Tag Archive: Fortunatus


Quote of the Weekend

When the days are cold
And the cards all fold
And the saints we see
Are all made of gold
When your dreams all fail
And the ones we hail
Are the worst of all
And the blood’s run stale

I want to hide the  truth
I want to shelter you
But with the beast inside
There’s  nowhere we can hide
No matter what we breed
We still are made of  greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come

When you  feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where  my demons hide

Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where  my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

When the curtain’s call
Is the last of all
When the lights fade out
All the sinners crawl
So they dug your grave
And the masquerade
Will come calling out
At  the mess you made

Don’t want to let you down 
But I am hell bound
Though this is all for  you
Don’t want to hide the truth
No matter what we breed
We still  are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom  come

When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my  demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

Don’t get too close
It’s  dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

They say it’s what you make
I say it’s up to fate
It’s woven in my  soul
I need to let you go
Your eyes, they shine so bright
I want to  save their light
I can’t escape this now
Unless you show me how

When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

- Demons by Imagine Dragons

(I like to think of this song as Fortunatus’ song to Akilina.  He loves this pure angel but he has blood on his hands, he’s cursed.   He always feels like he doesn’t want her too close.  The song has a beautiful pleading sound to it that I love.)

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

Crow’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket.  He released Olive to check the caller ID.

“What did you see in your vision?”  Olive asked linking her hands behind his neck.

“Hold on, it’s Stan,” he said flipping the phone open.

“Did you leave before the police got there?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t resist the visions anymore, so we got out of there.  Manson’s royally angry.  And, I found out he’s losing his connection with the spirit world.  Dove said his soul’s too torn to sense it like he should.  According to her, the whole spirit world is singing Olive’s name right now.  I’m sure Dove will be coming soon cause he’s not gonna be content to just let this go.”

“Will you put it on speaker,” Olive asked.

Crow switched it to speaker and held it between them.

“Stan, I’m here.  I noticed some interesting magical lines when I healed the house, ones Crow probably couldn’t see before due to the inheritance in him being so small.”

“Or cause we’ve never gone back to a crime scene to see what Manson left behind,” Stan said.

“Or,” Crow added, “this is something he’s done recently.”

“That too….or three,” Olive said.  “I think Manson not only gets a high destroying their souls, but he maintains a buzz by feeding off the rips in the souls of the families and friends.  I saw the same vein-like magical lines linking Manson to the body as I did leading away from it.  I think we need to follow that vein and see where it leads.

“What if it leads back to Manson?” Crow asked.

“It isn’t the main vein, but an off shoot.  And besides, Colin can tell us if we’re headed right towards Manson.  I’d be willing to bet it leads to Robert’s family.  If I’m right, we may be able to do more healing.”

“Which means more pissing off Manson,” Crow said.

“Exactly.”

“Alright kids,” Stan said. “Let’s meet back in the town square in front of that antique mall.”

“Make sure Aunt Rose comes with you, I want her to look at the magical lines,” Olive said shifting to her feet.

“What about Jack?”

Olive raised an eyebrow in question at Crow.

“He can come if he wants or he can stay with Fortunatus since the sun’s out right now.  But I want him to have a cell phone….”Crow paused.  Old nightmares flashed through him.

“Crow?  Olive? You still there?” Stan said, a hint of fear in his voice.

“Yeah….bring everyone, even Fortunatus with you.  I don’t want anyone alone.”

Now Stan went silent on the other end of the phone.  Crow imagine Stan saw the same bloody nightmares he had.  Absent-mindedly, Crow rubbed the list of X’ed out names on his shoulder.  Olive took his hand and kissed the tips of his fingers.

“Will do, Crow,” Stan finally said, “See y’all in a second.”

“Keep your cell phone with you.  I’ll call Fortunatus and wake him.”

“Got it.  And one more thing, an Agent Syracuse of the FBI is waiting to interface with the detectives assigned to Noles murder.  You remember Detective Richards?  When I called him, he sent me to Syracuse.  Apparently the FBI decided to assign her anything that smells strange.”

“You mean anything magical?”

“Yeah, but they don’t call it that, they call it strange.  Also, the detectives assigned are Blaine and Stark.”

“The ones who dropped by the house the other day?” Crow said.  He couldn’t believe it was just a few days ago, felt like years.

“Same two guys.”

“I thought they were Dorian PD?”

“Chesterfield’s too small to have that big of a police force, Dorian’s helping out.”

“That worries me.”

“Me too.  I gotta go.  See you in a sec,” Stan said and then hung up.

Crow hung up, scrolled down to Fortunatus’ number, and listened to it ring.

“Yes, dhampir?”

“We have to move out.  Manson’s figured out what we’re doing and Olive found a link from the murder scene to what we think is Robert’s family.  We want to deal with that before Manson gets Dove or the Greeks here.”

“The sun has just crossed the line into noonday.  The Greeks will not be able to arrive until tonight.”

“We’re moving you around in the daylight, so why couldn’t they do the same?  Manson’s not that far away and it won’t take him long to get going.  Stan’s gonna pull up in the covered drive and let you in the back of the van.  I don’t want anyone staying by themselves.  Even you.”

“How considerate of you, and it is so nice to see you learning lessons from the past.”

Crow flipped the phone shut and stood up.

“You’re gonna have to learn to be polite to more people than just witches,” Olive said taking his hand.

“What?”

“It’s considered polite to say good-bye when ending a conversation before you hang up.”

“Not when you are talking to someone who had a hand in your parent’s death and continues to be a prick.”

Olive sighed.  She took a large white feather out of the pocket of her pouch and brushed Crow’s shoulders off.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to get rid of the chip on your shoulder.  Someday you’ll have to accept the fact that your parents died, and that Fortunatus, who’s now forgiven, had a hand in it.  Someday you’ll have to face the fact that the only person you can be angry at is God.  Then you’ll have to decide if you have the right to be angry with Him.”

“I think I do if he killed my parents.”

“Everyone dies.  Everyone loses their parents.  The child whose mother dies of cancer while he watches helplessly is in no different position than you.  God wrote your parents story, and out of that he gave you the tools to beat Manson.  Don’t lose them in your anger and resentment.  Trust the King.”

Crow studied her.  He stared deep into her glowing green eyes.  She was right.  If he defeated Manson with hate and anger, he would be a hollow shell at the moment of Manson’s death.  He would be a ghost with no purpose but to find something else to hate.  Unless he laid his anger at the feet of the King and took hold of the hope offered back, he had no life outside Manson.  The pain of hope, sharp and clear, hurt almost as much as damnation.

“Are you okay?”

He tipped his head back, blinking away sudden tears, while he pinched the bridge of his nose.  Olive came around him resting her hand on his chest.  Crow took a deep breath.  He filled himself with the good, clean, beautiful scent of her.

“My curse lifted the day I mixed you up with one of Manson’s attempts to trap me.  You healed me first.”

She put her arms around him.  “Then I have the greatest gift ever.”

“What’s that?” Crow wrapped her in his arms and kissed her forehead.

“You. Whole, healed, and filled with hope.”

Taking Olive’s hand with Zephyr on his shoulder, Crow the only dhampir – cursed with damned gifts from his Father and Mother – left the forest with a pure heart.  It was time to end the reign of Manson, the witch of Serial Killers.

light-in-the-dark

The white van pulled up in front of the Antique Mall.  The glass eyes of old dolls watched Crow and Olive climb inside through the sheer pane of their jail window.  Crow noticed new license plates on the front and back.  After this was all done, he would need to contact this Agent Syracuse and detectives Blaine and Stark to make sure no innocent people end up in trouble.  In fact, if this came to a head as soon as he hoped, they would need to contact them sooner.  Rose held up her mirror until she found the same pulsing vein Olive had found at the apartment hiding one block over in a dirty alley.  Checking for traffic, Stan pulled out.  Jack threw his arms around Olive and Crow as they settled in the van.

“Glad we’re back, kid?” Crow said.

“I was worried.”

“Do we know, for sure, where this magical line goes?” Stan asked from up front.

“Not to Manson,” Colin said from the back.  “If that’s what you’re worried about.”

“That’s exactly what I was worried about.”

“See,” Jack smiled.  “I’m not the only one who’s worried.”

Sunlight glinted in Rose’s mirror dancing and flickering like a trapped fairy.  She watched the blood-stained trail Manson left linking something – Olive believed the suffering family – with the body in the spare room.  Stan obeyed all the speed limits and traffic signs to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to themselves.  They left the few blocks of Main Street, drove through a tiny school zone in front of the elementary school and the town library, and turned into the country road leading out into the flat Texas plains studded with wild mesquite trees.  Stan listened to his police radio while he followed Rose’s direction.

“Not even a little chatter about us.  This is too easy,” Stan said rubbing the back of his neck.

Crow felt exactly the same.  What was he leading his family into?  He checked the Jade Gun’s magazine and the extra ones.  All the bullets he had loaded this morning were still there.  He drummed his fingers on the arm rest.

“Just because we have a path to follow doesn’t mean it is a trap,” Olive said.

“You haven’t been in one of Manson’s traps before.  Usually someone dies a horrible death.  Makes a person kinda jumpy.”

“Um, Stan.  You have me the way I am because I’ve been in one of Manson’s traps.  Remember?”

“Sorry.” Stan blanched still rubbing his neck.  “Sorry.  I forgot.  You’re just the first one to every come out ahead after Manson got ahold of ‘em.  It’s hard to remember he did.”

“No it’s not,” Olive whispered examining her hands in her lap.

“We can’t help it,” Crow said.  He wrapped his arm around Olive not wanting her to think about what Manson did to her.  “Since the day he found my mom, he has always been one step ahead.  We’ve never caught up.   If he’s not laying low sending his spawn out into the world, he’s dancing in front of us setting traps and we just keep running into them.”

“Almost there, dears,” Rose said.

“I know, guys,” Olive said lifting her head with a smile.  “But I also know from your vision, Crow, and what I felt in that room, that this isn’t a trap.  This is payback.”

“Here we are.”

Rose pointed to a little white house set deep on a large lot with a plethora of ivy climbing on it.  Though still mostly brown from the winter, here and there new green leaves burst from the main vine to collect sunshine.  Potholes dotted the dirt drive washed out by the spring rains.  Three large pecan trees stood sentinel over the yard, green buds gracing every branch tip.  A shadow covered the house though not a single cloud broke the wide blue sky.

“Oh, the poor things,” Olive said, seeing the depths of the spell and magical lines that no one else could.

“It smells like Manson,” Crow said tossing his head.

“You’re telling me,” Colin said.  He turned to Olive. “So what you’re saying is that me, Crow here, and Ms. Rose, can see the magical lines – which I can.  But we can’t see ‘em like you see ‘em?”

“You could probably pick the lines apart to see the true spell underneath them,” Olive said.

“But she didn’t have to,” Crow said.  “They were visible to her right off the bat.”

Olive blushed.  “I’m gonna start on the outside of the house first, and then I’ll have y’all join me to help the family heal.  Crow, I think there you’ll play the bigger part.   Aunt Rose, will make my magic visible so they can see what I’m doing?”

Rose nodded and they all watched Olive climb from the van.  She stepped to the front and faced the house, unmoving.  Rose reached inside her beaded handbag and pulled out a larger mirror with an autumn leaf embedded in its back.  She levitated it so everyone in the van could see through it.  A wave of magic passed over the group.  All the hairs on Crow’s arms stood up.

Olive became visible in the mirror, stalwart before the haunted home.  Crow was right.  He saw her TrueSelf every day, all the time, but this version glimmered more – like the TrueSelf of her TrueSelf - reminding Crow of the angels in the Spirit Plane more than any witch on this one.  Her skirt and tank top faded into a long sunshine yellow dress with a belt of orange maple leaves.  Living vines sprouted and wrapped her bare tattooed arms forming circle after circle of spring green.  Snowflakes, white and sparkling, pinned her hair up in a pile of multi-colored curls.  She bent down and held out her hands.  Tendrils of ivy, branches of the pecans, and flowers from the front planters came to her like injured dogs finding comfort in the hands of their master.  She stroked the plants cooing softly to them as she danced amongst them.  New leaves budded. New flowers bloomed.  Sunlight flooded the yard shattering the shadow.

She stopped, stood completely still, and held out her hand.  On a breath of a crisp breeze, a blood-red leaf swirled and landed on her palm. Olive held it up to her face, like a masquerade mask, and looked at the house.  Colin gasped.  Bile rose in Crow’s throat.  Manson’s line of pain and torture expanded to cover the house like a net made of veins.  It collected all the anguish from the broken family, and sent it pulsing back to Manson.

Olive held out her other hand.  A gust of cold, snowy air swirled around her dropping a sword of ice in her fist.  She clasped the frozen hilt with both hands and lifted it high over her head.  The sun caught the clear ice and blazed from the blade.  Crow swore as it momentarily blinded him.  With a cry, Olive brought the ice sword crashing down. It sliced the vein in two before shattering into a thousand pieces.  The net over the house throbbed, blackened, and died.

Rose lowered her mirror.  “The spell’s been destroyed.  We can go out now.  She’ll need help with the family.”

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

Crow and oliveThe bright morning sun did not lighten the apartment.  Dark shadows lurked in every corner.  Dark screams haunted every crack.  The murder of a man, the ripping of his soul, tainted the walls down to the cells and atoms.

“Oh, Crow.”

Olive’s eyes filled with tears.  She clutched his arm.  Crow wanted to delay the moment he had to show her the body behind the door.  If the empty living room caused tears to course down her cheeks, what would the mutilated mass do?  Doubt pushed into Crow.  He didn’t want his wife to see this.  He wanted her to remain innocent of what Manson had brought to life.  He wanted the few remaining nightmares to fade, not increase.  Crow turned away.  A tail of dizziness chased the movement.  Manson wanted in his mind.

Olive remained planted.

“I can do this, Crow.  I must do this.  You’re not just my husband, you’re my one and only servant and I don’t plan on sharing you with Manson forever.”

He studied her face, her resolve.  Fear drew white circles around her eyes.  Her breathing and heart rate shortened and increased, but she faced the room with a stalwart gaze.

“What do we do next?”

“Well, we’ve got to work with two worlds, the Spiritual and the Material.  I’m going to deal with the Spiritual side and you and Stan will have to call the police and get them up to see the body.  But, only after I’ve made sure Manson’s evil is undone.”

From inside her suede cross-body bag, Olive pulled a small potted plant.  Dark green leaves contrasted with bold white flowers flaring back from their stems.

“This is gonna be interesting,” she said brushing a stray red hair off her cheek. “My magic will break the shield spilling all the natural evil of decay out of the apartment.  Someone’s bound to call the police.  The Gray might be alerted.  I just need some time before witches or cops get here.”

Crow nodded and stepped back.

“Will you open all the blinds?  In the whole apartment?”

