Thief: Chapter 17

Friday, 17 June 2016
    







Chapter Seventeen





    Winter’s calm had settled over the cabin like a blanket. The previous night’s storm had passed, and a thick layer of snow weighed down the sloped roof. The pathway Horace had led Abby down was covered over without even an indent to show where it had been. After a sleepless night in the little cabin, Abby stood on the snow-covered porch watching the sun rise above the pine forest that surrounded her.
    She still wasn’t sure where she was, exactly. It was colder than it had any right to be--D.C. never dipped too far below freezing, and this much snow was nearly unfathomable. “Looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Abby murmured, reaching a gloved finger out to catch a lazily drifting snowflake.
    “Far from it, actually.” A voice came from her right.
    Abby started, wide green eyes meeting Horace’s dark gaze. She felt the power within her surge instinctively, reacting to her quickened pulse. Abby wrestled it back down, suppressing a shudder at the feeling of it pulsing through her veins.
    “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. He held an armful of neatly split logs to his chest, an axe gripped loosely in his free hand.
    “Please,” Judah heaved past his brother, both arms cradling a haphazard stack of logs. “that ponytail scares all the girls. Cuz, y’know---yikes.” He stomped up the stairs, dropping the logs on the porch with a dull clatter. He rubbed his hands together and stomped the snow from his boots. “Ugh, it’s so cold!”
    “Complaining won’t make you warmer.” His brother chided mildly as he came up the stairs, setting his own logs down more carefully and propping the axe up against the wall.
    “Well it won’t make me colder, so--“
    “Um,” Abby interrupted.
    Two sets of dark eyes, so similar to Raph’s, locked with hers.
    “Uh, so, what are we…why did you bring me…here?” she asked, indicating the frozen landscape. “And where is here, exactly?”
    Horace and Judah exchanged a glance, then looked back to her. “Somewhere safe.” Horace said. “No one will find you here--and I mean that in the least threatening way possible. You can use your powers here, learn to control them, and no one, demon or angel, will be able to sense it.”
    Abby looked at him quizzically “And why is that?” she asked carefully.
    “Because,” a soft, familiar voice called from behind her, “it is my home.”
    Abby whirled around, and saw Rivkah walking towards them, on top of the snow drift where the path had been. The old woman was draped in a fur-lined dark blue cloak, long silver hair streaming regally behind her. Her booted feet, Abby noticed, left only the faintest impression in the snow. Abby suspected that if she tried walking there she’d end up wading calf-deep through the stuff. She let Rivkah come to her.
    Rivkah ascended the steps lightly, walking across the snow-covered porch towards Abby and pulling her into her arms. “I’m so glad you’re alright, dear.” she said, hugging Abby tight.
Abby stiffened at her touch, and the kindness in her tone. She thought of Gabe, lying in his hospital bed, thought of Raph carving into his flesh. Thought of how, if it wasn’t for her, none of this would have happened. She fought back the lump in her throat, the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, and the power that roiled and raged to be unleashed.
    “Are you sure?” she asked, voice cracking.
    Rivkah gave her an extra squeeze, and let go. She looked at Abby with her ageless gaze. “I’m sure.” She said, smiling gently. “Now,” Rivkah said, turning to look at Horace. “What can you teach her?”
    “Ma’am.” Horace said, giving a stiff, formal little bow with military precision. “We’re working on containment, first of all. Abby’s powers are practically feral, totally uncontrolled. If they remain that way, they could very well rip her apart, both mentally and physically. For now, I believe we need to focus on her using and shutting down her powers.”
    Rivkah gave him a long, appraising look. “I agree.” She finally said, nodding curtly. She turned back to Abby. “Abby, my dear, I know you’ve been through a lot--more than any one person should have to go through, in my opinion--but it’s only going to get harder from here on out. I want to make that clear to you. This will not be easy. Are you absolutely sure you want to continue? Say the word, and I’ll return you to Aiden and all the safety the Wards can provide. Just know that even their collective power would not be enough to stop what struggles inside you, should you lose all control.”
    The power sparked and cracked along Abby’s skin like lightning at Rivkah’s words, and Abby felt the warmth of it run through her. She inhaled deeply, tasting the cold air as it burned in her lungs.           "I’ll stay.” She said, voice soft, but resolute. She had to--there was no other way.
Rivkah’s gaze, older than time itself and just as unfathomable, held hers for another long, silent moment. “Good.” Rivkah said.
    She stepped forward, opening the cabin door and taking a step inside. “Come inside; we have much to discuss. And you, boy,” she said, waving offhandedly at Judah, who’d been absent-mindedly picking up handfuls of snow and melting them with wisps of blue flame that sprung from his palms. “Stack those logs up properly, it won’t do if they get wet.”
    Judah frowned, steam sizzling out of his clenched fists. “Why do I have to listen to you? You’re not--“
    “Jude.” Horace hissed, widening his eyes in exasperation.
    “What?! She’s--“
    “You,” Rivkah interrupted, drawing herself up to her full height and looking at the demon disdainfully, “are still alive because you serve a purpose. Don’t give me a reason to disappoint an old friend.” The thinly veiled threat hung in the frozen air as Rivkah glided serenely inside, beckoning Abby to follow. “Come now, my dear. We have a lot of work to do.”

