Sundance reached into their pouches and pulled two small squares of flannel out. They whispered over them and threw them to the wind. Soft warmth wrapped around the small group of beaten, broken people and the wind rushed around them instead of through them.
“The question we need to answer is where in the Spirit Plane are we?” Dora said, no longer needing to yell over the winter wind.
Ronan shook his head, tossing it back and forth like a fly buzzed around him.
“What’s wrong?” Sundance asked.
“I can hear voices everywhere but I can’t hear what they’re saying over the weeping of the souls around me. Before I could see the torn souls, but now I can hear them. Just a whisper of longing to be whole which the wind brings to my ears,” Ronan’s voice broke and faded. His screams of pain in Mara’s dungeon destroyed his throat. His voice held no volume or depth. Sundance wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “You can’t see, but the power is still there. Heal the broken souls.”
Ronan stumbled to his feet and took Sundance’s hand. Evidence of exhaustion showed in his slumped shoulders, his hanging head. So worn down, no sleep, so much pain and torture, so much lost.
“Before we try to get down, I have to heal the souls here which are torn.”
“What if you can’t, SoulDefender?” Genesis asked. She could not help it. The words, the pain, leapt out of her, ready to rend others in the spasms of its own agony.
“What if I can?” Ronan held out his bleeding, twisted hand towards her voice. Genesis hesitated. Did she want to be healed. Sebastian’s hand moved up her back pressing her closer. Genesis reached out and –oh, so gently – took Ronan’s hand. He reached out to Sebastian with the other hand. The sunlight grew kissing the mountain top with light. A surge of power out shown the sun as it surrounded Ronan, Sebastian, and Genesis. A light even Genesis, stripped of power, could see enveloped them. Ronan dug deep down and found something left to give. Something Mara had not taken. Golden, electrical lines coalesced out of the light and wrapped around Genesis and Sebastian. The hair on Genesis’ arms stood on end. Ronan clasped their hands together and cupped them in his bleeding palms. He pressed his lips to their fingers. A sudden, wild joy fluttered tiny wings inside Genesis. She gasped in pain. Electrical lines arched from Ronan’s bleeding hands and wrapped around them. It drew Sebastian and Genesis closer together. Closer and closer. With a bang and a flash the day returned to normal. The cold wind blew. The snow piled around their feet sending shivers through everyone even with the blanket of warmth cast by Dora and Sundance.
“I’ll. Be. Damned,” Sebastian said. He ran his hand across his chest, right over his heart. He had eyes for Genesis alone. Genesis, with no tattoos, no magic, only a woman with white hair. He took her face in his strong hands and kissed her. His fingers lit trails of fire across her skin; his gentle kiss broke open her frozen heart. Warmth blazed within her. Joyful tears spilled from her closed eyes as his lips melted into hers. Genesis found something which her life lacked. Something she believed impossible to find. Love. When he broke away, Sebastian did not release her face or her heart, but stared down into them. Genesis returned his gaze. She found him. She found something of herself in his eyes. A part of her moved over and nestled in Sebastian’s soul.
Ronan’s healing soothed her pain. It rested and raged no longer. The loss of magic curled in a corner and slept. The room of her soul filled with a bold light, the light of love. A human magic, an unseen magic, but a magic none the less. Genesis grasped it, grasped it as her only lifeline of hope – this wild love of Sebastian.
“Do you know how terrifying it is to almost lose someone you just started to fall in love with?” Sebastian whispered. He touched his forehead to hers and kissed her again. He caged her protectively in his arms. Genesis perspective on the world changed. She watched the sun turn the snow into a field of diamonds. She listened to the wind whistle around the rocks and through crooks and crannies. A new wonder and just a hint of hope bubbled inside her.
Ronan turned to Sundance; he tilted his head and listened. With a smile, he held out his hand and she took it in her own.
“This is my idea of a proper healing.”
She stepped into his arms and Ronan kissed her. Without magical lines to tell her what had happened, Genesis knew both souls healed as their lips met. They not only re-knit the holes made in their souls, but like her and Sebastian, they re-knit as one soul instead of two. Ronan let Sundance go and stepped back. He reeled on his feet. Blood dripped in the white snow from his hands. He turned towards Dora and Janie, the betrayers. Before he could speak, he doubled over wheezing.
