The Baby Monitor

Chapter 1: The Husband

    The nursery was done.

John had checked all the new tech to make sure it worked. He’d spared no expense on the bells and whistles, and stated to himself that if a spider farted in its web anywhere near the new baby’s crib, they’d know.

     Taking a step back to admire his work, he turned to his wife Megan and smiled. 

     She smiled back, but it was more like an attempt than an actual smile, and John’s brow furrowed in concern. 

    The baby growing inside her seemed to keep her wan and listless, so her smile was weak. He also noticed that her eyes, usually so bright and full of life, were red and tired from fitful nights of sporadic sleep. 

    He knew she needed to see a doctor outside of their regular appointments, but she kept assuring him whatever was ailing her would pass, so not to upset her further he backed off to let her sort it out. 

     Looking down at her now, he couldn’t do that anymore. 

     Something was wrong, and what should have been a happy occasion was turning into something dark and maudlin. 

     Not meaning to make it about him, but doing it, John decided he couldn’t live with that if something happened to his wife because he was clueless.

     Also not meaning to make decisions for Megan, but doing it, he wouldn’t let her wave him off anymore; she was going to see a doctor whether she wanted to or not, and if she didn’t want to go to an office, there was enough to pay for a house call.

    Now that it was settled in his mind, he held her hand and pointed with his free one, explaining all the bells and whistles, what they did, and why he installed it. 

Chapter 2: The Wife

      He’d done a great job, she could see that. 

      He always did, and probably always would do a great job. 

      He did a great job selling you to marry him, after what you said…

      She smiled as he nattered on, remembering she’d told him she’d never get married. 

      Now here they were, not only married, but in a self-made nursery. 

      How did we get here, Megan? Where did you go?

      No, this hadn’t been in the plans, her plans anyway, but he’d been so excited when she told him that she actually got caught up in it. 

      The weeks flew by at first, and she enjoyed his attention, but at times he became cloying when she just wanted peace. He’d fire questions at her as if he’d never taken sex ed in school sometimes. 

     She knew it came from a place of love, that he wanted to look after her. He liked looking after her. He liked needing to be needed.

     That’s what husbands are for. He said it so much for so long, she began to get caught up in that too, but now, standing beside him, her belly stretched and stretching farther, she was simply no match for the seemingly endless waves of energy he exuded. 

     Seeing the concern in his eyes appear as his smile vanished, she knew then that whatever he saw in her face was not good.  She also knew what he’d say next when he finished his guided tour of shiny new tech she couldn’t care less about, and that she wouldn’t be allowed to say no this time.

Chapter 3: The Baby Monitor

       These human things, they never learn. They make it embarrassingly easy for us to enter their world, and make their lives unbearable before we make them ours. 

     The little ones, the portals, are the most vulnerable, newly cast from our own world. They are the easiest. They have no strength to resist us, but they know something’s wrong, and cry.

     The parents arrive then, concerned and fussing, soothing the portal until it goes back to sleep. 

     Some of us slip from the portals to stay and make sport until they all leave the house.

     Other times, they’ll summon their clerics to summon their gods to be rid of us.

     Some of us take the portals back, but to other places, and the big ones get sad and don’t stay together.

    In the old times they placed their wards and slept by the portal’s side, or had the portal sleep beside them so they could protect it if we sent our familiars. 

   Not so, now. They have given the care of their portals over to these things they call cameras, with machines that make hissing noises to sooth the portal and make it rest. 

    That’s when we strike.

    Even now, this one leeches the female’s soul as well as her body.

    I think it wants to come back and bring her with it. 

    The male will intervene, and have someone try to make her whole again. 

    We shall see, but for now we wait.

    And watch.

Don’t You Want Me Back?

     It stank in this place where I ‘self-medicated’. 

     I called it that because I didn’t want to say I was strung out on something I’d actually forgotten the name of, because I was that addicted. 

     But the alternative of memory was worse, and death would have been a lot more certain.

     As it was, it all seemed unreal.

     When Carla died in the accident, I broke down, lost everything, because she’d been a lifeboat in an ocean of garbage, betrayal, and abuse.

    She was the one light in the darkness, and I walked toward it as she walked toward me, though I’ll never figure out what it was she saw other than a shadow trying to crawl out of the void. 

