Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) ~~ February

February 1st
Prompt: Script

“And this script will extract the data we want.”

“It’s like he’s speaking a foreign language,” Ashton muttered.

“Agreed,” Darby said, frowning at the computer.

“How does an ancient god know more about computers than you two?”

“Too much time on his immortal hands.”

February 2nd
Prompt: Sanity

“Potential side effect: Loss of Sanity,” Ashton said.

“Very low chance,” the witch reassured Darby.

“I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

“Well, I hear purple’s in this season.”

Darby glared and snatched the bottle, his magenta skin flushing to a lovely shade of mulberry.

February 3rd
Prompt: Fantasy

Ashton wiped the ectoplasm from his face. “I have this fantasy, that one day I won’t be called into work to deal with poltergeists.”

“Last time it was a hellhound fighting ring, not ghosts.”

Ashton gave Darby a look. “You’re being pedantic, and I need a vacation.”

February 4th
Prompt: Frantic

“The woman was quite frantic,” Darby said. “They always are. She probably just saw an overfed house cat.”

“Or, it could really be the Cat Sìth.”

“If the King o’ Cats is hiding behind a pub dumpster in Kingsbury, I’ll eat my hat.”

“You don’t have one.”

“Exactly.”

February 5th
Prompt: Atlas

“They’re trying to sell the cloak of Atlas the Titan?”

“No, this was supposedly from Atlas, the first king of Atlantis,” Darby said.

“That tourist trap?”

“Tourist trap or not, the cloak could be an important piece of history.”

“Or a fake.”

“Possibly.”

“Likely.”

February 6th
Prompt: Ritual

“This some kind of demonic ritual?” Ashton asked.

“No, but I think they were trying to imitate one.”

“How so?”

“Unless they were summoning the demon of–” Darby squinted at a symbol, “–sweaters, it’s fake.”

“Demon of sweaters not a thing?”

“Not that I know of.”

February 7th
Prompt: Enchanted

Enchanted items are logged and sent to Obscurus.”

Ashton snorted. “If our sorcerer knows we’ve sent his doodad to MI13, he’ll disappear.”

“But–”

“Do you want to keep him from killing again, or follow protocol?”

“Both,” Darby ground out.

“Can’t have both. Choose.”

February 8th
Prompt: Mules

“You can’t turn kids into donkeys,” Ashton said.

“They’re mules, not donkeys,” the witch said.

“What’s the difference?”

“Mules are the product of male donkeys and females horses, and often sterile,” Darby said.

“Now the kids are, too,” she said with an evil grin.

February 9th
Prompt: Pride

“They say that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” Darby said.

The demon rolled the possessed man’s eyes. “As though demons have a cornerstone on pride. Have you seen the human race recently?”

“It’s not wrong, you know,” Ashton said.

February 10th
Prompt: Request

“Did you put in your request for leave yet?” Ashton asked.

“Yes,” Darby said.

“Any plans?”

“I’m visiting a friend, and we’re going to observe a pack of chupacabras in Texas.”

“Don’t you get enough of that stuff here?”

“It’s interesting.”

“You’re such a nerd.”

February 11th
Prompt: Ally

“Will the vamps cooperate?” Ashton asked.

“Doubtful, but we don’t want them to be too friendly, anyway,” Darby said.

“Why?”

“What happens if the other supernatural groups think we are #allies with the vampires?”

“Chaotic political bollocks?”

“Exactly.”

February 12th
Prompt: Judge

“My stuff can’t even do what you’re sayin’!” the woman protested.

“SOCO will be the judge of that,” Ashton said, as the shelves of the occult shop were slowly cleared.

“Most of this is for tourists,” Darby whispered.

“You want to bet someone’s life on that?”

February 13th
Prompt: Empire

“Vamps have their own empire?” Ashton asked.

“The enclaves need someone to keep them from falling into squabbles,” Darby said.

“Who rules them?”

“An empress. We don’t know much about her.”

“Is she real?”

“As long as they behave, does it matter?”

“I suppose not.”

February 14th
Prompt: Rookie

“I don’t see why we have to get the rookie,” Ashton grumbled.

“It’s only for a few months,” Darby reassured him. “Plus, we’re one of the few liaison teams, and training more will lighten the workload.”

“If he survives,” Ashton muttered. “I give him a week.”

February 15th
Prompt: Parody

“Is this supposed to be a parody?” Darby asked.

“Actually, I think they’re trying to be serious,” Ashton said.

The man in a ghastly werewolf costume dropped to his knees, then did a poor imitation of a howl.

Darby cringed. “I’m not sure Hamlet needs werewolves.”

February 16th
Prompt: Creed

“I thought human sacrifice went against their creed?” Ashton asked, looking up from the body.

“It’s Rede, not creed. ‘An ye harm none, do what ye will’,” Darby said.

“This looks harmful.”

“Then it wasn’t a wiccan.”

“And this?”

“Anyone can buy a pentagram.”

February 17th
Prompt: Greed

Greed does crazy things to a person,” Ashton said.

“Yes. Using ghouls to kill his grandfather for the inheritance was terrible,” Darby said.

“He got his, though. There was barely enough of him left to fill a gym bag after they turned on him.”

“Comeuppance, indeed.”

February 18th
Prompt: Infiltrated

“How did Mr. Bailey not notice a barghest had infiltrated his flock?” Ashton asked, going over the report.

“Bad eyesight?” When Ashton gave Darby a look, he shrugged. “His real dog and sheep didn’t seem to mind.”

“Did it kill him?”

“They’re omens, not killers.”

February 19th
Prompt: Purpose

“You did that on purpose!” Darby accused, brushing himself off.

“Of course I did. You should have seen your face when they dove at you,” Ashton said.

“Cockatrices are dangerous–that was not funny!”

“Maybe not for you.”

“Ridiculous. You and this illegal breeder.”

February 20th
Prompt: Soldier

“You were a soldier?” Darby asked.

“Yeah,” Ashton said, not elaborating.

“Did you see anything in the middle east?”

“Yeah, sand.”

“No, I mean–”

“I know what you meant.” There was a long silence. “There’s things out there best left alone, and not talked about.”

February 21st
Prompt: Solution

“This is not a solution, it’s a band-aid.” Darby grimaced at the smell of the sachet.

“Band-aid is better than dead,” Ashton said. “I’m not the one who pissed off the necromancer.”

“But we were all there, so why single me out?”

“Must be your stunning personality.”

February 22nd
Prompt: Peace

“If you could get one wish, what would it be?” Ashton asked.

“That’s not how the djinn work,” Darby said.

“We can’t wish for #peace on earth, and good will toward men?”

Darby grimaced. “Not unless you want them to kill everyone.”

“That’s a bit harsh.”

“But it works.”

February 23rd
Prompt: Royal

“This is a royal mess,” Darby grumbled.

“It’s not so bad,” Ashton said.

“Being quarantined for a potential magical malady outbreak is not trivial.”

“Think of it as a mini-vacation.”

“Yes, one that could end in death.”

“This is why no one invites you to parties.”

February 24th
Prompt: Belle

“Are you sure she said we’re looking for a bell?” Ashton asked, eyeing the scantily clad woman.

The succubus smirked, and her eyes flashed scarlet. “My name is Belle, pleasure to meet you.”

“There may, um, have been a slight miscommunication,” Darby said with a gulp.

February 25th
Prompt: Spirit

“You mean they’re spirits distilled from…spirits?” Ashton asked, looking a bit green about the gills.

“Fascinating, isn’t it? I wonder how they do it, and what it tastes like,” Darby said.

Ashton gagged. “Absolute nutter.”

“You just have no sense of adventure.”

February 26th
Prompt: Vermin

“Wraiths are a vermin class of incorporeal undead,” Darby said.

“What does vermin class mean?” Ashton asked.

“They can cause whatever disease they died of.”

“So they’re like graveyard rats?”

“Essentially.”

“Ugh, imagine getting ghost syphilis.”

“I’d rather not.”

Writing Prompt ~~ Legacy

It had been more than two weeks since the fire, but the stink of it was still in her hair, on her skin. She took long showers twice a day, but the smell lingered. When she closed her eyes at night, the images came back to her. Images of the flames, of the way the dark varnish on her grandmother’s cuckoo clock, brought over from Germany when she immigrated here, bubbled and popped.

Most of all, though, Amelie remembered the heat.

Each night, she’d woken in a sweat from both the memories and the fear of them. She’d screamed herself raw each time as she clawed her way out of her mind, the thick smoke choking her as her throat constricted, trying to protect itself. It was as though the flames had followed her into the realm of dreams, intent on licking along her body, their tongues burning and pulling all the moisture from her skin as it blistered.

When she woke, though, her skin was pristine if only a little tender. And with each wakening, she’d remember it wasn’t her who’d been swallowed by the flames. When the fog of nightmares lifted and the memories came flooding back, she’d weep. She’d sob until her body convulsed with them and her eyes went gritty and dry.

She’d promised herself fourteen days. A fortnight to grieve in her soul, recover in body, and strengthen her mind. Two weeks for a plan to churn in her subconscious, sitting at the back of her mind like a slowly simmering stew.

When the new moon rose, leaving more shadow than light stretched over the quiet landscape, she left the hideaway. It had been Quinn’s idea to build it, and though she’d been foolishly over-confident enough to scoff at him for such caution, she’d humored him. He’d gone to work on the very back end of their twenty-acre property, making what amounted to a doomsday bunker, though their concern was less apocalypse and far closer to home. What she wouldn’t give to hear him say, ‘I told you so.’

She clamped down on the sob that tried to break through her swollen throat, and swallowed against it. If she started crying now, she might not stop.

Though she didn’t expect anyone to still be at the house, she took her time moving through the familiar woods. She placed her hands on the rough bark of the trees, like touchstones, and with each caress she was more grounded and less insubstantial. Her hold on the world had been tenuous at best these last two weeks, with the loss of so much that was dear to her leaving her adrift. The trees brought some of what made her, her back, like an artist drawing an outline for a character. Amelie was solid again.

At just after midnight she made it back to the clearing just behind what was left of their house. The night was still, and so was she as she assessed the ruin. She hadn’t been in any condition to do so when she fled, and looking at it now, some of the comfort from the forest withered and left her hollow like a rotted tree trunk.

After a time, she made her way to the wreckage, careful to not disturb too much in case someone came snooping around. The single cabin hadn’t been what most folks would consider much, but it had been enough for her and Quinn.