Shifting through the place, Crow followed her instruction even in the room with the body.  Olive sat crossed-legged in the middle of the empty living room floor with the plant in her lap.  A patch of watery sun coated her.  She closed her eyes, leaned back her head, and called to the plant.  She called to the good, the pure, the beauty in the white flowers.  She called to the hope of spring, the warmth of summer, the glow of fall, and the slumber of winter.  Crow’s servant tattoos tingle while his vampire skin burned.  Too much sunlight and too much purity flowed out into the room.  Olive’s plant overcame the dark shadows.  It grew until it filled the entire space with light, wind, snow, and earth.  It chased off the nightmares – the death and the torture.  The sound of shattered glass jerked Crow around.  His stomach lurched in the wake of another attempt by Manson to gain access to his head.  The shield fractured and fell like black snow, disappearing as it touched the ground.

“They’re going to smell him now.”

Olive shifted to her feet.  Her eyes glazed over.  She stared into the magical lines of another world.  Tilting her head, she stepped to her right and filled the empty room with good clean light.  Done, she shifted to the kitchen.  Here she stopped, still holding the plant.  Crow’s phone vibrated, interrupting them.  Olive ignored it, gone from the here and now.  Crow pulled it out, saw Stan’s name on the caller ID, and flipped it open.  His nerves were raw with tension while they had to be split into two groups.  He believed Stan and Fortunatus could handle any monsters Manson sent their way but his hair still stood on end and his muscles still bunched.  When Stan left to look for Emma, they knew Manson focused on the pain brought by Olive’s touch.  Now, they were at risk.  Manson had nothing to focus on except what they were doing to attack him.  It would be just like him to use this distraction to separate them so he could kill a few of them on the side.

“Yeah?” Crow said.  He pressed his hand to his forehead to stop the world from spinning.

“Just checking in.”

“We’ll be done here soon.  The shield’s down.  The neighbors are going to be able to smell this now.  Hell of a way to wake up in the morning.”

“Make it fast.”

“Will do.”  Crow hung up the phone.

The magical lines were more tangled in the kitchen.  Olive studied them while the plant waved green leaves and white flowers in an unfelt breeze.

“It’s like a giant ball of twine from two skeins,” Olive said.  “One’s from the tattered remains of the shield and other magic the Gray wrapped around the apartment.  The other’s from Manson’s SoulReading.”

She pointed to the tangled mess directing his eye.  Manson’s spell pulsed with suffering.  One artery ran into the room with the body while another branched off out of the apartment.

“Gotcha,” Olive whispered.

Using the power of summer and brilliant light filled with long days and warm nights, Olive ate up Manson’s artery of suffering.  It blackened, crinkled, and burned it away.  The Gray’s magic collapsed and dissipated without Manson’s spell to support it.

“Last and worst.”

Crow shifted ahead and opened the door to the body.  Thick veins spread from the artery to cover the walls of the room.  They consumed and gathered the pain from every blood splatter, from every scream hidden in the walls like a net.

Olive stumbled back.  Something powerful shoved her into the hallway wall.   Crow reached for her.

“Stay back.”

She gritted her teeth, held the plant out, and pushed back.  She pushed back at the darkness, the emptiness.  She filled the room with faith, hope and love.  She filled the room with sunlight.  She filled it with warmth, joy, and wild play.  She filled it with imagination.   A thunder-clap reverberated through the room.  The body tumbled to the floor with a wet slap.  Olive closed her eyes.   She held out her hand to Crow.  He entwined his fingers with hers.  They trembled but he held them fast.

“Let me see it through your eyes,” she whispered.

A strange feeling of joy, freedom, crisp hope, and soft sleep washed over Crow.  The tattoos on the back of his hand warmed.  Sheer, light as light, bottle-green sheets draped the bloody room, like a giant had torn a large piece of cloth to shreds.

“The remains of his soul,” Olive said.  “Come help me gather them up.”

“I’ve never seen a soul this way before.”

“We’re mixing lots of magic together.  It’s bound to be different.”

Following Olive, Crow helped her pick up the tattered remains one by one.  They dropped each piece into the white flowers and dark green leaves of the plant until there were none left.  A noise, like the rushing of a winter wind, filled the room.  The vision faded.  Olive slumped against Crow.  He wrapped his arms around her, holding her up.  With the soul gathered, only the horror of a body remained in the middle of the hollow, empty room.  The scent of metal and tension brushed by Crow’s nose.  The police were here.  He pulled out his phone and called Stan.

“So?”

“It’s done.  The police are here.  I’m assuming they’ll see the open door and smell the smell.  You may want to call our contacts and get them to vouch for us.”

“Already done.  How’s Manson?”

“I am about to see if I can find out, but Olive’s spent.”

“I got you covered, just relax.”

“I am relaxed,” Crow said through gritted teeth.

Crow hung up the phone and rolled his neck and shoulders.  He needed to go to the vision that still pressed against his mind, but he didn’t want to leave Olive alone in this room with him unconscious and cops about to run in.  Too late, the vision came….

….in the beginning it was always dark….Crow heard a howl of anger before he saw anything….

Manson flung himself around a nondescript hotel room screaming like a small child who had a cookie taken away from him.  He scooped up a lamp and smashed it against a wall.  White porcelain pieces pelted Dove.  Crow balked at the immature temper-tantrum his enemy threw.  It was absurd to watch someone who had haunted him his whole life, before he was even born, scream, yell, and break things.  Crow couldn’t believe this was how Manson responded.  The Greeks, the Coven, and Dove sat in the corners looking on.  A raised eyebrow here and there said they couldn’t believe it either.

“Master,” Dove growled. 

Manson stopped flailing about.  Breathing hard he glared around the room, his left arm in a sling.

“You! What have you done?”

Crow maintained his silence.  For the first time in his life, he contentedly watch the vision and left Manson to ponder.

 “Crow!”

“He is here?” Adonis said straightening up in his seat.

“Of course he’s here!” Manson screamed, spittle flying from his mouth as he rounded on the vampires. 

They leaned back.  Xanthus shifted to his feet.   What?  The Greeks fell before no one, but on the other hand Manson’s imbalanced tantrum could be followed up with power.  Unlike a small child, Manson could kill those he hated.  Crow couldn’t blame them for scurrying out of Manson’s path.  A sudden realization burned through him.  How many times had he thrown similar fits of frustration?  How many times had Stan and Zephyr loyally stood on the side of a hotel room waiting for him to burn out?  How often did he cures everything between heaven and hell?  Shame flushed his skin.  For years and years he had given Manson so much power over himself.  For fifty years he had allowed Manson to drive him, herd him, responding like a spoiled child.  No more.  Never again would he break and smash the people who supported him out of uncontrolled rage.  He would give Manson no more hold over his soul.

 “How are you feeling, Manson?” Crow broke his silence.

“You can’t do this. You’re the echo of the echo!”

“That’s not the only thing I am.  Enjoy your next few days.  I’m coming for you,” Crow said

Manson laughed.  “You?  When have you ever bested me?  When has any witch only reigned over their power for 50 years or so?  Come for me, Crow, and I will finish off what I started.”

“I have something you don’t have, can never have.  And it’s you I have to thank for it.”

“Your stupid love did nothing for your parents and it won’t protect you now,” Manson’s voice broke into a high pitch scream.

 “It’s Olive.”

Everyone, including Crow, turned to Dove.

“The very essence of magic pulses with her name,” Dove said.

“I feel nothing,” Manson said.

Dove bowed her head.

“Speak demon-witch.  What is it you know?” Kalogeros said adjusting his sunglasses.

Manson stared at Dove and Crow hung, unsubstantial in the air, on the edge of his seat.

“A tortured death doesn’t just rip and tear the soul of the victim.  It also destroys the soul of the murderer.  Your soul is so torn, Master, you can’t sense some magical lines anymore.  You have lost many connections.”

Crow had heard all he needed to hear.  He pushed against the vision.  Manson had no power to detain him.  An infuriated scream followed him back….

He was no longer in the apartment.  He smelled trees and clean air.  Crow opened his eyes with a groan.  His head pounded with a headache bent on splitting his skull, but the dizziness had faded.

“Hey handsome,” Olive said.

She ran her hands through his hair.  His head rested in her lap.  Rocks and twigs poked him in the back.  He rolled over and sat up.  Zephyr sat on Olive’s shoulder smiling.

“Where are we and what happened?”

They sat in a small forest of young trees filled with sunlight and new green leaves.  Birds flitted back and forth through the branches planning nests and courting lovers.  Small rodents gathered leaves and last summer’s grass to line their nest with babies already on the way.  Mushrooms forced their way out of moist soil forming circles and hiding places for fairy folk and toads alike.

“You had a vision and kinda just dropped to the ground.  The cops had arrived but I didn’t think this was the time to stop what we’re doing, go sit at the station, and try to explain who and what we are.  So, I just picked you up and brought you here.”

“Are we still in Chesterfield?”

“Just outside it actually, to the South, closer to Dorian.  You never told me how much fun it is to shift,” she said.

“You never asked if it was fun.”

Crow scented the air.  It smelled good and safe.  The image of his wife carrying him this far seemed off kilter.  It irritated him for some reason.

“Don’t worry,” she said, as if she could read his mind. “I won’t tell anyone I carried you from the apartment.”

“I don’t care.  You’re as strong as a vampire.  Why wouldn’t you?”

“Liar.  You do care.” She punched his shoulder with a laugh.  “So I won’t tell.  It’s a wife’s job to defend her husband’s softer side from the world.”

Crow wasn’t sure he was ready to admit he had a softer side.  He remembered Manson’s tantrum.  Fighting back his irritability, he changed the subject to what he should have checked on in the first place.

“How are you feeling?” he said sitting up.

“Great,” Olive said with a happy smile.  “I’m sure I’ll have nightmares later, but I can feel myself recharging the longer I sit here around all the plants.  It still feels weird.  It’s like having someone new in your home.  You keep bumping into one another.  That’s how my day-vampire-self feels with my witch self.  They keep bumping, but it is getting better.”

“Your eyes are glowing,” Crow said struck by the beauty of their green.

“Red?” She sounded afraid.

“No, green actually.”

“My eyes have always been green.”

“I know that,” Crow said giving her multi-colored hair a playful tug.  “I look at them all the time, but now they glow.  They shine a bright green.  Just like mine glow red when I feed, yours are glowing green cause you’re feeding on this new spring.  The other day they were silver-gold.”

“Silver-gold?”

“You were walking in the dew of the morning.”

Crow plucked a blade of grass from between his feet and broke it apart.

“You feed when you need to regenerate,” Zephyr said.  She fluttered over to a leaf, and took a handful of dew hidden deep in the crook of the branch drinking it down.  “You regenerate without killing anything.  You’re able to take what you need and bring no harm to the one you take it from.”

Olive face broke into a wide grin.  “Well that’s good cause I don’t want to kill anything.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” Crow said.

“You think everything about me is beautiful.”

“Nope.”

“What?”  She threw her arms around him and leapt into his lap.

He caught her, pulled her close to himself, and drank her in.

“There’s this one little freckle on your nose I’m not sure I like,” he teased.  “Other than that, everything about you is beautiful.”

“One little freckle?  I guess no one’s perfect.”

“You are.”

He bent down and kissed her.  He kissed her in the spring filled glade, in the sunlight.  He took in her beauty, purity, and love.  He gave his strength to her and accepted the love she gave him in return.

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

RF244624

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

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Follow me on Instagram @abigailtinuviel

Olive walked through the back yard bathed in early morning sunlight.  It played across her bare shoulders and tipped her hair with gold.  Shade from the pecan tree dappled her arms.  Her tattoos turned into living flowers and leaves waving in the sunshine.  Olive’s toe rings sparkled as she stepped through the dew covered grass communing with the plants in the yard – greeting them, talking, and covering them in life and health.  The more she gave to them the more her eyes glowed golden silver.  At the time of the transfusion, with his third taste of Olive’s blood, Crow had been convinced his beautiful wife would never be kissed by the sun again.  He’d never been so happy to be so wrong in his life.  Their mirrored marriage tattoo glistened with newness on Olive’s shoulder in the center of a snowdrop: a large crow, the sun on his back, flying through a field of wild flowers.  The bird cast a black shadow across the bright colors.  While it nestled in a flower on Olive’s shoulder, it covered Crow’s pushing the list of names further down his arm.    Crow rubbed the back of his hand where Olive’s servant tattoos marked him as hers.  Not so long ago he planned to demand she remove them.  Now, he not only carried them but also a marriage tattoo.  Never would he have thought it possible.  Never to such a woman.  But, it would still take some time to get used to the titanium double-ring in gunmetal gray engraved with the words forever and always wrapped around his finger.  The words served as a memorial to his parents, his vows to Olive, and as a sign of hope that what Manson had made evil would become good.

Jack sat, crossed legged, at Crow’s feet.  His five skunks tumbled around him fighting with the kittens while Acorn watched from a safe distance. His wounded side, still bandaged, promised to heal completely.  Zephyr stood on Jack’s head with fistfuls of his hair in each hand.  Any time he went still she would pull and twist until he couldn’t stand it. He would violently shake his head trying to dislodge the Wiznit sending them both into a fit of giggles.

Everyone waited for Olive to be ready.  She decided she needed to see the sun because spring rains were coming fast.  Inside, Fortunatus slept the sleep of the forgiven, waiting to be woken when it was time to leave.  Stan and Rose run down the street to get last-minute groceries.  Colin, the Tracker, waited at the van enjoying a smoke with his coffee.  Crow and Stan had prepared the van with a curtained off back so Olive and Fortunatus both had a safe place to escape the sun or the night.  The Circus moved on to Sweet Grass waiting on a call from Crow to return.  Neither Detective Blaine nor Officer Stark had made a second visit.  Crow had a sneaking suspicion they would become involved.  Things often ended the way they began in the world of magic, in the stories of the King.

“Crow?” Olive suddenly appeared in front of him.  She couldn’t help grinning.  She loved to shift.  She loved the thrill of moving so fast.

“I wish I was a vampire so I could shift,” Jack said.

Zephyr gave his hair a swift tug.

“No you don’t, kid.  Shifting is fun but drinking blood and living in the night isn’t.”

“Neither of you have to do that.”

“You wouldn’t be like us.  You’d be like that vampire sleeping inside.”

Jack glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the sleeping Fortunatus.  Crow saw a dangerous longing in the kid’s eyes.

“The first thing you’d probably eat is all your pets.  When you first become a vampire you don’t think real clearly.”

A safe dread flooded Jack’s face.

“That’d be awful.”

“Be content, Jack,” Olive said.  “You are what you’re meant to be.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” he asked in a pre-teen pout.

“A real strong kid who deals with things most grown men couldn’t process.”

“Really?” Jack said.

“She’s right.  I don’t know many men who could have gone through what you did with your parents and in the Spirit Plane.  You’re a real warrior in your heart and mind, Jack.”

Jack checked both their faces for lies, but found none.  He grinned from ear to ear.  Thank goodness.  The last thing Crow needed was Jack crushing on vamps more than he already was.  Maybe he could get that Trent Green he met at the Requiem to talk to the kid?

Crow leaned back looking up at the magical woman who had appeared before him.  Olive ran her hands through his thick dark hair chasing chills down his spin.  She leaned in and kissed him.

“Let’s go. You’re making me a nervous wreck sitting there trying to be patient.”

She didn’t have to tell him twice.

“Man, I love that woman,” he whispered to himself as he shifted into the house to get Fortunatus up and gather their things.

