The Stuff of Nightmares

From the very beginning, we were there in the places where they slept, in cribs and cradles, in the small beds, and over time, the hospital units. And sometimes, when we were simply overpowered, too weak to stop the onslaught, they buried us, or abandoned us, or tore us apart.

For eons, we stared into to the glowing, malevolent orbs of the nether world. We saw the claws on long fingers slinking around the corners. We felt on the hairs of our fur the change in temperature, sensed the odors, felt the power, and sometimes discerned the intent, whether warning or slaughter.

From those close to us, we bent inside the suffocating hugs of frightened arms, we endured the clutching nails, the bites that muffled screams and crying, the sweats, the night cries, the restlessness, and the tears, We took them, and sometimes the parents would come, and sometimes they wouldn’t, and sometimes, more often than not, were the cause.

The stuffing within us took it all those things and absorbed it for a time, and for a time the monsters were silenced, driven out, and sometimes even killed.

But when they outgrew us, some replaced the monsters we slew with others of their own making, and we were placed on shelves, in trunks, in boxes in garages, donated, ripped apart, or sealed up in our own tombs, abandoned and forgotten.

We were left to heal as their arrogance, pride, denial, and health were buffeted and defeated by the monsters of their own making, and we could no longer help.

The stuffing would yellow from the detritus of life, and grow brittle and knotty, and moths would feed as the fur corrupted.

We are in the landfills, the parks, the streets, the trains and buses, and the side of the road.

The things we shield and block fight to get out, but most we take with us. We expect no thanks, for there is no more belief in the world we battle.

But for as long as we are here, the stuff of nightmares will be spun into the clouds of pleasant dreams, and innocence preserved.

The Passing: Where All Roads Lead (Chapter 23)

Tyrel stayed within shouting distance, but the tension between him and Zephyr might as well have been manacles, one for each of them.

I grew frustrated at the constant looks of trepidation, hate, fear, and disrespect they were trading. Zephyr had actually cursed, not a few times, and that made Tyrel even more suspicious and hostile.

“Are the two of you going to be this paranoid the entire trip?”

Tyrel made a face at me that was supposed to be stern, but he looked so forlorn instead that I laughed, which made him blush and smirk at himself. It released some of the tension.

In the end, it didn’t matter how he behaved, we had to travel together for a goodly distance yet, and to do that without leaving possibly leaving each others’ bodies on the side of the road, we had to trust each other.

Perhaps it was Tyrel’s suspicious nature that allowed my seed of doubt about the Cancelers’ motives to take root.

There was a lot to be done, and we’d have to come up with a plan for accomplishing two seemingly impossible things. At the very least was the question of which one to do first. I was thinking of drawing out the Traitors Guild by dealing with the Cancelers first; they’d think they had an ally, so they’d be more likely to re-emerge and reveal themselves. Then we’d turn our attention to them, and I realized that would be Tyrel’s turn to wonder about me.

I wondered about me too.

The other unknown was Zephyr; he was old, and large even for a raven, so he knew how to keep himself alive. Whether or not he’d be content as a storage space for Abdiel or want to intervene was the question on his part. Sometimes familiars picked up residual magic just by being around it for so long.

And if Gran was able to send him to me through the spirit world, I had no idea what she told him.

We’d have that conversation when we made camp for the night; I needed to know if he had any knowledge of the Cancelers, and if he could help us stop them, since he said he was linked more to Abdiel than me.

Stopping to rest and eat, Tyrel and I discussed finding a faster way to travel, that neither of us was fond of the work required by horses, but that didn’t mean we were open to riding other things either.

I told him my idea of engaging the Cancelers first. He thought they were the more dangerous enemy, and suggested we seek to root out the Guild members instead.

“But the Cancelers are mostly centered in one location,” I countered. “We don’t know anything about the Guild, like how many, or the amount of power they have. It would be easier if they thought someone was fighting the Cancelers on their behalf.”

He was reluctant to agree with that, but he finally did.

So calloused, weary feet would have to do for now, but considering the sketchy plans we generalized against a backdrop of daunting details, against the scope of our missions, it hardly seemed worth it.

It would also turn out to be the least of our worries.

 

The Passing: Present Company Accepted (Chapter 22)

The day was going to be sunny and warm, and Tyrel and I maintained a less-than-strained cordial silence as we walked toward the city of the Cancelers’ stronghold. Tyrel still hadn’t told me its name, and out of respect for his thoughts on the idea that those who’d raised him were using magic for their own ends and had to be stopped, I left him to turn them over without pressing him.

