Teeth and claws swirled around me in the grey darkness. As quickly as they would strike and tear at my body they would disappear once more into the mist. I pulled in energy to find I had barely anything to give. I let out a yell of VERAMOUS! and sent wind swirling around me, hoping to clear the haze of darkness away.
Out of the shadows came light and fire, and Desmond strode toward me with a gun in his hands. Shot after shot tore into the darkness and shredded the beasts within. My heart began to thunder, and I ran for him as quickly as I could. There in the dark he turned, and upon his forehead was a set of chemical green eyes, and he raised his gun toward my head. Then he fired.
I woke covered in sweat and remembering less and less of the nightmare as I came back into consciousness. It was not long before sleep found me again, this time with no dreams, and leaving me with no memories of the swirling darkness.
- - -
As I sat there listening to the twins tell me about how they’d been ‘experimenting’ with magic over Christmas break, and how fun and happy and wonderful it was to toy around with one of the elemental forces of creation like it was an etch-a-sketch, I couldn’t help but get a little angry with them.
By no means did I blame them for being excited over magic. I got excited over magic nearly every day. Whether it was learning something new, refining a spell or technique I already knew, or simply basking in the connection I shared with the flow of life around me, I found a new love for magic constantly. However, the twins were treating it like some sort of party gag, looking at it like it was something to be thrown around casually, like a toy. I needed them to understand the truth.
When I pulled out Desmond’s .45 and slammed it on the table both twin’s eyes turned into saucers. I knew Dad would have taught them how to use a gun, and had probably taken them both hunting at one time or another (I have a few bucks under my belt myself), but Dad certainly didn’t own any handguns. It’s hard to get a permit for for in a lot of states (so hard in New York in fact that all of my handguns are illegally owned, shh, don’t tell anyone) and the simple fact is that while handguns are, on average, less powerful than rifles or shotguns they are far more often associated with shootings and violence. In the twins’ eyes the handgun was a weapon first and foremost, and a dangerous one.
When I started casually flinging the gun around on the table and treating it in exactly the way you should NEVER treat a loaded firearm I received a barrage of surprise and fear from the twins.
“_That_, is what you two are doing with magic right now,” I said sternly, but not unkindly, “you two need to understand that magic is first and foremost a loaded gun. It is the deadliest weapon on the planet, and it makes this handgun look like a pool noodle. People can do a lot of things with magic, but they should never treat it casually.”
“But Connie,” Hannah said with worry in her voice, “all we’ve done is light some candles and mess around a but.”
I was gonna have to scare them. I looked over my shoulder to their dinner table and one of its chairs that was sitting slightly pulled out. I’d have to buy them a new one. I began channeling enough energy for a good show, but not enough to cause any lasting harm to the apartment, and I snapped my fingers. With a loud popping sound the upper half of the chair burst into flames and began steadily burning over the now charred wood.
The twins’ mouths dropped and they found a new look on their face. Fear.
“That is the very least of what magic can do,” I continued with my lecture. “When I first met Desmond there was a student on your very campus using magic to rape and murder innocent girls as he pleased. When he tried his magic on me it ended up destroying his mind, and leaving him broken inside.”
I watched as Kyle’s face grew serious, and Hannah wrapped her arms around her mid section. They were getting it.
“Guys, magic is the most beautiful, wonderful, pure thing you can ever experience in this life. I thank the powers that be every day that I am fortunate enough to have the knowledge and powers I do, but the path of a Wizard is a dangerous one, even if you don’t go out trying to be a superhero with magic. I’ve lost two husbands because of my life choice. I’ve seen friends hurt and killed. I’ve experienced horrors that no one should ever have to. Please, just understand that this path is a worthy one, but the last thing it is is easy, or safe.”
To their credit my brother and sister nodded their heads in understanding, and prepared for the new path they were taking.
Long into the night I talked, about the laws of magic, the White Council, the Accords, and the many aspects of the supernatural community. And just like that I was now a master teaching two new apprentices. All I could do was hope I was half the teacher that Adam Kane had been for me.
- - -
The twins were something else. They were almost exact opposites in nearly every way possible when it came to magic. Training two apprentices at the same time had its own difficulties, but having both of them excel and falter in such different ways was icing on the proverbial cake.