            Crow stood in the rain. Night had closed in around them and now began to wane.  The rain dripped on the hood and shoulders of his long black coat. He tugged the hood low leaving only the three-day-growth-of-beard on his chin visible.  A pair of headlights passed over him.  The rain captured in its beams turned gold for an instant before it faded into the night.  Zephyr held her usual place on his shoulder, warm and dry.  Across the street, Colin sat in a stairwell smoking a cigarette.  He brought it to his lips and took a deep draw on it.  The rain quickly dissipated the stream of smoke he exhaled.

Crow’s phone vibrated in his pocket.

“You ready for this, kid?” Stan asked without preamble.

“Shoot.”

“A gate opened shortly after y’all got back.  I am not sure where it opened.  Colin could tell us.”

“He could tell us North, East, South, or West, but he couldn’t tell us a street name.”

“Well, the Greeks, who seemed rather pissed off for some reason, came through bringing Manson’s pet back with them.”

Stan paused.

“What else?” Crow prompted.

“No one has seen Orion since she opened the gate for you.”

“Orion can handle herself.  She’s no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.”

“Funny, Fortunatus said much the same thing.  The Requiem called to tell him and I wanted to make sure you’d heard.  Is he there yet?”

Crow glanced down the street at Fortunatus who had his best ‘innocent loiterer’ face on, which really just looked like, “Hi!  I am trying really hard not to look like a hungry vampire.”

“Yeah. He just got back from scouting around.”

“You sure about that?” Stan asked.

“I am.  I trust him.”  Crow didn’t want to have this conversation again. “We’re going in soon, everything okay there?”

“Yeah. Olive’s much better at waiting then you are.”

Crow hung up the phone with a growl and signaled to Fortunatus.  Shifting over to Colin, Crow took the cigarette from his fingers and indulged in a long draw before Colin even registered he was there.

“Shit.” Colin came to his feet backing up a few stairs. “I hate it when you do that.  Can’t you two move like normal folk?”

“It is very dull,” Fortunatus said appearing suddenly.

“Very,” Crow echoed.

“So this is the first house?” Crow asked.

“Technically this is the last.  This is the last known kill we have for Manson,” Colin said.

“The house on Poe Street is the first. The house on White is the second where he killed your parent’s friends….” Fortunatus searched the dark heavens for their names.

“West and JC,” Crow said barely kept his voice level.

“Yes, that is it.  Only the young man….”  Fortunatus stopped again.

“Guinness,” Crow growled fighting back the urge to punch Fortunatus in his smug face.

“Guinness was killed on Poe, and that little girl,” Fortunatus finished.

“You’re disgusting,” Crow said.  “I carry their names permanently on my arm and you can’t even bother to remember them.”

Fortunatus held up his hands.  “I did not intend flippancy or insult.  One cherishes the names of ones friends.  One does not cherish the name of unimportant people.  You do not remember the name of each vampire you have staked or mercenary Manson has sent after you, do you?”

Crow started up the stairs before he could follow through on his desire to beat Fortunatus to a bloody pulp.  Focus.  This was it – the beginning of the end.  Manson had tried and failed to drive Olive away from him.  Instead Crow had gained a powerful witch as wife and ally.  Instead of permanently hurting Crow, Manson got shot and separated from Dove for a few days.  They had lost friends in the battle, but the friends who died had not faced tortured while Crow watched, helpless.  The tide turned.  Crow hunted Manson with new vigor, the vigor of life and love.  He had reason beyond vengeance and pain.  Manson would come to an end and face his damnation.

Colin cleared his throat.

Rain fell on Crow’s hood.

Tiny wiznit fingers grasped his ear.  Zephyr’s hold tightened.

“What if it’s a trap,” she whispered in his ear.

“Then we’ll deal with it,” Crow said.  His heart hammered against his ribs with the same worry despite his bravado.  His feet refused to move.

“Sometime tonight, Dhampir,” the tracker said.

Crow took two more steps and came to a stop on the landing.  The door stood before him.  It would open to Manson’s last murder.  To Robert Noles.  The soul Crow totally ignored in a vision filled with pain.  Even Dove’s possession by the demon had elicited pity from Crow.  But not the man they would find in here.

“Yes, Crow.  I do have to be back at the hotel before the sun is up.  Olive and I are not like you, remember.”

“Forgiven or not, Fortunatus, you still get on my nerves.”

Crow grated his teeth and reached for the lack-luster knob on the door.

….in the beginning a vision was always dark….Crow floated over a dark fog. 

“This is Manson,” a long forgotten voice whispered in Crow’s ear.

The dark fog rolled and boiled.  Manson’s evilness, his collection of torn souls swirled around the tattered remains of his own.

 Out of the blackness Manson’s voice rose.  “What are you up to, Crow?”

Crow whipped himself out of the vision so fast he jerked back on the landing and lost his balance tripping over the top step.  His arms pin-wheeled.  Zephyr screeched in his ear.   Fortunatus stopped his fall with one hand.

“What happened?”

“Something changed.”

Crow scented but everything smelled like Manson.  The door, the stairwell, the rooms behind the door, they all smelled of blood and Manson.  He closed his eyes to stop the world from spinning.

“Manson just forced me into a vision.  He’s trying to figure out what we’re doing,” Crow paused and then smiled.  “He sounded concerned.”

“Suits the bastard right,” Fortunatus said.

“He’s not here.  Not yet,” Colin said, also sniffing the wet night air.

Crow drew the Jade Gun and turned the knob.  A magical field covered the open doorway.  It slinked around the entire interior of the house.

“Nice,” Colin said with a whistle. “That’s a good field of protection.  One of the best I’ve seen.  We didn’t even notice it from the outside.”

“It’s very powerful.  The Gray made it.”  Zephyr cocked her head.  She studied the field.

“That is not a good sign.  Will it keep us out?” Fortunatus said.

“It’s not made to keep anything out, but to keep what’s already in there in.  It’s a shield with a very specific marker.  There’s something else here too, something pulsing,” Zephyr said.

Crow stepped through the door. A wall of slick energy passed over him.  He shrugged his shoulders not wanting any of the Gray’s magic sticking to him.  He shifted to the right and covered the room.  Fortunatus shifted to the left and down.

“Clear,” Fortunatus said.  “And by heaven, what is that wonderful smell?”

Crow gagged.  The room reeked of meat, blood, pain, and suffering.  Almost a week old, the smell had congealed into something nauseous.  Dark shadows filled the room.  All the blinds were closed. With nothing to see in the front room, Crow moved off to a door on his right and sensed Fortunatus do the same to the kitchen on their left.  Colin came in through the field of protection.

He doubled over swearing and coughing.

“I’m waiting outside.”

“Why?” Fortunatus called from the kitchen.

“You’re disgusting,” Colin said backing out.

“Crow, come examine this,” Fortunatus said ignoring Colin.

Crow turned from another empty room to see a knife in Fortunatus’ hand covered with dried blood.  Fortunatus bent over and sniffed it.  Crow shifted over.  The blood flaked off the blade of the knife.

“It was in the sink.”

“It’s his blood.  Manson used it on Noles.  I recognize it from the vision.  This whole apartment reeks of his death.”

A sudden wave of dizziness swept through Crow.  He clutched the dirty counter.

“What?”  Zephyr and Fortunatus said together.

“Manson’s trying to get in my head.  This is how he did it the first time.  Mom thought she was the SoulReader, but she wasn’t.  She was the echo.  Manson’s the true SoulReader.  He fed her what he wanted her to know, up until she made the link with the girl Manson killed.”

“I do remember, Crow.” Fortunatus said.  He would not meet Crow’s gaze.  “The real question is: are you keeping him out?”

“Right now, yes. I guess that since I’m the inherited echo, the SoulReading power is really small in me and he has less control….I hope.”

“Or Olive,” Zephyr said.

“Olive?”

“You bear her mark not only on your hands and shoulder but also on both your back tattoos.  You are intertwined more deeply than just being married.  This may be providing you with some shielding from Manson’s power.”

“Whichever it is, just do not go spinning in circles on me at the very moment it gets violent,” Fortunatus said.

“I’ll do my best,” Crow said turning to the last door.

They stared at it.  The smell, the horror had to be behind it, but who wanted to open that door?  Crow stepped up and turned the knob.  Death gushed from the room.  Crow stepped back, lowered his head and pushed through the nightmare of Manson’s creativity.  The inhuman thing still sat, slumped, in the chair.  The disconnected IV rested beside it.

“Manson has gotten worse.  Not just here, but over time,” Fortunatus said.

“Serial killers like him always do.  He’s gotta increase the wattage of the high.”

Crow shifted all the way back outside through the oily shield.  Could Manson sense someone passing through it?

“Time to get Olive.”

            “It’s still dark….” Olive murmured from somewhere under a pile of pillows and blankets back in the hotel room.

“Yes, but the sun is rising,” Crow whispered over her.

He reached up and brushed back a strand of red and white hair.  A giggle floated up along with two slender hands and pulled him down into the bed.

            Crow stood outside Manson’s apartment again, Zephyr clutching his ear.  Now, the sun shone through broken clouds, her rays visible in the foggy air.  This time Olive stood by his side while Fortunatus hid from the light.  He liked the change from the vampire to Olive.  She was easier on the eyes and didn’t annoy him.

“It’s really bad,” Crow warned her, a sudden desire to protect her from the small back room rushed through him.

Olive nodded.  She pressed her lips together, determined.

Ignoring the dizziness of Manson’s frequent attacks, Crow shifted up the stairs and opened the door into the almost empty apartment.  It thrilled him to have Olive move as quickly as he did.  He almost thanked Manson for the transfusion which caused her to be who she was now.  Almost….two lives had been lost….almost.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

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Part 3: A New Creation

Joy infused every corner, every flower, every stitch in the wedding.   The gathering was small, the ceremony short.  Sorrow edged the occasion, as it generally does with any true and full joy.  Many gave their lives for this wedding to be possible.  Many who were dear, and who should have been there, had not lived to see its happiness.  But joy edged with sorrow only grows stronger, and their wedding untied rare and powerful magic.  Strength built on strength.

Crow tossed and turned on the sofa, his teeth clenched.  Emma hovered over him.  A steady stream of sand trickled from her fist.  Her silver hair hung in a sparkling sheet above him.  Starlight and moonlight crept in the uncurtained windows etching the living room with ghostly gray light.  It caught on Zephyr’s white wings where she sat on the curved back of the sofa.  She kicked her feet waiting for Crow to settle.  Stan, Rose, and Fortunatus’ watched from the bar nursing along various forms of caffeine or blood depending on their chemical makeup.  Olive and Jack had gone to bed.  Jack sent by Crow as the night grew late, and Olive to escape the darkness.  She had borne the bite of a dhampir three times, but she was no vampire.  When the sun sank in the west her powers waned.  She grew weak and vulnerable.  Only during the strong and pure light of day could she be out and about.

“The time change in the fall is gonna suck, and we might have to move further south,” Olive said with a laugh on the first night as her new self.  Crow had to carry her to the safety of his father’s old room when the night sneaked in a window and burned her arm.

After discovering Crow’s third bite had not damned Olive to an undead existence, after their wedding, Crow remembered his last vision of Manson.  It had gotten lost between demon attacks, LeVidal, the Requiem, and dealing with the Greeks.  Emma offered to attempt to discover who Manson tormented by tying her dream-based magic in with  the latent magic which brought Crow the visions.  What they would do with that information had been Olive’s idea.

….this was different.  Stuffed, packed into too small a space, unable to breathe in the darkness….in the beginning a vision was always dark….

Crow looked out through eyes which once were his, in a way still were, but not.  These eyes had witnessed horrors, and had more to see, but they hadn’t seen Olive.  Still feeling packed into too small a space, Crow rode a galloping horse through a sea of grass.  The richly scented air meant one thing: the Spiritual Plane.  Never in any vision had he been to the Spiritual Plane.  This was new and different.  New and different made Crow grouchy.  Olive being the opposite of undead despite his third bite was one thing, but new types of visions were not.  This was what happened when he let a witch mess with his powers.

The galloping horse tossed his neck and neighed a challenge to the wind.  The wind accepted and off the stallion raced his herd following.  Crow clung to his neck, a sudden thrill running through him.  A forgotten regret of childhood surfaced.  He had been a young man when he met Cry of the Storm burdened with death and nightmares. Crow had wished to race across the plains forever in a freedom found only in childhood.  And here he was.  His small hands tangled in the black mane.  His short legs gripped the stallion’s sides.  He bent low over Cry of the Storm’s back and lost himself in the wind and the race of the mighty stallion.

Cry lead his herd, his mare at his side, towards a low hill rising up out of the plains.  The galloping horses split apart at the top passing a woman standing alone.  Cry cut free and doubled back.  He pawed the air stopping before her.  Crow yelled waving his fist.  He looked down .  The woman.  She gave a startled cry and ran towards him.  Mom?

Crow leapt from Cry’s back and shifted right into her arms.  Sophie swept him up and smothered him with kisses.  Deep down inside, Crow thanked the vision that he had appeared as his child self.  He had a hard time imagining his mother covering him with kisses if he were a grown man.

“Sophie!”

A glowing angel broke apart the family reunion.  Cry of the Storm stood at the angel’s side, black beside white. Crow grew.  He took a deep breath glad to be back to his normal size and in his normal skin.  He rubbed his grizzled chin which had replaced the weak chin of childhood.  Sophie studied each of his tattoos with a flush of motherly pride.  Crow had never seen her like this.  She glowed.  This was a vision of the past….had to be.  She had told him once that she knew he would grow up to be a powerful man and not die at Manson’s hand.  This vision must be how she knew.  By this time some of her friends must have already died, but Benjamin still lived.  Crow had never seen her while she still had the connection to his father.  Her gray eyes glowed and a faint smile played around her lips looking ready to leap up at any moment.  So different from the Sophie he knew.  So young.  Loved and loving.

“Son?” she said as she walked around him. “I’m guessing I’ll never see you grown or there wouldn’t be a need for this vision.”

Tears pricked Crow’ eyes. “No, Mom, you never see me like this.”  God, how do you tell someone that they are going to lose everything and suffer a horrible death?  How do you look at them knowing what they are about to endure?

Sophie shook her head as if the future wasn’t important.

“I don’t know many of your tattoos, but they speak of courage and strange friendship.  What’s this one?”

What?  Sophie laid her hand on his arm.  At that moment Crow realized he was the one who would have to tell her.  He would have to tell her Benj would die.  She didn’t know this tattoo, this first of his tattoos other than his inheritance and his name.  A chill ran down his arm as she traced the tattoo with her finger.  Crow took her hand and said the words he had read so many times, “I love you for always and miss you forever.”

Something horrible filled Sophie’s eyes as they move up to the list of names longer now than it was back then.  Raw anger and sorrow course through Crow.  Anger at Manson for this woman he would crush, sorrow because Crow knew how much of life Sophie would spend alone.

“No, no!” Sophie screamed.  She dropped to the ground rocking back and forth.  Crow bent down over her.  He gathered her in his arms.

“Mom, I don’t know how this happened, me being here, seeing you….this isn’t what was supposed to happen.  But this is our family hope.”  

