Page 14 of 14
Re: Under the Bright Lights
Posted: Sat May 27, 2023 6:51 pm
“Thank you,” Ellen replied. It wasn’t enough to say - but how could she convey her gratitude and relief? There were no words. Having help from her allies dramatically increased the odds of success. She had to just think of it as that - as ‘success’ - because imagining the alternative was too much to bear, and this wasn’t the time to be distracted.
“I heard,” Isaac replied. “And of course we’ll–”
Whatever Isaac was about to tell Ellen on the Pack’s behalf was abruptly interrupted by the sudden arrival of James.
Riff had seen James in various states of wild obsessiveness before. This, however, was something else. James was wide-eyed, his pupils dilated. He seemed to be staring through everyone. He was muttering unintelligibly to himself. More worryingly, his shirt was liberally spattered with blood.
He saw them looking at him and finally registered it. “Don’t worry,” James said absently. “It’s not mine. Not my blood. And not human. It’s from a demon. Demon blood.”
Ellen couldn’t look away from those stains. They weren’t the color of human blood. They were dark, almost purple, almost black…
“Is he alive?” she asked in a hoarse whisper.
“Yeah. Demons are hard to kill,” James said, totally immune to her horror and fear. “But he won’t be for long.”
With the faintly tinny sound of a voice over a phone speaker, Isaac asked, “What exactly is going on…?”
But James was talking over him, seemingly oblivious to the fact their leader was even speaking. “You lied to the Pack, Ellen. You didn’t tell us what he was.”
“Yes we did!” Ellen replied, confused. “We told you everything!”
“Not everything. Not what he was sent here for. Not the purpose of his creation…”
“Why does that matter?” Ellen’s voice was increasingly frantic. Nick was bleeding somewhere and this crazed Lycan was playing semantic games. “No one chooses the circumstances of their birth. No one chooses how they come into this world–”
“You lied to the Pack,” James insisted. “Riff doesn’t know. But I do. And Isaac does. That’s why–” he gestured to his shirt. “That’s why our Pack changed sides. That’s why Isaac ordered his death–”
“No, I very much did not!” Isaac’s voice insisted over the phone speaker, but Ellen couldn’t hear him over James, and again James didn’t seem to notice.
“Walk away, Ellen,” James said, suddenly moving toward her. “You can’t save your demon. Back off and you might get to live.”
Ellen took a step back reflexively, her hopes deflated, her heart beating wildly. “Please,” she said. “Please, even if you don’t care about us, they have our children. You wouldn’t…? Riff, you’re a father too. You wouldn’t just let our children die…”
At this point she wasn’t sure what to believe. She was too shell-shocked and frightened to try to puzzle out the intricacies of Pack hierarchy - who actually spoke for them? James or Riff? If the Lycans had truly switched sides. If they wanted Nick dead. Then her mission had gone from difficult to impossible. How could she fight her way through an entire werewolf Pack? How could she evade them all on their own turf long enough to find Nick and the girls and escape with them, especially cornered as she was now? She wasn’t giving up, not while there was breath in her body, but her mind was utterly empty of workable ideas.
“They aren’t your children,” James said coldly. “You may pretend otherwise. But they’ve been dead for a long time.”
“I’m coming down there!” Isaac said, clearly getting nowhere over the phone. “Riff, you speak for me until then. James - I don’t know what’s wrong with James - but he does not. We’ll help the Greenways. Whatever this is… I’ll be there in a minute.”
Re: Under the Bright Lights
Posted: Sat May 27, 2023 6:52 pm
A Short Time Earlier
“Dad?” Seraphina asked, glancing across the room in the direction Nick had just come from. “That other girl? Her name is Brooke?”
“Yes.” Not that her captors had bothered to remember that.
“Is she… like us? You know…?”
“Yes, she is.”
“And we’re going to help her, right?” Seraphina knew the answer to that, but she looked to her father just for reassurance.
