Monday, December 31, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 21 - Necromancers Make Nice Bosses

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

Once she had herded the four men around the mound of fresh earth containing Madeleine, Bri pulled a wand—“It’s birch,” she informed them—from her purse and drew a circle in the dirt around them. She smiled as she tapped the air above the line five times, equidistant along the perimeter—“Pentacle, duh”—and a sudden whoosh of her power engulfed them in the largest iridescent half-bubble Milo had ever seen. Magick swirled along the surface, mimicking the familiar pattern of…

“Soap bubbles,” Nate cheered. He clapped his hands and jumped up and down until the three other men shot him a look. “Seriously, you guys need to get in touch with your inner child,” he pouted.

But he had been right. Her magick looked for all the world like a freshly blown soap bubble, akin to the one the psychic had brought forth in the grocery store, but on a much grander scale. It was beautiful and more than a little mesmerizing.

“Don’t touch!” Bri snapped, smacking Milo’s hand with the tip of her wand. “You’ll pop it! And then we’ll have to walk home. Do you want to walk home?” She didn’t wait for an answer, as seemed to be her way. “Now, no touching! Any of you!” If she hadn’t looked so damn cute—in that witchy were-bunny kind of way—it might have been more intimidating, but the boys got the point and kept their hands to themselves.

Even Nate. And that was a minor miracle in itself.

The bubble shimmered, shifted and as Bri raised her hands into the air, levitated not only the humans and weres within but also a goodly amount of the earth beneath their feet. “Don’t worry,” the were-bunny assured Milo with a wink, “she’s all there, too.”

He half-expected them to fly through the air, all Glenda the Good Witch, but instead the sphere seemed to shrink in mid-air. And it wasn’t the claustrophobic oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-be-mushed shrinkage either, but rather they all decreased in proportional size and all of a sudden. The view of the area around them blurred until an audible pop echoed inside.

And then they were standing in the middle of the cleared out conference room at Primogen Construction: All four men, Bri the good bunny witch and a pile of dirt. No longer encased within the bubble, the scoop of earth spread across the carpet with one hand visible to the wrist and a tuft of hair poking through the top. Milo kept watching, expecting the tumbled mound to heave with her breath, which was ridiculous, of course, given the obvious vampires-don’t-breathe thing.

A large hand clapped on his shoulder. Vince gave him a knowing smile. “She’s all right in there, still in torpor. It’s all good.” The werewolf wandered off, snagging the psychic by the shoulders as the younger man tried to get to the elemental mage. “Say good night, Gracie.”

“Good night, Gracie,” Nate pouted, following the man out of the conference room.

“Hey, dude,” Zeke said, grabbing his arm. “If you need anything, you let me know, okay?

Milo nodded. There wasn’t anything to say, really, and if push came to shove, he could just blame it on the exhaustion. Granted, he felt better than he had after punting Tamus out of the canyon and laying down to die, but he still felt worn out. It was a drawback of magical healing, he knew, because no matter how super of a human he might be, he was still human with very human parts that needed more than magick to cure what ailed them. And what he needed now was sleep.

When he looked up, he realized he was alone in the conference room. He knelt beside the dirt and touched the unconscious curl of her hand. Her fingertips and fingernails were covered in blood that had long turned brown and had begun to flake away to leave dark color in the whorls and arches of her skin.

“I hope you’re all right under there,” he whispered. “Bri says you’ll be fine, and I guess that’s good enough for me. But after we get a good nap in, when this shit storm is all over, you and I are going on a real date. Just you and me. No monsters. No mayhem. Maybe it’ll even be a little boring.” He reached up and brushed away the dirt where her head should have been. “Would you like that?”

Someone cleared their throat, and he saw the were-bunny leaning against the door jamb. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” she said.

“What? Talk to her?”

Bri smiled, like he had just done something amusing. “No, silly, not the talking, the touching. She’s worn the hell out, so much so that she’s in torpor, and you want to give her flesh and blood scent? I don’t care who she is, or what you might mean to her, but if she wakes up right now, she’s going to kill you.”

He blanched. “She wouldn’t.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, she kind of will. And she’ll hate herself for it later, but she will kill you. Well,” she rubbed her chin in contemplation, “unless we wake her up properly.”

Milo sighed. “And how, exactly, do we do that?”

“We could feed her someone else.” He glared at her, and she rolled her eyes. “Well, fine, we could always give her an IV.”

“Like a blood transfusion,” he offered.

“Yeah, like a blood transfusion, so that part of her that is all about the blood-sucking would be sated before she saw you.”

“Or,” the booming voice of their boss intruded, “you could ask the nice necromancer you work for. “ Arthur Kent poked his head into the doorway above the were-bunny. “Especially given that his conference carpet is going to have to be deep cleaned now due to an unscheduled team building exercise that has left a hibernating vampire in my headquarters and within my protective wards.”

Aw, shit. Milo stood up and placed his hands behind his back. “Um, boss, I’m sorry about this…”

“Team building exercise,” the necromancer said with a firm gaze. “I trust that everyone feels better about themselves now? All the kinks in the team dynamics are worked out? Right?”

Bri popped up between the two men. “Oh, yes, Mr. Kent, sir. Morale’s high, mortality’s low, and…” He turned his attention toward her, and she chewed her bottom lip. “Er, I’ll get right on those wards in this room.” She disappeared around the corner of the doorway with a squeak.

Arthur looked at the mage again. “Love is a crazy thing, Milo, and while I expect the carpet cleaning costs to come out of your paycheck, I am willing to assist you in this matter. Because our little bunny is right.” He gave him a small smile. “And if she kills you, where am I going to find another elemental mage in this town?” He hovered a hand over the mound of earth, head cocked to the side, eyes suddenly milky white. His power, like so much cold water, poured from him and over the mound and the mage. “She feels old. Not ancient by any means, but she’s older than me, than all of us in this company put together. And she feels…broken.”

“Sir?”

He blinked a couple of times, and the clouds left his eyes. “Vampires, for the most part, are broken creatures, don’t get me wrong. Somewhere between the struggle to keep their humanity and the acceptance of their fate, mixed in with a little suicidal tendencies and abject arrogance, they aren’t whole. But with this one, with her, the breaks are in what remains of her soul, for all intents and purposes.”

“That’s good, though, right?” Milo ventured. “The whole soul thing.”

Arthur shrugged. “If you enjoy spending your eternal night with a broken heart, sure. It’s a double-edged sword, something we magic users understand, though probably not to the extent vampires experience.” He unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt and pushed up the sleeves. “So here’s where we come to the fork in the road. I can put her out of her misery, without ever waking her up, or…”

“Or…” Milo didn’t make it a question.

His boss smiled. “Or we bring her back to life with enough necromancy that she can feed herself—I advise never trying to spoon feed a vampire, by the way—and give her enough clarity to not, I don’t know, eat you, and then we can put her back to sleep in a place of your choosing, so she can wake up naturally and most importantly, full.”

It seemed almost too easy. “You can do that?”

Arthur smirked and then pointed at Madeleine. “Dead vampire.” He pointed at his chest. “Necromancer.” He pointed back to Madeleine. “Dead.” And then to himself. “Dead’s master.”

Milo resisted the urge to roll his eyes and raised his hands in surrender. “I get it. So what do we do now?”

The necromancer cocked his head to the side. “Night’s coming. We need to hurry. Go to the mini-fridge in my office and grab about five jars of blood.” He shook his head. “You won’t see them at first, because of a glamour, but if you reach past the ‘cheese’,” he made air quotes, “you’ll break the illusion and see the glass jars. You’re going to have to heat them before bringing them back in here. Cold blood is nasty.” He waved the mage off. “Quickly now.”

Milo nodded, ignoring the urge to ask just how his boss knew that factoid about blood drinking, not to mention why there was blood in the mini-fridge in his office. Necromancers were an odd offshoot of the mage lines, straddling the ethical line between black and white magick use. He did not envy the balancing act, as most were unable to keep from falling all the way into the black. Arthur Kent was honestly the first one he had met who was older—rumored to be over one hundred years old—and remained neutral.

He ran to Arthur’s office and true to his word, there was a well-woven glamour. As he passed his hand toward the back, it actually felt like he was reaching through real objects, like he could have picked out a soda on his quest for blood. His fingers touched the block of cheese and the image popped out of existence.

Varying heights of glass mason jars lined the shelves. He grabbed the trash can under his boss’s desk, tied up the trash bag, and piled the ordered jars of blood into the can. After a nerve-wracking pit stop at the break room to heat them all up, he dashed back into the conference room to find Arthur brushing away the dirt around her body.