Crow pointed at the words under the list of those who had died.

Sophie raised her head.  Crow saw love in her eyes – a great love.  He took her hand and wrapped it around his right shoulder.

“Don’t you ever, ever forget this,” Sophie said.  She leaned in and kissed his forehead.   Everything faded to gray….

Crow opened his eyes.  Sorrow, emptiness, loss, love – they all twisted deep within him.  Zephyr stroked his arm with a small spotted hand.  He had seen his mother as the young woman in love with a man.  He had seen his mother with hope for a family still in her heart.  She still believed Manson wouldn’t take everything.  And Crow was the one who told her otherwise.  He started to swear and stopped.  A sudden surge of thankfulness welled up inside him like a clear bubble of icy water from the depths of the earth.  Who better to tell and hold his mom than him?  While he had to watch the hope die in her eyes, hadn’t he seen a new, dangerously burning, desperately clinging hope take its place?  Hadn’t he been able to tell her of the hope she left him – I love you for always and miss you forever?  The thankfulness might seem out of place, but struggling up, it was there.

“It didn’t work,” Emma said.

“I had a vision of my Mom,” Crow whispered.  He wrapped his arm across his eyes not wanting to share what he had seen with Emma.  He didn’t want to expound on it.  This vision didn’t belong to Emma.  It belonged to him.  Maybe Stan could claim some rights to it.  But not Emma.  She didn’t respond, just stood there over him.  Silent for so long, Crow lifted his arm to check on her.  A puzzled look furrowed her brows and tears swam in her eyes.

“I knew that didn’t feel right,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s try again, Crow, and this time concentrate.”

He covered his face with his arm again.

“I am concentrating, witch,” he said, growling under his breath.  “Kinda hard when you bring up things like that.”

“Don’t take that tone with me,” Emma said, trying to hide the catch in her throat.  “I’m not on Manson’s wanted list and I could go home right now.  I think marriage made your manners regress.”

Crow smiled.  “I apologize.  May we continue?”

“That’s better. Now close your eyes and grasp at the last Manson vision you had.”

He did as Emma instructed.  Zephyr giggled quietly at him.  He flipped her off and she punched his shoulder.

“Concentrate please,” Emma said.

Crow sighed and thought back to the field in the Spirit Plane.  Before the demons attacked and Akilina rescued them, Crow had had a vision.  He reached back for the soul of the man Manson tortured.  A glimmer appeared in the darkness behind his eyes. It flickered off a ways.  Crow focused on it.  It grew in size but not in brilliance until it swallowed him.   Once again, Crow saw the room and the man who Manson had tortured to a point no longer human.  Instead of looking to Manson, Crow focused on the man.  Guilt pricked at Crow.  He had not given this man a second thought in the original vision.  Crow had not cared one bit about this human driven insane with pain just like Sophie.  Ashamed, he vowed never to let himself be indifferent towards Manson’s victims again.  He had allowed his hate and anger at Manson, his hate and anger at Benj, to scour him of all that the SoulReading powers were meant for.  They were designed to hold torn souls while they were dying.  Had he once held a soul?  Sophie held Guinness, West and JC while they died.  Had Crow even once tried to hold a soul.  Why the hell had Olive loved such a worthless man like him?  He didn’t know why she did, but he knew she loved him.  He didn’t deserve it, but he was glad to have it and promised to treasure that love to the end of his days.

Following his mother’s training, the training he received in the womb, Crow plunged into the man’s soul.  It was torn, destroyed, and dark.

“It’s just an echo.  This isn’t the real vision.”

He gathered all the bloody parts of the soul into himself.

The echo faded….

Crow opened his eyes. His head throbbed.  He sat up on the sofa.  The room spun around him.  He shifted to the kitchen trash can throwing up all his dinner.

“Boy, does that bring back memories,” Stan said.  “Sophie was always throwing up after Readings.”

Crow glanced up at Stan.  What were the chances of Stan bringing Sophie up just after he had a vision about her?  Crow wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, spit into the trash can, and went to the fridge for a dark beer.

“Did she ever tell you about having a vision of me?” Crow asked.

He twisted off the cap and tossed it in the trashcan trying to keep his voice level.

“No. What do you mean?”

Emma and Zephyr joined them at the bar.

“I had a vision of her, in the Spiritual Plane.  Just now,” Crow said taking a long drink out of the bottle.  The coffee and chocolate aftertaste of the dark stout washed away the sharp taste of vomit from his mouth.

“I’ll have to take down this vision of yours,” Emma said before Stan could respond. “I should have someone take down the whole history of your family.  I’ve never seen a bloodline filled with so many new and strange magical lines.  Even your mother shouldn’t have been.  An echo who gains control?  Your father a saved vampire? And you inherited from them both?  It’s all unheard of.”

Rose, sitting quietly next to Stan, examined him through her mirror with a frown.

“But, what we’d really like to hear, is if you found out who that man was,” Crow said.

Why had he brought up his family?  He should have waited and asked Stan when they were alone.  He knew better than to talk about it with anyone other than Stan or Olive.  No one else understood the anguish of all that had happened.  How could they?

“Did you see her before I betrayed them?” Fortunatus asked piercing him with ice-blue eyes.

“I think so.”

“You should have told her not to trust me.”

“I don’t think she did.”

“I never did,” Stan said.  “I still don’t.”

“You were a child unsure he believed anything going on around him.  It was natural for you not to trust me.  You were afraid I might take you for my dinner,”  Fortunatus said with a smile.

“Oh, yeah.  That makes me feel much better, vampire.  Just you remember I’m not a child anymore, and it’s still natural for me to distrust you.”

“Did you get the information, Emma?”  Crow stopped their conversation before it could go further.

“Yes, I think I did.  I believe I can give you the name of the man and with Olive and the Tracker you should be able to locate his body, or at least the murder sight.  Bear with me one moment.”

Emma moved off to one of the empty desks. She pulled a leaf plucked from a dying maple, and a vial of water from a new spring out of a pouch in her dress’ pocket.  Rose joined her.  They set the leaf on the gilded mirror and splashed it with the drop of the water.  Emma sang over it.  Zephyr fluttered over to them adding her own magic to the mix.

Stepping into the hall like a creature too beautiful to be from this world, Olive paused and glanced pointedly at the dark windows.  Crow shifted around the room snapping the curtains closed so she could come into the kitchen. Olive wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head on his.  Crow slipped his arm around her waist.  Did she looked so beautiful to anyone else?  Maybe she looked ugly, like Emma did when she took on the form of the old crone?  He knew she didn’t, she might look more normal to others, but Olive would never be ugly.  But, maybe only to Crow she glowed.

“Why aren’t you asleep?”

“I can’t sleep without you, so I came out to see if you found anything yet.”

“While an enduring thought, please do not express it again in our presence,” Fortunatus said.

Shock filled the old lines of Stan’s face and he choked on his coffee.

“I’d like to second that motion,” he said, barely keeping a straight face.

Olive crinkled her nose at both of them.  “Grow up, you two!

Jack came into the room, his pajamas all wrinkled.

“You’re having a meeting without me?” he said blinking back sleep in the bright light.

The kittens and skunks followed in his wake as he hurried up to the bar.  Acorn fluttered down the hall and landed on his shoulder.

“We would not dream of it, Jack,” Fortunatus said.  He pulled out the last barstool for the kid.

Stan sighed.

“What?” Crow looked over at his friend.

“It’s been too many years since all the stools around this bar were filled. And how long since a family was here?”

“I think the family now is stranger then it was then,” Crow said.

“Yeah, it is.”  Stan shook his head. ” But no less a family.”

“Therein lays y’all’s power,” Zephyr said flying above Emma and Rose’s heads.  “Crow once said Manson could not understand the marriage between Benjamin and Sophie and he was right.  Manson only understands the magic and power to hurt.  Y’all have the power of love, belonging, joy, hope, and faith.  With this you can overcome him.”

Emma nodded.  “I have the name of the man he killed.  Go there and see what happens.  Begin here at the end and unravel Manson’s power all the way back to the beginning.”

“Let’s go everyone,” Stan said. “I’ll call Colin.”

“Crow,” Emma called him over as everyone disperse.

Crow and Olive, hand in hand, approached the witch.

“I’ll be going now.  I have to find the LoreHolder and begin to document what has happened.  Wen will stay here with the Circus.  She will be able to help you find the others if you need it.”

Crow took her offered hand and bowed over it.

“My Father was fortunate to have you as his ally.  Thank you for honoring that friendship with me.”

“Very good Crow,” Emma laughed.  “That was much better than your snarling.  The man’s name was Robert Noles and he lived in Chesterfield.”

Olive threw her arms around the witch. They whispered together for a moment.  Zephyr fluttered over and Emma held out her hand.  Sitting on it, Zephyr glowed momentarily.  Emma sprinkled her with a bit of snow which fell at midnight on Christmas Eve.  It melted on Zephyr’s spotted upturned face.

Having said her goodbyes, Emma took a small handful of mud from her pouch.  She spoke the words of changing taking on the hunched form of the crone.  She went to the front door as she had so long ago, blessed it, and disappeared into the night.

“I hope my fate’s better than my Father’s when she left,” Crow whispered.

Olive squeezed his hand, and they went to pack.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

girl-holding-sunThe Door to the Spirit Plane slammed shut behind them.  Crow hit the ground.  He inhaled cool night air trying so hard to be human.  Any little bit at this point helped.  Any little bit preserved that one drop of blood for Olive.  He took another deep breath and inhaled a mouthful of dirt.  Crow coughed and gagged.  Pain shot through his arm and around his chest. Broken ribs stabbed at skin and muscle as they expanded and contracted.  Crow got his knees under him with a groan.  Fortunatus dropped down next to him and set Jack, now a small boy, gently on the ground.  Crow wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and across his watering eyes.  He grabbed Fortunatus’ shoulder.  The smells and sounds of a sleeping circus – stale popcorn, stale sweat, soft breathing – washed over them.

“We made it,” Crow said.

“You reek of bodily injuries.  May I suggest you do not take on a flying tree again.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” Crow said through gritted teeth as his body started the work of healing.  He suddenly wished he had a way to stop it.  He could take the pain for a little longer if it meant guaranteeing she was his again.  But he could no more stop his body from healing than he could make Jack’s start healing.

“We left them,” Jack moaned.

“We had no choice,” Crow growled.  “They wanted to give us a chance and we had to take it.”

“Crow, we need to get Jack to a doctor,” Zephyr said.  She fluttered off his shoulder and took up her post on the chest of the boy.

A loud click broke the night silencing the nightly insects.  Bright lights surrounded them.  Relief, almost painful itself, broke over Crow.  They were here.  All of them.  He didn’t have to go hunt down Jones or Stan.  He didn’t have to stumble through camp banging on doors.  They had been waiting for them.  Breaking from the lights like the magical being she was, Olive knelt on the ground in front of Crow.  Tears streaked down her face.  She held up trembling hands not daring to touch him.

Crow lunged for her.  He cupped her face – the face he loved more than any other – in his hands and kissed her.  He poured all the pain, anguish, and sadness of their journey into each kiss.  A deep well of undeniable gratitude filled up inside him.  Never, he swore in his heart, would he take for granted the simple magic of being able to touch this woman, feel her soft skin, taste her sweet lips, or pull her close to himself.  Olive laughed.  If the first babies laugh created fairies, this laugh born on the back of loneliness, sadness, and fear created something far stronger, far deeper, and more mysterious.  It brought hope to life.  It filled Crow up.  Olive wrapped her arms around him.  She pressed her face to his.  Hope hurt more than the broken ribs and elbow, yet he didn’t want to be healed.  Tears ran tracks through the dirt and dust on his face.  Olive wiped them away one by one.

“Why are you crying, Crow?”

He shook his head and kissed her again his tears wetting her face.

Time, time, time ticked in Crow’s mind.  She wasn’t healed yet.  If Crow didn’t hurry this would be the last time he kissed her, not one of many.  He stood up pulling Olive up with him.  The whole circus stood around them, big and tall, short, lithe, and silly.  Crow tucked his broken arm around his ribs and wrapped the other around Olive’s slim shoulders unwilling to lose physical contact with her.  Fortunatus rose to his feet gathering Jack.

“Where is my son?” a giant woman asked.

Guilt flooded Crow.  He almost hung his head, but hope wouldn’t be so easily defeated.  Instead, he raised his eyes to the giantess and her husband.  Around them, as usual, huddled all the little people.  The families of the men he had to leave behind looked at him with fearful, glistening eyes.  They had heard the Door shut.  They saw only Crow, Fortunatus, Jack, and Zephyr.  They knew what that meant, but they needed to hear it.  They needed the man who led their sons away to die to tell them their sons were dead.

“I’m sorry.  I’m very and truly sorry.  They….they….”  What could he say?

Mrs. Johnson fell to the ground with a broken sob.  Crow grunted as if he’d been kicked.  A small hand yanked on his shirt sleeve.

“And BW8?”

Crow blinked.  He couldn’t say anything.  They had given everything so he had a chance to save Olive.

“They died to save us,” Fortunatus said.  “They died to save us….” his voice trailed off into a whisper.

“BW8 was as big as Johnson,” Jack said turning his head down to the little man.  “He was as big as Johnson over there.”

The little man smiled, patted Jack’s arm, and returned to the group huddled around Mrs. Johnson.

The lights ran together. Crow drifted away.  His body forced him to focus on healing. It wanted all the magic to knit bones and organs back together.  Crow snapped back up.  Stan braced him, keeping him on his feet.  Wen, Emma, and Rose stepped from the crowd to join them.

“Fortunatus?” Crow grabbed at the vampire.  “There are a few hours left till daylight.  Get Jack to a doctor.  Stan, I need to do the transfusion now or it will be too late.”

“I’ll go with them, keep them out of trouble,” Zephyr said.

Stan hauled Crow to an RV.   It was the same one which started the whole crazy circus adventure.  The same one where Crow first met Johnson and BW8.  A burning candle sat on the window sill, and Crow had come home.  Stan dragged him up the stairs.  Sweat broke out all over Crow’s skin.  He had never fought against a healing in his life.  He couldn’t stop it, but he tried to slow it down.  Please wait.  Stan laid him in the bed.  Olive climbed in after him and laid next to him.  Crow rolled up on his good elbow and ran his hand over her face.

“Are you afraid?”

“Yes.  A little.”

“Me too.”

Not thinking, just doing, Crow bent his head down to her neck and bit her.  Warm blood coursed from the wound over his lips and filled his mouth.  Tiny pinpricks of power stabbed at him.  His ribs and elbow protested the increase in the pain communicated to the nerves in his body.  But, the night and the clouds of Caroline still in his blood protected him.  Olive’s blood tried and tried to hurt him.  It tried to burn him from the inside out with all the power of the sun.  Caroline’s cool darkness sheltered him.  Olive’s blood filled him.  His ribs healed, no longer waiting.  His elbow re-knit.  Her blood – sweet, magical, and warm – called to him. Forget who you are, it whispered.  Forget what you are, it sang.  Give into the lust of vampires.  Become the night which shelters you.

