Tag Archive: Glock


…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

A hangover with sharp claws dug into Crow’s brain with a force designed to separate it from his spine.

“Dove!” he yelled lurching to his feet.  His eyes flew open.  He clawed for the Jade Gun but his hand came up empty.  Where was she??  Where was his gun?

“Hey handsome.” Olive smiled at him as she threw her head back after wrapping her hair in a fluffy white towel.

Crow’s surroundings came into focus through the red haze of his blood-high leftovers.  Olive had changed.  A clean turquoise tank clung to her still damp skin.  She jerked the tag off the back pocket of a new pair of  jeans.  Crow winced at the sight of bandages on her neck and wrist.  The wrist being bigger.  Fresh blood stained the white gauze.  Like an alcoholic, Crow both wanted and hated the blood, needed and despised it.  The claws pounding on his head dug deeper.  He held his head in his hands, and dropped back down on the bed covered with dirt and dried blood.  He held back a groan.

“Are you okay?”

Beautiful ivy tattoos running up two arms came into view.  Images of Olive’s life carved on flower petals poked up through the vines.  She ran a hand through his hair.  The headache lessened, but the his teeth elongated.  Olive winced.  Crow took her hand.  He pressed his lips over his teeth.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Olive said.  She gently adjusted her bandaged wrist in his hand.

“I hurt you, didn’t I?”  Crow released her hand shocked at the size of the bandage around her wrist.

“It was kinda a do or die situation.  Don’t worry about it.  I’m a strong southern girl.”

“We’re up North.”

“I know we are, but I’m not from here.  I grew up in the south.”

The bandage wrist haunted him.  It taunted him.  It proclaimed he was willing to hurt anyone to satisfy the need for blood, even Olive.

“You listen to me,” Olive suddenly said.  “You listen up right now, mister.  You did what you had to do.  If you hadn’t drunk my blood again, Dove would have kidnapped and or killed us all.   Don’t you feel guilty for one moment.”

“Do you have mind reading abilities?”

She flashed him a huge smile.  “No.  But you’re kinda easy to read.”

“Bad poker face, huh?”

“Something like that.”

The claws dug back in.  Crow moaned convinced his head might have just split open.

“Crow?” Olive put her arm around his shoulders.

“I’m all right,” he muttered through his fingers.  His headache plateaued into a moment of peace.  The world settled in around him filled with Olive’s sweet scent.  To taste that sweetness….Crow shut down the surge of vampire desire so fast he almost threw up.

“How long have we been here?”  He tried to be a man.  He had to be a man.

“A few hours.  Stan dropped us off and left to pick up some clothes and stuff.  Aunt Rose and I have showered. Stan’s in this one, but the other one is free if you want.  Zephyr used the sink.  Umm….” Olive looked around the room with one finger on her chin.   If she guessed his internal struggle, she did not acknowledge it thank goodness.   “Let’s see.  Stan brought you clothes, too.  He said we should all rest up.  Dove destroyed your duster, and most of your special holster thing.  I did get the Jade Gun, your Glocks, and shotguns.  Stan said something about not leaving them around where they could be found by the police or something.  Oh! There are burgers.”

Olive jumped up to get them.

“Sorry.  They may be cold,” she said as she handed him three double-patty burgers.

He ripped the wrappers off and devoured all three in just a few swallows.  The greasy beef brought an uneasy truce between his human and vampire side.  The headache disengaged its claws.  Nausea and any lingering desire for Olive’s blood eased off enough for Crow to feel in control, sane, and less bipolar.

“Wow! Hungry?”

Crow licked his fingers.

“Should I get more?” Olive put her hands on her hips.

With the red meat toning down his magical side, Crow enjoyed the woman-ness of her as a man, just a man.  Her curves, her smile, her nurturing, all with a towel wrapped around her wet hair brought his humanity to the surface with a pure desire as a man for a woman instead of a monster for a maid.  He forgot for a moment, in the late afternoon soon peeking in the cracks of the hotel curtains, who he was and what he was.  His desire was to care for her not possess her.  Was it too much to ask for that right?

“Are there more here?”

“No.  That was the last few.  I can run out and get some more, the place is just around the corner.”

The answer was no.  He did not have the right to be a man.  She needed protecting and he, according to the servant tattoos on his hands, was the protector.  He was the one with the power and the experience to fight and fight he must.  But….something whispered….could he fight?  Twice he had faced the Gray, and twice only Olive’s blood had saved him.  Did he even have the ability to protect her?  Did he even have the strength to go up against Manson, the Gray and Fortunatus?

“You shouldn’t leave the room, so don’t worry about it right now.” Crow pushed the whisper of self-doubt away.  He stood and wrapped his arms around her in one swift shifting.

“Note to self …” Olive said, lifting her arms and linking her hands behind his neck.

“What?”

“Meat does wonders for your disposition, unlike my blood. That just makes you sad.”

“True for any man, but your blood’s amazing.   I feel unstoppable, aware, alive when I drink it.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “The meat helped ground me a little.  It’s less rich.”

“Such nice things to say, kinda creepy they’re about my blood.”

Crow closed his eyes with a sigh and a shake of his head.  Again, the answer was no.  No moment of forgetting for the Dhampir son of Benj and Sophie.  He could not put the monster part aside for the mantel of humanity.  Olive gave him a little kiss and nudge with her nose.  He opened his eyes to her teasing grin.

Stan came out of the shower.

“How you feeling?”  He only raised one eyebrow at their embrace.

“Don’t ask and I won’t tell you.”  Crow stretched and groaned.  Olive turned away with a smile.

“What do we need to do?”

“Nothing till the sun sets.”

Crow headed for the other shower, something else that was good for a man’s disposition –scalding water, a shave, and clean clothes.  Dirty sweat and flecks of blood ran down the drain.  Steam surrounded him.  His mind drifted on the balmy waves of nothing until the water ran cold.

After the shower, changed into clean clothes, he dropped down on one of the queen beds with fresh sheets.  Rose nodded off in the puffy chair against the wall.  Stan snored on the other bed.  Olive danced around the room picking up trash, tiding towels, tucking a blanket around Rose.  She hummed to herself as she flitted.  Zephyr curled up on a pillow settled on the night stand.  Olive covered her with a white wash cloth.  The wiznit breathed softly, sound asleep.

“I’m going down to the gift shop.  Need anything?

“Olive?”  Crow cracked on eye.

“Don’t worry, I’m just going down stairs.  I’ll be fine.  Besides, I’m going crazy in here.  I saw some plants down there, so even if something happens I can protect myself until you can rescue me.”  She poked him in the chest with her finger and then bent down and kissed him.

Crow grimaced, too tired to argue.  Olive was the only one who had had any sleep, and she healed faster with plants around.  He could not bring himself to argue, so he pointed to the credit card in Stan’s wallet and closed his eyes.  Olive slipped quietly out the door.

“It’s good to see that look on your face,” Stain said.

“I thought you were asleep.”

“I was.”

“What look?” Crow propped his hands behind his head not really listening.  The thought of a battle without Olive’s blood resurfaced.  Like some dumb teen, he felt the need to prove himself.

“The one that says there might be something worth living for in this life beyond Manson.”

Did he?  Was there?  The ghost of a kiss touched his lips in a silent yes.

“You may be right, but let’s not say anything.  I wouldn’t want to hurt my tough guy reputation.”

“Heaven forbid,” Stan chuckled.

“Watch out.  You may have already passed me up.” Crow glanced at Rose in the corner.

Stan did not answer.  He rolled to the far side of the bed and slipped his hand in hers.  She squeezed his fingers without waking up.  In a few moments, his gentle breathing joined Rose and Zephyr’s.  Crow lay in the bed, coiled to spring.  Stan and Rose.  Seemingly out of nowhere, these two women walked into their lives.  Who was the more damned, the hunters or the women who loved them?  Rose, cause Stan slept holding her hand, gave Crow even more reason to check his skills.  He would not let Stan lose another woman to Manson anymore than he planned to let Manson have Olive.  Never.  The door knob turned.  Olive tip-toed back into the room.  She locked the door behind her.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” she whispered.

“Waiting for you, beautiful,” he said, sitting up on one elbow.

Her whole face lit up.  She plopped into the bed at his feet with a blue plastic sack.

“Look.” She crossed her legs, and dumped several candy bars out on the duvet.  Crow picked up a Mars bar.  Chocolate and sugar?  Not as good as beef, not as good as blood, but a sufficient substitute for the moment.  Olive plucked a candle and a small ivy from the pile.

“A candle?”

“A witch needs a candle.”

Crow shook his head at her.  He turned in the bed and lay back down putting his head in Olive’s lap.  She ran her fingers through his hair and hummed.   He drifted off to sleep with the ivy reaching out to touch his arm.

The sun cast a veil of darkness over the earth as it sank below its curvature.  The moon, dressed in silver white, rose into the night sky.  Her weak light diffused the blackness in place of her more glorious sister.

                …in the beginning, a vision is always dark…Crow clenched his teeth, but could not suppress a growl.  Manson lounged on a couch with dramatic curved lines in a shadow-filled room.  Window-less walls hid any possible clues as to their location.  His recent struggle with the sun left a spatially disoriented feeling in his head.   No windows, and no sense of space meant no clue.  Manson for the win.  Crow should have had Stan bury him instead of just eating burgers.

                The only door in or out of the room opened and in came Fortunatus. 

                “You little piece….” Crow lost the sentence in a snarl.  Words left something to be desired when it came to Fortunatus.  “Someday, for Benj.” 

                Crow wished the visions let him project.  He wished he could fill the room with the hatred he felt for Fortunatus.  Just once, he would like to make that betraying piece of feces nervous.  Wait?  Crow glanced around the room.  Why was he here?  No one but Manson and his pet waited in the room.  There were no signs of tortured souls.  There were no mutilated victims.  Manson must have called him here cause it satisfied some sick whim.  Lovely. 

After straightening his cuffs and tie, Fortunatus opened the door to admit three outlandish vampires dressed in the latest distressed jeans and graphic tee trends with edgy, girly hairstyles, eyeliner, and sunglasses.

“You look like one of those idiotic rock bands dressed like that,” Manson sneered from the couch.  He crossed his legs not getting up to greet his guests.

“We may return to LeVidal, if you have no use for us.”  One of them stepped closer to Manson while gesturing back at the door.  Fortunatus closed it behind them.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Manson said studying his perfectly manicured nails.  “Besides you will want to see what I have created downstairs.  Even you, Kalogeros, will want to take off your silly sunglasses long enough to see this.”

“As you wish Manson, but remember we are doing this as a favor.  We feel no obligation to you.  Kaneís, allá tous eaf̱toús mas.

Manson glanced at Fortunatus.

“No one but ourselves.”

Crow’s gut twisted.  How many years had it been since he last saw the Greeks?  Ten?  Fifteen?  Three of the oldest and most sadistic vampires indulging Manson did not come as a surprise, but it chilled him.  The Greeks with Manson made Crow’s burden bigger.  It changed the generational war from personal to planes.  All of LeVidal might join if promised the fun of human screams and blood.  Vampires, old, true not taken, flocking to Manson would bring him to the attention of the magical community.  But, he was still Crow’s problem.  The weight of what he witnessed pressed down on Crow’s shoulders.  No one.  No one would take out Manson but him.  And why was he seeing this?  Surely it was not to Manson’s benefit that he see an alliance with the Greeks?  Unless he wanted to taunt Crow with the inroads he had made with other magical creatures, like the demon he had joined with Dove.  Crow liked it better when Manson worked with only the Gray.  He liked it when Manson was too high and mighty, or ignorant, to work with anyone else.  This meeting was not a good sign.  It was dangerous.

“Fortunatus, take them down and show them our new toy shop?  And also the other room.” Manson waved them away.

Fortunatus hesitated.  Something new gleamed in his eye surprising Crow – weariness, disgust, and caution.  The vampire blinked and it was gone.  No way.  There was no way his soul, torn by murders, brought on this vision. Crow pushed the thought away.  Fortunatus had betrayed his father and had a hand in killing his mother.  That vampire deserved death more than anyone or anything except Manson.

With a bow, Fortunatus led the Greeks out the door…

Crow whispered a curse to the air of the hotel room filled with sleeping humans and witches.  Why had he surrounded himself with people he cared about?  People he cared about always died.  He and Stan must have been born under the worst set of stars.  The muscles in his back twitched with that ‘deck stacked against him’ feeling tightening them.

“Damn the Greeks, Fortunatus, and Manson all to hell.”

Crow’s skin crawled.   What if they came now?  What if he could not fight them without Olive’s blood?  He could not drink from her again.  Half damned he might be, but half damned could damn an innocent all the way.

He got out of bed and started pacing.  Everyone slept.  Their quiet, slightly off beat breathing grated on him.  He caught himself rubbing the back of his neck, and shifting from one end of the room to the other.  For fifty years, some of them with his Mom, most of them alone, he had never settled in one place for long.  The instinct bred in him since the beginning was to avoid Manson by staying right out of reach.  Never stay still.  Out of reach was where he wanted to be after that vision.  The walls of the hotel closed in around him.  His self-doubt filled him.  The night air sang a siren song to his vampire blood with sweet music.  And something else, something else…Someone or something out there.  Could he handle it without magical blood?

He needed to get out of this hotel room.  Now.  And he was hungry.  Again.  Hungry and not thinking about Olive’s blood.  He did not want that, not every again.  He could go for a steak.  Rare, bloody.  Crow picked up a napkin, wrote a quick note to Stan and shifted over to Zephyr’s pillow.  He poked her with a finger.  She ignored him.  He nudged her again.

She opened one eye at him.  Crow crooked his finger.

“When do I get my pocket back?” She picked herself up and fluttered to his shoulder.  She plopped down, stretched, and yawned.  Gathering two Glocks and his Jade Gun, Crow kissed Olive’s forehead and headed out.  Time to settle his gnawing fear once and for all.

The moon drew heavy clouds close, and wrapped them around herself.  The air, too warm for winter, was sticky with humidity.   Each droplet of invisible moisture was a vestiges of the storm Olive had called from the south.  A cool wind drove the clouds on.  The moonbeams illuminated their edges and turned them silver.  The moon called to him. She called to his vampire side, the side which had drunk Olive’s blood twice in 24 hours.  She sang a song of seduction.  She sang of the beauty of the night.

Crow soaked in the darkness.  It sat around him like a cloak, all grays and darker grays.  Zephyr rode his shoulder as he took the back exit from the hotel.  He rolled his neck loosening up.

“There is something out here.  In town and it is hunting.”

Zephyr turned her head this way and that scenting.

“It’s a demon hunting something, maybe us, maybe not.  With Dove being bound to that demon she has ties with them now.  She can probably call and control them.”

“Comforting thought.  It’s not her, though?”

“No.  It’s a different one.”

She was right.  Crow could smell it.  He could smell the ozone, fire, heat smell of the demon.  Unlike Angels which smelled of pure sunlight with a hint of rain, or flowers, leaves, living beautiful things depending on their type, demons smelled of ash, charred wood and burnt flesh.

This demon smelled like any demon, burnt, fried and crispy, yum.

“Great.  I was more in the mood for a vampire.  But, I guess a demon will have to do.”

He left the lighted exit of the hotel moving instinctively into the shadows along the unlit back alley.

“Got him?”

Zephyr scented again.

“There.” She pointed south into town.  “He seems distracted.”

Crow sensed it.  Whether the demon was hunting Olive or not he needed this fight.  Her blood still echoed in his veins, even with the little he had drunk, even with all it had to overcome, mildly diluted by burgers, candy bars, and sleep.  Her blood was some high, pounding, pounding, pounding.  The demon fight would rid him of her magical.  Plus, he could prove he did not need her what was in her veins.  If he did, she would not be there to save him.  Point proven either way.  He leapt onto the side of the building to his left and caught a window sill.  Lunged up and right to the hotel side, he caught a fire escape.  Back and forth up the four stories, he cleared the building and landed on the roof.

Leaping from wall to wall, tracking his prey over the roof tops proved easier than shifting through the streets, and more fun.  Crow took a last look back at the hotel.  A candle burned bright in the window of their room.

“A candle?” he whispered.

“To light the way back home,” Zephyr said.

“Just like Mom, but I’m coming home.”

The itchiness left Crow.  Calm settled between his shoulders like warm sun on his back.  For the first time in his life someone waited for him to come home.  He did not plan to disappoint her.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

He stumbled over the uneven, frozen ground.  His eyes flew open, but the world stayed dark.  Surprised and uneasy, Crow realized his eyes had been open all along.  He could not actually see anything.  His vision was gone.  A quick sniff and he knew he had not left this world.   He also was not in LeVidal – a city of eternal night.  The wind blew in his face, cold.  Another quick sniff and he smelled the sleeping grass, the few patches of snow, Olive in his arms – light as a flower, Zephyr holding to his ear, Stan with his guns, and Rose who smelled like lavender.  He turned his head up towards the warmth of the sun.  His skin stretched taut, the vampire cells ached.  No.  He still walked through the valley with Stan and Rose at his side under the damning sun.  He just could not see it anymore.

“Stan?” Did his voice tremble? Was he afraid? Yes! He could not see a thing.  One of his senses no longer functioned.  Afraid did not begin to describe what he felt.  What if they were attacked again?

“What?” Stan said, his voice sharp picking up on the oddness in Crow’s tone.

“I can’t see a bloody thing.”

“What?”

“I can’t see anything.  Everything’s black!” Crow practically shouted.

Stan pull up on his arm and Crow halted.

“You can’t see anything?”

“Are you listening?  Everything is black! Void.  Null.  Nada.  Gone.”

“Okay, okay.  Calm down.”

“How’s Olive?” Crow said.  Even though he could feel her slight weight in his arms, he could not tell if her skin was still pale, or if her darting eyes said she dreamed.  Crow listened.  He bent all his concentration on listening.  Her heart beat slow and regular, her breath came in and out.

“She’s still asleep.”

Crow adjusted his arms around her.  He pulled her protectively close.  Protecting her from what? He was the most dangerous thing here.  He was the one who could still smell her blood, magical and strong.  He could hear it rushing through her arteries.  Protecting her from himself?  Maybe.

“It’s the sun.” Zephyr said.  Her tiny hands press up and down the sides of his face where his several days old beard prickled.

“Are you sure?” Rose asked.

“It’s been a rough day, think about it,” Stan said.

Crow’s legs trembled.  He sat down before he fell down.  Sick sweat rolled over him, and strange images filled his head.  The world in his mind’s eye grew huge, until it towered over him, and then it shrank, shrank, shrank until he became a clumsy giant.  His head ballooned to an enormous size, like a silly cartoon character.

“Crow!” Stan barked. “Can you make it to town?  Do you remember how far it is?”

Crow squinted in his blackness – like that would help.  He lurched to his feet, but the ground rolled under them.  Crow swayed trying to keep his balance.  Too late, he dropped to his knees again.

“Rose, give me your coat,” Stan said.  “It is the longest and you can take mine.  I’ll be fine as long as we keep moving.”

A large coat fell over Crow’s head.  It smelled strongly of lavender and cat.  Crow breathed in through his mouth to keep from gagging on the old-lady smell.

Gradually, kneeling in the darkness of the heavy wool coat, focused on breathing, hidden from the righteous rays of the sun, the world stopped swaying.

“Stan?”

“Right here, Crow.”  Stan laid his hand on Crow’s shoulder.

“Help me up,” Crow said.

Stan took one arm and Rose took the other.  They pulled him to his feet.  Olive never even stirred.

“I think I can make it to town.  I still can’t see, but the world stopped spinning.”

“Okay, Zephyr was right.  It’s the sun.”

“The sun, the battle with the coven, a high from magical blood, which has me totally crashing now, fighting a vampire and mutant fey, oh, and let me not forget my fight with Mason and his new pet demon.”

