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Posts posted by Kyo

  1. [Glued State]


    As they made their escape Jin was thinking about what came next. In the heat of the moment he had found a quiet focus in his new objective: To get Yuri out alive. There was no time yet to grieve their fallen leader, and if he had been overcome with trauma then he'd probably be dead already. Instead he focused on doing what his father had always considered top priority, to control the flow of the battle. He had already gathered the facts. There were 12 ninja chasing them, all working together. Yuri had provided them an advantage with her surprise attack, which had also left Ayame wounded, hopefully for good. At any rate she probably wouldn't be after them herself, but her team were organised, and had been keeping tabs on them all along. They knew their tactics, their abilities, and they probably knew the terrain far better than Jin or Yuri. 


    The situation was exceptionally bad, and their chances were slim. He knew that with such a large group after them, they would likely split in to smaller cells and come at them from all angles. Even if they kept running, Eventually they would tire and get caught. If he was going to keep the upper hand then they had to change their tactics. He made sure Yuri was still close, and he signalled for her to stay close to him. Then he dropped from the tree tops and landed on the earth below, rolling to adsorb the shock of the fall, before moving on at a quick but silent pace. They had moved in to the cover of closely grouped trees, and he brought up his fist, level with his shoulder, signalling for Yuri to freeze. Then he pressed himself against the trunk of the nearest tree, and cupped his hand to his ear, signalling for Yuri to listen. He brought his hand down to waist height, and Yuri crouched when he did so. He crouched down with her and waited. 


    There was a soft tap in the distance and one of their enemies dropped from the tree tops. He stood still for a moment, lifting his chin and slowly sweeping his gaze around, trying to find any sign of them. Jin crouched lower to stay out of sight and held his breath. Their enemy was alone, and was standing out in the open. Perhaps if they rushed him they would be able to overcome him together, but that was a big risk. They had to look for an opening and make a break for it. And yet...why was this ninja alone? Jin narrowed his eyes as he watched the man, and then he motioned for Yuri to get ready. He put his hands together and two shadow clones appeared at his side, crouched down and out of sight. One of them quickly performed his own seal, and in the blink of an eye had taken the appearance of Yuri. Jin gave his clones a quick nod, and then they took off while the ninja's back was turned. As they crossed the clearing, another ninja fell from thre tree tops and dropped them both in an instant with a pair of kunai to their backs. 


    Just as Jin had expected, the first ninja had shown himself as a decoy to lure them out of hiding. The other had remained waiting in the trees, ready to strike at them. When the clones disappeared in a puff of clouds, the enemies had reacted by fanning out to sweep the area. This had it's good and bad points. All of this meant that they had managed to avoid detection, for now. However, it also meant they would start searching more aggressively, now that their plan had failed. He gave Yuri a nervous glance and then tried to think of what they could do. They wouldn't fall for another clone distraction. Then his eyes widened as a sudden realisation came to him. It was risky, but it was the best chance they had. 




    They shot out of their cover and sprinted across the clearing. Then, a second pair of them went off in the opposite direction, slowly and clinging to the cover of the trees. The enemy ninja rounded on them immediately. "Not this time!" one of them snarled as he lunged towards Yuri. Jin stepped in front of him, kunai drawn and the pair clashed. Jin dodged the flurry of blows and struck back, before the other enemy stepped in and countered his strike, and together the enemies pinned him down and cut him to ribbons. Only for Jin to explode in to clouds and disappear. 

    "A double bluff!" One of them cried. "Sneaky brat! Get after the real ones!" He added as he sprinted off over the clearing, after the real Jin and Yuri, but they were long gone. 




    Jin and Yuri had made their way out of the woods and had found themselves at a large cliff face, with a waterfall flowing down it, and a thick mist coating the bottom. Jin pressed on and motioned for Yuri to follow. They climbed the rocks around the waterfall, and edged around the side and slipped through it, in to a small cave that was hidden behind it. Jin let out a sigh of relief and sat himself down on a rock. "Okay..." Jin said, pausing as he took a deep breath. "...We should be okay to talk now. I...well, I think we have a lot to talk about. However, we need to think of a plan before we make another move. Let's assess the situation and try to think of something."

    Wiping the blood from her goggles, Yuri leant against the cool stone wall and caught Jin's eye before speaking, "Sensei is alive, Jin."

    Jin simply stared at Yuri in disbelief. "...Are...are you sure?" He asked.

    "Mm... i'm sure." Yuri nodded, licking her lips, "His wound was smoking, and the tissue was healing. I don't know how, but I think once the wound is healed he'll wake up - so long as Ayame and her ninja don't notice." Yuri shook her head, "I can't believe Kaoru was Ayame, or... the other way around, I don't know. Was there ever even a Kaoru?"


    "That's a question for another time." Jin said. He had been wondering the same thing, and the thought of what might have happened to the real Kaoru made his stomach turn. "If sensei is alive then that complicates things. We can't just leave him. That means...we need to go back."

    "But... Ayame was powerful enough to kill Hisato, more or less... and she has a whole bunch of other ninja who I didn't detect, even with my bugs surrounding the area. It was like, they must have seen them and choose not to kill or interact with them, but somehow masked themselves from my bugs..." This thought stuck with Yuri and she frowned, trying to think.

    "So we leave him to really die, then?" Jin said with a frown. "Tell me, what would a ninja do in this situation? I'm not even sure I know any more..."

    "I don't know..." Yuri wished she had the answers, but she didn't. Every thought screamed for her to run home to Konoha. But she couldn't. "We can't leave him, not if there's a chance he's alive. But... we're just genin..."


    "Says the girl who blew Ayame's leg off." Jin said. " don't even realise how talented you are, do you?"

    "I'm not talented." Yuri muttered, "Hisato got killed, and I just... froze."

    "As I saved our lives and gravely wounded our opponent." Jin said. "You did just what my dad would expect. You brought the flow of battle back within our control, just like he teaches with his Taijutsu, y'know?"

    "It's not good enough." Yuri bit her lip, "Mira would have killed her and she would never have fallen into a trap like this..." Yuri stared at the waterfall rushing over the exit to their cave, "When she was my age, she was sent on high-ranking missions. She was so strong, they awarded her a Jounin rank after two missions... I can never compete with that."

    "Yeah's not all about being tough, is it?" Jin said. "You should believe in yourself more, Yuri. I believe in you."

    Yuri held her head up and smiled at Jin, "... thanks." She took a deep breath, "So, when should we leave? Do you have a plan?"


    "Not really." Jin admitted. "I made a bunch of clones while we were running. They're spreading out and keeping watch. There's still 12 out there for the moment, one for each of the bad guys. The only trouble is I don't pick up on what they've seen until they are dispelled. But I figure if we stay here then I can record what they find out and build some knowledge about these guys, their techniques and stuff. Y'know, beat them at their own game."

    "Right..." Yuri nodded. She was proud of Jin, but she couldn't say it. He was intelligent, and clear-minded even when everything went wrong. She took a deep breath and pulled her left sleeve back so she could see her hand. With a moment's focus, she pooled insects in her palm and concentrated. They swarmed over her hand and tried to reach out, as though she was making a blade, but as they started to form, they fell apart and returned to her palm. "Damn..." She muttered, shaking her head, then let them return.

    "What's wrong?" Jin asked. 


    Yuri looked at Jin and then back at her insects, "I'm not really supposed to talk about it..." She said dejectedly, pursing her lips. "My sister would be mad."

    "Okay." Jin said with a nod. "Well then...I suppose we should try to come up with a plan." Jin stood up from the rock and took a step forward, but stumbled and fell down to his knees. He pushed himself back to his feet, his hand shaking as he did. When he looked up there were beads of sweat dripping down his face. "Sorry I...I tripped."

    "Are you okay?" Yuri asked, putting her hand on his shoulder.

    "Yeah...I..." Jin sighed. "When you create shadow clones you seperate your chakra equally among them. So with 12 out there my chakra is split 13 ways. It'll come back when I dispel the jutsu, minus any they've used. But...I guess that's one of their weaknesses. I'm not as strong when I'm split up."

    "Oh... I never learnt about shadow clones. My sister said we can't use them."


    "It's a potentially dangerous ninjutsu." Jin said. "It can put the user in a real bind if it's abused. But I don't really have any other options...right..." Jin stopped in his tracks, staring off at the back of the cave fearfully. Some colour had returned to his cheeks, and despite his shock he looked a lot better. "All of once!" He gasped. "But how did they...oh no!"

    "Jin...?" Yuri squeezed his shoulder, "What is it?!" She whispered fearfully

    "All my clones just got killed at once...and none of them saw who did it." Jin said fearfully. "It was a co-ordinated attack. But how do they know where we...the dog!" Jin spun on his heel so he was facing the entrance to the cave. "Ayame is a tracker! That wasn't a lie! That dog, remember? We need to run!"


    Just then a small husky dog with an eyepatch and a blue neckerchief stepped through the waterfall, snarling viciously at them. They were too late. Ayame knew where they were, and they only way out was blocked. 

  2. [Confrontment]


    When Yuri and Kaoru had returned they explained the events that had taken place while they were away together. All the while Hisato listened intently, never speaking and allowing them to get through what they had to say. When Yuri had concluded her report, he held his hand to his chin and let out a frustrated sigh. Folding his arms across his chest, he observed the situation they were in. Jin, Kaoru and Yuri were standing with him in a secluded area of the forest. Tied up to a nearby tree was Keigo, who had been calm and quiet since the time of his capture. Hisato felt that there was information about this mission that was obscured to them, and if they had any hope of succeeding they would have to find the answers. Jin was the first to break the silence. "Sensei, what do you we now?" He asked. 


    "Well...considering what happened to Yuri it's safe to say our enemy has a few things she doesn't want us to know." Hisato explained. "So our captive here gives us a bit of an advantage. I'm going to interrogate him and see what he knows."

    "It's not like he's just going to tell you." Jin said. "I do we get him to cough up the goods?"

    "Interrogation tactics can be quite unsavoury." Hisato said. "However in times where there is more at risk we have to do unpleasant things."

    "We would be better off learning what we can from him and terminating him." Kaoru added, his eyes sad. He looked down at the bound man and then turned his gaze on Hisato, "This man is a danger to us all, there is no easy way to restrain him or ensure that he doesn't escape, and later cause problems for us." 
    Yuri shook her head, "They don't seem like evil people though..." She muttered, holding her stomach where she'd been hit. Despite the fight, she hadn't felt any malice from the man, he was just doing the same as her. It was a strange feeling, and she wasn't sure she liked the uncertainty.
    "It can't be that simple!" Jin protested. "Don't talk so casually about killing someone..."
    "There's nothing casual about it." Kaoru replied calmly. "This man knows me. And I know him. Our village is smaller than Konoha, but i'm sure you understand that your village is like an extension of your family. So, you must understand the gravity of my words, when I say, that this man has to die."
    "No I don't know!" Jin lashed back. "If this man was really family to you...then you'd try harder."
    "How would my trying harder save this man's life?" Kaoru asked.
    "Who is he to you?" Yuri nodded at Keigo. 
    "He is a friend..." Kaoru replied, his gaze falling to the ground. Yuri's mouth fell open and she stared at Kaoru in disbelief, unable to form any words.
    "Maybe it won't do anything, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try!" Jin said angrily. 
    "That's enough, Jin." Hisato said, and he turned his gaze to Kaoru. "If you know this man, then I will ask you to be honest with me. Do you think he will cooperate or provide information to us willingly?"
    "Keigo?" Kaoru asked, turning to face the man. The two looked at one another for a few seconds and then Keigo stared at the ground in silence. "No, he won't. Not by choice." Kaoru sighed, "He is a loyal and trustworthy person, to the end..."
    "I'm not staying here for this." Yuri muttered, and marched off into the woods.
    "Yuri!" Hisato called after her. "I am afraid I'm going to have to insist that you stay."
    Yuri slowed to a stop and clenched her hidden fists, "Why?!" Yuri snapped, without turning to look at her teacher. "Why do I need to learn this? We didn't even ask them what they were doing or why?!"
    "You are a shinobi, with a mission. Does it matter?" Kaoru replied.
    "Of course it does!" She whirled around to face them, "I was taught that ninja protect people! How are we protecting Konoha right now? We hurt them, they hurt us, we hurt them, and it goes round and round. I wanted to become a ninja to protect people, to protect my family and friends... not this."
    "Yuri..." Hisato said patiently. "It's true that we don't know enough about this mission. That's why what I am about to do is important. I want you to stay because understanding this part of being a ninja may be vital to your survival one day. There is a wide assortment of practices used to obtain information from someone, I want you to stand by and watch me as I do this. Do not speak, do not act unless told to so. That goes for all of you, understood?"
    "Yeah..." Jin said, but he turned his head away from Hisato. "...I get it."
    Yuri shook her head and crossed her arms in silence, but remained rooted on the spot. She knew if she opened her mouth, it would be to yell. Hisato took this as confirmation enough. He turned around and approached Keigo, who was still waiting calmly and quietly, his entire body wrapped in thin wire that kept him fixed to the tree. Hisato stared at him in silence, and Keigo stared back with an expression of mild amusement. "You're going to have to do better than that." He said with a faint grin.
    "You are a missing nin of Kusagakure. Keigo, was it? How old are you?" Hisato asked. 
    "Old enough." Keigo replied. 
    "And why did you attempt to assassinate us?" Hisato asked. 
    "Orders." Keigo said simply, sounding bored. "Like I said to the kid, it's nothing personal."
    "Are you sure about that?" Hisato said. "You're loyal to the Crimson Field, our enemy. Can I assume you share her feelings. Do you have any animosity towards Konoha?"
    "Heh." Keigo shook his head. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't. I still don't have anything against you guys, though. I've never met any of you. None of you have wronged me."
    "So you're just doing your job then?" Hisato said. "Just like us?"
    "Yep." Keigo said in response. "And that's all you're getting from me."
    "We'll see." Hisato said. "How about we talk about the Crimson Field, hm? The rumours say that she obtained that nickname after she was found to be the sole survivor of a particularly bloody battle. They say she was found within a field that was soaked right through with blood, hence Crimson Field."
    "That's the story." Keigo said. 
    "Oshiro Ayame. Quite the impressive kunoichi." Hisato said. "Apparently she did a lot for Kusagakure. I wonder why she changed her mind? It seems odd for an accomplished ninja to just completely change their mind all of a sudden. So I have to ask, what happened to her?"
    "Are you trying to say she's evil?" Keigo asked. "Give me a break. Who among us has the right to judge the dark deeds of others. You can't act all superior if you like, and you can dress this up, try to be accomodating to soften the blow. It doesn't matter. You can try being diplomatic for a while, for the sake of your Genin, but you know that in the end these kinds of situations always result in torture. Being a ninja is messy. The villages put ninja on these pedestals, and make their children excited and eager to become one. They train their children to become murderers. Maybe Ayame was just sick of it, did you ever think of that?"
    "And yet she has ordered you to kill two children in the process." Hisato replied. "It doesn't seem like she has risen above it to me."
    "Old habits, I guess." Keigo said.
    "Do you agree with her methods?" Hisato asked. 
    "Do you agree with Konoha's?" Keigo replied. "Do you even question your orders?"
    "I do not." Hisato said. 
    "Me neither." Keigo said.
    "Unfortunately I don't have time to do this properly. So I will have to hope I can obtain the most pressing information from you." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame headed right now?"
    "I've already told you I'm not talking." Keigo said with a sigh. 
    "Have you considered what it will do to Kusagakure if she succeeds in her plan? Whatever she is doing, if word get's out that it was her then it could lead to a war with Kusagakure. Konoha cannot protect Kusagakure from a major threat like that. Your village is small, and could be stamped out by any of the Five Great Shinobi Villages. Is it really worth risking the lives of your friends and family? Your comrades?"
    "I made my peace with that a long time ago." Keigo replied. "So do what you like. I'm as good as dead now, so it doesn't matter."
    "Then...what about your own life?" Hisato said. "Do you think you are really ready to die? Have you ever faced your mortality, and I mean really faced it?"
    "What do you-" Keigo stopped talking as Hisato's hand clenched against his throat, squeezing tightly. He began to choke but Hisato only gripped harder. Then when Keigo's skin began to turn red from the lack of oxygen, and tears began to well in his eyes, Hisato released his grip.
    "I'll ask again." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame going?"
    "Go to hell!" Keigo spat through gasping breaths. Hisato gripped his throat once more, and this time he drew a kunai in his other hand and pressed it's sharp tip up against Keigo's right eye, holding it just enough so that Keigo could feel the point pushing against his socket. He released his grip enough so that Keigo could speak.
    "I will make this as slow as possible if you do not cooperate." Hisato said. "You will relent, eventually. I can see that you have not quite managed to extinguish your fear of death. Very few people ever manage to accomplish such a thing. Many ninja think they are ready, but when it comes to the crunch they become terrified."
    "You're...just proving...that you're all no good." Keigo gasped. "There's no hope...for men like us. We've already been tainted." Keigo's gaze moved past Hisato, and fell on Jin. He looked scared, like he might be sick at any moment. "But him...they might just make this world a better place." Keigo took another gasping breath, and continued to look at Jin, and when he spoke he addressed the young boy. "...Violence and's a cycle. It'll go on forever unless we try harder to stop it. You know that, kid. And so does your leader, but he's too set in his ways to do anything about it."
    Jin simply stared at Keigo, his entire body trembling. He didn't know what to do, what to say. He was too scared to speak. "...Fine." Keigo said finally. "Just remember that I did this " He paused for a moment, and then he spoke again. "Kumogakure. That's where she's headed." Hisato instantly released his grip from Keigo and stepped away from him. 
    "Thank you." Hisato said. "I'm...going to let you live. Jin is right, we need to try harder if we're going to grow as shinobi."
    "Let me live? You just made my death a certainty." Keigo replied, and then he stuck his tongue out. A black symbol was etched in to the pink flesh of his tongue. "Sealing Method: Cursed Tongue Eradication Jutsu. All of us agreed to have them sealed on us. To ensure no information falls in to the wrong hands. Damage control, basically."
    "Why...didn't you just say so?" Hisato asked. 
    "It doesn't matter." Keigo said, and he smirked. "Hey...Kaoru." He turned his head to look at the young ninja from his village. "The kid was right. We're too quick to kill. Myself, Pain makes us that way, but that doesn't mean it's right. We should probably listen to the kids more often...I..." Keigo's eyes suddenly glazed over, and then he slumped over, and stopped moving. 
    "Why!?" Jin roared, and he rushed forward until he was stood at the tree. "Why would someone do their friends!?"
    "Jin..." Hisato began, but Jin cut him off. 
    "No! Don't try to rationalize it!" Jin yelled. "They were her friends, her comrades. How could she do that to them!? It''s not right."
    "No. It isn't." Hisato said. "But Ayame no doubt has her reasons. And her comrades all agreed to this. She may be dangerous but...she has inspired many good ninja to follow her. Her friends are willing to go to these lengths, because they believe in her. We still have to stop her, but that does not make the bonds that they have any less important. Respect your enemy."
    "I won't!" Jin snapped. "She abused their trust. And're not any better, sensei. You got what you wanted, so let's just go."
    Jin turned his back on Hisato and put his hands in his pockets. He wondered, was this what it was like to be a ninja? It always seemed like such an adventure to him, but now that he was living it, he wasn't so sure. He didn't want to kill anyone. Even if the people were truly evil, to kill them made you just as bad. That made sense to him. How could other ninja think differently? He felt cold, and a little fearful about what this road might do to him, what he might become. What if one day it was him who was threatening to gouge someone's eye out with a kunai. Was that what lay ahead for him? He wasn't sure about anything any more. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he didn't want to be a ninja at all. 


  3. Curtis stared out of the passenger side window of Sam's truck as they drove down the winding roads that passed through the forests of Darkpine.

    was playing from the radio as they drove in silence. Curtis' face looked paler than usual, and he had pulled the hood of his sweater up over his head, and his eyes were shadowed in dark rings. He and his father glanced at each other, Sam looking no worse off than usual. Curtis had awoke that morning, naked and cold, his face and hands stained with the blood of a deer, and had quickly realised it's remains were only a few feet from him. Everyone had regrouped at the cabin and got cleaned up, although none of them dared chance having any breakfast. Curtis had spent a good while in the bathroom throwing up the remaining raw flesh and blood that still sat in his now human digestive system. 


    His muscles were aching after the dramatic transfiguration that came with the full moon. He wanted nothing more than to sleep and try to forget the morning's events. It was always hard, having had no memory of his time as a wolf, it was typical to wake up to some shocking scene that left him feeling revolted. And yet he gave Sam a short smirk to let him know that he was okay. He wasn't lying either. Despite everything, the day after the full moon Curtis normally felt quite at ease. Perhaps leaving his human troubles at the door for one night and running free had a positive effect on him, even if he couldn't remember it. However Sam looked like he was working up the courage to say something. Apparently one of the down sides to being an Alpha was you didn't get to run free any more, you had to shoulder your burdens constantly just like a normal person. 


    "So...about this curse." Sam said finally. 

    "Oh come on..." Curtis growned. "My head is pounding. Do we have to do this right now?"

    "I don't want any resentment to fester from this, son." Sam said.

    "I might foster some resentment about you making my headache worse." Curtis said irritably. "And thanks for the reminder...I hadn't even thought about any of that today."

    "I'm sorry..." Sam said, shaking his head. "But it's going to become a big part of your life sometimes. I just want you to be prepared."

    "Should have thought about that before you lied to me my whole life." Curtis said, but his tone was light and he had a sly smirk on his face. "Look I know you're the big poppa wolf and all that but you don't have to micro-manage everything. I can...I can take care of this in my own way. And if I need you then...I'll just howl, like last time."


    Sam said nothing, but the swell of his chest and the slightest hint of a smirk suggested he was pleased with Curtis' response. They went back to driving quietly, and Curtis started messing around on his phone for a bit. Speaking about Vivian had made him think about her, and he felt the urge to talk to her. He found her name on his contact list and lingered on it for a moment. He hadn't actually spoke to her since that night. What was he supposed to say. It always felt really dumb to just say "Hi". He thought for a moment, and then he typed up a message and hit send. It read:


    - So how was your moon festival? Sorry I couldn't come, had to see a man about a dog :P


    To pass the time Curtis checked his Facebook for a few minutes, scrolling through pages and pages of clickbait, three week old memes and articles written by The Onion that people were, of course, taking seriously. After a few moment his phone gave a little chirp and the words "new message" flashed across the screen. He instantly clicked it and read the reply:


    Vivian - It was great! We had a bit of an issue early this morning, but I think it is sort of resolved now.


    Curtis smiled, just happy for a reply. He typed up another message and sent it:


    Curtis - Glad it worked out. I'm fast but I don't think I could have ran that far in time!


    A response came back from Vivian quite quickly. And soon they were texting back and forth. 


    Vivian - Oh no I wasn't in trouble, actually the opposite...had to help someone. Ironically the same someone you accidentally fought the other night. I think my moms would kill me if they knew where I was right now. So how was your change? Everything work out okay?


    Curtis - I think so, can't really remember any of it. Pretty exhausted though. This is about the closest I get to a hangover, or at least I think so. I've never had one. 


    Vivian - That must be nice! The no hangover part. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I've seen Lily go through a couple rough mornings. Any plans for today? Or just a lot of rest?


    Curtis - No plans, just catching up on sleep. I might go out tonight if there is something to do, I'll see how I feel after a nap. What about you?


    Vivian - Nothing planned for me, but if you feel like going out tonight Lily mentioned a couple people might be hiking out into the woods to dip in the hot springs. Could be fun!


    Curtis - I'll be there.


    The decision was a swift and easy one. It was barely a decision at all. He was tired, his body ached and the last thing he needed was to be going out that night. But the thought of a few girls in bikinis makes a young man do irresponsible things. 



    Finally, after a long drive, Sam pulled up outside the Archer household in the forest. He stopped the car and paused for a moment. There was a car outside of the house, and it wasn't one of theirs. He opened the door and Curtis followed swiftly, alerted by the scent in the air. The smell was human, and there was a sort of spice about it, some kind of cologne the person was wearing. A man emerged from the car. He was a black man who looked to be in his 30's with a shaved head and a muscular physique. His arms and neck were covered in intricate black ink tattoos, and he was wearing a white vest and a pair of black jeans, and brown boots. 


    "I was hoping you would be back soon." The man said with a distinct West African accent. "I thought it best to speak with you in person about this, Sam."

    "Giconi." Sam said, folding his arms in front of his chest. "This is my son, Curtis."

    "I'd say it is a pleasure but it would be a lie under the circumstances." Giconi said, and he gave Curtis a short nod. "No disrespect, of course. But I take it you haven't heard."

    "Heard what?" Sam said. 

    "Trouble last night, big trouble." Giconi said, his tone ominous. "Four people dead, one in critical condition in the hospital. Another is still missing."

    " In Darkpine?" Curtis said. "You're kidding right? A murderer?"


    "The Sherriff's telling people it was an animal attack." Giconi said. "Doesn't add up to me. Animals don't kill like people do. Not to mention, what with it being a full moon and all..."

    "Just you try and say it!" Sam snarled. 

    "Dad! wait!" Curtis interrupted. "He knows?"

    "Giconi knows a lot of things, Curtis." Sam said, never taking his gaze away from the man. "And he knows our pack wouldn't do anything like this."

    "I do." Giconi said with a nod. "But you have to wonder who else is going to put the pieces together. Some people aren't quite so understanding. You know who I mean."

    "They won't come back here." Sam said defiantly. "I made sure of that."

    "Nothing is for certain, Sam." Giconi said. "Anyway I only came here to give you a heads up. Hopefully this mess all gets sorted out quickly. I just wanted you to know."


    "Thank you." Sam said, and he gave a soft nod. Giconi seemed happy with this and went to go back to his car. However, as he did his gaze fell on Curtis, and he stopped. His eyes surveyed Curtis carefully, and it felt uncomfortable, like he could see something...deeper. 

    "What are you looking at?" Curtis said, his tone that of annoyance. 

    "There's something about you, Curtis." Giconi said. "That's an old wolf you got inside of you. Strong and talented. I thought they had stopped making them like you."

    "What are you talking about?" Curtis asked. 

    "Maybe nothing. Maybe something." Giconi said, and he gave a little smirk. "Maybe I'll see you again, Curtis Archer. Drop by and we'll get some ink on those arms, hm?" And then he got in to his car and backed out of the drive, and went back down the road. Curtis turned to Sam and shook his head in bemusement. 


    "Who the hell was that?" Curtis asked. 

    "Giconi." Sam replied simply. "He's a Tattoo Artist, he has a shop in town."

    "A Tattoo Artist?" Curtis said with a single raised brow. "So why does he know what we are? And what was he talking about, does he think we're in danger."

    "Maybe." Sam said honestly. "He's lived here for a long time. Never aged a day since I met him. He's human though, or at least he smells like one. I've never asked. He keeps himself out of trouble, except for the occasional warnings of bad omens and freaky weird stuff. He knows a lot about our world so I trust him."

    " you think he was serious about the tattoo?" Curtis said.

    "You're not getting a tattoo." Sam said. "Now go get some rest. I need to make a few calls."


    Curtis wasn't in the mood to be pressing for more answers. He was tired and his bed was calling for him. He was worried about the people who had died, and what might have caused it. Darkpine had been a quiet, sleepy town for the extent of his life. Something like this was just plain unheard of. At any rate it wasn't his job to investigate killings. He walked in to his house and went to his room, flopping down on his bed and within moments he was sound asleep. 



    She awoke to the sound of deafening music. The room was dark and smelled of damp. She didn't know where she was, or how she had gotten there. She remembered something about a crash. She had been with her boyfriend. Most of all she felt afraid. She was cold and hungry, and her leg was throbbing. She tried to move it and let out a pained scream. It was broken. She looked around the dark room but couldn't see anything to tell her where she was, but she could sense that there was something lurking in the room with her. 

    "Wh-who's there?" She yelled. "Please, help me!" She felt tears driping down her cheeks. 


    The presence was moving closer, stalking her from the shadows, approaching slowly. She got the impression that this person was doing it on purpose, taking some sort of sick pleasure out of her reaction. She wept as she held her hands out on the cold floor in front of her, looking searchingly in to the darkness. The figure edged closer, and she could smell it's foul breath wash over her. She gagged and pushed herself back, screaming from the pain in her leg as he pressed herself up against the wall. 


    A single, sharp claw gently worked it's way over her body, but she could feel it cutting in to her skin and she let out a terrified scream. Then the creature leaned in so it was inches away from her face, and her scream fell to a terrified whimper. There was a horrible, rasping noise that she realised was the creature's voice. "It will all be over soon, little witch." it snarled at her, pleasure in it's voice. "But not too soon...I want to have my fun first..."

    "Why...why are you doing this to me?" She sobbed. 

    "Because..." She felt the claw cut deeply in to her flesh, piercing through her stomach, and she tried to scream but no noise came out. "...You are simply a delicious meal...all of your kind are. I plan to have my fill." Then with a rumbling growl the creature lunged at her and it's pointed, rotten teeth sunk in to her neck and began to thrash around furiously, tearing at her flesh. She felt blood oozing from her neck, but the pain began to fade rapidly. The dark room became, somehow, infinitely darker. Then she faded away, melting in to the wall, in to nothingness. 

  4. [Ninmu]


    "I'm kinda hungry again." Jin said, rubbing his stomach. 

    "Tough. I told you that was the last stop." Hisato said. "Besides you must have ate three times your daily allowance earlier."

    "I can't help being hungry." Jin said with a shrug. "So where are we anyway?" 


    The group were currently walking through a large wood. The trees were were huge and their branches sprawled out all over the place, so much so that the sky overhead was completely blacked out. However as Jin observed closer he noted that they were not trees at all. Where trees ended in leaves, these stalks ended in large domes. Jin screwed up his face for a moment, and then his jaw dropped. "Hey...are these mushrooms?" He said. 

    "I did tell you there were mushrooms." Hisato said casually. "What did you think I meant when I said 'forest of giant mushrooms'?"

    "Well..." Jin looked a little sheepish, before muttering, "...I didn't think they'd be this big."

