Son of Stan
“Which room is Fortunatus in?” Ronan asked.
He stood up and rubbed his cheeks. They itched from three days worth of stubble. His whole body protested his movement, but in vain. He had to get up. Two nights of sleeping on the couch, trying to fit his long legs on it, left him sore all over.
“Last room on the left,” Sundance said, “but I suggest talking to Jack if you need something. Vampires are not wise to disturb when they’re sleeping. Jack and Kent are in the last room on the right.”
Ronan nodded and walked down the hall. He knocked on the door and stuck his head in. Jack sat up in his bed and forced his eyes open. For a split second they shone with a golden light.
“I’m going up to your school to see my daughter and look at the magical lines there. Sundance is going with me. She put a shield spell around the house. When we get back we’re all going to see this Emma. I’m leaving you in charge of the witches here. It’s your job to protect them.”
Jack nodded and dropped back down on his pillow. Ronan started to close the door; he wondered at the wisdom of leaving a teen in charge of teens.
“Ronan?” Jack said.
He stepped back in the room.
“What you did the other night, with the lightning, was the first time I’ve ever seen Manson’s powers used for the good of anyone. I’m glad you helped those guys say good-bye.”
“Thanks,” Ronan said, “that means a lot to me, coming from you.” And it did. Having the kid who helped bring Manson down compliment him carried some weight.
Jack reached under his pillow, pulled out a Glock 19 and put it on the bed beside him. Ronan decided he could not find a better guardian for the new witches. He left the room, leaving the door open behind him.
The bright morning sun painted the sky pink and the edges of the clouds gold. Ronan looked up at the sunrise as he stepped outside. His breath misted in the cold air and a layer of frost crunched under his boots. He pulled his jacket close and felt the weight of his pistols in their holsters. Unlocking the truck, Ronan opened the passenger door for Sundance, and climbed in the driver’s seat. They waited a few minutes for the truck to warm up before heading out. Ronan pulled out his cell phone and called Ash. He got a cold and distant greeting, but she agreed to meet him outside the school when he got there. Sundance gave him directions and Ronan parked a few minutes later.
The fall air gave the wind a biting crispness which chilled their skin through their jackets and scarves as they got out of the truck. Brown brittle leaves flowed by their feet racing for some distant leaf graveyard. Sundance trailed behind as Ronan approached the young lady sitting on the low, decretive wall outside the school. He forgot how much Ash looked like her mother at the same age. It struck him as she tilted her head to watch him approach. The same age. Ronan and Callie fell in love at this same age. A few years later Ash completed their family. Ronan shook his head. He would kill the man who got his daughter pregnant so early in her life.
She slid down from the wall and waited for him.
Ronan felt the meeting going wrong already.
“Hey, Ash. How are you?”
“Who is she? Your girlfriend?”
Ronan glanced over his shoulder at Sundance and realize how this must look to Ash – her father with another woman. Sundance did not still look like the teen who attended this school. She appeared older, like a woman at the end of her twenties or her very early thirties, a good looking woman with golden hair. Ash could have recognized similarities between Sundance now and school Sundance. But, the one waiting by the truck carried an age and strength to her appearance which kept her from looking like the popular blond of the high school.
“No. This is a friend of mine. She’s been helping me work through some things.”
“Oh really,” Ash flipped her hip out and put her hand on it just like her indignant mother.
Ronan ached inside for his lost family.
“What is she, your psychologist?”
“No, Ash. She’s just a friend. Look, honey, I’m working on a case with one of the detectives here. I just wanted a chance to see you.”
Ash flinched and stepped back.
“The case with the missing guys from here, and now that one girl is missing too.”
“What girl? And yes, why?”
“She is the most popular girl in our school. Her name is Sundance. But everyone thinks her family just went out of town, cause no one has seen anyone in her family in a few days. But, Dad…” her voice broke and she stepped up to him and threw her arms around him. “Dad, Chase is missing and I am so worried about him.”
“Who?” He wrapped his arms around her, kissing her on the top of her head. With his arms around his little girl, he did not really care about anything else. The sudden switch from cold and distant to needing him sent warnings off in his head, but he ignored them. The reception he wanted hid the sounding bells.
She looked up at him, “Dad! He’s my boyfriend and if you want to help me, you have to find him.”
He managed to keep himself from asking what she thought she was doing with a boyfriend at her age, and what her mother thought she was doing letting her have a boyfriend. All the words died on his lips. He saw fear in her eyes.
“When did he go missing?” The warning bells switch to a full blown siren on red alert.
“I don’t know. We watched movies with Mom last night, and then when I called him this morning he didn’t answer the phone, and he didn’t come to school.”