“Yes,” Nick told her. “Of course we are. When your mom… if for some reason I can’t tell your mom when she gets here, I need you to tell her about Brooke for me. Mom will know what to do. But you have to make sure you tell her, okay?”
Seraphina bit her lip. “Yeah. Okay. I will. But you’re going to be here to tell her yourself, right?”
“I’ll try my best,” Nick promised her.
Although Candy was now with some guy who had just come in to join her, the blonde mage was staring over at them. Nick could feel her eyes on them, her gaze burning with… jealousy? What the hell? She was… jealous of the attention Seraphina was giving Nick? That made no sense that Nick could fathom, but he was confident of his reading of the situation when Candy stalked over to them, then pasted a cheerful smile on her face an instant too late.
“Hey, girl!” she said brightly. “Long time no see! You want to hang out? Let’s get out of here for a while! We could go watch a movie…”
Seraphina shook her head, her eyes wide with terror.
“Not a movie buff? That’s okay. We can paint each other’s nails, do each other’s hair…” Candy reached for one of Seraphina’s curls, and Seraphina jerked away from her hand reflexively, burying her face against Nick. A natural response - but Nick could tell with a sinking feeling that it was the wrong one, only going to make Candy angrier and more volatile.
“What, you’re too good to hang out with me? You’re just a brat. You’re just a mean girl. Like all the other mean girls…”
“Candy,” Nick said, trying to keep his voice calm. “Listen to yourself. You’re a grown woman, talking to a kid…”
“A kid?” Candy echoed. “Whatever. She’s a bad kid. I knew her before you did, y’know. Hey, Seraphina, remember that night we first met…?”
“Stop it,” Nick said firmly, but the stream of words from Candy’s lips never slowed.
“You showed us you weren’t a nice girl, didn’t you? You were at a party, remember? You had a lot to drink. You decided to walk home, alone, in the dark…”
Seraphina was trembling now, tears welling in her eyes. Nick squeezed her shoulder. “Candy, stop it, now!”
Candy looked the girl up and down. “Remember those shorts you were wearing? You were practically begging for it–”
“Shut up!” Nick shouted at Candy. “You’re a monster! Leave her alone! Shut up!”
Candy turned calmly to the man she’d been talking with. A Lycan, Nick now realized. When she met the Lycan’s eyes, Candy’s face suddenly shifted to a look of panic, her voice becoming frantic. “James, he’s attacking me!”
Nick blinked. “Attacking…? I’m not even anywhere near you…”
“He attacked me, James. He’s going to kill me. You have to protect me.”
The Lycan closed the distance between them in an instant. His eyes darkened to black. Claws extended from both hands. He took a swipe at Nick, catching him hard across the chest, and as Nick staggered backward, the other set of claws scratched at him, raking him on the ear and down his neck.
“That’s enough,” Candy said. “You showed him his place. You saved my life. Thank you so much, my knight in shining armor.” The Lycan, eyes glazed, took a step back.
Nick’s heart was pounding. The injuries weren’t that bad - he’d survive, but this new development was worrisome. “A Lycan?” He tried to keep his voice calm and nonchalant. “We have an alliance with the Lycans. Isaac won’t be happy if a rogue werewolf…”
“I’m not a rogue,” James growled. “I’m following Isaac’s orders. He changed his mind about you. You’re too dangerous to us. You don’t belong here. You don’t belong anywhere. Isaac wants you dead. He said to send you back to hell where you belong.”
All this took Nick up short. James wasn’t lying. Nick would have been able to tell that. James believed what he was saying. Was it true, then? If the Lycans had changed sides, Nick’s life was basically forfeit. He couldn’t fight a werewolf Pack along with everything else. He had to make sure he got the girls out. That could be his only priority now.
Something nagged at his mind, though. It took him a moment to place it, as heightened as the emotion of the situation was. He said to send you back to hell where you belong. That was it. That was the part that didn’t fit. From what Nick had gathered, Isaac was Jewish; back to hell was an unlikely thing for him to say. Maybe James was just paraphrasing, of course. But it introduced a small measure of doubt - perhaps a small measure of hope. Not that he could act on it at the moment, with mages and at least one werewolf and a seemingly endless supply of other goons.
