Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

ASN 2.0 Breakfast Interrupted

Contrary to the night before, when Walter Richards woke up on the early March day it was after a night of quite good sleep, what he got of it. He yawned, stretching his arms above his head and lowering one to the woman who was in the bed with him. Morgan began to wake up with a little bit of a yawn as well, blearily looking over to the alarm clock next to the bed and shaking her head.

“Let me sleep in until 6:30 this time, how luxurious,” she commented wryly. She reached up to ruffle his hair gently as she fell back against the bed. Her own red hair was tousled and she reached up to brush some of it out of her face as she considered the ceiling fan with serious contemplation.

Walter snorted. “Lifetime of habit. Also, you’re a doctor, how are you not used to stupid hours?” He asked, as he reached for his cell phone to make sure he wasn’t being sought by anyone. Morgan did the same, stretching out to reach to the other nightstand for her own cell. Walter admired the curve of her back, reaching out to run his hand down her spine playfully while he set his phone back down.

“Mmm,” Morgan offered wryly. “I’m a specialist, dear. I’m the kind of doctor that has to be called in for a consult off the golf course, and who has to debate whether she can do one more hole before heading in. Not that I play golf, mind you, but I could if I wanted to. Murders, on the other hand…”

Walter snorted. “Then why are you a member of the country club?” He asked. He pulled her up in to his arms and they shared a gentle kiss, before both of them slid out of bed to seek clothing. Neither wanted to be caught in bed if any of his children decided to get up and go roaming early in the day—Siobhan had a habit of keeping odd hours.

Morgan moved to the dresser that she had begun keeping clothing in when she was both in the mortal world and staying over, and began looking through the offerings there. She hummed softly to herself as she fished out clothing and began to pull it on. “Any plans for the day with the kids or might we actually get to share two meals together in one day?”

Walter shook his head as he pulled out a shirt and a pair of jeans from his own dresser. “No plans on my end until late. Siobhan and Antigone are getting themselves to their activities today, and meeting me up later. Does that mean that you don’t have to jaunt off to Faerie?” He asked, as he pulled the shirt up over his head.

Morgan sighed as she pulled a blouse around her body. “I should in the next couple of days. Tennyson is holding things down and doing a decent enough job, but I worry. Even though things quieted down after the…unpleasantness following Oberon’s death slash disappearance, it will be a while before I’m comfortable leaving it for terribly long periods again.” Walter nodded, unbuttoning his pants and moving to pull them on when Morgan smirked. “You know, it occurs to me we might need a shower before the kids wake up…” She offered, wiggling her eyebrows.

Walter dropped the pants immediately, and proceeded to chase her half-naked—if quiet—to the shower.

***** *****

They had just finished having breakfast when both of their cell phones began to buzz on the table. For what seemed like the first time in his entire career, the phone call pulling him in from a day off had actually waited until he was done with a meal to interrupt.

“Well, I guess we can share a ride at least,” Walter offered wryly as he moved to get his coat. “Unless you want to maintain the illusion that we aren’t dating in front of the department who are universally aware of it.”

Morgan’s response was a smirk, and a shake of her head. “No, we can probably forego the illusion. I’m all for car-pooling after all, being eco-friendly is part of my portfolio.” The smirk blossomed in to a genuine little smile of amusement. “Unless you’d prefer me to try to remove all their memories and we can be secret.”

Walter stopped, stumbling over his own feet uncharacteristically as he stared at her for a moment, his eyes widening slightly. “Could you do that?” He asked, stunned. He waved a hand quickly in follow up, snorting. “I don’t want you to, because that is literally terrifying, but could you make that many people forget something?” He asked, half in awe and half in concern.

Morgan considered it for a moment, sucking on her teeth as she moved to open the door, stepping over the Richards children’s habitual shoe pile. “Probably? I can’t do it like the movies and just flash everyone all at once, there’s a limit to how many people you can do that to at once. So let’s say I have the juice but it would be difficult, given the number of cops who know. Why?” She asked, her own voice modulated between curiosity and something else Walter couldn’t identify.

“Just…” Walter gathered his thoughts as he made his way to the door, giving her a nod as he stepped through, and turned to lock it behind them. “A sobering reminder that I’m dating a literal force of nature.” He made it in to a joke with a half-grin.

“And goddess of death,” Morgan reminded in dead-pan seriousness, meeting his eyes. As she passed him and he locked the door, she reached out to squeeze his rear.

Walter raised an eyebrow and followed her to his motorcycle, where she had apparently decided they would ride. The day had cleared from the recent rain, and the streets would probably be clear enough he thought it would be enjoyable. He grabbed the helmets and tossed one to her. “Do goddesses of death often grab people’s asses?” He asked, as they climbed on.

“Perk of the position,” Morgan answered with a wiggle of her eyebrows as he began to back the bike out of the driveway.

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ASN 1.2: Dreaming Anew

The Marshal who was not yet the Marshal dreamed, and did not dream. He saw, and did not see. He had dreamed often of late, and sometimes the dreams that were not dreams were confusing—and other times they seemed confused. Sometimes they would start normal and end in darkness and heat; sometimes they began in fire and ended in peace. Rarely they would be all one or the other, normal or altered, and those were notable nights for similar but opposite reasons. He rarely remembered more than impressions, and that was a blessing.

As he dreamed now he thought it would be neither normal nor blessed.

