Dusk hit, and the call was sent out to the friends and family of the three leaders gathered in the clearing... it was a gigantic field with lush green grass, and the Sycamore Tree was in the center. The Sycamore Tree stood tall and proud, its branches stretching out like the arms of a guardian, their leaves forming a natural canopy overhead. It wasn't long before night fell, but the torches and candles cast an ethereal light and were lit around the tree in a circle. They illuminated the massive field around the Sycamore Tree, and the various faces looked on. At the base of the tree stood the three future leaders of the Sycamore Tree Coven... ten years younger. Ashley had her long hair but had notable braces in her mouth, Daisy looked roughly the same, and Auri had far shorter hair tied in a neat bun that stuck out from the back of her head. Auri held a rolled-up piece of tapestry in her hands, and she smiled at Ashley. Daisy nodded her head at the girl as Ashley took a step forward and shouted,
"Everyone! Friends, families, and everyone else! Let me start by saying thank you all for coming here to hear us all out! Let me cut to the chase; we all have magic, and all have been dealing with the chaos of the Stygian Snake. Many of us have been facing it alone, but trust me... that comes to an end tonight!"
She shouted that last word as she pointed towards the sky; her eyes glanced and met each person.
"I've seen what it can do, and let me tell you, this is about survival! It's about protecting the people we care about and our home, St. Portwell! The Stygian Snake doesn't care about our world or the people here! It's here to destroy everything and stop at nothing until it gets what it wants! I believe that if we place our hearts and minds together, we have the power to stop the damn thing! It won't be easy, but I believe in you all. We've got the grit! We've got the skills! We've got the magic!"
Ashley's hand lowered, and she took a deep breath with her eyes closed before they opened. She continued,
"So I propose we ally against the bastard... let's call it a Coven. I know it's corny..."
Auri stepped forward, and she shouted, pointing upwards at the tree while holding the tapestry in her other hand, "The Sycamore Tree Coven! Named after this! Very! Tree!" After speaking, she placed the white tapestry on the ground and grabbed the Butterfly Staff she had slung across her shoulder. She held it with two hands and slammed the bottom on the floor, and a kaleidoscope of ethereal, glowing butterfly Apparitions came out the bottom like a wave. Flowing out in all directions, they quickly grabbed the tapestry and lifted it...
... revealed the Coven's own symbol on the white piece of tapestry, the one that Auri had painted herself!
"St. Portwell and everyone we love needs us! The Stygian Snake preys on chaos, fear, and hatred! As the Sycamore Tree Coven, we will end its rampage once and for all! We will put aside all of our differences! We will stand as a united front against the Stygian Snake and make sure it never threatens us again! So, who is with me!?"
"... Sounds like a fucking cult!" A young boy's voice spoke up, laughing... and that young boy was a sixteen-year-old with black, spiky hair. It was none other than Drake Blackmore.
"Drake, shut up!" His older sister, the eldest of the Blackmore siblings, Victoria Blackmore, chimed in. Like Ashley, she had braces and stood with a hand on her hip. She turned towards the three leaders and shouted, "I stand with you, Ashley!"
"You know I have to see where this goes, Ash!" Another girl, a black girl with curly hair and slim, didn't shout but raised her voice enough so that Ashley and the others could hear her. It was Lynette Dominguez.
"Que diable... Count me in." Alizée said, her gaze passing over the group before landing on Ashely.
"You know I'll follow you to the ends of the earth, sis!" A young Lionel Hunter was the next to speak.
"... Do I... Do I have a choice!?!?!?" Next to him, the ten-year-old Ripley Hunter spoke; he leaned onto his older brother's side.
"No, Ripley, you do not." Daisy firmly said.
"So we're only being asked to join as a formality," said Sloane Faris, dressed in all black, arms crossed, the disinterest in her voice making it impossible to tell if she was making an accusation or a mere observation. She shrugged and said, "Whatever. I'm in."
"... I'll help! F-for my f-family!" Kura Yoshia chimed in, trying to sound valiant, but stuttered.
"If Kura's in, I'm in! Don't expect me to pull punches; just stay out of my way, and maybe you all won't get hurt!" Amy Nakamura shouted as she leaned forward on her iron club; her placement was next to Kura.
"Ye better not be countin' me out!" A spirited decree, which undoubtedly escaped the mouth of Eksa Thresh due to the unmistakable Scottish accent, cut through as she posed her hands onto her hips. "I reckon you'll need all the help ye can get, aye?"
A giant girl with a curly black Afro stepped forward with her hands on her hips and shouted, "Was it ever in doubt? I'm in!" Samatha Alger was her name.
"Of course, I stand with you." A young Jinhai Han said with a smile that didn't reach his dark eyes. He nudged Linqian, who stood beside him, arms crossed and a perpetual scowl on her lips.
"This is stupid," Linqian muttered. Another nudge from Jinhai, and she rolled her eyes, saying, "Whatever, I'm in."
"Me, and Nikki, are in!" Amanda Blackmore shouted, touching her timid younger cousin's shoulder as she raised her fist valiantly.
“If we don't stop the Stygian Snake, it could mean the end of everything we know and love! I will fight for you!" Britney Williams, a girl almost as tall as Samantha Alger, spoke, raising her hand.
"I'm in if he's in," Tayla said, nudging James.
"I'm most definitely in!" James said.
“You have my sword!" Drake shouted, laughing.
"Draaaaake! This is serious!" Victoria shot her head towards her younger brother, "Stop fooling around!"
Seeing all the people willing to fight to protect St. Portwell made Ashley smile... a tear of joy dripped down her cheek as she took off her channeler, a Sharktooth necklace, and raised it. With tears of joy coming down her face, she shouted,
"EVERYONE! RAISE YOUR CHANNELERS, WANDS, AND WHATNOT!"
"... What if we don't have one?" Samantha asked, with her arms crossed and one eyebrow raised.
Ashley's hand went directly into her face, and she groaned before she said,
"Then just raise your hands! Something! I don't know!"
At this time, Drake raised his channeler, his wooden sword made out of nails and gorilla glue. Victoria, his sister, presented one of her favorite books, which operated as her channeler. Amy raised her club in the air. Lionel raised his pocket knife into the air. Auri raised the butterfly staff, and Daisy raised an old toy that was her channeler. Everyone, one by one, raised their hands or whatever object they had on hand.
"Now repeat after me!" Ashley shouted before she recited the chant, the Sycamore Tree Coven's creed that Auri devised...
"Beneath the sprawling canopy of the sycamore tree's wisdom, we united in the sacred dance of destiny. Cloaked in the tapestry of twilight and wielding incantations of yore, we became the harbingers of the Stygian Snake's destruction. Intertwining destiny with our magic to rewrite the tale of shadows into one where the serpentine darkness recoiled before our radiant might!" She shouted...
It took a moment before the newly formed Sycamore Tree Coven recited it back at her. Some voices were off, but they had the right spirit...
"...Beneath the sprawling canopy of the sycamore tree's wisdom, we united in the sacred dance of destiny. Cloaked in the tapestry of twilight and wielding incantations of yore, we became the harbingers of the Stygian Snake's destruction. Intertwining destiny with our magic to rewrite the tale of shadows into one where the serpentine darkness recoiled before our radiant might!"
"... Oh, we are so a fucking cult!" Drake chuckled.
"Drake, shut the fuck up already!" Victoria chided him.
Nikki Watanabe, Amanda, & Victoria Blackmore
The Blackmore Manor.
A black Dodge charger with tinted windows rolled up in front of the Blackmore Manor... at least that is the cutesy name that the Blackmore siblings gave the house. The door to the vehicle opened, and Drake Blackmore came out, wearing a hoodie, blue jeans, and some running shoes - he reached into his car, pulled out a giant duffle bag, and threw it over his shoulder - he felt the October breeze hit him and remind him of the time of year it was. He walked up to the front pathways of the Blackmore manor. It was in the middle of nowhere, and Drake had fond memories of the place; he remembered playing there with friends and family as a child. Though, now that Adam was dead, there was an air of grief that was omnipresent throughout the house - but it was far better than staying in the old apartment that he and Jade had shared. Even though it cost Drake more money in the long run, he broke his lease and moved back home. The stone house was between a mansion and a regular house and had plenty of room for Drake. He walked up to the front door and heard the sounds of babies crying inside.
It made that oppressive feeling of dread and sadness so much better. He still had the key, which he dug out of his pocket and stuck in the lock, turned it, and opened the door.
"... Who the hell is that?!" Drake heard a voice unmistakably Victoria... he turned his head to the left. He saw the kitchen - where the source of the crying was coming from - and saw his older sister running up... but various kitchen knives, forks, butterknives, and other pointy objects were floating around her. "... Drake?" She said, dropping her telekinesis Spell, and the various kitchenware fell to the ground.
"DRAKE!" Victoria shouted as she ran over and gave her little brother a big old hug! "It's been so long!"
"Yeah, I know," Drake said, with a chuckle.
"What brings you back?" Victoria took a step back and looked up at Drake... but she forgot that she was not... dressed for company. She wore a tank top that was pretty much see-through, without a bra, and gave her little brother a great view of her areolas.
Drake gagged, holding his mouth with a fist as he turned away.
"What's wrong...?" Victoria asked as she looked down and remembered. "Oh..."
Victoria shrugged as she put a hand on her hip and said,
"Well, you gotta remember, Drake, only girls have lived here since you left."
It was dinner time at the Blackmore Family dinner table, and Victoria had changed to something more appropriate: a bright pink hoodie with NIKE on the front and long sweatpants. Drake was sitting at the head of the table where his father, Adam, used to sit. With Victoria's twins Stephany and Catherina to his left on a high chair, they significantly calmed down and played with toys on the high chair table. To the right of them was Amanda Blackmore, wearing a pink hoodie, sweatpants, and Nike slides. Across from Amanda was Nikki... who Drake was surprised to see here. She wore a tank top (thankfully, she had a bra on) and short shorts that did not accentuate her figure. It wasn't long before Victoria came from the kitchen; she gave the twins their food on plastic dinnerware made for children. Then she returned with food for the rest of the Blackmore Siblings (and Nikki): Chicken, greens, and mac and cheese - all unseasoned because that is important to note.
The twins began eating their food, and Drake's first bite was a bite of mac and cheese. The dinner table was silent, as there was an elephant in the room that no one present wanted to address. Drake was the one to break the silence as he said,
"... So, Auri wants to reassemble the Coven," Drake said.
"I know," Victoria said.
"Yeah, me too!" Amanda said. "I don't know what the fuck she's expecting!"
"Amanda!" Victoria chided Amanda. "Not in front of the twins." She narrowed her eyes at her.
"Oh, sorry, my bad."
"And I take it none of you want to rejoin?" Drake asked the Blackmores (and Nikki).
"I'm doing things right now, and I don't have time to play witch," Nikki answered, finally speaking (but Drake was used to that from Nikki), then shrugged. "I'm sorry about what happened to Ashley, but I don't like Auri."
"Yeah, the fu- the freak she expects to happen?" Amanda asked. "She gathers the Scooby gang, and what? They solve the mystery with the power of love and friendship?" She chuckled, rolling her eyes.
"Frenchie should leave this to the St. Portwell PD because... it don't work like that," Amanda laughed.
"I would love to join, but I have a lot on my plate right now... you know I got a new job with the FBI..." Victoria glanced at Amanda and Nikki, and they nodded their heads. "... And this is the first time I got off for a few weeks since I joined. So I'm focusing on me and the twins."
"But you know about the murders..." Drake was silent; he lowered his head and sighed. "Any one of you could be next."
"Yes, I am aware," Victoria answered and tried her best not to remind Drake about Jade. "But... we'll be okay. Trust me."
"Well, Auri wants us to meet her at her flower shop; I'm... going to hear her out," Drake said with a sigh.
"See!" Amanda heartily said, throwing her arms behind her head and leaning back in the chair. "You'll get to the bottom of this for us."
"Amanda, sit normal," Victoria said with a roll of her eyes, and Amanda grumbled as she sat down normally. "Look, Drake... I know you're still..." Victoria quickly changed routes. "... a grown man, but please be careful. This is serious, and I'm not sure if Auri herself is innocent."
"Heh, you know me, Vic," Drake said, "I'll be okay."
"I hope so," Victoria sighed.
Afterward, Drake finished her food, and after checking his phone, he realized it was time for the first meeting of the reformed Sycamore Tree Coven. He left his duffle bag in his old room, walked outside towards his car, and got in... Where was this place again? Drake thought to himself as he typed in the address to Flowers and Canvases; it said it was a thirty-minute drive. Figures. They lived on the outskirts of St. Portwell, after all.
Drake pulled a U-turn and sped off towards the first meeting of the Coven.
Let's see what Auri has in store.
Downtown St. Portwell.
St. Portwell was beginning to wind up as rush hour started; the downtown area did not see much activity, given that it was another Monday. So, the homeless population was free to sleep and otherwise stand around on the streets. A woman was lying down on a blanket that she had stolen; she was older with blonde hair that was heavily matted and dirty, wearing a sweater that was ripped to pieces, and had no shoes. She did what she did best, lied down, and waited for some kind soul to donate her some cash...
... She noticed someone standing over top of her. Someone huge. A freakishly tall woman wearing a blue-checkered pattern button-up shirt, jeans, and some black flats... holding a tote bag in both hands in front of her. "Hey there!"
The homeless woman didn't respond, and Britney laid the tote bag before her. "In here are toiletries. Stuff like toothpaste, baby wipes, a toothbrush, a washcloth - Oh! And lots of bottled water and some food that you don't need to heat up! No need to thank me. Take care!" Britney waved goodbye to the homeless woman as the woman was speechless, and Britney heard the woman digging through the tote bag as she departed.
That's good enough for today. Time to meet Lynette.
Downtown St. Portwell - The St. Portwell Park.
