Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 10 - Abby

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09

Sleep was fitful and purposeless. Madeleine woke up exhausted and more than a little hungry. Two mugs of blood, and she still could not decide what to do with Milo’s voicemail.

“It’s just a movie,” she whispered into the nothingness of her kitchen. “It’s not like he’s asking me to marry him or have babies with him.”

Tamus had walked all over her dreams, though, and seeing Milo’s head crushed beneath one of his giant cloven hooves left the vampire breathless and more than a little afraid. Had he already gone back to Patrick? She shook her head. It did not matter. She had already set the ball rolling, however it may land, and the rest was out of her hands.

Minus this one little thing, that was not so little after all. What in the hell was she going to do about Milo?

She needed a voice of reason, and so she flipped through the contacts on her phone until she came to the number she needed. She pressed ‘dial’ and waited through the rings.

“Hello?”

Madeleine sighed in relief. “Abby?”

“Um, Maddie, who else would it be?”

The vampire chuckled. “It’s been a day, so to speak. Can I come over?”

“All full?”

She knew her best friend did not ask to be rude, but because she knew how fragile Madeleine’s control was when she was distraught. And even a witch as powerful as Abby was not going to be able to stop a ravenous vampire, and they had both agreed that eating her babies was a friendship deal breaker. Her husband, on occasion, was negotiable, as the inside joke went between them. (Though, he always liked to remind them that he was psychic, so he would know before they could do anything.)

“To the brim,” she replied.

“Well, the kids are in the bath, so by the time you get here, if you fly really slow, they should be getting into jammies and bed.”

Madeleine laughed. “Maybe I’ll walk a little first. Do a good skulking around the neighborhood, scare some small children.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Abby chuckled. “See you soonish.”

*****

“Bite anyone lately?” Abby’s husband, Henry, asked from his computer chair with a giant, cheesy grin on his face. “Haven’t read about any deaths under mysterious circumstances lately.”

Madeleine lowered the tea cup from her lips. “That’s only because I made the newspapers to cover it up in exchange for the death of one smart ass psychic.”

Henry laughed and spun his chair around to face his computer screen. “Yeah, yeah, you can’t kill me. Abby likes me too much.”

“Or so I keep telling her,” Abby retorted, towel-wrapped baby Ty over one shoulder, jammies over the other. She handed the baby over to her husband. “Dress this wiggle worm, and we’ll keep it that way.” No matter how she might have jested, Madeleine heard a softness in her voice that matched the kiss she planted on Henry’s thinning hair. “Gotta get this one all settled, then I’m all yours, Maddie.”

The vampire leaned back on the couch and waved at the tyke. Ty had always liked her, and his pale blue eyes widened with the delighted smile. He reached for her as his father worked him out of the towel and into the jammies. She made funny faces at him, and he bounced around on Henry’s lap.

“You know, you could help,” he said. “Or you could just continue to make this harder for me.”

Madeleine shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Those are my options? I have to think about it. What do you think, Ty baby? Should we help? Or should we hinder?” Ty clapped his hands, giggled and bounced some more. “The decision’s in! We should most definitely hinder.”

Henry shot her a glare, but it was all in jest. In no time, the baby was all dressed in jammies, and Mommy scooped him up and disappeared into the back of the house. “You know, if I didn’t know you were a cold-blooded killer, I’d actually fight back when you enlist the kiddos in your dirty work.”

“Oh, Henry, you’re not afraid of me.”

He pondered it for a moment. “No, I’m really not, you vampy bitch.”

“Right back at you, shitty charlatan.”

He laughed and went back to his computer game. Once upon a time, he had not been so sure. Early on in their relationship, he had been pretty sure that befriending someone who thought of you as food was a really bad idea. Add in that he thought she was a bad influence…well, Abby had made it perfectly clear that she could get into enough trouble all by herself. He had let it go back then, and it had been three years without anyone in his family playing blood bank, so Henry had decided the vampire might not be such a bad friend.

Oh, and it did not hurt that she made a mean brownie.

*****

“And he’s a mage? You’re sure?” Abby poured herself another cup of tea and offered the tea pot to Madeleine. She took the proffered pot and filled up her glass. An advantage of having a witch brew your tea was that she knew exactly what to put in it to suit the situation or the drinker. What they were imbibing now was a carefully measured mixture of chamomile, yew needles, and “secret ingredients”. That was all Abby had been willing to divulge all those years ago, and considering it had dulled Madeleine’s hunger and calmed her nerves, well, the vampire did not see a reason to push any further.

“Oh, I’m sure. Definitely human. Definitely magickal. Screams mage.”

The witch murmured something to her tea cup. “That’s good, though, right? I mean, he’ll be more inclined to understand your, um, predicament. Unlike the last one.”

Madeleine nodded. Her crispy critter ex-lover had expected her, among other things, to give up her life as if she could just stop being a vampire. It had fallen under the “I love you but” laundry list he had given her throughout their two year relationship. C’est la vie. “There’s just something about this guy, though, some spark I haven’t felt since, well…”

“Patrick,” Abby finished for her. She frowned a little bit. She had not had the pleasure of meeting the other vampire, but the stories Madeleine had told her had, as she had once said, left a bitter taste in her mouth. And after hearing about his minion’s visit the morning before, well… “The nerve of him!! I can’t believe he sent that damn minotaur to threaten you! Who does he think he is?”

“I know, it’s incredibly, annoyingly unfair…”

“To say the least,” the other woman interjected.

“But the threat is very real. You and I both know that. And if this guy’s as much a mage as I think he is…”

Abby’s eyes widened. “Patrick could take that as a real problem. It’s harder to scare off other supers. Especially one that interests you as much as Milo—that’s his name, right?—does. But are we going to let this guy slip through just because Patrick’s unhappy with this break in your misery?”

Madeleine gave a huge sigh of relief. “No, no, we’re not.”

The witch leaned back in her chair. “Then go to the movie. We’ll deal with the rest as it comes.”

*****

The flight back home had been a peaceful one. Her own personal glamour allowed her to float unseen through the night sky, just a shadow in the corner of the human eye, a passing cloud, a drifting bird. She was always thankful for Abby’s counsel. It had kept her from going over the edge on more than one occasion in the past five years.

Abby also knew how bad this could be for the vampire. She had seen the aftermath of Tamus’ last visit to Madeleine’s house. The backyard had been torn apart like a tornado had touched down. Her boyfriend at the time had come away from it in a strait jacket and his own personal padded room in the psych ward in Tucson, screaming of monsters wanting to eat him. It had not been too far off from the truth, with the raging bull man chasing him around the fence line in large, earth shaking steps. Poor guy, his mind just could not reconcile what was happening with what he was seeing, and he had just snapped.

“This is what happens, Madeleine,” Tamus had said as he straddled the man’s curled up position amidst the chaotic remains. “You have been warned. The next time, we may not be so courteous.” He had left in the same kind of portal as he had this time around, and the vampire freed of his magickal bonds had run over to her boyfriend in tears.

She had called an ambulance, and then she had called Abby. And between their magickal abilities, all questions had been kept to a minimum, and the paramedics had bought the quickly conceived story about drug-use gone awry. And while those humans would be fuzzy on the details and more than a little confused when the tox screen came back clean, they had been all too clear to the vampire. She was not meant to be happy, and Patrick would see to it, right or wrong, that she was reminded.

But she was older now, stronger, and whatever it was that had so drawn her to Milo excited her. And it was that excitement that kept the fear at bay. She was already looking forward to the movie, and she did not even know what he would propose to see.

And for now, that was enough.

Continue: 11

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 9 - Of Dukes and Princes

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08

Imps did not like electricity. Who knew? And in an ingenious combination of magicks, Milo had gone from tossing lightening balls into the horde to electrifying the metallic nets from Zeke’s hands. So much like the gnomes, there were hundreds of sticky balls of imps all over the store. Unlike Mrs. Gonzales’ house, they were not being bagged for relocation.

No, Vince was covered gigantic head to hairy clawed toes in dead imp and whatever groceries items they had managed to hurl at him before he crushed their little bodies into so much jelly. They apparently did not taste too good, though, he had informed the guys as he picked the bones of one that had inadvertently flown into his maw during one window-shaking, howling war cry. Somewhere between sardines and stagnant demon ichor. Nasty.

Not that Zeke and Milo were any cleaner. They had the imps on the run, yes, but the damnable fairies were quick little suckers, and while the imps depended on their taloned hands and feet, their nasty little mouths, if they were in close quarters, fairies were armed, well, to the teeth. Thankfully, it had not taken too long for them to realize that there were not as many of the winged warriors as they had originally thought. The joy of glamour and a little mind screw.

But the dozen real fairies were bad enough without their shadowy faux counterparts. The first one Milo had managed to fell looked for all the world like a Hollywood pirate, all breeches, eye patch, black eye liner and tri-cornered hat. If fairies could have grown facial hair, which he knew for a fact they could not after one drunken conversation in an Other World cantina when he had first come into his powers, this guy probably would have looked like that Depp guy in that one pirate movie.

