I crashed back into the grayness and the demon was waiting. I felt his claws rip through me even though I knew -- hell, I hoped -- it was all in my mind. Pain fired through me making me want to scream out, but I kept still and thought of what Harry and Simon would do to this creature once they surfaced. I was holding on to the thought of the sheer pain they'd shove down its dark throat into its gullet.
"Natasha? Are you with me now?" He was giggling and happy. Even though I couldn't see him, I could feel the joy he felt at hurting me. I wished him a pain-filled death -- not that demons died easily, from what I'd heard. Picturing him suspended on a spit shoved through his core and slowly roasting above a fire gave me a warm feeling.
Ignoring the pain I said, "Everything and more." I kept trying to thrust myself back but it wasn't happening. His claws were firmly imbedded in my mind if not my body. I couldn't see anything in the nothingness -- neither the Botanical Building of Balboa Park, nor the past bit of Civil War South Carolina. I was lost in the pain and pushed to escape to no avail.
"You aren't going anywhere this time, Natasha. I made sure. Tell me where you are and what is happening right now." It wasn't a request but a command. I didn't respond well to highhanded tactics, especially from monsters that were actively hurting me. Rage flooded through me and in my mind I let my fangs flow into my mouth and lashed out at the invisible creature. In the mist I was able to connect mentally with both Simon and Harry. A window into their minds I hadn't realized existed until I began trying to lash out. Both Simon and Harry were startled by the mental connection and found the invading demon easily. Together they rushed in to help with words of control and tinted with magic. As the demon's claws were removed, I found to my shock I didn't land at the vampires' feet, but instead was back watching Charles and Renee ... With a feeling of being in two worlds at once I watched the Civil War time flood into and through me.
1863: South Carolina by Willow's home ...
Blood covered him and the no-longer white snow at his feet. The intensity of scents and colors threatened to overwhelm Charles while the death of the female werewolf raced through him via the sword. It no longer glowed blue-purple. Slowly, Charles looked around where the werewolves had been shooting at Willow's home, and quickly figured out that the couple had nearly exhausted their supply of arrows when he'd found them. Not that it mattered. They'd been poison in Beau's garden of future blood donors, not to mention that they had a skill that he hadn't realized werewolves possessed. Vampires were well known for their ability to cloud the minds of their victims, but to discover that werewolves could wipe clean the thoughts and memories of humans was disconcerting for Charles.
He whistled sharply and waved his hand over his head. Renee slowly came out of the house and saw Charles. She whistled back and waved at him understanding he was giving her the all-clear sign. Looking at the bodies Charles pondered the dead human male and the shifted werewolf. He sighed and looked at his sword. When he'd found the werewolves shooting the arrows at Willow's home, he hadn't thought how he was going to dispose of them. The bodies would have to be destroyed, but he didn't have the tools with him. Taking his time, Charles made his way back to the house. The snow he walked through was soon darkened with the blood he'd spilled. The trail he'd left would have to be cleaned up along with the corpses.
Renee met him just at the property line with a look.
"I know. I need to clean up before Wren sees me," he sighed as he regarded his ruined clothing. He didn't know what he'd wear while his clothes were mended and cleaned, but the child didn't need to witness how bad the fight had been. It was obvious by the spattering of gore currently decorating him that there had been a death or two.
She lifted her head and sniffed, "Werewolves?"
"Yes." He didn't add anything more, but began stripping off his clothing and dropping them just inside the doorway of the mudroom. His skin wasn't cold and he was still flushed from the fight and the power released from the sword.
Renee sighed and said, "Seeing you nearly naked won't be any better for her."
She went inside and came back with a large cotton shirt. It was well worn and showed signs of having been carefully mended. "At least it'll cover a bit of you."
Charles picked up a handful of fresh snow and roughly scrubbed off the bits of blood and fur on his exposed skin. Turning his shirt inside out he dabbed off the larger bits and mopped up the wet. The adrenaline rush from the slaying of the werewolves was wearing off, as was the energy from using the sword. The blade rested against the house with nothing to indicate it had been used. Charles tried to recall if he'd wiped the sword off after killing the werewolves and he couldn't recall that he had. It was like the metal drank in the werewolves' blood.
Renee handed over the borrowed shirt and grinned as he put it on and it fell nearly to his mid thigh. "Looks like Jasper's a larger man than you."
He sighed, "Fair enough. But these werewolves couldn't be the only ones. They travel in packs far larger than vampire clans. The alpha will know that his two weres are dead."
"But why are these werewolves here? I mean, this makes no sense." Renee followed Charles inside, trying to figure out why the male had raped Rose.
"I think it's because Beau and you targeted this town." Charles said softly. It was the only thing that seemed to make sense to him. Vampires and werewolves had been fighting for territory for decades, and with Beau's blood donor program, he could see why the werewolves would want to mark their own territory.
