War of the Wee Ones, Chapter One

Chapter One

The Beigads, the damned scrounging thieves, had come in the night-time and raided the garden. It was enough to make Dogwood chew a rock in frustration. The Thorny Guardians had already doubled the amount of sentries during the day, and had added a night shift not long ago. Now it seemed as though he’d have to add more sentries at night, as well. It would not go over well in the meeting tonight.

As Dogwood floated along the garden rows to inspect the damage. His wings moved so quick they blurred and made a low humming noise. There was a broken fence here, trampled vegetables there, and pot holes of earth where the Beigads had dug up some of the food. His lips set in a thin, angry line as his mind raced to calculate whether they’d have enough food for the winter. It seemed as though they would, but the farmers would know better. They had been lucky of late, with their crops, but luck could run out at any time. They might have to trade with other Clans, which was never ideal—even with their allies.

When Dogwood landed on the ravaged earth, he followed the Beigad tracks to where they entered the garden. It was coming from the direction of the mountain and not the forest. It was strange. The Beigads normally stayed in the forested sections of the Reserve. The Reserve was nestled in a section of the Appalachian Mountains, and it was a haven for the kind of Supes—Supernaturals—who were either not readily accepted into human society, or didn’t want to give up their cultures to adapt.

Beigads, being boars who could somewhat speak, and had just below average human intelligence, were more suited to the Reserve. Though they were much larger than Pixies, Beigads were not fast enough to defend against swarms of Pixies.

They were difficult to distinguish from common wild boars, or even feral hogs in some cases, until they spoke. Even then it was difficult, because the snorting and squealing could mask the words. Especially if a Beigad was scared or excited.

The situation was also made more difficult by the fact Dogwood and the Thorny Guardians could not kill the damned intruders. As fellow Supes they were protected by the laws of the Reserve, and if they killed the Beigads, they would be exiled. They would also face criminal charges to boot. If the Rangers found out, that is. Unless massive amounts of bodies were found, Rangers tended not to find out about any skirmishes. However, with Beigads being so much larger than the Pixies, they were difficult to kill and dispose of the bodies.

Dogwood sighed. Sometimes it did not pay to be the size of a human child’s doll.

Most on the Reserve were willing to trade with the Pixies, who tended to grow excellent food. The Beigads either didn’t want to use or learn the concept of trade, or they didn’t give two figs. The larger races on the Reserve were willing to trade odds and ends to the smaller folk for their sweet and delicious food. They knew not to try and steal the Pixie food, since Pixies had nasty and mischievous natures about them when wronged. It was in their best interest to just trade.

The only ones who didn’t seem to realize this were the Beigads, who were lucky not to still be slaves, or meals. Some humans and Supes would use them for labor, and others didn’t care the Beigads could talk with them. A pig, was a pig, was a pig, to them. That all changed with the Accords, though. The Preternatural Peace Accords of 1876 deemed that no race will enslave another while on American soil, among other things. Once freed, they used most of their time to fight amongst themselves and pester other races the same size or smaller than them. Right now Dogwood’s clan, The Hemlocks, were the ones being pestered.

Dogwood was the Captain of the Thorny Guardians, and he had to report this incident to the elders at the meeting tonight. The information would only fuel the younger ones’ want for a war against the Beigads, and Dogwood was hoping to avoid that. War with the vermin would only attract unwanted attention from the human Rangers. Most Rangers tried their best to keep peace between the growing populations of supernatural creatures on the Reserve. None of them truly understood, though, since they were human. Some hate and some beliefs run too deep for a piece of paper to cure.

As the human world advanced toward more technology, more Supes were balking at the change, and retreating to the Reserves set aside by the government for all their kind.

Dogwood sighed again, as though he could sense defeat on the horizon, and made his way back to the outpost they built when their Clan had first shown up. As he passed by the gardens of fruits and vegetables, it made Dogwood smile in spite of the foreboding feeling in his gut. Only Pixies knew the secrets of growing whatever they pleased wherever they wished. Even with the Beigads raids, his Clan was flourishing and it was a wonderful thing to behold.

The main outpost came into view a little ways beyond the gardens. It was the headquarters of the Thorny Guardians, and the largest fortification beyond the meeting hall. They had other smaller outposts ringing the entirety of their Clansland, and Pixies manned each one and patrolled in-between. Night patrols tended to work as more of a skeleton crew, but that would have to change.

Being the Captain, Dogwood would most likely see a greater share of the night shifts than the rest, which was fair. However, this meant more time away from his daughter, Laurel, and he felt his heart sink even further. The day had his emotions bouncing around inside him like a ball, and the start of a headache curled its claws behind his left eye.

The clashing sounds of training greeted his ears, and he shook away the dark thoughts crowding his mind. Now is not the time. A Pixie, who stood a touch shorter than Dogwood, barked out commands at some of the new recruits. They were all clad in the same garb as the instructor: leather armor made from the skin of local animals. It was hot and uncomfortable to train in, and not a few scowls and curses were thrown at the instructor.

The instructor’s coloring was the blue of a sage flower, and thus his name: Sage. Their variety of Pixie stemmed from the Dragonfly, and their wings shimmered like gossamer. His were a blue like a summer sky that flashed like sunlight caught sapphires, and his skin tan from long hours in the sun covered corded muscle. Hands down, Sage was one of their best fighters and trainers. His face was triangular, like a cat’s, and it showed no signs of tiring—unlike the recruits’. Roughly cut and short, his hair matched his wings and eyes. His nose had seen its fair share of breaks, and had a knob in the bridge and was crooked. Thin, pursed lips looked on as the recruits struggled with the most basic of maneuvers.

“Don’t do that, you dimwit, or you’d chop your own foot off with a real weapon!” He shouted in a voice that carried across the whole training field without issue. Since it was their first day, the new recruits were training with wooden swords. Dogwood suspected Sage would not keep them from the real thing for long.

Due to its prosperity, the Hemlock Clan had no shortage of recruits. When a Pixie reached puberty, they were tested for what role they would take in helping the Clan. The newest batch of youngsters just had their coming of age ceremony. Now they would see just how much work it took to help protect their homes and gardens.

Dogwood caught Sage’s eye and motioned for him to come over. Sage barked off one last order for them to continue with the exercise and darted over to Dogwood.

“I hope you have better news than your face is letting on, Sir,” Sage said as they both moved off to the building.

“Unfortunately you have read me correctly, old friend. I fear the problems these new tidings will bring,” Dogwood said, finally able to voice his concerns to another.

Sage snorted and looked over at the new recruits. “All the young ones shouting for the blood of the Beigads, and not knowing what real battle is like.”

Dogwood could only nod at the observation as they passed the guards outside the door to the outpost. The guards jumped to attention as the two moved by into the cool interior. They made their way back to Dogwood’s office, which overflowed with complaints about the current Beigad issue. Dogwood sighed yet again, and sat down behind his desk to read the latest dispatches from the Elders. Sage closed the door behind them and sat down in the chair at the front of the desk.

“So, what did you find this morning that has you so depressed?” Sage asked as he chewed on dried cranberries he’d pulled from a pouch at his belt.

“The Beigads have begun night raids. We will have to add extra shifts through the night until the new recruits are trained.”

Sage grunted at the news, unperturbed. He took such things in stride, having the mind set of; ‘What’s done is done. No use in complaining about it.’

“I am trying to decide how I will present the news in such a way that it will not create a huge uproar from the younger ones out for blood,” Dogwood said. He leaned back in his chair to ponder the situation.

“Well, I would say just don’t tell them, but you’re too honest for that. Those pansies don’t know the pointy end of a sword from a daffodil,” Sage said around some cranberry in his mouth.

Sage was right on both counts. The younger ones didn’t understand what was at stake, nor the logistics of the issue. Dogwood and Sage had seen their fair share of battles before the Rangers had cracked down on the fighting some years ago. Those were days neither of them longed to revisit.