He noticed that the necromancer was doing his best to avoid skin to skin contact and basically carved a Madeleine-shaped silhouette in the earth.

Milo sat the trashcan on a nearby office chair and then knelt beside them. “Got the blood.”

Arthur did not even look up. “That’s good. We need to move the dirt without touching her with our hands. Do you have that kind of control?”

It was the mage’s turn to smile. “Piece of cake. It’s what I do, after all.” He stood up and examined what lay before them. “I’ll assume you’d rather not have dirt everywhere.” Milo tapped into his overflowing reserves and a single bubble appeared. It expanded like the soap bubble until the earth and the vampire were completely contained within an iridescent half-sphere on the carpet. “And I’ll also assume that I can touch her with magick without any negative repercussion, since you did so earlier.”

His boss smiled and nodded.

Left hand extended to maintain the integrity of the bubble, Milo slowly spun his right hand until it was palm up. He lifted it, keeping his left still, and willed the currently invisible half-bubble into inverse. In his head, it worked. He could push it up and over her, and simply trap the dirt within the concave double layer of bubble. But if there was an significant amount of dirt within her clothing, he risked tugging hard enough with his magick and quite possibly waking her up that way. And this bubble, though it could hold all that earth, would be no match for a sentient being fighting to get out. Much less a ravenous vampire.

So he tightened the flow of air and wove the bubble tighter. He bit his bottom lip as he pushed it upwards, through the carpet, and he was pleased to see the dirt sliding off the inverted bubble to the edges, caught cleanly and rather thoroughly as he had hoped. He inched it over her, and through the magickal link, he could almost taste her slumbering life essence, like so much liquid metal waiting like a silver pond for a stone to disturb the surface.

She sighed, fingers curling, and he almost dropped what he was doing. A hand dropped on his shoulder. “Steady, Milo, you’re almost there,”

Arthur whispered. “She isn’t going to wake up.”

He didn’t ask, trusting his boss to keep them safe, and he finished pulling every vestige of her grave from her body, minus the minute traces that caught in the blood spatter that remained. He brought his hands closer together, and the mass formed into a bubble about four feet in diameter.
But what to do with it now?

Disposal was not as simple as touching his hands together. That would only cause a mess. They couldn’t toss it out of a window for the same reason. And the effect of his errant thinking was visible in the ripples washing over the orb. “Arthur…”

“Hold on.” His boss was quiet for a minute, and then Bri’s head popped into the doorway.

“Yes, boss?” She looked from Arthur to Milo and then the sphere. “Oh, you want Zeke.” She disappeared before the necromancer could answer, and in about the span of time it took to wonder how long it would take to find the other mage, she reappeared with Zeke in tow.

“Oh, I got this,” Zeke said, and in two strides, he was next to the bauble, magickal netting alive in his hands. Together, the two mages managed to encase the ball of dirt in a skin of web that fit comfortably within the hollow of the other mage’s hand. “Can I keep it?” he asked their boss, and Arthur nodded.

“But before you wander off,” the necromancer said, his finger motioning for Zeke to come closer. He looked around the man to his secretary. “Bri, could you retrieve Vince as well?”

“No Nate?” she asked.

Arthur shook his head. “No, no Nate.” The were-bunny dashed off, as their boss turned his attention back to the mages. “Gentlemen, what we’re attempting to do here is not impossible, but it does have some--how shall I put this?—delicate issues as we would like her in one piece, I imagine, and I would like my entire team intact. Is that understood?”

“So, why am I here?” Vince asked from the doorway. He leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. “I’m not exactly your ‘delicate work’ kind of guy.”

“You, werewolf, are the insurance policy.” Milo wasn’t the only one who gave Arthur a curious look. “Vince, if this doesn’t work, if we can’t get the subtleties of this magick to work in our favor, and she comes out of this ready for a supernatural buffet, I need to ensure that she doesn’t get out of this room. Am I clear?”

Milo shook his head. “You’d have him kill her.”

The necromancer favored him with a long, cold stare. “To save you, this team, my company and the innocent people outside these four walls, yes, I would.”

Continue: 22

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 20 - Fight! Part Two, Yo!

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19

Milo watched her eyes close slowly. “I should just kill you,” he yelled across the space between him and the minotaur. “I should just kill you and end all of this now.”

Tamus shook his head and chortled. “You don’t have it in you, mage.” He wiggled a shoulder until his left arm was free. “And that’s the truth, isn’t it? You simply don’t have enough juice. And do you know what’s worse?”

The mage shook his head. “What?”

The minotaur looked to the east. “The sun is coming, human. The sun is coming, your vampire is dead weight—no pun intended—and there is nowhere within walking distance to save her if you stay and pursue this insanity with me. Then you’ll both be dead, because I’ll have broken your puny back over my knee, and your girlfriend will go up in an acrid blaze. Ever seen a vampire bite it?” Tamus shook his head. “It is not pretty. So what’s it going to be, Milo the Magician? Are you going to try and save the day? Or save the girl?”

Milo swallowed hard. The monster was right for the most part. He wasn’t strong enough to hold him forever, and he was too exhausted to fight him off, magick or no, once the super was free of his binding. But what Tamus had forgotten was that Milo was already dying. This last bit of power he had managed to pull from the earth below his feet had been so harnessed because he could not stand to see her about to die trying to save him. It had slowed the rate he was losing blood, yes, but the gaping hole in his abdomen where the minotaur had so gored him earlier in the night remained, and it had begun to stink that putrid scent that only came from innards exposed to oxygen.

Add in that he was pretty sure there was a fair amount of rock and dirt shoved inside his body via that opening now, and the chances were pretty slim that he would make it much past dawn. So his choice was clear. He could not save the day, so he was going to save the girl. But not without one last parting blow. Here goes nothing.

He closed his eyes and summoned the air current closer, not to hold the minotaur who had freed his other arm whilst Milo had done his internal contemplation, but to better aim him across the opening of the canyon. “Remember well the enemy who showed you mercy,” he spoke, eyes opening, “that you may someday repay that debt.”

Tamus shrugged as he twisted his torso out of the gelatinous mass. “Not likely. More likely is the chance that I am going to kill you once I get out of here, just like I promised. I am honorable like that.”

Milo pulled the magick back, the shimmering edge of the band stretching between him and the minotaur. He had to time this just right, or it would be for naught. “There is no honor among thieves.”

The minotaur regarded him curiously. “You must want to die quickly, mage. You could gain little else by taunting me now.” He stalked toward Milo, and the mage held his breath. Three, two, one! He released the hold he had, er, held and the band of air, all tightly woven, flew forward and caught the minotaur across the body, just below his massive pectorals to his waist and flung him through the air. Milo watched as the monster’s silhouette grew ever smaller across the skyline until he could see him no more.

“This is not over!!” Tamus yelled as he disappeared, his words echoing and then fading into the twilight.

One task down, he thought, rather pleased with how that little experiment had turned out. He stumbled over to Madeleine’s still form and fell to his knees. One to go. He brushed her hair from her face and kissed her head gently. “I could’ve fallen in love with you,” he whispered. “And now we’ll never know, will we?”

He looked around, but they were in the middle of nowhere, a copse of saguaro providing the only real shade when the sun hit this place, and that would not save her. “Come on, Mother Earth, just this last thing, okay?” He shoved his hands into the ground and pulled at the silver line of energy flowing below. The ground beneath Madeleine shifted and groaned. “Come on!” The desert floor divided, like a hungry mouth, and swallowed her completely, leaving only overturned earth in its wake. He patted the mound and rested his head atop it.

What a hell of a day, huh? All the craziness he could imagine, and some that he had not even considered, but at the end of it all, he was leaving this world having done some real good. And he was all right with that. Death did not come to him in an instant replay of his life, or a white light leading him elsewhere. No, Death came to Milo in the heavy draught of a much needed slumber…and a white bunny.

Bunny? It did not matter. Not anymore. So Milo sighed and gave in to it, one hand buried in the earth over the most amazing vampire he had ever met, the other over the gaping hole still wet and warm to the touch. And for now, that was enough.

*****

He awoke in a grassy field beneath a warm sun. A white rabbit sat next to him, and he found it really weird that the bunnies in Heaven had ear piercings. “Bri?” The bunny cocked its little head at him and pressed a leaf against his forehead with one paw. “Bri, is that you?” A sudden thought occurred to him. If he was dead and in Heaven, that must mean… “Oh, God, what happened, Bri? How did you die?!”

“Death makes everyone a little crazy,” Nate’s voice came from behind him. “I mean, I must’ve almost died a couple of hundred times, give and take, minus all the nutty coincidences, so that explains my crazy, but our friend, Milo, here, well, he went all the way.”