It was a short walk from the downtown area over to the famous St. Portwell Park; it was a Monday, and children were off playing in the distance. Britney had one destination; she glanced at her phone and saw a text from Lynette telling her that she grabbed their usual spot. She walked through the parks and made it to the park where there wereconcrete chess tables with chairs... eventually, her gaze met Lynette's Domínguez's afro, and she smiled. The table had black pieces for Lynette and white pieces for Britney. She sat down and said,
"Let's get started; you know these chairs start to hurt my butt after a while," Britney said with a smile.
"I'm going to ask the mayor to install padding to accommodate your big ol' butt," Lynette said with a chuckle, "Make the first move."
"Gladly!" Britney said with a chipper tone as she moved one of the pieces.
"... Let's just address the elephant in the room, shall we?" Lynette said, grabbing her metal water bottle and taking a swig. "... You got the call Auri put out, right?"
"Did you take it?" Lynette asked as she moved a piece.
"I... told her I was going to come... but I'm not sure now..." Britney's voice got shaky; she grabbed a piece and was damn near ready to drop it. "... I did some things, and everyone... hated me." She sighed.
"Not everyone," Lynette said with a wide smile, "I admit, what you did was... messed up to say the least... but you keep forgetting..." Lynette smiled.
"... You were only sixteen at the time," Lynette chuckled again before she shrugged as she moved a different piece. "And at the end of the day, you messed up, you realized what you did was messed up, you got kicked out, the Coven disbanded, and everyone moved on with their lives. I'd be surprised if anyone actually remembered it."
"Thanks... I needed that, but I'm curious,"
"Are you joining the new Coven?"
"I'll think about it; it was fun, and I love all of you guys... I have other things in my life that I have to sort out first; maybe once those things have been sorted, I'll join..."
"Girl..." Britney had to contain her rage at the statement. She just couldn't and stood up, slamming her hands on the chess board, throwing all the chess pieces everywhere. Then she said, "Someone is killing us, and you're treating it like this is some book club."
"... And a minute ago, you said you weren't sure you were going to go because you still think people are holding onto old grudges," Lynette chuckled before she whispered. "Look, trust me, I understand the gravity of what is going on... and trust me, I am confident you all will get to the bottom of this and stop...."
"... Father Wolf."
"But - Look, I'm going to be honest..." Lynette leaned forward, "... I'm a part of something, and if I rejoined, that'll create a sort of..."
She trailed off, shaking her head as she looked for the words.
"... Conflict of interest."
"I'm not a fan of keeping secrets, Lynette,"
"And neither am I, but trust me,"
"Just what are you ap-"
Lynette's phone rang on the chess table, and Britney caught a glimpse of the caller ID before Lynette snatched it. Regional... something? Lynette pressed the phone to her ear, and Britney just shook her head as she walked off, grumbling to Lynette,
"This isn't over, Lynette."
However, checking her phone reminded her that it was past time to meet the Coven. Oh, well... it was probably easier for Britney to show up late, anyway. Thus, Britney made her way to Auri's store; it wasn't that far away.
Auri Auclair, Justin Haggar, & Lauren Jones.
Flowers and Canvases.
It was the big day!
Auri stood behind the register with a chipper smile on her face... her plan was to close her flower shop, Flowers and Canvases, early, but unfortunately, there was an old lady who liked to take her time perusing her wares. So, Auri stood behind the register, all chipper as she stared at the lady... Laurey was off trying to sweep up the areas she could without the old lady. However, when the lady turned her back, Auri leaned in and looked at her phone on the counter. She quickly swiped through and went to her text messages...
Justin wasn't answering.
"... You have a great day, dear!" The old lady said as she finally left, and Auri gave her a weak goodbye as she darted towards the door and turned the OPEN sign around to CLOSED and locked the door. She quickly turned towards Laurey as she grabbed a broom, "Laurey! We must hurry up! They're going to be here any minute." She began sweeping like a mad woman.
"... What are we cleaning up for again?" Laura Jones asked with a raised eyebrow as she briefly paused.
"Oh! Nothing! I'm just having a reunion with some friends! We're doing a new book club!"
"Uh-huh," Lauren just shrugged as she continued cleaning, and Auri continued cleaning up. It wasn't long until the flower shop was swept up, and Auri whipped out the mop. She began mopping the floor, and wished she had the butterfly staff on her.
... Someone knocked on the door, and Auri whipped her head around to tell them they were closed. However, it was Justin Haggar! Her beloved boyfriend, holding two foldable chairs in his hands. She smiled as she ran towards the door, unlocked it, and gave Justin a peck on the cheek as she squeezed past him to go to his white sedan... in the passenger seat was the Butterfly Staff, and she opened the door and grabbed it. The rest of the chairs were in the backseat, and she slung the staff over her shoulder as a mass of glowing butterfly Apparitions came out of the staff. They engulfed the remaining foldable chairs and floated inside the flower store.
Fortunately, Laurey had her back turned, and the streets were pretty empty around this time. They quickly set up in the middle of the flower shop, forming row after row after row... and Laurey turned her back, and the chairs were neatly arranged. She laughed,
"Damn girl, you must be serious about this!" Lauren laughed.
"... Your book club?" Justin asked.
"Not just any book club," Auri proudly announced with her hands on her hips. "My witch-themed book club!"
"Explains why you got that around," Lauren incredulously pointed at the Butterfly staff in her hands.
"Oh, uh, yes!" Auri said. "But, your services are no longer required, Laurey. I'll add a few extra hours to your check today!"
"Oh, thanks!" As she removed her green apron, Laurey said, "The Jazz Queens are having a show tonight. You should come."
"Oh? I would love to, but I think I'm going to be very busy... next time, though."
"Heh, suit yourself; it's going to be lit..." Lauren said as she walked out the door, "Later."
When Lauren Jones left, Auri wrapped her arms around Justin, shouting, "JUSTY! Love you Justy!"
"Love you too," Justin said, running his hands through Auri's hair.
There was a brief silence as Auri grabbed Justin's ass. Then, the moment of truth came...
"... Where are the snacks?"
"AWWWWWWWWW, DID YOU FORGET THE SNACKS?!"
Auri put her hands against Justin and "pushed" him out the door, shouting, "Hurry up and go get them! Get something! ANYTHING! They're going to be here any minute now."
"OKAY!" Justin shouted back as Auri closed the door and sighed.
She was not lying.
They were going to be here any minute now!
The 8th Street Coven, & Lynette Domínguez.
The St. Portwell Woods.
"Hurry up! We got shit to do!"
Emily shouted at her underlings as she stood in the middle of a clearing... she was deep in the St. Portwell woods on the edge of the city limits alongside her 8th Street Coven. Any further out, they'd enter the redneck towns that surround the city, and Emily would instead die then step foot there. Except this clearing in the woods was the aftermath of chaos: trees burned and knocked out, craters in the ground, rock fixtures sprouting, and water and debris everywhere. Emily took a step, and her hiking boots were coated in mud... thankfully, they were hiking boots. Emily looked up and saw that the sun was setting over the ocean... which meant they should hurry the fuck up. Their objective for today? Find the Apparition Killer... Emily had reason to believe it was out in the woods due to...
She gazed at the chaos and shook her head.
... Certain hints. Nonetheless, recovering the Apparition Killer was of the utmost priority. However, Emily slammed her foot on the ground, unintentionally splashing mud and water,
"HURRRRRRRY UP! BEFORE THOSE TREE-FUCKERS SHOW UP!"
She looked to the left... then to the right... then stormed over to her faithful second in command, Vashti Nour. "Vashti! Do you know where my sisters are? Weren't they right here?!"
"... I mean, they are your sisters," A voice chimed in... the Apparition that Emily was adjoined to, Babylon The Great. She was floating, as if she was longing in the air, with a smile. "What kind of older sister doesn't watch out for her younger sisters? Oh! I know, a very shitty one!"
"Babylon, FUCK OFF!"
"What? I'm just raising a point?" Babylon shrugged.
“Looks like rain, bro,” said Vashti as she held out her hand to check for drops, even though there wasn’t a rain cloud. She grinned at Babylon and cracked her knuckles, “Better hideaway now, Babby. Don’t want your fire to go out.”
The Apparition shrugged and said, “I can see where I’m not wanted. Toodles!” Babylon faded away, returning to Emily’s soul.
“And Emily, chill,” said Vashti, nudging her lightly on the shoulder. “If those Greenwood goofs show up, we can just throw some trash on the ground to keep them distracted. Anyway, they’re over there. Carol was crying about a twisted ankle, so Miranda is helping her out, and Jacqueline’s doing, you know, book things.”
Emily ignored most of what Vashti said save for the answer to her question. She caught the gaze of her two sisters and whistled, shouting,
“Jacqueline, Miranda, come here!”
Miranda perked up, looking at Emily, “Currently dealing with a sprained ankle… Nevermind.” The wound had instantly healed, and she walked over. Jacqueline had also presented herself. The two twins stood side by side.
Jacqueline, who was wearing hiking boots, jeans, and a denim jacket with the Expert’s Book nestled in her armpit, had said, “Are you finally ready to stop wasting our time? The Book said The Apparition Killer wasn’t here like three hours ago.”
“Shush!” Emily didn’t want to admit that she was wrong.
“Yes, and shouldn’t we be trying to help Annabelle?” Miranda was next to speak… She was ill-dressed for the occasion with a skirt and leggings, a sweater with black combat boots, and a little bowtie on her head.
“And Constance!” Jacqueline said.
“Yeah, just how are you okay with that?”
“I'm not, but don't you think we could use the Apparition Killer to help her?” Emily said, putting her hands on her hips.
The twins were silent.
“... Hello,” A voice spoke off to the side, one that Emily instantly recognized. Her head turned to see Lynette Dominguez standing on two undead hands she had summoned from the ground. Emily narrowed her eyes at her stilts and said,
“As always, Em,”
“Lynette!” Both Jacqueline and Miranda said as they ran and hugged Lynette. Lynette wrapped her arms around them.
“I missed you two!” Lynette said.
Emily almost gagged and kept her arms crossed as she said, “What? Are you finally off that bitch’s tit?” She didn’t even make eye contact.
Lynette laughed in response, “I see you’re stilll trying to play supervillain, Ms. Reed.” Her gaze went over to Vashti, “And I guess you are still the same if you’re still following her around?”
“Duh. Why change perfection?” said Vashti with a sweeping gesture as if she were presenting a prize on a gameshow before mirroring Emily’s crossed arms and cocking an eyebrow at Lynette. “What are you doing here, dude?”
“I’m here to chat with Emily… and see my two best friends!” Lynette smiled as she embraced Jacqueline and Miranda. “I tried to call you two, but… I was blocked. On everything. Funny that.”
“If you were blocked, that isn’t an invitation to come in person,” Emily firmly said as she crossed her arms, turning away from Lynette.
“That’s… weird,,” Jacqueline said as she pulled out her phone; she went straight to her blocked contacts and saw that Lynette was blocked. Then she went onto social media… Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram… “What the hell…?” She tilted her head before putting the Expert’s Book on the ground and opened it up… mentally asking how Lynette was blocked.
Emily went into your phone while you were asleep and blocked her.
The words jotted down across the singular page on the subject, and Jacqueline stood up, shouting, “EMILY!? WHAT THE FUCK?!” Grabbing the attention of the nearby members of the 8th Street Coven.
“... Just when are you two going to stop making excuses for Emily and face facts?” Lynette calmly said as she put a hand on her hip.
“And what are those facts, Lynette?”
“Ooooooh, nothing,” Lynette said as she rolled her eyes. “That you’re just a garbage person that has to resort to doing the lowest of lows just to stay relevant in someone’s life. But all you’ve done is doom yourself to becoming a different type of irrelevant. Like an annoying background noise that people turn the music up to ignore so they can go about their day.” Lynette gave Emily the biggest smile.
Emily gasped, put a hand on her chest, and replied with a “... And what makes you think you are soooooooo much better, then? If you forgot, you’re working for an actual despot. She’s like Emperor Palpatine, and you’re her Darth Vader.”
Emily put one foot forward, bent her knee, placed a hand on her hip, and flicked her hair like a diva as she said, “At least I can say I carved my path.”
“What makes me better than you? You know…”
“... My great personality, my smarts, my good looks, my wits… and my junk in the trunk.” She followed it up with laughter as she looked at Emily’s sad excuse for behind and said, “... Pancake.“
Emily’s face went red… then literally red as she ignited with red hot flames, infused with the faces of Babylon’s countless victims. They screamed out in pain as Emily balled her fists and growled.
“Emily!” Miranda got in between herself and Lynette with her arms outstretched… knowing that Emily would never chance it.
The fires disappeared, and Emily rolled her eyes with her arms crossed. “Look, if you’ve come here to pretend you got a sense of wit or something, then fuck off.” She answered.
“Hey now, you asked,” Lynette was not phased by the display and didn’t so much as flinch. Of course, she was right next to both of Emily’s sisters, so that could have been it. “Then let me get to the point…”
Lynette trailed before she added, “Now, I know you heard about the murders…”
“Don’t tell me you came all the way out here to accuse me?” Emily turned away from Lynette.
“No,” Lynette laughed, “I know you’re not responsible; you’re at least smarter than that.”
There was a brief silence before Lynette continued.
“I’m wondering if you know anything useful so I can get to the bottom of this?” Lynette said… and there was silence as Emily looked at Jacqueline; Jacqueline looked at Miranda, and then Miranda looked at Emily.
“... Of course not,” Emily responded with a roll of her eyes. “You know what happened to Ashley! Go look in instead of out!”
“Then, Jacqueline, can you use your book and inquire on the matter for me?” Lynette asked, and Jacqueline grimaced… she shook her head left and right.
“Look, Lynette…” Jacqueline trailed.
“Lemme guess... You have an excuse for why you can’t tell me. Maybe Emily does have something to do with it.”
“No, no, no!” Jacqueline said, waving her hands back and forth. “There’s… there’s a lot more to this than you think. If I told you… then that’d be the end of us.”
“... And I don’t think losing 8th Street would be bad,” Lynette answered.