When she came to the back of the house, she knelt and cleared away fire and autumn debris from a small section of otherwise normal looking ground. However, when she worked her fingers into the earth, a small seam appeared and a trapdoor lifted. Not wanting the remainder of the cabin to collapse on her, she pulled out a flashlight and shone it into the dark cellar. As far as she could see, everything was untouched, so she made her way down the steps into the darkness. Once inside, she lit the lamps around the room. They’d never wired electricity down here, just in case someone with more than half a brain had been involved with planning their demise.

When the soft glow illuminated the small work area, everything really was intact, and she let out a small, shaky sigh. Then, when her eyes strayed over to the bookshelf, her breath caught in her throat. Her feet carried her over to the ceiling-high shelves before she could think to do it, and shaking hands grabbed a picture frame.

Dark eyes with a wicked sense of humor and smile to match gazed back at her. His auburn hair was tousled from sweat and hard work while he helped build their cabin, and dirt streaked through his face and trimmed beard. It was her favorite picture of him, and an ache spread through her chest.

“I miss you,” she whispered, and ran a thumb across the picture’s cheek.

This time, instead of a sob, something hardened in her, and she had to put the frame down before she cracked it and the glass when her fists clenched. Her eyes scanned over the books along the shelves, though she knew exactly where the one she wanted was. On the top shelf, high enough that she had to stand on tiptoe to grab it, she pulled down the dusty, dark tome. A cuckoo clock was not the only thing her oma had brought from Germany.

Oma had never shied away from the darker side of their abilities, saying the dark was as much a part of anyone as the light. Amelie, on the other hand, had never been totally comfortable with such things, and after learning them never had cause to use them again. Oma respected her decision on this, saying some witches remained in the light, others steeped in darkness, while most walked in the grey. Amelie had been more than happy to remain on the light side, though she never thought less of her oma for walking a darker path than her. That was just Oma.

Amelie sent a silent prayer to her grandmother on the other side of the veil, asking for guidance. She took the book and the picture over to the small chair in the corner of the room and sat down to read.

Her thoughts were sharp as broken glass, and claws of rage raked through her as she poured over the spells.

It was sometime around dawn when she finally put the book down, her mind whirring with one possibility after another. As the cold, autumn wind shifted small amounts of rubble overhead, she looked at Quinn’s picture.

“They wanted an evil witch, and that’s just what they’ll get.”

Writing Prompt ~~ Magic Isn’t Real

He had hunted and hiked and led backpacking trips through these woods for twenty years, and he had never seen an animal track like that. At first glance, it resembled wolf tracks, which was impossible given that there hadn’t been wolves in these parts since before Richard was born. One reason his mind had jumped to wolf and not dog, was because they formed a single track instead of staggered. The other reason was the shape, but even that wasn’t exactly correct. The pads were the wrong size and shape for any canid, and the claw marks were too thick. Richard wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but he knew these woods, and there was nothing in it that should make tracks like that. Least of all a wolf.

What he did know, though, was right next to those strange tracks were shoe prints, size 11 ½ youth, with little stars and hearts amidst the swirling tread pattern.

“What’d you find, Rick?” the quiet, rumbling voice of the Sheriff asked from behind him.

Most people tended to whisper or speak in hushed tones in the woods on instinct, but that was just the Sheriff. You wouldn’t catch him raising his voice to break up a bar fight, if it came down to it. Not that it ever did. Sheriff Evans had what folks referred to as presence. The large man moved like a force of nature: you either got out of his way or were taken down in the process.

“Girl’s tracks are here. We’re lucky it rained for a couple days the other day, or I might not have spotted this,” Richard said, and waved a black gloved hand at the muddy forest floor, littered with leaves. He’d never been fond of being called Rick, but people were set in their ways, especially around these parts.

“And?” Sheriff Evans prompted, hearing the unfinished words lingering on Richard’s tongue with the keen perception honed by years of experience.

Richard huffed out a frustrated breath. “And some tracks that don’t fit any animal I’ve ever come across,” he said, and pivoted on the balls of his heavy-booted feet to face the Sheriff.

The man’s ice blue eyes narrowed on Richard, who stilled under the scrutiny. Richard had never broken the law, let alone given police any trouble or reason to distrust him. But it was still there, hovering beneath the surface.

Richard was an outlier in the community. Someone who made his living off the vast woods that most were content to avoid. Sure, people hunted and hiked and so on, but Richard lived and breathed these woods, and there was a wildness about him. It didn’t help that he looked the typical part of someone who spent most of his time in the woods: bearded, rough around the edges, clothes worn and patched, and with his wild black hair usually contained under a knit cap.

That otherness meant he’d never quite moved beyond acquaintance-level with most people. In fact, if they got more than a nod of greeting from Richard it tended to shock the good folk of Pinebrook. Most avoided his ever-present scowl and dark, hooded eyes. Those wanting to traipse about the woods only put up with his standoff-ish demeanor because he was the best around, and those that didn’t want to found someone less qualified.

“Explain,” the Sheriff said, but his wary gaze left Richard’s and began scanning the surrounding trees.

Richard, too, looked around. Though Richard was not a small man himself in weight, he didn’t quite hit the same numbers as the Sheriff who was built like a wall of muscle. When Richard looked back at their walking tracks leading to this point, Richard’s weren’t quite as deep as the Sheriff’s, as was expected. What made Richard’s body tense was the fact the unknown tracks were a depth between the Sheriff and himself. It didn’t bode well.

“I thought at first they were wolf tracks,” Richard started.

The Sheriff snorted at that, though he didn’t stop his surveillance.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Plus, the shape isn’t exactly correct. It’s strange, though. What kind of animal would have the girl walking with it, instead of just, well, eating her?” Richard pondered out loud.

The Sheriff’s head jerked over at Richard’s statement, who just shrugged at the man’s distasteful look.

“Tell me I’m wrong,” Richard challenged, though as respectfully as he could manage. To be honest it wasn’t much, but it was the best Evans was going to get.

Sheriff Evans grunted, then considered the tracks again. “You’re sure they aren’t human?” he asked.

Richard shook his head. “Even if they were wearing something weird on their feet to try and confuse us, the impressions wouldn’t look right. When people are making fake tracks, they either press straight down or don’t walk naturally, and it shows in the tracks,” he said. Then he indicated the sides and depths of the footprints. “This has the natural gate of something that single tracks and walks on four paws, like a wolf.”

Sheriff Evans considered the tracks. “But it’s definitely not a wolf?” The lilt at the end of the sentence indicated the Sheriff was making it more of a question than a statement.

“No, not a wolf, but some kind of animal,” he said, his voice going soft. Whatever it was, he didn’t think it boded very well for the girl.

“Well, we can’t stand here and debate this anymore. You follow the tracks, and I’ll follow you,” Sheriff Evans said.

Richard nodded, and off they went.

They weren’t the only people out looking for Heather Turner, aged six, missing from her home on the edge of town. When her parents called her in from their backyard for lunch, they thought she was playing hide and seek with them. When they couldn’t find her, and instead discovered a place in the fence where the chain links had been pushed aside just enough for a small child to get through, they panicked.

When the initial search led them not far down the road and into the forest, they’d put out the call for volunteers and called in the SAR—Search and Rescue—dogs. They lived on the edge of enough wilderness that they had a couple of full-time trackers. The first real indication that things weren’t quite right was the dogs’ refusals to track. Not just a, ‘I can’t follow the scent/There is no scent,’ situation. This was a tail between their legs, one of them peed themselves, and they refused to budge, type of refusal. These dogs weren’t new, or scared of much of anything, but their behavior had put the SAR team on edge.

That’s when they went to get Richard.

He’d been gearing up to help with the search when the Sheriff himself had pulled up and explained the situation, and what had happened with the dogs. He’d been concerned about that, but not enough to put him off going into the woods to search for a little girl.

Now here they were, following the tracks of Richard didn’t know what, and they were headed to the lake. Not just any lake, but Arrowhead Lake. There were a few bodies of water in these parts, but the one that was the biggest and in the deepest part of the forest was the Arrowhead. Shaped like its namesake, it was where, to put it not-so-delicately, the crazies lived. Mostly they were an assortment of backwoodsman and survivalists, and they guarded their privacy and land jealously. If Richard was barely on the tolerated side of amicable for the townsfolk, the Arrowheaders were the scapegoats and go-to for every which thing that went wrong in these parts.

Richard looked back over his shoulder and locked eyes with the Sheriff. His lips had thinned out and his eyebrows were drawn down in a mighty frown. He knew where they were headed. He motioned for Richard to stop, and called his fellow lawmen over the walkie.

“We’re going to head to the main road and call in to Walt. I don’t want to start some kind of FUBARed fire fight with the Arrowheaders because someone gets pissy we’re on their land,” Sheriff Evans grumbled, and started to head west toward the only road to the lake.

By the time the two men managed to get there, there was a patrol car waiting, with a CB ready to go. No one up here had lines for phones, or likely the patience for them.

Sheriff Evans got Walt on the CB, and he agreed to come out. Probably twenty minutes later the old man came ‘round the bend in his beat up ’55 Chevy, expertly avoiding or going over potholes that were as familiar to him as his own land. Walt was the unofficial spokesperson of the Arrowheaders, which really meant he was the only one willing to talk before he pulled his gun.

By this point, the deputy and Sheriff were chomping at the bit to get moving again. There was a kid missing, and each minute that went by wasn’t doing her any good.

Walt got out of his truck and hobbled on over to the Sheriff, though Richard hung back. While the Arrowheaders weren’t as hostile toward him as they were to law enforcement, they weren’t exactly buddy-buddy, either. He was too wild for the townsfolk, and too tame for Arrowhead.

Walt was like a piece of chewed up old leather leftover from a saddle that was rode hard and put away wet. He’d survived WWII with his body mostly intact, but in mind not so much. Sometimes when people were talking to him, he gets a faraway look in his mud brown eyes. Richard had learned the hard way with a broken nose to never touch him when he’s like that. He had a shaggy white mane, and a beard to match that he could almost tuck into his belt.

“Whatchoo doin ‘round here, Evans?” Walt said with his usual ornery tone. His wild, bushy eyebrows were drawn down, and even in his late sixties the man was scrappy as ever.

“There’s a little girl missing, Walt. We’re just trying to find her and get her home,” Sheriff Evans said matter-of-factly, holding his hands out in front of him.

Walt’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“You think we had somethin’ to do with that?” asked another voice from over by the truck as Walt opened his mouth.

The Sheriff’s head snapped over to a boy standing not far from the front-passenger side of the truck. He was your typical, surly teenager: whip-thin, like he’d have a hard time putting any muscle on him, and dark brown hair cut long enough that it fell in his eyes, which were the same brown as Walt’s.

“And you are?” Sheriff Evans asked, suspicion evident in the set of his shoulders and tone of his voice.

