Under the Bright Lights

Monkey Kitty
Posts: 657
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Colin McDermott
Two Days Earlier


The hooded, robed figures crowded around the the dais in a cavernous hall, guttering candles their only thin source of illumination.

Looking closer at the room they stood in, one would recognize the gym of Hollywell High School, empty of students in the late evening, with a sign that read School Board Meeting in Progress - Authorized Entry Only tacked to the front doors to discourage the curious, just in case.

Three figures stood on the dais; the one in the center at the podium began to speak.

"My brothers, I have gathered you here tonight due to our desperate need."

The word 'brothers' was used a little loosely - there were a handful of female shapes veiled in the robes - but most of the audience was indeed of the male persuasion.

"Doom has come upon this island. The arrival of a demon, bent on destruction of this town, then of the world itself. Already, this creature worms itself into the minds of the populace, and we must fight back with every weapon at our disposal. And that - those weapons - that is why we are here tonight."

There was a faint murmur of approbation, but no surprise. Everyone present knew full well the reason they had been summoned from their far-flung homes to this little rock in the ocean. Their leader's words were mere theater - but it was the expected theater, and they welcomed it.

The leader gestured the tables to the left and right of him, covered with white sheets. With a flourish, his comrades pulled the sheets back, revealing what could only be described as mummies. They were the cadavers of what had clearly been old men at the times of their death, now rendered dry and leathery and ancient by the many years that had passed.

"Behold, my brothers, the bodies of the Iron Knights, the pillars and heroes of our Order. Praise them for their sacrifices in life, and the promises they made even unto death."

After allowing the praise he had solicited to occur for a moment, the leader continued. "Many in our Order have shunned magecraft, believing it to be solely the evil workings of Fae and demons. But tonight I tell you, my brethren, that this was a mistake. Why cede these powerful tools to the enemy to use against us? Instead, we will take them up and turn them against their creators, as our Iron Knights instructed us so many years ago. Mage - are you prepared to perform this ritual when the time is right?"

A figure in the front row shoved her hood back, revealing tawny blonde hair with 90's style frosted highlights, flawless makeup, and perfectly straight white teeth. Those who had been involved in the fight on Longhome Island recognized her as the mage who had introduced herself as Candy. "Sure," she said, and flashed two thumbs up. "No probleemo!"

The leader was briefly stalled by this breach of protocol, and Candy took advantage of his stunned silence to go on, "I'm actually pretty great at necromancy and all this death magic crap. Excuse me, uh... this death magic stuff. See, I was with this guy who was really into young chicks. I mean I'm not judging. I'm actually super open-minded. So anyway, once the girls passed I got their corpses to work with, and it was super duper helpful for me because I could practice all that stuff and I got really good at it. So I can toooootally do your ritual. Like, in my sleep. Hakuna matata, yeah?"

The crowd regarded the blonde mage in stunned silence, not sure how to react to the chipper way she had dropped the fact that her ex was a serial killer, immediately followed by the revelation that she had used the victims' corpses to practice her necromancy skills.

The leader recovered fastest. "Uh... thank you for your service, Sister Candy. Your contribution will be greatly rewarded in this world and the next."

Candy waved a perfectly manicured hand. A pattern of tiny, immaculate polka dots decorated each purple-painted nail. "Aw, don't mention it. But since you bring it up, my plane ticket here was expensive, so if you could--"

Diplomatically pretending her hadn't heard her, the leader pushed on, "Brother Colin, are you and your son prepared for your part in the ritual? Are you prepared to take up the mantle of your bloodline and fulfill the oath-sworn purpose of your ancestors?"

All heads now turned to Colin McDermott, who shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Uh. I am. But Elijah. Uhhh. He may need a little more time."

"Brother Colin!" the leader's voice became louder, commanding. "We have no time. The demon has already arrived. We must fight him with everything we have, immediately, before it is too late."

"Look, I'll convince Elijah. But there has been a small... delay."

The room was silent for a moment. Then Candy piped up, "Oh, yeah, didn't you like... lose custody of him or something? Because he was, you know." She dropped her voice, then spelled out as if trying to hide her words from a small child. "G-A-Y?"

"None of this is my fault," Colin replied petulantly. "You know how these kids are. Too much time on the internet. It gives them... ideas. The demon got to him already. I thought I was just signing him up for therapy. Like you're supposed to. How was I supposed to know I was handing him straight into the demon's clutches, turning him into some kind of... homosexual. But he's just a kid. He doesn't even know who he is or what he wants. I'll make him change. I'll beat this out of him, I swear. But I need more time..."

The leader shook his head. "Time is exactly what we do not have, Brother Colin, or more children will fall to the demon as Elijah has. We cannot risk the creation of an Iron Knight who is... tainted. We must have a substitute. Another of your ancestral bloodline."

Even beneath his hood, Colin's doubt was apparent. "Well, of my bloodline? We're adopted, so there's only Declan, and he'd never agree to it in a million years."

Unfazed, the leader replied, "His agreement is unnecessary."

"But he isn't any less tainted! He's sleeping with a goddamn Fae..."

