Border, KS

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

5.5 Mental Health Day

Ice cream, by Walter’s insistence, did wait until after lunch. But after what they almost had to call a unhealthy amount of Pho, the two of them pulled themselves through the door of Cream.

“Every time I walk in to this place, I’m tempted to shout ‘Phrasing’,” Siobhan confided in her father as they walked in. There was no doubt that the place was a palace to hipster-dom—every piece of furniture looked like it had been reclaimed from somewhere, and nothing quite matched as a result. The menus all proclaimed how everything was ‘farm to table’, which Siobhan supposed she was in support of, and that they contained no GMOs, which Siobhan didn’t really care about. But as far as she, or her father, were concerned it had the best ice cream in the city so they could put up with some posing.

They took their frozen treats to a table, and Sibohan sat down primly while her father grabbed a bunch of napkins. Siobhan had gone for a riot of colors and flavors, and covered the whole thing in sprinkles; her father had stuck to sweet cream, and a dash of lemon—all without sprinkles. “Is there like a switch that once you turn 40 you have to hate beautiful things?” She asked, looking down at her own masterpiece.

“Is there a switch that turns off when you turn 40 that means you have to worry about what all those different sugars and flavors will do to your stomach, intestine, colon, and pancreas respectively?” Walter asked. “Yeah, there’s a switch for that, called ‘heart burn starts keeping you up all night, and you might murder your kids if you don’t get to sleep’.”

“Same thing,” Siobhan said with a shrug as she took a bite of her strange melange of flavors. “Mmm, tastes like schizophrenia.” She grinned, and then pondered her ice cream as she kicked her legs out and back. “Why did you enlist?” She asked suddenly, looking up at him. “Grandpa didn’t want you to, and nobody else in the family really has either, at least in the last couple of generations.”

Walter smiled slightly. “You wanting me to say that I wanted to protect everyone?” Siobhan shrugged a little bit, but looked sheepish. “Some people do, and I think that’s why I ended up staying after the first time. But the first time…” Walter trailed off, remembering and thinking.

“Needed to get out of town ahead of the law?” Siobhan offered hopefully, and Walter rolled his eyes and smirked. He looked like he was about to needle her for interrupting, so she waved. “Sorry, I had to.”

“Did you?” Walter asked tilting his head slightly as he looked at her, a smirk on his lips. “Really?” He shrugged, and took a bite of ice cream. “Honestly, a lot of it was that I was bored and looking to challenge myself. I was a good student but I’d also gotten in to some fights, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life.” He smiled slightly, and snorted. “I mean, from that perspective it turned out to be pretty good at figuring out what to do for the next 22 years.”

Siobhan nodded at that. “It’s kind of weird to think of you at 18, direction-less and going ‘Eh, I guess the Army.’” She turned her head at him now, back and forth, as if trying to picture it and failing miserably. “Yeah, I dunno. I just can’t see it. You always seem like you know what you’re doing—so adult-y. The adult-iest.” She proclaimed this last bit with a definite finality, as if it were a universal truth she were speaking.

“Here’s the dark secret for you, Bug,” Walter said with a wiggle of his eyebrows. He leaned in, resting his elbows on the table so he could lower himself conspiratorially to dispense his own words of universal wisdom. “No adult really knows what they’re doing, most of the time. We’re just making it up because we’re the oldest we’ve ever been.” Siobhan blinked, processing that for a moment as she leaned back in her chair. She raised her hand and held it in a fist up to her temple, before making an exploding motion with it.

“Mind blown,” she said simply, before turning back to her ice cream.

“Except Tums, she’s always seemed to know what she’s doing. And how to get there, and who she might have to run over in order to get there,” Walter amended with a snort. “And since we don’t want to be my sister, we’ll just all fake it the best we can.”

Siobhan laughed at that, but chose not to comment on her father’s relationship with her aunt. “Thank you,” she said instead, “For the mental health day. We haven’t done one of these in a while. I think I needed it.” She smirked. “Want to make it a mental health week? We can go up to Kansas City.”

Walter laughed, genuinely, and stuck his spoon in his half finished ice cream. “And leave the savages to fend for themselves? Ryan probably won’t have done anything but skateboard the whole time, and Annie planned out how to take over the school. We can talk about future mental health days, but we’re probably not pulling you out for a week unless the whole family is going on vacation.”

Siobhan pouted, and seemed on the verge of pressing her luck when Walter’s phone began to ring. It wasn’t a custom ring tone—so it wasn’t close family or Morgan, but he pulled it out to check and found it was the number for Katherine Haven. He held up one finger to his daughter, and answered.

“This is Richards,” he spoke in to the phone.

“Detective Richards, this is Katherine Haven,” the voice on the other end explained. “I spoke to my daughter and she is happy to speak with you, if you’re willing to go meet her.”

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ASN 5.4 The Drive: Part II

“Change in the car,” Lacey said cheerily, as she grabbed her backpack from the front seat. “God knows I’ve done it enough times.” She looked down at her watch. “And we’re not spoiled for other options, if we want to make practice.”

Antigone slid in to Monica’s minivan, and slid down to the floor of the car between the two seats in the middle so that she could start changing. All three girls had put their changes of clothes—cheerleading for Monica and Lacey, dance team for Antigone—in their backpacks for changing at school, and none of them were inexperienced at the awkward shimmying of a quick change.

“You know,” Monica remarked conversationally, as she popped the trunk so that she and Lacey could slide in the back of the van to change in some privacy as well, “We used to deal with way less weird shit before we let you in to our friend group. Also, we had more friends.”

Antigone leaned back to give her a look as she pulled the day’s outfit out. “You’re just jealous that I get to wear pants today,” she responded primly. But then she sighed after a moment, and paused. “Did we really cost you friends?”

“Pants are an illusion…” Lacey murmured as she undid her backpack. “They are for the weak. No, there was…let’s call it a down-tick after Siobhan almost ended up throwing down at Homecoming, but they came back because Gary is a douche-canoe.” She kicked her shoes off, one of them ricocheting off the rear window.

“Lacey if you break my window…” Monica grumbled. At her girlfriend’s incredulous look she sighed. “Then it’s a shitty car. Which it is, so be careful. No, we didn’t really lose friends,” she answered finally. “Not for long, although the exact center of the group seems to have shifted slightly since everyone’s decided you saved our lives.” When Antigone blushed and looked away, Monica shook her head. “No, for real. Not like everyone believes, because…you know, sheeple is such a stupid word, but it works…but you did. Without you whatever the Faeries wanted would have happened.”