“That’s my grandson, Matthew. Now answer the boy’s question,” Walt said, still glaring at the Sheriff.

“We aren’t sure,” Sheriff Evans admitted honestly. “We followed some tracks to the edge of Arrowhead property and stopped to get ahold of you.”

“Whatchoo mean you ain’t sure?” Walt spat. “Either yer here to try and arrest one of us, or yer just causin’ hate and discontent.”

Sheriff Evans glanced back at Richard, who sighed.

“They pulled me in to track when the dogs refused to do it,” Richard said, leveling a significant look Walt’s way.

Walt’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean Tommy’s and Jerry’s dogs?”

Tommy and Jerry were the SAR guys. They didn’t just handle the SAR dogs, they were some of the best trainers around for them.

Richard nodded. “Pissed themselves scared.”

Walt and Matthew exchanged a worried glance. The silent communication after hearing such news might have been expected and natural to the two lawmen, but Richard didn’t miss the something extra that passed between them.

“Whatchoo think it was?” Walt asked, bringing a heavy scowl down on Richard.

“Can’t say; never seen tracks like that. Looked wolf, but wrong, and weighed somewhere between me and the Sheriff,” Richard said, and shrugged.

Though the motion was nonchalant and the words casual, (as though Richard spoke of man-sized beasts roaming their forests every day), his gaze was subtly sharp, watching Matthew. The old man could hide his guilt from St. Peter himself, but the boy was young. He hadn’t learned to hide that well, yet.

And there it was, the small twitch of the kid’s shoulders at the description of the tracks.

“Well, long as you ain’t sayin’ it were one of us, I’ll do the rounds with ya. Boy, you stay here,” Walt said, his words emphatic and brooking no argument.

The boy glowered, and Richard might have guessed it was part of an act if the kid hadn’t been a teenager. Angst came as naturally to them as breathing.

“Deputy, you’re with us. Richard, stay here in case anyone else shows up. Tell them we went to speak to the residents, and to fan out around the Arrowhead border to see if there are any tracks leading out. They are not to go into Arrowheader land. Got me?” Sheriff Evans asked.

The only reason Richard didn’t tell the man he could save his commands for his lawmen and stick his orders where the sun don’t shine, was because a little girl was in danger. Instead, he nodded, and the three of them headed to Walt’s truck. The deputy jumped in the back, and Sheriff Evans got in the front seat with Walt. As the truck was turning around on the narrow road, the boy and Walt exchanged one last, telling, worried look, before heading back toward the lakeside properties.

Once the truck was out of sight, Richard turned to the kid.

“Tell me what you know,” Richard said, his voice low and cutting to the chase.

“I—”

“Shut the hell up, and save your lies. I know you know something, and you’re going to tell me so I can save the little girl. That way her parents won’t have to lower a tiny coffin into the ground,” Richard growled out.

The boy’s eyes went wide at Richard’s morbid words, and he paled.

“It-it’s not what you think!” he blurted out, his hands clenched.

“Then tell me what I should think,” Richard bit out, quickly losing patience. He didn’t have time for Arrowheader bullshit. He hadn’t thought they’d had anything to do with it, but after those looks, he knew they knew something. It was bad enough he was keeping this from the Sheriff, but he’d be damned if their secrecy was going to hurt a little girl.

“Not long ago, a woman moved into Derrick’s old cabin. She’s Russian, just off the boat, and with an accent so thick you can barely understand her on a good day, let alone when she’s riled,” Matthew said.

Richard made the ‘go-on’ gesture, urging the kid to get to the point.

“Well, not long after she moved in, we started noticing strange things. Things would go missing and turn up in weird places, and we’d find weird tracks around cabins after hearing noises at night. Stuff like that.”

“Okay, so you think this woman and this…whatever it is are connected?” Richard asked, just to get the boy to clarify. Because he’d bet his bippy she had something to do with it.

Matthew nodded. “It’s, well, like I said. Not what you think.” Then he looked around the deserted woods and bit his lip, indecision and guilt wringing the kid’s conscience like a wet rag.

“Take me to her,” Richard said.

The boy’s eyebrows shot high and went knotted, while his eyes grew wide as dinner plates. “She’d have my hide, sir! She’s meaner than a mess of hornets with a kicked over nest!”

It shocked him that the kid called him ‘sir’, which he most certainly wasn’t used to, but he didn’t have time for this.

“You’ll think she’s a day-old kitten compared to me if something happens to Heather Turner, boy.”

The kid’s shoulders slumped and he grimaced. “Alright, but I’m hanging you out to dry as sure as the sun rises.”

Richard nodded. “You help me save that little girl, I don’t care if you throw me to a whole pack of hacked off Russian biddies. Now, move,” Richard said, and gave the kid a nudge.

Richard knew, vaguely, the location of all the dwellings around Arrowhead, but he couldn’t remember exactly where Derrick’s place was. He’d died last year, too old to get through another harsh winter up in the woods with minimal supplies. While he wasn’t too keen on taking the kid with him, he needed him as a simultaneous guide and white flag. People would get riled if they saw just Richard, no matter how much more they tolerated him than they did the townsfolk. No, having the kid was like a hall pass in a place the teachers would shoot you if you were caught without one.

After a long walk and many worried glances at the sky from Richard as the sun made its inevitable trip toward the horizon, they finally made it to the cabin. It was in better repair than last he’d glimpsed of it, many years ago, but he didn’t have time to admire the scenery. Search and rescue never boded well in the dark, let alone when some unknown creature was involved, and time waited for no one. Not even missing little girls.

He stalked right up to the cabin and pounded on the door. Before a fourth knock could land, the door was yanked out from under his fist. A scowling, royally ticked-off woman stood there, her pale grey eyes flashing.

“Vat is the meaning of this?” she asked, her accent thick on her tongue like molasses. She had her hands on her generous hips, and the long, thick braid of her chocolate brown hair snaked down over her equally generous chest.

Not the time, he ground out, annoyed with himself.

She barely came up to Richard’s chin, and he met her glower with one of his own.

“We’re looking for a missing girl. Six. And I think you know something about it,” Richard said, his words clipped.

She reared back a bit at this, her eyebrows shooting up. “And vhy vould I know about this girl?”

“Because I found some incredibly strange tracks alongside hers, and I’ve been told that ever since you’ve moved here, people have been finding strange, unidentifiable tracks around their cabins.”

Panic flashed through her eyes like a shooting star: there and gone just as quick. But it had been there, and Richard latched onto that like a hound on a scent.

She’d gone quiet, and her eyes darted behind him to Matthew. When she saw the boy, shuffling his feet like all the guilt in the world had been placed on his shoulders, she sighed.

“You said leetle girl? Six?” she asked. At Richard’s nod, she shook her head and started muttering in Russian, clearly irritated. “It’s not vhat you think,” she said.

“So I’ve been told,” Richard ground out. “Now, take me to her.”

The woman—he realized he hadn’t even asked her name—grabbed her coat from by the door. Richard moved out of the way so she could close it. After doing so, she set off toward the woods on the opposite side from where they came in. Richard followed the sway of her braid down her back as she moved, and the boy brought up the rear. He wasn’t comfortable with two Arrowheaders flanking him, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no way the boy would leave him with one of their own, and he wouldn’t have listened to Richard if he’d tried to tell him to stay.

They weren’t long heading into the forest when the woman came to a halt, and Richard almost ran into her. He hadn’t realized he was following her so close. She inhaled deep, tilted her head to one side, as though listening for something, and changed her direction at a sharp westward angle, heading deeper in. After about the same amount of time she stopped, and this time Richard inhaled with her.

Forests always held smells of growing things, or of wet dirt like now, and sometimes rotting things, but this was a different smell. It was familiar, and not. Like the smell of a cut Christmas tree, even though there were no evergreens here, but it had a bitter edge, like tree sap on your tongue.

Then, she started speaking in Russian. “Vykhodi, Leshi! Vy znayete, chto ne mozhete derzhat’ devushku.”

He was about to tell her to stop, and speak English, when there was a rustling in the brush to their left. What walked through the brush was impossible for his eyes to reconcile with his brain. It looked like it was covered in green fur that wasn’t fur, but instead grass the color of olives. It was tall. Far taller than anyone Richard had met in his fifty years, and its head was decorated with a crown of autumn leaves. Its eyes were intense, and the black of fresh churned, deep forest earth. They bore into Richard as though it could see his very soul, and maybe it could.

“What—” he barely managed, the word strangled.

Before he could finish, though, the creature’s cradled arms moved forward, as though it was offering him something. When he looked down, it was the first time he noticed what the creature carried. It was Heather Turner, fast asleep, a peaceful, content smile on her face.

There was a noise like the groaning of trees and the rustling of leaves in the wind, and it was coming from the creature. Richard couldn’t move. Of all the things he expected, this wasn’t it.

“He says he’s very sorry. He vas lonely, and just looking for someone to play vith. In human years, they aren’t far apart in age,” the woman said, her voice soft and sad.

When Richard turned wide eyes to her, her face was haunted by some memory playing in her mind. It wasn’t too far off how Walt looked during those times it was a bad idea to touch him.

“Take her,” she said, her voice urgent.

Richard jerked at the words, and his arms automatically went forward to take the sleeping child from the—him. He rustled a bit, and where his grass-like fur touched Richard’s flesh, it was cool, but not so much so that the child would have taken chill in his arms.

Heather scrunched her face a bit as she moved between the two, but quickly settled down. Richard just held her there, still not sure what to say.

“He is the last of his kind—a Leshi. Something you might call a forest spirit, or fairy, that can shapeshift. They vere hunted to the very last. My family has alvays been vith them, protecting and being protected in turn. Ve came here for better life,” she said by way of explanation. “Now…” she trailed off.

Richard realized what she meant. There was almost no way to explain the situation away. Heather never would have made it up this far without some kind of help, and someone would have to take the blame. A thought slowly formed in Richard’s mind.

“Unless she wasn’t found here,” Richard said slowly, his first words to the two Arrowheaders since leaving the cabin.

After a moment, hope lit a joyful fire in her eyes so fierce, it almost made Richard take a step back.

“Of course, we’ll need your friends help,” he said. Richard looked over at the creature, who nodded once, and slow.

Da. Of course!”

It wasn’t too long after that Heather Turner was found, tucked away and asleep in a tricky little hole in her favorite tree in her backyard. Her parents hadn’t even known it was there. When they hugged and kissed and scolded her for not answering when they’d all called for her, she simply told them about the most wonderful dream she had. There was a large wolf in it who changed into a boy, whose skin was made of grass, and they played in the woods. Her parents merely shook their heads, and apologized profusely to all those involved in her search and rescue.