“I agree they don’t understand, but I still have to make my report. Do you think you could take care of the night shift rotation schedule for me?” Dogwood asked.

Guilt crouched in his belly like a demon prodding his insides with a pitchfork for asking Sage, but he had so much work to do. Writing out the schedule would take up the time he needed to decide on how to present the newest issue, as well as take care of all the usual reports.

Sage looked over at Dogwood and laughed. “You look like you’re staring down into the gullet of a hungry dragon, friend. Of course I can write out the schedule, if you’ll promise me one thing.”

Dogwood chuckled at the imagery and looked up at Sage from the stack of papers in front of him. “What would that be?”

“Go home and spend some time with your daughter, Dogwood. I know you both miss each other sorely, especially since Rosemary—” He cut himself off abruptly.

A stabbing pain filled Dogwood’s chest, even though it had been almost two years since his wife, Rosemary, was killed in a Fay war. Laurel, their only child, had been fourteen then. Dogwood and Laurel both would have been lost without his friend, Sage, and Sage’s wife, Snapdragon.

“Laurel understands that my work here is impor—” Sage cut him off mid-sentence by waving a hand through the air.

“She might understand but I am sure she also misses you something fierce. We can survive one day without you doing paperwork. I’ll send in one of the new recruits to you tomorrow to become your assistant. Goddess knows you need one,” Sage stated.

“Are you sure you won’t need me?” Dogwood asked, as he ran a hand through his short, white hair. A nervous gesture his wife had teased him about.

“Yes! The place won’t catch fire because you aren’t doing paperwork. Now off with you, before someone comes in here with something that urgently needs your attention. I’ll see you at the meeting tonight,” Sage said. He got up from the chair and moved toward the door. Dogwood followed behind him and they left his office.

“Alright then, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t work the new recruits too hard, okay?” Dogwood joked as they exited the building, and saw the new recruits slacking off in the warm sunlight. Sage gave a wicked smile.

“I’ll only work them until they can’t lift their arms then, since you asked nicely,” Sage replied, and darted back over to the recruits, spouting orders as he went.

Dogwood laughed and headed toward the village.

Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Final Chapter

Hell Bent for Leather, Part Two

Part Two

The address was for a news station, and while they weren’t exceedingly difficult to sneak into, it was still wise to be cautious. Most important of all: make sure you look as if you belong and no one really questions you.

I drove back home to throw on the only suit I owned, and ran the plan by my roommate, Sorren, as well as the price for the job.

“You mean we’ll actually be able to eat something besides Ramen for the first time this month?” he asked, somewhat joking and hopeful.

He was a Half-Fae himself, and since our kind were not looked on with anything but contempt, we tended to congregate amongst ourselves. We formed our own little families since our blood relatives didn’t want us, and if our other half was mortal we tended to outlive that half of our bloodline. Sorren was a couple hundred years older than me. After a while you don’t keep track of the specific number. Essentially, he was the brother I never had.

I punched him lightly on a well-muscled and tanned arm. His handsome face was a shadow of the awe-inspiring beauty some of the Fae possessed, and his hair was the color of night spun into soft curls.

“Yes, hopefully,” I said, and grabbed my purse. He gave me a quick hug, and opened the front door.

“Just be careful,” he replied back, concern lightly coating his tone.

“I’ll be fine.” I threw him a half-smile to reassure him, and got into my car to drive to the news station.

I grabbed two cup holders full of coffee on my way to the station, completely for show. Personally, I hated coffee. Juggling my props as I walked toward the back door, a guy on his smoke break was kind enough to let me in with a swipe of his card. It was always easier to sneak in the back than the front, I’d noticed.

Moving my way toward the dressing rooms, I began my snooping. Whenever someone asked me what I was doing, I feigned confusion, and stammered a different room number, and implied I was an intern of some kind. I’d even snitched some dry cleaning, that I swore I’d return, from a random rack to support the cover. Most rolled their eyes and pointed vaguely toward where I could find the room.

Then I came across a room that made me stop for a moment, wondering. No, it had to be too obvious, right? Sure, Thor’s powers to create thunder and lightning were limiting in concerns to weather, but the jacket was something special.

I had heard a rumor about the jacket a few years ago. It was a gift from Coyote, a well-known Native American trickster god, to Thor, after Thor managed to best him in some game of chance; a game that Coyote was rigging. Coyote was so impressed he presented Thor with the jacket. No one really knows how Thor managed it. I mean, look at how many times Loki, a trickster from Thor’s own pantheon, had gotten the better of him.

Coyote told Thor that the jacket was from Alignak, an Inuit weather and moon god. The word ‘from’ might make it sound like the jacket was a gift or some such. In all likelihood, Coyote stole or tricked it away from Alignak. Coyote told Thor the jacket had a limited version of Alignak’s powers, making Thor more powerful by being able to manipulate and create weather. Augmenting Thor’s powers over lightning and thunder. Thor accepted, and has had it ever since.

Opening the door with the meteorologist’s name on it, there was the jacket hanging on the back of the chair. Interesting concept, I had to admit: a weatherman using Thor’s jacket to help create weather and accurate predictions for his news station.

Slipping the jacket onto a hanger I found in a small closet, I stuck it between two of the dry cleaning outfits and headed out of the room.

Then, of course, my luck ran out.

“Hey! What were you doing in my room?”

When I turned to look, a man was walking hurriedly over to me. He was short, average height and weight, nondescript brown hair set in an atrocious comb-over, eyes to match, and plain features. I could have turned around and forgotten his face seconds later. That was how some gods and goddesses preferred to travel—incognito. Not all of them of course, but since their religions have hit the back burner some of them are attempting to live normal, human lives.

So I made a logic jump.

“Alignak, right? You’re pretty far from the Arctic.”

He stopped a few feet from me, as if someone had jerked him by the back of his shirt. The surprise at hearing his true name caused the illusion of his current form to shimmer, giving me a quick glance at his godly visage. His face was wide with high cheek bones and young. However, a closer inspection showed fine age lines at the corner of his eyes and mouth. Instead of the typical dark brown eye color that borders on black, the eyes that gazed back at me were a light gray. His matte black hair was cut surprisingly short, and his skin was the color of cinnamon.

Once I knew what he was, his aura of power enveloped the immediate area. While it wasn’t imposing, it wouldn’t be easily brushed off, either. There was a tense moment when he was trying to decide what to do about me, when a coworker walked down the hall and hailed him. That broke the staring contest between us, and I relaxed a bit. It wasn’t like I could run off and not cause a scene.

Alignak replied back and said he would be right with them. Turning away from the coworker, he looked back at me, raised an eyebrow, and gestured toward his dressing room; Easy way, or hard way?

I considered my options for a moment, and decided to head into the room like a rational person. It never hurt to be reasonable first and violent later if necessary.

After a few tense moments of sizing each other up, we settled into a hesitant truce. While talking with Alignak, it became clear he wasn’t the one who stole the leather jacket from Thor. In fact, he was just as surprised to see it back in his closet one morning as he had been when it had disappeared from the same closet a few years ago.

Coyote was the one to steal it in the first place, and in spite of Alignak having the jacket for many years and liking it, he didn’t deem an article of clothing worth getting upset over.

“Do you think Coyote gave it back to you to stir up trouble?”

I asked him while sipping on a bottle of water he so generously offered. I was sitting down in a brown fold out chair from the stack against the wall, and he pulled up one not too far from me. If I lunged, it would be just far enough out of my reach to give him time to react. Trusting bunch, supernaturals, weren’t we?

“It is possible—he has been growing bored lately. People just don’t believe in us the way they used to. Even though they’ll shake hands with various supernatural creatures, believing in gods and goddesses is still a little much for them.

“So, the only way for Coyote to get his kicks is by tormenting those who do believe in him—other gods.”

He continued with this line of complaining for a while. There’s nothing like getting someone in the room who believed, and understood, what you were going through. I confirmed a couple of my suspicions, asked to borrow the jacket with a promise to return it, and headed out to see if it was possible to trick a trickster.