    "I think it's great." Yuri added, holding out her sleeve as a little moth landed on it before flying away a moment later.
    "Just watch your step," Kaoru replied, "This forest has had several generations of chuunin exams take place in it's depths. We try and clear it out every chance we get, but there are still thousands of undiscovered traps waiting to harm the inattentive."
    "Huh?" Jin said, stopping in his tracks. "You seem to know a lot about that, Kaoru-nii. Did you compete in the exams?"
    "I did, but..." Kaoru replied, slowing to a stop. He faced Jin and sighed, "A couple of years ago, we had the Chuunin exams in our own forest. But... we didn't finish it." 
    "Uh...we?" Jin asked, scratching his head.
    Kaoru hesitated, "I..." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "I pressed my team to join the Chuunin exams. I was so sure we were ready..." He swallowed, his breaths shallow, "But I was an idiot. We were nowhere near ready. Our medic was killed, and my best friend sacrificed himself to save me. I haven't taken the exams since." Jin opened his mouth to respond, but no words came out. Instead his head sunk to the ground, and an awkward silence followed. It was only broken when Hisato decided to move things along. 
    "We should probably cut the small talk anyway." Hisato said. "It's time to earn your keep. Kaoru, make whatever preparations you need and start tracking our target. Yuri, you're on reconnaissance, make sure our enemy isn't watching us. Jin, watch our back. I'll take the front and keep an eye out for traps."
    "Got it!" Jin said, snapping his head back up and nodding confidently.
    "I'll do my best!!" Yuri replied, nodding.
    "Alright." Kaoru walked ahead of the group, knelt down on the ground and bit his thumb, making it bleed. He wiped the blood across the inside of his other palm, forming a strange symbol, and then formed a series of seals quickly. After a few seconds, he finished, clapping his hands together and then slammed his blood-covered hand to the ground. There was a slight rumble and then a quiet 'pop' as what looked like a miniature husky dog appeared in a cloud of smoke. It wore a small blue neckerchief and a black eyepatch over it's left eye.
    "A--" The dog started.
    "Hey!" Kaoru snapped, "We need to track down a rogue ninja." 
    "Ah-- right." The dog looked at the other people present and then back to Kaoru, "Who're we trackin'?" 
    "Oshiro Ayame."
    "Just do it. Here." Kaoru held out a metal forehead protector, it's symbol sliced down through the middle. "Find her, or her comrades, Kappa."
    "Right!!" The dog whirled around and leapt into the trees.
    "Whoa..." Jin whispered. "Summoning Jutsu? That's pretty cool..."
    "Not bad, huh?" Kaoru grinned, "Making a connection with an animal is the strongest bond a shinobi can make, I think."
    "I agree!" Yuri replied, and held up her sleeves to show Kaoru, but he was already focused on talking with Jin.
    "I can show you how if you don't know already?" Kaoru replied.
    "Really!?" Jin gasped. "I'd love to!"
    "Jin!" Hisato snapped irritably. "Focus."
    "Right...sorry, sensei." Jin said, his cheeks going a little red. 
    The group continued walking through the forest at a careful but brisk pace, with Hisato taking the lead. As they went deeper the forest grew darker, and Jin began to feel more and more creeped out. Every snap of a twig, every sudden breeze, or the echoing noises of woodland animals, all made his head twitch in their direction, his eyes wide and alert. "Hey uh..." Jin whispered. "I was thinking some people might find this forest quite scary. I mean, not me but...some people. Y'know?"
    "This place is just..." Kaoru shrugged, "Full of bad memories."
    "Wait!!" Yuri held out her arm as the group stopped. She slowly lifted her arm up, and from just beneath the surface of the earth, a couple of feet in front of them, a small wooden block with black markings rose out of the ground. "It's a trap..." She added, and the wooden block moved off to one side, then lowered itself to the ground and a fine black mist came out from beneath it and surged forwards into the ground once again.
    "Hey...good job, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "Your bugs might be creepy, but they sure are useful!"
    "They're not creepy..." Yuri muttered defensively.
    "They're useful, at least." Hisato nodded, taking careful gauge of the trap they had set aside. "That would have incinerated a large section of this forest, and us inside it, I should think."
    "The exams are made to test ninja to their limit and beyond. Those who are not strong enough, are not expected to sign-up, but... most years, there are still deaths." Kaoru added.
    "Well we're not dead, and we have Yuri to thank for that." Jin said, trying to sound cheerful. 
    "The shinobi of Konoha are well-trained, it seems." Kaoru mused. Yuri smiled at the boys, "So you use insects then, Yuri?"
    "Mm!" She nodded quickly, "They're great for lots of things, and... but... I have to get a lot better before I can call myself a true Satomi clan member."
    "Figures I'd get stuck with a bunch of chatterboxes." Hisato said with a hint of a smirk. "As much as I like to see you all bonding, there is a time and a place. If you insist on flapping your gums then at least make it useful and provide me with a status report."
    "Uh, all clear from behind." Jin said. "Well, it's actually pretty dark know what I mean."
    "I have to..." Yuri slowed to a stop, "I need a second, there's too much happening right now, i'm struggling to make sense of it." Yuri winced as though she was hearing or feeling something unpleasant and shook her head like she was trying to get water out of her ears. "Chakra everywhere." She muttered, "There's a bubble around us, the bugs that have touched it have been killed... it's closing around us!!" Yuri yelled. Hisato reached for a kunai with a lightning hand, and the group were suddenly on high alert. Something or someone had trapped them, and they intended on snapping the trap shut for good.
    [Glued State]
    "Don't panic." Hisato said through gritted teeth. "We have to think our way out. We need to know what we're up against. Jin, send a few shadow clones out and see if you can breach the barrier."
    "Hm!" Jin affirmed, clapping his hands together in a seal. Three clones appeared around him, and each one jetted off in a different direction, leaping through the trees. The group waited patiently, as they heard rustling in the trees. Then, after a few moment, Jin gave an audible gasp as if he had seen something that the rest hadn't. 
    "This is bad..." Jin said, his eyes fearful. "They all just...died." His hands gripped in to tight fists as he tried to stop himself from shaking. 
    "I expected that." Hisato said, and he looked calm and collected. "You remember a shadow clone's experience like it was your own, correct?"
    "Yeah...pretty much." Jin said with a nod. 
    "Alright." Hisato said. "Don't worry about the barrier. Think about your surroundings. What was happening to the environment, like the trees. Were they affected at all as the barrier closed in?"
    " It all just looked normal." Jin said. 
    "And how far out did you get?" Hisato asked
    "Not far, about a quarter mile. Though it was a little less with each clone." Jin explained. "I'd say it's moving about a meter every 5 seconds."
    "Then we have to move quickly." Hisato said. "Yuri, what about underneath the ground?"
    "There's a lot of ground to cover!!" Yuri pleaded, as she held out her arms and braced herself.
    "You can do it, Yuri!" Kaoru took a step back, watching.
    Yuri focused as hard as she could and a few seconds later, a large black cloud of insects vented from the ends of her sleeves. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead and trickled down her skin as the insects spread out across the ground and disappeared into the soil. "There are too many rocks..." Yuri grit her teeth, "Soft sections of soil here," Yuri nodded at the ground in front of them, "But the barrier is closing fastest on that side, but I don't feel it beneath us..."
    "That's all I need to know." Hisato said with a nod. "I'll take care of the rest."

    There was a soft thump as a pair of feet landed on top of a mushroom pad that was growing high above the trees. There was a man down on one knee, his hands clasped in a seal, looking down in to the dark depths of the forest. The man was wearing a green coat with a high collar, obscuring his face, but without sleeves, exposing bare arms that were covered in elaborate seal marks. His long, brown hair was slicked back over his hair, and his skin looked dull and grey. 
    "Keigo." A deep voice came from the newcomer who had joined the man, apparently named Keigo. "Has it worked?"
    "Hmm..." Keigo replied, apparently deep in conversation. "...I'm unsure. There were a few things that hit my barrier and perished, and now it has completely closed in on them...hmm...four corpses. worked."
    "Good." the other man said, and he stepped forward to stand at Keigo's side. This man was tall and muscular, dressed in black trousers and the distinctive green flak jackets that were common among ninja. He had a headband tied around his head like a bandana, with the symbol of Kusagakure scratched out. "Ayame wants 100% confirmation. You need to see the corpses."
    "Yes...she would." Keigo said, sounding none to thrilled about the prospect. "Very well, Ren. Fall back and check if there are any more stragglers, I'll catch up."
    With that Ren leapt off back the way he had came. Keigo stood up, his hands disappearing under the long sleeves of his coat, then he stepped off of the mushroom and descended down in to the darkness, hopping from branch to branch, sprinting across the large branches, until finally he landed on the floor of the forest, and to his left he saw a pile of corpses. He walked over to them, and examined them. They all wore fearful expression, they had died quickly. Two of them were children, a boy and a girl. "Messy..." Keigo said to himself. "...Those bastards...sending children." He added, shaking his head. He went to walk away, tutting to himself in disagreement, when he heard the slightest click as his foot hit the ground. His eyes widened in realisation, but it was too late. The forest lit up in an almighty explosion, animals sprinted away from the burning fire that had made the entire area suddenly bright and clear. Then Keigo appeared with a flicker, on the outside of the blast zone. "That was close!" He said to himself. No sooner had he said it had shuriken began whistling though the air towards him. Quick as a flash he withdrew and kunai and with a whirlwing flurry he deflected each one, and stood ready for a fight. "Come on out!" He called in to the forest.
    A figure descended from the trees, a kunai drawn, and landed a short distance away from Keigo. Jin stared at the ninja, his eyes filled with a quiet rage. 
    "Oh?" Keigo said. "You're just a kid. How did you escape?"
    "You killed them!" Jin snarled. "You killed them all!"
    "Nothing personal, kid." Keigo said, and he looked a bit disappointed. "I don't like killing people, if I can avoid it, but I've got orders."
    "I don't care!" Jin yelled. "...I can't forgive you!"
    "That's...too bad." Keigo said, and he readied his kunai. "I'm afraid I'll have to kill you too, unfortunately. Messy...messy."
    "I'll show you messy!" Jin roared, and he launched himself at Keigo. 
    [strong & Strike]
    Keigo's eyes widened as Jin came at him with alarming speed. He sprinted forward as well and the pair clashed kunai as they passed each other. Jin stopped and spun around, leaping and sweeping his leg around at Keigo's head. Keigo ducked and Jin leant backwards, landing on his hand and springing back to his feet, bounding forward and striking with his kunai. Keigo parried it again, and swung a punch at Jin's face. Jin narrowly dodged and countered with a swift punch to Keigo's stomach and followed with a knee to his ribs. Keigo doubled back but recovered in time to avoid another kunai strike and caught Jin's wrist. However the young ninja carried on, running up Keigo's body and kicking him in the face, freeing himself from Keigo's grasp and flipping backwards, sliding across the dirt. 
    "Shit!" Keigo spat. "You're fast for a kid!" He added as he sprinted forward, his kunai raised to strike. Jin leapt and flipped forward, bringing his heel down on Keigo's hand, causing him to drop the kunai. Jin landed on his feet but Keigo whipped back up with sudden speed and hooked him hard in the jaw. Jin fell backwards across the dirt, tumbling over and over before crashing in to the stump of a tree. Keigo wiped the blood from his lip and began to amble forwards, when Jin simply disappeared in a cloud of smoke. "What!?" Keigo gasped, but he didn't have enough time to say much else. A hand grabbed his heel from beneath the ground, and suddenly he felt himself being dragged into the dirt like it was quicksand, until only his head remained above ground. Then the earth began to tighten and solidify around him, trapping him. 
    A sandalled foot came down on Keigo's head, pressing firmly aginst it and pushing his head to the side at an awkward angle, causing him to wince in pain. 
    "Uh-oh..." Said a man's voice. "Looks like you got your ass handed to you by a kid." There was a soft tap on the ground near Keigo, and then Jin walked in to his line of sight. 
    "Any longer and he might have had me." Jin said with a cocky grin. "Once he realised I was using shadow clones he might have started trying harder."
    "Underestimating a child...bad move." Hisato said, and he pressed his foot down harder, causing Keigo to yell in pain. "But hey, at least you didn't kill anybody, your conscience is clear of that."
    "" Keigo asked through gritted teeth. 
    "Shadow clones, duh." Jin said. "And any ninja out of the academy knows transformation jutsu. You just had to think there was dead bodies. Although I can't take credit, it was sensei's idea."
    "You followed instructions perfectly." Hisato said, and he sounded a little impressed for once. "Come on, you've earned it." He held out his clenched fist towards Jin. "Come on, fist me."
    "Eh!?" Jin stifled his laughter, and began clutching his sides in an attempt to hold it in. 
    "What?" Hisato asked. "What'd I say?"
    "Er...nothing." Jin said, giving a little chuckle. "You're supposed to say 'pound it', not...well nevermind." Jin held out his fist and wrapped it against Hisato's. "So, what now?"
    "Well this guy is gonna answer some questions." Hisato said. "...and we'll just have to see how Yuri and Kaoru get on with following the other guy."
    "Yuri won't disappoint." Jin said with a confident nod. "And Kaoru-nii is with her, he'll protect her!"


  5. "This ain't a good idea, hoss." Al said as he watched Vincent re-arranging his apartment furniture, clearing a large space on the floor where he could place a magic circle. "Tha' book may have the answers but ye might not like the price ye pay."

    "Well we're all out of options." Vincent replied as he threw down the wire circle he kept for such occasions. "It's for Violet."

    "Thas the only reason I ain't forcin' ye to stop this with ma own hands, boy." Al said, shaking his head as he resigned himself to what had to happen. "Tha' book changed your father, y'know. He never let anyone know it's secrets an' it tore him up."

    "Spare me another pity party for my old man." Vincent said with contempt. "If he'd stuck around then maybe we wouldn't be in this mess."

    "Your father loved you, boy!" Al snapped. "Don' you ever think he didn't!"


    "He had a funny way of showing it." Vincent said, and he turned away from Al, ending that particular discussion. He picked up the Grimoire and stepped inside the circle on the floor, as Meredith finished sweeping the floor with a broom, keeping the area as clear as possible. She looked at Vincent with a worried expression. 

    "Are you sure this will work?" She asked. 

    "Only one way to find out." Vincent replied. "Now get out of the circle. I'll be sealing it on both sides, nothing gets in or out."

    "I'm comin' in with ye." Al said defiantly. 

    "No." Vincent said, shaking his head. "If Vael tries anything you're the only one who can do something about it. I need you to look after David and Meredith."


    "Then why don't I come in with you?" David offered. "Or am I just here to make tea now?" He folded his arms and looked expectantly at Vincent. 

    "Not a bad idea. If there was ever a time for a Holy man to be by your side it's now, Vincent." Al said. 

    "I don't think the G-man really has my best interests at heart." Vincent said, shaking his head.

    "You'd do well not to snub the White God, hoss." Al said, his tone grave. "With the life ye live, ye should know such bein's are a powerful force." Vincent looked at Al for a moment and let out a heavy sigh.

    "Fine, whatever." Vincent said, and he turned his head to David. "Inside the circle, then." David did as he was told, leaving Al and Meredith on the other side, looking concerned. Vincent lifted his hand up and pushed out his will, closing the circle. 


    Then he knelt down on the wooden floor, with David standing at his side, and the Grimoire placed in front of him. He opened the book and began to take slow and deep breaths. As he did he gathered his will and allowed it to flow out of him, feeling across the space within the circle until, after a few minutes, it had filled the space with his aura. He could sense the gentle thrum of energy that came from David, as well as the strange aura that came from the Grimoire. Then Vincent gathered his thoughts and began to speak, allowing his will to channel out through his words to give them power. 

    "Keeper of the Grimoire, I call upon thee." He said in a commanding voice. "Hear my voice and come forth, reveal thyself to me." The command was followed by a few moments of silence, and nothing seemed to happen. To the spectators, nothing had happened at all, but Vincent heard the Keeper's voice loud and clear within his mind. 


    "You require knowledge, Vincent Gideon Hallow." The Keeper said. "What would you ask of me?" Vincent spoke only one word. 

    "Intellectus." He said. For a moment the Keeper was silent, and when it spoke again it's tone was grave. 

    "You wish to take my knowledge unto yourself, in it's entirety? No mortal has ever done such a thing. The experience is likely to end your life."

    "I have no other choice at the moment." Vincent said. "Trying to browse the contents of the book through you is taking too much time. I don't know what questions I need to ask to find the answers. If I take all your knowledge then I can use it to save my sister."

    "The knowledge contained within me would crush you, Vincent Hallow." The Keeper said. "However, there is another option available to you."

    "Go on." Vincent said. 


    "I am The Keeper of the knowledge contained within this book. I am a construct designed to provide information to the one who holds this book, the one who has given blood and name freely."

    "I know that already." Vincent said irritably. "What other option are you talking about?"

    "You may do as those before you have done. All bearers inevitably come to this conclusion. To gain the knowledge you seek you must become knowledge."

    "Explain." Vincent said, his brow furrowing. 

    "This Grimoire is the knowledge of all who have come before you. That knowledge was provided through an agreement with the bearers. If you wish to do this, then I will allow you to speak to them."

    "Them?" Vincent said, his eyes wide with surprise at what he was hearing. "You contain the consciousness of each person who held this book?"

    "Correct." The Keeper replied simply. 


    Vincent didn't answer immediately. He reminded himself that the Keeper was not a person. It had no concept of morality, it did not understand emotion. What it had offered seemed simple and advantageous, but few things in life were that easy. There would be a cost, there always was. It was a fact so evident that it might very well have been a law of the universe. This was why summoning demons was frowned upon by the Wise. They would offer promises of great power, in exchange for something of the wizard's, and what they asked for was never good, and rarely a fair deal. Vincent felt like this was one of those situations. And yet, he had no other options available to him. He couldn't let Violet die. The cost was irrelevant. 

    "Do it." Vincent said finally. And then, without warning, his world collapsed. Literally. 


    The building began to crumble all around him, dispersing in to tiny particles. The walls, the floor, the tables, chairs, drawers, all of it crumbled. Even as the building disappeared, so too did the sky above him, and the ground beneath him. As far as the eye could see there was only a white, empty void. The sensation was frightening, but it was something distant, something fabricated. It's the kind of feeling you get when you realise you're dreaming, and that everything around you isn't quite right. He knew that the world hadn't really crumbled to nothingness, this was all just an illusion created through magic. He had entered a different consciousness, perhaps the one that resided within the book. 


    Then, slowly, shapes began to form. Stone bricks formed around him, the kind that were used in the medieval ages to build castles. There was a fireplace with an eerie, green fire burning away, illuminating the room which had the qualities of an old dungeon. It was dark and damp, and smelled of mildew. There was a small desk in the corner, and across the far wall there was a row of large, glass cases, the contents shrouded in darkness. He stood up from his kneeling position and slowly took a few steps. When he did he heard something suffling, and turned around to see a figure emerge from the shadows. As he came in to the green light, the figure revealed himself to be a man in his 50's. He was dressed in dark robes and had long, jet black hair and a thin moustache. His eyes were a striking emerald, much like Vincent's own. Combined with his features, the man bore a striking resemblance to Vincent. 


    "Let me're the ghost of Christmas past, right?" Vincent said. 

    "I am decidedly more complex than a mere shade, Vincent." The man replied, his accent vaguely English.

    "Ghosts usually don't think they're ghosts, y'know." Vincent said, walking around the man and looking him up and down. 

    "I can assure you I am well aware of what I am." The man responded. "I am a consciousness. A replica of the real thing, constructed through complex magical systems that have long been lost to the sorcerers of your time."

    "Neat." Vincent said, trying his best to sound unimpressed. "Look if you don't mind I came here to help my sister. Are you going to help or not?"


    "All in good time." The man said. "Time, interestingly, is not a particularly relevant factor in this location. So you can be sure you have plenty of it to spare."

    "Oh well in that case you better make us some tea and we can have a long chat." Vincent replied sarcastically. "The sooner we get this over with the sooner I can save my sister."

    "Such a thing is not a guarantee. Knowledge can be provided, but it will not ensure victory." The man said. "Do you know who I am?"

    "Nah." Vincent said. "Don't really care, either."

    "I am Asher." The man said. "Or rather I am his consciousness. The man himself has been dead for...around 500 years I think."


    "And why does this matter?" Vincent asked. 

    "Well, I am the first. I am the one who created the Grimoire, by going through great lengths. The shared knowledge of all known as Hallowed rests within this Grimoire, knowledge that can be used in our battle against the adversary."

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Vincent said, holding his hands up. "What do you mean 'adversary'? I think you skipped a few pages in your introduction there buddy."

    "Apologies." Asher said with a curt nod. "It is something you will inevitably learn of, but perhaps now is not the time. I assumed, since you have awakened your power, that you were aware of the adversary."

    "Yeah, well, that didn't happen on purpose." Vincent said. "And I didn't kill an adversary, I killed a Faerie Queen. Which is going to bite me in the ass one day, assuming I survive the current shitstorm."

    "Yes, your power can end even immortal beings." Asher said with a knowing nod. "A dangerous power indeed. That is why it is only bestowed on the Hallowed."


    "Hallowed?" Vincent said. "You mean Hallow, right? Like my family?"

    "Dear boy..." Asher said, shaking his head. "It is true that at some point, perhaps to keep with the times, the Hallowed chose to take on the name as their own. Hallow is, I suppose, your surname as it is the one your father took for you. However, this is not a heritage born of bloodlines, I'm afraid."

    "What do you-" Vincent shook his head. "Look! I don't want to deal with this right now! I need to know what is trying to kill my sister. I was told to ask, what would a God want with a living battery of magical energy."


    Asher spoke a word, one that Vincent had heard before. It was something he couldn't even attempt to pronounce, but he had heard Vael say it before. The word for Nagloshi, in their own tongue. 

    "Dangerous creatures." Asher said. "Though not as dangerous as Gods I should think."

    "Are we talking about Gods as in, like, what? Greek Pantheon? Buddha? Ra?"

    "Yes, all of them." Asher said with a nod. "It is quite likely that they all exist, although some have perished. At the hands of the Hallowed, actually."

    "So...Gods are real?" Vincent said. "I mean...I knew it was possible, sorta, but..."


    "The Gods of the past have faded, and so has their power. In order for a God to be powerful, it must be worshipped. If a God is preying upon a Nagloshi, then it seeks to reclaim it's power. If that is the case then it must be stopped. The Gods of old are great and terrible beings, if they came to power once more they could bring untold havoc. There was a time where they kept each other in check, but if one was to claim such great power again, there would be no one capable of defeating them."

    "Right, so how do I stop it?" Vincent asked. 

    "Hmm...well in order to know that I suppose you will have to do what you came here to do." Asher said. "You must join your knowledge with ours."


    "Ours?" Vincent asked. Asher merely waved his hand, and the eerie, green light grew brighter and illuminated the room. Vincent's gaze fell upon the glass containers on the far wall, and they became wide with horror. In each of the glass cases, stood a full size person, each of them still as if sleeping peacefully. His eyes fell on the most closest occupied case, and he swallowed as he recognised the person within it. "...Dad!" He gasped. "What...what the fuck is going on!?"

    "Please do not be alarmed." Asher said. "That is not your father. They are, like myself, merely replicas. They are a constructed consciousness."

    "...Why are they locked up like that?" Vincent asked. 

    "It is simply how your mind interprets it." Asher said. "I chose, on this occasion, to speak to you directly. If you so wish it you can seek advice from any of the other Hallowed, including Elias Wolfwood."


    "So I could...speak to him right now?" Vincent asked. His body was shaking. He hadn't seen his father since he was a boy, and even with the knowledge that this wasn't his real father, the image in front of him felt hauntingly real. "I...I can't. I can't deal with this right now." He said, as if trying to assure himself more than Asher. " want to make a replica of me, then? Is that it?"

    "Yes." Asher said. "It is a simple and painless procedure. Your identity, all that you are, will be replicated and stored within the Grimoire. Nothing will be taken from you, it is simply a copy. However, there are risks."

    "Such as?" Vincent said. 

    "Intellectus." Asher said. "While you hold the book, all knowledge within it will be yours to access. There are a few restrictions in place. The knowledge will be buried until you require it. However, if you are not careful you may expose yourself to too much. If that could destroy your mind. By doing this you gain far greater access to the knowledge we hold, but you are more vulnerable in doing so. Do you understand?"


    Vincent let out a heavy sigh, and took his gaze away from his father's body. "I do." He said with a hesitant nod. "Let's do it."





    Vincent opened his eyes to see that he was on his back. He felt a warm energy wash over him, and then he noticed that David was knelt over him, his palms together in prayer. He could feel David's strange power coursing through him, giving him energy. He sat up and David stopped, and gave a sigh of relief. "Thank the Lord in heaven!" He said, closing his eyes for a moment. "You passed out, and your heartbeat slowed to a crawl. I...I was worried."

    "I'm alright..." Vincent said, "Thanks, David. I mean it."

    "I only did what you would do for me." David said, and he helped Vincent to his feet. Vincent realised he was still holding the Grimoire. He thought about what had happened, and about Violet's situation, and then, miraculously, he just knew. He dropped the book to the floor in a panic. Knowledge not of his own had entered his head as if it had been there all along. It had felt entirely overwhleming, and that had only been a portion of what lay within the Grimoire. He took a deep breath, and the turned to David. 

    "Could you pick that up for me?" Vincent asked. "I really shouldn't be touching it any more."

    "Yes, of course." David said, and he reached down and picked the book up. "Is everything alright?"

    "Yeah." Vincent said. "I know what we need to do now. I'll need some time to prepare."

    "I'll make some tea, then." David said, and he gave Vincent a knowing smile. 

  6. Curtis had left Darkpine hours before the night had came. His entire family had packed up and left, travelling a 2 hour drive out of town on to a reserve, and a further 2 hour in to the depths of forests surrounding the rocky mountains. They had always went to the same place on a full moon, a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, away from civilization. The cabin had belonged to Curtis' grandather, Isaac, and had been the agreed territory for his pack during the full moon ever since. According to Sam, it was important to shift in a location that was familiar, something that their primal selves would understand to be their territory. This would stop them wandering off too far, and in general just made the whole experience a lot less stressful. 


    When night fell the only light in the forest was coming from their cabin, and music played from an old record player. The entire pack were sat around the large lounge room of the cabin. The air was thick with cigar smoke that danced around the room in a haze. The coffee table was littered with empty beer bottles and a couple of whisky bottles that were almost depleted. Curtis threw back the glass of whisky he held in his hand, it's contents burning his throat. Despite the appearance, this wasn't really a party. The music playing came from Granpda Isaac's old record collection, and it was music that was familiar to all of them and it had become a sort of ritual to play it on a full moon. The alcohol was also a ritual. 


    Werewolves heal quickly, and this includes the processing of alcohol within their body. The upside to this was no hangovers, the downside was you didn't stay drunk for very long. The lead up to the full moon was a time when the pack avoided alcohol, but on the night itself they made up for it. It might have been nice to get drunk with his family on any other night, but on these occasions it was out of necessity. As the time to shift grew nearer, the more the pack suffered. Curtis had awoke that morning feeling tired and irritable. By the afternoon he could feel a prickling heat through his body, his muscles ached with tension, he was always hungry, always horny. This was happening to all of them, which was a recipe for disaster. The alcohol was a way to provide some form of relief, to numb the sensations they were all feeling. 


    All except Sam, of course. The Alpha, himself, had not touched a drink all night, and seemed content with calmly and quietly overseeing everything. Becoming an Alpha is complicated, there are no set rules or procedures involved. Strictly speaking an Alpha is a werewolf who has truly accepted his primal nature, and has achieved full control through understanding and embracing that part of them.It's easier said than done, however, for wolves are not meant to be tamed. Curtis, at that time, could only curse the wild animal within. Even amidst the drunken haze, he could feel his skin prickling and the steady thump, thump, thump of the cluster headache pounding through his entire face. Nobody was speaking, nobody wanted to. Despite the good music, the drinks, they were all going through hell. 


    Justin seemed to be in a similar state to Curtis, and was quietly nursing a beer and nervously tapping his fingers over his leg. He was sat on a sofa across from Curtis, with his father, Cain, sat to his left and his mother, Rowan, to the right. Cain was huffing away on a cigar and sipping whisky, he looked irritable and grouchy but he was holding it together like a man who had been doing this for a lifetime. Rowan was laying on the sofa with her feet resting on Justin's lap. She was normally a very graceful woman who only spoke when there was something worth saying, but lying there she looked tired and old. 


    Curtis' other uncle, Dominic, was sat on an armchair with a beer in his hand. Dominic was the youngest of the three brothers, he had tanned skin and tired eyes, his hair a mess of short, black curls. Despite looking weary, his expression was gentle. He had always been that way since he had became a father, always tired but always grateful for what he had. His two boys weren't there, of course, they were too young to be a part of this. However his wife, Claire, was sat on his lap, her body draped around him in a fitting embrace that seemed to show just how in love they were. Claire wasn't always a werewolf, but she had taken to it like a duck does water. She had long, wavy, dirty blonde hair and she looked strong, despite the difficult time. It was clear to Curtis that she was the pillar that held her family unit together, a wilf and confident woman, a good mother, and a good wife. 


    For a moment Curtis thought of Vivian, but his mind was muddled and he was struggling to focus. He had always wondered what his mother had been like at these events. He remembered very little of her, but what he did remember was that she was gentle and wise. She had never looked at anyone judgmentally, and she was always smiling in the memories he had of her. He couldn't picture her necking back shots of liquor and wishing hateful shit on the world like he was. Curtis craned his head around to look at his father. Sam was stood across the room, resting his back against the wall with his arms folded. Stood not too far away from him was Marcus who, while also enjoying a beer like the rest of them, looked relatively calm. For a long time now, they had all had Marcus pegged to be the next Alpha. Curtis didn't like to think about that. After all if Marcus became the Alpha, it would be because Sam was dead. Hopefully, that would be a long time from now. 


    Sam had caught his eye, and suddenly became alert. He pushed himself away from the wall and eyed Curtis carefully. 

    "It's time." He said, and pointed at his own eyes, "You're showing." At this Curtis stood up, stumbling a little, and caught a look at himself in the mirror. His eyes were a bright yellow. He turned around to look at the rest of the pack, and noticed that each of their eyes had also became yellow. The full moon was out and it's power was coming to a head. Curtis knew what this meant, he had done it enough times now. The pack were slowly getting up, and Sam had made his way to the door and stepped outside. Curtis followed suit, pulling his t-shirt off as he went and throwing it on the floor. He joined his father outside, and was slowly removing his clothes as he did. The rest of the pack were following suit. 