The heat of the forest pricked his skin with sweat, giving the air a weight and a smell and a taste. It hummed with the sounds of lush life, and the very verdant-ness of it threatened to overwhelm him. Might have overwhelmed him, save for his distraction.

The tree was as large as life itself and teeming, overflowing with every form of buzzing and chirping. It was an ecosystem to itself, a whole world given form and shape and leaves. Every bit of it was as vibrant as the world, and every bit of it was the world—entwined and flowing in to all the other parts without beginning or end. It was natural and perfect and unending.

The brown streak coming off of one of the mighty limbs was all the more shocking for its unnaturalness, although it would have been so anyway for what it held. He stared at himself hanging from the hangman’s noose, the rope rough and swaying in the breeze. He blinked, and the man hanging from the rope blinked—at the same time, of the same substance, yet staring at him as though from a great distance.

“What was begun cannot be stopped,” the man who was and was not him said, his voice heavy with knowledge and sorrow. “The path must be walked.”

“I am afraid,” the Marshal replied.

“That is well, for there is much to be fearful of here. But the path will threaten those who we care for, and to try to leave it will put them at risk,” the hanging man answered.

“I am angry, and it is not my anger,” the Marshal said.

The hanging man nodded in return, carefully for the rope about his neck. “And that must be watched, for it is danger; but it is also a power we have been given, to shepherd for a time. And to use, when the right time is at hand.”

“I am afraid,” the Marshal said, and his voice was soft. Again the hanging man nodded.

“And I am afraid as well, for all that we have been and may be. But what has begun cannot be stopped,” the man who was and was not him repeated, with all the sorrow and knowledge still weighting his words. “The path must be walked.”

The Marshal, who was not yet the Marshal, awoke painting and reached for the water by his bed. Storm clouds crackled outside, the rain falling in heavy sheets, and he knew it was an ill omen.

**** ****

The High Priestess and the Lady of Ravens lay in slumber. They dreamed and did not dream; they saw and did not see. But they knew the quality of their seeings and not seeings, eyes and sight awakening to the things they had known but not known until recently.

The one in white considered the world around her. The one in black smirked, and walked toward her sister. The ebony spirals of her clothing faded to mist behind her as she moved, nipping at her heels almost playfully before fading away.

“For how long have we been able to speak in to one another’s dreams, and share our visions such as this?” The Raven asked, and the white lily gave an artless shrug.

“We have always shared dreams,” she answered, before holding up a hand to forestall her sister’s comments. “I don’t know if we’ve always been able to speak like this, or if it is a recent development. It could have to do with our power, awakened last year.”

Darkness swirled in thought about the face of the Raven as she considered it, and she shrugged. “And do we have to speak as if we are in yonder romance novel, forsooth?”

The white light that surrounded the High Priestess froze in place, the shimmering motes hanging in the air in silent consideration, before she let out a sigh. “Do you always have to ruin things?” She asked exasperatedly.

“I’m just saying—” the Raven began.

“No, come on, I’m serious. We can’t have one thing that’s…genuinely heartfelt or dire? We’re sharing psychic visions, for God’s sake. Would it kill us to have a little gravity to the proceedings?”

The Raven started to laugh, until she noticed the very serious and very old fashioned look that her sister was giving her. After a moment she sighed, the swirling darkness even managing to look apologetic. “Fine, we can speak all forsoothly.”

“No, the moment is ruined,” the High Priestess rolled her eyes, and turned out to look at the world around them. Off in the distance, thunder peeled in from the waking world. They both looked out toward the direction it seemed to be coming from. “I think now is when I’m supposed to say that a storm is coming in, in more ways than one; but that’s so cliche.”

“It might be a cliche,” the Raven spoke quietly, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also true.” Neither one of them had anything to say to that.

The High Priestess awoke in to a world of rain and thunder outside the safety of her windows, ominous in the dark night. To distract herself, she took a spare pillow and hurled it across two rooms to bean her sister in the face as she awoke.

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ASN 1.1: Orders

She always hated her alleged boss’ office. He was an excellent analyst, although it had been too long since he’d been in the field, but what she hated most was the clutter. The office had wood walls because it was expensive, which was the same reason for the desk. It was insecurity, but that wasn’t even that part she hated the most—she hated the clutter.

Files and papers lined the desk, and the shelves behind him were filled with books on intelligence, field reports, and pictures. The pictures were of the man with politicians and political appointees, and they were another problem in the list. Someday she would make sure the list was presented to appropriate people in a position to do something about it.

“Ah, thank you for coming in. We finally have an assignment for you. You know, I must confess I wasn’t entirely comfortable with you being assigned to liaise with us, but…” he began. She gave absolutely no response to his words beyond staring at him. She’d found it unnerved most people, especially those without actual confidence—like a man who had to put up pictures of himself with politicians to make sure people knew he was important. And lo and behold after another moment of stammering, what she might have called ‘hemming and hawing’ if she were inclined, he simply fell in to an uncomfortable silence. He handed a file across the table to her, which she opened with a simple flick of her fingers.

The name of the location was a town called Border, Kansas. Just north of the Oklahoma border in Tecenoo County, the county seat…she didn’t pay attention to much of that. She knew she would memorize it all later so that she could appear to be a proper bureau agent. But she also knew this would be the case for why she was supposed to be ‘liaising’ with the officious man in front of her—and that after this, she could stop pretending.

Series of incidents late last year related to the Three Stripes killings, she read. That wouldn’t be it—she didn’t care about something so mundane as serial killers. Consultants to be sent to the local Police Department to discuss strategies for dealing with recent increases in the use of the drug commonly called Salvation.