“Good thing it doesn't matter what you think. Miranda, Jacqueline, it’s getting late. Time to say goodbye to Lynette,” said Vashti, taking a step toward Lynette with a sly smile. She glanced at Emily for the nod.
“Fascinating… you are Emily’s Darth Vader,” Lynette said with a smile; Emily knew she had picked up on Vashti’s intentions. “If you wanted me to leave, all you had to do was say so.”
“How about you learn to read the fucking room then?” Emily rolled her eyes. “Fuck off. Then keep fucking off. Fuck off until you come up to a gate with a sign saying, “You Can’t Fuck Off Past Here.” Climb over the gate, dream the impossible dream, and keep fucking off forever. ”
“Whatever you say,” she started before turning around and walking back into the woods. However, before she faded into the tree line, she looked over her shoulder towards Jacqueline and Miranda. She said, “Oh yeah, and tell Emily to behave because someone really powerful is coming to St. Portwell. Trust me, I’ve seen him in action. Goodbye!”
Lynette said as she disappeared, and Emily rolled her eyes and said to herself,
“... What a cunt.”
However, she heard an imposing figure approaching her; she could hear his heavy footsteps approaching. She turned her head, looked up at the giant person, and grinned.
“.... Oooh…” She started, “Back so soon?”
Flowers and Canvases.
As Auri predicted, people began trickling into her fancy flower shop. She arranged the chairs so that there were several rows of foldable metal chairs, with one in front that Auri had sat on herself. She had released some butterfly Apparitions, and they floated around the store. Being the curious spirits they are, they followed some of the members of the Coven around as they entered and found a seat. Auri personally greeted every member as they walked in, and she sat and leaned back in her chair, holding a clipboard and a pen in hand. Once enough members arrived, Auri decided to begin the meeting!
"Hello, everybody! I know it has been quite a while, but it is great to see you all here alive and well. I thank you all for accepting my call! Now, let's get started... So, how is everyone doing?"
"Good as I'm going to get," Drake was the first to speak up; he had his hands on his head and was leaning back.
"So, it's been a wild decade since we defeated the Stygian Snake. Now, we are up against a new threat... Father Wolf. This man... their deaths demand our attention, and I cannot turn my back on it any longer. So, it wasn't an easy choice to make, but I decided to reform the Sycamore Tree Coven not just for protection but to get to the bottom of this senseless death."
Her gaze met every person before her.
"The Stygian Snake is gone, but darkness wears many faces... and it's starting to look like Father Wolf is the next threat. I know many of us had our... issues in the old Coven, but if we put our hearts and minds together, we can get through this!"
"Yay, power of friendship... yay..." Drake rolled his eyes as he dryly said, then leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "So, where is the bastard so I can kill him already?"
Auri raised a finger,
"Currently unknown, but I'll get to that," She started, "We need to set some ground rules first... first and foremost, on this day, we begin a new chapter, which means we are going to let go of any past transgressions and move forward as if we are a brand new Coven! We cannot let the same mistakes that occurred in the first Coven happen again... but I know we all had a lot of maturing to do between then and now, right? Right?"
Auri awkwardly laughed before she continued.
"But, I believe that many of the problems in the old Coven were due to... the leadership making decisions for the group without informing the group! So, I will not be barking instructions at each of you or trying to micromanage... instead, I will be a guide and mediator when conflict inevitably arises. Treat this new Coven as less of a dictatorship as it was under a certain someone but a collaboration between old friends. Remember, we are not a Coven; we are a family.”
Drake raised an eyebrow.
"Are there any problems with that? Suggestions maybe? I'm open to them, and snacks will be here shortly!"
Luca groaned, rolling over and hitting the button on the top of his cheap alarm… only to have it crumble under his fingers. Well, that was one way to shut it up. He rolled out of his bed, which was really just a decaying and worn mattress, and threw off the threadbare blanket. He’d have to replace them soon. With a yawn, he scrambled for his phone, concentrating on not destroying it.
6pm. Not bad, if he got up and left now he’d make it in time to the coven meeting. His limbs still ached, but it was better than before he’d taken a nap. At least his mind wasn’t so foggy. The Rot was silent, for once.
He shoved his phone in a worn bag (which was only a few days old) before his concentration slipped and he eroded it. Again.
Luca traipsed over to his wardrobe, or at least what was left of it, quickly pulling on a pair of baggy, light blue trousers and a white t-shirt. He perused through his button down shirts with a light hum. What would be best for this meeting? Plain and simple, or his brighter shirts. Perhaps one of the nicer ones would make a better impression… He picked out a long sleeved, navy button down shirt with small maroon stars all over it. It was one he rarely wore because it was made of natural fibres, so it wouldn’t last more than a few days, but- his concentration slipped and the material under his fingers disintegrated, remnants of the shirt floating to the ground.
“Ah fuck, that was my favourite shirt.”
Oh well, it was his fault for not wearing his normal gloves. Shrugging it off, because it was just another occurrence, Luca grabbed a simpler white and green shirt. Yeah, this one looked good too. Perfect. On his way out Luca grabbed a pair of cheap cycling gloves and pulled them on.
It wasn’t a perfect fix, but it at least stopped him from destroying anything he touched. Which was more than good enough.
Flowers and Canvases.
Luca was one of the first to arrive. His worst nightmare was arriving late and having to sit somewhere close to other people, or flowers. Not that there was any avoiding it… It was a fucking flower shop. This was the last place Luca should ever be! And it was small. There was no avoiding plant life!
Trying to keep his nerves, mostly about ruining Auri’s whole business, in check, Luca quickly entered the shop. He sped down the rows of neatly arranged flowers, wincing as the ones closest to him started to wilt. He grabbed a metal chair, glad that his gloves were still mostly there - they were starting to disintegrate away at the fingertips, but he probably had an hour left till he had to replace them with one of the many pairs he had in his ragged backpack.
Luca guessed he should be thankful the more powerful part of his abstraction was restricted to his hands. How awkward would it be if he had to change his clothes in the middle of the meeting.
He dragged the chair away from the others, leaving a gap the size of at least two chairs between him and the rest… As well as trying to avoid flowers as best as possible. Now that he wasn’t so worried about everything, he grinned and waved at everyone who’d already arrived. It was nice to see familiar faces after so long.
”I’m doing well!” Luca chirped up as enough people arrived, and Auri decided to start. He was sure most here weren’t doing too good, either losing people or fearing for their lives. He was worried about Olivia too, but it was easier to smile and say it was all alright. He didn’t feel like it wasn’t, anyway. ”It’s nice to see everyone.”
He leaned back in his chair to listen to the rest… Which was sounding a bit culty. Didn’t cults normally say they were family? Maybe it was like this when the coven first formed. He wasn’t sure, since he wasn’t there.
”I’m fine with moving forward, but-” He tilted his head, flashing the whole group a smile. ”For some of us it isn’t all in the past. I’m not talking about the petty fights we had, but what Britney did… I know she’s not here yet. Some of us are still living with that. Case in point,” he pointed to the flakes of rust starting to form on the chair he was on with a light laugh. Of course, he’d have to sit on it for at least a day for it to completely corrode, but the effects were already obvious. ”Sorry, Auri, hope you didn’t need to keep these in perfect condition.”
As if the worst thing about it was eroding a chair.
”I don’t want it to be like it used to be… With everyone blaming her and that. I’m past that. All I’m asking is when all’s said and done with Father Wolf, as a coven- family, whatever, we try and help those of us that still need it.”
It was fine if they couldn’t help him in the end, anyway. He’d accepted that. While he hadn’t forgiven Britney, and would never give her that relief from any guilt she may still feel, he’d moved on a long time ago. Holding onto the anger he’d felt at first was just as damaging for him. While he didn’t plan to vocally forgive her, even if she apologised when she arrived, he also didn’t plan to tell her exactly what his abstraction was doing to him. Or anyone, for that matter.
”Oh, also, can we hold meetings somewhere that isn’t a flower shop? The place is lovely, Auri, and I really don’t want to ruin it. Otherwise, all good with me.”
Mentions: Everyone Location: Eksa's Hotel Room > Flowers and Canvases
Being back in St. Portwell was.. nostalgic - among other things. In truth, being back in the states was nostalgic in its own right, seeing as it was something Eksa hadn't done since she was seventeen. The day before, she had arrived in Oregon by plane, landing late in the evening before booking herself a hotel room in which she slept. It was, in fact, the hotel room which she occupied at this very moment.
It was early evening, nearing 6pm, and Eksa found herself in her room, getting dressed as well as mentally preparing herself for the event to come. She had spent the earlier portions of the day re-familiarizing herself, at least lightly, with the town of Portwell. She had enjoyed a nice, if slightly awkward, stop at one of the local coffee shops, and followed it with an outing to a nice little park. The park was one which she explored more than a few times as a kid, and the experience of returning to it managed to fill her with some teary-eyed recollections of her past. She tried not to think to hard on what had befell her family back then - after all, she'd had an entire decade to cope with her misfortunes. Nevertheless, her nerves were tested, if a bit.
Even as she got into her rental car and began to make her way to the meet-up place that Auri has invited her to, said nerves were tested and tweaked. It always happened. Whenever she had a meeting or some sort of greet or function she had to attend, her self-conscious nature always managed to get the better of her. What if people stared? What if people thought her a freak? What if she broke into a sweat, as she was prone to due when meeting multiple new people? Sure, these people weren't new to her, but she might as well be new to them. Her head always spun with such worries before things like this. She was fortunate that, usually, she was able to assume a professional visage that held her anxiousness at bay -- but she had never been able to channel that when things were more casual.
Eventually she slapped herself internally in an attempt to straighten herself out. These people were her friends. Or.. at least they had been, once. She didn't really know if they counted as such, now.. especially after she ghosted any phonecalls from the U.S. after she had woken from her coma. The only contact she had had with anybody was an old series of texts that let her know they had succeeded in their battle against the Stygian Snake. Something which, she imagined, she had missed the after-party for. Though a few other texts, which she left equally unanswered, informed her of the coven breaking up. She was really missing a lot of details, but maybe it wasn't all too important. They had won, and Eksa, among others, had paid the price for that victory. A price which had made life.. hard for her, socially, but one she had been willing to pay back then.
It was a short time before Eksa's endless thoughts were interrupted by her car coming to a soft halt. She had arrived. Her subconscious driving had delivered her to a spot across the street, with a clear view of the face of the storefront - Flowers and Canvases. She managed to allow herself a deep breath. For a moment she sat behind the wheel, trying to cool off her nerves. Finally, she unlatched her seatbelt and reached across herself to open the door and step out. She checked that she had everything she needed - that being her phone - before she shut the door and locked it with a light beepbeep from her keychain, which she tucked into her front pant-pocket.
She rounded the car and ensured the street was clear before she walked across.
She was, as usual, wearing a business-casual-esque ensemble. Her top, which was mostly shrouded by the gray-threaded overcoat that hung off her shoulders, was a long-sleeved, purely black turtleneck. Her light-gray trousers matched her coat and were well-pressed. Her outfit was completed by a pair of simple, black leather shoes. She pulled her right arm across the front of her body as she walked, tugging her coat lightly to ensure it covered her left side, as she approached the front of the shop.
She opened the door and stepped inside. There were various familiar faces scattered about the shop, and she could immediately feel her heart start to thump anxiously. They all looked.. different. But that was to be expected, seeing as it had been a decade. Still, they were recognizable. She tried to render herself as overlookable as possible, only managing to make eye contact with Auri as the lass greeted her upon her entry. Eksa offered her an awkward nod and an appeasing smile that was partly-genuine. Mind you, she was not unhappy to see the lot that had congregated here today - in fact, the opposite. A part of her had always wanted to meet up again, but her apprehensions had more of a hold on her than she would ever admit. And as such, she made it her task to find a chair secluded from anybody already sitting, and take it wordlessly.
And so she did.
And after a tad bit of a wait, once enough people had arrived, Auri would begin. And Eksa would listen. The blonde laid down a couple good points to start. Points the Eksa couldn't disagree with. Ignoring the deaths that had already happened was likely to be a mistake. Even if Father Wolf, as she called the perpetrator, was done with his little spree, it would feel almost like a.. betrayal, of some kind, to leave such crimes unanswered. That wasn't something that sat well with Eksa, especially now that she was already back in St. Portwell.
She listened further as Auri spoke, finding herself nodding lightly along at her ideas. For a moment, Eksa paused. When she thought about it, in truth she had had no real say in whether the coven broke up or not. Before all the drama had really started to swelter, Eksa had been in her coma. Even well after the disbanding. Had she had a choice, she couldn't imagine herself ever giving up such a.. family, of sorts, as they had been. A family of strangers, maybe. But there was something there, at least. To be honest, she never really had many problems with the coven beforehand, though she had been a carefree soul back then - she'd just been along for the ride. Now, though, she found herself more analytical.
Nevertheless, as Eksa listened on, Auri's talk started to seem a little.. familiar. Right - it was somewhat reminiscent of the speech that Ashley had given them all those years ago, when they formed the original coven the first time. Eksa couldn't really remember much of what was said - it was a long time ago, after all - but the uplifting nature of the two were undeniably similar. Were her nerves not so on-edge, it might've drawn a smirk from her. For how much it seemed Auri was displeased with Ashley's way of leading the coven, they had their hearts in it in the same fashion - at some points, at least. While Eksa hadn't a problem with the coven during her time within it, Auri's idea of avoiding a dictatorship of sorts was admirable, at the very least.
Well.. it all sounded good to her. She was sure that she should've been thinking harder on it all, and a part of her felt a bit childish at the idea of forming a "coven" now, when they did the same exact thing as kids - but there was a good reason behind it. There were murders happening. It didn't get much more adult than that.
Were she her old self, she might've spoken up on how she liked Auri's ideas, but.. she wasn't. Speaking to a room was, honestly, somewhat terrifying. So she would relegate herself to waiting for others to speak up.