    Being naked in a forest with your entire family is not a comfortable experience. The first time Curtis had joined the pack he had refused to remove his clothes. That night the clothes he had worn had been torn to pieces. He had learned quickly that this was something that the pack had to do. That didn't make it any more comforting though. The alcohol probably helped with this too, he thought. But even now he could feel his senses becoming sharper, the effects of the alcohol fading quickly. The pack gave each other a quick look over, and then they nodded collectively and waited for Sam to guide them. Sam looked up at the sky, and to the full moon overhead. He frowned. Curtis looked up too. 

    "" Curtis said. The moon in the sky was casting a sinister, crimson glow. He had never seen anything like it. 

    "Nothing to worry about." Sam said. "Probably just some freak meteorological thing. Come on, let's go." 


    The last part had carried the weight of a command with it. Sam's eyes had turned crimson, like the moon, and then he ran off in to the woods, melting in to the darkness. The pack followed, one after the other, they ran. Once Curtis had started running, he knew it would be hard to stop. The tension had reached it's climax, and there was something freeing about running that helped him let go. He knew that in a moment he wouldn't be able to think about his human concerns. He pushed away the pain pulsing through his body. Only running mattered. He could hear his family running around him, he could smell their scent carrying through the air. Then, for a moment, the pain become overwhelming. His body screamed as bones began to break and re-align, muscles tore and re-formed. It became unbearable and in the last moment Curtis let out a scream as he leapt forward through the air. 


    It happened quickly, but for Curtis it had felt slow and agonizing. Mid-leap, his body suddenly exploded in movement, and like a snake shedding it's skin, a wolf emerged from where a boy once was. The wolf was large and covered in thick, black fur. It's paws were as large as human hands, and it's eyes were a piercing yellow. The wolf padded slowly through the forest, it's nose to the ground, suddenly aware of all the new sensations that had appeared. He could smell a hundred different things, and with it a hundred different stories. He knew which animals had passed by this area, and which direction they had left in. The wolf's ears pricked and it raised it's head. Something rustled in the darkness. His head darted to the right quickly, catching something move. He felt an overwhelming urge to give chase, to catch this thing. He almost did, when his attention was entirely taken by a low and deep howl that flowed through the night. More followed, and each was unique and different. They were his kin, and he could identify each by their howl. However the first howl was the important one. It was the one that commanded absolute obedience. 


    The Alpha had called for him. He howled back in return, and then began to move through the forest to where he had heard the sound. He could sense other wolves converging in the area around him. The closer he came to the Alpha the more wolves appeared, until eventually they all stood together, circling and sniffing each other. The pack were mixture of colours, most with the same yellow eyes, except for the Alpha who had crimson eyes. The wolves all sensed the Alpha's heightened awareness. He was more than they were, he comprehended more than they could. If he had called them, then it was time to hunt. The Alpha had found prey, something large enough for them to eat. He licked his lips hungrily and looked searchingly for direction. Standing with the rest of his pack, the wolf felt stronger. Alone they were dangerous, but together they were unstoppable. The Alpha made a chuffing noise and then began walking quickly. The pack followed eagerly, ready to hunt. The wolf was hungry, and in it's eyes there was little on this earth that it did not consider to be prey. And prey was to be killed. 





    The doors to the E.R burst open as a body was pulled along hurriedly on a wheeled stretcher. The form was difficult to decipher. There were deep wounds and gashes, and lots of blood. Nurses rushed to the aid of the Paramedics, as they wheeled the young man through the corridors. It was chaos as people shouted orders at one another, and others rushed to retrieve equipment. Eventually the stretcher disappeared through a set of double doors, leaving only a lone middle-aged man ambling along behind. He was dressed in a policeman's uniform and wore a cowboy hat. The Sheriff had a harrowed expression as he stopped in his tracks, letting out a heavy sigh. 

    "Just what happened to that boy, Sheriff?" A nurse asked as she approached him.

    "Lord knows. We were called out about a traffic accident." The Sheriff said. "Sure enough we found him near his car. It was a wreck. Forensics are sweeping the scene as we speak."

    "A car accident?" The Nurse said. "But...those wounds. They looked like bite marks!" The Sheriff let out another heavy sigh. 

    "That they do." He said with a sombre nod. "Hard to tell what he got from the crash, he's a mess. But most of the wounds look like teeth marks, maybe claws. It's hard to tell, I haven't seen anything like it before."


    "But...what could have done that?" The Nurse asked

    "No idea. Wild cat, maybe a bear." The Sheriff replied, but he didn't sound too convinced by his answer. 

    " you think it's still on the loose?" The Nurse asked. 

    "Whatever did this...there wasn't any sign of it at the scene." The Sheriff said. "Besides, truth be told I've never seen a bear attack in this town. It's not like 'em to stray out from the forest too much. This is just...barbaric. Rest assured though, I have my best officers on the case. If this is a dangerous animal then we need to deal with it before there are other casualties. Hopefully the boy will wake up. I need to inform his family."

    "Who is he?" The Nurse asked. 

    "We were lucky we managed to I.D him at all." The Sheriff said. "He's one of the boy's on the college football team, Matt Haynes, Quarterback."

    "Oh God...that poor boy." The Nurse said, holding her mouth to her hands. "I hope he pulls through."

    "Me too...although even if he does..." The Sheriff shook his head wearily. "...his football days are over."

  7. "Hi!" Jin said in response, thrusting his fist out like he was punching the air, but he held it there like an offering. "I'm Hideo Jin, pleased to meet you." 

    "Satomi Sayuri. Call me Yuri." She replied with a smile, then looked down at the boy's fist. She pulled back one sleeve and grasped Jin's fist with her hand and shook it like a handshake.

    "Uh...alright!" Jin said, and he gave a little giggle. "Well, Yuri, I hope we can be friends, but I have to tell you..." Jin turned away from her and folded his arms across his chest. "...I'll be the one taking Sensei's money!"


    Hisato leapt out of a nearby tree, quickly pursued by Yuri who yelled across the courtyard, "No you won't!" And reached out to grab the note hanging from their teacher's belt. As she tried to grab it however, the Hisato in front of her disappeared in a puff of smoke and she over-extended, landing quite unceremoniously on her face. She tumbled across the ground and then they heard from nowhere, yet everywhere.
    "That's one secret!"
    Yuri picked herself up and brushed herself off, clenching her teeth in frustration, "Fine!" She barked, crossing her arms as she thought for a moment, "The Satomi clan use bugs in their jutsu!"
    "That's not a secret!!" Hisato's voice corrected.
    "Dammit... we bond with the bugs even when we're in the womb, it's the only way we can have that fully symbiotic relationship."
    "Better!" Hisato called back. Yuri grouched, crossing her arms and pouting further.
    "...Bugs, huh?" Jin said, his face fixed in what was a clearly forced smile. "That's...that's" He added, before shivering. 
    "R-really?" Yuri perked up and smiled at Jin. It wasn't every day that someone complimented her clan in that way. Even with her mother being the Hokage, people had a peculiar dislike of their jutsu. But it was all Yuri had ever known, it wasn't unpleasant to her. "Wanna see?" She asked.
    "Uh...yeah, sure." Jin said, shifting uncomfortably like the mere thought made his skin crawl. "Just remember, you have to give me another secret if you mess up again."
    Oblivious to Jin's discomfort, Yuri pulled back one sleeve of her jacket and held out her hand, holding out her forefinger in front of Jin's face. Then, the tip of her finger darkened, and the little black area grew out until it was in the air like a golfball-sized cloud of smoke, "They're really small, you can't really see them unless you look really close. But they're quite pretty..."
    Yeah, Jin thought, pretty creepy. But he forced another smile in an attempt to mask the fact he was screaming internally. He couldn't help but think it might be useful though. Lot's of ninja clans had special relationships with animals, and used those bonds to extend their skills in the field. The thought of using bugs, however, was still an uncomfortable thought. "That's a pretty unique skill...I can't say I have anything like that." Jin said, although he didn't seem to feel too bad about it. "My dad trained me in Taijutsu, and my mom...well she works a lot so she hasn't taught me much, just one ninjutsu." What Jin hadn't mentioned was that during this conversation, he had been watching. His father, Isamu, had always stressed the importance of observation, and that mastery of the skill was far more useful than any ninja technique. When Hisato had disappeared, he had suspected that the figure that had stood there was a clone. Yuri's brief altercation only confirmed that suspicion. 
    "Listen, Yuri." Jin said. "Sensei is a Jounin. So attacking head on is out of the question. As long as he can predict our movements then he can control the flow of battle, and we won't stand a chance. Standing out here we're too easy to anticipate. So...I'm going to hide, see ya!" And with that Jin went off at a sprint, disappearing in to the trees. 
    [bad Situation]
    Yuri opened her mouth to speak, but it was too late, Jin was gone. She puffed out her cheeks in frustration, but then something occurred to her. She grinned and held out her arms, and the little black cloud was dwarfed as a large black mass spewed from the ends of her sleeves, fluttering them as they left. They hovered in the air for a moment, and then dispersed. "I'll find him first, Jin!" She called out, and sauntered across the courtyard, waiting for the telltale signs. Hidden among the trees, Jin smiled at Yuri's response. 
    "I'm counting on it..." He said to himself. Then he placed his hands together to form a seal, and released his chakra. 4 perfect clones of Jin appeared in the tree branches around him. "Spread out and find Sensei, don't worry about making a ruckus."
    "On it!" The clones said in unison, and the each of them disappeared in different directions through the trees. Jin stayed where he was, watching Yuri carefully. "Sorry to use you as a decoy, but that money is mine."
    A few seconds passed and then Yuri paused, mid-step. She frowned and turned her head at an angle, "Why are there five of you...?" She muttered, but at that moment, she felt something. They'd found him. Hisato exploded out of a nearby bush and Yuri dove towards him but missed, he was just too fast.
    "Secret!!" Hisato barked, as he vanished.
    "My bugs can secrete a variety of oils and toxins!" She barked back, "Including a paralysing toxin, and the secret is you've been bitten!!" She yelled irritably, but then smiled at her triumph. Though, she suspected their leader knew about her abilities and had come prepared, so she didn't sit around waiting. Equally, she knew he was just too fast, she was going to have to work with Jin, or else neither of them would win the prize. "Jin!!" She called out, "Pincer?!"
    In response, Jin shot out from the trees in front of Hisato and made a beeline for him. However Hisato was still to fast, and swung a right, running off with Jin and Yuri hot on his heels. Then, to Hisato's surprise, three more of Jin leapt out from the trees and cut him off. The first leapt at him with a spinning kick, which Hisato deftly blocked with his arm and brought his other fist up, catching the clone straight in the chest, followed by a pop and a cloud of smoke. The second slid across the ground to kick his feet out from under him, but Hisato leapt up and kicked the clone in the face and it also disappeared. The third came at him head on with a punch, which he deflected and struck back, dispersing it also. However by this point the real Jin and Yuri had closed in on him. Hisato turned and smirked, as the pair rushed him with fist's clenched. As the fists collied with him, there was a pop and a rush of smoke, and Jin lay on the floor, clutching his face. 
    [Fooling Mode]
    "Eh!?" The other Jin stammered. 
    "Idiot! Why'd you punch me!?" The real Jin yelled, clearly considering he hadn't disappeared like the other clones. 
    "Why'd you get in my way, idiot!?" The clone roared back. 
    "I didn't I was hiding in the tree, idiot!" The real one screamed. 
    "But you're right here! Idiot!" The clone yelled. 

    "Stop... arguing with yourself." Yuri raised an eyebrow. And people thought she was strange. She shook her head, "Hey, wait... do clones count as attempts?"


    "Indeed they do." Hisato's voice echoed around them once more. "Jin, you now owe 5 secrets."

    "What!?" Jin barked. He cursed and placed his hands together, dispelling the clone and then sat huffing on the grass. He gave a heavy sigh and then lay back on the grass, staring up at the sky. "Fine...well where should I start?" He said rhetorically. "Well I do have one secret, but it's not mine to tell. A ninja is supposed to hold the secrets of others dear, so I won't tell you that. Well the first thing is, I'm actually thirteen years old. I failed my first exam at the academy and had to wait another year. Second is...let's see...oh, the ninjutsu I used is called a Shadow Clone. It's the only ninjutsu technique that I know besides the basics. Thirdly, bugs really creep me out. I'm sorry, I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

    "Oh..." Yuri's expression sunk, but was quickly replaced with a devious smile, "That's fine. I guess i'll just have these back then." And as she finished speaking, a thin black mist rose up from Jin's body and returned to Yuri, disappearing into her sleeves.



    Jin froze, like a statue. His eyes slowly moved to look at Yuri, but his body remained still, like a painting with eyes that follow you. "Y-you...they...on me...I..."

    "They're not on you any more." Yuri rolled her eyes, "I just thought it'd be a good way to get to this." Yuri pulled out Hisato's note and snapped it, "We got it!!" She called out, a few seconds passed and then Hisato appeared in front of them. 
    "No, you don't. Cloning a piece of paper is academy-level." Hisato pulled his note off his belt and held it out in front of them, "Right?"
    "You can all come back, too." Yuri replied, and then the note in Hisato's hand dissipated, changed colour and returned to her as a small puff of black smoke. "We win!"
    "You mean you win." Jin said. "I just tried to play get it for myself."
    [Daylight of Konoha]
    "Yeah, and I did the same thing to you, but /we/ won." Yuri replied with a smile, letting Jin hold the note, "I knew I wasn't fast enough to get close to Hisato-sensei, so I planted my bugs on you, and they transferred when you got close enough. If not for you, we wouldn't have it." Jin mused on this and examined the note. Maybe they hadn't gone the right way about it, but they had managed to complete the task. Perhaps that was what mattered. As he looked at the note he frowned. 
    "Hey...wait a minute!" He said as he swiped his thumb over all the zeros, and noticed that they had come off in his hand, until only the number 1 was left. "You tricked us!"
    "Hahaha!" Hisato's let out his barking laugh as he threw his head back. "You guys didn't think I was gonna let you get your hands on my cash, did you?"
    "That's not fair, you told us we'd win a lot more!" Yuri crossed her arms as her temper blossomed, "You made a promise, we told secrets, and now you have to buy us lunch." She grinned, "At... Ibiki's." Hisato raised his eyebrow at Yuri and folded his arms. 
    "I'll tell you what." Hisato said. "I'll buy you lunch if you can pass the real test. You might have completed the objective, but you did so by using each other. If you pull that kind of crap on a mission you could get each other killed. So why don't you each tell me what you have learned about each other, and if you answer correctly then lunch is on me."
    "Well." Jin said as he pushed himself off the ground and stood up. "I learned that my Sensei is a trickster who doesn't play by the rules. I suppose our enemies won't play by the rules either, so that kind of attitude is probably useful. As for Yuri..." Jin turned to her and looked her over for a moment. "Her bugs are pretty creepy, but they're useful. With Yuri's abilities we can perform reconaissance effectively and possibly avoid fighting altogether in most situations. Even if we do get in a fight, well, it's like my dad taught me. Interpreting your opponents next move is one thing, but Yuri forces her opponent to make the move she desires, and as such she controls the flow of battle far more effectively than someone who merely knows the next move."
    "More rules..." Yuri muttered, "I've learnt I can't trust a word that comes out of my Sensei's mouth, this is probably just another trick." She let out a deep sigh, "But, I also learnt that working together is more important than winning at any cost. I learnt that I could bolster my own weaknesses by using the strengths of my comrade. I'm pretty strong, and fast, I think," Hisato grinned at her and raised an accusatory eyebrow, "For a genin! Alright.... but, Jin is faster, yeah... and I don't know how to make shadow clones. I probably can't, actually, even halving my chakra once would be a bad idea, plus my clones wouldn't be able to exist without the bugs, they regulate too much of my system." She let out another sigh and shook her head, "Teamwork wins, Jin is almost as smart as me, blah blahblah." She grinned sheepishly.
    "I guess that'll do." Hisako said, giving his team a hearty grin. "Come on then, let's go eat!"
    "Finally!" Jin said, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation. "Oh I guess that's another secret. I have a really high metabolism, so I eat a lot."
    "You stuff your face all the time and you'll get fat, kid." Hisato said. 
    "Yeah my dad thought so too. But you ask him, I can eat 10 bowls of ramen and still have room for desert. And..." Jin tapped his stomach to show how firm it was. "Not a scrap of fat on me."
    "10 bowls?" Hisato said with a sigh. "I'm regretting this offe for lunch already."
    "Oh I'll make sure that you do." Jin said with a cocky grin. Then the trio laughed and made their way back to town. 

  8. The story of our past is one that is etched in bone by the point of a blade. For as long as can be remembered humanity has waged war against one another. Factions formed and rose up against one another to control the land and make their mark as rulers. Nations rose and fell, but the fighting never ended. In order to employ more effective means of fighting one another, the ninja were born. Expert fighters who specialised in sneaking in to enemy territory undetected using special equipment and tools, and no short supply of skill. At some point in time humanity discovered chakra, and with that ninjutsu was born. Utilising the inner power of chakra, ninja were capable of strange and powerful abilities which were used to crush their foes. In the end ninja only made the fighting worse, and so the war went on. 


    It was at this point that the ninja decided that change was in order. The ninja of each country worked together and formed their own Hidden Villages within each nation. Inside this village the strongest of the shinobi was appointed as the leader, awarded the title of Kage. The Kage of each village would take requests from all people, and decide which ninja to dispatch on any mission, considering the money being offered, the difficulty of the mission, and whether the mission should be taken at all. And so it is now that each village thrives thanks to the ninja who do the difficult tasks that the every day folk cannot. This is a story of one such village. A village in the vast forest of the Land of Fire. 


    A village hidden within the leaves. 






    [Chain Explosion - Naruto The Last OST]



    Footsteps cut through the trees with the speed and grace of the wind. Three figures dressed in black moved under the cover of night, their presence concealed. As the trees began to thin out they spread out and went off in different directions. One figure was dressed in tight fitting, black gear, with a metal breastplate, hidden under a dark purple poncho that flowed in the wind as she hopped from tree to tree. Finally she breached the forest and the cover of the leaves. She wore a black mini-skirt and long stockings, a pair of simple black sandals on her feet. Her head was covered by a purple scarf that was tied around her forehead like a bandana, long red hair flowing out from the back of it. 


    She landed on the soft grass with barely a sound, and sprinted across it and ducking behind a nearby formation of rocks. She stopped to catch her breath under the white, taking sharp breaths under the white, featureless mask she wore over her face. She chanced a glance over the rock and examined her target. A short distance away was a stronghold, a fort manned with guards along it's walls. The woman gave lifted her hand and gave three distinct signals, communicating to her comrades that were hidden nearby. As soon as she had done so, two other black shapes shot out from nearby hiding places and tore off towards the fort. 


    The red-haired shinobi followed suit, moving from her hiding spot and sprinting through the grassy plain that lead to the fort. When she came to the wall she tapped off the ground with her feet and simply continued running, moving up the wall with the same speed and grace as she had on the ground. Then as she reached the edge she grabbed it and pulled herself over, flipping through the air and landing with a soft thump on top of one of the guards, pushing his head hard in to the floor to knock him unconscious. Her fingers felt around his neck for a pulse, and quickly found one. It was faint but the man was still alive. The shinobi pressed on, speeding down the fortifications outer wall until she found an opening and leapt, descending down on to the tiled roof of on of the buildings, allowing herself to slide down it's inclined side, and dropped off the edge. 


    She hit the dry dirt with a tap and stood up, looking around. She heard the murmuring of two people talking. It was coming from her left, from around the corner. It was growing louder. She moved to her right and around the corner of the building, pressing herself tight against the wall, and listening. The people were talking about something irrelevant, she didn't bother to make a mental record of it, but instead listened to it's volume. She waited until the noise had faded, and then she moved from the wall and continued on her path. Inside her head was a mental map of this fort, one constructed by the hard work of multiple reconnaissance missions. She knew where she was, and where she must go. 


    She made her way quietly across the fort, moving in between the buildings for cover. Before long the had reached the building she needed and moved round to the side of it. Then she scaled the wall and grabbed the ledge of a window, slowly pushing it open and climbing inside. She adjusted quickly to the warm glow of the lamps lighting the inner corridor. The light would completely invalidate her camouflage, but she was on the home stretch. She had to keep moving, trusting that her comrades would be in position as well. She moved down the corridor and took a sharp right, and descending the stairs to the lower floors. Then she made her way to a sliding door and pushed it across, finding herself in a fair sized room with grass mat floors and a small shrine on the other end. She walked across the room to the shrine and inspected it. The ornate lion figure was familiar to her, she felt around it carefully until she found the hidden latch she knew was there. She pressed it and a small compartment popped open at the front. 


    It was empty. She froze for a second, surprised by the realisation. They had found it. If they had done so, had they known the importance of the statue after all? How much did they know? Perhaps they could even anticipate that she would be here. If that was the case then...


    Alert to the danger, she turned to leave the room, only to find her way barred by a lone figure. The young man was slim with athletic muscle. He was dressed in a tight fitting, sleeveless top, and had long black gloves on each arm. He was wearing baggy cargo shorts and sandals, and he wore a strip of cloth tied around his neck, with a metal plate over the front showing a strange symbol on the front. His hair was a grayish white and cut straight at his collar. "Pleased ta meet ya, Anbu-chan." He said, with a sly fox-like grin. "Don't tell me ya gotta skedaddle already? I was hopin' ta show ya our special brand of hospitality."

    The red-haired shinobi's hands blurred as she formed a particular set of seals. There was a popping noise and clouds of smoke exploded at either side of her. She darted towards the figure, and from the smoke came two more shinobi, exact copies of her. She reached the white haired shinobi and pulled a kunai from her pouch, swinging it at his throat. With his sly grin still in place the shinobi leaned back casually, the tip of the kunai narrowly missing his neck. Then he pulled his leg up and out, kicking her in the chest and sending her back in to the room as one her clones came at him with another kunai. He nimbly dodged the strike, allowing her arm to stretch over his right shoulder. He lifted his arms and grabbed hers, locking her in place, before birning up his knee and catching her in the stomach, causing the clone to explode in to smoke and disappear. Then the ninja dodged the blow of the third by ducking down and sweeping out his leg to knock her feet out from under her. As she hit the ground he brought his hand down and clasped it around her throat, choking her until she stopped struggling and disappeared with a pop. 


    Meanwhile the real version stood up from inside the room. She gingerly rubbed at her stomach for a moment, and then readied herself. 

    "Shadow clones, eh?" The white haired shinobi said with a grin. "Ya gonna have ta do better than that." 

    "I'll show you just what I can do!" The red haired shinobi said quietly. The she sprinted forward and brought her leg up for a kick to his side. He lifted his arm to block it and struck back with his other arm. A flurry of punches and kicks ensued as each of the ninja brought blows to one another, before finally, the white haired ninja brought a Kunai out from his own pouch, and stabbed it violently in to her neck. The red-haired Shinobi froze in shock for a moment. Then, like the others, she disappeared with a pop and a burst of smoke. 

    "Another 'un!?" The white haired ninja said through clenched teeth. He spun on his heel and sprinted from the building only to see the red-haired shinobi rejoin her comrades, and sprint off over the wall of the fort. The white-haired shook his head, but another sly grin appeared on his face. "Doesn't matter. Konoha are in fer some bad times ahead."








    A young boy sat himself up in bed, stretching and letting out a big yawn. His hair was medium length and spiky, and he had a pair of dark blue eyes. He got out of bed dressed in white pajamas with little green lizards on them, and shuffled over to his closet. He took out his clothes and got dressed, swapping the pajamas for a pair of black three-quarter length shorts, a pair of black sandals, a fishnet vest, and finally a white jacket with a high collar and black stripes down each sleeve. He left his room and made his way downstairs where he found a plate on the table with a bowl of rice and a small note next to it which read:



    Had to head out for a while. Left you some breakfast. Good luck today. 



    Jin smirked and lifted the bowl off the table, gobbling up it's contents in mere seconds. Then he patted his stomach and let out a relieved sigh. On the table next to the bowl was a forehead protector with the leaf-like symbol of the village he lived in, Konohagakure. He picked it up and examined the symbol for a moment, a bit of pride swelling inside him. Then he took the forehead protector and tied it around his head. In Konoha, to be given a forehead protector was a sign that an academy student had graduated, and had began their path as a ninja. Jin had become a Genin, the first raknk of ninja, and today would be his first day of working in that role. He was to meet his new Jounin leader, an accomplished ninja, who would guide him on his journey, along with another Genin who he would be paired with. 


    He turned around to leave his house only to see the door open. A women stepped inside, dressed in leggings and a knee-length purple skirt, and a black t-shirt, with a purple scarf wrapped loosely around her neck. The woman had dark blue eyes and red hair just like her son, and when she caught sight of him she gave a soft smile. "Oh, you're still here." She said. "I've just got back."

    "Mom!" Jin exclaimed, "I was just about to leave. I have my first mission today!"

    "Yes, I remember." His mother said. 

    "How did yours go?" Jin asked. 

    "It...well you know I can't talk about it." she replied, giving an awkward and forced smile. "Nothing you have to worry about anyway."


    Hideo Jin was the son of two well known ninja. His father, Isamu, was a Jounin assigned to serve and protect the most important ninja in the village, the Hokage. His mother, Saya, was a member of Konoha's elite special ops ninja known as the ANBU. He knew very little about what she did, and most people in the village didn't even know of her position. While operating as an ANBU shinobi she had a code name, and a mask, to protect her identity. However to Jin, Saya was just his mother. She was a kind woman who was very encouraging, and a better cook than his father. He struggled to picture her dressed in the garb of a ninja, going on dangerous missions. But he knew she was strong, so strong that he wanted to be just like her. 


    "Do you know who my leader is?" He asked Saya. 

    "Of course I do." Saya replied with a smile. "But it's more fun for you to find out on your own."

    "Aw c' he tough? I mean I guess he has to be or...hey wait is it a girl!?"

    "Go find out for yourself." Saya said, and she gave her son a hug. "I have faith in you, I know you'll do well."

    "Thanks, I'll make you proud." Jin said. 

    "I already am." Saya replied, and she let go of her son and let him leave. "Go on, you don't want to be late."


    "I'll tell you all about it when I get back." Jin said with a confident grin. Then he walked out the door. When it closed behind him, Saya's warm smile faded and was replaced by a cold and distant look. She had failed today, failed in a mission that could bring great danger to the villagers of Konoha, and danger to her son. She wanted to sleep, but she knew that she would have to leave again soon. She had much to report. 


    Jin walked over the steps in the street near his house and made his way in to an open market area. Beyond that were rows of houses, buildings, watch towers and beyond that was the academy where he had trained. Even further still was the Hokage's office, and beyond that a great rocky mountain that stood over Konoha. Etched in to the stone were the faces of each Hokage that had served the village. In total there were now 7 faces up on the wall, the rightmost one being the current Hokage. Jin wondered if, perhaps, his own face would be carved upon that mountain. Or maybe it would be his partner who would have that particular glory. He knew she was a girl, but he hadn't been told who it was yet. He wondered if they would be good friends, or perhaps they would be rivals. There seemed to be endless possibilities in front of him, and for the first time in a while. he was totally excited about his future. 

  9. In the morning Curtis had woken up early, as was normal. He had gotten a shower and dressed himself in a simple white t-shirt and a blue overall he wore for work. He went down the stairs and in to the kitschy living room to find his father sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee in hand, a half eaten plate of scrambled eggs and toast on his lap. He looked up at Curtis, looked him over, and then inclined his head backwards towards the kitchen. "There's coffee in the pot, and your breakfast is in the oven keeping warm." He said. Curtis wasn't really used to his dad being up before him, or having breakfast made for him. He just nodded and went to the kitchen to get himself a coffee and his own plate of scrambled eggs and toast.


    He sat on the armchair across from Sam and took a sip of his coffee. It was black, and bitter, but contained the rejuvenating nectar that was caffeine, and so it was good.  They sat in silence while he ate, he wasn't sure what to say. When he had arrived home the previous evening, Sam had wanted to talk to him, but he had ignored him and went straight to bed. He got the feeling that his father had risen early and made him breakfast with the express purpose of making sure they would talk. Curtis wasn't sure if he was ready for that yet. Somehow, he didn't think it mattered any more. Sure enough Sam cleared his throat and Curtis rested back in his chair, waiting for an explanation. 


    "So..." Sam said, pausing to choose his words. "Did Vivian explain anything to you?"

    "Yeah." Curtis replied. "She did."

    "Care to tell me what?" Sam asked. 

    "Not really." Curtis said. "How about you talk, and I'll see if what you say adds up with what Vivian said."

    "I'm not going to lie to you, boy." Sam said. 

    "You've lied to me my whole life, apparently." Curtis said, a jab of anger in his words. 


    "I didn't lie. I just...I was waiting for the right time." Sam said, his head lowering in shame. 

    "Your splitting hairs on that one." Curtis said. "Don't even try to justify it, because it wasn't right."

    "Curtis...I just wanted..." Sam sighed and shook his head. "I didn't want this for you. I wanted you to live as much of your life as possible without knowing. I didn't want it to hold you back, to make you feel more pressured."

    "I know why you did it." Curtis said with a nod. "I understand. Really, I do. That doesn't mean it was right, though. You should have told me. I could have been prepared for this. I mean Vivian said it was a curse, that it wasn't our fault, or yours. She said it started with her Grandmother, and Grandpa Isaac."


    "That's right." Sam said with a nod. "Your Grandpa had accepted it by the time I was born. He introduced me to Penelope when we were children. He didn't want us to resent each other, he thought it would endanger us both. It worked for a time. Penelope and I were friends to some fashion when we were children. We might have even been closer than that at some point...I'm not sure, I wasn't the brightest of kids. That all changed though, when your Emily came along." Curtis' gaze fell to his feet at the utterance of his mother's name, but his father continued. "I was head over heels for your mother. Penelope became a nuisance to me, having to protect her like that...I resented her for it. That was my fault, though. I was young and arrogant. Emily always understood though, she often took Penelope's side when there was an argument. Then when you were about 5 years old, Penelope had little Vivian. I was...furious."


    "Why?" Curtis asked.

    "Because it wasn't like it was an accident. She went to great lengths to have a child. She did it knowing I had my own child, and knowing that doing so would make you and her child vulnerable to the same curse, and the same life. I couldn't forgive her for that. That was when I cut my ties with her, as much as I could. We agreed to stay away from each other, and keep our children away from each other until the time came. Of course when she was in danger I would have to come running, but outside of that we never spoke. We still don't."

    "But...she's allowed to have a kid, Dad." Curtis said. "I did. You knew it was a risk but you had me."