That was it—the purpose of this whole endeavor, and her actual superiors’ interest in the drug trade and trafficking. There must have been something else in the case that flagged it for her involvement, but an increasing use of Salvation would have been enough to bring it to the top of the file no matter what. She continued to leaf through the folder, more for show than out of any actual interest, until she got to the last page and the list of locals of note.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll fly out in the morning.” They were the only words she spoke to him, and she didn’t give him any time to respond. She was on her feet and out the door in a few heartbeats, in to the hallway and walking back to her office. She didn’t know if he had intended to keep the file, nor did she care—it wasn’t like there was a security clearance he had that she didn’t. Quite the opposite.

Her own office was almost the exact counterpoint to his. It was small, which she preferred, and almost the Platonic ideal of spartan. There were two filing cabinets both with locks no one knew she had changed, a small desk with a secured laptop on it that she hardly ever used, and a phone. No pictures, no files, no clutter. As she put the folder down on the desk, the number of files on it increased an infinite amount. She briefly considered that fact as she slid down in to the simple chair, and flipped open the folder once again to the end. To a name she had most definitely not expected to see listed as a detective in a county sheriff’s office.

Deputy Marshal Walter Richards. Former Army (partial record attached).

She didn’t bother to look at the record, because she’d see the full one at her request—and she’d seen it before. She was not a woman who smiled for no reason or at trivial things, but she felt her lips quirking in to what she would have considered an amused smile at the thought of associating with Richards again—although she knew from long experience most people would have considered it more predatory then amused.

The last time was so…interesting, she thought. She hadn’t even been sure he was still alive, although she hadn’t exactly helped that last time they had worked…near each other. They hadn’t exactly been working together last time, and they had both known it—but that’s what made it interesting, after all.

She wouldn’t leave in the morning, because she needed time to prepare, both for the mission and for the fact that Walter knew who she was. Or at least who she worked for, and that required extra planning in advance. There were too many things too accomplish for her to not go in prepared, even before the charming addition of Major Richards.

Still, perhaps the trip would be exciting in more ways than she had anticipated.

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ASN 1.0: Trolls

CHAPTER 1: IN THE NIGHT

It wasn’t even Spring yet, officially, and Border was already drenched in tonally appropriate rain. It cast a gloom on the nights when it rolled in like a specter, and the thunder that rolled in from Oklahoma kept people off the streets unless they had foul business in mind.

Ricky “Troll” Carter had foul business in mind. His family would have said that he always did and always had, but he hadn’t spoken to them in years so he wouldn’t have known. But he did know that he had what he suspected was about $5000 worth of Salvation in his pocket that he wanted to turn in to that same amount of cash, and the rain was no damper to the business of drugs. He liked to sell on rainy nights, because the cops tended to stick more to their cars.

Normally he would have parked his beat up old pickup truck further away so as not to attract attention, but on the rainy night he drove it right down to the small lot next to the Market Street bridge before getting out. The stairs down underneath it were slick but he was used to it—he had been selling under the bridge long enough that it had given him a nickname. He wasn’t stupid, he knew the nickname wasn’t exactly complimentary, but he didn’t mind—it suited him. He had always seemed at home in dark and cramped spaces, and he had a little cubby in the construction of the bridge itself that he liked. It was…comfortable.

Something struck him when he got under the bridge. Nothing looked odd at first, but there was something that prickled the back of his mind. He couldn’t have put his finger on it but he had learned a long time ago to trust the part of him that spotted things his conscious brain didn’t. But he was also territorial and aggressive, so rather than running away he figured he would escalate the situation.

He had purchased the Hi-Point C9 a couple of years before because it was small, fired a standard 9mm round, and was heavy as hell; he had pistol-whipped a few people who were trying to push in to his territory before, and he had shot one rival dealer in the leg that the cops had never found out about. He considered it his lucky charm, and he thought it would be lucky again tonight if it needed to be.

He brought it up and started edging in to the area under the bridge. It was dark and cold, and the rain dripped down from the sides and through whatever small holes or cracks it could slide down through. The place had a grimy, slimy feeling that seemed to make everything look the same—the metal, the stone, the bricks under his feet. All gray and green and sludgy. In the shadows of a stormy night it was even worse, and Ricky couldn’t see in to his cubby very far at all—he couldn’t make out the black and dark green door with the strange swirl-marks that he assumed went to some abandoned maintenance office.

“If someone’s in there get the hell out or I’ll be dragging you out in to the street and shooting the shit out of you,” Ricky called out in to the darkness. He continued to advance, gun first, toward his normal alcove. “Shooting right the shit out of you,” he murmured, to reassure himself.

No response came from the deep silence within the alcove. The only sound was that of his own breathing, heavy and raspy in his ears. His hand began to waver but he forced it to stillness as he slowly walked in to the darkness, his other hand pulling out his cell phone. It was only as he was thumbing on the flashlight function that he realized what his brain had been noticing all along.

It shouldn’t have been silent in the alcove, or anywhere under the structure. The rain coming down on the old bridge should have been nearly thunderous, echoing around in a watery symphony. He had heard it hundreds of times before, peaceful and yet riotous, and its absence was telling.

Ricky almost got his cell phone up, but he didn’t. Something that felt like claws or teeth tore in to his throat. For a heartbeat he felt warmth all over his chest. In the next heartbeat, he didn’t feel anything at all.