"Such surface level impurities can be... eliminated, with the right application of pressure. Bring your brother to us. Together you two will fulfill the purpose that is your destiny."
Quaxo9
Posts: 1100
Joined: Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:33 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Quaxo9 »

Riff

Riff's face showed his every emotion through Declan's tale - from being grateful for the coffee, sadness over the events that had led to Declan's injuries, shock - then relief - for any musician realizes the importance of one's favourite guitar, squinting suspicion, the verge of outrage and finally puzzlement. He gave his head a shake as though that was the only thing that could reset his face. The resulting emotion was one of deep thought. Riff pulled up one of his legs onto the seat and started fiddling with a salt shaker.

"If it is Cold Iron - the only reason for them to wreck your stuff now would be...if they didn't want you to go to Switzerland. I mean, nothing happened until you announced the tour was back on, right? It can't be a coincidence. Maybe...maybe you should make the trip anyway. Just to psych them out!"

Riff wasn't totally sure about his last piece of advice, but he had a feeling that he wasn't wrong about the first bit. Still...on to the other problem.

"Have they tried...cutting the tree down? Maybe they could just...move it if it wasn't attached anymore? To the roots? Y'know?"

Pepper was doing her best to be a good dog and right now, that meant paying attention when her current person couldn't. She smelled that the guy behind the counter wasn't human and sat and stared at him. If he looked at her, she'd give him a little "wuf" just to let him know that she knew.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 657
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Declan McDermott

"Taking the trip anyway kind of isn't optional," Declan said, a hint of anxiety creeping into his voice. "We have arrangements, contracts - the venues have all been really great about the delays, but we can't just flake out. We have to be there. So if they were trying to stop us, it isn't going to work. If they were trying to slow us down, though, make us leave later... well, we don't have much choice. We can't do the tour without any of our equipment and only the instruments we took home as carry-ons. Not sure if these weirdos would know we can't just cancel, though. Maybe they think we'll just throw in the towel after this? I guess we'll just have to be careful and keep an eye out for whatever they have planned."

He shrugged when Riff asked about cutting down the trees. "Uh... no idea. That's not really my area. You could suggest it to Ellen..."

Something caught Declan's attention, and he glanced over at the coffee counter. "I think that guy is afraid of your dog," he said.

It was not Pepper, however, who had actually scared the young man making the coffee beverages. Rather, the dog's presence had sufficiently distracted the Lycan's attention from his work that he became aware of the entirety of his surroundings again - including the presence of another, older werewolf. And now he was trying to beat a hasty retreat.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 657
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Longhome Island
Earlier that Morning


Ellen was troubled. She was sure Nick was too, but he wasn’t showing it - unlike her. She couldn’t quite keep the frown from furrowing her brow. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “How could they get past the wards again?”

Nick shrugged, just as perplexed. As dramatically as the intruders had blown apart their defenses to invade recently, all had appeared calm since. No more chaotic assaults. No more magical disturbances. So how had someone infiltrated their territory again to mark and empower runes on their trees?

Yet that had undeniably happened, as reported by a couple of teens from the tribe who had gone down to the orchard to pick apples by the light of early morning.

“Our wards, and the tribe’s, and the forest folk… there should be no way…?” She was talking more to herself than to Nick. If he had any more idea than she did, he would have volunteered the information rather than just leaving her to stew about it. “Well, I’m going to check it out.”

“I’ll come too,” Nick offered immediately.

But Ellen shook her head. “We shouldn’t both leave the kids. Not when we’re not sure what’s going on. As soon as I find the runes, I’ll text you a picture and see what you think.”

She did text Nick - frowning more deeply as she snapped shots of the offending carvings - and decided to text some of their new friends for good measure. As she was in the process of hitting the send button on the group text, though, her phone died abruptly. Immediately, alarm bells rang in her head. That shouldn’t have happened. A normal phone wouldn’t have service on the island, and might malfunction entirely, but hers was magically attuned to work despite the island’s frequencies. It could be a normal technical glitch, of course. With everything going on, though, Ellen was not so quick to accept that her connection to home had been suddenly severed completely by chance.

As it turned out, she was right to be wary. As Ellen’s hands balled into fists - hands crackling with electricity, ready to throw magical charges, not punches - she spotted three other mages concealed in the woods, assuming offensive positions even as she raised her defenses.

The fight was rapid and furious, and almost immediately turned in Ellen’s favor. She pressed her advantage, as they retreated further into the woods… and again, alarm bells started to ring.

It was too fast. Too easy. They outnumbered her. They weren’t fighting hard enough. They shouldn’t be losing. They shouldn’t be running…

Belatedly, it dawned on her.

The other mages weren’t trying to win.

They weren’t retreating. They weren’t running. They were leading her, very deliberately, away from the house. Away from Nick and the kids.

Ellen spun on her heel, ignoring the few bursts of energy that bounced relatively harmlessly off her shoulders and back, trying to provoke her into a renewed confrontation. She wasn’t going to take the bait again. As fast she could, Ellen ran for home.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 657
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Hollywell
The Same Day


“Your corpses are annoying.”

Candy shrugged off the insult. “WhatEVER. They’re useful.”