    "I never said it was justified to treat her like that." Sam replied. "I'm not proud of my actions back then. I had only just become an Alpha, and I was still getting used to that responsibility. But...then your mother got sick a year or so later. She...well I knew she was going to die. I stayed by her day and night for weeks. Then one night a man came to Darkpine, someone who had a score to settle with me. He kidnapped Penelope, and of course, I came running. I made sure he paid dearly for doing that."


    "That was...the night Mom died, wasn't it?" Curtis said. 

    "Yeah." Sam said, nodding. "She died while I was off protecting Penelope. It wasn't her fault...but this curse stopped me from saying goodbye to Emily. It has interfered with my life so much, and I just don't want that for you. I wanted you to have a normal life."

    "Normal?" Curtis said. "We're Werewolves, Dad. Normal is a bit of a stretch."

    "That's a fair point." Sam said in agreement. "But here we are. Now you know the truth, and like it or not, protecting Vivian is your responsibility."

    "Well...I don't know how I feel about that." Curtis said. "I wanted to kill Lex the other night. What if I kill someone, Dad? I don't want to become a murderer."


    "I wouldn't worry too much about that." Sam said. "The curse had you react like that because you weren't aware. So it pulled on your instincts. Now that you'll recognize the signs. If you try to ignore it then you'll be forced to action like last night, but if you make the choice to protect Vivian then you will be able to approach the danger rationally. You are bound to protect her, you don't have to kill anything if you don't want to."

    "Well...that's a relief." Curtis said. "Well then I guess it's okay for now. I mean I don't have a girlfriend to get in the way, so it should be a little easier, right?"

    "It might be." Sam said with a nod. "Don't think I haven't noticed how she looks though. Spitting image of her mother. Don't get any ideas there, you hear me?"

    "Uh...what?" Curtis said, looking anywhere but at his father. "I don't know what you're talking about."


    "She's a Witch, son." Sam said. "And protecting her, situations like that can make your emotions run a bit high. But you have to remember that you're a wolf, and your partner in life must also be a wolf. Isaac turned your Aunt Rowan, and your mother. I turned Claire for Dominic. I won't do that to Vivian."

    "Are you for real?" Curtis said, incredulously. "I only met her last night. Give me a break, weirdo." Curtis stood up from the chair and took his plate through to the kitchen. He came back to see his father standing up. "So we better get to work." Curtis said. 

    "Actually, about that." Sam replied. "I need you to work late tonight"

    " come?" Curtis asked

    "You need to fix that Vampire's car. He's a customer." Sam said with a smirk. "Considering what he is, you'll need to work at night."





    It wasn't quite nightfall when Curtis pulled up to Lex's house. Although he noted that the cover provided by the trees meant there wasn't a great deal of sunlight that could get through. He wondered if this was perhaps intentional. He pulled up outside and got out of his car, carrying a bag of tools with him. He walked up to the door, and he heard the slightest of noises, little signs of movement. Lex had probably heard him arrive. He tensed for a moment, he wasn't entirely sure how Lex would react. The last time he had saw him he was trying to hurt him. But he had damaged his car, so he owed Lex an apology, and he'd repair his car. It was the least he could do. He took another few steps and then knocked loudly on the door. 


    "Lex. It's, uh...It's Curtis." He said loudly. "I wanted to take a look at your car if...if that's okay."


    A moment passed. Nothing. Then the door opened. 


  10. The tires of Curtis' dark blue Jeep Wrangler crunched against the gravel road of the parking area near Carrow Hill. He pulled in to the lot and found a spot, noting there were a few other cars there. When he got out there was nobody around and it was already dark. Beyond the parking lot was a slim grassy path through the woods that led upwards to the clearing known as Carrow Hill. His sensitive hearing had already picked up on the dull bass that was thumping through the night from up the hill. He was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and black boots, with a royal blue, sleeveless t-shirt and a grey hooded sweater over it. He ambled up the hill as the

    grew louder and clearer. Among the usual woodland scents picked up by his heightened sense of smell, he could also smell beer, sweat and the sweat of a bunch of rowdy millennials looking to have a good time. When he was younger and his senses had first kicked in he had really struggled with the less than desirable smells, but over the years he had managed to filter them out. They were still present, but he was able to separate them, and focus on the ones he wanted to. 


    When he emerged over the top of the hill he looked out on to a flat area of grass with a substantial crowd of people. Someone had brought those torches you can buy at Home Depot, and there was a distinctive scattering of everyone's party favourite, the red Solo cups. A tall boy had noticed his arrival and was walking towards him. The lanky figure was skinny and had a friendly, gentle face as well as a mane of wild, untameable hair. When he approached he brought his hand up in a fist and Curtis bumped it with his own. 

    "Curtis, glad you could make it!" He said with a grin. 

    "So am I, Danny." Curtis said with a smirk. "Looks like a big turn out."

    "Yeah, man. Some dude who just moved here arranged it. Looks like he makes friends real fast."

    "You're not kidding." Curtis said with a nod. 


    "Come on let's get in there. I'll get you a beer." Danny said. 

    "No thanks, I'm driving." Curtis said. 

    "Oh come on, man." Danny replied. "One beer. It can't hurt."

    "I promised my dad." Curtis said, shaking his head. 

    "Ah, okay. Well it's your loss." Danny said, admitting defeat. "Oh I think Justin is around here somewhere."


    The pair made their way in to the party and began to mingle with the guests. They found themselves sitting on the back of someone's pickup truck with a few other people, chatting and watching the drunker party goers dancing a little away from them. Further off a bunch of college kids were tossing around a football, and someone else had brought a grill and was flipping burgers. Curtis was sipping Coke from a solo cup when the music died down and was replaced by the gentle strumming of a

    . Curtis looked up as he heard a girl singing, and when he looked at her he felt his eyes focus on her, making everything around her become blurry and irrelevant. 


    She was dressed in a leather top and a long, red slip-skirt. Her hair was long and the whitest blonde, and her make-up was minimalist but distinctive. His gaze lingered on her crimson lips for a moment, they looked soft. That, along with the pleasant sensation that came from hearing her voice, gave him a sudden and overwhelming need. It was not entirely pleasant. It was often described as having butterflies in your stomach, but with Curtis it was just that little bit worse. There was something deep and primal about his urges, something that became worse as the full moon grew nearer. It was one thing to keep the animal inside in check, he could do that much, even now. That didn't stop the feeling though, and he was always just a little sad when he felt those predatory desires within him. He was lost for a moment in her song, not even managing to particularly take notice of the guitarist she was with, who despite her talent seemed just as unimportant as everything else. 


    And then she stopped singing, and his heart sank a little. People clapped, but he had been too lost in his thoughts to follow suit. The party music started again and Curtis became aware that he had gotten out of the back of the pick up and was walking. He could distantly hear Danny asking him where he was going but he didn't feel like responding. He moved through the people, tilting his head as passers by blocked his view of the pretty blonde. He just wanted to talk to her, he told himself. Yet the assurance did little to comfort him. His legs were moving on his own. The wolf inside had control, and he was just a passenger. However, before he could reach the girl, he felt someone grab him firmly at his shoulder from behind. The strong grip pulled him 180 and he was suddenly facing his cousin, Justin. 


    "Uh-uh, buddy." Justin said, he was frowning a little. "I know that look. Have you been drinking?"

    "" Curtis said, shaking his head. "I was just...gonna talk to that girl."

    "Ah...I get it." Justin said, shaking his head as a little relieved smirk spread across his face. He looked over at the two girls and then back to Curtis. "Well I can see why. You still lost control of yourself though."

    "Give me a break. Can't I talk to a cute girl?" Curtis asked. 

    "Cute?" Justin said, smiling again. "That girl is hot, dude. You're talking about the brunette, right?"

    "No, the blonde..." Curtis said. 


    "Dude, she's not for you." Justin said dismissively. "Actually...I kind of like that brunette. You should probably just give up on them altogether."

    "Shut up!" Curtis said, giving Justin a playful punch on the arm. "Look...I'm going over there. Why don't you join me since you like that brunette so much?"

    "Well the bro code dictates that I can't deny a request to be a wingman." Justin said, smirking some more. 

    "You're a piece of work, you know that?" Curtis said. 


    Together they made their way over to the two girls. When they looked at him, he suddenly felt incredibly shy. What, exactly, was he supposed to say now? Apparently Justin seemed to have that avenue covered. "Evening, girls." He said confidently, making sure to keep his gaze on the brunette. "I'm Justin. This here is my cousin, Curtis."

    "Uh...hey, how's it going?" Curtis said with a bashful smile, whilst inwardly picturing himself dying a slow and painful death. 

    Lily who had been facing their direction as they approached looked Justin up and down deciding if it was worth speaking, her mouth tilted to the side in a cute sorta way and then turned into a smirk and after a few seconds she had decided. "Evening to you as well gentlemen. .. I'm Lily" She then motioned a hitch hiking thumb over her shoulder to Vivian who was facing the opposite way looking around at the party curiously. "That's Vivi" Vivian then glanced over her shoulder as she heard her name, just now realizing they had a conversation going. She quickly turned around and her long split skirt flared to the sides. "Hello." She said with a happy smile. She probably would have felt more uncomfortable if not for the courage charm Lily had performed earlier.


    "We were just admiring your music." Justin said. "So are you girls like a band or something?"

    "Yes we are!" Lily had just decided this now with out consulting Vivian. Vivian looked a bit wide eyed at her friend and then back at the guys and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess so, ...we don't have a name yet..." She laughed. "Any suggestions?"

    "Uh...hmm." Justin put his hand to his chin thoughtfully. "...sorry but I guess that's not really my strong suit. You got anything Curtis?"

    Curtis looked at Justin for a moment, then he shrugged uncomfortably. "Uh...not really. I mean...I guess I don't really know that much about music."

    "You play guitar, dude." Justin said, nudging his shoulder. 

    "Well...I don't think playing old Nirvana songs in my bedroom is really the same thing to be honest." Curtis replied. "Sorry, uh, Lily, right? I guess I'm just a dumb jock who's not in High School any more."


    Lily looked bored. "Well I guess if 'dumb jock' is all you have to offer, I'm gonna go get a drink." She began to walk away, when she noticed Vivian wasn't following. She hadn't heard anything after Justin mentioned Curtis played guitar. Vivian simply responded to his statement about Nirvana songs as if she were intrigued. "I love Nirvana. Maybe we could collaborate some time." Lily looked back at her and rolled her eyes. Without another word she continued off to an area a little bit away where some guys were playing beer pong. 

    Justin sighed and walked off to go after Lily, making sure to slap Curtis across the back of the head and mutter "Way to go, numb nuts!" before he disappeared in to the crowd, leaving Curtis alone with Vivian. 


    "Uh...yeah I guess..." Curtis said as he nervously scratched the back of his head. "I mean I'm not really that good. I just play sometimes when I'm alone. My grandpa was really good on the guitar, he used to play these really good blues songs. So do you sing, like, professionally? I're really good."

    Feeling fairly confident Vivian seemed to get a bit excited. "Aw, Thanks! Actually this was my first time singing publicly. Lily has been trying to get me to do this for years, but uh, I didn't feel as good about it before today! That's awesome that you have music in your family though. I'm the only one interested in that sort of thing with mine."

    "Well my Grandpa died when I was just a kid. I have a pretty big family though, two uncles and aunts, four cousins..." Curtis realised he was rambling a little. "Then there's just me and my dad. We all run the local auto repair garage in town. What about you? I haven't seen you around before."

    "Oh wow, that's the opposite of me. Just my mom's and my grandma. " Vivian thought for a second. "But we are all apart of a pretty big , um, women's club thing, that is basically family." After responding she thought about what he said about the local auto repair place. The only one she knew of belonged to Sam Archer, her mother specifically never let Vivian go there because of all the turmoil between their families. "Wait..." Vivian looked a bit shocked and leaned in close to Curtis and whispered. "You're not an Archer are you?" She hadn't really noticed yet but their faces were awkwardly close together now.


    "Uh..." Curtis found himself lost for words for a moment. She was really close to him. He could smell the subtle fragrances of the shampoo she used on her hair. "...yeah, that's me. Curtis Archer. How did you know?"

    The courage charm that had been cast now quickly dispelled. Vivian looked as if she had seen a ghost. Things had been going so well, he was cute, they had common interests... now what. Maybe it wasn't his son. Maybe he was a cousin, wait that would make Justin the wolf she was bonded with then. She had to clear this up for her own knowledge. "Um, so, you're his son...or nephew? Sam's I mean...the owner. Just curious. No particular reason." Vivian was terrible at lying. Her hands nervously gripped the sides of her skirt. She hadn't moved away yet, she was now just staring at his handsome face, praying for a specific answer. She wasn't sure which would be worse though to be honest.

    "Yeah, that's right." Curtis said, licking his lips nervously. "...Is that...a problem?"


    So he was his son. "Oh. Well....its nice to meet you...I uh, I've heard a lot about you." By that she meant she had been told by everyone not to ever talk to him. She gave a weak smile. She looked at him with a bit of longing, but then quickly took a couple steps back and let out a sigh. She looked away for a second to see where exactly Lily had run off to, but didn't move.

    "Are you okay?" Curtis asked. He could sense the change in her. She had grown suddenly nervous. Was it something he had done? 

    "Heh...yea I'm fine...Does the name Clearwater mean anything to you?"

    "Oh, yeah." Curtis said with a nod. "My dad knows someone with that name. Penelope, I think. Hey...are you, like, her daughter? I dad said she was into girls so..." Curtis looked away for a moment. "I mean. uh...sorry."

    Vivian felt a bit more comfortable. But there was still a sad tone to her voice. "It's okay. Yea, I have two moms." She wasn't going to explain the ritual they had done so she gave a non magic explanation. "They used a sperm donor. Um, from my other mom's family. So were all still you know, same blood and everything."


    "Well that sounds kinda cool to be honest." Curtis said with a smirk. "I mean...I figured it might have been magic or something, but I don't really know how that works..."

    "Oh!" Vivian perked up. "You know about the coven! It was..I just didn't to act. So I guess it's ok I know your a wolfman then...and you must know about the bond and everything. You seem super okay with that." She smiled.

    "Werewolf." Curtis corrected. "And yeah my dad mentioned the Clearwaters were witches. You guys are basically the only other supernaturals in town so...hang on." Curtis gave her a confused look. "What do you"

    All of the blood rushed from Vivian's face. "Um... uh..." She was lost for words and looked a bit scared. Curtis frowned and moved closer to her again. 

    "What are you talking about?" He asked. "I don't know anything about-" He stopped what he was saying. A commotion had caught his attention. People were coming up the hill and he could hear sirens coming from town. He walked towards his friend Danny who was arguing with some woman dressed in a smart skirt and jacket.


    "Come on we're not doing any harm." Danny said, holding his hands up in protest.

    "On the contrary young man." The woman replied. "This event has not been approved by the Darkpine Social Events Committee, and the music is far too loud, no doubt breaking the noise pollution policies in place. There is alcohol being distributed without a licence, and not to mention this is just a breeding ground for fornication! This is making a mockery of our good town. I have had no choice but to call the authorities."

    "Are you for real?" Danny said as he rolled his eyes. "It's just a party. Lighten up!"

    "I don't have any time for your complaining. This event is being shut down, right now!" The woman snapped back. "Now tell me who organised this event."


    Quite quietly and calmly a figure seemed to appear at the edge of the crowd. Had he been there all along? Curtis was sure he hadn't been. However he knew the man on sight, they had just been speaking a few hours ago. "Lex..." he said.  

  11. Considering we haven't spoken in so long I don't really know what to say about that. As for this being my creation, well I feel it was collaborative. When you wanted to do this I didn't want to, and I said at the time you could go ahead and do it without me and I wouldn't mind. I dunno I guess I didn't realise it was a big deal.

    If you're really pissed about it then talk to me privately at some point because I don't really feel like discussing it here.

  12. "...I think if we don't fix this, and soon, she's going to die..."


    The words cut through him like a knife. Vincent sat at the edge of his own bed, his gaze fixed on his sister as she slept, apparently quite peacefully from what he could tell. For a long time he had been silent. In fact he wasn't sure if he had spoken at all since he had returned home. He was processing. A lot had happened. They had been captured by the Faerie Queen of Spring, He had murdered that Queen with some kind of power he did not yet understand, He had burdened himself with the well being of a young warlock who didn't have any control of her magic, and he had recently discovered that his sister, Violet, was a Nagloshi. Thanks to his father's Grimoire, he now knew exactly what that was, and he had planned to explain it to Violet when they returned. And now she was in some kind of coma, slowly approaching death, and he had no idea why. 


    "...How long do we have?" Vincent asked. 

    "Hours, days, i've no idea." James replied, "This isn't exactly my speciality." He checked his attitude and continued with a sigh, "At the current rate, maybe a week? There's a war raging inside her right now. All we've been able to find thus far is sometimes she's giving out incredible amounts of magical energy, like off the chart... and at other times it's almost non-existent. It's like there's two sides to her, and one is definitely winning right now. Problem is, I don't know whether it's supposed to be or not. Maybe it is? Or maybe it's killing her."
    "Short answer--" David added, "We just don't know."
    "Then..." Vincent paused and exhaled, his nostrils flaring. "Then we don't have time to worry about being ethical, or being careful."
    "Vincent..." David said cautiously. 
    "I'm not talking about Dark Magic, David." Vincent said to him. "Right now...we need all the help we can get. I know a few people who can possibly shed some light. The first...well that's up to James." Vincent turned to the Familiar and gave him a grave expression "You're from the Void, right? you know what Violet is?"
    "Why do you say i'm from the Void, Vincent?" James asked, crossing his arms with a quizzical look on his face.
    "I don't have time for your stupid fucking games!" Vincent snarled. "I know what you are. Now tell me right you know that she is a...a Nagloshi." Vincent's stare was penetrating as he said the word. It was the first time he had said it out loud, even to himself. 
    At the mention of the word, James recoiled as though he'd been stung. "Don't... don't say that word." James growled, anger replacing his usually cool expression, if only for a moment. "I couldn't be sure, she wasn't like anything i'd ever... I..." James trailed off as his words left him and completed his sentence with a feeble shrug of his shoulders. Vincent, however, did not let up. 
    "James, if you want to protect her then you're going to have to grow some balls." He said. "I need you to go to the Void. You need to find one dangerous bitch called Vael. Whatever Violet is...Vael is the real deal. She's dangerous but...we need her."
    "I won't." James replied simply, tightening his arms about his chest.
    "You will." Vincent growled, standing up from the foot of the bed, his hand's clenching in to fists. "...This isn't a request...don't make me force you."
    "Vincent!" David said, his tone that of concern and surprise. 
    "David, back off." Vincent replied. "This is Violet we're talking about..."
    "God-dammit, Vincent." James lowered his arms and started pacing, "There's a reason half the Void creatures left that dimension, even if most of them no longer remember." He started shaking his head, "I step into that place, and i'm as good as dead. Vael senses energy, and i'm tied to Violet. Soon as I step into that place the first thing to find me will be her, and I WON'T do that." His breathing was quickening, "You think faeries are bad? Faeries are like... dogs. They just maul something they take a fancy to. Nagloshi are like cats. You ever see a cat with a mouse? They toy with it, pull it apart, bit by bit. Let it go, just to see if they can catch it again." He let out a hollow laugh, "And I should know."
    "Yeah..." Vincent nodded. "I've seen her in action. But her daughter is dying. She'll still be dangerous but...I think she'll help. Maybe I just hope she will. I'll try anything, James. You've helped us out, you've been Violet's friend, but I'll do whatever it takes. The Laws don't apply to demons, so don't think I won't make you do it."
    "Fuck you, Vincent!" James hissed venomously, losing his cool entirely, "Don't you ask my help and then call me that name!" Then he said something in a language nobody in the room recognised. Seconds passed and then slowly James calmed himself and took a step back. "I have to, for Violet... whatever happens, is on you." He growled, "Tell Violet, I..." He shook his head. Between blinks, James was gone. Vanished without a trace.
    "Vincent..." It mas Meredith. "Wh-what's...what's a Nagloshi."
    "It's..." Vincent sighed and thought for a moment. "Nagloshi are an ancient race from the Void. They are immortal, and probably as old as the Faerie Queens. James wasn't overreacting, the one time I encountered Vael I think the only reason I left with my life was because she got bored. If he does find her then it will be trouble, but I think she'll at least try to help Violet. After that...well we can cross that bridge when we come to it."
    "That doesn't sound like much of a plan." David said. "You're being irrational."
    "Yeah...I know that." Vincent said, then he made for the door, stopping as he opened it. "I have someone else I think can help. I need to take a trip. Both of you stay here and watch Violet. Meredith, if you look in the stand by the bed you'll find an amulet that looks like the one Violet and I both wear. Put it on, and if you get in any trouble just speak in to it. I'll come back."
    "Okay..." Meredith said, giving a soft nod. " there anything I can do...for Violet?"
    "Just stay with her." Vincent said. "I heard somewhere that people in comas can still hear people talking sometimes. It's worth a shot."
    "Don't you think she'd rather hear your voice?" Meredith asked. 
    "Maybe...but I have to take care of a few things. This is the best thing you can do for her, and for me." Vincent said. 
    "Right...I'll do my best." Meredith said. 
    With that Vincent left the apartment. David made the symbolic gesture of the cross over his body, and then he stepped out of the bed room. "I'll go make us something to eat. Stay with her child." He said, and he closed the door behind him. Meredith walked over to Violet cautiously, she held her hand out to touch her, but only moved it over her head, never touching her. She was shaking a little, and she looked scared. A single tear welled up in one of her eyes and she swallowed as she pulled her hand back. She leaned down to the bed and held her head above Violet's. "Please..." she whispered. "Please get better. I...I only just started getting to know you. I...don't want to lose you yet...Auntie Vi..."

    Vincent appeared through the mirror-like Way and found himself standing on a long dirt path that went through a forest. The sky was growing dim as the afternoon became early evening, and he made his way down the dirt path with the confidence of knowing this particular trail. The path was away from the main roads and was a fairly steep climb up the moss-covered hill it was built on. Vincent had never much liked Missouri, but the Ozarks were quite a peaceful place all things said. As he climbed further up he spotted an old farmhouse in the distance. 
    If memory served him this place wasn't far from Joplin, and yet it didn't get a lot of visitors. Even as he walked he could feel the magical incanations around this place. A series of subtle charms layered upon one another to keep mortals from coming near. There was nothing as barbaric as any actual traps that would cause harm, the person who lived here didn't operate like that. He didn't need to, Vincent thought, since the man himself was a force of nature. He also knew something else about this patch of land. It's owner had lived on it for years, and had made an effort to memorize every last part of it. When a person with magic does such a thing, they can declare sanctum over the land. In doing so they invoke powerful magic known as Intellectus. 
    In short it gave them omniscient knowledge of the land. They knew how many leaves were on each tree, how many animals were nesting nearby. They knew when the first flower of spring had bloomed and when the last one had died. More importantly they also knew when foolish punks like Vincent were marching up the dirt path to knock on their door. Sure enough when he reached the tired, old house the front door was open and a man stood in the threshold. He was dressed in brown overcoat, blue jeans and brown, leather boots. His hair was grey, long and untidy, and he had an overgrown beard to match. His eyes were like steel, and were a glassy blue. He held a cigarette to his mouth and by simply cupping his palm over it he had lit it's end with magic. He looked at Vincent with wise and knowing eyes. He lifted his head up and adjusted the tip of the brown, leather "cowboy hat" he was wearing, and gave a heavy sigh. 
    "Well, well, if it ain't that lil' boy from Iowa..." He said in a southern drawl. "Somethin' tells me this ain't a social call."
    "Alphonse Regulus's good to see you, well..." Vincent scratched his head. "It would be if it weren't such a bad time."
    "Mmm...seems to always be a bad time when you're aroun', Hoss." Alphonse said. "So I take it yer lookin' for help from this old dog, then?"
    "Yes, sir." Vincent said with a nod. "It's Violet...something is wrong with her. I need you to help me find out what."
    "Well, shit." Al said before spitting at the ground. "What makes you think a' have all the answers? You're a grown man now, least you as tall as one any how. I did my part, I taught you everythin' tha a wizard needs to be taught. It's up to you to figure out what to do with it."
    " left out a lot." Vincent said, his tone becoming tired. "Like the truth about my dad. About the Grimoire, the...the power I have. And Violet...I'm pretty sure you knew she was a Nagloshi. Hell you know it all, don't you, sir?" Vincent tried to glare at his mentor, but the old man had the ability to make him feel like a scared 10 year old all over again. 
    "Well...guess you grown up after all, Hoss." Al said with a nod. "But I ain't givin' you the answers, not yet at least. I will help you with Lil' Vi, though. I can't stand by and watch that darlin' suffer. You know that."
    "Good." Vincent said with a nod. "Because I've also sent for her mother to come see her."
    "Boy..." There was a flicker of anger in his voice, and for a split second there was a burst of power that felt like it could engulf the entire forest. "...You jes like him...he was always askin' fer trouble too. C'mon Hoss...we're wastin' time."

  13. It was late in the day and it the sky was beginning to grow dark. Justin had left about an hour ago but Curtis was busying himself cleaning up the shop. A

    was playing on the radio as he stood by a tool bench putting things away. He grabbed a broom at his side and was about to get to work with sweeping the floor. However when he turned the bright lights of car headlights flashed across his field of view. 


    Lex drove his car into the garage and parked. Before he even got out of the car, he recognised a scent. It was always the same with werewolves. A mixture of 'dog' and pine needles. Not unpleasant, but unmistakable. It was the smell of the wilderness. Lex grinned, it seemed he wasn't the only oddity in Darkpine, not that he believed he was, but auto-mechanics? He got out of the car and stopped to look around before he shut the door hard enough that everyone on the floor would have heard it. "Needin' a tune-up, if ye got the time for 'er."

    "...Whoa" Curtis replied, casting his gaze over the Impala. "That a 68? No- a 67, right?"

    "Yeah, it's a 67', ye know much 'bout cars, then?" Lex looked at the young man's Broncos t-shirt and grinned before meeting with his eyes once more. He liked the kid. Knew his cars, his sports, and seemed like an honest sort. But he was also a werewolf. He felt for the kid, he was still young. Not easy being a werewolf, all the more true when you haven't a grey hair on your head.


    "Well it's the family business." Curtis said. "I watched my dad when I was a kid and, I'm working on them myself. Never seen a 67' before though. Just a tune-up, you said? I don't think we'd have the parts in stock for anything major. Stuff like that usually needs a special order." Curtis looked at the man up and down. Aside from the scars he didn't seem all that imposing. He wasn't particularly big, and his skin was quite pale. Yet his instincts were nagging at him, like he was staring down a fellow predator. This man wasn't a werewolf though, he'd know the scent. He figured it was due to the full moon being a couple of days away. Probably nothing to worry about. 

    Lex watched the boy carefully and after a long silence his grin widened and he licked his lips before opening them to speak, "That feelin' yer gettin', ye ain't wrong, kid. I ain't human." He laughed and then pointed at his car, "Gon' take long?"


    "Uh..." Curtis tried to form a sentence but found himself caught off guard. He hadn't really met any non-humans outside of his own family. Although he knew it wasn't considered common for supernatural types to just come out and say it like that. More than that, combined with the feeling he was having, he began to wonder if this man was indeed a threat. "Uh...I'll need to take a look and see. We're supposed to be closing but I can spare a little time. Pop the hood and let's take a look."

    Lex did as he was asked, then started off into the office, "Coffee in here, is it?" He asked, walking inside. He picked up a mug and poured the stagnant black water into it, while he trapped his thumb between the canines in the corner of his mouth and punctured the skin. He let the blood drip into the mug and once he was done he licked the wound and it quickly sealed. A little white scar remained in the centre of his thumb, much like the rest of his fingers. He took a sip of the coffee, looked around the office and then walked back out.


    In the meantime Curtis busied himself taking a mounted light and taking a look at the engine. He tried to ignore the faint whiff of blood that his heightened sense of smell had caught coming from the office, and instead took the time to admire the craftsmanship of the vehicle. When the man returned Curtis took his head out from the hood and put his arms on his hips, his gaze still fixed on the car. "It's in really good condition, all things considered. I could tune up the transmission and take a look at the brakes, that's where you see a lot of general wear and tear. Have you noticed any problems in particular?" He turned his gaze to the man and couldn't help but give a nervous gulp. The more time he spent with him, the more concerned he felt. His his instincts were telling him to run, and they almost never did that. 


    "Ah just keep hearin' this crunchin' noise when ah switch gears is all." Lex replied, taking a sip of his coffee, "Makes me nervous like, ah have a car but ah don't generally subscribe to technology, anythin' out the ordinary and i'm like to get it seen."

    "Sounds like something wrong with your transmission. I'll take a look at the clutch." Curtis went back in to the hood and got to work. He began taking apart the transmission actuator. He felt a little awkward, he wasn't used to customers watching him work. He thought about speaking for a moment, but he only really had one thing he wanted to ask. He took a deep breath and said it: "So...I don't want to be rude or anything...uh...but what are...well if you're not human..." He said, unsure of how to go about saying it. 

    "Then what am I?" Lex finished for him, with a grin. He took a sip of coffee and after savouring the bitter flavour, swallowed and opened his mouth wide. With a quiet popping sound his two upper canines extended so they were inch-long fangs. "Three guesses?" He said jokingly, then the fangs snapped back up and they appeared normal once again, more or less.


    "Holy shit..." Curtis said, he'd flinched a little when the fangs had popped out. "Wow...that' you're a vampire then? I didn't know there were town. I mean it's pretty much just us here, I mean. Well I, I mean my family and I. We're..." He hesitated. He wasn't sure if he should really be telling this to a stranger, supernatural or not. 

    "Werewolves. Ah know, now take a breather boy yer givin' me heart palpitations." Lex let out a deep, throaty laugh and took a sip of his coffee.

    "Oh...sorry." Curtis said and he took control of his breath. "It's just a little surprising. I mean, being a werewolf I know perceptions can be pretty far off but, I dunno. My's not that he dislikes vampires, it's more like...he likes a quiet life. He told me vampires are trouble."

    "Vampires..." Lex began and trailed off, shrugging his shoulders. "Vampires like trouble. Ah don't know if we /are/ trouble, though." He grinned, "Ah like to think there are more good Vampires than bad. True of most folk, ah think."


    "That makes sense." Curtis said with a nod. He turned his attention back to the car for a moment, burying his head back in the hood. After a moment of silence he said from inside the hood. "Well I've got good news and bad. You need a new clutch. I can order one in but it will probably take a few days to arrive. The good news is, in the meantime...if I just..." There was a clunking sound as Curtis moved something inside the car. "...there we go. I've adjusted it so it shouldn't grind any more. It's okay to drive but there's damage so you really do need a replacement long-term."

