A dark alley held no fear for Ferelith Burrows. Push came to shove, she was the scariest thing in it if she chose, even with half her powers missing. No refreshing breeze would find a way into the alley and she steeled her nose for the strong odour to come. In her hands she held food in a plastic container for the homeless priest who’d recently taken up residence there, but tonight there was one very notable difference.
A large well-dressed man was sprawled face down blocking her path. No, not a man. An angel. The white haze pulsing around his body told her so. A dirty, stinking, lying, murdering angel. She let the container hover in the air, her eyes flicking from the angel to Frank. She waved her hand, like swatting a fly and the stranger rolled onto his back, an ice cream wrapper stuck to his cheek, obscuring his face. If the situation wasn’t so serious she would have snickered. Her fingers sought the delicate gold pentagram around her neck, squeezing it between thumb and forefinger, willing its strength into her.
She summoned a ball of energy and let it rotate in the palm of her hand just in case the douche bag angel woke up. The only way passed the angel to check on Frank was to step over him and as she did so a gasp parted her lips. Scars, some deep, slashed cross his face. Several were puckered with age, shiny and pale, including the one cut into his top lip while others were newer and still pink around the edges. Creeping up his neck a spiral of gold peeked from underneath his collar. This guy looked capable of bringing pain to all who crossed his path. Even though his eyes were closed, Ferelith knew they would be hard as steel, unforgiving.
Keeping an unsure eye on the stranger, she crouched before Frank, his own eyes minus the spark of life. The same glassy expression she remembered on her mother's face years before, burned into her brain forever. She dissipated the energy ball and brushed his cold forehead as she moved a clump of damp hair out of his eyes. She lifted his head out of a puddle of water and rested it back on the mattress and lay her hand on his chest. Her eyes closed and she prayed not to her deity, but to his God to send him a speedy journey home. He’d lived the last few months of his life in squalor surrounded by other people’s rubbish and died in an alley.
“Rest well.” A waft of urine odour made her gag and she looked over her shoulder for fresher air and saw the angel still out cold. He had killed Frank.
Thanking her decision to wear boots she delivered several swift kicks to the angels body. “Do you feel that?” She grunted with exertion and changed feet when the other got sore from repeatedly kicking him in the head. He groaned. Ferelith stopped and waited stock still for several seconds, getting an enormous amount of satisfaction from the blood dripping from his nose and lips. Unfortunately he’d heal almost immediately which lessened her fun. Misty rain fell while she studied him some more.
Black and gold tattoos swirled around his neck, hands and fingers and wound their way under his clothes. Ferelith recognised Angelic script, ancient symbols unknown to the human realm and her mouth thinned. Angels were vicious if it served them, and it often did. Below his thumb etched in black ink was his life purpose. Her brows lowered, and she mouthed its meaning. Shikawa. Scared place. The years she spent studying with her mother she knew the symbol to be the most divine and the highest intention bestowed by the King of the Angelic realm.
The bared skin of his stomach where his shirt pulled from his jeans thanks to her kicking the crap out of him, drew her gaze. Black ink peeked out, seeming to pulse and oscillate, and without thought she lifted his shirt with a thumb and forefinger and traced a swirl of midnight ink around his belly button. Powerful abdominals clenched under her touch, her hand warmed enough for her to hold it up to the fading summer light to see a multi-coloured shimmer flash across her palm. She looked back to find burnished silver eyes glaring at her.
Ferelith jumped back with a shout, the heel of her shoe catching on a piece of broken concrete, arms flailing like a windmill, expecting the painful and embarrassing thump as her backside hit the ground. Goddess, please don’t let me fall in a puddle on my arse, she begged.
Instead his strong arms enclosed her waist and Ferelith couldn’t help but notice how large his biceps were under her hands. But it was the ice cream wrapper that attracted her attention just as much. The wrapper, the muscles under her palms and those incredible sterling eyes. Huh, knew it. She jerked out of his arms and staggered back.
He looked shocked at first, then became aware of blood dripping down his face.
“What the hell?” He wiped his mouth and winced.
“You fell I guess,” Ferelith said, trying hard to hide a smirk and failing. She folded her arms, completely unrepentant. Bastard deserved it. If she had her full witch powers she’d have fried him. Slowly.
“Witch,” he sneered.