Here was a witch, the witch, offering all of her life to him.  Drink deep.  Olive’s heart beat in his head and her body beneath him radiated heat.  Everything about her screamed life, magic, power.  The blood-wine of her being flushed Crow.  But, he held back.  He took her in.  He emptied her, but he kept the lust caged.  This might be a witch.  This might be the witch freely offering herself to him, but this was his Olive.  This was his Olive and he wanted her, all of her – alive, whole, and untainted by his lust.

Olive’s heart slowed. Her breathing stopped.  Her flesh went cold.

Crow pulled away.

“Olive?”

She lay dead on the bed.  Not even one tiny drop of blood trickled from the bites on her neck.

“Olive, wake up! Please!”

“Wait, Dhampir, wait,” Emma whispered.

Crow rocked back.

“Olive….”

He clutched her hand, able to touch it even though all of Caroline’s blood was gone from his veins.  It was cold and lifeless.  His Olive gone.  He would rather have an alive Olive he couldn’t touch, than one dead by his own hand.

“It won’t, it’s not working….Oh God! I killed her.”

Crow leapt to his feet in horror.  The morning sun of a new dawn blinded him as it peeked in through the window.  Without stopping to think, Crow grabbed Olive up and carried her outside.  He shifted to an opening in the jumbled RVs.  The sun marked him with brilliant light.  All that was vampire inside him hid away.  Crow dropped to his knees, and held up his one love, the witch of seasons.  He offered her up the sun, glorious and bright.  He offered her to the antithesis of all that was darkness and vampiric.

Olive’s whole body went rigid.  It arched in Crow’s arm.  She opened her mouth and screamed.

The sun rose past them.

Crow brought Olive down to himself. He gathered her close to his body.  Her eyes were shut, and her face pale but not deathly so.  Crow ran his hands through her multi-colored hair.

“Olive?”

Two emerald-green eyes opened….

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

“The future does not belong to the fainthearted, but to the brave.” – Ronald Reagan

(I apologize for the shortness of this post, but this is the ending of the second part of the book.  Next week, we will begin part three.)

6214029730_2f9751ebe2_z

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

Crow jogged down the righimagesCAGKV6U1t passage, conserving his vampire powers.   He didn’t know how much time he had left.  He didn’t know how much power he had left.  Was it enough?  Could he still save Olive?  He had too.  If he didn’t than it had all been in vain.  Bain’s death, Caroline’s willingness to act as the filter for his blood, even being tortured by the Greeks – all of it worthless if Olive wasn’t healed.  The question rolled over and over in his mind in cadence with his footfalls echoing down the long white-washed hall.   Could he still save Olive?  Could he still save Olive?  Each time the question looped he had less of an answer.

His nose led him towards Johnson and BW8.  The trail turned left and then left again.  The smell of the circus – hay, fried food, face paint, and a sense of something hidden – clung to the hallway.  It gathered at a locked cell with a bored vampire lounging in front of it.  The undead shifted to his feet catching a whiff of Crow.   Crow slammed into him with his shoulder pinning him against the white wall.

“Crow!”  Johnson’s bass voice echoed up and down the hall.

The vampire grabbed Crow around the neck with both hands crushing his windpipe, confused by Crow’s mixed up scent.  Crow stopped breathing.  His vampire powers surged.

“You guessed wrong,” he said.

The vampire’s eyes widened for a moment.  Crow drove Bain’s knife up through his sternum and into his heart.  His bright eyes dulled.  His skin shriveled.  Crow yanked the knife from the vampire’s desiccated chest, watched the body slip to the floor, and turn to ash.  Returning it to his jeans, he nudged the pile of empty clothing with his toe turning over the belt the vampire wore.  A key jangled against the gears of the specialized gun he never had a chance to draw.  Crow shook it free from the cool dust and opened the cell holding his friends.

“We have to hurry.  Olive’s time is running out and I don’t think the Five will welcome us back any time soon to try again.”

Johnson bent over BW8.

“What happened?”  Crow ask smelling blood.  Too much blood.

“In the attack, I was knocked out and you were wasted. He did what he could to protect us.”

“Shut up, you’re embarrassing me,” BW8 coughed.  Crow bent over him.  Three bullet wounds peppered his large chest.  Johnson had done his best to patch him up with his shirt, but it wasn’t enough.

“We need to get him through the Door and to a doctor.”

Crow started to pick BW8 up, but Johnson stopped him with a large hand on his shoulder.

“Let me carry him.  You need to be free to fight.”

Johnson gently picked up his friend and turned, ready to go.  Tears sparkled in the large man’s eyes.  Guilt washed over Crow.  BW8 coughed again and blood welled up on his lips, ruby-red in the shadowed cell.

“I wish I was a tiny bird,” BW8 said with a quickly fading smile.

“Don’t worry, you don’t weigh a thing,” Johnson said

He looked down at Crow.

“I’m sorry,” Crow whispered.  Fortunatus’ words about what happened to his friends rang in his ears.

“Don’t be.  Not your fault.”  BW8 coughed again.

“Let’s hurry,” Johnson said.

Heading up the white tunnel, clinically bare but filled with the lingering scent of blood, the lingering screams of torture, Crow saw Fortunatus.  He cradled one arm.  Jack, still a large wolf, waited beside the vampire with Zephyr between his ears.  A large oak door broke the white monotony behind them.

“What happened?”  Crow and Fortunatus both said at once.

“Zephyr, do what you can for BW8,” Crow said. He raised an eyebrow in question at Fortunatus.

“I forgot to think of a way to convince them I was sent by you to free them.   I dispatched that excuse for a vampire, post-haste, and by the way it is very disconcerting to slay your own kind and watch them turn into little piles of ash….”

“Zephyr made something happen to my teeth and when I bit him it hurt really bad.  Him, not me,” Jack interrupted.

“They put me in a cage!” Zephyr yelled from where she hovered over BW8.

“I didn’t know.  It’s my fault his wounds are taking longer to heal, isn’t it?” Jack said.  He hung his head and his large ears drooped.

“He is weaker now after the chair and Zephyr blessed your teeth with light.”

Fortunatus growled at her bearing his fangs.

“Sorry, sorry.  I didn’t know,” she said with a shrug.  “Crow, we better get BW8 out of here quick.  He’s hurt bad and there isn’t much any of us can do.”

“Everyone step back,” Crow said. He glanced at Fortunatus who gave him a quick nod.  They stood on either side of the door and listened, scenting the air.

“What are we waiting for?” Crow shrugged and kicked in the door.

A table flew towards them.  Blood and china smashed across Crow and Fortunatus.  Adonis, Kalogeros, and Xanthus raised their guns and fired.  Crow shifted up the wall and drew the gun from his belt with one hand while he threw Bain’s knife with the other.  Fortunatus shifted away from Crow, dropped to his knees, and rolled to the left under the wall of bullets.  He caught a goblet from the flung table, downed its bloody contents in one swallow, and came to a stop right against their packs.

“Fortune smiles upon me,” Fortunatus said.

He pulled two shotguns from someone’s pack and fluidly came to his feet.

Crow heard the blasts of the shotguns as Bain’s knife blossomed in Kalogeros’ shoulder.   Odds evened as Fortunatus laid down cover fire.  The bullets might not kill the Greeks but they would hurt as they tore flesh apart and the healings followed.  Light from the chandelier overhead caught the barrel of Kalogeros’ gun.  It glinted green.  Crow swore.  The vampire had the Jade Gun.  He glanced around the room taking in the over-stuffed furniture, the long dark curtains and the silver candlesticks illuminated by well hidden spot lights.  A discarded cadaver in the corner still oozed small amounts of blood.  Crow scooped it up, caught the scent of drugs, and hurled it at Kalogeros.  He shifted swiftly after the flying body.   It knocked into the old vampire.  Crow was on him in an instant prying the Jade Gun from his grasp.  Kalogeros held on.  Crow wrenched Bain’s knife from his shoulder, swung it down in a clean arch, and severed Kalogeros hand.  The vampire screamed.  Xanthus and Adonis turned their guns on Crow.  Fortunatus fired his shotgun, low and centered.  Xanthus flew back with the force of the buckshot at close range.  Crow raised the Jade gun and fired the three remaining shots into Adonis.

“Crow!” Fortunatus yelled tossing him a bag of ammo.

Ejecting the empty magazine, Crow inserted another one.  He brought the gun up and fired at Xanthus who shifted towards him from the pile of rubble his crash had caused.  The bullets hit home.  Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.  Ignoring them, Xanthus raised his hand driving a black blade down towards Crow.  Crow raised his arm to shield his face.  Jack lunged in front of him.  The blade disappeared all the way up to the hilt in Jack’s side.  Jack tumbled to the floor his legs giving out beneath him.  He whimpered. Pain and fear filled his golden eyes.

Crow grabbed Xanthus and hurled him across the room into Kalogeros who cradled his handless arm.

“Fort!” Crow yelled.

Fortunatus shifted to Crow.  They stood back to back over Jack’s bleeding body, guns aimed out.  Fortunatus fed shells into his shotgun and Crow switched to a full magazine.  The three Greeks found their feet and spread out surrounding them.

“Dhampir, you have missed the most critical of questions,” Xanthus said.

“Just how long have you been here?” Kalogeros hissed.

“How much time do you have left to save her?” Adonis said.

Crow flinched.  Other than Kalogeros’ missing hand, which wasn’t even bleeding, the Greeks were hardly harmed.  Their eye’s glowed red from the blood they had drunk.  The wounds from the Jade Gun, Bain’s knife, and Fortunatus’ twin shotguns healed.  Jack was down.  Crow’s time ran out.  The 24hours were drastically shortened by the amount of healing and fighting he had had to do.  This was it.  He had to focus on getting them all out alive.   Olive would understand.  Alive meant they could try again….but this time Crow would come alone.  He wouldn’t risk anyone else hurt and dying.

A sudden, brilliant light filled the room – a holy light.  Incandescent feathers showered down around them.

“Akilina,” Fortunatus whispered in wonder.

“Go!”  The angel dropped between them and the Greeks.  She spread her wings driving the Greeks together.  Pain licked up Crow’s skin.  He stumbled back.  Screams filled the room as the three undead tried to get away from the blinding, burning sun-come-to-earth which was Akilina.

“Go! I’ll keep them back.  The Door is in Orion’s courtyard,” Akilina said.

“Get Jack,” Crow grabbed extra ammo, but left their packs.  “Johnson!”

Johnson charged into the room with BW8 and Zephyr who fluttered to Crow’s shoulder.  Crow pointed the way out.  Fortunatus hesitated.  He looked at the angel, so beautiful.  So pure.

“Go Fortunatus!” the angel said her gaze lingering on his pale face.

The vampire shifted after Johnson and the others.  Behind Akilina, Kalogeros opened a Door to the Material Plane.

“No.  Doors can’t be opened here,” Akilina said holding out her hand to stop them.

“Oh yes, we have the Five’s permission.” Adonis said. “But you,” he pointed at Crow, “do not.”

Dread and anger commingled in Crow’s soul as clawed hands came into view from the other side of the Door.  The demon-witch Dove crouched down and looked through too big to enter.  Manson stood behind her.   She chanted.  Her fingers splayed around a splinter of wood.  The Door grew.  She stepped through ignoring the chaos around her and widened the Door for her master.

“Run!” Akilina yelled. “You can’t defeat her on this plain, Dhampir!  Run!”

Johnson with BW8, and Fortunatus with Jack rushed down the gilded, golden hall towards the front door.  Crow hesitated.  He might just have a shot, a shot at Manson.  He raised the Jade Gun and fired.

The blessed silver bullet flew past the angel with wings spread wide, past the Greeks scrambling away from her holiness, and past Dove flexing her claws and muttering the Door opening spell.  The bullet flew through the opening Door and buried itself in Manson’s shoulder.   He stumbled back with a yelp distracting Dove who lost the flow of the spell.  The Door slammed shut with Manson in reality and Dove in the Spirit Plane.

Crow ran hoping he bought them some time. It would take them only minutes to reconnect with Manson, but that was enough time to get a lead.

“Follow me!” he yelled flying out the front door of the Greeks’ house and skittering down the steps to the cobblestone streets.  Crow spun in a big circle oriented himself.   He scenting for the one smell he used to know well.  There.  Orion.  He headed down one lane and then another moving constantly closer to her home.  He kept his pace as fast as he could without losing Johnson.   Time.  It slipped through his fingers like BW8 and Jack’s blood.  He had resigned himself to not rescuing Olive, but Akilina had given him hope.  Hope he could make it in time.  Hope he could make it with everyone alive.  Olive’s only chance.  He could do it.  Taking a hard right turn out an ally, Crow led them out into a tree-lined, lamp-lit lane.  Blue flames danced in the lamps and a low fog hugged the grassy mediums.  They were almost there.  Almost there.

A monstrous ripping sounded behind them.  Crow stopped waving the others on past him.  Fortunatus with Jack came first.  Johnson hurried after him BW8 in his arms.  A tree, torn up by its roots, flew towards them, Johnson right in its path.

Crow hurled himself at the giant.  He leapt in the air to stop the tree.  It struck him full in the chest crushing his ribs.  Crow dropped to the road shattering one elbow.  With his good hand and still high on magical blood, he lifted the tree and hurled it back at Dove as she charged towards them down the street.  It struck her across the knees.  She grunted stumbling.

Snatching Johnson by the arm, Crow followed after Fortunatus hurrying his friends.  Fortunatus stopped running waiting for them to catch up.  Not far beyond him, just down the way, Crow could see Orion’s house.  They were so close.

Dove untangled herself from the tree and raced after them.  She closed the distance between them with three great leaping steps.  Behind her shifted the city guard, LeVidal’s Watch.  Crow swore.  The Watch?   The vampires shifted right towards them.  Lamp light caught on their gleaming buttons and blood-red jackets.

“We are bringing the whole Watch down on Orion,” Fortunatus yelled.  “We will never make it.  We cannot fight all of them.”

Crow glanced around, hopelessly.  The small army of uniformed vampires and Dove where almost on them while Orion and her gate waited further behind him.

“Go!” Johnson said.  “Go, Crow.  You can make it if you move like a vampire.”

“No!”

Johnson grabbed the shotguns from Fortunatus in one meaty hand and passed them to BW8.

“Good-bye, Dhampir.”

Before Crow could protest, Johnson flung BW8 at the Watch.  Flying, spinning through the air, BW8 fired the shotgun again and again until he plummeted into them.  His dead body scattered them like bowling pins.  As his friend flew through the air, Johnson charged Dove with his bare hands.      Crow watched in horror as his two friends sacrificed themselves.  He shifted his weight to his toes prepared to charge after them.  Fortunatus grabbed his arm.

“We have to get to the gate.  Olive needs you.”

Screaming in frustration, Crow turned from his dying friends and shifted down the street besides Fortunatus.  His skin burned.  The list of those who died at Manson’s hand itched and ached.  He didn’t have to look to see that the list had been added to.  Anger boiled inside him.  Manson had put two more names on the list.  Two more.  Good men.  Crow wished his bullet had blown Manson to hell.

They shifted over the gate and into the courtyard of Orion’s house.  A silver Door opened beckoning them, the nighttime of reality visible on the other side.