Just like.. Luke..? She felt bad that she couldn't remember the name of one of her fellow coven members, but it'd been ten years, and she was pretty sure it was Luke. Though, something about what he said concerned her.
What Britney did? What did that mean? It seemed Eksa was out of the loop, but.. surely she was misunderstanding. Britney had seemed great, at least when Eksa was around. Surely she couldn't have so drastically changed in just the months that Eksa had spent in a coma. She'd been just as much of a family member of the coven as anybody else. What did she do to him..?
She opened her mouth habitually to speak, but stopped herself. She had questions, but.. maybe later was a better time. Maybe she'd ask Britney in private, or something. For now, she absorbed what she heard and continued to listen to the conversation amongst them.
A shimmering blue butterfly, matching the woman's eyes, sat atop pale fingers as she leaned back in her seat. She stared at it curiously, pinpoints of light radiating off its wings. She could hear Auri speaking, but one pressing thought was beckoning her urgently. Her lips parted, exposing teeth.
What did the butterfly taste like?
Could she get away with trying to lick it? Maybe squeezing its pretty form in her phantom hands, and devouring it outright? It would be a right nice snack, a gleaming and glorious little appetizer.
Her eyes shot to Auri at the mention of 'Father Wolf', momentarily forgetting her spiraling, ravenous thoughts.
"Remember, we are not a Coven; we are a family.Are there any problems with that? Suggestions maybe?"
"I... don't think forgiving and forgetting the past will be such an easy task," Alizée said, playing with the butterfly a bit in her hand. She knew exactly who she was talking about. Drake Blackmore was here, just on the other side of the room. Someone she had looked up to before things went south. Someone she was very much certain still harbored ill towards her. Someone who had a sour opinion of night-stalking.
"You called us here, what are you expecting from us?" She added, moving her hand so the butterfly took to the room, fluttering about.
”For some of us it isn’t all in the past. I’m not talking about the petty fights we had, but what Britney did…" said Luca, near her on one of the seats.
Alizée's brow immediately furrowed at the mention of Brittany, one of the only members of the Coven that was on her side 10 years ago when she had her falling out. And now they were talking bad about her best friend in her absence?
"Sacre bleu, would you give Brittany a rest?" Alizée said to Luca, pressing a hand to her forehead briefly. She smoothed out her black satin blouse and skirt, trying to keep in the spark of rage bubbling beneath the surface.
"I'd dare to say the experience of being adjoined is good for you." Her tone dropped a note, eyeing the Void Heart hovering near her shoulder, which was staring hard at Luca. "...Give you some perspective."
A mixture of regret and pain passed over her face. No. Being adjoined was likely the worst thing to happen to a person, Blind or not. It was from her own selfishness that she spoke. She hated being the odd girl out. The one with whispering horrors going on in her head, while everyone else remained sane. Perhaps... she felt a bit of relief that Luca felt pain similar to hers.
"Nah, you're just a sore loser." The Void Heart's cold, deep voice spoke in her mind.
She immediately glared sideways at the Void Heart. To any Blind person, it would appear as if she were making faces to the wall. As if she was really insane.
Light from the sun was still peaking above the horizon and pouring into Simone's family drawing room, where she sat alone behind an old antique piano with her fingers softly lilting over the keys. Her black waves hung in her face as her eyes closed and her nose wrinkled in concentration, trying to find the chord progression that came in a dream last night. She carefully listened to the reverberations in the notes as the hammers struck the chords, producing a unique tone that only this piano could create. Some of her band's most viral songs had been written over these keys, but some she kept to herself, the only proof of their existence living in a beaten-up notebook she used to record her lyrics.
Her head bobbed up and down as she finally remembered the right notes from her dream that made a beautiful, almost haunting, harmonic chord progression. She played it a few times, letting it inspire her as it echoed throughout the empty room around her. She quietly cleared her throat before opening her mouth and singing the first words that rolled around inside her mind.
"Seek, and you shall find old ones still hanging on the vine Some of em' never lost their shine, others wilted and left far behind I'm on the line between heaven and hell Only time will tell
So, in a moment just give me a moment to breathe Please, give me a moment just a moment to breathe
Bulls and crows make their home In a place where no one knows What's howling at the moon? Like ah woo, ah woo, ah woo-"
"Simone, are you gonna play wolf in there forever or are you still goin' to that meeting? Cause you better start gettin' ready if you gonna be there on time. And I didn't make this fuckin' snake shark-coochie board for nothing." Her mother appeared from the archway leading into the kitchen. She licked the tiny silver spoon in her hand clean as she leaned on the old wooden arch. "Ya little friends gonna go crazy for this garlic aioli I put on there. Damn, I'm good." She said, smugly chuckling her way out of the drawing room and back into the kitchen. "But seriously, get ready!"
Simone laughed in amusement and rolled her eyes at her peculiar mother's antics. She was right, though. The light had left the room, and it was nearly time to answer Auri's call. She folded the piano cover over the keys and took a deep breath before heading up to her bedroom to change out of her house clothes and into something more appropriate for the evening. She slipped on a silky midi skirt and layered it in a long black leather overcoat with a low v-neckline embroidered with cream floral accents that flowed down her decolletage. She added a silver belt for an extra cinching of her waist to give her figure a much more flattering shape. She accessorized with silver rings, bracelets, and a pair of earrings in the shape of a Sankofa Adinkra. The Sankofa symbolizes taking lessons learned from the past into your future to build a more successful life. "Se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenkyiri." she whispered to herself in the Twi language as she fastened the backs of the earrings. The Twi language was foreign to her for that one proverb, but she had learned it from studying one of her oldest ancestors who lived in Ghana hundreds of years ago. It translated into, it is not taboo to go back for what you forgot (or left behind). Seemed... fitting for the occasion.
She pulled on some opaque tights for warmth and her black leather heeled boots that went up to the knee which added a few extra inches to her short stature. She left her hair down around her face and snagged a scarf hanging from her door before spraying on a spritz of amber spice perfume on her way down the stairs.
Her mother hummed a familiar tune, one of Simone's songs, when she reached her back in the kitchen. "Listen, I know you're not a child anymore, and I can't tell you what to do, but be careful going back there, Simone. We know how that all ended last time - and we need you. The family needs you to stay safe, okay?" she said with warning eyes, grabbing her daughter with both hands by the shoulders. She enveloped her in a long hug before turning around and thrusting before Simone a saran wrapped wooden board full of meats, fine cheese, crackers, and nuts formed into a slithering snake with olives for eyes. "Now go." She followed her to the door and picked up a bell and a thin piece of metal that was always placed near exits in the house. She hit the bell twice with the metal, and a light chiming noise was emitted from it. It was a comforting sound. Just one of their many traditions. "Love you."
"Love you, too." was all Simone could chirp before leaving to jump in her car in search of Auri's flower shop, deep in thought about this decision. She could turn back at any second, but something embedded inside her told her to go. So, for once, she listened.
Flowers and Canvasses Twilight
She sat parked in her car, thumbs tapping on the steering wheel in a simple yet musical pattern. She was always producing music and sounds, even subconsciously. "So... you really about to do this. Yup. Okay. No turning back now." she thought to herself, biting down on her lip almost hard enough to break the surface of her soft lips. She tried to steady her breathing as much as possible, reciting the lyrics she had written earlier that evening. "Just a moment, please give me a moment, to breathe..."
Before she could psych herself out, she hopped out of the car with the charcuterie board and headed inside the flower shop. The sign on the door read closed, but she pushed on it, and it gave to the pressure. Not closed for the meeting... party... or whatever the hell this was supposed to be. Truth be told, she was nervous to see her old Coven. While she didn't grow particularly attached to many of the members due to her maintaining a silent boundary, never revealing too much about herself in fear of exposing the family, there was... one person she was more anxious to see than the others. The interesting bond that Kali and Simone developed over their time in the Coven was one that almost filled her with regret. She divulged too much to him on more than one occasion, and at the battle of the Snake, she basically saved him from entirely losing himself to his abstraction. After leaving the Coven, she disappeared to go on tour and ghosted Kali, even when she felt he probably needed her. Her feelings were complicated. Yes, she felt terrible, but would she have acted differently if given the chance? Probably not.
Simone walked slowly and deliberately through the shop to the meeting space, thoughts spinning. Among the flowers was a butterfly sitting atop her favorite kind. Lilies. She stopped to bring one to her nose to smell the inviting floral scent. It helped her calm down, and she allowed herself to look upon the crowd as she approached the group. She found the table where the food was and unwrapped the charcuterie, placing it among the rest of the snacks. She popped a few pieces of popcorn in her mouth and poured a short cup of water for her to nurse on as she found a seat around the rest of her old Coven members. She made eye contact with Auri and gave her a friendly wave of her fingers in the woman's direction. She seemed busy preparing for the meeting, so Simone let her be for now. She engaged in thoughtless small talk with some of the old members, who felt more like acquaintances after all this time. She was able to catch up with a few of them before Auri started the meeting. She stood as it began, propped against a skinny beam next to everyone, sipping her water silently.
All she could do was smile awkwardly and nod as Auri asked how they were doing. Knowing that Father Wolf had killed some of the members of the Coven filled her with dread. It was why she was here. He could be coming after her next. Selfishly, it was less about feeling bad about them dying and more about ensuring her safety and the security of her lineage. She would never admit that though; if you asked her, she would say the opposite.
Her eyebrows raised when Luca mentioned Britney's name. Among many other contributing factors, Britney was also another reason Simone left the Coven. After finding out the lengths she went to to destroy the Snake, it definitely rubbed her the wrong way. She looked at Luca with an air of concern, a perfect example of Britney's digressions. But she asked herself, would she stay in the group long enough to help Luca? At this point, she felt like she needed to use the group to end Father Wolf's rampage, and that was all. She didn't know if she would stay after that goal was reached, and she could sleep at night knowing he wasn't after her. She was conflicted.
She remembered the lesson of the Sankofa symbols that dangled from her ears. Don't be afraid of the past. We must acknowledge it to move forward successfully... So it was reassuring when Auri admitted to her wrongdoing and promised to do better in the future. She would be surprised if the other more egotistical members did the same. However, at the mention of them being a family, Simone already had one and didn't need another. She needed allies.
Suggestions? Simone had plenty but kept her mouth shut for now. What would be the procedure for choosing leadership among the "family"? Because she had an inkling that the previous leadership left a terribly sour taste in the mouths of other members, too. If this was a collaboration, how would decisions get made in times of uncertainty and conflict? These were things that she felt were pertinent to the conversation, but she did not act upon the thoughts. It was enough that she was here at all. She didn't want to put herself in the spotlight with them to attract undue attention now or ever.
Most of Tayla's day was normal. She got up at 4am to help her father, Taeshik, prepare the fishing boat. She dressed in dark green rubber overalls with attached boots, and a bright yellow coat. She got her son, Siwan, up at 4:30am to get him dressed and in his coat and scarf to set sail in. Day care wouldn't open for another 2 and a half hours, so she had to take him with her on her first job of the day, fishing. The waters were choppy as they tended to be this time of year, but she grew up on this boat, could deal with the waves. Her son will grow up on his boat, and he's already used to it. She put down under deck in a crib she bolted to the floor. He'll grow out of it soon enough. She'll come up with something else when he's too big for it.
They were on the water fishing at 5am for 2 hours, before her father pulled into the harbor so they could dump their catches and she could take Siwan to daycare.
"빨리빨리!" her father called.
"네," she replied, not in the rush he wanted her to be in. It's the same every day. He'll tell her to hurry, like he's not going to take an hour break on the pier chatting with the other fishermen. She walked several blocks inland holding her sleeping son in her arms to his day care. It was ran out of a middle aged woman's home. Her name was Ms. Darcy. She's been watching sailor's children out of her home for twenty years. It's a business her mother started decades before St. Portwell was built up to the city it is now. The home was a two stories, white colonial style home. The outside has not aged well, but the inside was clean, warm, and well loved. Not many children were dropped off here anymore. Not with the school district opening up their own or the private school that went from day care age to high school. But Ms. Darcy wouldn't close and she loved her for that.
She dropped him off with his baby bag she kept in the boat so she wouldn't forget it. Siwan went with Ms. Darcy even enough. He clung to her like he would to his mom.
"Bye bye," he said mid-yawn.
"Bye bye." She kissed his cheek. "Dad will pick him up at noon." She walked backwards down the stairs. She hated to leave him for most of the day. The weekends were a highlight for her. She got to spend time with him all day on her days off.
"Have a good day, and don't forget payment is due next week," Ms. Darcy said.
"I haven't forgotten. Haven't missed a day." Ms. Darcy also had the cheapest day care prices in the city. Couldn't beat $800 a month. All the other places would put her in the thousands. It was hard squeezing out that money, but until he was old enough for pre-school, she and her father would just have to deal.
She hurried back to the boat, her dad lounging round on the dock, shooting the shit with other fishermen talk about the catches they caught that morning. It's been about 20 minutes. She wasn't in the mood to stick around for another 40.
"아빠, 가자," she said.
Taeshik waved her off, motioning that he was in the middle of something. She would've stopped off to get some breakfast, but she wasn't in the mood it eat nor did she have the patience to stick around. She kicked his chair.
"가자," she said again. She didn't stop kicking it and repeating herself, until he got up looking peeved.
"I need to get ready for work," she said.
"Go get something to eat. You're too skinny," he urged her.
"Not feeling it. 가자."
Taeshik sighed and shook his head. He said bye to his fishermen friends, then took her back to the island they lived on. It was called Callie's Island and had four homes on it. It was about the size of three city blocks, had dial up, and ran on propane tanks. Not the most modern of living, but it was quiet and kept her out of trouble now that she's moved back home. Their tiny two story house faced the west. The sunsets were easily the best part of this place.