“Milo!”

The mage ducked, and then there was a zip of escaping, chittering imp followed by the leaping form of a half-were above him. The telltale hum of fae approached just after, and Milo threw up a wall of air. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Three more fae hit linoleum. “Zeke!”

The other man skid across the debris and dead imps, magickal bag in hand. “Quick, before they come to!”

Milo scooped up the three limp bodies and tossed them into the bag where the first one had gone. A portal bag was useful in times like these, when they had to capture their quarry and not just outright kill it. Because despite the fact that these dark sidhe had attacked first, killing them would break a very tenuous truce currently in place between the fairy courts and, well, the rest of the world. And when you are dealing with an entire culture with a size complex…yeah, you did everything in your power to keep them happy.

These guys, if they were lucky, they would be considered stupid adolescent fairies and maybe tortured a little for their transgressions. If they were less than lucky, if the court decided they were dissidents, traitors, warmongers against the truce, well, death would be nice. Kind of a drawback for a race that healed quickly and had a high pain threshold. As his mother had always said, there were always things worse than death.

“How many more?” Zeke asked. He sounded determined but exhausted, and there were more than a dozen minute sword wounds across his chest and shoulders.

Milo thought about it for a second. “We decided there were only about twelve, right? And we’ve got four? Yeah, dude, the math…”

Zeke sighed and shook his head. “Vince! How’re we doing with the imps? Vince?” They both turned around to find the werewolf pawing through the bodies and, er, mush. “Vince?”

He looked up from his work. “Counting.”

Milo raised a brow. “Let’s call it an even four-five hundred, okay?”

Vince cocked his head to the side. “Okay. I win.”

The mages laughed. “Yeah, dude, you win,” Zeke said, “but we still have a problem.” He pointed upward to the flurry of fairies hovering in the center of the vaulted ceiling. “They’ve sealed us in.” Milo gave him a questioning look. “While you were helping Nate, I tried to get the doors, the windows, to open, the whole sunlight and imps thing, but they would not budge. Those frickin’ fairies have seals on everything.”

“Vince!”

But it was too late.

All eight feet of super monster bolted across the store and slammed into the glass doors. There was no follow-up sound of shattering glass, no creak of bending metal. And Vince was on his hands and knees, panting. “What the hell?”

Zeke shook his head. “Magick. Fairies. What do we do?” Vince smiled, but the mage raised his hand. “And remember why we can’t just kill them, okay?”

Milo looked up at the ceiling, where the contingent was seemingly organizing. “What if they want to negotiate?” Both Zeke and Vince gave him the ‘what the fuck?’ face. He pointed up, and as their eyes followed his finger, the confusion gave way to cautious understanding. “Either they’re gearing up for one last attempt, or they’re getting ready to talk.” There was always the third option, that it was a trap designed to make it look like negotiations just to get close enough to attack, but Milo did not see a point in mentioning the obvious.

A small cough issued from above them. Where imps were tiny, palm sized, fairies averaged a foot to two feet tall. The one drifting toward them with gentle flaps of his iridescent wings. The other three remained behind him at a respectable pace.

Four? Milo looked at his teammates and saw they had done the same math.

The fairy waved his hand at them. “I sent the others away with one who had accidently caught himself amidst angry, idiot imps. I am Duke Alistar, Lesser Court of the Moon. I’ve come to strike a deal.”

“You’re not really in a position to negotiate,” Zeke said.

“Oh, but I am.” His arrogance would have been grating had it not been expected behavior from the sidhe. “But so are you.”

Milo crossed his arms. “We’re listening.”

“In your bag of holding is our liege, Crown Prince Gaelin of the Dark Court. His capture is a bit of an embarrassment,” he glanced back at his compatriots, and Milo suddenly knew why they were not standing with him. “And we would really like to have him back. And the other members of our party, if you are so inclined.”

“And in return, we get, what?” Vince growled.

The fae duke had the audacity to look offended that the werewolf had spoken, but he quickly smoothed his features, crossed his dainty arms below his chest and continued. “We’ll take care of this mess.”

Milo smiled, that curve of lips he saved for moments that he could never describe as happy. “We have a team who does that. Now why would you want to take good money away from humans?” He shook his head. “You’re going to have to do better.”

Alistar grimaced. “What would you propose?”

“A fairer trade, perhaps?”

The fairy’s mouth scrunched in an angry line in protest, but he must have thought better of it. “I’m listening.”

“We’ll give you back your courtiers for information about this attack. Because I don’t know how it might look in twisted dark sidhe court logic, but this stinks of an ambush. Anyone else agree with me?” He raised a hand. Two more shot up behind him. He lowered his hand. “And an ambush would be grounds to negate the truce. I don’t guess that would bode well once your queen discovered that it was fae handiwork, not human.”

Alistar sighed. “And for the prince?”

Milo looked at his friends, who nodded their backing. “For your prince, a boon.”

His little pale face reddened in an instant. “We do not grant such things. The information I will give as keeping it hidden does us no good, and you
are correct in your assumption that our hierarchy would be less than pleased should they discover what has occurred here. But a boon to a human, to a human mage and his supernatural compatriots, is beneath us. We will not be held at the beck and call of those such as yourselves.”

The mage shrugged. “Then all bets are off.” He held one hand up for the duke to see, and it came alive with electricity again. Vince howled loud enough to shake the rafters, and Milo could feel the pulse of Zeke’s readied magick. “And we are left to finish what you began. And considering that we dispersed your imp horde and already bagged half your party, I’m thinking the odds are in our favor.”

The other fairies drew swords, but Alistar gave them a stern look. “Put those away, you idiots. There is no victory to be had here, and no heroic homecoming if we do not return with Gaelin.” They sheathed their weapons. He turned toward the team, looking suddenly weary. “A boon then.”

“To be called upon whenever we deem necessary,” Milo added.

Alistar nodded. “Agreed. And as a measure of our good faith, let me take care of this mess for you.” He did not wait for an answer, but waved a hand in the air. A small portal opened above them, and out poured a legion of brownies, the maid service of the Other World. Without another word, they set about righting the store.

“I have agreed to your terms. Give us the prince, then.” He settled atop a watermelon that had somehow remained unscathed in their battle.
Zeke picked the bag up from the floor where he had dropped it, and he opened the mouth of it, and the four bodies levitated from inside, still unconscious. The fairies flew over and gingerly grabbed each body and popped through to the Other World, leaving only the duke in their presence.

Alistar grimaced, but nodded his thanks. “Now, what do you want to know?”

“The doors?” Milo asked. The duke waved the other hand, and the glass double doors slid open. Behind the mage, the protective bubble around their psychic popped with the lack of excessive negative magick. Vince and Zeke glanced at Milo. “I’ve got this. Take care of Nate.” They walked over, Vince slid the apple cart away, and they picked up the sleeping albino and carried him outside to the van.

Milo pulled an empty wooden crate up to the duke’s position and sat down. “Why would fairies, much less dark sidhe, care about the mischievous doings of imps?”

“You give us far too much credit, mage,” Alistar chuckled. “We don’t care, to put it simply, but you ask the wrong question. Better to ask what we of the dark court would gain by employing imps to our cause.”

“The imps were a distraction,” Milo thought aloud. “Cannon fodder to see what you were up against. And when you saw that we could hold our own, that we weren’t just mundane humans playing at ghostbusting…”

“We sought to disable you.” The duke shrugged. “We were not sent for murder, just an evaluation. You seem to have caught the attention of bigger, darker forces than us, people who could distract our queen while we did their bidding.”

Milo ran a hand over his bald head. “Seems a stupid option for a prince to be involved in, why let him? And once you saw what we were, why not send him away?”

“Have you met a fairy prince before, mage?” Alistar groused. “Promises of a throne held by someone strong enough to survive the ages is a
frustrating fate. He cannot kill his mother, because even among the dark sidhe, there is a code of honor, fragile as it may be. But he cannot, in his adolescence, fathom simply waiting to outlive her. So when the opportunity for adventure arose, let’s just say his passions turned from the ladies beneath him to the sword in his hand.”

“But,” Milo interjected, “he could not go back and brag of his conquest. It was a clear violation of the truce. His mother would surely be less than thrilled about it.”

Alistar eyed him curiously.

“What?”

“I am elder fae, content with my position and the things I gain by holding it. I love my wife, my brood of children, and I clean up the messes of those above me with little complaint. I thought I knew of the world we were bordering, and the folk who lived on the other side, human and super alike. But you, mage, surprise me with your insight. If I may, this is the most riveting conversation I’ve had in over a century.”

Milo rolled his eyes. “Nice, I amuse you.”

The duke held up his hands. “No, no, I speak true. In the court, it’s all sleight of mouth, manipulation and backstabbing, sometimes literally. But you, you want to know the truth not to better your own position with me, but because, dare I say it, you care about those around you. And in feeling such things, such loyalty, you see things in my words that help you to that cause. It’s admirable.”