Hannah was an evocator, no question about it. Just weeks after starting real training she was conjuring and manipulating flame like an apprentice who’d been doing it for months. The girl had a knack for it. I think that in the long run, once she is a full wizard, I’ll eek out the title of best evocator among the Carvers. I have a certain imagination and knack for moving around the elemental forces, and while good at it I’m not sure Hannah will ever have the broad range of control I do. That said, I hands down think that some day Hannah is going to blow me out of the water in the power department. Before I met Daniel, after years as a full White Council Wizard, years of working as War Wizard, and tons of personal training and practice, I had a level of innate power that rivaled most members of the White Council that weren’t one hundred year old (plus) wardens, or on the Senior Council itself. Hannah had that kind of inner power right now as an apprentice.
I was currently far and beyond her, likely one of the top twenty most powerful (in terms of raw strength) practitioners on the planet. Give Hannah a decade or two though and she’d be out classing me by quite a distance. That was a thought that really scared me at night, thinking of what could happen if I screwed up in teaching her. I can call down fire that will melt cars into sludge. I can uproot hundred year old trees with one gust of wind. I can bend the Earth’s very energy field to my whim in ways that would make Magneto proud, but someday Hannah was going to outclass me in power. I needed to make sure I taught her the most important lesson of magic, when not to use it.
Kyle on the other hand was all subtly and knowledge. He wrapped his head around magical theory, formula, and practical application better than most full wizards did, me included in some respects. I’m a very competent wizard when it comes to thaumaturgy, especially when it comes to creating magical items. Only Captain Luccio has the edge on me in that regard. That said, Kyle has a way of seeing and using magic in ways I never will. He also feels magic way better than Hannah and I ever will. There’s a Star Trek movie where Piccard talks about how he can hear nearly subsonic variations in the ship’s engines even all the way up on the bridge. That’s Kyle, but with magic. Sure, in magic terms I can hear a car coming down the road or a chirping bug, but Kyle can hear the movement of fleas on a dog’s fur. He’s that in-tune to the flow of magic. It’s unfortunate that creating gouts of flame seems way more impressive, and he feels so inadequate next to his sister. There’s just no way I can tell him he’ll be a thousand times better wizard than I or his sister could ever hope to be without inflating his head. Honestly, Hannah and I could power our way onto the Senior Council in a couple hundred years, but if Kyle worked hard enough at refining his craft he’d probably be Senior Council material within his first century of life. Now THAT is impressive.
I was literally working with the two most gifted apprentices a wizard had had since Adam had plucked me out of the circus. Of course, it wouldn’t be doing the twins a service to let them know that. As far as they knew they were making average progress and on their way to becoming run of the mill wizards. I guess the Carver magical genes are pretty good stuff.
I taught them both all about circles, and drawing in energy, and formulating the construct of a spell in your mind. Hannah often found herself out in the snow shooting massive cones of fire at paper targets and missing them entirely. Kyle often found himself struggling to bring in even the loosest bits of power at times. I did my best to refine what they were good at and drill them over and over at what they were bad at. Magic was like any muscle, the more work you did with it the stronger it got. Before I even realized, time was slipping past.
Of course, things are never easy. A frantic call in the night from Hannah about how their apartment got broken into was bad enough, but when I came to investigate and found evidence of the supernatural at work my alarm bells went off loud and fierce. All I could imagine was one of my many enemies trying to get to me through the twins, but it wasn’t exactly common knowledge who the twins were or even that I was training them. I ended up using the situation to let the twins stretch their magical muscles, and start teaching them the process of building a ward, on their very own apartment no less. Kyle was a natural, and where Hannah lagged behind, her brother helped her keep up. It was actually incredible to see how easily and fluidly the two’s wards wove into one another. It had to be a twin thing. In the end, the two ended up with a far more powerful ward together than even four or five lesser practitioners could have put together. It let me sleep better at night at the very least.
I slept better at night until the twin’s car exploded, is of course what I meant. We’d ended up going to Applebees for two sets of ‘two for twenty’ dinners for Hannah and I (we shared our app and dessert), and a sandwich for Kyle (weirdo), and upon exiting the restaurant my forgetfulness of not giving them a book I needed them to study saved their lives. While they were busy crowding around the Tonka Truck their Honda Civic exploded into an orange cloud of fire, and most of the other cars in the parking lot lost their windows. We were out of there in no time, but it had become painfully obvious that someone wanted the twins dead, and I was NOT going to let that happen.