Antigone looked up at the ceiling of the van. Someone, presumably one of Monica’s siblings, had drawn weird eyeballs on the back of the middle seat headrests which looked like the Eye of Sauron; but the ceiling was clear and she could focus on it. “They wanted to merge their world with ours because their King was banished from their world—but if they slammed it in to ours, he could come in.” Lacey blinked, and Monica’s face screwed up as she tried to work through the permutations of that. Antigone couldn’t hep but give a little grin. “I was ass-deep in it, I got the full story.”

Lacey snorted, and started wiggling in to her cheer uniform, in the almost universal shape. “Which probably would murder the heck out of all of us?” She tugged the black and gold uniform down over her body and started smoothing it. The school’s colors were actually an unfortunate brown and yellow, but for the last fifteen years they had steadfastly ignored that and gone with black and gold.

“Yeah,” Antigone answered absently. Her outfit for the day was a black crop-top with a black and striped black leggings, and she began to work the top on over her sports bra. “Yeah, it would have killed a lot of us.”

Monica nodded. She was already finishing up with her uniform, and reaching for the black sneakers that went with it. “So you did save us, Antigone,” Monica said firmly, as she pulled on her socks and started pulling on the sneakers. “It may have gone down differently, but you don’t have to beat yourself up that all of these people like you because of a lie. Without your freaky brain crap, there would be a lot of dead people.”

Antigone blinked, and then laughed and shook her head. “I’m not thrilled on ‘freaky brain crap’…” she trailed off, but she smiled at them. My friends, she thought wryly as she looked at them. And they were, quite surprisingly, her friends—and Siobhan’s. They had stayed with her through annoying, and difficult, and terrifying times—and they kept coming back. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. She finished pulling on her leggings, and then pulled herself up in to the middle chair without bothering with her shoes.

“For pointing out you totally did save our asses?” Monica shrugged, as she reached out to open the trunk again.

“Hey!” Lacey sputtered, “I wasn’t done,” she said, quickly making sure that she was covered.

“You’re wearing Spanx,” Monica responded, as she went around to the driver’s seat. Lacey pouted, but grabbed her shoes and shocks and clambered through the middle of the car and over the center console nimbly to claim the driver’s side seat. Antigone giggled at their antics, and buckled herself in.

“No, for everything. I…” Antigone looked out the tinted window as Monica turned on the car and began to pull away from the hospital. “You guys took a chance on us because Siobhan isn’t afraid to punch someone, but…” She sighed. “See, I’m crap at this too, it isn’t just her. We’ve moved so much, and so frequently, that we didn’t have a lot of really close friends.”

Lacey pulled her legs up on to the front seat and turned, smiling. “Annie…I know. I mean, it’s kind of the cliche, right? Military families.” She reached back and took Antigone’s hand, squeezing it and smiling seriously. “You and Bonnie are good people—just don’t tell her, it will go to her head. And we’ll be here.”

Monica snorted. She didn’t turn, because she was driving, but Antigone could hear the smile in her voice. “Just think…a year ago we were having normal parties and normal lives. No one showed up at them with a sister who drank about one fifth of one beer, and then ended up dragging her sister back unconscious from the woods. And then fighting people with her magic armor clad dog in the school basement.”

Lacey grinned wickedly. “And doing creepy twin shit, don’t forget that. And opening scary doors we’d prefer weren’t opened, and almost destroying the hospital.”

Antigone laughed, and reached down to grab an empty soda bottle and chuck it at Lacey. “All those good feelings are gone, jerks.” But she was smiling, and so were they.

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ASN 5.5 The Drive: Part I

Siobhan watched the others go, and turned back to her father to consider him for a moment. He was watching Annie go off, and so she considered him in profile. His brown hair was shot through more with silver than she remembered, and his goatee had started picking it up as well. She didn’t remember when it had started to do that. He was old, but not like…old old. But someday he will be, and it will be all gray.

“Walter,” Morgan said, leaning out of the door to the room the young woman was in. “We need to go meet with them to discuss what’s happening, even if its just so they can lie to our faces. Tanya knows that, she just wishes we could go burn their house down.”

Walter nodded. “This is the vampires? The Europeans?” Morgan nodded, and Walter shrugged. “Alright, that sounds only about as weird as anything else, I guess. Let me know when we’re going and when. Are you sure you want me there?” He asked as an afterthought. Morgan smiled, and nodded again.

“You’ll be a reminder that this isn’t just our politics, it’s impacting the humans as well. That’s a good reminder. Besides,” she offered with a smile that could have been shy, if Siobhan thought that someone who had been alive since before Spain was a country could still be shy, “The only other person I trust as much to have my back will already be there.”

Siobhan suppressed the smile that her father did not bother hiding for good teenage form, before rolling her eyes. “Is ‘get a room’ a thing us kids say any more?” She teased Morgan, blunting the edge with a smirk. “Come on, am I going to school at all today or not? I mean, I’m in favor of ‘or not’.”

Walter snorted, and pulled his keys out of his pocket. “Come on, let’s go.” They walked through the hospital, out to the parking lot where the SUV was waiting. Siobhan started to head for the passenger side when, after unlocking the car with the remote, her father tossed her the key fob. “You drive, once we start going. Since they won’t let me decide you don’t get to turn sixteen, gotta practice,” Siobhan practically squealed, and hurled herself in to the driver seat.

Walter pulled himself in to the passenger seat, and buckled himself in. “Before we go…Bug, how are you doing?” He asked, before he winced a little bit about how awkward that sounded. Siobhan, turning on the car and adjusting her seat, didn’t fail to notice it either and smirked.

“That’s a little awkward, for us,” Siobhan pointed out with a wry smile, as she finished adjusting the seat to the right height and distance, and began working on the mirrors. Walter winced, although he smiled a bit at her attentiveness to the basics of driving.

“Yeah, it is. It’s been an awkward couple of months,” Walter answered. He took a moment to adjust his own seat—his daughters were both significantly shorter than him, and his son was frequently relegated to the back—before he continued. “Siobhan, I need you to tell me that you’re not trying to find dangerous shit and throw yourself in to it.”

Siobhan was caught off-guard in the act of adjusting the rear-view mirror, and in her surprise jerked it so that she ended up looking at a reflection of the dashboard. Furrowing her brow she fixed it, and shot her father a look of surprise. “No! Of course I’m not. Jesus, do you think that?”

Walter sighed, leaning back against the seat. “No, I just needed to ask. I didn’t think you were, but I also trust you to be honest with me.” He looked back out at the road. “You’ve had a rough year since we moved to Border, kiddo—Annie has too, but I think you’ve had more of it in a lot of ways.”

Siobhan blushed, but waved her hand dramatically. “Oh you know me, I’m fine. What’s a fight in a high school and the world’s creepiest hospital to me, right?” She knew it was a cover, and she knew that he knew it was a cover—and more of that labyrinthine logic would give her a headache, so she just hoped he wouldn’t ask further.

“How often do you think about her?” Walter asked softly. “The woman you had to kill?”