“Hurry Crow!” Orion said.  She held a silver key in her hand with a raven carved on its front.  Crow stopped beside her.

“Thank you,” he said not knowing what more he could say.

“Go you fool. Save your love.”

Crow turned to go, but she stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.  Standing on her tip-toes, she kissed his cheek.

“Do not forget me! Now go!”

Crow plunged through the Door, Fortunatus behind him.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

Crow raised his hand in farewell to Vincent, or he thought he did.  Up seemed a bit nebulous at the moment.   Johnson dragged him after Bain into the dark, across the manicured lawn, and out the cast-iron gate branded with an R on the front.  They moved through crowded streets and back alleys or back streets and crowded alleys.  Crow couldn’t get his bearings.  The stars trailed together and spun.  The street couldn’t commit to laying down flat, but decided instead to rise and fall in unexpected places.  Even his own body gave up on physics and motion.  He tried to raise his head only to find it hanging off the end of his neck like a useless bauble and the world upside-down.  When he tried to bring it back up to a normal forward position, he found himself examining his feet.  He giggled.

“Bain, you better know wheresixx-a_m2 you’re going, cause if y’all are following me we’re probably walking in circles,” Crow said with a snort.  “Walking in circles will only make us dizzy.”

“Not so loud,” Johnson said.

“Is this what being drunk is like?” Crow hissed trying to whisper.  “This is not fun.  And you’re very tall.”

The world which was Johnson pulled up short.

“Let us pass,” Bain said to something in the darkness.

The sharp tone of Bain’s voice focused Crow.  He fought through the cloud of intoxication to the island of control.  Fear rolled off his friends.  They reeked of the sweaty smell.  Crow stilled his breathing, his heart, his mind – focus.  Zephyr’s tiny feet touched down on his shoulder.  She slipped into his pocket, disappearing.  When had he put his shirt back on, let alone his coat?  Last he remembered he’d taken them off.  A bubble of laugher surfaced.  He smashed it down before it bubbled from his mouth.  Vincent never mentioned side effects like uncontrollable laughter when they talked about Caroline’s magical transfusion.  Crow tossed his head to disrupt the invisible gnats of joy swarming around him.  Stupid witch with her stupid happiness.

“You, Bain, may pass, but the others will come with us.  It is high time we put an end to this little war and ascend again into the Material Plan as the predators we are.”

“You have chosen your new Master then?” Bain said.

“We do not have a master.  Leave now repentant one,” he spat the name out like it tasted vile in his mouth, “before I withdraw my offer and slay you.”

“Do not stop us, Xanthus.”

“You do not frighten me.”

“Does this?” Crow palmed the Jade Gun.  He fired at a vampire with a high-rise of golden hair wishing it was Fortunatus caught between his sights.  The vampire shifted to the side.  Crow’s bullet grazed open his cheek.  Bain lunged at Xanthus with a curved blade drawn from inside his coat.  The blade ran through Xanthus’ gut.  He doubled over.  Two more vampires appeared out of the shadows.

“Get out of here!” Bain yelled.

Johnson turned with Crow for the alley exit.  A loud crack across the back of Johnson’s skull dropped him.  The big man dragged Crow down to the cobblestones crushing him under his heavy arm.  BW8 and Jack flew at the two vampires.  They shifted in the darkness driving BW8 to his knees with matching blow to the head.  Jack yipped and fell silent beside BW8.  Unable to gain control of his body, unable to stand up, Crow watched Bain forced to the cobblestones.  He had to get free. He had to free the Jade Gun.  Bain locked eyes with Crow.  Xanthus drove a stake into his heart.  Fear passed through Bain’s turquoise eyes.  He dissolved into a skeleton and then to ash.

Crow moaned.  He ripped his other hand free grasping at the dust.

“Stop him!”

Anger energized his trapped, drunken limbs.  Crow shoved up on his hands and knees.  He pushed to his feet.   Something cold snapped around his neck.  The world went black.

            Crow came-to in a small room filled with hissing steam, masking fog, and grinding gears.  Leather belts cut into his bare skin where his t-shirt had been ripped open.  The belts ran across his body while thick leather cuffs bound his wrist and ankles to a wooden chair.

“Release me, now,” someone next to him said with deadly calm.

Light burst in his head.  Enflamed muscles protested.  Crow pushed through the pain.  He tried to turn his head to see who spoke.  Small leather caps, lowered from the ceiling and strapped on their heads, limited his movement.  Crow caught the speaker out of the corner of his eye.

“You!”

Leather belts with silver buckles bound Fortunatus naked upper body to a high-back chair.  The cuffs encasing his ankles and wrists irritated his skin.  It peeled away from the confining leather.  Their two chairs sat on raised platforms.  A hot light shown through the steam-filled room and cast deep shadows into the vile runes carved on the chairs.  Cords ran from the cuffs at their wrist and ankles off into the foggy darkness where a machine hummed and gears grinded.

Fortunatus ignored Crow.   He strained against his bonds.

“Release me.  I brought you the Dhampir just as I said.  You have no right to bind me.”

“Yes, but you see, Betrayer, we do not trust you.  You have switched sides in this game one too many times.  Besides, Manson would like a word with you when he gets here.”

“This is dull, Adonis.  I did not agree to be a caretaker, jailor, or babysitter.  Why does it take humans so long to travel from one place to another?”

“Brother, we agreed to turn both Crow and Fortunatus over to Manson.  But we made no promise of their condition.”

Crow ignored the fear trying to seep into him.  He had been captured by the Greeks.  They had slain Bain.  They had his friends.  He sat in a chair too similar to an electrocution chair to be comfortable.  Ignored the fear!  How much time had passed? How much time did he have left?  He glanced around the room.  Escape.  He needed a way to escape.

“This is unacceptable,” Fortunatus said.

Crow could tuck his fear away in a dark forgotten corner and walk away, but he couldn’t ignore Fortunatus.  Red anger boiled up in him washing away the fear and the thought of escape.  It focused on the vampire next to him with pursed lips.  It focused on the creature that had yet again proven himself selfish and beyond forgiveness.

“When I finish healing Olive, I’m coming for you, Fortunatus.  This time I’m gonna kill you.  This time, I’m going to mercifully put you out of your misery.”

“Comforting thought, Crow.  But it seems to me we will not make it out of here alive.  So you must forego the joy of turning me to ash.”

“Oh, we’ll make it out of here, you damned betrayer.”  Crow spit with hatred.  “You, you couldn’t be loyal if you’re very being depended on it.  You’d sell your own mother.”

“I did.  And I do not see how it is any business of yours.  You cannot keep those around you from getting hurt.  What is worse, Dhampir?  Being true only to yourself or putting everyone who loves you in danger?  Ever notice most of your friends die?”  Fortunatus said.

“You’re the one killing them!”  Crow shouted straining against the belts in an attempt to reach him.

“Enough!”

Xanthus golden high-rise of hair caught the light as he stepped out of the fog.  Bain’s ashes dusted his coat.  Mist ran rivulets through the gray striping his shoulders.  Water droplets edged gold chains around his neck and darkened the short beard on his sharp face.  In his ringed hand he carried a box with a switch.

“And Jack?” Crow said ignoring Xanthus.

Fortunatus balked.

“He is a human child.  I should have drained him and savored his young blood when I had a chance,” he said without conviction.

Xanthus threw the switch.  Electrical fire burned through Fortunatus.  He convulsed with the power of the current.   His teeth clamped together and he squeezed his eyes shut.  Xanthus shut it off.  Fortunatus slumped in his chair.  Steam rose from around the leather cap on his head and blood trickled down from his nose.

“What the?” Crow whispered.

Fortunatus didn’t heal.  The blood continued to run down his face.  His limbs trembled with aftershock.

“These are very special chairs with very special runes carved in them.  Very old runes.  Too ancient for even Fortunatus to read them.”

Adonis joined his brother in the foggy light.  He poured a dark liquid from an onyx pitcher.  Fortunatus healed.

“Nice haircut,” Crow said glaring up at the vampire.  “You steal it from Bain?”

One side of Adonis’ hair hung over his face like Bain’s while the other side was short and spiked.

“I like the whole eyeliner thing to, you pansy,” Crow said.

Adonis ran a hand over the ring in his lip and his trimmed goatee.   He studied Crow a moment before he backhanded him across the face.   Crow’s lip split and a bit of blood ran down his chin.

“We control your ability to heal.”

Xanthus flipped the switch.  Fortunatus screamed.  The smell of cooked meat infused the steamed air.

“Go ahead,” Crow shrugged, aware that his lip hadn’t healed.  “I don’t care if you torture him.”

“Your version of mercy leaves much to be desired,” Fortunatus panted as the electricity cut off.

Handing the switch to Adonis, Xanthus pulled Bain’s curved knife from the small of his back.  He shifted up to Crow and drove it through his knee.  Crow howled.  He jerked away, but the leather straps kept him from getting far.

“Do you care if I torture you?”  Xanthus whispered.

Precious drops of magical blood meant for Olive fell to the floor.  Adonis and Xanthus traded devices.  Electricity arched over Crow’s body and reflected in the blade of the knife working Fortunatus over.   Their panting screams hid the whistling, clanking, steaming machines lost in the fog.  Enough.   Crow forced his gaze onto Fortunatus.  He forced the anger out and over the pain.  Blood poured from the vampire.  His skin shrunk.  His eyes sunk into the hollows of his skull.  Crow tried to enjoy the emaciated enemy tortured beside him.  He tried to tell himself that he didn’t care if they turned Fortunatus into a zombie.  Pain ripped his thoughts away.  A breath of hot air blew the steam apart like a curtain opening.  Xanthus and Adonis shifted away to a table covered with blades, bolts and gears designed to inflict agony without dealing out death.

“I see the way you look at Olive,” Crow gasped.  He had to keep them alive.  He had to feed the anger.  “I see you now.  You did this.  You planned this so you could take her for yourself.”

Fortunatus blinked, surprised.  He turned pain-filled eyes on Crow.

“If I wanted her, dhampir,” he whispered through white, strained lips, “I would have taken her while you were recovering from touching her.  And I would not woo her.”

Crow let his anger burn white-hot.  He feed it the fuel of Fortunatus words.

“She’s mine.  You so much as think about touching her and I’ll rip you apart.”

A spiked chain uncurled from Xanthus hand. It cut into their arms.

“You? You think you can lay claim to her,” Fortunatus said, the leather belts holding him up as he sagged against them. “Like she will stick with you, you half-breed monstrosity of nature.”

The spiked chain snaked out of the fog and lashed open their chests.

“Better than being a back stabbing traitor to someone who claimed you as a friend, your master, and me.”

The vampires lashed and hacked at them withholding their power to heal but their insults continued to fly.

“Friend?  Oh, you mean your idiotic father,” Fortunatus spat.  “In love with a witch given a lesser power.”

Crow threw himself against the leather bands.  Anger erupted inside him.

Adonis hurled the onyx pitcher against a large copper tank smashing it to bits.  Black liquid splashed across the room.  He glared at them, bored and angry.  Pain had been unable to deter the hatred between the two old enemies.  They ignored the cutting, biting, lashing torture as they hurled sharp words at one another.

“Let us go. Manson will be here soon,” Adonis said.

He shifted through the pool of light, followed by Xanthus and their silent brother, Kalogeros.   Straight bangs framed his ever-present large sunglasses.  He bent over Fortunatus, dipped his finger into a cut at the vampire’s side and tasted his blood.

“You will die here, but we will rise to the glory you hoped Manson would bring when you joined him over fifty years ago.  Enjoy the sensation of your blood trickling out and the madness of desire overtaking you.”

A door closed off in the fog.   They were gone.  Crow waited a few minutes clinging to the anger inside him.  He did not want the Greeks returning the moment he got free.

“If you have a chance to escape, Crow, I suggest you hurry and take it,” Fortunatus mumbled slumping against the belts.

“Don’t you die on me yet, traitor,” Crow said.

He grunted straining against the leather cuffs.  He drew on the anger eating away at his insides.  The hate he felt for Fortunatus all those years.  His father’s friendship betrayed, the aid to Manson, and the petty retribution over a yelling match which got them in this mess in the first place.  Crow threw log after log on the fire of his hate and strained all his muscle against them.  The belts didn’t budge.  Crow panted.  Precious blood spilled out his wounds.  Steam collected on his skin.  He tried again, but the anger wasn’t enough.  The hate wasn’t powerful enough to break the belts holding him to the chair and blocking his ability to heal.  He needed a stronger power.  He needed something.

A bubble of wild laughter rose inside him.  It pushed up through the hate and burst out his lips.  Crow chuckled.  He couldn’t help it.  Was he mad?

“I do not think laughter is appropriate at a time like this,” Fortunatus said.

Caroline’s magic, filling his veins, blocking out darkness, rushed over the anger.  It quenched the fires of hate.  It linked with his humanity, his mother’s magic, his father’s undeadness, his love for Olive.  It linked all the good inside him, but not of him.  The leather bounds burst asunder.  Crow tumbled out to damp floor.  Warm tiles pressed against his wounds.  The painful reversal of wounds – healing – began.  He pushed to his feet, stumbled to Fortunatus and ripped open the belts holding him up.

“You traitor,” he said.

He dragged Fortunatus out of the circle of light and away from the cursed chairs.  Warm fog enveloped them. They dropped to the ground.  Crow wounds knit back together, and Fortunatus’ body healed.  So much blood.  How much did he have left?

“You have called me a traitor, several times already.  We need to broaden your vocabulary.”

“Screw you.”

“I think I already screwed us both,” Fortunatus said through clenched teeth.

“What?”

“I am a traitor.  I wanted to hurt you for all the malice you showed me.  I thought it unfair since I had your tattoo on my hand, since I had proved I had switched sides.”

“You had a hand in the death of both my parents.  You think even with a tattoo that heals quickly?”

“No.  And it should not.  Forgive me, Crow.”

Crow grunted, surprised.

“This is the second time I have been saved by you when I did not deserve it.  I believe my loyalty must now rest with someone other than myself regardless your feelings about me.”

“That would be a historic change.”

“Your eyes are red.  Have you been drinking?”  Fortunatus ignored his snide remark.

“I was full of magical blood designed by Caroline, the Witch of Joy, to save Olive, but we’re running out of time.  It may already be too late.  I don’t know how much time has passed, or how much blood I’ve lost.”

Fortunatus shifted to his feet and held out his hand to Crow.

“I swear on the angel Akilina that I will help you reach Olive in time whatever the cost to myself.”

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”  Crow accepted his hand and climbed to his feet.

Crow picked up Bain’s knife lying tossed aside by Xanthus.  Fortunatus gathered up the spiked chain.  They shifted to the door, stopped, and listened.  Nothing.  They both drew in deep breaths through their noses.

“A guard.”

“Also the others.  They’re split up.”

“I will go and get Jack and Zephyr,” Fortunatus said.