“The short of it is this: A message was put out in the appropriate channels on the dark side of the Other World with some urgency for you. Yes, mage, you in particular. There aren’t many bald elemental mages in this state, you know. Somehow you have caused concern in the shadows, and while a death warrant has not been issued, there are those on the other side who would think themselves better at fulfilling the mission with your head on a platter.”

“I haven’t done anything,” Milo whispered.

“No?” Alistar raised a brow. “Perhaps there is a slight you did not think you gave. We are a disgruntled bunch, the dark side of Other World, and easily offended when we think our respect has been waylaid, especially by humans.”

Milo stood up. “Then there will be others.”

The duke nodded. “Most likely.”

“And there will be no dissuading them?”

“Unless you can right the supposed wrong, or the message has been retracted, no.”

A sudden chill rose up Milo’s spine. “Well, fuck.” He looked at the fairy. “You don’t know who sent out the message?”

Alistar shook his head. “No, I have no name, as is commonplace in such occurrences, but I will tell you this: it carried with it the stench of death. Dark, bloodly death.”

Continue: 10

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 8 - Of Imps and Other Things

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07

Milo laid in bed and listened to the phone ring. “You have reached Madeleine du’Court,” her voice lilted into his head, “but I am unable to take your call right now. If you please leave your name, number and a brief message, I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.” Beep!

“Um, Madeleine, this is Milo. You just had pie with me at Dennys?” Did that sound dirty? Too late now. Damn. “Um, just calling since I said I would. I was thinking maybe we should go catch a movie this weekend. You know, if you’re not busy. Um, okay, just call me, let me know.
Bye!” He hung up and sighed.

Maybe he should have told her how much he enjoyed their brief meeting. Maybe he should have asked her to the movie then. He stared at the pale glow of the hand she had shaken, and his breath caught in his throat again. She was not human. Of that, he was certain. He had felt it when he had first entered the restaurant, the buzz of it against his skin for the duration of their meeting, and he was pretty certain that whatever she was, there was more than a little magick involved, as he had felt her push him twice.

The first time had caught him off guard, but he had let it slide the second time, just to see what she would do. But she had let it go as well, or maybe she had gotten what she wanted out of the exchange. He had noticed the glow on his hand the minute he had stepped out into the darkness. Maybe that had started inside, just hidden beneath the fluorescent glare inside.

Part of him screamed with paranoia. Too many things out there in the big, bad world would make mincemeat of someone like him. Too many others would attempt to make him ‘useful’ to their own motives. And those that remained, well, they were either dark enough to break him, or light enough to not care. But where did Madeleine stand?

It was not as if he could just ask her. “Um, excuse me, are you evil? No? You’re good then? Because I have rules against dating black magick users. The whole ‘loss of soul’ and ‘eternal damnation’ thing. You understand, right?” He pictured a scythe angling for his neck at that point, be she good or bad, because he was pretty sure asking a woman’s alignment was along the same lines as asking her age: one giant no-no.

Another part of him wished he had done that parting moment differently, that he had followed through with that instantaneous urge to lift her pale white hand to his lips and plant a kiss on her skin. It was chivalrous, romantic and completely out of character for him. Not that he could not be chivalrous or romantic, because he could with the best of them when he was so inclined, but he could not remember the last time he had been with a woman who had so inspired him.

It made her even more special to him, and it added not only to the anticipation of their next meeting, but also to his disappointment that he had not caught her on the phone tonight. Milo rolled on his side and stared at his phone, willing her to be awake, to see she had missed his call, to call him back. But the phone stayed quiet, the screen dimmed and then darkened like the skies outside his window.

Out in the rest of the apartment, he could hear Douglas doing his regular nightly shuffle. There had been little discussion over his whereabouts, his late hour, but it seemed to be more resignation that the shade had been left out of the fun than anything else. He had not questioned it, was even more than a little grateful for it, and he had disappeared into his room before the situation had a chance to change.

He had tried to go to sleep, honest, he had, but he could not get her out of his head. She pegged him as a mage with a glance. Most humans, most mundane humans, would have said nothing, because they would have felt nothing. Most sensitive humans would have asked what he was. Only another supernatural, human or otherwise, could have picked him out so easily. But he could not label her as human. It just felt…wrong.

Milo rolled onto his back and rested his forearm against his forehead. Sleep was hard when his thoughts were racing, a million cars on a million miles of track, going and going, around and around. She had stirred something in him that he had once imagined could not be awakened.

He needed to see her again.

********

“Seriously, what’s up with the smiles?”

Milo looked up at his friend from his cup of coffee. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Zeke raised a brow. “Dude, do I look stupid to you? Come on, you can tell me. Did you get laid last night?” His eyes widened. “You didn’t tap that orca again, did you?”

The mage laughed and raised one hand. “No, no! Wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole!” One of the perks to screwing shapeshifters was the variety. One of the downsides, especially for landlocked mermaids, was they tended to be addicts and nymphos. Add in that this, as Zeke had not-so-delicately put it, orca also had a motor mouth and talked about what she had done in exchange for vanilla sex with humans…yeah, it had not taken him long to kick her to the curb.

“A new piece of ass, then?”

Milo took a sip of his coffee. “She is definitely not a piece of ass.”

Zeke sat down in a chair on the other side of the break room table. Milo tried to keep a straight face, but his friend was right: He could not stop smiling. “Well?”

“She’s new. I met her online. And she’s older…”

“How much older?” the other mage interrupted.

“Um, about eight years?”

Zeke leaned back in his chair. “Nice.” He gave Milo a ‘come on’ gesture with his hand. “Continue.”

Milo told him about all about Madeleine--her profile on the networking site, their emails, their first meet—and when he was done, he was confused by Zeke’s apparent concern. “What?”

“I see red flags, Milo. She only comes out at night, she’s pale, she did not eat her pie? Come on, tell me you’re seeing what I’m seeing here.”

Milo shrugged. “She’s a night owl, and a geek. Explains the hours she keeps and the color of her skin.”

Zeke put a hand to his forehead. “No way you’re over looking this on purpose. Did she glamour you?”

He shook his head. “I think you may actually be more paranoid than I am.”

Nate zoomed by the doorway and waved. “Staff meeting!”

Milo stood up and sighed. “Another day, another demon, another dollar.”

“This talk isn’t over,” Zeke snagged him by the arm. “She’s a super, this new girl, and she sounds dark, vampire, succubus, powerful parasitic ghost. You have to be careful, dude. Especially in our line of work. We’re yummy Scooby snacks, you and I.”

“Don’t you think I know this?” Milo hissed. “I wanted you to be happy for me. I thought you would be thrilled that I’d dropped the mermaid and moved on. But you want to be all gloom and doom.” Zeke opened his mouth. “No, you meet her first. You meet her, you talk to her, and then you tell me what you think.”

His friend did not let go of his arm. “And if she’s a vampire? A succubus? What then? You going to let yourself get sucked into another bad situation?”

“Not all dark supers are evil, Zeke. You know this, especially in our line of work.”

“But if she is?”

“Then we do our job.” Milo walked out of the door and down the hallway.

“It’s not going to be that easy!” Zeke yelled after him.

What was he going to do if he was wrong and the other mage was right? He had never had to kill anyone he knew before. The paranoid voice in his head screamed for him to lose her number, to get out while he still could, but he shoved it away. She deserved a fair shake, a realistic chance to show her true colors.

Then, and only then, he would make a decision about what to do.

*****

Work was messy, as mischievous imps hanging out in a mom and pop grocery co-op were apt to be. Enough ammo, and well, his whole team was covered in sauces and seeds, parmesan and powdered drink mix, and more than a little dead imp goo. For a creature you could easily cup in both hands, they were filled with a rather large amount of innards and all the liquid fun that entailed.

After the first volley, they had sent magic and mayhem in the direction all the foodstuffs had come. A low rumble filled the air, and what they had been told by the owners had been a dozen turned quickly into a couple dozen dozen. Like a great purple and black cloud, they rose from the aisles, obviously angry over the unexpected magickal retaliation.

“Aw, shit,” Zeke groaned, his hands already fast at work, a great number of silver strands stretching between them.

“Guys,” Nate whispered behind them.

Milo looked at Vince. “We have to come up with another plan. I don’t think our usual snag-and-bag is going to work.”

Vince nodded in agreement. “Any ideas? Because I’m kind of a hack and slash kind of guy.”

“Guys…” Nate’s voice had gone from excited to paranoid with a touch of fear.

Milo and Vince turned around. “What?!” Nate pointed behind him, but it was a moot gesture. The imps behind them chuckled in their little high pitched voices, and the guys absorbed the slightly larger dark sidhe rising in a wall in front of them.

“Something’s wrong,” Zeke whispered from behind them. “Fae and imps don’t play together, much less attack together.”

Milo licked his lips. “Well, hell, anyone else think we’ve been set up?”

“Oh, yeah,” Vince chuckled. His personal magick pulsed and he shook off his human half until he stood two feet taller than the mages, all rippling muscle and wolfy muzzle. And damn if he wasn’t grinning behind that giant maw of teeth.