Siobhan braced herself on the steering wheel as she was suddenly buffeted by images. Blue hair and a sudden look of pain and surprise. Blood spreading across the dark floor. Horrors and nightmares rolling across a dark room. Antigone stabbing a woman who looked like her mother.

Sweat broke out on her brow, and she focused on breathing evenly instead of drawing ragged gasps. She thought maybe her father hadn’t seen it, until he casually reached forward to turn on the air conditioning. “I wish I didn’t see her face. She was there, in the hospital, and I don’t know if it was her or not…” she realized that she was shaking, and pried her fingers off of the steering wheel to wrap her arms around herself. “God I wish I could stop seeing her face.”

Walter nodded, and kept the cold air running. “Bug, I can’t force you to go talk to someone—I could drag you there, but I can’t make you talk. But I think you should,” he said seriously. He started to say more, but Siobhan shook her head.

“I…I can’t. Annie and I talked about it. Not yet,” she amended quickly, seeing the look of displeasure growing on her father’s face. “We…I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right. We have a time limit, and we’re going to see how we feel then.” With that she closed her eyes for a moment, breathing in evenly again and then wiping some of the sweat off of her forehead. “I know you’re worried, and thank you. I just can’t right now. I feel like we’re just going crisis to crisis, and I just need some time to work shit out.”

Walter nodded at that. “Siobhan, it’s been months since the hospital happened.”

Siobhan nodded as well, and leaned her forward on the steering wheel for a moment. “I know, Dad, I know. I just…I just need time.” She pulled her head up from the steering wheel at that, and wiped at her eyes. “I feel like if I break down, then Annie will too, and I have to keep it together for her. I have to be the strong one.”

Walter sighed, reaching out to put an arm around his daughter’s shoulders across the center console. “You don’t have to be anything but you, Bug, I promise. Antigone can go to the same person, and you don’t have to be strong for anyone.” She leaned in to him gently, and sniffed slightly. “Come on, baby, lets get you to…” He started, before shaking his head. “Fuck it, life’s short. You know the ice cream place downtown?” He offered with a grin, which was shortly matched by hers. He motioned to the parking lot, and beyond it the open road. “Mental health day, let’s do it.”

Siobhan gunned the engine and wiggled her eyebrows, and her father snorted. At that she put the car into gear, and began to pull out of the parking lot.

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ASN 5.3 Hematophagic Discussions

Walter offered a little bit of a shrug. “OK, so vampires. I mean…that would be more earth shattering if you weren’t faeries, and I hadn’t killed your faerie dad.” He shrugged. “Sorry if that came off as callous.”

Morgan and Tania shrugged a little bit as well, and it only seemed slightly forced from the both of them. “We weren’t big fans,” Tania offered, which was followed by a nod from Morgan.

“I don’t think it’s unfair to say we were estranged,” she commented wryly, offering Walter a slightly reassuring smile. “Vampires are…an unfortunate fact of life,” Morgan began by way of explanation. “But like everything else they follow rules. Vampirism is a binary state—you aren’t one until you are one. And during the only processing time, you’re a corpse.” She moved up to the head of the girl, and reached out to pull back some of the white-blond hair. It exposed a single puncture mark in the neck, raised and inflamed like it was infected. “Vampires bite much like you see in movies—they have prominent fangs for puncturing and tearing. Chewing optional, as they can actually process flesh as many hematophages in nature can,” She explained, with a little scowl of distaste. “Not what appears to be a hypodermic needle. Assuming that’s the…vector,” she grasped for the right word for a moment. “Salvation addicts will also inject in the neck sometimes, because it apparently introduces it more directly in to the bloodstream.”

Tanya yawned slightly and leaned against the wall, but Walter supposed it wasn’t new information for her. Siobhan, meanwhile, grinned. “We didn’t get to see much of you doing the doctor thing, during our stint as the world’s best candystripers.”

Morgan offered a small smile back at that. “I thought you striped no candy, Siobhan.” But then she looked back at the unconscious girl, and sighed. “In order to make a new vampire, you need someone to die. Exsanguination almost to the point of death, and then an infusion of your…vampiric essence through blood. That outright kills them, and 48 to 72 hours later they sit back up as a vampire,” Morgan continued explaining, “With what I’ve been told is the worst hangover imaginable. This,” she said, reaching down to gently move the young woman’s hair back to how it had been, “More closely resembles a body fighting off an infection or virus that it isn’t quite sure it can beat. She is basically in a coma, her body preserving energy to stave it off. She should be either a corpse, or a fully awake if malnourished human.”

Walter moved up to the head of the bed to look down at her as well, considering. “Are you sure she’s got this,” he paused, “Viral vampirism and not something else?” He motioned to her neck, and the apparent injection site. “Could it just be a straight up infection and she just happened to be held by a vampire?” He shrugged. “By the way, he was fast, but that fight was generally easier than I would have thought for a vampire.”

Morgan moved away from the bed to sit in one of the chairs, crossing her legs and leaning her elbows on them. “Medically there could be something going on here that we haven’t heard of before, but there is definitely vampirism involved. I can feel it in her,” she motioned across the form on the bed, “Although it is so different and faint that I almost didn’t recognize it at first.” Some thought crossed her mind at that, before she shook her head. “I don’t know what is what inside of her. And so I won’t speculate until I can know more.” She gave a kind of mirthless laugh at that, running a hand back through her hair. “But the most important thing is that there is apparently an increase in vampires dicking around with the city, as the kids say.”

“No,” Siobhan said, “we don’t.”

“Yes they do,” Tanya insisted blithely. “Let me see, the last time we had a power acting against the city we ate calamari for days. Sword and blowtorch and we go kill some vampires?” She looked disturbingly hopeful at that, a gleam in her eyes that Walter had last seen in the middle of desperately fighting for their lives.

But Morgan was traditionally the cooler temper in their relationship, and shook her head. “No, the squid god didn’t have an embassy here, Ember,” she responded, giving a slightly exasperated amusement on the last word—apparently the reciprocal nickname to Tanya calling her Icicle. “We let the vampires have their embassies, and we have to give them some courtesies. Besides, we both know it’s the Europeans.”

Tanya nodded, shaking her head as well. “Damned Europeans, I told you we couldn’t trust them.”

Now Walter had to interject. “I’m sorry, aren’t you both Irish?” That drew, in response, a flat stare from both of them.

“And we were doing so well before you called us European, Walter,” Morgan sighed, but she had a twinkle in her eyes that belied her sad seriousness. He was searching for a response when there was a double knock on the door, and Lacey peeked a blond head in.

“Sorry Mr. Richards, Annie, Bonnie, scary people I’ve seen stabbing other scary people,” she apologized to them all in turn; both Morgan and Tanya let out a delighted little snort of laughter at that description. “Annie, we’ve got to get to school—we have practice instead of study hall today, remember?”