Milo looked for the voice and saw Nate and Zeke sitting on a mound of rocks near the copse of saguaro. He shook his head and sat up, much to the displeasure of the rabbit, who gave him a dissatisfied squeak and promptly munched on the leaf she had had on his head. They couldn’t all be dead, could they? What kind of giant bad ass could have wiped out his entire crew?

“Oh, hey, Milo,” Nate waved, “Good to see you alive. Though you weren’t dead for very long, were you? Oh, you don’t know how long you were dead, do you?”

“Nate,” Zeke flicked his cigarette in the albino’s general direction.

“But dead to humans, and dead to supers like us tends to be completely different things,” Nate continued on, unfazed by the obvious hint from the other mage. “But it’s a good thing I tracked you down, though that shade friend of yours didn’t want to let us in the apartment, did he, Zeke? Um, Milo, why are you staring at me like that? I know I’m white and all, but I’m not a ghost.”

“Nate.”

“What?” The psychic threw up his hands, but Zeke shot him a nasty look. “Oh, fine.” He crossed his arms and turned his back on the other man.

Zeke nodded at Milo. “Nice to have you back, bro. We thought we were too late. Good thing our secretary doubles as a super night nurse, huh?”

Milo shook his head. “Um, how…how did you find me?”

The other man shrugged. “Nate had a vision when he was going a little OCD in the office and touched your mug, and that led to a field trip to your apartment, which in turn led to a lovely introduction to Douglas the most depressive shade known to mankind, who did not, as Nate said, want to let us in. But a little threatening by the werewolf,” he pointed toward the opening of the canyon, “currently playing watch dog, got us inside.

“Nate touched a few things, and the visions got worse—clearer but worse—so we followed the clues like a good Scooby Gang and ended up here. Bri resuscitated you, but you were kind of touch and go there for a while. And in the process of your apparent recovery, we got all this nice grass. Dude, if you’re going to grow post-traumatic death grass, couldn’t it be the good toking kind?” He laughed and shook his head. “No, seriously, what the hell happened out here? I mean, Nate saw imps and fuckin’ minotaurs, not to mention your girlfriend’s a bad ass vampire? What the hell are we doing in the middle of BFE at one o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday?”

“Our date night kind of got waylaid,” Milo started. He ran a hand over his bald head, and was curious to see that the grass had grown everywhere but where he had buried Madeleine.

“So I see,” Zeke said with a nod. “But you have to do better than that. Give up the details.”

So Milo filled him in. From the tele-mechanical bugs in her walls to the story she told of the ugly Girl Scout and the monster—had it been Tamus?—who tore her house to all hell, all of which caught and kept Nate’s attention. He told them about flying with her, and fighting with her, and how that had all gone horribly wrong. His fingers moved over the part of his abdomen where the hole had been, where nothing but smooth flesh remained, as he told them about Tamus kicking his ass all over this canyon. And last but not least, and oddly enough most interesting to his audience, he detailed how he had kicked the minotaur out of the park, and buried the woman he still hoped would be his girlfriend in it.

“This is why I don’t date,” Nate whispered with a shudder. “It’s too dangerous out there!”

“So she’s buried under there?” Bri asked, back in her girl form. She slid one hand over the bare earth and sighed with her eyes closed. “You’ll be happy to know she’s alive, and almost completely healed.”

Milo gave her a curious stare. “Um, how do you know that?”

“Nate’s not the only touch clairvoyant in the company, you know,” she winked. “But I am the only teleporter.”

His eyes widened, as the gears started to turn in his head. “Teleporter?”

She giggled. “Yes, silly, it’s another of my gifts.” She caught his eyes drifting toward the mound. “And yes, when you are ready, I can take us all back to the office. And then I’ll drop the two of you off at your place, cos her place,” she dragged a thumb across her throat, “there’s really nothing left of it. Which is too bad, because it was a cute house.”

Milo was struck with a sudden sense of urgency. He wanted away from here, wanted Madeleine to wake up somewhere other than buried in unfamiliar ground. “Now, Bri, now.”

“Just have to get Vince,” she said standing up, “and then we can go, okay?” She wandered off without waiting for an answer. “Nate?”

The psychic jumped off his rock. “Oh, yeah, let me come, too!”

“Did you know?” Milo asked his remaining friend.

Zeke’s shadow fell over him before he sat down next to him. “About Bri?” He shrugged. “Nah, man, it’s a surprise to me, too, but given that our boss does not seem to keep anyone around him with only one gift, I guess we shouldn’t be all that amazed.” He stared at Milo while taking a long drag off his cigarette. “How are you?”

“Given that I should be dead, for all intents and purposes,” he sighed and dropped his eyes back down the casually waving grass between his feet. “I guess I’m all right. That was a lot of shit.”

“Yeah, a lot of shit for some girl.”

Milo looked up at Zeke, ready to fight again, but he saw the big, goofy grin on the other man’s face, and realized he was just kidding with him. “She’s some girl.”

“Must be, as far as I can figure.” He took another drag. “I admit that I doubted how this could work out, but if she went to bat for you, if she almost died to get to you, that’s love, dude. And I can see why you dig her.” He nodded toward the mound. “No pun intended.”

The elemental mage smiled. “That’s good, because I’m not about to give her up. Not now, not ever.”

“Unless she tries to kill you,” Zeke offered.

“Well, if she tries to kill me, I’m going to have to call things off, and then it’s a new ball game,” Milo shrugged. “But I don’t see it happening. “

“Yeah, me either.”

“Nice to see you alive and kickin’,” Vince’s deeper voice called from across the canyon. “I thought green grass, dead bodies, yeah, probably best to just give you a nice service and call it a day, but then this one,” he thumbed in Bri’s general direction, “did the whole touch clairvoyance thing, and assured us that you’d live to fight another day.”

Milo shaded his eyes with one hand. “So no burial.”

The werewolf shook his head. “Nope, no burial. Which is too bad, because I had a nice eulogy all planned out in my head.”

Bri cleared her throat. “Ready to go boys?”

Continue: 21

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 19 - Fight!

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18
 
His blood ran hot through her body like molten lava, hot and carving new lines into her inner landscape. She felt it fill the fissures in her broken wing, the cracked ribs. It pumped into her muscles and washed away the fatigue, the ache.

Tamus raged against her, but every time he tore through flesh, it healed in a curtain of his own blood. “Get off me! Get off me, you bitch!” He grabbed her by the waist and pushed, but she dug her hands into him, slipping to the knuckle between his ribs. She curled her fingers around each long, slender bone, mouth still firmly attached to his jugular—ah, the joy of fangs—and when he pushed, she pulled and the minotaur fell to his knees in a massive thud in a roar of pain.

She pulled back from him, a bright red stream down her chin. “You were warned.” She wiped at the mess with the back of one hand. “Tell me why I should not just kill you now.”

Tamus pressed a hand against the gaping wound, his breath coming fast and furious. “You’re a crazy bitch.”

Madeleine licked her hand in one long, sultry lap of her tongue. She could feel it, that two step distance away from being blood drunk. Her legs threatened to give way beneath her, and she pled with them silently to stay their course. She could not take Tamus right now, as much as he deserved to die, despite the fact that the surface damage she had done was already healing beneath his massive hand. She could not take him because it required more coordination than she had in her at the moment.

She staggered backwards, away from her enemy, and tried to clear her head. There was no doubt that she wanted the minotaur dead, preferably rendered into as many tiny pieces as she could scatter across the little canyon they were in. But he was already healing, the anti-coagulant in her bite spewing from the wicked mouth she had left behind in a foamy cloud. Soon enough, he would strike back, and she needed to be ready for it.

But then there was the matter of Milo. The thought of him pulled her eyes away from Tamus and the slight blur of healing magick he was casting to the prone body of the mage yet unmoving on the desert floor. She blinked depthless black eyes and saw faint, red lines emanating from him. There was still a pulse, but it was thready, failing.

She wanted to cry, but the tears would not come. Ridiculous that it had ended like this. All he had wanted was to date her, take her out for a good time. Do nice, normal human things. Not this, not all this chaos and madness. To think his life had been endangered because someone from her past—damn you, Patrick—had been unable to deal with the chance that she could be happy. The tears she could not shed burned inside her, like droplets of embers falling into a stomach full of emotional lighter fluid. They hit, and anger flared its ugly, blue-white head.

She smiled, but there was no happiness in it. And she was all right with that. Anger was better than sadness in her book, anyway. By a long shot. She knew what to do with anger, how to focus it, how to use it as a weapon, and she could push the rest away in denial, into little boxes deep in the darkness of her head. It empowered her, that rage, and she felt the threat of blood drunk awkwardness dissipate like steam, leaving her all amped up and ready for a fight.