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All Shades of Night Preview

Tomorrow (8/9/16), the Border opens again. Our heroes are not unchanged from their previous encounters, nor is the Border static. New challenges rise, as do new threats to the world they have known and made.

New characters await. Ashland, a woman from Walter’s past who returns in unexpected ways. Walter’s sister, and more of Morgan’s family wait in the wings. And all the while the people who live in Border will face crises, temptations, and dangers of many different types and terrors. Evil, ambiguity, and darkness come in All Shades of Night, and all will have to be seen before the dawn.

As always, some music to tide you over (warning: Graphic). And tomorrow you can return to the land at the end of all lands, the place where the maps overlap–Border, KS. Book 2: All Shades of Night.

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O, Death: Part XXII

Epilogue: Monday, 9:00 AM

 

“For the last time no, you cannot have a new brother and sister for Christmas,” Walter sighed as he walked Antigone and Siobhan in to the house. He sighed again as not only did the two of them leave their shoes right in front of the door, but when Matthew and Natalie did the same to mimic them.

“But it makes sense,” Siobhan pointed out for the third or fourth time. “They know about all the weird stuff, so they probably shouldn’t just be left wandering the wild. And we are best suited to make sure they…don’t tell the press? Stitches get snitches, and all that?” Siobhan said, shaking her fist menacingly at the two younger kids before she dissolved into giggling and moved toward one of the couches. She stopped when she saw Morgan waiting there in jeans and an emerald green sweater, eyebrows raised.

It was Monday morning. Despite their desire to spend exactly no more time in hospitals, both sets of twins had been transferred to another hospital in town for observation until that very morning. Now apparently both girls had nothing more on their mind then relaxing for the rest of their break, not going to the hospital, and trying to get Walter to adopt two temporally displaced orphans.

At the sight of Matthew and Natalie walking and talking, Morgan stood quickly and started to walk toward them. They blinked and stopped, apparently confused. “Doctor Eva?” Natalie asked, a little bit shocked. “The Hospital said you retired fter the plague, we asked about you.” Walter just raised an eyebrow. “That means you’re…” Natalie trailed off, apparently putting two and two together as she took in the woman.

“You used your real name thirty years ago?” Walter asked curiously, as Morgan made her way over to the children. She gave him a little bit of a look, before she inspected the younger twins.

“There is a difference in pronunciation between Eva and Aoife,” the Faerie woman explained, carefully enunciating the difference as she looked them over. “You shouldn’t have been able to recognize me because of glamour. I’m always using my real face,” she offered to Walter before she could ask, “I’m just using magical nonsense to keep anyone from recognizing me. There must have been some residual magic left with you both. That just makes it more imperative that we find you a place that can help with any…unusual abilities that you might come in to.”

“For the record yes, she is magic too,” Antigone supplied, adopting the tone Siobhan normally used when she was being ‘helpful’. “And a Faerie. And probably not actually behind anything that happened.” Antigone was apparently less bothered by Morgan’s reappearance, and pulled Matty and Natty over to sit down on the couch.

Walter and Siobhan moved to follow, with Siobhan taking the recliner and Walter joining Morgan on the love seat. “Morgan came back last night,” he explained.

“Where are you putting them, and why is it not here? And why weren’t you there when we were getting murdered by death?” Siobhan said as she pulled her legs up to rest her chin on her knees, halfway between comfortable and glaring at the woman—and definitely not parsing her own sentence about being murdered by death.

Morgan sighed, settling back in to the couch. Walter put a hand on her knee, and she gave him a little bit of a thankful smile. “Siobhan, I’m only barely keeping Faerie from civil war right now. The call I got was ‘Dear Mab, we’re going to start tearing each other’s throats out if you’re not here tomorrow.’ But I am sorry,” she apologized sincerely, sighing. “And it isn’t here because your father’s paycheck will only stretch so far, among other reasons, and five children just might be that limit,” Morgan pointed out wryly. “But we have somewhere.”

Matty and Natty took one another’s hands as they regarded Morgan with a little bit of wariness that Walter couldn’t blame them for; their lives had gotten more than a little screwed by magic, after all. “Where is it? Who is it with? Couldn’t we…” Matthew began, before he sniffed a bit as he remembered—his parents thought he and Natalie were dead. They had died thinking that, as Walter had told them gently, in 2006.

“I have a family where the husband and wife each have half of my people’s blood,” Morgan explained softly, meeting their eyes. “Here in town. They are part Faerie, like I am, and they’ve had to help people deal with missing chunks of time in the real world too. They are both very kind people, and I trust them.” She gave them a reassuring smile, nothing more magical than an adult telling them that everything might be okay, and they took those words and clung to them. “You will go back to school next year, and you can see Siobhan and Antigone whenever you want. Or whenever Siobhan ditches school to demand it,” Morgan added, giving Siobhan a side-eye that no one in the room (except Siobhan) would have said was unearned. “We will try it for six months and then see, okay?”

Both Matthew and Natalie nodded, and Antigone smiled. “My room is down the hall, take a left and look for the one attached to another room. We have some old clothes in there that we can give you. I’ll be back in a minute.” Walter smiled at his daughter’s easy manner with them, as the two younger twins ran off. When the four of them were alone in the room, however, his smile fell some.

“So…demons,” Walter said softly. Morgan put her head back against the love seat and shook it from side to side, anger in her eyes.

