When the days are cold
And the cards all fold
And the saints we see
Are all made of gold
When your dreams all fail
And the ones we hail
Are the worst of all
And the blood’s run stale
I want to hide the truth
I want to shelter you
But with the beast inside
There’s nowhere we can hide
No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come
When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
When the curtain’s call
Is the last of all
When the lights fade out
All the sinners crawl
So they dug your grave
And the masquerade
Will come calling out
At the mess you made
Don’t want to let you down But I am hell bound
Though this is all for you
Don’t want to hide the truth
No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my kingdom come
This is my kingdom come
When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
They say it’s what you make
I say it’s up to fate
It’s woven in my soul
I need to let you go
Your eyes, they shine so bright
I want to save their light
I can’t escape this now
Unless you show me how
When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
– Demons by Imagine Dragons
(I like to think of this song as Fortunatus’ song to Akilina. He loves this pure angel but he has blood on his hands, he’s cursed. He always feels like he doesn’t want her too close. The song has a beautiful pleading sound to it that I love.)
Crow’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He released Olive to check the caller ID.
“What did you see in your vision?” Olive asked linking her hands behind his neck.
“Hold on, it’s Stan,” he said flipping the phone open.
“Did you leave before the police got there?”
“Yeah, I couldn’t resist the visions anymore, so we got out of there. Manson’s royally angry. And, I found out he’s losing his connection with the spirit world. Dove said his soul’s too torn to sense it like he should. According to her, the whole spirit world is singing Olive’s name right now. I’m sure Dove will be coming soon cause he’s not gonna be content to just let this go.”
“Will you put it on speaker,” Olive asked.
Crow switched it to speaker and held it between them.
“Stan, I’m here. I noticed some interesting magical lines when I healed the house, ones Crow probably couldn’t see before due to the inheritance in him being so small.”
“Or cause we’ve never gone back to a crime scene to see what Manson left behind,” Stan said.
“Or,” Crow added, “this is something he’s done recently.”
“That too….or three,” Olive said. “I think Manson not only gets a high destroying their souls, but he maintains a buzz by feeding off the rips in the souls of the families and friends. I saw the same vein-like magical lines linking Manson to the body as I did leading away from it. I think we need to follow that vein and see where it leads.
“What if it leads back to Manson?” Crow asked.
“It isn’t the main vein, but an off shoot. And besides, Colin can tell us if we’re headed right towards Manson. I’d be willing to bet it leads to Robert’s family. If I’m right, we may be able to do more healing.”
“Which means more pissing off Manson,” Crow said.
“Alright kids,” Stan said. “Let’s meet back in the town square in front of that antique mall.”
“Make sure Aunt Rose comes with you, I want her to look at the magical lines,” Olive said shifting to her feet.
“What about Jack?”
Olive raised an eyebrow in question at Crow.
“He can come if he wants or he can stay with Fortunatus since the sun’s out right now. But I want him to have a cell phone….”Crow paused. Old nightmares flashed through him.
“Crow? Olive? You still there?” Stan said, a hint of fear in his voice.
“Yeah….bring everyone, even Fortunatus with you. I don’t want anyone alone.”
Now Stan went silent on the other end of the phone. Crow imagine Stan saw the same bloody nightmares he had. Absent-mindedly, Crow rubbed the list of X’ed out names on his shoulder. Olive took his hand and kissed the tips of his fingers.
“Will do, Crow,” Stan finally said, “See y’all in a second.”
“Keep your cell phone with you. I’ll call Fortunatus and wake him.”
“Got it. And one more thing, an Agent Syracuse of the FBI is waiting to interface with the detectives assigned to Noles murder. You remember Detective Richards? When I called him, he sent me to Syracuse. Apparently the FBI decided to assign her anything that smells strange.”
“You mean anything magical?”
“Yeah, but they don’t call it that, they call it strange. Also, the detectives assigned are Blaine and Stark.”
“The ones who dropped by the house the other day?” Crow said. He couldn’t believe it was just a few days ago, felt like years.
“Same two guys.”
“I thought they were Dorian PD?”
“Chesterfield’s too small to have that big of a police force, Dorian’s helping out.”
“That worries me.”
“Me too. I gotta go. See you in a sec,” Stan said and then hung up.
Crow hung up, scrolled down to Fortunatus’ number, and listened to it ring.
“We have to move out. Manson’s figured out what we’re doing and Olive found a link from the murder scene to what we think is Robert’s family. We want to deal with that before Manson gets Dove or the Greeks here.”
“The sun has just crossed the line into noonday. The Greeks will not be able to arrive until tonight.”
“We’re moving you around in the daylight, so why couldn’t they do the same? Manson’s not that far away and it won’t take him long to get going. Stan’s gonna pull up in the covered drive and let you in the back of the van. I don’t want anyone staying by themselves. Even you.”
“How considerate of you, and it is so nice to see you learning lessons from the past.”
Crow flipped the phone shut and stood up.
“You’re gonna have to learn to be polite to more people than just witches,” Olive said taking his hand.
“It’s considered polite to say good-bye when ending a conversation before you hang up.”
“Not when you are talking to someone who had a hand in your parent’s death and continues to be a prick.”
Olive sighed. She took a large white feather out of the pocket of her pouch and brushed Crow’s shoulders off.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to get rid of the chip on your shoulder. Someday you’ll have to accept the fact that your parents died, and that Fortunatus, who’s now forgiven, had a hand in it. Someday you’ll have to face the fact that the only person you can be angry at is God. Then you’ll have to decide if you have the right to be angry with Him.”
“I think I do if he killed my parents.”
“Everyone dies. Everyone loses their parents. The child whose mother dies of cancer while he watches helplessly is in no different position than you. God wrote your parents story, and out of that he gave you the tools to beat Manson. Don’t lose them in your anger and resentment. Trust the King.”
Crow studied her. He stared deep into her glowing green eyes. She was right. If he defeated Manson with hate and anger, he would be a hollow shell at the moment of Manson’s death. He would be a ghost with no purpose but to find something else to hate. Unless he laid his anger at the feet of the King and took hold of the hope offered back, he had no life outside Manson. The pain of hope, sharp and clear, hurt almost as much as damnation.
“Are you okay?”
He tipped his head back, blinking away sudden tears, while he pinched the bridge of his nose. Olive came around him resting her hand on his chest. Crow took a deep breath. He filled himself with the good, clean, beautiful scent of her.
“My curse lifted the day I mixed you up with one of Manson’s attempts to trap me. You healed me first.”
She put her arms around him. “Then I have the greatest gift ever.”
“What’s that?” Crow wrapped her in his arms and kissed her forehead.
“You. Whole, healed, and filled with hope.”
Taking Olive’s hand with Zephyr on his shoulder, Crow the only dhampir – cursed with damned gifts from his Father and Mother – left the forest with a pure heart. It was time to end the reign of Manson, the witch of Serial Killers.
The white van pulled up in front of the Antique Mall. The glass eyes of old dolls watched Crow and Olive climb inside through the sheer pane of their jail window. Crow noticed new license plates on the front and back. After this was all done, he would need to contact this Agent Syracuse and detectives Blaine and Stark to make sure no innocent people end up in trouble. In fact, if this came to a head as soon as he hoped, they would need to contact them sooner. Rose held up her mirror until she found the same pulsing vein Olive had found at the apartment hiding one block over in a dirty alley. Checking for traffic, Stan pulled out. Jack threw his arms around Olive and Crow as they settled in the van.
“Glad we’re back, kid?” Crow said.
“I was worried.”
“Do we know, for sure, where this magical line goes?” Stan asked from up front.
“Not to Manson,” Colin said from the back. “If that’s what you’re worried about.”
“That’s exactly what I was worried about.”
“See,” Jack smiled. “I’m not the only one who’s worried.”
Sunlight glinted in Rose’s mirror dancing and flickering like a trapped fairy. She watched the blood-stained trail Manson left linking something – Olive believed the suffering family – with the body in the spare room. Stan obeyed all the speed limits and traffic signs to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to themselves. They left the few blocks of Main Street, drove through a tiny school zone in front of the elementary school and the town library, and turned into the country road leading out into the flat Texas plains studded with wild mesquite trees. Stan listened to his police radio while he followed Rose’s direction.
“Not even a little chatter about us. This is too easy,” Stan said rubbing the back of his neck.
Crow felt exactly the same. What was he leading his family into? He checked the Jade Gun’s magazine and the extra ones. All the bullets he had loaded this morning were still there. He drummed his fingers on the arm rest.
“Just because we have a path to follow doesn’t mean it is a trap,” Olive said.
“You haven’t been in one of Manson’s traps before. Usually someone dies a horrible death. Makes a person kinda jumpy.”
“Um, Stan. You have me the way I am because I’ve been in one of Manson’s traps. Remember?”
“Sorry.” Stan blanched still rubbing his neck. “Sorry. I forgot. You’re just the first one to every come out ahead after Manson got ahold of ’em. It’s hard to remember he did.”
“No it’s not,” Olive whispered examining her hands in her lap.
“We can’t help it,” Crow said. He wrapped his arm around Olive not wanting her to think about what Manson did to her. “Since the day he found my mom, he has always been one step ahead. We’ve never caught up. If he’s not laying low sending his spawn out into the world, he’s dancing in front of us setting traps and we just keep running into them.”
