Authors: Natalie Herzer
Becca feigned to the left then dodged to the right, trying to get past the sword’s reach as her feet side-stepped lightly around her attacker. She needed to make that sword useless by getting into Megan’s face - all the while avoiding the white flames. The Ivory’s cockiness definitely worked in Becca’s favor.
Seeing the opening she’d been waiting for, Becca sneaked in to grab Megan’s sword hand. She thrust it down on her knee, the wrist connecting sharply, and the sword dropped to the ground. Its lethal light fainted. Using her momentum, Becca turned her body and followed up with a blow of her elbow to the Ivory’s face. Blood gushed.
However, her victory was only short-lived.
A glance to reassure herself that Joshua had gotten Quinn out of the line of fire made her stomach sink. He was outnumbered, surrounded. Three Ivorys had managed to separate them from the rest of the fight and were circling the two like vultures. Bleeding from several cuts and blows, it was clear that Joshua would defend her brother with his life.
But that was
an option. She would make sure all of them made it – at least tonight.
Using the bleeding Megan as a shield, Becca pushed the Ivory into the fray in an attempt to cleave a way for herself. Focusing on her brother and Joshua, she fought as best as she could.
However, sometimes it simply wasn’t enough.
Becca looked on in horror as Joshua was overpowered while Quinn, who had sprouted his wings, was grabbed from behind before he could escape. Helplessly, she watched as her baby brother tried to squirm away from the flaming knife that was put to his throat.
“Noooooooo,” she screamed as her right hand reached out, wanting to interfere, to grab her brother - but there was nothing she could do.
The sounds of the fight around her faded, let her frantic heart beat drown her in her own silence.
Out of nowhere a winged figure jumped from the stage and dove right for the Ivorys holding Quinn and Joshua. Stunned shouts were cut off and silenced. Grunts erupted, replacing the war cries from earlier. The heavy thud of flesh on flesh was like the reviving shock of a defibrillator to her system, and she burst through her attackers. A scream made her look up in time to see the stranger, an Ebony she now realized, drop to the floor.
The moment Becca finally reached them, Matt came up beside her and together they stood as one against the remaining Ivorys still able to stand on their feet. Sensing their defeat, they fled the scene of their embarrassment.
Once peaceful silence reigned around them, her eyes came to rest on Quinn. Being the typical mother figure, she searched for injuries before tackling him with her hug. After a moment he had to push her away so she could see him signing that he was okay.
A bit bruised, but okay.
With a nod, Becca wiped away the tears that had leaked and put on her brave face.
Time for inventory.
It seemed that the most seriously injured were Joshua and the Ebony. Kneeling on the floor next to him, she took in his shaven head, strong features and build, but didn’t recognize him. She quickly found the origin of his suffering. One of his wings had almost been cut off, kept attached by a thread of a tendon.
Quickly signing, she pointed to the edge of the stage and told Quinn,
I need my bag, please
After her brother handed her the bag, Becca motioned for Joshua to kneel next to her. While she took out the paste she kept for emergency healing, she started a chant and applied the pink stuff generously on the Ebonys’s wounded wing and Joshua’s worst injuries. The scent of honey and chamomile filled the air, and mingled with the metallic scent of blood. The blood of the wounded
her own in the ointment. As her melodic words rang out in the silence of the club, the paste glowed.
Before her eyes, she could see Joshua’s flesh start the slow process of healing, but for the Ebony it wasn’t enough. Leaning over him in such a way to block the Ivorys view, Becca worked another spell and mixed fresh blood from a cut on her arm with his. Matt and Joshua didn’t know it, but blood was what the magic demanded to lend its power.
Becca felt its greed coursing through her veins like a fire, branding, seductively taking some of her strength with it. However, her efforts were useless. The Ebony’s wounds needed more than she could offer right now. She would need a proper circle and more of her blood to help him, way more.
“Shit. He’s bleeding too much. It won’t stop.” Knowing she couldn’t afford to tire herself out even more, her decision was quickly made. Becca looked up at Matt and Joshua. “You guys need to help me get him into my van.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I need to get him out of here, so I can try to heal him at least enough to get us all home. It’s too risky to stay. The police could show up at any moment.”