Nick sized up James. “I’m sure your leader has also informed you that I’d be rather hard to kill.”
James merely looked confused, and blinked a few times.
“WhatEVER,” Candy said dismissively. “Yeah, yeah. Just wait till the Cold Iron Knight gets here.”
It was clearly a threat. But Nick had no idea what it meant. That was a problem for later. He turned back to the girls, who had just watched him get attacked by a werewolf. “I’m okay,” he assured them. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Are you kidding me?” Candy groaned as the girls wrapped Nick in a gentle hug. “Really? You two like a demon this much? You gotta be possessed or something. I’m doing you a favor getting you out of that hellhole.”
No reaction at all.
“You’re so stupid, Nick Greenway,” she finally said. “Really. You’re just a huge idiot. You know how I got into your house, right?”
“I can’t even begin to imagine,” Nick said dryly. He actually was extremely curious about that, but acknowledging it would just feed into Candy’s love of drama - if he pretended he didn’t care, she would eventually break and just tell him.
It didn’t take long.
“It’s your fault. You and your dumb wife. And her.” She pointed an accusing finger at Kiki.
Kiki’s eyes widened. Nick didn’t react, but his arm around her tightened protectively.
“She let me in,” Candy said triumphantly.
Kiki shook her head frantically, denying the accusation…
“Oh, you didn’t know you were,” Candy said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “But I’m part of you. You carry little pieces of me everywhere. That’s why you’re never going to get away from me. These clowns take you in, and - poof! There I am too. Teehee. Well, laters.”
Pleased with Kiki’s shocked and horrified reaction, Candy gave them all a little wave, then took her Lycan boyfriend by the hand and left the room.
Kiki hated herself. More than she had ever hated anyone or anything. How could she have done this? All this time, she’d had her stupid fantasy of belonging. They’d been so kind to her. So welcoming. So… loving. She’d even pretended that she could be… pretended she was…
But all this time, she’d been their enemy without even knowing it. She’d come into their happy home and destroyed it. It was her fault. All her fault. And she was never going to escape from this curse. Candy had contaminated her. Forever. She was tainted.
There was nothing left. She remembered the Fae back on the island, who had said he knew how to end her life permanently. She remembered the mage with the fireball. Once Nick and Seraphina were safe, Kiki could end this, she could finally rest in peace and never hurt anyone again…
“No!” Nick said. “No Kiki, please. This wasn’t your fault. None of this is your fault. We don’t want you to go. This doesn’t…” He cast around for what to say, how to convince her. What his mind settled on - what he realized would help - oddly was practicality. “When we get home, let’s paint your bedroom, okay? You should get to pick your own color, since you’re sticking around with us. We’ll get you lots of paint chips, and you can decide which one you want.”
“I can help paint,” Seraphina said in a small voice.
“I’ll help too,” Nick said. “And you know Ellen will - she loves to paint, she’ll have most of it done by herself before the rest of us have the lids off the cans.”
Kiki managed a small smile at that.
“You promise?” Nick said. “You promise to stick around and paint your room? We’ll figure the rest out. I swear.”
Kiki nodded hesitantly.
“Good,” Nick said, relieved. “Because you’re our–”
Nick was going to say ‘friend.’ They hadn’t known Kiki for long. They hadn’t established where they stood.
But Kiki thought the word daughter so hard that Nick was practically blasted with her loneliness, longing, fear, and desperation without even trying to see the contents of her mind.
“Because you’re our daughter,” Nick corrected, holding both girls close. “We’re going to be okay.”
Re: Under the Bright Lights
Posted: Sat May 27, 2023 6:52 pm
Isaac left as quickly as he could; there was no time to waste. As soon as he had given Gilda a brief explanation of where he was headed, he took off down the path. Engrossed as he was in his own thoughts, he barely registered the priest coming out of the door of one of the outward facing motel rooms…
The Vampire priest. Into the sunlight.