She leaned in, Frank temporarily forgotten under the angels scrutiny “You’re a long way from home angel boy. Slumming it? Angelic script all over,” she snorted. “I saw.” She spat the last word hoping to convey her disgust.
There’s an ice cream wrapper stuck on the side his face, she thought. Why isn’t he aware? Ferelith narrowed her eyes. Maybe he’s simple? A handsome Forrest Gump type angel. She frowned, speculating how long it would take him to realise. She eyed him up and down, striving hard to show her distaste for his appearance. Especially so close to her home. But her thoughts weren’t only centred on that. Never had Ferelith seen someone so utterly perfect in form and features.
He continued to stare at her. No. Into her. Like he was seeing something she couldn’t.
“You’re not surprised to see me?” he asked.
“Angels in back alleys aren’t unusual. That’s where your breed do their creeping.” She glanced to Frank. “And murder.” Goddess, that damn wrapper. She flicked non-existent hair off her face as if willing him to comprehend her meaning. Take a hint for Goddess’ sake. Then again a part of her took a pinch of delight knowing he was oblivious. Not so perfect after all. He’d used enough strength to prevent her falling when he could have crushed the life out of her. Ferelith swallowed scant moisture down her throat and it chafed like a desert. Those eyes would have been unnerving except for the wrapper.
“Your murderous family history has left a mark.” He inclined his head left and right, looking around her. The wrapper flapped back and forth. “Not surprising either considering.”
A witch’s aura denoted her affiliation, both personal and familial, and her family's decision to align with Cimmerian had affected Ferelith despite her estrangement. As a result, her aura was multi-coloured closest to her body, intermingled with streaks of black. She wasn’t surprised he could see her aura. Angels didn’t miss much. Even with hair plastered to one side of his head and an ice cream wrapper stuck to his cheek, he was still the most handsome man slash angel she’d ever seen. Actually the one and only.
“What about the priest?” she asked, and when his eyes narrowed and he shook his head, Ferelith saw red. “Listen arsehole you killed a human! There are laws here that even someone like you has to follow.” She jabbed a finger back to the priest. “He’s a man of the cloth. You know? One of you? At least take his body with you.”
He tried the word out a few more times, rolling it off his tongue, drawing the word out until Ferelith folded her own arms in response. “Do you want me to spell it for you?”
“No, I think I have it. F.E.R.E.L.I.T.H.”
Her mouth fell open. He knows my name? He knows my name! Wait, he thinks I’m an arsehole? Before she could utter another word he pivoted and walked away, swatting impatiently at the wrapper on his face and swore repeatedly. She gave Frank one last apologetic glance over her shoulder before following.
“Hey! What about Frank? What the hell kind of angel are you?” She followed, her strides twice as long to keep up. The angel kept walking for a few paces and turned back, the coat flaring around his thighs.
“I’m not the morgue. He’s all yours. Add another dead man to your tally. What is it up to now, just out of curiosity?”
What the holy hell? “Do Angels take crack because you sound high? Hit your head on the way down?” Her face reddening beneath his obvious distain, Ferelith tightened her arms across her stomach, well aware of her defensive posture, and silently mocked herself. Off kilter was a feeling she hated. “What’s your name?” She lifted her nose, hoping to convey her own contempt.
“You’re hilarious. You want to report me to the Angel police?”
Oh, a smart-arse angel. “It’s disrespectful to just leave him there,” she gritted out.
“Disrespectful?” He snorted. “That word coming from you, is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Know you? I’ve seen you around.”
Seen me around? What the hell does that mean? And Ferelith definitely had not met an angel before in her life. “You killed someone.”
A dark eyebrow lifted. “So have you. And just for the record, I don’t kill people, I take their souls because it’s their time to go. Would you prefer him to suffer here, surrounded by rubbish while he waits for you to bring him leftovers?”
The leftovers jab pissed her off and her eyes unconsciously went to the container of spaghetti still floating. Who is this guy? She raised her hands to press flat against his broad chest as he crowded her, feeling those large hard shoulders under her hands again. For a split second his eyes flicked down to where she touched him and immediately after she shoved with all her might. He barely staggered three feet and stood looking at her. No expression. Just staring.
While sweat poured out of every millimetre of her skin, drenching her clothes, giving rise to potential body odour concerns, the angel was crisp and perspiration free. Even his skin was cool to touch.