I called my roommate, running my suspicions and plan by him for the second time that day.

Hearing the sigh on the other end of the line, I couldn’t help a twinge of guilt that twanged in my conscience. What I had planned meant we wouldn’t get paid, and the fridge was running a bit lean while of course the bills were running high. We had recently moved to Jacksonville, so we were still trying to find real jobs while we did these odd jobs in the interim.

“Don’t worry about it, Kella—we’ll get by like we always do,” his deep voice grumbled over the phone line.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it. Who knows, though, maybe we’ll still get paid,” I said, trying to keep a note of hope in my voice. Judging by the snort I heard on the other end of the line, I hadn’t succeeded in reassuring him.

“I’ll call a few ‘people’ up—just be careful,” he said, hanging up the phone. No goodbyes for us.

I was back at the restaurant where I met the demon Thyla earlier. There were only two other people on the porch this time, both of them older gentleman hunkered behind their newspapers on opposite ends from each other.

Paying them no mind, I settled down with a margarita watching the sky darken as the sun dipped below the horizon. It was sending streamers of oranges, reds, and yellows across the clouds in a last ditch attempt to make sure we’d miss it once it was gone. Fat chance of that, I thought, fanning myself with a menu.

I didn’t have to wait long for my guests of honor to show up, though, and they didn’t look particularly happy with my choice in tablemates. The two of them stopped about seven feet on opposing sides from where I was sitting, and began a staring contest that would have done the Wild West proud. All we needed was a tumble weed rolling behind us on the beach and pistols at their hips. Cowboy attire need not apply—I wasn’t into chaps.

My voice broke the silence that had settled over our little corner of the world, and I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing as they turned identical annoyed frowns my way.

“Loki, Coyote, will the two of you join me, or does a girl have to dine alone?”

Thyla quirked a pleased smile, and her features dissipated like smoke in the breeze, leaving behind an equally pleased Loki.

Loki was certainly a handsome deity, with the difference between this form and Thyla’s being minimal. Everything was paler, and more masculine and mischievous. One glance at Loki and I could understand where the phrase, ‘roguish looks’, came from.

Falling into a chair on my right and laughing, he slouched into the same position I sat in earlier and gave me his best smile.

“You’re always looking for an excuse to wear women’s clothing, Loki,” I said teasingly.

“Guilty as charged. Plus, you caught us at our game. However did you figure it out?”

“I was suspicious about the job, and it wasn’t too hard to figure out once I phoned your friends over there,” I said, nodding my head in deference to the older gentlemen on the porch. Behind Loki, Odin nodded back with a serious expression on his face, but an amused glint in his one eye.

Meanwhile, the other man, Amotken, was plainly showing us how entertaining he found the situation on his age-lined face. He was a creator god, and having been the one to set Coyote on the world supposedly, I guess I could expect no less. He tilted his head in response to me, and the two elder gods went back to reading their papers.

Coyote sat on my left, across the table from Loki. He was the one I had encountered at the news station, not Alignak, and he had also dropped the illusion of his alternate form. Alignak was the real weatherman at the station.

“I’m assuming you called in the parents to make sure we behaved ourselves?” Coyote asked, with a glint in his eyes to match Loki’s.

“Yes, and to make sure you both leave Alignak alone after this. I gave him his jacket back, by the way,” I said to Loki, who shrugged.

“I was only getting it back for Thor to be honest.”

“And I was getting it back for Alignak, since Loki cheated,” said Coyote, shooting a look to Loki. Whether it was admiring or annoyed, I could not tell; mayhap it was a little of both.

Apparently, when Coyote thought he was playing Thor in a game it was actually Loki in disguise as Thor. Loki had heard about Coyote’s plans and was not pleased that a trickster from another pantheon was meddling in his, so he decided to play a trick of his own. Loki gifted the jacket to the real Thor, but Coyote found out. Coyote then duped the jacket from the real Thor, and Loki hired me in turn get it back; because Coyote would be on the lookout for Loki.

“What made you suspicious?” Coyote asked, curiosity threading through his question.

“Loki coming in demon form did. None of them would ever be caught dead with me, and if they were caught, in all likelihood they would be dead,” I said, giving a small smile to Loki. He just laughed and nodded.

“Ah well, I guess the game had to come to an end. Truce?” Loki held out his hand to Coyote and the two of them shook.

“Will I still be paid?” I asked as I looked over to Loki again, but no one was there. All four of them had vanished like food near a hungry seagull.

I sighed, finished my margarita, and headed to my jeep. It was probably the last little splurge I could do while I waited for another job to come in. Good deeds never go unpunished, especially by the gods.



Hell Bent for Leather, Part One

Hell Bent for Leather, Part One

Part One

The start of a headache pounded behind my eyes, and I looked over at my companion. The sensation was not going away and neither was she.

Graced with a natural, All-American girl beauty that conjured images of a preacher’s daughter, she was average height and slender. She wore jean cut-off shorts, sandals, and a sheer peach tank top with a white bikini top underneath. The outfit cost more than four of my own combined; all to show off a nice, even tan she likely paid too much for. Who pays for a tanning bed when you live in Florida?

She had a heart-shaped face, button-cute nose, deep dimples, and needed almost no excuse to flash a white smile that showed teeth belonging in an orthodontia commercial. To top it off, her hair was a natural golden wheat blonde with just enough curl to give a bouncy appearance, and her eyes were the blue of cornflowers. Just gag me with apple pie now.

We received our fair share of glances from both genders. Correction, she got the appreciative glimpses with a double-take. When they saw me, they likely wondered what this girl was doing hanging around with someone so below her class.

That is not to say I’m hard on the eyes, but compared to what was sitting across from me I’d go out on a limb and say I paled in comparison. Almost in a true sense of the word.

My jeans were a faded dark wash, ragged, and torn in places. Not through design, but work, play, and the lack of caring to go shopping for new ones. Worn flip-flops graced my feet, and a faded black t-shirt that had a few holes advertised a café I frequented. It hung a little loose from my frame, sure, but these days loose consisted of anything not skin-tight.

Where her hair had the blonde that most chased in a bottle, my hair color could not be mistaken for anything but white as the driven snow. It stayed pulled back in a braid to keep it from spazzing out in the humidity, and the tip brushed right between my shoulder blades. Given the chance, and freedom, I could look like a walking dandelion inside of five minutes out my door.

My own tan wasn’t half bad, though I would assume the word golden comes to mind instead of brown. It was a pale gold that echoed the skin color of my human mother. It was the only thing I inherited from her, along with just enough mortal blood to put a target on my back.

I was more athletic than slender, so my body wasn’t soft like hers. My eyes are the same light blue as a husky’s, set in a triangular face that doesn’t smile enough—or so I’ve been told.

However, if people look below the aesthetics for more than a couple minutes, they might be able to sense something wrong with the woman across from me. Of course, that was the whole point in looking the way she did, wasn’t it? People weren’t likely to look beyond the gorgeous exterior. It worked for models. Most of them were some kind of supernatural or another, like Succubi, and no one cared a whit.

The breeze rustled the palm trees not twenty feet away, but didn’t seem to reach the porch of the restaurant. The air sat stagnant around us, as if we were in the swamp instead of a stone’s throw from the beach. Some of the other patrons were fanning themselves with their menus.

A perpetual cloud hung over us, and it left the area in more shadow than anywhere else on the sunny afternoon. The other people were also sitting as far away from us as they could manage, and they likely did it without realizing. Certain supes—supernaturals—tend to have that affect over their surroundings and normal humans. The more powerful the supe, the more powerful the effects. I was betting the lovely girl across from me was one of the nastier kinds.

Her evil aura pushed out anything good for a certain radius, and it was all contained in that cute little unassuming bundle. Once a person knew what to look for, that shining smile had more sneer than cheer, and her bright eyes held a cold sheen of cruelty. Mayhaps Little Miss All-American was a demon. I didn’t run into those too terribly often.

