Category: Inheritance


Inheritance, No. 40: Epilogue

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Epilogue

The sun set, but Ronan could not see it.  Ash’s new servant cast a beautiful dusk over the cemetery.  Any normal eyes could enjoy the soft gray shroud drawn over the world.  Ronan still wore Sundance’s bandage tied across his eyes.  Jack, Zephyr, and Fortunatus gathered with him at the foot of the new grave.  He brought Sundance’s body back to Dorian, where her last great dance had been performed.  He buried her here, next to Jack’s family, next to his family.  He moved into her house which she had left for him.  He did not really understand it, but the magic she had put in place made everything she had his.  Something about it broke his heart.  Her love had joined them as one and what had been hers was now his.

“Someone is coming,” Fortunatus said.

“Ronan McPherson?” a man called out.

“That’s me.” Ronan stepped towards the voice.

“I have a package here.”

“I’ll get it,” Jack said.

Ronan listened to the swish of the grass under Jack’s feet.  He heard the leaves crunch in his path.  Jack talked for a moment then the man left.

“What is it?” Ronan asked.

“A package from someone named Vash.”

Jack opened it.  “It’s a pair of sunglasses.”

“Is there a note?”

“Yep, it says ‘from the Inventor’.”

Jack set the cool frames in his hand.  Ronan pulled the bandage off and slipped the sunglasses on.  He opened his eyes.  The world as it should be, as he remembered it, appeared before him.  He slipped the glasses down and looked over the top of the frame.  Blinding light pierced him.  He pushed the sunglasses back up.

“I can see again.  We never had time to go look for the Inventor…and I think we were never meant to.   Things moved too fast.  I was going to go back after the funeral to look for him.”

“Well, I guess he already knew.”

“I wonder if Vash is the Inventor?” Fortunatus said.

“I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”  Ronan turned to look at him only to find him much the same, crescent moon tattoo and all.  He turned to Jack and there he saw change.  Jack, his arm in a sling, was no longer a boy.  He had been very mature for his age when Ronan met him.  Seeing what Jack had seen hunting Manson had grown him up real fast.  Not a hint of the boy remained.  He had loved and lost.  He had had to choose between what he wanted, and what was right.  He had been man enough to give up powers he could not handle.  Ronan respected that and thanked the King Jack was at his side.

“My predecessors didn’t do much,” Ronan said.  “Or used their powers for their own evil, as you well know.  As a cop, I couldn’t do anything to help people until after the crime was committed. I want to change that.  I don’t want to assume evil witches are guilty until proven innocent, but I do want to use my power to stop monsters before they kill lots of Innocents.  I’m gonna take this power I have on the aggressive and I want you both at my side.”

“Count me in,” Jack said.

“And I as well,” said Fortunatus.

“I’ll help until the twins need me!” Zephyr gripped Jack’s ear and nodded.

Ronan looked up at the stars filling the heavens and knew that Sundance stood on the other side of the Door waiting for him.  He smiled down at her grave, and walked out of the cemetery with Jack, Zephyr, and Fortunatus at his side.

The End

…This is the end of this tale…

Inheritance, No. 39: Sundance

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

 

Sebastian and Genesis hit the floor as the vampires loyal to Nickolaus shifted into the crowd.  Attempting to escape the trap, some vampires shifted to the large doors only to find them barred from the outside.  Any not there to fight for Mara or Nickolaus took one look at the group of angry witches and shifted up the walls and out the open ceiling.  In a matter of moments only the loyal vampires, the witches, and humans remained in the room.  Genesis climbed to her knees. She surveyed the battle.  One her right side, stepping down from the dais, were those loyal to herself.  Loyal to the fact that they would not let Mara get away with insulting them.  On Genesis’ other side were those loyal to Mara and to the idea of getting a new witch of the Undead.  Manhunter had disappeared.  He knew better than to align himself with the shifting powers.  The vampires faced off with the witches and humans between them.

“You will all leave now,” Nickolaus said.  He shifted to the front of the loyal vampires and addressed his people across the way.  “I will not exile you from LeVidal, but I know you now and your names will be marked with distrust.”

A few in Mara’s numbers faded into the night.

Genesis counted two deep breaths, in and out, in and out, as the vampires faced off.  The air filled with shifting blurs.  Gun shots reverberated across the room and the sound of hand to hand combat surrounded them.  Grunting, crashing, cracking, pounding sounds followed the shifting shadows.

With no powers, Genesis could not divide out the individual vampires.  All she could see were the smears of color they had become.  Nickolaus’ vampires passed through them saving them from being cut down in a crossfire.  Genesis searched for a target.  Someone grabbed her arm and yanked her off her knees.

“Lucas.” Genesis hissed as he twisted her arm.  “Why am I not surprised?”

“Lookie, lookie, I have an ex-witch,” he said with a giggle.

Sebastian’s arm snaked over Genesis’ shoulder.  He pressed the snub nose of his gun to Lucas’s chest and pulled the trigger.

“Get your hands of my girl.”

Surprise froze on  Lucas face.  His body faded to bone and then to ash.  Another vampire appeared behind Sebastian as Genesis turned to him.  Before she could bring her gun up he disintegrated into ash.  Torquil shifted back into the battle a large silver stake in his hand.

“I think we’re out matched in this fight,” Genesis said.

She trained her gun on Mara not wanting the witch to slip away in the chaos, but Jack stood between them with tears on his face.  All around them vampires battled.  Jack, their witch, just stood there looking at Mara as she stood not inches from him staring back.  A thin film of dust floated down onto Jack’s black jacket.  It filled the air.  Vampires were slain.  The shifting slowed.  Unable to keep her gun on Mara with Jack between them, Genesis trained her gun on the vampire opposite Vertune and fired.  Vertune used the distraction to drive a short sword through his chest.  One by one those loyal to Mara were taken down. Genesis, Sebastian, and Akilina found marks for their waiting bullets.

Leaving the others to battle with the vampires, Sundance led Ronan through the crowd.  They found Ash and Monk standing in the ballroom battle field with their arms wrapped around each other and their eyes closed tight.

“Ash?” Ronan said.  He reached out with his broken fingers.

“Dad!”

Ronan wrapped his arms around his daughter covering her with kisses and holding her close enough to drive the air from her lungs.  Ash clung to him and wept.  All the fear, pain, and betrayal of Jack came to the surface as she found her father in the battle.  Monk stood close by with slumped shoulders weary from trying to be brave and strong.  Ronan sensed his soul exhaustion.  He pulled him in wrapping his arms around the boy whose brother he had helped die in peace.  He could not see Ash but her broken soul said she needed him.  Her sobbing told him she needed her father.

“I’m here.  I have you now,” he said again and again.

A shot rang out above the quieting battle.  Ronan grunted as the soul he knew best ripped open.  He stopped.  Everything stopped.  The gunshots, the shifting, the slaying, the floating dust, it all stopped as Ronan’s heart stopped beating.  But not his heart…the heart he loved most stopped beating.  From across the room, Mara laughed.  She held Jack’s gun in her hand aimed at Sundance.  Jack stared at the gun like his worst nightmare had come to life.   Sebastian charged the witch with Genesis right behind him, but Ronan could not see them.  He could not see anything.  He could only hear and feel.  He reached out for Sundance as she fell.

Ronan lowered her down to the floor and ripped the mask from his eyes.  Blinding light burned through him but he fought it back until he could see Sundance’s face.  Blood stained the summer yellow dress with dying life.  Sundance gasped for breath and blood bubbled on her perfect lips.  Ronan gathered her in his arms.  He pushed the mask from her face and kissed her.

“Please, please God, don’t take her from me, not now,” he prayed.

Sundance reached up with slim fingers and stroked his face.

“I loved you on the cereal aisle, I loved you then and will always love you,” she said.

“Sundance?”

Her golden-haired head slipped back and she died in Ronan’s arms.

A wail of heart breaking agony fell from Ronan’s lips as he pulled and yanked at her.  He closed his blind eyes against her death.  Darkness gathered around him.

Mara turned to Jack.  She pointed her gun at Sebastian.  Genesis pulled up short.  The painful wail of Ronan echoed in her heart.

“I will make each of you feel what I have felt for over a hundred years.  I will take from you what you wanted to take from me.”

As Mara fired, Jack stepped between the gun and Sebastian. The bullet punched him in the shoulder knocking him back.

“Jack.” Fortunatus turned from his battle with a large vampire.  The vampire plunged his knife in Fortunatus chest but Akilina grabbed it in her hands before it could pierce his heart.  Fortunatus wrenched it free from his sternum, flipped it around and staked the vampire.

Blood ran down Jack’s cradled arm and dripped off his fingers.  He looked down at Mara.  Sebastian pushed Genesis behind himself using his own body as a shield from Mara’s wavering gun.

“Mara?” Jack stepped closer to her ignoring the gunshot to his shoulder. “You need to stop killing.  You need to stop and let Cairn go.  Let it go.”

“Who do you think you are to tell me what to do with my heart?  You used me and you lied to me.  You promised me you loved me.”  Her voice broke and tears ran down her face. “You tell me I need to stop killing, but you have killed me.” Mara sobbed.  Her whole body trembled and she pressed her hand over her mouth.  “You have no heart or it is frozen solid.”

“I do love you.” Jack growled, his voice broken. “But I can’t let you do this.”

Mara shook her head and stepped back.  Her eyes glistened with tears as she took the gun and turned it on herself.

Jack reached to stop her.  Too late. The last shot rang out in the night.  Mara fell to the floor dead.

She was dead.  The first woman he had ever loved had just shot her brains out while he watched.  Jack walked over and stared down at her body.  But that was all that was there.  Just a body.  Her soul had already fled.  Jack dropped down on the marble floor his knees resting in the blood pooling around her shell.  He did not cry.  He did not do anything but kneel there.  With one hand he reached out and closed her eyes and stroked the blond strand in her dark hair.  Fortunatus shifted to his side.  He squatted down and put his arm around Jack’s shoulder.   Jack just stared at what he once loved.  Zephyr cried tiny golden tears for the boy who would never be the same.

The world turned upside down.  In a matter of moments, the trap had been sprung, the mercs were killed, the vampires loyal to Mara driven off or slain.  But Mara was dead.  Genesis had had her life ruined by this woman, but she found no satisfaction watching Jack stare down at her empty body.  Genesis used Mara’s death as an excuse.  As long as she stared down at Mara she could avoid looking at Ronan.  She was scared to look at Ronan.  The dust settled and the echoing gunshots died down.  The Five, the Orphans, Vertune, Rail Quinn, Lafayette, and the members of the Requiem gathered around them.  Genesis turned afraid of what she would see.  Afraid of what her heart already told her had happened.

Sundance’s limp body lay in Ronan’s arms.

“No,” Genesis whispered moving towards them.  Sebastian followed behind.  Jack looked up and climbed to his feet, his pants soaked in Mara’s blood.  He trailed after them with Fortunatus, Akilina and Zephyr.

Genesis bent down next to Ronan.  She did not say anything.  What could she say?

A gentle breeze, smelling of clean air after the rain blew through the almost empty ballroom.  It ruffled dresses and tugged at the masks left on their faces.  Fortunatus, Akilina, and Sebastian peeled their masks off and dropped them on the floor.  Akilina tilted her head and stepped from Fortunatus side.

“He is coming,” she said listening to the wind.

“I am here.”

Everyone looked up to see a simple man standing before them.  He did not shine; he did not glow or wield massive power to impress them.  He just stood there looking at them with pity in his eyes.  Wolfe, the witch of Death, stood at his side with his pale horse.  One soul shimmered next to him.  Ronan set Sundance’s body down and Monk helped him to his feet.

Vertune, Rail Quinn, Lafayette and the Five shifted away from the man into the shadows.  Only Fortunatus, the Orphans, and the Requiem members stayed before the man.

“Jack. Mara is already gone.  Wolfe does not help transport the damned but sends them straight to their damnation.  Only the saved are allowed help in death.  That is something you must understand. But you may hold onto the true parts of your love for her. They are not wrong.  Love is not wrong.  I wish to know what you want.  Do you wish to keep the powers you were given?”

Jack examined the room around him.  He looked at Ronan with his daughter at his side but the woman he loved dead at his feet.  He looked at Fortunatus who could not even be with his own wife but for these few short days, and last at Genesis and Sebastian hand in hand.

“All I saw before was the power.  The power to save and protect those around you.  The power to do and be something great.  Man, you would think with my history I would have understood before now that all the power in the world can’t protect the ones you love.” Jack shook his head.  “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but please…make me just Jack again.  Please.  I don’t want these tattoos.  I don’t want this temptation.”  He indicted the vampires standing behind them and the ashes on the floor.  “I understand now that this is not my power.”

“As you wish.”  The man indicated his head.

Light flashed through Jack.  He doubled over gasping.  Out of his body lifted a swirling white bundle of light.  Jack’s tattoos faded.  His hair returned to its normal color.  His eyes lost their golden sheen.  The wolf’s head earring returned to his ear.  Zephyr clapped her hands, leapt in the air and twirled, before settling back on his shoulder and kissing his cheek.

“Genesis?  Do you wish to have you power returned to you?” The man asked turning to her.

Much to her surprise, Genesis hesitated.  She looked up at Sebastian.

“This is our chance, our chance to grow old together,” she said. “Our chance to just be us.”

He cupped her face in his hand and kissed her.  “I love you,” he whispered just for her.

“My King, I don’t want these powers.  Give them to someone else.  I am loved and love and I wish to live out my days with Sebastian.”

The man smiled.  “I have a better way.”  He held out his hand and another bundle of light appeared next to the first.  Genesis gasped.

“Now your love may last longer than a life time.” He lowered the two magical powers over them.

Power, her power fill her.  It filled all the empty spaces she had forgotten about.  It covered her inside and out.  The familiar warmth and strength returned to her.  She embraced her TrueSelf, her powers, and her tattoos.  Voices filled her head.  Isis’ turning came to her and she knew her new daughter.  Manhunter congratulated himself on not picking a side in the power struggle.  All around her were her people.  Her people.  As the infusion faded she turned to Sebastian trying to catch his breath.  New tattoos shown through his clothing as his TrueSelf rose to the surface.  He looked taller, his hair longer, and his eyes brighter.  He looked at her.  On his back was the image of a man setting a smiling baby on a doorstep, while on his chest was a cat’s tail blowing in the wind.

“I am the witch of NewLife?”  Sebastian said, confounded.

“Your love for one another unites two powers ever at odds.  Your love for one another heals the rift between them,” the man said.

The man turned from their awed faces. “Ash you have proven yourself to be as strong as your father.  To you I give an increase in power and I leave Monk at your side.  Soon you will need to gather your servants around you including the one who is inheriting your powers.  You will sense them.  You will use this power to bring on the night, which man will abuse, but you will not use it to see darkness in the heart.  That is not for you to worry about.” The man waved his hand and lightning pounded through Ash for a split second.  Mara’s power of Darkness settled over her.  Monk smiled and bowed before taking her hand.

“Fortunatus, my forgiven undead, I leave your wife at your side for one cycle of the sun.  At the end she will return to my service and her powers and duties.  I believe you still have a house here?”

Needing no other prodding, Fortunatus bowed to Genesis and Sebastian. “Mistress, we are glad to have you back.”

He grasped Ronan’s shoulder and Jack’s. “I will meet you back in Dorian soon.”

The vampire took the hand of the angel and walked across the marble tiled floor.  Dust drifted in their wake.  When Fortunatus reached the barred doors he released Akilina’s hand. With one hand on one door and one on the other,  he pushed against them with all his might.  The locks splintered and the doors sprang open.  Fortunatus turned, held his hand up in farewell, and disappeared.

Last, the man turned to Ronan.

“Do not ask me what I want,” Ronan said with tears in his eyes.  “I know you will not grant it and so I will not ask.”

“My brother, you are not without her even though you cannot see her or touch her.  She will be on the other side of the Door waiting for you.”

“Please.”  Ronan begged.

The shimmering soul next to Wolfe moved closer and Ronan sensed it even though he could not see it.  The light of the man already shown so brightly though his closed eyes he dared not open them.  But he felt the soul, whole.  Whole with no rips or tears or holes to mar its beauty.  He reached out with his twisted fingers and felt her touch them one last time.  Warmth filled him.

“Ronan, I love you. Come to me when your time is right.  I am waiting.”

Ronan bowed his head and tears wash down his face.  Sundance reached up and laid her hand flat on his chest.  A burning flashed through his skin.  He saw an image behind his closed eyes.  A new tattoo bloomed on his chest – a woman and a man dancing in a field alone together, together forever.  Forever dancing.  His inheritance tattoo, the maniac with the knife, faded to just a shadow on his chest.

Sundance stepped away.  With Wolfe’s help she climbed on the pale horse and walked through the Door to the World Beyond.

The End

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Isis guided them down multiple halls to the Situation Room.  She threw opened the door and Genesis led the way in.  Sebastian perched on the massive table talking with Ronan.  Fortunatus stood with them on Ronan’s other side.  All three men turned their way as they entered the room.  Each wore a tuxedo to rival the best of James Bond.  Simple black masks of satin covered each of their faces.  Fortunatus wore a black, wool crepe tux with a vest and a crisp bow-tie.  He shifted around the desk and took Akilina’s hand.  Ronan straightened and held out questioning fingers in their direction.  Sundance swept to his side and kissed him.  His tuxedo looked much the same as Fortunatus but he wore a slim tie instead of a bow-tie.  Sebastian stood up last.  He stepped from the table.  Genesis took in his black jacket and trousers with a satin lapel, a white shirt, open at the collar, and black exotic skinned shoes.  She smirked at his utter ease in the smart suit.  Her man belonged in a tuxedo.  Approaching her, he took Genesis hand and raised it above her head.  She bowed low.  He could not see the smile spreading across her face.  He raised her out of the bow and spun her in a slow circle feasting his eyes on her.

“I won’t be able to tell what you’re thinking with that mask on.”  He teased.

“The eyes are the window into the soul, sir.  And you can still see them,” Genesis said.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if we may?” Nickolaus indicated their seats.  They gathered back around the table.  Isis helped them take their masks off until show time.

“I only wish to remind you all that the plan is to wait at least an hour or two before we spring the trap.  We know Mara will bring an armed entourage.  We want them to relax and even drink a little before we take her.  I will be on the dais.  I will give the signal.”

“Everything and everyone is in place?”  Genesis asked.

“Exactly as we agreed upon,” Nickolaus said.

They walked through the plan one last time.  Planned as planned could be,  Isis deposited them in a small room to wait until they could become part of the crowd in the ball.

“Tell me what you look like?” Ronan said as Sundance led him over to a chair.

Genesis found Ronan’s eyeless mask disturbing.  With only curves for the cheeks and nose, no eyes looking out on the world.  Nickolaus ordered some of his men to wear mask of the same design, but modified so they could see even if it appeared they could not.  They feared Jack would recognize the eyeless mask for what it covered.

Sebastian leaned against Genesis and kissed her bare shoulder.  A pleasant chill spread over her from the spot where his lips touched her skin.  He ran his hand up her bare back.  Genesis tried to focus on Sundance as she guided Ronan’s hand to the material of her dress, the jewelry, and her mask.

“I wish we were going to a real ball and not going to another battle,” Sebastian said with a discontent sigh.

“And why is that?” Genesis turned to look up at him.  She already knew why, but she wanted to hear him say it.

“Because then we could sneak out,” Sebastian said with a wink.

Fortunatus glanced at them from the corner where he whispered to Akilina, her pale white hand clutched tight in his cold fingers.  She wore the cloak of humanity for a limited time, so Fortunatus indulged in every moment with her he could.  No one minded.  They just tried to not interrupt or watch.