She got off the boat and went to get ready. Taeshik took the boat back out. Tayla spent a lot of time getting ready to get the smell of the sea, salt, and fish off her. Just because she worked that Martine Museum, didn't mean she needed to smell like the sea. She showered and dress in a hour and a half. She packed another set of clothes. She had to wear a navy blue uniform shirt with her name badge and white bottoms. She always wore a flowy long skirt. The whole outfit hide her body decently enough. She put on red lipstick, packed extra clothes, because she didn't want to show to the evening meeting in her uniform. She doesn't need any of her old coven mates knowing where she worked. Lord forbid any of them ever show up for her 8 hour shift.
She got back on her dad's boat and he dropped her off at the port near the museum. It was a long walk up the old wooden stairs, but she got there with more than enough time for her 10am shift when they opened. Her day went on like usual. She answered questions in person and on the phone, took money, gave out tickets, nothing abnormal about her day at all. She got a text message at noon from her dad. It was a badly taken selfie of him and Siwan together. She smiled and saved it, texting him to have a good day and that she'll see him tonight. Since she's not coming home right away, she'll have to get her own ride home. She hoped one of their neighbors would be in town or that the ferry guy wouldn't mind going a little out of his way. She needed to buy her own boat whenever she gets the money.
Six o'clock rolled around pretty slow. For her, but when her shift ended and the museum closed down, she hurried to change out of her uniform in the staff bathroom. She felt a lot better wearing bagging black pants, a white button up shirt, and a black sweater vest. All her clothes were baggy and made her look shape less. She could be anywhere between 100lb and 200lb. Flowers and Canvases was a quite a car ride away from coast. She had to get an uber, which cost her money she didn't really have to spend but it's worth it not to be hunted down and murdered as an alternative.
She got there a little after 6:30. Feeling awkward at Auri greeting her like everyone else that walked through the door. She sat in the near empty front row. No one liked front rows seats and she didn't like sitting next to people, so it worked out for her that she could be mostly alone. There's a chance no one would recognize her, she's changed so much. She was taller than the last time she saw everyone, about thirty pounds lighter, and no longer the bright bubbly person that was crazy for her boyfriend. She even made her nickname her legal name. She took a quick selfie with some people in the background, then texted it to her dad. He got nervous when she wasn't home right after work. Would think that she's slipping back into her addiction. But no. She's where she said she would be. At a flower shop with some old 'friends.' Maybe he'll recognize a few faces. She sure did.
Auri looked the same for the most part, but she's grown up quite a bit. She still rambled or maybe she's misremembering. She couldn't remember a lot from her time in the Coven. Everything before, during, and after the battle, she purposely tried forget for her own sake. It's been a decade and she thought everything would still feel the same. It didn't. Whatever friendly feelings she had for these people were ambivalent at best and apathetic at worse. In Drake's case, still annoying. She didn't remember Luca at all, but there's a vague memory of Britney doing something fucked up. She showed up to so many meetings after the battle on oxy, and sometimes she didn't show up at all, that she can't remember what that all was about.
She raised her hand. "So, you brought us all back together and invited someone that at least one person could be triggered by and another her cheerleader, and expect us to be a family? Yeah, no, that's not going to work for me. I expect a lot from family, but I'm not expecting shit from whatever this is supposed to be." She circled her finger to generally indicate their surroundings. "I want to get what we got to do done and wash my hands of this. It's taken me a long time to get good and I can't back slide on your butterfly dreams of fantastical expectations. I've moved on from this, so let's get to the point. We can make nice on our own time, what's the next important order of witchy business? I have a self-imposed curfew and I'm already breaking it to be here."
Linqian had expected it, since the only people in a bar before 6pm on a Monday were old retired men and college students skipping classes to get pissed. She was only in at all, working a half shift, because she really needed the money.
And the distraction.
At least she had a job at all. She’d only moved back to St. Portwell half a week ago, thankful that Jinhai had the foresight to keep their parent’s old home even if it was expensive - and that he hadn’t sold it like she’d tried to convince him to when the last renters moved out a year ago. She’d needed to get away from their apartment... Even if her parent’s place didn’t exactly fill her with joy. It felt even emptier.
At least it wasn’t a crime scene. It wasn’t where her twin had been killed (as much as she still didn’t quite believe he was gone).
She glanced at her phone. 6:30pm… She should be able to get out of work soon, then get to that stupid coven meeting. The only reason she was going was because of Jinhai. If he was still here, if that… fucker hadn’t killed him, she wouldn’t even bother. It was a group from the past she didn’t particularly want to revisit.
Hopefully her ex wouldn’t be there.
Either way, it didn’t matter. She was just going there for revenge, not to revisit old friendships.
Flowers and Canvases.
Linqian walked into Flowers and Canvases a bit late thanks to work running over, just in time for Auri to name the man who’d killed Jinhai. Her immediate interest quickly waned when Auri started doing all the positivity crap that had been so pervasive in the old coven.
Linqian scowled, glancing around everyone who was there while trying to strategically decide where to sit. Simone? Absolutely not, she’d been too friendly with Jinhai for her liking back in the day. Tayla had sat in the front row, and Linqian wasn’t going to sit in the front row. Luca had given everyone a wide berth, which was very telling. Alizée? She’d rather stand. Eksa wasn’t too bad… But again, giving everyone a wide berth. It was like everyone wanted nothing to do with each other.
They probably didn’t. Linqian disliked a fair few… But she didn’t have her brother with her anymore. Being a lone wolf really wasn’t her style. Sighing, Linqian took a seat next to Drake. He was the best, somehow, out of seriously lacking options. They didn’t have any issues with each other that she could remember.
Linqian’s eyebrow raised at Auri’s suggestion that they all move on. Well fine by her with all the people here. Honestly, any ‘past transgressions’ were already forgotten. All that was left was a vague memory of her feelings towards each person. Mostly ambivalence. Jinhai would’ve remembered more.
She couldn’t care less about what Britney had done, because it didn’t affect her.
”I agree with… Tayla,” Linqian spoke up, hoping she’d remember her name correctly. It’d been ten years and all, she hadn’t exactly kept in touch with these people, and Tayla was one of those she didn’t have strong feelings towards. ”I already have a family, thank you… And Father Wolf killed one of them.”
Linqian’s voice was cold, as if she wasn’t talking about the twin brother she was so close to. Of course her grief ran deep, but right now she felt very little. Completely numb. It was easy to talk about it because it still didn’t feel real. A tiny voice in the back of her mind told her that this wasn’t real, and she’d go home to Jinhai, alive and well. She knew that voice was wrong, she’d seen his body, but she hadn’t quite accepted it yet. ”Enough with inspirational bullshit. You said you don’t know where Father Wolf is, but you’ll get to it. Well get to it now, cause it's all I care about, and I'm sure everyone else agrees.”
She fixed Auri with a sharp glare, lips pulled into a thin line. She couldn’t give less of a fuck about not repeating the mistakes of the past. They’d stayed together long enough to defeat the Stygian Snake, right? That’s all they needed to do now. Deal with Father Wolf then get on with their lives.
Flowers and Canvases.
"Sacre bleu, would you give Brittany a rest? I'd dare to say the experience of being adjoined is good for you...Give you some perspective."
Luca snorted, lips curving into a lazy smile, completely unbothered by the apparition staring at them. He vaguely remembered her. Adjoined too, obvious with the apparition floating at her shoulder, but not by Britney. Luca didn’t know her circumstances, just as she didn’t know his, so he wasn’t particularly bothered by her words.
”She’s right,” the Rot whispered in his mind. ”I am the best thing that happened to you.”
Luca rolled his eyes, ignoring it. The sudden, burning pain in his elbow was more difficult to ignore, his smile wavering, but he was also used to that. It would pass, or move onto another body part. His whole body was rotting away, after all. That didn’t come without pain.
”You think I should give Britney a rest? Well, that’s fine, are you offering to help me instead? You see, since being adjoined with my apparition, I’ve ended up with quite the spending problem. Maybe you can start by helping me pay for my next phone. After all,” he reached into his bag, pulling out his phone. It began to corrode where his bare fingertips touched it, outer case cracking and the electronic insides turning brown with rust. Within seconds it had turned to rust coloured dust. ”I just keep destroying them. You’re not wrong, though, it has been good for me. It’s really beneficial not getting attached to material belongings.”
Luca shrugged. Of course he had another two phones in his bag, just as cheap as this one, because he was used to this. He just wanted to make a point. He always remained positive about his own situation, but Alizée’s comment had rubbed him the wrong way.
Accepting that he was stuck with it didn’t mean pretending it hadn’t been preventable in the first place.
The shadows of the tombstones grew long against the setting sun as dead leaves danced on the wind. A woman in a long black coat stepped softly between the rows while her shadow, a large man in a fitted suit and too much hair gel, waited by the car. She slowed her steps so she could read the epitaphs as she passed, entire lives boiled down to a relationship, a religion, or one final chance to prove to the world that they had half a wit. The woman stopped before a fresh grave, the wilting bouquets of flowers and lace still another day or two away from being composited by the groundskeeper. She stared down at the grave with a slight frown and tucked a loose strand of graying hair behind her ear. She had imagined it would be bigger. Back in the day, Ashley had always been the center of attention. It felt odd to find her tucked away on the fringe, shoved off to the side. Odd, but not necessarily bad.
Sloane folded her arms over her chest and nudged a bouquet with her foot. Just a couple of weeks ago Sloane had found herself sitting about six feet away from Ashley, arguing with her at Ashley’s kitchen table. Ashley had refused to see how illogical it was for her to keep holding on to the Apparition Killer if she didn’t have a means to protect herself. Inevitably she resorted to hurling accusations at Sloane, calling her power hungry and irresponsible. At the time it had seemed like Ashley had won the argument, but now Sloane took a moment to reconsider. Yes, obviously, Ashley had been right and Sloane would be more careful with her toys the next time, but now that there was six feet of dirt separating the two Sloane felt pretty justified in her desire to take the artifact off of Ashley’s hands. The extra earth also made it more difficult to throw mud, so instead Sloane thought she should come clean.
“I’ve always hated you, Ashley Stone,” said Sloane matter-of-factly. “I hated your speeches and how you always turned them into a dumb cheer. I hated how you used your mother to garner sympathy like you were the only victim. I hated how you always took the good artifacts and gave them to your inner ring, leaving the cheap knock offs for the rest of us losers. I hated how you treated everyone like they were garbage compared to the great Ashley Stone. I hated how you allowed your friends to use and turn on one another. I hated how you quit. I hated how you didn’t seem to care.”
“But more than anything, I hated how you occupied my mind for the past ten years. I hated how I was always afraid that somebody would come for you so that they could steal the Apparition Killer. I hate that I was right. I feel like now that you’re dead I should be able to forgive you now that I never have to worry about you ever again, only…” Sloane shut her eyes with a tight squeeze and swallowed in disgust. “You have a daughter. I will never forgive you for doing this to her.”
She leaned forward and spat on the grave.
“You fucking coward.”
Flowers and Canvases.
“This could take anywhere from five minutes to five hours. If I’m not out in thirty, feel free to take off for the night. I’ll be fine,” said Sloane from the backseat of the car, barely looking up from her phone.
“As you wish, Ms. Faris,” asked her driver.
The black Mercedes-Benz pulled up to Flowers and Canvases right on time. Sloane’s driver, the same large man standing overwatch in the cemetery, hopped out of the vehicle and opened Sloane’s door for her. She stepped out, still dressed in her expensive black overcoat that covered her white blouse and gray slacks, and gave the outside of the building an unimpressed once-over. She wondered how much the rent was. The building was a little bigger than Sloane’s antique shop, but Auri probably only had one store. Sloane took what could be her final breath of uncrowded, non-hostile air and entered the store. A few others had already arrived, and Auri was perched on her chair ready to assault Sloane with an annoyingly chipper greeting. Sloane gave her a curt nod, thankful that others were still arriving so they could distract Auri before Sloane was sucked into a conversation.
She took the time before the meeting to wander the store and try to ignore Auri’s stupid butterflies that kept following after her. She ran her finger along a shelf of succulents and checked it for dust. Nearly spotless. She admired a few of the hung paintings, noting the good brushstrokes and complimentary colors, and frowned at the signature signed by Auri Auclair. Auri had a basic, boring subject matter but the talent was unfortunately there. Sloane could see someone hanging one of these photos above a toilet to brighten up their bathroom or to cover up a hole punched in a wall following a domestic dispute. Still, the store was annoyingly nice. Sloane had hoped for—she paused, finally finding what she had been hoping to see.
Sloane took a quickened step over to a row of arrangements whose flowers had started to wilt. She breathed deeply and held back a smirk, delicately lifting a wilting flower with her fingertips to create an approximation of how it should have stood. “Hmm. What a pity,” she muttered, feeling a deep sense of satisfaction. She moved her fingers and allowed the flower to violently drop and slam against the side of the pot. Fulfilled, Sloane made her way back to the ring of chairs. She refused to take a seat, choosing instead to stand off to the side with her arms crossed. She immediately looked down at her watch when Auri began the meeting. When Auri tried to make eye contact with Sloane a few moments later she looked at the time again instead of returning the gaze.
“...Remember, we are not a Coven; we are a family.”
“Jesus Christ,” muttered Sloane under her breath as she rolled her eyes. She could see Auri giving her employees this same kind of shitty line to justify paying them minimum wage to sell her pedestrian paintings. Sloane wanted to get Father Wolf for her own reason: he likely had the Apparition Killer and, given the coincidental timing, could be connected to the theft of her property. If she had wanted a family she would’ve had her driver take her to an Olive Garden, because that family came with unlimited breadsticks as opposed to endless migraines and bottomless bitching.
But Sloane had a family before and they had been awful. As if cued by Auri’s closing statement, the Coven began to shift back into their old ways. Luca immediately began bringing up the past and Alizée began arguing with him over a person that likely wouldn’t even show. Tayla—Sloane hadn’t recognized her at first, but she was pretty sure that woman was Tayla—took a couple of well-deserved jabs at Auri before Linqian jumped in to deliver a suplex. Some of the others like Eksa and Simone shifted uncomfortably in their seats, probably questioning themselves for why they even came. Sloane shook her head. These people were awful to be around. Maybe Auri was right. Maybe they were like a family after all.