Over the next while I forced the twins to stay with Chip and I at the house and carted them around everywhere they needed to go. It wasn’t the perfect solution, but it was all I could do to assure their safety until I figured out was after them.
In the mean time their training continued to progress and I introduced them to their next big test.
“This is our next big test?” Kyle asked, holding it out in his hand with a quizzical look on his face.
“Yup,” I answered simply.
“A piece of string with six funny beads on it? Connie, I’m not into THAT kind of stuff,” Hannah said with a smirk on her face. Kyle snorted in agreement.
“Ha ha, you jerks,” I said smiling, “the test is for you to use all of the abilities at your control to lift all six of those beads until they are touching the top knot of the string.”
“Easy,” Hannah said nonchalant as she focused her will and concentration on the beads. She was immediately met with the counter spells and runes I’d inscribed over the beads. They were meant to force away all magic from touching them and make the relatively simple task of lifting them with one’s mind a task of near impossibility. Sweat started to pour on her brow and all she was able to manage was to slightly move the top bead. Honestly I’d expected nothing to have happened.
“Hmm,” Kyle murmured as his gears started turning. Several minutes passed as he looked up what runes on the bead he could find, scratched some formula notes down, and then drew a small circle on his sketch pad. He closed the circle with his will and began working his more subtle magic on the beads. To his credit the top bead moved a slight bit higher than Hannah’s did, but still not very far at all.
“Good luck,” I said smirking.
“You ask the impossible!” Hannah said in her best melodramatic, whiny, Luke voice she could muster, which of course sent her brother into fits of laughter.
“Oh please,” I said crossing my arms, “you just want to see me lift the Tonka Truck.”
So, naturally, I had to go out and lift the Tonka Truck, Yoda style. Which was really hard I might add. I planned the bead test to leave them stumped for a good long time, but hopefully not too long.
Eventually we got to the topic of focus items. Apparently staves are out of style because all Hannah wanted was a focusing ring to channel fire with. Sure, I’ll admit that rings are a lot easier to carry around with you than a giant staff, but rings also can’t hold nearly as much power in them as a well worked wizard staff can. But for Hannah a ring fit her style just perfectly. She wanted it to help give her ‘more power’ this and ‘more power that’ (like she needed more power) but I was able to convince that a focus item to help her control her magic might be better for her, and I only lost three curtains doing so. With her ring Hannah was actually able to hit a target now and then.
Kyle’s first focusing item was a bit harder. Generally, focus items help one direct their evocations in combat, but Kyle’s strengths lied elsewhere in the magical realm, so thus I figured his focus item should as well. He kept moping about how his sister was better than him and how he didn’t even need a focus item, all the while drawing a beautifully lifelike picture of Chip. Right then and there I had a realization about Kyle’s magic. Sure enough, when I drew a circle around the drawing and sent a few little harmless buffets of energy into it the real Chip found himself buffeted around the house. Kyle was able to make thaumaturgic connections to things with simple drawings. When he drew and then wilted a tree outside the house it confirmed it for me. To form a connection in thaumaturgy you need to create a link. Usually this is done with hair, or blood, or a true name, or what have you. Kyle was able to pull those connections off with his sketch book and a pencil. It was powerful and dangerous magic, and impressive as hell. I tried my best to hide my amazement as we worked on adding metal and runes to Kyle’s sketch pad to make his very first focus item.
- - -
Since I was worried about the sudden assassination of my beloved brother and sister I ended up driving them to and from my house to UB quite a lot that winter. I also ended up sitting next to Kyle in various bleachers and stadium seating while Hannah practiced for or played in one sport or another. I will never know how a girl that can get so freaked out over a broken nail one minute can suit up in hockey gear and full body check some poor Canadian girl into the hockey rink boards the next. Hannah was an interesting girl. Kyle himself often spent his time drawing, or studying (magic or school), or simply talking to me about one thing or the next. Whenever I showed interest in something he did Kyle would light up like a Christmas tree and talk my ear off. He was rough around the edges, but I loved that kid. I loved Hannah too. It’s funny, when I first met them things were always slightly awkward (I AM their runaway sister fourteen years older than them that they never met before a few years ago), but recently I was growing closer and closer to them. We were really a family, and they were quickly filling the hole in my heart Desmond had left.