“You killed him for nothing,” she seethed, stalking back toward Tamus. He looked up, just as she swiped at him, one hand carving a giant arc in the space before his face. Her fingernails had extended, thickened, sharpened, as was part of her more primal nature. He leaned back and pushed at her with one hand, but her nails grazed his face, drawing pretty red lines across his muzzle, before she flew backwards from his blow.

“He died because of you!” The minotaur rose to his feet and stomped toward her. “You could have walked away. You could have done what was right…”

“Right?!” she screamed. Her wings fluttered, and the air picked up around her with every wave of feathers. The dust danced in dust devils before her, and the smaller rocks rolled past her feet. She was not calling them, just moving them forward. Pure science. Some things should be above that, she guessed, beyond that, especially if they were supers. But the gusts kept coming, the dirt and rock moving ever faster against Tamus.

“I am tired of arguing with you about this!!” She stamped her foot, and the ground trembled. “There’s nothing to argue about! He was not yours to toy with! He was not even mine! And now he never can be! Now I never even get that option!” Her wings shifted, raising her off the ground in a slow ascent. “Goddammit, I really liked this one, Tamus! I really liked him!!”

She flew at him, all fangs and fury, but he was ready for her. His two great hands grabbed her in mid-flight, snatching her from the air, and then he slammed her wings first into the ground, knocking the wind out of her. He picked her up and slammed her down again. “I do not care!! He is human, nothing. The span of his life but a grain in ours. Yet you continue to choose them over us! You continue to pretend you are one of them, deny your place and then like some mewling baby, you whine and complain about how your ‘human’ life is not working out?!”

He grabbed her hair in one big handful and dragged her up to his face. “I tell him time and again that if you want so badly to be human that we should help you out with that. If you were still human, you would be dead right now, would not you?” He shook her by her head. “Would not you!?”

She slashed at his arm, and while she found herself showered with his blood, he did not relent his forcible beating. The edges of her sight grew fuzzy with each impact, her skull bouncing off the ground, threatening to snap her neck. She screamed at him, and tore at his chest with her claws, until almost the entire front of her was covered in steamy red blood. He lifted her skyward and just as he began to drop her again, she heard something.

Faintly, from the distance, came, “Madeleine…”

“Wait!” she yelled at Tamus, who, startled by her response, froze, leaving her to dangle from his hands in mid-air. Could it be? “Did you hear that?”

“What?” The minotaur cocked his head. “I do not hear anything. Wait…that?”

What a sight they must have been, mid-fight, all bloodied and broken, horns and wings tangled, suddenly stilled by the breath, the whisper of her name. Still faint, ever distant, but unmistakably her name falling from a man’s lips…

“Milo?” She pushed at Tamus, and he dropped her to the ground. She turned to where he had lain, and sure enough, his body moved, one arm outstretched in her general direction, head up with his chin in the dust.

“Milo!” She started toward him, but she was jerked back, feet off the ground. She looked over her shoulder and saw the minotaur behind her, his hands on her wings and a wicked grin on his face. “Tamus...no…”

“There are few things worse than death,” he growled, his grip tightening against the feathered arc in his hands. “But I think dying trying to get to someone you love ranks up there, do not you?” In one fell swoop, he snapped both of her wings and forced her to the ground. She screamed as he stomped onto the backs of her knees. A nasty crushing sound echoed in her ears as bone shattered under his hoof.

The pain was excruciating, paralyzing her where she lay. Milo! Her fingers reached for him, digging lines in the dirt, but she was not getting any closer. Her wings labored arduously above her, but the extent of the agony twisted her stomach, and she fought the urge to vomit where she lay. She shuddered, and they dropped in a feathery mass around her.

She was still healing from all the blood she had taken from the minotaur, faster than she usually did, albeit slower than he was beating the shit out of her, but her wings were already on the mend when he kicked her and broke three ribs on her left side. Her knees were knitting the bone and cartilage back in place as he grabbed her hair and slammed her face into the dirt. If she could get him to just stop, to get him to quit turning parts of her into so much pulp, then she could heal.

Then she could save Milo.

But right now, she really, really needed to save herself.

Madeleine pushed away the pain from another cloven blow into her torso, and with her back arched, forced her wings away. It sucked. It hurt like a motherfucker, but it was one less thing for him to use against her.

“Madeleine?”

She dropped her guard and stole a look at the mage. Tamus grabbed her by the wrist and flipped her onto her back, knocking the wind out of her again. She was getting really tired of that. Milo, hold on, I’m coming. I’ll save you.

She heard Milo chuckled, light, slightly pained, but a chuckle nonetheless. It was encouraging, empowering, and exactly what she needed. She wrapped her hands around the minotaur’s ankle and twisted. It was not enough to drop him to the ground, but it got him to one knee.

She kicked up with one healed leg and caught him in that sweet spot right behind every minotaur’s ear. Something about balance, he had once told her all those years ago on a boring day in court, between the ivory horns on his head and the tough bone of his jaw line, had given him a soft space of skin and tissue just behind his ears. And when the flat of the top of her foot made impact, he roared, tumbling backwards, one hand clutching his ear.

His eyes glowed red above his muzzle, and with a primal rage, he pawed at the ground and began his charge. The earth vibrated beneath the vampire. He was not just going to hit her, he was going to plow through her, and she had burned so much blood healing—had that been part of his plan?—that she had no more strength to move. At least not fast enough to get out of his barreling forward momentum. This was going to hurt.

She stole one last look at…wait, where the hell was Milo? She turned her head to the right, and just as the sound of Tamus’ feet hitting the ground suddenly stopped (yet neither his roaring nor the humming underground did not, oddly enough), Madeleine caught sight of Milo’s boots. That led to a pair of legs, his torso, and his hands outstretched before him.

Oh. He looked exhausted, pale as hell and about ready to barf whatever might possibly be left in his stomach. But he was standing and very much alive.

“Milo?”

“You looked like you could use some help.” He kept his eyes diverted, but sweat was beading on his bald head from the effort, and when she looked behind her, she understood why. The minotaur, all seven feet of him, stood semi-frozen in a semi-translucent gob of air. Only semi-frozen, given that he was tossing his head and horns above the bonding substance and his cloven feet kicked to and fro below.

It might have been funny, if the edges of her vision had not begun to fade off into the darkness. “Milo?” she whispered, but he did not hear her. She heard him talking, something forceful, to the point, but the words escaped her as the darkness swallowed her whole.

Continue: 20

Troll or Derby, Thyself!

Have you read Troll Or Derby by Red Tash? It is amazeballs and will blow your mind. Today it's the Kindle Daily Deal, too, so go get it and you can thank me later! http://tinyurl.com/trollorderby

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 18 - Aftermath

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17
Above the glowing form of the mage stood the towering frame of the dark supernatural creature that had torn her house to pieces. “Tamus.”

“You know this guy?” Milo asked within his glowing sphere.

“Remember Patrick?” The mage nodded. “Yeah, this would be his minion, Tamus.”

“You were warned, Madeleine.” The minotaur took a step forward. “You were given the option to make all this stop, but you chose to do what you wanted. As usual.”

She moved to put herself between the mage and the minotaur, and motioned for Milo to back up. “Then you admit that Patrick planted bugs in my house to keep tabs on me? I mean, since neither of you called to see what I’d decided.”

Tamus snorted. “You know he did no such thing.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying to keep her movement smooth, slight. “Patrick wouldn’t dare do his own dirty work. So, no, he didn’t do it, but let’s not pretend that you think I am stupid. He hired someone to do it. Maybe the guy who cleaned my carpets last year, or the maid, or the cable guy, people I wouldn’t pay much attention to. But it was his hand that moved those pawns.”

The minotaur shrugged. “Perhaps.”

She shook her head. “There is no ‘perhaps’, Tamus, but I will let it slide and consider the truth all laid out. As for this, what is going on right now, your issue is with me. It has nothing to do with Milo. You let him leave, no harm, no foul, and we can have this out, once and for all.”

Tamus spat fire on one of the saguaro cactus. “You know I cannot do that. The imps are owed their pound of flesh. After all, he did kill many of their kin.”

She swallowed hard and stopped. Milo’s voice replayed the story of his mission at the grocery store in her head. Well, crap. “Imps aren’t familial, Tamus, and they really don’t do revenge, because let’s face it, of all the dark supernatural creatures in the Other, they aren’t the smartest. No, if they want blood, it’s because other people planted that thought in their head and reinforced it with a little darker magick.”