“He’s an Ebony and we don’t know anything about him.”
“He saved Quinn’s life.” Her voice was as sharp as the look she threw Joshua’s direction. “And yours, for that matter. He deserves the same courtesy. Especially after he jumped into the middle of a fight he had no idea about. He saved the two of you. That’s all I need to know right now.”
Apparently the reminder was also enough to spur Joshua into action. “You’re right.”
With a sigh, Matt bent down to help his friend carry the dead weight of the Ebony. “Okay, let’s get out of here.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
When Stone woke up, the shocking absence of pain in his wing and shoulder were the first things he noticed. Then his surroundings, followed by the traces of blood and magic in the air. Sitting up slowly, he noticed that under the blanket he’d been covered with he was still wearing last night’s clothes - except for his shirt. He looked around and saw it lying in a bowl on a nearby table. It was nothing more than a heap dark with his blood.
His gaze traveled beyond, and Stone frowned at the unfamiliar room around him. He felt totally disorientated. The last he could remember, he’d been in the middle of a fight in a strip club and not on a rather comfy couch. A glance at the floor confirmed his rising suspicions. An image of a compass with another circle of arcane symbols surrounding it had been drawn on the hardwood floor around the couch. A copper bowl blackened by blood and containing the ashes of burned herbs stood at the foot and eight candles still burned at the outer points of the star. This had to be the witch’s place.
Snorting, Stone shook his head and smiled. He had hoped that saving the boy would make her more inclined to trust him, but he couldn’t have foreseen that she would actually go so far as to take him to her own haven. Maybe being almost fatally wounded by the flaming sword had been another bonus. Either way, this was turning out to be easier than he’d thought.
A warm glow through the window told him that it was early; the sunlight making its way through a foggy morning, pouring golden over old trees and Spanish moss. The bayou? Or close to it at least, he guessed.
Muffled chatter, clattering noise and the scent of coffee drifted to him from what he supposed would be the kitchen. Taking an inner inventory as he got up, he expected pain that didn’t come. Puzzled, not something he felt very often, he looked over his shoulder as he stretched his wings and was amazed to find only a dull ache that felt more like sore muscles. The pain he had lived with for the last week at the root of his wing was gone. He remembered as clear as day that right after the blow, as the darkness was about to claim him, he’d been sure that he’d lose it. He had felt the flaming sword do the damage that the initial wound hadn’t. Felt the tendons snap, heard the joint pop and crack. And yet here he was, healed and whole, with his two wings spreading from his back. To his own surprise, a wave of respect washed over him.
Hmm. The witch had power - that much he knew now first-hand.
Quietly listening to the morning sounds coming from the kitchen, he took in his surroundings again. The living room was simply furnished but, even to his eyes, it had a little extra special touch of warmth that people referred to as homey. An old fireplace that didn’t look safe to light took up most of the wall opposite him. Two pictures adorned the mantle. One was of a young woman and boy smiling brightly as they stood arm in arm in front of a house. The other showed the same boy with an old man, one holding a bat and the other a ball in hand. Stepping closer, he recognized the teenager he had saved and realization dawned. It was her brother, the deaf and therefore shunned Ebony his research had told him about.
When Stone had stepped out of the hellhole and into the strip club, he had taken in the situation in the blink of an eye. The decision to jump right into the fray had taken less than a second. However, he’d thought he would simply save a young demon’s life to get in the witch’s good graces, but no. Of all people, he’d saved her baby brother.
Stone’s mouth twitched with the hint of a smile; their first encounter couldn’t have gone any better. If he didn’t know better, he’d have thought someone from way upstairs was betting for him. His gaze went back to the picture of the witch and her brother. Maybe he could use the obvious connection between them to his advantage, he mused.
The scent of fresh coffee still beckoned Stone and, unable to resist any longer, he grabbed his sweater. It was thrown over the back of the couch and looked less bloody than his shirt, and so he pulled it on before he made his way to the kitchen. That was the plan anyway. To Stone’s amazement, he almost ended up flat on his face instead when a blur tripped him.