Over the winter Lacey had talked Antigone in to filling in as a replacement in Winter Guard, an indoor color guard competition and not Morgan’s private army—much to her sadness. She had parlayed that into convincing Antigone to also try out for the junior varsity dance team for the Spring. Walter had been happy to see her joining in, although not so much at the cost in uniforms and gas.

“Ok, there’s a lot I have to follow up on here, like why Ireland isn’t in Europe, and what the hell we’re talking about,” Walter rolled his eyes. “Some day we’re going to deal with just a guy with a gun, and I’m going to finally be the guy who knows what to do. Lacey, can you and Monica take Annie to school? I need to talk with Bug, and I’ll drive her in or call her in.” He looked over to grin at his daughter. “Maybe I’ll take you on a ride along and we can have lots of daddy daughter time,” he told her, in deeply and disturbingly saccharine tone.

Siobhan almost shuddered at the tone. “Yay?” She offered, weakly and unconvincingly.

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ASN 5.2 What Is This

The modern pediatrics wing of Border General Hospital was painted in accordance with the newer philosophy of hospital decorating, that patients should largely not wish for death if only to escape the look—and the smell of the disinfectant. So the room that Walter, Siobhan, and Antigone (Lacey and Monica opting to stay in the hall, rather than try to make the room larger on the inside than the outside) followed Tania’s grumbling to was simple but nice. The walls were painted a soft yellow, and there were obviously fake flowers next to the hospital bed. It gave color to a room that could otherwise be cold and intimidating; but it also stood as a stark contrast to the young woman who lay on the bed, having been changed into a pale yellow hospital gown by someone.

Cleaned of the mud, she was startlingly pale—beyond any cliche about spending time in basements or out of the sun. Even her hair was pale, so pale blond that it was almost indistinguishable from the white of the pillow underneath her head. She was unconscious again, breathing slowly and laboriously, with the beeping of a heart rate monitor going in the background.

As Walter and the group of them came in, Tanya Summers turned to face him, her face screwed up in a very familiar look of annoyance. With Morgan having let her hair go back to its natural fiery color, the two of them looked much more decidedly like the twins they were; Walter suspected the reason no one had ever seen it before was a combination of them not being in public rooms together much and—as much as he hated to admit it—magic. But with them both looking more like what he had been assured was their original look, they had almost identically shaped faces and hair, and were the same height. The only substantial difference was the difference in the shade of their eyes.

“Before you start,” Walter began, trying to cut Tanya off before she could get her full head of steam going.

“I am not stopped by interjections, Detective,” Tanya growled, and advanced on him. “I’ve blown past way more impressive people interrupting me in the past, and I am just getting started now.” She gave him a leonine grin, to which Walter could only purse his lips. “Where in all the blight did you find her? And was she on fire when she you brought her, and you just politely put her out and decided not to tell us to be polite?” She glanced toward the door, where Lacey and Monica were waiting in the hallway. “Or to not freak out the mundanes?”

Walter shook his head. “Having a great respect for the medical profession, and since Morgan would probably have been very pissed at me if I withheld that, I would have told you if she had been on fire. And,” Walter continued, “I would like to point out that Border is pretty damn weird all on its own, and does not need any help. In the woods near our house there was a tunnel near a muddy riverbed,” Walter explained simply. “I didn’t find her, Siobhan did—and someone came out of the tunnel.” He shook his head, remembering the fight. “He was incredibly thin, and he did seem to be…smoldering in the sunlight. But Siobhan found her initially, and slugged it out a little with the man.”

Tanya glared at Walter’s daughter, while Morgan looked up suddenly from where she had been standing near the young woman’s head. Tanya’s eyes quickly flicked over words on the shirt, and snorted. “A little on the nose?” She asked.

“It’s a band t-shirt,” Siobhan explained with a scowl. Meanwhile Morgan strode out toward the younger woman, who was still in her muddy shirt but had been given a chance to clean up slightly. Tanya noticed the “Were you bitten?” She moved over in a hurry, and took her by the arm to begin looking her over. When Siobhan shook her head, a look of relief washed over Morgan’s face as she stepped back. “Alright, let’s stop yelling at each other, or the nurses will come in—and then Tanya will yell at them too. And then they will hate me, and I will be a much less effective doctor.” Everyone looked somewhat curious about that logic chain, but no one seemed to want to gainsay it lest the yelling come back.

“Fine, Icicle, you can tell them what they’ve brought to my city,” Tanya grumbled. And then waved her hand. “Our city.”

Morgan took a very deep breath then, as if tamping down her own angry response—whether at the nickname or the apparent ownership of the city-before continuing more moderately. “Walter, this young lady shouldn’t exist. Yes, I know,” she held up a single finger to silence any protest, “We’ve mentioned that. But it is worth repeating, because what I am telling you is that in seven hundred years of dealing with the supernatural, I do not believe it is possible. Walter, she’s—” Morgan began.

“Vampire,” Antigone and Siobhan interrupted simultaneously, their tones matched perfectly with the implied ‘obviously’. Now it was Morgan’s turn to give a little bit of a scowl. “Come on,” Antigone snorted, grinning. “We figured that out while we were still with the paramedics. What else burns in sunlight.”

“Certain kinds of wraith, several kinds of denizens of Deorchame, and a backahast, if it’s exposed to a tropical climate,” Morgan responded primly. “But yes, I believe you were attacked by a Vampire. And this young woman is the first incomplete vampire I’ve ever seen—her body is rejecting the change, and if she survives the next 24 hours may be one of the most unique individuals in the world.” At that, Morgan looked around. “Aside from several people in this room, and a couple other people currently in Border.”

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ASN 5.1 Of Course

Siobhan cursed and stumbled back, but then looked down at the young woman lying on the ground sobbing. With a grunt she stumbled back forward, reaching the body at the same time as the man who had burst out of the grimy tunnel.

The man was tall but skeletally thin, and shrouded in ratty clothing so that she couldn’t see his features at all. But she thought she could judge his intent, as he reached out with ragged hands toward the girl on the ground. With a curse, she reached out and grabbed the man by one of his wrists. Before he could react she stepped in to grab his upper arm, then suddenly and violently pivoted around and threw her hip forward. Despite her smaller stature, the throw sent him sprawling to the ground with a wet squish.

“Come on Dad, pick up!” Antigone cursed at her phone. “I’m getting his ring tone!” She grumbled…before she blinked. Siobhan blinked as well, and while her eyes stayed on the figure rising to his feet, she realized she too heard her father’s ring tone. It was coming from…

Just as the man was getting to his feet, her father came hurdling in to view from the tree line they had come from. Apparently figuring out the situation without much prompting he barreled into the skeletal figure with a meaty thunk and a crack, sending them both sprawling in to the mud. Walter grunted in pain, but the figure on the ground began to writhe in what was either terror or rage. And he began to scream in pain, his voice hoarse and horrible.

