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: 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

Red Redemption

         She thought she was done all those years ago, though she’d only been a child.

       The huntsman who saved them had taken all the glory for himself, and rightfully so, for she’d been duped by the spell the wolf cast over her eyes.

        But now, the son of the slain one had taken revenge on the huntsman in his dotage, and his own daughter had barely made it in front of the hunting pack that scented her, knew her, and tirelessly pursued.

       In the small hours when the starlight gleams brightest, flattering the false vanity of moonlight, her knocking on the woman’s door was a hard and tuneless knell that echoed through the dark forest shadows.

      Taika, they called her now.  The Magic Spell.

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

      With grandmother dead Taika shunned the world and apprenticed herself to a dying hag seeking a novice, promising to never be vulnerable and powerless again.

     The hag was a hard taskmaster; Taika earned every scar she received from those long, hooked and jagged nails that made her correct her mistakes.

     When the hag died, the pyre would not burn. Taika gave her withered corpse to the river’s  muddy banks, and let the creatures have their way.

      The huntsman’s cowardly daughter was content to tend Taika’s house until she returned. 

     Taika left at first light.

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

     In the clearing, she faced the Alpha..

     The thing stood on two legs now, piercing blue eyes crystalline in the darkness.

     “You wear the witch’s hood?”

     “Yes, Alpha.” 

     “These fools have summoned you to redeem yourself, and reckon with your past?”              The drool hissed in droplets at his feet.

     The lambent red and yellow eyes of the pack surrounded her.

     “Just me and you.” she said.

     “They know better than to interfere. To the death?”

     The knives gleamed in the moonlight, silver fangs in human hands.

     “To the death.” 

     Snarling, they locked.

     

Come Out, Come Out…

Lyle stood in front of his sister Lyla, his left arm around her. She pressed so hard against his back he thought she’d climb inside of him.

They were looking into the closet at deep blue wolf’s eyes staring back at them, possessed of a contemplative intelligence not naturally found.
They were trembling, but it was Lyle’s duty to protect her, and that’s what he was going to do no matter what.

“Why are you scaring us?”

   Scaring you? The deep, disembodied voice made them both jump and flinch at the same time, though it hadn’t shouted.

   Why do I scare you? What have I done?

“Y-y-you won’t sh-sh-show y-yourself…and y-you k-keep scaring L-Lyla!”

     I do, but why are you scared of me?

“Y-you sh-should g-g-go.”

   Go where?

“I-I don’t c-care. J-just go.”

    I just whispered Lyla’s name…

“We don’t want you here! P-please g-go.”

The voice laughed softly, and serrated teeth flashed in a cruel smile.

Lyle turned away, holding on to a thread of resolve.

   I admire your willingness to sacrifice yourself Lyle, but you can’t.

“I’m doing it…”

   I haven’t attacked you. It’s Lyla I want.

“W-we’re twins. We go together.”

   No. It isn’t your turn.

“You can’t take me instead?”

    No.

“Why?”

   I’m losing my patience, child. Stand aside.

The blue eyes brightened and moved closer to the closet’s edge.

The twins took a step back, and Lyla gasped in Lyle’s ear. His arm around her tightened for all that it was behind his back.

“You can’t take my sister away. I won’t let you.”

   Lyle, stand aside.

“No.”

In the mirror Lyle saw Lyla look down and away, and she began shaking her head and pointing as she whimpered Lyle’s name.

Lyle took another step back, as if it made a difference, and glanced where she was pointing.

From under the bed bright green eyes peered up at them. A jagged toothed smile promised a bloody death as a woman’s soft, mellifluous voice spoke to them.

   Ah, there you are, children.

A long bony arm came out from underneath the bed, covered with decayed flesh and leggy things that moved beneath the skin.

  Follow me, Lyle. I can take you….

Lyle moved away as the closet door opened and the monster’s horned head emerged into the dim moonlight.

Lyla’s grip on Lyle was painful; she wasn’t letting go, no matter what happened.