“Almost there, dears,” Rose said.
“I know, guys,” Olive said lifting her head with a smile. “But I also know from your vision, Crow, and what I felt in that room, that this isn’t a trap. This is payback.”
“Here we are.”
Rose pointed to a little white house set deep on a large lot with a plethora of ivy climbing on it. Though still mostly brown from the winter, here and there new green leaves burst from the main vine to collect sunshine. Potholes dotted the dirt drive washed out by the spring rains. Three large pecan trees stood sentinel over the yard, green buds gracing every branch tip. A shadow covered the house though not a single cloud broke the wide blue sky.
“Oh, the poor things,” Olive said, seeing the depths of the spell and magical lines that no one else could.
“It smells like Manson,” Crow said tossing his head.
“You’re telling me,” Colin said. He turned to Olive. “So what you’re saying is that me, Crow here, and Ms. Rose, can see the magical lines – which I can. But we can’t see ’em like you see ’em?”
“You could probably pick the lines apart to see the true spell underneath them,” Olive said.
“But she didn’t have to,” Crow said. “They were visible to her right off the bat.”
Olive blushed. “I’m gonna start on the outside of the house first, and then I’ll have y’all join me to help the family heal. Crow, I think there you’ll play the bigger part. Aunt Rose, will make my magic visible so they can see what I’m doing?”
Rose nodded and they all watched Olive climb from the van. She stepped to the front and faced the house, unmoving. Rose reached inside her beaded handbag and pulled out a larger mirror with an autumn leaf embedded in its back. She levitated it so everyone in the van could see through it. A wave of magic passed over the group. All the hairs on Crow’s arms stood up.
Olive became visible in the mirror, stalwart before the haunted home. Crow was right. He saw her TrueSelf every day, all the time, but this version glimmered more – like the TrueSelf of her TrueSelf – reminding Crow of the angels in the Spirit Plane more than any witch on this one. Her skirt and tank top faded into a long sunshine yellow dress with a belt of orange maple leaves. Living vines sprouted and wrapped her bare tattooed arms forming circle after circle of spring green. Snowflakes, white and sparkling, pinned her hair up in a pile of multi-colored curls. She bent down and held out her hands. Tendrils of ivy, branches of the pecans, and flowers from the front planters came to her like injured dogs finding comfort in the hands of their master. She stroked the plants cooing softly to them as she danced amongst them. New leaves budded. New flowers bloomed. Sunlight flooded the yard shattering the shadow.
She stopped, stood completely still, and held out her hand. On a breath of a crisp breeze, a blood-red leaf swirled and landed on her palm. Olive held it up to her face, like a masquerade mask, and looked at the house. Colin gasped. Bile rose in Crow’s throat. Manson’s line of pain and torture expanded to cover the house like a net made of veins. It collected all the anguish from the broken family, and sent it pulsing back to Manson.
Olive held out her other hand. A gust of cold, snowy air swirled around her dropping a sword of ice in her fist. She clasped the frozen hilt with both hands and lifted it high over her head. The sun caught the clear ice and blazed from the blade. Crow swore as it momentarily blinded him. With a cry, Olive brought the ice sword crashing down. It sliced the vein in two before shattering into a thousand pieces. The net over the house throbbed, blackened, and died.
Rose lowered her mirror. “The spell’s been destroyed. We can go out now. She’ll need help with the family.”
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…
The bright morning sun did not lighten the apartment. Dark shadows lurked in every corner. Dark screams haunted every crack. The murder of a man, the ripping of his soul, tainted the walls down to the cells and atoms.
Olive’s eyes filled with tears. She clutched his arm. Crow wanted to delay the moment he had to show her the body behind the door. If the empty living room caused tears to course down her cheeks, what would the mutilated mass do? Doubt pushed into Crow. He didn’t want his wife to see this. He wanted her to remain innocent of what Manson had brought to life. He wanted the few remaining nightmares to fade, not increase. Crow turned away. A tail of dizziness chased the movement. Manson wanted in his mind.
Olive remained planted.
“I can do this, Crow. I must do this. You’re not just my husband, you’re my one and only servant and I don’t plan on sharing you with Manson forever.”
He studied her face, her resolve. Fear drew white circles around her eyes. Her breathing and heart rate shortened and increased, but she faced the room with a stalwart gaze.
“What do we do next?”
“Well, we’ve got to work with two worlds, the Spiritual and the Material. I’m going to deal with the Spiritual side and you and Stan will have to call the police and get them up to see the body. But, only after I’ve made sure Manson’s evil is undone.”
From inside her suede cross-body bag, Olive pulled a small potted plant. Dark green leaves contrasted with bold white flowers flaring back from their stems.
“This is gonna be interesting,” she said brushing a stray red hair off her cheek. “My magic will break the shield spilling all the natural evil of decay out of the apartment. Someone’s bound to call the police. The Gray might be alerted. I just need some time before witches or cops get here.”
Crow nodded and stepped back.
“Will you open all the blinds? In the whole apartment?”
Shifting through the place, Crow followed her instruction even in the room with the body. Olive sat crossed-legged in the middle of the empty living room floor with the plant in her lap. A patch of watery sun coated her. She closed her eyes, leaned back her head, and called to the plant. She called to the good, the pure, the beauty in the white flowers. She called to the hope of spring, the warmth of summer, the glow of fall, and the slumber of winter. Crow’s servant tattoos tingle while his vampire skin burned. Too much sunlight and too much purity flowed out into the room. Olive’s plant overcame the dark shadows. It grew until it filled the entire space with light, wind, snow, and earth. It chased off the nightmares – the death and the torture. The sound of shattered glass jerked Crow around. His stomach lurched in the wake of another attempt by Manson to gain access to his head. The shield fractured and fell like black snow, disappearing as it touched the ground.
“They’re going to smell him now.”
Olive shifted to her feet. Her eyes glazed over. She stared into the magical lines of another world. Tilting her head, she stepped to her right and filled the empty room with good clean light. Done, she shifted to the kitchen. Here she stopped, still holding the plant. Crow’s phone vibrated, interrupting them. Olive ignored it, gone from the here and now. Crow pulled it out, saw Stan’s name on the caller ID, and flipped it open. His nerves were raw with tension while they had to be split into two groups. He believed Stan and Fortunatus could handle any monsters Manson sent their way but his hair still stood on end and his muscles still bunched. When Stan left to look for Emma, they knew Manson focused on the pain brought by Olive’s touch. Now, they were at risk. Manson had nothing to focus on except what they were doing to attack him. It would be just like him to use this distraction to separate them so he could kill a few of them on the side.
“Yeah?” Crow said. He pressed his hand to his forehead to stop the world from spinning.
“Just checking in.”
“We’ll be done here soon. The shield’s down. The neighbors are going to be able to smell this now. Hell of a way to wake up in the morning.”
“Make it fast.”
“Will do.” Crow hung up the phone.
The magical lines were more tangled in the kitchen. Olive studied them while the plant waved green leaves and white flowers in an unfelt breeze.
“It’s like a giant ball of twine from two skeins,” Olive said. “One’s from the tattered remains of the shield and other magic the Gray wrapped around the apartment. The other’s from Manson’s SoulReading.”
She pointed to the tangled mess directing his eye. Manson’s spell pulsed with suffering. One artery ran into the room with the body while another branched off out of the apartment.
“Gotcha,” Olive whispered.
Using the power of summer and brilliant light filled with long days and warm nights, Olive ate up Manson’s artery of suffering. It blackened, crinkled, and burned it away. The Gray’s magic collapsed and dissipated without Manson’s spell to support it.
“Last and worst.”
Crow shifted ahead and opened the door to the body. Thick veins spread from the artery to cover the walls of the room. They consumed and gathered the pain from every blood splatter, from every scream hidden in the walls like a net.
Olive stumbled back. Something powerful shoved her into the hallway wall. Crow reached for her.
She gritted her teeth, held the plant out, and pushed back. She pushed back at the darkness, the emptiness. She filled the room with faith, hope and love. She filled the room with sunlight. She filled it with warmth, joy, and wild play. She filled it with imagination. A thunder-clap reverberated through the room. The body tumbled to the floor with a wet slap. Olive closed her eyes. She held out her hand to Crow. He entwined his fingers with hers. They trembled but he held them fast.
“Let me see it through your eyes,” she whispered.
A strange feeling of joy, freedom, crisp hope, and soft sleep washed over Crow. The tattoos on the back of his hand warmed. Sheer, light as light, bottle-green sheets draped the bloody room, like a giant had torn a large piece of cloth to shreds.
“The remains of his soul,” Olive said. “Come help me gather them up.”
“I’ve never seen a soul this way before.”
“We’re mixing lots of magic together. It’s bound to be different.”
Following Olive, Crow helped her pick up the tattered remains one by one. They dropped each piece into the white flowers and dark green leaves of the plant until there were none left. A noise, like the rushing of a winter wind, filled the room. The vision faded. Olive slumped against Crow. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her up. With the soul gathered, only the horror of a body remained in the middle of the hollow, empty room. The scent of metal and tension brushed by Crow’s nose. The police were here. He pulled out his phone and called Stan.