Some of the shrouding rags had fallen away from his face, and wherever he was exposed began to crackle, pop, and hiss like someone had poured acid on him. Obviously almost insensible with pain he rolled onto his feet in a sort of mad lunge at Walter, growing faster as if drawing on some kind of internal reservoir of speed. But Walter apparently expected it and pulled much the same move that Siobhan did, grabbing the reaching arms and pivoting around; but it was also clear that Walter was more practiced at it. He didn’t just hurl the other man away, but drove him in to the ground with the apparent intent of immobilizing him with an arm-bar. This was defeated by the expediency of the gaunt figure screaming, and rolling away violently—heedless of the fact that his shoulder was clearly wrenched from his socket. This also ripped away more clothing, and exposed even more skin to begin bubbling and sizzling. He screamed in agony once more, sending birds from a nearby tree to the sky in fright.

He rolled over far faster than Siobhan expected him to be able to move, and bolted for the hole he had come from. He moved so blindingly quickly that Walter didn’t even have time to get his gun out before he was gone in to the dark and scary hole.

“Shit,” Siobhan cursed with feeling as she looked around the now almost silent riverbed; almost silent except for the sobbing of the girl. “You knew, and you followed us?”

Walter continued to stare at the hole, as he reached in to his pocket to pull out his phone—presumably to call for backup and medical for the still sobbing woman in the mud. “Of course I followed you,” he answered simply.

**** ****

“Bonnie,” Walter answered again with a sigh as the group of them walked toward Border General Hospital, “Of course I followed you.” They had been briefly checked out by the paramedics—and being cleared, Walter had driven the girls to the hospital to follow after the young woman they had found. “Since we’ve gotten to this town you’ve been a weirdness magnet, and you’re also curious as hell. So yeah, I followed you, and I knew if I told you I was going to do it that you’d try to sneak out even harder.”

Siobhan started to protest but then closed her mouth and settled for a pout instead. There was really not anything that she could do to argue with it, given her track record in the city, but she didn’t have to like it. Antigone, Monica, and Lacey all gave her various levels of smirk, which made it worse. But any argument also died on her lips as she came up to the entrance of the hospital. She paused at the threshold, and Antigone did too.

She felt like a sudden burning heat burned through her, starting at her stomach and ending in her limbs and the back of the neck; it was followed by a bristling, ice-cold prickliness that she tried to shake out. Antigone stopped as well, and they reached out to grab each other’s hands and squeeze. Monica and Lacey continued forward, but Walter noticed and paused.

“I don’t like hospitals either,” their father told them honestly, smiling slightly. “We’ll get through it together.” They nodded, although now Antigone gave a wry little smile.

“It’s not hospitals, plural,” she explained as they resumed walking, and caught up to the others who had finally noticed. “It’s hospital, singular. This one. At least for me…” Antigone looked over to her sister, and Siobhan nodded at the assessment. “It was…very much not fun.”

Walter sighed, and ran a hand back through his hair as he considered his two daughters. “Some day will you talk to me about what happened here? Fully, completely.” At their skeptical looks he sighed again, and gestured in the vague direction of Lacey and Monica. “Will you talk to someone, then?” He asked.

Siobhan shared a smile with Antigone, and they were both able to truthfully nod. “Then come on,” Walter shook his head. “Morgan and Tania are around here somewher-” he began.

“Walter Richards, what the hell did you find in my city!” Tania’s voice called out angrily from the direction of the Pediatrics wing. Walter looked up at the ceiling, as if steadying himself, and then just sighed again for the third time.

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5.0 Four Little Girls (ditch) School

“Bonnie,” Antigone grumbled as she blearily ran a hand back through her hair and reached for a sweatshirt. “Why, exactly, are we up before dawn?”

Three of the four of them were sitting with equally foggy minds and sleep touched eyes, half-heartedly reaching for clothing while still in their pajamas. One of the four, Siobhan, was already mostly dressed in black leggings and a black sweatshirt that read ‘Halestorm’ with a stylized skull underneath it. She was pulling her hair back in to a pony-tail, having let it run long in the last several months, as she walked around looking for a pair of boots to wear. “Because we’re going to find whatever it was that was screaming in the woods,” she answered simply.

Monica stood and stretched, grabbing her backpack so that she could sneak away and change. “You mean the one that beat up armed professionals last night?” She asked, pulling the strap over her shoulder and raising an eyebrow. Lacey was just barely managing to sit up, and furiously scrubbed at her hair with fast moving hands in an almost ritualistic attempt to fully wake up.

“We’re up at the ass-crack because she figures it’s the best chance to avoid Dad,” Antigone answered. “You know we have to go to school, right? Or are we calling first period a lost cause fr tilting at windmills.”

“Given we have Lit first period…” Lacey said with a yawn as she stretched and stood, as she too grabbed her backpack and stood up to begin heading for the door. “You think we could get credit for going all Don Quixote?” She padded toward the door, grabbing Monica’s hand on the way and dragging her along.

Siobhan shook her head. “Windmills should be tilted at for their own sake. Wear good running shoes in case it’s vampires or a wendigo!” She called out cheerfully, if quietly.

“We only brought one pair of shoes each, dork,” Monica responded as they walked out in to the hall.

**** ****

The woods looked vastly different with the light of dawn beginning to stream in to it. While they hadn’t gone with their father the evening before, Siobhan and Antigone were not opposed to nighttime walks—and they had both agreed the woods were damn eerie at night. With the light blues and pinks of dawn spreading her fingers through the trees, it was significantly less so—but like so many things in Border, it couldn’t quite shake the lingering sense of menace that inhabited it.

As they hit the woods, Monica strode forward to take the lead. She was wearing a maroon sweater, dark jeans, and a pair of boots more fashionable than hike worthy—but she moved confidently across the ground. “There’s a bunch of…hollows and little ditches a little bit further back in to the woods. If I was hiding from someone here, that’s where I would try to do it.” Siobhan gave her a questioning glance, but Monica shrugged. “I live nearby, remember? Lots of opportunities to explore.”

Siobhan nodded, and jogged a little bit to take the lead beside the taller woman. She had thrown a leather jacket (black) over her sweatshirt, and tucked the large knife her father had given her into her belt where it would be covered by the jacket. She kept a hand casually resting on her belt above it, somewhat ruining the concealment factor for the large knife. They walked for a few minutes at a brisk pace, the exercise warming them further on the chill day before they heard a sound on the light breeze.