“The one always screaming in the closet…”

“Hasn’t been so bad since we gagged her–”

“And they smell…”

“Stop whining. Two of them aren’t even here right now.” Candy blew a bubble with her gum, and popped it neatly. “And this is our way in. No one else had any ideas for how to crack the wards on that stupid farmhouse. No one but me. It worked like a charm.” Petulantly, she added, “You’re welcome.”

The other mage couldn’t exactly refute this. “Well, when this is all over and you get the other two back, you’re getting rid of the loud one. You don’t need all three.”

“You can’t make me,” Candy said. As her fellow mage turned away, she stuck out her tongue at him behind his back.

***

For all her confident talk, though, Candy knew she needed a backup plan.

The Cold Iron Brotherhood were zealots. Zealots had their benefits, of course - they were focused, determined, predictable. But it was also a weakness, a brittleness that could easily be turned against them.

Candy was not a zealot by any possible definition of the term. She would work for money, for security, for praise, for attention… but never for ideology, at least not her own. She was a careful student of which way the wind was blowing, and would happily pivot to make sure it was always blowing in a favorable direction for her. Candy didn’t care in the slightest about the Fae. Her beef with Nick Greenway was purely personal. She needed a backup plan so that if the Brotherhood won or lost, her own bets were hedged and she was still attached to the victorious side.

Attaching herself to Nick Greenway himself was a non-starter. She had tried that before, and it had ended in humiliation - not even with an apologetic deflection that he wished he could if it weren’t for Ellen, but with a firm declaration that not only was he happily married, he had no romantic interest in Candy and her attentions were entirely unwelcome even had it not been for the complication of a wife. Candy wasn’t used to being told no by men, and the rejection still rankled.

She had claimed, at the time, that she had gone after Nick because she was jealous of what Ellen had. But while Candy had maintained that lie to everyone else, she couldn’t quite convince herself to believe it. If she was truthful with herself, Candy found the whole idea of Ellen’s life mind-numbingly dull. The peaceful existence in the tastefully renovated old farmhouse, the dutiful husband, the flock of adoring kids, the expected human services job - the perfect wife, mother, and advocate for the downtrodden. The thought of it made Candy want to throw up. No, she had imagined life with a different Nick. A dark, passionate, dangerous Nick - the demon lover, violent, tempestuous with the whims of seduction and murder and everything in between. And then, like a splash of cold water, Candy had realized that despite his hellish ancestry, that Nick didn’t actually exist outside her fantasies. He was just as conventional and boring as his angelic wife.

Not everyone else knew that yet, though, and Candy could use it to her advantage. Miscalculation with Nick aside, she still had a way with men. She just needed to pick the right one next time.

There were two kinds of men Candy sought out for her romantic liaisons. The kind she was actually attracted to - frightening men, men addicted to causing pain and sowing destruction, men who made her shiver but feel alive as she watched the torture they inflicted on innocent flesh, even as her own flesh trembled with longing and passion for them. Then there was the second kind - the white knights, safe and protective, for whom Candy felt nothing but could pretend it to obtain the security they provided, who were always so eager to imagine her as a damsel in distress and rescue her. Finding a lust partner could wait; right now, she was in desperate need of the second type.

It didn’t take her long to latch onto a likely category of candidates: the local Lycans. Do-gooders, it seemed - and Candy was very good at being what that sort of man wanted… or at least pretending to be.

It couldn’t be someone too smart, though. Not this time, when there would be… complications, potentially. Not only would she have to talk her own way into being sheltered by him, but if all went well, she would have to explain the presence of three very ungrateful and disobedient corpses.

It didn’t take Candy long to identify a potential mark. A Lycan possessing a basically good heart, a clouded brain, a desire to help others, and shockingly poor judgment. In other words, one Mr. James O’Brien.

***

Kiki liked living at the farmhouse with the Greenways. Not that she could express it yet - she still couldn’t talk - but she was getting closer to it even in the short time that had passed. To her own surprise, her decaying and deteriorated body was starting to heal. It wasn’t just that, though. Being here felt like a respite. It was peaceful. She liked to watch the white linen curtains of her room move in the slight breeze; it was a simple thing, so small, but it had been so long since she’d had anything to cherish.

The first task she set for herself was to figure this family out. The parents, Ellen and Nick. Four children at home - although the boys’ skin was dark and the girl’s was as pale as a sheet of paper, they were unmistakably siblings, with the expected mix of banter, squabbling, and love. Kiki quickly realized there were other children too, grown now and living away from home, but still present in family pictures and with phone calls, texts, messaged pictures, video chats… a large family still intact, even living in separate places, something Kiki had never seen before.

She memorized their names and faces. Ellen and Nick. At home, Matt, Zeke, Seraphina, Ben. On the phone and the computer screen, Lia, Tameka, Maeve, Sharon, Sashi.

Kiki repeated their names over and over in her head so she wouldn’t forget any of them, and sometimes silently added her own. After all, she told herself, at least for now she lived here too, so there was nothing to stop her from pretending she was one of them. That she belonged.