“It’s done. The police are here. I’m assuming they’ll see the open door and smell the smell. You may want to call our contacts and get them to vouch for us.”
“Already done. How’s Manson?”
“I am about to see if I can find out, but Olive’s spent.”
“I got you covered, just relax.”
“I am relaxed,” Crow said through gritted teeth.
Crow hung up the phone and rolled his neck and shoulders. He needed to go to the vision that still pressed against his mind, but he didn’t want to leave Olive alone in this room with him unconscious and cops about to run in. Too late, the vision came….
….in the beginning it was always dark….Crow heard a howl of anger before he saw anything….
Manson flung himself around a nondescript hotel room screaming like a small child who had a cookie taken away from him. He scooped up a lamp and smashed it against a wall. White porcelain pieces pelted Dove. Crow balked at the immature temper-tantrum his enemy threw. It was absurd to watch someone who had haunted him his whole life, before he was even born, scream, yell, and break things. Crow couldn’t believe this was how Manson responded. The Greeks, the Coven, and Dove sat in the corners looking on. A raised eyebrow here and there said they couldn’t believe it either.
“Master,” Dove growled.
Manson stopped flailing about. Breathing hard he glared around the room, his left arm in a sling.
“You! What have you done?”
Crow maintained his silence. For the first time in his life, he contentedly watch the vision and left Manson to ponder.
“He is here?” Adonis said straightening up in his seat.
“Of course he’s here!” Manson screamed, spittle flying from his mouth as he rounded on the vampires.
They leaned back. Xanthus shifted to his feet. What? The Greeks fell before no one, but on the other hand Manson’s imbalanced tantrum could be followed up with power. Unlike a small child, Manson could kill those he hated. Crow couldn’t blame them for scurrying out of Manson’s path. A sudden realization burned through him. How many times had he thrown similar fits of frustration? How many times had Stan and Zephyr loyally stood on the side of a hotel room waiting for him to burn out? How often did he cures everything between heaven and hell? Shame flushed his skin. For years and years he had given Manson so much power over himself. For fifty years he had allowed Manson to drive him, herd him, responding like a spoiled child. No more. Never again would he break and smash the people who supported him out of uncontrolled rage. He would give Manson no more hold over his soul.
“How are you feeling, Manson?” Crow broke his silence.
“You can’t do this. You’re the echo of the echo!”
“That’s not the only thing I am. Enjoy your next few days. I’m coming for you,” Crow said
Manson laughed. “You? When have you ever bested me? When has any witch only reigned over their power for 50 years or so? Come for me, Crow, and I will finish off what I started.”
“I have something you don’t have, can never have. And it’s you I have to thank for it.”
“Your stupid love did nothing for your parents and it won’t protect you now,” Manson’s voice broke into a high pitch scream.
Everyone, including Crow, turned to Dove.
“The very essence of magic pulses with her name,” Dove said.
“I feel nothing,” Manson said.
Dove bowed her head.
“Speak demon-witch. What is it you know?” Kalogeros said adjusting his sunglasses.
Manson stared at Dove and Crow hung, unsubstantial in the air, on the edge of his seat.
“A tortured death doesn’t just rip and tear the soul of the victim. It also destroys the soul of the murderer. Your soul is so torn, Master, you can’t sense some magical lines anymore. You have lost many connections.”
Crow had heard all he needed to hear. He pushed against the vision. Manson had no power to detain him. An infuriated scream followed him back….
He was no longer in the apartment. He smelled trees and clean air. Crow opened his eyes with a groan. His head pounded with a headache bent on splitting his skull, but the dizziness had faded.
“Hey handsome,” Olive said.
She ran her hands through his hair. His head rested in her lap. Rocks and twigs poked him in the back. He rolled over and sat up. Zephyr sat on Olive’s shoulder smiling.
“Where are we and what happened?”
They sat in a small forest of young trees filled with sunlight and new green leaves. Birds flitted back and forth through the branches planning nests and courting lovers. Small rodents gathered leaves and last summer’s grass to line their nest with babies already on the way. Mushrooms forced their way out of moist soil forming circles and hiding places for fairy folk and toads alike.
“You had a vision and kinda just dropped to the ground. The cops had arrived but I didn’t think this was the time to stop what we’re doing, go sit at the station, and try to explain who and what we are. So, I just picked you up and brought you here.”
“Are we still in Chesterfield?”
“Just outside it actually, to the South, closer to Dorian. You never told me how much fun it is to shift,” she said.
“You never asked if it was fun.”
Crow scented the air. It smelled good and safe. The image of his wife carrying him this far seemed off kilter. It irritated him for some reason.
“Don’t worry,” she said, as if she could read his mind. “I won’t tell anyone I carried you from the apartment.”
“I don’t care. You’re as strong as a vampire. Why wouldn’t you?”
“Liar. You do care.” She punched his shoulder with a laugh. “So I won’t tell. It’s a wife’s job to defend her husband’s softer side from the world.”
Crow wasn’t sure he was ready to admit he had a softer side. He remembered Manson’s tantrum. Fighting back his irritability, he changed the subject to what he should have checked on in the first place.
“How are you feeling?” he said sitting up.
“Great,” Olive said with a happy smile. “I’m sure I’ll have nightmares later, but I can feel myself recharging the longer I sit here around all the plants. It still feels weird. It’s like having someone new in your home. You keep bumping into one another. That’s how my day-vampire-self feels with my witch self. They keep bumping, but it is getting better.”
“Your eyes are glowing,” Crow said struck by the beauty of their green.
“Red?” She sounded afraid.
“No, green actually.”
“My eyes have always been green.”
“I know that,” Crow said giving her multi-colored hair a playful tug. “I look at them all the time, but now they glow. They shine a bright green. Just like mine glow red when I feed, yours are glowing green cause you’re feeding on this new spring. The other day they were silver-gold.”
“You were walking in the dew of the morning.”
Crow plucked a blade of grass from between his feet and broke it apart.
“You feed when you need to regenerate,” Zephyr said. She fluttered over to a leaf, and took a handful of dew hidden deep in the crook of the branch drinking it down. “You regenerate without killing anything. You’re able to take what you need and bring no harm to the one you take it from.”
Olive face broke into a wide grin. “Well that’s good cause I don’t want to kill anything.”
“I think it’s beautiful,” Crow said.
“You think everything about me is beautiful.”
“What?” She threw her arms around him and leapt into his lap.
He caught her, pulled her close to himself, and drank her in.
“There’s this one little freckle on your nose I’m not sure I like,” he teased. “Other than that, everything about you is beautiful.”
“One little freckle? I guess no one’s perfect.”
He bent down and kissed her. He kissed her in the spring filled glade, in the sunlight. He took in her beauty, purity, and love. He gave his strength to her and accepted the love she gave him in return.
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…
Olive walked through the back yard bathed in early morning sunlight. It played across her bare shoulders and tipped her hair with gold. Shade from the pecan tree dappled her arms. Her tattoos turned into living flowers and leaves waving in the sunshine. Olive’s toe rings sparkled as she stepped through the dew covered grass communing with the plants in the yard – greeting them, talking, and covering them in life and health. The more she gave to them the more her eyes glowed golden silver. At the time of the transfusion, with his third taste of Olive’s blood, Crow had been convinced his beautiful wife would never be kissed by the sun again. He’d never been so happy to be so wrong in his life. Their mirrored marriage tattoo glistened with newness on Olive’s shoulder in the center of a snowdrop: a large crow, the sun on his back, flying through a field of wild flowers. The bird cast a black shadow across the bright colors. While it nestled in a flower on Olive’s shoulder, it covered Crow’s pushing the list of names further down his arm. Crow rubbed the back of his hand where Olive’s servant tattoos marked him as hers. Not so long ago he planned to demand she remove them. Now, he not only carried them but also a marriage tattoo. Never would he have thought it possible. Never to such a woman. But, it would still take some time to get used to the titanium double-ring in gunmetal gray engraved with the words forever and always wrapped around his finger. The words served as a memorial to his parents, his vows to Olive, and as a sign of hope that what Manson had made evil would become good.
Jack sat, crossed legged, at Crow’s feet. His five skunks tumbled around him fighting with the kittens while Acorn watched from a safe distance. His wounded side, still bandaged, promised to heal completely. Zephyr stood on Jack’s head with fistfuls of his hair in each hand. Any time he went still she would pull and twist until he couldn’t stand it. He would violently shake his head trying to dislodge the Wiznit sending them both into a fit of giggles.
Everyone waited for Olive to be ready. She decided she needed to see the sun because spring rains were coming fast. Inside, Fortunatus slept the sleep of the forgiven, waiting to be woken when it was time to leave. Stan and Rose run down the street to get last-minute groceries. Colin, the Tracker, waited at the van enjoying a smoke with his coffee. Crow and Stan had prepared the van with a curtained off back so Olive and Fortunatus both had a safe place to escape the sun or the night. The Circus moved on to Sweet Grass waiting on a call from Crow to return. Neither Detective Blaine nor Officer Stark had made a second visit. Crow had a sneaking suspicion they would become involved. Things often ended the way they began in the world of magic, in the stories of the King.