    "Send me the bill." Lex replied, smiling. He held out the empty coffee cup for Curtis to take and then opened his car door, "If ye ever need a doctor, i'm in the book." He sat in the driver's seat and started the engine, "Jus' do me a favour an' if you come knockin' in the day you don't go openin' no windows, huh?" He grinned.


    "Uh, sure." Curtis said, and he couldn't help but smirk. "Oh uh...I don't know your address."

    "Huh... ah don't rightly know my address yet..." Lex licked his teeth thoughtfully, a habit of his. "Tell ye what, come by whenever ye want. I'll pay ye then. On the north side of town, as ye leavin' Park Rd. keep goin' fer a few minutes, first left, dirt road. Modern house, tinted windows."

    "Alright I think I know where that is. How about I get the order in, and when it arrives I'll stop by and replace it. We can settle up after that. Sound good?" Curtis said. 

    "Sure, kid." Lex replied, then closed the door and pressed the button to lower the driver side window, "Good luck, y'know fer yer whole moon thing in ah couple days. See ye 'round."

    "Uh, thanks." Curtis replied, and watched as the vampire drove off from the garage. 


    It was getting late and he started to quickly get cleaned up. He needed to get home and get his car so he could drive up to Carrow Hill for the party. He didn't really feel up for it any more, but he knew he'd perk up once he was there. It was strange meeting a vampire though. He thought about telling his father, but he wasn't sure if that was a good idea. Sam Archer seemed to have a pretty low view of them, but the one he had met seemed nice enough. He didn't want to cause any trouble for him. But equally, what if he wasn't being entirely honest? A vampire really could mean trouble in Darkpine, the kind of trouble that could affect their pack. He let out a heavy sigh and continued sweeping. He'd worry about it in the morning. 

  14. Curtis Archer was an early riser. He accounted this trait to being the only child of a single father. When his mother had passed away when he was just a boy it had left all the responsibility to his father. And from his early teens Curtis had decided that the least he could do was make breakfast for his father every morning. So there he stood in the kitchen of their old house in the woods, the

    playing, with bacon and sausage sizzling in a pan over the stove. He put on a pot of coffee and placed 4 slices of bread in the toaster. With a few minutes to spare he went in to the living room which was furnished with old, floral patterned furniture and wallpaper, which hadn't changed since his mother's passing. He examined himself in the mirror on the wall. He was a clear-skinned 24 year old with dark hair that was swept back over his head, and shaved short at the back and sides. He was dressed in an old, blue Denver Broncos t-shirt and a pair of worn jeans, and battered old boots. He gave a soft grin that vain twenty-somethings often give themselves, as he scanned his look with his hazel eyes. He wasn't a bodybuilder or anything, but he had a toned, muscular frame. The kind you see on labourers. 


    He heard the dull thumping of boots across the floor from up the stairs and made his way back to the kitchen. The toast popped out of the toaster and he laid it on two plates, along with the bacon and sausage. He poured two cups of black coffee and put them on the small table in the kitchen, and sat himself down. His father entered the kitchen and sat himself down at the table without a word. He was a man in his late forties with long, brown hair that had soft curls at the end, and a thin stubbling beard that had areas of silver running through it. "Morning, pop." Curtis said before taking a bite of toast and washing it down with some coffee. Sam Archer gave his son a cursory glance before he took a sip of his own coffee. He swallowed and paused for a moment, lingering in the moment. 

    "Morning." Sam said finally. Then he picked up his cutlery and began eating his breakfast. 

    "You look tired. I heard you come in late last night" Curtis asked his dad. 

    "Broken down sedan out on the other side of town. Battery gave out." Sam explained. Curtis nodded. 


    The Archer family ran their own business in the small Colorado town of Darkpine Valley. Sam and his two brothers, Cain the eldest, and Dominic the youngest, ran a successful auto-repair service. Cain and his eldest son Marcus dealt with external business side of things, working with stock suppliers, networking with dealerships and securing repair service deals with other companies. Sam ran the shop, and Curtis helped him along with Cain's youngest son Justin. Dominic helped out when he could, but having twin six year old boys made his life a bit hectic and so he and his wife Claire weren't always available. So for the most part it was just Curtis, his dad and Justin who did the day to day work. On the surface it was a typical family business that had grown from the hard work of three brothers born and raised here in Darkpine Valley. However the Archers weren't quite so ordinary. 


    "How are you feeling, boy?" Sam asked. "The change is coming two nights from now. How are the urges?" Curtis shrugged at the question and took a bite of bacon. 

    "Nothing out of the ordinary. I think I have a handle on it now, I've been doing this since I was 16." He replied. 

    "And I've been doing it since I was 16. Don't think it gets easier with age, you need to be ready. Sometimes it's fine, other times it can get real ugly. You understand me, boy?" 

    "Yeah, I get you, pop." Curtis said with resignation. "So...that being said I was going to go to a party up on Carrow Hill tonight."

    "Nope." Sam replied without skipping a beat. 

    "Uh...I wasn't asking?" Curtis said. 

    "I don't care. I'm telling you no, boy." Sam said. "You get some booze down you and see a pretty girl, this time that could be dangerous."

    "I'm not like that." Curtis said, a little angered by the comment. 

    "No, you're not. But the wolf inside's an animal, Curtis. It wants to eat, and hunt, and fu-"

    "Dad!" Curtis snapped. "I just want to hang out with some friends. I won't be drinking anyway. I've got to drive home. Thing about being a mechanic is you see the aftermath of having a few beers ad taking a drive. I'll be a regular old boy scout, I promise." Sam chewed on his food for a moment and then gave a sigh. 


    "Fine." He said. "...I couldn't stop you anyway. Some Alpha I am, can't even control my boy."

    "You know you could." Curtis replied. "Like if you laid the ol' howl on me. You just won't, y'know, because you're a cool dad."

    "Alright, boy you already got what you want so you can stop kissing my ass." Sam replied and he cracked a smile. "Finish your food, we've got work."

    "Sure thing, dad." Curtis replied, before scarfing down the rest of his breakfast. 





    Later in the day Curtis was at the auto-repair garage in town. Sam had gone off in his truck to deal with another breakdown which left Curtis and his cousin Justin in charge of the garage. Justin was the same age as Curtis but looked pretty different. He had blonde hair, styled up with a spiky look, and he was wearing a tight, white t-shirt covered in grease stains, and a pair of old jeans. His form was athletic and muscular, but unlike Curtis he actually went to gym. Justin was a typical gym-junkie, obsessed with his looks and outside from work and the gym his only major concern was partying and chasing tail. This was an Archer who let his inner wolf take the wheel most of the time. But he was family, and he wasn't a complete asshole. 



    in the garage was on and Justin was trying to look busy while basically slacking off, meanwhile Curtis was underneath the old fiat they were working on, on a runner. Justin was looking at himself in the sideview mirror of the car and carefully adjusting the strands of his hair. "So did your old man shoot you down then?" He asked Curtis. 

    "Actually he was cool with it." Curtis replied from underneath the car. "What about yours?"

    "My dad doesn't give a shit." Justin replied, still focused on his hair. "You know what he's like. He's happy as long as I settle down and make him some grandkids before he kicks the bucket. Besides he's way more concerned with Marcus right now."

    "How come?" Curtis asked. 

    "'s a pretty awkward thing to talk about with you. I mean your dad..."


    "I'm not an idiot." Curtis said, and he slid out from under the car. Justin tossed him a rag and he began cleaning the oil from his fingers. "Cain's hoping Marcus will lead the pack when the time comes. He's probably the right choice anyway."

    "Yeah, maybe." Justin said. "But Dad wants Marcus to have a family. He says 'a lone wolf is a weak wolf' and then they end up arguing. It's kind of bullshit to be honest."

    "I guess." Curtis said. "I mean Uncle Cain just wants the best for the family, right? I mean...he has a point."

    "What because having babies makes then man? Give me a break." Justin snorted. 

    "No it's keeps him grounded I suppose. You know what we can do, if you abuse that power then innocent people get hurt, or we get discovered."


    "Yeah well with all that said I think I'm just gonna keep partying and worry about the consequences later. I'm too young to be thinking about marriage and kids. All I want to focus on is tonight. Everyone is going to be there. You never know we might be able to get you laid, finally!"

    "Yeah, thanks, but no thanks." Curtis said with a sheepish grin. "The last girl you set me up with had an adderall addiction."

    "Yeah but she was pretty hot though..." Justin said. "Hey anyway that wasn't what I meant earlier. I meant college you moron. Have you even asked Sam yet?"

    "Nope..." Curtis said. "He'll just tell me it's pointless. Plus money is tight..."

    "Excuses, dude." Justin said, shaking his head. "I mean what do you do? You work and go home. I'm paying for my gym membership, my cell phone contracts, my ride, my weed, dates, parties, whey protein, new clothes. All you do is read books and play that beat up old guitar. You must have savings, man."


    "A little..." Curtis admitted. "Look I'll think about it."

    "You think too much, dude. Just do." Justin said. 

    "...Alright, I'll ask him tomorrow." Curtis said. 

  15. James was a nimble and quick person, but on this occasion Vincent had beaten him to Violet. He was at his sister's side in an instant, on his knees on the floor beside her. "Violet!" He said frantically. "Violet, it's me. What happened? You have to tell me what happened!"

    Violet jumped in surprise as she felt something come into contact with her, "Vincent?!" She called, searching with her hands, the tears still hot on her cheeks. "I don't know, I don't know! I can't see! I can't see!" She brought her hand back in and started touching at her face frantically. Vincent gently took her hand in his and removed it from her face. He placed it at his chest and held it there. 

    "Violet...I know it's hard but need to try to calm down." He said, his own voice shaky as he tried to control his own emotions. "Deep breaths...just focus on breathing." He added, taking a deep breath so she could feel his chest moving. "Me and James are right here...we're not going anywhere. We're going to help you."

    "How are you going to help me Vincent?! I'm blind!!" Violet yanked her hand away from Vincent's grasp.

    "Because the only thing I'm good at is magic." He replied. "This is magic, Violet. It's old, and strange and I don't understand it yet but you need to trust me. For once, please trust me to help you. I know it's weird, it's normally me who needs the help..." He gave a heavy sigh, closing his eyes. "I will help you with this, somehow. I promise."

    "I can't see, I can't work... I can't... I'm never going to be able to work." Violet pushed her hands through her long raven hair, "Just get us out of here, Vincent."


    "I can do that." Vincent said with a nod. He had more to say, he wanted to tell Violet that he would take care of her. He wanted to tell her that, while he didn't know what was happening to her, he knew the reason it was happening. He knew what she was, but he couldn't tell her, not right now. Most of all he wanted to reassure her, but that too was impossible. You can't force someone to digest things like this. She was going to suffer through it, no matter what he said. "James, can you carry Violet? I'm not doubting your skills but I think I might be the heavier hitter in this scenario, at least."

    "I know my limits, Vincent." James walked past him and helped Violet to her feet. "So what are we doing?" James asked without looking at him.

    "We're getting the rest of the team, and then we're getting out." Vincent said. "Queen Shaylee has rather cleverly and painstakingly hidden all the Ways as far as I can see. But the Ways cannot be closed or removed, even by a Faerie Queen. She can move them, slowly, and with a great deal of effort. I just have to find one and we'll make our escape. Luckily I was taught by an expert of the Ways, one just as clever as Queen Shaylee, perhaps more so."


    "You could just say 'We're leaving', y'know?" James replied.

    "And you could stick to licking your asshole like a real cat." Vincent said. "Got any more quips or do you want to tell me where David and Meredith are?"

    James took a deep breath, keeping his temper in check and nodded down the hall. "At the far end, down the stairs first left."

    "Let's go." Vincent said, and he moved forward a little more slowly than before, but made sure to keep a fair distance ahead of James and Violet. They were vulnerable with her, but he wouldn't let anything get past him. Even if it killed him. 


    They made their way down the hall as James instructed. Fortunately they didn't face any creeps along the way. They descended the steps and went left through another corridor that looked much the same as the rest, probably to keep them from getting a good idea of where they were. There was no Faeries barring their path, which was alarming in it's own way. There should have been more. When Vincent passed a room James inclined his head to it and Vincent doubled back. He went for the door but it was locked. He heard something crash from within and fear shot up his spine. He turned it to anger, and used it to kick open the door, marching inside with his cane held in front of him. 


    Inside the room there were two people. David lay on the floor, a shadow of what he was before. He was pale and for the first time in Vincent's presence he looked like the aged man he was. He trembled in fear, mouthing wordlessly at the other figure who had been slowly advancing on him. The Sidhe Faerie looked young and strong, with long blonde hair and pointed ears that, combined with the armour that was designed to resemble leaves, made him look like one of the Elven people of Tolkien's books. The Sidhe turned his gaze to Vincent and glared at him with cold, blue eyes. 

    "Get away from him!" Vincent snarled. The Sidhe simply smirked at the threatening command. 

    "Or what, Wizard?" He asked, his voice smooth and charming. "I assure you I won't fall as easily as one of my Ogre cousins. I am Sidhe, you do not stand a hope in...Hell, is it?"

    "I'll show you Hell if you don't get out of my sight right now." Vincent replied. "To quote a famous physicist: You won't like me when I'm angry."


    "Oh I'm afraid I don't much like you now, you uppity, foolish mortal." The Sidhe replied. "Let me show you how magic should be handled!" and with nothing more than a subtle gesture the Sidhe summoned green vines that snaked across the floor, lashing at Vincent, twisting to get at him. Vincent pointed his cane let out a wave of fire, but it's touch only made them grow and advance more quickly. Before he could raise his barrier they had coiled around his arms and legs and hoisted him off of his feet. He heard the Sidhe let out a cruel laugh, and then he advanced of David once more. The old man cowered before the Sidhe, and Vincent feared what horrible things the Faerie must have done to break his resolve. He didn't know anyone who had a stronger nerve than David. He felt the vines coil around his throat, tightening around his windpipe and slowly crushing it. As he felt his life slowly leaving him, Vincent cursed his own foolishness. He had just talked a big game to James and Violet, he had promised to protect his sister. Now he was here, powerless and about to completely fail in keeping that promise, not moments after making it. 


    David, meanwhile, crawled hastily backwards along the floor, fearful but holding himself in front of the Sidhe. However he was not cowering despite what it might have seemed. He was afraid, of course. He was tired and felt more helpless than he had ever felt in all his years. Yet he still had his faith, and the Lord had charged him with protecting the innocent. And so there he was, stood in between the Sidhe, and the other figure who was hiding under the bed. Dark brown hair emerged from under the bed. The girl stood and raised her hands up, her hazel eyes filled with tears. "Leave him alone!" She screamed, and with the scream came power. Raw magical force surged across the room, causing every one to tremble in it's might. The Sidhe glared at her with venomous eyes, and he thrust his hand towards her. His vines snaked towards her but were barred from getting close by the power of the magical pulse emanating from her. Then the air suddenly shifted as the young woman's fear turned to anger. A dark and terrible dread filled the room and the magical force changed. Pain rattled through the Sidhe, sheer and undeniable agony that rocked him to his core. 


    The vines holding Vincent loosened their grip and dropped him on the floor, as they began to wither away and die, turning to tiny, blackened and dried up twigs. Vincent choked for breath as he stood up, pointing his cane frantically at the young girl, ready to take her out. When he looked at her his heart nearly leapt out of his throat, and he let the cane fall to his side. "...Meredith?" He gasped. Her hair had darkened and become flatter, and her eye colour had changed. Her flawless skin has become a little pinker and there were a few freckles on her cheek. She had lost her Fae beauty, but underneath the changes it was undeniably the same girl. She fell to her knees, quietly weeping. Vincent surveyed the damage she had done. The Sidhe was collapsed on the floor, his eyes wide with agony and terror, but he lay still, trapped in an endless cycle of pain. 


    "That was..." Vincent shuddered as he spoke. "Meredith...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He went to her and knelt down, wrapping his arms around her. She quivered in his embrace but he held her tight, knowing what she was going through. Meredith had saved him, saved them all for the second time since he had met her. He had began to realise what she had given up in order to have Queen Shaylee save them in the forest. The dark hair, the change in her eye colour, her skin. She ahd become human, entirely. She had given up her Faerie half and become a mortal wizard. That alone was enough for him to owe her a great debt. Not to mention how he had treated her before, he had shown her no trust whatsoever. And she had deserved all of his trust. Every scrap. And yet this was not the worst of it. Even as he held her he could feel the touch of darkness she had allowed to form inside her. The stain of dark magic was unmistakable. He knew it because he had one too, and he had went through similar feeling a long time ago. 


    "I didn't...I didn't mean to..." She whispered, sobbing. "I...cant control it any more. M-my...magic...I'm sorry!"

    "'s okay." Vincent said softly. "It's going to be okay. I promise." He shuddered inwardly as he heard himself make another promise that he wasn't sure he could keep. 

    "Vincent..." David's voice said from behind him. The old man had stood up but looked weary. "He tried to take her...something about using her as a bargaining tool."

    "Shaylee..." Vincent said. "She was going to hold her ransom." That was the most reasonable conclusion he could make. But why Meredith? Why not Violet? Or David? He was closer to both of them. Perhaps Shaylee assumed he would consider the life of a child to be more valuable. If she did, then she was right on the money in that regard. "Come on, we need to move." Vincent said, and he helped Meredith to her feet. "We can sort this out when we get out of here. I'll take care of you. I know what comes next."


    " would do that?" Meredith asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "Why?"

    "Because I owe you my life, and the life of my friends, my family." Vincent said. "And because you will need someone with you for a time. Going the next few months alone would be very hard."

    "Thank you..." Meredith whispered, more tears welling in her eyes as she gave a grateful and relieved smile. 

    "Don't worry about it." Vincent said. "But no more magic." he added. "No more magic ever again, until I say so. Do you understand?" She hesitated for a moment, but then she nodded silently. Vincent moved away from her and left the room with everyone following behind. Now they were altogether. They were hurt and tired, but they were together. Now came the final push. 


    "Okay...the gang's all here." Vincent said. "When we leave this building all hell is going to break loose. We need to move as quickly as possible. David, James, I'll take the front and take the brunt of it but I need you both to back me up if I miss something. Don't let anyone get to Violet or Meredith."

    "No problem." James replied, "Well not literally but you get my meaning." He cleared his throat uncomfortably but smiled when he saw Violet's cheek twitch ever so slightly.

    "All right." Vincent said, and then he took a deep breath, calming himself and focusing his will. "It's now or never...let's go."





    The doors to the building exploded outwards, the ancient wood instantly charred to black as it shattered to pieces and crumbled on to the ground and crashed down the stone steps. Vincent emerged, with the rest of the team following closely behind him. He held his hand out in front of him, his charm bracelet creating a wide barrier around them, protecting them from a frontal assault. The building faced out on to a large valley. Buildings and streets were constructed in to the valley itself, their outer walls covered in vines that were blossoming in all manner of different petals. The valley itself was green and luscious, and the sky was pink and cloudless. The picturesque view would have been beautiful on any other day, but they had little time to take it in. This was the Esperius Valley, the heart of Spring. Vincent had to push down the sick feeling he had in his stomach. When he escaped Arctaeros all those years ago he had been told he had been the only mortal to do so in over a century. Now he was about to attempt to do the same in the Esperius Valey. He wasn't so sure he could achieve the impossible twice in one lifetime. 


    However his mind became focused on the more immediate problem. The courtyard ahead of him was filled with all manner of Faerie creatures. A small army had amassed itself in front of their prison and was waiting for them to burst through the doors. Far back beyond the forces of Spring sat their Queen astride a golden furred stag. She was not smiling and beautiful as she had been in her meeting with Vincent earlier. Her eyes were ablaze with fury, the pupils thin and cat-like. The forces readied to advance, and with a flick of her wrist Queen Shaylee gave that order. There was a cacophony of shouting and roars as the Faerie creatures raised crystalline swords and axes, or simply charged forward. The sky darkened as arrows were loosed and magic arced overhead. Vincent grit his teeth and raised his barrier above them, and he charged down the steps. 


    The arrows and bolts of magic crashed against his barrier, each strike hammering away at his will, but his fury drove him onwards in to the fray. The front lines came at him, all muscle and no brains. Goblins, Ogres, Trolls and Centaurs rushed the small group. Vincent held his cane forward and sent his will surging down it. "Ingus Magna!" he roared, and the white lance of flame thundered from his cane, carving through the forces like butter, parting them like Moses did the sea. They ran through the opening and the forces began to converge around them, cutting them off from all angles. Each one that came at him, he sent backwards with a blast of kinetic force from his cane, and they crashed in to the ones behind them. The rush of it all kept him going, but he could feel cold sweat dripping down his neck and forehead, and his head was pounding from exerting so much magic at one time. 


    Before long it became too much and Vincent struggled to keep them from advancing any longer. He tapped his cane against the ground and focused on the spell he had been weaving since before he had left the building. The Grimoire has taught him a spell that his father had favoured. It wasn't an easy spell, it took a while to prepare. One had to establish a link with the earth beneath ones feet. Vincent had been pushing out his senses, navigating the ground with his magic and inspecting it thoroughly. He hadn't had as much time as he would have liked but he had to try it anyway. He channelled his will through his cane and in to the ground. Then he spoke the incantation that had been written in the Grimoire in his father's own handwriting. 


    "Terram Exterriti!" He roared as the Faerie army closed in. There was a sudden pressure as his energy expelled outwards. Then the ground rumbled and shook, before exploding outwards, earth and rock spinning and crashing like a typhoon, the creatures ripped up along with it, with only a small stretch of ground around Vincent and his friends remaining untouched. He couldn't see far beyond that reach. The rest was pandemonium. The noise of crashing rocks, screaming and rumbling of the earth and the cries of their enemies was simply deafening. Then at last he felt the remains of the magic he had fed in to the spell dissipate, and the rocks and earth tumbled once more to the ground with a thunderous crash. 


    He couldn't see through the dust that filled the air, but he was certain that he had just destroyed a large portion of the courtyard. "Come on!" He yelled at the group and he lead them in to the dust. Without sight to help him he focused on the parts of his senses he had learned to communicate with when he had studied the Ways. He clambered over the upturned rocks and felt his way through the dust, making sure not to stray too far from the group. The dust began to fade as they emerged in to the beginnings of a wood. He weaved through the trees, letting his sense guide him, following the subtle signs that showed a practitioner to a Way. Finally he arrived in a clearing, and he stopped with the group, and looked around. "It's here..." He said as he tried to pinpoint it. He paused for another moment of two, then he turned to a pile of moss-covered stones and pointed at it. "That's it." He said. He held his hand out, focused his will, and snapped his fingers. The Way opened with much less effort than the other one had. Peculiar, he thought. He felt pretty tapped out, had it always been that easy? 


    With the familiar rushing, whispering screech followed by a silencing vacuum, the Way opened and showed them a mirror in to a completely different location. "Go." Vincent said, "You'll be in France, so try not to panic. I'll get us home soon."

    "Alright, see you on the other side." James replied. 

    "Be safe... " Violet added, but she was lost in her thoughts to give any real input. David and Meredith followed shortly afterwards. When they were all through Vincent went to follow afterwards. Before he could enter, however, he felt a terrible thrum of energy from behind him. He turned around to see Queen Shaylee stood at the far edge of the clearing, her eyes dark and filled with quiet rage. 

    "You..." She hissed. 


    "Me." Vincent replied darkly. "I don't suppose you've come to say goodbye?"

    "You have brought death unto the realm of beginnings..." Shaylee said. "You have slaughtered my kin. You have ended the lives of the everlong, and I will not forgive you."

    "I warned you." Vincent said simply. He was tired. "You immortals are all so...arrogant. You can't even entertain the idea that you might be beaten. If you weren't so damned sure of yourself then I probably wouldn't have managed it."

    "You will not leave here." She said, her tone that of finality. 

    "Are you going to stop me?" Vincent asked. "I'm, like, two feet away from this Way. I think I can get there before-"


    The sensation washed over him immediately, and he was filled with dread. He had felt this kind of feeling before, only once. It was power. Power enough to move mountains and dry up entire seas. It was the kind of terror you would feel if you truly met your creator. It was the power that made the Queens of Faerie just that, Queens. Incalculable, unfathomable, mighty power, enough to shatter the heavens and the earth with the snap of a finger. At least it felt that way to him. The true extent of it was difficult for a mortal to comprehend. With power like this you couldn't be sure if you were grossly overestimating or underestimating it. It had frozen him in place. He tried to tell his feet to move, but they simply weren't listening. Shaylee advanced towards him, slowly and gracefully like a predator would an easy kill. She came so close that her skin was mere inches from his. She lifted her hand and gave him the faintest of touches on his cheek, and the sensation nearly brought him to his knees. 


    "You are in my domain, and I will not permit you to leave." Shaylee said. "You are...mine!"

    The words echoed through his head. Memories flooded back to him, ones that had always been there but right at the back, foggy and unclear. For some reason they seemed crystal clear now, and he began to relive every moment as if it were a very real dream. 


    He was standing in a chamber made of crystalline ice. He was surrounded by creatures of the Fae, all stood in the distance as if spectators at a court hearing. Vincent was angry. He had been fooled and now the revelations had all come to him, which had led him to standing in this very room, seeking audience with the Queen of Winter, Isoleth. She was sat in her throne of ice, dressed in a shimmering, blue garment, her hair as white as snow and her eyes a piercing emerald. She was smiling at him, a cruel and confident grin. Her eyes were calm but intense, thin and cat-like as was the norm for her kind. Sat comfortably in her arms was a tiny little thing, wrapped in silk blankets, with only the hint of a pale pink head poking out. 


    "Vincent, my darling." Isoleth said warmly. "Were you that desperate to see me."

    "Stop it..." Vincent growled. "I don't want to talk. Just give her to me!"

    "Why ever would I do that, boy?" Isoleth asked, and she glanced at the little baby in her arms. "A daughter should be with her mother, after all."

    "No!" Vincent snarled. "I won't let that happen. tricked me! You tricked me to get her and..." Tears welled in his eyes. "...Why? I..."

    "You...what?" Isoleth asked, raising her brow in amusement. 

    "I...loved you." Vincent whispered, and a single tear rolled down his cheek. "I loved you! But not as much as I love her! I won't let you take her from me!"


    "My boy, you are welcome to stay here with her and I." Isoleth said. "I am a reasonable woman."

    "If you stays here...she'll become a monster. Just like you." Vincent said. "Just like everything in this fucking realm!" At this Isoleth gave a soft chuckle, and shook her head the way grown ups do when arguing with a child. 

    "You sought this realm out. You were fascinated by it. You still are, in fact." She said. 

    "I was...tricked by you and your lies. Everything was just an illusion. I thought this realm was one of wonder's just cruel and heartless."

    Isoleth considered him for a moment, then she spoke. "What would you offer in return?"


    "Anything." Vincent said immediately. "I'll give you anything. If you stay away from her then I will give you all that I have."

    "And you have much, boy." Isoleth said with a short nod. "Very well. My daughter will live her life away from her mother, and in return I shall have you."

    Isoleth got up from her throne and she practically glided to Vincent. When she reached him she held out the child in her arms, and placed her in his. He looked down at the little girl and for a moment he felt unfathomable joy. He reminded himself that he would not be able to be with her either, but she would have a better life without him. "Agreed." He said, and he felt something twinge inside him as the magical contract was set. And then he felt cold crawl up his arms and wash over the sleeping child. She did not stir as her form was completely frozen, her skin turning blue and a layer of frost coating her skin. Vincent choked in panic, he fell to his knees, clutching the poor child. Distantly he could hear screaming. It took him a moment to realise it was him. 


    Isoleth leant down next to him and gave him a cruel smile. "I never said she would have a long life, boy." She said harshly. Vincent couldn't reply. He couldn't stop screaming. Then Isoleth leant in closer, her lips gently hovering next to his ear. She whispered to him, slowly and venomously: "Your are...mine!"


    When Vincent opened his eyes again he realised the screaming wasn't coming from him after all. He realised immediately that his hand was clasped around the throat of Queen Shaylee. She was screaming in agony as a dark green energy pulsed through his arm, penetrating her flesh and scolding her. Her cat-like eyes were filled with panic as she gazed upon him. He had never seen fear on a Queen's face before. Startled he released his grip and Shaylee fell to the floor, her flesh still smoking from what had happened. Vincent could only stare down at her, completely terrified by what he had done. Whatever he had done, he had no idea what it was, or where it had came from. However he knew the feeling dark magic brought on it's wielder, and this was not that. It was...different. Yet the consequences of it's wrath were terrible. 


    "Oh...shit." Vincent whispered, trembling. He turned and left through the Way, still trying to digest what he had just done. He had killed a Faerie Queen. He had killed an immortal, one that was more ancient than he could fathom. He had ended the life of the arbiter of Spring. The consequences of such an just didn't bear thinking about. All he knew was not good. 

  16. The Masquerade was in full swing. Wine flowed and with it came smug laughter, and dancing, and the lowering of inhibitions. Raphael had sampled the wine, tilting his mask to sip from a goblet. His tastes were incredibly sharp and intuitive. The wine was rich, dense and the subtle notes told him that it was crafted of local fruits. No doubt a blend commissioned by the Medici themselves. He drained the goblet and set it aside, fixing his mask back in place. It was a deep red, porcelain mask with a caricature of a grinning man. The expression was macabre and very reminiscent of jesters and clowns. He thought it rather apt, for that was what he was on this eve, a jester. Raphael was no noble, but with coin he had managed to walk among them. He had grown used to the odd stares and the hushed whispers, and more importantly he had learned to eradicate them altogether when he wanted to. 


    Not a soul was paying him any attention. In that moment he was nothing more than an unimportant movement in the corner of their eyes. He moved through the guests and surveyed them without incident. For one such as him it had became a simple task to influence the minds of those around him. The subtle powers of suggestion he held could slowly make people love him, hate him, and in this case be utterly bored by his presence. This was what he wanted for now. He enjoyed moments of peace, moments where he could simply be a spectator to the grand events of the rich and powerful. Firenze, he had found, was no exception to this. The people drank and forgot the hardships of this city quite effortlessly. Perhaps they simply did not care in the first place. 