He smiled, that ugly spread of lips that showed his sharp teeth. “That changes nothing, vampire. We are still in this little space, you and I, your mage and a horde of imps. Does it really matter how we got to be so cozy? Really? You know how to end this; why not spare us the bloody mess?”

She ran clammy hands over her jeans. Come on, Maddie, think!! “You destroyed my house.”

He shrugged. “You wouldn’t invite me in. And you wouldn’t come out.”

“You can’t kill me, you know. No matter what Patrick thinks of me, he doesn’t want me dead.”

“Very true,” the minotaur mused, “but that doesn’t hold true for your human.”

“He’s going to kill me anyway,” the mage in question whispered from behind her. “You know he will. He’s just that kind of douche bag, like that bad Italian mobster that promises to leave everyone all right, if you just do what he says, and when you leave to go and do it, he orders his minions to kill them all.”

I know, she replied back in his head. But what can we do? You and I aren’t strong enough to take on all those imps and a douche bag Minotaur alone.

“Let me think. I will come up with something.”

Hurry, because I am all out of ideas right about now.

“Keep him talking, buy us time. The imps aren’t going to attack until he gives the go-ahead. Let him have the biggest bad guy monologue of all time.”

Okay. Milo…

“I swear, woman, if you fuckin’ apologize again, I am going to have to spank you. Consider yourself warned.”

I am sorry, then.

“Oh, yeah, definitely a spanking in your future.”

She chuckled. It was ludicrous to even think about an after in a situation where she simply couldn’t see one, but she needed that little bit of humor to wash some of the fear out of her system. She would have to make sure she thanked him appropriately later. After the spanking, of course.

“What is so funny?” Tamus snorted. “Have you finally lost your marbles? It will be easier to carry you off to Patrick if you are a basket case, though.”

“You wish,” she scoffed. “I wouldn’t make this any easier on you than I have to. Who exactly do you think I am? More to the point, who the hell do you think you are? And why the hell are you still working for someone like Patrick? You were your own master in Other World, held your own place in the dark court. So what the hell happened?”

The minotaur managed to look offended, and Madeleine wondered if she had pushed too far. “I still hold a place in court. I am revered among my kin for the bonds I have built in Other World and beyond. You will not diminish what I have become because you no longer hold such power.”

Nice that your ego’s still in tact. “But to be beholden to a vampire? There are ties, and then there are ties, Tamus. Do you provide a service, or are you simply serving?” A thought occurred to her. “Is there something else? Are you holding out for some prize after all these years? Or have you done something so terrible, even in the eyes of the dark court, that you have no choice but to serve?”

He did not answer, his eyes dropping to his hooves that kicked at the desert floor. “The reasons I do what I do for whom I do such things matters little in the grander scheme. I am not here to satisfy your curiosity, Madeleine. Tell me why I should not set free the impish horde to munch on your new boyfriend. Tell me why I should not make short work of you for all the hassle you have caused me. It would be worth the punishment I would have to endure for maybe the next ten years under Patrick’s rage. Then I would be done with you, my hands clean of you.”

“Even if that means washing your hands with my blood.”

Especially washing my hands with your blood.” He shook his head. “If I were he, I could care less what a woman I once cared about did anymore. Even spreading the misery gets old after a couple of decades. Yet he persists and I am sent to harass you once more. I do not take glee in this, no matter what you believe. I would rather revel in the pieces of you spurting forth blood before you turn to dust, as you vampires are apt to do, but this, this harassment, this petty annoyance, it is beneath me. And honestly it is beneath you.”

Milo…

“I’m almost ready,” the mage whispered. “When I tell you to duck, do it, okay. But I need a few more minutes.”

Gotcha. “I wish it were as simple as you just walking away,” she said to the minotaur. The ground pulsed under her feet, slight, almost imperceptible. Had Tamus noticed?

“But you and I both know it is not,” he finished for her. “So let us be done with it. No more words, Madeleine. You have stolen enough time for your mage, don’t you think?”

“What are you talking about?” She gave him her best innocent look. Milo?

“Oh, yeah, I heard him. Now’s as good a time as any, I guess.”

Tamus snorted and shook his head. “I am older than you by several millennia. And unlike your kin, I enjoy a good confrontation, so this heart-to-heart is old hat.” He stopped her protest with one hand. “I needed to vent. I don’t believe in keeping all that negativity inside, and now I get to kill you with a clear head. I guess I should thank you for that.”

“So you’re going to kill me?” She widened her stance, hands up, as if she could possibly win a mano-a-mano fight with this supernatural.

“Yes,” he rubbed his monstrous hands together. “I’m going to kill you and your little mage boy toy.”

“What will you tell Patrick?” Milo!

“Get ready. One more minute!” he whispered. The pulse quickened, and she could hear the magick moving under her shoes, gathering at the feet of the man behind her.

“I will tell him the truth, that I gave into my nature and could not stop myself. That the boy mage’s blood incensed me, and I lost all restraint. That I was sorry, truly sorry, to have left this part of the mountain covered in blood and ash. The last part,” he shrugged, “perhaps that is a lie.”

He chortled, deep and echoing off the rocky walls. “No, you and I both know I will not leave here regretting it. Now, let us begin.” He clapped his giant hands together, three times, and the buzzing that had lingered just beyond her eye sight moved closer in a crescendo of noise.

“Milo!”

“Duck!”

She crouched down, and a second later, white, blue spirals of electricity poured from the mage’s hands. He stood like a giant lightning rod behind her, arms out, head thrown back, the magick drawing up from the ground beneath them.

A high-pitched squeal filled the air. She peeked around him and saw the lashes of magick snagging imps from the air, or slashing them with minute electric blades, or crushing them within the tendrils. Whatever magick held them here could not compete with the mass hysteria growing ever larger among the tiny beings. Short attention span and all that.

Behind her, Tamus bellowed in anger. “Madeleine!” She turned to see the minotaur slapping at the electricity, but there were so many lines of it, and he was just a giant. It was like watching a hundred thousand whips eating at his flesh. She almost felt sorry for him, and then she remembered that he had intended to kill her and Milo. Good riddance.

But the barbs were not enough to kill him, and when he had had quite enough, she watched Tamus pull the nearest man-shaped saguaro from the ground. “Milo!!”

It was too late. Tamus flung the uprooted cactus at the mage. Madeleine stood up to meet it, but she had not anticipated her own reaction to his magick and found herself paralyzed by the electric charge. The pain was excruciating, ripping a scream from her lips. Every hair on her body stood on end, conducting the electricity ever deeper into her flesh until her very bones rattled with it. It forced her wings out, which only gave it more area to play upon.

She could not sort her thoughts, could not form words from the agonizing sounds issuing from her mouth. The cactus made contact, slamming her into the mage and dropping them both to the ground. The electric net stopped, but her arms, legs and wings twitched uncontrollably. Tamus stomped toward them, his shadow lengthening over them.

He grabbed her by one arm and one leg and flung her across the open space, against the farther wall. Her head bounced off the rock, and one of ridges in her wing snapped. She fell to the ground in a crumpled, feathery heap. Must. Get. Up. Must. Save. Milo. She pushed up to all fours and straightened her wings. She grunted against the pain as her eyes swept the scene.

Tamus had wasted no time. He was yelling Other World obscenities at the man, and while the magick had forced him down to almost human size, it did nothing to lessen the strength of his cloven kicks. Milo screamed in pain as the minotaur rolled him around the area. The sound of his bones breaking echoed audibly in the air.

“Tamus, no!!” she yelled. “Don’t do it! Please!”

Her last word gave him pause. He reached down and grabbed Milo by the front of his shirt. He lifted the mage above his head. “What would you do for him, Madeleine? What boon would you give me to spare his life? What could you possibly say to me that will convince me from tearing him limb from limb as you watched? What?!”

She raised her hands in surrender. “There’s nothing, Tamus, nothing that will sate your anger. I know that. I will go with you to Patrick, if you let him go. And by doing so, I will ensure your position in the dark court. But you have to let him go. Now.”

“I do not believe you, vampire.” The minotaur cocked his head to the side, one horn scraping a long line down Milo’s body. “I believe not your words at all.” He pulled Milo downward, goring him through the abdomen. The mage screamed, back bending as his blood poured down Tamus’ arm.

The second it hit the air, her hunger growled through her lips. It had been so long since she had tasted fresh human blood, longer since she had fed on a supernatural. But she held back, afraid that her fury, her hunger, would consume not only the minotaur but the man in his grasp. She shook the scent from her nose.

“I would not do such things if I were you,” she whispered, her voice low, guttural, almost a purr.

Tamus lowered the mage to the ground, eyes wide. “Madeleine?”