Everyone was just glad she was found safe. No one mentioned the behavior of the dogs. Or the strange tracks walking right next to those of a child who had the exact same shoe type and size as Heather, heading to Arrowhead Lake.

In fact, the only thing that changed was the frequency of Richard visiting Arrowhead. The townsfolk wrote it off as a simple case of a man wooing the first new face to grace the town in a couple of decades. It helped his case that Tatiana’s face was pretty as any to look at. Once you got past her temper, that is.

And if people sometimes spotted a large, green creature that sometimes looked like a man, and other times a wolf, walking in the woods that disappeared like magic in the blink of an eye? Well, it just wasn’t spoken of. They weren’t a town of gossip-mongers like those hippie-dippy types with their Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. No, they were a private folk, and they kept such things to themselves. And if lost hikers spoke of lights in the forest, like fairy lights in the stories of old, leading them out and to safety, well, they chalked it up to dehydration. Magic wasn’t real; everyone knew that.

 

 

********NOTE************
For anyone who speaks/reads Russian, I apologize ahead of time: I only had Google Translate at my disposal, and I did the best with conveying the accent that I could. This is what Tatiana said in the woods:

“Come out, Leshy! You know you cannot keep the girl.”

Writing Prompt ~~ The Truce

Music: Bad things – Jace Everett

 

Depending on a person’s proclivity for nocturnal activities, it was either far too early or far too late for what walked through my kitchen door at 5 am.

I’d been minding my own business, getting ready for the day by drinking tea and reading some news articles on my phone before heading out for some off the clock, weekend training, when I heard the front door open and close. I barely managed to stop myself from rolling my eyes. My roommate/partner was dragging themselves in at an ungodly hour, yet again, after being out all night. It was unnatural, even among superheroes, for someone to get so little sleep and still be so incredibly…perky. My lip curled at the word.

Perhaps it was a byproduct of her power: energy absorption. She could pull energy from anything, ranging from solar rays, to sticking her finger in a light socket, to pulling calories directly from a living being. As a result, she was always on this rather strange, but natural for her, high. In all honestly, I believe it has scrambled her brains a bit, but there was no denying she was a good person, and utterly pure in her intentions and actions. Though she didn’t always make the best decisions.

I sighed and shook my head, turning my attention back down to the article on my phone. I was a few lines in before I realized the steps I heard coming toward the kitchen were too numerous and oddly staggered to just be the footsteps of one person. I sighed yet again, and did my level best to not succumb to the rising annoyance at the fact my partner had brought yet another acquaintance home.

I was vacillating between my two choices of interaction: no eye contact and only making noncommittal noises in response to her questions and exclamations, or the third degree, complete with scowls and sneers. Deciding on the latter, and putting my tea down on the table, I turned my attention to the doorway just in time to catch Felicity Kist—a.k.a Voltra—walk into the kitchen with the biggest, brightest smile.

She was light and goodness wrapped in a short, curvy body, graced with thick, flax-golden hair cascading down her back like a shining waterfall, with jewel-bright blue eyes, and dimples that could make men and women swoon at a hundred paces.

I narrowed my eyes and opened my mouth to admonish her when the second person came in behind her. At this point, my mouth dropped all the way open and my eyes widened to their limit.

Trailing behind her, seemingly willingly and at a level of unconcerned edging on boredom, was Lucas Trex—Nightmare—our archnemesis. He was what you expected from a villain: dark hair, dark eyes, lean and long-limbed, and devilish good looks that could tempt a saint with the smallest curl of his lips.

The only similarity between us was our height, both above average tall, but that was where it ended. I was bulkier, my eyes a washed out grey, hair the color of a good butterscotch pudding, and a square jaw.

“Felicity!” I exclaimed, and jumped to my feet, knocking over my tea and dropping my phone to the floor with a loud clatter. “You will explain yourself this instant!”

If anything, Felicity’s smile grew even wider instead of being tempered by my shock and anger. “I won him in a poker game, Asher!” she exclaimed, and even clapped her hands with joy. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

“You. What?!” My eyes darted to Lucas, who merely shrugged and started looking around the kitchen. “That’s not a thing, Felicity. You don’t win people in poker games. Has he used his powers on you? Are you under his spell?” I asked, panic welling in my chest as I curled my trembling hands into fists.

My stance was wary, ready to grab Felicity to draw on her tremendous energy and manipulate it into a shield to protect us from his attacks. Or to blast him from the face of the earth. There was a lot we could accomplish partnered up that we couldn’t do apart. She could somewhat manipulate the energy she gathered, but she didn’t have my finesse or skill for it. On the other end, I was unable to draw vast amounts of energy from my environment the way she could. Without her, I could maybe gather enough to shoot a few energy darts, with just enough power to sting but not really injure. And without me to help balance and direct her energy she’d be bouncing off the walls, or in the worst-case: explode.

Lucas scoffed. “Not likely. The girl’s brain is such a mess and runs at a ridiculous rate of speed. I’d be lucky not to go insane spending any time in there.” He was probably right about her brain, and his voice was smooth like sin and wrapped in chocolate. “Plus, I don’t do magic or spells—I’m no wizard or mage. I manipulate psionic waves to produce the most terrifying nightmares or most exquisite dreams,” he said, sounding almost offended that I’d called what he did magic.

“Completely beside the point,” I ground out, shaking off the way his words and voice conjured images in my mind with the words ‘exquisite dreams’. “You are our enemy, and you must have tricked her in some way to get in here!” I declared, finally reclaiming my scowl and jabbing my finger in his direction.

He simply raised an eyebrow. “Pointing is rude, you know. Do they not teach you manners at that sorry excuse for an academy you attended? Or the agency you joined?” At my growl he shook his head and sighed. “Pity.”

“You-you—” I sputtered, but gave up on interacting with the infuriating man. “We are taking him in now, Felicity,” I said, hissing her name.

She pouted. She actually pouted at me. “But Lucas said we could have some fun if I won him,” she said, turning her lightbulb bright and innocent smile to the man.

There it was. The curl of his lip that turned my knees to jelly and made my mouth so dry I could swear I’d swallowed sand.

“Yes, I did,” he purred, gently trailing a finger along her jaw. I thought I was going to have heart palpitations, and then he turned a sly glance my way and I knew I was. “Would you care to join us…Asher?”

In a moment of weakness, between sucking in a shocked breath and exhaling, he crippled me not with his namesake—Nightmares and terrors—but with the other, softer side of his power.

Candlelight, silk sheets, and tangled limbs. Soft touches, smooth skin, and throaty moans. The scene played behind my eyes as though I was there, amidst them. Then, as my real vision was peppered with black spots, I realized I’d stopped breathing.

I let out a strangled sound and my knees couldn’t take it anymore. I collapsed into the seat, panting, and holding on to the edge of the seat as though it was the only thing keeping me from disappearing into the dream vision.

“I’ll take that as a tentative, ‘yes’,” he said, and chuckled, the sound deep and wicked.

“Isn’t he lovely?” Felicity sighed in delight, and then turned her attention to me. “Don’t look so worried, Asher. We’re bound by a magical truce woven into the rules of the game. For 24 hours we can’t harm each other, in body, mind, or soul. For the span of a single day we can just enjoy-” She put one hand on his chest, “-each other’s-” Her other hand snaked to the back of his neck, “-company.” She gently pulled him down for a long, deep kiss.

For what seemed like an eternity, the only sounds in the kitchen, (aside from the blood rushing through my body with such force it made me lightheaded), were gentle sighs, the rustling of clothing, and the slow drip of my tea leaking to the floor.

Heat pooled through me like fire roaring through my veins, and I let out a barely audible, “Okay.”

At first, I thought they might not have heard me, but then they broke apart and turned my way. I wasn’t prepared for the both of them to level all their respective and considerable charms my way. I exhaled weakly at the magnificence of them, their lips full from kissing, eyes dark with lust, and bodies pressed together as though they were two halves of a whole.

As though they were of the same mind, they both held out a hand for me at the same time. I gulped, but stood, and walked on shaky legs around the kitchen to take their hands. Lucas licked his lips hungrily and Felicity smiled a small, secretive smile.

“I told you he’d be perfect to balance us out—the grey between light and dark,” she said, not taking her eyes from mine.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Lucas agreed, or at least his version of it. Then his eyes traveled over the two of us. “I hope no one planned to rest for the next 24 hours,” he said, his voice going low and purring again.

I nearly melted right there. The effect of being so close to the two of them and hearing his words was heady and intoxicating.

Felicity laughed, the sound of it delicate and pleased, while I just stood there, trying to catch my breath and calm my wildly beating heart.

Instead of answering, she let go of our hands and turned around, heading to the stairs that lead up to our bedrooms. Lucas gave me another turn-your-brain-to-mush smile before turning on his heal and following her up the stairs, looking like nothing less than a sleek, dark predator seeking out his prey.

I let out one last shaky exhale and followed them.

Today was going to be a very long day.

Writing Prompt ~~ Of Fire and Rage

The lake was still and shiny as glass, as if he could step on it and walk all the way across. It was one of those days when anything seems possible, and he stood there, breathing deep and imagining taking the first step. Then the cracking of the ice like a whip cutting the air. He shivered, the phantom sensations of frigid water washing over him, swallowing him down. Inhaling water. Sinking. Drowning.

It had been a day where anything seemed possible, just as every day with her had been, and just as quick as Hope had taken root in his soul, She’d ripped it to shreds.

Though the lake whispered sweet nothings to him like the lover he’d just lost, his feet remained firmly on the shore. The snow crunched beneath his black combat boots each time he shifted his weight, and the cold seeped into every last inch of him with icy, grasping fingers. He didn’t shiver. In fact, anyone looking on might believe he was at ease, admiring the lake. The only sign of tension was out of sight: his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

That, and the blood.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been covered with it, though he wished such things had been left in his past where they belonged. But he’d let his guard down and this was the price. He sighed, and turned his face upward to lock onto to the Heavens above, containing thousands of stars, a full moon, and darkness between them all that didn’t hold a candle to the cold dark that consumed his soul. His crystalline blue eyes were flat and dull.

“For over a thousand years I have served you,” he said, the edge of his voice ragged. “Why?” he asked, the word ripped from the rawness of what remained of his soul.

No answer. There never was. He growled, and ran a hand over his blood-spattered, bone white hair.

“Forgive me,” she whispered. “I’d never want to add to your pain, but I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. I love you.” A weak smile lovingly graced her lips, and she brushed an errant lock of his hair from his forehead. Then her smile faltered, her usually warm, caramel eyes slid to a distant point over his left shoulder, and her arm fell to the floor of the cabin. She was gone.