Which was why I wasn’t going to back down when many oddly shaped figures appeared on the opposite side of UB’s soccer field as the three of us were walking back to the Tonka Truck. It took the figures lowering their massive goaty heads and charging for us across the field with submachine guns in hand before I realized that we were dealing with a large group of pissed off gruffs. I yelled for the twins to run for the truck as I started to pull in my energy. It had been awhile since I’d had such a large group of enemies in a wide open space. I did what only came natural, I snapped my fingers.
I yelled as a massive roiling cloud of flame sprang into life and began tearing into the billy goats. As fire sprang into existence the rattling of automatic weaponry also sprang to life. I instinctively threw a shield of wind and force up in front of the Tonka Truck as I dropped low to avoid what bullets I could. Even so, two or three rounds connected with my chest. My spell reinforced hoodie took the brunt of the damage, but I wasn’t playing the odds taking bullets to the chest.
My focusing fan found itself to my hand and I waved it in a large arc, yelling out VERAMOUS! A massive gale of wind picked up a good half dozen gruffs and deposited them into the still burning inferno mid field. I saw movement to my right and turned just in time to see Hannah pointing her focusing ring right at a charging gruff.
“Hannah, what are you doing!?” I yelled in protest.
The only reply I received was Hannah’s spell.
Out of the end of Hannah’s ring came a stream of burning hot fire, very reminiscent of a flamethrower being fired. It was so hot both Hannah and I shied away from the flame. The gruff was not so lucky as the purifying flame consumed his body whole. A month and a half of wizarding and Hannah had charbroiled a gruff in one hit. It’s enough to make a big sister proud.
The remaining gruffs all stopped their charge and began to get a bead on Hannah with their fast firing machine guns. I needed to end this now. I turned my fan sidewise and cut across the field with it like you would swing a sword horizontally. With a call of CLEAVOS! I sent a wide horizontal blade of air cutting across the field. Each remaining gruff was sheered clean in half at the hips, and we made a hasty retreat in the Tonka Truck.
When we got home I sat the twins down and with no ire, and completely level headed, asked them just exactly who they had pissed off in the Summer Court. This ended up leading to an explanation of the fae, their courts, and a whole lot of other things beside. In the end we were no closer to why the gruffs wanted the twins dead than we had been before all the discussion. I was tempted to soul gaze one or both of them for the truth, but I firmly believed the two hadn’t summoned or talked to anything nasty over Christmas break. I just had no idea what they could have done to earn such ire.
- - -
“Connie, maybe I’m just not wizard material,” Kyle said looking forlorn as he poured over his sketch pad of notes, drawings, and school work.
“We both know that’s bullshit kiddo,” I said sitting across from him at the kitchen table.
“I don’t know. Hannah is able to do some amazing stuff with fire, and you’ve already said you think she’s going to be just as good with earth and force magic some day. You can do anything with magic, it seems some days. And me? I can’t do squat. Fire? Nope. Air? Nadda. Earth? No way. Force? Nuh-uh. We’ve tried everything and still nothing.”
“Kyle, you’re forgetting your-” I was gonna say basics, but it was me forgetting them, not him. One of my earliest lessons with magic was that running water cancels out mortal magic. I think that lesson more than anything else crippled my personal ability to channel water magic, since my beliefs about water and magic had cemented them as opposites. But just because I couldn’t whirl up nasty water evocations certainly didn’t mean that Kyle couldn’t.
“Hey,” I said, “could you get me a glass of water?” He looked confused for a bit but eventually went and poured me a glass from the tap.
“You want some lemon with that?” he joked as he sat back down and set it in front of me.
“No, I want you to channel the water,” I replied.
“Just try, Kyle.”
He focused long and hard, but after a time the water in the glass began to stir. Slowly at first, but then faster and faster. Eventually a small whirlwind of water began to lift itself out of the glass and Kyle started yelling in jubilation.
“I did it Connie! I did it! I DID IT!”
The last ‘did it’ poured just a bit too much energy into the glass. It shattered and sent a cascade of water pouring over the both of us. As water dripped down my hair into my eyes I couldn’t stop smiling. In the short time we’d all been training together I’d taught them a heck of a lot, but I think I was the one learning the most. I had to brush up on my magic to make sure I was doing a fair job for the twins. It made me rethink techniques I hadn’t changed in years. It retaught me a lot about magic I’d forgotten. It was making me a better wizard, and it was making my apprentices better ones too.