***

    Abby waded through the snow behind Rivkah’s dainty steps, Horace slogging along behind her. Judah had stayed in the cabin, complaining of the cold and boredom. Abby secretly thought that he was probably just afraid of Rivkah--she couldn’t really blame him for that. Horace had quickly left him behind, seemingly happy to be free of his little brother’s pessimism.
    They reached a clearing in the trees, a wide circle of pines ringing one tall, bare-branched tree, its bark and branches a stark, bone white aside from a gouge of pure black that split it neatly down the middle.
    “This tree doesn’t look very healthy,” Abby said as she circled it, running her fingers lightly along its trunk.
    “It’s dead.” Rivkah replied.
    “Ah,” Abby said, feeling a twinge of regret at Rivkah’s words.
    “I want you to bring it back to life.”
    Abby looked at Rivkah, startled. “You want me to what?”
    “Revive the tree. Your power is unique; this should be a simple task for you.”
Abby looked at Horace, who nodded encouragingly. “Try it. It’s not like you can hurt it. It’s already dead.”
    Abby looked at the tree skeptically, unsure of what to do. “How--“
    “Here.” Horace said, walking up behind her. He took her hand in his, placing her palm flat against the trunk of the tree, her fingers ghosting over the lightning burn. “Think of your power as an extension of your intentions. You want the tree to live? Will it to regrow. Use your power to find what is broken, and then fix it.”
    Abby nodded uncertainly, and Horace took a step back.
    Feeling the rough bark beneath her palm, Abby closed her eyes, and concentrated. She thought of her power, that sickening, exhilarating gold rush, and it jumped to the forefront of her mind. Her vision flooded gold, and she inhaled sharply. There was so much of it, and it was so strong--it took all she had to keep from being swept away.
    Find what is broken, she thought, urging the torrent of power forward, channeling it down her outstretched arm to flow from her fingertips into the dead tree. The gouge was cavernous inside the trunk, a hollow that ripped through the heart of the tree. Ash and rot held the tree up, and it had long-since dried out to a withered husk of what it had once been.
    Abby opened her eyes, looking at the tree. The white bark sparked with flashes of gold as her power poured into it, and something in her mind clicked into place. And fix it.
    She reached into the hollowed core of the tree, and grasped at the nothing with all of her might. Brow furrowed and skin twined with gold, Abby began to turn the nothing to something.
    She could hardly hear Rivkah as the ancient woman said something in a warning tone, something Abby didn’t quite catch. She didn’t hear Horace’s words, either, hardly felt his hand on her shoulder as she poured golden light into the hollow tree.
    The bark began to glow more brightly, golden light racing up the cracks in its surface. All Abby could hear was the rushing sound in her ears, all she could see was golden light. All she could feel was the softness of the snow rushing up to catch her as her vision faded, abruptly, to black.