    Observing people like this was an excellent way to learn. He had watched the rich and the poor, men and women, children, beggars and murderers. He had found that each one could not help but be like the others of their kind. Wealth brought a smug sense of importance, those who did not inevitably become rotten by money were a rare sight. Not that he had any particular disdain for it. He had once been a poor man, or rather a poor boy. He had seen plenty of rot going on among the penniless as well. Jealousy, desperation and anger at their lack of success could drive men and women to be quite disgusting creatures. It was the way of the short-lived, the way of mortals. It was difficult to have hope of anything better, or fear of anything worse when your life is so short. Indeed, if life had been different he might have looked to be the older man that he truly was, and no doubt he would have become sick. Perhaps he would already be dead. 


    He moved in to the main hall and found the man, Uberto, standing by his prized possession. He moved to Uberto and greeted him with a casual nod. The masked man seemed to gaze at him quizically for a moment before he recognized Raphael. Sure enough upon the realisation he held out his arms in a welcoming gesture. "There you are, Raphael!" He said jubilantly, "I was beginning to think you had decided not to attend."

    "As if I would miss such a wonderful...festivity." Raphael replied, bringing Uberto in for a short and formal embrace. Then Uberto fetched him another goblet of wine and the pair surveyed the gathering together. 

    "It is quite an affair, is it not?" Uberto said, and Raphael sensed there was a grin under his mask. He nodded in agreement. 

    "A peculiar one, I think" Raphael replied, "Everyone gets so excited about wearing a mask. It's as if they don't realise that we all wear masks, every day."

    "Ah, but on nights like this it is the opposite, my friend." Uberto explained. "We can all wear a mask on the outside, and let our true selves out to play for the evening."


    Raphael gave a soft chuckle, and nodded once again. "I suppose there is something in what you say. But please, Uberto, let us not keep everyone waiting. I will play something...something to entice their inner selves, and allow them to fully explore the depths of their basest desires."

    "Oh, well that does sound very exciting!" Uberto said joyously. "Very well, I will not keep you." He added, and with that he stepped away from the Viola Da Gamba, and Raphael sat himself on the stool next to it. He allowed his suggestion to pulse just a little, enough for a few people to take notice. They eyed him with anticipation as he rested the viola da gamba in between his legs. He held it's neck firmly in his left hand, his fingers placed delicately on the strings. Then he rose the bow in his right arm, resting his fingers on the bowstrings to give him control. And then he struck the instrument's string and a sharp, short note pierced through the mumblings and laughter. 


    He had mixed it with his suggestive powers, and the note had demanded the attention of every person within the room. He brushed the string with the bow, and played a series of long and mournful notes. With them he played the guests a melancholy story. The arrangement was on of his own. It told the story of a young man with nothing, alone in the world with no hope in sight. However, the man had hope all the same. He began to introduce more sharp, short notes. The room was silent, transfixed on his playing. All eyes were on him, and he liked it. The notes became higher as the story became one of joy. The young man had been given a new life, and a new meaning. The arrangement showed a family, one that became as close to the young man as his own flesh and blood. The music told them that his life had became one of wealth, one of opportunity and fulfilment. Slowly it began to peak, with light and optimistic tones, safe tones of contentment. 


    And just as he felt the room acclimatising to this feeling of joy, the song shifted. Dark, slow notes of dread began to sneak their way in, creeping like shadows through the happiness. As they grew more prominent he felt the room shudder, and he smiled under his mask. Short, sharp notes came once more, but they grew deeper and deeper. He played with finesse and speed, as he pulled the room in to madness and despair. Unimaginable pain, indescribable sorrow. Churning away, brewing in a pot of cold iron. Soon the madness became deafening and undeniable. Fury and passion burst out from the music. Lust, hunger and pain. Yet the notes carried an embrace to them. There was celebration in this dark spiral of madness. The boy had embraced the darkness and the madness. He had become those things entirely, and in doing so he had become more fulfilled than he had ever been. And then the music stopped with a final, sharp note. Silence fell. 


    Raphael's gaze had fixed on a certain point in the crowd. Distantly he could hear the beginning of applause, but it had become suddenly irrelevant. Instead he looked one at a single guest. Her hair was the colour of a warm fire, and her skin was pale like the moon. Her beauty had bewitched him, and the entire room seemed to melt before him. This treasure, she was young. Young enough to be his daughter, in fact. She was at the very prime of her existence. He thought about her beauty, his eyes scanning her flawless neck, which was far more beautiful than the trinket she had adorned it with. Then he remembered that like all people, her beauty would fade. Time would steal it from the world, would batter and bruise it, strip it of the life that oozed from it. The thought made his heart sink. 


    He could not bear such a thought. Such a treasure should not be ravaged by time, he thought. He gazed upon this woman and was only vaguely aware that he had left his instrument behind, and that his legs were moving across the room. That hair, such a vibrant colour. It gave him a warmth inside his body that he had not felt in many years. In his eyes this young girl was the brightest thing in the room. She reminded him of the wonderful sunshine that he had lost many years ago, one that he longed to gaze upon once more. And most importantly he felt a great deal of desire for this woman. Not a sexual desire, nothing so crass. He wanted her, in her entirety, to be his. No, more. He needed her. He had to have her. He had to feel that pearl-like skin quiver beneath his power. He had to taste the warm blood that coursed underneath her skin. He would not be denied it, he had decided. 


    "Good evening." He said, and the room came rushing back in to focus around him. He was stood so close to her now, it was almost dazzling to be in her presence. " not believe we have met." He said, and he reached out and took her hand, kissing it softly. "I am Raphael D'Antonio. And who are you, Signora?"

  17. Without dreams sleep is but a function. We have journeys when we slumber, ones that carry us through our innermost thoughts and finding new things to discov. We find answers in our nagging doubts and indulge our deepest fantasies. We process all that our mind finds vital to our continued existence. Without the dream sleep is quiet and meaningless. It is cold, and dark and incredibly boring. But even for those who do not require dreams, an active body requires rest. And so he lay for hours, still, and quiet, and cold, and bored. His senses were, however, completely alert. With each inhalation came the smell of slowly dying wood, varnish, the vaguest hints of dirt. The faintest scent of stale sweat lingering in tiny portions of fabric. He was cold, always cold. Yet he could feel warmth slowly travelling around him, drifting over him, teasing him but never entering him. Distant sounds came to him clearly, distinct in their newness. The ticking clocks, the sporadic scuttling of mice, and insects. The gentle cacophony of shuffling and grumbling that was the masses who inhabited the streets outside. Yet these sounds were new, they echoed through the house and rested upon his ears as if he had been standing among them, listening attentively. 


    "I am afraid he still rests. He is a bit of a night owl, you see." A woman's voice. Middle aged, fussy and a hint of mild irritation at her own words. "Even when he stays inside he insists on busying himself on matters that can surely wait until the dawn." The fussy woman's voice was familiar. Carlotta, his paid guest. She attended him in a motherly way in which he had never experienced as a boy. Always fussing. 


    "Apologies, Signora." This one was definitely male. His voice was light and charming. A dandy fellow, indeed. Also entirely unfamiliar. "I must speak with him about the Masquerade that is being held this evening. He did receive an invite, did he not?"

    "Yes I believe so...Signor...uh." Carlotta paused, uncertainty lingering at the end of her words. 

    "Uberto, Signora" The man, apparently Uberto, replied. "Uberto D'Pazzi da Firenze. Would it be too much trouble to wake him?"

    "Well...if it is important." Carlotta replied. "I will go see if I can wake him. Please stay here." 


    Footsteps. They were rising, moving swiftly up wooden stairs. His eyes sprang open but saw only darkness. He carefully pushed the layers of thick blankets away from his face and looked out in to the bedroom. His curtains were still drawn, the thick material hiding the sunlight. The dim room was clean and decorated beautifully with typical furniture of the City. There were no personal items to speak of, he had not been here long enough to have procured much. He moved from the bed, naked and light footed. No sound escaped him as he moved across the room, snatching his robe and pulling it over himself. The footsteps drew closer. Carefully he moved the edge of the curtain, but a crack. A dark orange beam of light invaded the dark room, and the man immediately drew the curtain back over it, cursing silently. 


    Dusk had not yet arrived. The footsteps drew closer and he pressed himself against the door of the room, listening intently, feeling the heat on the other side of the room. It was fading fast but the sunlight's warmth was still coursing through the opposite room. There was a momentary twinge of panic. He feared discovery. He feared a demise that was perhaps long overdue for him. Only for a moment, of course. Calm returned to him swiftly, and as the footsteps came to the opposite side of the door he tugged on it's handle and pulled it in, carefully stepping so he stayed behind the door and away from the light that entered through the threshold. Carlotta did not say anything but he had heard her startled intake of breath. 


    "Carlotta, please come in. It's quite alright." He said warmly. She entered the room and he swiftly closed the door behind her. She looked at him for a moment, pursing her lips. Always fussing. 

    "Raphael I did not know you were awake." She said as she waddle-walked across the room and immediately began tidying the blankets on his bed. She was a round, short woman in her early 40's with greying hair that was once very dark, and her olive skin was cracked and wrinkled around her eyes and her mouth, time-woven scars brought on by the frowning and fussing, he assumed. Raphael was a man but only a few years older than her, but you could not tell by looking. 


    He was a pale man for one who lived in such climates. His chestnut hair was long and a little scruffy. His eyes were a pale grey, his eyebrows thick and dark. He had a lean jaw and had grown a short but tidy beard. Underneath his robe he was gifted with a lean and strong form, and those who knew him would be hard pushed to say he was a man of 47, in fact he looked to be in his early 30's. He began to become aware that he had not spoken in a short time, and that perhaps the situation demanded a response. 


    "I am only just out of bed, Carlotta." He explained. "I am sorry if I startled you, I heard you coming along the hall and I thought it polite to open the door."

    "It was, I had just not expected you to be awake my boy." She sad as she continued fluffing his pillows and tidying his blankets. "There is a man in the lobby who wishes to speak with you. Uberto D'Pazzi I think he said."

    "I don't suppose he could return later?" Raphael asked. "I would like to get dressed."

    "I am quite sure he will wait." She replied. "He seemed quite certain he must speak with you now."

    "I see..." Raphael said with a hint of a sigh. "Very well. Please give me a moment to dress and then send him up."


    "Up here?" Carlotta asked. "Wouldn't you rather-"

    "I would not." Raphael interrupted, his tone a little short. "I do not know this man. I have only just awoken and I would prefer to continue my routine undisturbed. If it is so urgent then he can come up here and speak to me himself."

    "Uh...okay then." Carlotta replied, and she moved for the door. Raphael carefully moved away from where the light would protrude, and tried to do so in as natural a way as was possible. He went to the dresser in the corner and Carlotta exited the room, closing the door behind her. 


    Raphael dressed quickly. He put on a simple, white shirt with an open collar, and frilled cuffs. He put on a pair of simple, black breeches and left his feet bare. He lit the room with candles in preparation for his guest. Then he sat himself on the stool next to his dresser, facing the door from the far side of the room where the light could not touch him. A few moments passed and then the door to the room opened slowly, and a man dressed in fine clothing stepped through, his black hair was short and swept back, and he had thinly trimmed goatee and a mustache that had been styled to a point with wax. Yes indeed, he was a dandy fellow after all. 


    "Signor Uberto D'Pazzi, is it?" Raphael asked as the man entered and closed the door behind him. Uberto looked around the room for a moment, a little perplexed by the set up. "It helps the mood, for when I play." Raphael clarified, inclining his head toward the dark oak viola da gamba that rested on an armchair in the corner. Uberto looked at it for a moment before he gave a soft smile and raised his brow like he had been let in on a little secret. 

    "Ah, of course!" He said with a grin. "An artist's muse is complex thing, who am I to judge? I beg pardon for the interruption. Raphael D'Antonio da Venice, it is a pleasure to meet you."

    "I have not been to Venice in a long time." Raphael said with a polite smile. "I spent more of my life in Hungary if I am honest. D'Pazzi...I have heard this name. You are a man of influence in Firenze?"


    "A little." Uberto replied modestly, but a sly smirk escaped his lips. Raphael got a sense that Uberto was a man who gained the ear of many with his charms. He was an attractive man as well, and no doubt his nobility helped to accentuate his greater features. He was a man born in to nobility, one always destined for it. Raphael, on the other hand, was a thief. He was the son of a poor man, one who had been provided comfort from the pity of a foreign noble. That man was now dead, and Raphael had stolen his riches and the mystique of foreign lands to force himself in to the company of nobles. Yet they all knew he was an outsider, a pretender in their court. Yet they allowed him to stay if only to enjoy his music and make snide comments about him in hushed whispers. 


    "What can I do for you?" Raphael asked, clasping his fingers together in front of him. 

    "Well, Raphael. You are in the midst of a fan." Uberto explained. "Many speak highly of your performances. I, myself saw you play last year. Truly, it was a breathtaking experience."

    "Your words are too kind." Raphael said with a nod. "I assume you have come to proposition me to play at the Medici's grand Masquerade this evening?"

    "Ah, so you understand Signor." Uberto said with another charming smile. He was a healthy man. His heartbeat was steady and he was in the prime of his life. A fine wine, of sorts. 


    "I was under the impression that I was to be attending as a guest." Raphael said. 

    "Ah but if you play then you would be a most honoured guest, Signor." Uberto replied. "Not to mention the benefits that would come of enhancing an evening arranged by the Medici. I am sure they would consider the gesture most favourably. The benefits..." The way he had inclined his head had made the skin around his neck tighten. The creeping hunger inside Raphael made a sudden jolt in his stomach, but he suppressed it. Patience was it's own reward, after all. 

    "I suppose I could play a little." Raphael said finally. "Since you are such a fan."


    "That is fantastic news, Signor!" Uberto cried joviantly. 

    "Please, Raphael is fine." He replied. "Although I have things to take care of. Can you take my instrument with you? I think it would be proper to put it on display beforehand."

    "Of course, Raphael." Uberto said, and he picked up the viola da gamba and it's bow, holding it carefully. He would have no way to defend himself with his hands occupied like that. It would be so easy. He made his way to the door and turned back one last time. "I will see you tonight, my friend."

    "Or perhaps not." Raphael replied with a smirk. "As I understand it is customary to wear a mask to these affairs."

    "Aha! Indeed, Raphael. Indeed." Uberto replied. "Well then, I look forward to hearing you play once more."


    Uberto left and closed the door behind him. Finally alone Raphael sagged on the stool. Poor Uberto, he had no idea how close he had come to death. The price of never ageing, never growing old, and never dying. A hunger that not even the finest of foods could satiate. Raphael would never consider hurting his dear Carlotta, she was passed her prime and he had grown quite fond of her in any case. Yet this strong and healthy man had entered his domain. He had stood in his quarters, earnest and completely undefended. He was primed and ready to be taken. Raphael had struggled not to imagine ripping the throat out of that charming man. It would have been so easy to do it, and he would have drained him of his life. He would have had his fill of the only thing that gave him warmth. No mortal could fathom the deep and unyielding hunger that he possessed. He wanted it more than anything in the world. Blood. 

  18. The Renaissance was a rebirth that occurred throughout most of Europe. However, the changes that we associate with the Renaissance first occurred in the Italian city of Florence and continued to be more pervasive there than anywhere else. The city's economy and its writers, painters, architects, and philosophers all made Florence a model of Renaissance culture. Fifteenth century Florence was an exciting place to be. In 1450 the city had a population of 60,000 and was a self-governed, independent city-state. Twelve artist guilds that regulated the trades were the basis of Florence's commercial success. Members of the guilds, who were wealthy and held positions in government, were some of Florence's most influential people in society and politics. Because of its strong economy and a political philosophy that was dedicated to the welfare of the city, Florence thrived. Due in no small part to the House of Medici.


    The Medici were a banking family with a long political dynasty with considerable influence that grew throughout the fifteenth century. The family gained prominence under Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici and became the de facto rulers of Florence, controlling the city from behind the scenes. As their notoriety grew, so too did the great care they took with their secrets, which were very dark indeed. There were many tales surrounding the City of Florence and the great House of Medici, and many more that were strategically stricken from the history books. For the most interesting tales are found in the darkness, and behind closed doors. A great dynasty was born in the heart of Florence, but it was not the Medici. Like all great stories it begins with the chance meeting of a man and a woman, a couple who were completely unaware of the catalyst that was their first meeting, and how on that night their actions would lead to the rise of an empire like no other. 


    Dark creatures walk among us. The talk with us, laugh with us and even love with us, but they are not the same. There are predators that roam the night, and we are their prey. 




    The Midnight Court







    Name: Raphael D'Antonio

    Age: 47 (32 when turned)



    Personality: Raphael is a free-spirited individual who likes to think he wears a mask in front of most people. When performing for the nobility he is charming, polite and courteous. He appears to be quite wise compared to how he physically looks. Away from the social pleasantries of high society however, he is a man who cares little for titles and nobility. Somewhat arrogantly, he considers himself a new breed who is superior to the masses. He accepts his predatory instincts and makes a point to feed his hunger, but does not do so wastefully. As a young vampire he has yet to face the more horrible aspects of the life, and as such he can be quite impulsive and quick to act. 


    Biography: When Raphael was a young boy he lived in poverty. The only thing he could truly do well was play violin. His mother died when he was a baby, and in his teens his father passed away leaving him alone and incapable of  fending for himself. He was fortunately taken in by a Hungarian noble family who enjoyed his music. The family cared for him and he grew accustomed to the life of a nobleman. He lived with them in Hungary for many years, until in his early 30's. He awoke one night to screaming, and found that the family home was under attack by gruesome monsters. He watched as they butchered the family who had taken him in, and then they finally turned their teeth on him. He remembers little of the horrors they inflicted on him, but he awoke a few days later, among the corpses of his adoptive family. 


    From that day onward he found that he had become stronger and faster. His wounds healed rapidly, and he did not age even a single day more. As the days went by, however, he found it increasingly unbearable to be out in the sun, until the day that it's touch on his skin would burn like acid. What's more while his senses were stronger, and food and wine became far more enjoyable, they did not quell his hunger. In time he realised that he was no longer human, that he was something else. The men and women around him had became his prey, and their blood the only food he required. As he embraced his new life, he found new powers emerging to him. He could persuade all men and women to love him, and equally could make them ignore him if he so chose. Using this to his advantage he returned to Italy and travelled the country as a successful musician, playing for the nobility every evening, earning coin, and then picking off the most desirable from the herd so he could dine. 


    Soon he made his way to Florence, to play at a grand Masquerade held for the nobility. Little did he know he would discover in this place that he was not alone in his gift, and that he would turn another. What's more he had not yet discovered that his gift was, perhaps, a curse. 

  19. When the door to Vincent's guest room/prison opened he was sat at the coffee table, with his feet up. He was casually reading over a leather bound book and sipping on a cup of black coffee. He lifted his head from the pages with only a cursory glance. The woman who had entered, much like all Sidhe he had encountered in his life, was a vision. She was slim and curvaceous with pinkish, smooth skin. She was dressed in a rather plain, cream coloured dress with a brown sash and dark brown boots that reminded Vincent of the type of clothes mortal women wore who were in to that whole "natural, hippie-chiq lifestyle." Her hair was long and styled in golden blonde dreadlocks, and her eyes were a pale blue. Despite her beauty, Vincent barely registered her and turned back to his book. "Queen Shaylee, is it?" He asked before taking another sip of the coffee. 


    "It is." She replied, a warm smile on her face. She walked over to the coffee table and sat on the opposite side of the sofa from him. "I see you are comfortable, Vincent. Although I do not recall having coffee sent to you, or that book."

    "I had Fidget get me it." Vincent replied. "And he picked the book up from my apartment for me."

    "Fidget?" Shaylee said, still smiling but her eyebrows were raised. 

    "Yeah, Fidget." Vincent said and the little pixie guard appeared on queue. 

    "My Queen!" He said with a swift bow, his wings beating furiously. "I apologise if I have displeased you. Vincent...well...he's really nice when you get to know him. I didn't think it would do any harm."


    "Fehjurtzhobaram, it's fine." Shaylee said, still smiling. "The mortal will need something to read if he is to be here for so long. You did a very nice thing, I assume you were rewarded?"

    "Oh yes!" Fidget said in reply. "Firstly he gave me a really was it? a knack-name?"

    "Nickname." Vincent corrected. 

    "Right! A nickname!" Fidget nodded. "I really like it. I retrieved the coffee for that. And for the book he let me take one of the pots of ramen noodles from his fridge. They taste so good...mmm...salty!"


    Shaylee gave a little giggle. This was a little surprising to Vincent. The only other Faerie Queen he had met was, well, a horrible person. Queen Shaylee seemed to delight in the happiness of her kind. "Well thank you for rewarding little Fidget, you know our customs so well." She said to Vincent, and she was genuinely appreciative. 

    "Don't mention it." Vincent said before putting down his book and the coffee. He retrieved a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and lit one, puffing away for a moment. 

    "For those he let me have his Iron Man bobble-head toy!" Fidget remarked. 

    "The things I do for cancer." Vincent said with a smile. "Fidget, could you give me and Queen Shaylee some privacy please?"

    "Oh, certainly." Fidget said with a nod, and then he zipped off and disappeared from sight. Vincent had always found it remarkable how quick pixies were. 


    "So." He said, turning to Shaylee. "What do you want?"

    "From you?" Shaylee asked. "Why, nothing at all. I just want you to be comfortable while you are here."

    "Well you've put some sort of anti-magic field around this room." Vincent said. "That makes me a bit uncomfortable. Being a wizard and all."

    "I'm sure you will get used to it." Shaylee said. 

    "Well I'd rather not. I'd rather go home." Vincent said. "Nice as it is here, I have things to do. So why don't you tell me what I have to do to get me and my friends free. Right now."


    "I'm afraid you have nothing I want." Shaylee said simply. "Meredith made a bargain with me that I transport you from the Wylds and that I cannot harm you or your friends while you are guests. I agreed, but of course the girl neglected to stipulate if I should let you leave. Of course my reign for the year had only just begun, and to summon me like that is very disrespectful. As such I have chosen to imprison you all for 300 years. It is not unreasonable. You will be allowed to leave with your lives when the sentence has been completed, and I promise your life here will be full and peaceful. Consider it as a very long vacation, if you will."


    "Okay." Vincent said, exhaling smoke. "How about, instead, I fight you every step of the way? I will be the biggest pain in your ass and I will do everything within my power to escape."

    "Ah, threats..." Shaylee looked a little disappointed. "You have no power, Vincent. I have saw to that." Vincent gave her a little smile, and then he flicked the cigarette in to the air and flexed his fingers towards it. The cigarette exploded in a small burst of fire, very controlled and doing no harm, but a bang echoed through the room. Shaylee's eyes narrowed at Vincent, and for the first time she stopped smiling. 

    "How?" She asked. 

    "This isn't the first time I've been held captive by a Faerie Queen, and let me tell you, the Winter Queen isn't all that lenient."


    "How did you break the spell?" Shaylee asked, standing up and looming over him. This was much more how Vincent had expected a Sidhe to be. Power hungry predators who hated being undermined. Vincent stood up to meet her gaze, his expression confident and fierce. 

    "I have lived in The Fae. I learned the Ways, I was taught them by the fucking Queen of Winter herself. I have laughed and cried with your kind, danced with them, fought with them, been tortured by them. I have even lay with one." As he spoke the anger in his voice grew and grew. "I have already lost the most important thing to me because of your kind. And when that happened they locked me up in the deepest dungeon of Arctaeros, the oldest stronghold within Winter. And I escaped that place. Now you have my friends, my family, and I promise you I will do everything within my power to free them from here. Do you understand?"


    Shaylee broke from his gaze and strode across the room. She stopped by the door and turned back her head towards him. "I will not make the mistake Isoleth did. Pain gives a wizard great and terrible power. Here you will only experience pleasure, and before long you will come to accept it, even welcome it. I will eradicate all the fight within you, and I have plenty of time to do so."

    "Not as much as you think." Vincent said, picking up the book he had been reading. "I'll grow stronger every day, and I will get free."

    "You think your father's Grimoire will help you, child?" Shaylee said with a smile on her lips once more. "That book will bring you far more suffering than I ever could. It will destroy you, just as it did all the others who held it. Including your father." Vincent froze. He tried to remove the expression of shock from his face but Shaylee had seen it and made no effort to hide her satisfaction. "There is much you do not know, child. You have a terrible purpose, you and your sister. A cruel legacy that will unfold in time, should I let you leave. Keeping you here is perhaps a very generous gift in that respect, one that requires no payment in return. A rare thing to receive from one such as I."


    "This doesn't change anything." Vincent said bitterly. "I'm going to get out of here, mark my words." Shaylee simply turned her back on him and left the room, having nothing more to say, leaving Vincent alone in his room. Except he wasn't alone, no sooner had Shaylee left had a cat appeared at his balcony, tilting it's head as it looked at him. Vincent stepped towards it, eyeing it cautiously. 

    "...Violet?" He asked. He was surprised when the cat responded with a simple "Try again." and the voice was male. More importantly the cat spoke, like actually spoke with it's mouth moving and everything. He recognised the voice though, and as it did he sighed with relief, finally something was happening that could help them. 


    "Okay, James." Vincent said with a wry smile. "I'm officially impressed."

    "You should be. I'm rather impressive." James replied, then looked around the room before setting his feline eyes back upon Vincent, "Wish I could say the same about the great Vincent Hallow, given what Violet says about you you're kind of a let down."

    "Yeah, well we'll see how you feel once I get us out of this place." Vincent replied. "I just need to figure out how."

    "If you get out of there on your own, then I will have to re-evaluate Violet's assessment of you. I'm waiting." He sat down and licked his front right paw with a patient grin on his face.

    "Notice there are no bars on the windows." Vincent pointed out. "I can walk out of here at any time. The real trouble comes after that. You ever fought a troll? They are mean."

    "I don't have to fight a troll to show how great I am, I didn't get caught in the first place." He paused and looked down at the window sill, "You can't fight a troll?"


    "Of course I can." Vincent said, before adding: "With my tools. My staff is gone, I don't have my charm bracelet, or my ring. Without a focus my evocation is a bit messy. So going out guns blazing is a fast way to die. Besides we're in the The Fae, so there could be a lot of trolls...and goblins, dryads, phobophages, ogres, pixies, and let's not forget the army of Sidhe."

    "Oh please, that's every other Sunday." James rolled his eyes and thought, while his long tail swished behind him. "Why don't I bring you your little trinkets, and then we'll come out guns blazing, hmm?"

    "You know where they're being kept?" Vincent asked

    "I wouldn't offer if I didn't." James replied, "It's not like i've been basking in the sun for the past two weeks." He paused, "Well it's not the only thing i've done."

    "Right, sorry." Vincent said. "And...I don't suppose they have my coat too?"


    "Is that going to help you escape as well or are you a little chilly?" He raised an eyebrow quizically.

    "No I just..." Vincent shrugged, "I like that coat." James stared at Vincent in silence, his tail swishing back and forth. "Look if you can get my coat then I'll owe you one, all right?"

    "I can't wait." James replied sarcastically. Then he turned and disappeared from the window sill. Vincent turned back to his empty room and decided it was time to get to work. If they were going to do this then they'd need to be prepared. 


    He sat himself down by the coffee table again and picked up the Grimoire. When he opened it he felt a peculiar presence that had, in his short time with the book, become quite familiar. An inhuman, bellowing voice spoke in his mind.

    "Vincent Hallow, you have need of me?" It asked. 

    "Oh yeah." Vincent replied to The Keeper. "I'm going to tell you what my situation is. Do you think you can give me suggestions based on that?"

    "I can." The Keeper replied almost instantly. Vincent proceeded to tell him about where he was, who his captor was, and what he wanted to do. After a moment the book's pages flipped and ink began to appear on the pages. Vincent examined them for a moment, feeling a sense of momentary contentedness. Magic had a way of giving him focus. "This is..." He muttered to himself. "...Do you think I could do this spell right off the bat? I mean I'd need to practice."

    "This spell was favoured by your father." The Keeper replied. "Read it carefully. It appears to be simple evocation, but it is not. It is something more aligned with your particular areas of skill."


    "And how do you know what my area of skill is?" Vincent asked

    "I have tasted your blood." The Keeper replied. "Once when you were a child, and once only a few weeks ago. Through it I see potential, and where that potential has been achieved."

    "That is...creepy." Vincent said, shivering at the thought. He re-read the passage a few times, memorizing it so he could use it later. "This is useful in a fight, but what else do you have? Spells are useful but information would be better."

    "I have no information on the Esperius Valley in which you reside." The Keeper said. "I would suggest you find a Way and escape. The Sidhe have no power over you in the mortal world."

    "Well, duh." Vincent replied. "But it's getting out that's important. We need some serious power to take on the Faeries in their home turf. in Arctaeros I had to use magic that...that I'm not proud of. I can't do that again."

    "The taint of dark magic lies within you Vincent Hallow." The Keeper said ominously. "If you harnessed it you could escape this place."


    "That's not going to happen." Vincent said in but a whisper. "Give me something in this book that can help me. Please." There was no response from the Keeper, and a good minute passed before anything happened, but then the pages flipped again and ink spilled across the pages. Vincent read through what was written and his eyes widened with shock. " does this help?"

    "It will help her understand." The Keeper replied. "She will be stronger if she embraces it."

    "...At what cost?" Vincent said, his nostrils flaring as he sighed a breath out of them. "I'm not showing her this. Not right now." Vincent snapped the book shut and shook his head. "Fat lot of good you were...I guess a suicide mission will have to do."

  20. Violet's voice filled Vincent's head, muffled and difficult to understand. It was like she was speaking to him from the other side of a brick wall. Something was banging repeatedly, over and over. So much that it sounded like an incoming thunderstorm. Vincent winced as he opened his eyes, pushing himself up from whoever was carrying him, and putting all of his will in to the simple task of moving one foot in front of the other. He staggered, the pain shooting through him, fresh and unrelenting. He hugged his own chest with one of his arms, he definitely had a couple of broken ribs. He swallowed, struggling, his throat was so dry. Slowly what Violet had said to him began to register. 


    "Um..." He said as he caught his breath. He was in no state to run. He pushed the pain bank and focused on thinking. Steadying his breath he held out his arm, gesturing at the group around him. "Meredith..." He groaned. 

    "Here." She said, her voice filled with nervous fear but also an eagerness to help. She stepped in front of Vincent so he could look at her. He swayed a little on his feet and looked down at her. "Make a circle." He said. She looked around as if hoping someone would suggest something to her. Vincent quickly clarified. "An illusion. Make a circle around us."