“New pet demon?”

“Did I forget to tell you about that?”

“Sure did, kid.”

Crow smiled a half-smile under the coat.  It had been years since Stan had called him “kid”.  He used that name when he had attempted to provide some sort of father like guidance in the absence of Benj.  It was Stan’s way of saying he was worried about him – a comfort of sorts – or worried about what they had gotten themselves into – not a comfort.  Crow thought this might be the second time Stan had used the old nickname just in the last 24 hours, but he was not sure, could not really remember.

He took his time telling Stan about what he had seen in his vision.  It helped him to examine it from all angles, see if he missed any clues, and passed the time in their stumbling hike to town.  It helped him not think about the sun burning high over his head.

After the tale was told, they walked in silence each contemplating what Crow had seen.

“How far do we have?”

“We just got over the last of the hills so I think it will be about four more hours to get to town.”

“How much daylight?”

“Lots.”

Crow’s foot caught on a large tuff of dried grass.  He stumbled.  Exhaustion pushed, pulsed at the edge of his brain.  It dredged up a nauseous wave of blood lust from deep inside him.  Crow wished he had not drunk Olive’s blood back in the Gray’s basement.   All he wanted was more.  Crashing, burning, blood lust!  Beautiful, sweet, blood.  His human side recognized how close he was to the end of his rope.  Before he could do anything the vampire part surged.  It reminded him he had recently tasted some really sweet blood.  Some blood from the very beautiful creature sleeping in his arms.  Her blood, living, but not only living, brimmed with wonderful magic.  Her blood was like something you would get at Draught’s, Manhunter McGee’s bar in LeVidal: a dangerous concoction of magic and blood, a vampire’s high.  Only this would be unmixed with weak, human alcohol.

His father surfaced like a slap in the face.  Benj had felt this same way about Sophie and Cora’s mother.  Shame mocked Crow.  He had just raged at Stan about this same lust.  He had called his father the worst of beings, a creature without hope.  Crow did not want to feel this sick desire for Olive’s life.  He did not want this thing eating away at him, but how could he fight a whole half of who he was?  Why had he drunk her blood in the first place?  How could he have been so stupid?  Benj had known what drinking straight blood would do.  Benj had fought long and hard to avoid drinking the blood of the women he loved.  Benj had fought.  Crow jumped in head first and swam in a pool of it.

“Hold on Crow, we’re almost there,” Zephyr chanted from her perch on his head.

“Stop Crow.”  Stan pulled up on his arm.  “We’re on the outskirts of town.  I’m gonna go get us a hotel room and a car.  I’ll be back in two hours at the most.  Can you wait that long?”

“Do I have an option?” Crow muttered.

Stan squeezed his shoulder.  “I’ll hurry.”

Crow set Olive down by Rose, walked off a good fifty feet or so, and collapsed.  Space would give them time to run if lust for Olive’s magical blood overcame him.  Not that they would get away from him even in this state.

“Zeph?” he called.

“Yeah.”  Her little feet landed on his shoulder.

“If you sense any danger from me get Olive and Rose out of here.  I need you to stay awake and aware.”

“I’ll make sure you don’t hurt anyone.”

“Thanks.” Crow said.  His mind went as black as the world around him with Stan’s voice echoing through the darkness.

“Keep watch and keep that cell phone handy, Rose.”

“Just hurry, Stan.”

His labored breathing and pumping heart picked up pace as Stan jogged for town.  Crow hoped his legs held, and he didn’t have a heart attack.

“Just hurry, Stan,” he echoed.

The sun warmed the earth whispering of spring and life, but it damned the Dhampir.  Something smelled like fire.  Too far gone to do anything else, Crow wondered if he burned like any vampire should in the sunlight.  Damn him and his cursed family.  Good riddance….

The image of Olive surrounded by wild flowers, laughing and smiling,  flashed through him like the blade of a sharp sword.

Go away.  Let the fire come.

Olive’s green eyes and freckled nose close to him, her lips on his, her seasonal smell all around him….

Well played, mind.  Crow pulled himself together.  He strained against vampire morose and human laziness unwilling to die just yet.

“Zephyr?” he called.

His cloak stirred.  Zephyr’s honey smell sifted around him.

“Something’s coming.  Something bad.  Something joined,” she said.

“Dove.” Crow knew it.  “Well, that explains the burning smell.”

He lunged to his feet.

“Olive! Rose!” He yelled, lifting his head and scenting for them.  He oriented himself in their direction still unable to see.

“Get behind me!” Crow’s heart pounded.  Fighting a demon-witch without being able to see, and weakened by the sun was going to suck on every level, especially on the getting beaten level.

“What’s going on?” Olive sounded disoriented.  She grabbed his arm.

Crow pushed her behind himself away from the direction of the scent of fire.

“Can you see her, Zephyr?”

“Yeah, she’s coming from the west, to your left. And boy is she big.”

Crow pulled the Jade Gun from his back and aimed at the smell.  He fired.

“Close?”

“Nope,” Zephyr said.

“Done with that.”  Crow shifted in the direction of the scent.  When he closed in enough for her smell to be all he smelled, he fired again.  A loud growl rewarded him.  It came from almost on top of him.  He backed up a step.  A clawed, burning hand connected with his chest.  It flung him out across the dry winter grass.

With a painful crunch, he landed on his right arm.  His hand went limp.  He waited to heal.  It was awful slow in coming.  Too much of his vampire self concentrated on not giving in to the burning sun and lack of vision to heal.  A million foul words flew through his mind as the smell of Dove surrounded him again.  He crab crawled back, tried to get to his feet.  She dropped down on him crushing him into the earth.  His ribs splintered and his heart burst.

“I’m going to hurt you just enough.  I will get the reward no others, not even his vampire, has gotten when I return with you and the girl,”  Dove sang from over him.

Crow brought the Jade Gun up.  A small amount of feeling returned to his fingers.  He hoped he aimed at her leg.  Only one way to find out.  He fired.  The ground shook under him.  Olive, with her beautiful smell, called on the grass and weeds to grab at Dove.

Fire washed over them killing the plants.  Olive screamed.  Crow yelled for her, but Dove grabbed him up.  Blocking out everything, he concentrated on Dove’s smell.  In his mind, he saw her and fired the Jade Gun.

She dropped him with a yelp.  Crow shifted towards Olive’s voice.

“Olive?” He held out his hand groping like an old man.  She put her hand in his and he pulled her close.

“Drink!” she commanded.

“No, no.”

“Now!” She screamed in his ear.

He sank his teeth in her wrist.  Hot blood filled his mouth.  The magic raced through his dry veins.  Survival beat down the lust and took command.  Light refilled Crow’s eyes.  Healing surged through him.  His heart beat.  The world returned to him.

Crow dropped Olive’s hand.  Three swallows was all he need to regain his strength.  Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he turned to Dove with glowing red eyes.  She waited with her head cocked and her hands on her hips.

“Feeling better or just more damned?”

“I’ve killed you once and I can do it again.”

He shifted, charging across the field.  Bullets flew from the Jade Gun and then from his Glocks as he shifted in circles around her.  The demon-witch could not match his fighting power joined with Olive’s blood.  He riddled her body with hard, metal projectiles.  Each time she reached for him, he was gone.  Five guns empty, Crow pulled his shotgun.  Olive called a summer storm from the southern skies and struck her with lightning, wind, and rain.  Never before had Crow had a fighting partner with such power.

Dove fell to one knee.  Desperate, she cast a final spell at Crow.  A net dropped over him and pinned him to the ground.  Electricity burned his skin, inside and out.  He screamed.

“Manson or no, I will take your head, and eat your heart.”

“Not much of one there.”  Zephyr zipped by cutting the cords of the net.

Crow rolled away from Dove’s smashing fists, pulled his last shotgun from its leg holster and fired into her guts.  The witch howled in pain and disappeared in a cloud of noxious smoke.

The dark world crashed back in on Crow.  He had taken only enough blood to fight Dove off.   It had been just enough.  He could never, never have another drop.  One more bite would change Olive forever into one of the damned undead.  A cold chill spread through Crow’s guts.  He had bitten her twice.  Twice he had tasted her blood.  Could he really consider his father more damned then he?  Benj never considered, never threatened Sophie with turning, yet here was he with Olive twice bitten.  How’s that for irony?  As if his horror at what would happen spawned her, Olive dropped down beside him.  She put her arms around him.

“Are you okay?”

“No.  I need to get out of the sunlight.  I need to get some real human food in my system.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The more of my vampire powers I use the more I succumb to their curses.  The more human I stay the more curses I can resist.  Right now I need a really big hamburger.”

Olive laughed.  Crow smelled Zephyr come close.

“Everyone okay?”

“Everyone but you,” she said

Crow laid with his head in Olive’s lap.  He kept his thoughts on the hunger in his stomach instead of the hunger in his veins.  Slowly, fighting each step of the way, the lust faded.  Crow fell asleep.  They draped Rose’s coat over him again, and waited for Stan in the beaten down, burned out grass.

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

Writing Journal

When I was a child and I had nightmares, I would creep into my parents’ room and wake my Mom.  She always told me two things: trust in God and think Happy Thoughts.  (This might be where a get my slight Peter Pan Complex/Love from.)  Now, I’m a grown woman, happily married and out on my own.  Gone are the nightmares about biker gangs, giants, or my skinny sister getting abnormally thin.  They were replaced by  reoccurring nightmares about changes to my college course schedule, and then to customers who wouldn’t leave when it was closing time.  But, twice and only twice in my life have I had a real nightmare, a-no-happy-thought-in-the-world-could-make-this-better, wake-up-screaming nightmare.

I trust God now more than I ever did as a child.  I understand the power of being thankful for all that you have which are the real happy thoughts.  But, twice I have woken to such deep-seated fear that my prayers turned to the groaning of the soul and clinging to God only by my fingernails .  (I’m thankful He has a much tighter hold on me.)

If you know me at all, you probably guess the nature of my nightmares.  Serial Killers.  Or.  Just someone in my home intending me and my family harm.  The kind of someone you can’t escape.  The kind of someone who finds his kicks and giggles in life hurting people.  The kind of someone without a conscience or even any emotional connection to other people.  I write about these people.  I write about those who hunt them.  I write about their victims and I write about the ones who escape and the ones who don’t.  I write about terrible darkness and blazing hope.  But, twice I have found myself trapped in that darkness unable to escape, unable to find hope.

My first nightmare, I dreamed someone was in the house so vividly I did not know I was dreaming.  I watched him walk through my door knowing full-well what he intended to do to me and my husband.  When he reached out and touched my arm I screamed.  I screamed out loud.  It came out a kind of muffled moan, but that is the first time I woke myself up – fought to wake up – by making a noise.  I’ve never woken myself up crying or laughing (maybe once) or talking before, though I know people who have.  I woke up screaming.  That scream ripped from me in a painful way as I battled to escape the dream I wasn’t sure was a dream.  It took me a long time to calm down enough to fall asleep, and I was literally haunted by that dream for days.  I was jumpy, skittish, and in general freaked out all day.  Every time I thought about it those intense feelings of fear welled back up.

My second nightmare came after talking with my sister-in-law about what gives us nightmares.  I don’t watch a lot of scary movies, but I read some intense books and write intense stories.  She gets nightmares about everything.  We were laughing about how easily scared she is, and guess who had nightmares?  Me.  I dreamed about Hannibal Lector.  I knew it was a dream.  I knew it was going to end badly and so I woke myself up.  (I like to dream and so if I’m not enjoying my dream I’ll wake myself up and start over. )  As I pulled out of REM sleep, I had the overwhelming dreaded sense of someone being in the house.  All the nightly noises became footsteps, creaking doors and fear-filled.  I prayed and prayed knowing no happy thought in the world could chase this monster away.  This was no giant or overly hairy monster.  This was one of the real monsters and no image of horses, flowers or trees would make it go away.  I literally almost climbed from bed to get my Glock.  Then I imagined trying to explain to my husband why I had slept the rest of the night with my gun.  So I just prayed.  Eventually I calmed down and fell back to sleep.  I did not have a reoccurring sense of the dream the rest of the day, so I’m hoping this doesn’t become a habit.  Or, if I’m doomed to nightmares about killers in my home, I hope I’m blessed with sitting up in my dream one night and shooting him right in the head before he can do anything. I have had to do some soul searching about trusting in the Lord in the worst of circumstances.  And I have checked to make sure I have easy access to my Glock.

Nightmares.  Real ones.  I have them.  Not often, but once in a while I really freak myself out!

The amazing part about all this?  It’s going in a book somewhere!  Every good writer finds their best work in their own experience, right?  Well, I can now write about horrific nightmares!

Muse of Late: StarCraft 2.  If you missed my post, here’s the link.  I love a good hero and a great ending. This is the kind of thing I like to have haunting me during the day.

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

Crow levered the kick stand down with the heel of his boot parking the bike behind Stan’s black Suburban.  A woman waited for them just outside a white picket fence.  The small yard and two story house behind her slept under a shroud of gray.  Not the quiet gray of slumbering winter but the pale gray of death.  Dingy dust covered the white gingerbread gables.  A dirty ash sprinkled the snow, the eaves, the porch.  Dead gray clung to the curled brown leaves of the climbing roses and flowering shrubs landscaping the house.

In neighboring yards, crocuses and daffodils poked out from the remaining snow.  Their bright blooms vivid blue and yellow against the clean, white snow.  Olive’s yard had died and turned to ash.

“It’s them alright,” Stan said.  He zipped his coat, stuffed his hands in his pocket, and followed Crow up the driveway.  “Nothing beautiful ever follows in their wake.”

“I wonder what they wanted with this witch?” Crow asked.  His gaze drifted over the yard and house as he pulled off his leather gloves.  The Gray gave him the creeps.  Seven vile women with far too much power controlled by a serial killer.  Lovely.  He reached under his coat to feel the butt of one of his Glocks.  The polymer, warmed by his body heat, fitted comfortably in his hand.  He thought about taking the gun from its holster, but pulled out a cigarette and lit it instead.  The deadly smoke filled his lungs before he exhaled it out into the late morning air bright with sunlight pricking his vampire skin.

“Let’s find out,” Stan said.

The two men approached the old woman.  Crow slipped his cigarette in his mouth and rubbed his fingers.  They twitched and itched like his tattoos did sometimes – he hoped that meant Manson was nearby.  The old lady’s bun, not one of those severe, face-lift buns, but a puffy, wispy, romantic thing, made Crow shake his head.  Between that and her long lavender gown, buttoned-up dainty gray boots, and navy jeweled bag which matched her navy coat, she had the look of a much misplaced Victorian aristocrat.  He half expected her to talk with a British accent.  He never understood witches and their need to be strange.  The sun glinted on a large gilded mirror hung around her neck on a heavy chain blinding him for a moment.  He raised his arm to block the reflection.

She did not come to meet them, but waited for them to walk up the long driveway.   Their boots crunched in the dirty snow loud in the quiet street.  The lady tilted her head, like a bird, examining him.  She took in his compact frame, thick dark hair, and grizzled chin with quick darts of her small dark eyes.

“You’re the Raven?”  She made it his title.

He shrugged his shoulders, irritated.  “My name’s Crow, if that is what you mean.”

She cocked her head the other way. “Your aura is strange, twisted, caught between two worlds.”

“Hey Stan, she’s a witch all right – got the whole wispy mystic sayings down pat,” Crow whispered out of the side of his mouth loud enough for her to hear.  Manson might be nearby.  He was in no mood for the drawn out ceremonies some witches followed.

“Well, if she’s right it might explain your bad attitude.  No wonder you have that permanent chip on your shoulder, what with your soul being in a twist and all.”

“It could also explain why you’re a sarcastic jerk all the time,” Zephyr whispered from his pocket.  “And it should be noted that Stan agrees with me.”

Crow chuckled.

“My name is Rose Brickshire.”  She either had not heard them or chose to ignore their quips. “My niece, Olive Penelope Owens, has been kidnapped by the Gray.  She named you her rescuer, so it is you who must go in.”

“What?” Crow said, confused.  “In where? And why me?”

“You must go in the house.  Alone,” Rose said her eyebrows arching, ignoring his last question.

The temptation to mock the “alone” point was almost more than Crow could resist.  Instead he turned to Stan.

“Well, my faithful side-kick.  It looks like you must remain here.  If I’m not out of the haunted house in one hour, at the full moon, call the police so they can bungle my rescue.”

“You’re a real jerk, you know that right?”  Stan said.  He took his cigarette away.

Crow shook his head, clasped Stan on the back, walked past the old lady and opened the gate.  It stuck, hesitated.  A dead maple leaf, brittle and orange, blew across the yard, tumbled over the holly hedges, and across his hand.  An electric shock raced up his skin following the path of the blowing leaf.  Crow yanked back with a curse but the shock faded as fast as it came.  He grabbed the gate and shoved it open.

The world went black.

He glanced back.  Stan and Rose stood there watching him, the sun shining.  Crow could smell them, their life force.  He could hear their hearts beating.

He turned back to the house.  The yard was black, black and stormy.

“This is messed up,” Crow said.  He walked through the gate into the front yard.  Something in the back of his mind said this was the same mess as when Sophie died, when other people died, when Manson was involved.  It was all about the visions, the SoulReading which damned his family. 

In the yard, a storm raged around him.  The sky dropped buckets of water on him soaking him through.  Between the booms of thunder, Crow heard singing.  He turned his head, trying to catch the noise again.  Boom!  The thunder peeled across the sky.  Lighting tickled the underbellies of the clouds until laughing they releasing their water on the world. The voice lifted with the thunder’s drum then dropped off in its echo.  The voice reached into Crow.  It captured something inside of him.  It pulled him towards it with a sound of nature laughing and dancing.  It drove his feet with the joy of life.  It commanded him to wake up.  Wake Up!  

He shifted along the left hand side, around the wide, white wrap-around porch.

There she was.

Dancing. Dancing with the preverbal “no one is watching” type of abandon.  The rain streamed around them. Crow wiped it from his eyes.  He wanted to see her better. 

Beauty became a dull word as he watched her.  Life and joy in the living of it embodied her.  Petite but lithe, her whole body was alive with the rhythm of the storm.  Around her trees, plants, and flowers swayed in her dance.  Petals and leaves broke free to helix and swirl around her.  Her short, wet, reddish hair flowed out from her growing longer and blowing higher.

She enchanted Crow in bonds of gold . Never was the gift from his mother, the visions, more than a curse.  Death and torture were all he ever saw, until now.  Now, he had a vision of grace and bliss.  Now was life and passion.  He had lived long, for a human, and had seen beautiful women.  He had been with beautiful women, and powerful women, but Olive’s innocent dance, her joy, burned through him as none other had.  The other women had been as messed up as he was, as tortured and twisted.  This witch was different.  He tried to remember her as she had been when they met in LeVidal.   She had glared at him, angry with him for what he could not remember.  This vision pushed his memories aside.  This vision drove beauty into him like a spear to the heart.

The wind changed.

It blew down from the North pounding on his back with cold air.  Crow tensed.  This was a vision.  Any moment someone would die.  Olive would die at the hands of Manson.  This was a vision.  Crow braced himself for the inevitable.  Olive kept dancing.

“What am I not seeing Zephyr?” Crow yelled over the storm, frustrated by the vision’s taunting beauty. 

Zephyr climbed from his pocket and flew up to his shoulder her wings limp in the rain. 

“This is not one of your mother’s visions. But your heart might have just thawed, just now, for a moment.”

Crow ignored her comment.  His heart had not thawed that much.

“Tell me what’s going on.”

“Go back to the front of the house.”

Crow headed back around the front porch.  The storm faded.  Crow’s clothes dried.  The sun shone on Stan and Rose where they talked in the driveway.  They stopped when they saw him.  Stan raised a questioning eyebrow and his hand hovered near his own pistol.  Crow waved him to stand down.