***

    Abby woke in the garden, a warm breeze tugging gently at the ball gown she wore. She sat up slowly, feeling the sun beating down on her face as she looked around. The maze of roses stretched out around her for miles, the heady scent carrying so many memories with it.
    She looked down at her dress--it was the same one she’d worn to the dance, she realized with a stab of anguish. It was whole again, new and untorn; she raised a shaking hand to her neck. The necklace, Gabe’s gift, was around her neck.
    She let out a shaky breath, one she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “I must’ve passed out,” she murmured. “Go figure.” She stood up, noticing that her feet were bare, as they always were in this dream. The garden was quiet and calm, the warmth of the sun soothing--there was nothing in this dream to be frightened of.
    She began walking, one hand touching her necklace, the other trailing along the wall of multi-coloured roses. They were velvety-soft under her fingertips, smooth petals leading to more of the same. And then she pricked her finger on a thorn. “Ow!” she cried, snatching her hand away instinctively and raising it to her mouth. “Why does that always happen?” she grumbled.
    The wind rose suddenly, flattening her voluminous skirt against her legs. “Aaaaabby,” she thought she heard.
    She looked around, wide-eyed, but she could see nothing but roses.
    “Aaabby,” she heard again, the voice a tortured groan obscured by another gust of wind.
    “Gabe?!” Abby cried, tears welling up in her eyes. The voice was battered and pained, but she would recognize it anywhere. “Gabe! Where are you?! Gabe!!”
    Another gust of wind shook the garden, bringing with it Gabe’s voice, clearer this time. “Abby? Abby…”
    With a strangled sob, Abby took off running in the direction the wind had come from. Rose petals were falling all around her, carried on the breeze like a river. There was a flash of silver hair as Abby turned a corner, ignoring the flowers falling whole from the vine now.
    She could see him in the distance, chained to a wall of obsidian, dried blood on his chest, matted in his hair. His stormy eyes locked with hers, and Abby saw them light up in recognition, then blanch in fear as she began to run to him. He opened his mouth to say something as she raced towards him, the grass of the garden turning to jagged stone.
    Gabe’s image flickered, doubled, disappeared, and the ground fell away from Abby’s feet. The dream faded, and darkness surrounded her as she fell though nothingness, towards a faint speck of light that rushed towards her. She closed her eyes against the intensity of it, blinking slowly.
    Her vision came into focus, and she realized that the light was firelight, dancing along the wall of the cabin. She could smell fresh bread, and something savoury. She turned her head carefully to look out the window--it was dark outside.
    She tried to sit up, and groaned. Okay, this was definitely reality; headaches like that just didn’t belong in dreams.
    She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, Rivkah stood over her.
    “Welcome back.” She said.
     Abby only groaned in response. This was going to be harder than she’d thought.