“Is that…” Siobhan began to ask, before her eyes widened as she heard it slightly better. It sounded like someone crying, almost sobbing in pain or fear or both. Without thinking or waiting for the others, Siobhan tore in to a run in the direction it was coming from, grass frosted with morning dew crunching under her boots. She heard the others starting to follow her, but she didn’t slow down as her legs churned underneath her.

The crying led her down around into what looked like it was a small dried up riverbed. The ground was dark red with clay churned up by the recent rains—until Siobhan realized a second later it was only red around one spot. Near what appeared to be a small cave or tunnel, maybe five feet off where the river used to be, a pale figure lay. Her skin was almost painfully pale and her hair was a light, almost white blond. Vivid on her skin and the dark, torn clothing she wore, she was splattered with an almost shocking amount of blood. Some of it was drying to the dull red and brown of old blood, but some of it was clearly fresh.

“Shit…” Siobhan cursed, stumbling in to the mud and down to the girl’s side. She reached out quickly to check her for any obvious wounds, even as she shouted back to the others. “Call Dad, and call an ambulance!” She heard them crashing toward the scene, and repeated her call a second later. She found no obvious wounds, but it was difficult because she was trying to be careful not to touch the blood for risk of a bio-hazard. “It’s ok, we’re here, you don’t have to worry…” she told the girl in her most reassuring voice.

The girl hadn’t seemed to notice her, but jolted at Siobhan’s last words. The girl had eyes that were shockingly pale, ice blue almost faded away to white, and seemed larger than the full moon as she turned them on Siobhan. She grabbed Siobhan’s arm, and her voice was hoarse as she rasped a warning through her sobbing. “They’re coming!”

Goosebumps raced across Siobhan’s skin at the sheer terror in the words, and she looked around quickly. “Who? Who is coming?” But the girl had turned insensible again, racked with sobbing, and at that moment Antigone, Lacey, and Siobhan finally caught up.

“Christ you’re fast…” Monica almost gasped with a shake of her head, as Antigone was clearly dialing her phone. “What the fu—” she continued, but then stopped. It was the sound—a scrabbling sound, the sound of nails grinding against something that people only scraped their fingernails on in a situation of desperation. Following that, a grimy and gore scattered figure burst out of the hole in the ground, and began running directly for Siobhan and the others.

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ASN 4.6 One Answer

Lacey didn’t have a chance to answer for hours, as that moment brought Walter and Ryan coming back through the door. Walter raised an eyebrow at the four of them standing in the middle of the couches, with Siobhan still in a loose kind of stance.

“Danger?” Walter asked with a raised eyebrow, his eyes quickly checking the corners of the room. It was obvious to Siobhan he didn’t think they were actually in any danger, but it was wise to check. Siobhan shook her head. “Anything I need to know?”

Siobhan raised an eyebrow, and less than surreptitiously glanced over at Lacey. When the blond girl shook her head, Siobhan mirrored the motion. Walter glanced at the other girl as well for a moment, but then nodded. “Alright.” There was a lingering, almost inviting length to the word—an opportunity to fill in more information. When nothing was forthcoming, he gave his daughters a look and then shrugged.

“Hey Dad, show us something?” Antigone asked, piping in to the increasingly awkward silence. At his raised eyebrow, she pursed her lips. “Show us something fight-y. Siobhan was just giving us a little lesson,” she offered by way of explanation. At Walter’s pursed lips, she sighed in exasperation. “Come on, it isn’t like we haven’t seen you fight—we were all at the high school.”

Walter sighed, and ran a hand back through his hair. Andre and Leah stepped in through the door, having stopped to talk on the porch for a moment, while Ryan stepped up and put his hand on Walter’s shoulder. “We could show them sparring like we used to?” He offered with a wry grin and a wiggle of his eyebrows. “Although we don’t have any mats, and I’m not sure I want to dislocate my shoulder.”

Walter shook his head slowly, ignoring the bewildered and blinking looks of the others in the room. “I like my furniture, Ryan. And no, I really don’t want to go at it like we used to.” Now he considered the others in the room, and let out a sigh. “Alright, you want to see a trick? Andre, open the door please?” He asked, walking back toward the entry area as the other man complied. While he was moving he reached in to his coat and pulled a knife out of his interior pocket, thumbing it open with practiced ease.

“Ooh, I love it when he pulls out knives,” Ryan said with a grin. “Normally something dies. Probably not this time,” he said, in a tone of reassurance, “Unless he’s finally snapped. We’ve expected it for a while.” At that statement’s complete failure to reassure anyone, he simply continued to grin.

Walter glanced at his brother-in-law and best friend, and shook his head slowly. “You want to move to the top of the list?” He sighed. “I don’t like to show off, but I’m sensing a cunning plan to change the topic from something awkward.” He considered the knife for a moment. “And maybe after pretty much getting my ass kicked, I need a reminder.” He offered this comment more to himself then to anyone else, before he offered the room a wry smile himself. “See that knot on the top of the mailbox post?” He asked, gesturing with the knife point toward it. When everyone else in the room nodded, he casually flipped the knife in the air and grabbed it by the blade. “Good, keep watching.”

His arm moved back quickly, with his palm facing in until it was roughly at his ear, before it rushed forward again in a blur. The knife whipped out of his hand and, after a few rapid rotations, impacted the knot at the top of the wooden post with a solid thunk and stuck there, quivering.

“Damn,” Lacey commented after a moment of stunned silence, “Your dad is terrifying.”

**** ****

It was only when the rest of the house had gone to sleep that Lacey had been able to answer Siobhan’s question. Andre and Leah drove back to the station to get her car, and Ryan left for his apartment, leaving the young women to resume their study sleepover. With Walter and the younger Ryan, as well as Antigone and Monica asleep, Lacey and Siobhan sought privacy. Siobhan led her first up in to the cellar and then out on to the roof, where they sat looking in the direction the police had run earlier.

“He isn’t, you know,” Siobhan offered as they settled down. At Lacey’s confused look, Siobhan gestured back to the house. “Dad. He isn’t terrifying—most of the time. You’ve seen him—he’s a laid back guy. He likes dad jokes and playing video games with Ryan. When I picture him, honest to God, I picture him on the porch with a cigar and a book.”

Lacey nodded slowly. “But…”

“But he gets…focused,” Siobhan explained, waving her hands. “Almost…distilled, I guess. Like there’s a part of him that he keeps tightly wrapped up inside, and when he needs to he pulls down in to that person. And that person is scary—that person killed basically a God.”

Lacey leaned back on her elbows, looking up at the sky before she looked over to Siobhan. “You know, you do that too.” Siobhan sputtered, and started to protest, but the other young woman held up a hand. “I saw it, Bonnie. I saw it at school, during the fight. Whatever it is—killer instinct, too many violent video games, training, whatever—you have it too. It’s…scary, but it’s also kind of amazing to see. That’s why I asked, tonight.”