“What time did he head home?” Ronan tried to keep his voice calm. Had he missed a vision?
“Do you have a picture of him?” Why had his heart started that strange thudding all of the sudden? Sundance picked up on the change in conversation and stepped up. She touched his elbow.
“Her boyfriend is missing.”
“Chase is missing?”
“You know him?” Ronan and Ash said in unison.
Sundance looked up at Ronan, and raised an eyebrow at him. Ronan cleared his throat. Ash gave her a look of total scorn.
“Get around do you?”
“Ash, just show me the picture. This is very complicated.”
“Dad, I’m not a little kid anymore. You need to tell me what’s going on.”
“I will, I promise, you just won’t believe…” Ronan stopped. If Chase had been taken by Mara, his daughter’s boyfriend would more than likely be killed, and Ash stood a strong chance of becoming a witch. Anger flared deep within him. He refused to willing allow his daughter to become a witch. He wanted to talk to whoever controlled the inheritances. He wanted to talk to them now! An image of a man in a crown silhouetted in a doorway flashed through his mind. The King. The King controlled the inheritances. Ronan cursed him, silently, deep within his heart.
Ash examined his face and became very quite. She pulled out her phone and opened up a photograph of herself with her arms around a young man, muscular, with dark hair and light eyes. Chase wore an easy smile. He reminded Ronan of Jack, for some reason. Ronan’s insides went cold. Derrick, Hawk, Wade, and now Chase, all resembled Jack in their character. They were all built, physically strong men, but they carried a certain strength of character, which made them seem older than a lot of their classmates. Maybe the two cases were connected?
“We need to go see Emma and then I want to get back to the others. I have a real bad feeling about this.”
Sundance nodded taking his hand, “Me too.”
“Well, you’re not leaving me behind,” Ash said, anger flaring through her fear, a trait she inherited from Ronan.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sweetie, wouldn’t leave you here for all the money in the world,” Ronan said.
“Let’s go look at the magical lines and then call Jack,” Sundance said.
Ash smiled sarcastically, “Magical lines? You don’t still believe that crap, do you Dad?”
“Yes, more now than ever. So will you by the end of the day.”
“I see she does,” Ash pointed at Sundance, “which must be how you guys hooked up.”
“She does believe in it. Call your mom and tell her you are spending the night with me.”
Ash glared at Sundance for a moment. She went back to the wall and started talking on her cell.
“She hates me,” Sundance said.
Ronan took her hand and squeezed it. “Don’t worry, she’ll warm up. She’ll grow up, and realize Callie and I are not getting back together. Callie doesn’t want to even try to believe in magic.”
“It won’t make it easier when she finds out I am the Sundance from her high school.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ronan put his arm around Sundance and she laid her head on his shoulder. For a moment they stood together, just stood, while Ash obviously argued with her mother. As she hung up the phone, Ronan’s phone rang. He groaned. If Callie called him to tell him to stay away from Ash and to send her home, Ronan knew they would fight. The caller ID flashed Jack’s name. Ronan answered it.
“Ronan, you guys better get back over here!”
“What’s going on?” Ronan waved the women into the truck. Sundance offer the front seat to Ash, and she took the seat behind Ronan.
“I have three pissed off master witches with questions sitting on my doorstep. Seeing how I can’t see magic, the sun is out and everything, I am not letting anyone in until you guys get here. I have a feeling they can get in anyway, and they are trying to be respectful, but they are royally pissed off.”
“Okay, okay, we are on our way.”
Ronan threw the truck in to gear and pulled out of the school, driving fast.
“What’s going on?” Sundance asked.
Ronan glanced up at her in his rearview mirror, “We have master witches at your place.”
Ash groaned, “Really Dad, really. How long are you going to believe this crap? And you,” Ash turned to Sundance, “you are only making him worse, not better. I don’t know how you two met up, but you’re not really being a good friend to him.”
Sundance and Ronan both snapped at the same time. The material, earthy forms they carried on this Plane fell off like shrouds. The truck filled with light. Ronan felt his body change; he felt it and welcomed it. For the first time since he found out about his powers, this felt like the right body. The long hair, the muscles, the strength and power felt right. Sundance’s beauty almost drove him insane. Her golden hair fell down to her waist in long curls. Her blue eyes danced and sang. A fur lined coat sat around her bare shoulders and the perfect smattering of freckles dotted her nose. She danced even sitting still. Light edged the tattoos inked on both of them.
“Ash,” Sundance said, “your whole world view is about to change. I suggest you stop assuming you know all the ins and outs of the world around you. I suggest you wake up and listen to your father.”