Regaining his balance and looking down, Stone didn’t quite know what to make of the multi-colored fur ball rubbing between his feet and purring like a well-tuned engine. Before he could react, it ran off towards the kitchen, leaving Stone to follow with a shrug.
He was surprised to step into a rather tense atmosphere and find the witch sitting at the table while the boy prepared breakfast.
The pan came down on the stove with an angry
“Quinn, please,” his sister winced at the noise. Her hand reached down to stroke the cat’s back as it rubbed against her leg.
The witch definitely wasn’t what he had expected. Yesterday he had seen a young woman dressed in a polka-dot blouse and jeans, fighting off her enemies with almost a hint of a smile on her face; but today she was pale and looked weak, almost disappearing in her pink fluffy bathrobe and making Stone wonder whether she herself might have gotten seriously hurt in the fight.
Her brother didn’t acknowledge her, and to be honest Stone wondered how he could given that he kept his back to his sister – on purpose, as far as Stone could tell – as he rummaged through the fridge.
Leaning to the side, she waved her hands frantically and comically to get her brothers attention, though it visibly drained her even more. When she moved as slowly as molasses to rest her arms on the table, her head about to follow, she caught sight of Stone standing in the doorway.
“Oh.” She sat up again, looking even more exhausted than two minutes ago. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Stone stepped into the room. Somehow the boy noticed him as well and turned around with accusation burning hot in his eyes. Stone wondered what he had done.
After pouring a tall glass of orange juice, Quinn set it in front of his sister with another bang that almost made the juice slosh over. Her shoulders slumped and Stone knew exactly what was going through her head - her thoughts, her heart even, were right there on her face. An open book. She couldn’t stay mad at her brother.
The witch sighed and Stone raised his eyebrow in a silent inquiry.
“Long story.” Another sigh. Then she grabbed Quinn’s hand when he was close enough and pulled him to face her. Her own hands started to dance in the air as she said, “Thank you. You sure you want to go to school today? You don’t have to. We can hang out together and talk about what happened.”
School? More questions gathered in Stone’s mind.
The boy shrugged and cleaned his hands on a dish towel, before throwing it on the counter. Then he quickly started to sign back, although Stone couldn’t tell what he was saying, since this time the witch didn’t translate for his sake.
After the boy was done, Stone saw defeat in her eyes. Trying to soften the edgy mood, he suggested, “I can take over.” Stone had no idea why he proposed that of all things, but didn’t ponder his decision any further when Quinn snorted. He saw Becca’s mouth curve in an unexpected smile before she bit her lip to stop it. “What? You think I can’t manage a simple bacon and eggs?”
As Quinn moved to pick his bag of the floor, Becca waved his offer away, “Thank you, but there’s no need to.”
“Don’t want to sound rude or anything, but…have you looked in a mirror this morning?”
Again her brother’s fingers danced through the air. This time even pointing at him.
Becca pursed her lips and called after her brother as he strode to the door, “Have a nice day.”
Quinn waved a good bye over his shoulder as if he’d heard her, though it was probably just a routine.
Stone walked over to the stove and picked up where her brother had left off. Totally comfortable, his hands worked on autopilot. He pointed to his wings with his thumb before they disappeared. “Thank you for helping me, by the way.”
“No problem. Couldn’t leave you bleeding all over the place or, better yet, have the police find you there, now could I?”
“Just accept my gratitude, will you?”
“You should be the one accepting my gratitude.” Her voice and eyes grew serious. “You saved my brother.”
He shrugged. “As you said, no problem.” He smiled inwardly. As he’d suspected, her brother was her weakness and would be his best shot at gaining the witch’s trust quickly.
With a weak wave of her hand that basically encompassed the whole kitchen and no point in particular, she added, “And just so you know, you don’t have to do that.”