“What, Zeph?”  He did not see anything meaningful.

“Touch the snow.  She’s speaking to you.”

Crow bent down and scooped up a handful of dirty snow and ice.  An electrical shock flowed over his hand again.  This time he squeezed hard instead of jerking away.  Beyond, just beyond the gate, several women stood.  The storm, from the back yard, fell around them.  They stayed dry and untouched.  Without counting, Crow knew there were seven witches.

“The whole coven.”

Zephyr hissed.

The oldest crone, tall and beautiful, too beautiful, stepped forward and opened the gate.  Crow had seen her last in his mother’s death vision – Ms. Heather Gray.  She looked the same as she did the night she sat in his parents living room and conned them into a case that let them be captured by Manson.  The same as when West died, the same as when Sophie died.  The Gray had not aged in over fifty years.

“See her as Olive sees her,” Zephyr commanded him.

Crow closed his eyes and focused on the power pulsing in the handful of snow he held. When he opened his eyes the crone turned into a hag  – dirty and oozing from every pore.  Her hands were twisted claws.  Her skin shriveled on her bones and hung from her muscles.

Crow shivered. “The other may have been a lie, but at least you could look at it.”

“The truth is safer.  Even here they’re trying to trap you.”  Zephyr said.

As he watched, the seven entered the yard, walked up on the porch, and into Olive’s home.

“It took all seven of them to break in without an invitation.” 

The vision faded.  It guided him back around to the left of the house.  The storm turned to ice and snow.  The thunder silenced its drums and lightning hid her flashing lights.  Olive run, laughing, into the house grabbing her cardigan on the way. 

Crow followed her inside.  He made a note of where she left the cardigan on the wood box.  His gut told him it was important.  Olive stripped off her wet shirt.  Crow quickly turned away. His body temperature rose.  He kept his head down, waiting, not wanting to invade her privacy.  The quick glance he got gave him a look at some of her tattoos, ones he had not seen when he met her before.  A large tree covered her whole back with wide branches and a thick trunk.  All four seasons marked the tree.  Its leafy crown quartered into young spring leaves, full summer foliage, orange and brown leaves and the bare branches of winter.  Interlacing vines, leaves, and flowers – some buds and some in full bloom – covered her arms.  Images of her connections etched the center of the flowers like little framed pictures set in a beautiful garden.  Nothing marked the backs of her hands – a witch so powerful served no one.

“Humans are so funny about their bodies.  Hers is beautiful by your standard and nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not human, not ashamed and not looking.  Is she done?”

“You’re half human and yes she is.”

Crow raised his head in time to see her dash into the other room.  He tried not to notice anything about her or what little she now wore as he followed.

In the kitchen the gray light of day streamed into a cold house as the vision the snow brought faded.  A dull-green ivy sat alone in a pot, one tendril waving at him.  Crow embraced the electric shock of Olive’s vision bringing her back.  She raced through the kitchen, giggling.  Warmth flushed his skin again.  Zephyr tutted at him.

Olive led him through the dark living room, down a short hall and into a bedroom.  She flicked on the light in her room  Seven hands close around her in a circle.  She screamed as they broke her connection to her plants, her seasons, her source of magic.  Crow clenched his hands.  He knew all this had already happened, but he hated watching unable to do anything.  Olive collapsed on the floor as the Gray chanted.  She lay utterly still.

The oldest crone stepped forward breaking the circle.  Lightning fast, Olive leapt up.  She bounded for the break in power.  The old witch caught her by her short hair, yanking her back with a neck-breaking crack.  Olive hit the floor and lost consciousness.  The room turned gray.

Crow looked around.  It was a pretty room, blue and green.  But the colors, the lace, the blankets and pillows were cold and dull.  He turned to go hunt for another vision when something gleaming on the floor caught his eye.  He squatted down.  A small bunch of hair lay on the floor where the oldest crone had caught Olive and yanked her to the floor.  Crow picked them up.  They were golden blond, bold orange and brilliant white.

“Have you ever seen anyone with three colors of hair?”

“Nope.”  Zephyr held onto his ear and leaned out over his shoulder to take a look.  Her soft white wings brushed his grizzled cheek.

An electric shock, similar to the ones of the visions, filled Crow’s hand, flowing from the hair.  This time it did not stop.  His hand stretched wide, tense and taunt.  The hair glowed and burned into his skin. Crow growled, bearing his teeth.  Hs fangs extended.  He threw back his head and howled.

Everything stopped.

The hairs soak into his skin.  He turned his hands over and new tattoos appeared.  On his small fingers an ice cold star filled in below the first knuckle.

“Winter,” Zephyr whispered.

On his ring fingers a large harvest moon took up residence.

“Autumn.”

A sun blazed on his middle fingers.

“Summer.”

The tattoos stopped.  Crow turned his hands back and forth. “Now what?  Where’s spring?”

“I don’t think we are done yet,” Zephyr said.

“The cardigan…”  Crow stood up and went back through the house to the mud room.

The cardigan lay on an old wood box where Olive left it the night before.  Crow picked it up and sniffed it.  The smell of new snow, crisp leaves, thick grass and new flowers filled his head.  Here was Olive and all that she was – a heady concoction.  He turned the cardigan over and found a tiny, dead lily-of-the-valley slipped through the button hole.  Though its white bell flowers were now brown it still smelled sweet.  He touched it.

Her power flung Crow back across the small room.  He tumbled to the floor as the vision rushed away from the house, but still in the house.  It shifted painfully to another plane.  He heard the door open between reality and spirituality.

Seven women surrounded Olive.  She sat chained in a chair.  Sweat drenched her skin.  Her hair hung in lank tangles around her ears.  Crow flinched at the echoes of Sophie’s tortured death in Olive’s capture. He tried to peer into the shadows of the room for Manson or Fortunatus.

One of the younger crones back handed Olive across the mouth. 

“You will not disrespect the Mother.”  

Her sing-song voice made Crow cringe.  From the bruises on Olive’s face and upper body, this was not the first time she had been reprimanded in such a fashion.

“Let me get this straight,” Olive spat.  “You hit me for disrespecting that old hag, but you want me to take her place as one of the Gray.  Don’t you think your disrespecting the Mother by disrespecting me?”

Someone flicked a hand and Olive screamed.  Her whole body arched in pain.

“What have I told you about your attitude?” the Mother said.

“You’re the one who picked me.” Olive huffed each word. “I didn’t ask for this.”

“You’re a foolish child.  Join us or die.  Help us make something new or I will dispose of you.  I tire of this game.  You have disappointed me.”

“What??” Crow whispered.  “Join them? The Gray want Olive to join them?”

“Shhhh,” Zephyr shushed him.

“I will never, ever join you.”  Fear flashed in Olive’s green eyes but her voice was strong.

The witch with the sing-song voice stepped from the shadows.  A long knife gleamed in her hand.  Olive squeezed her eyes shut.

“Wait Dove!” commanded the Mother. “This must be done properly and with the right care!  Just cause we are with the SoulReader doesn’t mean we can kill one like her and go unnoticed.”

Dove, with her sing-song voice, lowered the knife and reached out to touch the curve of Olive’s face.  Olive jerked away.

“We will make it look like an accident.”

The vision faded.

Crow lay on the floor staring up at a textured white ceiling.  Pain flared in his index fingers and died.  He raised his hands to see the new tattoos.  Rain drops.

“Imagine that.”

“Spring,” Zephyr said.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in When Skies are Gray…

1983

The Draught, Manhunter McGee’s bar, stank of blood and death.  Crow ignored the humans chained in chairs overhead with IV’s draining and mixing their blood for vampires to drink.  Orion sat in a corner her entourage gathered protectively her.  That relationship was over.  No matter how hard he tried, Crow could not view humans as cattle.  He did not drink their blood even with Draughts far-flung reputation for drinks rich in magic, drugs and despair.  He ate raw meat if he needed blood.  He did not drink human unless he had to to live, and those moments of necessity were rare.  Crow did not drink.  But Crow did not rescue either.  He did not protect.  His failure in one area of his life served as an excuse to fail in other areas as well.  Why should he rescue them?  Something else would just get them, on this plane or the other.  Besides, LeVidal and Draughts was not the place to rescue humans.  Everyone knew that.  Crow learned it the hard way a few months ago.  Orion had insisted he try the blood of a pale man in a small chair.  Crow had knocked back a shot of blood infused with vodka, guilt and remorse.  Like he did not have enough of that on his own, he had to taste someone else’s?  Manhunter threw him out after he staked two vampires.

Two days later, the crazy bartender had offered him a job.

“Crow, you seemed to have a knack for getting into fights almost every time you come in the Draught.  You win them without staking anyone unless you drink blood.  I will provide all the drink and meat you need, women and clothing, if you will provide the entertainment.”

“You think I want to entertain your silken customers?” Crow had coughed in his drink.  That was that.

Tonight, Crow drank scotch on the rocks, no blood.   Orion ignored him and he ignored her.  Crow let the amber-colored alcohol consume his line of sight until the world turned brown and warm.  His head swam…

Stan sweated through his white shirt.  A large gash cut through the old scars on his chest from the day Sophie died twelve years ago.  A familiar face surfaced in Crow’s mind.  An all too familiar dread, the kind which haunted even the most drug induced sleep, crawled up his spine.  Manson.  Silent for twelve years.  A waiting spider.  Old boots, plastic limbs and stained, worn braces floated behind Manson.  Plaster hands, parts of bodies once broken but believed healed lined the messy shelves around him.  A dusty, chipped statue of the Virgin Mary sat off to the side, her hands held up a saucer filled with glass eyes.  From a barred window stuck a small crucifix.  It jutted from the window as a witness to Manson’s cruelty… 

Crow stumbled out of the Draught and vomited on the cobblestone streets of the LeVidal.  Sweat broke out on his forehead.  His heart hammered.  This time…this time he would not fail…he would not fail…he would not fail.  Would another person die because he could not get there in time?

“No,” Crow groaned to himself.  This one time he would not let Manson win.  Zephyr fluttered out the door as a group of vampires shifted out.  They tripped over Crow doubled up in the path.  Swears rained down on him.  Crow yanked a stake from his belt, shifted up, and drove it through the chest of the closest vampire.  The other one shifted away, but Crow caught her by the hair.  He ran the stake up through her back and out her chest.  Dust filtered down around his hands.  The others scattered.  Crow snarled….

“Saint Roch.  Saint Roch,” Stan screamed over and over as Manson added new lines to his scared chest…

Picking himself up off the street, Crow scented right then left.

“What happened?”  Zephyr hovered over him.  Her white moth wings and the pom-pom tips of her antenna glowed in the eternal night of LeVidal.

“He has Stan. He has him and I am gonna get him.  Are you coming?”

“Someone has to keep you out of too much trouble,” she said landing on his shoulder and holding onto his ear.  Crow caught the scent of the Door he wanted and shifted across LeVidal moving fast even for most vampires.  His father had been exceptionally fast.  Crow took full advantage of the speed he had inherited.

“How do you know where Stan is?” Zephyr hissed in his ear as he raced along.

“Stan’s screaming it while Manson tortures him.”

Crow halted at the damp Door which led out of LeVidal within the Spiritual Plane and into New Orleans on the Material Plane.

“It’s a trap then?” Zephyr sounded unconcerned.

“With Manson it’s always a trap.”

…Manson bent over Stan, his favorite scalpel in hand, and laughed as Stan clenched his teeth.

“Not going to beg like your friends?”

Stan clamped his lips together.

“Or maybe you should just keep yelling your location to see if that friend of yours shows up.”

“He will.” Stan starred the sadistic killer in the eye.

“He didn’t come for his own mother, what makes you think he’ll come for you? Come on  Indulge me. Scream just a little.  Beg.”

Gray hairs peppered Stan’s head.  Tired lines crisscrossed his face, but he had lived long enough to not beg for mercy.  He had seen everything Manson was capable of, and he had stayed out of his reach for twenty-eight years.  He would not beg.

Crow tossed his head as he exited the vision and kept moving.  He might not rescue those people feeding vampires.  He might not have saved anyone in his family, but he would not be damned with Stan’s death.  This time he wanted Manson.  No one would stop him.  He was not a baby.  He was not a child.  This time Manson would find out just what kind of monster he had created.  Crow shifted out of the permanent dark of LeVidal, through the glimmering Door between one reality and another, and into the bright sunlight of noisy, smelly, wild New Orleans.  The two cities sat on the same magical lines for the same reasons, mirroring one another in their parties, peoples, and frivolity.  Crow stumbled a few steps as his vampire eyes adjusted with the help of his human blood to the sunlight of the summer day.  Using both sight and smell, Crow gained his bearings and raced down the hot, humid streets of New Orleans.  Tourists and thieves mixed and mingled with the general populace.  The smell of gumbo and the sound of jazz danced through the air no matter which direction he turned.  The shimmers in the air whispered of dark magic.

At the corner of Saint Roch Avenue and North Derbigny, with old homes, rubble and live oaks on his left, and the white washed walls of the above ground tombs on his right, Crow stopped his race to Manson.  He hesitated.  Failure had dogged his every waking moment since Manson killed his mother.  His inability to save the person who had given him life, whose love he had felt so strongly for the first bewildering, fearful days of his life, tore at him moment by moment.  He would not fail Stan.  Not now.  Not so close.

Crow leaned against a telephone pole and examined the quiet street.  His long black duster hung limp around his ankle.  No wind stirred it.  Cars sat in the sun, hot and waiting for their drivers.   Windows on the homes to his left  hoped for a breeze.  Not a person was in sight.  Work or heat drove them off the streets.   He did not smell assassins, vampires, or witches, but he never believed Manson worked alone.  Fear-bound slaves gratified his need for power. Zephyr flew across the street and landed on the white washed wall of Saint Roch’s cemetery.   Her spotted shoulders shivered despite the heat.

“It’s cold over there,” she said glancing in at the above ground tombs carved with names, dates and memories.

Crow walked along the wall dragging his fingers across the white bricks.  He could feel, smell, and sense the death housed within the walls, kept inside, away from the living which surrounded it.

Two statues and an arch opened the path so the living could visit the dead.  Crow stepped through it without a glance up at the guardians of stone.  The smell of fear and Manson permeated the cobbled grounds.  Crow followed the scent towards a small building littered with small papers, roaches, and flowers.  The cobblestones held notes of thanksgiving inscribed on them to the patron Saint that had healed so many.  In another life Crow might have been interested enough to discover the source of magic behind the healings, but today he focused on one thing.

Manson and Fortunatus stood on either side of a kneeling, bleeding Stan just inside the small chapel filled with emblems of healed deformities.

“Why took you so long?” Stan wheezed lifting his head just enough to stare at Crow from under his sweat soaked hair.

“Ahhh,” Manson sighed like some soft fall breeze had just found its way into the heat of the day.  “I am glad he did Stan, so very glad he did.”

Crow paused.  He faced, across a simple chapel threshold, the man who had destroyed his life.  It was odd to see him in the flesh, when Crow had only glimpsed him through the tortured eyes of others.  Yet here he stood, flesh and blood, his favorite scalpel in his hand and his other resting, friendly-like, on Stan’s shoulder.  Fortunatus’ fangs had protruded and his hands had turned to talons which broke the skin and drew blood from where he gripped Stan’s other shoulder.  The heat of the sun turned Fortunatus’ skin gray and ashy as he stood just inside a dark square of shade.

“Decided to leave your gray Ladies behind today?” Crow asked with a quick glance around.

“No, no I assure you they are present.  Don’t you sense their magic?” Manson said with a jeering smile.

Crow casually scratched his head getting sight of Zephyr out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t so much sense their magic as smell them.  The corpses smell fresher.”

“That is a low and childish comment, Dhampir,” Fortunatus said.  “I am ashamed of you.”

“Fine by me.”

And Crow disappeared.  No more bantering words.  Crow leapt up, grabbed the shallow indention of the crossing spars on the front of the chapel, avoided the cross at the spars center, and vaulted up onto the high, false fronted roof.  Fortunatus could not follow him out here into the sunlight.  Crow use that to his advantage.  Zephyr hovered up to him.  He nodded at her.  Leaping up, he went over the roof to the left.   His hand grazed the empty cross at its steeple.  He swore as it burned his skin, but did not stop.  Using the momentum of swinging from the roof, he launched himself down and through the bar covered window of the chapel.  Zephyr fluttered into the opposite one and exploded in a ball of glorious sunshine.

Fortunatus, braced to face Crow, fell back from Zephyr’s light flooding the chapel.  Crow pulled twin Glocks from holsters under his arms and fired at the vampire as he shifted past.  Dropping his guns, Crow grabbed Stan under the arms, and hurled him out of the chapel.  In one smooth motion, he turned and barreled into Manson.

Making physical contact, feeling the wind rush out of the lungs of the man who killed his parents and his friends, gave Crow a sick joy.  Ceramic limbs and crutches showered down on them as Crow smashed Manson into a wall.  Manson brought his scalpel up and drove it between Crow’s ribs.  Crow rolled onto it and off of Manson, trapping Manson’s armed hand beneath him.

Zephyr’s light went out. Shadows too dark for the day claimed the tiny chapel of healed limbs.   Dried leather, buckles, and fingers broke under Fortunatus as he shifted up off the floor.  Manson tried to move his hand.  Crow drove his fist into Manson’s sternum.  The remaining air inside him whooshed out.  Crow raised his fist rewarded with a look of pain in Manson’s cold eyes.

“A little darkness…nice touch,” Crow mocked Manson as he punched him again and again in the chest.  Manson’s eyes rolled up into his head.   Crow lifted his arm to pummel his pretty face.   Fortunatus caught his fist, and yanked him up.  Crow ripped the scalpel from his side and drove it towards Fortunatus’ chest.  Fear in the eyes of the ones he hated was more intoxicating than all the blood-laced drinks in the world.  Crow’s head throbbed.  He drove the piece of sharp metal into Fortunatus’ chest ready to watch him finally turn to ash.  Fortunatus struck his hand away before the scalpel could pierce his heart.  The vampire stumbled back.  Crow pressed the advantage pulling his extra Glock from his back holster.

His finger pulled against the familiar weight.   Manson stumbled to his feet.

“I kept your mother’s tattoos.  Hung them in a frame after I dried them out.”

Crow spun around with a growl and fired all ten shots without stopping.

The sulfuric smoke cleared.

Manson still stood.

Two of the bullets had hit home, one in his gut and one in his thigh.  He shouted.  Sunlight, normal, late in the day sunlight streamed into the chapel.  Crow hissed, shielding his eyes with his hand.

Manson, Fortunatus and the darkness were gone.  A splatter of blood amongst the notes, figurines, and roach carcasses were all that remained of Crow’s enemy.  He could not even be sure the blood was Manson and not just Stan’s.

Crow cursed the air around him until he was hoarse.  He hoped to bring his enemy back with his insults and taunts.  Zephyr begged him to come and tend to Stan.  She begged him to leave before someone called the police.  Manson, Fortunatus and the Gray were gone again.  They slipped through Crow’s fingers before he could avenge all the ones they had killed.  Crow hated himself for the life they still lived.  He had been so close.

Crow stumbled from the chapel and dropped down by Stan.

“Why? Why could I save you and not her?  Why?”

Stan grabbed his shoulder where the list of names etched his skin.  They both knew Manson would not kill Stan.  They had always known he would murder Sophie.

As the sun set, Crow helped his old wounded friend out of the cemetery.  He took him to the hospital in New Orleans furthest away from the cemetery and from the magic pulsing around LeVidal.  Manson had found Stan.  Manson would find him again if he wanted, but this time Crow would be at Stan’s side.  Manson would not find Stan so easy to catch the next time.