Abdiel and his growing horde of dark spirits had taken the raven’s body, and it gave the most ear piercing, soul wrenching call somewhere between a squawk and a scream, its body puffing from the displacement until it looked like it was about to pop, the feathers all but standing on end.

It was unpleasant to see, and even more so to hear, but the pain in my shoulder as it gripped me and drew blood, even through my tunic, made me cry out.

It was the fastest way to accomplish things if not the safest. During the process I had to trust Abdiel to keep control of things, and except for the sharp, racing pain of Zephyr’s involuntary clench, he did.

Tyrel looked on with a dispassionate helplessness, knowing he couldn’t help me, and not sure if he would if he could. Now in his presence my stomach was mildly upset as opposed to being in pain when Abdiel occupied me.

I wondered if even the distance now would be enough, as Abdiel’s detection of his presence had grown sharper.

Zephyr’s body slowly deflated, his eyes regained their midnight blackness, but there was blood on his feathers, and some on his beak. I took a small piece of rag of something unimportant at the moment, and used it to clean him as he perched on my arm.

Now that the ordeal was over, Tyrel walked over to us to test things out.

Zephyr watched the Canceler’s approach the way a king watches a beggar about to plead his innocence in murdering the queen.

*****************

Tyrel watched him too, but not like a beggar; it was more like an enemy he found in an an empty alley, and only one of them was going to walk out of it. But he spoke to me, never taking his eyes off the bird.

“Anything?”

I closed my eyes, took stock of my body, feeling surprisingly whole for a change. I’d thought it would be as if a part of me was gone, a piece of my insides carved away, but all I discovered was that I was hungry.

“No. What about you?”

He shook his head, still watching Zephyr, but now it bothered me to see it.

“What’s wrong, Tyrel. You’re staring at him like he’s an enemy.”

He looked at me then. “I don’t know that he’s not.”

I sighed, my hopes for an absence of conflict as we traveled now dashed. “You’re being ridiculous. He’s just a bird.”

“No he isn’t, or he wouldn’t be able to harbor the spirits in himself, much less shield them from me, and he speaks the human words he knows like one of us. He’s a familiar, Tina, and that doesn’t make him just anything.”

The words, though not said scornfully, stung. But they also gave me pause. Having grown up a witness to Gran’s magic, it was easy to forget sometimes the world around us didn’t see things through our eyes; a raven familiar to one such as Gran would still be…just a bird.

I finished cleaning Zephyr.  If blood prices are always part of these things, I can understand the king’s concern…but he’d used the wrong approach, and now we’re all involved in a possible war that didn’t have to happen at all.

No, the king hadn’t seen things like we did, and certainly not the Cancelers, but whereas the king wanted to eliminate the perceived threat, Tyrel and I were on our way to make sure the Cancelers weren’t trying to use the ruse of aiding him in that quest as a means to their own ends.

I smiled at the thought that I was traveling with a Canceler to make sure that all they wanted to do was kill us too.

There was reasons people felt the Great Purge had been necessary, and I would do well to remember them. I’d been tasked with finding the Traitors Guild, and if the Cancelers were indeed hoarding magic in what they claimed was a Void instead of actually purging it, that had to be stopped as well.

How far a Canceler would go with a newly made witch to accomplish those things was an open ended question.

For now he was willing, but I had to think about what I’d be willing to do if, or when, that was no longer true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passing: Invited Host (Chapter 21)

The size of the raven watching me from the top of the Gem Tent gave me pause. His feathers were not smoothed to his body, or shining in the sun. He had the bearing of an ancient thing that survived every battle that came its way.

It kept its silence as we locked eyes, and a chill of fear suffused me. “Abdiel…?”

We see him.

“Is he the one?”

You must ask him.

“I don’t know his language.”

He will know yours.

The gem hawker was edging closer to me; a female at the Gem Tent was considered a sure sell in their eyes. I’d lingered too long, and while the butchers they hired wouldn’t surround me, they’d stop me if I tried to leave.

I heard a fluttering behind me, and low caw of warning. The raven was at my feet, and the gem hawker made a holy ward across his face and chest, then went the other way.

“Let’s go.” I said it loud enough for people to hear, but there was only me and that unsettling bird. No one stopped me from leaving, but I heard muttering at my back as the raven perched on my right shoulder.

That was foolish, Tina. We can’t stay here now.

“I don’t deny it, but it seems I have my familiar.”

“Atheron sends his greetings, and his love, Lady.”

“You speak?”

“I do.”

“He sent you?”

“At Hannah’s request.”

“But he has no magic.”

“His travels take him far. He knows many, for one who claims hermitage. One such as met him provided me for you.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“I did not. I searched for Abdiel, since I am to host him.”