“You spoke the very thoughts in my mind,” Fortunatus said.  “I often wonder if it is our curse to fight next to those we love instead of leaving them someplace safe while we deal out death and destruction.”

“Don’t even think about trying to leave me behind,” Genesis said to Sebastian.

“You’re the best fighter I’ve ever seen, but he’s right.  If I could I would leave you someplace far away until this was done.  Just to know you were safe.”

“Same here,” Ronan said.

Sebastian sat down and pulled Genesis into his lap.  Each of them turned inward towards the soul, heart, and mind they cherished.  Each sobered thinking about what they were walking into.  A last kiss passed from man to woman.  Isis returned.

“It is time.”

The Son of Stan, Darkness, Genesis and the Necromancer

Two large oak doors, twenty feet tall and gilded with golden flowers, opened before them to a ball room beyond compare.  The star filled night sky formed the ceiling while black marble columns brought the darkness down to surround the room.   White marble tiled the vast dance floor in contrast to the black above and around.  Silk covered tables of food and chairs lined the columned walls.  A large orchestra filled the whole west side of the room.  Five thrones on a raised dais dominated the north end of the room.  Before the five thrones two smaller thrones sat on the first step down.  Already sweet music filter through the air and masked people clustered in groups talking.  Genesis always marveled at the large size of the room.  She had danced here many times before at the balls of the Five, as an honored guest, but the size of the room never ceased to amaze her.  She looked for the landmarks Nickolaus had designed for the gun caches.  It would take more than a minute to run from one side of the room to the other even if it was empty.  She wanted it mapped out to avoid mistakes when the bullets started flying.

“Are they all vampires?” Sebastian asked about the men and women already stepping into the ballroom.

“Yes,” Ronan answered before Genesis could. “Your souls are the only ones I sense.”

“Remember where the guns are and what part you play.  Watch for the signal,” Genesis said.

They spread out into the room.  As the witching hour came closer the room filled with more and more vampires.  Vertune made his way to Genesis side while Rail Quinn hovered near Fortunatus and Akilina.  Soul and Songbird stayed close to Ronan and Sundance.  Genesis became very thankful for her mask as more and more vampires she knew joined the multiple dances circling the room.  Vincent joined them with Marien and Quentin, while on the other side of the room Genesis caught a glimpse of Odin and Thor, Vincent’s Doorkeepers.  Many other members of the Requiem added to the number of guest in the room.  A flash of tall red hair marked Manhunter McGee as one of the guests and probably the provider of the blood for the ball.  Which side would he choose?  Genesis guessed it would be Jack if Jack promised not to give him a hard time about his particularly disgusting bar.  Good and bad, neutral or in debt to the Five, almost two hundred vampires now danced on the white ballroom floor.  Many of them waited to help set the trap; a few did not know.  They were invited only to throw Mara off the scent.

They did not know how many were here to help protect the witch of Darkness.

The clock struck twelve.

The witching hour began.

The orchestra released an elaborate drum roll.  On the last tolling of the bell for the midnight hour the Five walked through the doors.  Dressed like kings and queens with eternal youth and unmatched power, they marched up to their thrones two on each side of Nickolaus.  The crowds bowed until they were seated.  The drum roll stopped.  Silence filled the room for two whole minutes until the strings hummed and the horns blew.  Sundance quiver with excitement, and she fought the urge to dance.  Ronan held her fingers as tight as he could willing her to stay calm.  Her fingers danced on his arm and knew she would not cast a wild dancing spell and blow their cover.

“Here they come,” Sundance said.

Ronan tensed up.

“Just tell me if you see Ash.”

Genesis stood near the path between two walls of vampires where she could watch Mara prance in.  As the music built the witch of Darkness stepped in the door.  She wore a black dress, empire waisted with a train flowing out over the floor.  Jack clasped his hands behind his back.  He walked at her side with wild gray hair and flashing gold eyes.  A smashing brocade jacket of jet hung from his shoulders.  Black manta ray boots shown under his crepe wool trousers.  His wolf head earring, a birthday present from Crow and Olive, had been replaced with an onyx stone.  Behind him came Ash dressed in a gray slip dress and Monk in a floor length, oriental jacket embroidered with black swirls.  An entire platoon of tuxedo dressed mercenaries followed in behind them along with more vampires coming as her guests.

An overwhelming desire to rip the smug smile off her little face flooded Genesis, but she stayed still.  She would not endanger the lives of others because she could not keep her cool.

Mara passed by.  She glanced in Genesis direction, her dramatic mask drawing the witch’s eye.  Genesis glared as hard as she could when she caught Mara’s eye but the witch kept walking.  Jack eyes flowed out over the crowd, but he did not recognize his friends in their tuxedos and masks.  Neither Ronan nor Sundance let their TrueSelves show.  Fortunatus and Akilina stayed well enough back that Jack could not see them through the crowd.

With Jack now hanging on her arm, Mara reached the dais of the Five.  The music stopped.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Nickolaus said as he stood. “Honored guests and old friends, we have requested your attendance to our most lavish ball in honor of our new witch and our long-standing, treasured witch of Darkness.  May I present to you Jack and Mara.”

They turned and faced the crowd.  Thunderous applause shook the room.  After a moment, Nickolaus sat back down, indicated the two front thrones to Jack and Mara, and the orchestra started again.  Having surveyed the man and woman of the hour, the guest returned to their dances.  Some broke off into groups to talk or to graze at the table of food and drink.

Sebastian took Genesis’ hand and led her out onto the dance floor.  Genesis watched Mara’s vampires mix with the crowd and her mercenaries fan out around the dais.  Nickolaus did not look pleased as his brother and sisters stepped down to dance.  An eyeless mask caught Genesis eyes as a man in a white tuxedo and a woman in a black tuxedo danced by.   A glimpse of white hair made her realize it was not Ronan.  Possibly Lafayette.

“Move us along until we get to Fortunatus, and or Ronan,” Genesis said.

Sebastian danced them through the crowd in time to the music.  Genesis admired his skill.  She struggled against ending the evening with a battle.  Could they just dance all night?  With a shake of her head she drove that thought away.  Near the end of the song they reached Fortunatus and Akilina.  Genesis passed along the word of the mercs on the dais.

“May I have the next dance,” Julien said behind them touching Genesis’ arm.

Genesis had never denied Julien anything except to be his wife and lover. She hesitated to dance.  She did not want to part from Sebastian.

“The time is not for a long while.  You will know when we are getting close,” Julien guessed her thoughts.

“I’ll wait here,” Sebastian solved the dilemma and let Genesis go.

Julien swept her off to the next waltz.  Rows and rows of men and women paired up and the music swelled.  Passing in and out, through, over and under, the couples moved in a complicated figure eight, switching hands and partners as they danced.  Genesis moved down the line of masked men, weaving in and out of them, each one passing her off to the next until the music began to settle.  She stepped up to take the next hand.  The man wore no mask and Genesis almost gasped.  For the hundredth time tonight she thanked the King for guiding her to choose  mask which covered her whole face.

Jack took her left hand in his left and wrapped his right hand around her waist dancing her up the line of men and woman.  He was not as tall as her, most women towered over the men in their heels, but he wore his TrueSelf well.  He moved with the wild energy and grace of the wolf his image called to mind.

“Are you a guest of Nickolaus?  I haven’t seen you before, but I’ve only been here a day or so,” Jack said as they neared the end of the dance.

Damn, was he really inexperienced enough to not realize she was not one of his vampires?  Genesis nodded her head as a way of saying yes and remaining mysterious. Julien stood only a few feet away ready to take her back.

“I’m Jack, the witch of the Undead.”  He said it so casually.

Genesis’ stomach turn to stone.  Had he forgotten the other men and woman who had died to make him this mutated version of what a witch was supposed to be?  Had he forgotten the cages his friends had been put in and the nails in Ronan’s hands?  Had he forgotten Fortunatus almost lost to insanity?

Julien took her hand before she could open her mouth and scream at him.  Jack stood there watching them go as the next dance began to form around him.  Mara stepped to his side and took his hand.  She drew him down into a kiss.

A tremble started in Genesis legs as she walked back over to Sebastian who stood with Ronan and Sundance.  Sebastian took her from Julien and wrapped his arms around her.

“What’s wrong?  What happened?” Sebastian said.

“I can’t do this.  I can’t wait until Nickolaus gives the sign.”

“You must wait,” Julien said.

“What happened?” Ronan stepped closer feeling for her soul.

“It was my fault.  I did not realize Mara and Jack had joined the dance,” Julien explained.

“I danced with Jack, and he seemed so unconcerned.”

Sebastian pulled Genesis close.  Ronan sighed.  He tilted his head up to the night sky he could not see.

“Do you think Mara knows?”

“It is too hard to tell.  She is not an idiot.  She could have brought all her mercenaries as a show of strength, or as a way to tell us she knows what we have in mind,” Julien said. “But it does not matter either way.  We will eliminate the mercenaries in short order.  It will be loyal vampires which will hinder our capture of Mara.  But the plan is going forward.”

Genesis nodded and took a deep breath.  Sundance handed her a glass of wine.  Convinced no blood swam in the mix, Genesis took a deep sip.  Warmth flow through her followed by a sense of calm.

Without warning all the lights went out.  For a whole five minutes only the stars in the heavens provided them light.  The dancers continued their weaving waltz as the music slowly faded and died.  Strobe lights flashed, and a loud throbbing bass filled the room.  The beautiful and elegant ball turned  into a wild rave.

“That is the next part,” Julien said.  He leaned in to be heard over the music. “Only a short time remains until we are ready to spring the trap.  Do not draw attention to yourselves by giving into the temptation to gather together.  Put yourself near your guns and dance with the crowds.”

Sundance reached out and squeezed Genesis’ hand.  Genesis squeezed hers back.

“We’ll rescue Ash,” Genesis said to Ronan.

He nodded, and they moved off disappearing in the throbbing crowd in a moment.

Sebastian took her hand. “Stay close.”

They stepped into the pulsating bodies and made their way towards a gun cache on the far side of the room.  Genesis glanced through the waving arms to Nickolaus on his throne.  A vampire offering him a glass of blood whispered in his ear and he nodded.

Stepping around the dancers, Sebastian’s fingers slipped from Genesis’.  Within a second she could no longer see him.  Bodies pushed and shoved her away like a fish caught up in the swirling school in which it swam.  The music pounded in her head.  The press of cold bodies caught her up.  Her breath stopped short, and her heart beat in time to the heavy bass rhythm.  Hands pulled at her and ran over her.  Masks of animals, real and imagined, flashed by until two strong hands grabbed her arms.  She looked up at Jack.  He leaned down to her ear his breath warm on her neck.

“You seem lost,” he said.

All the lights went out again and the mass of vampires cheered as they reveled in the darkness.

That was the sign.

Nickolaus stood.

For a split second fear raced through Genesis.  Far from her friends and Sebastian, next to Jack was not where she was supposed to be.  The noise started to die down as no silence took over for the heavy beat.  No lights flashed back on.  The sickening sound of breaking bones and smashed muscle filled the silent ballroom.  A few vampires cheered thinking the rave had just gotten better.

All the lights came back on driving away the darkness.

Genesis reached up and pulled off her mask.

Mara screamed.  Her scream echoed off the walls filling the silence.  In a row around the dais stood Vertune, Rail Quinn, Lafayette, the Orphans and the Requiem members all with bloody knives and dead mercenaries at their feet.  The Five rose up behind them.

“Mara, who holds the power over Darkness, you mocked the Undead by your actions.  You are under arrest for taking what is not yours and giving it to one the King did not choose,” Nickolaus said.  His voice rang out over the room.

“No! No! I gave her powers to one more worthy!” Mara screamed pointing at Jack’s back.

Jack stared up at Genesis a small part of the boy he once was showed through his TrueSelf.

“I didn’t want you to come,” he whispered only for her to hear.  From his coat climbed Zephyr.  She stood on his shoulder and grasped his ear.  Genesis saw the dark circles under her eyes and the slump of her spotted shoulders and white wings.  The wiznit looked done in.

“It is over, Jack.” Zephyr stroked his face.

Around Mara, Jack, and Genesis a circle opened.  The vampires near them backed up not wanting to be caught in the fallout of Nickolaus’ wrath.

“That was not for you to decide,” Ronan said in his strongest ‘crowd-control’ voice from the edge of the circle.  He stepped out with Sundance’s hand in his.  The Dancing Witch and the SoulDefender put on their TrueSelves.  Their majesty and grace pushed the vampires further back.

“I found the way, which gave me the right!” Mara turned towards him.

“Never does having the power to do something give the person the right to do something,” Fortunatus said as he broke from the crowed on the other side of Mara with Akilina at his side.

“Fort?” Jack turned and his TrueSelf slipped from him.  He became a boy again.  He gazed at his best friend.  His image shimmered and changed to a young man, strong but only human.  Zephyr smiled and her wings lifted.

“And I just think you’re a real mean bitch,” Sebastian said, stepping up behind Genesis. “Because of you Janie is dead and so is Dora.  Not to mention my scientist, Tell and his men.  How many of your own people have died because of you?”

He slipped Genesis’ gun into her hand.

Mara drew herself up and turned to face him.  She saw Jack in his human image.  Tears filled her eyes.

“You too Jack?” She said softly.

Jack stared at the woman and his heart broke for her.  He loved her, loved everything about her from her tiny feet to her pointed little nose.  But he could not get the images of the dead from his mind.  He could not escape what she had done.  He could not turn his back on all that had ever happened to him and the ones he loved.  Jack stepped up to Mara and took her hand.  He pressed his forehead to hers and sighed.  She closed her eyes.  Tears spilled from them.

“I wish I could love you enough to make all this go away, to wash the blood from your hands, but I can’t,” Jack whispered.

“Betrayer!” Mara shoved him away with all her might.

Jack fell to the marble floor.  He did not get up, only looked at her.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Gun shots filled the large room.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Genesis

Sebastian anchored Genesis’ healing, using his strength to mask her pain.  For a moment, bewilderment  wrapped its suffocating thickness around Genesis’ neck.  She wondered if everything had been a dream, everything, even Sebastian’s love.  She thought she lay in the small room high up in the Company’s tower.  Was this the first healing after the first merc attack? Had it all been a dream?  She opened her eyes and found Sebastian’s face as the healing faded.  He wore strange clothing blood dried on his face.  A haunted look clouded his eyes.  She knew he had changed, forever.  He would never be the same Sebastian he had been before he killed Janie.   How could he be?  Genesis reached up and pulled him down  to herself.  She wanted to hold him forever.  She wanted to help him find hope.  She wanted to take it all back.

“I’m so sorry. I should never have gone back to the company. I should have run far away,” she whispered into his neck.

He pulled away just enough to look down at her.  He stroked her white hair.

“If you’d never come back to that board room, I’d never been anything more than my father’s prick of a son.  You helped me see beyond myself and what little power I thought I had.  You saved me from my own pride and arrogance.  That’s why I couldn’t go back to Janie.  She loved someone who didn’t exist anymore.  You love me as I am and for who I am.”

Genesis could not express what filled her heart.  She kissed him for loving her, and for being exactly who he was.

After the healings sealed cuts, soothed bruises, and replenished blood, Ronan did his own work.  Taking each soul in his scarred hands he gently rewove the holes, drawing them shut.  Once healed and souls re-knit, Genesis and Sundance were taken to a bathing room. Two showers with opaque walls sat at the end of the bathroom.  Two large tubs sat up high on clawed feet in the center of the room.  Fragrant, steaming water threatened to spill over the edges.  Both women showered first to wash the blood and grime away.  Clean, they slipped into the tubs.  Plush towels sat in piles around the room and soft robes hung from the walls.  The bathroom whispered peace in every form from its gray and brown rock flooring to the bamboo growing up towards the soft lighting.  Genesis sighed as the hot water surrounded her.

“Whose place is this?  And who is providing it all?” Sundance asked from the tub next to her.

“The Five.  Vertune was commanded to bring us here when he brought us through the Door.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about working with the Five,” Sundance said as she trailed her fingers through the hot water.  “I mean, I have a house here in the city.  What witch doesn’t?  So, I had to get permission to pass into the city and to buy the house.  But working with them?  That’s something I never would have seen myself doing.”

“Nickolaus and Julien have both attempted to capture my attention at different times.  One of my Predecessors took Lain as her Consort for a time, obviously before Mikhail slayed him.”

“I can tell I am not going to understand half of the things you talk about while we are here,” Sundance teased.

“Sorry, it is a long and sad tale.  Maybe after we get done with our own I’ll tell you about it,” Genesis said.

“So both of them had a crush on you?”

Genesis smiled. “Not really a crush.  They’d be quite offended at the word, but they wished to add to their already great power.  Having me on their arm was a definite way to do that.”

“I see. But, they didn’t get anywhere?”

“No.  I wasn’t interested in being on the arm of a man who only wanted me to help with his power tripping.  And I was trying so very hard to be good, do the right thing.  I wasn’t interested in watching people die for sport.”

“So I guess Sebastian was the right choice.”

“Sebastian was the unexpected, slam-right-into-you, blind-side-you choice.” Genesis leaned her head back on the pillow at the end of her tub.  The warm water relaxed her tense muscles.  She wanted to go to sleep, just drift off.

“I know what you mean.  I wasn’t planning on falling in love with Ronan when I started watching the school and him.  I think it was pity which turned into love when I saw him struggling with everything. Struggling to do what he could for those boys.  I think the pity turned to love on the cereal aisle.”

Genesis smiled and shook her head.

Someone knocked on their door and a vampire woman stuck her head in.

“A letter for you, Mistress.” She walked in, held out a silver tray, and bowed.

Genesis stomach clenched.  She grabbed a towel, dried her fingers off, and took the letter.  The vampire disappeared.  Genesis did not know who she was.  She must have been changed after Genesis lost her powers.  A small wave of sadness passed over her.  Having a daughter she did not know hurt deep inside.  She turned to the letter.  It was from Vash.  Finally.  She ran her fingers over his seal, the same as the tattoo on the back of her hand.  A roman-esque letter V carved from marble with a giant crack crossing both arms of the V.

“What is it?” Sundance said.

“A letter from Vash,” Genesis whispered.  “Sundance, do you mind if I go read this on my own?”

“No not at all,” Sundance said.  She reached over and squeezed Genesis arm.

Genesis nodded and climbed from the tub.  She wrapped herself in a white robe.  Off to one side, a door opened out onto a balcony.  Genesis let herself out and gazed at the city opening beneath her feet.  Her city.  Her people.  Her pain, her sorrow, her struggle, her joy, and her love.  She had invested so much time building up this cursed people.   She helped them overcome their lust, and gave them hope.  Hope instead of damnation.  Now.  Now, they moved without her help.  They did not know she was here, and still pulling for them.  They might struggle with feeling alone, or angry, or even joyful that she was gone.  Some would revel in their new Master and his Mistress.  Some would know nothing good could come of the inheritance Jack had, and dark days followed him.  She marveled over how quiet the eternal night seemed when her head did not contain vampires.

Genesis broke the seal on Vash’s letter.  The familiar scrawl of the short note brought a sharp sting to her eyes.  She had promised herself no more crying.  She had promised to be strong.

Genesis,

                                It looks like we are back to the ancient letter writing method.  Other things are still happening in this wide, evil world even while you and the SoulDefender battle Mara.  I have been called to walk many dark paths and talk with many evil things.  When you get this sorted out I will need your help.  New creatures have been born with powers unseen before.  Life is changing.  Mara learned how to control an Inheritance.  Life is always interesting.

                You have always been in my thoughts and prayers even when I could not contact you.