Isaac’s heart raced. Yes, he’d had a lot going on recently, but had he been so neglectful as a leader that he had failed to notice that the priest was depressed enough to end his life? He hadn’t talked to Marek much, but the man had generally seemed cheerful and upbeat - but of course a smile could hide a great deal of hurt. Isaac should have talked to him, should have made sure he was settling in, that he knew he had support, before the man felt he had no options left but to walk into the scorching sun…
“Father, no!” Isaac shouted.
He sprinted toward the priest, tackled him to the ground, and did his best to cover exposed skin, knowing it would not be enough, that the sun would do the inevitable and he would burn…
Father Marek stared up at Isaac, who had come out of nowhere and pinned him to the ground. He was perplexed but accepting. “Uh… is everything alright?” the priest asked.
“You’re…. You’re not burning?”
Marek smiled. “No, I’m not. I’m immune to sunlight. It was a treatment developed by the doctors in my former home. I apologize that you were not informed. You must have been quite shocked.”
Isaac nodded. ‘Shocked’ didn’t quite cover the emotion he had experienced, thinking that he was about to watch the suicide of one of those under his leadership. He got to his feet, releasing the priest, and offered him a hand as Marek scrambled to his feet too.
“Sorry about that,” Isaac said, chagrined, his heartbeat finally starting to slow.
Marek waved the apology aside. “Not at all. I appreciate your concern and quick thinking. If I ever am in desperate straits, I know who I can turn to. But you seem to be in a hurry, even aside from trying to save errant Vampires from the sun. Is everything alright?”
Isaac now had a moral dilemma. He made it a policy never to lie to his Pack members. But a Catholic priest also wasn’t exactly the ideal person to explain the current mission to.
“Someone is in danger,” Isaac said. “An ally of the Pack has been kidnapped, along with two of his daughters. I promised our help in getting them back.”
“Oh, I can help too,” Marek chimed in enthusiastically.
“That really isn’t necessary…”
“I know what you’re thinking: the priest will just get in the way. But I don’t mean in my clerical capacity. I got emergency medical training so I could make myself useful in situations like this. I can be of service. I promise.”
Isaac sighed. “It’s not that. I don’t doubt your contribution. It’s… this man… he is… he is a good man. A husband. A father. He helps people. But his ancestry is… that is to say… there are certain… that your Church doesn't approve of. Certain bloodlines. From other realms. And I wouldn’t want to put you in a position where… where you would have to…”
Marek raised an eyebrow, bemused by this highly uncharacteristic lack of eloquence on their leader’s part. “Are you trying not to say the word ‘demon,’ Isaac?”
“Yes. Look, Father, I don’t expect you to understand.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘Father.’ I know your faith is different than mine, and I respect that. You also don’t need to try to shield me from the truth here. You don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do. I didn’t come here to inflict harm. I’m here to help. Not to judge who is worthy of help. I’ll get my med kit and catch up to you in a minute.”
“Thank you,” Isaac said.
He wondered how this was going to play out. Would the priest really keep his word, when the situation was more than theoretical? They were about to find out. Hidden layers indeed…
Re: Under the Bright Lights
Posted: Sat May 27, 2023 7:21 pm
The male mage - whose name, Nick had determined, was Alfred - continued to hover after Candy and her Lycan paramour had left. The man was clearly itching to say something. Nick could have read his mind, could have figured out what, but he was weary and frustrated with these games. If the mage had something to say, let him spit it out.
It wasn't long before he did. "You're wondering why we took the girls, I assume?" Alfred said with a twisted smile.
Nick shook his head. "Your cronies said it at the time. Hostages. Not exactly the most opaque motive, anyhow."
Alfred smiled again, disconcertingly. "Oh, that's certainly part of it. But you have other children, I believe? Sons? So why were these two taken, and the others left behind?"