“I’ve never hurt anyone. It’s amazing that you think it’s perfectly acceptable to kill a man, a priest and leave his body to rot in an alley. I tried to help him. I gave him blankets, food and clothes. What the hell did you and your god do apart from let him rot here?” How did a chance encounter get to the point of her squabbling back and forth with an angel in a dark, wet alley? Trading verbal blows with this guy was pointless.
“Oh,” he waved his arms wide. “Well, let’s give you a medal, huh? Ferelith Burrows helped someone. Shall I alert the media?”
Ferelith rolled her eyes, frustrated and unimpressed with the sarcasm. “Frank isn’t getting any fresher. Do something.”
“Witch, I already have.”
Leo flopped back on the bed uttering a string of colourful expletives.
“The Presidium abhor those words,” said Peter, pale mouth pouting.
Leo rose up on his elbows, stunned by his appearance, eyeing his Doyen residing in the painfully emaciated body of a kid of no more than eighteen. “What are you doing?” Pondering who or what his Doyen of the last three hundred years would turn up in was a daily internal debate and one he tried repeatedly not to dwell on.
Leo immediately pushed everything else aside. The saying never in a thousand years sprang to mind, but Leo knew time immemorial couldn’t erase her perfect yet deceitful face from his memory, and he refused to contemplate why the former love of his life looked the same. Witches weren’t immortal. Just liars and murderers. The instant her sweet chocolate eyes locked onto his he fought a losing battle to halt the flood of memories. All of them centred on her taking his life while he lay helpless and bleeding at her feet.
Those innocent eyes were a surprise this time around. Not a trait found in witches more known for secrets and manipulations. Wanting to kiss her instead of kill her was another mistake. One he never thought he’d ever make again.
“Yeah, thanks for the heads up.” He cursed himself a dozen times a fool for getting so close to her, and Peter for not warning him. Peter knew everything.
His Doyen regarded him with barely concealed pity. “You really are puerile, aren’t you?” Peter’s emaciated legs stuck out beneath colourful board shorts while seaweed threaded through his bloodshot hair.
Under normal circumstances Leo would’ve thrown him out a window, and he contemplated it even now. “If you weren’t already dead…” He paused to study his companion of the last three hundred years. “You’re so pale. I mean you’re so white. Who did you take, an albino?”
“Would you believe this guy…?” Peter motioned to the body he resided in, “…was at Bondi beach?”
“It’s like you’re translucent.” Leo sat up, mouth slack and eyes blinking rapidly.
“I know right.” He let out a full-bodied laugh and his smile slipped. “Yeah. Shark.”
Leo choked back a curse and shifted up the bed. “Whoa.” Huge chunks of flesh and degloved bone hung from Peter’s back. “I can see your spine. That’s not right.”
“A kid this anaemic, had no business being on a beach.” Peter turned back and spoke matter of factly. “Not one shark sighting in six months, this guy dives into the water and it’s a feeding frenzy. Unlucky right? Blood and bits of muscle floating around…entrails…people screaming.” He made a face. “Disgusting.”
“Why would you take his body?” Leo covered his mouth as watery blood dripped down the unlucky shark attack victim’s legs onto the carpet. “That better wash out.”
“There’s a bet going around on who can possesses the most damaged body. Hello, shark attack! I win.” Peter clapped his hands like a two year old about to get a lolly. “Suck on that Gabriel.”
Leo shook his head. Angels treated humans like yesterday’s refuse. No surprise there.
“Anyway, back to you.” Peter smiled. “Said pretty witch has turned her back on her family and powers. She uses it justenough to survive.” He laughed without humour. “Her family however are prodigious users. And prodigious users garner the support of Cimmerian. Nasty little so and so.”
Peter wasn’t one to labour the point. He never skirted. The one thing Leo liked about him. He left the bed, wrapping the sheet around his hips and knotted it with a sharp tug. “It’s her, right? Ferelith?”
Peter sighed as if the subject bored him to tears. “Yes. Reborn countless times in her current form. Your death affected her as much as it did you.”
Leo prowled around the room, his temper threatening to get the better of him. “I doubt that. Why didn’t she remember me?” A memory of how completely she’d fooled him those many years ago came to mind. And her eyes. Those beautiful dark eyes. Soft and confused. Angry for the old priest.