Abdiel didn’t seem to know he’d been searched out, even when the raven and I stared at each other. There was power at work here yet unknown, that seemed to be trying to catch up with all the responsibilities that came with it.

I wasn’t sure I was ready for any of it, but they were converging in equal proportion, and gathering speed all the same.

Tell us your name, raven.

“Zephyr.”

We shall see how light our travels are, then.

“Indeed, dark spirit, we shall.”

The Passing: Familiar Choices (Chapter 20)

I decided on a two-pronged approach for the spirits’ containment. Animals were also creatures of habit, but even in the domesticated there was always a random chance of unpredictability making them prone to wander off (to hunt or be hunted), or expose themselves as unnatural by using their power in defense, so I considered using a gem as an alternate.

While a gem would also be prone to loss, it would only be through something outside of my control.

“Abdiel?”

Tina.

“Gran said to put you all inside a familiar, but I could also use a gem. Which would you prefer?”

Most of us despise cats. Some of us don’t like to fly, so birds, especially owls, are not good for us. We can taste their kills. A gem would be satisfactory. A dark one.

“All right. After I meet with Tyrel today, I’ll see what the market has to offer.”

Very well.

***********

Tyrel could no more stop his magic than he could the tide. It was a form of protection for all of the Cancelers so their enemies would never surprise them, even as they slept.

Whenever we spoke, I could feel the spirits roiling in side my body, fighting the pull of his power. It seemed to get worse even though our meetings were spotty at best. What strength they’d gained back afterwards seemed to leave in greater amounts the next time, which meant the Canceler’s power was increasing as well. Or was it just responding to the growth of my own?

I had some time, so I decided to wander the market first instead of later.

Normally I found all the sensory assault to be pleasantly distracting from my thoughts, and was amazed at all the things to be had in the world I knew, whether good or evil. It was thrilling as much as it was disturbing, and the looks of men grew bolder when they thought I was alone.

The tent of precious gems looked every bit the part. Perfumed women full of curves and false promises danced with a subtle eroticism that brought men close, the men who protected them with shining scimitars filing in behind them until it was too late, and they found themselves drawn into haggling matches that made them sweat.

There was no ‘just looking’ tolerated there; I couldn’t help grinning at their discomfort, but Tyrel would not wait long, and everything that I’d do at the Gem Tent would be a result of what happened between us.

“Bear with me once more, Abdiel.”

We have no say in that, Tina. If we leave you

That got me to thinking about the Void in a foolish sort of way: if it was being filled with magic, it wasn’t a void anymore. How were the spells there kept from colliding with one another? What would happen if they did? How were they contained from coming back and harming the world?

“Tina! Over here!”

The spirits pushed at my back, as if they’d tear it to get out, and I stumbled, almost falling.

“Are you well?” A passerby held me by the arm and righted me.
“Yes. Yes, I’m all right. Thank you for helping me.”

He nodded and went on his way.

He grows stronger, Tina.

“Can you withstand him, just this last time?”

I believe so. I will quiet the others.

“I’d like that.” I managed to walk without attracting anymore attention, and seated myself across from Tyrel, who had a meal for two brought over. He wanted this to be drawn out, and in the interest of our mutual plans, I couldn’t make a hasty exit or excuse.

Abdiel did what he said, and although I could still feel them quailing within me, they held themselves together. I could only feel Tyrel’s power through them. The pull was strong, but so was Abdiel.

“Tyrel.” I slid in across from him, and he smiled, all charm, as if we’d been lifelong friends. I took it as a good sign.

“My treat, Tina.”

I mumbled thanks around a mouthful of food, not realizing how hungry I was. He grinned at the voracity.

“Slow down. No one will take it from you.”

I blushed, but I slowed down. “Sorry.”

“No need to be. Glad I could be of service. So, how do we cancel each other out?”

I told him, then asked him about the Void being filled with so much random, cast-off magic.

He never considered it, trusting to the words of his masters that the Void simply was, and therefore was unable to even be filled.

I took a sip of peach wine that he’d ordered special. “This mission is getting bigger.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have to find the Traitors Guild, then get our questions answered about the Void.”

“Those were your questions, Tina.”

“You’re not curious.”

“Not really.”

I hadn’t expected him not to be, but something else occurred to me.

“What if it wasn’t a Void at all?”

“How so?”

“What if the Masters were just hoarding magic for their own ends?”

“What sort of ‘ends’?”

I had his attention. “To seize all the magic they’ve canceled in others, and turn it loose on us?”

“To what purpose, Tina?”

“What humanity has always tried to do, Tyrel. Rule the world.”

He wanted to laugh at me, but the thought had taken root, and his smile died as it formed.