“Demons. Or at least one. A Zenunim is a kind of demoness who eats souls, and their Queen is Eisheth. And like all demons they were supposed to have been banished from Border the moment it was created,” Morgan offered with a grunt of frustration. “And I have no idea why there was one here for apparently thirty years.”

Siobhan frowned. “How do you know they were banished? Could they have wormed their way through your magic or something?” She asked, putting her legs down and leaning forward.

Morgan shook her head in response. “No. This isn’t my magic, not really; it’s the magic of Border itself.” She looked like she was going to say more but she stopped, and shook her head again. “It shouldn’t be possible, and I don’t like it.”

Walter, Siobhan, and Antigone all sighed simultaneously, giving it so much of a similar tone that Morgan laughed despite herself, and shook her head by way of apology. “I feel like I just said this but…it’s going to get worse, isn’t it. Even worse then we thought?”

Morgan nodded. “I’m sorry, Walter. This is…long term bad. It probably isn’t tomorrow, and it may not even be next year. Demons think in the very long term. But it is going to be bad.”

Antigone stood up, and walked toward the direction of her room. But she stopped, reaching out to squeeze her father’s shoulder. “What do we do?”

Walter looked up at Antigone and gave her a smile, and then looked to Morgan. “They teach us how to kill demons. After all I’m behind—I can’t let Bug get cocky,” he offered, chuckling, as Antigone and then Siobhan went to help Matthew and Natalie. But his smile left when the silence returned to the room, as Morgan took his hand. He didn’t know if he squeezed her hand, or she squeezed his, but it was comfort against the growing fear for both of them.

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O, Death: Part XXI

Antigone had never felt anything like it in her entire life. It was like every part of her, every skin cell and every nerve ending, was suddenly firing a thousand times harder than they ever had before. She could feel that the ventilation was still on in the room at least a little bit, because air moved across her skin. She could feel the blood trickling down her forehead even as she felt the energy from the Oberon shard knitting the wound back together. And she could smell the fear on the demoness as the green energy infused every part of her.

“Kill her,” Antigone said simply, pointing to the demoness. She had stolen the power of the altar, and she could feel the energy was finite now and burning away much more quickly, but the magic had still tied the reaper to the shard somehow. She knew, in a way that was beyond her actual knowing, that as long as the remnants of Oberon’s energy remained she was in control. And she didn’t need very much.

The reaper turned with that smoky smoothness to lash out with his sword at the demoness. The needle-toothed woman lashed out with a hand—now more like a claw—and swatted his blow away—but her hand sparked as it touched the reaper and she hissed in pain. Antigone remembered Morgan’s lecture about like destroying like; just as it had been Oberon’s own power that could defeat his defenses, the two were both bound to the demon’s energy and could lay each other’s defenses wide open.

But Antigone also knew she would have to do something about it. Infused with the fey energy she vaulted over the altar, hitting the ground in a roll and grabbing Siobhan’s sword as she did. That drew another gasp from the demoness, as apparently she wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. Antigone pushed some of the energy burning inside of her in to her sister, and watched in satisfaction as Siobhan’s wounds began to knit as well. Then Antigone was rolling past, bringing the sword up and throwing herself at the demoness.

Siobhan had spent years studying martial arts, and Antigone hadn’t. She had spent years studying dancing, but in the last couple of years she had taken to supplementing it with Tai Chi; and while Tai Chi didn’t have the destructive potential of the forms that Bonnie studied, it wasn’t fully a stranger to sword work either. Even as she thought that the sword in her hands melted in to green smoke and reformed in to one the size and shape of a jian, the straight bladed sword of Tai Chi. It was still Bonnie’s, she could still almost feel her sister on it, but it was now something she was more familiar with.

She threw more energy at the Eisenhund, and in a few seconds it was struggling back up to its feet and loping over to join the fight. Now she had all of her allies except Bonnie—and she would have to save her sister this time. They could be strong for each other, and Antigone—the one who always wanted to stay in the back, the one who didn’t fight but opened doors—could try to be a warrior.

The demoness cried out as the reaper landed a blow to her shoulder that sent boiling blood in to the air and splattering across the wall. The cadaverous woman howled in pain and danced back, her eyes glowing red with power and burning with anger. She held up a hand to face the reaper and the Eisenhund, obviously trying to bring up some way to escape. To leave, and to find some way to fight another day. And hurt more people.

Antigone couldn’t allow that. She had never wanted to fight, or hurt, let alone kill—but this was evil, and it was going to get away and destroy someone else’s life like she had Matthew and Natalie’s. So Antigone leapt forward, burning the last of her energy and power as the demoness was distracted. Her movements were fluid and quick, perfect form for the dance hall—and perfect form for a sword fight as well, at least that one time.

Her blow was perfect. The strange, slender steel of the Faerie sword came in just over the demoness’ hand, as the terrifying woman was distracted by a blow from the reaper that crackled demonic energy against demonic energy, destroying whatever defenses she had left. Wreathed in the last bits of emerald energy it buried itself in the woman’s throat, causing her eyes to go wide with horror and sudden agony.

Fire licked from the woman’s eyes, and in a horrifying moment the demoness was enveloped in flame. The fire was the brightest yellow and deepest red, with hints of almost ethereal blue at the edges, and it was like no mortal fire that Antigone had ever seen. As the flame boiled away the last of her own energy fled, and left her feeling hollow and empty. She dropped the sword and it disappeared in a burst of energy, back to wherever it was when Siobhan didn’t need it. By the time it was gone the demoness had burned away in to only an oily and smoky stain on the floor.