Crow nodded.  Fortunatus shifted up to crouch on the ceiling over the door.  Crow pounded on the door with his fist.  The guard outside grunted in surprise.  The bolt screeched as he slid it back and pushed open the door.    Fortunatus dropped the spiked chain down around his neck and yanked him off the floor.  The guard’s feet kicked in a last moment fight for life.  Crow grabbed his gun and stuck it in the waist band of his blood drenched jeans before he drove Bain’s knife into the guard’s chest.  The guard sifted into ash on the floor.  Fortunatus dropped down and they stepped into the hall.

Underground catacombs opened before them.  The fog from the room dropped to the floor and crawled over the white walls.  Fluorescent lights turned Fortunatus’ pale skin an off yellow.  Crow ducked under the low ceiling and scented again.  Two halls branched off from the room where they were tortured.  One straight ahead and one to Crow’s right.

Fortunatus gathered up the spike chain wrapping it around his arm.

“Meet me at the door out of this place with the others,” Crow said.

He held out his hand.  Fortunatus grasped it.  For the second time in the last few hours, Crow’s skin burned.  He looked down at his arm.

“Second new tattoo today.”

“That is never a good sign,” Fortunatus said.

Just above Crow’s right wrist, just below his other new tattoo, a beautiful woman in a flowing gown inked in.  She held out her hands.  Jewels and gold spilled from them in an unending cascade.

“I take it back.  That is a very good sign,” Fortunatus said.

“I’m guessing it’s yours.”

“Yes.  It is Lady Fortune.”

“Let’s get going before I get linked to anyone else.”

“Move fast,” Fortunatus said.  He hesitated. “And Godspeed.”

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

With his heart pounding one moment and launching up into his throat the next, Crow followed Zeus back to Vincent’s study.  Johnson, BW8, Jack, and Zephyr followed behind.  The seriousness of the moment sobered them all into silence as they retraced yesterday’s path through half-lit hallways.  Zeus threw open the large doors of the study and bowed them all into the paper-littered room.  Computer monitors blinked through different windows and programs.  Trent lay on one couch, his boots up on the arm rest and his arm thrown over his eyes.  Crow hesitated.  The sweet smell of cloves and cinnamon tickled his nose at the same time he saw someone new bent over a microscope beside Vincent.  Zephyr giggled in his ear.  The holiday scent rolled off a striking woman with olive skin and blonde, curling hair hiding her face.  She pulled back her curls revealing high cheekbones, full lips, and a sharp nose.  Vincent whispered to her.  She glance up at them, her brown eyes sparkling.  A happy grin spread across her face.  She released her hair and ran to Crow with a little skip.  He stepped back, startled.

“I have wanted to meet you for so long!”  She took his hand.  The smell of happy spices rolled off of her.  “Olive is my soul-sister.  I was present at her birth.  How the earth sang at that dawn’s rising.  I hope you don’t mind if I think of you as a brother!  I knew your Father also, though not as well as Emma of course,” she said with a wspink.  “I’ve waited many years to meet Benj’s son.  You look a lot like him, though I see Sophie’s gentle spirit in your face as well.  I’m so excited.  We’ve been watching you for so long, and it’s been a pretty painful journey, I have to say.  But Emma always said just to trust the King and keep helping you were we could.  You’ve been a very hard nut to crack, Crow Galloway, but I think Olive just might have done it.”

Zephyr held her sides, rocking on his shoulder with laugher.  The rush of joyful greeting elicited a complaining mumble from a waking Trent – something about a crazy overly happy witch.  Crow stood there unsure of what to do.  His head spun at the woman’s implications about Emma and Benj, about Olive cracking him open, and about being watched.  Wen had said much the same thing, and so had Trent.  Could he have gone all these years without noticing all these people in the shadows waiting to help him like they said?

“Allow me introduced Caroline, the witch of Joy,” Vincent said inclining his head.

Caroline shook Crow’s hand, pecked him on the cheek, and laughed at the consternation on his face.  She greeted each of the others with a hug, kiss on the cheek, scratch behind the ears, and a press of the hand.   BW8 blushed, his face on fire, as the pretty witch stood on her tip-toes to kiss him.

“Come see what we have done,” Vincent said gesturing at his computer.

Giving the cheerful witch a wide berth, Crow joined Vincent at the long desk covered with microscopes, slides, monitors, and keyboards.  Several Petri dishes of blood rested in stacks beside the slides.  Crow ignored the smell of spices with blood hanging in the air, with her blood in reach.  He drew the air in through his nose, tasting her.   No.  An unholy desire for her reared inside him.  No.  He shoved the smell, the thoughts, aside.  He was here to heal Olive, not to drink her blood again.  Not yet anyway.   The scent of spices increased as Joy joined them by the computers.

“In this dish we have Olive’s blood,” Vincent said pointing with a long finger.  “Please, back up a bit.”

Crow took a step back.

“Now we put a drop of your blood in with Olive’s.”

Vincent pulled on a heavy leather glove.   He retrieved a vile of blood labeled ‘dhampir’, and withdrew a small amount.  Crow caught a flash of coppery scent.  Vincent allowed one drop to fall into Olive’s tainted blood.

The Petri dish exploded.

Glass flew all over the room.

Crow swore.  Trent leapt to his feet.

The smoke cleared and Vincent waved Trent down.  Crow jerked a glass shard the size of his thumb from his arm.

“What in the world happened?”

“Please re-watch it on the computer,” Vincent said, unperturbed.  He pointed at a divided monitor.  One side was labeled Olive, the other Olive/Crow.  A drop of medium red joined the richer red tone of Olive’s blood.  Instantly, it attacked and destroyed the single drop.  Crow watched the two second death of his blood play over and over on the monitor.

“Normal vampire blood consumes human blood to complete its own.  It does not eradicate it.  We, to put it in non-scientific terms, have very ‘thin’ blood.  We must drink human blood, or we will waste away to wraiths and zombies.  Your blood, Crow, is thicker and only thins if you have indulged in your vampire-oriented traits.  You are already full of human blood, and generally do not need more.”

“Okay,” Crow said.  He crossed his arms hoping he hadn’t been called here to meet an overly cheerful woman and get a lesson on the science and magic behind vampire blood.

“Olive’s cursed blood causes her to attack both your human and vampire sides.  Just touching her is painful.  How?  Manson drained her of her power, blocked her magic, and refilled her with only the power of the sun.  Even to humans, the sun is harmful in large doses.”

“That doesn’t explain everything that happened to her,” Crow growled.

“You know your foe.  Manson did as he always does.  He twisted his curse beyond its design to something even worse.  He marked it, I am assuming with the Gray Coven’s help, for you alone.  Mixed in this curse is ash from your Father and blood from your Mother which tells the power to hunt you and attack you.”

Manson had parts of his parents sitting around?  Crow ignored the sick twist in his gut at the idea.

“That’s why Fortunatus could touch her skin, but her blood hurt him.”

“Yes.  That is correct.”

“So now that we know that, what do we do?”

“Two things. Caroline?”  Vincent gestured to the witch.

“You, dear brother,” she said with a serious smile, “will have to drain all the tainted blood from Olive. You’ll have to bring her to the brink of death.  Only then can her body refill with clean, untainted blood with all the seasons combined.  That’s the second thing.  The first thing is, I must make you something which will allow you to drain her without it killing you.  I’ll counter the magical transfusion by giving you a transfusion of new blood.”

“What?” Crow said.

Zephyr stood up on his shoulder, startled.

“We will drain your blood out, pass it through my special magical field and refill you.  My magical field will be filled with night and with clouds which will counter the power of the sun.  I’ll also enhance the genetic pattern of your parents. That way, when her blood attacks it will only connect you stronger.  In other words, we will use the same magic Manson used to hurt Olive, to heal her.”

“We tested it in one of the samples already,” Vincent said.  “We took your blood and mixed it with some of Caroline’s after she filled herself with night.  No explosion.”

“Okay.  Two questions?” Crow said.  “How will you know when my blood has been transfused and what’s the hitch?  This all sounds so easy.  New blood for me.  New blood for her.  Presto!  Everything’s back to normal.”

“I’ll know because I’ll be connected to you at all times,” Caroline said.  “My body will literally be the magical field your blood passes through.  You’ve drained a human before, right?”

“No.  No.  No.  I won’t drain you,” Crow said taking a step back and dropping his hands to his guns.  Drinking Olive’s blood had brought him close enough to his Father’s cursed lust.  Drinking Caroline’s blood would complete the pattern Benj had set – Crow would be cursed with lust for the blood of two women.  Sound familiar?

“Crow, you don’t have a choice,” Trent said from his seat on the couch.  “We need you out there two-stepping with Manson, not at his beck and call.”

“I don’t owe you anything, hunter, and I won’t drink her blood.”  Crow waved his hand at Caroline while he glared at Trent.

“Yes you will,” Caroline said.  “You’ll put your blood in me and I’ll put mine and yours, mixed, back in you.  You will mostly just be re-drinking your blood.  We don’t have the power of a full coven at our backs, but we do have you, a dhampir.  The hitch, Crow, is you must drain Olive in 24 hours.  As long as your eyes are red you have time.  Once they go back to normal, your blood will revert back to its normal state.  The more you use the powers from Benj the less time you’ll have.  You need to get home as soon as we get done.”

“To facilitate this,” Vincent said before Crow could argue, “you will leave as soon as you and Caroline have completed the transfusion.  I have a Door ready to open which will take you back to the Circus.”

“Then why not go back now and do the first transfusion there, right next to Olive?”  Johnson interjected.

“I must have the power of the night found here in LeVidal to give Crow power over the sun there,”  Caroline said giving him a sad smile.

“The real question is how’d you get permission from the Five to open a gate in LeVidal so quickly?” Crow said.

“I did not,” Vincent said.

Crow protested, but Vincent raised his hand.  “I will deal with the Five.  Trent will help ‘grease the wheels’ if necessary.”

Trent grinned.  Crow glanced from him to Caroline, to Vincent.

“There’s no other way?”  He had to ask it.  He had to make sure.

“Not unless you are content to wait,” Vincent said.

Crow shook his head.  Time was not on his side.  It never had been.  Manson would not sit by and let him have the time to heal Olive in a way which did not hurt and curse others.  He had to move.  He had to get back.

“I’ll be ready in a few hours.  Go pack all your gear.  You must be ready to leave as soon as it’s done.”  Caroline said.

Johnson, BW8, and Jack headed out the door with Crow behind them.

“Crow?” Vincent called him back. “There is one more thing.”

He waved the others on as he turned back.

“We must expect resistance on our way to the Door.  Bain saw Fortunatus enter the home of the Greeks.  It is widely known that they enjoy Manson and his games.  You have been betrayed.”

“He entered of his own free will?”

“It appears he did.”

“I knew that guy would never turn,” Trent said.

Crow clenched his teeth and walked away.  He wouldn’t show mercy again to that treacherous bastard.  Johnson, BW8, Jack and Zephyr waited with Crow their packing done.  They brought little with them and took less back.  Time flew.  Time crawled.  It spread wide eagle wings and drifted by at a pace a snail could pass.  After an eternity, but seeming only moments later, Bain, Zeus, and Odin arrived at Crow’s door.

“Crow, come with me,” Bain said.  “The rest of you will grab your things and be ready to move as soon as we are done.  Zeus and Odin will take you to a front room to wait.”

Crow nodded to his friends and Zephyr kissed him on the cheek before going to sit on Jack’s furry back.  An odd flutter filled Crow with a sudden nauseous excitement.

“This is it.  Time to go save Olive,” he muttered to himself.

Back in Vincent’s study, Caroline laid on one of the couches in a soft white gown like some lost, fallen angel.  She pulled the dress off her shoulders revealing a large expanse of beautiful golden skin.

“Once you begin the drain, I will strap you together in case either or both of you lose consciousness,” Vincent said.

A thick, black band ran beneath Caroline and trailed on the floor and over the back of the couch.  Crow shifted to her side.  Caroline held out a bejeweled knife in one hand and told Crow what to do.

“Forgive me, Olive,” Crow whispered.

He opened himself to the side of his being which longed to take her, to drain her dry – the side which lusted for her beauty, her blood, her life.  Crow pulled off his shirt and took the knife from her hand.  He drew it across his chest in a vicious slash.  His human blood poured from the wound coating him red.  Crow dropped the knife.  He closed his eyes leaning his head back.  The pain run through him for a bitter moment.  For Olive, for Olive, he turned to the side of himself kept on a tight leash, reigned in, and locked away.  He turned to the same darkness that Benj had turned to years ago.  The bitter hate for what he did raised its head, but Crow squashed it beneath the need of his family.  Just like Benj.

Springing on Caroline, Crow tore her chest open with his teeth.  She convulse beneath him, but she didn’t scream or cry.  He laid on her, matching bloody wound for bloody wound, pressing the cuts together.  Her sweet smell filled his head with a drunken buzz.  Her heart beat in a fearful song calling him to her.  Crow reached up with his fangs to the pulsing vein in her neck, her long beautiful neck, but he did not bit, not yet.  He held himself in check, his fist tight on the reigns of his lust.  He had to stay in control.

The blood, running down their chests, seeping from their wounds, mixed, joining together.  They become one.  His body convulsed as Caroline sucked her own blood back in taking his with it.  She drained him through the chest wound.  Her spell drew his blood from him – the vampire became the victim.  The world around Crow went soft.  He slumped down on Caroline unable to hold up his own weight.  Everything faded at the edges into blissful sleep.  His lust lay down its head.  Yes.  Sleep.  What a wonderful idea.  Crow drifted as his body emptied, his heart slowed, his organs stopped.  He rested in a field of wildflowers, beautiful flowers.  Beneath him a woman lay.  He looked down.  It wasn’t the witch, Caroline, but his Olive, his lovely Olive.  He blinked in surprise.  A wild joy filled him.  He took her in his arms, kissing her, holding her, loving her.  Olive. Olive. Olive.

Crow’s heart stopped.

From so far away, a woman spoke to him, “Take me, dhampir, drink my blood.”

Crow sank his fangs into Caroline’s neck sucking greedily on the blood flowing from her.  He sat up.  The band cut into him as it drew Caroline up with him.  He grasped her closer and drank and drank.  She breathed and gasped in his ear, the sound of dying creature, driving his passion on.

He stopped.

He pulled away.

The taste of the blood changed.  It wasn’t theirs mixed anymore, but hers alone.

“No.”

He pulled away but the band kept her close.  Blood trickled down from neck and chest staining her white gown.

“No.”

Crow grabbed the knife on the floor and slashed through the band.  Caroline dropped to the couch.  Crow shifted away from her spitting her blood out.

“No….”

He sank to the floor trembling and shivering.  His heart pounded as he jerked the leashed darkness within himself back into its cage.  But it was strong now.  It had blood.  He forced with everything inside him, everything that came from Sophie, and regained control.  New blood filled each and every vein of his body.  His lower right arm burned.  A new image inked in on his skin between his elbow and wrist – an interlinking moon, sun and crown – Emma, Caroline, and Wen.  His father once bore Emma’s sign, now Crow had all three sisters united in a single tattoo.

The smell of spices wafted about the room.  The lust growled in its cage and Crow’s fangs re-extended.

“Get her out of here, now.  Go!”  Vincent yelled.

His own fangs extended at the sight of so much blood.  Redeemed or not he was still a vampire.  Trent, the only human in the room, scooped Caroline up and hurried out.  Vincent approached Crow like a wary wolf.