Tina…we are weakening.

“Thank you for the meal, Tyrel.” I wiped my mouth one last time after draining my cup. “I’m going to the Gem Tent to find something to put my spirits in; they don’t like it when we meet.”

He stood, leaving coin on the table. “My powers are no less responsive, though I try to filter them so they don’t kill you. If there’s a way to cut it off, I haven’t found it.”

“You control its intensity?”

We walked together toward the Gem Tent.

“I can, but it’s a strain after some time.

“The forces warring within us…”

He nodded. “I’ll leave you now, Tina. Choose your familiar wisely. We’ve a long way to travel.”

“I will. When do we leave?”

“No sense delaying here. Tomorrow at first light?”

I nodded. “All right.”

The noises and music that shrouded the Gem Tent grew louder as Tyrel walked away, the darkness of his robes like a living shadow among all the color and bustle.

The spirits in me finally quieted, and as I approached the dancers and the entrapped crowd, a gleaming raven watched me from the top of the tent.

A Wolf, Remembered

Manacled by my wrists to the ceiling, and rough rope encircling my torso to the cold pole against my chest, I felt the pressure of the wolf’s teeth digging in on the back of my right thigh, the slick, chilled tongue lapping at the blood that trickled from the small punctures it made.

    I shifted a little to keep my legs from buckling, and felt the vibrations from the low, deep snarl of warning in the wolf’s throat, its jaws  like a thumb and forefinger pressed to the side of a nail awaiting the hammer.

     Standing in my own filth, taking shallow breaths didn’t decrease the air’s pungency.

    The lone, bare bulb that hung from a frayed wire looked as forlorn and captive as I felt.

     “Go,” a woman’s voice said behind me; reluctant, the wolf let my thigh go, his eyes pleading with his mistress.

     She shook her head. “Go.”

    The beast snuffed in reproach.

    I will taste him again, Pack-Mother.

    No, pack-brother. Tonight his body is mine.

    As you command.

    Why did I know the words that passed in the look between them?

    The wolf lowered his eyes but lapped at the wounded leg again, taking a final lick before it returned to wherever it left.

********************

     “Why the wolf?”

     “Because I could. I like watching you helpless.”

     “Why did you bring me here?”

     “To make you one last offer.”

     “I’d rather die.”

     “I think you’re bluffing. You have a chance to put off the moment, and you’re telling me you’d rather hear your own last breath?”

     “I’m not sure I would hear it, not that it would matter. What matters is, I can’t walk around like you do, pretending to be something I’m not.”

     Her finger laced under my chin, lingered in the blood around my lips.

      “That, my love, is the entire human condition neatly stated.”

     “Your bitterness aside, I don’t want to live like that…thing…that was biting my flesh.”

     “A thing?

     “Yes.”

    She slipped her arms around me from behind, hands on my chest with her fingers spread; It was almost loving even though I was naked, stinking, and scared.

    “What are you doing?” I tried to sound like she wasn’t affecting me, but the basement’s temperature was dropping with the sun that filtered through dirty, web-shaded windows, and her arms were warm around me.

      Something deeper stirred in me, but I misread it.

     “Are you going to…?”

     “No. Never again. Not in this form.”

     Riddles?

      I saw her arms cord and harden as the muscles swelled beneath them.

     “ Our pack-brother drew blood from you. Let your thoughts  go now, and listen to my voice.”
    “Damn-”

     She pinched my lips closed. “I said, listen.

    The soft hairs of her arms began to grow, dark and coarse, scratching my stomach in her embrace as the healing curse took root,

     Listening was all I could do now.

                                               ************************

    Her wolf voice brought images with it, memories of kills, howling as the rush of wind poured over our running pack, the ripple of wind through fur. Nights howling for the sheer joy, and trailing the scents of large, panicked prey that drove our legs to move faster.  And the bloody, merciless slaughter of inferior intruders on our hunting ground.

     Spring days by the rivers, the rituals of passage, and the sweet, wet taste of fresh kills that steamed in the morning mist.

     The mourning of the old ones, sometimes taken in the hunt, or by the guns of men.

      Summer nights  caught up in  the thrills of the chase by moonlight, and the spiking  scent of fear in the cornered prey. For the swiftest among us, the taking of life and the first spurt of blood into the gullet while avoiding the death throes. They could always strike us down with an accidental kick or head-butt as they toppled.

      Finally, the two of us side by side, thick winter coats withstanding the freezing winds as we surveyed the night forest from the promontory.

      Alpha and mate, then.

      Now, captor and prisoner.

      Lovers no more, but still beasts in nature.

     “Do you remember now?”