Thief: Chapter 16

Sunday, 1 May 2016





Chapter Sixteen




    Satan walked into Notre Dame Cathedral like she owned the place, all casual grace and one small, self-contained smirk at the stone saints that surrounded her. Their cold, empty eyes passed over the Queen of Hell as she waltzed right past them and into the sacred sanctuary.
    The cathedral was strangely empty; it was too early for evening mass, though the lack of tourists with their flashing cameras was a little surprising. Satan shrugged elegantly in her fitted black wool coat. One less thing to worry about--all she had to do was set up a barrier to keep them out.
    Her fingers trailed lightly over the backs of wooden pews as she walked down the centre aisle, and her eyes flashed red. Humans loved their iconography, and, for a little while, would be very interested in the carvings that covered the building’s exterior.
    The light of the hundreds of candles reflected in her eyes as she strode to the high altar, Louis Vuitton heels clicking on stone, the sound echoing around the silent nave. One well-manicured hand was hovering over a golden Eucharist goblet when someone cleared their throat behind her.
    Satan whirled around, immaculate red curls trailing after her. “Hello, Michael,” she said, red lips curling into an almost-fond smile.
    “Sataniel,” Michael said, looking up at her from his place at the foot of the altar steps. “It is…it is good to see you.”
    Satan looked at him curiously. “Why are we here, Michael? The last time we spoke--well, I didn’t think you’d want to see me again, with your consequences this and He knows that.”
    Michael’s face was as calm and inscrutable as ever. “Last time we spoke, I seem to recall doing you a favour. I was hoping that now, you could help me.”
    Satan blinked. “The great Archangel Michael wants to make a deal with the Devil? My dear brother,” she grinned sharply, perfect white teeth glinting in the candlelight “I thought you would never ask.”
    Reaching behind her, Satan plucked the chalice from the draped altar and sat where it had been, crossing her bare legs demurely and carefully arranging her red skirt. She set the chalice down beside her, idly running a finger around its golden rim. “What would you like?”
    Michael, who looked-to Satan’s glee-at least somewhat put-off by a demon sitting on the high altar of one of the holiest places on Earth, grimaced before he spoke. “Abby Shepard,” he said softly, saying the name like it was a curse. He looked into Satan’s eyes, and she saw something there that she hadn’t expected. “I--we--need to destroy her, once and for all.”
    Satan leaned forward, green eyes wide as she searched his. “You’re afraid of her.”
    Michael stiffened, looking down at the worn checkered tile. “We all should be.” He said after a moment, gaze returning to hers.
    Satan considered this, pursing her red lips and nodding slowly. The pensive look melted into a small smile. “It seems we both want the same thing.” Satan said, “I’m happy to help.”
    Michael’s shoulders relaxed, his posture, while still technically perfect, a little softer. “Thank you, Sataniel. I--“
    “One question, though--why not just kill her yourself? You’re an Archangel, so it’s not like you can’t get to the little whelp. And I know you’re not squeamish--I’ve seen you fight.” She said, matter-of-factly. “So why would you come to me for help? Did her weak little Guardians stop you? Or does she just remind you too much of Set--“
    “Don’t talk about him.” Michael snapped, a flash of anger and guilt flitting across his usual careful calm.
    Satan looked down on him through narrowed eyes. “You never had the stomach for it. What happened? Couldn’t bring yourself to kill his daughter?”
    “That’s not--“ Michael growled, then took a deep breath, steadying himself. “That is not what happened. We were ready to finish her. She escaped before we could do anything.”
    “Escaped? How?” She was just a girl, powerful, but completely raw and untrained. She shouldn’t have been able to leave a warded estate filled with some of the most powerful angels in Creation.
    “She had help. Two of your kind.”
    Satan once again found herself surprised. “Really. Two demons broke into a house teeming with angels and spirited her away, right under everyone’s noses? I’m a little impressed, if that’s true.”
    “It is true. I thought--I’d hoped--that they were in your employ. It seems they are related to that Thief of yours. Raph, was it?”
    Satan’s breath caught in her throat, the words she’d been planning to say dying on her tongue. She stared up at a grand stained-glass window, flaring rainbow light in the slowly-fading sunset. “Raphael.” she said flatly as she digested the news. Things were clicking into place in her mind. “Of course he’d try to save her.” she sneered, looking at her brother “He thinks he’s in love.”
    “Love.” Michael repeated thickly, a strange look on his face.
    Satan nodded. “Love. Which means we must act quickly. You know what they say about love, right? It makes you do the craziest things. So this needs to be over before that atom bomb of a girl decides to tear a rift in the cosmos in the name of love.”
    Michael didn’t say anything, no doubt remembering what had happened nearly eighteen years ago.
    She hopped down off the table, stepping off the raised dais to stand in front of him on the steps, her eyes level with his, green gazes locking. “You can stop it this time. You and I can finish this, once and for all. Together.”
    Drawing in a nearly imperceptibly shaky breath, Michael nodded. “Alright. Thank you, Sataniel.” He looked up at the stained glass window, the light behind it dimming in the twilight. “We have been here too long. I will contact you soon.” He turned to leave.

    “Earlier,” Satan said, stopping him in his tracks, “You said ‘we’ were ready to finish her. ‘We.’ My dear brother,” she said, clicking down the steps to stand next to him, and looping her arm through his. “I simply must meet your accomplices.”


