by Teresa Cain

Part 9



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I resisted all attempts to be dragged to every modern day armory Morte knew of. For one thing, after a couple of questions, I realized all the weapon makers he knew crafted their swords in a typically European fashion, and I was taught to use a Japanese sword. I wasn't sure how the two cultures would mix, but I didn't want to take the chance.

Besides, I already knew the sword I wanted. Unfortunately, Cloud Strife's Ultima Weapon doesn't exist outside of Final Fantasy 7, and it was still a bigger sword that I was trained to handle anyway. I'd just have to rely on something else. But damn, that would have been cool to have.

"I don't see why you just don't get a gun and blow the bastard's head off from a nice safe distance," Jade commented, coiling her lower half. I'd come home to find that she'd altered a bit more of her "look." The Medusa hairstyle hadn't been enough, I suppose. Now the she'd given up legs in favor a nice long serpentine body covered in scales the color of emeralds.

Have I ever mentioned I have a snake phobia?

"Probably because I couldn't make myself pull the trigger," I answered, curling up more tightly against Aerael's side. We'd no sooner gotten back to the penthouse than I'd all but run into the barely conscious incubus' arms. Suspicious gagging noises had issued from behind me, but I'd ignored them. "I think he's going to have to actually attack me before the threat will be real enough for self-preservation to kick in. I'm just not a violent person."

"I know," Jade muttered, rolling her eyes. "You continue to be a disappointment."

"Oh, shut up." Sighing, I buried my face in Aerael's chest, trying to think. I was willing to bet that Eli's sword could easily break a normal blade used against it. It was just a feeling, or more likely another suppressed memory. So where was I going to find another magic katana?

Something else was nagging at me. You know how you're talking and suddenly the next word just won't come? It's on the tip of your tongue, but your mind just dances all around it, frustrating the hell out of you until you finally start smashing things? Maybe that's just me. But that's the way it was now. My mind was dancing around a very important memory.something about swords.

So I rested against him, letting my mind wander around the memory of Eli's sword. It was rather plain, for a demon-slaying sword, no really fancy ornamentation like you see on some. The handle had simply been wrapped in something like leather, though I had my doubts it was cow-based. Blood red "leather" over black Dark blue leather over black wood. Both felt right. So which was it?

"Roselyn?" Aerael asked gently, squeezing me in a brief hug. "What's wrong? You've gone still."

"Shhh. Something's trying to surface. Let me concentrate."

The blade looked like silver, but wasn't. It was darker than silver, and tougher. It went through bone like a knife through butter. The metal had a gleam to it, like the colors you get when gasoline hits a rain puddle, except there was only one color, like a blue-green sheen that showed when the light hit it just right. No, not was a red-purple that spilled down the blade like

"Morte." I looked up and across Aerael's chest where the shifter sat in all of his dark fae glory in a black Queen Anne chair. His skin almost didn't show up against the upholstery. He'd shifted into his natural form the minute we'd stepped into the place. I always felt a tiny bit more invulnerable when I didn't look human; maybe he was of the same mind. He raised an inquisitive blond brow at my brief query. "Do you recall what Eli's sword looked like?"

"The handle was red on black and the blade looked really sharp. Why?"

Yet I could easily picture a katana that was dark blue wrapped around a black wood handle. Hell, I could picture myself holding it. Wait...holding it. I froze the memory and studied the hands wrapped around the handle. Small hands. Small hands attached to equally small arms struggling to lift a sword just a little too heavy for an equally small frame.

"Two swords," I whispered, staring out at nothing as I savored the memory. "Damn, there's two swords. I remember! When Eli looted a demon's hoard, he found two swords and decided to keep them. He had them checked out by a mystic and found both were charmed to slay demons, though the properties differed somewhat. The sword with the red-wrapped handle could cut through anything. It doesn't really have anything to do with the blade's edge. The mystic called it something in meant something like 'fire blade.' Something like that, anyway. It doesn't actually cut through anything so much as it burns. The metal-looking blade is actually an illusion of sorts. Cut someone's head off with it, and the neck stub will be cauterized. Stab them and leave the blade in long enough, and they might catch on fire.