    I did, but was too tired to answer; I remembered it all.

    She smiled, unshackled and untied me, gave me water, and held me tighter as the coarse hairs on my body began to mingle with her own.

    We would be lovers again soon.

    And I slept, dreaming of meadows and blood.

The Passing: Growing Strength (Chapter 19)

Abdiel had finally settled the others, then himself, as I sat on the edge of my bed back at The Crystal Harp. I took the liberty of ordering wine. The bartender looked askance at me because of my age, but decided the coin was worth the risk. Unlike The Dregs, lawmen spot checked places like these under the King’s orders to demand ‘fees and taxes’. 

     Slavers, however, were perfectly respectable; the king left them alone. No one wanted to be on their bad side. They were known to kidnap family members from those who’d ‘reform’ them.

    “Leave me tomorrow. I need to think of a way to work with Tyrel.”

    The longer we stay with you, the more difficult the leaving will become. And we risk ourselves as well; he is not the only Canceler, and they roam. Another might chance upon us not realizing Tyrel was already here. He’ll be punished if they find that out.

     He sent me a vision, unwelcome, of Tyrel naked, spread in the air, and beaten with barbed whips, blood spattering with every strike as his head lolled forward, and crows danced and plucked at the scraps of him already torn.

     I retched, but fortunately wasn’t hungry. “Don’t send me those unless I ask for them!”

     Silence. His response whenever he wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong, or when he knew it.

    I regained my composure, ragged as it was, and sleep was a wanderer with lodging in view.

    “Once again, you might have told me that earlier.”

    We are newly bound, Tina, in new circumstances. It is not a light task Hannah set for you. Make no mistake, we are maleficent spirits, and she wielded great power over us. She asked me to aid you in the transition, but you are young. 

   If you are not worthy of the task, we will set ourselves free. I will not tell you more than you need to know because this is a challenge by our predators.They are the only beings that could cause our ‘death.’

   “You’re already dead, are you not?”

   Not as you die. It is more a dissolution. We feel it pull on us whenever you are in his presence. The others cling to me as I root myself in Hannah’s power within you,but it is taxing, and if we leave you now before you have it all, the pain might drive you mad. It will feel like a tearing of your insides.

.  I showed you the Cancelers, and told you of their power. We have none over them other than what you might devise, but neither do we have the luxury of time for you to create a spell.

  I took a moment to consider what he’d just told me. I was tired, and afraid, and but for Gran’s power protecting me, they would have slipped my own worthless attempts to bind them and shed blood all over the land. 

  “So let me ask you this: is the quest to destroy them Gran’s gift to you for helping me?

   You may deem it such. It is here revenge on the Traitor’s Guild as well. As for Tyrel, there may be another way.

    There was no happy compromise to this.

    “And what is that way, Abdiel?”

    You are strong enough now. Speak with Hannah.

    The thought of seeing Gran again, in any form, set off in me a fireball of emotions.

    At the core of it though, despite what I would have liked, was the necessity. In an odd way, it was good of Abdiel to remind me the spirits I contained were dark in nature and purpose.

    Abdiel guided me through the ceremony, and the wandering sleep walked past and on into the night.

                                                    ********************

   But for the shining eyes, she was as she’d been in life; deceptively plain, like a snake of late autumn colored scales in a pile of late autumn leaves, sepia in tone.

   “Gran.”

   “My child. I’d hoped you had no need to disturb my rest.”

   “I’m sorry, Gran. Abdiel and I are still…adjusting.”

   “What is it you need from me, dear?”

   “There’s a Canceler here. We’ve met more than once. He says it’s his job to kill me, but I made him a proposal. I just don’t know how to make it work without taking his life.”

   “He made his mission clear. You can do no less.”

   “At the moment, we have a truce. He can lead me to where the Traitors hide, or at least get me started.”

   “That will save time. And what will you do for him?”

   “We haven’t talked about that, yet. How do I stop him from weakening us as we travel?”

   “Shield them.”

   “How?” 

   “In a familiar.”

   “They won’t weaken?”

   “The familiar’s designed for it.”

   “What kind? You never had one.” 

   She smiled. “I never needed one.”

  That stung a little.  “What kind, then? A cat?”

   “Whatever you choose, Tina.

   “Something I can cage then?”

   Gran nodded. “That will suffice.” She began to fade. “I must rest now.”

“Thank you, Gran. I miss you.” I wanted to cry, but didn’t.

“As I miss you, dear. Guard yourself.” She was gone.

I went to bed, turning over my last thought: What do I choose?

   I slept, and even in their own fear of Tyrel, the bad, dark, evil spirits let me. 