“Crow?” Olive suddenly appeared in front of him. She couldn’t help grinning. She loved to shift. She loved the thrill of moving so fast.
“I wish I was a vampire so I could shift,” Jack said.
Zephyr gave his hair a swift tug.
“No you don’t, kid. Shifting is fun but drinking blood and living in the night isn’t.”
“Neither of you have to do that.”
“You wouldn’t be like us. You’d be like that vampire sleeping inside.”
Jack glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the sleeping Fortunatus. Crow saw a dangerous longing in the kid’s eyes.
“The first thing you’d probably eat is all your pets. When you first become a vampire you don’t think real clearly.”
A safe dread flooded Jack’s face.
“That’d be awful.”
“Be content, Jack,” Olive said. “You are what you’re meant to be.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” he asked in a pre-teen pout.
“A real strong kid who deals with things most grown men couldn’t process.”
“Really?” Jack said.
“She’s right. I don’t know many men who could have gone through what you did with your parents and in the Spirit Plane. You’re a real warrior in your heart and mind, Jack.”
Jack checked both their faces for lies, but found none. He grinned from ear to ear. Thank goodness. The last thing Crow needed was Jack crushing on vamps more than he already was. Maybe he could get that Trent Green he met at the Requiem to talk to the kid?
Crow leaned back looking up at the magical woman who had appeared before him. Olive ran her hands through his thick dark hair chasing chills down his spin. She leaned in and kissed him.
“Let’s go. You’re making me a nervous wreck sitting there trying to be patient.”
She didn’t have to tell him twice.
“Man, I love that woman,” he whispered to himself as he shifted into the house to get Fortunatus up and gather their things.
Crow stood in the rain. Night had closed in around them and now began to wane. The rain dripped on the hood and shoulders of his long black coat. He tugged the hood low leaving only the three-day-growth-of-beard on his chin visible. A pair of headlights passed over him. The rain captured in its beams turned gold for an instant before it faded into the night. Zephyr held her usual place on his shoulder, warm and dry. Across the street, Colin sat in a stairwell smoking a cigarette. He brought it to his lips and took a deep draw on it. The rain quickly dissipated the stream of smoke he exhaled.
Crow’s phone vibrated in his pocket.
“You ready for this, kid?” Stan asked without preamble.
“A gate opened shortly after y’all got back. I am not sure where it opened. Colin could tell us.”
“He could tell us North, East, South, or West, but he couldn’t tell us a street name.”
“Well, the Greeks, who seemed rather pissed off for some reason, came through bringing Manson’s pet back with them.”
“What else?” Crow prompted.
“No one has seen Orion since she opened the gate for you.”
“Orion can handle herself. She’s no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued.”
“Funny, Fortunatus said much the same thing. The Requiem called to tell him and I wanted to make sure you’d heard. Is he there yet?”
Crow glanced down the street at Fortunatus who had his best ‘innocent loiterer’ face on, which really just looked like, “Hi! I am trying really hard not to look like a hungry vampire.”
“Yeah. He just got back from scouting around.”
“You sure about that?” Stan asked.
“I am. I trust him.” Crow didn’t want to have this conversation again. “We’re going in soon, everything okay there?”
“Yeah. Olive’s much better at waiting then you are.”
Crow hung up the phone with a growl and signaled to Fortunatus. Shifting over to Colin, Crow took the cigarette from his fingers and indulged in a long draw before Colin even registered he was there.
“Shit.” Colin came to his feet backing up a few stairs. “I hate it when you do that. Can’t you two move like normal folk?”
“It is very dull,” Fortunatus said appearing suddenly.
“Very,” Crow echoed.
“So this is the first house?” Crow asked.
“Technically this is the last. This is the last known kill we have for Manson,” Colin said.
“The house on Poe Street is the first. The house on White is the second where he killed your parent’s friends….” Fortunatus searched the dark heavens for their names.
“West and JC,” Crow said barely kept his voice level.
“Yes, that is it. Only the young man….” Fortunatus stopped again.
“Guinness,” Crow growled fighting back the urge to punch Fortunatus in his smug face.
“Guinness was killed on Poe, and that little girl,” Fortunatus finished.
“You’re disgusting,” Crow said. “I carry their names permanently on my arm and you can’t even bother to remember them.”
Fortunatus held up his hands. “I did not intend flippancy or insult. One cherishes the names of ones friends. One does not cherish the name of unimportant people. You do not remember the name of each vampire you have staked or mercenary Manson has sent after you, do you?”
Crow started up the stairs before he could follow through on his desire to beat Fortunatus to a bloody pulp. Focus. This was it – the beginning of the end. Manson had tried and failed to drive Olive away from him. Instead Crow had gained a powerful witch as wife and ally. Instead of permanently hurting Crow, Manson got shot and separated from Dove for a few days. They had lost friends in the battle, but the friends who died had not faced tortured while Crow watched, helpless. The tide turned. Crow hunted Manson with new vigor, the vigor of life and love. He had reason beyond vengeance and pain. Manson would come to an end and face his damnation.
Colin cleared his throat.
Rain fell on Crow’s hood.
Tiny wiznit fingers grasped his ear. Zephyr’s hold tightened.
“What if it’s a trap,” she whispered in his ear.
“Then we’ll deal with it,” Crow said. His heart hammered against his ribs with the same worry despite his bravado. His feet refused to move.
“Sometime tonight, Dhampir,” the tracker said.
Crow took two more steps and came to a stop on the landing. The door stood before him. It would open to Manson’s last murder. To Robert Noles. The soul Crow totally ignored in a vision filled with pain. Even Dove’s possession by the demon had elicited pity from Crow. But not the man they would find in here.
“Yes, Crow. I do have to be back at the hotel before the sun is up. Olive and I are not like you, remember.”
“Forgiven or not, Fortunatus, you still get on my nerves.”
Crow grated his teeth and reached for the lack-luster knob on the door.
….in the beginning a vision was always dark….Crow floated over a dark fog.
“This is Manson,” a long forgotten voice whispered in Crow’s ear.
The dark fog rolled and boiled. Manson’s evilness, his collection of torn souls swirled around the tattered remains of his own.
Out of the blackness Manson’s voice rose. “What are you up to, Crow?”
Crow whipped himself out of the vision so fast he jerked back on the landing and lost his balance tripping over the top step. His arms pin-wheeled. Zephyr screeched in his ear. Fortunatus stopped his fall with one hand.
Crow scented but everything smelled like Manson. The door, the stairwell, the rooms behind the door, they all smelled of blood and Manson. He closed his eyes to stop the world from spinning.
“Manson just forced me into a vision. He’s trying to figure out what we’re doing,” Crow paused and then smiled. “He sounded concerned.”
“Suits the bastard right,” Fortunatus said.
“He’s not here. Not yet,” Colin said, also sniffing the wet night air.
Crow drew the Jade Gun and turned the knob. A magical field covered the open doorway. It slinked around the entire interior of the house.
“Nice,” Colin said with a whistle. “That’s a good field of protection. One of the best I’ve seen. We didn’t even notice it from the outside.”
“It’s very powerful. The Gray made it.” Zephyr cocked her head. She studied the field.
“That is not a good sign. Will it keep us out?” Fortunatus said.
“It’s not made to keep anything out, but to keep what’s already in there in. It’s a shield with a very specific marker. There’s something else here too, something pulsing,” Zephyr said.
Crow stepped through the door. A wall of slick energy passed over him. He shrugged his shoulders not wanting any of the Gray’s magic sticking to him. He shifted to the right and covered the room. Fortunatus shifted to the left and down.
“Clear,” Fortunatus said. “And by heaven, what is that wonderful smell?”
Crow gagged. The room reeked of meat, blood, pain, and suffering. Almost a week old, the smell had congealed into something nauseous. Dark shadows filled the room. All the blinds were closed. With nothing to see in the front room, Crow moved off to a door on his right and sensed Fortunatus do the same to the kitchen on their left. Colin came in through the field of protection.
He doubled over swearing and coughing.
“I’m waiting outside.”
“Why?” Fortunatus called from the kitchen.
“You’re disgusting,” Colin said backing out.
“Crow, come examine this,” Fortunatus said ignoring Colin.
Crow turned from another empty room to see a knife in Fortunatus’ hand covered with dried blood. Fortunatus bent over and sniffed it. Crow shifted over. The blood flaked off the blade of the knife.
“It was in the sink.”
“It’s his blood. Manson used it on Noles. I recognize it from the vision. This whole apartment reeks of his death.”
A sudden wave of dizziness swept through Crow. He clutched the dirty counter.
“What?” Zephyr and Fortunatus said together.
“Manson’s trying to get in my head. This is how he did it the first time. Mom thought she was the SoulReader, but she wasn’t. She was the echo. Manson’s the true SoulReader. He fed her what he wanted her to know, up until she made the link with the girl Manson killed.”
“I do remember, Crow.” Fortunatus said. He would not meet Crow’s gaze. “The real question is: are you keeping him out?”
“Right now, yes. I guess that since I’m the inherited echo, the SoulReading power is really small in me and he has less control….I hope.”
“Or Olive,” Zephyr said.