Thief: Chapter 15

Sunday, 24 April 2016






Chapter Fifteen




    Lorelei had chased after him like a lost puppy. Mammon didn’t stop her, and didn’t let her lose his trail entirely. She was pursuing him relentlessly as he travelled around the globe, spying on him as his plans began to come together. It was almost…cute, how sneaky she thought she was being.
    If she truly was his child, though--well, that was a matter for another time. Right now, he had bigger fish to fry.
    The thought brought the faintest curve of a smile to his pale lips, and the Selkie queen stopped talking, her liquid black eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Somethin’ amusing to you, Hunter?” she asked, her Irish accent thick and rolling. Her heavy, curvy form was draped in a flowing sealskin robe, the thick white fur contrasting sharply with her mottled grey skin.
    They spoke on neutral ground; the half-submerged wreck of some ancient ship served as a fine meeting-place for a Hunter and a Selkie. The cold mist from the roiling dark waves didn’t seem to bother her, and Mammon did his best to ignore the way it clung to his clothing and dampened his hair. It wouldn’t do to show weakness to anyone now, much less Siofra, leader of the Selkies.
    Mammon shook his head in one sharp, dismissive motion. “No. Nothing worth mentioning, I’m afraid.” He adopted a polite, nearly friendly tone, keeping his body language soft and unthreatening.       He wanted something from her, and his usual methods, his preferred methods, wouldn’t help him here.
    He’d left Fenris and Freja on the mainland to rest, giving them a chance to lick their wounds and giving him a chance to negotiate without his dogs skulking menacingly in the background.
    He gave the Selkie queen a once-over, saw through the thin veneer of calm she presented. He’d try the delicate approach first, then. “I have a proposition for you.”
Siofra’s full lips curled into a sneer. “Yeah, and you’ve said as much. What do you want from me and mine?”
    Mammon’s lips curled into an oily smile. “The question is, what do you want from me? Name it, and it’s yours. All you have to do is help me with one. Little. Thing.” He drew out the last three words, and Siofra raised a round eyebrow curiously. She motioned for him to continue with a blunt-clawed hand.  
    Mammon looked her steadily in the eye, pale grey on solid black. “I need an army. A resistance-- a force willing to help me claim the throne of Hades. In return, I’ll fulfill any request you and your kind have…after I have my throne, that is.”
    Siofra’s sharp bark of laughter echoed across the waves, reverberating back at Mammon from all sides. “Your throne?” she laughed again, a softer chuckle as she shot him an almost pitying look. “I’ve heard of you, boy. Double-dealin’ with the wrong people’s what got you here in the first place. And you want us to fight on a promise? On a damn IOU?!” She barked another laugh, this one in disbelief.
    Mammon leaned forward, lifting his chin as he stared her down. The delicate approach had failed--time for something more his speed. “No. I want you to win on a promise. A war is coming,” he stated bluntly, “ and I intend to wait it out. Let them fight for blood and glory, let Satan and Lucifer destroy themselves with their own pride and vanity. Let them cripple their forces with petty in-fighting and a doomed war against Heaven, and when they’re down for the count…Then,” His grin turned sharp and wicked, voice nearly a snarl. “Then, we will lay claim to the ashes.”
    He leaned in even closer, mere inches from the Selkie’s face. “And you and yours will want to be on my side when it happens.” He straightened up to his full height, looking down at her, every scrap of false friendly warmth gone. “Better to be owed a favour by a king than to be his enemy.”
    Siofra’s black eyes were wide, a thin rim of white ringing them. She scurried backwards, away from Mammon, the cold wind rising and whipping at them both. “You’re--you’re completely mad!” Siofra sputtered, glancing from Mammon to the roiling sea below and back again.
    “So I’ve heard,” Mammon drawled, smirking. “Now are you going to join me, or should I skin you alive? And, just so I’m being abundantly clear, I’m not talking about that robe of yours--white really isn’t my colour.”
    Siofra looked away again, black eyes searching the sea for answers. After a long moment, she nodded. “Yes,” she said, lifting the hood of her robe over her head with hands that only trembled slightly. “You have the Selkies; we’ll come when you call.”
    Mammon’s smile broadened unpleasantly. “Your cooperation is greatly appreciated, your highness. I’ll be in touch. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have so many other places to be.”
Siofra levelled her black-eyed gaze at him and drew her hood over her head, and a soft white glow enveloped her. There was a splash as the waves took her, and Mammon watched her lithe seal form slip away from the shipwreck. 
    His smile faded, and he drew in a big lungful of the wet, salty air. “One down,” he exhaled, “more to go.”
    He looked out over the horizon one last time, eyes passing over Lorelei’s clever hiding spot. And, with a knowing little grin, he was gone. 