   

The Passing: The Dregs (Chapter 18)

  Abdiel being weakened by Tyrel was something I tried not to admit worried me. The problem itself was easy to solve by staying away from Tyrel, but the permanent solution, taking his life, wasn’t good at all.

    If Tyrel could neutralize my magic, what could I use to stop him from doing it?

    Several options presented themselves: assassinate him without using magic, but that would mean getting close to him. It wasn’t something I could hire out without the possibility of him finding out that I did..

    Changing a spell to see if it could get past his guard? That might weaken it too much, it wouldn’t do the job, and again, I didn’t know if he’d be able to trace it back to me.

   Trap him, then kill him? I didn’t know how strong he was in his own magic, but if he’d mastered the arts that could weaken a powerful spirit like Abdiel, harming human flesh was too easy.

   He told me when I met him that eventually everyone would use his services.

   I needed to find someone who’d done that, and find out why; it was a good starting point, but led to other questions. It wasn’t even discreet, the way people liked to gossip, but it was the least intrusive and obvious, hopefully giving me some knowledge of him other than what I possessed.

     Still, the inquiry could be traced back to me, and if he decided to attack he could take the element of surprise since I’d no defenses against him. 

    I decided to go from the lowest to the highest risk, though it would hurt Abdiel and the others.

    I’d have to go talk to him.

                                                      ********************

    I paid one of the Market’s urchin cutpurses to deliver the message for Tyrel to meet me in a neutral zone, then bound him to it with a curse that made his eyes widen and a spot of liquid fright spread across the front of his pants. 

    The neutral zone was a run down hole in the wall whose destruction, if it came to a fight, would likely be welcomed by the town, though the seedy, shady clientele that made use of it would find it inconvenient to replace. It had no visible name because the coloring and lettering on the crooked sign had faded from long exposure to bright sun and bad times.

    I waited for him outside rather than endure and fend off the idiocy I was sure to attract on the inside.

    When I saw his cloak among the normal garb as he walked through the thinning marketplace crowds, I gave silent thanks that he was prompt.

    I could feel Abdiel begin to shift within me. “This won’t take long, Abdiel.”

    See to it.

    My body tingled with a cold numbness as the magic fled.

   “Tina, why on earth would you come here?

   “No one knows me here.”

   “Nor me, for that matter. Were you hoping for witnesses if this ended badly? They’re not the kind that cooperate with lawmen. It’s not called The Dregs without reason.”

   He knows the name of this ratrap. So, he has been here some time, then. I hadn’t thought of fighting him around witnesses, but then, they might also not let things get out of hand.  

    Realistically, the chances of that were at slim to none, but at least slim was a possibility..

   Tina…

   “Shall we go inside?” he asked.

   “Goodness no, Tyrel. I have to make this quick.”

   “Ah, yes. I see the discomfort in you. What is it you want?”

   “To see if there’s a way we can work together.”

   “You’re joking.”

   “No, I’m not.”

      “How? I cancel your power out.”

      Tiiinaaa….

      “You told me everyone here eventually pays for your service. To do what?”

      “To dispel bad spirits. Most are just superstitious, and I take advantage of their fear, but some truly have them hovering about, usually mischief makers that someone sent to them for some misdeed. 

     “I don’t get into the middle of things, I just send the spirits…” He caught himself.

     This was a crossroads, and I didn’t know whether or not to reveal Abdiel had given me a vision; if I mentioned the power he had to send demons into the Void to die, he’d outright refuse me and our battle would begin in earnest.

    I shook my head before I spoke to bluff that I wouldn’t understand what he was about to say anyway, and to convey impatience. It wasn’t with him, but with Abdiel and his minions forcing me to keep myself still so I didn’t look like a stringless marionette.

    “Never mind,” I rushed to reassure him, “I don’t care. Let me think on it. You too. We’ll meet again soon to see what we’ve come up with.”

    “I’m…supposed to kill you.”

    Abdiel moaned. 

    “Then it seems I’ve trapped myself. I took a chance you might, and now, I can’t escape you.”

    He took a step back, considering it. 

    Run, Tina.

    I didn’t; whatever he was going to do, I wanted to see it coming.

    He turned sideways and his shoulders slumped. “Dammit girl, now you’ve got me curious.”

   My shoulders slumped too, and I had to tense my legs to put ice in the jelly they were turning into before I fell.

    “Tomorrow then?”

    “Yes. But not here. We meet back at the Crystal Harp.”

    “All right.”

    “I’d walk you home, but….”

    “That’s fine. I’ll follow you out though.”

    He nodded once. “Let’s hurry, then.

    Tinaaa! Abdiel’s voice was wretched with agony. 