“You bear her mark not only on your hands and shoulder but also on both your back tattoos. You are intertwined more deeply than just being married. This may be providing you with some shielding from Manson’s power.”
“Whichever it is, just do not go spinning in circles on me at the very moment it gets violent,” Fortunatus said.
“I’ll do my best,” Crow said turning to the last door.
They stared at it. The smell, the horror had to be behind it, but who wanted to open that door? Crow stepped up and turned the knob. Death gushed from the room. Crow stepped back, lowered his head and pushed through the nightmare of Manson’s creativity. The inhuman thing still sat, slumped, in the chair. The disconnected IV rested beside it.
“Manson has gotten worse. Not just here, but over time,” Fortunatus said.
“Serial killers like him always do. He’s gotta increase the wattage of the high.”
Crow shifted all the way back outside through the oily shield. Could Manson sense someone passing through it?
“Time to get Olive.”
“It’s still dark….” Olive murmured from somewhere under a pile of pillows and blankets back in the hotel room.
“Yes, but the sun is rising,” Crow whispered over her.
He reached up and brushed back a strand of red and white hair. A giggle floated up along with two slender hands and pulled him down into the bed.
Crow stood outside Manson’s apartment again, Zephyr clutching his ear. Now, the sun shone through broken clouds, her rays visible in the foggy air. This time Olive stood by his side while Fortunatus hid from the light. He liked the change from the vampire to Olive. She was easier on the eyes and didn’t annoy him.
“It’s really bad,” Crow warned her, a sudden desire to protect her from the small back room rushed through him.
Olive nodded. She pressed her lips together, determined.
Ignoring the dizziness of Manson’s frequent attacks, Crow shifted up the stairs and opened the door into the almost empty apartment. It thrilled him to have Olive move as quickly as he did. He almost thanked Manson for the transfusion which caused her to be who she was now. Almost….two lives had been lost….almost.
Joy infused every corner, every flower, every stitch in the wedding. The gathering was small, the ceremony short. Sorrow edged the occasion, as it generally does with any true and full joy. Many gave their lives for this wedding to be possible. Many who were dear, and who should have been there, had not lived to see its happiness. But joy edged with sorrow only grows stronger, and their wedding untied rare and powerful magic. Strength built on strength.
Crow tossed and turned on the sofa, his teeth clenched. Emma hovered over him. A steady stream of sand trickled from her fist. Her silver hair hung in a sparkling sheet above him. Starlight and moonlight crept in the uncurtained windows etching the living room with ghostly gray light. It caught on Zephyr’s white wings where she sat on the curved back of the sofa. She kicked her feet waiting for Crow to settle. Stan, Rose, and Fortunatus’ watched from the bar nursing along various forms of caffeine or blood depending on their chemical makeup. Olive and Jack had gone to bed. Jack sent by Crow as the night grew late, and Olive to escape the darkness. She had borne the bite of a dhampir three times, but she was no vampire. When the sun sank in the west her powers waned. She grew weak and vulnerable. Only during the strong and pure light of day could she be out and about.
“The time change in the fall is gonna suck, and we might have to move further south,” Olive said with a laugh on the first night as her new self. Crow had to carry her to the safety of his father’s old room when the night sneaked in a window and burned her arm.
After discovering Crow’s third bite had not damned Olive to an undead existence, after their wedding, Crow remembered his last vision of Manson. It had gotten lost between demon attacks, LeVidal, the Requiem, and dealing with the Greeks. Emma offered to attempt to discover who Manson tormented by tying her dream-based magic in with the latent magic which brought Crow the visions. What they would do with that information had been Olive’s idea.
….this was different. Stuffed, packed into too small a space, unable to breathe in the darkness….in the beginning a vision was always dark….
Crow looked out through eyes which once were his, in a way still were, but not. These eyes had witnessed horrors, and had more to see, but they hadn’t seen Olive. Still feeling packed into too small a space, Crow rode a galloping horse through a sea of grass. The richly scented air meant one thing: the Spiritual Plane. Never in any vision had he been to the Spiritual Plane. This was new and different. New and different made Crow grouchy. Olive being the opposite of undead despite his third bite was one thing, but new types of visions were not. This was what happened when he let a witch mess with his powers.
The galloping horse tossed his neck and neighed a challenge to the wind. The wind accepted and off the stallion raced his herd following. Crow clung to his neck, a sudden thrill running through him. A forgotten regret of childhood surfaced. He had been a young man when he met Cry of the Storm burdened with death and nightmares. Crow had wished to race across the plains forever in a freedom found only in childhood. And here he was. His small hands tangled in the black mane. His short legs gripped the stallion’s sides. He bent low over Cry of the Storm’s back and lost himself in the wind and the race of the mighty stallion.
Cry lead his herd, his mare at his side, towards a low hill rising up out of the plains. The galloping horses split apart at the top passing a woman standing alone. Cry cut free and doubled back. He pawed the air stopping before her. Crow yelled waving his fist. He looked down . The woman. She gave a startled cry and ran towards him. Mom?
Crow leapt from Cry’s back and shifted right into her arms. Sophie swept him up and smothered him with kisses. Deep down inside, Crow thanked the vision that he had appeared as his child self. He had a hard time imagining his mother covering him with kisses if he were a grown man.
A glowing angel broke apart the family reunion. Cry of the Storm stood at the angel’s side, black beside white. Crow grew. He took a deep breath glad to be back to his normal size and in his normal skin. He rubbed his grizzled chin which had replaced the weak chin of childhood. Sophie studied each of his tattoos with a flush of motherly pride. Crow had never seen her like this. She glowed. This was a vision of the past….had to be. She had told him once that she knew he would grow up to be a powerful man and not die at Manson’s hand. This vision must be how she knew. By this time some of her friends must have already died, but Benjamin still lived. Crow had never seen her while she still had the connection to his father. Her gray eyes glowed and a faint smile played around her lips looking ready to leap up at any moment. So different from the Sophie he knew. So young. Loved and loving.
“Son?” she said as she walked around him. “I’m guessing I’ll never see you grown or there wouldn’t be a need for this vision.”
Tears pricked Crow’ eyes. “No, Mom, you never see me like this.” God, how do you tell someone that they are going to lose everything and suffer a horrible death? How do you look at them knowing what they are about to endure?
Sophie shook her head as if the future wasn’t important.
“I don’t know many of your tattoos, but they speak of courage and strange friendship. What’s this one?”
What? Sophie laid her hand on his arm. At that moment Crow realized he was the one who would have to tell her. He would have to tell her Benj would die. She didn’t know this tattoo, this first of his tattoos other than his inheritance and his name. A chill ran down his arm as she traced the tattoo with her finger. Crow took her hand and said the words he had read so many times, “I love you for always and miss you forever.”
Something horrible filled Sophie’s eyes as they move up to the list of names longer now than it was back then. Raw anger and sorrow course through Crow. Anger at Manson for this woman he would crush, sorrow because Crow knew how much of life Sophie would spend alone.
“No, no!” Sophie screamed. She dropped to the ground rocking back and forth. Crow bent down over her. He gathered her in his arms.
“Mom, I don’t know how this happened, me being here, seeing you….this isn’t what was supposed to happen. But this is our family hope.”
Crow pointed at the words under the list of those who had died.
Sophie raised her head. Crow saw love in her eyes – a great love. He took her hand and wrapped it around his right shoulder.
“Don’t you ever, ever forget this,” Sophie said. She leaned in and kissed his forehead. Everything faded to gray….
Crow opened his eyes. Sorrow, emptiness, loss, love – they all twisted deep within him. Zephyr stroked his arm with a small spotted hand. He had seen his mother as the young woman in love with a man. He had seen his mother with hope for a family still in her heart. She still believed Manson wouldn’t take everything. And Crow was the one who told her otherwise. He started to swear and stopped. A sudden surge of thankfulness welled up inside him like a clear bubble of icy water from the depths of the earth. Who better to tell and hold his mom than him? While he had to watch the hope die in her eyes, hadn’t he seen a new, dangerously burning, desperately clinging hope take its place? Hadn’t he been able to tell her of the hope she left him – I love you for always and miss you forever? The thankfulness might seem out of place, but struggling up, it was there.
“It didn’t work,” Emma said.
“I had a vision of my Mom,” Crow whispered. He wrapped his arm across his eyes not wanting to share what he had seen with Emma. He didn’t want to expound on it. This vision didn’t belong to Emma. It belonged to him. Maybe Stan could claim some rights to it. But not Emma. She didn’t respond, just stood there over him. Silent for so long, Crow lifted his arm to check on her. A puzzled look furrowed her brows and tears swam in her eyes.
“I knew that didn’t feel right,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s try again, Crow, and this time concentrate.”
He covered his face with his arm again.
“I am concentrating, witch,” he said, growling under his breath. “Kinda hard when you bring up things like that.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Emma said, trying to hide the catch in her throat. “I’m not on Manson’s wanted list and I could go home right now. I think marriage made your manners regress.”
Crow smiled. “I apologize. May we continue?”
“That’s better. Now close your eyes and grasp at the last Manson vision you had.”
He did as Emma instructed. Zephyr giggled quietly at him. He flipped her off and she punched his shoulder.