Sloane cleared her throat.
“They’re right, Auri. Let’s talk about the man who has murdered about a dozen of our peers, then we can discuss setting up Luca’s GoFundMe,” said Sloane. If she was being sarcastic it was impossible to tell; she sounded as if she was being forced to read a passage from a boring textbook aloud for the class. “I believe Father Wolf stole the Apparition Killer from Ashley, but theft doesn’t seem to be the primary motivation unless the others were robbed. You already seem confident that they’re just one man and not a group or some kind of Apparition. Unless you were just making assumptions based upon a name?”
Mentions: Irrelevant/Auri Auclair Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota: Club Serviteur
Edict sat at his desk passing a book between both his hands. His feet were up, square toed black on black dress shoes shining in the little lamp's weak light. The sounds of the club echoed through the walls as the bass pounded from the song. Weeks prior, he'd installed extra sound padding to the dancefloor walls hoping to keep most of the noise and the funk out of his private space, but it wasn't working particularly well when there was structural vibration one had to deal with. The whole place shook with the motion of the people and the music, and across from Edict were two fairly stuffy looking individuals.
"Ehm, Mr. Devola, Sir..." one spoke, slightly timid. "I think, maybe, we've come at things from the wrong angle here. Understand, these museums aren't banks. The way they record things isn't cursory like some teller, the keepers there are constantly checking up on-" "Bert..." The man clammed up, a cloth dabbing the sweat away from his forehead. Edict swung his feet off the desk, hitting the floor with a leather slap before tugging himself in tight to his desk. Gently, perfectly straight, Edict slid the book into the center of the desk, directly between himself and them. Both men looked at it, and the speaker (Bert) looked at the thing as though it were an infant or some precious piece of glass. Each motion Edict made with it elicited a powerful cringe response that made the man look as though he was on the verge of a panic attack. "You don't really get how we do things around here. It's not amature hour at the Devola household, believe me." Edict's body shifted in his chair, the deep blue dress shirt he wore wrinkling as he tilted over and pulled open one of the drawers on his side. From its depths he pulled a book, and upon presenting it and sliding it into position next to the other, Bert was at a loss. From all the ways he could examine it visually, his well trained eye couldn't tell the difference.
The book in question was a Vatican tome, something kept in a museum separate from their personal collection and on tour with several other artifacts as part of a money gathering operation for the Church. Over five hundred years old, the tome was supposed to have... Well, Edict didn't really care about that part. He had sixteen buyers lined up, and all he had to do was produce a counterfeit that would last long enough for all involved parties to abscond properly. Beyond that, as long as loose ends got tied up, there wasn't anything to worry about.
Edict waved his hand forward, inviting the two men to examine the books in front of him. "Please, if either of you can find the difference, let me know." The second man spoke up, incredulity in his voice. "Mr. Devola... These may look the mark, you may have some fancy printing press and computer system to replicate everything on the paper, but there's no possible way that a replica is going to hold up to sincere scrutiny. There are chemical tests that are run, there's checks and balances, I mean fuck... A scrape of the ink off the paper alone!" Edict smiled and waved his hands. "Understand: There's real power in books. Especially old things like this? They... They speak to those who listen in a way that guys like you two just won't get. Case in point, tell me which book is real right now and you just leave with it. No questions." There was a moment of tension between the two men on the other side of the desk. Finally the second grew fed up. "No. No more of this. Mr. Devola, we'll be taking both back with us. I won't let you-" he spun to point at his partner. "Or *you*, put my career and my credibility as a historian to shame because of some wild heist!"
Edict hadn't expected the flip. It wasn't exactly wrong of him to be suspicious: The real copy of the book was miles away, packaged for transport to whatever buyer was willing to bid highest. Both present were identical copies of the original text, and he had no qualms whatsoever about both being taken. But, it was all about appearances. He never intended for these two men to get the book back; their mistake had already been made when they handed it over to him first. He couldn't tell either of them that the copies were magic, or that to any mundane scholar they would be exact replicas down to the atomic level. He also couldn't tell them that they'd disappear in six months since by then it wouldn't matter anyway. What he could do, however, was ease the stress and help Mr. Nervous into the deal through what seemed like his own free will. Leaning back in his chair, Edict stuck a hand down to the side and let his hand slip into the pocket of the coat that was hung on its back. He felt the warmth of the metal frame within, smiling to himself gently as he pulled it from its place. The gold frame of the sunglasses never seemed to lose the heat of summer, and in comfort he slipped them onto the top of his head very casually. That warmth washed pink over the room, letting those within feel that same summer breeze. The Warm Little Center.
Taking a deep breath, Edict placed both his hands together at the finger tips, a formation of Suggestion. He let the entire spell hang in the air for a few moments, Warm Little Center washing into their brains and visibly softening the expression around him. Mr. Nervous spoke up again before he could even finish. "Ah, M-mr. Devola... Of course, understand this has nothing to do with you... Your business is-" Edict released his fingers, letting his hands climb gently into the air until both palms faced upward. "You should take them." His words vibrated like the bass of the club in their ears, each syllable delivering a crushing blow to the inhibition centers of the brain. Instantly the two men deflated in their seats, having assumed the worst even as this strange sensation came around them: Saying no to a Gangster like Edict Devola and getting away with it? Surely it was the weight of their professionalism, their involvement with Federal security, something must've prompted him to agree...
But neither were able to consider it a plot. It was a genuine offer in their minds. Bert immediately stood to scoop both books. Mr. Nervous stood with his arms crossed, nervous and ready to leave despite the strangeness of the exchange. A business meeting ended like this? What kind of business was he running? "You two go ahead and do whatever testing you need to. If, by some shot, you want to try again when you've seen the results for yourselves? My offer is always open." Edict stood with them, and then the phone at his desk began to ring. He thanked God and the Fates that Blinds were so easy sometimes. You just had to give them a little extra and they ran away with their own thoughts. Why even try? "And look, perfect timing. You two go on now. Oh, Mr. Joshua!?" he called loudly. A tall man dressed in a suit opened the office door. "See to it these two gentlemen make it back to their destination safely, there's a blizzard coming in and I don't want them caught out in the snow with such important treasure."
The two men thanked Edict profusely on their way out, and the door closed just before the last ring of the phone. Edict snatched it up, swinging it from the receiver up to his ear. "Badabing, what's good?" he answered. His face was blank at first, shifting to skepticism before ending in a sour expression. "Auclair? That's an old name... To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Mentions: Mixed Attendees | Location: St. Portwell, Oregon: Flowers and Canvases
It was difficult not coming back vindictive and just like who he wanted to be. He wanted to rub his business in everyone's face, to tell Auclair to cram her trap and get lost with the Wolf. The driver had brought him directly to the front door of the shop, and he stepped out into the breezy late fall of Portwell with his long jacket covering the garb of a Priest: If one caught sight of the brand tags they may have some questions about how deep his hands were in the donation basket, but the stole and tab collar around his neck would hopefully draw people off small details like that. He had left his hair natural, letting its short length bunch up slightly on his head as it had dried from his morning shower. Not long enough to curl, it simply became ungovernable. But it was a genuine look; like someone who was more concerned about his duty than his looks. Over his eyes, those same sunglasses he had that most people would've recognized from so long ago. It was no secret that they were his Channeler, and if anyone had been looking at him as he arrived through the store's glass front, they probably would've seen them. But, before he got to the door and walked in, he popped them off and slipped them into his pocket. His fingers lingered on the warm metal, and he took a deep breath before stepping into the melee.
Auri greeted him at the door; he wanted to spit on the floor. Tell her how jacked up the place was. How he was ready to do everything all over again. "Auri Auclair!" he emoted. It was excitement, happiness, longing. To them, he had to be someone who missed what they had. He did... Did miss some things. But, not the catty leadership of a dead organization. A dead family. "It has been too long. And, of course what brings us all back? Misfortune. Shame on us!" Edict said in passing as he took a seat near the middle of the rows, but far off to one side. Taking his coat off, anyone looking would see him pull the face open to reveal the clerical accessories he wore. There was a distinct lack of jewelry and any kind of overt flash, and overall he certainly gave the impression of someone who had calmed down from his youthful days. It was, of course, well curated. As soon as he'd gotten the call he was on a plane to the North-West, making sure players in the area knew he was in town on pleasure so nobody got the wrong idea from the real Family. This wasn't a muscle-in; it was a pipebomb job. The kind of thing that's good for everyone.
More and more flooded in. He saw familiar faces and not-so familiar faces in turn. Tayla Choi, Eksa Thresh, Luca Olivera... Drake Blackmoore's haggard ass was still kicking around in bum clothes. Fucking tough guy. Eventually, Auri felt it right to start off with bullshit as usual. Family; Who the fuck was she talking about? No family here, just a bunch of sad and desperate kids looking for a ghost. Just like old times, the desperate fear for life took hold and sought out warmth and safety in numbers. Edict planned to suck up everything he could. Everything they'd let him get his hands on. Payback, Sycamore. He thought about the axes in his back vividly, tuning in and out until others began to pipe up. When Britney Williams was mentioned, there was a little sting in his chest. Luca had certainly gotten a bad rap from Brit's meddling, but somehow the guy was still alive and managing. It was, as far as Edict was concerned, quite the accomplishment when he could rot the ground out from under him. Hearing Sloane's voice was like listening to an old pacer test recording: Hollow and mechanical, just like the old days.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!-" Edict started, clearing his throat. "Is it out of our consideration that Sister Auclair is mourning in her own way? For some of us, I'm sure that's the case. A little compassion for everyone can maybe set some things right, no? So she's beating around the bush a little bit, patience and consideration is key here... We're not kids anymore." He had, and to this day still did, talk with a bit of stank on his voice. A cultivated accent from a cultivated identity. But here, he cleansed it. They had to see Greyson removed from his old ways. "I know I've had a lot of time to think about the things that I've done wrong... That's why I came here to help put an end to this once and for all. For those hurt by my own actions, and the actions of others. So, let her have her time to speak and explain properly, rather than quickly!"
Suddenly, Drake realized why Victoria and the others passed on the invitation.
It wasn't long before old wounds were brought up, and people were slinging attitudes toward Auri... while he had the same sentiment, Drake was mostly trying to scan Auri for her intentions. Victoria was distrustful of Auri and knowing his big sister, she was a lot wiser than he was, and that sage-like wisdom reminded Drake a little bit of his father. In short, Victoria had her reasons, and Drake would be an idiot to ignore it. However, Drake had to add a little tidbit to everyone else's statements about hurrying things up.
"Look, Auri, I get that you're happy to get the gang back together..." Drake looked to the left, then the right, continued, "... Well, whoever showed up. But, you have to understand that we all moved on."
Drake crossed his arms and then finished.
"I don't think I'm the only one here who thinks that after the Stygian Snake was defeated, the Coven should have disbanded."
It made Drake no difference since he left so early on and only heard about how bad things got second hand from Charles, Victoria, Amanda, and Nikki. Drake looked around and made a note of everyone here.
Next to him was Linqian; he remembered not liking her older twin Jinhai... which was not something that Drake would bring up in light of the news of his death. It was funny because Linqian didn't like Victoria either, which Drake couldn't fault as much as he loved his older sister. The whole "team mom" schtick would have driven Drake up the wall if it was anyone else. Then Drake's eyes landed on Sloane... He and Sloane had a great relationship for the most part. Jade saved her life after her little stunt of playing bait to the Stygian Snake, and the two have been close since then. Drake also enjoyed how she would point him in the direction of malevolent Paranormals. Next up was Eksa Thresh... whom Drake also (metaphorically) pulled out the fire, but she went ghost after the Stygian Snake business.
Honestly, Drake didn't blame her.
Seeing her here after trying to reach out only to get absolute radio silence felt a little weird. Drake read that people process trauma in different ways, and he wasn't sure if she should even be here. She just sat there, as uncomfortable as they got. Then there was Tayla... he thought? He barely recognized her, maybe. She didn't seem like she wanted to be here and wanted Auri to get to the point. Tayla was probably as skeptical about the whole thing as Drake, but Drake was willing to hear Auri out - he vaguely remembered her not liking him, but it was all water under the bridge, baby! Simone was there, looking bad as always, and Drake felt scummy for saying that if he wasn't reeling over Jade, he would try his luck with her. However, there is nothing that he would act on at the moment (or, more likely, at all).
Then there was good ol' Greyson. Drake recognized the blowhard the second he started talking and couldn't help but roll his eyes as he talked out of his ass. He and Drake did not get along even while fighting the Stygian Snake, and he heard many bad things about him from Victoria and Amanda... a few times, Drake was going to slide by and whoop his ass. However, Victoria talked him out of it. Then there was Luca, whom Drake knew about from what Britney did, but left the Coven so early that he didn't get a good enough opinion of the guy. However, Luca was the one to speak up after Drake, and he brought up Britney... Drake didn't have a great opinion of the gal'; he went from feeling utterly neutral about her to vehemently despising her for what she did. Despite Drake and Jade's protests, she was allowed to remain in the Coven, one (of many) reasons Drake left so early on.
Drake shrugged and said to Luca and Alizee,
"Didn't ya'll vote her off the island or something? She probably won't even show up..." He shrugged again.
"I admit, I did invite her, but she said that she "wasn't sure" if she was going to show up." Auri started calmly but chipperly, " So, I'm going to take that as a no."
Speaking of Britney, a thought popped into Drake's head.
"... What I want to know is; did you invite Emily?" Drake narrowed his eyes, given that Auri's idealism made it likely that she invited the Queen Bitch. Drake remembered liking Emily even less than Britney and Greyson... and was the one cheering Amanda on when she snapped and beat Emily up for going too far.
Auri awkwardly laughed and pulled at her collar as she swiftly said,
"No." Then she added, "However, that is a subject I will get to later."