    “Lead on.” I slipped my hands in my pockets, rubbing my stomach so Tyrell couldn’t see how much I was hurting.

    He started walking and I followed at a distance that kept him in sight, but not close.

    “Better?” I asked Abdiel.

    Soon. 

The Passing: A Canceler’s Tale (Chapter 17)

     Tyrel had been their only son, well loved and dutifully cared for; he knew his parents thought him a good son because he overheard them say it, and so he tried to stay that way, but he was just a boy.  

 “Don’t go too far,” his mother said. But the woods always caught him up, and he wandered for hours, patiently waiting as he watched the creatures go about their daily routines. 

    Over time, he’d earned a position of trust among them, and was even able to feed some of them from his hand.

    This one day, his legs tired, and his own food supply gone, he walked back home along the small path he used when he wasn’t exploring. He’d be late for dinner and likely scolded, but his father always winked at him when his mother was done, and nothing ever really came of it.

    He suspected his mother knew, but chose to ignore his father’s insolence. She liked watching Tyrel eat, but she also scolded him about eating too fast. His father didn’t wink at that, so he slowed down and tried to exhibit more restraint.

    As he neared the edge of the treeline, his home in view, the screams and sounds of shouting were faint, but there. Strange horses were outside. Light colored things that didn’t quite look like horses, but he had no other name for them.

    The hunger gone, his stomach full of new, unpleasant feelings, tiredness forgotten, he ran faster than he ever had, not thinking, screaming for his parents as he took the small steps in a single flight and saw their bodies on the floor, eyes open. 

    His father’s neck was red, his mother’s at an odd angle. Their eyes were open, facing him, a large man with an oiled black beard and bejeweled appendices standing over them.

    There were two more men behind him.

    Growing careless, Tyrel charged them, roaring his rage.

    But he was just a boy.

                                                      *********************

Tyrel woke up in the back of a wagon that jounced along a rutted road.

    His hands were bound, and his body encased in a burlap sack.

   The large man who killed his family was watching him, and gave him a smile. “You’ve a fire in you, boy. Sorry we had to do that, but the Slavers Market’s about to start, and we didn’t have any bodies to bring. 

   “Ranged outside of our usual territory, we did. You put up a good fight for one no thicker than a swamp reed. We had quite a time with you, but the numbers…”

    His smile widened as he shrugged. 

   Tyrel’s throat was burning. “Water?”

    “Sure, son.” He ladled some into Tyrel’s mouth.

    “You’re selling me as a slave?”

    “They take a liking to you, it could be a nice life.”

    “They take a liking to me, and I’m going to find you, and kill you.”

    To his surprise, the large man laughed. “I look forward to the day, boy.”

    He knocked Tyrel out again.

*******************

    Water was splashed, and Tyrel woke up again still confined and bound. They pulled him out, not caring if the worn wood splintered him, or where. He was taken to a fragrant, lush garden and forced to his knees, still in the sack, before a towering man in white robes.

Tyrel’s anger rekindled as the slaver introduced him. “This here’s Master Gregory. He runs the Black Temple and supplies the Slave Market. He’s going to price you for me.”

Just to be defiant, Tyrel looked up at Master Gregory, who bent over and looked Tyrel in the face, seeing the anger in the eye that was still open, the one the slaver didn’t close with a hammering fist. The bloody lips set in a defiant grimace in his battered face.

   Master Gregory looked at the slaver holding Tyrel’s leather wrist bindings in his hand.

   “He has suffered greatly,” Master Gregory said. “Yet the rage has not burned out of him. His shoulders don’t slump in defeat, and he looks at me through one eye that shines with his murderous thoughts.

   “I will pay you for him, but I will not make a slave of him. We shall train him as a Canceller.”

*************************

   For Tyrel, time disappeared; he only noticed its passing in the change of seasons.

   He used the tough, demanding training as kindling, setting his nervous fears on fire as the dark beings and familiars he was learning to summon and control twisted and writhed in ethereal coils about him, engulfed in clouds of foul smoke and rancid mist, and burned with the sparks and tongues of unnatural flames.

    His Master’s gold and scarlet eyes held hard-won approval, his small smile leaving his verbal praise unspoken; he’d been right to train this one.

    “Now, toss your soul into the Void, my son. When they rush to seize it, seal them inside.”

    “What happens to my soul?” 

    “It will be returned to you when the Void is sated on demon flesh. It pulls them apart, as when a man is drawn and quartered. Their dying screams are a symphony to us.

   “You’ll feel the very earth itself grow lighter when we sever the ancient cords of long dead, forgotten magic that still holds her in thrall.”