                I have no advice to give other than to trust your friends and do what you have always done. Do what is right.  You are not alone,

Vash

“You are not alone,” she whispered the words to herself releasing them aloud into the silence of LeVidal.

Someone behind her giggled.  Genesis guessed.  She raised her arm instinctively and blocked the blade of a vampire who shifted from the shadows.  She punched the vampire in the gut with her other hand as hard as she could.  The vampire folded in half.  Genesis grabbed the hand with the blade and twisted it harshly.  The vampire dropped the blade with a scream.

“Who sent you?”

She giggled again. “Who do you think, old mistress?”

And then she was gone, just like that.

Genesis stepped inside and went to an inset wardrobe.  She wanted to sleep and eat, but things were only going to get more dangerous around here.  There were others less prepared to deal with vampires.  To fight something stronger and faster than any human required years of training.  Sundance stepped from the bathtub, pulled on one of the robes, and wrapped her hair in a towel.

“Hurry and get dressed, we need to find the others.”

“What happened? Genesis you’re bleeding again.” Sundance hurried to her and held her arm.

“I’ve had worse.  Like in the last day,” Genesis said.

Genesis pulled on a clean pair of skinny jeans, and stepped into her slim black boots.  She tugged a simple black v-neck tee on over her head, and then buckled on her holster.  Someone had refilled her clips and cleaned her guns.  A familiar black coat hung in the wardrobe.  Genesis reached for it.

“I left this at the lab or Mara’s.  I thought this was lost forever.” Genesis held it close to her like an old friend. She buried her nose deep in its black folds and inhaled.  The smell of gun powder, leather, adventures with Vash surrounded her.  She slipped her arms into it and shrugged it on.  The coat clung to her and flared out to the floor.  Her arm stopped bleeding.

Sundance finished dressing just as Sebastian came through the door with his hand on his gun.

“They said you had been attacked.”

“I was,” Genesis said, relieved to have him here. “They came faster than I expected.  We need to get somewhere safer and together.”

“If you would be so kind as to follow me.”  A rich baritone filled the room.

Nickolaus awaited them in the door way.  Genesis could not remember a time she had ever been happier to see the Eldest.  Not as tall as Sebastian, he held himself erect, and dressed like the lord of a Victorian castle from his burgundy brocade jacket, his cream silk vest, to his dark wool trousers.  His shoes carried a deep polish. A trimmed goatee graced his chin.  His barber kept his hair cropped close to his head.  He appeared every inch the gentleman.  Genesis walked over and bowed.

“Your hospitality has been greatly appreciated, Nickolaus,” she said.

“You are welcome to all that I have as you always have been, Mistress,” he said with a bow.          Nickolaus the Eldest turned and held out his arm to let them out of the room.  Fortunatus, Akilina and Ronan stood in the hall waiting for them.  They too had washed away the blood and dressed in clean clothing. Sebastian and Ronan had both found time to shave their chins and necks of stubble.  Their last change of clothing happened at the Valyni cabin.  Seemed a lifetime ago.

Shifting past them, Nickolaus led them down several carpeted hallways with inset spotlighting, tapestries, and vases filled with flowers.  The opulent beauty of just the back halls always stunned Genesis.  Many of the items here would have fetched millions in the Material Plane.  They were ancient and in mint condition.

Two vampires stepped out of a side hall and whispered to Nickolaus as they walked along.  After delivering their message, they turned down another side hall.  Genesis wondered what news they brought.  Unable to read their minds, wondering was all she could do.  Nickolaus halted before a large oak door standing floor to ceiling with no visible knob.  He rested the palm of his hand on the door.  It opened without a sound.

“Welcome to my Situation Room.”

They walked into modern conference room.  Genesis, even without powers, sensed tension right away.  A large, dark oak table dominated the room.  It stood on thick legs carved in deep-set swirls.  Chairs as big as thrones squatted around it.  Monitors lined the walls.  They flickered with different images of the house and streets LeVidal.  Genesis recognized the front of the Requiem’s mansion with its white columns and peacock filled lawn.  That screen alone explained part of the tension.  Vincent, the head of the Requiem, glared at the image of his home from where he stood behind a chair.  Five larger chairs sat at the far end of the table making it clear who held the reins of power in the room.  This was no round table, no democracy, no voting.

Fey, Noir and Loradain, the proud and beautiful sisters of Nickolaus, and Julien, their one remaining brother, stood behind their personal seats. Marien, the wife of Vincent, waited with Quentin and the Orphans.  Vincent closed face to the image of his home.  The uneasy truce between the saved vampires and the damned ones remained unease.  Genesis examined the rest of the monitors.

“You did not!” She gasped stepping away from Sebastian to look closer at one of the images.

“I told you we should have picked a different room.”

“Loradain,” Nickolaus said with an edge to his voice.  He moved his chair at the head of the table back and remained on his feet in its spot.

“You’re watching my house!” Genesis confronted Nickolaus.

Nickolaus ignored her.  He reached down to a keyboard inset in the table and typed in a command.  All the monitors went dark.

“Friends and enemies, please sit and hear me out.  Genesis, if you will please take the other end of the table.” He held out his hand and indicated the chairs.  Loradain and Julien took the seats to his left while Fey and Noir, took the ones on his right.  Orion, their lady in waiting,  stepped behind Fey, ready to serve as she was needed.  Genesis sat at the end of the table and indicated to the others to sit.  Sebastian took his place at her right hand.  Ronan sat on her left and Sundance, Fortunatus, and Akilina sat down from him.  Vincent inclined his head to Genesis as they left the more respected right side of the table open for him and his people.   Vertune and Rail Quinn crossed their arms as they flanked the door to the room.

Nickolaus’ fingers flashed over the keyboard with a new command. One image filled the monitors behind Genesis.

“This is Mara’s house.  As we all anticipated, the trap will not be as easy to spring as we had hoped.”

Turning her chair around, Genesis watched the video.  A time stamp in the corner indicated the video covered the last several hours.  She watched vampires shift in and out of the front door of Mara’s home.

“What is going on?” Ronan asked.

“Our apology, SoulDefender,” Fey said, her voice soft yet strong.  “The image everyone else is observing shows Mara’s house being visited by many of our people since they arrived.”

“Which means what?” Sundance asked.

“Which means,” Noir said, “that there are far more loyal to her and her new witch than we wanted.  We wanted her to find a cold welcome upon her arrival, but many are happy to see her and this Jack.”

“Jack is not to be harmed,” Ronan insisted.

“No one will harm your friend, SoulDefender.” Julien pulled out a cigar and lit it. “If it can in any way be hindered it will be.”

Nickolaus raised his hand. “We have come together, an unlikely group, to lay our plans.  Let us begin.”

The Son of Stan

Ronan’s head hurt.  He wanted nothing more than to rip off the bandage and let the light burn his mind away.  The ball, the trap, would begin in just a few short hours.  They had planned all through the night and well into the morning.  Nickolaus had promised he already had people looking for the Inventor.  He also had had word of Ash.  She might be in attendance tonight.  Ronan breathed in and out, in and out.  He laid down in the bed feeling for it with outstretched fingers.  Nickolaus had sent them all to sleep. Someone would wake them and dress them in time to finish the work for the ball.  Ronan thanked the King someone else, someone not worn down to the bone emotionally and physically, ran the game now.  He wanted no more running, fighting, and keeping up.  He wanted no more worry, fear, and bloody pain.  Most of all he wanted no more people, friends, dying.  If he could just get Ash and Sundance out of here and home he would be happy.

Sundance stirred next to him and he reached for her hair with his bent fingers.  They did not hurt anymore, but he could not straighten out.  He pictured her golden hair and blue eyes.  He wished he could see them.  Just one more time, he wished he could see them with his own eyes.  He turned on his side and fitted himself up against her wrapping her in his arms.  She sighed in her sleep and snuggled in close.  Her smell overcame him.  He drifted off with her dancing in his mind.

Genesis

Genesis let Sebastian hold her, glad for his warmth, his gentle breathing, his strong arm around her, and his heart beating consistently in his chest.  In some ways being in LeVidal was better.  Help surrounded them, strong, fast, and capable help.  On the other hand, the whole city was a constant slap in the face of what she no longer had.  Genesis sighed and turned from that thought; brooding on it would not help it.  She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep focusing on Sebastian’s even, gentle breathing.

Genesis sat straight up in bed with Sebastian a half a second behind her.  They both reached for guns and sat in the dark listening.  Genesis stilled her breathing.  A soft knock came from the door.

“Mistress, it is time to wake up and get dressed.”

With a dramatic groan, Genesis climbed from bed, put her gun down and pulled on her boots over her jeans.

“Didn’t we just go to sleep?” Sebastian said.

“Seems like.” Genesis walked to the door and opened it.

The same new vampire who had brought her Vash’s letter stood in the doorway.  Another girl stood behind her with her arms piled high with fabric and sewing supplies.

“It is now 7 o’clock.  We have only a few hours until the Masquerade Ball begins.  Nickolaus wishes you both to get dressed and to join him in the situation room.”

Genesis waved her in, but she bowed and stepped out of the doorway.

“Sir, the men are getting dressed next door if you wish to join them. The ladies will be dressing in the room two doors further down.”

Sebastian got up and found his own shoes.  He picked up his gun and Genesis’ and handed it to her with a quick kiss.

“See you in a few.”

She watched him go, watched the roll of his shoulders under the cotton shirt until he turned and waved.  He disappeared into the next room.  Genesis smiled her good-bye.  The vampire led the way down to the other room while the one with her arms full of fabric stepped into the changing room after Sebastian. The door to the women’s room opened with the smell of coffee and food.  Genesis mouth watered and her stomach growled loudly.

“Well, someone’s hungry,” Sundance said.  She spun in a circle, coffee cup held high and a spring green robe flowing out around her.  Akilina stood at a table laden with food and sniffed the rising steam.

“Do you eat food as an angel?” Genesis asked.  She slipped out of her own clothes and into a black robe before she picked up a plate.  Genesis filled it with fresh fruit, bread, and bacon and eggs.

“We do not require food to live, but we will eat with the King in a future time,” Akilina said.

“Ladies, please sit and take a few minutes to eat.  Then we will begin dressing,” the vampire said.

“What’s your name?” Genesis asked.  She shoveled food into her mouth.  Food had been provided in the situation room, but she still felt starved.

“I am Isis.”

“How long have you been here and who Turned you?”

Isis studied Genesis for a few moments.

“I don’t wish to offend you, normally I would know without asking.  Now I have to ask.”

“I have been here in LeVidal for several years as a pet and a slave.  Julien Turned me a year ago.”

“You were taken to be sold in the Market?”

“Yes.  Rail Quinn brought me in and tried to sell me to Manhunter, but I was not strong enough,” Isis said with a shudder.

A wave of guilt washed over Genesis.  There were just some things she had not been able to remove from LeVidal.  Was not able, or was not willing was a question which haunted her. She hopped Jack had been infected with the same guilt when he saw the Market and the Draught.

“I should have known you.  I should have saved you.” Genesis said.

“I was a lowly creature, Mistress.  Do not dwell on it any longer.”

“Rail Quinn? But I thought he was a good vampire,” Sundance said.

“There are very few ‘good’ vampires,” Akilina said.

“Rail is no more good than the Five are or even you Isis, isn’t that right?”

Isis smiled showing her fangs. “It is not all bad being eternally eighteen, Mistress.”

Sundance stared and then set her food aside.

Isis shifted to a large set of rolling doors with massive gold-gilded mirrors.  She slid them aside and a closet of beautiful dresses opened before them.  Another set of mirror doors opened to reveal shoes, jewelry, and masks.

“May I suggest you find out who you are and then pick your dress,” Isis said. With a bow she moved away.

Genesis got up and refreshed her coffee before moving to choose a mask.  Akilina focused in on the white masks with feathers decorating the edges.  But, then she chose one with swirling teal flowers painted down the face and white ostrich and peacock-eye accent feathers.  The mask rose up higher on one side, running along the edge of her forehead. The feathers sprouted out from there, long, slim, and high.

Sundance took her time until she found one which brought a smile to her lips.  Shaped like two large butterfly wings, it fit over her eyes and covered the whole top of her face.  The wings were navy and covered in black pearls which shimmered in iridescent colors kissed by the light.  Feathers sprang from the center over her nose where the wings connected.  She fitted it on and danced over to the dresses.

Genesis stepped up and ran her eyes over the masks.  Tonight she must be the Queen she once was.  Mara must see that taking Innocent lives to fulfill her desires was unacceptable.  Witches were supposed to serve the King and serve those under their powers.  Not use that power for their own twisted ends.  There!  It sat up higher and further back.  The metal plate swirled with gold and green iridescent tones. It covered the whole face with a perfect nose and lips.  The empty eye holes stared out at nothing.  Genesis pulled it off its stand and carried it over to a mirror to see her own eyes fill the holes.  A set of metal feathers fanned out from the left side of the swirl engraved face.  The feathers ran the length of the mask from the top to the side of the chin.  Genesis looked out at her covered visage and smiled behind the mask.  This was the one.

“May I make a suggestion?” Isis said.

“Of course.” Genesis turned from the mirror to the dresses.

Akilina chose a white dress of satin which fitted close to her skin until her knees where it flared out in a full skirt and short train. She added rope after rope of black pearls around her neck and at her wrist.  A large mystic topaz fit over her finger.  Four inch heeled sandals slid onto her feet caging them in black straps.  Another vampire entered the room and slipped the dress off the ex-angel.  She gave Akilina a robe and sat her in a chair to fix her hair and make-up.

A summer yellow dress, strapless and fitted with a soft flowing hem and long train graced Sundance’s slim figure. No beading or pattern marred the beauty captured in the silk.  Sundance found a necklace of yellow diamonds and sapphires which sprayed large stones all over her upper chest.  A set of yellowed pearls wrapped her wrist, and a rare yellow diamond the size of quarter sat on her finger.  Finished with her selection, she slipped out of the dress, into a robe, and sat down to finish her primping.

Genesis watched them both awed at the beauty of their selections.  Isis returned from deep in the closet and held up a Valentino Couture dress of liquid gold.  Not a garish gold, but a soft gold like captured candlelight.  The dress shimmered to a green like the mask, turned silver, and went back to gold.  A subtle swirling pattern filled the weave of the material giving the dress some weight.  Genesis slipped into it and stared at herself in the mirror.  Isis ran for a pair of cage Louboutin heels in gold metallic suede.  Genesis stepped into them and sighed.  It had been too long since she had attended a ball.  The dress ran over every curve and puddle at her feet.  A high slit ran up her leg to her thigh, but did not always open.  Isis offered her only a ring of smoky topaz which covered her whole middle finger on her right hand.  Her un-tattooed skin glimmered in the light and her white hair shown.

“It’s perfect,” Genesis whispered.

“I am glad you are pleased, Mistress,” Isis said.

Isis removed Genesis’ jewelry, the dress and masks.  Pedicures, manicures, make up, and complicated up-dos filled the remaining few hours they had.

“I was right. I can’t carry a gun in this dress,” Genesis said, looking in the mirror at the finished product.  She felt like a woman again.  Every nail even, trimmed and polished.  Her skin shown.  Her make-up highlighted her high cheekbones, and her hair was a work of art.  Golden beads and ribbon raced in and out of the white strands.   Genesis looked like a queen.

“There will be guns stashed all over the room.  You may wish to find yourself next to them at the right moment,” Isis said as she led them out of the room ready for the ball.

Genesis nodded and the three women strutted from the room as beautiful as the night.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Genesis

Genesis fought her way through a strangling dream.  Fortunatus bent over her with exposed fangs.  Just as he sank them into her neck he changed into Sebastian who laughed at her helplessness.  Then she appeared in a room, a white walled, bare room with only a stool in its center.  Genesis perched on the edge of the stool.  Voices echoed around the room, around her.  She recognized them – Sebastian and Janie.  They mocked her, laughed at her, laughed at her loss of power.  Genesis spun around. She looked over her shoulder trying to locate the voices.  One of the walls turned opaque.  Sebastian stood in a field.  Huge white wings sprouted from his back.  He held Janie in his arms.  Just as the dream faded he turned a deriding smiled at her.

“Genesis!”

She jerked out of the dream with a gasp.  Every inch of her body ached; each rise and fall of her chest shot a stabbing pain through her.  She sobbed, unable to stop.  The car grew small and cramped.  She stood on the edge of crazy and thought about jumping.

“Pull over, please pull over,” she croaked.

Sebastian drove onto the shoulder and slowed.  Genesis threw open the door and stumbled out before the car came to a stop.  A wide field, dry and sleeping in the cold autumn air, opened up beside the road.  She staggered out into the grass and collapsed.  Dropping her head into her hands she wept.  She wept, rocked, moaned.  She hated the nightmares.  She hated waking to a world only a little less terrifying than her dreams.  She hated being hunted.  She hated feeling helpless. She hated crying.

Sebastian dropped down into the grass beside her and put his arms around her.  He pulled her into himself and held her close.  He held her until Genesis could cry no more.  He held her until she unwrapped herself and put her arms around him.  He held her in the dry grass and the weak afternoon sun.

When she calmed down he pushed her back enough to look at her.

“What happened?” He stroked her hair back from her eyes.  He brushed away her tears careful around the cut on her face.

Genesis shook her head the horror fading in Sebastian’s arms.

“Tell me,” he said.

“It, it was a nightmare.  I dreamt you and Janie got back together and you were laughing at me.  When I woke up I just had to get out of that car and I just, I just felt so heartbroken.”  She expected him to tease her because she sounded ridiculous to herself.  She sounded weak.

“Genesis.” Sebastian cupped her face in his hands. “I’m not gonna leave you for Janie.  Until you came along, I thought the magic of love everyone talked about was what I was feeling.  You are the first person I have ever loved who I loved enough to give up what I wanted for your sake.  I want you by my side.  I want you to walk by me through the rest of this life, regardless of how long or short it is.  I love you.”

Genesis threw her arms around him and Sebastian held her close.  The nightmarish chill faded from around her heart and a new force filled her, building her strength.

Sebastian pulled her to her feet, and they returned to the car where Sundance offered her a handful of tissues and a candy bar.  Genesis thanked her as Sebastian watched for an opening in traffic.  Akilina watched without a word.  Ronan listened.  He leaned in and smiled.

“Your soul heals quickly these days.  A good thing, I think.”

Seeing his chance, Sebastian pulled back out onto the road.  Half a day’s drive and they would be at the Enduring Door.

Dusk.  A short lived time, a twilight in life, a space between.  A space between day and night, where for a fleeting moment, night and day kiss in the gray.  Many magical fairies, fey, and wiznits are drawn to this time. They dance together in hidden places far from the eyes of humans.  Sebastian drove into the dusk with the sun setting on his right.  Genesis slept most of the afternoon.  His hand in hers kept the nightmares at bay.  Behind them Akilina also slept, regaining her strength after giving her blood to Fortunatus who slept in the truck.  Ronan and Sundance talked and dozed wrapped in one another’s arms.  They stocked up on love knowing horrors were coming.

“We’re getting close, Sebastian,” Sundance said, sitting up straighter in her seat.  Akilina stirred beside her and woke up, rubbing her eyes.

“What do I need to do?”

Sundance turned to Ronan who tilted his head, listening.  “Keep driving until I tell you to pull over.  It is in a field, hidden far away.  We won’t be able to drive the car to it, but I’ll get us as close as I can.”

“What do you hear, Ronan?” Genesis asked.

“I can feel the Door. I can hear it singing,” he said.

“You can lead the way?”

“I think several of us can, and the Door wants to be found.  It is calling us to it.”

“It’s because I have the key to LeVidal.” Genesis reached down her shirt and pulled out the chain with the key.