There were two ways a demon came to walk around on Earth: inhabit the body in conjunction with a corrupt soul, (which wasn’t too hard to come by these days), or manifest their own body. I could not sense anything in her that indicated there was a soul hanging about, shoved to the side, so I grudgingly had to admit that she was a powerful one. Only demons of a certain level could manifest their own bodies.

When she spoke, her voice was happy, upbeat, and completely insincere.

“Well aren’t you just the prettiest little half-Fae this side of the Abyss, Kella? Who’d have thought you’d have the looks to go along with all that yummy power? Despite, of course, from what I hear on the grapevine about you being half-human.”

I didn’t even bother glaring at her—it wouldn’t do me any good, and it would only make her happy. However, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.

“Before you continue your insincere and snarky observations, Thyra—if that’s even your name—keep in mind that you called me here, and I have no qualms walking away.” My voice was calm, unconcerned, and bored as I reclined back in my chair. I crossed my legs at my ankles, and folded my hands across my stomach with my elbows resting on the arms of the chair.

What I said was mostly true; I could just walk away, but of course I was curious. Demons didn’t usually look me up for a couple of reasons. Despite what mainstream media believed, Fae and demons didn’t usually mix. We intermingled about as well as oil and water. For me there was another reason entirely.

Thyra pouted, even sticking out her lower lip for effect.

“You’re just no fun, you know. I thought the half-Fae ballsy enough to lay waste to the Demon King would be more interesting,” she said, leaning forward and putting her chin in her hand. I could see the expectant look in her eyes, as she hoped her words would provoke a reaction. They did, but none I would let her see.

It was a fluke that’d I won out over one of the Demon Kings. He’d been trying to sacrifice me to gain the attention of my father—who couldn’t summon a fatherly feeling toward me if someone held an enchanted object to his head that was capable of killing him. No one was likely to save me, and I wasn’t into the whole damsel in distress thing, so I snagged the knife he was about to use on me. Not thinking me a threat, he’d left it on the table next to me. Who knew that daggers made to kill Fae worked just as well on demons? The only thing that saved me as I escaped, was that no one had believed what I’d done.

I could tell by her words she was a juvenile when it came to her race, and thought she was hot stuff coming to visit me. I was like a bogeyman to young demons. Which was silly—I hadn’t killed any demons before, or since, the King; and all this happened a couple hundred years ago, give or take a decade.

“If you’ve come here to hash out grievances that are older than you, then I really am leaving. If you have actual business, state it.”

I leveled my gaze at her, and kept my face unsmiling. Her pout deepened for a moment and then vanished into a smile that said, ‘geez, I was just kidding’. Mentally shaking my head, I wondered who they were breeding down there to get demons like this.

“Fine, down to brass tacks then. I want you to find Thor’s leather jacket and bring it to me. I have a buyer lined up and ready for the purchase. It disappeared a few days ago, and I’d like to get it before Thor finds it again. I’ve heard you are, at times, willing to…creatively acquire objects.”

It took a second for my brain to catch up, and I did a long blink trying to process the information. She was hiring me for a job. Interesting, and not at all what I was expecting. I generally kept my services on the legal side of the tracks. There were times–when I was broke–that I’d take a little walk on the proverbial dark side.

“Last I heard Thor was spending his time running around with a biker gang in Montana, having a grand ole time. While I don’t mind traveling, that’s a bit outside my range. Is the jacket here in Jacksonville?” I asked, and took a sip of my cold water. The condensation left a thick ring of liquid on the table, and I ran my fingers through it, thinking.

Deities, also known as gods and goddesses, existed in this world. They weren’t as powerful as what ruled above us, but most of them were still fairly spunky for beings that hadn’t been worshiped in a while.

She nodded at my question, tossed me an address written on a piece of paper, and continued to explain.

“When a deity wears a certain article of clothing for a long time, it creates a connection with them. If a person puts on the clothing, they are able to use some of the powers of the deity.”

“So your buyer has a death wish then? I can’t imagine Thor will be happy to know someone has his favorite jacket,” I said, musing aloud.

She only shrugged and glanced away, inspecting her manicure. Demons with manicures. The state of the world really was going down the toilet.

“I don’t care what happens to the client after I get my money and hand off the jacket. That’s their problem. I will, however, take advantage of acquiring it from a less resistant target than Thor himself. Are you going to get it or not?”

“Sure, I’ve got nothing else on my plate right now.” Not to mention, as I said, I was curious and broke. A deadly combination, if any.

“Good, I need it by tonight. Think you can handle that?”

“I’ll try my best, but unless the address is where the jacket currently is I make no promises,” I said, and shrugged.

“That was the last place I heard it was at. If you can’t get it, my buyer walks, and this is an item I’d prefer to sell with discretion. I’ll make it worth your while if you manage to get it.”

We spent a few minutes, haggling on the price. I had a few numbers in mind that included potential hazards to life and limb for the job, as well as the difficulty level. She had a few numbers in mind as well, and of course they were well below my numbers. Once we reached an agreeable amount, in cash, we rose from the table and shook on it.

“Ciao,” she said, tossing her hair back and walking away. I looked down at the address, and wiped the condensation off on my jeans.

Well, this is going to be interesting.

Hell Bent for Leather, Part II

It Ends with a Teardrop, Part Two

Part Two

Conlan paced around his room in the Guard barracks, running a roughened hand through his curls; a gesture from his childhood. The echo of his mother’s words float to him in his mind.

You are going to lose all of that beautiful hair if you keep doing that, Conlan.

He dropped his hand to his side, and gave a ghost of his usual lopsided grin. It faded as the present situation returned to the forefront of his thoughts.

“What would you have done, mother? Father?” His voice was hushed in the sparse quarters, and no answers came from the bare stones.

A knock sounded at his door, and when he opened it, it took all he had not to curl his lip in disgust. There were some soldiers who followed the King’s cruel orders because it was their duty. Then there were those, like this one, who did so with glee.

“Your brother has requested your presence in the throne hall, Captain.”

A knot of fear and anxiety twisted around his heart, but he kept his visage smooth and unworried. His brother summoned him to the throne hall all the time, he reasoned. No need to jump into trouble before it found him.

“Lead the way,” Conlan said. Despite the rationalization on his part, the cold look of malice in the guard’s expression kept his heartbeat in his throat all the way to the throne hall.

When he entered the short hall through ancient, double oak doors, he stopped dead in his tracks. The guard who brought him shoved him in the rest of the way, and closed and barred the doors.

The Queen knelt on the floor next to the throne, shackled, face bloodied and bruised, and with a guard holding her at swordpoint from behind. Rage danced in the Captain’s eyes and belly as he looked around the room at the other guards. Some lowered their eyes, while others met his gaze brazenly. He noted which ones were which, but in the end none of them had done anything to stop this.

Finally, he looked to his brother. They were mirror images of each other: tall, golden curls, wide-shouldered, strong in body, and with handsome faces. Their features were unique to a kingdom of darker shades in hair and eyes, and it marked them as being descended from the royal line.

“May I ask why you have put your Queen in shackles, my King?”

While they may have shared the same features, most knew the sneer adorning the King’s features would never have found its way to Conlan’s visage.

My Queen, is she? From what I have been told, she is no more than your whore.”

Conlan had to clench his teeth against the fury and succeeded—barely.

“What has the King heard on such matters, and from whom?”

The King slammed a fist on the arm of his throne, made from the same giant oak as the doors, and spittle flew from his mouth with his next words.

“It does not matter who I have heard this from! A bastard child rests within the Queen’s belly—your bastard!” the King yelled at his brother, and stood. His words echoed through the hall, the accusation seeming to ring against his armor and in his ears.

No one moved or made a sound, and the King sat back down, calm once more. His anger, like lightning, was quick to appear and leave, but left devastation in its wake.

“I know I am not loved by the people of this kingdom, and they would readily rally around your banner and bastard. Your attempt to overthrow me will not work, however,” the King stated, and his eyes gleamed with a malicious light.