“It’s impossible to catch my breath in this thin air,” he said, each word coming out in a forced gasp.
“Just breathe,” Sundance rubbed his back to calm him. “Don’t rush it.”
Ronan straightened up. “Your souls are the most damaged other than Genesis, and I’ll heal you if you want.”
“Don’t waste your strength on me, SoulDefender,” Dora said, “I’ve much to repay and don’t want to feel healed yet. I…, my eyes were bound more tightly than yours, until she pushed me in the cage.”
Ronan turned, inclining his head towards Janie.
“Stay the hell away from me, you freak. This was not how this was supposed to happen. That woman promised I would get Sebastian back and look! He loves her more than ever,” Janie pointed a crooked finger at Genesis. Murder flashed in her vile green eyes. Slim dripped from long fangs as she snapped her teeth.
Sebastian pushed Genesis behind him, protecting her with his body from Janie.
“See!!” Janie yelled.
“I can’t force you to accept the healing, but the offer is there if you decide you want it.”
“Can you hear what the wind is saying now?” Sundance asked him.
“Yes, it says there’s a cave a little ways down the side of the mountain. It knows cause it is blowing past it but can’t get inside.”
“Let’s roll,” Sebastian said.
They started down the mountain, the stronger helping the beaten and weak while Janie trudged along behind them. It took them the better part of two exhausting hours to get down the side of the mountain to the level of the cave. The mischievous wind twisted them around as it gave directions. Ronan stumbled on a narrow path and Sebastian grabbed him before he tumbled down the side of the mountain.
“Where’s this damn cave?”
Ronan held his breath and listened. “The wind says just around the bend.”
Numb and shivering with chapped, cracked lips and red, burning noses, they stumbled into the cave and dropped to the cold stone floor. Since before midnight, they had battled for their own lives and others. They opened a Door to the spiritual plane to escape, and Ronan healed three souls. After enduring in half a night more than most endure in a year of their lives, they hiked through wind and snow down a slippery mountain slope to the cave. For a long time they laid on the floor huddled in a pile for warmth. Janie refused to come close to them, and moved deeper into the cave. The humans and witches laid on the ground, breathing. They ignored all the pain racing through their bodies and hammering on their brains.
Genesis became aware of the fading light in the cave. She wondered if she slept through a whole day? Was it the evening of the same day? She wondered where in the Spirit Plane they were, and more importantly, if any demons lived nearby? They would not be happy to find three of the King’s witches crossing their land. She did not have any magic to gamble with, only her two guns. Genesis stirred out from under Sebastian’s arms and sat up. Soft breathing and faint snoring filled the small cave, while outside the wind blew snow across the entrance in a flat line. A quick shiver shot through Genesis. The cold tickled her skin as she disengaged herself from the huddle. Once free, she put her hands flat on the cave floor and pushed up. Muscles and bone cracked and popped. The room spun around her, and she closed her eyes waiting for it to settle down. Cracking one eye to take a peek, she turned and examined the back of the cave. The room agreed to be solid, so Genesis opened both eyes.
She found Janie behind a rock curled into a small ball. The woman turned monster whimpered in her sleep. Pity shot through Genesis, but faded when she remembered the Necklace of Pain. Janie had opened a way for Mara to do what she did. Capturing Genesis would have been a lot harder without Janie, and James, Tell, Rickie, Leon and Dune, Alistair, William and Valkyrie might still be alive. With that thought, all pity died in Genesis. Janie could endure being ugly and cold for a while.
Genesis strode across the stone floor to explored the deeper reaches of the cave. Behind some boulders she discovered a pile of furs and dried out wood. She thanked whoever left the supplies as she piled the wood behind the tallest boulders to retain and reflect as much heat back into the cave as possible. Genesis searched her pockets and the pile of fur for a light, but found no matches, lighters, or magic. Sundance would have to start the fire. Before waking everyone up, she dragged the furs out and laid them in a circle around the soon to be fire. They might not have food, but they could at least be warmer. A few handfuls of snow could quench their thirst. Genesis returned to the huddle of bodies and shook Sebastian and the others awake.
Sundance took a pinch of cold ash from her pouch, and reminded it of the burning heat from the fire it had once been. The ash sprang into flames. It licked hungrily at the logs piled on top of it. Everyone sighed as warmth filled the small back area of the cave. They settled in around the fire. Sebastian dropped behind Genesis. Something about him made her heart dance. It thrilled her that he wanted to keep her close to him. She had lost so much power, but he loved her even more. Genesis gathered his love into her heart. She packed it deep in around the edges to reshape it. To reshape it around him instead of her vampires. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and she leaned back into him.