“Concentrate please,” Emma said.
Crow sighed and thought back to the field in the Spirit Plane. Before the demons attacked and Akilina rescued them, Crow had had a vision. He reached back for the soul of the man Manson tortured. A glimmer appeared in the darkness behind his eyes. It flickered off a ways. Crow focused on it. It grew in size but not in brilliance until it swallowed him. Once again, Crow saw the room and the man who Manson had tortured to a point no longer human. Instead of looking to Manson, Crow focused on the man. Guilt pricked at Crow. He had not given this man a second thought in the original vision. Crow had not cared one bit about this human driven insane with pain just like Sophie. Ashamed, he vowed never to let himself be indifferent towards Manson’s victims again. He had allowed his hate and anger at Manson, his hate and anger at Benj, to scour him of all that the SoulReading powers were meant for. They were designed to hold torn souls while they were dying. Had he once held a soul? Sophie held Guinness, West and JC while they died. Had Crow even once tried to hold a soul. Why the hell had Olive loved such a worthless man like him? He didn’t know why she did, but he knew she loved him. He didn’t deserve it, but he was glad to have it and promised to treasure that love to the end of his days.
Following his mother’s training, the training he received in the womb, Crow plunged into the man’s soul. It was torn, destroyed, and dark.
“It’s just an echo. This isn’t the real vision.”
He gathered all the bloody parts of the soul into himself.
The echo faded….
Crow opened his eyes. His head throbbed. He sat up on the sofa. The room spun around him. He shifted to the kitchen trash can throwing up all his dinner.
“Boy, does that bring back memories,” Stan said. “Sophie was always throwing up after Readings.”
Crow glanced up at Stan. What were the chances of Stan bringing Sophie up just after he had a vision about her? Crow wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, spit into the trash can, and went to the fridge for a dark beer.
“Did she ever tell you about having a vision of me?” Crow asked.
He twisted off the cap and tossed it in the trashcan trying to keep his voice level.
“No. What do you mean?”
Emma and Zephyr joined them at the bar.
“I had a vision of her, in the Spiritual Plane. Just now,” Crow said taking a long drink out of the bottle. The coffee and chocolate aftertaste of the dark stout washed away the sharp taste of vomit from his mouth.
“I’ll have to take down this vision of yours,” Emma said before Stan could respond. “I should have someone take down the whole history of your family. I’ve never seen a bloodline filled with so many new and strange magical lines. Even your mother shouldn’t have been. An echo who gains control? Your father a saved vampire? And you inherited from them both? It’s all unheard of.”
Rose, sitting quietly next to Stan, examined him through her mirror with a frown.
“But, what we’d really like to hear, is if you found out who that man was,” Crow said.
Why had he brought up his family? He should have waited and asked Stan when they were alone. He knew better than to talk about it with anyone other than Stan or Olive. No one else understood the anguish of all that had happened. How could they?
“Did you see her before I betrayed them?” Fortunatus asked piercing him with ice-blue eyes.
“I think so.”
“You should have told her not to trust me.”
“I don’t think she did.”
“I never did,” Stan said. “I still don’t.”
“You were a child unsure he believed anything going on around him. It was natural for you not to trust me. You were afraid I might take you for my dinner,” Fortunatus said with a smile.
“Oh, yeah. That makes me feel much better, vampire. Just you remember I’m not a child anymore, and it’s still natural for me to distrust you.”
“Did you get the information, Emma?” Crow stopped their conversation before it could go further.
“Yes, I think I did. I believe I can give you the name of the man and with Olive and the Tracker you should be able to locate his body, or at least the murder sight. Bear with me one moment.”
Emma moved off to one of the empty desks. She pulled a leaf plucked from a dying maple, and a vial of water from a new spring out of a pouch in her dress’ pocket. Rose joined her. They set the leaf on the gilded mirror and splashed it with the drop of the water. Emma sang over it. Zephyr fluttered over to them adding her own magic to the mix.
Stepping into the hall like a creature too beautiful to be from this world, Olive paused and glanced pointedly at the dark windows. Crow shifted around the room snapping the curtains closed so she could come into the kitchen. Olive wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head on his. Crow slipped his arm around her waist. Did she looked so beautiful to anyone else? Maybe she looked ugly, like Emma did when she took on the form of the old crone? He knew she didn’t, she might look more normal to others, but Olive would never be ugly. But, maybe only to Crow she glowed.
“Why aren’t you asleep?”
“I can’t sleep without you, so I came out to see if you found anything yet.”
“While an enduring thought, please do not express it again in our presence,” Fortunatus said.
Shock filled the old lines of Stan’s face and he choked on his coffee.
“I’d like to second that motion,” he said, barely keeping a straight face.
Olive crinkled her nose at both of them. “Grow up, you two!
Jack came into the room, his pajamas all wrinkled.
“You’re having a meeting without me?” he said blinking back sleep in the bright light.
The kittens and skunks followed in his wake as he hurried up to the bar. Acorn fluttered down the hall and landed on his shoulder.
“We would not dream of it, Jack,” Fortunatus said. He pulled out the last barstool for the kid.
“What?” Crow looked over at his friend.
“It’s been too many years since all the stools around this bar were filled. And how long since a family was here?”
“I think the family now is stranger then it was then,” Crow said.
“Yeah, it is.” Stan shook his head. ” But no less a family.”
“Therein lays y’all’s power,” Zephyr said flying above Emma and Rose’s heads. “Crow once said Manson could not understand the marriage between Benjamin and Sophie and he was right. Manson only understands the magic and power to hurt. Y’all have the power of love, belonging, joy, hope, and faith. With this you can overcome him.”
Emma nodded. “I have the name of the man he killed. Go there and see what happens. Begin here at the end and unravel Manson’s power all the way back to the beginning.”
“Let’s go everyone,” Stan said. “I’ll call Colin.”
“Crow,” Emma called him over as everyone disperse.
Crow and Olive, hand in hand, approached the witch.
“I’ll be going now. I have to find the LoreHolder and begin to document what has happened. Wen will stay here with the Circus. She will be able to help you find the others if you need it.”
Crow took her offered hand and bowed over it.
“My Father was fortunate to have you as his ally. Thank you for honoring that friendship with me.”
“Very good Crow,” Emma laughed. “That was much better than your snarling. The man’s name was Robert Noles and he lived in Chesterfield.”
Olive threw her arms around the witch. They whispered together for a moment. Zephyr fluttered over and Emma held out her hand. Sitting on it, Zephyr glowed momentarily. Emma sprinkled her with a bit of snow which fell at midnight on Christmas Eve. It melted on Zephyr’s spotted upturned face.
Having said her goodbyes, Emma took a small handful of mud from her pouch. She spoke the words of changing taking on the hunched form of the crone. She went to the front door as she had so long ago, blessed it, and disappeared into the night.
“I hope my fate’s better than my Father’s when she left,” Crow whispered.
The Door to the Spirit Plane slammed shut behind them. Crow hit the ground. He inhaled cool night air trying so hard to be human. Any little bit at this point helped. Any little bit preserved that one drop of blood for Olive. He took another deep breath and inhaled a mouthful of dirt. Crow coughed and gagged. Pain shot through his arm and around his chest. Broken ribs stabbed at skin and muscle as they expanded and contracted. Crow got his knees under him with a groan. Fortunatus dropped down next to him and set Jack, now a small boy, gently on the ground. Crow wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and across his watering eyes. He grabbed Fortunatus’ shoulder. The smells and sounds of a sleeping circus – stale popcorn, stale sweat, soft breathing – washed over them.
“We made it,” Crow said.
“You reek of bodily injuries. May I suggest you do not take on a flying tree again.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” Crow said through gritted teeth as his body started the work of healing. He suddenly wished he had a way to stop it. He could take the pain for a little longer if it meant guaranteeing she was his again. But he could no more stop his body from healing than he could make Jack’s start healing.
“We left them,” Jack moaned.
“We had no choice,” Crow growled. “They wanted to give us a chance and we had to take it.”
“Crow, we need to get Jack to a doctor,” Zephyr said. She fluttered off his shoulder and took up her post on the chest of the boy.
A loud click broke the night silencing the nightly insects. Bright lights surrounded them. Relief, almost painful itself, broke over Crow. They were here. All of them. He didn’t have to go hunt down Jones or Stan. He didn’t have to stumble through camp banging on doors. They had been waiting for them. Breaking from the lights like the magical being she was, Olive knelt on the ground in front of Crow. Tears streaked down her face. She held up trembling hands not daring to touch him.
Crow lunged for her. He cupped her face – the face he loved more than any other – in his hands and kissed her. He poured all the pain, anguish, and sadness of their journey into each kiss. A deep well of undeniable gratitude filled up inside him. Never, he swore in his heart, would he take for granted the simple magic of being able to touch this woman, feel her soft skin, taste her sweet lips, or pull her close to himself. Olive laughed. If the first babies laugh created fairies, this laugh born on the back of loneliness, sadness, and fear created something far stronger, far deeper, and more mysterious. It brought hope to life. It filled Crow up. Olive wrapped her arms around him. She pressed her face to his. Hope hurt more than the broken ribs and elbow, yet he didn’t want to be healed. Tears ran tracks through the dirt and dust on his face. Olive wiped them away one by one.