"But the other one was a sister blade. It had a black handle wrapped in dark blue leather, and its blade would go through anything as well. But instead of fire, you got ice. Behead 'em and the neck stump would be frozen over. Stab someone, and it has the same effect as dipping them in liquid nitrogen. Instant corpsicle. Push 'em over and watch 'em shatter. Again, it had some Japanese name that loosely translated to 'ice blade'. There were two swords."

"That sounds like a really sorry weapon list for a really awful and over-enthusiastic teenage role-player," Jade commented. "But then, every magic weapon I hear of does. Isn't it wonderful how life can imitate a really stupid imagination? So, Eli uses the fire blade. Where the hell is the ice blade?"

I sat up and pushed away from Aerael, leaning forward as I rested my arms on my knees. "The ice blade was mine, I remember that. But Eli didn't want me to have it until I was old enough and responsible enough use it. He had it hid somewhere in the house.I just don't know where. But he trained me specifically in both Kenjutsu and Kendo so I could use a katana. I don't know squat about rapiers or broadswords, which really limits far as sword fighting goes. And unless I can find some way of disarming him, that's the only option I see."

"And if you did disarm him?" Jade asked.

"Well, then there would be the option of hand to hand, or grabbing a handy pipe and beating his skull in. Either way, he'd have me beat. He's got a lifetime of experience and trains daily. I only had a few years, and I haven't done any of this in a long time. I probably won't have any better a chance with the sword...but it just feels right. I need that sword. And it's unfortunately in a house in the middle of West Texas."

A nasty-sounding snigger erupted from Morte. "West Texas? What self-respecting demon hunter makes his home in West Texas?"

"One that likes lots of flat, open, treeless ground so he can see what's coming. You just can't sneak up on a guy that lives in the middle of desert nowhere. Plus Texans don't yell about outdoor gun practice as much as other states do. Not that there was anyone around for ten I said, the middle of nowhere. There weren't even any animals...which meant every car, every figure was suspect. Great set-up. But it's also in Texas, and we're in New York."

"And I don't have a private jet?" Jade inquired politely. "Take the jet, go to Texas, find the sword, come back, kill Eli. Simple."

"Except I don't know what kind of boobie traps he's set outside around the house since I've been gone. I'd probably blow myself up just trying to get into the house."

She frowned, drumming her nails against one coil. "What about inside the house?"

"He didn't really trap the inside of the house that much. He always said if something actually made it past all the crap outside, they'd earned the right to come in. Still, it's a moron that attacks a hunter on his own territory. I don't remember anything even trying...well, a kitten made it to the front door once."

"Did he kill it?" Morte asked.

"Not until I was 13 and it tried to claw his eyes out for slicing my arm open from elbow to shoulder." I shuddered and curled up against Aerael again. "He made kitty tartare out of it."

Jade ignored us both, which bothered me. She should have laughed her ass off at the image. Well, if she still had an ass, she would have. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, wondering what was going on in that deviant mind of hers.

"Jade, you know I hate it when you're quiet," I told her. "When you're quiet, you're thinking. When you're thinking, bad things happen to me."

She waved one hand, frowning. "I think I know a way to get you into the house without having to bother with jets and dodging land mines in the front lawn...I'm just not sure how eager you're going to be to try it. It involves putting a hell of a lot of trust in me and someone you've never even met."

Uncoiling, she started to slither off towards the bedrooms, gesturing with one hand. "Come on. Bring the boys if it makes you feel better."

I glanced at Morte and Aerael, shrugged, then got up and followed her. They trailed close behind. Jade slithered into her bedroom, then stopped us with one hand.

"Here. Wait here. I'll be right back."

It was a trick I'd seen her pull before, but it was still unnerving. Jade keeps her room almost totally dark except for one candle sitting on a table in the middle of the room. It throws some pretty creepy shadows on the walls and corners, which was exactly what she wants. Without another word, she moved to the corner where a shadow was particularly black, then passed right into it. The blackness swallowed her up completely.

"That is so weird," I muttered. "But I've seen this. What's her point?"

She finally reappeared about twenty minutes later with a surprise in her arms. Curled up against her, content as could be, was a young Oriental child of about four dressed in little Chinese pajamas. Her fine black hair was pulled into little dogears on each side of her head, and she was yawning sleepily against Jade's neck.