Nick hadn't actually thought to wonder about that. He had assumed it was simply convenience - he was in the kitchen with two of his children, so those were the two who were taken. But was there something else? Instead of a crime of mere opportunity, had these mages waited for an opportunity to arise...?
"Candy wanted to stage her little reunion, I assume," Nick said nonchalantly. "She is rather demanding, isn't she...?"
If Alfred noticed Nick's attempt to triangulate his captors against each other, he breezily ignored it.
"No. And in fact, Candy does not approve. She considers it a waste. She did, after all, go to some trouble with the reanimation. No, we needed these two - and the one Candy had - for another reason. You have heard of a substance called anima, have you not? We need a great deal of anima to fulfill our plans. And these three are powered by anima. Almost like... what did Candy say...? Candy said they are 'like a juice box.' Drain their energy, and we are empowered..."
Nick drew in his breath. "They have very little. Only enough to stay alive..."
Alfred shrugged. "There are three of them. But one will suffice for now. I'll even do you the courtesy of letting you choose which one goes first. It will be... what was her name... Brooke, I assume? Since you're somewhat attached to the other two..."
A whimper from the corner of the room. Brooke had heard him.
Bastard, Nick thought. But aloud, he said, "No. You don't need any of them. I have anima. You can take mine."
Alfred raised an eyebrow. "You have anima? Well, of course you do, but you and your... kin... are rather lacking in it, are you not? 'Starved of anima,' as the books put it. You yourself have to drain anima from other beings--"
"Look, it doesn't matter where I got it," Nick said shortly. "And what happens to me after you take it is my concern, not yours. Just do what you're going to do, and leave the kids alone."
"You offer this rather freely, for one in your position," Alfred said. He approached, and Nick prepared to defend himself, but the mage didn't immediately touch him. Instead, he ran his hands up and down the air a few feet from Nick's form... then abruptly grabbed Nick by the wrist and pushed up his sleeve, exposing a tattoo on his left forearm - a Celtic knotwork design of two interlocking hearts. "Eh? What's this?"
"Ah yes, you are a funny, funny man. What is the purpose of this tattoo?"
"What's the purpose of any tattoo? It makes me look snazzy."
"You're a poor liar, Greenway. A surprising failing in a demon." The mage pressed two fingers against the design, and Nick clenched his jaw to avoid screaming as the fingers became hot, burning the skin and defacing the tattoo. "How do you feel about your anima now, demon? Not quite so bold about it if you can't drain someone else, are you?"
"You... you idiot..." Nick gasped through the pain. "You claim you need anima. I had a... a fountain of it. And you just destroyed it to... what, prove some kind of point?"
Alfred smiled his twisted, sardonic smile. "Oh, I think it will be worth it to watch a demon squirm. Now. Now that you no longer have a bottomless resource to throw away. Tell me. Which one? Candy's little toy? Or one of yours?"
Nick shook his head. "No. I told you. It doesn't matter. If you're going to drain anyone, you drain me."
"Dad..." Seraphina whispered.
Nick shook his head. "I can survive this, sweetheart. You can't. Don't worry. It'll be fine."
At least, he hoped it would. If the mages started taking his anima, he wouldn't have much time left.
Re: Under the Bright Lights
Posted: Mon Sep 04, 2023 7:15 am
He could hardly believe what was happening right before his eyes. He heard Isaac loud and clear, of course, and put the phone away when the Lycan leader hung up on his end. Then, he stepped between James and Ellen.
"Ellen. James does not speak for the Pack. The Pack is for you - we haven't switched sides. Isaac is on his way with help. Just hold on."
He turned to James and paused before speaking. This wasn't normal behaviour from the man. Usually he had an air of superiority about him when he was revealing stuff he thought no one else knew about. He didn't have that. In fact, he didn't seem to be enjoying this at all, which was off-brand. Riff stared hard at James and made the decision that something was definitely wrong.
"James, buddy. You don't seem a hundred percent yourself...you okay?" He spoke softly, watching for facial expressions, and kept himself between the other lycan and Ellen.