by Teresa Cain
It had come to me in the shower as one bright, all-answering flash, but here in the dark of unconsciousness, it lingered over the details of that night like a well-trained lover. My thirteenth birthday. The start of the trouble.
It had been a wonderful birthday. Even Mom had been in a good mood, crying a little that her baby was a teenager now. I had my favorite meal: Mexican. Mom made these great chimichangas filled with cheese and fajita-grilled chicken and jalapenos, and made a really delicious guacamole, plus she made fresh refried beans and rice. Instead of a birthday cake I had sopapillas with fresh honey from the beehives she kept behind the house. Mom was half-Mexican and my grandmother had taught her daughter how to cook. My sweet abuela. She died when I was six; otherwise I would have had her teach me, too.
Dad stayed pretty quiet. I thought at the time he just didn't want to see his little girl grow up. He had just watched me all day with this sad little smile on his face. I tried to get him to spar with me in the dojo, but he just shook his head and said he had things to do. I watched him wander around the house all day and never saw him do anything. It made me more than a little paranoid. It was like I was going to die and he was the only one that knew about it. I thought about asking him whether I had some horrible disease, then decided I better not. What if the answer was yes?
The day itself was uneventful. I spent most of the day in the dojo, putting myself through my paces. I practiced my hand to hand moves, my kicks... I would have practiced my throws if I'd had someone to throw. But the only one around was my cat Sneak, and she was bright enough to hide when I was practicing. So I grabbed a bamboo sword and practiced my kendo instead.
I wondered if I was old enough for the Ice Blade yet, wondered if that was going to be one of my birthday presents. After all, Dad had been letting me practice with the Fire Blade lately. Man, I hoped I was right. I really wanted that sword again. Dad had his blade, and I wanted mine. Maybe if I had my own sword, he'd take me hunting more. Boy, wouldn't that piss Mom off? She hated it when he took me hunting. She hated it when he went hunting, too. Mom didn't have much of a backbone for violence.
I, on the other hand, loved hunting. I felt just like a comic book hero.
So my birthday passed in the dojo. I wondered vaguely what normal girls did on their birthdays. I hardly ever saw anyone my own age. As a matter of fact, the closest I'd seen to a kid my whole life was a minor demon that liked taking the form of a ten-year-old boy, and since he ended up turning into this black Jell-O mass of goo with acidic tentacles, I didn't really count him.
Mom used to fight with him on the whole subject, saying I was going to grow up warped if I didn't socialize with others my own age. He always just looked at me, patted me on the head and said, "Too late."
I got my presents after supper. Mom, never one to encourage my violent habits, gave me clothes including a couple of new pairs of jeans and some nice shirts. I also got a couple of CDs and a video of a very funny play called Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead. Geez, she was as bad about getting me to watch cultural things like plays as Dad was about subjecting me to opera. True to form, Dad got me a recording of a Chinese opera called The Butterfly Lovers, a pretty new dagger and a really neat looking kimono, which was actually from my grandmother in Japan, who I had never met. I really would have liked to, though.
But no Ice Blade. I was disappointed, but the dagger was really nice. It wasn't magic, though. And I loved magic. I loved proof that the world could be like the books and movies. I loved that my Dad was walking proof of the magic that still existed in this world. I'd seen him where his other shape, though not in front of Mom. She freaked every time he showed any hint of his inhuman nature.
I loved it. It was so cool when his skin would turn the color of obsidian and his hair lighten to the most beautiful shade of white blond. His hair was a strange thing like that, though. It was thick and sort of rough, more like fur than hair. But then, I knew for a fact that my grandmother in Japan, his mother, was a kitsune. That wonderful hair was just her blood showing through.
He was so strange and unreal... I often wished he would just stay that way. But Mom was just against it.
I sometimes wondered if she knew just what she was marrying at the wedding.
No, I hadn't gotten the Ice Blade for my 13th birthday, but I got something even better. I was up in my room, trying my best to get into the kimono without help and realizing it was really a two-person job, especially for this little American. I was standing in front of the full-length mirror on my closet door, trying to figure out how to tie the obi without dislocating an arm, when I glanced up and saw something that both scared the hell out of me and made me gasp in delight.