He clutched her tighter to him, his face buried in her shoulder and hair. Even over the multitude of death scents hanging heavy on the air—blood, bowels, burned flesh, and more—he could still smell her. Vanilla, cinnamon, and apples. She’d joked that it probably had nothing to do with what she actually smelled like, and more his insatiable sweet tooth in regards to baked goods.

He’d run his hands through the thick, wavy, golden brown locks each chance he had, and this would be the last. He didn’t even care that said hair was covered in blood. The already drying, tacky fluid on the strands left trails of it on his face, as though someone had raked their claws across it.

He didn’t move for some time, and though his muscles screamed and cramped he refused to break the moment. To leave her. Eventually, though, he did. The only signs of his grief were the clear tracks of skin cutting through the red.

He hadn’t been able to leave her there, amidst the bodies and scattered bits of demon decorating what was left of the main room like gory confetti. But when he’d broken the shovel on his first thrust trying to penetrate the frozen ground, he fell back on the old ways.

Unlike creatures from other realms or dimensions, demons were bound to the earth and did not disappear on death. It was messy business, killing demons, even more so covering the evidence up. The human idea of what they thought their world was versus what is was, was tenuous and fragile. Humans tended to react rather violently at any disturbance in regards to their concept of their world. He could only be glad that his training in the early years happened when telling someone you were hunting demons got you praise, instead of a ‘go straight to the institution’ ticket.

The cottage burned brightly enough that someone might have wagered that white phosphorus had been thrown into the one-room structure, but that wasn’t the case. Lower-level and construct demons—demons created from the blood and/or flesh of more powerful demon—had highly flammable blood. It was not uncommon for larger demons to scoop up a handful, eviscerate them, set them on fire, and then lob them at opposing forces.

He grimaced as one particularly gruesome battle surfaced in his mind. A village, a hot summer, lots of straw, thatched-roof huts, and a horde of construct demons.

After setting the cottage ablaze, which would surely attract the local authorities no matter how remote their location, he moved back over to her cairn. Though he knew it was an abuse of powers, he could not bring himself to care. They could take his power, for all the good it’d done him, and shove it up their self-righteous asses. He’d used the hot, white light that burned deep within his core to carve out a footstone. The cairn itself overlooked the lake, and he would have done better for her if the fight had not taken so much out of him.

 

Emily Grace Farwell

25 December 2017

“Hope is seeing light in spite of being
surrounded by darkness”

 

“You were my light,” he rasped, his throat protesting the abuse it’d received between the yelling and smoke inhalation.

He looked to the sky once more and scowled. “I might not have been your most well-behaved soldier, but no one deserved this. Were you trying to teach me I didn’t belong here? Well, bang-up job.” He ground the words out from between clenched teeth.

When he turned his eyes back down to the cairn, his glower softened for a moment before snapping back in full force.

“Damn you, Emily! I told you how dangerous it was to be with me, but you never listen. You let optimism and hope guide you, and it set you on the path to your grave.” He shook his head. “I know I’m to blame for this, and you could have had so much—“

“God, you were always pathetic,” a female voice interrupted him, the tone half exasperated and half disgusted.

His frown deepened and his lip curled into sneer. He turned around and took in the figure near the tree line. She was tall, her body hard, lean, and scarred from countless battles. Their uniform had received upgrades over the centuries, evolving with military trends. They currently sported cargo pants, long-sleeved, lightweight tactical combat shirts, combat boots, and armor that consisted of a vest as well as pieces that covered just about anything but their joints. A deviation from the conventional might be their magical shielding that channeled their inner power through the plating, as well as gorgets and inner-thigh plating to discourage werewolves, vampires, and anything else that might want to gain access to a major artery for a snack or quick kill. While a solider in the desert had to worry about IEDs, their brand of combat was more concerned with not having your throat torn open by something with fangs. The material was magically enhanced to be just about anything one could hope for: lightweight, temperature-controlled, flexible, and nigh indestructible. Of course, they never did seem to get away from the red color scheme, which was as dark as a full-bodied red wine like Syrah.

Her platinum white hair was cropped nearly as short as his. Flint grey eyes matched the brittle laugh she let out at his regard, and it sounded as though it was sharp enough to make the air bleed.

The one thing she was not carrying was her sword, which sent a shock through him that trembled down to his very core. No one went anywhere without their weapon. Ever. Even within their stronghold, no one was ever to be unarmed. It was as good as him looking at her naked, which still didn’t even begin to cover how weird it was, since he knew she showered with the damn thing strapped to her back.

“Sabrael,” he greeted, tone cautious. His snarling anger had drained away in the face of her…bareness.

Her eyes narrowed, but a small, vicious smile quirked the corner of her mouth. “I told Them it would get even your temperamental attention, Desh.”

Tadeshiel—Desh—scoffed. “Considering it’s almost like you’re flitting around missing a limb, I’d say so,” he replied scathingly.

“Is that how you’ve felt the last three years?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as she considered him.

Her words jabbed at him like tiny knives in his weakest spots. “That’s not your business,” he hissed, and spat the words at her like venom.

“So that’s a yes,” she said brightly, and ignored his growling in favor of examining her nails. “No one believed you’d last this long, and especially not the human, what with her being as fragile as they are.” She tilted her head to the cairn.

“Also none of your business,” he said, tone low and warning.

It was her turn to scoff. “Not my business? You mean when my partner abandons the Order we’ve been a part of for over a thousand years, and then taking up with a human no less—”

“I—”

But she overrode him, “—after everyone told him, over and over that it was a bad idea, even by those who had been through the exact same situation? But no, it’s none of my business when the High and Mighty Tadeshiel, He Who is Perfect in Every Way, Slayer of Armies, Possessor of the Thickest Skull in the History of—”

“None of those are my proper titles—”

“—the Order, One Who Knows Better than All, up and abandons us—me!—in the middle of the biggest battle, during the biggest war we’ve had in centuries. That doesn’t concern me?” Her voice had reached a fever pitch with her final word. Her eyes bled from their usual grey to molten gold as her power rose with her anger.

In the face of Desh’s numb silence, she continued.

“Do you realize what you put everyone through when you laid your sword down? I can’t even begin to recount the ramifications, since we were in the middle of a battle and one of our Imperial Legates walked away!”

Still, he said nothing.

“I don’t even know why they sent me out here to speak with you,” she said, her disgust almost palpable on the air like slime. “You’re nothing but a co—”

“I watched him die!” Desh shouted, his chest heaving witht he sudden onslaught of emotions Sabrael’s presence had evoked.

Sabrael’s expression was one of bewilderment. “Who…?”

Desh ran a hand through his hair. He’d done that a lot today. “Douma.”

She raised a single brow. “Douma?”

Desh blew out a sigh and nodded.

“The…healer?” she questioned, not quite able to place the name. To be fair, she had her own legions to oversee, so the fact she could even come close to the mark was impressive. Though, she’d always had a knack for memorizing troop names, faces, and abilities so could put them in a weird ranking system in her mind as to their usefulness. Also, it made punishments easier when she could identify all her troops on sight. He couldn’t figure out how she did it.

“Yes,” Desh said, exasperated. “The healer. He was…newer to our ranks. Under 100. Bright kid.”

Sabrael pursed her lips into a thin line at the mention of the healer’s age. “That’s practically a toddler.” After a small pause, though, she sighed. “Desh, we die all the time. I mean, not as often as the demons, mind you,” she said, and a ghost of a smile played over his lips. “It’s all part and parcel of what we do.”

Desh growled again. “I know that. It wasn’t necessarily the fact that he died, it was more how everyone behaved after it.”

A mop of curly black hair, a lopsided, dimpled smile, and eyes that Desh realized now were so close in shade to Emily’s it made his chest ache. The demons had exercised their evil tendencies to the upmost of their ability when they came across the tent of injured warriors. Though immunes were trained in combat, they were caught unawares. None survived.

Desh walked into the small clearing where his immunes used to be, his eyes searching for one face in particular. When he found him, body cut nearly in two as it covered an injured warrior, there was no question in Desh’s mind that Douma had tried to protect the injured with his own life.

‘He was probably waiting for you to show up and save the day,’ a voice had whispered in his mind. A cruel thought from the darkest recess of his mind, and one that had repeated like a mantra since that moment, slowing wearing away at his sanity.

He’d tried to regroup and secure the area, but what he saw on the faces of his soldiers made his gut twist: knotted eyebrows, narrowed eyes, curled lips and wrinkled noses. Disgust. Whether it was at the situation, him, or both, Desh didn’t know. They didn’t want to expend forces to secure a clearing of dead bodies, despite the fact that each of them had been saved by the immunes at one point or another.

It didn’t matter that, logically, the commander in him knew they were correct. All he could think about was the young man who spoke with such passion about being an immune, he’d nearly put Desh’s eye out as he moved his hands with his words. Between the sight of Douma giving his last breath to save his patient, and failing, and what Desh saw on the faces of his soldiers, he was done. Desh looked into each and every face around him for some flicker of guilt or remorse, but when none was forthcoming he drew his sword. Leveling his coldest sneer at the lot of them, he thrust his sword into the blood-soaked earth, turned on his heel, and left everything he’d known for a thousand years.

Now here he was. Douma and Emily were dead, and all he had gained was a seething, thick pool of bitterness and grief weighing on his soul.

She was quiet in the face of his prolonged silence, but tilted her head to let him continue. Feelings and such weren’t really her area of expertise or comfort, but she did care about keeping her mission success rate as close to perfect as possible. She was ruthless and efficient; she applied pressure and words expertly to achieve the desired results and emotions, even if she didn’t completely understand said emotions herself. This contributed to her high success rate, and she’d be damned if Desh was going to try and screw that up—again.

They were opposites in just about every way, but their opposition complemented each other, which is why their legions always worked closely together. Where he was compassionate, she was merciless. Her pragmatism tempered his idealism, and while they were both intelligent, she was shrewder in tactical thinking while Desh was more perceptive with the emotional element. Sabrael was authoritative in her command, while Desh was participative.

And that was where the problem came in.

When he said nothing more, she scowled. “You got too emotionally attached to one of your subordinates, and when everyone else didn’t stop in the middle of a battle and sob along with you, you took it upon yourself to just abandon us?”

He could understand how she might perceive it that way, but… “Douma was young, exceptionally talented, and proud to serve, but none of that mattered to them. Some of Malgareth’s forces managed to break the line close to where the non-combatants were positioned. I had told Tearny, the Prime Immunes, to move camp earlier in the day, but he argued that many of the gravely wounded could not be moved.” His voice went soft at the last part, because that had been his first mistake, borne from his compassion.