- - -
One stormy day in late February, where there was more rain and sleet than snow, Kyle convinced Hannah and I to go to the Burchfield Penney Art Center to see the exhibits, including a small work of Kyle’s being displayed. At first I gave interest just because Kyle was interested, but as we were ending our tour I couldn’t help but think how fun art really was. Not so much the making of it, for me, but looking at it was fun as all get out.
I figured the day had ended up a good one despite the storm when a monstrous thirteen foot tall goat man, that smelled like rotten food and wet dog, carefully stepped his way through the double doors of the art center. The creature’s horns were massive, and under a large poncho he carried a sword that was longer than some cars. I had no doubt that this creature was the gruff’s elder brother.
“Prithee Wizard, I am Elder Gruff, here to claim justice for the insult done to my clan by your young fledglings,” the creature’s deep voice boomed.
“And what insult might that be Lord Gruff?” I asked as I pushed my brother and sister protectively behind me.
“They have dishonored my clan, and thus I am here to enact vengeance,” it growled.
“Any act of the fledglings can be pushed onto my own standing Lord Gruff. I claim their insult as my own, and your issue with them as an issue with me, as elder of Clan Carver,” whatever the twins had done I had just fully removed any and all danger to their being with that one sentence. Of course, that meant all that danger was on me now.
“Agreed. We shall duel then for my family’s honor. Whilst thou be fine with taking our duel into the open air Lady Wizard?”
“I will,” I replied, “Hannah. Kyle. Get to the truck.”
As we walked out to the parking lot of the art center I made sure the twins were safety in the Tonka Truck as I retrieved my staff from the old golf bag in the truck’s bed where I kept it while in public. As Elder Gruff spent about ten minutes drawing his weapon from its sheath I pulled my hoodie’s hood up over my head, set my staff in a ready position, and gripped my veiling watch in my pocket.
“If you are ready Wizard?”
“Begin,” I said as I clicked the top of the watch and disappeared from sight. I began to circle Elder Gruff as the creature got a smile on its face.
“A good open wise one, but not good enough. I see your tracks,” he snarled as he swung his massive blade at roughly where my head was. I knew the watch would only be somewhat usefully in the stormy weather, but it gave me enough time to duck under the massive blade and open up with my first attack.
I yelled as I reappeared and sent a blast of concentrated force right at Elder Gruff’’s gut. It cold clocked him hard, and did little more than stagger him slightly. He pulled his blade up in a new attack as fast as any fencer and started to bring it down on my head.
I pointed the ruby engagement ring Daniel had gotten for me years ago, and that I’d recently forged into a magical tool, and released the energy stored within it while covering my eyes as best I could. A massive thunderous sound released in a terrible concussive force, accompanied by a burning brilliant light. As the flash-bang ring went off Elder Gruff let out a terrible cry and missed his mark completely.
As he stumbled about blindly I shook out my magnetic bracelet, channeled its energy through my staff, and directed a powerful magnetic field to pull in front of the gruff. The magnet field tore the gruff’s sword from his hands and sent it sailing off into the distance. Elder Gruff just smiled, cracked his knuckles, and began swinging at my head.
Things degraded into dodging, weaving, and blasts of pure force at the great goat. As I blasted hit after hit at him I started to realize he wasn’t going down easy. About the time he flung the car at my head I decided to play dirty. I cartwheeled out of the way of the car and landed near the Tonka Truck. I put my staff in my left hand and pulled the first warden sword out of the golf bag I could get my hands on. It was Desmond’s.
A quick slash across his chest caused Elder Gruff to let out an unholy yell of pain.
“The Bane! You dare use the Bane on me!”
“Hey man! Throwing cars at human heads is kind of a bane to us too,” I roared slashing back and forth at him.
We battled for mere seconds before I was able to roll under one of his swings and come up slashing up most of his side and chipping off the better part of one of his horns. As I did, Elder Gruff began to back away in fear, and then started to melt into the earth.
“You’ve beaten me wizard, but you won’t defeat my brother! Mark my word, he will finish thee!” Elder Gruff roared, and then was gone.
I strode over to the Tonka Truck and tapped on the fogged up glass. The twins rolled the window down with wide eyes of fear and amazement.
“So guys,” I said trying to stay calm, “anything special stick out in your head as to why Clan Gruff wants you, well now me, dead?”