Thief: Chapter 14

Thursday, 3 March 2016





Chapter Fourteen



    Aiden was doing his best not to pace back and forth; no matter how distraught he was, pacing just wasn’t appropriate at a funeral. Much less at his almost-son-in-law’s funeral. He was having a hard time standing still, though.
    He couldn’t believe that Abby had left like that, run off with two demons. He didn’t care that they were related to Raph. Nothing good had come of their relationship, so he didn’t see why she would be so quick to trust his judgement again. If they were so trustworthy, why did they have to leave like thieves in the night, bolting off to who-knows-where?
    He shifted from foot to foot, eyes half-lidded against the crackling, snapping brightness of the pyre that was quickly consuming Eli’s lifeless body. They had hurriedly constructed the pyre in the sprawling backyard, shielding the blaze from human eyes with the help of Michael and the collective power of the other angels. It wouldn’t do for some well-meaning neighbour to call the fire department, and no one wanted to have to explain to the police why they were burning a young man’s corpse.
    Keeping the authorities out of Gabe’s incident had required more underhanded bribery. And begging. And mild threatening. He had done it all with absolute grim determination, however, because someone had to keep it together. Someone had to keep everyone else, everything else, from falling apart at the seams.
    It had been Aiden who had called in favours and reinforcements. He’d called down friends who wouldn’t ask questions to guard the girl who had been quickly spiralling out of control thanks to a cracked seal on her powers, the likes of which none of them had ever seen. Aiden, who had watched some of those friends get seriously injured by the girl he had just let escape, wild, untamed, and unchecked, into the world with two creatures of Hades.
    He wasn’t sure who to be angry with; Abby, for letting him down, or himself, for letting Abby down. He should have done something more, talked her out of it, gone after her immediately, but…
His eyes drifted to the column of flame and smoke that turned Elijah’s body to crumbling ash. This. He had to be here for this, to remember the life and the senseless tragedy of a young man’s death. Elijah had died a hero. He should not have died at all, and as he watched the fire and heard his daughter beside him sobbing brokenly in her mother’s arms, Aiden clenched his hands into hard, white-knuckled fists.
    Eli’s sacrifice wouldn’t be meaningless. He would find Abby and protect her, train her to control her power and use it, and somewhere along the way he would find that pale bastard and atomize him. And if he couldn’t manage Serena’s elegant destruction? Well, then he’d take his time, beat Mammon with his bare fists if he had to, until all that was left was a smear of dried blood on the ground somewhere. Him, and his dogs, too.
    The hand landing softly on his shoulder started Aiden out of his thoughts, and he looked over to see Gabriel Sr. giving him a grimly determined look, almost as if he knew what Aiden had been thinking. The archangel’s eyes were red-rimmed, glistening in the light of the burning body. Gabriel gave him a nod and let his arm drop to his side, turning his attention back to Michael as he continued the funeral service.
    He was doing an excellent job of it, too, his flowing, heartfelt speech delivered flawlessly in the most formal dialect of the angelic language. Aiden had been trying his best to block it out; it hurt less than listening to the archangel speak of death and life and the existence of someone he’d only met briefly. But, to his ultimate relief, Michael’s speech was winding down, drawing to a steady conclusion about Elijah now being in a better place.
    Aiden wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that sentiment at the moment, but he let it go after a moment of unease. Though, somewhere at the very back of his mind, a dark, oily spark of anger and hurt flared. Surely, he soothed himself, taking a deep breath through his nose, surely this, too, was part of a greater plan.
    But…he looked over at his daughter, her broken, huddled form clinging desperately to Farrah to remain standing. What purpose could that much hurt have? Was that feeling of emptiness gnawing away at them all supposed to help them on their mission? What good could possibly come of this, Aiden asked silently.
    Michael lapsed into silence and quietly melded into the shadows, standing beside Izrafel and watching the fire consume what little remained of Eli.
    Aiden couldn’t make out Izrafel’s face from where he stood across the pyre and beneath a sprawling cherry tree, its branches naked and twisting heavenwards in the frozen December air. He could see the way the black man’s shoulders shook beneath his suit jacket, though whether from sorrow or cold or pure rage, Aiden didn’t know. He suspected it was some combination of the three, and wished, not for the first time, that he could think of something to say to him that wouldn’t sound completely hollow and pointless.
    He was having absolutely no luck on that front, so he turned back to Gabriel, who still stood next to him, one arm wrapped around Serena as she sniffled quietly into a delicate silk handkerchief.
    “We have to go after her.” Aiden said quietly but firmly. This wasn’t negotiable. Nothing good could come of Abby running wild--he was certain of that.
    Gabriel squeezed his wife’s shoulder comfortingly and looked at Aiden. “I know. It’s just…Gabe is still--“
    “I know.” Aiden hesitated for a moment before continuing. “We need to find her as soon as possible, though. For all our sakes, but especially Gabe’s.” He spoke softly and chose his words carefully, but Serena still shot him a look at the sound of her son’s name. “Serena, I--“
    Serena shook her head, cutting him off. “No,” she breathed in shakily, steadying herself. “No, you’re right. She shouldn’t be wandering out there all alone. That poor girl…she didn’t deserve any of this. None of them deserved this.” Her eyes filled with tears again, glimmering bright in the firelight. “You two go,” she said quickly, trying to speak before her emotions flooded over again. “I’ll stay and watch over Gabe’s body. I’ll keep our boy safe.” She promised, looking at her husband with determination shining through her sadness.
    Gabriel pulled her in for a soft kiss. “Thank you, love.” He said as he reluctantly let go of her.
    “You bring her back safe. Bring her home.” Serena said, forcing a watery smile.
    “We will.” Aiden said, hoping desperately that his words were true.