The air between them hung with a pregnant pause, and Siobhan didn’t need to re-ask her earlier question; it lay between them still, and Lacey nodded in acknowledgment. The nod was followed by a long, almost rattling sigh as the blond sat up and pulled her knees up to rest her chin on. “My dad,” Lacey answered softly after another long moment had passed.

“I thought your parents were divorced?” Siobhan prompted, and Lacey nodded.

“Yeah, they are; they have been for years. My mom is really smart; you know she’s an attorney for the county attorney’s officer?” Lacey asked in the middle of her thought, continuing at Siobhan’s nod. “But Dad…blows in to town about once a year, and he’s…Dad. Charming and funny and on some plan to get rich that sounds dumb as hell until you hear him say it. Then it makes perfect sense.” She licked her lips and looked out across the darkened city, and Siobhan let her take her time. “But then it goes south—then he blows it, and suddenly the whole world is out to get him. And he drinks, and he hits mom…and he hits me. And it hits a tipping point, and she throws him out…until next year.”

Siobhan reached out and put a hand on her friend’s shoulder, squeezing. “Your mom knows there are people she can talk to, right? Dad would go help.”

Lacey nodded now, and squeezed her legs tighter. “I know, and she always says she’s going to, but…I don’t know.” Her voice was hesitant, almost plaintive. “There’s just something about him, that makes her…different. Like she is hoping this time will be different, which is stupid and the definition of insanity. But…I do it too. I tell myself he’s my dad, and I can’t tell anyone; then he’s gone, and it would just be petty.” She put her head down on her knees then, obviously fighting emotion.

“Monica knows.” Siobhan didn’t ask, but told it as a statement. Lacey nodded, and broke in to a little bit of a smile. She smothered it quickly, but there was still a hint of it in her eyes and around her mouth.

“The last time, she’d decided she had enough. Threatened to call the cops, the media, and come back with a shotgun.” Lacey sounded almost dreamy, in a way that Siobhan would have found disturbing if it wasn’t in obvious admiration. “She comes from a family of cops too—I think her mom is one of the only ones in the extended family that isn’t. She’d do it, too.”

A cool breeze started to blow around them, bringing a shiver out from both girls that made at least Siobhan reconsider sitting out there in her pajamas. “I…shit, Lacey. I’ll teach you how to block a punch, but if you get in trouble call me, or call Dad. You don’t have to put up with that—no one should.”

Lacey nodded, sighing. “I…I’ll try. I wish…” She let it trail off in to nothingness, not explaining what she wished. Instead she just nodded, and reached out to squeeze Siobhan’s arm. “Thank you, Bonnie. Let’s go, before they notice we’re gone and mount a rescue.”

They climbed back in to the house and shut the window they had come through, closing the increasingly chilly night and the unpleasant topics on the other side of the glass for the moment.

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4.5 Who?

Twenty minutes later there were multiple police cars parked at the edge of the woods, and a corresponding number of police officers going through the area with flashlights—but spirits were not high among the searchers.

“We’re probably going to have to come back in the morning, boss,” Ryan said after another half hour of searching. “Shaw just told me they have it and they’ll keep looking for a while longer, but if they are out here they could be just about anywhere.” Ryan considered the woods around them with a look of old memory, and shook his head. “The woods in and around Border have lots of little nooks and crannies that you can get lost in. Ann and I used to leave parties to go explore, and we always found people smoking.” He paused for a moment, and then shrugged. “Or boning.”

Walter sighed as he followed Ryan’s gaze, and nodded at the wisdom of it. The woods loomed out around them like some strange world that had plowed right in to the real world and rested, waiting. Of course, given that had almost happened last year, Walter thought it might not be wise to tempt fate with his metaphors.

Walter nodded after a moment, and rolled his shoulder around from where he had been hit. “Alright, well. If you want to help, meet us here at 8 and we can keep looking. Maybe the scream came from inside one of your fabled sex nooks, and you can lead us there,” Walter shrugged—he neither looked nor felt particularly hopeful at the thought of finding the screamer. At least alive.

Ryan gave his shoulder rolling a curious look. “You looked like you got hit pretty hard, man. Are you alright? I can drive you to the ER if you need it checked out.” Walter rolled the shoulder around a couple more times experimentally, and then shook his head with a little bit of a shrug.

“Apparently not, I must have rolled with it better than I thought,” he responded in a surprised tone. It ached, but it didn’t feel as bad as he expected from falling on it so hard. “Lucky me. Come on, why don’t we head back—we can take the long way this time, and not scare the shit out of local homeowners.”

They grabbed Leah and Andre, and began to head away. “Do you think we’ll find whoever it was?” Andre asked as they began the circuitous path back toward the house. Walter cast a glance back over his shoulder, and didn’t answer.

**** ****

“That sounds…horrible,” Lacey said breathlessly when they finished the story of the hospital. Siobhan had uncharacteristically wrapped her arms around her body during the telling of it, mirroring her sister’s more characteristic pose. “How…I mean how did it know to imitate your mom?”

Antigone shrugged at that, reaching out and taking her sister’s hand. “We don’t know. Creepy demonic nonsense is our best bet. I mean…if there is an actual demon running around, why the hell not?” It took her a moment to realize exactly what she’d said, at the same time everyone else did. They all simultaneously exploded into giggles, falling back on to their chairs and enjoying the change in tone for a long moment.

“And you fought it and didn’t die,” Lacey continued, staring at Siobhan intently after the laughter passed. “And you fought men with guns, and Faeries with swords, and assholes at school. And you do it so…bravely,” Lacey finished with a little bit of a blush. Monica put a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t say too much more, or it’ll go to her head,” she offered with a little grin. “And I might get jealous.” The two women shared a smiling look, and Lacey’s blush didn’t go away. Antigone and Siobhan too shared a look, smiling at the other two and how they acted when their guards were let down. It was in this atmosphere of generally smiling that Siobhan was completely unprepared for Lacey’s next question.

“Can you teach me how to throw a punch?” The blond asked it so earnestly that any instinct of Siobhan’s to try to joke or pass it off fled instantly. “You’ve taken a lot of Martial Arts, right?” At Siobhan’s nod, she continued. “Which ones?”

Siobhan reached back to scratch the back of her head, flushing slightly herself as she tried to think of a way to not sound like she was bragging. “Primarily karate and aikido, but I’ve also been trying to teach myself a Filipino martial art called arnis, or eskrima. There’s a school for it in town—I think one of our myriad cousins runs it—but I haven’t gone yet.”

Lacey nodded wisely. “Yeah, those are just words to me, except I’ve heard of the first one. So very, very seriously, can you teach me to throw a punch?” Siobhan looked around the room for a moment and then nodded.