When the doctor finished stitching up Stan’s wounds, Crow took him and Zephyr and left New Orleans.  They drove far, far away.  Stan healed and relearn to sleep through the night.

Whispers and visions of murders plagued Crow for years.  With Stan’s help, Crow learned to use the visions to help the law enforcement agents who hunted the killers with only their normal human powers.  Crow scouted out clubs and vampire feeding grounds.  He hoped he would bump up against Fortunatus one night.  While he helped slow vampire feedings, he did not see the vampire who served Manson.

Fifty years had passed since the witch Manson found out his echo existed in the fall of 1959.  Three times he attempted to regain his broken powers and failed.  The echo’s son was ready to find him.  The echo’s son was ready to avenge her, but Manson was silent as the graves he had filled waiting as their terror built.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

The Necromancer

A ringing phone pulled her from dark dreams.  She blinked tears from her eyes and turned her head to a patch of sun filled, western sky, visible through a window on her right.  Breathing techniques, in through her nose, out through her mouth, helped her regain control over her racing heart.  How did the sun hang that low in the celestial path? It took her a few moments of examination to realize the sun was setting.

“What time is it?” she whispered.  Had she dreamt the pain of the last few days?  Gentle breathing drew her attention and she turned her head.  Sebastian sat in a chair in the corner of the room, chin on chest, legs stretched out before him, asleep.  James stood just outside the door.

Sun in the sky, James at the door, her room at the lab, Sebastian sleeping in a chair next to her…a phone ringing…ringing…ringing…Genesis, still nightmare groggy, remembered the ringing woke her up in the first place.

“Stupid woman won’t stop calling,” James said to himself from the doorway.

Sebastian stirred.  He opened one eye, glanced down at the phone in his lap, and groaned.  He dropped his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“What am I going to do with her?” he asked himself.

“I could make a few suggestions,” James muttered.

Sitting up, Sebastian looked at Genesis.

“You’re awake.  How are you?”

Caught off guard by the gentleness of his tone, Genesis swallowed her own smart remark about his caller.  Sebastian got the curses out of her.  He freed her from their destruction and weakening of her body.  Genesis knew a debt when she saw one.

“Alive, thanks to you.”

The phone rang again.

“Look, either you deal with her, or I do, because she’s gonna get us killed, capiche?” James said.

“You don’t want James to deal with it, believe me,” Genesis said.

“Maybe I do.” Sebastian cracked a smile and picked up his phone. “Oh, by the way, Vash called.  You were asleep so I caught him up.  We also kept part of those two curses, so as soon as you’re ready we’ll start looking at them.”

Genesis nodded.   A deep strain filled her as the whole situation settled back around her.  The dread of waking from the nightmare seemed light compared to everything taken as a whole.

Her stomach growled.

“I’ll bring back some food,” Sebastian headed out of the room.

“Remind me, next time my boss is an ass to let him cut open a girl to help his overall attitude,” James said.

“Maybe it has to do with feeling useful?” Genesis suggested.

“Nah, can’t be that.”  James grinned and winked.

Genesis shook her head at him.  She leaned back into her pillow and closed her eyes.  Rail and Vertune were not far off, staying available, hiding from the sunlight.  They both sounded concerned.  Or offended.  Attacking their witch insulted them, and they had sensed the curses last attacks, not to mention the attack by the mercs yesterday.  Genesis confirmed with them that she remained the only witch in the area and there were no massing small armies about to attack.  They agreed to start looking into Dora, Wolfe, and Mara.

The smell of dried blood wafted up from Genesis’ clothing.  She climbed from bed and went to the bathroom.  A quick sponge bath and a fresh set of clothing dissipated the raunchy smell.

“That went well,” Sebastian said coming back into the room with a plate of food.

She pulled her white hair back in a ponytail as she came out of the bathroom. He did not look pleased.

“Really?”

“No.  She cried and said she hates me and that I don’t care about her.” He set a tray of food on her lap.

“Ouch,” Genesis said around a mouthful of a large ham sandwich.

“Gets better.  I told her she was right and she should find someone as self-focused as herself to hook up with.  Oh, and she accused me of cheating on her and sleeping with you cause she heard your voice.  You better slow down on that sandwich before you choke.”

Genesis raised an eyebrow. “Someone more self-focused than you?” she said after she swallowed her bite.

“Thanks.”

“And she was right, we were sleeping together,” Genesis said.  “I was sleeping here and you were sleeping in that very uncomfortable chair.”

“Exactly what I told her,” he said.  A small bloom of happiness appear right between Genesis heart and soul.  It filled her cold magic with a heady warmth.

Sebastian stretched his back before he sat down and wrapped his hands around a cup of coffee.  They spent a few minutes regrouping as Tell came in.  Genesis ate two sandwiches and a bowl of soup.

“Well, it’s a good thing those mercs didn’t have time to ransack the place,” Tell said as she finished eating.

“Funny enough, I’m still hungry.”

“You lost a lot of blood,” Sebastian said holding up her lab coat in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.  Genesis accepted both and followed him out the door.  Limping back to the lab, more like a collection of bandages and bruises than a person, she dropped into an office swivel chair.  A microscope connected to her laptop waited in front of her.  Someone had swept all the glass up and set up her equipment.  Genesis realized she had been out for most of the day.  At least nothing had happened while she slept.

“Here’s your personal monsters…or what’s left of them.” Sebastian wheeled a tray over holding two clear canisters and any other instruments she might need.

Selecting the largest of the two specimens, Genesis opened the canister, and dumped it into a Petri dish.  Next to her, Sebastian log on to his own laptop and checked his email. She started her dissection by slicing along the curve of the curses back.  It split open with a sticky squelch.  Examining it through the microscope, she watched three layers open up under the nick of the sharp blade, each held together with a viscous adhesive.  Sebastian rolled his chair behind her and watched the computer image over her shoulder.

“Want to narrate?”

Genesis pause, poised over the Petri dish with the curse, and considered a piece of magic which might make this easier.  Decided, she reached in her lab coat pocket and pulled out a bone gray pouch which held her spells.  She pulled it open and dug around in it until she found a tiny Ziploc bag with the dust of a blind man’s dried eyes in it.  She turned in her chair to face Sebastian. He leaned back a little.

“Come closer,” she commanded.

He rolled up until his chair touched hers.  Genesis cupped his face in her long fingers feeling the itch of his unshaved jaw beneath her skin.  She noticed the small blond curls at his hair-line refusing to stay pulled back in his tight ponytail like the rest of his hair.  She searched his gray-blue eyes.  Genesis felt his skin warm under her hands.

“You need to be able to see magical lines for a time.  This will not be permanent.”

Taking a pinch of the dust from her bag, she released his jaw and sprinkled it in the palm of her hand.  Holding the other side of his face, she said, “Keep your eyes open.”

He blinked and she ran her thumb just below his cheek bone to distract him.  Sebastian went completely still.  The sound of her own heart beat filled her ears.  Every time she neared him her heart beat louder…why?   Genesis breathed on the dust and frost coated the granules.  Maintaining their locked gaze, she held up her hand, palm flat, and blew the dust in his eyes.

His eyes teared up.  He turned his head and sneezed, breaking contact with her.  When he turned back, Genesis saw the tiny magical forks of lightning arch across his irises.

“Wow, you look-”

Sebastian stopped, staring at her.  Genesis knew he saw her as other powerful witches saw her.  Her TrueSelf, though she did not reveal it, shown in his eyes.  She knew the lines of her magic, Dora’s attack, and the curse she dissected were as clear to him now, as they were to her.  The spell took to him perfectly.

“Why do you look so amazing?”

Genesis smiled just a little. “You’re seeing me as I truly am.  As Vertune, Rail and all vampires see me.  I took on this form for a few minutes when we first got here.  Didn’t you see me then?”

“No, no I didn’t.”

She knew that to Sebastian she now wore a close-fitting bustier with a low front and a lace up back, along with a cropped satin jacket.  The shoulders of the jacket pointed up with an artistic flare framing her face.  Long fitted trousers skimmed her legs and four inch heels caged her elegant feet in jeweled straps.  The crepe material and satin trim of the jacket spoke of wealth and power.  Her guns sat in holsters of patent crocodile skin.  The iridescence of her hair became more pronounced and her tattoos appeared as clear and crisp as photos on her back and chest.  All the pain and exhaustion of the last few days faded from her and left behind perfect beauty and glory, edged with just a little terror.

“No wonder they obey your every command.”

“They obey me because I am the mistress of their power.  And you are not seeing me in my most fearful and unholy expression. I’ve heard it’s very frightening.”

“I can imagine.”

Genesis laughed. “Come look at the curse, Bastian.”

He stood up this time and leaned in over her shoulder.  She began again, opening up the curse as she watched through the scope and Sebastian watched on the laptop.  The curse’s structure appeared fairly basic and classifiable within the leech family, just with more teeth.  The more magical elements Genesis found were directions to attack a specific person – her.  If it fell near anyone else it would ignore them.  Its design targeted the newly healed wound through which it entered her body.  She spent a good few hours taking it apart level by level, piece by piece, becoming familiar with the magical lines guiding it.

“When we argued, it attacked.  My ‘passion’ awakened it.” Genesis sighed and leaned her head on her arms.  She struggled against the weakness still warring in her body from the battles she had fought.  The few hours of examination wore her out.  Her stomach rumbled ready for more energy to replace her blood loss.

“I just don’t get it.  I have never even talked with Dora that much.  I mean I guess it makes sense for us to be at odds but…”

Genesis shook her head.

“Who is Dora?” Sebastian straightened up and rolled the stiffness out of his shoulders.

“The witch of NewLife.  She helps guide souls from the Plane Beyond to their bodies here, just as the witch of Death, Wolfe, guides them back from here to the Plane Beyond.”

“If that is true, she shouldn’t care about you at all unless you did something to her.”

“I know,” Genesis almost shouted, feeling angry, tired, and defensive. “None of this makes sense.  I’ve never done anything to her.  I avoid most witches across the board.  Whatever the reason, she killed my whole damn team over it!” Genesis pounded the desk with her good arm.

Sebastian put his hands on her shoulders.

“It’s okay.  We’ll get to the bottom of this.  Look, why don’t you get some more sleep and when you wake up maybe I’ll have a response to my email or Vash will call.”

Genesis stood up shaking his hands from her. “Because I don’t want to sleep.  All I have are fucking nightmares.”

“Fine. Don’t sleep,” Sebastian held up his hands. “Do whatever you want.  You’re the all-powerful witch here.”

Genesis winced and wished he could not see her TrueSelf, just her normal-everyday-human-self. She felt tears prick her eyes.  Even though they seemed on better ground, she did not want to cry in front of Sebastian.  She stepped around him, squeezed his shoulder as she walked by so he would know she was not mad at him, and left the lab.

She headed down the hall.  Now would be a convenient time for some of Dora’s mercs to attack.  The fight would release the bottled frustration building inside her like a shook-up soda.  Her leg twitched and hurt with each step towards her room.  Genesis stopped in the hall and leaned against the wall.  She took several deep breaths trying to calm down.  Being the witch of the undead required her to stay in control.  Lashing out in frustration could lead to bad consequences when she had vampires nearby waiting for her call, as the night waited just on the edge of the horizon.  As the frustration eased, sadness returned.  Sebastian was right – she needed some sleep.  She went to her room and stepped into the shower after stripping off her lab coat and clothes.  The night would be here in an hour or so, she could feel it.  Once the water ran cold she climbed out, toweled off, and redressed.

Genesis opened the door. Sebastian waited in his chair.  He rested his arms on his legs and studied the floor.  As she came out, he glanced up at her.  The concerned look on his face burst the flood gates.  Genesis put her hand over her mouth as tear spilled from her eyes.  She convulsed as the sobs pushed to the surface.

Sebastian stood up and pulled her close in his strong arms.

“I couldn’t save them, I couldn’t do it.  Why did they, why did Dora kill them?  They were just working. I –”

She could not speak anymore.  Words no long explained her pain, so she sobbed into his shoulder.  She hated the images trapped in her mind.  She felt frightened and helpless by her inability to do the one thing she had been asked to do.

The tears did not last long.  Genesis ran out of energy to cry.  Sebastian helped her into the bed and pulled the covers up over her.  She fell asleep before he sat back down in his chair.

The ringing of a phone woke her up again, but this time it was her phone.  Genesis did not recognize the number but decided to answer it anyway.  The window to the sky sparkled with stars,  and midnight waited just a few minutes away.  Heady feelings and pulsing magic did not yet throb in her veins, but almost, almost the witching hour.

“Yes?”

“Genesis Dunlear?”

“Yes, who is this?”

Sebastian walked in eyebrows drawn together in question.  Genesis saw Dune standing outside the door to her room, instead of James as Sebastian shut the door behind him.  Genesis shrugged.

“You don’t know me, but my name is Ronan McPherson.”

Genesis sat perfectly still.  She never expected to hear the voice on the other end of the phone.   An image of dark-haired man with tired eyes surfaced in Genesis’s mind.  His voice sounded more worn down than Genesis felt.  But, if this was who she thought it was, he had reason to sound tired.  She prayed he had been learning about his powers and maybe, just maybe, accepting his responsibility.

“Why are you calling me?”

“Well, we need to talk about a mutual problem.”

“What is that? And who are you?”  She wanted to hear him say the words.

“I’m the SoulDefender, inheritor of Manson and Sophie’s split power, and the witch of Darkness is trying to kill you.”

The Necromancer

The words Genesis dreaded most rang in her ears and in her soul.  Mara was trying to kill her.  Ronan the SoulDefender had called to warn her.  The intoxicating power of midnight filled her veins, but the voice of the SoulDefender tamed the flow of magic by calling up her greatest fear and her greatest enemy.

“No, she is not the one who attacked me, Dora did,” Genesis protested, still not wanting to believe it.  She sat up in bed and pulled the blankets around her shoulders.  Sebastian dropped in his chair and watched her as she talked.

“What?” Ronan said.

“How did you know I am under attack?” Genesis said.

Ronan sighed, he sighed like all the burdens of the world rested on his shoulders and in some ways they did.  Genesis did not envy him and his status of one of the most powerful witches with some of the most direct contact with the King.  With great power always come great responsibility, and her own were enough for her to try to bear.

“I had a vision of your scientist getting attacked and then the attack on you which followed.  So much has happened; I don’t really know where to begin.”

“You were called to hold their souls as they died?” Genesis flashed back to the moment she watched the three  innocents murder.  The moment she watched as they were ripped apart by a creature she supposedly under her control.  She did not remember any hope or any peace in their eyes as they died, only fear and pain.  Anger boiled inside her.  She embraced it, suited far better to anger than to fear.

Ronan did not answer, but sat in silence on the other end.

“You were weren’t you?  You were supposed to hold their souls?” Genesis stood up letting the blanket fall to the floor, letting the cold air dance across her bare arms and shoulders.  She had found someone else to blame for what had happened.

“Yes.” The SoulDefender sounded almost broken. “Yes, I was supposed to hold their souls.”

“You bastard!  You bastard,” Genesis said, squeezing the phone. “Why didn’t you?  Why did you let them die like that?  Did you feel their pain and terror?  Did you feel their fear?  I hope it haunts your sleep every time you close your eyes, just like it does mine.  I hope you see their faces just before they died every time you look in the face of someone you love.” Genesis built a curse as she spoke.  She took the power of midnight and wrapped it around her words.  She prepared to bring them into reality and hurl them at this man who had let her friends die like they had – alone and full of fear at their last moment.

“Stop!” Ronan said.  His power flew across the distance and plowed into Genesis throwing her back across the small room.  She crashed into the wall, her wounds screamed and a vision danced before her eyes.  She had seen this gym before.  She had seen a witch and an angel plead with the King to spare the vampire and four witches who lay dying on its floor.  Now, she saw the room filled with black men.  She saw Dora command the men to attack.  She saw Ronan and the Dancer, Sundance, who she had met once in LeVidal, fighting alongside two kids.  They battled as many men as Genesis had fought, but without her years of training.  As the vision passed before her eyes, she watched Ronan flip between the battle he fought and the souls he tried to hold.  She saw him being shot and stabbed.  Worse, she saw him watch the people he loved being wounded.  She watched Ronan try to reach for Sundance as she went down and then turn in protest to a young man.  Genesis recognized the man who once was a kid named Jack.  She watched her vampire, Fortunatus, give all that he had in the hopes of saving Jack.  And she watched Jack give himself up for his friends.  A sob escaped her as the vision passed before her.

Genesis’ anger faded away.  Tears filled her eyes and she cut off the power to the curse before it could be inflicted on the SoulDefender.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said over and over.

“It’s okay.  I’m kinda getting used to all of you other witches hating me,” Ronan said, breathing hard as he finished sharing the vision with her.

His words slapped her across the face.  She had always been on the receiving end of other witches’ hatred.  Now she was on the giving end.  Genesis had inflicted that powerful, sick hatred on another witch.  A vile sense of wretchedness swallow her up.

“You said Dora attacked you, but why?” Ronan continued, unaware of her self-flagellation.  “I know for certain Mara is after you.  She wants to take your powers and give them to a man of her choice.  She has been experimenting on humans and witches trying to control the inheritance and at midnight on the 29th and on the 30th,  she took the powers of one witch and gave it to a human of her choice.  A young man of her choice, and it worked.”

A cold, cold chill spread over Genesis.

“She doesn’t just want to kill me for being the inheritor of Cairn’s power, she wants to take my powers and give them to someone else?”

“That’s right, but why does Dora keep popping…”

Ronan stopped talking.

Genesis waited.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Ronan said.

“What is it?”

“Somehow Mara has convinced Dora to help her, but Mara is behind this and yes, she wants to take your powers, and she wants to give them to Jack Galloway.”  Ronan paused.  “Oh God, she wants Jack Galloway to be her new Cairn.  How could I have missed it?”  Ronan groaned.

“I don’t understand?”  Genesis said.

“Mara used Dora and my daughter Ash to attack and kidnap Jack.  She also used Dora to attack and weaken you.  She united her powers with Dora, but kept us all going down the wrong track or dividing our time and energy.  Genesis?  Be on your guard.  She has the body she wants and now all she needs is the power to fill it.”

The chill grew until Genesis blood froze in her veins, sharp with crystals of ice.

“What are you doing now?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.  I wanna rescue Jack, Fort’s already gone.  But I am afraid that that is exactly what Mara wants.  She needs me to make the inheritance work.”

“What?”

“When I hold the soul of the human she has selected, he inherits the powers instead of the powers killing him.  But, either way, I have a very bad feeling about this.” Ronan paused for a moment.  “I think I just decided.  She’ll try to use me regardless of where I am, just like she used me on the last kid.  I’m going after Jack.  I’m going to try to free him either way.”

“I’ll contact Fortunatus and speak with him,” Genesis said, “and then I’ll get my team and myself away from here.  If she sent Dora here once, Mara knows I have returned.  She’ll come for me.”

“Go into hiding and we’ll call you with any new information.”

“Be safe and God’s speed,” Genesis said.

Ronan hesitated for a moment. “Be safe and God’s speed.”

Genesis hung up the phone and turned to Sebastian.  As she opened her mouth, every alarm, electronic and vampire, sounded.  Genesis clapped her hands over her ears and closed her eyes.  Minds reached into hers with quick-fire images of parking lot outside the lab.  Two of the three vampires outside shifted around to the front of the building.  Genesis’ TrueSelf surfaced.  Sebastian jumped to his feet and headed out the door.  Genesis, now in jeans tucked into rugged, knee-high boots, a fitted tank, guns tied down, and her old black coat, took the power of speed from her vampires and shifted to the roof of the building.  James leaned over the wall and looked into the well-lit parking lot, his rifle trained on the ground below.  Genesis appeared at his side and he looked up with a smile.