    I didn’t  know that shadows have no business crawling toward light.

    I’m sorry, Carla. I thought that sentence for untold times, for untold years as the chemical cocktails I indulged in began to dissipate my body.

   I was okay with that, but then I saw Carla one night in the small hours of the morning, standing in the corner of my hovel.

   “There is a way…” she told me. 

   I grasped at the chance. “Tell me how.” 

   She told me, and the following night I went to see.

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

    This place stank too, but more of an effort was made to cover it up.

    It stank of desperation, hope, and ruin, and its appearance was almost a parody of a carnival fortune teller, but the old woman who owned the place took herself seriously, and I should have done that too.

    “Your Carla, she died in an accident,” the old woman told me. “Do you want her back?”

    I swallowed, nodded, and took the offered bottled water. My body’s moisture had been gulped by the chemicals I put into it two hours ago, and decided to go do what Carla told me as reason and the ability to function flickered under the drug’s onslaught.

    “She told me there’s a way…”

    “Yes. Do you know where she is?”

    I did. The family came and put her there, blamed and rejected me, and cut me off from Carla in a way I never had been in life.

    But she loved me and came to me, even if I was the cause of her end.

    I didn’t think I was, but guys like me never blame themselves.

    “Yes.”

    “Do you want her back?”

    “Yes.”

    She looked at me for a long moment, so long that I began to shift in my seat, sipping the water to keep up my end of the silence.

     Finally, she nodded. “Very well. It will not be pleasant, and I make no guarantees.”

     I held up a hand to stop her from going further. “Wait a minute. Will she be as I remembered, or as she is now?”

      It had been a while, and I’d read stories about this kind of thing before…before all this.

      She gave a heavy sigh that puffed up her round, stunted body for a moment and made her look, just for a second, like a beating heart. 

      “I make no guarantees.” 

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

      She said something about blood, and making a sacrifice, and digging Carla up, and some words I was supposed to say. 

     I didn’t do any of it, even after making plans to break in, or climb, or do whatever it took. 

     The place was in a wealthy, snobby neighborhood, so there’d be video, security, twenty four seven protection; I’d stand out like a bloodstain on white marble, sure to be harassed by the cops.

     After that, who knew? They’d be free to do what they want with me, and to me.

     I laughed at myself, imagining my clothes to be in the style of some Victorian grave robber digging up corpses for money, my one and only contribution to science. 

     But as I kept putting it off, something in me changed, and for some reason the chemical need didn’t seem as urgent now.

     Carla came to me again, between injections, as I was letting the last one fully dissipate. 

    Where are you, Warren? She told me you came to see her, and she told you what to do.

    I sat up in bed, despite the pain it caused. I had to see her, but I didn’t want to be prone and vulnerable. “She did.” 

    Carla looked like she always had before the accident, but I could see the cracks in the broken wall behind her now. The last time, I couldn’t. 

    But you didn’t come for me. I thought you loved me.

    “I did. I still do.”

   Then why haven’t you done what she told you? I’m waiting, but every day you don’t, I get weaker.

   Don’t you want me back?

   “I did, but I didn’t want you back…like you are, there in the ground now.”

   What?

    “I asked her if you’d come back to me like you were in life, or now. She told me she couldn’t make any guarantees. In other words, she didn’t know. If she’s all that good, with all the people she’s supposed to have helped, why wouldn’t she know?”

   Carla floated there in front of me, silent, her sunken eyes still somehow managing to convey hurt at my hesitancy, at the fact that I’d even delayed at all to what…rescue her?

   You’re leaving me.

    I got up on my feet. “Carla…” I moved toward her spirit.

    You’re leaving me! 

    Her flash of anger made me jump, and I stopped moving. 

    The silence grew tense, long, awkward. She was waiting for me to confirm it. 

    I merely sighed, which said everything I couldn’t. 

    Then come to me, she said.

    “What?” 

    Come join me, Warren. Put together one last blast of what makes you feel good, and join me here. We’ll be together again, with no one to stop us.

    I considered it. Everything was there, in full view. 

    Everything was there but the need for it. 

    Warren…? She was still there, but a darkness in the center of her manifestation was slowly spreading. 

