by Teresa Cain
"I am never doing that again," I hissed, ripping off my blindfold as soon as my feet touched solid ground.
"Then how are you getting home?" rumbled the amused voice of my taxi. I turned and glared at the nine foot plus weird thing standing behind me. I swear, it was over nine feet tall, covered in long, shaggy fur, the top half looking like the offspring of a hippie goblin that mated with Cousin It, and the bottom looking like a bipedal werewolf on steroids. You'd think it would stink, but it smelled like a kid's closet: like plastic and various types of cloth.
"I'll walk," I said archly.
"You're just mad because he dangled you over someone's mouth a couple of times," Morte said, coming up and slapping me on the back. "Now come on. We've got to find that sword." He looked up at Shaggy. "You'll wait here?"
"Oh, with bells on!" he exclaimed brightly.
I looked at Morte. "Sarcastic monsters are not reassuring."
"Don't worry, shifter," Shaggy rumbled, amused. "I'll be here. Jade would be pissed if I left. If I leave you, I don't get laid."
"Now there was a visual I didn't need." I hit Morte lightly in the arm and jerked my head. "Come on."
We'd landed in a very familiar closet: mine. It was a big, walk-in closet still filled with the clothes and various junk I'd left behind. Old relics of a happier childhood: a few stuffed animals, some skates, cassette tapes, a Walkman that no longer worked... stuff like that.
Morte picked something up half-hidden under some old sneakers and raised an eyebrow. "A whip?"
"Don't give me that look. I told you Eli tried training me in a wide variety of weapons."
"And you went through an Indiana Jones phase?"
"Just shut up and come on."
"Yes mistress," he said meekly, eyes twinkling in what light came through the slats of the folding closet door.
I grabbed the whip in one hand and his arm in the other, hauling him out of there. The monster's snigger followed us out into my old bedroom, and I defiantly shut those flimsy doors in his face. I then had to turn and face Morte's thoughtful gaze as he looked around my childhood bedroom.
"I wonder what I was expecting," he mused, scratching his chin. "It's a lot more - childish - than I thought I would be. It really doesn't look like a teenager's bedroom."
"I didn't really have the chance to do the usual adolescent attempt at interior decoration after Eli went psycho," I muttered, brushing a hand through a few scattered pieces of jewelry on top of the dresser. God, I felt like I was standing in someone else's room. I'd changed too much over the past year. I'd tried to find myself, and did find pieces. And these pieces were adding up to a far different person than the little girl who had lived between these walls.
Morte wandered over to the bed, a plain full-sized affair with a rounded iron headboard and covered in white sheets and a homemade quilt. He picked up a lone toy that was sitting on top of the pillows, frowning. "What the hell is this?"
My cheeks reddened as I glanced at the green beanbag toy. "Uhh, that's Thooloo."
Both brows shot into his hairline as a grin crept across his face. "As in Lovecraft's Cthulhu?"
"You, the daughter of a notorious demon hunter, had a stuffed demon doll?"
"Hey, you know damn well the man has a weird sense of humor!" I snatched the toy out of his hands and hugged it to my chest as I glared at him. "Now can we please start looking for the damn sword so we can get out of here?"
I stalked out, still clutching the toy, not caring whether he followed or not. It really hadn't occurred to me how embarrassing this was going to be. Damn, I should have brought Aerael. At least he wouldn't have laughed openly. And he probably wouldn't be socking away information to use as blackmail later, either.
"I'll look downstairs," I told him as he came up behind me, still grinning. "You look around up here. Try all the boards, look for wall safes, stuff like that."
He saluted smartly. "Aye aye, boss. Good luck."
I struck off downstairs with that stupid bean-filled toy under my arm, a faint smile on my lips as I remembered carrying it around just like that when I was little. Mom had hated this thing. She even used to hide it from me, which would of course cause me to break into heartbroken tears. Dad always found it for me, though.
Come to think of it, he always sided with me over her. Yet another reason for her coolness towards me, I suppose. Mom had ignored me when she could, leaving most of my raising to Eli. No wonder I'd been such a daddy's girl as a kid. Emotionally, he'd been all I had.
And then I lost him as well.
hooloo got a squeeze from me as I stopped at the foot of the stairs, my eyes drawn to the small door set into wall beneath them. The basement. I did not want to go down there. Why is it nothing good ever happens in a basement? You always seem to get mortuaries or torture rooms... and what lay below was definitely the latter.
But it hadn't always been. When I was smaller, that had been Eli's working room, where he'd kept all weapons and spoils of war. All strategies had been planned down there, and it had been our training ground as well. But going down there without him was the biggest no-no in the house, one ingrained in me since birth. It was definitely the most likely place for the sword to be.
It was also the place that, three days after my 13th birthday, I'd been dragged by my hair into its depths and thrown across the table. Where the back of my shirt had been torn open and coals burning a brilliant orange-red had been laid one by one onto bare skin while Eli chanted spell after spell meant to rid a person of evil spirits. After that I'd been dragged up to my room and locked in until he'd bolted a chain and shackle to the floor. Then I'd been chained up there. Six years in that room, feeling every second go by, only leaving when he'd come to drag me back into the basement depths for a few more experiments... all of which included excruciating pain.