“Crow?”

With a shudder, Crow looked up knowing, sensing, his eyes glow red.  They burned with a sweet fire.

“We must go or you will run out of time.”

The room spun as Crow lurched to his feet.

“High on my own damn blood.”

“You have a strange cocktail flowing through your veins, that is for sure.”   Vincent took his arm and led him from the study.

At the front door, Johnson, BW8, Zephyr, and Jack waited with Bain.

“Holy shit,” BW8 whispered.

“Your eyes, Crow,” Jack said.

“Don’t worry.  I won’t be hungry for hours,” he said with a crooked smile.

“Go with Bain.  Trust nothing,” Vincent said.  He handed Crow to Johnson.

The room spun around Crow.  He couldn’t seem to hold his head up.

“What’s wrong with him?” A loud, bass voice said in Crow’s ear.

“He is drunk on his new blood,” Vincent said.  “I would assume he probably has not drunk that much blood in his whole life after being that empty.  His head will clear in a few minutes.”

Bain held open the front door and the party spilled out onto the wide veranda.  Crow held his head at an uncomfortable angle to meet Vincent’s eye.

“Farewell and Godspeed,” Vincent said.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

“Bain, drinks for our guest, and let us have a little more light in honor of our humans, for introductions,” he said with a wave of his hand.

Light blazed about the room.  Chandeliers from the ceiling, sconces on the wall, candelabras on every table flamed with the_return_by_alone_mansudden, electrical light.  The three humans in their various forms gawked and gasped as the room around them filled out.  Their weak pupils shrank down from their open point of trying to take in all the light they could.  Crow held up his arm to shade his eyes while they adjusted to the sudden change of wattage in the room.  He squinted through the afterglow keeping his other hand wrapped around his gun’s grip.  A man leaned against the fireplace with a half-cocked smile on his face.

“I’m gonna guess from the look on Crow’s face that your ward works, Quentin.”

“I agree.”

“Someone wanna tell me what’s going on?” Crow growled lowering his arm.

“Let me introduce Trent, of the 3T’s,” the man with the earring said.  “He has been assisting Quentin with the design of a ward which allows a human to pass unnoticed through LeVidal.  They needed someone unsuspecting to test it on, and I believe you were chosen.”

Crow released his grip on his gun.  Trent stepped forward and offered his hand.

“Trent Green, one of Quincy’s Hunters, it’s an honor to finally meet you Crow.  I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Why have you heard about me?”

“Quincy likes to keep tabs on anything that hunts vamps, either the ones with grudges or the ones for good.  He calls it his apocalypse list.”

“I’m on a list?”  The dangerous noise in the back of Crow’s throat warned Trent of his precarious position.

Johnson, BW8 and Jack backed up a bit.

“Only an apocalypse one.  He’d never call you unless things were really bad, really bad,” Trent said with an award-winning smile.

He lifted a heavy pendent in the shape of a sun from around his neck and moved over to the oriental vampire bent over the computer.  Every time Crow tried to look at the metal sun his vision went all wonky and slipped away.

“Just so you know.  I still knew you were there.  I just couldn’t tell what you were.”

“I surmised something to the effect would happen,” Quentin said.  “If it worked which it did after a fashion, your vampire senses would not allow you to see Trent, but your human senses would not be hindered.  Again I apologize if I we have offended you in any way.”

“Are you trying to be invisible?”

“No,” Trent said with a laugh.  That’s what we’re trying to figure out.  All it’s done so far is attract vamps cause they can see me, just not sense.  It’s a work in progress.”

“Let me interrupt with introductions before they begin to question you in earnest, Crow,” the earring vampire said.  “I assume you have not come here to help with magical experiments.”

Crow crossed his arms over his chest in response.

“I see I am correct.  I am Vincent head of the Requiem for those who may not know.  This is Quentin.  He is my personal attaché.  And this is my wife, Marien.” Both of them bowed as they were introduced. “And like I already said, this is Trent Green.”

“Are you really a vampire hunter?” Jack asked in awe.

“Yeah, but what are you?” Trent bent down and scratched Jack behind the ears as the boy came up to sniff him.

“Guessing I don’t have to introduce myself,” Crow said.  “These are my friends, Johnson and BW8.  They’re both human and both from Jones’ Circus.  Jack is a human boy in our reality and a friend as well.”  Crow could think of no more honest introduction then that.

“Wow,” Trent said.  “Most kids aren’t cool enough to be a wolf on this plane.  And you’re huge.”

Jack’s big tale wagged back and forth in danger of scattering papers with its gale force winds.

“Are you a witch?” he asked.

“Nope,” Trent said holding out his arms to show a complete lack of tattoos besides two small crosses between his thumb and first finger on both hands.  “No, me Travis and Trev along with Quincy are an all human group of vampire hunters, just us, and our guts.”

“Maybe when I grow up I could be a vampire hunter, too.  Me and Fortunatus-”

Trent stopped his scratching and straightened up.

“Yeah, Fortunatus….where is he?” Jack said realizing the vampire wasn’t with them.

“You brought that monster here with you?” Trent’s voice flat-lined.

His cocky smile dropped revealing the steal behind his eyes.  His hand fell to the pistol tied low down around his hips.  Crow, thinking he might like this guy, tried to remember if Fortunatus had continued to follow them after their argument or not.

“Crow! Where is Fortunatus?” Jack screamed and raced for the door.

“Wait, boy,” Vincent commanded.

Jack skidded to a halt.

“I will send out my people to hunt for him.”

“Good riddance,” Crow muttered.

“What!?” Jack snarled curling his lips back to reveal rows of sharp teeth. “It’s your fault, Crow!  You never wanted him around.  He left cause of you.”

Crow stepped back, surprised at Jack’s vehemence.

“Why in the world would Crow want him around?” Trent said.  “Don’t you know who he is, kid?”

“I’ll tell you who he is, Jack,” Crow ignored the hunter zeroing in on the boy in wolf form.  “He betrayed my dad to Manson.  My dad trusted him and Fortunatus got him killed on purpose.  Fortunatus stood by while Manson tortured my mother.  I never expected him to stick with his new loyalty.”

“He changed!  He has your tattoo!”

Before Crow could yell back, Vincent stepped up. “Stop this now.”

Jack’s teeth snapped shut.

“We do not know what has happened, but we will do our best to find out.  Jack, existence is very challenging for a changed vampire for many years.  Your friend has much to un-learn, and he has much to be forgiven for.  Crow,” Vincent turned to him, “you must forgive him or he will be driven away.  You showed mercy and now he is your responsibility.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me? You forgave him?” Trent said.

Bain reappeared with their drinks on a tray.  He raised a questioning eyebrow at Jack’s upright hackles, Crow’s angry stance, and Trent’s incredulous glare.  Vincent waved him over.  Bain set down the tray on a side table and shifted to Vincent’s side.  They had a quick, whispered discussion and Bain left the room.

“Sit down, everyone.” Vincent indicated the couches and chairs.

“Please, if you two will sit on the couches, one to each,” Marian said with a cool smile to Johnson and BW8.

They followed her advice and didn’t sit together.  Even so, the furniture groaned alarmingly when they sat down.  Trent held his peace.

“Crow, Jack, you were just introduced as friends.  Is that now untrue?”  Vincent asked.

Jack snarled, but Crow sighed with a glance to the ceiling.  He rubbed his tired face with his hands. The remembered feeling of family washed over him.  He had stood in the kitchen with Olive while Jack introduced him to the litter of skunks for all the world like a son.  More than the debt they owed each other, Jack was part of his family.

“I’m sorry, Jack.  If they don’t find Fortunatus, I will go find him myself.  We won’t leave without him.  Agreed?”

Jack stared at him with golden eyes for several seconds.  “Swear?”

“On my love for Olive,” Crow met his eyes.

Jack cracked a toothy grin, and let his ears be scratched.  Crow dropped into a chair, and Jack sat down at his feet.

“I don’t believe this,” Trent said.  “I always planned to get Fortunatus if Crow didn’t.  He’s been top of our list for years.”

“Believe it, hunter,” Crow said.  “Jack’s right.  He has my tattoo on the back of his hand.”

“Wait until I tell the guys.  Quincy’s explosion will be something to watch,” Trent said with a shake of his head.

“Trent, if you please, we have work to do,” Quentin said from the computer.

With a mocking salute, Trent rejoined.

Marien passed out drinks.  Crow stared into a goblet of blood pressed into his hand.  He wished he’d gotten the red wine offered to Johnson and BW8.  A platter of meat, bread, and cheese appeared at each elbow while Jack chewed on a large raw steak.  Setting the goblet aside untouched, Crow pulled the three vials of Olive’s blood from inside his coat.  Zephyr stir against his hand and went back to sleep.  Tossing the vials to Vincent, Crow explained everything that had happened to Olive.  He laid out everything Manson had done.

“I will need some of your blood so we may begin testing,” Vincent said.

Marien shifted to a wardrobe in the far corner of the room and returned with three empty vials and a knife.  Vincent held up one of Olive’s vials to the light and shook it.

“Quentin, go find Caroline.  We will need her help.”

Quentin disappeared from the room and Trent took his seat.

Crow took off his coat and set it aside careful not to wake Zephyr.  He held out his left arm.  The moth and flame image and the constellation of Orion rose out of the tattooed waves of brown and gray power snaking up his arm.  Marien handed Crow the knife.  He slit his wrist.  BW8 coughed and Johnson looked away.  Marien held a vial up to the wound and caught his blood.  The wound healed.  Crow cut himself again.  Marian’s fangs extended, but she ignored her rising desire.  With two full and capped, Crow wounded himself one last time.  Marian nodded and took them away.  Crow reached over to the plate of meat and ate every piece.  Marien shifted back to his side.  She wiped the excess blood from his already healed arm.

“Now you will be taken to prepared rooms to rest.  We will begin our study and will wake you in a few hours,” she said.

Crow stood up to protest but Vincent stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“There is nothing for you to do now but to wait for what we can find out.  Get some rest, Crow, you still have to get home.”

At the vampire’s words, exhaustion swept over Crow.  He followed Marien with the others from the room leaving Trent staring at a monitor with the shifty pendant and Vincent dropping blood on a glass slide.  He quickly lost track of the hallways and turns Marien made as she took them to their rooms.  The large house embraced an uniformed madness.  His body screamed for sleep.  Wondering if he had already stumbled into a nightmare, Crow walked right into Johnson.  Marian had reached their rooms.  She unlocked an emerald-green door and held it open for Crow.

He collapsed on the bed without taking off his boots.

Crow’s biological clock said it was late morning, but no natural light shone in the windows.  They were in LeVidal.  He climbed out of an austere bed with a groan.  Soft lights came to life on the walls and revealed a black bed frame with no headboard resting on a large, sheepskin rug.  The rug covered most of the gray marble floor.  The soft mattress called to him to return but he ignored it.  If Vincent had nothing yet, he promised himself another long sleep in its dream-lined embrace.  Olive.  Olive’s salvation might be today.  He just had to wait and see.  He hated waiting.    A black wardrobe, bedside a table and a small desk comprised the rest of the room’s furniture.  A small door off to one side opened into the bathroom.  The desire for a shower overcame the need for more sleep.  Crow’s skin itched with dried sweat and all the little bits of grass and seeds from their cross-country race.  He went to the wardrobe for clean clothes.  Jeans, t-shirts, jackets, a pair of boots, and undergarments in varying tones of gray, black, and brown hung inside or rested in a drawer.  Crow rapped his knuckles on the wooden back.

“Looking for other worlds?”

Crow smiled.  Zephyr flew to his shoulder and kissed his grizzled cheek.

“Happy to see me?”

“I thought I’d lost you,” Crow said.  He gave her a good looking over to make sure she was okay.

“Boy do you need to brush up on your magical beasties and more than that….you need a shower!”
Taking the wiznit’s advice, Crow stripped off the layers of dirty, sweaty, bloody clothes and went to stand under the hot water.

“Go check on the others, they’ll be happy to see you,” he called from the shower.

He shaved away the growth of the last few days and pulled on some clean jeans, a gray tee with a silver bird, wings spread on the front.  He eyed himself in the mirror.

“If Olive was here she’d be all over that,” Zephyr said from the bed.

Crow ran his hands through his hair.  He leaned his head against the wardrobe, swearing.  His fist flew out.  He cracked his knuckles on the door of the wardrobe.  Again and again, he slugged the inanimate object needing an emotionless punching bag for his frustration.  Zephyr flew to his shoulder.

“I’m sorry.  I know you miss her.”

Crow stopped.  He leaned against it rubbing his healing hand.

“It’s not just that.  I’m here and she’s out there with this connection to Manson.  What if he comes?  Not what if….when his demon witch comes I need to be there.  I need to have all my strength.  We’re running out of time.”

How bad must it have been for his parents?  The connection let them feel each other’s worry while Manson picked off their small family.  A horrible thought twisted in his stomach.  What if Olive was pregnant with his child?   How far would he willing go to save her?  To save them?

“The Circus will protect her.  You can’t lose hope.”

Crow wrapped his arm over his eyes.

“Right now you need to go eat,” Zephyr said. “You get any thinner and you’ll start to look like a vampire.  You also need to catch me up on everything that’s happened since that stupid demon stepped on me.”

With a shake of his head, Crow cleared it of the cobwebs of his families past.  He stretched and headed out.  Just outside, one of the black Vampires waited.

“Follow me. Your friends are already eating.”

“What’s your name?” Crow asked as they headed out.

“Zeus.  My brother is Odin.”

“Fitting.  Any news on Fortunatus?”

“No, Crow.  But Bain is looking still.”

Zeus lead the way to the kitchen where Johnson and BW8 tossed food in the air for Jack to catch.  Crow sat down at the table.  A vampire in a white apron started to pour him some blood.

“No thanks.” Crow put his hand over the goblets mouth to stop him. “Just coffee and food.  The last thing I need is drink some blood.”

“As you wish, dhampir.”

A large plate of bacon, eggs, and pancakes appeared before Crow along with some rich, dark coffee.  They regaled Zephyr with the story of the demon fight and the angels.  Crow reviewed his latest vision and then the race across the plains and through the forest to reach LeVidal.  Crow admitted to his anger at Fortunatus, how he hadn’t come with them, and Crow’s promise to Jack.

Zephyr stared into her cup of honey.  “What if he’s betrayed you again?

“No!” Jack said, “no.  I know he hasn’t. Besides he has the tattoo!  He wouldn’t have it if he was betraying us.  Right?”

“I don’t know,” Crow said.  “Tattoos sometimes change with events. They tell of your past and your present, your magical connections, not your future.  At least, they don’t often tell of your future.  It depends more on whether he has or has not betrayed us than it does with his servant tattoo.”

“He could just be moping.” Zephyr interjected.

“Or, when he decided to be true then the tattoo was true.  If he chooses to betray us now the tattoo will bear that out.”

“I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it,” Jack said.

“I hope your right,” Crow said drinking from his empty mug.  He feared the worst but didn’t want Jack to see it on his face.

Zeus shifted into the room.  “Vincent would like to see you.”

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

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