“Guys, please.” Nate was curled up into a ball at their feet, eyes closed tight, rocking slightly. “It hurts so much.”

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Milo said as he looked for a way out. “Vince?”

“I’m looking, dude, but even from up here, I’m not seeing how we can.”

Zeke walked backwards until his back touched Milo’s. “Can’t we just stash him under a stand?”

Milo leaned down and laid a hand on the albino. Those pale pink eyes fluttered open, bright with pain. “How long can you hold on?” Confusion crossed Nate’s face. “We can’t get you out,” a small whine escaped his lips, “right now, Nate. We can’t get you out right now. We have to burn a path through, and we’re going to, but we need time.”

Nate swallowed hard. “How much?”

Milo looked up at their other teammates. Vince shook his head and flashed his hands, all ten digits, twice. “Twenty minutes, max. Can you do it?”

“Yeah,” he gave him a weak smile. “Just…just make them stop humming.” He pointed in the direction of the fairies. “They know what I am, and they’re sending pins and needles into my head with the damnable humming.”

Milo gave him a quick squeeze. “We’ll get them, but I need you to scoot under the apple cart until we’re done.”

“Twenty minutes?”

The mage nodded. “Twenty minutes.”

Nate low crawled under the cart. Milo appreciated the brave front, but he did not think the psychic could last that long. He needed help. But what could he do? He could not use his own magick to shield Nate. He would need it for the fight ahead. A tickle of a thought crossed his mind. Maybe?
The mage rifled through the pockets of his duster.

“What the hell are you doing?” Zeke yelled.

Milo looked up to see the swarm of fairies and imps closing their circle around them. Nate screamed, and Milo’s fingers touched a smooth stone. He knelt on the linoleum tile and slid the stone to Nate. “This is a very special soapstone, Nate. My mother gave it to me when I left up north. Rub it and focus. Push out their humming. Push out the outside magick. Just concentrate on the stone.”

Nate held the stone up to eye level and started rubbing it slowly. His eyes widened as a clear iridescent bubble enveloped his fingertips. He pointed at it with his other hand and looked around it to Milo, realization like a light bulb popping on in his head. “Soapstone…bubble…oh my god…Milo, you’ve been holding out.”

He turned the stone sideways and began rubbing it furiously. The bubble broadened and grew until to encased his hands, his arms, his head and shoulders. Milo pushed a little magic into it, too, and the bubble sprang up like a giant helium balloon over Nate and the apple cart. The stress disappeared from the albino’s face and he mouthed ‘thank you’ as he closed both hands over the soapstone and rested his head against the linoleum.

There was music in there, too, faint and floating, but unlike the hateful daggers pulsing from the fairies or the angry buzz of the imps, what surrounded their pet psychic was meant to soothe, comfort, those humans with special abilities but without power to shield against the rest, like normal supers. Milo’s mother was a healer, and she had made him promise to carry certain charms and stones with him when he had left home. Her rationale was more concern over the backlash from his old guild than the messes he got himself into now, but he was glad he had listened.

His friend was safe.

Milo stood up, relieved, yes, but more than a little pissed off.

“We good now?” Zeke asked.

Vince piped in right behind him. “Can we kill things now?”

Electricity crackled into growing balls that hovered in Milo’s palms. He raised his hands up. “Oh, hell yeah.”

Continue: 09

Friday, November 23, 2012

Just in time for the Holidays...


It's the end of the year as we know it, and you'll be feeling fine as you peruse this collection of "season's readings." Let It Snow! is packed to the rafters with thoughtful gifts for you to unwrap from the comfort of your cozy reading chair. After all, there's snowplace like home for the holidays! Are you ready to branch out beyond the tree'd and true? Stay inside and read and you'll be saying "Let It Snow!"

Let It Snow!
Season's Readings for a Super-Cool Yule!
Ten eclectic stories in off-beat holiday settings

A Laurents County Landfill Christmas, by Red Tash
Silent Night, by Jack Wallen
Crazed in Christmas City, by Jessica McHugh
A Manlove & Kickerdick Xmess, byAxel Howerton
The Snow Wolf's Gift, byTim Tash
A Serial Killer Christmas, by Mercedes Yardley
Old Mexia Christmas Brew, by Claudia Lefeve
The Pratty Who Saved Chrissmuss, by Marian Allen
Believe, by Connie Roberts-Huth
Hau'oli Hanukkah by T. Lee Harris

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 7 - Tamus

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 

“You going to eat that?” Milo asked. “Or are you just going to push the poor cherry pie into submission?”

“What?” Madeleine looked down at the piece of pie she had unconsciously disassembled into bites small enough for the entire fairy mound hidden in the Saguaro National Park. “Oh, that…” She laid the fork down and turned away with a shy smile. “Yeah, I just, well, I kind of just got lost in our conversation, I guess.”

He chuckled, and he pushed his own empty plate away. “It’s good to know I’m still a good storyteller.” He glanced at his wrist. “It’s really late. Do I need to let you go?”

She shook her head. “No, I am a night owl. I’m good for at least another three hours.” Milo stifled a yawn. “Though maybe I should let you go?”

It was his turn to look away. “I apologize. It’s been a really long day, and work was hell. I probably should go, but can I call you later?”

“Yeah, I would like that. Just…” Oh, how to explain? “don’t call between five in the morning and seven at night. I’m, um, usually asleep then, or working and I can’t really field calls. Night’s always better for me, anyway.” She threw her hands up in the air. “Like I said, night owl.” She gave him her biggest, most dazzling smile and another little push, a little vampire charisma.

Maybe she had been wrong about him. Maybe it really was too late and all his shielding was down out of sheer exhaustion. But this time he did not act as if he had felt it. His eyes glazed just a tiny bit, as to be expected with her charisma, but nothing else happened. “You look tired. Let me get this.”

He rubbed his eyes with one hand. “No, no, my treat. A girl should not have to buy her own pie.” He waved down their waitress who had been unnervingly attentive tonight and got the check. “Definitely my treat.” He stood up and grabbed his trench coat. “Well, until we meet again?” Milo reached out toward her with one hand.

Madeleine slid her hand into his and her breath caught, sudden and tight, in her throat. She looked down at their entangled palms, and another burst of surprise washed over her. There was magic afoot; she could feel it run from his skin to hers. Part of her wanted to be angry, but when she saw the same surprise on his face, the anger died. He had felt it, too.

She wanted to kiss him, to rip him from his clothing and have her way with him right there, and the suddenness of that want, the need of him without the secondary need to sate her hunger, left her stunned and more than a little confused. She needed to be anywhere but here right now. She needed to escape.

“Good night, Milo,” she whispered, slowly pulling her hand from his grasp.

He swallowed, hard, and nodded. “Good night, Madeleine.”

She grabbed her purse and walked past him, wings unfurling once she was outside. Into the night skies she leapt and stole away to her little house.

Madeleine loved flying. While typified Hollywood vampire lore demanded a bat form or at least leathery bat wings, she found comfort in the dark feathers. It made her feel special, since not all vampires could fly like she did, only her line and a handful of others passed on this dark gift. She loved the way the air whipped the hair from her face, pressed her purse tight against the line of her body (though she had long learned to make sure her purse was zipped closed, the contents safely secured within…nothing like raining cosmetics on the poor drunk gangsta wannabes). She loved the power in her shoulders with every pulsating flap.

But most of all, she loved the Zen of it. Her body knew the way home, and way up here, sliding through the slip streams, she could clear her thoughts and gain a newer, cleaner perspective she did not have when her feet touched the ground.

She liked Milo. Yes, the sheer chemistry was a bit unnerving, but she had to admit that it excited her more than it scared her. The crazy little voices in her head whispered furiously about the possibilities, the probability of it all going down the shitter again, how she should just forget about it, save them both the pain of it, but she pushed them aside.

She wanted to hear from him again and hoped that he really did intend to call her. Would he have asked if he had planned not to? She was not sure. The modern human male tended, at his age, to lay out an elaborate game, though if it was a conscious thought or hardwired necessity, she was not certain.

Milo, despite his age, and perhaps the added burden of his magic, seemed to not be like the others, though that might just be wistful thinking on her part. But she was not thinking forever with him, which half-surprised her (and caused a sudden, unnecessary dip in altitude), but she was thinking of him in a way that could beget such follow on thoughts.

That made her smile, and she was still smiling once her shoes touched down in her backyard.

“Madeleine,” a deep voice thrummed from the darkness.

She froze, her wings a tight feathered shield around her. “You should not be here.”

“Oh, but I am, mon ami.”

She turned toward the familiar voice, and while in her head, she whispered her denial – not there, not there, not there--from out of ivy-covered gazebo in the far corner of her yard rose a giant, black shadow. Two massive horns broke across the starlit sky above what she knew would be a bull face and human upper body that would morph in a forest of hair and giant bull hind quarters and cloven feet. He even had a tail somewhere back there.