Sabrael honed in on it like a bird of prey on a field mouse. “So instead of moving everyone else save the gravely wounded, whose chance of living was less than everyone else around them, you let your subordinate play on your kindness. Instead a handful being slaughtered they wiped out your Immunes, including this Douma,” she finished.

As she spoke, his demeanor shrank in on itself as her words beat him about his head and heart, making him small and frail. There was a howling in the back of his mind, like a storm ready to break upon the shore of his sanity.

“I revise my previous statement: you’re a coward and an idiot.”

He snapped. In his fight with the demons that took Emily’s life, he’d known his physical abilities had deteriorated over the three years he’d been away. Chopping wood was not an equal replacement for near-constant battle training. However, when he flashed across the clearing to attack Sabrael, he realized just how far he’d fallen.

Construct demons were pathetic, and the only advantage they usually had were numbers. That’s what happened with Emily. That and the fact she was human and fragile, and all he had were his personal magics and no sword. Sabrael, on the other hand, was not a construct demon. She’d always been top of just about every class they took, and she relished hand-to-hand combatives.

Sabrael turned, his fist missing her face. She grabbed his arm, continued his momentum with a slight adjustment, and her power flared. Her strength easily tripled with the surge of energy, and the trees surrounding the clearing never stood a chance.

Sabrael flashed to the impact crater past half a mile of splintered evergreens. He was dazed, and the disturbed snow of the trees created a slight haze and drifted slowly to resettle on the land. Though he’d recover quickly, it wasn’t quick enough if he needed to defend himself from her if she decided to go on the offensive. So when her face appeared in his field of vision, he stiffened. A thrill of terror sped through him like rabbits being flushed from their burrow, and his mind scrambled to clamp down on the dread threatening to overwhelm him. She was smiling. Sabrael only smiled when she was going to kill or heavily maim something.

“I—” he spluttered, trying to find the words, willing his body to cooperate.

“I feel better now, don’t you?” she crooned.

His eyes widened.

“Now,” she said, her tone deadly calm and smile sickly sweet, “I read the after battle reports, which were as painful to procure as it would be to drink incaendium piss—” Desh flinched at that glorious imagery, “—because fully half of both our forces were slaughtered. All because you decided to let personal guilt outweigh your duty and responsibility to your people. Not mine, not the Order’s, yours,” she said, the last word hissing and full of contempt.

“Sabr—”

She kicked him in the ribs. It might not have looked like much, but the cracking that reverberated through his body followed on its heels by searing pain and an inability to breathe begged to differ.

“I’m not finished. It’s rude to interrupt,” she said, voice calm again.

When he finally managed to drag in a breath, he coughed, and could not fully breathe in. His chest was tight, and his vision started to darken around the edges. Sabrael rolled her eyes and leaned over. He tried to move away, but she dug her finger painfully into the spot she’d kicked and he writhed in response. As her power moved through his body, it was as though someone had poured molten metal through his veins. His back arched and his fingers curled with the need to claw at something.

He’d forgotten how much healing hurt, especially coming from someone as unsuited to it as Sabrael. Yes, any of them could heal, but with a lack of a healer’s precision and temperament, it was like cutting off a limb to cure a broken bone. It worked…sort of. The only reason Desh could stand it was the fact they were of a similar potential strength. If she tried this with someone further down the respective ladder than them, they could die from the shock.

When she removed her finger, and along with it her power, he sagged back into his crater. His consciousness and body were floating in the wake of so much foreign power running rampant through his body.

“Drink this, or you’ll be useless for the next day,” a voice said, the words floating like dandelion fluff through his mind.

Something cool and hard pressed into his lips, but when he didn’t open his mouth the voice scoffed with disgust and forced it open. The liquid that hit the back of his throat was refreshing and cool like a mountain stream, followed closely on its heels with what felt like lightning dancing over his nerves. Desh gasped, and then coughed when some of the potion went down the wrong way.

When he’d relearned how to breath, he opened a bleary eye. Desh didn’t know how long he lay there, out of his mind, but when he came to Sabrael was sitting on a stump, her chin propped in the palm of her hand. Her eyes were back to their usual grey, her power having receded to just below the surface.

Given what Desh knew of Sabrael, he wasn’t sure if staying silent or speaking would contribute to his continued existence. As she watched him like a bug she was deciding whether or not to crush, Desh took a chance.

“Why are you here, Sabrael?” The words came out roughly, reflecting his weariness like a mirror.

She simply continued to look at him for a moment, not answering. Just as he started to say something else, she spoke.

“We want you back.”

The words froze his insides as though he’d actually plunged into the lake as he had imagined earlier.

“No.” It was a knee-jerk, instant response. The word hadn’t finished forming in his mind before it flew from his lips.

She raised a single eyebrow, the one on the right that was bisected by one of her many scars.

“Wallowing in self-pity for three years isn’t enough?” she asked, scathingly.

Desh scowled. “I just buried someone I loved, and you want me to jump back into the fray?”

Sabrael snorted and shook her head. “As if they’d put you in charge again after what you pulled? No.” She paused and cast a sly glance his way. “Despite the mess you left, I managed to beat back the demon horde, and as a result I earned a shiny new promotion. My record has never been better. We recently won a major battle and they offered me a reward. I chose you.” She shrugged.

Desh’s eyes bulged. “But you said They sent you to talk to me—”

“I lied to make you angry,” she said, cutting him off with a nonchalant wave of her hand as well as her words. She scanned the surrounding area. “And it worked. It broke the tension you were holding like a taut bowstring, and made you stop and listen because I could beat the wings off you right now. Now, do I have your attention?”

He quieted but held his glare. She’d manipulated him, and easily at that. He gave her a grudging nod, his teeth gritted against lashing out with words, and his fists clenched, because using those had proven equally as useless.

“Good,” she said, looking like the cat who ate the canary. “As I said, you were my reward.” She paused again and sniffed, looking down her nose at him. “Though maybe not a good one. This was my one chance to bring you back into the fold with minimal fuss, because they want to keep me happy and winning battles.”

“I still don’t see how this benefits me. I don’t want to go back,” he said, grumpy and dare he think it, even pouting a bit? He didn’t like to lose, and Sabrael had him at a distinct disadvantage.

She huffed out an annoyed breath. “If you’d shut up, I’m not finished,” she snapped.

Desh shut his mouth accordingly, though he still didn’t lose the scowl.

“I knew you’d need an incentive, but I haven’t gotten there yet. First, I want you to hear my terms, and if they are agreeable to you then I’ll tell you why I think you’ll jump at the chance of coming back. Okay?” she asked. She stood up then, hand going to her hips as she gazed down at him in his pathetic state. She knew he just needed a little push.

He didn’t like it, but she was going about this in a very fair way for him, but instead of being relieved, it made him all the more suspicious. Instead of luring him with the incentive, and then forcing him to give into her demands, she was giving him the chance to hear her demands, decide if he could handle them, and then walk away if he couldn’t.

It stank as bad as day-old fish left baking in a high summer heat…

“Fine,” he snapped back.

…but something niggled at the back of his brain, driving him forward.

“Good, now these are my demands…”

She droned on for the better part of fifteen minutes, outlining what would and would not be expected of him. It came down to the fact that Sabrael found herself rather displeased with the combat teachers, stating all the good ones had died, retired, or joined the fight on the battlefields. She was wroth about the whole situation, and the lack of proficient teachers was producing sub-par subordinates. This simply would not do.

She offered him an instructor position, but he’d hold no power—not even allowed the usual authority of a magister. She would assign him someone to dole out punishments and rewards and assist him in any way she deemed necessary. He’d be an old wolf with no fangs, teaching the young pups how to be a proper wolf. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

If she had concerns about his pride getting in the way of having no power while she held it all, then he could definitely say no one had been watching him the last three years. They’d written him off, just as he’d wanted. That being said, it was hard to get upset over hurt pride when you had none anymore.

“Okay,” he said quietly, “those aren’t the worst terms given what I did. They are agreeable, and fair.”

Her eyes went a little wide, and it made him smile. He’d surprised her, and it was an interesting, yet somewhat gratifying, feeling.

“Just like that?” she asked, incredulous.

Desh nodded. “Just like that. Now spill, and tell me why you think I’ll come back, even with such a kind offer,” he said, though he couldn’t keep the mocking tone out of his voice. Nothing in Heaven, Hell, or on Earth would get him to go back…

“Malgareth is back.”

…except maybe that.

Eyes blacker than the void, heartless as a force of nature, curved horns, and a cold smirk danced in his vision, which had gone an alarming shade of crimson. A casual and cruel taunt on the battlefield, suggesting that he should check on his immunes instead of wasting time losing a fight with him.

He closed his eyes, and his body shook with the force of the rage that howled through him like a tornado of fire and fury. Desh was glad he was still laying on the ground. He wasn’t sure he could have kept his feet in the face of that revelation in combination with his recent healing.

When he opened his eyes again, Sabrael’s face was split with a feral, pleased grin at the expression she saw on his face. He took in a deep breath, let it out, and narrowed his gaze on her.

“When can we leave?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Song Inspiration: Demons by Jacob Lee

Writing Prompt ~~ Late Bloomer

She believed in me in a way no one else ever had and no one else ever will, and I betrayed her. The worst part is she doesn’t know. She still thinks I’m her best friend, keeper of her secrets, and most of all human. The human part might be negligible, and betrayed might be a bit strong of a word. You never know how someone will react to you being Other, and I only told him every detail of her life to protect her. That had to count for something, right?

I internally cringed away from her bright smile as she approached the table, but outwardly I planted a warm, welcoming smile across my face.

“Erik! I thought you said you wouldn’t be able to make the study session today?” Dani—Danielle—asked, and sat down at the table.

I pushed her favorite drink, an iced cinnamon dolce latte, across the table to her. It was my job to remember the nuances about her, is what I told myself, but after she sat down and moaned in pleasure at the first sip my mouth went dry.

“Change of plans,” I said, and shuffled my books across the table to make room for her.

I was the youngest pack member, a mere pup at thirty, but thanks to the curse I didn’t look a day over eighteen. I fit right in on the college campus, but even that would not have gotten me this particular honor if I hadn’t proven myself beforehand. Countless scars and battles over the years meant I was decently high up in the pack structure, and a life-debt meant I’d sooner cut my own throat than betray the pack leader. That combination had earned me this assignment.

Dani leaned back in her seat, eyes closed, and sipping on the sickly sweet drink that left her smelling of espresso and cinnamon for hours after she finished it. My keen sense of smell was usually a disadvantage in places such as this, but I gripped the edges of my chair to keep me from leaning forward and inhaling her scent as deep as my lungs would allow. It was only when the wood groaned in protest did I release it.