    I looked back at the busted table, and all I had to do was use the equipment to feel that familiar, toxic warmth once more, feel it for the last time.

    The old woman said it would take a sacrifice, but didn’t say it would be me. 

    Warren, don’t you want me back?

    I don’t know how much longer I stood there in the sick, shadowed darkness of what I’d become, in the small hours of a cold night with a chill wind storming the cracked windows,  driving out the cloying, putrid stink of my wasted life, and taking something else with it.

    I only know that when I turned to look again for Carla, for the ghost of the woman who’d been the light in my earthly darkness, she was gone.

    It was only then I realized our roles had been reversed.

Transitions

 I was bent over her, offering what small comforts I could in her final moments, but yes, I was also curious as well when I looked into her eyes.

  They were yet beautiful, and still full of life, but restless despite my murmuring of vague and pointless reassurances she’d be fine, when she was so clearly not; they couldn’t seem to focus on my face.

   As I was the one responsible for her current state, I wasn’t so sure I’d look at me either.

   She’d lost a lot of blood and was starting to tremble, her right hand squeezing mine in a desperate attempt to anchor herself to the living world as my tears fell on her cheeks to mingle with her own.

   I called her name.

   For a moment, it brought her back from wherever she was, and she stopped trembling.

   “Help me,” she whispered through dry, cracked, bloody lips.

   “I want to help you, but you have to choose. Now.”

   The scent of her leaking blood was intoxicating, and as much as I knew what I would have chosen for her, it had to be her decision, and hers alone.

   She struggled, blinking rapidly, and breathing became harder.

   Her wounds filled and emptied with red life with each heartbeat, and I trembled myself from the sheer effort it took to keep my focus.

   Again, the squeezed hand for something to anchor her and keep her safe from the unknown realm of spirits.

    “I…can’t…”

    I smoothed her hair from her forehead and pulled her close.

    “Do you trust me, then?” 

    “Yesss.”

                                                     **********

    Despite my frantic need, the bite was tender, the herald fangs well placed, compensating for the curve to fit snug into the vein that would give me back my own life, cursed as it was.

    I sobbed with the pleasure and gratitude of the warmth that filled me, pulling the wasted nourishment away from the holes in her body that spilled it on the ground.

    Holding her with both my hands on her back, braced in my arms, she shuddered against me as I worked. Her loud gasp of finality was music in my ear as she slumped against me, and her nails scratched my forearms.

     I felt her life slip, and bit deeper in a final bid to make this work. It was selfish and cruel on my part, but I couldn’t let her go yet. 

     Caught up in the sensations, I closed my own eyes and gave myself over to our moment.

                                                    ***********

     I don’t know how long we stayed in that terrible, tender tableau of damnation, but her skin was cold against my cheek when I felt her lips move to give me a tender kiss and whisper my name.

     My eyes opened, boring into hers, looking for fear, questions, loathing, and horror at what she’d allowed herself to become. 

     There was only a calm acceptance, her eyes as clear and lovely as ever, scanning my face.

     “You came back to me.” 

“I never left, you fool.” She nestled on my shoulder.

I suppose, all things considered, she didn’t.

No, They’re Not Asleep

 The things that can scent you in the dark, that track you by the smell of your fearful blood, and the things that feast on the small, red, stringy, buffet that is you, don’t take their rest by day, as you would hope, or once believed.

   No, dear child, their thoughts churn, and their dreams give them power. 

   Their lack of humanity robs them of all innocence, and there is no divine judgment on their soulless bodies.

    They’ve already made plans for tonight, and you will never know when your part of town, or  all of your farms, forests, festivals, and sabbaths will be a day of bloody carnage and a Valhallian feast for the damned.

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

     Sometimes, they fight among themselves with a great slaughter, but the diminished ranks are always replenished.

     It’s neither quick nor pretty, this refilling. 

    Some are quite willing to die, and some are so wretched they will beg to belong, no matter the cost.

    Others will be turned, and still others, turned away, but those are seldom left alive.

    These plans, at times, have brought undue and unwanted attention.

    Those who bring it are willing to risk the consequences, and bigger losses ensue.

    The ruination is glorious in scope, and the air smells of wasted humanity proportional to the scope of the war. 