Dora sat off to one side, but stayed close to Genesis as if by allowing herself to be associated with the former witch she could start to pay for the pain she had caused her. As the blaze grew and danced across the walls with an orange flicker Janie moved in closer, comforted by something familiar.
“What is going on here?” A deep, resounding voice broke through the quiet whispers of the group. Everyone’s heads flew up. Sebastian leapt to his feet. Genesis rolled to her knees in front of him, guns drawn and ready to fire. A lithe, muscular man with silver skin stood in the cave entrance. His black eyes and black hair gleamed in the firelight. Two large, bat-shaped wings spread from his back out into the storm filled night. A tattoo of a green mechanical dragon, complete with steam, nuts and bolts, covered his upper chest. He wore striped baggy trousers with lace up boots to his knees. A wide leather belt sat low on his hips with a tied down band of sheathes, each holding an ivory handle knife, wrapping around his thigh. A cropped, black brocade vest provided little protection against the cold on his upper body, but he seemed unaffected. Black bracers covered his wrist and upper forearm. A substantial onyx signet ring sat on his right hand.
“Who are you?” Genesis asked, old habits of command died hard.
“I am Vlax, Commander in charge of this storm and Captain of the Shepherds of the Storms which blow with the NorthWind. Now, I have been honest with you, please tell me who you are.”
The depth of his voice surprised Genesis, like the cave itself spoke to them. Neither Sebastian or Ronan could command such a bass voice.
Blind Ronan stepped forward, “I’m Ronan, the SoulDefender. This is Sundance the witch of Dance, Dora the witch of NewLife, Genesis, Sebastian and Janie from the Material Plane. We came here through a Door which we made to escape the witch of Darkness.”
“Darkness? She has brought trouble for many years.”
“We don’t mean to encroach on anyone’s territory,” Sundance said, “but this is where the Door opened and we had to find shelter. We weren’t dressed for this winter storm.”
Vlax bowed. “I am not under your direct command, but all witches who serve the King may call on the Shepherds of the Storm in time of need. How may I be of such service?”
They all glanced at one another and Sundance took Ronan’s arm.
“We need food, clothing, and rest, some of us have wounds as well,” Sebastian said taking charge.
“I need to find the Inventor,” Ronan added.
“I don’t know of the Inventor. But, I will return when this storm is done and take you someplace you may rest and regain your strength.”
He turned and leapt out into the storm. His large wings beat in time with the wind.
They gathered back around the fire, but noticed the room grew warmer and the storm quieted.
“He put some sort of block over the door to keep the heat in,” Sundance said looking to the cave entrance.
“Or keep us from leaving,” Janie spoke up for the first time since they entered the cave.
“Do you always distrust everyone?” Ronan asked.
“Sebastian taught me everyone has an angle their trying to work. It’s a rule of business.”
Sebastian shook his head.
“The Valyni, as they’re also called,” Dora said before he could defend himself, “are not evil beings. They serve the Wind Witch, but they aren’t witches. They’re lesser angels, beings who live forever, and they’re formidable enemies. Be glad he knows who we are and who we serve.”
“We should have pushed Darkness through the door and let them deal with her,” Genesis muttered to herself.
“Really,” Sundance agreed.
“I don’t know that they would have done anything with her as long as she did not try to trespass into their territory,” Dora said. “Or she didn’t try to use them for some evil purpose.”
“Figures,” Genesis said.
“How about a dance or a song if you’re not too tired?” Ronan suggested.
Sundance smiled and then remembered Ronan could not see her; the smile faltered.
Feeling sorry for the her, Genesis said, “A song would be nice, something to get our minds off everything, or a dance.” Genesis corrected her suggestion at the last minute. This was the Dancer not the Singer. Powers often used in concert did not guarantee both witches were gifted in the other area – just because she could dance did not mean she could also carry a tune.
“Song and dance are strongly intertwined,” Sundance said the smile returning, “many times in the past my powers and hers have manifested as sisters and lovers. Now, we give each other space and let our musing bring separate works into existence. We let our artist marry the arts together. But, I believe I have enough knowledge of my friends work to sing and dance for everyone.”