“We’ll die together,” Lyle found himself saying.

To his surprise, Lyla, calmed down.

“No, we won’t,” she said.

The other monster began to slither from under the bed.

   Defiant little bastards, it said.

Lyla stepped from behind her brother.

Lyla! What are you doing?” he gasped.

Lyla bunched herself into a crouch, and snapped up as if her body were jolted, her arms, legs and back stiff as if she was going to fly apart.

Her piercing scream thundered through Lyle’s ears, and he put his hands on them to find them bleeding.

She drew breath without seeming to and screamed again.

Lyle saw slashes appear on the monsters’ flesh.

Their own roars of pain gathered energy, but Lyla screamed again.

Lyle was rolling on the floor, blood in his nostrils; the monsters were desperately trying to scramble back, but the portal had closed.

Black blood flowed underneath the closet and from under the bed.

The monsters roared at the top of their lungs, so loud and terror filled that Lyle felt the hairs on his arm might pop out from fright.

Lyla gave a final scream that shattered the mirror and windows.

The first monster crashed down, slamming the closet door against the wall hard enough to leave an indent. The monster under the bed kept twitching, its dead skin rupturing with scattering vermin until it stopped moving.

Lyle’s head was between his knees, hands still on his ears, blood leaking through his fingers.

Lyla went to him, held him, and kissed his cheeks.

He pulled back, looked at her flowing tears with silent, screaming faces inside them.

The whites of her eyes turned scarlet, the reptilian irises gleamed amber and gold.

“It’s all right, Lyle. They won’t hurt us anymore. Sometimes I forget…”

 

 

A Dragon’s Courage

From the time they were children, Akia hunted with her brother and his friend, Jakra: they fought, wrestled, swam, fought some more, fished, camped out, made fires, made trouble, and her brother noticed that Akia and Jakra eventually began to make eyes.

Jakra loved Akia’s fierceness, but only from a distance. Up close, her eyes bore too deep into his soul.

She knew he loved her, and would often fix him within her slate gray stare to watch him shift and blush, and she would smile, and try to go to him, but he would always find an excuse to rise, to run without running.

But she would have no other, and his fate was sealed.

She’d seen the rough ways of men; Jakra was indeed different, and sometimes they teased him for it, sometimes, not good-naturedly. That was fine; what he lacked in experience, she would see that he made up for in enthusiasm, and as he gained love’s knowledge, she would reap the benefits.

She would bear him many fine, strong children.

He disappeared into the trees, and she, being a superb huntress in her own right, decided he’d run long enough. She would chase him like a wounded stag, and have her prize.

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

“She loves me, I know, but I’m afraid.”

“Of what, boy?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know. She’s like…”

“She’s like nothing, boy, she is, a warrior born. And you…?”

“I’m not. Not like her.”

“Your wish then, boy. Out with it.”

“I would have the courage of…of a dragon.”

The crone, removing her supplies, hesitated at his words. “Are you sure? If I bind you to her, that is what remains.”

Jakra nodded, too surprised at his own words to say more, not willing to risk losing his chance.

Akia waited, watching, to see what would be done.

The crone chanted, and crimson tendrils of light slid up Jakra’s body like baby snakes; before Akia’s eyes, his limbs lengthened, changed, grew claws and scales.

“NO!” She ran toward them.

He turned at the sound, his serpentine eyes growing dull; he didn’t recognize her, and that, she couldn’t bear. The rest of his face was beginning to change, elongate, and before his lips disappeared,          she kissed him.

“No, you fool!” the crone shrieked.

Fire arced from Jakra’s lips, and Akia fell, writhing in pain.

The crone hissed and cursed, packing her bag.

The pain receded. “What…happened…to me? My f-f-face…feels so…strange.” Akia sat up.

Now the old woman cackled, phlegmy and raw. “You got what you wanted, dear, and so did he.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

The crone bent, took the girl’s hand, and guided it to her cheek, where something scaly writhed beneath her fingers.