“Tamus.”

The minotaur snorted and pawed at the ground. “It is nice to be remembered.”

“It’s hard to forget, considering who employs you. One hundred years around you leaves quite the impression.” Coy was good, disinterest was better. She folded her wings back and faced him with one hand on her hip. “How is your master these days?”

Our master fares well, mon cher, but I fear he misses you too much for his own good.”

Madeleine grimaced. No sense in arguing the ‘our’. While minotaur’s tended not to care about the subtleties of pronouns, Tamus, smarter than most of his kin, knew exactly what swapping said pronouns would do, if she let it. And if there was one thing he liked, it was watching her squirm. She was not about to give him the satisfaction.

As for the rest, well… “Lies do no become you, Tamus. Patrick does not miss me. If anything, if we must play that he misses anything to do with me, he misses my misery beneath his feet.”

He waved her off with one large hand. “Who are we to know the intent of our master? We are but minions, sworn to fealty, obedience.”

She shook her head. “Maybe you, perhaps, but me no longer. I gave that up a quarter of a century ago, and severed my bond with your master in the process. I want nothing to do with you, with Patrick, with that world and that life. I have my own now. Why must we continue to repeat this conversation every time he ‘misses’ me?”

Tamus snorted. “You cannot tell me you do not miss the court, Madeleine. There are ways to exist there, to be free there,” it was her turn to snort in derision, but he chose to ignore it, “where our master can see you and mayhap be less inclined to interfere.”

“He is not my master, you big ignorant oaf!” She stomped her foot on the ground. “And I will not be bullied at his whim! He does not want me! He has not wanted me for the past twenty-five years! Nor the last twenty-five when I held court with him! He cannot interrupt my life whenever he feels I have gotten too much of one on my own! I will not allow it! I will not stand for it! And I will no longer stand for you!”

The minotaur’s eyes glowed red. “I would not say such thing, if I were you, little vampire.” He stepped closer, and she bit back the urge to scream.

He was a massive creature, but his anger inflated his size until he towered over her like a small building. She was strong and fast for a supernatural creature, even harder to kill than most in the middle of the night, but Tamus was stronger, faster, and she was pretty sure he could break her in two over his knee with little effort.

“You owe your life to our master!” he roared in a wave of hot breath and spittle. “He picked you up from the nothingness your Maker left for you and gave you a home! A life! He showered you with gifts and freedoms! And you dared to demand more! Who gave you the right? Anyone would be grateful for what our Master had bestowed on you, yet here you remain, out of his graces, though he looks out for you still, a spoiled brat of a vampire pretending she is somehow still human.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he grabbed her by the jaw with one hand and lifted her off the ground and closer to his face. “You are vampire. Not human. Never human again. You do not deserve that life, that idle happiness, and it is unfair that you pretend so. This new one, this mage, how long until you grow weary of his humanity, of his foibles, flaws? How long before he too burns atop some pyre because you feel you have been wronged again?”

She pushed against his grasp with her hands, and he let go. Her wings caught the air and saved her a messy descent, leaving her on her feet beneath the massive beast. “There were circumstances…”

Tamus shook his head. “There always are with you. Leave the mage be, and I will do my best to keep my master at bay. Continue on this path, and I will take the necessary steps to stave your course. And you know me well enough to know how far I’ll go.”

Madeleine hung her head and her wings in defeat. “But I like him, Tamus. I really like him. It’s different this time.”
He shrank down until he was just a head taller than she was. “I cannot let you do this.”
A sudden burst of anger ate the fear away inside her. How dare he tell her what to do? How dare he threaten her? She was Madeleine du Court, by the gods, not some child. “You cannot stop me,” she whispered in the space between them.

He opened his mouth, and she raised a hand to stop him, “There are ways, Tamus, ways to keep you in the dark, to keep Patrick in a fog. The two of you cannot decide amongst yourselves with whom I can and cannot spend my time. If he has an issue with that, Patrick can come to me himself and beg me to return to him, something we both know he will never do.

“So if you are done being all nasty and scary, if your message from Patrick is thoroughly delivered, then I bid you adieu. The sun is coming, and I have better places to be than arguing with you in my backyard.”

The minotaur looked surprised. “Bold, very bold, and I will take my leave of you now, but I cannot be held responsible for what may happen next, should you continue with this impending disaster.”

“Then so be it.” She turned on her heels and walked as calmly as she could manage to her back door without a backward glance at Tamus. The air shook with magick, and she felt a portal open behind her. And in an instant, it was over. He was gone. She slammed the backdoor shut and leaned against it, sinking to the floor on the verge of tears.

She buried her face in her hands. What had she done? Would Tamus tell Patrick everything that had transpired? Would he come out here to stop her? Or had she signed her own death warrant, finally crossing that line with him? Her cell phone rang amidst the torrent of thought, and she quickly snagged it from her purse. The screen flashed.

It was Milo.

Continue: 08

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 6 - Sparks

01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05
My number is 555-555-5555. Text me. Call me. Let’s talk and take it from there.
WW
Madeleine had been staring at the small netbook screen for a good fifteen minutes, one hand tapping the touch screen of her cell phone. Calling would be a commitment. A little one, yes, but a commitment nonetheless that she was not entirely sure she wanted to make. After all, the last man she had talked to post-bonfire fun had acted like such communiqué had been an instant invitation to her bed.

She pushed aside the cell phone and the sense of giddy bubbling up inside her. How long had it been since she had been this excited about meeting someone? How much was she hoping that there really no strings attached? Two years and a thousand yeses, was that enough to get on this ride and possibly get off at disappointment again?

She rubbed her forehead and slipped down off the bar stool. She needed to think about it, to clear her head, to figure out what she wanted, if anything at all. She wandered into her bedroom, wanting to get dressed, get moving, get out of the house, maybe delight in something divinely vampire. She caught sight of her mirror and paused.

It was always curious to her how they could not be seen in reflective surfaces. Her Maker had it explained as their lack of life, how what animated them did not expend the energy necessary to force a reflection, the possibility that they, as the undead, did not have souls, such things lost sometime between a vampire’s death and rebirth. The mythos of vampirism was an amazing thing, but sometimes Madeleine would kill to just see if her hair was sticking up.

She ran her hands over the possibly offending locks. “I’m over thinking this,” she said to the empty looking glass. “It’s just a phone call. And I could hear his voice and it could grate on my ears. I mean, that would save me time, right?”

She hated that she sounded so human. Especially over another human. Surely there was a vampire or werebeast or hell, even a well-preserved ghoul out there she should try before going down this road again. She sat down on the foot of her bed and sighed.

The worst of it, the absolute worst of the entire mess was admitting that she was scared. Scared of being let down again. Scared of not being enough again. Scared of being replaced or neglected again. Betrayal, she had learned all too quickly in her undead life, did not necessary means at the hands of another woman. No, cheating just meant that her lovers’ attentions held sway elsewhere.

“I’m a big, bad ass vampire,” she muttered. “I’m not afraid of anything. I’ll call him, if I want to, because I want to.”

With that declaration out in the empty room, she busied herself with her normal beauty routine, all curling irons and product, make up and perfume. Again, a mirror would have proven most useful, but she had had good teachers back in the day who taught her how to apply each item by feel. Plus she had modern friends like Abby who would keep her from walking out in public looking like a hooker.

Madeleine grabbed her purse and stopped just before dropping her cell phone in. She walked over to the kitchen counter where her netbook still hummed with life and looked at his email again. I should put his number in my phone, she thought, just in case I want to call him while I’m out.
She typed the number in and contemplated sending him a reply, but in truth, she knew in her heart of hearts that she would give in to her curiosity and call Wasted Wraith.

Curiosity killed the cat, yes, but then again, wasn’t she already dead?

*****

What was a vampire to do in a sleepy little villa like Sierra Vista? Why, karaoke, of course! Late nights in smoky bars bored her after a century of bar brawls and notorious gangsters, but the Japanese art of singing your own cover version of popular songs enthralled her. Better yet, she had found she was rather good at it.

Sure, she loved the spotlight as much as one of her favorite literary vampires, but there was something very cathartic about dealing with your chaotic emotional angst via the Billboard hits of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and today! And the karaoke diva that she was, she even carried her own CDs with her on these little jaunts.

Tonight she had decided would be some hard 80s tributes to love. She followed up Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield” with Bon Jovi’s “(You Give Love) A Bad Name”. A little Heart’s “Alone” gave way to Sade’s “Your Love is King” and a little Atlantic Starr’s “Secret Lovers”. When she was not belting out her song list, she was chatting up the regulars who frequented the bar as often as she did.

As much fun as she was having, in the back of her mind was that tall, dark handsome stranger from cyberspace. About ten-thirty, she excused herself from the throng, signaled the karaoke dj to hold her songs with one wave of her hand, and slipped out into the cool night air.