***

Candy bought a box of hair dye and carefully touched up her roots. She applied her makeup with precision, adding just a touch of non-waterproof mascara to her lashes that she could cry off to look fragile without marring the lovely effect. After regarding herself approvingly in the mirror, she opened the door of her closet and began rooting around, pulling out a pink sweater.

“Hm, I don’t know,” she said. “Pink? Or white? The pink one has a little stain on the hem. D’you think he’d notice? The white probably sends a better message, anyway.”

She reached for the white sweater, briefly locking her gaze with the wide, glassy stare of brown eyes.

“You aren’t being very helpful,” Candy commented petulantly. She turned around to regard her bottom in the mirror, shapely as always in her jeans. “You could at least give an opinion. Pink or white?”

The girl locked in the closet couldn’t speak - not gagged as she was, to save the others the annoyance of her screams. Candy had learned to tune all that out long ago.

Candy helpfully held up the two sweaters in turn, but the girl’s eyes stayed locked on Candy’s face, ignoring the garments being waved at her. Her whole body trembled, and she gasped audibly around the gag.

Candy frowned. “You’re really ungrateful, you know that? Spoiled. You think your life is so bad? Everyone has problems.”

The girl started to hyperventilate, pulling back to try to get as far from Candy as possible in the cramped space of her makeshift prison.

“Like, did you ever think how hard things are for me?” Candy was on a roll now, the sweaters in her hands all but forgotten. “I had dreams too, you know. All these dreams. I was going to open my own business. Don’t you think I’d be super good at that? But I never got to. And my marriage didn’t work out. It all fell apart because of worthless little tarts like you. Literal jailbait. I think you really owe me an apology. D’you ever think about that? You know what it’s like to go to jail? It was awful. And now I’m stuck with you, and you won’t even do what you’re told. You never even thank me for anything I do for you. You’re just a stuck up little teenage brat. And you’d better work on your attitude if you don’t want to end up back in the dirt.”

Candy slammed the closet door shut with a huff. She took a moment to compose herself, pulled on the white sweater, admired herself one last time in the mirror, then went to seek out her mark.

***

Candy positioned herself in the hardware store aisle, just within the Lycan’s peripheral vision; she had no doubt that she was well in range of hypersensitive werewolf hearing, too. She sighed, and then gave a little sob.

She waited a beat, then looked over.

James was not moving. He was looking at her, but just shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, not rushing to intervene. What was wrong with him? Didn’t he see a beautiful woman crying?

Candy inhaled sharply, sniffled, then sobbed again, more loudly this time.

Finally, she had introduced sufficient social obligation into the situation, and James hesitantly approached.

“Uh. ‘Scuse me, Miss. Anything wrong?”

It was all Candy could do not to roll her eyes. No, she was just crying in a store aisle for fun. Of course something was wrong!

“I don’t mean to bother you.” Candy averted her eyes demurely and dabbed at her fairly dry cheeks with a tissue. “I just… There's a lot going on and I’m really alone and scared right now. I don’t know what to do. I didn’t think anyone cared.”

And just like that, James started getting pulled in.

They sat at a quiet corner booth in the diner, and Candy poured her heart out. Or at least what James would think was her heart.

“There’s a demon after me,” Candy said, making sure to load the word with the drama it deserved.

“A demon? Those are real?”

“Yes, but anyway–”

“Are you sure? Because we heard about it from the nuns at Catholic school back when I was a kid, but even ever since I’ve gotten mixed up some of the weirdest stuff you can imagine, I’ve never heard of–”

“Look,” Candy said shortly, then forced herself to take a breath and calm her tone. She was annoyed to have her little prepared speech interrupted, but James was still her best shot. “Look,” she repeated more gently, more sweetly. “Let’s not get hung up on the word choice. Call him what you want. A demon. An extraplanar whatever. A being from the lower realms. The point is, I got on his bad side, and now I’m trying to run, but he keeps following me. Everywhere I turn. I can’t get away from him. I’m afraid he’s going to kill me. He’s threatened to, and one of these days he’ll catch up to me.”

James looked concerned. But not - Candy noted - quite yet thoroughly sold. “You seem like a nice lady. How exactly did you get on this guy’s bad side?”

Candy had anticipated this question, and she was thoroughly prepared for it. “He… he took my sister.”

James frowned. “Kidnapped her?”

But Candy shook her head. Yes, that would be a very convenient lie - but it was too easily disproved. One look at Ellen would invalidate the idea that she might be some frightened princess locked in a dungeon.

“No,” Candy said miserably. “Even worse. He messed with her mind. Got inside her head. Made her think she loved him. My sister is very fragile. She has always been very mentally disturbed. This monster saw how vulnerable she was, and wormed his way into her heart.”

Candy upended her purse on the table, shoving a pile of ‘evidence’ in front of his face in rapid succession, giving him just enough time to glance at it but not enough time to read it thoroughly. A lengthy foster care file detailing years of abuse and neglect, young Ellen briefly adopted and then quickly returned, a parade of allegations, teenage years spent moving from group home to group home. A police report, naming the now-adult Ellen Latimer as the victim in a domestic violence case. Medical records of a suicide attempt, a month in a psychiatric hospital. A couple of recent prescription slips, apparently fished out of the trash, for antidepressants for Ellen Greenway.