Then Conlan heard it, distantly–the sound of screaming.

“What have you done?” the Captain whispered.

“I have ordered the capitol, and its people, destroyed by whatever means amuse the guard.”

No one in the room seemed surprised at the King’s words, and Conlan’s heart sank.

“There was no plot to overthrow you, brother. Your madness has taken you completely, I fear.” His words were sad, but only seemed to enrage his brother further.

“You dare to call me brother while consorting with my wife? Seize him!”

Guards circled around and forced him to kneel. The King descended from the throne, and between the legs of the men Conlan watched as the Queen wept.

Parting like water as the King finally reach him, Gerhard grabbed Conlan by the hair and jerked his head up.

“Make sure she is watching this,” the King said to the guard behind the Queen, who grabbed her hair in a similar manner as the King, and forced her to look to Conlan. The King stepped to the side, so they could both watch what was to come.

Unsheathing the sword at his hip, it passed close enough to the Captain’s face that he saw his own sorrowful reflection. As he let the sword hang at his side, Gerhard looked between the Queen and his Captain.

“Let us play a game, hmm? I am going to run you through with my sword while she watches.”

At his words, the guards grabbed Conlan’s shoulders, undoing the armor and padding, and then forcing them back to give the King the best target. Conlan could not struggle while this was taking place; there were at least twenty guards around, and the one holding the Queen would likely slit her throat before he could get very far.

The King brought his sword back with both hands, their father’s sword. Conlan kept his eyes on his Queen, willing her with them to look nowhere else. She gave a small nod as his Gerhard shoved at least twenty inches of sharp steel through Conlan’s stomach.

The searing pain took his breath away, and it hissed through his teeth, but he never took his gaze from hers. Even then, a small sob escaped her lips, and tears mixed with blood as they ran down her damaged face.

Kneeling down, the King whispered his next words in his brother’s ear.

“Nice and painful? Good. Now you can watch as the same thing happens to her.”

Conlan’s head snapped around to meet his brother’s gaze, and in it the void that was his brother’s insanity. The men who held his shoulders had let go after the King ran him through.

There was one last action he could do, and he prayed to all the Gods that would listen, that it was the correct choice. He fell backward on his heels, chin to his chest, feigning defeat. His brother’s joyous laughter was harsh in his ears.

As quickly as he dared, he pushed his mind past the pain and slid the dagger in his boot out. It would have been too noticeable to go for his sword at his side, and he needed all the time he could get. The fools had not disarmed him when he entered the room, and he thanked the Gods for that small bit of luck.

Fast as lightning, Conlan threw his right shoulder into the King, knocking him off balance and to the floor. Before anyone could react, Conlan jumped on his brother, plunged the knife upward into his brother’s chest, beneath the ribs, and sought his heart if one still beat there.

As the world darkened around the edges of his vision, his brother coughed blood. He had hit more than the heart, and he hoped it was enough.

The silence broke around them as everyone began yelling.

“I knew you wanted me dead,” the King choked out.

“You brought this on yourself, brother. I did not want this end—for any of us,” Conlan whispered back, and fell down again, this time next to his brother.

“Liar,” his brother said softly, and with that final word he was no more.

Conlan’s eyes dropped closed for what felt like an eternity, but they jarred open once more when delicate fingers brushed the curls from his forehead. With a groan, he rolled as much as the sword on his hip, and the sharp pains taking his breath away, would allow.

The Queen was crying softly. Instead of screaming or sounds of battle, there was a profound quiet in the room. Then, the soft patter of rain on the windows found his ears. The drought finally broke.

He tried to lift his hand to wipe her tears as he had earlier, but there was no strength left in him. She caught his hand in both of hers before it hit the ground, and placed it against her cheek for the final time.

“How did you…?”

“The guards began to fight each other after you stabbed the King. The one who held my chains tried to kill me, but was struck down by another guard, who then released me.”

“Ah, I see. Then you are safe?”

Nodding, because the words could not find their way past her throat, Conlan sighed in relief and smiled.

“Thank the Gods for that.”

“No. Thank you, my love.”


“One brother left the world full of hate, while the other left it with a smile. He knew the ones he loved most were safe.”

Amazingly, her inquisitive child had remained silent through the entire story. It did not last long.

“What happened to the city? What about the Queen and her child?”

“The guards who had fought and won in the throne room sent out messengers to detain any guards that prevented the citizens from saving their city. Much of it was razed because of the summer drought, as some guards had chosen fire to destroy the city. The sudden rainfall helped, and people used the water they had been saving to put out the larger fires the rain could not douse.”

She paused, but her daughter pressed her further.

“I know the Queen did not stay. The throne is currently held by a Seneschal.”

The mother nodded.

“Correct. The Queen fled the capital and has not been seen since. The Seneschal holds the throne until she can be found, and the royal line reinstated with the Captain’s–Conlan’s–heir.”

Her daughter gave her a considering look well beyond her years, but said nothing. As her daughter turned her face upward to the stars, the mother knew she was seeking the brightest one.

“I think the brightest star is Conlan.”

The mother could only smile.

“Me, too. Now it is time to sleep.”

Lilliana lay back on her bed, yawning.

“Good night, mother.”

“Good night, child.”

Her daughter closed soft blue eyes, the color of spring. The mother kissed the golden curls on the crown of her daughter’s head, and left the room.

The mother walked out the front door, and leaned against the stone of the cottage. As she found the brightest star in the sky, her smile held less sadness than it had on other nights like this. Though tears still streamed down her face, they were happy, and she knew he was watching.

“Thank you, my love.”


It Ends with a Teardrop, Part One

It Ends with a Teardrop, Part One

Part One

The quiet countryside was still warm from the summer sun, though night had settled over the land a turn ago. A small cottage was tucked against a copse of trees. The wooden shutters were open to allow the light breeze through, and leaning out one of the windows was a small girl.

Standing on a mattress filled with straw so she could reach the sill with her elbows, a tiny chin rested in the palms of her delicate hands. This was how her mother found her: serious eyes turned toward a sky the color of pitch, and gazing at the cold, white light of the countless stars overhead.

She shook her head with a small, secret smile mothers discover after they have children. The one where they know a child is misbehaving, but they still find amusement in the child’s actions. She moved into the room and tucked the folds of her skirt beneath her as she sat on the bed, and crossed her ankles loosely.

“You were sent to bed half a turn ago, Lilliana, so why is it I have found you still awake?” The mother smoothed her skirt over her legs as she spoke, but the sound of her voice did not turn the child’s gaze from the heavens.

“What are stars, mother?”

The question did not catch her off guard the way it might for others; she was used to her daughter asking such things out of the blue.
“An old soul, that one is,” the healer who lived in the village told her once. “Just like her Da.”

The healer was the only one in the village whom the mother had confided in about her daughter and herself. Though she suspected the others in the village weren’t fooled.

The memory sent an ache through her chest, and though she knew it would never fade, she welcomed the pain and the memories that came with it. Such was life. Sorrow and happiness, locked in a dance as eternal as the sky her daughter surveyed.

“The Academias say stars are made of rocks that burn for hundreds of years, until the flames consume them completely, or they fall to the earth.”

Saying nothing for a few heartbeats, Lilliana finally shifted her eyes to look at her mother over her shoulder.

“That is not what you believe.” The insight sent a slight shock through the mother, and she could only answer with the truth as she believed it.

“No, I do not. I believe the old Sages; that stars are made from the souls of our history’s greatest warriors, heroes, and kings.”

A sudden grin spread over the child’s face, like the sun breaking through rain-heavy clouds.

“I think so, too.”

The girl jumped around and landed cross-legged on the bed beside her mother, and the sudden shift in behavior made her mother laugh.

“Who do you think is the person who made the brightest star?”

Pursing her lips, the mother frowned down at the child. “You have had your sleep-time story for tonight, Lilliana Constance. It is time for you to put your head to pillow and rest.”