“Connie, we didn’t do anything, we swear,” came Kyle’s response.
“Yeah, we just hung out at home, went to some movies, chilled with friends, went to the zoo, went to the park, went to-” Hannah started listing off things before I stopped her abruptly.
“Yeah,” Kyle said, “it was mostly winter animals, and a lot of them didn’t show. Except the stupid mountain sheep.”
“The idiots,” Hannah added.
“Yeah, super dumb,” Kyle continued, “they kept ramming into the rock walls, and pooping on each other and stuff.” He was chuckling.
“Did you say anything mean to the goats?” I asked clenching my teeth.
“Well sure,” Hannah said, “we laughed at them a bit, called them smelly and dumb, you know, just messing around stuff.”
I let out a monstrous sigh as I slid my hand down over my face in disgust and disbelief.
“Connie,” Kyle started, “do you think-”
“Yes, Kyle, I think you two pissed off some gruffs visiting distant relatives,” I said in a huff, “but it’s okay, this is between me and Eldest Gruff now. You two are safe. Maybe next time try to be a bit nicer to the creatures around you, but everything will be okay. I mean, how big can the eldest brother be?”
- - -
There are many times in my life where I have found myself comfortable after disasters both big and small. The circus after running away from home. Adam’s farm in Vermont after Grandma went crazy. Buffalo with Daniel. Desmond moving in. Now, after Desmond’s death and momentary ghost rebirth I had found a stable place once more, teaching the twins, spending time with friends, and coming to terms with it all after so much terribleness.
I was happy and at peace standing in front of Desmond’s memorial at Forest Lawn.
Then the fallen angel floating around in Desmond’s head opened up the telepathic link between the two of us, even through my best mental defenses, and shattered my entire world once more. Desmond was alive, and my heart soared to new heights just with that knowledge. But not all things were well. Desmond was a Denarian now. He was working for Nicodemus. He was killing men in front of their children. Prostituting women for gain. Stealing ancient and deadly bits of knowledge for ‘Papa Nick’. And worst of all, he was doing everything he could to justify those actions to the former angel, Akariel.
That’s the thing with crossing the line, you don’t even know it has happened, and you can’t remember what the line looked like when you went speeding past it. And you always have justification. It was for this reason, or for that good, or because I had too. The problem is that good intentions lead straight to Hell, and eventually they turn into bad intentions without you even realizing it. I’d been on that path myself working for the Pole, when Desmond and Daniel had saved me from myself. I knew I had to do the same for Desmond.
Except then Akariel let slip why Desmond was in Buffalo in the first place. To kill Ralph Coviello. The man who had worked his whole life to help the downtrodden, like Desmond. Who sheltered and helped the Knights of the Cross when their need was great. The man who would have married Desmond and I, and who did marry Sarah and Jason. The man who gave the most beautiful of eulogies at Desmond’s funeral. And Desmond was here to shoot him.
No, fucking, way.
I used my veil watch to disappear from sight and sound without Desmond even noticing, he was so wrapped up in justifying himself to the Fallen. I claimed my staff and my swords, prepared my strength, and reappeared not twenty feet behind the man I loved more than anyone in the world. The man I had to be prepared to kill today if it came to it. My heart was breaking, but my will was as strong as iron.
Nothing is ever easy.
“Desmond,” I spoke softly, and I could see his shoulders tense in almost fear as he slowly turned to face me, “I could have coped with your death, even after your spirit coming back to help me. I can understand that. But THIS!? Desmond, I would have never in a million years believed you capable of this. What happened?”
“Connie,” he began his justifying, “Nic, he. . .he dragged me, nearly dead, away from the field when the Walker nearly killed me. I was in a coma for so long, and when I awoke he gave me a choice. Take the coin as myself, or be tortured into insanity, and take it then. Connie, I took it to protect you and our friends. To stop Nic from using my body.”
“Oh Desmond,” I nearly burst into tears, “maybe. . .maybe it would have been better if you’d let him kill you.” As soon as I said it I knew I didn’t mean it. Desmond, a monster, but alive, was better than him dead, no question. But not by much.
“You know he would never have let me die. I did what I had to.”
And there it was.