The reaper stared at the deceased demon, and then turned to Antigone. For a moment she thought she was going to die, and she was just too tired to care. But the reaper gave a nod. “Thank you.”

Antigone nodded, as Siobhan limped over to her. A moment later Matthew and Natalie came over, apparently having squirmed out of whatever tied them to it.

“The little ones,” the reaper intoned. “They came to stop me again as before, but this time the Zenunim was here to stop them. The Zenunim made the altar to control me, and reactivated it with the power of the dead King. All to harvest souls for her to consume, and for her masters to enslave.” The reaper’s basso rumble was sorrowful, deep with regret. “It was a perversion.”

“Is it over?” Antigone asked softly. The reaper nodded.

“I am returned to my duty, and I will depart. The shadows have fallen…and the outside world will come in now. You…have done me a great service, and saved many.” He—Antigone thought it was a he—turned to Antigone and bowed. “I thank you both, great warriors. I cannot offer favors, for I must be impartial. But I may speak or lend small aid—speak to the city dweller, and he will know how to find me.”

And with that he was gone. The room was empty and bloodstained and terrible, and Matty and Natty clutched against them tightly as they both began to cry softly. Soon footsteps pounded down the stairs outside and in to the room, and Walter and Ryan stormed in. Their father and their uncle looked terrified, which gave way to confused, which finally became relieved as they realized the girls were alright. In the moment they came over and wrapped all four of them, the three girls and one boy, in to the tightest hug imaginable, light streamed in through the window. It was just a spotlight from outside, but it seemed to have all the warmth and hope of a summer day at high noon, and the nightmares slowly fled the hospital before it.

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O, Death: Part XX

The Demon was fast, but it seemed proper that Death was faster. It moved like a piece of falling silk, smooth and sudden and over before she even knew it was coming. And yet somehow she moved her sword to the right place to parry the blow, and somehow the wicked and almost molecularly thin blade didn’t shatter it.

Morgan had told Siobhan once what her sword was. It was a physical manifestation of both her power and her soul, more a piece of her than anything she could ever wield beside it. And because her soul had the powers of Faerie within it, through her mother and her mother’s mothers back to Morgan herself, her sword did too. The demon looked surprised that Siobhan managed to parry the blow, although it set her sword ringing, and Siobhan took that moment to attack her.

As Siobhan lashed out with her sword, the Eisenhund lunged for death—apparently reading what Siobhan was planning to do and moving to complement it. Siobhan, meanwhile, was complimented a terrifying predator like the Eisenhund considered her plan worth not screwing up.

The demoness didn’t have a sword, but it brought a hand up to parry the Faerie blade. When her hand struck the Faerie sword it rang loudly again, the blade quivering with the force of the blow and the energy that made it. “Blight and black, how do you have one of those? And why didn’t the reaper kill you?” She asked angrily. But she was also trying to distract Siobhan, feeling a distinct movement behind her body. She whipped her sword around behind her and parried an attack that would have decapitated her, throwing herself in to a roll to come up with her blade facing both of her foes. The Eisenhund continued to lash at them as well, moving to now keep the demoness off-balance.

Antigone apparently was metal enough, because she came up behind the demoness and clubbed her in the back of the head with a leg bone while she was distracted. The demoness sputtered, stumbling forward and gasping more in indignation then pain, because there didn’t seem to be any kind of effect. Instead she turned and backhanded Antigone in the face, sending her sprawling toward the altar with a cry. She landed beside it, bumping in to Matty’s leg and apparently starting to wake the siblings. The sight of her sister set anger boiling inside of Siobhan and she launched forward to cut at the demoness while she was still distracted by the bone blow.

“You didn’t kill enough kids last time you freak bitch, now you have to try to kill my sister to?” Siobhan demanded angrily. The dog pivoted quickly and sank its legs in to Death’s leg, although it apparently did little to slow it down. “You highjacked death to kill some sick kids, and now you’re trying to kill my sister!” Her sword lashed out quickly twice, three times, and the second and third times managed to push back the Demoness’ parries and drew blood from her arm and from her cheek. Her blood hissed as it rested on Siobhan’s sword, boiling away either from the metal or from the atmosphere—she couldn’t tell.

“It must have made him more demon than reaper somehow…” The demoness hissed as she danced back. But her withdrawal was only a feint, and a moment later she was darting forward and driving her fist into Siobhan’s stomach. Agony lanced up and down her spine and all the breath was driven from her lungs from the strength of the blow, and the demoness followed it up with another backhand. This time it was Siobhan that was sent sprawling in agony, stars and white spots exploding across her vision as the back of her head clipped the back of the altar. It was enough to leave her on the ground in agony, gasping.

The Eisenhund tried to come to her rescue, launching at the demoness’ throat. It missed but caught a piece of her shoulder, and too bright blood hissed as it was ripped in to the air. But that left the reaper walking slowly toward Siobhan, inexorable and unstoppable as death itself—which it probably was.

“Kill her!” The demoness hissed as it punched the dog in the head—she winced at the feeling of the hound’s armor, but it sent the faithful protector yelping in to a pile. “Make it hurt, make her bleed!”

Apparently whatever she had done to the altar made the reaper have to obey the demoness, because when he brought up that wicked and thin blade he didn’t immediately go for the kill. Instead he placed it against her shoulder and slowly began to push. “AAAAH!” Siobhan shrieked, trying to pull away. The blade wasn’t more than a little bit in to her, but it was already excruciating agony. She kicked her legs, lashing out at the reaper but finding nothing but shadows.