For another hour they drove south.  Dusk passed into night and stars filled the sky.

“Pull over here,” Ronan finally said.

Sebastian followed his directions.  He parked half-way in a ditch and shut off the car.  The moon started to rise, fat and white on the horizon.  The stars glowed in the heavens.  Sundance led Ronan out and Sebastian opened the trunk.  Fortunatus stepped out.

“Genesis, please forgive me,” he said, facing her first.

“You are forgiven with a free heart,” she said with a bow.

Fortunatus returned the bow and then turned to Ronan.

“It is good to see you, SoulDefender,” he said accepting Ronan’s outstretched hand.

“It is good to have you back, friend,” Ronan said.  He could not see the strange look crossing Fortunatus face, but Genesis saw it and smiled.

“I never cease to be surprised at how readily humans can and will be friends with vampires, betrayers of their own kind,” Fortunatus said with a shake of his head at the blind Ronan.

“We have done the worst betraying, we humans, without ever being turned into monsters, the least we can do is accept the others around us.  And besides, I’m no longer human and so you aren’t as scary.”

Fortunatus glared for a moment. “Now you sound like Jack.”

“We should be going,” Sebastian said.  The mention of Jack sobered the mood.

Ronan stepped away with Sundance joining Genesis and Sebastian.  Fortunatus stood and stared at Akilina.  He stared at her for several long sweet seconds.  Then he shifted to her and took her in his arms.  He stroked her white face with a cold pale hand.

“How long I have wished to touch you and been unable to for more than a moment?”

He kissed her.

Sebastian cleared his throat and focused in on Genesis who tried not to watch the two reunited lovers.  “So, where is this gate? I’m sure he can catch up with us.”

“Good point.” Ronan stepped out in front.  With Sundance’s help they led the way off the road, down into the ditch on the side, and up a small embankment to a barbed wire fence.  Sebastian stood on the lower strand and pulled up on the top one to make a whole for them to safely climb through.  Sundance guided Ronan between the barbs after she climbed through.  Genesis followed behind him, and then held it open for Sebastian.  A wide field raced away before them.  Ronan took them west.  He held his head turned towards the music of the Door with Sundance guiding his feet.  A chill wind blew around them.  Sebastian gave Genesis his jacket as they walked along.  Hers lay shredded in the trashcan of a gas station after the last demon fight.  Grass and small twigs broke under their feet, and overhead a silent owl flew by.  Before long, Fortunatus joined them, and they got him up to speed on the plans and events thus far.

“I have been unable to contact Jack mentally since he freed me,” Fortunatus said.  “I believe he is keeping me at bay so Mara will not suspect our plan.”

“Or, he doesn’t want you to know what’s going on,” Genesis offered.

“I have tried to avoid such thoughts, Mistress.  I wish to hope Jack will do the right thing and help us capture Mara.”

Genesis glanced at him, surprised to be addressed as Mistress.  She hoped, for Fortunatus’ sake, that he was right, and Jack tried only to keep Mara in the dark.  It would be bad for them all if he was not.  They turned to their own thoughts.  Six people each with their hands entwined crossed the dry, sleeping field.  Each had been given love in the middle of great pain.  Each found the love made the pain easier to bear.  Genesis enjoyed the walk, the constant movement warmed her body, worked out the kinks out from the battles and long car drives.  She liked the feel of Sebastian’s strong hand over hers.  The chill air teased their clothing.  The dead grass and leaves broke underfoot.  The night only whispered around them, quite and filled with stars.  Genesis wished she could stay here forever.  That all the rest of life would just fade away and only this night, this field, and this man at her side would stay.  Then she might have a real shot at healing.

The wind sighed through some thick hummocks of grass. Genesis started. That noise was not the wind.  She released Sebastian’s hand and pulled her guns.  The humming did not get closer but followed them from behind.

“Ronan! How far?”

“Look,” said the blind witch, pointing ahead.

A small hill rose up before them and beyond that a larger hill could be seen.  The Enduring Door crowned the top of the farther hill.  It glowed.  Light poured out from around the Door.  A weathered wooden frame covered with ivy and ornate hinges of cast iron formed into swirls held up the door.  A brilliant beam of light shone from its key hole.

The humming grew.  Sebastian spun around palming his own guns.

“Run!”

No one hesitated or waited to confirm for themselves if the demons were coming.  Sundance and Ronan started up the hill while Sebastian and Genesis followed behind.  As they struggled up the incline the door disappeared from sight.    Fortunatus brought up the rear helping Akilina along.  Cresting the hill, Genesis turned and looked back.  The humming reached a crescendo, but nothing moved in the flat open field.

“Shit,” Sebastian said.

Sundance screamed.

Genesis turned around.  Her knees went weak.  Filling the valley between the two hills, between them and the Door were the demons.  They had given up the chase and gone straight for the Door, setting their trap.  They swarmed up the hill, headed straight for them.  Genesis aimed and fired.  Like shooting fish in a barrel, she just pointed her gun down and fired, again and again.  Sebastian followed suit.  The demons surged and rolled up like a giant black wave of leather and claws.  In moments they were surrounded.  Ronan held up his hands and cast a shield spell around them.  Sundance turned her dance into something deadly with blades in her shoes and blades in her hands.  A pounding music filled the air and beat a wild battle lust into their blood.  Back to back, Fortunatus and Akilina faced the demons fighting with bare hands.

The demons flowed out of the valley and Genesis reloaded one gun while firing the last bullet from her other one.

“I’m out of ammo!”

Genesis passed Sebastian a clip and realized she had one left.  Then what?

“Everyone, move towards the Door.”  Sebastian ordered.

They grouped together, back to back, facing the demons coming from all sides and above.  Genesis did not even feel the claws scratching her skin any more.  All she knew was shoot, shoot, shoot.  She reloaded with her last clip.  Sebastian used his empty guns like clubs.

“We’re never gonna make it,” Sundance said, even as she sliced open a demon from his throat down.

They moved together, but the demons hemmed them in.  They gained no more than a few steps.  Genesis looked down the side of the hill and up the side of the other.  She wondered when it had become miles away.  Something struck out at her ankles. Genesis stumbled as her left leg give out.  Sebastian caught her as she fell.  A clawed hand had severed her hamstring.  Genesis grabbed the demon and smashed it into the ground only to have another one slice at her wrist opening it.  Blood poured out on the ground.

Around her, the others began to stumble.  Sebastian could not hold her up and fight with both hands.  Akilina battled between Fortunatus and Sundance.  Unused to pain in a human body, she shied back from the demons leaving Sundance’s side unprotected.  Ronan pushed back, using the shield like a weapon to plow through the demons in front of him.  One of the demons dropped on him from above and knocked him over.  Ronan could not see where anyone battled.  He released the shield spell.  The demon tore at his chest and neck.

The Enduring Door moved further and further away until Genesis could no longer see it through the wings, fangs and claws of the imps.  Around her, her friends fell and despair overwhelmed her.  A fatalistic madness came over her as she threw caution to the wind and battled with her own nails and fists.  They had gotten within sight of the Door only to be overcome before they could reach it.  Eat shit Fate.

Standing on one leg, Sebastian and Fortunatus the only two standing with her, Genesis fought on, covered in her own blood and the ash and blood of her enemies.  Ruby red liquid poured from her body and her madness dissipated.

The Door opened.  Everything in the field stopped.  Everyone turned to look and see which side received reinforcements.

Genesis let loose a wild cry.  Vertune shifted through the Door, followed by Rail Quinn, Quentin and the Orphans.  Guns, swords and knives flashed from holsters and hilts.  Demons quailed and fell.  The vampires cut a swath through them like a hot knife through butter – gray leathery butter with claws and teeth.  Fortunatus grabbed up Ronan and pushed against the wall of demons with Akilina and Sundance following in his wake.  Sebastian grabbed Genesis and dragged her after them.  They raced down through the panicked demons.

At the valley floor, just before the ground rose to new heights, Janie appeared.  She threw back her head and laughed.  Sebastian and Genesis pushed their way to the front.  The demons formed a wall around them.  Behind Janie the vampires came to a stop.

“Now will you love me?  For the sake of the lives of your friends will you love me?  Just say the word and I will let all of them go.”

“I can’t and won’t love you,” Sebastian said.

“Then you damn them all to death, even the vampires.”

“You can’t put their lives on me. You chose this path, Janie.”

“You left me!  Remember!  You left me for your little slut.”  She pointed her finger at Genesis.

“Janie, I didn’t break up with you just to be with Genesis.”

Vertune glanced at Genesis and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.  In his hand, Genesis saw a magazine clip for Sebastian’s gun.  She nodded her head the tiniest amount.

Janie held up her hand and the demons closed in around them.  The vampires turned and faced the imps.  Genesis felt her body slowly shutting down as more and more of her blood poured out.  As the battle lust faded a deep winter chill spread through her starting at her fingers and toes.  She shook her head, she had to stay awake to catch Vertune’s clip.

“You did.  She will die; they will all die.  If you won’t come back then you will die, too.”

“Then kill me,” Sebastian said.

Vertune threw the clip across the small valley.  Sebastian dropped Genesis to the ground, caught the clip, slapped it home, drew back the slide, and fired from the hip at Janie.  Blood blossomed on her chest as one, two, three bullets hit home.  The imps swirled in, racing for their part-time mistress.  She fell to the ground.  Dead.  They disappeared in a dusty burst of air.

Sebastian stood for a moment, swayed, and then dropped down in the grass beside Genesis.  He pulled her up in his arms and buried his face in her hair.  The vampires gathered around them facing out into the now silent night.  Genesis wrapped her arms around Sebastian’s neck and held him close.  She held him without saying a word.  What could she say?  He had broken up with a woman, gotten her dragged into a world far beyond her comprehension, and then had to kill her to save his life and that of his friends.  A sorry did not seem to cut it.

The stars in the sky faded and darkness pressed in around Genesis.  She could not hold her arms up.  She slumped against Sebastian.

“Genesis?”

She heard his voice, but he seemed so far, far away.

“We need to get her through the Door.  At this moment would be preferred over later,” Vertune said.

Sebastian picked her up and started up the hill.  Quentin followed at his side helping him.  Soul picked up Sundance, and Othneil and Torquil braced Ronan between them.  Fortunatus held Akilina in his arms and shifted up to the Door.  The others covered them, not ready to believe the night terrors were gone.

“Genesis, do you have the key?” Sebastian asked her.

Genesis looked down at her chest, and reached for the chain around her neck.  Her fingers were far away and so heavy.  It took her a life time to pull out the key.  Quentin took it gently, lifting it from around her neck, and whispered the name LeVidal.  He put the key in the lock and opened the Door to the place of eternal night.  The others passed through one at a time.

The smell of LeVidal greeted Genesis like an old friend.  She sighed as the darkness took her completely.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

Inheritance, No 35: Akilina

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

When he finally broke from the kiss, when he held her for a few more moments, Sebastian gathered himself.

“Let’s get something to eat and get out of here before we have to blow up something else.”

Genesis nodded and took his hand.  They piled back in the car and drove over to the Cracker Barrel.  Genesis filled them in on what they thought they would have to do to get rid of the imps.  Ronan shook his head and Sundance bit her lip and sighed.

Breakfast started out somber but the pancakes, bacon, eggs, orange juice and coffee lifted everyone’s spirits.  They discussed the next step, LeVidal, and the location of the Enduring Door.  An itching to leave spread through Genesis as the sun waited on the horizon, ready to burst forth in burning glory.  She stood up and the other’s followed suit.  They paid the bill and stepped outside.

“Shit,” Sebastian said.

Genesis pulled open her long coat and pulled her two pistols.  The parking lot swarmed with imps.  The wind swirled around them. Trash and leaves got caught up in the eddies of their beating wings.  The mass did not attack.  Instead it split apart and Janie stepped out.  She wore black trousers, a black, low-cut top and a  gray, leather duster.  Her heels clacked on the pavement as she walked up.  Her hair and make-up were fresh and perfectly done.  Bloodstained and dressed in wrinkled clothing, Genesis realized the contrast Janie attempted to establish between them.

“My Bastian, do you wish you had kept me?  I now have more power than she,” Janie said pointing at Genesis.

“I don’t chose who I love based on their power,” Sebastian said through gritted teeth.  “Janie, you need to leave, you need to let the demons go and head home.  You are messing with forces far beyond your understanding.”

“There you’re wrong.  Demons I understand.”

She stepped back and the imps surrounded her.  They swirled in a huge ball, spinning faster and faster.

“Move!” Sebastian yelled.

They raced for the car, Sundance leading Ronan.  Ahead of them the sky started to fade from black to navy.

The ball of imps surged after them.  Genesis stopped, turned and stood her ground before the demons.  She fired into the cloud hoping beyond hope that she might hit Janie with a stray bullet.  She at least had to buy Sebastian time to hot wire the car.  Imp after imp fell and disintegrated under Genesis’ hail of bullets.  But more came.  More and more from the ball of wings and clawed limbs surrounded Genesis.  The talons slashed at her as she dropped her empty pistols and started fighting hand and foot.  The lacerating rips of the imps shredded her long coat, and warm blood pour down her face as they opened up her cheek.  Behind her, the car sputtered to life.  Ronan yelled for her as Sebastian leapt out and pulled his guns.  He ran towards her even as he shot demon after demon from around her.  Reaching her side, Sebastian covered Genesis while she grabbed up her guns and reloaded.

More came.  Janie remained hidden by the cloud.  Genesis ran out of bullets again even as Sebastian fired his last two.  Again, Genesis took the demons on bare handed.  Sebastian used his height and strength to bash heads in and fling demons away.  Right and left, he grabbed them out of the air by any available limb and crunched into the pavement of the gas station parking lot.  But, they fought a losing battle.  For every demon they killed two more filled in the hole left behind.

“We gotta get to the car!” Sebastian yelled.

Something shifted past them, something fast and angry.  A flash enveloped everything.  Genesis stumbled back into Sebastian as an intense white light permeated every dark cell of the gas station.  A pain-saturated scream filled the escaping night.  The imps pulled back, their swarming became disjointed and broken.  The light, if possible, intensified, and the demons retreated into the darkness.  As the last gray imp turned tail and fled, the light went out.

Genesis blinked, blinded by the after image of dancing lights.  When her vision returned, she saw a woman in a long white dress and large white wings.  She had her back to Genesis who plucked a glowing white feather out of the air.  They seemed to be everywhere.  Floating. Floating.  In front of the winged woman lay a pale man, curled up on the pavement.  Sebastian fell to his knees his face flooded with fear.  The woman turned to Sebastian and Genesis.

“Do not fear, or worship,” she said.  Her voice struck Genesis.  Gentle as the song of the morning dove, yet it thrilled her like the call of a hunting hawk.  The pity in her eyes crushed Genesis’ heart. Tears fell down her face.

“Please stand.” The woman stepped over and took Sebastian by the hand and lifted him from the ground.   She put his hand in Genesis’ bleeding fingers.

“That is where you belong.  Not on the ground before me.”

A talon tipped hand grasped Genesis by the neck yanking her from Sebastian.  Genesis hung face to face with Fortunatus, a crazed, starving creature.  The pale man no longer curled on the pavement.  He tightened his grip on Genesis’ neck.

“Let her go,” Sebastian said.

The hunger had almost taken Fortunatus.  He trembled as he held Genesis.  His teeth elongated and the claws of his hands cut into her neck drawing blood.  Fortunatus leaned in and sniffed the blood running down Genesis face from the cuts inflicted by the demons.  He ran his tongue from her chin up across her cheekbone to her hairline, licking up the blood.  A sick fluttering filled her stomach as his breath stole hers.  Sebastian stepped up to the vampire and pressed his gun to Fortunatus’ temple.  The vampire’s hand snaked out, batted away the gun and grabbed Sebastian.  He threw him, one-handed, across the parking lot.  Sebastian crashed into a pole and lay limply on the ground.

Genesis jerked trying to break the grasp of the starving vampire even though she knew she could not.  She tried to see Sebastian, tried to see if he got up, if he even moved.

“Fortunatus, release Genesis.  You do not want to feed on her,” the woman in white said.  Her wings opened and a beautiful fragrance filled the dawn air.

“I have to feed on her,” Fortunatus gasped.

“No you don’t.”

Fortunatus stared down at Genesis and she met his gaze with her own steady will.  She willed him to let her go, she willed him to be strong and not to break.  He was a saved vampire.  If he fed on her again he might return to his old ways, he might damn himself for eternity again.

The woman walked up.  The train of her dress trailed behind her through the fallen feathers.  She touched Fortunatus hand.

“I begged and pleaded with the King to do this one other thing for me.  I have been given a sore trial and I could no longer stand it.  But, he is good and he once again granted my request.”

“What did you request, a new charm to let me live in the light of day?” Fortunatus mocked.

Out of the corner of her eye, Genesis saw Sebastian climb to his feet.  He moved cautiously towards them.

“I asked to be allowed to be a human woman, a woman, Fortunatus, for you.  My blood is yours.”

Fortunatus removed his blood lust gaze from Genesis.

“Akilina? You cannot mean what you say?”  For the first time Fortunatus sounded like his old self.

Genesis reeled.  The gym, the gym and the angel and witch healing Ronan, Sundance, Monk and Fortunatus – this was that angel.  It seemed a hundred life times ago that she had sensed Fortunatus’ pain and seen him being healed.  How had one of her people procured the love of an angel?  And how had she not known?

Akilina nodded. “If you drink of me you will be strong again and the lust for Genesis, Jack and the Innocent will fade.”

Fortunatus released Genesis.  She stumbled back and Sebastian caught her.  Fortunatus wrapped his arms around Akilina and sank his teeth deep into her neck.  The embrace of the vampire was more than lust.  The need to feed was more than Fortunatus’ growing insanity.

Sebastian took Genesis hand.  They hurried back to the car where Sundance told Ronan what had happened.

“I saw her light.  I saw it through the bandage and closed eyes.  What happens when a vampire drinks the blood of an angel, Genesis?”

Genesis glanced back at the vampire feeding on the angel.  Akilina’s wings faded and her white dress showed signs of being worn in a gas station parking lot along the hem.

“Do angels have blood?”

“I don’t think a vampire can feed on an angel.  They generally can’t get near them but…she said the King did something special for her.”

“I think we should get out of here,” Sebastian said.  “The demons will be back.”

Sundance and Ronan started to get in the car.  Genesis hesitated.  This was one of her people, one of her people in pain.  She wanted to know if he got the peace he needed or not.

“The sun’s rising…”

Genesis glanced over her shoulder at the dawn.

“Pop the trunk, Sebastian.”

“What?”

“Fortunatus will need a place to hide from the sun, soon.”
“He just tried to eat you.”

“He was crazed from blood lust.  He will stay in control now that he has fed on Akilina.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Sebastian climbed in the car and the trunk popped open.

“I hope you’re right…”

Genesis glanced at him a sudden flush of anger rushed through her.  How dare he doubt her?  This was one of her vampires.  She started to say something when he smiled.  He smiled and the anger faded.

“You’re a jerk,” she said and climbed in the car.

He sat down in the driver’s seat and Ronan and Sundance climbed in the back.

“Just like old times,” Sebastian said.

“What is going on?” Ronan asked.

“When Sebastian and I first met we did not get along very well,” Genesis explained.

“It was very childish, immature, and embarrassing,” Sebastian said.

“Just be glad we matured quickly over a few short hours,” Genesis said.

“But you love each other now?” Sundance said.

“Crazy, huh?” Genesis looked out at the dawn.