I'd only gotten away by shifting my arm into something smaller than the shackle and slipping out while Eli was off hunting. By that time, I was running on instinct, mostly animal. I'd somehow maneuvered the traps outside and ran until I reached a fairly well traveled road eight miles away. I'd managed to hitch a ride into a nearby town, used rusty thieving skills to lift a wallet (which the God-sent idiot kept his PIN number in), then bought myself some clean clothes and a bus ticket to New York.
And if I went down there, I was going to have one hell of a sensory overload.
Rubbing my eyes wearily, I laid a wary hand on the doorknob, half-expecting it to electrocute me. But it was a plain brass knob, wholly unremarkable and not giving a clue as to what lay beyond its door. Pity I already knew.
Morte paused in the doorway to what had to be Eli Thorn's bedroom, yet there were several clues that no one had used this room in years. Dust lay in a thick blanket over every surface, and cobwebs decorated every corner and space where a spider could spin their webs. Frowning, he carefully edged into the room, every nerve screaming alert for any trap that might have been laid, but the room was as still as a dead thing.
He stood there, staring around the room, looking for a possible spot to begin exploring. The room was carpeted, which would have made it harder to hide something under the floorboards, but there might have been some corner of the carpet loose or perhaps a square cut out. The shag was so deep it would have been hard to spot the sides of a loose piece. He scooted his feet heavily, seeing if anything wrinkled or kicked up.
Something caught his eye down there. Not a wrinkle, but a spot. Frowning, he knelt down, raising a small puff of dust around the knee as it hit the carpet. It also better revealed the stain there. He cautiously touched it, finding the dark spot dry and the strands of shag matted together. Lowering his face, he sniffed quickly and jerked away as the smell of old blood and dust assailed his nostrils.
It felt like lightning, or maybe catching hold of a live wire. Something surged through him, burning and pure, blinding and deafening him to the world. It sang throughout him, screaming its rage, whispering promises of blood. It held him tight in its embrace, seducing him with sighs of vengeance.
And then it just as abruptly let him go. He collapsed onto the dusty carpet, gasping with the after-effects of the attack.
"What... the fuck," he groaned, shutting his eyes against the dust his collapse had raised. His mind was spinning with images, each one as brief and mysterious as the one before, impossible to make sense of. But there was one that forced him to reach out and eagerly grab it as it danced by.
Shaking his head, he slowly got to his feet, his body still tingling from the rush of... whatever had grabbed him. It hadn't felt like magic, which just left him confused and irritable. He hated being taken by surprise like that. But whatever it was had left him with a very important clue.
Morte walked slowly to the closet, warily easing the door open. When nothing jumped out, he felt around on the small closet's inside wall closest to the door, trailing his fingers along the lumpy surface. Old clothes brushed the back of his hand, caressing him with silken touches.
"Looks like his taste in clothes hasn't changed any," he grumbled, still feeling disoriented from the attack. "Fruity bast - ho' shit. I don't believe it." He closed his fingers around a cloth-wrapped oblong shape attached to the wall and gently tugged. It came loose, and he brought it out, staring in disbelief at what had to be a sword wrapped in black silk. He walked to the bed and laid the bundle on it, then almost reverently removed the bindings, sighing as the Ice Blade was revealed.
"That was too damn easy," he murmured, running a finger over the blue, leather wrapped handle and sliding the katana half out of its sheath. A blue-green sheen ran along the blade as the light struck it, eliciting a fascinated whistle from his lips. "This is one gorgeous piece of work. No wonder Carlie wanted it so badly."
No sooner had Carlie crossed his mind when he heard a piercing shriek from downstairs, sending a cold chill down his spine. He quickly re-sheathed the sword and whirled around, running out the door and down the stairs towards his student's cries. He had already forgotten the incident of the few moments before.
But it was awake now... and that's all it cared.
"Carlie! What is it?"
I heard Morte stomp heavily down the stairs behind me, but I couldn't wrench my eyes away from the horrific sight before me. The ghouls' basement pantry had been awful beyond belief, sickening and disgusting. But this went beyond it.because this struck a far more personal cord.
I'd spotted something in the corner covered by a sheet when I'd reached the bottom of the basement steps. I couldn't remember what was supposed to be there, so I'd looked under it. The only reason I'd stopped screaming was because I'd run out of breath to do so.
It was a big block of clear glass, the size of a coffin. Actually, that was very accurate, as there was a body frozen inside - a body that had been neatly opened from chest to groin, the halves pulled open to display the insides. The organs had been removed and were lying on both sides, and the cavity...oh God, the sight nestled in that empty hole.
"Shit," Morte breathed, coming up beside me. He reached over and grabbed by hand. "What the hell did that psycho do?"
"He - he - Morte - "
"Hey, easy." He turned me away from the horror and pushed my face into his shoulder, holding me. "Come on, Carlie. Breathe. In and out, in and out. Just breathe. You can tell me in a minute."
"No!" I wailed, pushing away and pointing with a shaking finger to the glassed corpse. "He - he - that's my mother!"
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Bargains ©2000-2001 by Teresa Cain
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