Auri pointed to Sloane, then Tayla, then Linqian and said,
"... I'm going to leave it to you three to fill in anyone that comes in later, then?" In that oddly chipperly tone, she said, "Now, since you all want me to get to the point, let me begin with what information I've gathered... Have you all heard of the Wolfpack?"
"... The biker gang? Drake answered. He clashed several times with the so-called "Motorcycle Club", and they were no joke.
"Yes..." Auri answered before she continued. "From what I heard, they went from a gang of dealers to big-time crime lords that rule a chunk of the city's northeast section. What is most interesting is that their leader, Judas, uses the Father Wolf alias."
"So, let me guess; you think Judas is Father Wolf?"
"It would make sense," Auri said.
"Just why would the Wolfpack be targeting us, then?" Drake raised an eyebrow as he leaned back in his chair, finding the balance so he didn't fall and break his neck.
"That I do not know," Auri started, "But if Judas is Father Wolf... we need to give it at least a look."
"So, you expect us to fight a gang of hardened criminals?"
"No, I do not," Auri said. "I am suggesting that we simply investigate the Wolfpack. If Judas or the Wolfpack are not involved with the murders or Father Wolf, we move on to the next lead."
"So... where do we start?" Drake asked.
"Well, I heard that Judas and the Wolfpack like to hang out at a trashy strip club in the northeast called Veni Vedi Veni... and his favorite stripper is a... preformer named Violet. I suggest we go by there and see what information we can gain on Judas and the Wolfpack before we make a judgment."
Auri paused for a minute, taking a deep breath before she continued.
"But, as you said, Drake," Auri started, "This is a gang of hardened criminals, and I must let everyone here know that this will be extremely dangerous. I won't drag everyone into certain danger like this, so I must ask..."
PRA St. Portwell Housing Block, Kali's Apartment Early Morning "So the paperwork's done? Good." "No. No I don't think any of them would question it enough to actually make an inquiry right away but you can never be too careful, especially with them." "Yes, I know..." "I know what the main goal is but if we can kill a few more birds with one stone then I might as well right?" "Look, I know it doesn't look apparent now but I'm sure that whoever is committing these murders probably has a connection to the snake as well." "Yes... yes it's that... instinct of mine." You mean me. Shut up. "I know, I'll be as a discreet as I can, and once again, thank you Ma'am, I won't disappoint."
As the line cuts off I feel gravity begin to take me as I fall backwards onto the very mattress I had just spent the entirety of my morning's effort convincing myself to get up from. Hah... and here I thought I was more disciplined than this now. Today really is bringing back all sorts of things from the past. Things I missed, things I wish I could forget, things I thought I had burned away from myself forever- and things you don't want to acknowledge.
You're talkative today. Should I not be? It's funny every time I hear it. How you're using me as the discreet option to find the original. I'm not using you I'm using the connection that you have. It's all the same isn't it? No it's not. You're right. If it was my way we would've just burnt the whole place down until we hit the right spot. This is why we don't go with your ideas. You can't deny it would be easier. Way easier than... this.
I look over towards my bedside table. Laying on it, the envelope that damn letter arrived in. I can still see the seal from here. Letting out a sigh I turn my entire body on my side just to keep myself from looking any longer. It's right. I know. And yet, I'm still going to do this anyway.
I stare up towards the ceiling. A blank space. An empty void. Nothing to bother me, nothing to drive me forward, nothing to push or pull me in any direction at all. World where I am truly left alone. But I can't keep staring at this forever. I've tried. I've tried so many times but in the end the world can't help but drag me back out. Can't help but continue to push and pull me wherever they please. Kicking. Screaming. Crying. Shouting. It really makes you want to-
I push it down. Somewhere deep, somewhere hidden. I can feel it trying to break free but this isn't ten years ago. Time has made me a master of denying my impulses. Even the one that's keeping me chained to this unreasonably comfy bed.
And so, I rise, tearing myself away from the embrace of nothingness as I look at my room once more. The dull reflected light of the sky bleeding through my windows paints the whole room a dull, gentle blue. It's almost as if the world itself is waking up with me. I still can never understand how the commander is able to wake up at this ungodly hours though. Maybe I'm not the only one possessed. But it is an admirable trait, and I should be taking after her example, especially now.
I stand up, let out one of the longest yawns of my life as I stretch out my arms and legs before picking up the letter again, skimming through it once more. My heart-rate begins to subtly increase as I take in a deep breath to steady it. It's been a long time. People change. I've changed, no doubt. In fact I might even be downright unrecognizable to some of these people. So who knows? Maybe things will be fine this time? We've all had time to mature, grow, become more well rounded individuals. Maybe things will be different.
A chill runs through my body.
Maybe things will be... different. I guess I'll just have to see. Across the street from Flower's and Canvasses Late Evening
What the hell am I doing? Being a creep? Yes, that's EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now! Oh well that wasn't my intention bu-
I send it back down to the depths again as I let out a sigh. A long, beleaguered sigh full of venom that, if it were real, I would ingest right away myself to put me out of my own misery.
Here I am. A grown man. A fully grown human being. An actual adult and I'm here, sitting on a random bench fully dressed in uniform, suit, tie, black on black, trays of food in hand that are probably getting colder by the minute though thankfully I can still feel a bit of warmth, staring at a bunch of other actual adults from across the street through a window like some kind of creep. I really thought I was over this. The coven was supposed to be an old chapter of my life, one that I no longer have to pay attention to because those pages were already read way too many times. And yet the fear remains. That gnawing feeling in my chest remains. And maybe even those undeserved feelings of admiration also remain.
The sun has long since set. The only thing illuminating these streets are the dull barely maintained street lamps that were put here god knows how many years ago to make a symbolic attempt at lighting up these streets at night. Thankfully the one that's supposed to be lighting up my bench is on the fritz. Not surprising. They don't pay the civil engineers enough here to have them check up on these things often enough to keep them fixed. Ordinarily a pretty bad thing but today their underpaid negligence is keeping me in darkness, and with my clothes and skin it's very easy for me to blend into that darkness. So at least I can be a creep without anyone seeing me be a creep.
Keep telling yourself that. I will.
Still, it looks like whatever meeting they're having in there is coming to a close. Or maybe I'm imagining it. Whatever it is, our window of opportunity is closing, quickly. The world won't let me sit here with my indecision forever.
I get up from the bench. Deep breaths, deep breaths. You got this. Just act natural. You're Kali. They all know Kali. They... know what... that... means.
I swallow as if something was caught in my throat and before I can even have a chance to continue that thought I find myself walking. Steadfast, forward, with a posture that was drilled into me through years of training. I am a machine made of flesh going through a predetermined subroutine, all the way until my hand feels the chill of the metal door knob. That's when the human gets knocked back into the drivers seat. I'm late. Way too late. It's always been too late. But it's fine. It has to be.
The knob turns. The door opens. Light, excruciatingly blinding light, washes over me.
In an instant I'm bombarded with all sorts of voices. Some familiar, others not so much, some pleasant, others disturbing. It's getting out of control again, and it's switching between everyone. Like a broken radio unable to settle on a single channel. Why now? Why here? Why is it always with them!?
Deep breaths. Calm thoughts. Push it down. Push it all down. Shut them out, every single one. Don't even let the slightest thing in.
Alright. Now then, judging from the looks on all of their faces I must have just opened the door and stood here with the most intense look I've ever made in my entire life for the past five seconds.
Okay, don't panic. Panicking will only make this worse. Use your legs. You have feet. And with that I walk into the flower shop so I don't stand in the middle of the doorway like an actual psychopath and look towards the gathered crowd properly. Oh god. They really do look like they're just about done here. Fuck- what did I interrupt? What did I miss? I, no, stop don't think about that. Remember, thoughts happen in real time. REAL TIME! You're just standing here. Speak. Say something. Say anything at all.
"Wow- it's... really been that long huh?" I manage to eek out from the depths of my frozen brain. Well, it's a start, but I can't stop here.
"It's... crazy, really. You all look so different. So... very" I catch a glimpse of Talya, "very different..." Holy fucking shit.
That catches me off guard, but the strange snake shaped charcuterie board manages to snap me back to reality as I am very boldly reminded of what I'm holding.
"Oh, and uh... I brought food too. I know I didn't need to but I figured it would be..." I start as I quickly walk over to where that charcuterie was placed to set my own tray down, "nice."
God. They're really all here. This is real. This isn't some kind of fucked up nightmare I'm having like it usually is. The past is here. It's all here. It's all in front of me again. And I'm the idiot who willingly walked into it.
I steel myself, another silent breath, as I once more turn to the crowd as I say "And it really is great to see all of you. Really-" and then my eye catches Simone, "great... to... see... all of you."
What am I doing? Why am I here?
Irregular brainwave activity. Elevated Heart-rate. Hyperventilation. Oh, dilated pupils huh? No. Face it, you're already compromised. No, I can do this. This is fine. No it's not. We both know that. But I- We have a job to do don't we? Relaaaaaax, it's already long past sundown. You can't keep me out even if you wanted to. So give me my turn at the wheel.
One more deep breath as I close my eyes and mutter to myself "Always was shit at small-talk."
I don't really know what expression I was making before. Probably something familiar to all of them. But it's right. I am here for a job. What I need isn't the past. I need to face them with the present.
As I open my eyes the training I've spent years perfecting once again kicks in. The cold, unfeeling, unwavering gaze of scrutiny, and authority that I've used time and time again in many missions past. Empathy has it's place for sure, humanity as well, but when you're dealing people that you know won't cooperate easily, sometimes you have to remind them that it's not the gun on your side they should be afraid about. It's you.
"You know what, I can tell you're all not in the mood for this," I can see it in their eyes, "So I'll cut to the chase."
I start walking. Slowly. Deliberately. Each footstep intentionally made to make sure it was heard as I speak. Making my way towards Auri and as a consequence the central area of the room's focus.
"The murder of Ashley Stone. Portwell PD's latest cold case. You can imagine why they haven't been able to make any headway on it. But... funnily enough, there's enough to suggest that the murderer has been acting over interstate lines, and as such via standard protocol, that case has now since been taken over by the Federal Bureau of Investigation." I say as I begin to reach into my inner jacket pocket.
"Because of this, an agent from the Bureau has been dispatched to head the investigation here. One who has a history of dealing with crimes like this." I say, finally stepping in front of Auri before revealing to her, and everyone else in the process, my badge.
"I am that agent." I say looking Auri directly in the eyes.
It has been a long time since leaving St. Portwell. What is it? It is eight years of exploring humanity and being on the open road. It has been a long time and he had few thoughts of St.Portwell during that time away. Mainly getting by and seeing the sights, and meeting new people. Plus, he kept in touch with Bella while she was attending college and living her life.
But like all things, things change for better or for worse and in Finn's case, worse as he drove into town in his Black Honda Civic. He knew where to go despite how much time has passed. Auri's flower shop, and as he got closer and closer to it. Did he think about Bella and why he is coming back to this place.
She is gone, and her killer, for whatever reason, is targeting Coven members. While that means him being a target, he did not care that much for his own safety. Avenging Bella and stopping this Father Wolf is his priority. She is the only family he has left, and now some monster has taken her from him. Finn does not recall the Coven having enemies when he and Bella left. But someone clearly has a bone to pick with them, though, why wait for ten years? Who knows, but killing the guy rather than finding his motives is more important to him.
Then Finn spotted the flower shop and found the nearest place to park. But he did not immediately leave as the car and left it on. Instead gave a long look at the flower shop. There was a reason why he left the Coven, and while there were good people in the Coven. There were also some questionable or even downright bad people in there, too. Not to mention how he was treated by them. Chances are he will have to face and work with these people again and that is something he is not looking forward to doing.
Finn sighed deeply and turned the car off. "Time to see who showed up and what the plan is," Finn said to himself as he left his car, locked it, and headed to the flower shop.
By the time he reached the place and entered, it seemed like he was running late since he could see the others were in the middle of talking, and it looked like someone will have to tell him what is happening.
Then he spotted Kali, someone who felt off to him since the last they met. Walking up to Auri and showing everyone an FBI badge, and apparently, he is an FBI agent now.
Finn could only stare wide-eyed at Kali and could only think, what am I getting myself into? The only reason he did not do a 180 and leave the flower shop was the same reason he came back. Avenging Bella, he found a nearby wall and leaned against it reluctantly. Waiting to see what happens next and if there will be any more surprises. God knows he does not need any more surprises right now.
Damn. She really hit the oxy hard if she can't tell who the hell the priest was. She didn't recognize him at all and couldn't for the life of her remember anyone that seemed inclined towards the clothe. Not that it mattered. Man was here five second and the moment he opened his mouth, Tayla had a headache. The way he spoke and his jovialness didn't match the scene at all. She trusted very few people, but she already knew she's never trust this clown. This meeting needed to get done, so she could go home. She's already tired of this shit.
She tuned out the priest's speech. He moment he said "Sister Auclair", she pretended he didn't exist. She's good at that when she thinks about other things. Like how the fuck she's getting home. She pulled out her phone and checked the time. The ferry's last run was at 8pm. It's edging into 7pm now. She could order a ride to the dock the ferry docked at, and get home after dinner. She's knew there would be leftovers. She made plenty of sides on Sunday to last them the week. Her father just had to take care of the entrée. She hoped it wouldn't be ass, but that's a dying hope considering his cooking skills.
After the priest's riveting performance, Auri finally got to the point. And boy had she wished she didn't say what just came out of her mouth. The fucking Wolfpack. This is what she's here for. The bane of her exists and the thing that exacerbated her trauma just happens to be the next important thing Auri needed to talk about. Maybe she should've held her tongue. She wasn't ready to shoot straight into a relapse after she's been doing good. The reason she came here didn't seem all that important anymore. Nothing but holding onto her sanity mattered.
She raised her hand, ready to decline, when a man dressed in a suit with a food platter in his hand came inside. She put her hand down. He looked a wreck. Like having attention on him was about to make his shit himself. And when he looked at her, he looked more like he would shit himself. He stumbled over his words for a few seconds, before something in him changed. She's been around enough snakes to know one when she saw one. The way he held himself, spoke, and even his expression, all changed in an instant.