There were a few smokers out, given the law in Arizona banning smoking inside public establishments. She stepped around them with several head nods and quiet hellos. Once she made it around the corner of the building, she pulled her cell phone out of the small space between her breasts—no need for a purse!—and tapped the screen until it lit up. Madeleine chewed on her bottom lip, that giddiness returning like so many bubbles in her stomach.

His number was there, dark characters against the bright screen. All it would take is one push of one button. “Come on, chicken shit.” She pushed the button, and the dialing icon blinked in the corner of the phone. She closed her eyes and waited.

The phone rang once, twice… “Hello?”

She exhaled as slowly and quietly as she could. His voice was like velvet against her ears. That warmth coaxed a smile from her lips. “Hi.”

“Mayhem?” Was that excitement in his voice? “Magickal Mayhem?”

“Yeah, that would be me.” She could hear a bevy of noises through the phone. “Are you busy?”

“A little—Hey!!—sorry about that, finishing up my shift. Is there anyway I can call you later?”

She bent forward, eyes on the tips of her boots, a little disappointed. “Yeah, I guess so, now that you have the number. Whenever you want.”

“Hold on, okay?” He did not wait for her, and yelled, “Hey, I’m trying to have a conversation, Nate; could you hold it down?!” She heard a flurry of apologies that slowly faded into nothingness. “Hey, Em, you still there?”

Part of the disappointment disappaited. “Yes, I am.”

“Um, I really want to talk to you, but I just can’t do it on the phone right now. Can we meet?” She sighed, and he quickly continued. “I know, I know, it’s sudden, and it’s definitely not ‘taking things slow’, like I think you really want, but I want to talk to you and I need to eat, but then I need to go to bed, so I thought…two birds, one stone…you and me…bite to eat?

“Mayhem?”

She cleared her throat. “Only if…”

“If?” His voice held a note of hope.

“Only if you tell me what your real name is.”

Wraith chuckled in her ear. “Milo. My name is Milo.”

*****

She could not remember the last time she had been to Denny’s. She did not mind the food, as little as she might ever actually eat, but the service was consistently dismal. Somewhere between slow cooks and inattentive servers, she had lost interest. Or rather, her desire to eat the entire staff and buy the restaurant to run on her own had long waned.

But her late night visit had little to do with any of those things (though she intended to keep appearances with a piece of pie), and that giddy feeling had burst into full blown butterflies. What if Wasted Wraith, er, Milo, was not what she was expecting? What if she was not what he had expected? What if the tiny little spark she had felt over the phone earlier, in her dream the day before, popped like a giant balloon and sent clouds of her brain confetti all over…

“All right, Maddie, stop being a frickin’ moron.”

She pushed through the glass double door and after a minor wait, the hostess showed her to a table. They had agreed that she would probably arrive first, given that he had expressed a desire to shower before he showed up. So she was to get table, order her drink and just wait.

Madeleine, despite all three centuries plus of existence, hated waiting.

She felt him before she saw him, as wrapped up in a crazy little video game on her phone as she was apt to do when she was bored. It started as a tingle, a tiny little trickle, she dismissed as she smashed bricks. But the tingle turned into a buzz and then a warmth that brought her eyes up from the screen to sweep across the room.

Even without the chemistry, without the pictures, she could have picked him out. Milo was more than the tall man with broad shoulders and bald head she had seen online. He had a presence about him, a quiet sort of power she had seen in older vampires and other ancient kin without being either. He was human for all intents and purposes, but he was more, and it intrigued her.

His eyes met hers, and she turned away with a hot blush. Had she been staring? More importantly, had he caught her doing so?

She pretended to futz with her phone, as he followed the hostess to their table. The hair on her arms rose, electric and alive. She forced her eyes down and enjoyed the sensation of Milo’s approach.

“You know,” he said as he slid into the booth bench across from her, “you have me at an unfair advantage. You know my name, but I do not know yours.”

She took her time meeting his eyes again. “My name…” she pushed with a little vampire power, “is Madeleine.”

Milo wiped at his arm, like he was cleaning off her push. A look of confusion crossed his face to match the curiosity in hers. Definitely human with a familiar flavor of…

“You’re a mage.”

He gave her blank face. “Am not.”

She grinned and cupped her face in one hand, elbow propped atop the table. “You are.”

He eyed her, the confusion turning to curiosity. “I am, and that would make you…?”

“Starving.” She grabbed the menu off the tabletop and hid behind it with a mischievous upturn of her lips. Two fingers snagged the top of the menu and pulled it down.

“Being elusive?” he asked.

She looked around the menu. “Mysterious, maybe?”

Milo chuckled. “I like that.”

Continue: 07

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 5 - No Gnomes Are Good Gnomes, Right?

01 | 02 | 03 | 04

Always nice when the client realizes that her construction contractors were, well, more contractors than construction. Nicer still when they figure this out without freaking out because one of them had to use a magick or shifted or any other number of crazy but necessary things.

Mrs. Gonzalez had managed to do both. Not only had she figured it all out with the boys still standing on her front porch nor had she freaked out.
In fact, she had ushered them inside and served them an amazing tea with just a lingering hint of chocolate. And there she sat in her little rocking chair, a delicately crafted pink afghan draped across her lap, waiting for Zeke to continue what he had attempted on her porch.

She was right and wrong. They were not just there to check her plumbing, but the problem lay not in the poltergeist she had assumed was her dead husband, Manny.

“Are you certain?” she asked over the brim of her teacup.

Zeke looked over at Nate, who shook his head. “No ghosties, Zekie. No ghosties, just little crunchy munchy gnomes.”

The team lead turned his attention back to their client. “If there were ghosts, Mrs. Gonzalez, he would know. It’s what he does.”

“And the gnomes?” She set the cup down on its saucer and set the duo on the coffee table between them.

That was all the in Nate needed, and Milo leaned back in his chair, ready to be amused. “Yes, yes, the gnomes are here.” His restraint was evident in the rapid thumping of his fingers against the arm rests, the chaotic rhythmic tapping of his feet against the floorboards, but he was trying. “They live in the walls, and they like to move things. Do you have things being moved a lot? Like keys and cups and small things like that?”

He did not wait for an answer and waved away the opportunity. The other team members did not even attempt to dissuade him. There would be no point, and he would not hear them anyway. No, he was on a roll. Might as well let him just get it all out.

“They’re about this big,” he gestured about a foot and a half with his hands, “with the red conical hats and beards…well, just the men. The women would look silly with beards, don’t you think? But they do look nice with the hats, the women that is, though I only have second hand knowledge of that, as I’ve never seen one in real life.”

Vince cleared his throat and gave Nate a hard look. The albino paused, cringed, cleared his own throat and continued. “Anyway, they tend to live between the walls, and well, their living there can cause issues that could be construed as poltergeist in nature. Like lights flickering, television sets and kitchen appliances going on and off. Phone’s cutting out. That kind of stuff. And if allowed to carry on, they can disrupt the integrity of the house. Kinda like giant termites. With cone hats.”

Mrs. Gonzales smoothed the top of the afghan with both hands. “And these things, these gnomes, you can get rid of them? Without getting rid of Manny?”

Nate opened his mouth, but Zeke raised a hand to stop him. “Yes, ma’am, without getting rid of Manny.”

“Well, then…” She pulled the afghan off, folded it in half, and stood up, draping it across one forearm. “I guess I will go have a Corona with my
niece, Lilia.” She did not anything else as she crossed the living room. She paused for just a minute beside Milo and laid one hand on his shoulder.
“Keep going. She’s worth it.”

*****

Gnomes were tidy creatures, as miniature horders go, but getting them out, getting them to relinquish their homes, well, that was rather messy business.

Nate was a sniffer. He found the nests, the hives, and pointed, sometimes literally so, as was the albino’s nutty way. It helped, Milo admitted, his antics, especially when they were neck deep in baddies and it looked as if that mission might be their last. Today, however, it was more an annoyance.

Being hypersensitive made touching supernatural creatures a big no-no for Nate. Their internal thought ran on a much higher frequency than normal humans, and it made his brain hurt. Big and bad enough, such contact could make his nose bleed. Increase the quantity, and well, they had had to carry him out of a minor wyvern’s layer in the Huachuca Mountains with blood seeping from every pore of his unconscious body.

No, the grabbing, snagging and tagging belonged to Victor. He had the strength for it, the speed. It was a perk of his lycanthropy. He was one of the first lycanthropes, first werewolf, Milo had met who did not consider his ‘condition’ a curse. Victor enjoyed the extras, found a way to curb the hunger and helping the rest of humanity was just icing.

Granted, it meant he could not work the three day full moon cycle--day before, day of, and the day after—but manhandling house gnomes, trolls and the occasional pissed off wyvern nest mate, he said it was a welcome trade-off. And he kind of liked having a magickal cold steel cage in his basement. The joys of working with a bunch of spell-happy magick-users.

What the werewolf snagged and tagged, Zeke nicely bagged into the silver-woven nets. Probably the most ‘normal’ of the supernaturals in the room, Zeke was a mage as well. Like Milo, yes, but in his own different way. It had been his guild who had offered Milo a place when there had been no elemental mage guild accepting applications in the state—the paranoid lot of them—and while he had been out of place among the trans-morphers, they had accepted him with open arms.