“Ferelith renounced her coven. She never received her memories.” He reached a spindly arm up his back as if to scratch an itch, his tongue poking out the side of his mouth. “She has no idea what she did. Or who you are.” He pulled a face at the hunk of flesh caught on his finger and flicked it off. It hit the opposite wall and slid down.
Leo followed its trajectory and tightened the sheet knotted on his hip. “Renounced her coven?” How many times had she refused to do just such a thing for him? His hands swept through his already sleep messed hair and he sat on the end of the bed, the sheet falling between his thighs. No memories. Well that explained her full on confusion when they met. “You knew she’d be there. Why now? Tell me everything,” He raised a finger. “All of it.”
“The very first Ferelith Burrows took your life to protect her family. She made a bargain with Cimmerian to revenge your death then killed herself over what she’d done to you.” He paused, his eyes dropping away. “But there was one thing she didn’t know.”
Leo wasn’t expecting that. “She killed herself?” All these years he thought she had forgotten him. To have his opinion about her, one he’d held onto so tightly proved wrong, set him on the bones of his backside. He’d lived with the question of why for so long, centuries, that finally hearing the answer was hard to hear. Peter came forward and knelt before him and Leo leaned back, uncomfortable with his Doyens proximity. Angel’s gave off an intense vibe difficult to be around. After a three centuries Leo could be in the same room with Peter so long as he keep his distance.
“I should have told you this before but, I thought it was an act of kindness to keep it from you.” Peter continued quickly. “Ferelith was carrying your child when she died. She didn’t know…she never would have even contemplated taking the life of her child. She was heartbroken. Out of her mind.”
Leo managed to swallow the thick wad of emotion in his throat with effort. “My child?” His throat tightened and tears stung his eyes. It was too much to take in. Leo’s mind rebelled against the information that he not only lost his life, his love but also his child.
Peter shook his head. “The King took the child for safe keeping before the act was completed. The child is safe. Waiting. Cimmerian took the energy from Fereliths death and used it to link himself to her family. A succubus. To destroy them for her, because of you. Fereliths family is at a tipping point, Leo.” Peter said. “There is one Burrows soul remaining. Yourchild. If it remains unborn every soul that came before it is forfeit. But he’s smart, right?” Peter tapped his temple. “He waited. He wants them all.” Peter shook his head. “Now the King of Heaven is just as inclined as everyone else in the nether world to let the witches burn, but imagine their combined powers condensed into one powerful demon. He’d be unstoppable.”
“What do you mean punish the coven? She murdered me.”
“To protect her sisters. It was either you or them. A terrible choice for her,” said Peter. “I’m sorry Leo. I thought it was best. And the King must have taken the memory to help you move on.”
The Angelic realm, in particular the King of Heaven was known as an anal retentive obsessive compulsive douche bag, and if he was responsible for Leo’s memory gaps then he did it for his own benefit. Murdered by the women he loved, his memory of his own death and the person responsible altered. Why? To serve some greater good or the King of Heaven?
“The King may have his reasons,” said Peter, patting Leo’s arm.
Leo pointedly eyed his arm and Peter snatched his hand away. “To conceal and wait for such a plan to bear fruit takes a demon of great restraint.” Demons had nothing but time trapped in their horror realm. Peter moved away and Leo exhaled slowly, grateful the intense humming no longer filled his ears. “A thousand years is how many generations? Forty, fifty?”
“More or less. It’s actually nine hundred and fifty one years, three months and twenty three days,” he said. “If you want to be accurate.”
Leo place a hand over the Well of Souls, his supposed reward for a stolen life. He pushed off the bed, his jawline twitching. Anger at having to deal with Ferelith Burrows again making his words sharp. “My child? Where is it?” From the way Peter hesitated, Leo knew it wasn’t good. “Where?”
Leo’s sigh was more a growl and he stalked into the bathroom, ripped off the sheet before stepping into the shower. He could have used his powers to forgo such a mortal routine but he needed the icy sting of the water to help clear his head. Limbo. His beautiful child was stuck in a realm of blackness, devoid of human contact, love, laughter, joy. A place for the forgotten, the lost and unwanted. A realm of neglect. For a thousand years. Because of her. That bitch of a witch. He flicked off the taps, manifested a large towel and dried and dressed before re-joining Peter. He took three slow measured steps toward Peter and stood as still as a statue, hard eyes pinned to the angel. “What do the Presidium want me to do?”