James blew out his breath in a shocked whistle. “Yikes. Where the hell’d you get all this?”

“That’s not important,” Candy assured him, breezing past the question. “As you can see, my sister has had a terrible life. Exactly the kind of person a demon would seek out and take advantage of. Wouldn’t you think?”

“Uh… yeah, I guess so,” James said. His eyes kept flicking back to the records, to the graphic descriptions of childhood traumas.

Candy grabbed the files abruptly and shoved them back in her purse. They had wasted far too much time feeling sorry for Ellen. Today was supposed to be about Candy, not her.

“I tried to rescue her,” Candy said plaintively. “And now I have a target on my back. I have nowhere to go. No one to protect me.” She stared up at James through her eyelashes.

James was about to say something - but then he looked closer. “Hey,” he said instead. “Didn’t I see you on the news?”

Candy sighed internally. She had hoped to avoid this part. Apparently James was more with it on current events than she had realized.

“Yeah. I was. It was all…” She put her hand over his, where it rested on the tabletop. James looked startled, but didn’t pull away. Candy continued. “It was all so horrible. I was young. I was naive. I fell for the wrong guy. He was so sweet to me. I loved him so much. But he had this secret hidden life. When I found out, I wanted to go straight to the police, but he said he’d kill me. That he’d plant evidence so if anything happened, I’d go down with him. I was so scared. I tried to get away, but I couldn’t. Then eventually he got caught, and he did what he threatened. The court believed him, not me. It was awful, just the worst…”

Candy started to cry, letting the tears roll down her cheeks and her shoulders shake. James squeezed her hand. Her hair had fallen forward over her face, so he didn’t see the momentary smile.

Got him, she thought. James was hooked.

They talked for an hour that first time. An hour of Candy being fragile and grateful, sweet and charming. Of James increasingly imagining himself as her hero, the man who would save her from the cruel forces threatening her from every side.

“There’s just one more thing,” Candy said as they parted outside the cafe. She had declined being walked home - ostensibly out of demure propriety, but in reality because her current living situation surrounded by other mages and the Cold Iron Brotherhood would be a little hard to explain in light of her being all alone in the world and all. “My ex that I told you about - he didn’t just murder those girls. He was experimenting on raising their corpses, too. It was just awful. I always hoped for their sake it wouldn’t work. But he managed to keep three of them alive. I went back and rescued them from him.”

“Wow,” James said, enthralled. “That was so brave of you.”

Candy accepted the compliment graciously. “I just wanted to help. And they were so grateful. They thanked me all the time. ‘Oh, Candy, we’re so grateful! Thank you for saving us! We owe you everything!’ We were one big happy family. But then the demon got to them too. Broke into their minds. Now the girls are… confused. They see enemies everywhere. They don’t trust anyone. Not even me. They don’t understand that people are trying to help them. They mistake everyone for… you know, for him. For my ex.”

“That sounds really hard,” James sympathized.

“It is,” Candy agreed. “But we can help them. Together. We just have to stop the demon, and once he’s gone, everything will be right again.”

“Together,” James agreed, starry-eyed.
Monkey Kitty
Posts: 657
Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Old Orchard Farm
Longhome Island


“Hey.”

Kiki, seated at the kitchen table, looked up to see Zeke Greenway had entered the room. Zeke was in a gawky teenage phase, still trying to figure out how to maneuver his new height and long limbs, but his smile was warm and infectious.

“Hey. I brought you something. I found it in the woods.”

Zeke motioned for Kiki to put her hand out, and he dropped something in her palm. It was a smooth, perfect, round stone, no bigger than the first joint of her thumb.

“Same color as your curtains,” Zeke explained. “I know you like them. So I thought you’d like this too.”

Kiki was overcome with emotion. Her throat tightened - not that she could speak anyway. Her eyes moistened. He had thought of her. When he and the other kids were playing out in the woods, he had seen something that reminded him of her, remembered her preferences and acted on them. She tried to thank him, tried desperately, but the words just wouldn’t come.

“You’re welcome,” Zeke said, and smiled again, before disappearing down the hallway in search of his crossword puzzle book.

For that moment, everything seemed perfect. But it wouldn’t be long before it fell apart.

Kiki was still sitting in the kitchen. Nick was washing the lunch dishes; Seraphina was drying. Nick said something, Seraphina laughed - then abruptly, all the windows and doors blew open.

“What the–?” But Nick wouldn’t have time to finish that thought. The wards that he and Ellen had been worried about abruptly broke, and suddenly there were multiple stranger mages standing in their kitchen.

This shouldn’t be possible, Nick thought frantically. How did this happen? They should never have been able to get into the house…

“Surrender, demon!” One of the mages demanded.

Nick had no intention of doing that. They might be powerful, but so was he, and he fully intended to fight back against the invasion of his home.

That thought was quickly dispelled, however. One of the mages had grabbed Seraphina and was holding her by the throat, and the other had lifted Kiki from her chair and dragged her to the other side of the room. Seraphina screamed. Kiki was silent as always, turning the small stone in her hand over and over for comfort. Nick looked back and forth between them, and the fire that had been playing at the ends of his fingertips dissipated. He couldn’t get to them both at once; attacking either captor would lead to the loss of the other girl.