The nets spun from his fingertips, encasing each offending (and thoroughly offended) gnome in its own little ball. Each gnome ball became adhesive to another ball and only to the other balls. Maybe if they, as a whole, had gotten past their individual angst and worked together, maybe they could have made it off the coffee table. But gnomes were not much about teamwork when their little hats were stuck in silver skeins.

And well, if they had managed to come together, if they had gotten off the table, Milo’s transparent funnel of air kept them nicely in line. Easy enough work, and it did not require a sword or spear. He stayed clean, for the most part, cleaner than the troll at least, minus the occasional pouncing gnome that sought to save his or her kin. Grab, toss, net and toss…

“Score!” Zeke shouted, as one more silver bauble bounced off the air tube and landed none too gently atop the mountain.

Nate whooped and then screamed as a gnome growled and leapt from the nearest lamp shade. He raised an arm in defense and cowered. There was a yelp and a squeal, but not from the albino. Things softer than bone dripped from Vince’s clawed fingers into the space between Nate and werewolf. Milo watched the man’s eyes grow wide, the tremble of his lips, and he grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the shadow of Vince’s fist and all it contained.

“That was cool,” Nate whispered as Milo led him outside onto the porch.

And as the mage reached back into the house to drop the air tube for the other boys to dispose, Milo had to agree.

That was cool.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 4 - Day Job

01 | 02 | 03

She had not replied by the time he was ready to go. He turned off his computer, pulled on his worn, leather trench coat and stuffed a pair of his leather gauntlets into one pocket. He was aware how ‘wild west’ it made him look, but he was in the land of Tombstone, after all. Might as well blend in, right?

Milo tugged the curtains closed as he got to the door. “Have a good day, Douglas.”

“You know I won’t,” the shade sighed.

He said something else, post-sigh, but Milo had already pulled the door closed. The almost obsessive-compulsive need to start that conversation…maybe he did it to keep his roommate engaged on this plane. Maybe he did it because he needed to stay in touch with the real world, too.

It was too easy to get lost in his computer, in the depth of his day job, both so layered with differing variations in reality. And when magic can sustain you better than greasy fast food and super-powered energy drinks, the lure was far too tempting in the face of building, much less sustaining, tangible relationships with other humans, and well, when the evil alternatives—the ghosts, vampires, and weres of the world—would simply just kill you before they would think to befriend you, people like Milo tended to not want to interact at all.

He got into his car, and drove out of the parking lot. It was a bright morning in Arizona, and even at 6:30, he could already feel the heat. Another crazy hot day in August, though, as he told all his friends up north, the temperature here was five to ten degrees lower than Tucson, fifteen to twenty degrees lower than Phoenix. Between the mountains and the elevation, not to mention his ability to regulate his internal body temperature, he was rather happy to be in Sierra Vista.

It did not take long to pull into the lot of the business park. They shared the building with two other tenants—a temp agency and an orthodontist—but their signage was the smallest. In gold letters on a black granite were the words:

PRIMOGEN CONSTRUCTION You’ll think we’re magic

If their clients only knew. Milo smirked as he got out of his vehicle. The truth of the matter was not as simple. Yes, they were a construction company, specializing not in ground up builds but fixing home issues in existing structures. Broken pipes, shattered windows, sagging foundations, imps, trolls and poltergeist. You know, the normal things.

He nodded to the receptionist. Her name escaped him—Brianna, Brisa, Aubrey…no, wait, Sabrina?--, as she was the newest in a line of temps they had hired from the business next door, though she had remained the longest. But that might have something to do with the fact that she occasionally wore wings to work, carried a mini-whip on her keychain and oh, yes, she was a were-rabbit. Ahem, were-bunny. (She had corrected the entire staff late one night during a full moon when they had found a rather large white, well, bunny asleep behind her desk. Talk about surprise.)

“Mr. Goddard?” she grinned and extended one handful of phone messages.

He snagged them out of her hand. “Good morning…”

She chuckled, and in true were-fashion, those green eyes sparkled with a gold line around her iris. “Myname, Milo...” she waited until he met her eyes…good thing he was a mage, he only felt the tug of her compulsion, “is Bri.”

“Bri.”

“Good mage.” Her eyes dimmed and she turned back to her monitor with a satisfied huff.

Milo stuffed the messages in his other pocket, shook the threads of hypnotism from his brain and headed to his office. He glanced at the clock on his wall. He had a staff meeting in twenty minutes, so the boss could hand out the day’s assignments, but until then, he had time to check email, read those messages in his pocket and see if MagickalMayhem had replied.

He caught himself smiling at the thought. And more than a touch embarrassed. He hadn’t exchanged more than a few dozen words with her, and already he wanted more. Milo only hoped it was worth all this mental exercise. He had had more than his fair share of bad experiences with women who had started out interesting and relatable, and ended up shallow, high maintenance and downright ugly.

His work email was the normal blur of requests and spam, and the messages were really more of the same. He had a troll to check on behind the Walmart, a flight of fairies to relocate, the return of a drunken dwarf—oh, not a Little Person, but an honest-to-god-walked-out-of-Middle-Earth dwarf—and that did not even include whatever was brewing in his boss’s inbox.

He looked at the time in the toolbar on his computer screen. Five minutes. More than enough time to check his networking site. “She replied.” Those two words slipped out with a breath of amazement and relief. He leaned closer to the monitor as her message loaded.

Scary is good.
But before we get all cozy in a dark theater, perhaps we should meet somewhere more public, more well lit, with more of a chance to get away without the overly awkwardness of being caught in a small space together should we find our first impressions, well, unimpressive.
Let me know.

M

Milo smiled. He liked that. Her interest, or at least her curiosity, was showing, growing, even if she gave him an easy way out, something that would be honorable for them both. But if he had not wanted to meet her before, he most definitely did now. It would answer some questions and maybe get his foot farther in the door.

“Hey!” The office albino waved from the doorway with an aluminum beanie on his head. “Meeting time, dude!” He popped back into the hallway just as suddenly as he had come into the office.

The mage chuckled. Nathan Benthford, like Sabrina, was an authentic supernatural creature. The Universe had compensated for his lack of skin pigmentation with an amazing psychic sense that had admittedly been written off as functional insanity. He was not a danger to himself, nor to others, but he was definitely insane. Did not mean he wasn’t a psychic, just the voices in his head told him real things, useful things, and that allowed him to earn a pretty decent living at Primogen.

Milo hit send, logged out of the site and headed down the hallway. “Gentlemen,” he said as he entered into the conference room. Nate was doodling on a whiteboard in the back, talking to himself again, or at least the other three men in the room were not paying him any attention. Bri sat at the conference room table, pen and pad at the ready, as was her smile.

At the head of the table stood Arthur Kent, boss and owner of Primogen, so named because, well, he was probably the strongest supernatural in all of Arizona. He was also the most neutral power in the area, unless, of course, the price was right. Being a necromancer afforded him that luxury…and more than a little immortality. The company had been a side project that quickly evolved into something, well, profitable, and as Arthur had told Milo in a phone interview, “Sometimes it is about the money, but sometimes it’s about the legacy. If you want to be remembered when our bodies have gone to the worms, then make an impression now, good or bad. The rest will follow.”

He had not sent the team on any ‘evil’ missions, per se, since Milo had started with him two months ago, or at least none that were outwardly subversive to the clientele they served. If there was an ulterior motive, the mage was oblivious. Or Arthur was apt at playing those cards close to his chest. And until he knew differently, he was not about to ask.

“Nice of you to join us, Milo.” Arthur gestured toward an open chair between the his other two teammates, Vince Morrison and Zeke
Bartholomew. Vince tugged on his goatee and nodded. Zek raised his coffee mug into the air and gave a slight yet exaggerated bow. Milo slipped into the chair wordlessly. “Now that we’re all here, let’s get to it, shall we?”

*****

Old Mrs Gonzalez was a tiny Mexican woman. And not just because Milo and the team easily hovered around six feet tall each. No, she was tiny, petite, as if someone had just miniaturized her, turned her into a living doll. Not in a Little People kind of way, though. Just. Tiny.

Milo pulled another tuft of desert troll hair from his pocket. Their last job was not a difficult one, a minor relocation of a creature who had long wandered from the bridge of his early years. But trying to stuff a senile troll into their truck, who was rather intermittently certain that their intent involved a large, bubbling cauldron and a comparable spoon was not without its own issues. Hence the hair every where.

My kingdom for a lint brush, Milo thought as he stood at the bottom of their client’s porch.

Zeke was doing his best to try to explain to her what they were going to do, but it was really hard to hold anyone’s attention when there was an albino present. Much less an albino with the attention span and running mouth of a ten year old hyped up on sugar.

Mrs. Gonzalez simply could not stop watching, nodding occasionally for Zeke’s pauses, but she was not listening. No way, no how.

“Nate,” Milo coughed in his fist.