My skin had gone the obsidian black of my father's when he was wearing his strange inhuman form, my face had become even narrower, and my body had grown frighteningly thin. My hair was still just hair and the same strange burgundy it had always been, looking very dramatic against that shadowy skin. I gaped at myself in the mirror, afraid to look down, afraid that it was just a hallucination, but finally I just had to know and looked.
My hands were as black as my reflection showed them to be, as were my legs and feet. It was true, true, true! I was like my dad!
I twirled around my room, the long sleeves of the kimono flying out around me. This was incredible! I knew I'd never been an ordinary girl, but this, this was the proof of it.
I ran out of the room to find Dad and show him the great new me, knowing that if Mom saw me she would probably start screaming in anger and not stop for the next week. Still, I ran down the hall to their bedroom and without thinking just ran in, starting to call out for Dad.
But the shout died in my throat as I saw the scene before me. I saw the other male, his skin like obsidian and his hair the color of the deep sea, who had my mother clasped tight against him, his hand at her throat. I saw my father pinned down by a creature that looked as if it had been carved from the side of a mountain, all blunt and solid. I saw the woman in black standing aside from them all, watching with smug eyes as her gaze lingered on my mother.
"I can't do it without blood," she suddenly said. "Not if you want it to last for very long."
"Just long enough till her mind is mine for the keeping," said the one holding my mother. His eyes flicked over to where I stood in the doorway. "But for my son... no, give me time. I want him to wake only after I've turned his good name to the shit it should be. I want the little disappointment's despair, Alyss."
"Then give me blood, Eblis. Give me blood."
"If it's blood you want - "
All this was done and said in the space of not even a minute. I hadn't even recovered from the shock of finding intruders in the house when his hand tightened around my mother's throat and in one strong movement, ripped half of her neck away.
The scream caught in my throat, robbed me of my breath as he let her body fall to the ground. The blood pooled in ungodly amounts, the pale carpet soaking it up greedily. There was only a moment of silence before my father began to scream under the mountain sitting on him, the sound a heart-rending mix of fury and grief. And then I found my voice and joined in, my wails wild and frightened in my ears.
I heard the woman in black chanting, the sound raising the hairs on the back of my neck. After living with Dad all my life and after several hunts, I knew the sound of magic being worked. I whirled around and was about to run back to my room, to get some kind of weapon, any kind of weapon to help me kill the bastards. But there wasn't anything in my room that would make any kind of dent on these monsters, so I changed plans and was about to head to my father's basement den to grab the Fire Sword when the spell hit me.
I'd hadn't even made it to my door when the dizziness wrapped around me, taking away all balance. I fell to the floor and tried to crawl, then stopped when I couldn't remember where I was going. I looked around, puzzled, trying to remember what was happening, why I was scared, but my mind wouldn't focus on anything. Memories slipped like mercury through my fingers, and I just knelt near there, scrabbling frantically for a lifeline.
And like the daddy's girl I was I started crying for him through my tears. I laid my forehead against the floor and sobbed for him, his name a monotonous litany. Then I felt someone standing in the door, and I raised my head, staring thankfully at the only thing in the world I was sure about: my father.
But he just stared at me, his face cold and unreadable. Then without any warning, he let out a loud snarl of rage and grabbed me by the hair, yanking me up. I stumbled, and he shoved me face-first into the wall. Pain blossomed across my face, and I felt the warm wetness of blood trickle over my upper lip, tasted the copper of my own blood.
"Why, you half-demon little cuckoo!" he yelled, jerking me backwards. I raised my hands to grasp his wrist, and nearly fell again as he started to pull me out of my room and down the hall. My scalp was blazing with pain as I stumbled down the stairs beside him, falling at the end and getting dragged along regardless. I was terrified. What had I done that had been so awful? Something was wrong, but I couldn't think what. My mind seemed closed to me; all I had was the precise present. Every second that slipped by was lost in the maelstrom of my confusion.