“Fine,” Nick said, putting his hands up. “You win. I surrender.”

“If this is a trick…”

“What choice do I have?” Nick allowed them to grab him roughly by both arms. The mages were taking no chances - several of them maintained a grip on either side, and started herding him toward the door. “Wait!” he said. “You don’t need more than one hostage. You have me. Let the girls go.”

The mage who seemed to be their spokesperson shook his head. “I don’t think so. If we let them go, you’ll have no incentive to behave. Consider them an insurance policy. If you want them to keep their skulls and limbs intact, you’ll do everything we say.”

Nick had no way to rescue the girls. No way to free himself without getting them hurt - or worse. For now, there was no choice but to cooperate.

His sons were somewhere in the house. All he could do was hope they were safe and well clear of this; any attempt to make sure of that would only draw attention to their presence and endanger them. Nor was there anything Nick could do to warn Ellen.

He took the only option still open to him. Nick concentrated on leaving a strong psychic impression, imprinting his memory of the scene and his emotions on the walls of their home. That way, at least Ellen would know what had happened, and help would be on its way.

***

Before she could even see the house, Ellen could sense something was wrong. Was it supernatural, or just her own anxiety, her brain reading the clues she had seen and the deductions she had already made? It didn’t matter, ultimately. She was right. She knew as soon as she saw the house, the windows broken or forced from their frames, all the doors open, one door hanging sadly half off its hinge. This was no accident, no gust of wind. Something had happened, and she was terrified of what she would find. She ran inside, calling her family’s names.

“Mom!”

It was Matt she saw first, and she threw her arms around him. Any one of them who could be accounted as safe was a weight off her mind. He was soon followed by Zeke and Ben, and she hugged them too.

“What happened?” Ellen asked.

“They’re gone,” Matt said, his helplessness and terror evident in his voice even as he tried to remain calm. “Someone screamed - I think it was Seraphina. We came to find them, but all three of them were gone. Seraphina and Kiki and Dad.”

Ellen drew in her breath. Her hope - her foolish hope - that everyone was still safe and only the house was damaged was not to be. “Alright. I’m going to find them. You three, go to Mrs. Creed’s house. You’ll be safe there. She’ll let you stay till I get back. If it takes longer than I think it’s going to, I’ll call Lia and have her come stay with you. My phone died - does anyone have one that works?”

The boys all shook their heads. Ellen noticed that Nick’s phone had been discarded on the kitchen floor in the chaos, and she tried to turn it on, but by that point she was unsurprised that it was dead too. Whoever the culprit behind the attack was, they had taken out all the family’s communications first.

“Okay,” Ellen said, hastily regrouping mentally. “Like I said, go to Mrs. Creed’s. If her phone is working, try to call Isaac in Hollywell and tell him what happened. I’ll give you the number. I love you. Stay together no matter what happens. I’ll see you soon.”

Making a phone call would be extremely helpful, but she had no idea how far the communications blackout had spread, and searching all over town for a working line - if there even was one - would waste valuable time. She was going to have to handle the communication a little more directly. But first things first.

Once the boys were off safely, Ellen closed her eyes. Clearing her mind was difficult, but she did her best, visualizing inky blackness spreading from the center to the margins of her brain, erasing conscious thought. She opened her eyes and looked - not at the present, not at the disordered kitchen around her, but at the recent past. She could sense it easily. Not surprising. Nick would have done his best to leave her a psychic calling card. She reviewed the scene in slow motion, memorizing every detail she could, even as horror settled in the pit of her stomach watching their beautiful house invaded, her husband trying to protect the girls, ultimately all three being taken…

…Not for long. She wouldn’t let this stand. Not for long.

Ellen dragged the rowboat from the shore to the shallows, scarcely noticing the water soaking her jeans to the thighs as she waded deep enough to find a favorable current and launch it. For the moment, their quarantine of the island out of an abundance of caution was equally dismissed; the tiny, fragmentary chance that she carried a disease without knowing it was far outweighed by the danger her husband and the girls were in. And anyway, if three people from the island were already there, what was one more?


She was certain they had been taken to Hollywell or somewhere nearby. Where else could they have gone? They wouldn’t have stayed on Longhome Island - it was too small, all the population knew each other, and interlopers would be spotted quickly. Anything else would have been too far to take multiple unwilling captives by boat. They would have had to go to town, at least to regroup, and if she was fast enough she could surely intercept them there.

Of course, finding them would be a challenge. Even in a small town, there were so many places to hide. If she could get the Lycans to help, though, their ability to track scents would narrow down the search considerably.

If she could get the Lycans to help…

But that was easier said than done. Ellen wasn’t sure where Isaac lived, and her arrival on the larger island did not magically resurrect her phone. She took the time to tie up the rowboat - any delay felt excruciating, but she told herself they would need a way to get back - and then started walking briskly down the main street of Hollywell, hoping to spot a familiar face, or even some friendly local who could direct her to the Fishblatt residence. Ellen looked in quite the sorry state - eyes wide and frightened, hair escaping wildly from the containment of a now-messy bun, jean legs still wet from launching the boat - but she was past caring. She just needed to get her family back, and she would do so by finding the people who could help… assuming they were willing.