She licked her lips in spite of herself, her eyes closing in a slow blink as she reveled in the scent pooling around the mage, still moving in rivulets down the minotaur’s arm. “Oh, Tamus, can’t you smell it?” Milo, Milo, Milo, a little voice in her head reminded her. Do not feed on him. Do not feed on him!

But the hunger tore at her with every forward step, her eyes caught in the pooling red shimmer. Alone, she was no match for the minotaur, not usually, not as starved as she was, but somewhere between the magick and the mayhem, the blood and the battle, her hunger served a greater purpose. It propelled her, moved her, and when the voice in her head saw that Milo breathed no more, it lay quiet in anguish, the gates restraining her released.

Tamus took two steps backwards. “Madeleine, you know not what you do.”

“And nor do I care.” She leapt at the minotaur in a flurry of untold speed and fury, and sank her teeth into his neck. And the blood, all that blood, all spiked in that supernatural magick poured down her throat in a decadent flood.

Oh, yeah, that hits the spot.

Continue: 19

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who doesn't love FREE presents for the holidays!?


Do you eread? Do you have friends and family who eread? Well, today and tomorrow (December 14th and 15th), this awesome collection will be FREE!! Who doesn't like FREE?! 

In this collection are some of most amazing authors I know lead by the fabu Red Tash. From trolls and faeris, to a crazy dinner party, with even a little Zoe madness for you fans of my novel "Whispers of the Dead", you'll find something to tantalize your white matter! 

And don't be afraid to share this with your friends and family. 

You know, the ones you're not gifting, too! Um, why aren't you gifting to them, too?! ;-)

Just kidding.

So from this naughty elf not sitting on your shelf to you, I express my grand thanks in advance!

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 17 - Flight or Fight

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

Fifteen bugs and two hours later, Milo dropped exhausted into one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room. Whatever magick had run them had caught on to the hunt, and though their mechanical bodies required them to stay within the walls of her house, their energy allowed them to teleport from one wall to another at whim. It had forced him to use more magick, to push it wider and farther than he had ever had to in his life. Like he had to anticipate all the places these things could go, and get threads of his spell work there first.

He was almost certain at least one of them got off a transmission before being caught and destroyed, and that should have worried him—no, it did—but he was so very tired. His eyes closed, and he caught himself drifting.

“Milo?”

His lids fluttered open, and he wiped at the drool attempting to escape from the corner of his mouth. Madeleine knelt before him on the carpet. “Hey.”

“Here,” Madeleine handed him a soda. “Sugar helps me.”

“I didn’t know you could have sugar.” He gave her a grateful smile and took the can. “I thought vampires were purely interested in blood.”

She settled onto the carpet, legs crisscross applesauce and pulled another soda from behind her, popped it open and took a big sip. “Sure, blood’s good, but we can indulge in other things, too. I rather like chocolate and puff pastries. Sugar helps me when I’ve worn myself out after a good, er, altercation. And I’m a fan of carbonation, too.”

He took a drink. “What about garlic?”

Madeleine raised a brow. “We’re going to play twenty questions now?”

Milo chuckled. “Sure. I’m just, well, I’m worn the fuck out, excuse my French. And my choices are going home and sleep this off, or stay here and talk to you some more. I would like to continue our date, but I don’t know if I’m up to a dinner out, though.”

“It’s okay.” She showed him her cell phone. “I ordered in. Hope you like pizza.”

His stomach rumbled. “Oh, yeah, pizza sounds great.”

“So, you sure you haven’t had enough excitement for one date?”

Milo waved her off. “Nah, and how dangerous could a game of twenty questions get? I’m hot, sweaty and ready to pass out like a dork in front of you. And I’m pretty much thinking that’s a sensory cocktail that wouldn’t even tempt a hottie vampire like yourself. So I figure, this means I get to hang out some more, learn new things about you, tell you a little bit more about myself, and if that means you eventually take pity on me and carry me off to your boudoir, who am I to object?”

Her response started off as a small giggle she hid behind the soda can, but it morphed into a hysterical belly laugh that echoed off the walls of her living room and left her on the carpet on her back. For a minute there, Milo thought he may have finally crossed that line.

She sat back up, wiping blood—blood?—from her eyes. Must be a vampire thing.

“Hold on,” she panted between continued giggles. She got to her feet and disappeared around the corner. She returned with a handful of tissues and daubed at her eyes. “I know it can be disconcerting to see a woman in tears, even when they’re just from laughter, worse when it’s a vampire and well, yeah.” She showed him the tissue in her hand spotted red against the white two-ply.

“Ah, and here I thought I’d perhaps gotten too cheesy with my agenda.”

She shook her head. “I just thought it was funny that despite our horrendous track record…”

“Um, two dates a track record does not make,” he interrupted.

Madeleine rolled her eyes. “Okay, well, given how well things have gone with us thus far, I thought it was funny that amidst all that, you were still flirting with me, that you still wanted into my bed.”

“Have you looked at yourself?” He raised a hand. “Wait, is that a real vampire thing? The no reflection thing?”

“Does this count as one of your twenty questions?” she asked as she picked up her soda. “Because you know you’re already down one.”

He shook his head. “Ah, no, no, I’m not, because you did not answer the first one.” He smirked. “Thought I’d forgotten that in my self-made concussion?”

She chuckled. “All right, all right, fine, but then I get to ask two to catch up.”

Milo nodded. “Seems only fair. Though I guess if I didn’t agree, you could just pummel me with pillows right where I’m sitting, because it’s not like I’m going anywhere for a while.”

The doorbell rang, and she stood up again. “Hold that thought. Must be the pizza. That was fast.”

But as she crossed the room in her very human pace, a sudden trickle of new magick walked across Milo’s skin, like liquid razor blades sniffing his own magick. “Madeleine, wait!”

He jumped out of the chair and started for her, but time slowed around him. It was like watching a pivotal scene in an action movie. He pushed harder to close the gap between them as her hand inched toward the doorknob. The other magick pulsed harder against the door.

“Madeleine, no!” he screamed.

She shook her head at him, the hair flowing on the currents of time, confused, but it was too late. She touched the doorknob and the door literally exploded inward. The blast threw her backwards into Milo and he caught her as they slammed into the opposite wall. The door jamb twisted, expanded around a huge figure. With a flaming sword. Dark Supernatural. Aw, shit!

“They found me!” he yelled into Madeleine’s ear.

She twisted around. “You? I thought he was here for me!”

“He who?”

The vampire didn’t have time to answer as whatever dark super it was reached its free hand into the house and ripped the roof off the front half of the house.

“Come out!” it bellowed, all sulfuric breath and anger. “Don’t make this worse by making me come after you!”

Madeleine got to her feet and grabbed Milo with one hand. “We have to get out of here!”

She glanced at him, and an icy spike went through him. Her eyes were pitch black and shiny and her fangs were out. If she was going to kill him now, he would not be able to stop her. His fear must have shown on his face, because she paused, closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened them again, they were normal, but he could feel how hard it was for her to hold it back, restrain herself, in the strum of her magick rolling down her arm to him.

I can get us out. Her lips did not move, her words a whisper in his head. But I can’t do it like this, in this form. Do you trust me?

The dark super tore another large chunk off the front of the house, and Milo realized he was more afraid of what would happen if they didn’t get out of here than what might happen with Madeleine. If it was a trap, if she was in league with his newfound enemies, she could have left him here, easily. But she too was in danger the longer they stayed within the crumbling compound.

“I trust you!” he yelled and grabbed her arm. “Do what you need to do.”

She hesitated for just a moment, a sadness crossing her face, but liquid black poured into her eyes, her fangs lengthened, and before Milo’s widening eyes, she unfurled gigantic black wings from her back. Hold on.

She smiled at him and turned her attention skyward. She raised her free hand, palm up, and Milo could feel her power, like a winter breeze, burst from her hand, parting what remained of the roof from the rafters. She flexed her wings and just as the front wall fell, they shot upward, out of the house and into the midnight sky.

The house grew tiny beneath their feet, the dark super raging at their escape, before she leveled out their altitude. She reached down with her other hand and grabbed him like it was nothing. He slid his arms around her waist and rested his head on her shoulder. He wondered why his legs were not dangling beneath them, given that she was flying horizontally.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into his ear. “For all this.”

He gave her a half-hearted chuckle and hugged her tightly. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. I haven’t had this much fun on a date in years,” he jested.

“Oh, Milo.”

Those two words held such sadness, his heart hurt. What could he tell her to make this better? He turned his head, and off in the distance, he saw a black cloud rising from the city lights, a darkness that whispered of a thousand wings and hissing teeth. Well, shit. “Uh, Madeleine, we have company.”