The pensive child in front of her a moment ago was gone, and instead she had one closer to a normal youth of seven years.

“Please, mama, please!” Lilliana begged, clasping her hands together in front of her in supplication.

The mother laughed softly once more and acceded. “Alright, but after this you must go to your rest for the night.”


Lilliana settled down for a story, but as her mother began the words held a weight of sadness to them.

“You wish to know who the brightest star in the sky is? Then I shall tell you what I believe. Do you know why the coming Summer Solstice is a day of solemn reflection for the morning, and celebration at night?”

“Because of the mad King, Gerhard, who ruled the land through insanity, fear, and misery, was struck down by his Captain of the Guard, Conlan, on the Summer Solstice of the year I was born.”

Her mother gave a solemn nod. The words were rote, recited back to the mother as though they were in a schoolhouse.

“Yes, that is true. What people forget, though, is that Conlan and Gerhard were brothers. The older one the King, and the younger one the Captain.”

Lilliana’s eyes widened. She had never heard this before.

“He killed his own brother? Was it not hard for him to do?”

“It was the hardest decision he ever had to make, and he did not come to it lightly. The day he killed his elder brother was the day the King set the guard to destroy the capitol by any means necessary—along with all the people living there.”

The child’s face grew stricken, and her voice distressed as the next question came. “Why? Why would the King do such a thing? And why would his guard go through with it?”

The mother had known this question would come some day, but wishing for more time before having to answer was foolish. Taking in a deep breath, she looked out to the stars and said nothing for a moment.

“Tell me the story, please?”

“You are up far beyond when you are supposed to be, so I shall only tell you of the Burning Day.”

“Sounds fair,” Lilliana agreed. The mother shook her head at her daughter, but began the story.

“It all started in the afternoon…

The royal gardens were usually a lovely place to sit in the summer, with the dappled shade from the trees dancing on the stone benches and grass. This particular summer, on the other hand, seemed to have spawned from the fiery abyss of the Underworld.

Leaves that were usually lush and green hung dead and brown from the branches. Instead of making sweet music in the cool breeze, they rustled ominously in the hot wind. Like whispers of the long-ago royal dead who used to walk the very same paths.

The Queen sat on a bench beneath one of the larger trees in the garden, near the back, southern wall. She was attempting to read a book, but was stuck with the same line repeating meaninglessly in her mind. In her state of deep contemplation on matters other than the book, she did not hear the approach of heavy boots crunching dried leaves beneath them.

“I thought with my dear brother’s suspicions growing more noticeable, you wanted to cease contact for a time.”

The Captain’s kind, soft voice startled the Queen out of her thoughts, and she spun toward the man she had grown to love.

As the unhelpful breeze blew through the parched grasses, it moved the golden, sweat-soaked curls on Conlan’s head. A subdued smile played on the Queen’s parched lips, and she scooted down the bench to make room for the Captain.

“Yes, and I still believe it to be a wise decision. However, something has come up and I fear it cannot wait; not even another day.”

Conlan slid onto the bench next to the Queen, and uneasiness began to slide through his stomach.

The Queen closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them to look at his breathtaking blue eyes. The King’s were a pale, cold imitation of his younger brother’s; with no feeling left to them except malicious desires. Conlan’s were the hue of the first warm spring sky after a harsh winter.

“I have not had my bleeding time in three moon cycles.”

Her words sent a flurry of emotions running through the Captain’s mind and heart that took his breath away.


She bit her lip to try and restrain the relieved smile, but it was having none of that. Lifting his hand to cup the side of her face gently, the Queen held it in place and turned so she could breathe in the scent of him. Leather, sweat, polish for his armor, and beneath it all the scent that had no words but ‘him’. Combined, they could comfort her even at the worst moments.


He knew his brother had not been to the Queen’s bed in some time, except to exorcise his anger upon her flesh. The child was Conlan’s, for sure.

The sudden rush of joy was soon tempered by sadness, followed quickly by fear.

“He is going to have us both executed if he discovers this,” he said, voice quiet. A sick feeling making its way to his heart as he thought of the King.

Bitter tears welled in her honey brown eyes, and as a single tear fell he shifted his hand to wipe it from her cheek.

“I know,” she whispered, and her voice held so many emotions it seemed impossible.

There was no other choice for them now.

“We must find a way to leave this place.”

Her words were simple and true, but he knew there was more to it than that. With the madness taking more of his brother’s mind each day, he would not rest until they were both dead. The entire kingdom would suffer for this.

Then there was the fact he was torn between his love for the woman next to him, and his King. No matter what, he was still his older brother. Even though his hope that his brother would someday return dwindled each day.

“I need a few days to think on this,” he said, moving his hand away from the Queen, fingertips lingering on her cheek.

She nodded. “We have a few days, yet, but not many.”

“I understand.”

Taking her hand in his, he bowed and brushed soft lips across the back of her hand. With that, he turned and left the gardens, his Queen watching him leave. Both wondered how they were going to do this.

Not far from where the Queen sat, a malicious shadow slipped away, and all but skipped directly to the King.

It Ends with a Teardrop, Part II

Evil is as Evil Does, Part Two

Part II

I sat in front of the demon and crossed my legs, just outside of kicking range. At least the child’s legs weren’t long. Dash took up his post near me, but not close enough to invade my personal space. He kept an eye on the townfolk around us. There were times people would attack us, or the possessed person. Or we’d even have an onlooker become possessed because of their own weaknesses. Once I began purifying, I’d be almost defenseless. That’s why Shadows doubled as bodyguards. Purifiers left defenseless didn’t last long.

I set the used black candle down to my right, and dug a box of matches out from my bag. I kept them in a waterproof leather pouch, because it was important to keep them dry. There were times when we roamed between settlements, and all that stood between us and the dark was our fire. Not just the dark of night, but the dark of spirit and evil. Fire was one of the most purifying forces in our world, bringing both life and death. It was a force to be respected and feared; not only by humans, but by forces both good and evil.

I pulled out a match, struck it, and lit the candle. Black wasn’t always an evil color. It represented one of the strongest colors for protection. I opened my book, and stuck it underneath my knee to keep it that way. I never wrote out complete prayers, because each situation is unique in some way.

“As fire burns, so burns the purity of this child’s spirit, and you shall not darken that flame with your evil essence, demon. I call upon the power of the Phoenix, and as the fiery bird burns away in this life, so do you burn, demon. As it is reborn from the ashes, so, too, will this child rise from this unharmed and renewed.”

A hot wind rushed against my back, like a bird beating its wings. The candlelight whipped and flared brighter for a moment. This time the demon didn’t howl, but screamed in pain.

The group around us flinched. “Steady on,” Dash said in barely more than a whisper.

Next came the knife. Despite its age, the honed blade was sharper than my uncivilized tongue. I’d inherited it from my mother, another Purifier, who’d died when she’d placed her trust in the wrong Shadow. It was also how I’d gotten the scar.

With the light pressure of the blade, I cut a paper-thin line across my palm. It would scar and join the others there. I rarely resorted to this type of cleansing, because it was dangerous for the Purifier. I had a bad feeling about the town. This girl didn’t deserve to die because of whatever stupid shit the adults around her were doing.

I turned over my journal, and scooted unceremoniously over to her side. I leaned away from her; it wouldn’t do to have her bite me. I mimicked the cut on the palm of the girl, and the murmurs rose again. Dash shifted behind me, his movement making the floorboards creak. The voices died down. He sure was nifty to have around.

When I placed the cuts together, and grasped her hand tight in mine so she couldn’t wiggle free. The noise that rose from her made the previous sounds mere whispers in comparison. My words didn’t need to reach anyone’s ears but the demon’s. No matter how much noise it made it could not block out the words of a Purifier.

“Let blood call to blood. Though you are not blood of my blood, you are blood as I am blood—human. Let the divinity in my blood as a Purifier, proclaimed by a Wanderer, wash this young girl free of the demon’s essence.”