“Nice to see you in action, babe.”

She put her foot up on the wall and leaned to look out.  Pulling on both human and vampire senses, Genesis watched a large Hummer pull into the yard.  It screamed ‘woman with too much money and not enough sense’.  Her two vampires, Alistair and Valkyrie, stepped out of the darkness onto the blacktop.  They faced the Hummer straight on casting no shadow even with the floodlights and headlights pointed straight at them.

“Wait and see who it is.” Genesis commanded them through her thoughts.

The wind whipped up Genesis coat and hair.  The moonlight and floodlights flashed on her moonstone nose piercing.  Both her hands rested on the butts of her guns.  The Hummer pulled to a stop and the engine and lights went off.  The door open and a woman stepped out.  The vampires surrounded her forcing her to the ground without ceremony.

“Bastian!  Get these freaks off me!” she screamed.

James groaned and stood down. “Guessed who came for her man.” He spit off to the side in disgust and stalked off.  Genesis stood up on the wall of the roof and leapt off.  Her coat caught just a breath of wind and she landed gently on the ground.

Janie stopped wailing.

Genesis walked up, each boot step heavy and purposed.  She ignored the pain in her leg wanting her to limp.  This woman should not be here.  It was a good way to get another Innocent killed, even an annoying one.  Her TrueSelf got Janie’s complete attention, and stopped her pointless battle against the undead pinning her to the ground.   Genesis waved her hand.

“Release her,” she commanded.  She wanted Janie to see her, and not Sebastian, control the vampires.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Sundance used her arm to wedge herself between the dashboard and door.  She held on and listened to Jack talk.  The school came into view.  Ronan found the empty grounds disconcerting.  Where were the kids? Then, he remembered they closed the school for a few days because of the missing boys.  He pulled up just as Monk and Jack did; their vehicles jerking to a stop across parking spots.  Ash stood, stooped shouldered, in front of the locked front doors.  She held up one hand and a gray shape kicked open the doors to the school. 

“Ash!” Ronan called jumping from the truck. 

He pulled his gun from his shoulder holster and raced after her.  Sundance took a pinch of gray dust from her pouch and a small ball of silver wind spun in a wild circle in her hand.  Jack caught up to them, his gun also drawn, while Monk followed behind.  Zephyr stood on Jack’s shoulder and held onto his ear.

“It’s Mara, it has to be Mara,” Zephyr said.

Taking the steps two at a time, Ronan raced into the school.  The hall shimmered.  Ronan glimpsed a sterile lab and three humans, three Innocents, bent over connected laptops and a microscope.  A badly decomposed cadaver twitched on a table behind them.  Ronan shook his head to push the vision away.  Not now.  Now his daughter needed him.  Now he might catch Mara.  Everyone pressed around him as he hesitated.  Sundance grasped his shoulder with her free hand.  Ronan looked at her and tried to speak as Ash disappeared around a corner.  With a groan, Ronan followed her.

The closed classroom doors lining the linoleum hall felt creepy and cold.  No voices filled the building, no teens, no teachers, no one.  Ronan walked into a tomb…but who’s?  He watched Ash turn the corner ahead and jogged after her.  Ronan pushed himself to move faster while Ash and Mara circled in his head.  When he reached the corner, he watched Ash disappear around the next bend.  Again and again he caught just a glimpse of her, enough to know where he needed to go, enough to keep him running after her, out of breath, ragged, afraid.  The enchanted Ash led them deeper and deeper into the school.

“I think she’s headed to the gym,” Monk gasped from the back of the group.  He pressed his hand against a stitch in his side.

“Fortunatus won’t be able to go there, there are lots of windows facing west,” Jack hollered.

Ronan did not care where or who would be in that room.  He only wanted his daughter safe, and the chance to stick the nose of his gun in Mara’s face and pull the trigger.  At least the school stayed intact in his mind and did not waver or turn into a vision of a lab. 

They came around the last turn Ash made in time to see her step into the well lit gymnasium.  Ronan ran after her with the others just behind.  As Monk raced in last, the doors closed behind him with a bang and snitch.  He shoved on them. 

The doors would not open.

“We’re locked in,” Monk said; dread filled his voice.

Ash stopped in the middle of the large basketball court. 

The twitching cadaver sat up and slid off the table.  One shambling step at a time, it made its way towards the scientists.  Ronan’s eyes flew open.  His knees screamed in pain, where he had crashed down on them when the vision came.  Damn it, not now! He scrambled to his feet.

“Please tell me you’re not having a vision?” Jack growled.

Ronan ignored him and hurried to Ash’s side.  His boots echoed with each footstep in the large open room.  The setting sun blazed in the windows behind the bleachers as it set on the horizon.  Ronan grabbed Ash’s shoulder, and she crumpled at his touch.  He caught her and laid her on the floor as the other’s gathered round.  An invisible whipcord flashed out and caught him across the neck.  Ronan body slammed back, smashed to the floor, the wind knocked out of him.  A woman screamed as cold, lifeless hands grabbed her around the neck.  Ronan fumbled for her soul as the scream cut short.  The zombie pulled her head clean off and drank the blood gushing from her neck.  Gossamer shreds slipped through Ronan’s fingers.  Both the men on either side stumbled back, startled and shocked.

“Genesis!” One of them yelled.  He turned and ran for a large glass door.

“I am sorry to do this to you, but I cannot let you help her,” A soft voice spoke to them.  It filled the entire room. 

Bile rose in Ronan’s throat.  His head spun.  He wrenched himself from the vision and returned to the sun lit gym.  Sundance bent down between him and Ash while Jack and Monk stood over them, guns out.  Monk’s hands trembled as he held one of Jack’s guns, but he held it.  They spun out from Ash’s silent form trying to locate the speaker.  Ronan groaned as he got to his feet.  His head hurt and his heart hammered.

His gun, still miraculously in his hand, flew up as mercs dressed in black, stepped out from behind the bleachers.  So many men.  The same mercs from the SUV’s who attacked them again and again.

“Take Jack, leave the SoulDefender, kill the others,” the soft voice said.

“What?  Why Jack?” Ronan said, “I thought you wanted Ash.”

 “That’s not Mara,” Sundance said, confused, panting.  “That’s Dora.  Why are you working for Mara?”  She directed her question to the other witch.

The mercs raised their guns.

Ronan and Jack reacted without thinking.  They covered Sundance and Monk with their own bodies pushing them back.  At the same time, Sundance and Monk grabbed Ash and pulled her with them.  Backs to the locked doors, facing out, Ronan pleaded with the King to save the vision for later.  The mercs hesitated to shoot, gathering around them in a large fan of armored killers.  Ronan and Jack did not.  Ronan fired the first shot at a man who stepped from the line and pointed his gun at Sundance.  The sound of bullets echoed through the gym pushing on their eardrums.  It grew louder as the mercs fell unable to fire or disobey their mistress’s orders.

“Attack them!” the soft voice screamed.

The mercs charged.  A man with obvious military training wrestled Ronan to the ground.  With a swift twist of his wrist, he forced Ronan to drop his gun.  The merc pinned Ronan and stuck a gun in Sundance’s face.  Ronan dropped his human image and grabbed the merc’s arm in one smooth movement.  He broke the man’s wrist and threw him into two other charging mercs as he stood.  A wet scream filled the little lab as the zombie turned on the other scientist.  The older man who called for Genesis fumbled with the doorknob to the lab, but he could not get the door open.  Genesis raced for the room, her white hair flying and her black coat trailing out behind her.  Her TrueSelf blazed, mighty and terrifying.  It filled the very air with cold fear.  She reached the door, but it was locked.  She screamed through the glass at the scientist. The Witch of the Undead could not get through, and she could not stop the zombie as he shambled towards the last man.  Ronan lunged through the glass.  He tried to do his job even as he panicked to get back to the others.  The man had a strong old soul and Ronan anchored himself within it.  The scientist stared at Genesis through the glass as the reanimated cadaver ripped his spin from his body.  Genesis fell to the floor with a heart broken wail.  Ronan returned to the gym surrounded by cries and grunts. 

The more primitive sounds of battle replaced the sound of bullets as Monk, Jack, and Sundance battled the mercenaries hand to hand, magic verses strength and training.  A wild wind pushed the men back, tumbling them one over the other.  Sundance kicked another forcing him to block the path of advancing mercs.

Someone grabbed Ronan from behind raking his face with his fingernails.  Ronan struggled against the hand wrapped around his head.  He gasped.  A sharp blade cut through his side.  Warm blood gushed from the wound.  Ronan grabbed the merc’s hand, and forced the merc to pull the knife from his side.  Second, after forever second, passed while Ronan drove the knife back into the merc’s guts and threw him from his back.  He turned in time to see another black-clad man punch Sundance in the face.  Her head snapped back with a sickening crunch.  Genesis, tears wet on her face, opened the door to the lab.  With a wave of her hand, she killed the zombie, removing its undead animation.  Two seconds ago, she had been unable to do it, now the magic obeyed her.  Behind her, she heard the sound of cloth rubbing on body armor.  She turned and saw a hall filled with mercenaries dressed in black body armor. She welcomed the fight as she grabbed the first man and ended his life blaming him for her dead scientists.  Ronan screamed in anger and frustration.  He could not keep the two battles separate as he fought the mercs in the school and Genesis fought mercs in the lab.  He could not keep his feet under him as the vision yanked him around. 

Sundance tumbled back, tripped over Ash’s body and fell to the floor.  Ronan crawled towards her.  Monk flew off his feet, a loud gunshot sending a bullet tearing though his shoulder.  Ronan felt blood pouring down his side, as Genesis took out another merc.  She moved through them like Sundance had blessed her with a warrior-maiden’s dance of death.

It was too many, too many men to fight, too many visions.  Jack pulled in close to his friends, out of bullets. He beat the mercs off with his gun, swinging it like a club.  Ronan’s leg gave out from behind him before he could reach Sundance.  He looked back, confused it did not work and saw a bullet hole in his jeans.  A bullet ripped through Genesis’ side.  It spun her back, but she turned the spin into an opportunity to grab and snap the neck of the merc behind her.  Another bullet tore through her leg and her shoulder, but she refused to stop.  Ronan never heard the shot which got him.  Sundance cried out.  She reached for him as a bullet struck her in the chest.

Ronan screamed and lunged to his feet, Genesis pleaded for help from her undead, but the sun still shown in the sky, looking to kill the man who shot his Sundance, not wanting to look at her, not wanting to see the blood on her chest.  More and more men converged on Jack.  They separated him from the rest of them, and wrestled him to the floor.  Pinned.  A body on fire appeared in the room.  It threw the mercs off of Jack.   Ronan heard Jack scream again and again. Fortunatus, ignoring the sunlight killing him, tried to save Jack.  Genesis knelt on the floor panting as the bodies of the small army disappeared one by one.  She reached for the final soldier trying to see who had sent him, but he faded under her fingers.  She crumpled to the floor, bloody, exhausted, and alone.  Ronan saw three slimy slugs appear in a small deep shadow and crawl towards her.  Another bullet struck Ronan in his other leg and he collapsed into the floor of the gym, the pain breaking him from the vision.  Looking up through sweat and blood, Ronan saw Jack drop his gun and raise his arms in surrender.

“No, Jack! She’ll kill you!”

Jack pulled off his duster and threw it over the dying vampire now huddled, blackened and burned, on the floor, unrecognizable.  The mercs surrounded Jack with raised guns.

“Take me and leave them alone.  I am the only one you really want, the only one you’ve ever wanted.”

A woman in a white dress stepped out.

“You give yourself up for them?”

“Yes,” Jack said.  Blood poured down the side of his face, but he held up steady hands and faced the witch who had been hunting him.

“Take him and let’s go, they are almost all dead anyway.”

“Jack,” Ronan groaned reaching for him.

“Don’t come for me.  She can’t do anything without you.  Just don’t come,” Jack said to him. 

The mercs grabbed him and tied his hands behind his back.  Jack’s words echoed in the air like another brave man faced with a torturous death, who protected those weaker than himself, a man in Jack’s family’s past, name JC.  Jack’s duster shifted at the memory, as if it too protested his capture.

“Don’t Fort, just don’t,” Jack said, his voice breaking.

And just like that, they disappeared.  Ronan lay on the floor, just inches from a dying Sundance, his unconscious daughter, and a wounded Monk.  He reached for them with bloody fingers.  Fortunatus huddled under Jack’s coat on the other side of Monk.  The stench of burnt flesh filled the silent gym.  Ronan cursed everything he could think of as he crawled towards Sundance.  Pain burned through his body, pain filled his heart.  The slugs crawled into Genesis’ three open wounds and Ronan lost consciousness.

The Necromancer

The elevator stopped with an obnoxious bing and the doors slid open.  Genesis blinked back sweat.  She looked out at a painting of bright overlapping lines.  Its play of brilliant colors pained her, and her head throbbed harder.  A plant sat next to an overstuffed leather seat on a polished wooden floor.  The chair called to her, rest and comfort.  She shoved herself off the wall of the elevator, ignoring the chair, and leaving a large smear of blood and mud behind on the mirror.  Vampires, hundreds of them, screamed in her head.  The cursed the sunlight keeping them from human places, and they cursed the wounds draining her of life.  Their Witch, their Queen.  Who dared attack her?  Lurching through the doors, she gasped for breath as she dragged her right leg behind her. With her right hand, she held the wound closed on her left side.  Her left arm hung useless, a deep gash in her shoulder severed muscle, tendon, and bone.  Blood, some hers and some others, mud, and sweat covered her.  Dried blood flecked off of her with each limping step down the pristine office hallway.

Genesis came around the corner of the top floor of the corporate office building, and entered a large circular room with tasteful couches sitting in its center on a plush rug.  Office doors opened off the circular room, and men and woman crossed it going from office to office, busy, busy.  Straight ahead glass doors opened into the President, Vice-President, CEO and CFO’s offices.  Genesis pointed herself that way and moved.   Nicolas silenced the clamoring voices in Genesis’ head, and she sent him a soft word of gratitude.

The men and women of the office froze.  A mug slipped from a woman’s manicured hand and smashed on the floor.  Large chunks of mud fell from Genesis’ boots and the hem of her long gray jacket as she forced her way across the slick flooring.  Dried sweat stiffened her clothing while her wounds oozed fresh blood and puss.  Blood dripped off her fingers; sweat dripped off her hair.  Tears ran down her face, over her clenched jaw.  Blood, sweat, mud – a rhythmic cadence of her fight.

Everyone stared at her.  Her vampires waited, keeping her together through collective will.  Genesis became more aware of her dirty, disheveled appearance as she limped, unaided, through the suited, clean, and perfumed professionals.  She stumbled when she reached the glass doors to the Presidential Offices, but forced her mind to overcome the pain.  She pushed the door open and left a red handprint behind on the glass.

The secretary looked up and her eyes widened.

“I’ll call you right back, something’s come up,” she said into the phone and set it in the cradle.

Ignoring her, Genesis headed towards the closed doors of the conference room.  Through the frosted glass insets she saw the silhouette of board members gesturing.  If they talked in the Presidential conference room, Genesis knew President Calvin would be with them.

“You can’t go in there!” the secretary jumped out of her chair and hurried over as fast as her 4″, red soled Louboutin heels would allow.  She reached out for Genesis shoulder.

“Don’t even think about touching me.”

The secretary stepped back covering her mouth with her hand.  She rushed back to her desk.  Genesis limped closer to the door, at least her 6’4” height and war torn visage intimidated the woman enough to make her go away.  Genesis already fought too much exhaustion to cast a spell of fear.  Anger boiled deep inside her gut with enough passion to kill, better for the Innocent to stay out of the way.  Two doors opened to Genesis’ left and right and three uniformed men stepped out.

“Ma’am, we’re going to…”

Genesis did not let the first man finish his speech.  She drew her black, .50 caliber Desert Eagle, from the tied-down holster at her hip with her blood soaked right hand and pointed it at him.

“No you’re not.  You’re going to all go sit over there and be quiet.”

They hesitated only a second, having really done nothing more than escort fired employees from the premises, this was way beyond their pay grade.

Turning from the pacified guards, Genesis re-holstered her gun and pushed open the doors to the boardroom.  A man stood on one side of the table yelling at another man on the other side of the table.  Genesis stopped in the doorway.  The world trembled and spun around her.  Her good leg trembled.  Silence filled the room as her stench proclaimed her presence.

“What is that smell?” the man sitting in the chair directly in front of her said.  He stood up and turned.

“Shit,” he covered his face with his hand and stumbled back.

Genesis made her way, one limping painful step after step, around the large table and comfortable chairs to the man who occupied its head.

“Sir? I would bow but for the fear I will not be able to straighten.”

“There is no need Dunlear,” President Calvin came to his feet. “What’s happened?”

Genesis paused trying to breathe.  The full weight of what she witnessed and battled slammed into her like a juggernaut.

“They’re all dead,” she gasped, “all of them, the whole fucking team.” Tears filled her eyes and pour down her cheeks, again.

“How did this happen?  I though you could control the experiment?”  He reached up to her un-injured shoulder and squeezed it.

A terrible guilt flooded her, but before she could speak the doors behind her flew open again.  Everyone turned to look at the tall man standing triumphantly in the doorway.  In a three piece, custom designed suit and his blonde hair pulled back in a tight pony-tail, the son of the President cut an intimidating figure.  He eyed Genesis up and down raising an eyebrow.

“I know I had to fight tooth and nail to get in here Dad, but I think having gladiator fights is a bad idea.  And judging by the smell, you should have the winner take a shower first,” he said with a mocking laugh.

Genesis ignored his jest and turned back to the President.  Behind her she heard the board members whisper, “Sebastian is back.” 

“He is back from the buyout.” 

“He looks like he succeeded.”

“Of course I succeeded,” Sebastian said to the men and woman at the table. “I had my Father’s training backing me all the way.”

Genesis sensed him coming up behind her.

“Not now, Sebastian,” Calvin said, “We need to hear Dunlear’s report.”

“She’s here to report?” he said, incredulous, “Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

“I wouldn’t look like this if I had good news,” Genesis hissed.

“Go ahead, Dunlear,” Calvin said.

“Don’t you think she should have a chance to clean up first, we’re a business not a military unit,” Sebastian said.

“I think Genesis risked her life to get here, and we should let her speak.  Now.”    

Sebastian nodded.  He held up his hand for Genesis to continue.

“A magical field appeared in the lab during one of our experiments.  It severed my link with the zombie and it escaped it bonds.  No matter what I tried I couldn’t regain control.  I watched as it killed and ate the whole team,” Genesis said fading off to a whisper at the end.  Images tumbled through her mind. 

“So, you did manage to create one?” Sebastian asked.

Genesis’ injured leg gave way, and she slumped against the table.  Sebastian and the executive behind her stepped back.  Her damaged arm, unable to support her, crumbled under her weight.  She banged against the table and fell to the floor. 

“I am sending my people to you, hold on,” Nicolas said in Genesis head.  The extra voice, the direct contact with one of her vampires disoriented Genesis.  She shook her head spraying sweat and blood in a red arch.  More people piled out of the way.  Someone gagged

Calvin bent down, “Get a doctor!” he called over her head. 

“Who did this to you?” he asked her.

“Another witch’s men,” she gasped trying to find the strength to stand.

“Who’s?”

“They had their tattoos covered, and their bodies faded when I killed them,” Genesis said.  Her eyes focused on the brown carpet she knelt on, each little loop of material grew in size, drowning her in fiber.

“You killed another witch’s men on company property?” Sebastian said, his voice dead calm.

That did it.  Genesis pushed up off the floor with her good arm and rose to meet him eye to eye. 

“They attacked and killed first on company property!”  She could not control her tone, and yelled back at him.