“I will do what I have to as well,” I said nodding, “a long time ago I made you a promise that if you ever turned into one of the monsters, that I’d kill you myself. And believe me, Desmond Waters, a Wizard of the White Council keeps her promises. I will not allow you to harm a soul in my city, least of all a great man like Ralph Coviello.”
To his credit he looked down in shame. There was hope. I reached into a pocket and pulled out a white handkerchief, holding it out towards him, in my hand.
“But, Desmond, it doesn’t have to be like that,” I said with hope and need flooding my voice, “just give me the coin, and we can go home. Just give up this madness, and everything will be okay.”
For a long time Desmond looked at the ground while searching somewhere deep inside himself. When his eyes found mine again I knew he hadn’t found what he’d been looking for, and it hurt him.
“Connie, I can’t. It isn’t that simple,” he said sure and steady.
“Why not?” I let out a small whimper of despair as the cloth sat useless in my slowly falling hand.
We stood there for a long time after. I didn’t know what Desmond was thinking, Akariel had cut the link, but I was thinking one thing. Desmond really was dead after all.
“Okay, Denarian,” I said raising my head and leveling my staff, “you have entered the domain of a Warden of the White Council, and you shall go no farther. Old promises will be kept.”
Then with a cry of LOTARE! I sent enough pure force straight into Desmond’s chest that it should have snapped his spine in two. All that happened was I pushed Desmond back several feet through the snow and mud. He barely looked phased. Denarians were no joke.
I started to walk towards him expecting any number of reactions. Most likely was for him to pull one of the guns on his person and blow my head off, so I decided to be proactive. I held my staff out and funneled energy both through it and the magnetic bracelet on my right wrist that helped me control the magnetic fields of the Earth. I created such a field around Desmond and tore every visible gun on his person away from him. The force was so violent that some of the guns bent, twisted, or simply broke apart from the force.
As I strode ever closer he just kept standing there doing nothing.
“Well come on then! Why don’t you fight!?” I yelled.
“I can’t. Connie, I can’t hurt you,” Desmond said with tears in his eyes. I’d been seconds from incinerating Desmond alive when he’d said that, and it stopped me in my tracks.
Desmond couldn’t get rid of the coin, but he also couldn’t hurt me, which meant that somewhere in there was my Desmond, fighting his hardest against the monster inside him. I knew right then and there that Desmond could be redeemed, and I would die a thousand deaths to see it happen.
“Desmond, you’re fighting him! Keep fighting him!” I nearly begged.
As I spoke I watched as Desmond’s very face changed into a horrendous scowl of hate and anger. It was a face Desmond would never have worn, no matter how far he’d fallen. The voice that came was all wrong as well.
“He can’t hurt you, but I can!” Akariel roared as his set of chemical green eyes appeared on Desmond’s forehead. Then he transformed into his Denarian Grim form.
Calling it huge was an understatement. The Grim was easily bigger than a grizzly bear, but kept the sleek predatory form that Desmond’s Grim always had. Its fur was thick and matted, and seemed to be covered in insects and filth. All up and down its body were massive burn scars that looked like they were caused by direct contact with lightning. Above the Grim’s normal set of eyes were another set, those a horrendous chemical green.
It was then that I snapped my fingers and coated the Desnarian in a sheet of roaring hot flame. It didn’t even flinch as it came charging towards me to tear my throat out. I cast my right hand out, triggered my flashbang ring, and jumped to the side as concussive force and terrible brightness flashed in the Desnarian’s face. It was the only thing that saved me, even though the Grim was still accurate enough to slam into my chest and send me flying. A bruised rib was likely.
As the creature came roaring at me with little hesitation I pelted it right in the face with a blast of pure force to slow it enough to bring my shield bracelet to bear. My shield bracelet was a silver link with Desmond’s name on it, my shielding spell had been changed to incorporate my love for Desmond into the working of the spell. If it were truly Desmond in control of the Grim then he would sheer right through my shield spell, as you can’t protect yourself from yourself.
I roared, forming the steel hard shield of air and force. As the Grim hit the magical barrier both it and I went tumbling back from the impact. The shield held, and Desmond was still in there somewhere, but not in control.
We battled back and forth, crushing many monuments and statues along the way, until I pulled up a massive surge of force and sent the Desnarian careening back through the air to land on top of, and smash his own gravestone. I had hurt it. The Grim yelped out a whine of pain, and then it was running. Running off towards the Basilica to kill Father Coviello.