***

    The pyre had burnt down to glowing coals and tiny licks of flame, and what had been Eli was now ash. Fern had cried herself out and could only manage dry, heaving sobs that escaped her when she thought she was finally finished crying.
    Her heart was broken. Eli was gone, Gabe was gone, Abby was…Abby was a monster. Fern stared into the flames and felt the anger welling up inside. This was Abby’s fault, all of it. She’d get her for it--she would avenge Eli. She’d--
    “I’m sorry, Fern.”
    The deep voice beside her made Fern jump a little. She’d thought she was alone. Everyone else was inside the house now, to let her be alone with her thoughts.
Izrafel stared at the fire, dark eyes reflecting the orange light. “I know you loved him. He loved you too.” His lips curved up in a small smile. “He always talked about you whenever I saw him.”
    Fern shut her eyes tightly and drew in a slow breath. “Thanks,” she said carefully. “I miss him.” Her voice broke a little, right at the end, and she sniffed noisily.
    “I do too.” Izrafel said, glancing at her. “But missing him won’t stop the thing that did this to my son.”
    Fern wanted to be surprised, but she wasn’t. Part of her felt a bit relieved that Izrafel felt the same way she did. “We need to destroy her--she’s too dangerous. If she hadn’t been here, none of this would have happened!”
    “I agree.” Michael stood at her other side, as if he’d appeared out of nowhere. “That is why we are going to neutralize the threat. A creature that powerful and untamed must be dealt with.” He looked at Fern, holding her gaze. “Will you help us?”
    Fern didn’t ask any questions; she only had one answer. She couldn’t help the snarling, feral grin that marred her pretty features. “Yes.” 




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