“Dad,” Sebastian ignored her, “this is clearly a magic issue and not a company one.  I recommend we fire her, without any benefits, and wash our hands of the experiment, before we lose more of our team and our investment.  We’re not part of her world and I think we should step back from our interaction in it.”

Genesis stumbled towards him enraged that he would distill what had happened into a firing offence and a loss of investment.  She could finish the day with his death.  Her body betrayed her.  She fell face first into the carpet.  Damn, damn, damn.

“You have a good point, but we’ll talk about this more in a moment.  Please, pick her up and take her to the side room.”

Sebastian blanched, “By helping her at all, you’re aligning us with one witch against possible others who might be stronger.  We’ll already have lawsuits from the families of the scientist to deal with, and I guarantee, a government audit, as well.”

“I’m aware of what I’m doing.”

Silence waited in the room as the two men vied with one another without words. 

Grabbing her up by her wounded shoulder, causing Genesis to momentarily black-out, Sebastian dragged her out of the board room and down a hall into a side room with a bed.  A young witch with healing abilities waited for them. 

“Who are you and how did you get here?” Sebastian snapped.

The witch eyed him and dropped her head, “That’s none of your concern.  Please place her in the bed.”

Genesis knew Nickolas had sent the servant witch of Healing as soon as she headed this way.  She bit her lip to hold back a scream as Sebastian dropped her in the bed.  Blood filled her mouth.  He stepped to the back corner of the room, arms crossed over his chest, and glared at nothing in particular.

“My lady?” a cool hand touched Genesis’ forehead.

Genesis opened her eyes.  Her vampires found her after sunset yesterday, unconscious.  Long into the night, they had stood guard over her.  When she regained consciousness she had them bring her here.  Here to warn Calvin.

“Just get it over with,” Genesis said.  She closed her eyes again.  At first, a gentle warmth pass over her skin as the Healer removed the dried blood and cleaned the mud from around the wounds.  Then, a fire filled her.  It turned her blood to flames as the Healer reunited her cells one by one from the inside out.  Genesis arched up, screaming.  She felt herself fade while the healing increased in intensity.  She began to slip from herself.  The pain drove her deeper and deeper from her material body and closer to her TrueSelf.

“Come here and take her hand.  I am losing her,” Genesis heard the healer say to Sebastian. 

Deep down inside herself she waited, pleading with him to help, even if they disagreed on business practices.  Genesis did not have much hope he would.  She remembered the hatred which flared in her in the boardroom as she stumbled to kill him.  In the state she was in, he probably saw the anger flush on her face, unmasked.  Startling her, a strong hand grasped hers and pulled her back into her body.  She braced herself against him as the Healer renewed her restoration of skin, muscle and bone.

Genesis fell back on the bed, drenched in sweat, still holding Sebastian’s hand as her life line to her own body.

“Sleep for a time,” the Healer said.  “I will return to check on you with new clothes.”

“Thank you,” Genesis rasped weakly. 

She looked up at Sebastian and saw a look of concern and pity cross his face.  It faded when his phone rang and he dropped her hand to answer it.  After moving off and talking for a moment, he returned.

“We’ve called a board meeting in a few hours.  You’d better have some answers, your job, and more importantly, the direction our company will take with the whole magical community, is on the line.”

Genesis closed her eyes not dignifying him with a response.  The flash of pity now seemed distasteful, filled with arrogant disdain.  Genesis, the Witch of the Undead, had fought a major battle, and did not need the pity of the heir apparent of the company.  She heard him leave and did not open her eyes.  Sleep overcame her.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

The man stood there for almost a whole minute and Ronan let him.  He often practiced the art of using silence to make the other person speak first.  Now, he used it to let the father of a missing child process what he had said.

“What?”

“I’m here because your son is going to face death in a few hours, and your other son may be in danger.  The police can’t help you, but we can.  The forces which took your son are magical, not human, and thus humans can’t hunt them.  We’re magical beings, and we’re trying to stop them.”

“How do you know what’s happening with my son?”

“Because I’ve watched four other boys die in the last two weeks, and I know the same person who killed them took your son.”

“If you know who killed them, go to the police, please,” he pleaded.

“The police can’t stop her.  They can’t find her; they can’t do anything.”

The man’s face paled.

“You better come in and explain yourself,” he stepped back and invited them in.

He led them down a hall to a back living room dominated by a large TV and a big, L shaped couch.  A woman, lines of exhaustion etched deep into her face, looked up at them.  A young man, about Ash’s age, sat up and turned towards them.  His wild hair stood up on one side where he laid on it for hours.

“Sundance?” he said, standing up. “No, I’m sorry, thought you were someone else.”

“No it’s me, Monk.  I am the witch of Dance, let me show you.”

In one simple shrug, Ronan and Sundance dropped their human form.

“This is the witch SoulDefender,” Sundance introduced Ronan.

“But, you go to my school?”

“I go to your school because the witch community sensed something strange happening there, and I was sent to watch.  Unfortunately, we moved too slowly, and the deaths happened faster than we could figure out what why.”

“Don’t blame her,” Ronan said, before anyone could start talking.  “It’s really my fault.  I’m the one who’s supposed to keep these things from happening, but I avoided my responsibilities and your sons have paid the price,”

Ronan clenched his fists.  He wished, with all his heart, he could take the place of their son, their son about to die.

“I wouldn’t have a problem blaming you, if I understood more of what was happening, but you haven’t introduced all of yourselves,” Mr. Ritch said.

“This is Ash and Jack,” Monk said.  “They both go to my school.”

“And this is the vampire, Fortunatus, and the wiznit, Zephyr,” Jack finished the introduction.

Mr. Ritch went and sat down without a word, his eyes blank.  Everyone followed him and settled on the couch.  Ronan plunged in.  He tried to explain everything they knew about Mara, Cairn, Dora and the experiments Mara tested.  Ronan explained how he tried to learn, and catch up, but Mara remained hidden from them.  As he talked, the others filling in information and the Ritches asking questions, Ronan kept checking the time on his cell phone.  Time ran out faster than normal, minutes slipped away like seconds. He could no longer stay seated.  He stood and started pacing in front of the big TV.  Sundance watched him with worried eyes, but Ronan focused on the task at hand.  He focused on what he wanted to do.  He focused on what he would have to do.

The clock struck midnight and the world went black.

The Son of Stan

 Ronan raced through the loosened lines of magic.  This time he watched, this time he needed to know where he went.  The candle lit room opened up before him and Mara stood at the feet of the two tables.  Archer fought the chains on one table, while Shade struggled on the other. 

“I should have let him catch me!” Shade screamed, spittle flying from his mouth.  “Curse you and all your kind.  Damn you!”

Mara shook her head.  “I would have expected you to understand, must faithful servant.”

“Understand?  You wish to take my powers from me and give them this child.”

“For Cairn,” Mara explained.

“Fuck Cairn! He’s dead, Mara!”

Mara flinched; Shade’s words struck her like a physical blow.   She turned her back on her servant and hurried off.  Shade flung curses at her back in rapid succession.  Ronan moved closer to Archer.  The young man stared up at the ceiling mumbling to himself.  Ronan listened to the words.

“For Dad, for Mom, for Monk.  I will come home.  For Dad, for Mom, for Monk. I love you.”

Over and over again, Archer repeated the words.  Ronan began to chant them aloud, knowing no one could hear him.  He chanted them, joining his voice with Archer’s, joining his voice with hundreds of past victims facing death.  Ronan chanted as Mara brought the net over her servant.  Ronan made a choice. 

He stepped between Shade and Archer and laid his hands on their heads.  He chanted with Archer, and he sensed Shade’s bottomless fear of what came towards him.  Ronan held both their souls.  He gathered Shade, and held him as the net fell and ripped him apart.  As the barbs ensnared the magic flowing through him, as his trusted mistress ripped it from him, Ronan held Shade’s soul together.  Ronan held him and did not let go. 

The net hesitated as Shade continued to breath and his heart continued to beat.

“Good job, SoulDefender,” Mara whispered. 

Sweat poured down Ronan’s face with the effort of keeping Shade’s soul in his body.  He held him together even as his soul and body tried to split into a thousand pieces.  Ronan’s limbs trembled.  He turned his focus to Archer. The barbed net dropped and Archer’s body convulsed.  Ronan held his soul in weak arms, but held him still. The faint image of Archer’s parents appeared before Ronan’s burning eyes.  They gasped as they saw him straining between the two men. 

Then, they saw their son. 

They rushed to help Ronan hold Archer’s soul.  They gathered their son in their arms and the chant filled the room, growing in volume, as they joined in its power.  Shade, still alive, began to chant as well.

“For Dad, for Mom, for Monk.  I will come home.  For Dad, for Mom, for Monk.  I love you.”

Tattoos raced in black lines over Archer’s skin as his body accepted the new powers, while Shade’s tattoos faded.  Mara ignored the chanting.  She wept as the experiment worked again.  But then she hardened her face, and from the pocket of her designer jeans, she pulled a bejeweled blade.  She stepped up to her old servant.  Ronan screamed at her.  He tried to break away, but he could not release himself from the two souls he held, and from Archer’s parents who he had brought to the candle filled room.  Shade stopped chanting.

Mara bent over Shade and whispered in the new silence, “You will be damned long before me.”

She drew the knife over his neck leaving a thin red line behind its point.  Blood poured from the wound and Ronan felt Shade’s soul slip from his fingers.  He scrambled to keep the servant witch alive.

“Release him, brother,” Wolfe spoke to Ronan.

With a shuddering gasp, Ronan gave up the load of Shade’s soul.  He turned his entire focus on Archer.  The strain increased as Archer’s heart pound harder, pounded.   His parents’ souls panicked.  Ronan ripped apart.  His body, mind, and soul strained beyond what they could bare as Mara approached Archer with the bloody knife.  Mr. Ritch threw his soul over his son’s body, but Ronan leapt into Archer’s core and took his parents with him.

They stood in the confused blackness of Archer’s center.  The young man lay on the ground of his soul.  His parents rushed to him and pulled Archer to themselves.  They missed his core turning from shelves of happy memories to blank, black walls of fear in their struggle to help Ronan hold Archer’s soul together.

“Hold him close, our time is almost gone,” Ronan said through clenched teeth.  He never held so many souls in one place at one time, and he felt his mind splinter.  He fell to his knees, and held himself upright with one hand pressed to the ground.  His hair fell around his face soaked with sweat.

“We love you, we love you, we love you,” the Ritches said again and again.

Mara ran the blade into Archer’s chest, but his eyes were already empty, his breathing already slowed.  His soul had fled to the deepest part of himself, and there Archer found his parents just in time to say goodbye.

Wolfe, on a pale horse, took him to the Door.

As the Door opened, Ronan saw the Man and felt hope on weak wings take flight.  Archer turned from the back of the horse and held out his hand to Ronan.  Feeling unworthy to touch the hand of the one he had abandoned, Ronan took it anyway. 

“Thank you.”

Everything fell into cool darkness…

When he opened his eyes, Ronan had no sense of time.  He floated out of sync.  He floated in his own body.  His eyes traveled in what his brain told him pointed up, and he expected to see a blue sky.  Instead, Ronan found himself looking at a textured ceiling which seemed to have a bit of sparkle in the paint.  He studied the sparkles for eternity and then decided to look at something else.  He turned his head and saw the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Ritch lying next to him, pale and unmoving.  A boy about to become a man bent over them, sobbing.  Ronan looked past the boy and found more people to study.  Two women sat by Ronan’s side, also crying.  The tears of the women brought the gravity and Ronan back to reality.

He startled everyone as he rolled over and took Mr. Ritch’s hand.  Cotton filled his head; Ronan could not sort out what happened and who stood around in the room.  But, he knew he bore the responsibility to keep the Ritches from dying, because he took their souls away in the first place.

“No,” he croaked finding his voice deep down inside, “no, they are not dead, this is not their time.  Wolfe?  Come back with their souls,” Ronan ordered the witch of Death.

Wolfe appeared between the bodies of the Ritch’s.  He wore a skull mask and the horse seemed thinner and paler as it waited, head hung, behind him.

“You command me, SoulDefender?” he asked.

Ronan knew he should feel fear, but he did not.  He felt nothing other than the wrongness of the empty bodies.  He stumbled to his feet and faced Wolfe, eye to eye.

“Their souls don’t belong to you yet.  And what do you care?  All souls come to you eventually, this boy still has need of them,” Ronan said, waving his hand at the boy weeping over the two bodies.

“And what if they have asked me not send them back?”

The souls of the Ritches shimmered into focus on the back of the pale horse.  They looked down at their bodies, and then to their only remaining son.

“You have a son still living,” Ronan said, “Will you let Mara take his parents as well as his brother?”

Mrs. Ritch moved first.  She slid off the horse’s back and stepped up to her son.  She cupped his face in her hands.  He continued to mourn over their bodies unable to see or feel her.  She looked at Wolfe, gave him a small bow, and then stepped over to Ronan and took his hand.  Mr. Ritch sat for a few more minutes before he also climbed off the horse and took Ronan’s other hand.

Wolfe took off his mask of Death and smiled at Ronan.

“He made a good choice,” Wolfe said.  With a nod of his head to Ronan, he faded away.

Ronan turned and knelt between the two bodies as the souls of the Ritches disappeared.  He could still sense them even if he could no longer see them.  Ronan laid his hands on the still chests of Archer’s parents and opened the way for the two souls to return to their bodies.  A flash of power flung Ronan back, and Mr. and Mrs. Ritch both sat up gasping for breath.

Cries of surprise filled the room.  Monk rocketed himself into his parents arms even while one of the crying women flung themselves at Ronan.  Sundance pulled him close, kissing him full on the mouth while she wrapped her arms around his head.  He broke away with a laugh.

“Let a man catch his breath before you strangle him with your kiss,” he said.

Sundance punched his shoulder and then began to cry again.  Ronan pulled her close.  Every inch of him ached, but he ignored the pain and held his Sundance close, rocking her and telling her it was okay, everything would be okay.

“You were gone, I could feel it.  Your body was empty, just a shell.  You were totally gone.  I did not know if you would find your way back,” Sundance said.

“I will always come back to you, Sundance, always,” Ronan said.  He clung to his anchor.  After a moment, he glanced over Sundance’s head and caught Ash’s eye.  She stayed respectfully away even though Ronan could see fear on her face, too.  Her hands absentmindedly traced the outline of her new tattoo.  Jack stepped to her side and put his arm around her shoulders and she turned into his hug.  Ronan pressed his face into Sundance’s hair, letting his daughter grow up.

Monk screamed.

Ronan released Sundance, and she wiped tears from her face as she got up.  Ronan tried to climb to his feet, but his legs refused to lift him.  Fortunatus appeared in front of him and held out his cold hand.  Ronan took it and Fortunatus pulled him to his feet.  He held his hand for a moment until Ronan found his balance.

Zephyr hovered over the young man convulsing on the couch.

“His powers are coming in,” she said.

“Inherited from both Shade and his brother,” Ronan said.

Jack and Fortunatus braced themselves on either side of Monk to keep him from injuring himself as his body shuddered with the new power invading it.  The lines filled in, drawing images of his area of magic.  Within a few minutes, the magic settled into his body and he lay still.  Fortunatus lifted his legs onto the couch, and Sundance covered him with a blanket.  Sure as Ronan said, Monk’s chest bore two inheritance tattoos.  The first showed an image from Arabian Nights filled with dark shadows.  A man dressed in black with a hood and a drawn back bow about to release an arrow rested next to it.  Shadows clung to the arrow, ready to cover the intended target with darkness.

Once again, everyone found a place on the spacious couch to rest, done in from Ronan’s vision, done in with worry, done in with death.  Fortunatus and Jack brought water into the room for everyone and kept an eye on the house.  Zephyr covered the home in a shield spell with Sundance’s help.  Jack called Blaine to give him a heads up about Archer’s body.  Finishing the shield spell, Sundance snuggled up close to Ronan and Ash, on his other side, laid her head in his lap.  The Ritches sat at the foot and head of Monk and slept while he slept.

Under the full moon, the snow glistened bright and full.  Deep inside, Ronan knew this was far from over.  Mara knew how to control an inheritance, now she needed Genesis Dunlear, the witch of the Undead, and a man to inherit her magic.  Ronan realized he knew the direction of Mara’s candle filled room, but he could not tell specifically where it waited for another victim.  He could only point in its general direction.  He wished he had a clue who Mara had her sites on to be her new Cairn, and he needed to warn Genesis.  The thoughts raced around and around in his head when Sundance blew in his ear.

He shook his head as a pleasant chill goose-bumped over his skin.  He looked over at her and smiled.

“Go to sleep, SoulDefender,” she said. “All your thoughts will wait until the morning.”

Ronan kissed her and took her advice.  He corralled his thoughts and listened to everyone breathing deeply.  His mind settled down and Ronan fell asleep.

The next morning, the Ritches tried to make everyone feel at home while everyone tried to provide them some comfort.  Before the sun rose, Jack and Fortunatus went to Sundance’s and gathered everyone’s things, so they could all brush their teeth and shower.  Ronan shaved in the bathroom and listened to the quiet voices of Ash, Jack, and Sundance as they fixed everyone breakfast while a red-eyed Mrs. Ritch supervised.  When he finished, Ronan headed in to help.  Once again, most of the morning had passed while Ronan slept.  Ronan missed sleeping at night with normal crime type nightmares.  This vampire lifestyle messed with his internal clock until he could not separate one day from the next, or one night. But, he had a job to do, so he did not complain out loud.  As he came into the kitchen, Ash broke away from the work and wrapped her arms around him.  Ronan held her close.

“How are you holding up?”

“Okay. Somehow it is easier with Monk having gotten powers too,” she said, smiling over at him.

His sad face lit up as he smiled back.

Ronan hoped no problems surfaced between Monk and Jack where Ash was concerned.

“It’s always nice to know you’re not alone, sweetie.”

“Not only that, but he is also a servant witch of that bitch,” Ash said.

“Watch your language, young lady,” Ronan said, but then smiled, “but she is more of a bitch than a witch.”

“Groan, Dad, so cheesy.  What is it with Dad and cheesy jokes?”

“No respect,” Ronan said.  It thrilled his heart to have Ash tease him even though he could see the lines sadness etched in her young face.  They gave her a maturity all parents hope their child avoids.  Happiness always seemed tinged with sadness these days.

“Come and get it!” Sundance sang from the kitchen.

“Dad, one other thing, I need to go home and get a change of clothes.  I didn’t expect to be gone this long, and I need some of my stuff.”

Ronan sighed.  He knew he needed to talk to Callie, but he dreaded coming face to face with her.  Especially now that Ash had tattoos on her chest, back, and soft gray swirling lines up her arms with small breaks in them showing her friendship with the SoulDefender and the Dancer.  Not to mention the servant tattoos on her hands.  Ronan ran his hand through his hair and hugged her again.

“I can wear long sleeves and be quick,” Ash suggested.

“Nope, honesty is what we witches do.  We’ll just have to convince your mother.”

“Let’s bring everyone.  Monk, Jack, Zephyr, Sundance.  She’ll have to believe you and me then.”

“You think bringing Sundance is a good idea?” Ronan said.

“You think you’re going to leave her behind?” Ash countered.

Ronan smiled, “Doubt it.”

Sundance came up. “Am I interrupting?”

“No,” Ronan put his arm around her waist and pressed his head to hers, “We were just talking about how we’re going to talk with Callie.  Ash needs to go home and get some things, and I think now’s as good a time as ever to tell her what’s going on.”

Sundance stiffen under his arm.

“It’s not going to be pretty, is it?”

“No, but Ash thinks we should just present her with overwhelming evidence.”

“What do you mean?”

“We should all go,” Ash said, “we should go and show her our powers.”