“Hey ugly!” A voice called from the alter. Natalie Morrison popped up above it, her face pained and dirty but determined. In her hand she held the Oberon shard, the green glow bathing her in ethereal light. “She hacked your brain? Well now I’ve got it. Protect us!”

For a moment the demon paused, but then it pushed a little bit more on its sword and Siobhan went back to screaming in agony. The demoness came up, limping away from the still breathing Eisenhund, and grinned with all her terrible teeth. “You can’t steal my trap, little one. You thwarted it once and trapped my toy away, but with the shard of the dead King you can’t use it. You don’t have it in you.”

And in that moment, once again, it was Antigone who was the hero. Blood streaming from her forehead where she too had apparently caught the edge of the altar with her head and some level of concussion, she staggered up and grabbed the shard above Natalie’s hand. “Guess what, hell skank. This thing is made of my great great whatever grand-daddy, and that means I get to make death my bitch too.” And with a heave she crushed the crystal, an explosion of green energy flowing in to the closest vessel capable of holding Faerie energy: Herself.

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O, Death: Part XIX

No more surprises awaited them in the hallway between the stairs and the spooky door, not that it spared them much mental toil to have avoided it. It was still a terrifying walk down a crimson lit hallway in an abandoned Hospital infested by an insane death, after all—not a walk through the park by any means.

The door was fully open, and where before black mist and shadows had streamed out of it now it was clear. The room beyond had obviously been a boiler room once upon a time, an excessively large one for some reason. While it wasn’t in use it was still a hot and cramped room despite the size. It should have been dusty and disused, maybe filled with rats or the detritus of janitors past.

Instead it was filled with what looked like an altar made of stone and covered in what could only be animal bones. Some sort of scrawling language was etched on to every available surface of both the altar and the brick walls around it, glowing with a sullen redness that reminded Siobhan of the embers of an almost deceased fire. And resting in the center of the alter, nestled in the bones and in the middle of the runes like the place of honor on a mantel, was a crystal shard glowing with its own bright emerald glow. The rest of the room was splashed in blood and other things Siobhan didn’t want to think about.

“Oh shit, it’s an Oberon shard,” Siobhan cursed, beginning to walk across the room toward it quickly. The emerald shard represented a piece of the shattered power of Oberon, former High King of Faerie and victim of their father’s surprising ability to shank things. After the power had proven too much for him, and Walter had briefly died, Oberon’s power had shattered and scattered as green crystal shards. They had one, but they had suspected there were others—and there one was.

“Trap,” Antigone pointed out helpfully as they crossed to the middle of the room, fastidiously avoiding the blood on the ground as they made their way.

Siobhan raised an eyebrow, briefly looking back over her shoulder. “How can you tell?” She asked curiously, turning her eyes back to the alter as she stepped over what could only be described as a ‘gibbet’.

“Cause…” Antigone gestured around the horrific room they were doing their best to ignore the specifics of. “Trap.” She repeated for emphasis. Siobhan had to admit it was a good point. The Eisenhund was growling softly, a basso thunder like an oncoming storm, and that caused both girls to blink. “Why didn’t he lose his shit before, when demon mom showed up?” She asked, stroking the dog’s fur.

Siobhan shrugged. “Maybe it was an illusion. Or shielding itself somehow. Maybe whatever kind of evil spazoid she was isn’t detectable by Faerie dog. Maybe we took the brown acid and this has been a really unpleasant dream.” She shrugged, and they kept going across the room toward the altar. As they came closer it became apparent that there were people behind the altar: Two forms, a young man and a young woman in hospital gowns. Matthew and Natalie Morrison, unconscious and bound with strips of cloth to the altar like they were next up to be sacrificed.

“Oh shit, it’s Matty and Natty!” Antigone said, starting forward heedless of her previous comments. Siobhan kept a hold on her wrist and kept her back, giving her sister a significant glance.

“Trap,” Siobhan reminded with a little bit of a gesture. “They’re still breathing, let’s get to them carefully and get out before something happens.

“Too late,” a voice spoke from the shadows. Behind the altar two figures formed out of the darkness. One was cloaked in those shadows, unable to be seen except for the thin glowing length of what could only be some sort of magic sword that Siobhan thought was probably bullshit. The other was a woman, beautiful and cadaverous and whip-cord strong, who looked now only faintly like their mother.

Now the Eisenhund snarled, stepping forward and snapping his jaws, while Siobhan brought her sword up. “And the answer,” the woman continued as she and the death strode forward, “Is that was mostly in your head. If you had touched me, I would have stolen your souls.” The woman gave what might have been a smile in some universes, but was most definitely not in this one. “And the answer to what I am, is what you call a demon.” Now her ‘smile’ showed teeth—many more then there should have been, and all of them far sharper then they should have been.

Antigone took a step back even as the Eisenhund took another step forward. “Definitely feeling like I need to start carrying a gun or something…” She commented, looking around quickly for something she could use—but unless she was going to beat someone to death with a bone there wasn’t much she could do; and Siobhan didn’t think her sister was quite metal enough to kill someone with a stray femur.

“Get Matty and Natty. I’ll handle…death and the demon. Leave the dog,” Siobhan said, sounding far more confident then she felt. “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” The last comment drew what seemed to be a round of scowls from everyone except the wandering death, so Siobhan counted it as a victory. “What did Dad tell us he said at the Police Station?” Siobhan offered with a little bit of a smile, bringing her sword up in to a ready position. “Alright, boss fight—let’s do this.”