“You okay? You seem a little tense,” Dani said, and quirked an eyebrow. Her luxurious, brown sugar curls framed her slender face and shoulders in the same carefree manner as her personality. She looked more like her mother, Shannon, with her rich caramel skin and plump lips, but her storm gray eyes were all her father’s, Arthur. Werewolf genetics were funny that way.

“Just nervous about the finals, I guess,” I said, prying my eyes away from her long legs, and shrugged.

She scoffed. “You have a 4.0,” she said, incredulous.

“Even the mighty fall,” I said.

She rolled her eyes at that, and I couldn’t help the half-smile that broke across my face.

“I told you not to take that drama class. It’s turned you positively angsty,” she said, and wrinkled her nose.

A full-blown grin broke across my face.

“Much better. Now, should we study for our dreaded finals?”

I cracked open a book to our Biological Physics class and sighed. “Well, if you insist.”

She just laughed and opened her laptop.

My eyes scanned the page, but my heart wasn’t in it. Dani had no idea she was the pack leader’s daughter, which was something her mom and dad had agreed on in the divorce. The 90s hadn’t been a good time for supernaturals, or Others. Some Senator’s kid was killed, mangled, and partially eaten by a ghoul, and there was a lot of angry shouting about putting us on lists, making us register. It even got bad enough that at one point there was serious consideration about putting us on a hunting list. Open season on all Others, anytime, anywhere.

It never passed, but when you’re a human married to the werewolf pack leader of a big chunk of your state and you’ve got a toddler, it puts things in perspective. Arthur only asked that Shannon keep Dani with the pack until she was three. If, during her third year, she hadn’t exhibited any supernatural abilities they could go on their way. The time passed, Dani was as normal a toddler as one could hope for, and Arthur signed the divorce papers and gave Shannon full custody.

It tore him apart. However, when I took the assignment, the one thing Arthur was adamant about was not asking Dani if she knew her father.

I snuck a quick glance at her. She had her head in her hand, tangling her fingers in her hair, and her eyebrows were furrowed in concentration. It was a bitch of a class we were taking, but the sight sent tendrils of warmth through me.

“You could help instead of stare, you know?” she teased.

“How are you supposed to learn if I gave you all the answers?” I asked. I turned a page, even though I hadn’t really read it.

She let out a disgusted scoff, dropped her notes, and crossed her arms over her chest. “You sound just like my mom.”

“Oh, no, not the parent comparison. I’m wounded,” I said, monotone, and then flipped another page.

She crumpled up an errant paper and threw it at me. It hit my head, and I looked up at her, mouth hanging slightly open. “Ouch.”

She smirked. “You’ll live.” Then she turned her gaze to my notes, eyebrows lifting slightly. “But I won’t if you don’t share your notes,” she said.

I sighed, and the smirk grew to a wide grin. “You only want me for my brains,” I lamented, and slid them across the table to her.

“That’s not true,” she protested, and took the notes from me like a hungry child taking a cookie. “You buy me coffee, too.”

“Pardon me.” I laughed, but the noise caught in my throat as though I would choke on it. I caught a scent that didn’t belong: wolf. My fists clenched beneath the table on reflex. I slipped my hand into my right pocket and grabbed my phone. I’d practiced the movements countless times to make sure I could do this without looking, but my hand shook as it moved over the touch screen, and I could only hope it worked.

Dani’s eyes flicked up to me and stayed, perhaps sensing some tension, and her brows drew down in a frown as she tilted her head.

“Wha—“

“Look, I know this is going to sound weird,” I said, my voice low. I scanned the crowd as I spoke, my eyes flicking over far too many faces in such a small space. “But I need you to walk over to the end of the counter, and when it starts, hide beneath it.” My eyes locked with a male’s not far inside the door.

His eyes were a glowing amber, and tension sang through him like an over-tightened guitar string ready to snap. He was a beast, and I wasn’t just noting his Were nature. His shoulders were wide, arms gorilla-like, and legs so thick they could kick a hole through my soul. Since introductions weren’t likely, I’d decided to call him Behemoth.

“You’re right, that does sound weird,” she said. She laughed, but when I didn’t respond it died on her lips. “You’re serious,” she said, and this time she clenched her jaw when she frowned.

“I need you to move. Slowly. Please,” I said, adding a hint of pleading to the request.

She looked at me for a moment before shaking her head. “I must be crazy,” she said under her breath, and likely to herself, but my hearing was beyond that of a human’s.

I stood when she did, and being a head taller than her allowed me to keep Behemoth in my sights. She started to gather her things.

“Leave it. It’s not worth your life,” I said, my voice already deepening with an edge of a growl.

Her spine went rigid. “What the fu—” She stopped midsentence when I turned my eyes to hers, breaking eye contact with Behemoth to bring my point home.

Her eyes widened as mine bled from their usual cornflower blue to the yellow of molten gold.

“Move,” I growled.

As she moved, her body trembling, Behemoth moved, too. We frequented the café enough that Dani and I knew everyone here, so when she made it to the counter she said something to the girl. Just as I went around the table to confront the male, the barista pulled the fire alarm. The jarring scream made me flinch, and that was when Behemoth attacked, leaping over the heads of everyone as they fled the café.

I used his momentum to carry him past me, dropping low and pushing him with my hands. Chairs and tables snapped beneath Behemoth’s weight, and people screamed as he crashed through them like a bowling ball through pins. I growled against the pop of pain in my jaw as it elongated to compensate for the larger, sharper teeth. My fingers broke and reformed in a smooth, agonizing transition, and my nail beds burned as claws pushed the human nails out of the way. Even having one of the most effortless and best partial transformations didn’t save me from the pain.

Behemoth was breathing hard as he stood up, but it didn’t keep him from growling at me. His hair was an indeterminate color, since it was shaved so close to his head, but it made it easy to spot a few cuts already knitting themselves back together. Behemoth had to outweigh my lean frame by at least thirty pounds of muscle, probably more, which meant I had to go with a brain over brawn strategy. Of course, that wasn’t anything new for me. Most of the pack outweighed me.

This time when he charged he kept his feet firmly on the ground. When he was close enough, he tried to throw a punch, but I slipped into his guard, and used my shoulder to redirect his movement, again.

“Leave. Now.” I said as he stumbled.

Behemoth let out a barking laugh and recovered easily. “Not a chance, boy. I’m here for the girl. Leader’s orders.”

My insides froze. The whole reason I’d been assigned to Dani was because Shannon said she’d received threats against her life and Dani’s. One of the female pack members who didn’t hate Shannon had been assigned to her. Even though people were skeptical about the situation at first, when the formal challenge for pack leadership came to Arthur it was far more plausible. Shockingly, werewolves weren’t always honorable in how they take over a pack. Arthur’s territory was substantial enough that he’d had a fair few challengers over the years, but this was the first time they’d targeted his family. Why have a physical fight, when you can bring someone to their knees by capturing their family?

It was about this time that the remaining people scrambled for the exits. The staff who hadn’t thought to run for the door, tripped over each-other in their rush to the employee area.

In a few moments, only Behemoth, Dani, and I remained in the building.

He planted his foot behind him and lunged to close the distance between us. Unlike before, he was expecting a redirection of energy, and as we connected, he slammed his fist into my ribs.

I pushed his head towards the floor, hoping to unbalance him at worst, or slam him at best. I achieved neither as he ducked, dug his newly forming claws into my waist, and slung me back towards the counter.

Thankfully, throwing a person’s body against the wall behind a bar, like in action movies, is hardly the deadly affair they make it out to be.  Messy? Sure. Deadly? Not so much. It has even less effect on a Were, considering most of the items were coffee-making paraphernalia. I could feel some broken mugs crunching underneath me, but I was otherwise okay. Except for an odd burning sensation on my hand.

He was stomping closer from the other side, obviously intending to finish what he started before making off with Dani. I started to rise, and that’s when I noticed it—I had put my hand on some schmuck’s hidden flask that hit the floor during the scuffle. Some snobby trust-fund college kid was about to lose his heirloom.

Behemoth peeked over the bar and smiled menacingly. “There you are.”

I did the only thing I could think of as he lunged at my neck for the kill. I slammed the flask as far down his newly-formed muzzle as I could, my own arm be damned. His eyes went wide as the burning silver of the flask took full effect, and I realized my hand was stuck in his mouth. In a panic, I dug my other hand under the bar and upended it from the mounts, shoving it towards his body in an effort to dislodge us. As he swung wildly and gagged, frothing and smoking at the mouth, one of his claws managed to snag the neck of my shirt, and he dragged us onto the main floor, stumbling over the broken bits of bar.

Behemoth must have decided this wasn’t his day and he needed to heal and regroup, because he made for the exit with me in tow like a wolf on a mission. I grabbed for anything with my other arm, desperate for something solid to use as a weapon against him. He gripped my shirt tighter and began shaking his head back and forth, slinging me like a ragdoll. When he finally made it to the exit, my hand closed on something solid and heavy near the door. I then proceeded to smash him over the head with a wild swing from a fire extinguisher.

He let out a muffled yelp and stumbled, as smoke billowed out of his mouth like a demented dragon. Then he started to bleed from his new head wound, and my inner nature took over. I generally function okay in front of blood and violence when I’m not in a life or death struggle with another Were and in my human form, but it’s quite different once the animal side takes over. A short time later I came back to myself, deformed extinguisher in hand. Behemoth lay in the doorway, smoldering skull now a flattened mess just inside the door. His jaw must have relaxed and released my hand at some point, because I had reacquired ownership of it—or what was left of it.

“I guess sometimes alcohol is the answer,” I wheezed, trying not to think about my hand. Of course, my eyes strayed down to it, and I quickly looked away and swallowed. Silver worked on us like acid but worse. If I didn’t take care of this soon, losing my hand would be the least of my worries. I could die from silver poisoning form too much contact with the flask. My options weren’t looking too fantastic.

“Erik!”

My head snapped up, and I met Dani’s wide eyes. I’d seen the look before. It was usually a combo platter of fear, loathing, and a primal urge to murder the Other before it ate you. I tried to walk away, but my traitorous body was having none of it, and I stumbled and fell to my knees.

There was a gentle touch at my shoulder, and instinct made me jerk in surprise and try to get away, but I was too weak. The hand gripped my shoulder tighter to help keep me from falling completely over, but it also trapped me. In this much pain, so close to my full form, the beast inside me howled and snarled in fear and anger. It came out as a low growl that should never come from a human throat.

Then nails were digging painfully into my shoulder. “Erik!” The voice was familiar, but there was a thread of command in it like a pack leader. All pack leaders had a mantle of power that came with the stations. It allowed them to exert almost complete and total control over the members of their pack. But all alphas had this magic quality to them that compelled subordinates and betas to obey. Not all alphas were pack leaders, but all pack leaders were alphas.