    "Oh, right." She said quickly, before drawing a wand from her belt and moving it rhythmically like a conductor. A faint, glowing outline of a circle appeared around them on the floor. It was enough for him to do what he needed. With the image to help his focus he funnelled his will in to the circle, and there was a dull thrum of energy as the circle activated around them, designed to keep anything from getting inside. "Okay, that's bought us some time." He said. 


    "I hope you have something else up your sleeve other than a magic circle, Vincent." James muttered, "We're not exactly in our element."

    "Oh, sorry." Vincent said without the usual ethusiasm that came with his sass, "I'll just ask the internal bleeding to kindly stop for a while so I can think of a genius escape plan." He shook his head and turned to address everyone properly. "I'm tapped out, There's no way I can open a Way. I only barely managed to throw the circle up. I'm afraid I don't have much else to offer right about now."

    "Meredith?" Violet asked, turning to face the most reticent of their group.

    "Uh...I know the theory but..." Meredith scratched her head, "It's not as easy as that."

    "She's right, it's not." Vincent said. "It's not just like opening a door, you have to feel it out, read the signs. It can take weeks just to learn the basics."


    The conversation came short as the rumbling of hooves finally reached them, and Centaurs poured out from the woods, circling them with all manner of bows, nets and spears. They spread out, cutting off access from every direction. Finally their leader emerged from the trees and glanced at the group, raising a brow at the scene and giving a soft smirk. "Admirable though it is that you fight to the bitter end, this is a disappointing state to find you." He said. "You fought well hunters, but you have failed. Lower this barrier and face death gracefully, we will break it down soon any way. You are only delaying the inevitable."


    "Well it's all I can do." Vincent replied with a half hearted shrug. "But with enough time anything could happen. I'll keep the barrier up if you don't mind."

    "Very well." The Centaur said with a nod. "I will offer you one final chance to speak your last words."

    "W-wait!" Meredith said nervously. "We could make another deal, right? You could take...this." Meredith took a crystalline orb from her pocket and held it up. It was the Chronoweaver, the crystal construct clearly of Faerie design. "This is pretty valuable. Is it worth our lives?" The Centaur replied without even a second thought. 

    "It is of no worth to us. Time is only valuable to mortals." He said gravely. "Besides which, the Equinox is almost over, the trinket's power fades."


    "So rule of the Fae has passed to Spring?" Vincent asked. 

    "Indeed." The Centaur replied. "Also of no consequences. No kingdom of seasons can ever rule the Wyldfae. Face it, mortal. Your time is at an end." Vincent didn't bother arguing. He was tired, too tired to fight any longer. Hell, even standing was quickly becoming a chore to hard to bear. He rubbed his head, massaging his temples gently. No matter how much he wanted to have a way out, there simply wasn't one. They were done. 


    "I...I have an idea." Meredith said hesitantly. "You won't like it,'s worth a try."

    "I'll take anything at this point." Vincent said. "What have you got?"

    "Gifts are frowned upon in The Fae, all favours must be returned in kind." Meredith said. "Spring is in power now. They cannot enter the Wylds of their own will, but if they were summoned..."

    "That's sort of a 'out of the frying pan, into the fire' kind of deal, kid." Vincent replied. "A favour is never simply just a favour when it comes to the Sidhe. Besides we have nothing to offer."

    "I do." Meredith said. "I'm sorry but...I'm doing it." She held out her hands and spoke. "First light, first life. Harbinger of Beginnings, Queen of Birth and Bloom..."


    "Attack!" The Centaur leader yelled. Arrows rained through the air, whistling and crashing against the invisible barrier, causing ripple like effects across the air as they deflected, falling to the floor. More Centaurs charged forwards, driving their spears at the barrier with great force, causing it to ripple violently, beginning to tear at the seams. "...Queen of Spring, Shaylee...I summon thee!" Meredith called finally. As she spoke the final words there was an almighty rush of force from within the circle, shattering it from the inside out, but also blasting the centaur's back across the woodland ground. Everything afterwards became but a distant haze. At some point Vincent must have lost consciousness again. He struggled to remember. He was drifting away, falling deeper and deeper. He could rest now. 





    He awoke to infinite darkness. He who could not remember his own name, stared out at the nothingness and felt empty. A scent of wild leaves and something sweet passed him by, even though there was no wind to carry it. He peered deeper in to the darkness, and found a growing light. A woman with red hair stood at the bottom of a spiralling staircase, her form illuminated in a spotlight. She glanced at him with eyes of hazel, and he felt something tug at his heart. She was the most beautiful thing in the world, and his thoughts became filled with desire. His feet moved underneath him, and he found himself running towards the woman. She smirked and began to walk quickly up the spiral staircase. 


    He broke in to a run, and so too did she. Before long he was sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him. He ascended the staircase in pursuit, but the red haired woman did not seem any closer. Higher and higher he rose, running for hours, days, weeks, perhaps even years. No closer did she come. After an eternity of running he stopped, collapsing on the stairs in defeat. Misery followed. Crushing despair and pain at his loss. He clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles cracked, and he became aware of how wet it felt around his eyes. The staircase faded and once again he was plunged into never ending darkness. Once again he was alone. He lay on his hands and knees, only the steady drip, drip, drip sound of water hitting the surface. And then, again, the smell of wild leaves and sweetness. 


    "Hello, boy." A voice said to him, oozing with kindness and love. The man sprung to his feet and turned on his heel, eager to see his red haired love from where the voice had came. Instead he saw that he was stood in a grand crystalline throne room. And sat on a throne of coldest ice sat a woman with the snow white hair, and piercing green eyes. She was beautiful, powerful and all so terrifying. A narrow smile escaped her lips and she held her hand out, beckoning towards him. "Kneel." She commanded. The urge to do so was overwhelming. All his desires had simply vanished, replaced by the one, true desire to serve this porcelain skinned Goddess. He bent down to go on one knee, and found a hand on his shoulder, pulling him roughly back to his feet. He turned to face the figure, and found that the hand was reaching out from a tall mirror directly behind him. In the mirror he could see himself, a tall and skinny man with shoulder length, black hair, emerald green eyes, wearing a black shirt, black skinny jeans, red boots and a brown duster. 


    The man in the mirror was quite different from him. This man was strong and confident. He had a dark and discerning stare as he stood with both of his hands now in his pockets. He looked unhappy, disappointed perhaps. "Who are you?" He asked the man in the mirror. 

    "Did you really just ask yourself that question?" The man in the mirror replied. "Think about it. Come on, use your brain. It's the best tool you have."

    "I..." The man replied, hesitant. "I am...Vin-"

    "Vincent!" Another voice snapped, female and strong. Vincent turned to find another woman stood with the Ice Queen. This woman had darker skin, and dark hair like his own. "It's a trick, Vincent. Get away from that thing!"


    "V..Violet?" Vincent said. "What...what's going on?"

    " me." Violet said as she held out her hand. "Come over here with me. You need to keep away from that thing."

    "Oh come on!" The mirror Vincent protested. "Are you buying this? Look at who she is standing with! Come on, you know this." Vincent looked to the Ice Queen, and all he could feel was dread. 

    "No..." He said as he shook his head. "Get the hell away from me!"

    "That a boy!" His mirror self said encouragingly. 


    "Violet, darling." The Ice Queen said softly, but her voice was cold. "You cannot convince him with words. You're strong, just take him."

    "Vincent..." Violet growled. She began to stride towards him. He tried to step back, but there was nowhere he could go. He shook on the spot. He was terrified. 

    "That's enough!" his mirror self said, and then he stepped out from the mirror and strode forwards to meet Violet, passing his other self by. He rose his hand, and a black cane materialised within it, pointed directly at Violet. "Ignus!" Vincent snarled, and a lance of brilliant white flame shot from the tip of the cane, crashing over Violet and engulfing her. 

    "What are you doing!?" The other Vincent demanded in a panic. 

    "Just look." His other self replied. 


    Violet emerged from the flames, her skin had been burned away, along with her clothes and her hair. The form that strode forwards was glowing so brightly he could not truly make out it's form. It went at a sprint and the braver, stronger Vincent ran to meet it. As the glowing form closed in, it changed again, becoming another familiar face, like Vilets but more mature, with wicked, cruel eyes and a menacing grin. Her hand went thrust forward, flat like a blade, and penetrated straight through other Vincent's head. He was frozen in shock, unable to move. Vincent watched himself being violated by this woman, and it felt horrifyingly familiar. 


    "It is at this point in which I managed to locate it." Another voice said from behind him. The scene had frozen, and Vincent turned to see a tall man with pale, white skin, and an endless darkness in his eyes. His hair was long, black and wirey, and he wore a cloak that seemed to stretch on forever and ever in to the darkness. The pale man inclined his head and it looked like he might have been glancing at Vincent, but with no eyes to speak of it was hard to tell. 

    "This...happened before?" He asked the pale man. 

    "Indeed." came the response. "This...old one. Vael. She invaded your mind, and made attempts to twist it."

    "I...I remember." Vincent said with a nod. "Is...this about her?"


    "Vael is but a catalyst to my being here." The pale man said. "Her assault on your mind forced the contagion to reveal itself."

    "Contagion?" Vincent asked

    "It has eluded me for a long time. The contagion is careful, silent and patient. But Vael forced it to act, and thus reveal itself to me. And so I have travelled here to remove it from my domain."

    "Uh...your domain?" Vincent asked. "Who are you?"

    "That is a complicated question, one that you would struggle to fathom." The pale one replied. "Do not concern yourself with my identity. All of this will be over in a moment."


    The pale figure glided forward with an eerie grace. He moved past the still forms of Vael, and other Vincent. He moved instead to the Ice Queen. She smirked, eyeing his presence. 

    "Took you long enough." She said

    "Insolent witch." The pale one replied. "You have dared to meddle in my domain. There will be a heavy price."

    "Hah!" She looked genuinely amused. "And what can you possibly do to me?"

    "My hand cannot reach you, that is true." the pale one said with a single nod. "But I will guide another, who will unravel your plan. I will watch through this being, and that will be enough to satisfy me." The Ice Queen's glared at the pale one and her lips tightened. "You will not dare to meddle, old one. Interfering in mortal matters is against your rules."


    "Our rules." The pale one corrected. "And yet I would not be the first to bend them. My eldest sister has made quite a habit of it. She is so fond of mortals."

    "I am also quite fond of them." The Ice Queen said. "This one in particular is very dear to me."

    "All the more reason to take him from you." the pale one said. "Now, begone from my domain. I tire of you." And with that the pale man lifted his hand and with a barest of gestures the Ice Queen shattered in to dust, cascading to the floor and disappearing altogether. The pale man glided back to Vincent and cocked his head slightly, as if curious. 


    "I'm not entirely sure what just happened." Vncent said. "But I feel I owe you my gratitude."

    "Unnecessary." The pale one replied. "Do not mistake my actions as a kindness Vincent Hallow. It may be a keen observation but it is still a wrong one. There is far more to this than appears. The contagion has twisted your memories, and completely hidden others away. Slowly they will return to you, and it will bring you a great deal of pain and suffering. I take no pleasure in that either. The reason for my action is quite a simple one."

    "Which is?" Vincent asked. 

    "This is my domain." The pale one said. "I will not tolerate any one who seeks to use it as their own."

    " might not have been your intention but I have a feeling you just did me a massive favour all the same." Vincent said. "So, thanks."

    "...You're welcome." The pale one said in resignation. "...And now your time here comes to an end. Good luck, Vincent Hallow."





    Vincent shot up with a gasp, the clean air stinging his throat. Energy coursed through him as if he had just stuck his finger in an electrical outlet. His eyes darted around the room frantically, surveying it. Golden sunshine shone in from a window with a balcony. The entire room was made of marble, but all the edges had a layer of growing vines with colourful blossom. Even the bed he lay on was covered in vines, blossom and petals of various flowers. The air was sweet like perfume. He looked at his hand, and then his arm. His eyes moved over his body but there was no bruising or scars like he had expected. He got out of the bed to find it surprisingly easy to stand. He was wearing a pain of pure white jeans, and his feet and chest was bare with the exception of the pentacle amulet around his neck. "What the...fuck?" He said to himself. 


    "Halt, prisoner!" A tiny, squeaky voice called out. A tiny ball of pink light zipped across the room. The little person had golden hair, and she was dressed in a crystalline armour, her little faerie wings buzzing like a bees'. She pointed a sword at him that was no bigger than a letter opener, but her eyes were focused and filled with a warriors resolve. 

    "Uh...prisoner?" Vincent asked, looking around the room. "This is a prison? Really?"

    "Of course!" The tiny faerie replied. "You are a prisoner of Queen Shaylee. You have been captured alongside your companions. The Holy man, The youngling and the darkling. Queen Shaylee has ordered that you do not leave this room, by penalty of death! And Queen Shaylee really doesn't like death! She would be so upset if she had to kill you. Do you really want to do that to her?"

    "Do that to her?" Vincent looked completely baffled. "I don't want her to kill me. She could just not kill me."


    "Orders are orders!" the pixie said. "Queen Shaylee has provided you with mortal comforts, she has provided you with mortal food and healed your wounds. She has saved you from the Wyldfae...all as was agreed. Now you are her dearest prisoners, and you will be kept here in the heart of Spring, to be cared for until the sentence is complete."

    "This is a weird punishment..." Vincent said, rolling his eyes. "'re totally weird. So when's the sentence over?"

    "300 mortal years." The pixie replied, as if that was a fairly reasonable thing to say. 

    "What!?" Vincent snapped. "But I need to return to L.A. Like, right now! We can't..." He sighed, it was pointless arguing with one of the wee folk, they had a one-track mind and were very forgetful. He'd figured it out by now. 


    Spring Faeries were not quite so cruel as their Winter cousins. At least not in the same way. They celebrated life, after all. But it was all too easy to be sucked in to. So many mortals had been tempted to spend a night with the Sidhe of Spring, only to return to find hundreds of years had passed and all who they had loved were dead and gone. While he was here, if he behaved he would probably be treated very well. But if he objected...well they'd still kill him. They would also consider it a great insult to them that they were forced to end a life. He'd said it before, and he would say it again. Faeries were weird.


    "I want to see my sister, and David." Vincent said. "Can that be arranged?"

    "Of course." The pixie replied. "All prisoners are entitled to visitation, once every 10 years. You may see your friend in 9 years, 11 months, 2 weeks and a day."

    "Uh..." Vincent didn't even know where to begin with that one. "Hang on...I've been here for nearly two weeks!?"

    "Yes. You were badly wounded." The pixie said. "Queen Shaylee tended to you for a long time. You should consider it an honour."

    "Uh, yeah...right." Vincent said. "Can I speak with Queen Shaylee? I have some things I'd like to clear up."

    "Certainly...she is due to check on you in..." 

    "Please don't say 10 years..."

    " hour." The pixie finished. "You will have to wait until then. Please, do take a seat."


    "Thanks..." Vincent grumbled and sat down on the bed again. He scratched his head and wondered how he had gotten in to this mess. And then he remembered. "Meredith..." he growled. 


  21. As Violet and James lured the Dhampir out in to the open, Vincent was on the move. He walked quickly but carefully, making sure not to stray too far from David and Meredtih. There was a sensation of magical energy delicately weaving around of him, but unlike when he had created a veil, Meredith's was on another level. If he could describe his veil it was sort of like a bubble around him. This, however, was more like a fine mist. All the little fragments were working independently but together they created a complex network of illusions that masked them from view, eliminated their sound and their smell. He found himself feeling a little impressed by it. Only a little. 


    "Are you sure they won't hear us?" He whispered back at Meredith as they moved closer to the camp. 

    "Pretty sure." Meredith replied. "I mean...I hope so."

    "Have faith." David said encouragingly. "We can prevail this night."

    "I hope you're right." Vincent replied. 


    They moved inside the camp and Vincent's eyes were locked on the hut. Things were stirring inside, and shadowy forms moved around the perimeter. He listened intently as a voice came from one o the shadowy figures. "Be vigilant. The darkling is trying to lure us away. She likely has allies moving upon us."

    "I'd smell it if someone got close." The other replied, his voice deep, almost a snarl.

    "Fool." the first hissed sharply, the voice female but harsh and raspy. "The magi can hide from our senses. They could be sneaking up on us right now and you wouldn't have a clue." The second shadow flinched, looking around as i the very mention would provoke his attackers. Vincent had been tempted to draw his revolver and blow a hole in the Dhampir's chest, but it would only alert the rest of them and send them running back to the camp. He had to give Violet more time to despatch them. 


    "Okay Meredith." Vincent said in a hushed tone. "When David and I strike, you keep your veil up and move or the pends where they have the humans kept. Keep out of sight and wait or a moment to set them free. Got that?"

    "Uh, yeah." Meredith replied nervously. "But what about the Chronoweaver. Do you think one of them has it."

    "I don't know." Vincent said. "But they are guarding this camp so it's around here somewhere."

    "We're wasting time." David interjected. "We must act."


    "Right." Vincent said, trying to push back the fear. His knuckles trembled as he gripped his cane in his hand and held the other around the Khukuri at his belt, ready to draw it at a moments notice. "Okay...I'll go first. Here it goes..."


    Vincent rushed forward, gathering his will. He felt a thin curtain of magical energy wash over him like a sheet as he emerged from the confines o the veil and suddenly became apparent for all to see. The Dhampir sensed his presence instantly and he held his staff out in front of him and roared "Ignus!" and a lance of brilliant flame shot from the tip of his cane, catching the deep voiced Dhampir in the chest, and he exploded in a burst of fire and ash. The other hissed and moved away from the fire and into the darkness. Vincent tried his best to follow her with the point of his cane, but she was seriously quick. 


    Before he knew what was happening she was on him, her human mask had fallen and what came at him was a horrible, leather-skinned nightmare, with a gaping maw of razor sharp teeth that looked like they could chew through metal. A long arm stretched for his throat, the fingers tipped with spear-like claws. He leant backwards, narrowly avoiding the strike, tilting his body to the side and drawing the Khukuri from his belt and slashing upwards at the Dhampir's forearm. The blade cut through flesh but scraped against bone as strong as steel. With another hiss the Dhampir whipped the injured arm back and dropped low, swinging out her leg in a vicious sweep that caught Vincent and knocked him to the floor with a thump. 


    He winced as pain shot up his back, and desperately raised his hand up in an effort to summon a shield barrier. He need not have. Just then David emerged from nothingness, his broadsword drawn as he let out a mighty battlecry and swung at the Dhampir. She leapt back with brilliant speed and avoided the powerful horizontal slash and then she leapt in to the air, clearing the full height of David and brought down her flaws hands. The old Professor was ready. He planted his feet firmly and brought his sword upwards in an arcing slash. 


    The blade connected with her arm and this time the sharp metal cut clean through it as if she had been made of butter. The Dhampir let out a blood curdling scream of pain and surprise as she reeled back, clutching at the freshly shorn stump with her good hand. David did not wait for her to regain her composure. He strode forwards, a ruthless fury burning in his eyes. He hefted the broadsword once more, raising it over his head and bringing it down in a vertical slash on the Dhampir. The blade passed through her, as her form completely dissolved i to a thin mist and moved around him with ease. She reappeared at his back and lunged toward him. 


    "David!" Vincent cried, now on his feet. He had dropped the Khukuri and was reaching in to his duster. David got the message and sprinted away from his position as Vincent drew the revolver and held it out in front of him. He squeezed on the trigger and there was an almighty bang and a flash. All sound was drowned out by a high pitched whistling noise, and his right arm was throbbing with a dull ache. When his eyes re-focused the Dhampir was lying on the ground motionless. There was a large, bloody hole in her chest and her flesh and bone was slowly eroding away, burning from the impact of the silver bullet. 


    The two Dhampi were bested, but a horrible feeling crept up inside Vincent's stomach. The gun fire had been incredibly loud. There was rustling in the forest around them, sounds of things moving at rapid speed, darting through the shadows out of sight. "We've got more incoming." Vincent warned David. 

    "We must persevere, Vincent." David replied, readying his broadsword. 

    "Just keep your eyes peeled." Vincent said. "This isn't over."


    There was a sound of scrambling from above them and they turned in time to see another Dhampir leap from the roof of the hut, this one brawny and incredibly mean looking. He let out a terrible roar as he descended upon them, and Vincent held his cane skyward and shot another bolt of flame at the creature. It connected and the fire spread over the disgusting, leathery flesh, but the Dhampir seemed unfazed. He dropped down on Vincent, and he felt a white hot pain and stumbled backwards. He felt something wet dripping down his chest and knew the vampire had managed to cut him. He didn't know how deep but he had no time to check. 


    "Vincent!" David cried as he took a run at the Dhampir, but was caught in a clash with another that shot out from the bushes by the hut. Brawny went at Vincent again but the scrawny wizard went at a run, keeping his distance, pointing his cane behind him. "Ignus!" He roared and shot another lance of fire. The Dhampir took it head on and ran straight through it, completely unafected by the charring of his flesh. The creature caught him in a dump tackle and pinned him to the floor, straddling him so he couldn't move. 

    "You'll pay for killing my sister, wizard?" He growled, baring his horrible sharp teeth. Saliva oozed rom his lips and thick globs fell on to Vincent's face.


    The effect was instant. Vincent's pain washed away into nothingness and suddenly he could remember where he was. Ripples of sick euphoria coursed through his body, it felt wholly unnatural but at the same time he couldn't fight it. He didn't want to fight it. With every pulse he felt a powerful surge of predatory lust. He was strong, and full of need. A dark hunger washed over him, and all he could think about was taking everything he ever wanted. Screw the consequences. It didn't mattered. All that mattered was his own needs, and he was strong enough to take them from anybody he wanted. And finally came pain. Tremendous and unyielding pain, like his entire body was on fire. 


    His focus came rushing back and fear was quick to follow. The Dhampir that had pinned him was no longer there. He stood up, his knees trembling weakly and he wiped cold sweat from his head with his sleeve. The revolver he had been carrying was gone, lost in the dirt somewhere. He fumbled in his pocket and retrieved the potion he had made for this occasion, and he took a swig of it's content. Better to do it now before the side-affects of the venom kicked in fully. 


    He looked around to see that there were now four Dhampir nearby. Brawny was stood next to the one that had attacked David, along with two more, one with long, greasy hair, and another who was completely bald but his head was almost black with tattoos. "Well looks like Rocksteady and Bebop are here." Vincent croaked and gave a short nod towards the newcomers. "So where's the Shredder?"

    "That would be me." came a light and cruel voice with a vaguely British accent. A figure dressed in a dark cowl emerged from the hut. He was dragging something heavy behind him, and as he drew closer Vincent's heart sank as he realised it was David, unconscious and covered in blood and bruises. 


    "Get the fuck away from him!" Vincent snarled, chanelling his will on pure instinct. He realised a little too late that he didn't have his cane on him either. Brawny held up his cane and waved it in a taunting fashion, giving a deep chuckle. Vincent bit down in anger, his teeth grinding against each other. 

    "You are outnumbered and outclassed, young man." the cowled figure said. Vincent noted the thick, oozing aura that crept from him. Dark Magic. The cowled figure was no Dhampir, he was a Warlock. 

    "So you're the one who plans to use the Chronoweaver." Vincent said coldly. 

    "My, my aren't you quite the well informed little worm." Cowl sneered. "Take our guest inside and tie him up with his friend. Wizard blood will sustain you or a long time if you drink sparingly."


    "What about the brat?" Rocksteady asked

    "She is no threat." Cowl said. "The magic she used to protect the Wizard was just an illusion. I doubt she had any real power."

    Meredith? Vincent frowned and looked out in to the night. They hadn't found her, she was probably nearby, still hiding behind her veil. But what had Cowl said? She had protected him, stopped Brawny from ripping his throat out. He felt a momentary pang of guilt for having been so hard on her. Then he shook his head, now was not the time from dwindling on the past. He turned around to see that Bebop had moved right up to him, and he felt his world go black as a fist collided with the side of his jaw. 


    Violet. he thought, as he felt his body limply hit the ground. You better not be dead.

  22. Vincent entered his apartment in a hurry, closing the door behind him and then lifting his hand up somewhat carelessly, and all the candle around the room ignited at once. He removed the suit jacket and the tie from his shirt, tossing them carelessly on the floor, before kicking off the black leather shoes and making his way over to his small kitchen area, which looked more like a chemistry lab. He fixed the gas container to the Bunsen burner on his counter top, released the gas, and then with another gesture of will the flame ignited. He found a few beakers and began to rifle through his cupboards for ingredients. He found what he needed and put the potions together quickly, he didn’t have a lot of time but he’d made these ones before so he could afford to rush a little.


    While they boiled he changed his clothes, swapping the rented tux for a pair of black jeans and a pair of black hiking boots. He pulled a long sleeve grey shirt over his head and cursed his overall lack of tactical clothing. When you get in a real fight, equipment can make a real difference. Sadly Kevlar vests are not cheap, although they weren’t much good against teeth and claws at any rate. He untied his hair and let it hang loose, lighting a cigarette at he waited for the potions to finish. As he exhaled the nicotine infused rush had calmed his nerves. It had also, unfortunately, made him more acutely aware of how tired he was. He hadn’t slept in almost 30 hours now.


    Everything seemed to be slowly stacking against him lately. He was too tired for this right now. Not to mention what was going on with Violet. He wanted to investigate that one, perhaps look in the Grimoire, but he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be burying himself in research. Dhampir were bad news, and Faeries were really bad news. Combining the two was just…well, it didn’t bear thinking about. He had no choice but to stop this before it was too late. He was beginning to doubt that he could. Even with Violet helping him, he wasn’t cut out for the kind of fight that would come of this. The Dhampir were warriors forged in times long forgotten, and they were insanely tough to kill.


    Right now would be a good time for some extra help, he thought. And just as he did, he heard a knock at his door. That was…strange. Granted he was no psychic, but he had placed ward spells around his apartment which allowed him to sense the approach of magical energy. So the only conclusion was that whoever was behind that door was mortal. He walked over and opened it, half expecting to see his grumpy landlord standing on the other side. Instead he saw a kindly looking man with blonde hair and a well-trimmed beard, dressed in the same green plaid shirt he had been wearing the previous evening, with a pair of blue jeans on and workman’s boots. David had added a long, black overcoat to his ensemble, but looked otherwise the same.


    “David?†Vincent raised his eyebrow, “Uh…what are you doing here?â€

    “I’ve told you enough times.†David replied with a warm smile. “I go where I am needed.†Vincent simply stared at his friend. He was never quite sure if David was a genuine psychic, or a combination of incredibly lucky and crazy, or if he really did have the G-man on his side. Although…his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. For a brief moment Vincent looked up at his ceiling, as if staring out at something far beyond it.

    “Is it really so hard to believe for you?†David asked with a knowing look. Vincent shook his head and invited David inside.


    “I don’t have time for the lecture about how I need Jesus in my heart right now, David.†Vincent said as he crossed the room and began to decant his potions in to three vials. One of them was a dark crimson, like blood. The other was a matte silver, like liquid metal. The third was clear like water. David eyed the vials with a discerning look and seemed to puff his chest out a bit as he inhaled.

    “Are you entirely sure you should be meddling in such dark arts?†He asked.

    “Alchemy?†Vincent said with a raised brow. “C’mon man, it’s not as creepy as you think. I use all natural ingredients. Frankly it’s not entirely different from making smoothies. This one even has wheatgrass in it.†He pointed as the silver potion.


    “And how exactly does it benefit you?†David asked. “It looks like you melted down a bicycle chain.â€

    “It’s an anti-venom for Les Voix Terribles.†Vincent said. “Dhampir saliva contains a powerful narcotic venom. It can be pretty deibilitating but you can overcome it in a pinch. The real trouble comes much later. Nightmares, cold sweats, a hunger that you can’t satiate. It’s essentially an addictive substance.â€

    “Yes, I am familiar with The Terrible Kiss.†David said with a nod. “Some believe it is where the Vamprism Disease originates.â€

    “Hmm, maybe.†Vincent replied. “But we have an anti-venom, so it’s all good.â€


    “And the other two vials?†David asked. He never gave up, when it came to magic. Vincent felt like a naughty child trying to hide porn magazines from his overly prudish parents.

    “The red one isn’t for drinking. If you ignite the contents it…well it makes bad things die very quickly. I won’t spoil the fun anymore than that.†Vincent then held up the clear one and looked David in his eyes, his expression calm and serious. “This one is just a contingency. If I get captured, if I can drink this I’ll die quickly and peacefully.â€


    “Vincent…†David shook his head. “Thinking like that is dangerous. You must have faith.â€

    “Oh I don’t plan on dying.†Vincent added, “I like being alive quite a lot. But I don’t plan on being tortured to death, either.â€

    “Torture…†David let out a heavy sigh. “Disgusting creatures.â€

    “That we agree on.†Vincent said with a wry smile. “I take it you’re coming whether I like it or not?â€


    “Indeed.†David said. Vincent nodded and went over to his large wooden cupboard where he kept his various toys. He opened it and began examining the contents when David stepped forward and gave an audible murmur. “Vincent…is that a battle axe?†He asked.

    “Yup.†Vincent replied, taking the large weapon out and holding it up. “Never used it actually, but you never know when things might come in handy.â€

    “Like tonight for example?†David asked.

    “Nah.†Vincent said as he put it back. “What I need is….this!â€


    Vincent retrieved a genuine Smith & Wesson 500 revolver. The gun was huge, and incredibly powerful. What was more important about it, however, were the .50 caliber silver bullets. The revolver was a five-shot, and he only had five bullets which were already loaded in to the chamber. If he was going to fire he’d have to make it count, but if he shot true then…bye-bye vampire. He retrieved a chest-strap holster and fastened it to himself, as well as another at his belt which held a Khukuri knife. He pulled his duster over his shoulders, fastening it to cover the sight of the gun and the knife, and then he held his hands out at David. “Take what you want, If you’re coming then I want you ready.â€


    “I have all I need.†David replied. Vincent assumed he had meant God was with him, but perhaps it was also in regard to the broadsword he usually took with him. Vincent picked up his cane and was almost ready to go when his phone rang. When he answered Violet explained her situation and that they were to meet at Skid Row. Vincent gave a sigh as he hung up. Skid Row was a rough area, and so even a large amount of disappearances didn’t cause much of a stir. Not to mention it’s huge homeless population. How often did L.A.P.D get reports of a hobo going missing? Something told him that there were probably far more than what the police reported.


    “Skid Row.†Vincent said to David and began to explain the entire situation. When he was done David simply nodded his head, as if the whole ordeal wasn’t completely terrifying.