I was screaming and crying and calling his name as he hauled me towards the basement door, but I managed to see one very strange thing. I saw a huge creature like a carved monolith of a man hauling a golden-haired creature with skin like obsidian out the door. The black-skinned being met my terrified gaze, his eyes a mirror of the confusion I felt. I thought I knew him, but I couldn't think why.
Then my father opened the basement door and threw me down the steps, and my confusion was replaced by unconsciousness. I didn't wake up until I felt the first hot, searing coal being placed upon my back.
The memory of that humiliating pain jerked me back to consciousness, and I found myself being cradled carefully in someone's arms. Judging from the black feathered wall around me, I was guessing it was Aerael. I raised a sluggish hand and pushed at one wing, wanting to see.
"Thank the stars," he sighed in relief, moving his wings behind him and staring down at me with a face etched with worry and relief. "Are you all right?"
"Where's my father?" I asked, ignoring the pain that was my ribcage and trying to look around. "What's happening?"
"Morte, or Eli rather, is kicking the shit out of Eblis," Jade said, slithering up beside us. "Literally, at times. I didn't know you could combine kicks with sword-fighting, but Eli seems to be doing it."
"Where are they?" We were standing in the common room of the pub, which was a definite mess. Several tables and chairs had been broken, and shattered bottles littered the floor. Jade followed my gaze and shrugged.
"Eblis seems to be good at getting kicked into furniture," she said. "And I was having fun distracting him by throwing whiskey bottles at him."
"What a perfect waste of good booze," I muttered, wishing I had some at the moment. "But where are they?"
I heard shouts and the two shifters suddenly exploded back into the room from the hallway. Morte was in full Eli mode, his long braid flying around him as he slashed at his foe. He had the Ice Blade in his hand, which he used every bit as skillfully as he had ever used the Fire Blade.
The Fire Blade wasn't doing Eblis a bit of good. He managed to block every slash, but that's all he could do. Eli was fast; Eblis had no sooner blocked one blow than he would have to block another almost in the same moment. He could have beaten me, no doubt. I was never the swordsman Eli was - though with a few more years under my belt, I may have been. Dad could have taken him out easily long ago, but he was pissed and he was savoring this fight.
I knew what he was fighting for. He was fighting for my mother. He was fighting for me. He was fighting for the missing years of his life. He was fighting for the impotence he'd felt as he'd watched my mother be killed. He was fighting for every humiliation and indignation visited upon me while he was helplessly trapped in another life. He was fighting for his good name as Eli Thorn.
And finally, he was fighting because he was Eli Thorn, and this was an evil that needed to be exterminated.
But all the same, I wanted the kill. And my instincts were whispering a way it could be mine.
I was the Queen. I was the Mother. It didn't matter than I hadn't given birth to him. He was still mine. He was mine to shape, mine to control. This pathetic little creature was my puppet if I wanted it so, or better yet, he was my clay.
I shoved gently at Aerael's chest, but kept my gaze firmly on Eblis. "Put me down."
"Roselyn, you're hurt. You more than likely have broken ribs, and who knows what damage that throw did to you internally."
He was right. I'd have to do something about that. So I closed my eyes and concentrated, and a line of warmth speared down the length of me, spreading across my body like a wave of sunlight. And when I opened my eyes, the pain was gone.
I could shift my body into countless shapes. I could be any human, any animal, anything I wanted. I could be Ophelia Dark, or I could be Jade. I could be the President or any of the many rulers of Faerie. If I could turn myself into a wyvern, I could sure as hell shift broken bones back into place and remove any internal wounds. That was just a matter of shifting into... well, me.
"Fine, all better," I snarled, shoving at him. "Put me the fuck down, Aerael. That bastard is mine."
"You don't even have a sword," Jade pointed out as he set me down. I smiled nastily and started stalking towards the fight.
"I don't need the damn sword," I called over my shoulder. "Check this out."
Eblis saw me first and faltered, nearly missing a sudden slash at chest and blocking it just in time. The tip of the sword caught the flesh of his chest anyway, slicing him down to the abdomen. The edges of the wound turned white, and I realized the wound had frozen over. Damn, I still wanted that sword!