The morning light crept across the parking lot reaching burning fingers out for the damned undead.  Just as the light licked at Fortunatus boots he shifted into the trunk pulling it closed over him.  Akilina stood in the light.  She lifted her face to its warming beams.  A trickle of blood ran down her long slim neck and across her chest from two small bites.  The beauty of the angel in the dawn touched Genesis.  Such a pure being, a messenger of the King, and now she bled in the sunlight for the love of a vampire.

As the sun rose up past her, Akilina walked over to the car.  She climbed in the back seat next to Sundance.

“We may continue to the Enduring Door now.”

Sebastian put the car in gear and drove away.

“You’re coming with us? What happened to you?”  Genesis turned around in her seat to examine the angel.

Her small face held a delicate strength like a spider’s web.  Fragile, but stronger than steel.  Her eyes glowed like stars, but even as Genesis watched they faded to dull gray edged in black.  Her thick golden hair softened to a simple blonde and shortened to shoulder length.  Her glowing skin lost its luster.

“You’re human?” Genesis reached out and touched Akilina’s arm.

“Yes.”

“What?” Ronan said, turning his bandaged head towards her.  “How can that be?”

“Why would you want to be human?” Sundance asked.

“Four years ago, as you count them, I met Fortunatus and almost killed him.  I found one of the undead creatures walking in the sun and sought to kill the abomination.  A child who loved him tried to stop me.  Then the son of the man he had killed also willing stepped between me and my prey.  I wanted to know what kind of vampire he was to procure so much loyalty.  I wanted to know why the Dhampir Crow had not killed Fortunatus.”

“You fell in love with him,” Sundance whispered.

“I did not understand what humans mean when they say ‘fall in love’ until I found myself before the King begging for a charm to protect him from the light and again last night, to beg for his life.  Love.  I should not be able to feel that for such a creature.”

“And the King punished you by making you human?” Sebastian said.

She smiled and Genesis watched the smile infect everyone else in the car.  A light and joy, like a golden butterfly, surrounded them.

“It is not punishment, but a short-lived gift.  The King not only gave me a chance to love Fortunatus on his level, he granted my blood the ability to cleanse him of his lust and heal his insanity.”

“You chose this?” Genesis asked.

“I requested to be human.  I wanted to be with him, but as a holy angel it is impossible for us to be together.   I am not the only one ever granted this request.  Even the King himself walked the earth as a simple man once.”

Genesis thrilled at her words.

“Can you fight?”

Akilina looked at Genesis the smile still playing around her lips.

“Yes.  Fortunatus has one goal in mind.  He wishes to free the child who once stood between my wrath and himself.  He is going after Jack.  As are you, I believe?”

“Jack, Zephyr, Mara, Ash and Monk.  We are joining up with Nickolaus in LeVidal.”
“At your present rate of velocity you should reach the Enduring Door by dusk.”

“Ash’s time,” Ronan said.

“Yes, your daughter has power over that time of day.”

The blood drained from Akilina’s face and she slumped back in the seat.

“What has happened?” she said.

Genesis heard Fortunatus move in the trunk. Having fed on Akilina he could now sense her whereabouts and her well-being.

“You lost blood. Here,” Genesis reached into the bag of snacks Sundance had picked up at the gas station they had blown up.  Genesis handed Sundance a bottle of water and a package of cookies.  Sundance helped the weak Akilina drink and eat something. The color return to her face.

Genesis turned around in her seat and looked over at Sebastian.  Everyone settled in for the last stretch of the drive.  Genesis checked her guns and made sure they sat lightly in their holsters.  The demons would return and Akilina had no more holy light to chase them away.  They would be lucky not to have to battle for their lives at the Enduring Door.  Sebastian took her hand and brought it to his lips.  Genesis smiled up at him.  As the sun rose in the sky she drifted off to sleep.

The Necromancer

                Jack leaned on the iron, filigree railing of the large, wrap-around balcony.  He looked out over the strange city of LeVidal.  The sky line looked like something out of a twisted dream.  Parts of it looked modern with squared off skyscrapers and angled buildings.  Others looked Victorian with gabled roofs and gingerbread accents.  Still further along the skyline buildings rose above the city with the distinctly Russian turnip shape which suggested fairy tales and sad maidens.  Many cultures came together in LeVidal and many time periods.  With most of its inhabitants alive for a very long time, or forever, the wealth and opulence could not be matched on the Material Plane.  The styles of clothing followed fashion designs over hundreds of years.  Jack watched history instead of reading about it.  From the Greeks and Romans, Jack was sure he had seen a Spartan walking down the street, to Vikings and Celts, and then on to Englishman, Indians, people from the East, Africans, and Americans.  Each culture and each time period had a representative in LeVidal.  Parts of LeVidal bubbled with the fear of Whitechapel in Jack the Ripper’s day to parks filled with noisy peacocks and chained leopards.  Vampires embraced drama.  But, when they lived in such close confines, they took on a whole new level of flamboyance.  Few clothing designers knew where most of their couture items were worn and even fewer talked about it.

More than the strange mixing of so much history, Jack breathed deep of his power.  When he stepped through the door into LeVidal his powers surged.  His TrueSelf grew taller, and he reveled in his magical high.  He belonged here.  His people lived here.  Right and left, vampires bowed to him as he walked the streets to Mara’s house.  Gifts flooded her home, each one worth more than the last.  Guest sought audiences with him right away.  Each had a gift and a request.  He could read their thoughts though they guard them closely.  Many who bowed and sent gifts were angry.  If Mara could sense for one moment the anger, barely held in check, which the vampires felt for her, she might not stalk so arrogantly up the street to her four story mansion.  But keep in check they did, from emotions to thoughts and words.

Jack took a tip out of someone’s head about how Genesis had kept herself from their minds unless they invited her in or they were in danger.  A vampire’s mind proved hard to navigate.  Between the history, the lust and the undeadness, they were in a way, very shallow and very selfish.  Only when he flung his mind out towards the Requiem did Jack find any vampires with a thought in their head other than themselves, that and the few who did truly love someone else.  It made Jack sad.  His grandfather had walked these streets long before he had been born.  Walked them, been saved in them, then fell in love in the Material Plane and died there, never to walk the dark streets again.  Jack avoided searching out Crow with a passion.  He would not, could not, contact either of his parents, but he felt desperate, and so very, very alone.  Even Fortunatus he now avoided, afraid Mara would see what he had done on his face.  Only a few more days and everything would be over.

Suddenly high school did not seem so bad.  Just a few days ago he complained about being at school.  That life seemed infinitely simple compared to the fine line between good and evil he now walked.  Even the test to become a Vampire Hunter seemed from a different life.  A clean, good life.

The unending night threw Jack for a loop.  His internal clock told him the sun should be rising, but it never did.  So he stayed up all night. and he continued to stay up.  Not a single cell in his body wanted rest.  So much magic seemed to feed him energy.  He might never sleep again.  And there was no need to in the city of LeVidal.

Mara stepped up behind him as he looked out on his city.  He thought of it that way.  This was the Life, the city of the vampires, and he was their King.  She ran her hands up over his shoulders.  Her breath caressed the small of his back.  He turned from the sight of so much strength. and looked down at the small woman.  He wrapped her in his arms kissing her.  His magic surge into her, and he took her powers into himself.  He felt the passion flow through him.  Her powers had grown too here in the city of the night.

“Come, my lord, we will go and order your clothing for the ball.  You will enjoy the market.” Mara ran her tongue across her white teeth. “There are many beautiful things for sale and many wicked things there.  Then we will go to the Draught and let your people worship you.”

Jack took her hand and led her back into their room.  He had other things in mind than the Market and the Draught.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

“We’ll need a new car.  The police will be looking for us,” Ronan said from the back seat.

“Everyone okay?” Sebastian asked.

Ronan and Sundance both muttered an okay.  Genesis reloaded both her guns without answering.  Each breath tore into her side.  Blood glued her shirt and jacket to her skin.  She swallowed the pain, and told herself to suck it up.  The curses.  Now, that had been painful.  A shot of pain swirled and stirred with the air her body needed to live. She realized she probably cracked a few ribs crashing into the dash.

“Genesis?”

“I’ll live, just drive.” Genesis gave him a smile. “Just drive.”

They drove for an hour, on edge, and pushing their luck.  Sebastian picked a busy IHOP and stole a car parked on the back of the lot.  He hunted for the nicest car with some speed to it which he put to good use right away.  The car softly jerked as he shifted gears pulling back on the freeway.  Nausea rolled over Genesis.  Sleep shut her eyes until a jostle forced her to find a more comfortable way to sit.  She groaned as she rolled over onto her side in the front seat.

“Take your jacket off,” Sundance ordered her.

“What? Why?”

“You’re hurt and you know it.”

Genesis frowned.

Sebastian glanced down at her and then put his eyes back on the road.

She ignored him, and Sundance, only wanting to sleep.  Sleep.

“Genesis?” Sebastian reached up to her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.  Genesis came up off the seat with a yelp.  Unable to pretend any longer, Genesis slipped out of her jacket.

“Oh, damnit,” Sebastian whispered examining her back.

“Genesis?” Sundance gasped.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were hurt this bad?”

“Didn’t seem important at the time,” Genesis groaned.

“Seeing as you’re the only one who can really shoot right now, it is pretty damn important you’re not hurt,” Ronan said.  Genesis heard bitterness in his voice.  As an ex-cop, and the SoulDefender, his blindness had to grate on him.  Ronan could not fight, only cast shield spells.

“Sorry,” she said, biting back the retort she had been about to voice. “Sorry.”

“I’m out of my best healing powders, but I’ll see what I can do,” Sundance said.

“Here,” Ronan said, pulling out the bag stuffed in his coat pocket. “What do you need?”

Sundance made Genesis put her seat back as far as it would go and take off her blouse.  A passing semi honked at them and Sebastian gave him the finger out the window.  Genesis could see the tightness of his jaw, and the muscle working as he controlled his anger.  Sundance sprinkled something yellow and orange over her back and Genesis hissed as it burned into her skin.  Sebastian took Genesis’ hand.

“Just like old times, huh?” Genesis gasped.

“Yeah, and you’re just as stubborn now as then,” he growled.

Genesis smiled and then clamped her mouth shut as Sundance guided Ronan into casting a healing spell.  The lack of space in the back seat of the car made it difficult for the Dancer to cast a spell, but it did not inhibit the pain of the healing as it passed through Genesis.  She squeezed Sebastian’s hand and pounded her face in the seat of the car until the pain subsided.  Sleep came over her as soon as she got her stiff and bloody shirt back on.  Sebastian tucked her jacket around her and drove south.

Night came and Genesis woke with a shiver.  Since Mara twisted her powers to injure others, the night took on an evil edge.  There must have been other evil witches in control of darkness to explain the bad reputation night-time had.  She could understand the human fear of night, now.  Her night-vision left with her magic and now she never knew what the blackness held.  Vampires walked the earth and demons could be in every deep shadow.  Night held evil in its hands, and let it walk the earth unchecked by light.  She feared what she knew the darkness held, and she no longer controlled.

“How are we doing?”

Sebastian took her hand and kissed it.  “We’ve made good time, but I’m gonna need some sleep.”

“Do you want me to drive for a while?”

“Sure, I’ll pull off at the next gas station.  We can fill up and swap.”

They pulled off the road a few exits down.  Genesis unbuckled her gun belts, buttoned her coat and untucked her pants from her boots.  Looking as normal as her clothing would let her, she hurried into the store for a quick bathroom break and bought a large, hot coffee.  Sundance led Ronan in and Genesis went back out to the car.

“This quiet is making me nervous,” Genesis said looking up at the stars over head.  The cold air amplified their light.  They were bright and glittering in the sky, far far from city lights.  Sebastian came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close.

“We’ll be fine.  We’ll keep moving and make things hard on Janie.”

Genesis turned around in his arms and kissed him until Ronan cleared his throat behind them.  Maybe him being blind and the darkness was not all bad.

“Let’s get going,” Sebastian said.  He tossed Genesis the keys and they all piled back in the car.

Genesis took a sip of coffee, pulled out of the gas station, and drove back up on the highway.

“I would give anything right now to know what was going on with everyone,” Ronan said from the back seat.  Genesis could tell by the wistful sound in his voice he thought about his daughter first and foremost.  Who could blame him?

“We will reach the Door by tomorrow evening.  I can feel it more strongly now,” Sundance said.

The Necromancer

Jack pulled on the long black jacket Mara gave him.  The mandarin collar stood up high around his face, framing it dramatically.  It hung from his shoulders to his knees.  Mara gathered servants, Ash and Monk, and all the remaining mercenaries.  Each wore black body armor with the image of a window into the night sky and a wolf on their left breast.  They were Mara’s entourage.  She would take all of them into LeVidal.  Some she took to manage the house, cook the food, and press the clothing.  Others she took to keep an eye on things.

Stepping into a large SUV, Jack glanced back at Mara’s house.  Mixed emotions filled him.  The best and worse things in his life seemed to have happened there.  Mara took his hand.

“Come, let’s be going.  I wish to show you LeVidal tonight, in its glory.”

Jack shut the door of the SUV without another glance back.  He could feel the city of night, the city of the vampires, The Life, calling him.  It sang in his blood, it raced through his veins, it wanted him to come, and he happily obliged.  He kissed Mara.  He pulled her close as their caravan left the gates of the castle of the witch of Darkness.  She giggled in his ear, and whispered to him of the glory of the city where witches of power walk the streets and vampires rule.  She remained ignorant of just how clearly Jack could communicate with his people.  LeVidal’s twisted streets and mismatched buildings stood out  as clear in his mind as if he walked them himself.

Deep in a subterranean pit, a crazed Fortunatus waited.  Jack swore to get him out, and Fortunatus still trusted him.  He still trusted Jack.  Still trusted him.  As the SUV’s pulled out and headed to the Enduring Gate, the pit opened.  The magic trapping the vampire faded.  Over his head, a small light floated.  Fortunatus leapt from the pit and the light settled on his shoulder.

“They just left, Fortunatus,” Zephyr said. “We’ll catch up if we hurry.”

“I am not going after Jack,” Fortunatus said.  He shifted out of the dank room to the floors above.  As promised by his god-son, Fortunatus found a goblet of blood waiting for him on a table in the kitchen.  The image of some poor child giving their blood at Jack’s command surfaced in Fortunatus’ mind.  He desired all the blood in the girl’s body.  He desired to drain her dry.  Jack should have left her here for him.  No!  No!  He did not eat the Innocent anymore.  Ah, but Genesis…her blood was sweet and warm.  And Jack?  Jack’s blood raged with power, anger, and the racing heat of a wolf’s heart.   Fortunatus licked the last drop from deep within the goblet.  He shifted out into the night.  With a quick scenting, he headed south.

“I am going after Genesis,” Fortunatus said.

Zephyr watched Fortunatus shift away as the starlight played over her spotted skin.  Her white moth wings glistened in the distant light finding its way into the world.  Those six did not need her, Crow and Olive did not need her, only one person, right now, needed her.  Time to work some wiznit magic. Time to help Jack.

Genesis

Genesis drove down the dark road, her headlights the only two spots of light in the night.  Once in a while, with a glanced off to her left, she saw the lights of some small town or a factory, but most of the world she traveled slept.  A small headache built in the back of her head.  She kept trying to turn the blackness of night into something she could see.  She forced herself to look only ahead at the light her headlights provided, and drank more coffee.

The car filled with soft regular breathing and Genesis glanced over at Sebastian.  He had taken his jacket off, and used it as a pillow for his head against the window. He had fallen asleep in just a few minutes.  Genesis admired the way he took charge when they all floundered around.  It explained why his father owned such a big company, and he was runner up to inherit it.  She smiled to herself as she remembered how much she had hated him when they first met.  Most of the hatred she had thrown at him. She made assumptions about him, and him about her.  If only she could go back and re-live that whole day and start out respecting him as much as she did now.  In the darkness she admitted to herself she had felt attracted to him even when she wanted to beat his face in to take him down a few notches.  Even the Mercs had hated him.

She should not have thought of them.  Tears filled Genesis eyes as the realization that she would never work with Tell and his men again flooded her with a sudden reality check.  She sniffled and took a deep, broken breath.

“You okay?” Ronan said from the back.

Genesis started.  She wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.  Wait.  He could not see her cry, only hear her.

“I thought you were asleep?”

“I think I’ve changed my schedule to a sleep during the day, have visions at night.  I’ve been doing it for so long now, I am having a hard time falling asleep.  Besides, it’s a good time to think.  Things have been happening so fast I feel like I can’t process anymore.”

“I know, right?” Genesis said as she checked her mirrors for swirling storms of demons.  The night slept around her with gentle dreams and not a nightmare to be seen.

Time to think.  The only thing to think about on Genesis mind…

“Are you feeling more settled in your powers?” Genesis asked, pushing the thoughts away.

Ronan laughed, “I guess you can say that.  It just seems like such a big job for one man to do.  I mean, thank the King no other witch is on an Innocent killing rampage right now, and no serial killers are active at this moment.”

“Or, they are, but none of them is threatening the magical world like Mara is, so your magic is focused right now.”

“Pleasant thought, think I’ll have dreams about all I missed later?”

“Don’t know, not a SoulDefender.  I’m not even a witch anymore.”

Ronan said nothing for a moment.

“You know, I almost killed myself when I got my powers, and my world started to fall apart.  Now…now I can’t imagine being without them, even when they’re horrible.”

The coffee turned sour in her stomach.  She knew where he went with this line of reasoning, and she did not want to go there.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, how are you holding up?”
Right there, that was where he was going.  Genesis knew it!  Just as she opened her mouth to retort something else came out.

“I…I don’t really know.  I feel empty inside on the one hand.”  She glanced over at the sleeping Sebastian. “And on the other, I feel happier than I have in a long time.”

She knew Ronan could not see her glance, but he could guess the source of her joy.  He said, “Love is a powerful healer.  I would never have embraced my powers if it hadn’t been for Sundance’s loyalty and love.  I was enchanted.  I saw the good side of what had happened to me for the first time.  And I was so lonely, so tired of being alone.”

“That I can understand. Though, Dora.”  Genesis paused and found it hard to swallow.  “Dora taught me that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was, that I had it better than a lot of witches.  Most of them don’t get to talk with the ones they have power over and are responsible for.  Most of them never get to talk to the people whose lives they affect.  I do. Or did.  I got to be with my people.  All the time.”

The tears came back.  How she missed them.  How she missed the connection, the voices in her head.  Even the constant, never ending tug between good and evil in her heart as she walked a fine line between the lust and need of her people.

Ronan leaned up and reached out with his strangely bent fingers.  He tapped along the chair until he came to her shoulder.  His squeezed offered human contact for comfort.

“And then there’s Sebastian.” Genesis continued. “I’ve never loved a man as an equal.  I’ve loved Vash as a friend and father, and I have loved my people, but I have never loved someone like I love Sebastian.  I don’t even know how to describe it.”

“The witch of Love must have a big job,” Ronan said, leaning back in his seat.

Genesis smiled through her tears. “That’s one power I am quite happy not to have.”

“No shit,” Ronan said.  “Can you imagine the battles Love and Lust must have?”

“I’ve seen a few of them.  Though Love does not work with Lust as much as many assume.  She is a very capable witch on her own.”

“I would imagine.”

“I just don’t know what I would have done if Sebastian hadn’t been there when my powers were stolen.”

“Don’t waste time agonizing over it.  He was there.  You didn’t do anything stupid.  In fact, I’ve been amazed at how well you have shoulder all this.  You adjusted much faster than I did to getting my powers.”

“Things happened so fast; they keep happening so fast.  It is like you said.  I haven’t really had time to process it all.”

“What do you think is gonna happen next?”