“It’s simple and easy and nothing special, so do me a favor and relax. You look like you need it.” The stove clicked as he waited for the flame to ignite, and then waited a brief moment before throwing in the eggs and bacon. “Seeing as you saw me shirtless, brilliant patch up job by the way, and I’m making breakfast for us, I think it’s about time you told me your name.”
“Oh, right. Sorry. I’m Becca.”
Turning, he nodded a greeting. “Nice to meet you. I’m Stone.” Then he asked, “Where do you keep the mugs?”
A slow and weak but beautiful smile curved her mouth. “Top cupboards, middle one.”
His hands followed her orders and after grabbing two cups, he poured coffee before he sat a steaming mug in front of her. “Did you get wounded during the fight?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
When she moved to get up, Stone frowned and demanded, “Hey, what you doing?”
“Uhm, I need to feed Claws.”
One of her fingers pointed down towards her feet covered by a ball of fur. “The cat.”
“Oh.” Not quite sure whether it was advisable to make a comment on that one, Stone decided to take the safe route and kept quiet. “Right. Well, I can do that. Just tell me where and what.”
The witch was about to protest when Stone kept his persistent gaze that had made more powerful creatures crumble. Scowling at him, she crossed her arms over her middle and plopped back down on her chair before telling him where to find the food.
“Anyway…coming back to last night. I know this might sound odd, but what exactly happened?”
Becca snorted and shook her head at him. “Do you make it a habit of jumping into a fight you don’t know anything about?”
“No, I wouldn’t exactly call it a habit.” He pointed the egg lifter at her, reproachful. “By the way, it’s not nice to answer a question with another one. Some even consider it rude, I think.”
The witch chuckled. “It’s a long story.”
“As far as I can tell we have some time. So…shoot.”
She looked at him, slightly indecisive and with a serious calm that had him wondering whether he had said something wrong. Had he given himself away by being too friendly? Fortunately, his worries were dispelled the moment she sighed and said, “I need to ask you something first.”
“What were you doing at the club last night?”
He turned towards the stove, focusing his attention on the meal he was preparing. “Honesty?”
“I’d prefer it.”
“I heard rumors. Rumors about…change.” Hoping that he had her now, Stone faced her again, his face and voice deliberately softer. “About you.”
“That even demons could be granted a second chance. That things could change, and that you’re trying to bring it about.”
After a slow nod, she started to tell her side of the story and her reasons for being at the club the night before. He listened as she talked. When she was finished, Stone stood in silence for a while, his attention back to the food while he let it all sink in.
Her reasons were as clear as day to him. For her this was about her brother and nothing else. He was her motivation, her driving force…but also her weakness.
Figuring he’d gleaned enough information for now, Stone opted to lighten the mood. “So why exactly are you working together with Ivorys if you end up looking like shit?”
She had such an expressive face, he suddenly realized, with a wide mouth and big, warm chocolate eyes. And right now those eyes were as round and big as saucers. Her jaw dropped open. “Well, thanks. Gee. How sweet of you. Any more compliments for the woman who happened to save your sorry ass?”
Stone was surprised to find himself genuinely smirking at her. “It happens to be a nice ass and not a sorry one.”
Becca laughed, a clear and honest sound that made at least a hint of healthy color rush back into her cheeks.
Not quite sure where that rather flirty remark had come from, Stone told himself it was all for the sake of needing to appear interested in the witch’s cause. Every demon with half a brain would worry whether he’d made the right decision after being welcomed by that kind of committee, and so he quickly went on, “Anyway, back to the Ivorys. Are the rumors true or not? What I saw last night wasn’t all that encouraging, to be honest.”
“You went out like a light after one of them nicked you, so how would you know?”
Stone dished up and set the plate in front of her, taking pleasure in the way her eyes went wide after inhaling deeply. He had yet to see someone
feeling revived simply by the scent of a delicious and hearty breakfast.
“No, seriously now. What was that yesterday?”
“Resistance.” She took a moment to sip her coffee and then explained, “Just like among the demons, there is no real unity amongst the Ivorys. Some want the change, others are afraid of it or simply happy with the status quo. There’ll always be the ones happy fighting for fighting’s sake just because it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.”