With a wave of her arm a macabre band rose behind Sundance startling the others. The band started playing and Sundance started singing and dancing. Her voice filled the room like golden water trickling over rocks and the scales of small fishes. It fell like soft snow on upturned, freckled faces. It rose like the sun and crashed like the thunder. She sang a song, written not too long ago, by an artist not too long dead. She sang of the love in her heart which filled her to the brim and let little else in.
As she sang, as she danced, she wrapped her magic around Ronan. She did not leave the others out of her magic, but she focused it on Ronan. Around and around she spun, her hair flowing in an arch, her song saturating the cave, her weaving, moving body reaching through Ronan’s blindness. It opened his mind, cutting into the darkness he had bandaged himself with. She decorated the darkness with beauty and light, until, panting from the fire of the dance, she stopped.
Outside the storm continued to blow, but within the cave Ronan, the SoulDefender, sat surrounded by healed souls, or healing souls. Sundance, the Dancer, sat by his side, after filling the cave with warmth, joy, and love. Genesis, the witch who lost her powers, smiled as she gazed into the fire light. The flickering orange tongues sparked in her iridescent hair. Her powers were lost, but she had found love. Dora hung her head and did not stop the tide of tears running down her face. The people she sought to kill surrounded her with acceptance. Janie alone looked on and nursed a quiet hatred in her heart. She nursed the hatred with love, blaming others for the lack of it in her own heart.
The day faded to darkness before its natural end, and the night took an early command of the world. The witches and humans gathered close together and slept. They decided not to worry about keeping watch, trusting to the rumors others had spread about the Valyni, the shield on the door, and their souls to the King. The fire continued to warm the cave, and even Janie sitting further away stayed fairly comfortable. Sleep whispered in Genesis’ ear. She curled up on her side and Sebastian curled around her. Safe and warm in his arms, the broken witch fell asleep.
One of my favorite people in the world happens to be a talented writer. It is one of the things that has brought us closer, but also one of the things that sets us apart. You see, she loves to write what she calls “urban fantasy with a thriller twist”. I think before I met her the only books I had read that had a vampire or a serial killer in them had been ones with very deceptive titles. I would have never done it on purpose. I’m more of the Jane Austin type. Give me a good historical fiction, or a non violent mystery, and I am happy. But I love her. And so when she offered to let me read an early draft of one of her novels, I said, “sure!” and thought, “oh boy!”
Here’s where the part about her being really talented comes in. The book was about vampires, and other creatures I had never heard of before. And there was a serial killer whose magic made it possible for the murders to be especially gruesome. But woven into the plot was a story of good fighting evil (and ultimately winning, but not in a glib nobody-important-gets-hurt sort of way). And there were relationships in which loyalty and self sacrifice were of ultimate importance. In fact, what sets Abby’s work apart from a lot of the other urban fantasy (I have now read because of her influence) is Abby’s world view. She is a believer in some very sound theology. So her bad guys are really bad – and you aren’t tempted to sympathize with them. And her good guys are flawed, but working toward being the right type of person. And there in the midst is the story of redemption of characters that don’t deserve to be redeemed, who then act contrary to the nature of their – uh, species (?).
In that first novel there was just a passing reference to the King, who seemed to be orchestrating the events in the lives of the characters. I told her I would like to see more of that, and she delivered in her next novel (which isn’t really a next, because she is always dabbling in two or three books at once). Anyway, this next novel has become the subject of her blog. I think it is really worth the read, and worried about a few things in recommending it to others. First, if you are like me and are put off by “urban fantasy with a thriller twist”, you might opt out and miss a very lovely experience. Second, if you barreled in to read it, thinking you know me and I wouldn’t steer you wrong, and got to the adult parts, you might un-friend me. So I will be frank and tell you. There is some cussing, and violence in this book. I wouldn’t recommend it for children or people prone to nightmares.
Abby posts a portion of the book every Friday, so if you are going to give her a try, you need to start at the beginning. Then once you catch up, you can be like the rest of us followers who eagerly wait for her Friday post, read it, then moan, “Noooooo, don’t stop there!”
So if this has intrigued you, you might give her a try. Here is the information about her blog. Happy reading!
(Thank you Deanna, for these lovely words and for supporting me and my life!! I love you so much!!)