    They’re stupid, fragile things, these humans, but they’re sense of self cannot be denied. A rebellious, vain, and silly lot, they are not inept at fighting their enemies. They will cry, and mourn and wail, but they will not stop fighting all the way to their own demise.

   But soon, their end must come.

   Be there to witness it.
   Be there to help it along.

   Be there tonight, child. 

   No, they’re not asleep. 

   They never are.

Spending the Night

He was twice cursed: once to walk the night, and twice, to feel every cosmic shift of the stars, to hear its spirits calling, crying, and keening all around him.

He saw the roiling atoms of life grind and flow to make the very dark that cloaked his hands with frost, and burned his skull with eyes of fire.

Even the spirits paused in their wanderings to let him pass.

The damned saw him in all his splendor, the gems and gold that bedecked and dripped from his limbs, and the exalted blessed fled from the sight of his malformed, wretched nakedness.

And when he wished it, all fled from his presence, leaving him to hear his own feet crunch, splash, shuffle, and run, feeling the pain of never resting, even when the silence of a universe devoid of gods and magic mocked his tears where the trails scraped like small claws and tasted of brine, and he would beg for death’s peace.

Death would reveal himself, shake his silent skull ‘no,’ and disappear. Again.

And step after he weary step, he wandered on.

And wanders still.

BUZZARD

Chapter 1: A Buzzard’s Circle

   Ours was a small town, but shrouded in dark secrets, and steeped in bad, bloody practices. The forest around us was cursed and haunted with the spirits of burned witches, tortured slaves, and small, shallow graves full of the indiscretions of the town’s self-proclaimed holy men. They sometimes paid unholy men to rid them of those indiscretions for good, or to see to it they didn’t stay anywhere close.

     The man who was now responsible for burying them all seemed himself to never age, though he was clearly on the other side of youth. He worked alone, and hard.

    Overall, he seemed fit enough, and did the job well.

    Of course, being quiet and aloof he came under suspicion, though he seemed a naturally quiet man content with his lot in life. His reluctance to offer any sort of consolation to the grieving seemed more out of surliness than a quiet personality.

    His name was foreign and difficult to pronounce for our plain tongues, and though no one knows or remembers who started it, he was nicknamed ‘Buzzard,’ because he seemed content to dwell there among the dead, though a house had been purchased for him in the town proper. 

    He set up a room in the sexton’s workshed and slept there. 

    Being under suspicion for his ways, the town council tested him by sending prostitutes, con men, and the occasional bounty hunter, to see what his character was made of and how prone he was to bribery’s corruption.

    All of them returned quickly, having been rebuffed in a quick and efficient manner.

    With the hunters, some of whom were offered a bounty for his head, not all of them returned; whether they died or got away is anyone’s guess. The ones who did kept their silence, and never came back.

    The women cited the Buzzard’s intense scrutiny that bore through their fakery and chilled them to the bone.

    His secrets were safe, whatever they were. 

    But the council was more determined than smart, and by the time they found out Buzzard’s true nature, it was too late.  

2: The Final First Warning

    At the time of the next town gathering to discuss bringing in and distributing the harvest, Buzzard showed up late and took a seat in the back. He paid no attention to the silence that fell over the Hall. He’d never shown up to a gathering before. 

    He looked at no one, and said nothing, but his eyes were all business.

    He figured out what they were doing, and he came here to let them know he wasn’t pleased.

    When the meeting was over, Buzzard moved to block the door, and those nearest him recoiled when his gaze swept over them. They recoiled a bit further as he spoke.

    “This will be your only warning. Leave me be. I bury your dead, respectfully and thoroughly.

    “Been doing it a long time, and I’ll keep doing it ‘til my own time. Leave it at that, and leave me be.”

    No one said anything, and he stepped aside to let them pass, turning his gaze to the council in the front of the room, who decided to leave by another door rather than pass him. 

   A couple of them challenged his staring, but their nerves failed them. It was as if they realized he might do any number of things to them at any time, because they knew almost nothing about him. 

                                                        ***********

    Leave it at that.

    It was too late. He piqued my youthful curiosity, and I had to get this figured out.

    I convinced two of my friends to come with me to spy on him after midnight.

*art by bzitz*

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.

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