Ash stared at them both with her mouth open. “Why, how, what…”she stumbled over her words, “why didn’t you ever show that to Mom?”
The light inside Ronan faded, and he pulled his old image on like a threadbare coat.
“Cause I didn’t know how to wear my TrueSelf until just the other day.”
They pulled into Sundance’s street.
“One other thing you should know, Ash,” Ronan said, “is this is Sundance from your school. She’s been there undercover because of what’s going on. That’s how she knew who Chase was.”
“You mean with the missing boys?”
Ronan sighed, “Yes, with the missing boys. Ash, sweetie, this is going to be very, very hard tonight. I am going to do the best I can to help you, but this is going to be hard.”
Ash looked at him and tears filled her eyes, “You’re talking about Chase aren’t you.”
Ronan nodded and took her hand. He watched tears run down Sundance’s alabaster cheeks as she stared out the window behind him. It struck him that she personally knew all four guys. Even though she seemed to have been some kind of popular pain-in-the-ass, these kids meant a lot to her. Now, she watched them die. Now, Ash had to experience the same thing. Someone she loved waited to die and she was helpless to stop it.
Ash pulled away from him and wrapped her arms around herself. Before Ronan could say anything they pulled up to Sundance’s house. Jack was right. Three very pissed off witches stood on the doorstep. They glowed with power.
“This could be bad,” Sundance said.
Ronan parked in the driveway, and the three witches moved towards the driver’s side of the truck. Towards him. Jack opened the front door and stepped out. He held his Glock 17 down at his side. In the darkness of the house, Ronan could just make out the pale face of Fortunatus standing in front of the new witches.
A tall, slim woman with hair so blonde it glowed like white light led the way. She wore a yellow vest with cream, wide-leg trousers and a sheer yellow duster. Her name leapt to Ronan’s mind – Aurora, the witch of the Sun. A man followed at her heels. He seemed slight in Aurora’s shadow. He wore a black apron and an image of a cornucopia covered his bare chest – Provision, the witch of Food. Behind them came a boy with green and brown hair, a narrow face with large eyes. He wore a sleeveless green jump suit – Beetle, the witch of all Insects.
“Stay here,” Ronan told Ash. He unbuckled and got out of the truck, closing the door behind him. Sundance climbed out of the cab and stood at his side.
“Aurora, I am so…”
“Can it, Sundance,” Aurora said. She stepped right up to Ronan, eye to eye.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She said.
“What?” Ronan said, confused. He thought he would need to show them an image of their dying witches, but instead, he found himself trapped. The other two witches moved in on either side of him pinning him against the truck.
“You let our servants be killed!” Beetle yelled.
“I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t know what to do,” Ronan said. He tried to find his TrueSelf, but it would not come like it had in the truck. He could not face them witch to witch; he could not shake the feeling of guilt washing over him. His heart gnawed itself in fear that the deaths were his fault. They gave that worried fear voice.
“You’ve had two damn years to figure it out, you sonofabitch,” Provision roared and swung his meaty fist at Ronan.
It caught him on the temple, and Ronan dropped as stars exploded behind his eyes. His elbow struck the pavement and a sword of pain drove up his arm, jarring him from the unconsciousness smothering him. Blows and kicks rained down on him as the three witches took out their own pain and sorrow on the one they held responsible. Aurora’s touch seared him with deadly light from the inside out. Ronan screamed in pain. Beetle kicked and kicked him. Ronan could not rid himself of the feeling of a million small legs running up and down his body, any more than he could move his head out of the way of the boy’s feet. Provision pounded him again and again, needing no further magic than the power in his arms.
All around him people yelled and screamed. Ronan thought he saw more light filling the driveway but the crushing agony drove him away. It drove him inside himself, into his core and Ronan sat there, inside himself, watching them beat him senseless. He did nothing. Their attack on him felt justified. It lessened the guilt he felt. If he had shoulder his power when it came, when it filled him the night he found Stan, these witches and these kids would not be dead, these master witches and these new witches would not be broken, if he had just done his job…
The crack of a pistol broke through the cacophony of noise, magical curses, and fighting. Jack held his Glock, with steady hands, leveled right at the witches beating Ronan to death.
“Y’all know who I am,” Jack said, “so you can’t be under any delusions about my abilities. I have no qualms about shooting witches. So. Back. Off. Now.”
Through one eye, not swollen completely shut, Ronan watched the feet of the witches step back.
“Sundance, get him in the house.”