“We have to get you to my dad,” the voice said.

My brain wasn’t keeping up very well, but I did manage to look up at whoever was speaking and give one long, slow blink. It looked a lot like Dani, but it couldn’t be Dani.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Shit. The silver’s eating your brain, or something. It’s me: Dani,” the voice said.

“You can’t be Dani.”

“Why?” she asked, incredulous.

“Because Dani doesn’t know her dad, or know I know her dad.”

If she rolled her eyes any harder they would have fallen out the back of her head. “Oh, please. My mother told me about him eons ago. Hard not to, really,” she muttered.

Then, for the first moment in the last few moments, I noticed something different about her.

“Your eyes!” I said.

“Caught on, have you?” she asked. “It wasn’t easy, you know, keeping all this from you. Mom thought they’d just send some brooding, stalker-looking guy to watch me from the bushes, but no, they sent you. It was so hard to keep my real scent masked. It’s been a pain and a half. Looks like I don’t have to do that anymore, though,” she said, and smiled.

Dare I say it was almost wolfish? I could only gape.

She sighed. “That big brain of yours can grasp so many things, but a late bloomer werewolf is what confounds you? Weak, dude.” Then she hauled me up and threw me over her shoulder.

This was the closest I’d ever been to her, and despite my injuries I couldn’t resist. I inhaled deeply and for the first time I was able to truly smell her, and it. That unmistakable scent of werewolf.

“Satisfied?” she asked, and huffed in amusement.

I blushed, and was thankful that she couldn’t smell the blood rushing to my face any more than it already was.

I grunted, and then hissed as a fresh wave of hellish pain pulsed from my hand. We made it to her car and she set me down on my feet to lean on it while she opened the door. Sirens were wailing in the distance, and my heartrate picked up. I’d never be able to show my face here again, and then my heart squeezed as I realized the same went for Dani.

“Don’t worry about it,” she whispered, “I’ll figure something out.” Despite her brave words, I could smell regret washing off her in waves.

She got me in and buckled, and pulled out of the lot slowly just ahead of the emergency vehicles. A tightness in my chest eased, and I finally relaxed back into the seat. Well, as best I could given the state of my hand.

“Looks like it’s finally time to meet dear, old Dad. Won’t this be fun?” she joked.

I could only groan in response. Fun wasn’t what I’d call it, but with Dani, who knew? One thing was for certain, everything was going to change. But as I was being dragged under by the darkness eating at my consciousness, I couldn’t say that was a bad thing. I just hoped my text got to Arthur, otherwise this was all going to be one hell of a surprise.

Writing Prompt ~~ Optimism

 

Artist Unknown

 

The music drifted out of the club like a vibrating pulse. I could feel it in my bones. The night was alive with possibility. I could even imagine myself finding a date.

My, aren’t we feeling ambitious? A pompous, scathing voice raked like claws across my thoughts.

My insides shrank, like a flower withering under the first bite of frost. I slunk in through the door after flashing my ID to the bouncer, whose muscles had muscles. His bald head shone with sweat from the humid heat of the night, but I shivered beneath my jacket. I headed straight for the bar and ordered a drink: “Whatever tastes good.”

It was just a thought. I frowned, and fidgeted with my drink, taking a small sip. It probably had some ridiculous name I would never remember, even if I’d asked, and the sweetness of it sat heavy on my tongue.

Optimism doesn’t suit you.

No, I argued, it doesn’t suit you. It suits me just fine. I jutted my chin out and tilted my head back, throwing the rest of the drink down my throat. It might be sweet, but it still burned. Thankfully, no one could hear me cough over the music.

Yes, which is why you’re currently housing a Wraith, Katherine, because we just feed off positivity. Did you think I could last this long if I was housed with a soul bathed in Light? Or that this would have ever happened if you weren’t of the dark?

The question raised the fine hairs on my body, and I shuddered, curling in on myself. Believe me, I didn’t mean to capture you, Wros, it was an accident.

Wros harrumphed. Yes, and what a happy accident it’s been, he said, voice dripping with venom.

D-did you just quote Bob Ross? I sat up, and my eyes went wide. Before Wros answered, one of the bartenders had taken my sudden movement as a signal to come over.

His eyes were a jewel-bright green, and his hair was cut short on the sides, a little longer on top, and had that, ‘I just rolled out of bed,’ tousled touch. It was dyed aquamarine, and went with the mermaids and bubbles theme the club had gone with. His lips curled into a smirk at my shocked look.

“See something you like?” he asked.

I blushed, hard, while the heat from the alcohol coursed through me. “May I have some water, please?” I managed to stammer out.

His smirk transformed into a full-on smile as he poured me a glass. “One water,” he said, and slid the glass toward me.

I thanked him, and took a sip. The cool water was a near nauseating contrast to the fire in my blood, and I had to swallow a couple more times after drinking to keep the water down.

The bartender chuckled and shook his head. “Let me know if you need anything else,” he said, and winked.

It was roguish, unexpected, and it made me blush again.

I like that one, Wros said, his voice a low growl rumbling through my mind.

I winced, and tilted my head down. My long, curly, dark copper hair shifted and fell forward, hiding the right side of my face. It was a habit I’d had since childhood, and something I’d never managed to grow out of.

Of course you do. I sighed, and my shoulders slumped.

Then I sat up, tucked my hair behind an ear, waved the bartender back over, and ordered another drink.

 

 

****

 

The park wasn’t far from the club, and was better than a seedy alley any day of the week, but especially on a Saturday night. Most of them had been occupied.

A soft moan floated through the night, and my head snapped around to see if anyone heard. We were alone, save for the breeze rustling the leaves in trees, and the occasional distant siren. My heart raced at each small noise, and I licked my lips, nervous.

I’ll never get used to this.  My chest was tight. I straddled the bartender’s—Gabriel’s—waist, and looked down at his recumbent form. The only way this could have been worse was if we were naked.

You’d be shocked what you can get used to given enough incentive, Wros said, ever the pragmatist.

What, like not dying?  I asked, the bitterness of my words and the aftertaste of Gabriel’s soul resting on my tongue like dark chocolate. I wanted to roll my tongue over it, like hard candy, even though there was nothing physical the soul left in my mouth. I wanted to savor it, and spit it out at the same time.

Precisely, Wros crooned. He rolled in my mind, like a content, fat cat. Our current predicament meant that if we didn’t consume souls, we’d both die. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a martyr.

Gabriel’s brows were pinched, as though in pain, and he likely was. I’d only taken part of his soul when I’d kissed him, causing him to lose consciousness. Wros really needed to pick smaller targets, because Gabriel had almost brained himself when I barely caught him as he fell to the ground.

I laughed at the thought, the sound brittle like shattered Christmas ornaments. Such concern for a man I was about to kill. I smoothed a finger across his brow, willing it to relax, and brushing his bright hair from his forehead. He moaned again, but his face relaxed, and I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding

If it makes you feel any better, he’s a bit of a womanizer, Wros said, trying to throw me a balm to soothe my conscience.

“It doesn’t,” I said out loud. Yet, I bent over him again, my hair creating a curtain around us. An illusion of privacy, seeing as how Wros was ever-present in my mind and seeing everything through my eyes.

At the thought I closed my eyes, and pressed my lips into his again. Wros stretched out through me, like fog rolling through a midnight graveyard in the middle of winter, and took over my movements as I surrendered control. I did this when I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish what I started. I was not only a killer, but a coward to boot.

Wros moved my hands to cup the sides of Gabriel’s face, and his power unfurled like a poisonous flower from my lips, sucking at what remained of the man’s soul. He coaxed it out gently, like a monster under the bed convincing a child to leave the safety of their covers.

The grass withered beneath us as Wros’ power spread, and then drew back as all of Gabriel’s soul was pulled into us. Wros withdrew into my mind as I sat up, and Gabriel’s head lolled to the side, his bangs just long enough to fall over his closed eyes. All that remained was the physical body, and it would expire in three days’ time without the return of his soul. Even if we did return it, it would be damaged, as Wros had already started the process of ‘digesting’ it.

I stood, my legs wobbly, and I stumbled away. Like a junkie leaving the spot they shot up at. As the breeze blew through the park and I shuffled off to my car, I frowned at the cold feeling on my face. I brushed my cheeks to find them wet, and my eyes widened as I realized they were tears.

“Tears are the silent language of grief,” I whispered, my voice hoarse.

Leonardo da Vinci, Wros commented idly from his spot in my mind.

I stopped in my tracks and clenched my fists.

Don’t! Wros growled, trying to lurch through me to take over as the thought in my mind sent my body into action.

I shrugged off his control. Too late.

 

 

****

 

Another Friday was here, but instead of lurking outside the clubs, I was outside the hospital. It was difficult to not look suspicious when you’re hanging around outside all day, but I couldn’t move.

I’d chewed my lips and nails into oblivion, and my stomach rumbled from hunger. Wros wasn’t speaking with me at the moment, but I considered that a side bonus to the situation. I had a sharp pain my shoulders, because every time the front entrance to the hospital opened, I tensed up.

This time, though, I saw what I was waiting for and I let out a shaky sigh.

You know you’ve doomed him to a life of feeling perpetually unfulfilled, Wros said, and narrowed his eyes at the sight of Gabriel through mine.

He was gaunt, and his shoulders were hunched a little, as though he were fragile and barely holding himself together. Then someone appeared from behind him—an older woman who had his elegant nose and soft smile. Gabriel smiled in return, and though it was a ghost of the one from last Friday, it eased something in my chest.

He might heal.

Wros rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. You are the worst necromancer I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing.

I stood up from the bench, and slipped away.

We still have to eat, you know, Wros said, softly and not unkindly.

My hands were shaking as I opened my car door. I know.

Then why? What made him different from the others? Wros pressed.

That, I don’t know. Maybe you just suck at picking targets, I said, trying for humor.

Wros shook his head and scoffed, disgusted.

As I pulled away from the curb I mulled over the question. It wasn’t a line I hadn’t already crossed before Gabriel, many times at that, but whatever it was about him wouldn’t let me follow through that night.

Usually, Wros telling me of their misdeeds as he read their souls was enough to get me through, but who was I to judge? I killed people to keep an undead terror and myself alive.

Saving him doesn’t make up for the others. Though, admittedly, the others were a lot worse in character than that one. Wros pondered for a moment. I’ll try to find someone worse. Would that be better?

I sighed. No, but until we find a solution that’ll have to do.

Like I said, optimism doesn’t suit you.