“I think that is the only way to convince her, but Ash, I’ll stay here, or in the car, if you would rather I didn’t come.”

“Sundance, I know that my Dad loves you, he loves you and is happier than I have seen him in a long, long time.  If he loves you, than I love you.  I want you to be part of our life and my Mom will just have to get over it.”

Sundance threw her arms around the very young witch and hugged her.  Ronan smiled, glad to know Ash saw it that way.  Even though he had not said those three words to Sundance, he truly loved her, loved her so much.  In response to his unspoken agreement, Sundance stepped back to his side and cupped his scratched face in her hand.  Her thumb caressed the red line left by Shade’s garrote.  She cupped his bruised heart, heavy with guilt, heavy with the death of Archer, Chase, Shade and all the other men and witches.  Ronan let it rest there, in her hands. Safe.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

They left an hour or so later, after Ash did her hair and make-up, and Jack told Fortunatus the plan.  Sundance lead them to a local, greasy spoon restaurant, where they all settled into a booth for a high dosage of comfort food.  After the waitress set steaming mugs of coffee in front of them, plates piled high with fluffy pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and warm, maple syrup soaked sausages followed.  Ronan watched Ash pick at her food.  Her eyes looked puffy even with her long and careful makeup application.  She kept sneaking glances at the unusual marks on her hand.  To his relief, she began to pour more syrup on her pancakes and take bigger bits.  Her sorrow could not match the hunger created by the new magic.  They ate for several minutes until Ronan, his mind turning, spoke up.

“The first thing we need to do is go to school and see if we can pinpoint who is going to inherited the next set of powers and get them out of there.”

“I know Archer was dating a girl and I know he has a brother, Monk,” Ash said.

“Did Derrick, Hawk, and Chase have any brothers or sisters?” Ronan asked.

“Chase had a baby sister, an accident,” Ash said, a faraway look in her eyes.  Jack took her hand and gave it a quick squeeze.  A small smile fluttered across her lips.

“Derrick and Hawk were only children,” Sundance said.

“And thus their girlfriends inherited their powers,” Jack finished.

Ash studied the bottom of her coffee cup.

“So it would seem,” Ronan said.  He eyed his daughter, still holding Jack’s hand.  He remembered what Fortunatus and Sundance told him about Jack’s history.  Ronan decided that while a young man clasped his daughter’s hand right in front of him, this young man had dealt with death on this large of a scale before.  And Jack came out still smiling on the other side.

The news on a TV behind them broke through Ronan’s protective thoughts… another boy is missing, number five in a series which has struck fear and anger in the hearts of many parents today.  The high school has decided to close its doors for the rest of the week.  Teachers are emailing students their homework.  Parents are advised to keep their children in doors and to know where they are at all times…it faded into a police interview and Ronan recognized Blaine in sunglasses behind the Chief of Police watching the crowd.  Blaine might know the case belonged to the magical world, but he investigated it using traditional, serial killer techniques.  He had to take the case seriously, kids were being murdered.  But, while serial killers were notorious for going to press releases of their own cases, Mara did not seem the type to care what humans said about what she did.

“What do we do with that?” Sundance said.

“Do any of you know where Archer’s house is?”

“Yes,” Sundance and Ash said together.  They glanced at each other, and then Ash pointed at Sundance and giggled.  Ronan looked at them, confused, as Sundance turned red and pressed a napkin to her face to stop her laughter.  He looked at Jack, who shrugged, and down at Zephyr, but she returned to her pocket filled with maple syrup.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I know this is no laughing matter,” Sundance said.

The girls continued to giggle until the waitress came over for a coffee refill.

“Son? Are these your parents?” The waitress asked Jack.  The giggling stopped.  Ash burst into tears and Sundance rushed around to her and gathered her up in a hug.

“No,” Jack said.  He frowned up at her, “They’re friends of my parents.  I’m staying with them while they’re out of town.”

“Okay, just can’t be too careful these days,” the waitress eyed Ronan and Sundance and walked off.

“That was strange,” Jack said.

“Gave me the creeps,” Sundance watched her go.

Ash moved next to Ronan and took his hand under the table.

“What was so funny?” Ronan asked, putting his arm around Ash.

“Ask Sundance, not me,” Ash said.  She dried her eyes with a napkin leaving mascara smudges behind.

Ronan looked at Sundance and she smiled, “Before we met so fatefully in the cereal aisle, Monk, Archer’s brother, asked me out several times.”

“You mean back when you were undercover at the high school?”

“Yep.”

Ronan looked at Ash and Jack, “Does she look different now?”

“You mean does Sundance still look like a high-schooler?” Jack said.

“Yeah.”

“No, she is recognizable as being the same person, but she doesn’t look like a high-schooler anymore.”

“It’s cause she isn’t wearing mini-skirts,” Ash said, the twinkle in her eye giving away the innocents in her voice.

Ronan looked at her and started to say something when two cops, on high alert, came in the front door and two came in from the back.  Ronan let go of Ash.  He slowly brought his hands up and set them on the table.  He met the cop’s gaze as they headed for their table.

“Everyone sit still and be quiet, apparently our waitress called the cops,” Ronan said, not breaking eye contact with the lead officer.

“Excuse me, sir,” the cop rested his hand on the butt of his pistol, “Is this your son and daughter?”

“This is my daughter and this is the son of a friend,” Ronan said.

“It has been advised that all children stay at home with their parents,” the cop said.

“My parents are out of town, my mom is having a baby, and my god-father had to go to work, so I am hanging out with them,” Jack explained.

The officer’s alert level dropped several notches, “May I see some ID from each of you?”

Ronan trusted Jack to keep his gun hidden.  Ronan could explain away his own .357, but they could all end up in jail for the small arsenal he carried.  Jack pulled his wallet out of his back pocket without flashing the Glock 17 resting in the small of his back.  The cop frowned when he saw Ronan’s police badge, and his alert level disappeared.  He waved the other officers out, and his partner talked to the waitress.  He gave her a better idea of the type of person she should watch out for.

“Sorry about this Officer McPherson, I apologize for the intrusion.”

“Don’t worry about it, Officer, you’re doing your job, and I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse from here as far as these kinds of calls are concerned.”

“You better believe it, parents are in a panic.”

“I can understand.”

The officer tipped his hat and left them.

Jack let out a sigh of relief, “Thought I might have to call Fortunatus, and he does not like to be woken up, especially to pretend he’s working.”

Ronan watched the officers leave and remembered when his life had been that simple.  Check on something, and walk away when you were done.  He knew he oversimplified, but the effect of five missing kids traumatized a man more when he talked with them after they died and held their souls.

“How are we going to even get to Monk?” Jack said.

“It’s not like his parents are going to just let us all in,” Ash said.

“They might,” Sundance said.

Ronan looked at her, brought out of his reverie by the tone of her voice.

“Are you suggesting you take back on the high-schooler look and go visit?  And how am I supposed to fit in with this?”

“If I can take on the form of a high-schooler, so can you,” Sundance said.

Ronan shook his head, “I am not pretending to be a high school jock for a few hours, no.”

“Well, we can go towards his house and see if there is any indication he is home.”

“Fine, we’ll do that, and then see what we need to do.  The problem is, we had no indication before of who was going to get the powers.  Now that we do, what do we do?  Plus, I need to get some rest before tonight.  I want to, I have to find some way of figuring out where Mara is.”

“It is going to be impossible to get him out of his parent’s house now that the school is closed,” Sundance said, “but we should still go take a look.”

“I agree,” Ronan said.

They finished eating and batted around several ideas about what they could do next.  Ronan left the waitress a sizable tip to let her know there were no hard feelings about the cops, and they headed out to the truck.  The morning sunshine gave way to a wintery mix of rain, ice, and snow.  It pelted the earth in reminder to small creatures, lovers of the sun, that the long dark had come.  Ronan watched the road closely and followed Sundance’s directions.

“You know what my Dad always said?  Back when we were dealing with Manson and all his murders?”  Jack said from the back seat.  Ronan glanced at him in the rearview mirror.  A faraway look hovered around his eyes.

“What’s that?” Ronan said.

“Always tell the truth.  No matter who you’re dealing with, law enforcement, victims or whatever, always tell the truth.”

Ronan glanced at Sundance.  She smiled and nodded.

“I think your right, the best thing to do is go over there, and just tell them what’s going on.  We don’t try to hide anything,” Ronan said.  He settled back in the driver’s seat more at ease with this plan then the other.  He pulled up at the next stop light, and leaned back with a sigh.   He wished the red light would last long enough for him to sleep, just for a moment.  The rain slowed down and turned into light, fluffy flakes which fluttered here and there on the breeze.  Ronan turned and glanced out his window at the empty playground to his left.  The monkey bars, polls, and swings glistened with slick ice.  He watched a leaf blow off one of the trees and flutter to the car beside them with heavily tinted windows.

“I’ll. Be. Damned,” Ronan said at the same time Zephyr screamed.

Magic radiated from the car beside them, a familiar, dark magic.  Acting instinctively, Ronan reached into his coat pocket and grabbed for the pouch of spell components.  From it he took a pinch of dust ground from a dead hero’s helmet and rubbed it on his eyes.  The car melted from view and Ronan saw a young man with dark, thick chains on his hands.  A normally dressed Shade sat next to him in the driver’s seat.

“That’s them!” He jumped from the truck and grabbed for the door handle of the car only to find it locked.  Archer looked up at him, and his bruised soul flashed out at Ronan begging and pleading for help, begging Ronan not to let him die, not like this, not now.  Ronan refused to stand this close to the kid and not free him.  The sorrow of not saving the others gave him strength.  Jack, Ash, Zephyr and Sundance tumbled out of the truck around him.  “Eventide?” Ronan saw Shade whisper, his eyes traveling up and down Ash.   Jack pulled his gun and pushed the unarmed Ash behind him.

The SoulDefender dropped his human façade and leapt to the hood of the car.  Horns sounded around them as the light turned green.  Shade started as Ronan’s landing dented the hood.

“I won’t let you take him, not another!”  Ronan said driving his fist into the windshield.

It splintered and smashed.  Ronan peeled it back.

Shade hit the accelerator and Ronan fell forward as the car raced away.  His face smashed into the broken windshield.  The tinted glass cut into his skin.  Ronan fumbled for a handhold on the lip of the window as Shade swerved through traffic trying to throw him off.  A cloud of black dust materialized in front of Shade and he flicked his finger at it, sending it flying into Ronan’s face.  Everything disappeared and Ronan could see only darkness and vague shadowy shapes.  Whispers seemed to feel his mind, lost souls called to him.

Grasping the broken window frame with one hand, while the cold air froze him, ice pellets stung his skin, and his muscles screamed, Ronan reached into the pouch again and felt the handle of a slim sword.  He pulled it out, no time to marvel over how well it fit his hand, or how it managed to fit in his coat pocket.  Shade slowed the car at the approaching intersection.  Ronan, still unable to see, climbed to his feet on the hood, grasped the sword with two hands and drove it down into the engine.

The car died instantly and the shadow wrapped around his head disappeared.

“Let, him go,” Ronan said as he pulled out the blade, metal scraped on metal.  He pointed the sword at Shade’s chest, “Let him go Shade, you know she’s going to kill him and probably you.”

Shade glared at him.

Ronan lifted the sword to drive it home when the sound of gunshots filled the air.  He glanced up and back.  Black SUVs surrounded his truck and his family.

“Save them, SoulDefender, your family is under attack,” Shade mocked him.

He drove the sword down towards Shade’s chest.  Shade disappeared.  The sword ran right through the seat.  A high-pitched scream of fear, followed by gunshots, filled the air.  Ronan turned to rescue Archer, his heart pleading with him to hurry.  Sundance and Ash were back there with only Jack to protect them.

A thin wire wrapped around his throat.

“You should have raced to save your friends,” Shade whispered in his ear from behind him.

Ronan could not breathe.  The wire cut into his skin and crushed his windpipe.  Black spots appeared in his line of vision, and the pounding of his heart drowned out the sounds of battle down the road.  Ronan refused to give up so easily.  Ash and Sundance.  Sundance and Ash.  Ronan grasped at the sword’s hilt and got his fingers around it.  He yanked it free from the driver’s seat and used the momentum to force his elbow back into Shade’s gut.  Shade grunted and the wire loosened. Ronan took a gasping breath and turned.  He smashed his fist into Shade’s face.  Shade dropped the wire and grabbed his split cheek.  Blood spilled from his fingers.  Dark magic built around him.

The gunshots lessened and Ronan’s heart clenched.  What if they were all dead? What if those mercenaries had killed his love and his daughter?  Desperate to go help, Ronan turned back to Archer.

A wailing scream overcame the storm and Ronan knew it was Ash.  Oh, King!  They were dying!  He looked down at Archer and Archer met his gaze with cool blue eyes.

Ronan reached down into the car and took his hand.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“I’ll see you on the other side,” Archer said.  He pushed Ronan’s hands away.

Ronan leapt from the car as Shade launched his magic.  The black mass missed him.  He ran back, using all his TrueSelf’s strength to run faster than he ever ran before.  The black SUVs parked in a rough circle around his truck.  Jack, bleeding and brave, stood in front of the two women his gun aimed at one mercenary, well aware of the six which surrounded him and the women.  Sundance held Ash who trembled and glowed.  Ronan threw himself up and over the SUV in his path.  He landed behind three mercenaries and raised the sword.  The blade dropped and sliced through their souls sending them to the Man behind the Door to deal with.  Jack fired and so did the other three mercenaries.  Bullets flew in every direction, but Ronan ducked under their deadly spray, charged with his sword raised and hair flying.  He drove it through the chest of the nearest man in black armor and yanked it out.  As he pulled it free, he turned and chop the other two in half.  Silence, post battle silence, profound and deafening, surrounded them.  Ronan’s ears rang with the echo of the guns, and his heart pounded.

He dropped down by Ash and Sundance.

“Are you hurt?” He gathered them both in his arms.

“We’re okay, we’re okay,” Sundance said over and over again.

Tears filled Ronan’s eyes.  He kissed his daughter’s head, and he pulled Sundance to him and kissed her tear-stained face.  Wishing he could hold them forever, he stood as the wailing of sirens filled the air.  He pulled back on his human image and stepped up to Jack.

“Are you hurt?”

“No, but it is a good thing you showed up when you did, or we would have been.  You look worse than we do,” Jack said taking in the cuts on his face and the red thin burn around his neck.

“What happened?” Ronan said ignoring his own wounds.

“As soon as that car pulled off with you, they showed up.  Ash’s tattoos went crazy and she started screaming and more mercs got here.”

“Archer?” Sundance said, joining him and taking his hand.

Ronan hung his head and shook it.  “I had to choose.  I had to choose between him and you.”

“She did it,” Ash said, stepping between Ronan and Jack.  “Mara made you choose knowing you would choose us.”

Ronan nodded.  He pulled Ash close to himself and looked over her head at the coming police force.

“Blaine’s gonna kill us,” Jack said.

Ronan looked down at Sundance and she put her arms around him.  He knew she understood what it had cost him to choose between them and Archer.  What it would cost him later, but she held him and stayed at his side.  The waves of guilt washed up on beaches held fast with the knowledge that Sundance still stood by his side, Ash still breathed and Jack was unharmed.  But at what cost?  At what cost had he kept his family?  At the cost of someone else’s family.  At the cost of Archer’s parents, he had kept his own child.  What a damned choice.  Ronan shook his head as the police pulled up.

It took Blaine actually showing up before the police officer’s let them go.  Eight bodies, two Jack killed before Ronan reached them, littered the highway shutting it down for hours and the media showed up smelling blood.  They immediately asked if this had anything to do with the missing boys.  Between the SUV’s, CSI, all the wreaked cars, and tow trucks, Ronan put off facing Archer’s parents until the sun began to set.  The police officers did not man-handle them, they were polite, but confused. The scene contained too many unexplainable components for the police to relax.

“Why would a detective from another town choose to defend his family with a sword instead of the gun sitting cold in his holster?”  Ronan heard one officer ask another.  They both shrugged with no answer.

Ronan let them ponder and hid behind his Miranda Rights.  He had bigger concerns on his mind, and ultimately he hoped to present Mara’s head on a platter with a sufficient enough tale to let her be blamed for all the death filling this relatively small town.  As soon as the handcuffs came off, and they were allowed out of the back of the squad cars, Jack called Fortunatus.  He wondered around until he found a chilled Zephyr hiding under Ronan’s truck.  Blaine shook his head as Ronan caught him up on what happened.

“You think this might be the last death?” Blaine asked, not focusing on Ronan’s choice between the victim and his family.

“I don’t know.  Or what I should say is no, she will at some point go after this witch named Dunlear and I still don’t know how Jack is involved or if he is at all.”

“I would appreciate you giving Jack’s case a little more priority.  This is the second time I’ve had these goons to deal with in less than a week.  I’m catching more heat for that then the boys.  Cops can deal with missing children and murder.  Mercs on the loose are a whole other matter.”

“They haven’t injured anyone, or attacked anyone other than us yet, right?”

“Right,” Blaine pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  He watched a tow truck load up a SUV so it could be impounded while he lit up.   He offered one to Ronan who accepted.  Jack stepped up and asked for one.

“Love how it’s these things which make my insurance go up every year and not this,” Blaine indicated the bodies shrouded in white, the antsy TV crews and bystanders, and the angry people stuck in traffic.

Ronan chuckled.  Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Sundance put her arms around Ash.  She pulled the young girl close.  Sundance talked to her and stroked her hair.  She looked for all the world like a mother.  Ronan had never seen her look more beautiful.

“Can’t believe you killed them with a sword, you witches are going to be the death of me,” Blaine said.

The sun sank below the leafless trees and pumpkin decorated homes.  Fortunatus appeared at Jack’s side without any warning.  It surprised Ronan to recognize the signs of parental worry on the vampire’s face.  Fortunatus maintained his cool demeanor by sheer will power.  He wanted to pat Jack down, make sure he was unharmed, and then yell at someone for the danger Jack had been put in.  Ronan knew exactly how Fortunatus felt.

With the go ahead from Blaine, Ronan gathered everyone back in the truck.  He ignored the cameras pointed in his direction by the news reporters, but wondered if they would be on the news tonight.  Ronan knew he had bigger concerns than the news, and put it out of his mind.  They drove through the small town as darkness filled it, the wind calmed, and the snow began to pile.

“Seems early for snow, not even Halloween yet,” Ronan said, just to have something to say.  The silence of his own mind bore a haunted cadence now, filled with self-doubt and guilt.  God?  Is there a special place in hell for a man who lets one kid die to save his own?

“Olive said it was decided long ago that this would be a very snowy winter.  I guess she set it all up before the twins came.”

“Have you heard from them?” Ronan asked.

“I called them and told them to not come home now, not until this is settled.  I don’t want my brother and sister’s life to be in danger before they have even been alive that long.”

“I wonder what they will be,” Sundance said.

“Mom, Olive, thinks they will be normal humans.  That her and Dad’s powers will cancel each other out.”

Sundance laughed, “She probably wishes they would, but I doubt it very much.”

Far too soon for Ronan, they pulled up in front of the Ritch’s home.  Even the house looked sad.  As if to say, “Don’t come here.  Here is pain and anguish and death”.  All the other homes which lined the street were flooded with light except for the Ritch’s home, which sat in darkness.

“What if they are not home?” Ronan said, as he climbed from the truck

Fortunatus took a sniff of the air, “They are home.”

“Okay,” Ronan took a deep breath and walked up the drive.  Sundance followed just behind him, Ash and Jack behind her, while Fortunatus and Zephyr brought up the rear.  Ronan rang the door bell.

“Does this remind you of anything, Jack?” Zephyr said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Jack said. “I don’t know if that is really creepy or gives me hope.”