She slowed and turned until they were perpendicular with the earth again. “Well, shit,” she repeated his sentiment. “I’ve got to get us out of the air, but I have to keep us out of city limits.” She looked around. “We need a distraction. Hold onto me. I need my hands.”

He wrapped his arms and legs around the vampire. The scent of blood filled the air, and when he looked to see what she was doing, he saw she had opened up one forearm and… “What are you doing?”

“I can call blood,” she said, “And I can make it semi-sentient.” The blood pouring from her open arm formed red marbles that hovered in the air around them. He could feel them, each one, giving off its own energy, a muted version of her own.

“Um, why?”

“Because we really need a distraction, remember? And those guys,” she pointed toward the quickly approaching mass, “are imps, and imps like…”

“Blood.” A light clicked on in his head. “And since they have the attention span of big gnats, this will throw them off our scent long enough to get somewhere else, before whomever is controlling them can get them to regroup and return to their mission.”

She smiled and licked her arm, sealing the wound, before patting him on the head. “I knew you were a smart one. Now, close your eyes, Milo.” She wrapped her arms around him again and tucked her head into the curve between his neck and shoulder. “This ride’s about to get really bumpy.”

And before he could formulate an appropriate comeback, she shot forward away from the oncoming horde and her blood baubles, and into mountains that surrounded Sierra Vista. The pace was nauseating, and after sneaking a peek at the cityscape below them and subsequently shoving down a nasty urge to toss up what little remained in his stomach, he understood why she had told him to keep his eyes closed.

As suddenly as they had begun, she stopped in mid-air, sending them careening at a speed that would have knocked the wind out of him had she not wrapped her wings around them both during their decent. He imagined that they must look like a large black blob falling from the sky at this point, but that could just have been his emerging hysterics talking.

The ground met them in a rush, but she had clearly had much practice and landed without incident. She shook her body and the wings folded back into the nothingness behind her. Milo glanced up at the sky, and he could see where they must have been. A roiling cloud of black shot in and out of itself amid the telltale imp chittering. It might have been a beautiful sight, had he not suspected that those creatures would have no qualms consuming him and Madeleine with the same vigor they were devouring her baubles.

“Milo, come on!” She tugged on his arm.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, as the entire mass shuddered. Apparently, their master was closer than they had hoped. “Let’s go.”

Together they ran into the depths of mountains, through the saguaro cactus and over scurrying lizards and scorpions. She was patient with his pace, or maybe she was as tired as he had been before this whole ordeal had begun. Either way, he was grateful that she caught him when he stumbled and kept them moving through the desert mountain.

They were not being followed that he could tell, no chirping, no magick behind them. He felt like they had been running for hours, and when she finally slowed their pace to a walk, he fell to his knees. “I can’t go any further.”

She knelt beside him, looking paler than usual, and tired as all get out. “I know, but we have to keep moving. There’s a cave system not much farther from here that not even the humans know about.”

“Unless you can carry me, and I really doubt that at this point with as much blood as you just released, then we have to rest until I can get my legs under me again. Otherwise we’re fucked.”

“If we stay here much longer, we’ll be imp cuisine,” she pushed. “Wait, what kind of mage are you?”

He blinked at her. “Are you questioning my mage-ness?”

She shook her head. “Seriously. Milo, what kind of mage are you?”

He was not tracking where she was going, but that was probably sheer exhaustion clouding his head. “Talk to me like I’m stupid, Madeleine.”

She lifted his chin. “How do you get your magick? Are you an elementalist? An illusionist? A morpher?”

“Um,” he closed his eyes, willing his grey matter to stay awake for just a little longer. “Elemental. I use elemental magick. Why?”

“We’re idiots,” she muttered. She let go of his face and grabbed his hands, shoving them into the ground. “We’re in a practically untouched area of earth. Beneath the earth is water, just a trickle, but it should be enough. Above us is air, and I’ll even tolerate a little fire, if you can use it to call on your magick.”

He shook his head at her. “It doesn’t work like that. I have to be awake enough to accept it. And right now, I’m pretty much an empty sieve.”

She pushed his hands harder, deeper into the dirt. “It does work like this. It can, but you have to feel it, you have to pull it out. You’re strong enough to do that. You have to be, because you’re not the only one running on empty, and you’re not going to be happy with how I recharge.”

He sighed. Not that he wanted to be vampire food, but… “I can’t…”

Madeleine ran her dusty hands over his bald head. “Milo, you’re our only hope. There’s something coming, something bigger than the imps, something larger up their master’s sleeve, and if we’re caught right now, there isn’t going to be much of a fight. And we’re going to probably wish they were just going to kill us.”

But there are things worse than death. Milo grimaced. “Okay, I’ll try. Watch my back.”

She leaned into him and planted the softest of kisses on his lips. “Good luck.” She walked away and left him to figure out how to do this.

Sure, he had heard of it. Elemental magick had to have started somewhere. And he knew how to mix and meld the stuff at his disposal, but he had always had the magick bottled up inside him, and when he was out, he was out, until he could sleep a good 12 hours. He had never questioned the process, just assumed that he was magickally recharged. If what she was saying was true, though…

“Concentrate, Milo,” he chastised himself. “Do this and you’ll have time to contemplate the bigger picture.” He closed his eyes.

At first, there was nothing but the cool earth between his fingers. Come on… He took a couple of deep breaths and, trusting that Madeleine would keep him as safe as she could, dropped his internal shields. He gasped when the cool desert sand turned hot against his palms, like it was noon out here, not midnight. That heat poured through his hands and up his arms, the muscles relaxing, warming, the ache dissipating in its wake.

He dug in deeper, and it was like the tickle beneath him had risen to meet his fingertips. The water rushed like a menthol breath over his skin. He could feel the minor scrapes from the pieces of Madeleine’s house that had flown at him healed, and he knew without seeing that there would not even be scars left behind.

That mystical tank inside him filled, flowed to overflowing, and Milo felt refreshed, alive and ready to face whatever it was that was coming next. He could save himself, save them both. The mage pushed himself upright, in awe of the bright red glow emanating from his body.

“Madeleine?” He turned to face her, the scent of her like a trail of ice in the middle of his heat. “Madeleine, it worked!”

“Oh, god,” she cried out. “No!”

“What’s wrong? Madeleine?” It took him a second to realize that she was not looking at him, but over him, behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as the scent of sulfur reached his nose. He turned around, and his jaw dropped.

“You have got to be shitting me.”


Continue: 18

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 16 – Mages and Magick

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

She was standing there, all bare skin and terry cloth, looking for all the world like she had just stepped out of an Herbal Essence commercial. Milo blinked and smiled. “Well, hello there, Madeleine. We starting with dessert first?” He pulled a bouquet of tulips from behind his back and held them out to her.

“No, no, I had to take another shower,” she chuckled. She grabbed the bouquet by his hand, fingers touching his, and pulled him into the house with a soft kiss. She smelled nice, definitely that fresh out of the shower scent, all baby powder and vanilla. “I would’ve been ready,” she paused, contemplating him. “I know you’re a mage, but how good are you at detecting other people’s magick?”

Odd question. He shrugged. “Depends wholly on the type of magick used and how much power was put behind it. Why do you ask?”

Madeleine took a quick look around the living room. “Not here.”

“What…?” he started to ask when she grabbed his hand and lead him into her master bathroom. She closed the door behind them and stilled in that way that only the undead can do, like every fiber of their being just stopped. “Madeleine?”

“Do you feel anything in here?” She leaned into him, her words a decibel above a whisper.

He refrained from telling her just what her proximity was doing to him, thought about baseball and math, and swallowed hard. “You mean magick stuff?” He thumbed toward the doorway. “The stuff you were asking about out there?”

She nodded.

“Um, give me a sec.” He closed his eyes and sorted through the layers in the small room. There was the living, mundane layer of leftover steam and hair and body products. Beneath that was a more ethereal layer. He could feel her power there, a cool azure pool of it with no ebb or flow, like the glassy surface of a pond on a windless day. His own power glowed red hot, like an iron waiting to be struck, crawling like tendrils through the space. Deeper he pushed into the ether, but though the colors of their magicks merged and mingled, brightening in the new plane, he could see nothing else.

Milo blinked several times and pulled himself out of the sight. “There’s nothing, Madeleine.”

She exhaled, the relief visible on her face and across her shoulders. “Good. Would you mind doing that for the rest of my house?”

“Um, may I ask why?” He leaned against the door. “It’s not like you could have a stalker.”

The vampire looked at him, curious, head cocked to the side, one eye brow raised. “No? You don’t think I could have a stalker? Because, what? I might eat them?”