“Why are you crying, Crow?”
He shook his head and kissed her again his tears wetting her face.
Time, time, time ticked in Crow’s mind. She wasn’t healed yet. If Crow didn’t hurry this would be the last time he kissed her, not one of many. He stood up pulling Olive up with him. The whole circus stood around them, big and tall, short, lithe, and silly. Crow tucked his broken arm around his ribs and wrapped the other around Olive’s slim shoulders unwilling to lose physical contact with her. Fortunatus rose to his feet gathering Jack.
“Where is my son?” a giant woman asked.
Guilt flooded Crow. He almost hung his head, but hope wouldn’t be so easily defeated. Instead, he raised his eyes to the giantess and her husband. Around them, as usual, huddled all the little people. The families of the men he had to leave behind looked at him with fearful, glistening eyes. They had heard the Door shut. They saw only Crow, Fortunatus, Jack, and Zephyr. They knew what that meant, but they needed to hear it. They needed the man who led their sons away to die to tell them their sons were dead.
“I’m sorry. I’m very and truly sorry. They….they….” What could he say?
Mrs. Johnson fell to the ground with a broken sob. Crow grunted as if he’d been kicked. A small hand yanked on his shirt sleeve.
Crow blinked. He couldn’t say anything. They had given everything so he had a chance to save Olive.
“They died to save us,” Fortunatus said. “They died to save us….” his voice trailed off into a whisper.
“BW8 was as big as Johnson,” Jack said turning his head down to the little man. “He was as big as Johnson over there.”
The little man smiled, patted Jack’s arm, and returned to the group huddled around Mrs. Johnson.
The lights ran together. Crow drifted away. His body forced him to focus on healing. It wanted all the magic to knit bones and organs back together. Crow snapped back up. Stan braced him, keeping him on his feet. Wen, Emma, and Rose stepped from the crowd to join them.
“Fortunatus?” Crow grabbed at the vampire. “There are a few hours left till daylight. Get Jack to a doctor. Stan, I need to do the transfusion now or it will be too late.”
“I’ll go with them, keep them out of trouble,” Zephyr said.
Stan hauled Crow to an RV. It was the same one which started the whole crazy circus adventure. The same one where Crow first met Johnson and BW8. A burning candle sat on the window sill, and Crow had come home. Stan dragged him up the stairs. Sweat broke out all over Crow’s skin. He had never fought against a healing in his life. He couldn’t stop it, but he tried to slow it down. Please wait. Stan laid him in the bed. Olive climbed in after him and laid next to him. Crow rolled up on his good elbow and ran his hand over her face.
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes. A little.”
Not thinking, just doing, Crow bent his head down to her neck and bit her. Warm blood coursed from the wound over his lips and filled his mouth. Tiny pinpricks of power stabbed at him. His ribs and elbow protested the increase in the pain communicated to the nerves in his body. But, the night and the clouds of Caroline still in his blood protected him. Olive’s blood tried and tried to hurt him. It tried to burn him from the inside out with all the power of the sun. Caroline’s cool darkness sheltered him. Olive’s blood filled him. His ribs healed, no longer waiting. His elbow re-knit. Her blood – sweet, magical, and warm – called to him. Forget who you are, it whispered. Forget what you are, it sang. Give into the lust of vampires. Become the night which shelters you.
Here was a witch, the witch, offering all of her life to him. Drink deep. Olive’s heart beat in his head and her body beneath him radiated heat. Everything about her screamed life, magic, power. The blood-wine of her being flushed Crow. But, he held back. He took her in. He emptied her, but he kept the lust caged. This might be a witch. This might be the witch freely offering herself to him, but this was his Olive. This was his Olive and he wanted her, all of her – alive, whole, and untainted by his lust.
Olive’s heart slowed. Her breathing stopped. Her flesh went cold.
Crow pulled away.
She lay dead on the bed. Not even one tiny drop of blood trickled from the bites on her neck.
“Olive, wake up! Please!”
“Wait, Dhampir, wait,” Emma whispered.
Crow rocked back.
He clutched her hand, able to touch it even though all of Caroline’s blood was gone from his veins. It was cold and lifeless. His Olive gone. He would rather have an alive Olive he couldn’t touch, than one dead by his own hand.
“It won’t, it’s not working….Oh God! I killed her.”
Crow leapt to his feet in horror. The morning sun of a new dawn blinded him as it peeked in through the window. Without stopping to think, Crow grabbed Olive up and carried her outside. He shifted to an opening in the jumbled RVs. The sun marked him with brilliant light. All that was vampire inside him hid away. Crow dropped to his knees, and held up his one love, the witch of seasons. He offered her up the sun, glorious and bright. He offered her to the antithesis of all that was darkness and vampiric.
Olive’s whole body went rigid. It arched in Crow’s arm. She opened her mouth and screamed.
The sun rose past them.
Crow brought Olive down to himself. He gathered her close to his body. Her eyes were shut, and her face pale but not deathly so. Crow ran his hands through her multi-colored hair.
Two emerald-green eyes opened….
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…
“The future does not belong to the fainthearted, but to the brave.” – Ronald Reagan
(I apologize for the shortness of this post, but this is the ending of the second part of the book. Next week, we will begin part three.)
Crow jogged down the right passage, conserving his vampire powers. He didn’t know how much time he had left. He didn’t know how much power he had left. Was it enough? Could he still save Olive? He had too. If he didn’t than it had all been in vain. Bain’s death, Caroline’s willingness to act as the filter for his blood, even being tortured by the Greeks – all of it worthless if Olive wasn’t healed. The question rolled over and over in his mind in cadence with his footfalls echoing down the long white-washed hall. Could he still save Olive? Could he still save Olive? Each time the question looped he had less of an answer.
His nose led him towards Johnson and BW8. The trail turned left and then left again. The smell of the circus – hay, fried food, face paint, and a sense of something hidden – clung to the hallway. It gathered at a locked cell with a bored vampire lounging in front of it. The undead shifted to his feet catching a whiff of Crow. Crow slammed into him with his shoulder pinning him against the white wall.
“Crow!” Johnson’s bass voice echoed up and down the hall.
The vampire grabbed Crow around the neck with both hands crushing his windpipe, confused by Crow’s mixed up scent. Crow stopped breathing. His vampire powers surged.
“You guessed wrong,” he said.
The vampire’s eyes widened for a moment. Crow drove Bain’s knife up through his sternum and into his heart. His bright eyes dulled. His skin shriveled. Crow yanked the knife from the vampire’s desiccated chest, watched the body slip to the floor, and turn to ash. Returning it to his jeans, he nudged the pile of empty clothing with his toe turning over the belt the vampire wore. A key jangled against the gears of the specialized gun he never had a chance to draw. Crow shook it free from the cool dust and opened the cell holding his friends.
“We have to hurry. Olive’s time is running out and I don’t think the Five will welcome us back any time soon to try again.”
Johnson bent over BW8.
“What happened?” Crow ask smelling blood. Too much blood.
“In the attack, I was knocked out and you were wasted. He did what he could to protect us.”
“Shut up, you’re embarrassing me,” BW8 coughed. Crow bent over him. Three bullet wounds peppered his large chest. Johnson had done his best to patch him up with his shirt, but it wasn’t enough.
“We need to get him through the Door and to a doctor.”
Crow started to pick BW8 up, but Johnson stopped him with a large hand on his shoulder.
“Let me carry him. You need to be free to fight.”
Johnson gently picked up his friend and turned, ready to go. Tears sparkled in the large man’s eyes. Guilt washed over Crow. BW8 coughed again and blood welled up on his lips, ruby-red in the shadowed cell.
“I wish I was a tiny bird,” BW8 said with a quickly fading smile.
“Don’t worry, you don’t weigh a thing,” Johnson said
He looked down at Crow.
“I’m sorry,” Crow whispered. Fortunatus’ words about what happened to his friends rang in his ears.
“Don’t be. Not your fault.” BW8 coughed again.
“Let’s hurry,” Johnson said.
Heading up the white tunnel, clinically bare but filled with the lingering scent of blood, the lingering screams of torture, Crow saw Fortunatus. He cradled one arm. Jack, still a large wolf, waited beside the vampire with Zephyr between his ears. A large oak door broke the white monotony behind them.
“What happened?” Crow and Fortunatus both said at once.
“Zephyr, do what you can for BW8,” Crow said. He raised an eyebrow in question at Fortunatus.
“I forgot to think of a way to convince them I was sent by you to free them. I dispatched that excuse for a vampire, post-haste, and by the way it is very disconcerting to slay your own kind and watch them turn into little piles of ash….”
“Zephyr made something happen to my teeth and when I bit him it hurt really bad. Him, not me,” Jack interrupted.
“They put me in a cage!” Zephyr yelled from where she hovered over BW8.
“I didn’t know. It’s my fault his wounds are taking longer to heal, isn’t it?” Jack said. He hung his head and his large ears drooped.
“He is weaker now after the chair and Zephyr blessed your teeth with light.”
Fortunatus growled at her bearing his fangs.