    “Well it seems I really was needed tonight.†David said finally. “Let’s not waste any more time.â€

    “Skid Row isn’t far.†Vincent said, pushing back a feeling of depression at his living situation, and then he went for the door. His hand froze as it hovered over the brass knob, and he became very still. Subtle energy coursed through him, like a shiver in the cold. It was brief but definitely present. Someone was using magic outside of his door, and they were doing it so delicately that his wards had barely picked up on it. His nostrils flared as it dawned on him. He yanked the door open and pointed his cane across it’s threshold and out in to the empty hallway.


    “I told you to stay out of my way!†He barked out to the empty hallway.

    “Vincent?†David asked, a little alarmed.

    “I know you’re out there.†Vincent said, ignoring David. “Drop the veil or I’ll just set the whole stairway on fire for good measure.â€

    “No!†The voice came from nowhere, but only a second or two afterwards Meredith phased in to existence, stood directly in front of him. “I’m sorry it’s just…I thought I could be a look out! I-I can help I-“
    “I told you not to, and you did it anyway.†Vincent said, his eyes wide with anger.


    “But…it’s okay I wasn’t getting in your way.†Meredith said, forcing a smile and shifting nervously. “I didn’t know where to go and I just wanted to help.â€

    “Faeries…you’re so stupid!†He replied coldly. “You don’t even get it. You want me to trust you, when you do the exact opposite of what I tell you. I don’t care how much you want to help, if you can’t even follow a simple instruction then what good are you? Huh?â€

    “Vincent…†David called from behind him.

    “You’re just a stupid kid with your head in the clouds, you don’t even get what it means to be human. You’ve spent your whole life in The Fae and it’s written all over you. You think you’re different but you’re just not old enough yet to be a truly devious bi-“

    “Vincent!†David’s voice was louder that time, and spoke with absolute authority.


    Vincent turned around to see the ageing man glaring at him. It was strange to see David’s anger. He had the furious scowl of a truly righteous man, great and terrifying, but still pure and without malice or hate. That look made Vincent feel incredibly small. He turned back to Meredith, who was still standing there nervously, trying to look like she was fine but there was fear in her eyes.

    “Don’t even try that…†Vincent practically muttered. “…acting is just second nature to the likes of you.â€

    “Vincent…stop it!†David snapped as he came up behind him and moved him out of the way, stepping out of the threshold and putting his hand on Meredith’s shoulder in a comforting gesture.


    “Young lady, are you alright?†He asked.

    “Yeah…†Meredith said with a nod. “It’s okay…I mean I understand. I know…what Vincent went through, I’d feel the same.â€

    “You know?†Vincent asked.

    “Of course.†Meredith replied. “You escaped the Winter Queen. Everyone in The Fae knows that.â€

    “Great.†Vincent said with a sigh. “Fame is not what I need right now.â€


    “I don’t think they’d all recognize you. It’s just your name that’s famous.†Meredith said, trying to sound reassuring.

    “Vincent, time is of the essence.†David reminded him. Vincent nodded and stepped out, closing his door behind him. “Come on then, Violet will be waiting.â€





    Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the area known as Skid Row is all the tents, old shopping carts and old boxes all over the floor. Homelessness was at an all-time high and the neighbourhood wasn’t the kind you wanted to be walking through at night. Yet strangely there wasn’t much activity on this night. Funny thing about scary monsters prowling around is that, eventually, people get a sense of it. They start to keep indoors when darkness comes, sort of like faint psychic alarm bell was ringing in their heads. A few blocks in Vincent and his rag tag group spotted two figures, one of which he instantly recognized as Violet. He approached them on the street and they turned to greet the group.


    “Sis.†Vincent said with a slight upward nod at Violet.

    “Lord above…†David chimed in, stepping forward with an open armed gesture. “Violet...well look at you. How long has it been?â€

    “Too long professor.†Violet smiled in surprise at seeing her old history professor, while James’ eyes casually drifted over the other people who had arrived. Has my brother dragged you into this as well?†She asked, grinning.

    “I was guided by a higher authority than Vincent.†David said with a warm smile.


    “Who’s this guy?†Vincent asked, indicating to James with his finger. “Your boyfriend?â€

    James smiled, I’m here to stop you fools from getting killed. Good enough?â€

    Violet rolled her eyes, “Testosterone.â€

    “Let’s compare dicks later when Violet’s not here†Vincent said with a smirk. “Hers is clearly the biggest.â€

    “Vincent…†David chided.


    “Alright, alright!†Vincent said holding his hands up in surrender. “I won’t talk about my sister’s incredibly large penis any more.â€

    “Who is this guy?†James raised an eyebrow questioningly. He looked unimpressed.

    “I’m family.†Vincent replied, giving a particularly toothy smile, before clapping his hands together and rubbing them in a scheming fashion. “Okay so this is fun but we should probably get to work before a bunch of crazy Vampires become insanely powerful and plunges the world in to eternal darkness, or whatever it is Vampire Gods like to do.â€


    “There is only one God, Vincent.†David replied.

    “Yeah we know, David, you’ve got Jesus in your heart.†Vincent replied irritably, “But where we’re going, the G-man might not be much help.â€

    “Who’s Jesus?†Meredith asked quizzically.

    “Are you for real?†Vincent snapped at her, in pure disbelief.

    “Kidding…†Meredith said with a smirk. “I grew up in The Fae, not the moon.â€


    “Whatever.†Vincent said, turning to his sister. “Okay so let’s pull our resources. Dhampir stink like…like…well let’s just say it’s a really particular scent. Think you can pick it up and lead us somewhere? If we can retrace their steps, then I’ll be able to figure out which Way they used. I could track it but I’d need an object or some DNA, which I don’t have. “ Vincent pulled a cigarette from his carton when he was finished talking and lit it, taking a drag. 

  23. "Vampires, indeed." Vincent said. He and Violet were now stood outside Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, also known as LACE. Vincent was dressed in a black tuxedo, a rental. His hair was tied back in a ponytail and, for once, his cane sort of matched his outfit. It was a real shame that he didn't suit the ensemble at all in that case. He was a little too tall and skinny to be looking particularly sharp but he would look just fine for appearances sake. After all he was only getting dressed up because he had been instructed to do so. Violet was wearing a pair of black jeans, boots and a slim-fitting crimson blouse with the brown jacket she practically lived in. 


    "Lucia is inside. Other than that I don't know what to expect. This is a social gathering, there'll be mortals so she will probably play nice." Vincent explained. "Also, technically I was formally invited here by her, with you as my plus 1. That should mean we are awarded rights of hospitality under the accords. She can't harm us as long as we behave, and she must do all in her power to prevent any other guests from harming us. All the same, it's best to stay sharp. It wouldn't be the first time someone broke the rules."

    "Well I won't be the first to break any, but if they start something..." Violet said. 

    "Let's just get inside." Vincent replied.


    They stepped up to the door and there names were checked against a list by the bouncer. He sent them through and they walked inside, passing through the main reception and in to a large square room filled with people. The walls were completely white and paintings were fixed across the walls. The people were drinking champagne and mingling, probably discussing the art work, their high class lifestyles and exchanging notes on how best to maximise their pompous assholery. A few people exchanged glances at Vincent, as if they could simply sense that he did not belong there. Before he could get a good look around a woman in a white cocktail dress, with dark brown hair styled in thick curls, placed her arm on his shoulder quite possessively and leaned in towards his ear. "Vincent." She purred before giving him a soft peck on the cheek. "I'm so glad you could come, darling."


    "Lucia." Vincent replied, without any inflection in his voice. "What the hell is this?"

    "I'm hosting this gathering." Lucia explained, "It's better that we meet in a public place. This kind of work attracts all sorts of attention, and I don't need anyone thinking you're working for me."

    "A phone call would have been just fine." Vincent said. 

    "Perhaps, but I wanted you here." Lucia said confidently. "And I get what I want." Her eyes slowly moved over Violet, and there was a flicker of something wary in her gaze, like a predator who had spotted a rival. "And you brought your lovely sister, excellent." She said with a soft smirk. "How are you dear?"

    "Impatient." Violet replied, her face stern.


    "Delightful as ever." Lucia said, showing amusement.

    "Cut the shit, Lucia." Vincent growled. "Why are we here?"

    "To meet your partner, of course." Lucia replied. 

    "Parter? You didn't say anything about-"

    "I'm saying it now, child." Lucia said, cutting him off. "Come, we'll discuss the plan when we're all together."


    Lucia led Vincent and Violet away from the crowds. Vincent noticed the eyes following him, and realised that many of the guests were vampires of Lucia's brood. They were watching him to make sure he didn't pull a fast one. He had already underestimated Lucia once, and he had no intention of doing so again. They moved from the main room and in to a closed off area, where they were finally alone. They stood silently for a moment, until Vincent grew impatient. "Well?" he asked. Instead of a verbal response from Lucia, Vincent was instead immediately alerted to a sudden presence. A young woman had materialised out of thin air, standing with them as if she had been there all the time. A veil? He hadn't even had the slightest idea the woman had been there. She was skinny but attractive, although very young, definitely below the legal drinking age. 


    She wasn't dressed like the others at the event. Instead she wore a pair of black knee high boots and fishnet stockings. She had a tartan miniskirt and wore a black leather jacket, with a tight fitted, white T-shirt underneath, and she wore a silver chain around her neck with a little blue amulet attached to it. Her eyes were a light blue, and her hair was entirely white, cut in a short punky style. The white hair wasn't a particularly alarming tip off, or at least it wouldn't have been if it hadn't been for the perfect veil she had been casting. He had only known one such creature that could pull of something that flawless. 


    "Faerie!" He snarled as if speaking a profanity.

    "Half, actually." The young woman replied, her voice light and energetic, and with an eagerness to it. 

    "Great." Violet let out a sigh and rested back on her heels.


    "I don't work with Faeries." Vincent said, looking at Lucia for an explanation. 

    "She's a changeling dear. She can't help her lineage any more than you can." Lucia said with another smirk. "Besides, you don't have a choice. You owe me."

    "You don't get it." Vincent replied. "I don't get along with Faeries, especially the ones from Winter. And her white hair...well that's a characteristic of Winter Sidhe."

    "Um..." The girl seemed a little nervous, which struck Vincent as strange. "I'm not with Winter...I mean, well, my mother is, obviously. I, name is Meredith."

    "I don't give a shit." Vincent replied coldly. "Faeries are devious, and Winter are the most devious. And you're a changeling, which means you even have the ability to straight up lie to me. There is no way I'm buying even a word that comes from your mouth." He glared at Meredith, angry just at the sight of her. Her own blue eyes gazed back at him, but she didn't have that cold and confident gaze he had seen on so many Sidhe. She looked...a little frightened. 


    "Vincent." Lucia said with a tone of authority. "You will work with Meredith. She is required in order for our task to proceed. You will need her veils."

    "I can veil just fine on my own." Vincent bit back. "And Violet is my partner, you know what she can do. We don't need this...menace." He noticed the flinch Meredith had made as he had said the word. She looked genuinely hurt by his words. But he'd seen how convincing the act of a Faerie was before. He had suffered greatly for trusting it, and he wouldn't do so again. 

    "You think your veil will hold up against the House of Dracul?" Lucia asked. Vincent just froze. 


    The House of Dracul were also vampires. However they were not like Lucia, they were far worse. The progenitor species that had created the contagion that spread and became the vampires of the Midnight Court. They were nasty creatures of The Void, horrible monsters hiding behind glamours of human form. They were unbelievably strong and fast, and had a range of magical abilities that seemed to advance with their age. Most commonly was that their saliva was like a powerful narcotic, and it's contact on your skin could send you in to a euphoric haze. Not to mention they didn't have any weakness to garlic or wooden stakes. The only metal that could cut them deep was silver. They were seriously bad news. 


    "Dhampir." Vincent said finally, turning his gaze to Violet.

    "Dracul?" Violet repeated, "As in...?" She rolled her eyes and let out a noise that meant something along the lines of 'that better be a joke'.

    "Oh I assure you, Vlad is still alive and well." Lucia said in amusement. "Unlike his son, the one you would know as Impaler, or Tepes."

    "Lucia, what the fuck is going on?" Vincent asked. "Midnight and Dracul are allies. Why do you have beef with them?"


    "Oh don't be so vulgar, child." Lucia said dismissively. "The House of Dracul are our trusted allies. Fear not, Vlad is well hidden in Europe somewhere. I only wish you to take care of a single cell. This group have...overstepped."

    "I'm going to need a little more than that." Vincent said. 

    "I cannot openly confront member of The House of Dracul." Lucia said simply. "But both of our families have lived this long through deception and subterfuge. You are my secret weapon in this case."

    "Great." Vincent replied with a sigh. "So what's the job?"


    "Retrieval." Meredith cut in, eagerly trying to seem helpful. "It's my job to get you in. It's your job to get us there."

    "Uh...what?" Vincent asked. 

    " know the Ways, right?" Meredith asked. Vincent sighed. The Ways was a term referring to the points where The Fae and the mortal world were connected. If you knew where the points led to you could potentially move very quickly across the earth. Hell if he wanted to Vincent could be in Paris in about 30 minutes. There was a slight problem with that though. 

    "I am not going in to The Fae." Vincent said. 


    "It's fine, I can veil you, keep you safe." Meredith assured. "Besides we need to go to the Wylds, the other kingdoms cannot go there unless they relinquish their loyalty. That's why I'm helping...I left Winter a long time ago. I'm a Wyldfae."

    "So you're Wyldfae now? A minute ago you were trying to assure me you weren't all that different from human." Vincent said darkly. "Just what is your game here? What do you gain from all of this?"

    "Um..." Meredith replied hesitantly, but before she could say more Lucia had stepped in. 


    "Enough, child." She snapped. "All you must concern yourself with is to go to the Wylds, find these Dhampir and retrieve that which they have stolen. They were helped by some...sneak. They have taken a valuable treasure of mine, one that is most dangerous in their hands."

    "If they got in to The Fae then I'm guessing they have help on the inside. Fuckin' Faeries..." Vincent shook his head. "What have they taken?"

    "It's a Chronoweaver. One of the last still intact." Lucia replied. "The artefact can only be used in The Fae, and only at certain times of the year. That is...the change of the seasons."

    "Winter to Spring." Vincent said with a nod. "I know what it is. It's the same power the Queens can use, it allows them to shift the passage of time in The Fae."


    "Indeed." Lucia said with a nod. "And Spring could begin any time within the next few days. They could use the Chronoweaver to make thousands of years pass in but a heartbeat for them, if they so desired. That kind of power, it is troublesome in the wrong hands. Dhampir grow stronger with age. If they do this...they could surpass Vlad himself. It could spark a war that would turn this world upside down."

    "This is...just not my day." Vincent said with a sigh. "So where'd they enter? The sooner we do this the better."

    "All I know is they entered from L.A." Lucia replied. "You best get to doing that detective work you seem so keen on."

    "Great." Vincent shook his head. He turned to Meredith and held out his hand. "Phone." he demanded. She obliged him and he typed his own cell phone number in to the phone. "Alright, now get lost. I'll call you when I'm ready to go to The Fae."


    "But..." Meredith said nervously. 

    "Stay out of my way." Vincent snapped. "I don't need you for this, got it?"

    "Ye-yeah...okay." Meredith said apprehensively. "I'll go..." she added, and then she disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. Lucia looked to Vincent expectantly and he held his hands up. 

    "Yeah, yeah, I'm gone." Vincent said exasperatedly. He nodded at Violent and the pair of them left LACE and stopped outside in the street. Vincent felt the cool breeze as they stepped outside, and missed the warmth and cover of his duster.


    "Alright." Vincent said. "I want to go home and change. Then we can grab a coffee and start hitting the streets. Dhampir have a pretty noticeable stink, and they stockpile their food. Can you check with L.A.P.D and find out if there has been any missing persons in a clustered area recently? If we can get a starting point we can probably track them back to whichever Way they are coming in from." he said it quite calmly, but inside he was absolutely terrified.He didn't know which was scaring him more, the thought of facing Dhampir, or of getting found by a bunch of pissed off Faeries. "That is...if you're still game. This is a pretty fucked up situation." 

    "It's always a fucked up situation." Violet replied, raising an eyebrow. "I'll check in with the L.A.P.D., you can do what you do best. Go find some trouble."


    "All right." Vincent said. "I'll call you." and then he walked off down the street in the general direction of his apartment. 

  24. It was pitch black when Vincent’s El Camino pulled up in a secluded area of The Valley, not far from Burbank. The wheels crunched over the gravel outside the old lumber yard and the beams of his headlights were extinguished as he slowed to a stop and killed the engine. Vincent sat at the wheel looking out at the deserted warehouse and looked a little on edge. His hair hung limp the length of his shoulders and he was dressed in a Ramones T-shirt, along with his usual pentacle amulet around his neck, and he wore his brown duster. “Looks like the place.†He said to the passenger.

    “Indeed.†Came the response.


    Across from him sat a gentleman who must have been approaching 50. He was wearing stone wash jeans and brown hiking boots, and wore a green check shirt, buttoned up with a white t-shirt visible at the neck, as well as a thin, silver chain bearing a small Latin cross. The man had blonde hair that was swept back over his head, and a thick beard that was short and tidy. His brown eyes were strong and confident, but there was something very gentle about them. The passenger was a stark contrast of Vincent, he was clean, orderly and presentable. “We should proceed quietly.†He said as he went for the passenger door. “I’d like to avoid conflict if at all possible, Vincent.â€


    “You know me, David.†Vincent said with a smirk, “I’m a paragon of diplomacy.â€

    “I mean it†David replied reproachfully, but he gave a soft smile. “I am not here to hurt these people, but to save them.â€

    “So says God’s hitman.†Vincent replied as he stepped out of his side of the car. He retrieved his cane from the back seat, along with a sheet of black cloth wrapped in string, which he passed to David, who began to remove the fixings. From the coverings he withdrew a long, cross-hilted broadsword in a simple black sheath with silver adornments.


    David Argent was many things. Most of the time he was a simple man with a simple life. He was a Professor of History at The University of Iowa, which was how he had met Vincent many years ago when he had went there to study. David was also a dedicated husband, and a father to a small army of children, seven in total. He was a devout Catholic who was greatly involved in the community and he was, in every way, a decent man. However every so often he would travel, and he would take up the sword he carried at that moment. For he was, or at least he believed he was, a servant sent by God. Vincent had never been entirely convinced about the existence of the G-man, but in a world of magical monsters, faeries, and a handful of Eldritch horrors, he couldn’t really flat out deny that the Lord might be real.


    David was a practitioner, at least as far as Vincent was concerned. The man himself hummed with a pure and solid sensation of power. In fact Vincent was certain that the man had enough magical juice to make a decent wizard, if he wanted to. David was not a man of spells and potions, however, he was a man of God. His power was drawn from pure and unyielding faith. Perhaps God had a hand in it, or perhaps David’s belief was simply so strong that it gave him that power. Faith had that kind of effect, especially on the magically gifted.


    “I am not a hitman.†David said, apparently unaware of the irony of saying that whilst brandishing a freaking broadsword. “I am but a humble servant of the Lord.†Vincent rolled his eyes but said nothing, and the pair quietly moved across the gravel to find a quiet entrance in to the building. Together they crept in to the warehouse, and moved carefully along it’s edge, using the shadows of the heavy machinery as cover. There was light coming from an open space in the centre. Probably candles, Vincent thought. He began to gather his will for a spell, but it would take a moment.


    This had all started two days ago. Vincent hadn’t had a lot of success with Client’s in the last couple of weeks. He didn’t remember much about what had happened at New York. Despite all that had happened, he hadn’t spoken much to Violet on the trip back. She had used her money to get them flights back to L.A but they hadn’t really addressed the event that had transpired in The Void. In fairness Vincent was suffering from a severe case of psychic trauma. Vael had gotten in to his head, and the images were burned in to his head. Every time he closed his eyes he was back in that dream, entirely helpless in a room with two entities he had found entirely terrifying. When they had returned to L.A Vincent had went home to rest, and Violet seemed to want to do the same.


    After a period of rest, a series of cleansing rituals, meditation and quite a lot of beer, Vincent had more or less straightened himself out. He had tried to contact Violet, but she hadn’t been taking his calls. He was worried about her, but he knew that his sister was not a bear that was worth poking when she wanted to be left alone. Especially since she could turn in to an actual bear. So he tried his best to get on with his daily routine. Work had been scarce, however, and so he had settled on his usual research. Violet had retrieved the Grimoire, fortunately. Vincent had spent some time since researching it’s contents somewhat tentatively. In truth the book was a little scary, and so soon after a mental assault he really didn’t feel like overwhelming his brain with new and horrifying information.


    Right when he was at a point of financial desperation, David had turned up at his door. Social calls aside, David only turned up for one reason. Demons. Just the sort of thing Vincent needed to get back in to the fray. David was a vigilante of sorts and didn’t do his work for payment, but he had always been happy to offer Vincent something for his help. David had a good sense of when trouble was happening, but he was no investigator, and he needed Vincent for that. They had spent the remaining time following leads which had lead them to the discovery that someone had been summoning a demon and using it’s power to commit a few crimes around the city. Mostly robbery, which seemed a little odd at first. Further digging had lead them to discover the source was a young man called Declan McManus.


    Declan was barely 20 years old, but clearly had discovered a gift for magic. There are no schools for this kind of thing. You don’t get a letter to Hogwarts when you come of age, and you’re pretty lucky if a kindly old wizard decides to find you and train you. Most practitioners don’t really have a potent level of ability, and as such they can’t cause a lot of harm. Sometimes, however, you get a pretty talented person emerging with no idea about the dangers of what they are doing. Declan had been using dark magic, and while he hadn’t killed anyone yet, he had summoned a demon and bound it to his will. He hadn’t broken any of the Laws as such, but binding a demon was akin to enthrallment, it still tapped in to the same dark energy, the kind that rotted your soul.

    Vincent had finished his spell and as a result, the already dark room had grown darker, or at least his vision had. Veils were a delicate sort of magic, and not something Vincent was particularly good at. Even at his best, his veil would only sort of blur himself and David, and muffle their speech. Also, as a result, anything he saw or heard outside of the veil was a little fuzzy as well. But it would be enough to allow him and David to move carefully without detection, and speak quietly.


    “Looks like the kid’s been living here.†Vincent whispered as he peered out from behind a large crate. “There’s an old cot there, he’s standing over a desk. Lot’s of books. Aw geez…he’s wearing a black cloak. Who does that? I swear television rots the brain.â€

    “Can you sense the Demon?†David asked from behind him.

    “Oh yeah.†Vincent replied. The air was filled with a menacing energy. “It’s dormant but it’s definitely here. Can’t really tell how badass it is though.â€

    “Have faith.†David replied confidently. “The Lord will guide us this night.â€

    “That’s great and all, but I think I’ll stick to using magic if it’s all the same to you.†Vincent replied.


    “As you wish.†David said. “How do you wish to proceed?â€

    “I’ll keep the veil on you.†Vincent said. “I’ll step out and get his attention. If I spook him then he’ll probably wake the demon up and then you can do your thing. Okay?â€

    “Very well.†David said with a nod. “Let’s go.â€


    Vincent stepped forward, leaving the veil behind and feeling it’s cover peel away from him like a thin sheet. His vision grew clearer and the sound became crisp. He walked with a confident stride, letting his boots drum against the concrete to alert the young Warlock to his presence. The cloaked figure spun around in surprise, and despite the dark shadows under his eyes, he still looked young and fresh-faced for the most part. “Wait a minute…†Vincent said loudly, holding his hands out in exasperation. “This isn’t the cosplay convention at all!â€

    “Wh-who are you!?†Declan demanded nervously.

    “I am your father!†Vincent bellowed ominously.

    “What!?†Declan squeaked.
    “Not really.†Vincent said with a smirk, rolling his eyes. “Look, kid. I’m obligated to tell you that what you’re walking down a dark path, and you’re becoming a danger to yourself and those around you. It’s not your fault but you’re using magic the wrong way and-“


    “Silence!†Declan snapped. “You dare to lecture one such as I? Do you have any idea what peril you have walked in to, mortal?â€

    “Oh boy…†Vincent said with a sigh. “Look, kid this isn’t Dungeons & Dragons. Cut the bullshit, it’s pretty lame.â€

    “You dare!†Declan yelled. He thrust out his palm and gave a snarling utterance laced with magic. Sparks shot from his hand and lightning leapt across the room towards Vincent. He lifted his hand calmly and focused only a tiny amount of will in to his charm bracelet, and created a shield which absorbed the blast and left him unscathed.


    “I get it, you’ve got lot’s of magical muscle.†Vincent said with a cocky smirk. “But that just won’t cut it against a real wizard.â€

    “How…did you do that?†Declan asked nervously.

    “Magic!†Vincent replied, waggling his fingers in a mystical gesture.

    “Well I’ll show you!†Declan said with an angry scowl. “I’ll show you what I can do! Come forth! Aszog Shogoth! Your master commands you!â€

    “Well…that was stupid.†Vincent said, shaking his head. As he spoke a dark shadow materialised between him and Declan, taking ship as a billowing mass with bulky shoulders, and whispy claws. It’s eyes were glowing with red energy and looked fierce and menacing. It loomed over Vincent, ready to rip his throat out with a single command.


    “Aszog Shogoth!†Vincent barked, and he tapped his cane on the floor for emphasis. The Demon stopped in it’s tracks, frozen by the utterance of it’s name.

    “Demonology: 101, kid.†Vincent called over to Declan. “If you are controlling a demon through it’s name, then don’t you think another wizard can too?â€

    “Wh-what!?†Declan stammered. “No…he’s mine! He belongs to me!â€

    “Wrong again.†Vincent said, now frowning at Declan. “When you bind a demon to yourself, it’s a trade. All the while you command him, he’s eating you from the inside out. Until there’s nothing left of your humanity. That’s kind of what they do.†Vincent turned his attention to the shadowy spectre and spoke it’s name again. “Aszog Shogoth…you are unbound from this mortal. Free to roam this mortal plane.â€


    The simple allowance was enough. Aszog made a deep croaking noise that sounded like a distorted chuckle of glee. This foolish, upstart wizard had freed him of his binding, and thus he was now free to kill and maim every living thing in his path. And he would start with both of the wizards. Aszog lurched towards Vincent again, but became distracted and turned to the sound of metal scraping. David had emerged from the veil and drawn his broadsword, it’s metal gleaming. “Uh-oh!†Vincent said with a grin. “Sorry big guy…actually I’m not.â€


    “Lord in Heaven give me strength!†David bellowed, his prayers thrumming with the same power as a wizard’s spell. “Cleanse this place of the foul and wretched, drive back the darkness!†Aszog hissed in pain, as if each word had struck him like a baseball bat. It grew livid and lunged at David in a frenzy, moving across the room with incredible speed. David did not flinch. He advanced in a steady stride, his sword drawn, and those gentle eyes were filled with steely resolve. Shadowy claws raked at him, but with a single swing of his sword he removed them from their owner, and Aszog reeled back, screeching as if the touch of the steel had burned him. “Be gone from this world, by the light of God!†David thundered, and he brought the sword up in a sweeping slash.


    The demon roared in anger as light erupted from it’s wound, and it suddenly burst into swirling clouds, it’s wails still carrying even without form. The holy light engulfed the dark creature, and it’s wails faded as it was quickly removed from this plane of existence. It wasn’t dead, strictly speaking you couldn’t kill a demon. But it would send them back to The Void. Vincent gave an unenthusiastic “Hooray!†as he smiled at David, he looked pleased with his work. Feet shuffled, and Vincent turned to see Declan making a run for it. He lifted his cane and pointed it forward, before dragging it back like he was pulling on something.


    Unseen force caught Declan and tripped him up, sending him sprawling backwards across the ground, before tumbling and landing next to Vincent’s feet. “Not so fast, Voldemort.†Vincent said with a smirk. “You’ve been a bad boy, time to pay the piper.â€

    “Please don’t kill me!†Declan pleaded fearfully.

    “Geez always so dramatic.†Vincent replied. “You’re going to the precinct, knucklehead. The cops can deal with you. Oh and uh…I’m pretty sure another wizard will be visiting you soon. I suggest you play ball when he does, otherwise he probably will kill you.â€

    “Vincent, do not tease the boy.†David said with a sigh. “He will pay for his crimes as the police department dictate. Then he will be given chance to repent.â€


    “I wasn’t teasing.†Vincent replied. “The Wise don’t share your penchant for forgiveness, David.â€

    “And that is sorely disappointing.†David replied. “Perhaps you could…refrain from reporting him?â€

    “No can do.†Vincent said, shaking his head. “They might kill me if I did that. Also…he hasn’t actually broken the Laws, technically. They’ll make sure he gets re-educated. It won’t be very pleasant but…uh…it’ll be good for him.â€

    “I suppose….†David looked a little uneasy. “I suppose that is all I can ask for. Thank you for your help, Vincent.â€

    “Any time.†Vincent replied with a smile.





    After driving Declan to the police station, Vincent dropped David off at his hotel and said his goodbyes. Apparently David would be in town for the next few days visiting friends, and had asked Vincent to call him if anything was up. Vincent had thanked him, and then thanked him again for the 500 bucks he’d been given for the job. It wasn’t a lot considering his usual rate, but anything was good right now. It was the early hours of the morning by the time he got back to his apartment, and the sun would be rising soon. He had just thought about turning in when his phone had rang. He answered it immediately, hoping that it might be Violet.


    “Good morning, child.†Lucia said in to the phone. “I hope I didn’t wake you.â€

    “Um…†Vincent said. Shit! He cursed inwardly. “Lucia…is it that time already?â€

    “Indeed it is, child.†She said pleasantly. “Your retainer has been wired to your account already, double your usual rate.â€

    “Two grand?†Vincent gasped, “I haven’t even done anything yet!â€

    “Call it a good faith payment.†Lucia said.

    “Right…and how do you know my bank-“

    “Best not to ask questions you won’t like the answer too, darling.†Lucia said, cutting him off. “7PM tonight, LACE art gallery has an exhibition on tonight, hosted by myself. You are on the list with a plus one. Be there sharp, dress appropriately and I suggest you bring the darkling as your date. You will probably require her help.â€


    Lucia hung up, and Vincent just stood there for a moment. Formal dress? It was a good thing he’d been given an advance. He’d have to rent a tuxedo. However that really wasn’t the biggest problem. He had to bring Violet along. Worse still, she didn’t know he’d agreed to work with a vampire. As if she needed more reasons to kick his ass. He sighed and decided he better get to work. He showered, changed, and left his apartment again. He grabbed a bagel on his way to the Gethsemane hotel. Violet hadn’t been taking his calls, so it was time for a visit. He had a lot of explaining to do.