“It should give you hope,” Fortunatus said, “On that night the Noles family was healed by Olive, and Dove was freed from the demon to which Manson enslaved her.”

“You’re right, as always,” Jack said, with a sigh.

Ronan started to ask what they were talking about when the front door opened.  A small man, of Asian descent, with black circles around his red rimmed eyes stared up at Ronan.

“May I help you?”

“I hope to help you on some level,” Ronan said.  He realized he really did want to help this family as he spoke.  He owed them.  He offered the only hope he had to this family – someone would be there for their son as he died.  Damn.

“Who are you?  What do you want?”

“I am Ronan the SoulDefender and I am here about your son, Archer,” Ronan said plunging in.

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

…Back to the Beginning…

…Last time in Inheritance…

Darkness

Mara sobbed.  She lowered herself to the cold, flagstone floor, pressing her hand to her mouth, overcome.  She could not believe it worked.  It worked!!  Her heart pounded those two words over and over.  It worked! It worked! In just a few days, a few short days, she would get Genesis, that fraud of a witch. She would pour Genesis’ powers into a deserving young man.  With him at her side, Mara would again reign over the all-powerful night.  She laughed as she pictured Dora’s surprised face when she realized she had been used.  Mara knew she created a powerful enemy in Dora, but she did not care.  She knew how to use the darkness in Dora’s heart, her hidden sins and desires, the skeletons clattering in her hidden spaces.  Cairn would be back at her side and nothing else mattered.  She brushed her hands across her eyes, took control of her emotions, and climbed back to her feet.

“Shade, I wish to try one more time, to confirm the transfusion works with the help of the SoulDefender.  Please collect the last boy.   We need to be ready at the next opening of the witching hour.”

The man, outfitted for an adventure in Arabian Nights, bowed and left the room of death.  Mara noticed the last look he gave her and the unspoken question which hung in the air between them.  Whose powers would be removed? 

When the door shut behind Shade, Mara set her trap.

Son of Stan

Ash wrapped her hand around Ronan’s, closing their fingers around the flickering image of Chase.  Ronan pulled her close and held her until her tears dried.  Jack and Fortunatus kept watch at the windows while Sundance wrapped a blanket around Ronan and Ash’s shoulders.  Once Ash settled into a tired silence, Ronan went to change out of his wet clothes.  His skin crawled with a chill and his head burned with a fever.  He flipped on the light of the bedroom and his new tattoo caught his attention.  It covered only his right hand.  He rubbed it amazed by its brilliant color and tiny detailing. 

“Very few witches have that specific tattoo even though, in theory, they all should serve him,” Fortunatus said, appearing suddenly behind him.

“And what about you?”Ronan asked, startled by the vampire’s shifting from one point to the next instead of walking like humans did.  “You have a similar mark on your chest.”

“It is not a servant tattoo.  It is a sign of a gift bestowed on me at the request of a friend.  The gift gave me the opportunity to repay a debt I owed.”

“What?” Ronan said, confused.

“Before Jack was born, many human years ago, I worked with your predecessor, the witch Manson.  I betrayed a friend and helped Manson kill all of Jack’s father’s family.  Crow’s family.  I believe you met Sophie in the grave yard.  She is there because of me.  When Crow gained the chance to kill me, he did not.  For the first time in all my undead years, I found someone I would forgo my own desires to aid.  I serve Crow and his family and have the tattoo to prove it.  Along the path of Manson’s death, I was given the ability to walk in the daylight for a period of time.  This tattoo represents that gift.”

“It seems we both owe the King much,” Ronan said.

Fortunatus bowed his head in agreement.

“You need to tell us about your vision.  We still do not know who is attacking Jack and why.  We still do not know what Mara is attempting to gain from the murders.”

Ronan nodded.  They started for the living room when Ash screamed.  Ronan raced for his daughter, knowing what powers moved around her now.  The words of the King throbbed through him on the wings of the song Sundance’s band played – “trust me”.  Ronan pushed away blame and anger as he knelt down by Ash’s side.  Her face drained of all color and her lips turned pale blue.  Sweat covered her arching body.  Ronan took her hand.

“Let it come, sweetie, let it come, don’t fight it,” he said. 

Sundance squeezed his shoulder, lending him strength.

Ash grasped his hand and screamed.  She began to glow with power.  Her body trembled as magic filled it, washing through her veins with golden light.  Dark lines traced across her skin turning into an image on her chest which Ronan recognized as Eventide’s back tattoo.  The lines filled out showing a wide-eyed child lost in a forest as the sun gave way to darkness.  The hand Ronan held burned as a servant tattoo covered it – the image of a window into the night sky.  Mara’s sign.  Mara’s servant tattoo.  Ronan’s daughter served the witch who killed her predecessor and the boy she loved.  Ronan felt sick.  Sick in the pit of his stomach, whatever he ate last threatened to come back up. 

One last convulsion rippled through Ash’s body and she went still in Ronan’s arms.  Sundance pulled a blanket over her and tucked it in around her.

“She’s asleep.  Her body and soul need time to rest a little.”

Ronan knew exactly how Ash felt.  Given the chance, he could sleep for years.  He sighed as he slipped Ash onto the couch and sat the floor next to her.

“We need to talk,” he said.

Sundance went to the kitchen and heated water.  She set out mugs for everyone, but Fortunatus, and filled them with rich, hot chocolate powder.  While they waited for the drinks, Ronan changed out of his wet clothes into something dry, this time uninterrupted.  Returning to the living room, he sipped the hot chocolate and a distant small part of him relaxed.  The chocolate, smooth and warm, coated his insides with heat and comfort.  Everyone settled in around him, guns drawn and eyes often glancing around, but ready to talk about the last vision.  Ronan took one last sip of chocolate.  With a deep breath, he plunged into the tale of Chase and Eventide’s death, glad Ash slept.  She needed to close the wounds around Chase’s murder, not have them opened again and again.  Ronan spoke of Chase’s fight for life, he described the room, Mara, Shade, and the net used to remove the magical powers.  His voice cracked when he told them how Mara used his attempt to comfort Chase’s soul to finish her experiment.  Sundance laced her fingers through his and Jack swore with a shake of his head.

When he finished, they sat without talking, each sifting through the information to find clues to help direct their plans.

“How could I be so blind?” Fortunatus said. 

Everyone started from the silence wrapped around them.

“What do you mean?” Jack said.

“Ronan said that Mara thanked Eventide for her sacrifice to bring Cairn back?”

“Yeah, so? And who is this Karen?”

“Not Karen with the letter K.  C-a-i-r-n.  Defined as a heap of stones piled over a grave,” Fortunatus explained. “Cairn was the witch of the Undead, until the year 1888 when he was killed.  He was the witch over my people, our powers, and he was the lover of Mara the witch of Darkness.”

Like a rock dropped into a pond, Fortunatus’ statement rippled out into the room.

“She’s trying to bring him back?” Ronan said.  He wanted to ask about the large number of witches which seemed to have died in and around the infamous year 1888.  But, it would only get them off track.

“So it would seem,” Fortunatus nodded.

“She’s trying to figure out how to control the inheritor of magic.  That’s why she’s killing so many, one witch and one young man, eight murders now,” Ronan said.

“Cairn was smart,” Fortunatus said, “brave, and resembled many of these young men Mara has murdered.  But he was not good.  The new witch of the Undead is a woman named Genesis Dunlear.  She is the first witch of the Undead who is good.  Under her rule the number of slayings has abated and the number of Turnings has dropped.  The Requiem has gained significant political power and many followers.  But Genesis is not unfair to the vampires which are not part of the Requiem.  She is honored and respected by all the undead.  In Cairn’s estimation, her work would be a grave misuse of the Witch of the Undead’s power.”

“I don’t understand half of what you said, but I think I got the gist,” Ronan said.  “Basically, Cairn was an evil witch who enjoyed his powers over mostly evil creatures.  He died, and the new witch is just the opposite.  Everything she does flies in the face of her predecessor – kinda like me.  All this wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that Mara’s alive and watching, and everything Genesis does mocks Cairn, the man she loved.”

“Yes.  That sums up the history well, and I believe shows us what is happening,” Fortunatus said.

“But now,” Sundance said, “she’s done it.  She’s successfully controlled the inheritance even if it’s cause she forced it from one witch to an innocent.  What is she going to do now?  How do we let Genesis know?  She is in danger too.”

“And,” Jack added, “what does any of this have to do with me and Dora?”

“I don’t think we have all the answers yet,” Ronan said.  “If I was working on this case as a normal cop, I’d still view them as two separate cases.”

Fortunatus tilted his head to the side, “I agree.  It does not make sense for the witch of NewLife to be working with the witch of Darkness to kill off innocents and witches.”

“But I am sure it’s Dora who’s after me, cause of the mall cop’s tattoo,” Jack said to clarify.

“He was a human, right? How did he get a servant tattoo?”  Ronan asked.

“Humans can serve witches, vampires, angels, demons, and fey,” Sundance said.  “They have to have the tattoos put on by a human tattoo artist, but often the master will pay to have it done.  This way the magical world knows the human belongs to them.  There are a handful of humans who interact with the magical world despite having no powers.”

“Like the Hunters?” Jack asked.

“Yes, like them,” Sundance said. “There are others, but not many.  It’s hard not to feel inferior when you work with beings faster, stronger, and smarter than you.  You’re one of those humans too, Jack.  Probably one of the most well known.”

“It seems like we still have lots of questions,” Ronan said, “about what’s going on, but we know what Mara‘s doing, so all we need to do is decide what to do next.”

Many ideas came out and were shot down, until Sundance declared everyone too tired to think and sent them all to bed.  Zephyr helped her put a shield around the house and Ronan carried his daughter into Sundance’s room, so Ash would not have to sleep alone.  Ronan knew he would sleep better with Sundance watching over Ash.    Everyone went to bed, drained of emotion, and worn down to the bone.  Ronan checked all the windows and doors one last time as he shut off the lights.  Warm hands found him in the dark hallway as he made his way to the room Hero and Jane shared before they went to their master witches.  Ronan pulled Sundance close and kissed her in the dark; the dark which he used to never feared and once actually loved.  He always loved the stars which peppered it with light without overcoming it.  Moon and stars filled it, but it always remained dark.  Now the dark, even with Sundance’s kisses, filled him with a pulsing dread.  He had learned that, while no monsters lurked under his bed, many lurked in the edges of the darkness, all too willing to destroy the weak, non-magical humans.

He broke from Sundance’s embrace and sent her to bed.  Leaving the door of his room open behind him, Ronan dropped onto his own bed.  The new SoulDefender fell asleep without taking his shoes off.

Ronan woke with a start in the small bed.  The daylight had yet to surface and replace the darkness.  Each of Ronan’s limbs hung over an edge of the bed regardless of how he curled up.  He did not move, struggling to sift out what woke him up.  A quick glance at the clock, sitting on the table between the two twin beds, told Ronan he had only been asleep a few hours and that dawn waited on the edge of the horizon.  Ronan sensed nothing and heard nothing to indicate what woke him up.  He pulled the blankets up over his head when the sound of someone groaning brought him fully awake.  He rolled out of bed and searched by touch for his jeans.  He still wore his clothes, boots, and gun.

“Guess that’s where they are,” he muttered to himself. 

He moved on the balls of his feet to the doorway and looked out.  The moaning grew louder coming from Jack’s room.  Ronan moved down the hall, drawn gun at his side, and listened at Jack’s door.  The noises continued, but they did not sound fearful or painful.  Jack might be having a nightmare.  Lord knew he had reasons to have nightmares. 

Ronan opened the door.  Jack tossed and turned in his bed, the sheets and blankets tangled around his legs.  Fortunatus’ bed lay empty and Zephyr slept on the bedside table with a little, white wash-cloth covering her.  The cloth glowed in the dark room, rising and falling with each breath of the little wiznit.  Ronan stepped towards Jack to wake him up. 

A hand grabbed him out of the darkness. 

Ronan jerked his gun up. 

The hand on his shoulder moved to his mouth and another one grabbed the gun in a grip as cold and strong as iron.

“Peace,” Fortunatus said and removed his hands from Ronan.

“Damn, you scared the shit out of me,” Ronan whispered rubbing the wrist the vampire had held.  It ached from his cold touch.  He turned to the vampire whose pale skin shown with a faint luminescent in the deep shadows, a cold, cold light to attracted warm beings.

“Why are you up, SoulDefender?”

“I heard funny noises coming from Jack and came to check it out.”

Fortunatus nodded and signaled Ronan to follow him out of the room.

“Jack is having a wolf dream,” Fortunatus said, after he closed the door behind them.  “He has had one almost every night since Derrick was killed by Mara.”

“A wolf dream?”

“Not so long ago, when Jack was more of a boy becoming a man, than the man he has become, he followed Crow into the Spirit Plane to find a cure for Olive, the FourSeasons witch.  The Spirit Plane does strange things with humans.  Jack took on the form of a wolf for three days.  He was even wounded by a vampire in that form.  I have come to believe that Jack has wolf dreams when magic gathers too strongly around him.”

Ronan looked at the door and listened to Jack.  He pictured him racing on long, shaggy, gray legs across a grassy plain.  The image seemed to suit the boy. 

“So he isn’t in danger?”

“I do not believe he is, but I keep watch just the same.”

Ronan nodded, put his gun up, and headed back to bed.  He grasped the vampire’s shoulder as he walked by and squeezed it, appreciating him keeping an eye on Jack.  Ronan knew he could not do it.  Back in his room, he slipped out of his shoes, holster and jeans and climbed back under the covers.  He wished he had sent Ash to sleep in this small bed, and he could have shared the bigger one with Sundance.  He pulled away from that thought at once.  Don’t even go there.  Pushing their relationship too fast seemed like a foolish idea, and selfish, while young men and servant witches died.  Just take it one step at a time.  Roads like the one he walked had a way of getting much darker before the light, and Ronan did not feel near the end of this tunnel at all.  To his surprise, the realization that this small battle in the magical world had just begun did not terrify him.  He knew now the King chose him for this role, and that thought kept the terror at bay. 

A knock at the door woke him.  Ronan sat up, disoriented because he did not remember falling asleep.  Sunlight streamed in the room through soft yellow curtains.  The clock told him much of the morning had already rushed away.  Someone knocked again.

“Come in,” Ronan said as he ran his hands through his hair.  Jack stuck his head in around the door. 

“You’re gonna love this,” Jack said.

Ronan studied him, but Jack did not look any worse off for his troubled dreams.

“What happened?”  Ronan said.  He climbed out of bed and dug his last change of clothes out of his duffle bag. 

“Blaine just called.  They found Chase’s body last night and a kid from school is missing again.”

Ronan stopped with his shirt half way over his head.  He glanced up to heaven in a silent prayer, not sure if he prayed more for himself or this kidnapped kid.

“Who is it?” he said as he finished dressing.

“A kid named Archer Ritch.  He is a senior at school.”

“Good-looking, smart, well-loved kid?”

“I don’t generally think of other guys being good-looking, but I guess, yeah.”

Ronan could not hide a small smile.  “Well, since the visions don’t tell me where Mara is, we can’t really rescue him, so I have a bad feeling it is gonna be a long night again,” he said.  The mood sobered quickly.

Jack nodded.

“Anyone else up yet?”

“Sundance and Zephyr.  Fortunatus went to bed when the sun came up, and Ash is still asleep.”

Ronan nodded.  He shrugged into his shoulder holster, strapped on his speed loaders, and followed Jack out of his room.  Sundance leaned against the counter in the kitchen, cup of coffee in hand, wrapped up in a navy blue bathrobe.  Her tousled golden hair framed her tired eyes and she yawned. 

“Morning,” Ronan said stepping up to her and kissing her. 

“When did y’all start kissing?” Jack asked behind them where he leaned on the back of the couch.

Ronan let go of Sundance and turned to glare at him.  Jack smiled, cocky and mischievous.

“Last night,” Sundance said with a happy smile.

“I’m gonna check on Ash,” Ronan said.  He punched Jack in the shoulder as he walked by, “Mind your own damn business, kid.”

Jack rolled over with a mock gasp of pain, holding his arm and rolling on the couch dramatically.  Zephyr, sunning in a window, muttered about human silliness.

“I’m gonna make breakfast,” Sundance said.

“I think we should all get out of the house and go eat breakfast with some humans and sunlight.  If Jack thinks Fortunatus will be alright here by himself,” Ronan said over his shoulder.

“He’ll be fine,” Jack said.

“He’ll be better off than we would be if we’re attacked,” Zephyr said.

“How about that?  What if we are attacked?” Jack said.

“Maybe we could get some answers,” Ronan said.

Jack nodded, “Go out prepared to be attacked.  I like it.”

Ronan went into Sundance’s room.  Ash slept, curled in a ball with her long, brown hair fanned out on the pillow.  Ronan bent down in front of her and brushed her hair back off her face.  When had she gotten so beautiful?  When had she grown up?  He could not be more proud of her, but he ached with the loss of his little girl. He tried to ignore the dark heavy tattoos which covered her fair skin, but he could not, they were a part of her now. 

She sighed and rolled over and Ronan whispered her name.  Ash blinked a few times and slowly opened her eyes, then closed them again.  Ronan straightened up.  He sat on the side of the bed stroking her hair.

“Your mom is going to kill me,” he said.

A small smile played across her lips, and Ronan knew Ash only pretended to sleep.

“I know you’ve always wanted tattoos, so now you have some,” he added.

A bigger smile spread across her lips, but she kept her eyes closed.  They had played this game for many years.  He tried to get her to laugh and she tried to stay asleep.

“But, young lady, don’t you even begin to think this gets you out of school.”

“What?” She sat up, “I have to go to school today?”

Ronan laughed.

“Dad! That was mean!” She said hitting him with a pillow on the side of the head.

“It got you up!” Ronan raised his arm in defense.

Ash stopped, pillow raised to a second attack.  Her lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with silver tears.  A spasm of pain cut through Ronan’s heart as he watched his daughter.

“Well,” her voice cracked, “I’m going back to sleep now.”

As much as he wanted to let her sleep, Ronan knew she needed to keep going, “Nope.  We’re going out for breakfast, so up you go.”

Ash groaned, flopped back down in the bed, and pulled the blankets over her head.  Ronan bent over her and moved the blankets back until he could see her eyes.  He bent down and kissed her on the forehead.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“You know you’re right,” Ash said softly switching to a subject with old pain instead of new, “Mom is going to be really upset.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Maybe together, we can convince her our powers are real.”

Ash looked everywhere but at Ronan, he could tell something bothered her.

“What is it, sweetie?”

“Even if we did convince Mom, you still wouldn’t get back together, would you?”

An image of Sundance dancing in the rain, dancing in the cemetery, dancing as she set food out, flashed through Ronan’s mind.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“She really hurt you when she left, didn’t she?”

Ronan sighed, “Look, having your husband turn into a witch and then spend two years fighting what happened would challenge the best of women.  If your mom hadn’t given up so fast, if she had fought harder for us as a family…”

“If you weren’t in love with Sundance,” Ash added tentatively.

“I don’t know if I’m in love,” Ronan said, a wild feeling bubbled up inside him, “but even if Sundance wasn’t in the picture at all, say it was a witch like Wolfe, who you haven’t met yet, who helped me.  I still don’t know if I could ever feel like I could trust her again with myself.  Does that make sense?”

“You’d be afraid she would leave you again.”

“Something like that,” Ronan still needed to sort through his own feelings about Callie and Sundance, so he switched the subject.  “Look, Ash, all I want is to keep you as safe as I can.  But there is another kid missing.   All of us need to get out of this house, and we all need time to rest and think.  Things are just coming so fast.”

“Dad, I’m one of her servants.  What if she comes to get me like the others?”

Ronan wrapped his arms around her, “I hope she does, by all the power in me, I hope she does.”

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

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