“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t know,” she said with a shrug. “Crow, we better get BW8 out of here quick. He’s hurt bad and there isn’t much any of us can do.”
“Everyone step back,” Crow said. He glanced at Fortunatus who gave him a quick nod. They stood on either side of the door and listened, scenting the air.
“What are we waiting for?” Crow shrugged and kicked in the door.
A table flew towards them. Blood and china smashed across Crow and Fortunatus. Adonis, Kalogeros, and Xanthus raised their guns and fired. Crow shifted up the wall and drew the gun from his belt with one hand while he threw Bain’s knife with the other. Fortunatus shifted away from Crow, dropped to his knees, and rolled to the left under the wall of bullets. He caught a goblet from the flung table, downed its bloody contents in one swallow, and came to a stop right against their packs.
“Fortune smiles upon me,” Fortunatus said.
He pulled two shotguns from someone’s pack and fluidly came to his feet.
Crow heard the blasts of the shotguns as Bain’s knife blossomed in Kalogeros’ shoulder. Odds evened as Fortunatus laid down cover fire. The bullets might not kill the Greeks but they would hurt as they tore flesh apart and the healings followed. Light from the chandelier overhead caught the barrel of Kalogeros’ gun. It glinted green. Crow swore. The vampire had the Jade Gun. He glanced around the room taking in the over-stuffed furniture, the long dark curtains and the silver candlesticks illuminated by well hidden spot lights. A discarded cadaver in the corner still oozed small amounts of blood. Crow scooped it up, caught the scent of drugs, and hurled it at Kalogeros. He shifted swiftly after the flying body. It knocked into the old vampire. Crow was on him in an instant prying the Jade Gun from his grasp. Kalogeros held on. Crow wrenched Bain’s knife from his shoulder, swung it down in a clean arch, and severed Kalogeros hand. The vampire screamed. Xanthus and Adonis turned their guns on Crow. Fortunatus fired his shotgun, low and centered. Xanthus flew back with the force of the buckshot at close range. Crow raised the Jade gun and fired the three remaining shots into Adonis.
“Crow!” Fortunatus yelled tossing him a bag of ammo.
Ejecting the empty magazine, Crow inserted another one. He brought the gun up and fired at Xanthus who shifted towards him from the pile of rubble his crash had caused. The bullets hit home. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Ignoring them, Xanthus raised his hand driving a black blade down towards Crow. Crow raised his arm to shield his face. Jack lunged in front of him. The blade disappeared all the way up to the hilt in Jack’s side. Jack tumbled to the floor his legs giving out beneath him. He whimpered. Pain and fear filled his golden eyes.
Crow grabbed Xanthus and hurled him across the room into Kalogeros who cradled his handless arm.
“Fort!” Crow yelled.
Fortunatus shifted to Crow. They stood back to back over Jack’s bleeding body, guns aimed out. Fortunatus fed shells into his shotgun and Crow switched to a full magazine. The three Greeks found their feet and spread out surrounding them.
“Dhampir, you have missed the most critical of questions,” Xanthus said.
“Just how long have you been here?” Kalogeros hissed.
“How much time do you have left to save her?” Adonis said.
Crow flinched. Other than Kalogeros’ missing hand, which wasn’t even bleeding, the Greeks were hardly harmed. Their eye’s glowed red from the blood they had drunk. The wounds from the Jade Gun, Bain’s knife, and Fortunatus’ twin shotguns healed. Jack was down. Crow’s time ran out. The 24hours were drastically shortened by the amount of healing and fighting he had had to do. This was it. He had to focus on getting them all out alive. Olive would understand. Alive meant they could try again….but this time Crow would come alone. He wouldn’t risk anyone else hurt and dying.
A sudden, brilliant light filled the room – a holy light. Incandescent feathers showered down around them.
“Akilina,” Fortunatus whispered in wonder.
“Go!” The angel dropped between them and the Greeks. She spread her wings driving the Greeks together. Pain licked up Crow’s skin. He stumbled back. Screams filled the room as the three undead tried to get away from the blinding, burning sun-come-to-earth which was Akilina.
“Go! I’ll keep them back. The Door is in Orion’s courtyard,” Akilina said.
“Get Jack,” Crow grabbed extra ammo, but left their packs. “Johnson!”
Johnson charged into the room with BW8 and Zephyr who fluttered to Crow’s shoulder. Crow pointed the way out. Fortunatus hesitated. He looked at the angel, so beautiful. So pure.
“Go Fortunatus!” the angel said her gaze lingering on his pale face.
The vampire shifted after Johnson and the others. Behind Akilina, Kalogeros opened a Door to the Material Plane.
“No. Doors can’t be opened here,” Akilina said holding out her hand to stop them.
“Oh yes, we have the Five’s permission.” Adonis said. “But you,” he pointed at Crow, “do not.”
Dread and anger commingled in Crow’s soul as clawed hands came into view from the other side of the Door. The demon-witch Dove crouched down and looked through too big to enter. Manson stood behind her. She chanted. Her fingers splayed around a splinter of wood. The Door grew. She stepped through ignoring the chaos around her and widened the Door for her master.
“Run!” Akilina yelled. “You can’t defeat her on this plain, Dhampir! Run!”
Johnson with BW8, and Fortunatus with Jack rushed down the gilded, golden hall towards the front door. Crow hesitated. He might just have a shot, a shot at Manson. He raised the Jade Gun and fired.
The blessed silver bullet flew past the angel with wings spread wide, past the Greeks scrambling away from her holiness, and past Dove flexing her claws and muttering the Door opening spell. The bullet flew through the opening Door and buried itself in Manson’s shoulder. He stumbled back with a yelp distracting Dove who lost the flow of the spell. The Door slammed shut with Manson in reality and Dove in the Spirit Plane.
Crow ran hoping he bought them some time. It would take them only minutes to reconnect with Manson, but that was enough time to get a lead.
“Follow me!” he yelled flying out the front door of the Greeks’ house and skittering down the steps to the cobblestone streets. Crow spun in a big circle oriented himself. He scenting for the one smell he used to know well. There. Orion. He headed down one lane and then another moving constantly closer to her home. He kept his pace as fast as he could without losing Johnson. Time. It slipped through his fingers like BW8 and Jack’s blood. He had resigned himself to not rescuing Olive, but Akilina had given him hope. Hope he could make it in time. Hope he could make it with everyone alive. Olive’s only chance. He could do it. Taking a hard right turn out an ally, Crow led them out into a tree-lined, lamp-lit lane. Blue flames danced in the lamps and a low fog hugged the grassy mediums. They were almost there. Almost there.
A monstrous ripping sounded behind them. Crow stopped waving the others on past him. Fortunatus with Jack came first. Johnson hurried after him BW8 in his arms. A tree, torn up by its roots, flew towards them, Johnson right in its path.
Crow hurled himself at the giant. He leapt in the air to stop the tree. It struck him full in the chest crushing his ribs. Crow dropped to the road shattering one elbow. With his good hand and still high on magical blood, he lifted the tree and hurled it back at Dove as she charged towards them down the street. It struck her across the knees. She grunted stumbling.
Snatching Johnson by the arm, Crow followed after Fortunatus hurrying his friends. Fortunatus stopped running waiting for them to catch up. Not far beyond him, just down the way, Crow could see Orion’s house. They were so close.
Dove untangled herself from the tree and raced after them. She closed the distance between them with three great leaping steps. Behind her shifted the city guard, LeVidal’s Watch. Crow swore. The Watch? The vampires shifted right towards them. Lamp light caught on their gleaming buttons and blood-red jackets.
“We are bringing the whole Watch down on Orion,” Fortunatus yelled. “We will never make it. We cannot fight all of them.”
Crow glanced around, hopelessly. The small army of uniformed vampires and Dove where almost on them while Orion and her gate waited further behind him.
“Go!” Johnson said. “Go, Crow. You can make it if you move like a vampire.”
Johnson grabbed the shotguns from Fortunatus in one meaty hand and passed them to BW8.
Before Crow could protest, Johnson flung BW8 at the Watch. Flying, spinning through the air, BW8 fired the shotgun again and again until he plummeted into them. His dead body scattered them like bowling pins. As his friend flew through the air, Johnson charged Dove with his bare hands. Crow watched in horror as his two friends sacrificed themselves. He shifted his weight to his toes prepared to charge after them. Fortunatus grabbed his arm.
“We have to get to the gate. Olive needs you.”
Screaming in frustration, Crow turned from his dying friends and shifted down the street besides Fortunatus. His skin burned. The list of those who died at Manson’s hand itched and ached. He didn’t have to look to see that the list had been added to. Anger boiled inside him. Manson had put two more names on the list. Two more. Good men. Crow wished his bullet had blown Manson to hell.
They shifted over the gate and into the courtyard of Orion’s house. A silver Door opened beckoning them, the nighttime of reality visible on the other side.
“Hurry Crow!” Orion said. She held a silver key in her hand with a raven carved on its front. Crow stopped beside her.
“Thank you,” he said not knowing what more he could say.
“Go you fool. Save your love.”
Crow turned to go, but she stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Standing on her tip-toes, she kissed his cheek.
“Do not forget me! Now go!”
Crow plunged through the Door, Fortunatus behind him.