He started talking about the murders, the police investigation, then brought up the FBI. What they have to do with anything Coven related was lost on her, until the main pulled out a badge and attached to that badge was his ID. She right in front of him and got a look at his name. Kali Mahendra. Didn't know him, and she didn't want to.
"What the fuck, Auri. You invited the feds?" She complained, crossing her arms, then gave it a second thought a split second later. "Y'know what, it's good you invited him. He can go down to the Wolfpack and chat them up. They're dangerous and all. No need for the rest of us getting involved. What's your next lead? I'll go literally anywhere else that's not Wolfpack related."
She can't be anywhere near them. The memories will come back. All the feeling she liked about being on oxy, the smells of the strip club, of any place she frequented for a fix, all of it would be a calling card to welcome her back into misery and an early grave. For her to abandon her son for drugged up pleasure and sex with a biker that shouldn't fuck her when she's incoherent, but will do it anyway. Her forehead prickled with a cold sweat. She tucked her hands under her arm pits to quiet down the shaking. She needed to go home. She needed to get out of here. This was a mistake.
The door opened almost immediately after she explained the plan. Standing in the doorframe was Kali! Auri was happy that he was alive and well but looked a bit… different. Then she remembered it was ten years. Auri smiled, and then she got ready to greet him…
… Then he announced to the whole group that he was with the FBI. Auri’s smile went flat, then her jaw dropped. She realized that this would cause the group to throw more vitriol her way. Tayla and Drake audibly protested and she could see the shock on everyone else’s face.
Auri quickly got up, and all the butterflies disappeared. She walked over to Kali and said, “Can we have a word in private?”
She turned around and threw up the “time out” hand signal, announcing, “Meeting on hold! I will be right back!”
That was when she pulled Kali into the storage room, slash break room. In here there were various paintings that Auri wasn’t ready to put up for sale, pots, and so forth. In the middle was a table with various chairs up against it. This was where she and Laurey would go on break.
Auri closed the door and turned on the light, she smiled at Kali and said,
“It's so great to see you again, and it was also suuuuuuuuuuuper that you decided to make your grand entrance by announcing to the entire group that you are with the government! But, wouldn’t it have been smarter to, you know, tell me about this beforehand? Or at the very least not announce it to the entire group?”
Why did I let her do this? I should've refused. They were surprised, shocked, some of them might have gone violent but that was an opportunity to take control of the situation whilst they don't have time to think. They're disorganized, far from a cohesive unit, and a bit of shock and awe was probably exactly what they needed to get a functioning dynamic again for what's to come. And yet... when she gave me that look I just followed along Like a goddamn idiot.
Just like old times right? Shut it. I'll fix this...
I let out a sigh pressing a hand up against the temples of my forehead before saying to her "Smarter, maybe. For me." looking her dead in the eyes once again. Focus... don't get distracted. The past is the past. You don't owe her anything anymore...
"Think about it. If anyone else besides me was sent to handle this you probably wouldn't even know they exist. They would've watched you from a distance, recorded your movements, tapped your phones, tracked your internet usage, intercepted all lines of communication, and eventually... once they realize exactly what we all are, the plans would change." I say, intentionally not elaborating on how those plans would change.
"Basically, I'm giving you all a chance. Work with me, officially, at least until this father wolf mess is figured out. I can give you access to the information I have, the resources I have access to, and most importantly, the knowledge you're going to need to keep yourselves out've some very threatening crosshairs. Because if any of you slip up right now Headquarters is going to be sending backup here and trust me... my co-workers are way more ruthless than I am." I say, driving the point home. None of it is a lie, technically, but it's not the whole truth. Still, it's as much as she needs to know. As much as any of them needs to know.
It felt like it was only a few weeks ago that they were all joined together under that tree to save the city from a monster. Staring out the windows, into the vast unknown from which no other person from St Portwell could ever hope to emerge, Jack had to wonder just how many of the old members had answered the call. Jack could've simply stayed in the Void until well after Father Wolf gave up, but how long would that be? No doubt it would be after every living remnant of his past was in a puddle of their own blood. The Void was home to him now, but no one could run from their past, not even in this place. From an unfathomable distance, Jack could see the shapes moving like mountains, writhing and contorting in countless ways. It took a certain kind of individual to see the beauty in it, and he could've watched for hours. But alas, Jack had a place to be, and he might've been running late already.
Shutting the blinds, Jack turned and walked up the stairs. He opened the door to a bedroom that would've made anyone else feel unsafe, like they were being watched. Everything in this house had that effect on someone, not that Jack was entertaining any guests lately. He grabbed his favorite coat, and went around checking that everything was in order. Channeler, check. Phone, check. Wallet, check. Personal belongings... Chest. Just thinking about going back home made Jack's shoulder ache, despite it not being there anymore. Back into a town where he might not be recognized, where he might be killed, or simply ignored. Would Britney actually be there? Or that joker Drake? What if he was the only one there?
Oh well, time to find out. Jack grabbed a snack for the road, and opened the front door out onto the false grass. He always felt like it was fake, since there was no sunlight here in the Void, similar to how the lights worked without electricity. It felt real, and sometimes Jack wondered if the time dilation had this effect on all things. He laid his channeler down on the grass, and took a step back before popping a cookie dough chip in his mouth. "I won't be back for some time, Child. So you can rest easy, until then," He said out loud, and only getting back silence. That was fine, he and the Child didn't really communicate much, but he considered it a polite gesture to at least notify the god, warden and alleged creator of the Void when he was creating doors in and out of it.
Jack's left arm, a construction made from shadows, began to emit smoke, as he reached for something in the air. His fingers caught something that took more than eyes to see, as he felt through the fabric of the All-Verse. Like flipping through pages in a book, he stopped when he found the proverbial page one: Shimmer.
A few feet above the ground, right in the middle of Auri's flower shop, a portal opened from beyond. It looked like drops of ink diluting a glass of crystal clear water- A black fog spread out, which revealed absolute nothingness. There was no sound, and there was no buildup. One minute everyone was talking about old blood, priests, the FBI and Father Wolf. The next, it was simply there, as if reality had been smashed in with a sledgehammer. The anomaly remained for a moment, silent and unreactive to anything, until someone fell out of it. A man dressed in a brown trench coat, wool pants and knee-length combat boots landed on his feet with an audible thump. The doorway he came through snapped inwards on itself almost instantly, with a small shift in the air that everyone in the building could feel through the floor. He looked around, through a frazzled mess of black hair, and wore a tired smile. There sat Drake Blackmore, the comical kid who could never keep himself quiet back in the day. And Alizee, Tayla, Edict, Linqian, Sloane, and Luca, but not Britney. She must've chose not to come.
Auri didn't appear to be here either. Strange...
"And I thought I'd be the only one that showed up. I had hoped to arrive sooner, but time gets away from you in the Void... It is good to see all of you again." He meant that, truly. He missed them, even if so many of them had their own mixed feelings about all this.
”You think I should give Britney a rest? Well, that’s fine, are you offering to help me instead? Maybe you can start by helping me pay for my next phone."
Alizée pulled a whisp of platinum hair from her vision, tucking it behind an ear as she considered Luca's words. Same old Luca.
"Shame, if only they saw the world like you do." Said the metallic voice of the Void Heart.
"Like I do?" She thought.
"Why yes, being in absolute love with your fate, and with me."
"Go to Hell, Void."
"Where do you think I come from? From your books, where I wander is very close to what you describe." His cold smile split the orb wide.
She pushed a frustrated hand to her temples, wiping her hair back, before turning to Luca.
"I can see when my advice isn't appreciated. But I will say this: you're asking the wrong question..."
And she left it at that. If they had anything more to say, it was cut off when Auri spoke.
"What is most interesting is that their leader, Judas, uses the Father Wolf alias."
Alizée swore under her breath. There's more than one Father Wolf, isn't there? Just what this story needed.
"I am suggesting that we simply investigate the Wolfpack. If Judas or the Wolfpack are not involved with the murders or Father Wolf, we move on to the next lead." Auri continued.
"So we night-stalk some girls? The next victim is Violet." Said the cold, sickeningly sweet voice in her mind.
"Absolutely not." Her thought snapped back.
The Void Heart swirled menacingly around Alizée's shoulders, wide purple and red eyes with their black sclera narrowed at her. "Talking back now? Need I remind you the last time you thought talking back was a good idea with me?"
She remembered. Ashley Stone had been the one to break up that fight before the police got involved. Damage to property, among other charges, would have been the least of her worries.
She glared at Void from the corner of her eye, watching as it slithered around her. "That was a long time ago. And I, for one, am sick of letting you have your way all the time."
Void simply chuckled. "Have it your way. I have a feeling I'll get what I want in the end, though."
Just then, the door to the flower shop swung wide open. Staring at the group with an intense gaze was non other than Kali. Alizée blinked, recognizing him. The abscised one of the group, last she remembered. One of the more level-headed ones. One that she had some amount of confidence in before everything went south.
That was, at least, until he pulled out the badge.
The folding chair clattered and fell behind Alizée as she shot from her seat, wide-eyed and panicked. A badge? Kali was a badge? Since when? Was he here for her? No, no, not possible. She kept herself low-key on purpose, leaving minimal traces. And it wasn't like she killed anybody, her night-stalking just left victims hospitalized.
Auri seemed to read the room and moved Kali into one of the back rooms. But the damage was done.
Swallowing hard, she shoved past the seats and group members in her way, but just as she was about to barrel out the front door, she ran straight into Jack. Her breath caught, staring up as he Void-walked right into the flower shop.
"Jack...?" She said, trying a smile. Before looking over her shoulder, swallowing again. "I... have to go." And she pressed a scrap of paper into Jack's hands. Her phone number. And she fled out the front door.
She didn't stop her panicked, almost-running walk until she reached her car, a modest, old model camero, and slid in behind the driver seat. With shaky fingers, she started the engine and took off.
There were many moments of silence before Void eyed her, slinking around the passenger seat. "You're that scared of getting caught, huh?"
"Of course I am. What would my father think...?"
"Relax, they wouldn't have any evidence on you anyway. I've made you a wicked night-stalker, one that's near untraceable."
There was another moment of silence. "Where are you going?"
"Where do you think?"
She pulled up on the opposite street of the Veni Vedi Veni, neon lights flickering in the night. Taking a breath to steady herself, she turned off the engine, tossed her keys in her purse, and stepped out of her car, locking it twice. She double-checked her surroundings before stepping towards the strip club.
"You're just gonna walk through the front door?"
"You got a better idea?"
"Sneak around the back."
"Not necessary. This might turn out to be nothing."
"What if it isn't?"
"Then you'll be watching my back, right?"
She smirked at that, and opened the door to the Veni Vedi Veni wide, stepping inside. She made her way to the bar, ignoring the glimmering lights and staring faces, throwing down a few bills.
"Gin and tonic." She paused, then leaned in closer to the bartender. "And I'm... looking for someone. Someone by the name of Violet. Personal business."
A familiar taste of metal oozed into Eve's mouth as she spit blood out, she couldn't pull herself out of the grasps of the dude who was holding her arms behind her in that neon lit parking lot of the Veni Vedi Veni. Wham! A punch grazed across her face as she recoiled from being slammed in the face by such a hammer fist. Spitting out blood she looked towards the oaf feeding her punches, she tensed up her arms wrenching against the guy who was holding her in place. Blood dribbled from her nose and mouth as she reactively spit on the biker in front of her.
"Fucking punk.." She muttered Wham! another punch across the bow left her head spinning again as her knees buckled but she was forced to stand up straight. "You think you can just scam our club and get away with it you little bitch!?" He was angry, big beard, shaved head the whole nine yards but no Judas. Eve blinked weakly as she looked back up to him trying to think of something witty to help her escape the situation. "...You take I-O-" Wham! that one knocked the wind out of her as she almost fell again only being stood up by the goon again.
Blinking tears out of her eyes she looked up as baldie reached into his boot for a knife, this definitely wasn't going. Moving her wrists she found purchase of grabbing onto the man behind her. Within moments he screamed out in pain, his skin growing frostbitten and cold as night drew over St. Portwell. Eve took her chance, running with the world spinning at her toes she ran towards the edge of the parking lot. The seven foot fence of freedom, she jumped and found her foot finding a hold in one of the spooled wired gaps. Reaching the top she felt a familiar, huge hand grab onto her!
"Gah! Fucker!" She said struggling, falling over the other side all the goon got was the MC colors she was wearing at the time. Left in her t-shirt and repairable jeans she took off. Way faster, and nimbler than the thugs that wanted her debt money and perhaps her life.
Oh right, the meeting.
Stumbling out of her small apartment, she did the best she could to fix herself up. Nose? The bone was set and held in place with a bandage. Cuts? Cleaned, and bandaged with polysporin. Scrapes on her arms? Washed out and covered by her clothing (not the ink, never fuck with the ink.) The trip to the Flowers and Canvas was one that would be taken by way of taxi, a popular mode of transportation in St. Portwell, almost falling out and paying her fare for the ride. Eve found herself at the front gates of heaven, or hell but ultimately it depended on who you asked.
A recall of memory, drama and more. She lined up a Grey Strike cigarette to her lips, her hands were a big shaky from an overdose of violence and trauma for the day. Lighting it with her blood-stained zippo lighter, the metal sounded dull without proper maintenance and care. She stumbled in, taking long drags of the burning tobacco. It calmed her, and for Mazzy Star it kept her alert. Alert that Eve was smoking, there was no actual evidence this helped Mazzy but she knew Eve was smoking.
Seeing such a big crowd, of faces she knew or thought she knew back then. Shit, it was a lot to take it.
"Sup... Who was the healer again?" Eve held her balance on a nearby plant for a moment as she edged her way over to the crowd of 'witches'.
She eventually placed a supportive hand on Finn's shoulder, surely he wouldn't let her fall?