“I think Nickolaus will spring his trap and things will get really ugly.”

“Why?”

“Because life is like that; nothing is ever as easy as it seems.  And Jack had been playing the double agent for a few days now.  How long can a young man pretend to be in love with a woman like Mara and not become in love with her?  It’s going to get really ugly.  The ball will be filled with vampires, servants, and body guards.  Nickolaus will have only invited vampires loyal to him and to what is going on, but that doesn’t mean some of them won’t change their minds on the spot, and others won’t show up.  Taking on a witch is a dangerous proposition on a good day.  This is the witch of Darkness.  She is the next most important witch in vampire society other than me.  She’ll have allies and things will get messy.  People are going to die, along with vampires and witches.  And then what?  If the trap works, we still have Jack with his powers, Mara with hers, and me without mine.  I don’t think that Mara being captured and executed by the vampires will change that.”

“They’ll execute her?”

“I don’t know what Nickolaus has in mind.  They may try to force her to give me my powers back; they may try to force her to renounce what she has done.”

“Well, I’m there to confront her, but I am mainly there to rescue Ash.  I have to get my daughter.”

“I know.”  Genesis looked out at the night, feeling for the girl. “Mara has to be held accountable for what she’s done.  She can’t be left to feel like her actions have no repercussions. or that this is allowable behavior.”

“I’ve a feeling that’ll be my job for some reason.”

“We all have a responsibility to protect the weak.  Mara has proven her disregard for the weak on every level, including the servant witches she was directly responsible for.  No, she will be tried and condemned for what she has done.”

“You’re right.  We can’t lose sight of all the horrible things she has done, and the people she’s killed,” Ronan said rubbing the tattoo on his shoulder.

“Yep,” Genesis said.

“Look, Genesis.  I would’ve thought you were evil if I had met you outside the circumstances of our lives these last few weeks.  But, after listening to Vertune and the others talk, I’m amazed at the fortitude and the control you’ve shown in your powers.  If every witch worked as hard as you did at doing the right thing there would be no need for me.”

Genesis glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the sincerity on Ronan’s bandaged face.

“Thanks, that means a lot to me,” she said.  Genesis turned her focus back on the road.  It had become hard to talk.  With everyone she ran into telling her she did a great job she started to feel a little like a pouting teen who realized their parents were right in the first place.  How long had she nursed a hatred of other witches, assumed herself unloved, disrespected, and misunderstood?  How long had she told herself she no one cared?  And now, she had had two witches tell her in less than two days how much they respected her and envied her line of magic.  It made her feel like a stupid, shallow girl.  She sighed.  When had she become so shortsighted and selfish?  Why had it taken the stealing of her powers, and the love of a human to show her all this?

She checked her mirrors again and watched Ronan turn his bandaged head towards the sleeping Sundance, her head in his lap.  He stroked her hair with his twisted fingers.  Genesis shook her head.  He had been through so much and proven the King knew how to pick the right humans for the job.  Not many people would have gone through what Ronan had, and still been able to love the people around them.

Genesis drove into the dark and watched the road.  Something told her the demons bided their time.  It gave her the creeps.

The night flowed by like a river of black energy.  The witch of Darkness reveled in her time as she showed the young man on her arm all the beauty of the night.  Genesis drove towards the Enduring Door as the stars passed through the heavens, white sparkling worlds watching theirs.

“What time is it?” Sebastian asked, sitting up suddenly.

“A few hours before dawn,” Genesis said.

“How are you doing, getting tired?”  He reached over and massaged her neck and shoulder.

“Getting there.  I’m hungry.” Genesis leaned forward in the driver’s seat, and let Sebastian rub the tired muscles.

“Well, do we wanna stop, eat, and switch?”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Any sign of our little friends?”

“Not yet. which has me more worried than if a large cloud of them sat just behind us.”

“Oh! Don’t say that,” Sundance said from the back seat.  She sat up and stretched in the small space of the car.  Ronan stirred in his sleep, but did not wake up.

“What are you hungry for?” Sebastian asked.

“Breakfast!” Sundance said before anyone else could respond.

Genesis laughed. “I think you have mistaken my man for yours.”

“Nope, just peppy when I wake up.  Sorry.”

“You’re a morning person, aren’t you?” Genesis said.

“Of course!  Morning is one of the best times to dance.  But, I guess it would make sense for you not to be a morning person.”

“I usually watch the sun rise and then go to bed,” Genesis said, “but I forgive you just this once.”

“Thanks!”

“Okay, okay, do we have to be so noisy,” Ronan groaned, waking up.

Genesis glanced at Sebastian and he rolled his eyes.  A Cracker Barrel showed up down the road and Genesis pulled off the highway.  A gas station stood next to it, so they filled up first.  Everyone got out to stretch as Sebastian pumped the gas.  Genesis looked back north the way they had come, but heard and saw nothing.  Surely the explosion had not deterred them that much. Unless…

Sebastian came and put his arms around her.  His warmth felt good in the cold morning air.

“You don’t ever stop being on alert, do you?”

“It tends to be a little deadly when I do.”

“They aren’t here?”

“No, I haven’t seen them since the gas station.”

“What do you think happened?”

Genesis did not want to say what she had thought might have happened.  The truth sickened her, and she was not sure how Sebastian would take it.

“Genesis?”

She sighed and looked out at the fading stars.

Sebastian let go of her and came around in front of her.  He cupped her face in his hands and looked her in the eye.

“Tell me what you think.”

“The imps serve a purpose.  When the purpose or the force commanding them is removed, they sink back into the earth, and return to the Spirit Plane.  They have no driving force of their own.”

Sebastian considered her words.  Genesis watched the dawning in his eyes.

“You think Janie could be dead.  That the explosion might have killed her?”

“It might have; it could be one explanation.”

Sebastian released her and stepped away.  He rubbed his face and hesitated, stepped further away, and then turned back.

“Sebastian?” Genesis started.

He held up his hand, and stood there looking first at the ground and then up at the stars.  Genesis watched him, worried.  As he turned his back on her, she caught a glint of tears in his eyes from the light of the gas station.  That did it.  She walked up and put her arms around him.  She hugged him, holding him close to her body.  He stiffened for a moment, and then dropped his head onto her shoulder.  He put his arms up around her and just held her close.

Genesis examined him as he raised his head.  She brushed his hair back from his face.

“If I understand what you just told me, we can only get rid of the imps by killing Janie.  And she will not look like that twisted monster anymore.  She will look like Janie.  Janie.” Sebastian stopped for a moment.  “Damnit, this is all my fault.  I dated her; I didn’t leave her when she came to the lab and now it is going to cost Janie her life.  We’re gonna have to kill her or let them kill us.  But we can’t do that.  We have to save those kids.  We have to stop Mara.  We have to get Jack and Fortunatus back.”

Sebastian shook his head.  Genesis reached up, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissed him.  She kissed him because she had no words to say to comfort him.  Janie had been annoying, but no one wanted to kill her.  No one wanted another Innocent dead.  Genesis kissed him and felt the tears on his face.  She let them become her tears.  She opened her heart to feel what he felt.  She opened herself with a kiss to his pain.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

The Necromancer

The invitation to Nickolaus’ ball arrived at midnight as Friday turned into Saturday, as Sebastian and Genesis found solace in one another driving Janie further away.  Jack held the thin piece of sheer parchment with gold swirled lettering.  It announced Mara and Jack as the most honored guest invited to attend the ball of the Five.  The Ball began in three days, at midnight.

“See? I told you they supported you.  It is only a few fanatics who disagree with my decision,” Mara said.

Jack found Mara’s enthusiasm, and Mara herself,  irresistible even while he reported to Nickolaus that she had fallen for the trap.  The power of midnight, the power of magic, surged through their veins like a drug.  Mara led Jack to a large ballroom leaving the invitation behind on a polished desk.  They glowed in their TrueSelves.  They danced the witching hour away in a heart pounding waltz.  Jack slipped his hand around her tiny waist and pulled her close.  Around and around the room they spun as their blood raced through their veins.  Jack smelled her blood.  He smelled her love.  The concoction filled his mind and he danced faster and faster.

The hour passed and their blood cooled.  They went to a more intimate place.  Jack shut the door to the rest of the house as he shut the door to his mind, the one which accused him of doing the wrong thing.  He shut down everything but the pounding magic and the longing for Mara.

The smell of burning flesh woke Jack with a start.  Pain and a pleading for darkness pounded in his head.  He rolled over in the bed, thrashing and confused.  Demons surrounded him. He fought…fought demons.

“Fortunatus!” he screamed.

He fell out of the bed tangled in blankets and new and old dreams.  He hit the fur covered floor and the images faded.  The burning smell and the images of the Spirit Plane evaporated.  Jack shook his head and pulled the blankets from around his feet.

“My love?” Mara said from the bed.

Jack tried to calm is racing heart beat before he answered.

“It is nothing, I…,” Jack stumbled around with his words, remembering only at the last moment that he played the double agent.  His heart pounded as he realized he almost blurted out what he had really seen.  “I’m still trying to learn to control all the things I see about the vampires.”

“It’ll take you time to control your powers.  You’ll learn to pick and choose what you should see and what’s unimportant.”

“Throw in a few wolf dreams and it can get really crazy,” Jack added.

“Yes.  I would imagine so.  The sun has just risen.  Come back to bed and sleep some more.  This evening I wish to take you to LeVidal so we may get some proper clothing made for the ball.”

“How will we get there?  I thought three witches are needed to open a Door?”  Jack said, picking himself up off the floor.  Even as he asked his question, turning the conversation away from the images which had thrown him out of bed to the ball Mara was so excited about, he tried to hold onto what he had seen.  They were very important, and he needed to sort them out.

“They are, but there are Doors which disappear after they have been walked through and there are Enduring Doors.  We’ll leave this afternoon and head to the closest Enduring Door.  I have a key which will take us to LeVidal.  It is not far from here.   Cairn traveled often from here to there, which is why we built this house here.”  Mara snuggled up close to Jack as she spoke about Cairn.

“Okay.  My only request is that we visit the Draught while we’re there.  Last time I was in LeVidal, we had no time for sightseeing and we were on a time frame,” Jack said.  As long as he did not mention Crow’s name he did not have to deal with the guilt of his actions.

“Of course.  We’ll go anywhere my lord desires.” She pulled his face down and kissed him.

The sun was well on its way to its zenith when Jack slipped from the bed leaving Mara sleeping.  Jack needed to talk with Fortunatus.  He had to figure out what happened.  Jack pulled his clothing on, and hurried to a hall dusty from disuse.  Here he could pace and talk to Fortunatus.

“Fort?” He spoke in his mind to the vampire.

Gibbering and froth filled his mind.  Fortunatus stood on the brink of madness.  His lust for Genesis and Jack’s blood enraged him.  It drove him like a rabid dog to the edge of himself.  Lostness loomed before him, slippery with blood.  Jack had to get him out.  He had to get him out of the pit where he could, God-forbid, hunt and escape.

“Fortunatus, I command you to listen to me,” Jack spoke not a word out loud, but in the vampire’s mind.  The command pulled him from the cliff of insanity.  He listened but did not speak.  Jack gathered the remains of the images and fed them to Fortunatus.  As he shared them they formed a more complete picture.  One he could now make sense of.  He saw Vertune, Rail Quinn, Quentin and the Orphans arrive.  He saw Genesis through their eyes.  He watched them explain the plan to Ronan and he watched them threaten Dora.  They talked about him, and he could not keep the tears from springing to his eyes when Genesis spoke of her forgiveness of Dora.  A new resolve pushed away the doubt in him as Ronan and Sebastian supported him and expressed their belief in him.

Jack stopped his pacing and looked up, thanking fate for the image.  Knowing they believed in him gave Jack the hope he had lost.

Then the battle came.

The demons attacked and overwhelmed everyone.  To his horror, Jack watched his vampires brave the sunlight to give Genesis a chance to escape with the others.  He felt them burn; he smelled the flesh as it charcoaled and melted.  He heard them scream, and then he felt them fade.  They faded in an instant back into the shadows of the house as the Door closed behind Genesis and the others.  Cool darkness in a windowless room covered them.

Jack opened his mind to Vertune, and found him in a state little better than Fortunatus.  Their need for blood almost overwhelmed Jack.  He clenched his fist and fought down the desire in both of the vampires until he had their attention and their lust under control.

“What are you going to do next, Vertune?”

“We will have to find a Door to get to Genesis.  She caught my key.  She will head to the closest Enduring Door where she will use the key to open it to LeVidal.  The Door will take her a day or two to find. and it will take us two nights to get there from here.  I will head to the Spirit side of the Door and come through it before she gets there in case they are in trouble.  As I said, with my key it will re-open in LeVidal.”

“I’m going to send Fortunatus to them here on the Material Plane.  He can’t stay here.  We’re going to leave soon to go to LeVidal.  Stay far away from us and when Genesis gets there keep her away.”

“As you will, Master.  We will sleep.  When darkness takes over the earth we will move to find Genesis.”

“Fort. I’m gonna get you out.”

Fortunatus did not respond, out loud or in Jack’s head.  Jack headed down to the pit.  How would he get his god-father free without breaking his cover with Mara?  Could he understand the magic holding Fortunatus well enough to make it stop working after they left so he could get out?

Genesis

After taking a few moments gathered around Dora’s grave, Sundance sprinkled everyone with her last few pinches of healing dust.  Their wounds stop bleeding and scabbed over, but did not heal completely.  They all still carried teeth and claw marks on their arms and faces.

“Why are we still in these clothes?” Sebastian plucked at the guns slung low on his hips.

“These are all from the closets of the Spirit Plane,” Genesis said.  “We look like our human selves again, but the clothing we wore into the Plane stayed there.  Clothing from there doesn’t change, just like your clothes didn’t change when you went through the door.  The only reason mine and the others did was those clothes were part of our TrueSelves. They were part of how we see ourselves.”

Sebastian shook his head, “Crazy.”

“No joke,” Ronan said. “I still can’t wrap my head around it all.”

“We should get moving.  The closet Door is south of us.”

“We need to see if we can rent a car,” Sebastian said.

Genesis nodded. “We’ll be harder for the demons to catch in a car.”

“Let’s see if I can get some money.”

Sebastian took Genesis hand and led the way out of the park towards a main road.  Grass, wet with dew, stuck to their shoes, and left a trail once they reached the nearest sidewalk.  Ronan, still blind, followed behind them holding Sundance’s hand, trusting her to guide his feet.  Genesis rolled her shoulders.  She knew doing anything on this plane would prove difficult.  They were all armed, and dressed in too much leather, too many buckles and straps, too many goggles.  Not to mention cut, bruised and beaten.  They needed to change first, or steal a car.  Genesis smiled.  Stealing a car would be an easy solution.  She did not think they had time to go shopping, and she was not giving up her guns.  No way in hell.  Demons were hard enough to deal with as is, without her guns it would be impossible.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Sebastian asked.

“Depends,” Genesis said.  The blood on the side of his head worried her.  Dark red streaked his blonde hair and scabbed over cuts drew lines down his face.  She probably looked little better.

“We’re never gonna make it into town to get a rental.  First cop who drives by is gonna arrest our asses for carrying guns.”

“Until the demons attack, the cop dies, and we have to fight our way out without guns, best case scenario.  Worst case scenario, they take us downtown, lock us in a cell, and then the demons attack.  All hell breaks loose in this little town.”

“What are you suggesting?” Ronan asked from behind them.

“Steal a car and get the hell away from here,” Genesis said matter-of-factly.

They reached the edge of the park and stepped into suburbia.  Homes lined the street for miles around them.  Normal homes with cut grass, shaped shrubs, hints of snow in the shady place, and painted porches.  Names carved in wood and etched in stickers declared the neighborhood the home of Joneses, Smiths, Franks, Lopezes and Woods.  Genesis looked out over the cookie-cutter houses and realized she had never lived this life, never lived this version of the ‘American Dream’.  But, it was her job, witch or not, to protect these Innocents, so they could live their lives.  So they could sleep in peace, wake up to work, and go about being born, growing up, falling in love, having children, and dying.  She and all other good witches were supposed to keep the nightmares at bay, the demons, the vampires, the beings with far more power who would use that power with total disregard for the weak.  And the best way to do that was to get out of here.

“What day is it?” Genesis asked.

“Thank the King, it’s Saturday,” Ronan said.

“No shit,” Genesis whispered, “can you imagine if we walked out of that park on a Monday morning with joggers and families heading out to school and work.  The cops would be on us in an instant.”

“I can’t support stealing a car,” Ronan said as they walked up the road towards the freeway in the distance.

“Then I’ll wait until you’re not looking, hot wire one, and then just tell you this is the car we rented,” Genesis said totally dead-pan.

Ronan stopped.  “I can’t see anything…oh, I get it, very funny.  How am I supposed to know the difference, right?” he said.

Before Genesis could retort a low hum filled the air.  A low hum of a hundred beating wings, the clicking of claws, and the gnashing of sharp teeth rose up from all around them.

“That was way too fast,” Genesis said.  She turned in a circle trying to pinpoint which direction they were coming from.

“Run!” Sebastian yelled.  He grabbed Genesis’ hand and pulled her up the street.  Genesis drew her gun with the other.

“Make a shield SoulDefender, stealing a car is our only option now.”

Behind her, Sundance and Ronan and started chanting.  Sundance continued guiding the blind, running Ronan.  They passed the first house with its cars safely tucked into the garage.  Two houses down a black car sat in a driveway.  Sebastian pointed to it and lead them that way.  On their right, the houses broke for a moment and a vacant lot opened beside them.  The gray imps surged around the back side of the houses and out the open lot.

Darting passed the houseless opening, they reached the driveway.  Sebastian drove his elbow through the glass of the driver’s side window and pulled open the door.  The car alarm sounded for about three seconds until Sundance reached out with her hand and silenced it.

The demons reached the sidewalk. They poured out into the road in a tumbling ball of wings and claws.  The boiling mess turned in their direction.

“Get in,” Sebastian hurried everyone.  He pulled open the door and bodily shoved Ronan in just as Ronan and Sundance finished their shield spell.  The demons came up and smashed right into it.  A mind-numbing buzzing humming from the beating wings filled the air as more and more gathered around the shield.

“I can’t hold this for long!”  Ronan broke out in a sweat.

Genesis jumped into the front passenger seat and leaned over Sebastian’s leg.  She pulled the wires free from under the steering wheel.  Taking the two she needed, she cut them with the knife from her boot and touched them to one another.  The car started right up.

“Buckle up and hold on.”  Sebastian shifted into reverse and backed out through the shield with screeching tires.  Three demons disappeared under the car and Sebastian let out a laugh.

“Take that you sons of bitches!”

He threw the car into drive and pressed the petal to the floor.  As they peeled out Genesis shot a demon out of the broken window just by Sebastian’s head.  He did not even flinch as the gun went off, too focused on getting them out of there.  The stillness of the early Saturday morning broke with the wailing of tires and gunshots as they fled from the demons.

“Just go south!” Genesis yelled.

She turned and rolled down her window.  Sticking her head out to see, she jerked it back in just as an imp on the top of the car took a swipe at her with decapitating claws.  She fired at his arm, missed and reached out with her own hand, grabbed the demons wrist and yanked him off the roof.  She flung him under the car.  Sebastian maintained control as the car sped over the body and down the quiet suburban street.  He ignored every stop sign he came to, flying through intersections.  As he reached 60 mph the demons lag behind them, unable to fly as fast as the car on this plane.  At least for now.

Genesis leaned back in her chair with a sigh.

“That was too easy,” Sebastian said as he turned out of the neighborhood and headed to the freeway.

“They came through very fast.  Which means they had permission already lined up.”