***

“Mmm.” James rolled over in bed, running gentle fingers over Candy’s shoulder. He couldn’t believe someone like her was really in his room. That what had just happened…had really happened. “That was great.”

Candy smiled at him. “There’s more where that came from, lover.”

James grinned back. He had been lonely for such a long time. He had needed this. Needed it much more than he realized. “Oh, really? Because I could really use - ugh! What’s happening? What’s wrong with me?”

He grimaced in pain. Candy’s smile stayed disturbingly fixed.

“Oh, did you think I meant more of that? Teehee. Maybe later. No, when I said more, I meant more. Did I forget to tell you? I took this really cool online class. It was about how to do magic through…” Her voice dropped demurely. “...Through, uh, intimacy. Kind of poetic, really. You gave yourself to me. And now I own you.” Reading his panicked expression, she added, “Don’t worry. I can’t totally control your mind or anything. Not yet. But we have a connection now. You’re going to want to please me. You’re going to want to do what I want. So get up.” She prodded him lightly in the leg with her foot to emphasize the point. “Get dressed. We don’t have time to just lay around in bed. We have an awful lot of work to do.”

***

“We’re going to be alright,” Nick reassured the girls. Or tried to.

He wished he knew where they were. Hollywell, certainly - his head had been covered, but as disorienting as that was, their captors hadn’t been able to hide that they had been taken on a boat, so they weren’t on Longhome Island anymore. They had been led down a flight of stairs, and from the faint mildew smell, Nick guessed they were in a basement. All he could see, though, even when he was allowed to look around, was the blankness of bare concrete walls. No clue to their location.

The girls were trying to be brave, but it wouldn’t have taken a mind reader to tell they were terrified. Seraphina was crying softly, but Kiki was completely silent. The silence worried him even more. He only wished there was more he could do. More he could say.

Nick wrapped an arm around Seraphina, and she snuggled against him. He was less sure about Kiki - he hadn’t had much physical contact with her so far, and he wasn’t sure how she would feel about proximity to him - but when he tentatively offered her his other arm, she accepted the hug without hesitation.

“Ellen will come find us,” Nick told them soothingly. “You know just how determined she is. We’re going to be okay.”
Monkey Kitty
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Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Riff (by Quaxo)

The curse of familiarity. Riff had become all too comfortable with the presence of other lycans. Their scent didn’t set off instant alarm bells, apparently. Dangerous. He’d have to work on that. But first, he needed to catch this lad up as he seemed to have the wrong idea. Riff turned back toward Declan to excuse himself, but caught a strange sight on the way.

“Hold up.” he managed to murmur, ducking his head side to side to look around the divisions in the windows. It looked like…Ellen. But it couldn’t be Ellen. Shouldn’t be. ‘Hey, stay here for a mo, wouldja?”

Riff didn’t know what exactly would make Ellen leave her self-imposed quarantine, but he knew it wouldn’t be anything good. Once he saw the full state of her, his cell phone was in his hand, prepared to dial Isaac.He waved his other hand to catch Ellen’s attention.

“Hey, what’s wrong? What’s up? Let’s get you over to the shade and you can tell me all about it.”

Riff gestured to a nearby park bench, prepared to guide her if need be. He punched in Isaac’s number and pressed ‘call’. Regardless of the story coming, it was clearly bad enough to warrant caution.
Monkey Kitty
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Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Ellen Greenway

Ellen spun to face Riff, relief evident on her face. She hadn’t lost too much time, then, looking for Lycan assistance. She accepted the offer of shade, but not the bench; the unnecessary delay of even sitting and rising seemed like too much at the moment, and anyway, she was certain she couldn’t sit still.

“Nick and two of our kids were taken,” she told him without preamble. This wasn’t the time for social niceties. Riff would, however, need more information if he was going to help her. If he was… willing to help again. She took a deep breath, then explained, “Those mages who have been lurking around? They came back to the island. I have no idea how. They distracted me elsewhere and then broke into our home - I have no idea how they did that either. I witnessed the memory when I got back. Nick was their target. He was who they were after. They took Seraphina and Kiki too, as hostages.”

Now the hard part…

“I need to ask for your help again. Please. I understand the enormity of what your Pack has already done for us. I know you suffered losses in the battle, and I grieve that. I’m not asking you to stick your necks out like that again. I’m not asking you to fight for us. But time is short, and I have no idea where to even start looking. By the time I find a lead, the trail may have gone cold, or it may be… It may be too late. All I’m asking for is your help tracking. Please, I’m begging you… please just help with that. I swear I’ll pay you back for it somehow. I’ll do the rest on my own. Just please help me find them, before it’s too late!”
Monkey Kitty
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Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Nick Greenway

The girls were unharmed, so far. Nick doubted it was due to any particular sense of mercy on the part of their captors; rather, the captors had realized that the safety of Seraphina and Kiki was the only real leverage they had over Nick. If he thought the girls were going to be harmed no matter what he did, there would be nothing to stop him from fighting back. As it was, the possibility that they might escape unscathed if he cooperated held him in check.