Eli saw me after that, and I saw the worry for my safety well up in his dark eyes. He glanced briefly towards Aerael, and I knew he was very pissed at the incubus for letting me out of his arms.
"What the hell are you doing?" he yelled at me. "Get out of the way!"
"Don't worry, Dad," I said, my gaze only for Eblis. "There is a lesson to be learned here."
I saw the confusion plain on Eblis' face and smiled at it. "You little shit. You drone on and on about who I am, yet you forget the most important piece. But then, that was probably a bit of information you didn't want me to know, did you?"
"No!" he howled as his eyes widened with the realization of my intent. He whirled and raised the Fire Blade for one last panicked blow.
It would have given Eli the perfect opening, but I think he knew just what I was up to and stepped back.
I raised my hand, and Eblis stopped. This was my clay to manipulate, just as my own. I focused on him, forcing my will on that dark, naked frame, smiling as the Fire Blade dropped from nerveless fingers. Flesh seemed to spread from the shoulder down, his arms and torso disappearing into one lump of flesh. His legs went the same way. He fell to the floor, his eyes wide with panic as he pleaded silently with me. But still I forced and still I formed, watching with satisfaction as he dwindled down, down, down.
...until a long black snake was all that was left. I stomped a foot down on it just behind the head and smiled pleasantly.
"I am Queen. I am Mother. You are mine, as all shifters are mine. Flesh of my flesh, clay of my clay." My eyes narrowed and a nasty grin spread across my face. "And you have been a naughty little boy."
He whipped his tail around frantically, trying to wiggle out from under my boot, but he wasn't going anywhere.
"Eblis is the name of one of the demon princes, I believe," I went on, waving one hand nonchalantly. "Dad made me study stuff like that back when I was a kid. There was a time I could have named a whole damn list of demons and other baddies, but hell, we've all seen how rusty I am. Naming yourself after a demon, then messing around with the Thorn clan. Man, you were just asking for it, weren't you?
"You killed my mother," I growled down at him. "You fucked up my father and stole his life, then ground it into the dirt. You - well, let's not get into what you did to me, but if I were human, I'd be in therapy until I was 90. But I'm not human, and I have other means of therapy."
Suddenly, the blue and black handle of the Ice Blade was thrust under my gaze. I glanced up at Eli and smiled, thanking him as I closed my hand over it. He had regained the Fire Blade and held it ready at his side. I looked at the sword in my hand, running my gaze over it fondly as if seeing it for the first time. The fight hadn't put one nick in it. Amazing blade it was.
Then I turned my gaze back to the wiggling snake beneath my step, wrapped both hands around the handle and raised the sword high. I eyed that fast-moving length of snake and gauged the distance, then brought the blade down with one hard, decisive stroke. It stabbed easily through those shadow black scales and pinned it to the floor like a butterfly on a board. I moved my foot and watched Eblis flop and writhe, his body slapping against the boards of the floor with sounds too loud in the silence of the near-empty pub. Even Jade and Aerael came over and watched him fight against his death. But all too soon his movements slowed, then stopped.
What happened next was really quite beautiful. A lovely frost seemed to cover the body, turning the black into white. Then the frost cleared away, and all that was left was a marvelously detailed ice sculpture of a very large snake.
I grabbed the sword and pulled it free, half-expecting the ice to shatter. But it kept its shape. We all stared at the pretty snakesicle for awhile, no one knowing quite what to say. Then Eli suddenly brought the Fire Blade down, stabbing it through. One minute we had an ice corpse, and the next there was nothing left of the shifter Eblis but a puddle of water that would soon evaporate. He shouldered the blade, then looked at me. Then we both looked at the puddle again. Then we looked at each other and said the only thing either of us could think of.
Then I dropped the Ice Blade and launched myself into his arms, wrapping my arms around his waist and burying my face in his chest. I breathed the scent of winter and fur that was my father, feeling the past five years start to drop away. His arms closed around me, holding me tight as if he'd never let go, rocking me gently from side to side like I was a child all over again.
I didn't even hate myself when I burst into happy, maudlin tears.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Bargains ©2000-2001 by Teresa Cain
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