The very white man in his very black trench coat did not hear him. No, he was talking, loud and clear as day, to the saguaro cactus by their client’s front porch. “You’ve seen them, haven’t you? Roaming around, peeking through windows? It’s okay. You can tell me. Are they wearing little red hats?” He accidently leaned too close, his hot hand—so named because it was the one he used to detect invisible supernatural creatures versus his cold hand that found all the ghosts either not strong enough to manifest or more than strong enough but choosing not to—snagged against the prickly spikes and drew blood. He stuck the offended finger into his mouth. “No need to be rude,” he muttered around the digit.

Milo smelled the blood without having to see the bright redness blooming against Nate’s skin, but Vince’s head perked up from his position near Zeke. He pushed away from the porch post and looked around.

The air shimmered with a supernatural pulse, like silver and gold waves of oil on top of water. The mundane folks would not feel it. The slightly sensitive would feel the hair rise on their arms, the backs of their necks, but shrug it off. But Nate whimpered and held the hand in Milo’s general direction.

A flicker of fingers and one small word of power magically stitched the wound closed, not quite healed, but good enough for now, with the added bonus of hiding the heat and the scent. Vince rubbed at his mouth with one hand and nodded his gratitude. There were just some powers that did not need to be revealed in the bright afternoon sun. In front of strangers. Strangers like Mrs. Gonzalez, who put her hands on her diminutive hips and looked down the line of them.

“You’re not here just to check my plumbing, are you?”

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 3 - Opportunity Knocking

01 | 02

Milo Goddard, aka WastedWraith, chuckled at the woman’s response. Her obvious want to push him away, to disinterest him, had ended with a less subtle hook. Whereas she already held his attention the moment he had wandered onto her profile, he seemed to be slowly wiggling into her good graces.

He understood her paranoia, as so many of his friends had been that guy--the one that was interested solely in cybersex and naked webcam girls—but he had been there, done that and set that t-shirt on fire. Hell, one of the reasons he had bothered chatting her up in the first place was the impression he got from her profile that she was not that girl—the one that would ‘entertain’ his friends online or in person.

Yes, she was older, eight years so even, but he could care less. In fact, he really liked the idea of an older woman. He had, quite plainly, had enough of the women in his own peer group, the whiny, high maintenance, insecure lot of them. He wanted a partner, not a dependent.

So, yes, he was a little disappointed that her interest had faded to a handshake, that friendly but safely distant gesture. Yet she had cracked that door, that opportunity, open just enough that he was certain he could get her to change her mind.

A cold shiver rode up his spine, and Milo looked away from his computer screen. “Douglas, what have I told you about reading over my shoulders?”

“It’ll never work out,” the pale shadow moaned. He tilted his head and let out a low, sad sigh. “It never works out…she is just like all the rest…”

Milo waved him off. “You don’t know her. Hell, I don’t know her yet.”

The shade shook his head and flowed like a bulbous fog across the carpet in their apartment, pouring back into shape in the small kitchenette. He sighed again, the soft sound morphing into a moan. “Milo…there isn’t a woman out there who will love people like us for who we are…” a coffee cup hovered, tilted and turned into a dish cloth, with another litany of depressive moans, “all we can do is try…all we can give…all we can…”

“Oh, shut it already, Douglas. Don’t you have better things to do? I mean, what shade does dishes?”

The moaning began again, but Milo slipped on his headphones, cranked up a little metal, and went back to his network site. What to say to her now? She wasn’t a damsel in distress, no, that was rather clearly not the case here. She definitely knew who she was, or at least who she was right now.

She was pretty, a touch of Asian that could easily pass for Mexican here in Arizona, or even Navajo. Dark hair, dark eyes, a touch pale, but given her hobbies and favorite things, more geek than sun worshipper was to be expected. There was something about her, beyond the face, beyond the smile, that held his interest beyond the initial hook.

A cool hand drifted through his shoulder. Milo looked up again, and Douglas had done a better job of solidifying his shape. His features were more detailed, and he even blinked, once or twice, before the smoky slit of his mouth moved again. “The neighbors are going to notice.”

“Notice what?” Milo asked.

The shade exhaled a breath of smoke that distorted the other parts of his face. “The lights. You’re glowing again. It hurts my eyes.” And he drifted off to the darker corners of their living space.

Not completely true, Milo noted as he glanced at the nearby mirror. Just his head was glowing, the colors bouncing in the semi-dark of the living room to the beat of the music still coursing from his headphones. He pressed the mute button and watched as the room darkened, the colors faded and all that remained was the glow from his monitor.

I must be more tired than I thought. Awake, refreshed, he could have prevented such a slip, and the neighbors across the courtyard in the complex would not be wondering if he had a strobe light going in his apartment. Douglas had drifted back, most comfortable in the inky blackness, into the kitchen to the soothing sound of clinking dishes and running water.

Milo turned his computer off, leaned back in his computer chair and ran a hand over his bald head. It could not have been a good life, going from human to shade, but necromancers did not get the courtesy of becoming ghosts when they died, much less when they were devoured by ravenous harpy demons. All that bulging fat, stringy blonde hair, sharp-toothed maw…

The mage shuddered. There had been no saving him. No, Douglas had chosen death at her taloned hands as penance for summoning her forth in a hastily made circle of protection. One death to send her back, or set her loose upon the unprepared masses. Hence his choice and current state. However, since he enacted such black magic in this apartment—without asking Milo first, he had to add—he was stuck here. And here he would stay until the end of time. No Heaven. No beyond. Just this.

Milo could only hope there would enough water, dirty dishes and dish soap to last the rest of eternity.

*****

The apartment was quiet, though his thoughts swirled in chaos. Douglas had long faded—literally—into the woodwork, the perpetual wallflower. Shades, they had discovered, shared one similarity with their fanged supernatural distant cousins: sunlight was verboten. And with dawn coming all too soon for Milo’s apparent insomnia, his friend preferred the cool darkness inside the walls.

He had tried to go to sleep, but he could feel a change coming. Sure, it was a new town, he had a new job, and that alone added to his almost giddy anticipation, but underneath it all, there was a current of something else altogether. A sudden surge of raw energy? A merging of magics? A fluxuation in the balance of the five elements?

All of it seemed to be tied to that woman he was talking to online, if you could count their meager emails a conversation. Speaking of which…He got out of bed with a resigned sigh. If he could not sleep, he might as well make use of his current mental state and reply to the woman’s message.

Milo stepped quietly out into the living room and opened the curtains. No sense in rousing his roommate. He grabbed a coffee energy drink out of the fridge and sat down in front of his computer. He popped open the can as the machine booted up, the tower’s interior LED light coloring his socks blue, and drained the entire contents. Extra caffeine always muted the outward appearance of his powers somehow, and while the sun was rising right into his windows, no sense in giving anyone a light show.

“What to say, what to say?” he muttered as he clicked his way through his browser to the networking site. He reread her last response and pondered his words. He had to be careful. Come on too strong, and she was going to write him off. Come off too passive, too blasé, and she was, well, going to write him off. How to sound interested in the proffered friendship without sounding too eager to push to something further?

The mage grinned and hit ‘reply’. Might as well continue with what was working for him.

M,
Friendship sounds good. What kind of movies do you like?
WW

Short and sweet, it left very little room for over analysis, or alternately more than enough room to keep her interest piqued and her emails coming. Sounded like a good enough plan to him. His little bout of pride was splintered as his cell phone sounded an alarm in his pajama pants pocket.

Time to get up.

He stretched his neck out, left and right, popping the bones with a satisfying crunch. Might as well get ready for work. He wiggled a finger at the coffee pot as he walked back to his bedroom, and the toggle flipped down and glowed red. Such a tiny expenditure of power for such wonderful results. He hopped into the shower, and as the water flowed hot and heavy over his head, he caught himself hoping that she answered before he headed out for the day.

Now, Milo did not believe in love at first sight, much less love at first picture, and to even suggest somewhere in his inner torment such a thing might exist, well, that was ludicrous. But as much effort as he was putting in to snag her, he had to admit he was equally intrigued.

There was that chance, he was aware, that she wasn’t the woman in the photo. Not so much the bait and switch photo scam, but maybe the ‘this is a picture of me when I was in my late teens, early twenties, but now I’m a giant behemoth with twelve kids living in a shack somewhere in Fry Town’ schtick? Though if he was right at all about the Asian thing, she probably looked pretty much like she did back then.

Plus, it was not as if she had tried to snag him. No cougar cries for attention. No, MagickalMayhem—her handle on the site—seemed to be very much WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get. And that just added to her appeal. No games, no drama, just laid out there for public purview.

He liked that.

“You’re going to be late…” Douglas’s voice interrupted his thoughts as he wrapped a towel around his waist.

“Douglas…”

The shade sighed. “Oh, I’m not even looking. Not that I would want to look. No sense in reminding myself of what else I lost. Or how much bigger you continue to be.” His groaning faded away.

Milo laughed and walked out of the bathroom.

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