I turned and ran for the Tonka Truck, knowing I had to beat him there. Not fifteen feet from the truck I heard the massive echoing footfalls of a massive creature approaching me from behind a nearby monument. As I stood there exhausted from battling for my life against the Denarian, and clutching my bruised rib, I knew that Eldest Gruff could very well be the death of me.
One booming footstep after another came on until finally I got my first good look at Eldest Gruff. He was five feet tall, maybe, but his long beard was rather impressive, and his staff looked to be of sound make. Around his shoulders hung three purples stoles, all of which I realized were the same worn by Senior Council members of the White Council. From the looks of it Eldest Gruff had killed three Senior Council members in duels over the years. Things were not looking up for me.
“Wizard of Clan Carver, we have business of a foul sort,” Eldest Gruff said not unkindly.
“Eldest Gruff. Look, I know that this is important, but I’m right in the middle of something. Could we maybe reschedule to next Friday or something?” I asked with a cheesy grin on my face.
Eldest Gruff frowned slightly and then barely rapped the end of his staff on the ground. A car in the parking lot went soaring over one hundred feet in the air to come landing in a pile of smashed metal and glass off in the cemetery’s distance.
“No, then,” I said, my smile evaporating into a stern look of readiness.
“No, young wizard. I am here to settle an honor duel with thee, unpleasant as that might be.”
I started to wrack my brain for anything I could to save myself. If Eldest Gruff and I threw down with magic I wasn’t going to last much past three seconds. If it was a regular Code Duello duel there would have been a lot of pomp with seconds and an arbitor and the like, but an honor duel between clans was different. Clan Carver had insulted Clan Gruff, and thus it fell under a different set of laws under the Accords.
A VERY different set of laws.
“Eldest Gruff, I believe the challenged have a right to choice of weapons in an Honor Duel,” I blurted out.
Eldest Gruff smiled like he’d been waiting for me to say just that. He nodded, pleased looking, in affirmation.
“Then I choose. . .uh. . . I choose,” I started looking around for or thinking of anything that could get me out of the mess I was in. My mind fell on an old game Desmond had bought from a thrift store and threw behind the seat of the Tonka Truck for a rainy day. “I choose a duel of wits with the game of Travel Guess Who.”
“Ah, a very fitting choice for a matter of such grave insult,” Eldest Gruff said rolling his eyes. Well, at least the oldest members of our respective clans weren’t as petty and unthinking as the younger. Damn wizard twins and billy goat bros.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I won, the matter of insult between Clans Carver and Gruff were put to rest, and I decided that the extreme racial disparities in Milton Bradley games weren’t so bad after all.
- - -
I drove the Tonka Truck faster than I knew it could go. I broke every traffic law there is, twice. But in the end I still wasn’t fast enough. As I turned the corner the Basilica came into sight and I could see two lone figures standing in the cold parking lot.
The priest was in normal clothing and held paper bags of groceries in his hands. I could only imagine a look of surprise on his face as looked into the face of a friend thought dead. The other figure was Desmond, and in his hand he held a massive handgun, pointed right at Ralph Coviello’s head.
Desmond muttered something, I don’t know what, and then the gun recoiled twice. Two bullets to Father Coviello’s head.
“Double tap Connie,” Desmond had said to me once, long ago, “you always want to make sure your kill is clean.”
Coviello’s murder was as clean as they got. By the time I pulled into the parking lot Desmond and Akariel were long gone. Only the priest remained, most of what had made him, him, was scattered across the parking lot among the spilled groceries and the loose change that he’d carried in a small white envelop, to return to the church’s coffers. I hurt too much to cry. I just walked inside and called the police.
Kevin came first, and took it hard. The Father had served the Hart’s religious needs for many a year. Kevin knew the supernatural was involved when I called. All I told him was that the Denarians had struck at us, not which Denarian it was.
The Knights I did tell. Charity took the message for Michael, and wished me all of God’s blessings. I took them, I needed all the help I could get. Shiro I had to leave a message, with an automated messaging service. I had hoped to get Sarah when I rang the Ivory household, but it seemed that I caught Jason walking through the door, back from his latest mission.
“Ivory residence,” Jason answered, sounding weary from what must have been long travels.
So I told one of my dearest friends that his best friend in the world was alive, and that the day might come that he would have to kill him.
Though, I would be long dead before that day ever came.