Nick himself wasn't quite so unscathed. There was nothing dire, nothing unrecoverable, but he had taken a few punches - a black eye, a bloody nose, a split lip - early on when one or another of their jailers seemed to be sizing up the possibility of violence toward Seraphina or Kiki, before they had all fully established their importance to Nick. Nick had distracted quickly and efficiently with a sarcastic comment or an insult, and had achieved his purpose, but at a cost to himself.

He knew the girls were scared. Worried about their fate. Worried about him. But all they could do was hold on for now.

It wasn't long before they received an unpleasant surprise. A handful of guards streamed into the room abruptly and began dragging Nick away. He objected strenuously - and received multiple more blows in the process - and eventually the girls were able to come too. The best he could do for now: keeping the three of them together. They were unceremoniously deposited in a large, open space that seemed to be a boiler room; Nick noticed some gym mats and music stands, and wondered if this was the basement of a school. Before he had time to speculate too much, though, just about the most unwelcome sight possible greeted him.

"Candy." His voice was clipped, sharp. "You're alive, I see."

"Oh, of course," Candy said. She was all smiles, as if they were long lost pals. She moved in to kiss him; he turned away, and her lips barely grazed his ear instead of his own lips. "Aw. You're hurting my feelings, Nick. That was just a friend kiss. I thought we were friends."

"We are not," Nick said firmly, staring at her with undisguised disgust in his eyes. He could feel the girls cowering against him, terrified of Candy - reliving traumas at the sight of their abuser, and Nick lived them too through Seraphina and Kiki's eyes. He held them both closer, giving each of them a reassuring squeeze. "This is foolish, Candy. You're going to lose. Like you lost before. Cut your losses and let us go."

"Oh, I don't think I'm gonna do that," Candy replied in a chipper sing-song.

Before he had a chance to spar further with the detested blonde mage, a sound echoed through the cavernous basement - screams of terror and despair. Nick was alarmed, but Candy and the others just looked annoyed.

"Shut her up," a male mage said curtly.

"You know I can't..." Candy whined.

Nick winced as two of the guards - not mages, Nick wondered what they were doing here? - roughly shoved another young woman Seraphina and Kiki's age to the ground at their feet. The girl was the source of the screams. The smell of death filled Nick's nostrils. The girl's body was riddled with decay. Another one of Candy's victims. He shuddered inside, but nothing showed in his outward demeanor.

"Shut her up," the mage repeated. A fireball started to form in the mage’s hand. The girl looked at him, and her screams somehow grew even louder, more desperate. "Shut her up, or I will."

Nick spoke up. "I can help her," he said hastily. He looked at Candy, reading her quickly, and added, "You're right. Destroying her would be a waste. Just give me a minute."

Candy nodded enthusiastically, and her colleagues agreed grudgingly.

Nick approached cautiously. He could sense her anguish without even trying, the intensity of it hitting him in waves. The suffering at the end of her life. The terror and violence of her death. Waking up in this half-alive state, no possibility of relief, no end... Just the sheer existential horror of an eternity locked in a decaying body, trapped forever with her tormentor. No wonder she couldn't help but scream.

"Brooke," Nick said softly. Abruptly, the screaming stopped. She knelt, motionless, staring at him, allowing him to get closer. "That's your name, isn't it? Brooke? But no one has called you that in a long time."

Jerkily, as if unused to responding, she nodded.

He put his hands up in a gesture of non-threat, and moved so he was directly in front of her, then knelt too, putting his mouth right by her ear as he whispered to her, keeping his voice soft so the others wouldn't hear. "I know what you've been through. I'm not saying I can understand, but I know - I can sense it. I know why you're afraid. You think there's no way out. There is, though. I can help you. I can fix all this. When I get out of here, I'll take you with me. Just keep your head down and don't give them reason to hurt you. I won't leave you here. I swear."

She didn't believe him. But she wanted to. He could feel how desperately she wanted to...

Nick stood and took a step back. "She won't scream anymore," he said confidently.

Candy looked stunned. "How'd you do that?"

Nick shrugged. "Just tried being mildly decent to her for once. You could consider giving that a shot, too."

He wasn't looking at Candy and her cronies, though. He kept his eyes on Brooke. She was watching him back, intently. He gave her a faint nod and the faintest hint of a reassuring smile. Almost imperceptibly, she nodded back.
Monkey Kitty
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Joined: Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:31 pm

Re: Under the Bright Lights

Post by Monkey Kitty »

Riff (by Quaxo)

He had put the phone on speaker the second he saw Isaac pick up and stood as close to Ellen as he could without getting into her space. Riff’s face remained serious as he nodded understanding and took each bout of bad news with no additional drama. When she finished, Riff was pretty sure he knew what Isaac was going to say, but he decided to offer her some reassurance face to face.

“Ellen, we’re allies. Friends. Of course I will help you - not just track, but get Nick and the girls back. I have Isaac here on the line - Isaac, did you hear everything?”
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