"But can male werewolves make baby werewolves with women?" Renee said softly pausing near the living room. Her voice was pitched for his ears alone and Charles replied equally as softly, "I don't know, but Rose will be finding out."
I felt a tug and I was back in the gray.
"Natasha, my child, are you here? Wake up." My Master's voice was back inside my head. Simon was completely connected to me again. And I found out that I wasn't watching the rest of Charles and Renee's story. Had it been real? Where was I? My body ached but I didn't hear the unseen demon taunting me.
My eyes snapped open and I could see Simon bent over me. His face was creased with signs of worry. Harry hovered just behind him. Renee was standing back a bit, and I saw she looked hollowed out. It was like someone had reached inside her and scooped out her life. Carlos and Marcus were standing next to Jasmine. She was still inside her protective circle but not uttering a word. Both Carlos and Marcus had changed back to their human forms and were wearing just pants. The carnage from the San Diego Zoo escapees still littered the ground. The sight of the still-cooling bodies of the various predatory animals we'd slain let me know that I hadn't been gone for days, much less months like it had seemed.
All of them were staring at me like I had sprouted horns. Once that thought was in my mind I automatically reached up with my left hand to make sure it wasn't true. Thankfully nothing poked out of my head. The now glowing familiar Civil War sword that I'd last seen in Charles' hand was still in my right hand. I could see it was currently radiating lightly a shade of blue that was nearly painful. It wasn't the blue-green or blue-purple from vampire and werewolf slayings but sky blue. It felt warm in my hand.
Simon said, "Natasha, how do you feel?"
I slowly answered, "Odd."
Renee shook her head and met my eyes. Somehow she knew that I'd seen her past. I wasn't sure how but she did. She wanted to talk to me, I could tell, but I didn't see any way to get time to chitchat just at the moment.
Jasmine wrung her hands and said, "I am sorry."
"Why?" Harry whirled on her and demanded, "Why do you feel like this is your fault?"
Just like that I knew, slowly sitting up with Simon bracing my back with a comforting hand, I answered, "Because it is her fault."
"How?" Marcus was looking at us all with a skeptical glance. Shooting him a darker look of my own I said, "Jasmine opened the door up when she let the dead vampire Miguel use her body. The demon that just played with me was from her crack between the worlds."
A crystal teardrop rolled down her face. It wasn't the typical tear of a human but glowed with inner fire. She wiped off the tear with a flat palm and said, "She's right. I caused all of this." Her wet hand sketched across the landscape of death still gleaming like she was holding a firefly in her hand and she added, "When I broke the spell the witches had cast on Simon and Harry. Miguel, the vampire ghost, who was inside me -- he reached out to try to regain some of his former glory. Seeing his murderer before him gave him massive strength and he pushed with all of his formerly overfed soul. He was a strong vampire when he ruled his territory and he pulled from every memory and every bit of his past to reinforce his bid for immortality. The hole I made with my spell then chopped off the ties between all of you vampires. Master to Fledgling, and those of you who'd fed with and on each other. The shift in the balance enhanced everyone's skills. Supernatural and natural talents were sharpened. The wave of power flooded outward -- once the werewolves added their voices, it was like the wild magic in the area was called and the zoo animals began to exhibit the same enchantments that vampires and werewolves had. That was why they came for us. But they didn't have the power of vampires or werewolves, to their demise. I fought to regain control but instead something darker than any of us pushed through and grabbed Natasha when nobody was looking."
"Why am I freed now?" I asked.
"Because the demon couldn't ride you and these five wanted you back. They fought against the fog that surrounded you, making your body flicker in and out of this plane of existence. They all called for you and together the vampires and werewolves bonded, and were able to push the demon from this world back to the hell state where it belonged. And with its being vanquished, you were able to get back here and stay." She made it sound so normal. I looked at the werewolves and vampires who'd been my companions for what seemed like a lifetime in the past few weeks and nodded. How to thank them would be something I would puzzle over for nights, but right now we needed to clean up the mess we'd made of the Lily Pond at Balboa and head out.
Harry seemed to read my mind.
"Well, that is definitely isn't what I expected when I called you for your help." He was looking at Jasmine directly and somewhat searchingly.
"No, but then magic finds its own level and isn't always willing to follow commands." She said it with a slight curved smile. An inner secret to her use of magic seemed to amuse her while we all looked at her in complete amazement. To hear that magic wasn't willing to be controlled at the whim of a witch struck us as more than a bit scary. We all met each other's eyes and shook our heads slightly. We knew that we'd be discussing this all at another time and definitely in another place.
"That will have to wait -- we need to leave." Simon nodded to the sound of sirens in the distance. I didn't know that they were coming for us but it was safe to assume we needed to go. Still haunted by the shifts in time and locations, I was overcome with a sense that my life had just become even more unusual than it had been. With a gentle hand, my Master led me out of Balboa Park and back into the night.
13 December 2010
6:32 pm EST