Milo crossed his arms and nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

She smiled, curiosity to amusement. “There are other things in this world, you know. Of course, you know. Things that are a little big for my stomach to handle.”

“And…you think one of them is after you now?” As the words came out of his mouth, he was reminded of the fairy duke at the store and his warning. He was man enough to admit that he did not mind having a bad ass woman on his arm tonight. Just in case. But if she was being stalked, was there some connection? And if it was by something bigger and badder than the woman he wanted to date…

He shook the thought out of his head. “Madeleine, what’s going on?”

She sighed and sat down on the toilet. The mage started to sit on the floor, but given the vantage point within the open scope of her towel, and the fact that he really did want to know what was going on, he decided standing was a better option. She told him about the demon wearing a bad Girl Scout suit, and about her ex—not to be confused apparently to the guy she had set on fire a couple of weeks early—but the most curious part for them both was how this Patrick fellow knew about their plans.

“You haven’t been out all night?”

She shook her head. “Not since I was with you.”

“Hm, what about your cell phone?”

Madeleine raised a brow at him again. “Seriously?”

Milo raised both hands in defense. “Hey, the sooner we eliminate the mundane human stuff, the sooner we can move on to the not so human stuff.”

She sighed and handed over her cell phone. “I don’t even know what to look for.”

The mage smiled at her. “That’s all right. I do.” He dismantled the piece and examined the innards. The usual suspects all lay in their proper places, unaltered, undiminished, whole. He floated his hand above the exposed parts and pushed a little magick over it, but nothing glowed, nothing hummed. The wiring, the tech, just lay quiet, mundane.

He reassembled the phone and handed it back to the vampire. “No bugs, supernatural or otherwise.” Milo stood up. “You stay here, and I’ll check out the rest of the house.”

Madeleine stood up. “Um, no. Even if I can’t see what’s going on, this is still my house, and I want to know. No, let me get into something less, er, distracting, and we can do a room by room check. If that’s okay with you.”

It was not as if she was really giving him a choice, but… “Sounds like a plan. Let me step out of here, and out of your bedroom, so you can get dressed.” He stepped out before she could say anything, and after he closed the door behind him, he exhaled and closed his eyes.

What he was about to endeavor to do would drain him. The paranoid part of him screamed the same foolish nonsense it had the night before, and he shoved it away. Madeleine seemed distressed, genuinely upset over the idea of this Patrick guy spying on her in her own home, and by magickal means, no less. That thought alone sent shivers up his spine. Mundane human spy crap did not affect supers the way that other supers’ magick did. Every touch was like a finger print that could be traced back to the caster. Good for them, to find out who was doing this. Good for the bad guys, because in order to track it, Milo would have to leave a fingerprint of his own that they could easily follow back to him.

Damn Duke Alistar! As a mage, he understood paranoia. There were always going to be people seeking to take down stronger mages for their own personal gain. And when you were as powerful as Milo had managed to get in the short breadth of his life, you learned to look over your shoulder when that first shiver of offensive magick tickled the hairs on the back of your neck. But this, this was something different.

Probably because he knew there was a price on his head. Add in Madeleine’s own distressing situation, and yeah, well, they were looking like a pair of really big targets. And if a vampire, who was easily the bigger bad ass in her own right, was afraid of what she was proposing to be true, well, that did not bode well for either of them.

But amidst all the paranoia, that terrible, strangling feeling that something evil this way comes, there was a spark of anger. The mage did not like being threatened, but to have those he liked (or wanted to date) endangered in kind, the whole guilt by association insanity, just pissed him off. He preferred his enemies to attack head on, but given the sheer nature of the dark side, it was to be expected that they would no do so just because he wished it.

“But it would be nice,” he sighed. The bedroom door opened, and she stepped out in a cute little red tube top that flowed to her hips over pair of black slacks. “You look amazing.”

Madeleine blushed. “The dress I was wearing early was nicer, but the stench of sulfur doesn’t really come out, and it’s kind of a buzz kill. Hence the shower, and,” she gestured at her new outfit, “the costume change.”

“Probably for the best,” Milo mused. “I don’t think they’d let us in with you wrapped in towels.”

She smiled a wicked, naughty curl of lips. “Oh, you’d be amazed what I can get away with.” She winked at him and laughed. “That was silly. Sorry. I’m just, I get weird when I’m freaked out.”

He nodded. “I get that. Completely. So, let’s get the weird part over already so that we can get on with the good stuff. What do you say?”

“I think that’s a good plan, sir.”

He gestured up the hallway. “Lead on, m’lady.”

“You just want to look at my ass,” she teased as she started up the hallway.

“Nah, but it’s a nice perk.”

The hallway emptied into a spacious living room with higher ceilings than he had pictured standing outside. “Your own personal brand of magick?” he asked her, pointing skyward.

“Yeah, well, no, not mine. I didn’t do it. But I paid for it to be done by a lovely Mexican brujah shortly after I moved in.”

He dropped his sight to the second level and saw the intricate pattern of the creator’s magick zig zagging the actual ceiling. “She’s good. Very good.” Out of the corner of his eyes, something skittered across the wall. “Don’t move.” He moved over the carpet in smooth, normal steps, keeping the thing visible in his peripheral vision.

“I don’t see anything,” she whispered.

“I wouldn’t either, without my mage sight. Just trust me, okay?”

She did not reply, and he did not want to turn his head, lest he lose whatever it was he was tracking, so he trusted she was doing what he had asked. A foot from the wall, he raised his left hand. “Come to me,” he whispered. In his mage sight, he could see a funnel of power pour from the center of his palm, red, electric, like a tube of lightning. And when it hit the wall, it started to ripple outward along the paint and into the sheetrock and mortar.

The creature stopped dead in its tracks. From his new eyes-forward vantage point, Milo could make out a rectangular body about two inches in length and an inch wide with three spindly legs on each of the longer sides and two long antennae like animated pieces of hair protruding from what must be the head. Its magick tasted like metal and earth, which would have made more sense had the metallic part not been so much more prevalent than the earth.

Bugs were earth, through and through, with some of the deeper crawlers stained with a little metallic tinge, since base metals wound through the layers of rock, sediment and dead dinosaurs. This ‘bug’, and he used the term loosely, felt like the opposite. One of the ripples washed over it, and it let out a mechanical squeal.

“What the hell?” He pushed a little more magick through his hand, and the rippling intensified. The creature shuddered, and Milo could hear a buzz. Not like a bee or any other insect he had ever heard, but more akin to the sound of his computer running at home. “Come!”

The bug attempted to escape, but the funnel had grown too strong, and in a flurry of legs and squeaking, it slide backwards through the wall and then the funnel, until it landed with unceremonious smack into the middle of his palm. It squealed again, getting its legs underneath it, and Milo crushed it with his fingers.

Dark purple ichors spilled from between his fingers, but Madeleine caught the drops with a towel. He gave her a curious look.

“You have no clue how much money I spend getting this carpet cleaned.” She wiped the outside of his hand. “Here, for the rest,” she said, handing him the towel.

“Thanks.” He unfurled his fingers slowly over the towel, and with the pointer finger of his free hand, pushed apart the pieces of the bug. “That’s amazing.”

She peered over his shoulder. “Is that what I think it is?”

He poked at one of the still-twitching legs. “If you’re thinking tele-mechanics, I’m going to have to agree.”

“Tele what?”

“Tele-mechanics. It’s an intricate form of magic that allows you built something mechanical and give it life, animation. This thing wasn’t really live, per se, but it was alive enough to wander through the walls without you being able to detect it. See this?” He pushed a small clear circle off his hand and onto the towel. “That’s a lens. And these,” he circled a series of wires, “led from there to the main body,” he flicked open the carapace, “where we have the processor and the transmitter. Whomever created this is brilliant. Devious but brilliant.”

Little wisps of magic issued from the mess, and in an instant, the towel was on fire. In his hand. Milo resisted the urge to drop it on the carpet, and pulled power from the little inferno--even magickal fires need oxygen to burn—and soon found his outstretched hand covered in foam. He looked up and saw Madeleine smiling sheepishly from behind a small fire extinguisher.

“Um, fire is bad for me,” she shrugged. “It’s kind of like breathing for you, my need to put fires out.”

“Like a rhino?” An apt analogy at the moment, given the creature’s proclivity to fire stopping.

She chuckled. “Yeah, I’m very much a rhino.” She handed him a new towel. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” Milo wiped the foam and the underlying ash from his hand. “Thing is, there’s too much magick in the walls to sustain just this one bug, and one bug could not be everywhere in the house at one time.”

The smile slipped from her face. “So you think there are more.”

He appreciated that she did not make it a question, and nodded his agreement. “Time to go hunting.”


Continue: 17