“The only thing you must do. Help her regain her memories. Convince her to accept the child.”
“How exactly am I supposed to do either of those things without help?” It didn’t escape Leo’s attention that Peter didn’t answer the question.
“She deserves to know too. To right the wrong. Surely you agree with that?
Right at that moment, Leo wanted to kill her himself for placing his child in that hell hole of a place, knowingly or not. “I don’t know anything anymore.” He ran a hand across the thick stubble on his chin and remembered her standing before him in the alley. Sweat curling the auburn hair at her temple giving her a girl next door glow. “How old is she now? She looks young. Too young.”
Peter’s sigh was borderline frustrated. “A few months before her eighteenth birthday. But that is irrelevant. Time and age are relative. All that matters is righting the wrong. All else will flow from that. You should understand that by now.”
Leo did know that. He’d preached it for hundreds of years to the dead and dying he’d taken into his own body for safe keeping. The scales had to be balanced regardless of the cost. To him. Or her.
Ferelith sighed and stood before the fire. Carved into the wood at least a foot thick and made from the wood of the Rowan tree, were five circled pentagrams. The meaning of its points seared into her brain. Spirit, water, fire, earth and air. Ancient symbols of protection. With a bored flick of her hand the candles flared into life casting shadows and more flameless heat over the apothecary, her only claim to fame in a family brimming with witches so powerful they could reverse the rotation of the earth if they had a mind. One or two gave it a go back in the day. Hello, extra crispy ring a bell? From then on it was downhill for witches everywhere. The Burrows clan were responsible for the many conditions placed on their kind living in the mortal realm. None worried her overly. She kept to herself pretty much. The alternative of returning to her nefarious family wasn’t an option she considered.
Tuned to the subtle shifts in energy, her run in with the angel wouldn’t pass undetected by her family and Ferelith knew her estranged sister’s presence would be known soon enough. After reporting Frank’s death to the police and making a statement, leaving out the murdering angel of course, Ferelith poured salt across the threshold of every window and outside door in her ground-floor apartment and sensed her sisters’ presence as she emptied the plastic container. Cheap but effective. She wiped her hands down her skirt and waited in front of the open apartment door. Arms folded. Lips tight. Heart pounding. Fereliths relationship with her sisters wasn’t complicated. They disliked her and the sentiment had always been reciprocated. Oleander, the oldest of the Burrows sisters stood outside the door with middle sister Merritt beside her, regarding Ferelith with striking deep sea green eyes, half veiled by a thick purple ombre fringe.
Fereliths own hair wasn’t shiny or unusual, just boring chocolate brown to match her eyes. And since the colour of witch’s tears corresponded to the colour of her eyes, even her tears were brown. Fantastic. Her tears looked like shit coming out of her eyes. Who wouldn’t want that, right? Countless times she’d wished for more exotic features. But being partially trained had massive drawbacks. Unlike her, Oleander and Merritt had their powers and previous life memories intact. Not to mention mermaid type tears of green and blue, respectively.
“Let us in little sister.” Merritt inclined her head. Her straight black hair styled around her head. “Goddess what have you been up to? You’re sweating like a pig.”
Ferelith ground her teeth down. First Frank. The angel. And now her sisters. The end of her day had imploded into a great big pile of steaming dog do-do.
“It’s hot.” She tried not to sound peevish but didn’t pull it off. “Who let you out of your cage Rat?” Using the nickname she’d given her sister when she was little gave Ferelith a childish sense of satisfaction, especially since Merritt turned her into a rat over it once. Totally worth it. At least she had peace and quiet for two days living in the walls until she changed back.
Oleander nudged the salt with her shoe and watched with impartial eyes as red sparks sizzled. “Salt. Old school. Do you think you can swan around with an angel and it goes unnoticed?’
“Not swanning. And do I care what you notice? No. No I do not.” Her sisters had a flair for pushing her buttons, always had. The constant need to guard herself was one of the defining reasons she’d finally had the courage to leave the coven before her eightieth birthday. That and her murderous grandmother.
“Don’t you care you’re placing your family in peril?” Merritt came forward, her features hardening under a face covered in perfect Kardashian style make-up.
“Family? That died with mum.” Her sisters’ glanced at each other, lips thinned in annoyance. Since tossing them out a window wasn’t likely Ferelith used her wit. “I’ve always loved your hair Merritt.” She smiled when Merritt’s eyes narrowed. “How do you style it so the horns don’t show?” Her attention turned to Oleander. “You didn’t come here at ten o’clock at night to trade insults. Get on with it.”