Now the demon cried. Great, pitiful sobs that came out broken through the girl’s damaged chords.

“I shall not repent, and you shall not have her, Purifier. I will take her, screaming into the abyss!” The demon turned toward me and spat.

I didn’t flinch. Instead, I released the child’s hand after a final squeeze. I wiped my cheek against my shirt. The spittle had begun to burn my skin, but not with an intensity it would have before I began the purification. We were getting somewhere.

Whether I could get them apart remained to be seen.

Next came the bone, passed down through generations in my family. Hundreds of years ago, all manner of beings, both evil and divine, of all the varying religions, came down onto the earth. Some good deities identified people they believed to be worthy. The divine good guys, known as Wanderers, equipped the human good guys with certain artifacts. One of which was rumored to be this rib bone—supposedly taken out of the body of an angel, by an angel. Etched into it were markings no one could identify for me. I was sure they were some language even our ancestors may not recognize, because they were not of this earth.

The markings glowed faintly in the presence of the demon. Flickering, as though illuminated by a silver fire.

“Bone of a Wanderer. Ancient as time itself. Let its divine aura repulse the creature of evil present here, and resonate with the child’s soul,” I said, and placed the bone on the child’s lap. No matter how the demon moved or wiggled, the bone stayed in place. Drawn to the demonic aura like a magnet.

Next came the pouch of rock salt, given to me by a devout witch. As were the two leather pouches it came in. One was large, to carry the bulk of the salt. The smaller one I used during purifying. It was tooled with enchantments to fuse the salt with power. To trap the essence of the demon once it was drawn into the pouch.

I opened the drawstring of the top of the bag wide, and cupped the pouch in both hands beneath the nose of the demon.

“Draw the demon’s essence from her, as drawing poison from a wound. Let it come to rest in this salt, one of the greatest purifying agents found in this dimension, and all those betwixt and between. Let it be your prison, until you are released for a final death, demon,” I growled, my long-ago damaged chords making it painful to speak.

It let out a single throaty chuckle, and looked me in the eye before dissipating.

“My kind are not the only ones capable of evil roaming these lands, Purifier. Remember your history. Know the evil of humans has long persisted without the aid of my kind…” it whispered out, and the salt turned black in the pouch. I drew the strings tight so fast that they hummed, like the plucked string of a cello.

The girl’s head lolled forward, exhausted, and quiet sounds of pain began to escape from her lips. I lifted her head, and bade her to drink some of my holy water. She grimaced, but didn’t scream, which meant I hadn’t drawn the demon out completely. I sighed and looked to Dash, who gave a grim nod in return.

The adults around us broke the circle, and continued their murmuring, growing more uneasy. That didn’t sit well with me, and when the mayor came in the girl tensed behind me. I hadn’t known she’d looked up, but she had.

She tried to speak, but it came out as nothing more than a cough. I gave her more water, this time the regular kind, and leaned in close to hear her speak. It was a scant few words, but they chilled me down to my soul. I looked up to Dash.

“We aren’t finished.” He looked from the girl, to me, and nodded.

I ‘deputized’ the majority of the townsfolk, which wasn’t difficult once they heard what happened. Any of the offenders who tried to escape were quickly run down. We rounded up the elders, all of whom had stayed behind to form the circle. They were trying to avoid this exact situation. Also on the list were the child’s mother, father, and the leader of the town. I locked them in the meeting house, deaf to their screams, and pleas for mercy.

The actions of a Purifier in the face of evil were above reproach. What these people had done was evil. Human, or not.

The mother and father took the girl outside of the wards, where the elders and leader were waiting. They allowed the girl to be possessed. To see if they could use the demon for free, strong labor in exchange for keeping the girl.

I set the meeting house on fire. We remained until there was nothing but ash, stone, and the occasional bone smoldering in the ruin.

The girl was sitting in front of Dash, who was on his horse. She would be coming with us, now an outcast as all Shadows were outcasts. Leaving behind everything she knew would be difficult, but it was better this way.

We turned the horses to head north, back toward the place we called home. I thought back on the demon’s words; “My kind are not the only ones capable of evil…”

Indeed not. Bless it all, we should be better than the demons! The monsters in the dark. Even though it was our right as humans to choose our own path. Free of the influence of the evil, or divine, who now roamed the land.

I rolled my shoulder and grinned tiredly back at Dash, who returned the smile, just as worn down. I’d just have to stick around to make sure we could continue to make that choice, too old for this or not.



Evil is as Evil Does, Part One

Part I

They used to say the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was getting people to not believe in him. As I hold the gaze of the girl with black eyes in front of me, I wondered how the people from years gone-by could have ever been so ignorant.

The demon-possessed child alternated between the expected, extreme states of behavior. Gnashing her little, razor sharp teeth. Howling like an enraged beast. Growling like the rumble of rocks grinding together in a landslide. Or falling so silent at times, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Noises like that should never come from a human, let alone a four year-old who weighed just shy of three stone.

She spent much of her time straining and railing against the chains engraved with religious markings. As a result, her torn skin was bleeding and covered in ugly bruises. When the real girl’s mother begged me to loosen the restraints I’d sent her from the room. It took three grown men to haul her out, but they got it done.

Sometimes the demon let the real girl come forward, or acted like it had. It was then she begged us to stop hurting her, and how she wanted her mommy and daddy. When it happened the first time, I had to send the father from the room. It never paid to have the parents present. They always insisted, and I almost always had to remove them.

My mouth was set in a grim line as the girl went from a quiet period back to the yowling. Her transformed teeth continued to rip her small, cupid-bow lips to shreds. These tantrums weren’t unusual for her brand of demon, a type of berserker class known as the Enraged. They were just one kind out of thousands, but common for possessions. They didn’t usually take children, though. Even though their powers amplified their host’s body, there was still only so much it could do with such a form. Leverage and musculature in such a tiny body had its limitations compared to an adult’s. They usually only possessed children as a last resort. When they were cast from one body and were too weakened to return to the Abyss. Or when they were trying to use the child to get to a stronger host.

They were also more along the line of foot soldiers. They followed the orders of higher ranking demons, or sometimes a different nasty altogether, and rated rather low on the intelligence scale.

“Do you think you’ll be able to get it out of her?” a strangled voice asked behind me.

I was squatting not far from where the girl rattled the chains connected to a post inside the common hall. I pivoted on the balls of my feet to face the village leader. A squat and sweaty man, his hands were nervous as he clutched at a wide-brimmed hat. His anxiety trembled in his voice, and came out at a higher than normal pitch. I leveled a hard look at the man. If my demeanor were any colder, there’d be ice crystals on the floor. What they’d done was unforgivable.

“It has its claws in her deep. I can feel her soul and its essence resonating close together. It’s going to take a lot to get them untangled. Even then I won’t guarantee her survival. It’s been in her more than three days, and I have no idea how it took ya’ll that long to notice. Or why you hadn’t gone for help,” I said with a heavy rasp, reprimanding him and those around us.

The thick scar from where my right collarbone and shoulder connected, all the way up and across to behind my left ear, was a reminder of my own stupidity. The knife-wielding demon cut through my vocal chords, among other things. Only the best healer left to the midlands–once known as the central United States–was able to keep me alive.

Even then he’d been limited in what he could do about my voice. On bad days I couldn’t get out a couple of sentences before it was too painful to speak. The muscles seizing up like the world’s worst cramp. Today was a good day, but bless it all that I had to spend it talking about what was in front of me, and I didn’t mean the demon.

Three days was the limit to how long a soul could stay completely separate from a demon’s essence. After that they started to merge, making it more dangerous and deadly to remove the demon as time went on.

What I wanted to know was how the demon had been able to bypass all the wardings and alarms, as well as how the people around her remained oblivious to the signs. There were a few obvious ones common to all demons, and they were evident in the girl.