“You tricked him!” Akia gasped.

The crone’s wretched smile held no amusement. “And now you have him; this is the only way you will ever kiss him now.”

“I’m going to kill you, you old bitch.” Akia was shaking, her voice seething between clenched teeth.

The crone straightened. “That may be, child. But not today.”

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

The forest was gone now, as was her brother.

She was a lady in a foreign land, no less fierce, but had long ago traded her hunting leathers for silver necklaces, blood-red gems, and fine dark dresses, though they were of no value to her.

Jakra the Red Dragon, now branded to her cheek, now living under her skin, uncoiled himself, and stared into her slate gray eyes with his slitted green ones, with the courage of a dragon. His love was now a primal, feral thing, but his heart, hot within his glowing chest, was now beating for her, and her alone.

She picked up the knife, and turned to where the crone lay bound to the altar.

“Today,” she whispered in the old woman’s ear.
 

Midnight Son (4) Morning Song

I had to make the old cleric’s coffin, so it was crude by necessity.
As I shoveled the dirt, Semele came over when I was halfway done.
There were tears in her eyes, but she wasn’t crying full out. “I couldn’t help it.”
“I know, Semele. We’ll leave, and we’ll find her.”
“She could be anywhere.”
I smiled. “Then we’ll search everywhere.”
She smiled back, then looked down at the grave again. “I’m sorry, Cassis. I’m sorry I made you suffer.”
“Want to help?”
She nodded.
“There’s another shovel in the shed.”
She left to get it, and came back. The soil was rich and soft, and she took more on the blade than I thought she could.
“Don’t get dirty, Semele.”
“Who’s going to care?”
“Don’t get saucy with me, either.”
She stuck her tongue out at me and crossed her eyes.
I chuckled and shook my head. “Are you packed?”
“Yes.”
“We should leave soon.”
“I know. How are we going to go, Ingrum? You need to sleep.”
“I was going to trust you to drive the wagon.”
“I can’t. The horses are too big. I’m not big enough to handle them.”
I sighed; hadn’t crossed my mind. She was growing, but at the rate of whatever it was that infected her, not a human rate. “I’ll have to hire someone, then.”
“There’s no one around.”
“Then you’ll have to drive it. We can’t stay, Semele.”
“All right. I’ll just keep tight on the reins.”
I felt some trepidation, though she seemed up to the challenge. “Get us to the next town, and I’ll hire a driver.”
She nodded. “Are we finished with this?”
I was tired of digging, and Cassik was already picked apart; if the wolves got him, who would know?
“Yes.”
“I’ll get my things.”
While she was gone I looked at the brightening eastern sky, counted the money I allocated for expenses, having stashed the rest that was readily available among our belongings. The rest would have to be sent for as soon as we settled.
I could either bargain with or compel someone into doing it. I decided to compel, just to cut down on the risk factor to ourselves.
“I’m ready.”
We took a last look around at the morning shadows slowly dissipating.
“I’m satisfied to remember it like this,” she said.
I nodded. “Time to go. I’ll ride with you for a bit, then hand you the reins.”
“All right.”
I helped her up to the buckboard, and she settled in, then got up beside her, and snapped the reins, made a sound that got the horses moving. The wagon lurched forward.
“Do you hear that, Ingrum?”
“What?”
“The birds are singing again.”

ALL THINGS MADE NEW (2)