“Permission?” Sebastian asked.

“It’s complicated, but the short version is they have a king too, but he is subservient to the King.  They are not of this plane, so they have to get permission to come here, like the angels.  They’re not seen by humans, normal humans often.  In fact, we’re lucky we can see them.  It sure would be hard to shoot them if they were invisible.”

“What happens when we shoot them?”

“They are sent back to their homes in the Spirit Plane and must make their way again to a Door to get back.  It delays them, hurts them, and makes their life more difficult.”

“That’s why we came back to this plane.”

“Not a snowballs chance in hell we would stop them on the Spiritual Plane.  Gotta have an angel for that,” Genesis said.

“Like Akilina?” Ronan said from the back.

A memory of a white woman, pure and holy, cradling the burned husk of Fortunatus in the school gym flashed through Genesis mind.  Had one of her people really gained the love of an Angel?  That would mess with all the magical lines like nothing else.

“Yes,” Genesis glanced in the side view mirror, “Like Akilina.”

“Well, how long will it take us to reach this Door Vertune sent us to?” Sebastian asked.

Genesis turned in her seat and looked back at Sundance.

“What?”

“I don’t have any powers anymore.  You’re going to have to take point on this one,” Genesis said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean to be…”

“Don’t worry about it, just get us to the Door,” Genesis said.

Sundance closed her eyes for a moment.  “We will need to head south for about two days or so driving.  I can hear it singing far away.  When we get closer I should be able to pinpoint it.”

“Okay, well our first problem is this car is at a quarter tank of gas,” Sebastian said.  “We’ll have to stop and get gas soon.  Anyone wanna take guard duty while I fill her up?”

“I’ll do it.” Genesis pulled the slide back on her gun and checked the chamber.  She did the same with the other.

“I can make another shield,” Ronan said.

“We better do it now, the demons will be figuring out how to move as quickly as this car soon.”

“What about Janie?  Did you see her?  Did she come through the gate with them?” Sebastian asked.

“I didn’t see her, but she would probably look normal now.”

Sebastian pulled off the highway and into a nearby gas station.  Genesis kept her gun low and her back to the store while she watched and listened.  Sundance ran inside and grabbed food and water while Ronan began his own shield spell.  Traffic on the road picked up.  An edgy energy built inside Genesis starting in her gut.  They needed to get out of here ASAP.

She turned and glanced back over her shoulder at the store willing Sundance to come out now.  Now before…

A painful hum filled the air.  High on the soprano line but with little harmony to its tone, the humming pierced the brain and gave Genesis an instant headache.

“Not good.” She pulled her weapon up as the imps came towards her in a black swarming, boiling cloud of limbs, wings, and talons.  All leather and gray skin with little to no clothing or coverings, and a starved appearance with the skin stretched taut over their bones except for where their tummies protruded out, round and inflated, the imps flew up over the overpass of the highway and straight towards the gas station.

“Time to go!” Sebastian yelled.

Genesis glanced over and saw Sundance running out of the store.  Shrugging off the need to hide, Genesis ran to her and started shooting into the swarm of demons.  Sundance dashed for the car while Genesis covered her, both pistols drawn and firing.  The swarm swirled up and back from the bullets for a second and then charged forward.  Surrounded and unable to get to her extra clips as she ran out of bullets, Genesis refused to panic.  She grabbed a demon by the feet and spun in a circle using him like a club on the other imps to clear a path.  The demon went flying into the store as she released him and grabbed a clip.  Ejecting one she reloaded and began shooting again while she stepped back to the car.

Sebastian still pumped gas.  Genesis glanced at him, shot a demon and felt claws rake across her back.  Hot blood soaked into her shirt.

“Come on!” Sebastian pulled his own guns and started shooting.

“Get in the car!”

Sebastian worked his way back while shooting into the milling mass.

“Ronan!  Give me something to work with!” Genesis begged.

She could not hear or see the magic, but a shield formed around her pushing the imps back.  Genesis raced for the car and jumped into the front passenger seat as Sebastian hit the gas.  She pulled the door shut and looked back.  The parking lot glistened with liquid.  Genesis realized what Sebastian had been doing by the pumps.

She glanced at him over her shoulder.

“Do it,” he said. “We’ll go back and pay for all this later.”

Genesis leaned out of the car and shot into the concrete flooring of the gas station.  Sparks flew as the bullet struck the ground and the puddle of gas burst into flames under the spewing imps.  Screams and harsh cries filled the air as their leathery wings burst into flames.

“Drive faster!” Genesis said.

The pumps exploded taking out more of the demons.  A fire-ball rose up three or four stories into the quiet Saturday morning.  The concussion of the explosion blew out onto the highway and pounded into the back of the car.  Genesis felt her ears stop up from the pressure and it pushed her into the dash, crushing her against it.  Sebastian pushed the car and it leapt to 90mph as he raced onto the highway.  Genesis peeled herself off the dash and turned back.  The swarm, what was left of it, swirled in a confused pattern around the bodies of the imps who had died.  She watched as each body turned to ash and disappeared.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

 

Genesis

Genesis watched the vampires drink the warm blood.  Their eyes glowed with their renewed power.  A too-healthy glow filled out their faces.  Sundance piled Ronan’s plate with hot food.  Genesis wondered if his eyes would glow as he ate.  Either way, she could not tell with the scarf wrapped around them.  Ronan’s hands dripped blood on the table.  Undead heads lifted, eyes followed each slow drip, nostrils flared, a red tongue licked sharp teeth.  Thankfully, the bleeding stopped and his fingers straightened out as he ate.  The table soaked up the drops, removing the temptation of the vampires.

“Do you always drink this mixed stuff?” Rail Quinn turned to Quentin gesturing with his empty goblet. He shook his head.

“I do not believe now is an appropriate time to discuss the pros and cons of mixed blood,” Quentin said.  He placed two white hands, palm down, on the table top.

Dora hurried down the stairs to join them.   She had replaced the blue dress with some more practical clothing much like what Ronan and Sebastian wore – trousers stuffed into boots, white shirt and fitted jacket.  She was not armed.

“Betrayer!”

Vertune shifted to Dora and grabbed her by the neck.  He threw her across the room.

Sundance screamed.  Sebastian and Ronan both jumped to their feet.

Vertune shifted across the room and stood over Dora, straddling her.

“I will snap your neck here and now, your powers be damned,” Vertune hissed.

Dora brought her hands together and flung them out at Vertune.  A flash of light sent him flying away from her.  He crashed into the table and crumpled to the floor.

“I brought you into this world, Vertune, and I can take you out again,” Dora said.

Rail Quinn dabbed at his mouth with a white napkin and stood up.  He flexed his hands and they turned into razor tipped claws.

“Time to pay up,” he shifted to the witch.

“Stop.”

Genesis did not yell, scream, or even raise her voice.  She spoke the command into the air, and she expected to be obeyed.  Rail Quinn hesitated as Vertune picked himself up off the floor.

“Dora is under my protection.  She has asked for forgiveness for the part she played in this… and I have forgiven her.”

Hard words to speak, harder to believe she actually forgave Dora.  A large part of her wanted to watch the vampires shred Dora to pieces.  She wanted Dora to feel the pain of everything she had done, of everyone she had killed. But the demands of justice sat on the head of another.  Mercy pleaded at Dora’s side.  Genesis’ job description did not include deciding what price Dora paid for the lives she had taken.

Vertune shifted back to his seat.  Rail Quinn watched Dora find her feet and sit down at the table.  He stood behind her chair leaning against the wall instead of rejoining them at the table.  The witch of NewLife’s hand shook as she poured herself a mug of coffee.  She stole a quick glance at the vampire behind her, and then pointedly ignored him.

“Vertune has come with a word from Nickolaus and Jack,” Genesis said to open the door for the reason they were all here.

They listened as Vertune told them what Nickolaus wanted to do and why.  The table refilled goblets and mugs of coffee as they talked and examined the plan from every angle.  Jack’s central position in the plan worried Genesis.  The young man had to take on a James Bond-esque role.  He had to play the double agent against a witch older and more experienced than he.  It required him to gain the heart of a woman and then betray it.  Could Jack coldly betray an already broken heart?  It seemed a lot to ask a kid, even a kid like Jack.

“I had a vision about Jack,” Ronan said.  He told them everything he saw about Jack and Ash. He told them about the light he saw gleaming in Jack’s eyes when Mara came to him.

“I was afraid of that.  Jack’s a kid, a hormonal kid,” Genesis said. “This is too big of a job to ask him to do, or to expect him to pull off.”

“Do we have any other option?” Ronan said.

“Me, Sebastian and all the vampires just go in and take her out,” Genesis said.

“Her house is fortified with magic against us,” Vertune said.  “We will not be able to attack her if Jack has truly switched sides.  Or, allow me to say this, going against our witch’s direct command would be very difficult.”

“Impossible is the word you should be using.  Difficult would be describing the situation as less than it truly is,” Rail Quinn said.  He twisted the ram’s head ring around and around his finger.

“We’ll have to trust Jack.  He’s battled evil all his life; let’s give the kid a chance,” Ronan said.

“I agree,” Sebastian said.

Genesis glanced at him wondering why he sided with Ronan.  He locked eyes with her and smiled taking her hand under the table.  Genesis started.  This meeting centered around a plan to attack another witch, which Genesis headed up, and Sebastian flirted?  A flashing image surfaced from her memory of their last meeting around a table.  It ended as a shouting match, and then an attack by the curses in her body.  This meeting showed maturity on both their parts.  She wanted to laugh but only returned his smile.  Hope and love.  These had changed everything in Genesis’ heart.  She might even be able to forgive Dora for the part she had played because it brought love.  If so many had not died, Genesis just might thank her.  Squeezing Sebastian’s hand, Genesis nodded in agreement.  They would hope in Jack’s ability to pull this off.

“We go for it then. What’s our timeframe, and is Nickolaus keeping tabs on Jack?”

“We are setting the date for three days from today, the 8th,” Vertune said.  “Nickolaus is keeping a very close watch on Jack.”

“Has anyone seen Janie?” Dora asked breaking through the talk around the table about Jack’s abilities.

“Did she go to bed yesterday morning like the rest of us?” Ronan asked.

“I don’t remember seeing her after we ate,” Dora said.

“She is not here,” Ronan said, “I can’t sense her soul at all and it was hard to miss.”

Genesis whisper to Sebastian, “Do you think she saw us on the porch?”

“I don’t care if she did.  I made it clear that our relationship is over,” Sebastian said.

“It might have driven her away,” Genesis said.

“It might, but I’m more worried about her bringing trouble back with her.”

“I agree,” Ronan said.  “She’s still focused totally on herself, even when we’ve all offered her friendship and help.”

“Who is Janie?” Quentin asked.

“She is my ex-girlfriend who Mara used to trap Genesis,” Sebastian said.

“We smelled a monster under the bed when we arrived,” Soul said, speaking for the first time.

“If she returns, we will not be able to engage her in battle outside,” Rail Quinn said looking down at his talons, “the sun has already risen.”

“Genesis,” Dora said, “I think, if we find Janie, I will see if I can help her.  I wish someone could have found and helped me when I believed the lies whispered to me in the darkness of my heart.”

“You’ve never told me what those lies were,” Genesis said, a little bit of the warrior-maid resurfacing.

“I ‘m ashamed to speak of them.  They were fed by what I envied about you and your people.  I watch everyone I bring into this world suffer and die, some with hope and some without.  You watch your people endure, good or evil, they live for a long time..and they come to you.  They follow you and adore you.  I’ve helped everyone in the world connect their souls with their bodies and they don’t even know I exist.  The envy I felt for you and your powers was used against me.  I was told you were planning something evil, a takeover.  The evidence I saw now seems as believable as the whispers of the wind.  But, I agreed to help Mara remove your powers and give them to human with a weaker will.”

Old thoughts tumbled off shelves in Genesis’ mind.  “You envied me?  No witch has envied me.  I’m hated by most, and ignored by the rest.  I’ve never had friends who are witches.  My vampires are the only ones who have ever supported me.”

Sundance shift uncomfortably in her chair.

“You’re not as hated or ignored as you think, obviously,” Dora said.  “But, you know we’re a group which is slow to change.  We wanted to see if you were going to hold to the course of good and right.  Look at Manson and Ronan.  Many of us could, and should, have stepped in to help Sophie and her son.  Many of us should have stopped the Gray Coven, but even you only came when Crow staked two of your oldest vampires.  And you didn’t help him.  You babysat a group of Innocents.  Only Sundance went out of her way to find Ronan when she saw how much we needed him.”

“I had my own things to deal with at that time,” Genesis said.

“So did we all, and that’s what we told ourselves, and continue to tell ourselves.  We all have our own areas of responsibility, but we often use them to ignore the call for help from others.”

Every witch at the table looked off at something else, refusing to meet one another’s furtive glances.  How often had they ignored calls for aid because they were busy with their own responsibilities?  How often had they slipped by someone reaching out for them, blocking their grasping fingers with the shield of their own duties?  A pallor of guilt washed over the room.   The food turned to dust in their mouths.  Ronan set his fork aside and hung his head.

“Five young men dead, and I only helped the last two,” he whispered.

“I’m not going to try to explain away what I did,” Dora said, “nor am I trying to cast blame and guilt for all that has gone wrong in history at the feet of the witches.  The King reigns and in that I set my hope.  What I’m going to do is find Janie and seek to help her, or at least keep her from hindering you.”

Ronan pushed back from the table and stood.  “I’m going to help set this trap, find the Inventor, and by doing this, I hope to rescue my daughter, along with the others.  We’re running on borrowed time, three days until the ball.  Jack’s playing the game as best he can, but Mara will grow tired of him soon.  I, a witch, ask for your aid to help my daughter.  Please help me.”

Sundance stood up immediately and wrapped her arm in his.

“I go where you go.”

Chairs brushed through fur as they were pushed back.

“We’ll help you, Ronan.  We’ll help you rescue your daughter,” Sebastian said.

“I may not be the witch of the Undead anymore, but I’m still alive and I still know how to fight.  I want to do all I can for Fortunatus.  And, Jack will need my help to resist the pull of evil.”

Ronan flexed his hands.  The food had healed them again.

“Let’s go set a trap.”

“We’ll plan to leave within the hour,” Genesis said swinging her white hair back over her shoulder.  “Your closets should hold everything you need, and we’ll get some packs of food.”

“We will rest here until the sun sets.  Then we will join you,” Vertune said.  “Go south for a full day and you will reach LeVidal.”

Genesis hurried upstairs with Sebastian.  Time to get going.  Time to move.  A plan of action lifted her up.  Sitting and resting, waiting was not her style.  Poor Ronan, driven mad with worry about his daughter mixed with the blindness, and the inability to do anything without help.  Genesis knew the faster they left, the better he would feel.  Sebastian kissed her, and jogged down to his room.  She touched her lips where his had so familiarly caressed hers, and joy buoyed her up.  He magically turned her from the witch of a heavy, dark, bloody power to a witch of bubbles, light, and rainbows.  A giggle burst from her lips.  She rushed into her room before the temptation to join Sebastian in his hindered their journey.

The wardrobe squatted just inside the door on her left.  Genesis pulled the door open and pulled out a handful of clothing and threw them on the bed.  She stripped and jumped into the shower.  A quick wash and then out again to brush her teeth.  She pulled on her clothing.  Like everyone else she stuffed brown trousers into knee-high boots.  A teal fitted blouse tucked into the trousers.  Genesis stopped long enough to look at her untattooed skin.  How many years had it been since she had had unmarked skin?  The mirror did not answer her question as she stared into it.

“You’re just a beautiful without the tattoos as you were with them,” Sebastian said.

Genesis turned to him.  He stepped into the room and put his arms around her kissing her far longer than last time.  When she could breathe again, when she broke from him just to be able to breathe, she saw he had changed into fresh clothing with a deerskin jacket on over his white shirt and no dangling suspenders. The jacket nipped in at his waistline and buckled off-center with an open collar and a white cravat.

“You look like a gentleman adventurer.  All you need is a cane and a monocle,” Genesis said.  She went back over to the bed.  Picking up her coat, she slipped into the dark brown, sheepskin with the warm fur on the inside.  The coat had a flip-up collar and wide cuffs with large buttons.  In its pockets were gloves and goggles.  Over the coat she buckled on a crossbody belt with a rifle holster sitting on her back between her shoulder blades.  Another belt went around her waist with pouches for ammo and holsters for her two pistols which she dropped in and latched in place.  Genesis wrapped a scarf around her neck as Sebastian hefted a belt around his waist with matching mother-of-pearl handled pistols.

“I feel like I am living in a cheesy western,” Sebastian muttered.

Someone screamed.  One glance at each other, they rushed out the door and down the stairs to the living room level.  Genesis unlatched her pistols and drew them.  They dashed across the living room and out onto the porch.

Genesis’ mind reeled as she looked down at three demons.  Not the big red ones which play into the American denial of demons, but more imp like, with small leathery wings, gray bodies and sharp claws.  The three demons hovered just off the ground around an ugly, oozing monster.

“Janie?” Sebastian gasped.

“There she is!” The monster who was once Janie pointed a long, bony finger up at Genesis.

“Janie, please let me help you,” Dora said from below them.

The witch of NewLife stepped out from under the porch and approached Janie with her hands held up in a sign of peace.

“Damn you!”

“Dora, get back,” Genesis said, aiming at the demons.

Dora kept walking forward.

“Get her out of there,” Vertune said from behind Genesis.  Genesis glanced back and saw the vampires crouched in the shadows of the living room, teeth elongated and talon hands, ready for a fight but for the damnable sun.

“Come on,” Genesis said to Sebastian.  She grabbed the top railing of the porch and vaulted her body up and over it landing on the ground below.  She stood up and trained her guns on Janie.  Sebastian dropped down beside her with his pistols also drawn.

“Dora,” Genesis called her.

Stepping closer to the monster, Dora ignored Genesis.

“Janie, I understand what you are going through and what you are feeling.  Let me help you,” Dora said.

Janie’s long, deformed arm shot out and clenched Dora around the neck.  Out of the grass sprang hundreds of demons.  The air stirred under the multitude of wings and a hissing, gasping smoke rose up from the burning grass.

Janie’s fingers closed around Dora’s neck.  Genesis opened fire.  The three demons moved in front of Janie protecting her from the rain of bullets Genesis sent her way.  Sebastian aimed for their heads but the bullets did no harm.  Janie threw Dora at them like an oversized doll.  She bowled into Sebastian and Genesis knocking them back.  Sebastian’s head cracked against one of the porch post and blood flowed down his face. Genesis straddled Dora’s unmoving body as the demons swarmed towards them.

“Leave me Genesis, you may eat the rest,” Janie commanded.

Ronan and Sundance, hand in hand, rushed down off the porch.  Magic blazed around them.  Attacking humans delighted the demons, but attacking full-blown witches caused them to hesitated.  Ronan reached out with feeling fingers until he got to Dora.

“No,” he whispered.

Genesis bent down.  Dora’s eyes stared off.  Was she dead?  Genesis heart tumbled in her chest and began to pound.  Pain pricked her eyes.  Dora slowly blinked.  Something was wrong.  She muttered and Genesis bent closer to catch the words.

“I’m sorry.” The words floated from her stuttering lips.

“You can be sorry later,” Genesis growled, pulling Dora into her arms, “You hear me, you can be sorry later.”

“They’re coming again!” Sundance yelled.

Sebastian stumbled to his feet and stepped in front of Genesis.

“You’re going to have to come through me if you want her,” he challenged Janie.

“A door,” Dora coughed.

Genesis was confused.  Was Dora seeing a door?  A door?  A Door!!