"This is Mei Lin," Jade said cheerfully, giving the kid a squeeze. "Isn't she adorable?"

"What the hell did you just do?" I gasped. "Sneak out of her closet and grab her?"

"Of course not!" Jade exclaimed indignantly. "I'm a bed monster. I crawled out from under her bed and grabbed her."

"That's...that's so wrong! You can't grab kids out of their beds."

"Hey, Mei Lin doesn't follow the rules." Jade grinned and tickled the little girl under her chin, making her giggle. "She doesn't sleep under the covers, she doesn't sleep with a night light, and she doesn't close her closet door. Mei Lin likes monsters, you see."

"So did you, when you were her age," Aerael said, bored. "Does this have a point, Jade?"

"Why, yes it does, one I'm sure you've already guessed, Aerael darling." Jade smiled nastily at me and hefted Mei Lin up for view. "This little one lives in San Francisco's Chinatown. And it took me, what? About fifteen, twenty minutes to go get her?"

Then it clicked. "Wait. You're not suggesting I let you take me off through the Shadow Realms to get to my house, are you?"

"No. I couldn't run fast enough to get you through there before the other monsters ate you. But I know someone who's not only a lot faster, but also a lot bigger. He'll get you through, plus slap down anyone that tries to get in his way. He's good about that. But you'd have to ride piggyback and blindfolded. Think you could trust a monster that much?"

"Why blindfolded?"

"You're not a monster, and you're half-human. The sight of my home would not only drive you insane, but it'd cause you to go blind and deaf as well...and mute. I think that's happened too."

"The kid wasn't blindfolded," Morte pointed out.

"Yes, well, Mei Lin here is going to be a monster when she grows up. So it doesn't bother her. But you, on the other hand, couldn't handle it."

"Ever get the feeling you're missing out on something?" I asked the ceiling above as Jade set the child down and started rummaging around for a blindfold. Aerael grinned and pinned me to his chest with arms and wings, completely engulfing me.

"Monsters aren't so much born as recruited," he said, tightening his hold briefly in a hug. "All those tales of monsters in the closet, under the bed, in the shadows...they aren't looking for children who are afraid. They're looking for the ones that aren't."

"And when one's found," Jade broke in, voice muffled as it came through layers of feathers, "one or two monsters will stick to the kid like glue, slowly making sure they become the most important people in their lives. They'll condone every naughty little habit the kid picks up and makes sure he or she listens to them over their parents. They take them for little field trips into the shadow realms. All this can really have a 'negative' effect on the growing child, and as they do grow up, they start looking less and less human, start hating the light...until they finally just walk into the shadows and don't come out."

"That's awful," I said, raising my voice to be heard outside of the wings. "And wasn't that the plot of a really bad Howie Mandel movie back in the 80s?"

"Trust me, what we do isn't near as cute as that movie. No friendly little monsters hiding in the shadows. We never pretend to be anything other than the nasty customers we are...but a kid destined for the shadows doesn't see us like 'normal' people do. And it's not like we're corrupting them...okay, it is, but this is in them from birth, Carlie doll. All the monsters do is capitalize on it."

I pushed my way out of Aerael's feathered embrace and stared at her. "Does this mean you used to be human?"

She grinned as she pulled a black silk scarf out of a drawer. "Oh yeah. I had an awesome time as a kid. I even got my bed monster friend to eat my mom's pervert of a boyfriend. It was great. Anyway, this'll have to do. Keep your eyes closed under it if you can, okay?"

Morte suddenly spoke up. "Can your friend carry two?"

She blinked. "Uh, probably. Why? You gonna go as well?"

"I think someone needs to. The house is going to have to be searched. The more people looking, the faster it'll be found. Besides, Carlie's gonna need the support."

"He's got a point," I admitted. "That house is gonna distract me."

"Fine." She rummaged through the drawer and pulled out another scarf, this one dark green, and flung it at him. "I hope this works."

"You hope this works," I grumbled as she tied the silk tightly around my eyes. "You're not the one who's gonna be monster kibble if you're wrong."


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