Chapter 2: Someone Like You

My basement room was sparse, and cool. He bought me leather bound journals with ornate, lovely covers so I could write out my memories and feelings when he was unavailable to speak with me.
We were friends, after a fashion, and spent long hours sipping wine as he showed me something of the world, and I grew to love the sound of classical music on rainy days, and was glad to clean and organize things to release the boredom of waiting for his experiments with my blood to bear fruit.
One winter night, he brought in a fresh victim: a boy, close to my age, and slight of build like me. He looked more angry than frightened, and I recognized the urchin in him. The ‘good’ doctor was nothing if not selective.
“Zurie, this is Nelo.”
He gripped Nelo by the upper arm, and though the boy’s head was down, I could see a palm print on his cheek.
“Nelo, this is Zurie. Say hello.” He pulled the boy’s hair until his head came up, and Nelo gurgled something from a split lip.
“Nelo tried to rob me, Zurie. I did to him what I did to you at first, and like you, he’s just eaten at my table. Unlike you, he tried to steal again. I thought it best you speak to him; his defiance made me lose decorum, and I thought maybe you’d like some company.”
Nelo couldn’t take his eyes off me. His aura was dark; he seemed more shadow than boy, and though he was frightened, I fascinated him. He almost forgot the doctor was holding him until he was shoved toward me.
I reached out to balance him as he almost tumbled to the floor, and he came up looking right into my eyes, our faces close enough to kiss.
“Hello, Nelo.”
He composed himself as I helped him gain his balance before he stepped back.
“Hello, Zurie.”
It seemed stupid to shake hands.
I looked at the doctor. “Did you bring him here for me to…?”
“Yes, of course.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a vial of new blood he’d reworked.
There’d been many failed trials before, and I’d stopped getting my hopes up. The doctor was incompetent, a pretender to the field, with delusions of grandeur and ‘One day’s’ that never came. Now, his home was shelter from the storms of life and nature, but I was growing discontent with crumbs.
The others I’d known, neither friends nor family, never looked for me. It was just as well; I wouldn’t have gone back.
“Brought me here to do what?” Nelo asked, looking back and forth between me and the doctor. “To what?”
I smiled, letting my fangs grow. He recoiled and backed away as I drank the vial. Nelo ran into the girth of the doctor, who now had a knife. He turned him toward me and put the blade to Nelo’s throat, pressing, but not breaking the skin.
“Stand still,” he said in the boy’s ear.
The knife helped with that. I bit my wrist and came toward Nelo.
His eyes roamed me, and with my heightened senses I could hear his heart, and smell the fear which became visible as he wet himself.
“Give me your hand, Nelo.”
He held it out, against his will. I cut it, and rubbed the wound across my wrist.
The doctor was watching, eyes wide, breathing shallow, hoping against hope.
Nelo’s hand began to steam, and he cried out. Tilting the blade, the doctor silently warned him again to stay still. He began to whimper and beg, wanting to be let go, swearing he’d tell no one.
I smiled at him again: “But Nelo, this is something you’ll want everyone to know.”
His body twitched, spasmed, and the doctor and I lowered him the floor, watching. Screaming and wretched, Nelo rolled over onto his stomach, blood in his mouth, and went still.
The doctor looked on, worry bordering on despair.
“Give it time,” I said.
He looked at me, nodded, not yet realizing his predicament if this was successful.
Steam rose from Nelo’s body, but moments later he still didn’t move.
“It didn’t—“ the doctor started to say.
Nelo coughed up more blood, moaned, and rested his cheek in the puddle, too weak yet to stand.
From the expression on the doctor’s face, I think he surprised himself.
I was beyond pleased, and my happiness would now extend and manifest itself into the world outside this room, and onto my former tormentors.
I looked at the doctor, now beaming at me with a full-on smile. “I did it, Zurie. I did it.”
“Congratulations, doctor. You did very well.”
Nelo was trying to get up, and once again I helped him.
“What happened to me? What did you do to me?”
“He,” I pointed to the doctor, “made you like me.”
“Like you?”
“Yes.”
His eyes roamed over me once more, taking their time; I smiled and let him see my fangs.
“Welcome to our family.” The smell of his blood was pungent; I wanted to kiss him, but I walked toward the door. “You have to feed now, Nelo.” He made you like me. Like me, he beat you. Like me, he fed you. And soon, you will be like me.
He was still confused, looking at himself, at the doctor, at me. “I… I don’t know how.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, locking us in as I smiled at the doctor, who now realized his predicament.
“I’ll show you.”