“We need to make a Door back to the Material Plane.  Our bullets are pointless here.  There the odds are a little more even,” Genesis yelled to the others.

Sundance instantly switched her magic.  She held up the sliver of wood from her own Door.  The demons flowed over them.  Claws and teeth ripped at their skin.  The demons grabbed Sundance by the hair clothes-lining her as she danced.  Ronan jerked back as sharp claws dug deep into his face leaving three bloody lines across his cheek and jaw.  Sundance screamed and Genesis fired at point-blank range with no effect.  A demon grabbed Genesis arm and sank its fangs into the muscle.  Genesis swung her arm back and smashed it against one of the porch support beams.  Sebastian grabbed two of the demons by the wings and bashed them together as hard as he could.  The vile creatures shook their heads and swiped at him cutting through his suede jacket and into his chest.

A raging cry filled the air as eight vampires leapt from the darkness in the house to the burning light of the day.  They pushed the demon flood back and Sundance grabbed Ronan’s blindfold from his eyes.  Their chanting, screaming magic flooded the air with electricity as they called a Door.  With dying desperation Dora joined her chant to theirs and the Door opened.

“Get back inside!” Genesis yelled to Vertune as his skin burn from his bones.  Sebastian grabbed her up and threw her bodily through the Door with Dora still in her arms.  She landed amongst Sundance and Ronan.  Last man through, Sebastian pulled the Door shut behind him.  The angry cry of Janie followed them as it closed.  A golden chain flew through the last crack of the shutting Door and Genesis caught it.

Without looking around to see where they had ended up, Genesis bent down over Dora.  The witch’s eyes were open and staring.  No breath raised her chest and no pulse beat in her neck.  Genesis pulled her close and wept over her once enemy, rocking her back and forth, back and forth.  Sebastian bent over her, blood on his face and rips in his clothing.  He wrapped his arms around Genesis and held her as she held Dora.  Sundance wrapped the blindfold back over Ronan’s burning eyes and leaned into his strong arms.  She could not stem the tide of tears.  They cried for the witch of NewLife.

Genesis wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  She laid Dora down and looked around.   The Door had opened into some sort of park filled with morning sunlight.  Her two pistols sat heavy in her holsters and she looked at everyone.  They all looked like regular people in some very strange clothing.  The magic of the Spiritual Plane had faded to the reality of the Material.  Genesis looked down in her hand and smiled.

“What is it?” Sebastian asked.

“Vertune gave me the key to the closest Enduring Door.  With this key we can legally enter the city of The Life, LeVidal, even if they are not with us.”

“Are they going to be okay?”

“I would imagine the demons were not that interested in battling eight vampires even in the powerful light of the morning sun.  As soon as we escaped, they should have faded back inside to sleep until the night.  I hope they will come for us then, but they’ll have to find a Door.  The demons and Janie will go seek permission to come to this Plane, if they haven’t already.  We better get moving.  Demons do not give up on their prey, and it seems neither does Janie.  And they will have the power to open a Door right next to us if they want.”

Sebastian carried Dora down to a small stream flowing through the center of the park with the others following behind him.  There they buried the witch of NewLife.

“Here lies one who believed the lies of Mara.  Only near the end of her life were her eyes opened.  She died in the attempt to open the eyes of another captive of Mara’s lies,” Genesis gave the eulogy.

They covered her with branches and leaves.  Sundance sprinkled her with golden dust from a magical house whose only job was to gather magical dust. The body would not attract attention.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

The long day had passed into night and the night raced towards the witching hour, but Genesis, wrapped in a blanket, did not feel midnight throbbing through her veins.  She did not sense the crescendo of magic racing for the apex of its power. Instead she sat under the stars with her fingers laced through Sebastian’s.  They sat on the porch in the Spirit Plane and talked.  The talked of their childhood, of things they had done both good and regrettable.  They kissed under the stars when the words did not come, and they opened their hearts to one another finding a safety and trust there which they had never found in another human.  Janie slunk away before the magic intensified as the witching hour drew close.

It drew close and then flowed on by.

Someone cleared their throat.  Genesis sat up.  She grasped the gun tied down on her hip.  Sebastian unwrapped his arms from around her and stood up.  From the shadows of the house Vertune stepped into the starlight where they could see him.  Gaunt and hallow shadows marked his face, dark circles surrounded his eyes, and his fangs protruded from his lips.  Genesis recognized the signs of a vampire needing to feed.

“Vertune?  What are you doing here?”

The vampire dropped to one knee and bowed his head.

“We beg your forgiveness, Mistress.  We failed to protect you.”

Genesis released her gun and squatted down in front of Vertune.  She lifted his pale face with her hand.  The chill of his skin soaked up her warmth.

“There’s nothing to forgive.  This wasn’t your fault. Why are you here?” Genesis asked again.

“Mara the Witch of Darkness has insulted every vampire.  She has offended The Five with her disregard for the proper order of things, and she has blatantly set her own desires before the laws of magic.  She took our witch and stripped her of her powers.  We will not allow her to remain unpunished.”

“What of Jack?”

Vertune smiled. “Jack has given us free rein to do as we please. as long as do not harm any Innocents on purpose, Mara or her servants.  But, we may break her and bring her down.  And we may rescue you. Mistress, command me.  Command us.  We cannot sense your commands any longer, but we can hear your voice if you speak.  Command us and let us be your instrument of revenge.”

Genesis’ heart pounded as Vertune spoke.  He offered up hope and a chance to fight back.  Mara would not have Dora to help her.  No witch, good or evil, would stand at Mara’s side after what she had done.  With an army of vampires at her back, Genesis could make Mara pay for everyone who had died.  Everyone.  She would see the bitch screaming at the end.

Love.  Genesis remembered love. The new love which she shared with Sebastian.

She shook her head.

She would not…she refused to be Mara.  She would not battle hate with hate.  How could she be any different from Mara if she did that?  What would stop her from trying to control her own magical inheritance and killing Jack if she started down the path of forced retribution?  But, but if she chose the higher way, the right way, the way of true love and not the twisted thing Mara had…well, she just might get back all she missed without tainting them forever with sadness and hate.  If she chose to trust the King’s choice, she just might come out of this whole.

“I don’t want revenge, Vertune, but I do want to save the ones Mara hurt.  I wanna keep her from hurting others.  And I want to know if it is even possible to fix what she has done.”

“Then I have an idea and an offer from Nickolaus. We will forge this love of yours and the dishonor of the vampires into a mighty weapon.”

Genesis straightened up and held out her hand to the still kneeling vampire.  He stared at it for a moment,  accepted it, and stood up.  Genesis threw her arms around him.

“It’s good to see you.  It’s good to know you still stand by me.”

“You are our witch.  You have brought a great time of honor to the vampires, even those who do not join with the Requiem.  We do not take lightly what Mara has done.”

“Who is with you?  Can you sense Jack? Have you talked with Vash?”

“I am here,” Rail Quinn shifted from the darkness to the porch.  Starlight glanced off the ram’s head ring on his finger.

Genesis embraced him, too.  Lightness and joy built on the love Sebastian had planted in her heart.  The hollow hole the removed magic left in her overflowed with sweet hope.  For 140 years she had sensed her vampires at all times.  With a sudden, sickening chop the voices fell silent. Died. But, the vampires who spoke had not died.  Here they were ready to stand by her side even in silence.

Sebastian held out his hand to the two vampires.  They shook it in friendship.

Vertune began to answer her questions when Genesis noticed again the dark shadows on his emaciated face.  Rail Quinn looked no better.  She held up her hand to stop him.

“Come inside and let me see if the table will produce something for you to feed on.  Bring any others with you.”

Sebastian held the door open and Genesis led the way inside.  Behind Vertune and Rail Quinn came the oriental Quentin with a bow.

“The Requiem sent me as soon as we sensed the power change.  We all stand behind you,” said Quentin.

Genesis accepted his words with returned bow.  To her surprise, the Orphans filed in after him.  The band of children turned while they were still young, forever locked in childhood, each nodded at her.  The unspoken code of the vampires condemned anyone who turn children under the age of sixteen.  Anyone still growing and developing could not be made a vampire.  Rules did not stop vampires high on lust and power.  Soul, a black Irish, led the band in behind Quentin.  Othneil, Torquil, Songbird, and Juliet came in behind him without a sound.  Eternally six years old, Juliet was the youngest of the band.  Othneil smiled and held Songbird by the hand while Torquil, double-headed axe strapped to his back, came in last.  Each of them surpassed Genesis’ 140 years, and  looked like some of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.

She led them across the living room, down the stairs and into the dining room.  Eight goblets appeared on the table, each filled to the brim with steaming red liquid.

Taking her place at the head of the table with Sebastian on her right and Vertune on her left, Genesis indicated they could all sit and drink with a wave of her hand.  The vampires, starved from shifting across two planes only hours ahead of the rising sun, drank without speaking for several minutes.  The goblets refilled as fast as they were drained.  Each pair of eyes began to glow red and their faces filled out as they drank.  Torquil broke into a soft song of dragon-headed ships sailing across monster filled seas while Juliet sang the chorus.  When their thirst had been slacked, Vertune broke his silence.

“I have an offer for you, Genesis Dunlear, from Nickolaus.”

“I wish to hear it.”

“Who is Nickolaus?” Sebastian asked.

“Nickolaus is the Eldest.  He is the Eldest of the Five.  The Five are the only natural-born children of Dracula and Elizabeth Bathory.  They are the rulers of LeVidal,” Vertune explained.  “He wishes to host a ball, a ball in honor of the new witch, Jack Galloway.  This ball will be a trap for Mara.”

“Do you think she’s so caught up with what she’s done that she won’t suspect a trap?  She must know that she’s upset the vampire world.”

“As long as Jack does not give it away, she is unaware of how much she has insulted us.  I do not think she will suspect a trap.  I do not think Jack will tell her how dishonored we are as a people.  Jack communicates that she believes the anger lies with only a small number of the Requiem and the rest of our people rejoice in a more ‘liberal’ master.”

“You mean someone she thinks will be as evil as Cairn?”

“Yes,” Vertune said, “But Mara has been far removed from our world since Cairn’s death.  We have grown stronger and more respected under your rule, Mistress.  You help control and maintain the lust, keeping us from the brink which would turn us into mindless monsters.  You have kept us human, if I may use such a term.”

Genesis could not believe she heard this.  She knew she had always maintained good relationships with all the vampires in and out of the Requiem, but she remained unaware of their high regard.  A sudden fear stemmed the temptation to pride.  If Jack could not also maintain this balance, attacks on Innocents and deeper damnation of the undead would refill the night.  The human existence could become hellish.

“We will play to her vanity,” Quentin said as he got them back on track, “from the invitations to the guest list.  Only the most powerful and most connected people will attend.”

“The Requiem is supporting this?”

“Yes.”

“Jack is also in on this?”

“Jack has Mara convinced that he is pleased with the situation,” Quentin said.  “He has agreed to imprison Fortunatus for helping you escape, but he has not shared with her what we are planning.  He is playing the game well.”

Genesis stomach clenched.  She did not want to know how Jack convinced Mara he stood loyally at her side as Cairn reborn.  For a grown man this would be a difficult task.  For a kid, even a kid like Jack, it asked too much.  The lines were going to get very blurry.

“You’re sure the power hasn’t turned him?  You’re sure he is not ‘playing the game well’ as you put it, because it’s become reality?” Sebastian asked.

“You are afraid he may be playing us just as we are asking him to play Mara?” Quentin said.

“I am,” Genesis said, agreeing with Sebastian’s question.  “He’s grown up in the magical world as a powerless human.  He’s no longer powerless.  Will he be willing to go along with this, or will he play us all against one another to hold onto his power?”

The Orphans listened and watched,  silent around the table.  No one responded to her question.

“Has anyone heard from Vash?” Genesis asked.

“Vincent has sought to call him many times without any response,” Quentin said.

A small pain stabbed at Genesis heart.  Where had he gone?  Did he not care what had happened to her?  He had been quick to respond when Dora had attacked her, but now he seemed to have evaporated into mist.

“We need to go get Ronan and Sundance,” Sebastian said. “Ronan might be able to tell us which way Jack is going right now.  And they’ll want to be in on this, anyway.  We might be able to find the Inventor and rescue Monk and Ash all at the same time.”

“Agreed,” Genesis pushed back her chair. “I’ll be right back.”

The Son of Stan

…Ronan hung in the air, his feet dangling off the floor, nailed to the wall.  Darkness dripped all around him.  Water touched his skin, soaked his clothing, and his hair.  It fell on his face like somewhere above him someone wept.  Ronan turned his head up to see, but the blindfold still bound his eyes.  He rubbed it against his shoulder, pushing it down, first uncovering one eye and then the other.  He took a couple of deep breaths keeping his eyes squeezed shut.  Not really ready yet, he opened them anyway. 

A flash of light faded to a few pinpoints of white dancing in front of him.  He ignored them and looked up.  The tears splashed on his face and the floor became opaque.  He could see through it and he could see who cried.  Ronan’s heart broke.  His daughter sat on the floor, dressed in rags, with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped tight around them.  A large red handprint covered the side of her face, not the first one to end up there, and the tears rained down.  Ronan realized she was locked in a closet for bad behavior.  But, she cried for fear.  Fear for herself, her friends, her father and fear of being alone in this dark place.

Ronan reached for her, but the nails held him fast to the wall the next floor down.  Below him he heard footsteps.  He turned his blind eyes down.  Under his feet Fortunatus paced in a small pit.  He could only take one or two steps wall to wall.  The magical lines around him glowed like sickly green glow-sticks.  Jack tried to keep the angry vampire trapped below.  A mixture of seething wrath and worry flickered across Fortunatus’ face.  His eyes glowed red in the dark.

Following the green lines, Ronan saw Jack pacing a hallway.  The light of the lanterns lining the hall turned his eyes to gold.  They gleamed for a moment like an animal’s eyes caught in the headlights of a passing car.  He paced up and down, up and down, up and down just like his god-father below.  Rich fabrics covered his body, but he sweated through them with the effort of holding Fortunatus.  Ronan saw fresh cuts on Jack’s arms, and knew he had drained some of his own blood in an attempt to feed his friend. Blood laced with his magic, blood filled with the same magic imprisoning the vampire. No wonder the kid sweated.  His wiznit was nowhere to be seen.  As Ronan watched Monk ran up.

“She is coming and I can’t find Ash.  I don’t know where she put her,” Monk, a large bruise disfiguring half his face, stared up at Jack with pleading eyes.  Ronan knew, just like he know Jack shared his blood with Fortunatus, that the bruise had come from Jack.  Jack had hit Monk.

Jack ignored him, sending him off with a wave of his hand.

“Here we go,” he whispered. 

Ronan saw joy in his eyes as he waited for Mara.

Turning to meet her, Jack paused and listened.

“Ronan?” he whispered to the empty air around him…

Ronan sat up in bed.  He did not gasp, groan, or curse.  He just sat up and did not move.  Guilt washed over him, the unstoppable waves on the shore.  Here he was being healed in a lodge with light, food, and friends,  His daughter and two kids shouldered the responsibilities which should have been his.  They were beaten and tortured, while Ronan lay in a warm, soft bed with Sundance at his side.  But what of Jack?  Had he really been happy to see Mara coming?  What was he doing with Fortunatus, and what had happened to Zephyr?  Had Jack really been the one to hit Monk?  What was he doing?

Now, Ronan cursed.  With a sharp growl he tore the blankets off and climbed out of bed.  The smell of pines and snow floated into the room on a breeze.  Ronan felt around the chest of drawers for his pants and boots.  He fumbled, his fingers catching on something on the top.  It fell to the floor with a crash.  He swore again smashing his fist into the front of the dresser.  Pain shot through his broken bones.  He embraced it as a reminder that his daughter sat in a closet somewhere crying.

Soft hands took his and wrapped around his fist.  They kissed the fingers, and reached up to wiped tears off his cheeks.  He had not realized he cried.

“Your hands are bleeding again.  And even though I can’t see it, I would venture to bet your soul is not as whole as the ones you healed.”

“She still has my daughter.  What father leaves his daughter behind?”

“The one who knows he needs to live to fight another day.  Mara is less likely to kill Ash now that she has Jack.  She was on her way to kill you.”

“She still has Monk, Jack, Fortunatus, and Zephyr.  I don’t know how long.  Psychopaths don’t just stop killing cause they have what they want.”

Sundance kissed him on the cheek.

A knock at the door startled them. Ronan let Sundance go and she opened the door.

“Genesis?”

“Oh, sorry.  I didn’t know…” Genesis stopped.  Ronan realized she read the most into Sundance answering his door.

“It’s okay Genesis.  I was woken up by a vision.”

“I see.” She cleared her throat. “I need you both to join me downstairs.  We’ve had an interesting development.”

“Development?”

“I have eight vampires downstairs who are just a little pissed at Mara.”

Ronan turned his head towards Genesis and smiled. “She didn’t think of that, did she?”

“No, no she didn’t,” Genesis said.  Ronan could hear the smile in her voice.  They were not out of this battle, yet.

“Get Dora and we will be down in a minute.”

Ronan heard Genesis leave, and Sundance shut the door to his room.

“Eight vampires?” He heard the awe in her voice.

Ronan leaned against the dresser and dropped his head.  Thankfulness flooded through him.  This was help unlooked for, help which might turn the tide.

“I know, Ronan,” Sundance said, “that it’s not easy to need my help to even get dressed in the morning.” She took his hand and led him to his clothing. “But we’re going to get your eyes fixed, and then we’re going back to rescue your daughter and get everyone else.”

“Now I feel like we have a chance to do just that,” Ronan said.

With Sundance’s help, Ronan got his pants and boots on, got his vest buckled back, and his bracers tightened on his wrist.  He slipped into his shoulder holster, checked the location of his speed loaders with his fingers, and pulled Jack’s old duster on.  He did not plan to shoot anyone while he could not see, but he wanted his guns close by, regardless.  They left the room, Sundance leading him by the arm.  Ronan flexed his fingers, but the pain kept him from moving them much.  The vision, the dream had re-broken his hands.  He hoped there would be some food this early in the pre-dawn hours which would be as healing as dinner the morning before had been.  They stopped at Sundance’s room and she went and slipped into a long, fitted brown skirt, lace up boots, blouse and fitted vest with a little cropped jacket.  Twin belts crossed her waist with small, pearl handled guns hanging on her hips.  She described her outfit as she came out of the room to where he waited in the hall for her.

Sundance led him down the stairs, across the living room, and down to the dining room where she paused.

“What is it?” Ronan asked.

“She wasn’t lying.  There are eight vampires here.”

“Did you think she was lying?” Ronan said.

“No, I’m just surprised.”

“Ronan,” Genesis said at his side, “Let me introduce you to my vampires.”

Sundance took his hand and put it on the shoulder of a man.  The man bowed.

“I am Vertune.  It is an honor to meet you SoulDefender.”

“The honor is mine,” Ronan responded feeling like he was in some cheesy girly movie.

Next came Quentin, followed by Rail Quinn, and then the Orphans.  Each came up to Ronan and bowed to him and to Sundance.  After the introductions had been made, Sundance helped Ronan into a chair and they sat down at the table with everyone else.

Beautiful smells filled the air and Ronan started.

“What happened?”

Sundance giggled.

“The table is trying to feed us.”

It filled with sweet breads, cinnamon rolls covered with sticky, thick icing, steaming pancakes piled high, dark maple syrup, bowls of glistening berries, hot pans filled with fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage.  The smell of rich coffee greeted Ronan and Sundance handed him a goblet of sweet milk much like the cool liquid he drank yesterday morning.

…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…

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