Into his line of vision, Sundance’s beautiful face floated. Just behind her, Ronan could make out Ash’s jeans and Zephyr fluttered down and kissed his broken nose. Sundance pulled him up and Ronan screamed in protest. Kent stepped out of the dark house, glaring at the witches. He took Ronan’s other arm, and helped Sundance drag him up the walk and in the front door. Ronan realized panting and moaning spilled from his broken lips. It sounded far away. Fortunatus, all claws and fangs, took him from them and laid him on the couch. He shifted deeper into the house, away from the sun shining in the front door. Ash knelt down by Ronan and took his hand. A knife stabbed him each time he took a breath, the room spun and he coughed up blood.
“Are you finished?” Ronan heard Jack ask.
Someone muttered a response, and Ronan sensed the three witches come in the house, followed by Jack who still had his Glock trained on them. Sundance bent over him with a wet cloth and dabbed at the blood on his face. Tears covered her cheeks and she bit her lower lip. Ronan wished he could stop her crying. He wanted to be rid of the pain, fear, and anger. He wanted to be washed of the guilt.
Ronan reached up and cupped her face in his newly broken hand. He brushed the tears away with his thumb, but only left a streak of blood across her cheek.
“Hey, beautiful,” he said.
Sundance took his hand and kissed it, “Hey.”
Ronan became aware of arguing around him. The three new servant witches stood in front of him yelling at the master witches. Ronan sat up with a breathless scream and felt bile rise in his throat. He swallowed the urge to vomit and got to his feet. Now his TrueSelf came. His Material image fell from his shoulders and he stood taller, stronger, and exuding power.
“Stop,” he said taking a step forward. He stumbled. Jack stepped to his side, and put Ronan’s arm around his shoulder. Sundance stood just behind him the damp cloth still in her hand.
“Your anger is justified. I have resisted my powers and denied my responsibility and many have paid the price.”
The three servant witches stepped back and Ronan faced the master witches, equal to them in power and magic.
“Your servants have been killed, the ones they love have been killed,” he indicated the three kids. “More will die and I am the one who has to stop this. I will stop this. I swore to Hawk I would, and I don’t plan on breaking that promise. But us fighting about this helps no one. Kids,” he turned to the new servant witches. “This is your new life. Live it in the light of the ones who died and whose powers you inherited. You have much to give the world now. Go and embrace this new life.”
Jane broke rank first. Jane with as much fight hidden below her mousey image as Hawk, stepped up to Ronan. Her Material image dropped off her, and she stood before him in a dress of wild colors with one bare shoulder and a mask in the shape of a swallowtail butterfly covered half her face. She kissed his cheek.
“Thank you,” Jane said. She walked over to Beetle and took his hand. Beetle bowed and walked out the door with Jane at his side.
Hero followed suit. As she kissed Ronan’s cheek she too found her TrueSelf. Her dress looked as if dappled sunlight on dancing leaves had wrapped around her like a toga. Leaves wrapped around her head, and she laughed as she joined Aurora and they left the house.
Last was Kent.
“I’m not kissing you,” he said with a half smile.
Ronan held out his hand and Kent shook it.
The TrueSelf of Kent filled the house with the smell of homemade pie. He wore an apron now over his jeans and his long hair tied back in a fairy woven net. He looked down at the apron covering his bare chest and smiled.
“I always liked to cook, thought about going to culinary school when I graduated. Guess I won’t have to worry about that now.”
He walked over to Provision and the big man put his arm around Kent’s shoulders and led him out of the house.
Ronan moaned as Jack lowered him back onto the couch, and then shut the front door to keep the sunlight out. Fortunatus shifted back into the dark room. Ronan’s TrueSelf faded leaving just Ronan lying on the couch.
“You look like hell,” Jack said.
“If I’d known that was gonna happen, I would‘ve just given the new witches to them, and let them all go home.”
“Not your fault, Jack. I should’ve known they would be angry with me specifically.”
“Are you okay, Dad?” Ash took his hand as Sundance began trying to clean his face again.
“I’ll live. I’ve been beat up before,” he coughed as he spoke.
“I know a little about healing spells, but I think Dream would be a better help to us.”
“Emma’s witch name is Dream,” Sundance explained.
“I would like to request, we wait until sunset to go. Jack could be attacked again, or you Ronan, and I will be of little assistance until then,” Fortunatus said.
Ronan examined the vampire. He did not like people he could not read, and at this point he could not get an image of Fortunatus’ soul. But, he promised to put his suspicions aside, and Fortunatus still bore a crow tattoo on his hand.
“I agree. I am not in any shape to protect anyone if we get attacked again.”
Fortunatus gave him a small nod of his head.
Ronan closed his eyes and laid back.
“What a weekend,” he said.