   Tyrel could feel no such thing, but if his Master said so, he would not gainsay the man.

He was just a boy

The Passing: Tina Rising (Chapter 15 & 16)

The queasy feeling I’d suffered from Abdiel’s transfer of power began to subside.

“Is that all of it?”

No, you must absorb what is already within you.

I groaned, then asked, “When will it be finished?”

This is just the start, Tina. Your grandmother, being older than most of her kind, wielded great power for longer than normal.

“Will I need all of it?”

That was her will.

“And what of mine?”

I keep the promise we spoke of, but to withhold any of the gift will cause us to dissipate. And you will die as well.

The way my body felt, it didn’t sound like a bad deal at all.

**********************

I didn’t see the Canceler for several days.

During that time, Abdiel taught me about the histories of the visions I’d seen; they were rich in intrigue, betrayal, love and war.

The magic was strong, and the bloodshed relentless as passion and fear won out over reason, and power and greed won out over loyalty. Betrayal was as common as sparrows, and whole courts were executed.

There was infighting among siblings behind the outward shows of filial affection.

And every other night, Abdiel released more power and knowledge into me, and let me have the days I needed to break from it. While that gave me time to actually absorb what I learned, it gave him time to replenish as well, but he didn’t tell me that at first.

You must use the magic. We are not allowed to hold it back, and you are not allowed to contain it. If you do, you will die according to the lore of your kind. It is not an honorable death.

“So, is it my mission then, to fight this Canceler?”

It is. He will continue to hunt you if you do not. He seeks to slay you in the flowering of your gifts. You must not let him.

That made my mission twofold: kill Teryl, then seek out the remnant of ‘my kind,’ and turn our attention to the murderous king. He yet held power over the realm he purged with blood, but for now…

Abdiel was disturbed. I could feel him shifting like serpent coils in my chest and stomach.

“Abdiel, tonight you must tell me about the Cancelers.”

It will hurt, but it will be done.

Chapter 16:

Tina, I will ask you one last time, are you sure of this? The night will be long.

“Will it become shorter if we wait?”

He didn’t answer.

“He’s not on his way, Abdiel. He’s here. He knows of me, and he knows of Gran. If his mission is to kill me, he hasn’t said it, or even attempted it, but I can’t fight him without knowing what I’m up against. You have to show me.”

Let us begin.

*****************

     “They seem terrified.”

     They are, and not without reason.

     I stood beside Abdiel in a hall of solid shadows carved from black stones: marble, onyx, obsidian, and black jade. What was made of wood was burnished ebony that gleamed in the light of scarlet candles and torches that unfurled wispy tendrils of black smoke into the rank air.

     It stank of fear and raging hormones among the ranks of adolescent boys standing before their massive keepers and Masters, baby sheep surrounded by old, wise wolves.

     “Is this before Teryl?”

     It is. These are the first. The ritual has not changed.

     I nodded.

     There were brands heating inside a black ceramic ring. 

     Unseen in the hall, a song in a language even more archaic than the time was being sung by a single male voice.

     I didn’t know it, but didn’t ask Abdiel about it. My own throat was dry, and I was keeping my legs from shaking with the last of my will. 

     The keepers were wide, with skin that strained to contain the muscles under them, and the Masters tall and thin, draped in a scarlet cloaks trimmed in red gold, their nails long and black, their amber eyes shining deep within the folds of their hoods. It was a sight I knew I would remember even in my waking hours.

The Master standing near the altar had the colors in reverse, a scarlet robe trimmed in black. His eyes, though shining, were the deep red of blood inside the body’s organs.

     The Keepers began to pull the brands from the ring and walked to the waiting rows.

     “Hold out your right hand,” the Master said; they all obeyed.

     The first Keeper spoke: “If you scream, flinch, or cry, you will be banished and hunted. If you outrun us, you live your life among the common trash. If you don’t, the wolves in the kennels feast on your cowards’ hearts.”.

                                                  **************

     More than half of them were whipped and pummeled by the keepers, shamed and banished  as they fled the temple to run through the night forest with wolves on their heels.

    I covered my ears, not bothering to stop my weeping. 

      “Oh, Tyrel, this is a great and terrible power.” I turned to Abdiel. “Is there more?”

      Mercifully, no. I weaken even in this vision. We must return.

      “I’m ready.”

      And what of tomorrow?

      “Leave me. I will find Tyrel. I can’t have you weak before the Passing is finished.

      It will be done. Abdiel released me back in my bed, in my room. I wiped my tears, stretched out, and drifted off as the memory of shining scarlet eyes faded back into the blackness that spawned them.

Now dreamless, I slept through the rest of the night.