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O, Death: Part XVIII

Rhiannon Aquino had never been a tall woman. She came to only about 5’1”, which both Siobhan and Antigone had passed—if only by an inch. Her features strongly resembled theirs, but with skin a few shades darker tan and hair a few shades darker black. Her eyes were a bright green flecked with hazel, the green halfway in shade between Siobhan and Antigone’s own. She had a kind face and a determined jaw, and she smiled sadly when she saw her two daughters.

“You couldn’t have done anything,” she said. Her mother’s voice was kind, just like Siobhan remembered it, and slightly sorrowful. Her mother hadn’t sounded like that the last time they spoke, but it had been a perfunctory morning goodbye—so why would she have.

There was a rustling sound and then a thunk, as Antigone fell to her knees. Siobhan felt her sister’s hand leave her grasp, and didn’t reach out for her again. “Bullshit,” Siobhan said after a moment. It lacked the normal bite, the normal heat tat she would have given it. Even to her own ears it sounded like she was saying it to convince herself, rather than out of any conviction. She heard Antigone starting to cry, and it added to what felt like a hand squeezing her own heart.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to leave…” Rhiannon said, moving forward toward them with her hands out. Siobhan backed up, her own vision blurring as tears pricked in her eyes. Even with the tears forming she managed to bring up the sword to keep between herself and the woman. Rhiannon just looked down at the sword, and raised an eyebrow—and somehow that made it worse, because it was a gesture she was so used to out of her mother.

“Screw you, you’re not my mother,” Siobhan insisted angrily, keeping the tip of the sword pointed at her even if it wavered uncertainly. “You’re not…she’s not dead,” Siobhan started before correcting herself midstream. “She’s not dead,” she repeated, once again like she was trying to convince herself.

“Everyone dies, Bug,” Rhiannon responded softly. “I always made sure to tell you that. Remember when Haku died, when we were stationed in Okinawa?” Now tears ran down her cheeks freely, and she didn’t try to wipe them away. Haku had been a stray they rescued from a shelter and adopted, who had been struck by a car weeks before they moved back to the United States. It was certainly not a memory they discussed much, for obvious reasons.

Now it was Siobhan’s turn to be silent, because she didn’t have anything to say to that. It was too personal, too real, and too unknown—they hadn’t talked about it in the hospital, hadn’t spoken about it for at least a couple of years. It was too much something her mother would have known and not something anyone else would have. Siobhan stumbled back until her back hit the wall and she could stare in horror.

“Baby, it’s ok. It’s natural, and sometimes it can even be a relief. Life can be so hard…” Her mother’s voice was soft as she reached up and pushed away the tip of the sword. Siobhan finally noticed other things about her as she walked forward, beside her presence. She looked like she was supposed to be dead, clad in a dress of flowing white and walking barefoot toward her. Siobhan dropped the sword with a loud clatter as she started to slide down the wall, and Rhiannon reached out a hand toward her cheek. In that moment Siobhan wanted to do nothing more than to reach out and take that hand, to bury her face against it the way she had a hundred times before when she was young.

And in that moment it was Antigone that saved them both. She stood up, and put herself in between the advancing woman and Siobhan. “Where were you!” Antigone demanded. Tears still stained her cheeks but her voice was now as angry as it was agonized, and it had a clear note of demanding in it.

“Tig, I’m so sorry…” Rhiannon said softly, using the nickname that she always had for Antigone since both of their main nicknames were ‘Annie’. “I had to go away. Please forgive me, you know I never wanted to leave you.” Now her hand reached out for Antigone, but Antigone kept back from it.

“I’m not asking for forgiveness, I’m asking for proof,” Antigone stated, bristling with more anger than Siobhan had ever seen out of her. “You’re talking about things we would all know about, but you haven’t said anything ONLY mm would know. So tell us where you were, or get the hell away from us!” Antigone shouted.

Rhiannon, or the thing that looked like Rhiannon, pulled back at the rage in Antigone’s voice. But as she pulled back her face slowly looked less and less like Rhiannon Aquino. Her features sharpened and her cheeks melted away like she was getting sick. In the end it left her gaunt and almost skeletal, but at the same time powerful and wicked. She started forward again but then hissed as Antigone brought up her sister’s sword and brandished it with intention if not skill.

“You will never stop it,” the creature hissed angrily, as it disappeared in to the darkness around them. Antigone didn’t bother with a rejoinder, just letting it move away in silence. Siobhan looked up as Antigone slid back down next to her, and reached out to take her sister’s hand again.

“Thank you,” Siobhan murmured softly, reaching up a hand to dash the tears from her eyes and cheeks in an attempt to regain her composure. “I think if she had touched us we probably would have been dead, but I just wanted to feel her hand again.” The words caused Siobhan’s shoulders to shake again, which she didn’t want to have her sister see, so she reached up and rubbed her nose to try to stop any sniffles. Antigone obviously did see it, and Siobhan felt her sister’s arms on her shoulders. “I thought I was supposed to be the strong one,” Siobhan sighed.

“Just like when we were kids, Bonnie. Even if I can’t be strong for anyone else in the world, I can be strong for you.” Antigone squeezed Siobhan, and Siobhan would never tell her how much she needed it at that moment. “Come on. We have to finish this thing, and we’re close. Grab your sword, and we’ll go face it together.”

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