What used to be curly, flame red hair, was now greasy, limp, and falling out in clumps. Not to mention her eyebrows were completely gone. The strong energy given off by nasty creatures inhabiting a human body tended to cause full-body balding. Other signs were teeth sharpening and lengthening. Nails thickening and hardening into claws. Radical behavior changes. Last but not least: the eyes. Depending on what type of demon it was, would depend on what color their eyes were. All of which would have happened within hours of the girl’s possession. Demons tended to work quick and dirty, and their presence was usually spotted fast. Thank God for that small favor.

I had double-checked the alarms and wards on the edges of town, making sure they went all the way ‘round. They were solid. Which meant the girl was infected outside of town limits, and she never should have been beyond those boundaries.

Children, while not always the best hosts, were like flames to evil’s moth. Even a blessed symbol of some sort, or any manner of religious protection, was not a guarantee of protection for them. They needed to be behind solid protective forces, guarded by the wardings anchored into the ground and buildings around them. Adults hoarded children behind such shields, like dragons from stories hoarding precious gold and jewels.

Something wasn’t right here. The whole town stunk of fear beyond what the current situation warranted. They knew something, but my status as a Purifier had sealed their lips. No matter how much concern they showed for the girl, I knew they wouldn’t talk. Well, at least not without any incentive.

“Is it that bad, Vala?” A deep voice to my left rumbled. I turned again to face my companion of a decade. His worried, cinnamon brown eyes were so unlike my icy blue ones, which I supposed was a physical representation of how different our personalities were. They were set in a face with a strong jaw and somewhat crooked nose. The nose came from getting in the way of too many oncoming fists–some of which I’ll admit were due to my smart mouth.

“It doesn’t look good, Dash.” I sighed, turning away from his comforting presence to face the malevolent eyes of our enemy. “Their resonance level is high. Even if I can cast him out, I risk tearing her soul to shreds. Or worse, leaving some of his essence behind,” I said, sliding a sympathetic glance his way. Understanding and sadness filled his eyes.

Dash, whose large, strong frame was in opposition with his name until you saw him move, was a Shadow. A Shadow was someone who had demonic essence mixed in with their souls, but the majority of whatever made up the demonic entity was gone. There were a few ways this could happen. A person could be born of a demon-possessed human male, and a non-possessed human female. They could volunteer to have demon essence implanted in their soul by a holy person. Or, they come from a Purifier not being able to completely extract the demon, which is what might happen with the girl.

Dash came from the first, and rarest, kind. His mother was forcibly taken by her demon-possessed husband, and she’d been able to carry to term. Most women miscarried such pregnancies, or both of them died in birth. Dash was rare in more ways than one: his mother was still alive, he was a born Shadow, and he wasn’t corrupted. Most people in Dash’s position weren’t good guys, and as a result Dash was a pariah among pariahs. No one likes Shadows of any kind, because any kind of demonic taint means you’re evil to most. For Purifiers like me they are beyond useful, because they can sense and track demons.

That was how we found this town and this girl. Demons and Shadows can sense each other, because their essence and power exist on similar wavelengths.

Dash had gotten what equated to a demonic signal fire, and off we went. The more essence in a soul, the stronger the Shadow, and the greater the distance they can sense. Dash, being a born Shadow, has a radius of roughly a hundred to two hundred miles. There were plenty of variables that effected distance, but the main one was the power level of the demon. However, I’ve never met a Shadow who can sense as far, or as accurately, as Dash.

“You are a traitor!” the demon growled to Dash, who paid him no mind. Demons will say anything to prolong their time here, usually by drawing you into an argument, or sparking your interest in what they have to say.

I made a shooing motion to Dash. He nodded and backed up. Then he slid my work bag over to me, and the rough canvas hissed across the wooden floor.

I sat back on my heels, my knees grinding into the floor, and opened the bag. I pulled out my supplies. A weather-worn, leather-bound book. A small, age-tarnished knife with a black, wooden handle. A yellowed rib bone from a priest. Salt in a leather pouch. A used black candle, and a glass holy water bottle with the visage of Archangel Michael. I set them down near, but not too close, to the demon.

I made a bun with my long braid and pinned it at the nape of my neck, to keep it out of the demon’s reach. I stood and stretched out, my knees creaking from kneeling and squatting too long. Or maybe it was age. Though I’d never admit it out loud, I was getting too old for this.

I was only twenty-eight, but that was getting to the end of a Purifier’s usual lifespan. For a variety of obvious reasons, we tended not to be around too long. They weren’t kidding when they said to beware an old man in a profession where men tend to die young.

“Everyone who has a weak stomach, weak will, or weak faith in whatever your religion is, get out of here. Anyone leftover form a loose circle around us, and stay out of my way. Things are going to get ugly, and if you mess me up this girl will die for sure. Get the healer, or whoever, on standby. Now,” I said. My raspy voice caused everyone to go silent enough that even those in the back of the building heard me.

About three-quarters of the people filed out, including the leader. Someone wasn’t going to get re-elected next time it came up. A short woman with greying hair and the white robes of a healer, stayed at the edge of my vision.

Those remaining formed the circle. After the door closed, and everything went silent, I rolled up the sleeves of my dark, blue-dyed cotton shirt.

“Let’s get this show on the road, then.”

Though they weren’t the sharpest demons in the shed, the Enraged demons weren’t completely stupid, either. They just lacked the finesse of some of their brethren. They tended to follow the mantra of brawn over brain. They did know some rudimentary psychological tactics to get what they wanted. Such as when the demon would have the girl cry for her mother and father.

Every demon knew, though, what was to come when a Purifier showed up. It started growling at me, and trying to get its feet under it for some leverage. The townsfolk had chained it to the post so that its arms were taut, so the best it could manage was to cross its legs. The chains were common in such settlements, though most places this size only kept one pair. If more than one person became possessed at a time, there was usually no hope for them. They were too small to have a full-time Purifier on hand, and needed ot travel to closest ‘big’ town.

The first thing I grabbed was my book. The demon’s eyes darted over to it, and fear set into every line of the body it was possessing. It snarled at me, but I paid it no mind. Fear was one of the fastest ways for demons to get into your mind.

I held the worn leather in a tight grip for a moment. The familiar cracks and smooth portions as recognizable to my touch as my skin. It was the book where I wrote my prayers. Every prayer a Purifier used had to be new, and once used it was no longer effective.

At first, years ago, the majority of the world didn’t notice when the prayers stopped working. There were but a handful who did; those who battled what could be considered demons and evil forces of those times. Spirit versions of the monsters we now experienced in the flesh. It was those few who noticed their blessings stopped working, that they couldn’t drive away evil or help spirits pass over. It wasn’t long before the fragile dam keeping all the nasty things at bay, broke.

“Your kind has fallen, Purifier. You are merely kept around to amuse us, and breed further amusements.” It cackled, a phlegmy sound in the back of its throat. Just as I told Dash to do, I ignored it. Giving them a reply was a way for them to try and get in. I had physical precautions on my person against such things, but they were only as strong as a person’s will and faith. If you started having conversations with demons, they tended to make you believe up is down. Black is white. Or how great it would be for you to let them in.

“Those of you who stayed, say prayers to whatever god your settlement has laid into the foundations of your wards,” I rasped into the silence. A well-used prayer wasn’t strong enough to fend off a nasty, or cast it out of a possessed person. However, a well-used prayer amplifies off the wards, the sense of community, and the number of people saying the prayer. Its utility and strength lay with giving a power boost to a Purifer. Even though the power of this community would be weak, something was always better than nothing.

“You can sit down, stand, and do what you need to do, but don’t break the form of the circle.” Nods from everyone there, acknowledging my words. It didn’t mean they’d listen, but I’d do my dandiest to make sure they didn’t mess this up.

Evil is as Evil Does, Part II

Compilation of Story Links

All the links for my stories can be found here!

The blog has been up for a couple of years now, and I figured it’d be a good time to compile the story links again! Click here to visit the page. All the chapters will have links to the other chapters for the story at the bottom of their pages. Also, if you’re here from Twitch for the Micro-Stories the link is here. Enjoy!