Under her direction they moved some of the furniture out of the way, and a few minutes later they were standing in the ring of couches stretching. “The basics of throwing a punch start in your hips,” Siobhan explained, as she rolled her shoulders. “Someone who doesn’t know how to throw a punch throws it with the arms or the shoulder.” At this she demonstrated two punches, one purely from arm movement and one moving from the shoulder. “They look like we think a boxer punches, right? Not that they do, because a boxer knows how to clean your clock unless they suck, but its what we think of for a jab. But a real punch comes from the hips, and the arm is just kind of there to guide that force.” Now she demonstrated a proper punch, her hips rotating and her arm lashing out in a powerful snap—her arm stopping in the air as she exhaled in a short burst.

“Wow, OK,” Lacey agreed. She stepped out next to Siobhan, and tried to mimic how she was standing. “So I don’t need like…a stance or something?” She asked, as she started to roll her hips in imitation of Siobhan’s.

“Bruce Lee basically said that when you’re attacked, your response isn’t a particular stance or paragraph. The ultimate goal of learning to fight is to be like water. ‘When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style,’ is one of his,” Siobhan quoted. She reached out and put her hands on Lacey’s hips. “The goal is small, but fast; and when you punch you’re not aiming for the target but two or three inches behind it, so you’re delivering your whole force to it.”

Monica, watching from the side, smirked. “Small but fast might end up being your new nickname.” The drawled comment drew a glare from Siobhan, who shook her head and looked back to Lacey. She continued to work with her in the body mechanics of throwing a punch for several minutes, until she was doing a decent enough job of it.

“Can you teach me to block a punch, too?” Lacey asked, a little bit of sweat on her brow and a little bit of a smile on her face—but one with concern around the edges. Siobhan nodded at that, and ran a hand back through her hair.

“Sure, but you have to tell me who is punching you.”

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ASN 4.4 A Bump in the Night

“So…I lost track of you guys during the fight in the High School,” Siobhan explained. “But outside, my dad shanked the King of the Faeries.” Both other girls, in the process of sitting down on the couch next to one another, froze and stared at them. “I know, he’s such a show-off,” she offered with a theatrical sigh.

“We knew it involved Faeries, you told us that much…” Lacey offered, plopping down heavily with wide eyes. Monica sat down, and reached out to take her hand casually.

“The King of Faeries had been having people murdered across the country,” Antigone explained, “Maybe the world. It was…Faerie politics, apparently, trying to draw an opposing group out of hiding. It’s weird, byzantine stuff, with magical nonsense that drives Dad crazy.” She grinned. “He hates magic, it turns out.”

“And he was back at the hospital?” Monica asked, brow wrinkling. “If so, your dad doesn’t seem like he’s very good at shanking, no offense to him.” Siobhan held up a fist to shake at her for a moment, and laughed—which felt good, and normalizing, and all sorts of other positive feelings. She smiled, and shook her head.

“No, but when he died some of his power…blew up, vented out in to the world and formed these crystals of power,” Siobhan continued explaining, albeit smiling now. “One of those crystals ended up in the basement of a hospital, and a demoness used it make Death go crazy,” she summed up. From the stunned looks on her friends faces, she was forced to admit that she may have summed up a little too much for them.

Antigone rescued them by leaning in and continuing. “We really don’t know the specifics, because nobody knows exactly what happened or why. But about thirty years ago it happened, and with the Oberon crystal a demoness was able to make it happen again. Two kids named Matthew and Natalie managed to stop it in the 1980s, but we had to stop it for good this time.” Both Lacey and Monica looked very solemn.

“You stopped it?” Monica asked seriously. “Whatever it was that caused the Plague of 86, you stopped it so it won’t happen again?” The sisters nodded solemnly, and almost gasped as Monica made the sign of the cross and looked down for a moment. Lacey took both of dark skinned young woman’s hands in hers and squeezed them.

“Do…do you think there’s a way to tell your mom?” The blond asked softly. “I can’t think of any way that won’t make us sound like crazy people, but I’ve been called worse things than a crazy person,” she offered. Monica gave a little smile at that, and leaned back.

“A lot of people lost somebody during that plague,” Monica explained with a sigh. “My mom lost her younger brother. I never met him, obviously, but she still misses him incredibly. I wish there was some way to tell her, but…I’ll just know it, and not tell them.” She looked seriously between Siobhan and Antigone and gave a small smile. “But I will know—so thank you.” She took another moment to compose herself, before she met their eyes again. “So what happened.”

Now Siobhan glanced away, shaking her head. “There was…fire, and darkness, and pain…and we saw our mother…”

**** ****

All around Walter there was darkness and pain. He didn’t have any memory of what happened between the beginning of the impact and being on the ground, but whatever it was hurt. He saw his gun and its light a foot away from him, and he reached out to grab it just as something barreled in to him again. Together the two of them slid across the dirt, as he saw Ryan struggling with something and Andre and Leah behind running toward them.

Walter brought his gun across and clubbed whatever it was on top of him somewhere that felt like it should be head-level, and then did it twice more for good measure. He didn’t know if he was really injuring it, because it was almost impossible to tell in the dark in specific and Border in general, but it pulled away from him with a hiss nonetheless. That let Walter bring his gun and flashlight up, and fire off a round. In the light of the flashlight, less steady than he would have liked, all he saw was a dirty figure with blood splattered on him in places. Walter was reasonably certain he had hit the man with his bullet, and he was damned sure that he had clubbed the man about the head and shoulders a couple of times, but he didn’t seem any worse for wear. “Some day,” he panted as he scrambled back to his feet, “Guns are going to work again and I’m going to be so happy.” He didn’t have time for further quits as he was being charged again, but this time he was prepared.

One of the fundamentals of training is that as you train at a higher level, you forget how much of a higher level you’ve been training at until faced with someone at a lower level. Before he had been in the business of fighting Sidhe blooded Faerie nobles, he would have thought the man charging him was faster than belief; now he recognized he was fast, and way faster than Walter—but he knew how to deal with it. As the man snarled and rushed in Walter was already ducking under his arms and off to the side, neatly avoiding him and also gaining a clear shot. “Police! Get down—shit!” Walter tried to shout at the man, but the man pivoted to come after him. He slipped on the loose ground, and came after him on hands and feet for a few steps like a wild animal.

It wasn’t Walter who fired before the man got to him, but Ryan coming up to support him. The other man’s pistol barked three times, flashing in the night, and the light blinded Walter so he couldn’t see if they hit or not. But he heard a snarl, and when Walter could see again all he could see was the man retreating with more speed then he had shown even in the fight. “You missed,” Walter commented, as the man disappeared into the night.

“No,” Ryan said simply, keeping his weapon at a low ready in case there were more. “I didn’t.”

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