Oleander clicked her tongue. “So far you’re the only one doing that. Angels? Seriously? You know how they work. We sensed the vibrations Lil, don’t take us for fools.”
Fereliths gut twisted at the shortened version of her own name. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Oleander had a soft spot for her. “Not fools, maybe a tad buffoonish. I’m touched you’re checking up on me, Oli.” Her sarcasm wasn’t wasted and Ferelith was gratified when Oleander’s lips compressed further. “Love it when you do that.”
“Goddess, her mouth,” said Merritt, rolling her eyes.
“I’m not responsible for what my face does when you talk. Vera will want you,” Oleander said, her posture stiffening. “This angel is important.”
Ferelith sniffed. “Vera can take a flying leap.”
None of them had ever called Vera by the name grandmother. It was too soft a description for the matriarch of their family who chose immortality over her future descendant’s free will. Veratrum Burrows put her poisonous namesake to shame.
Oleander’s weariness showed in her voice and on her face. “She’ll beckon you. You’re not strong enough to fight it.” Her tone said she didn’t need to explain. “None of us are.”
Ferelith glanced at the silver ring on her right thumb, its delicate double band encrusted with rubies and placed on her finger when their mother died. The means Vera used to control them. The spells she’d tried to remove it numbered in the thousands.
“Yes, but it’ll piss her off. And that I’m going to enjoy.”
She slammed the door and took three steps before the influence of Vera’s incantation nailed her to the floor with such force the bones in her spine cracked. A cry of pain broke from her and when she opened her eyes, she lay on her stomach in the spell library in Bleak House. The pressure of an invisible booted foot pushed down on her cheek squashing her face into the floor. She caught sight of her sisters across from her wearing dresses of layered black and grey lace, the standard attire in Vera’s presence. A full wall of grimy apothecary jars, ancient books and witches brews in mercury glass behind them. Just within her line of sight, Vera stood before a floor to ceiling oval window, the moon framed behind her. On her left a massive gilt-edged mirror floated, its dark liquefied surface flashing under the chandelier. She’d seen her grandmother commune with Cimmerian through the mirror many times and never wanted to repeat the experience.
“You’re right, it pissed me off.”
Loose spirals of blonde hair caressed her flawless face and a thick braid hung over one shoulder, a large decaying yellow tooth suspended from its tip. The jet black gown she wore squeezed glorious curves. Vera could be charming or malevolent if it served. Most times you’d never know which one would hurt you more. Right now her azure eyes fairly crackled with anger. Ferelith fought against the spell holding her as Vera squatted beside her, voluminous skirts bunching between her legs, her elbows resting on her knees and she flicked the end of Fereliths nose with a sharp fingernail.
“Tut-tut Ferelith. Those who stir the shit pot should have to lick the spoon.”
The pressure keeping her down eased when Vera moved away and Ferelith got to her feet with more than a little effort, worked her jaw and glanced at her sisters. “I see where you get your make-up tips, Rat,” she quipped and braced to face Vera. “If I give you a straw will you go suck the joy out of someone else’s life?”
Nothing brightened Fereliths day like seeing Vera’s face harden like now. She ended by clasping her hands before her and smiling sweetly. Her grandmother’s answering smile made her blood congeal.
“Tell me of the angel. I won’t ask again.” Quiet. Like a mouse. Nothing on earth sounded like Vera. At least nothing normal.
Ferelith remembered the tone well. And the accompanying pain. “He turned up in the alley outside my apartment.” Her eyes watched Vera while she slowly walked around her, back as straight as a board, one hand on her hip.
“What was he doing there?”
The lie came easily. “I don’t know.” The slap across her face from an invisible hand pushed her sideways, though Ferelith managed to keep her feet as burning pain swept across her cheek. She resisted the urge to place a bracing hand over it. “You’re losing your touch.” Another blow blasted her across the room to land at the feet of her sisters.
A movement drew Fereliths eyes to Oleander and Merritt linked hands, nestled between the folds of their gowns. She saw their knuckles strained to white and her eyes lifted to theirs. They were just as terrified as she was. Maybe more. Ferelith lay on her side, groaned and wiped her nose leaving a bright smear of blood across the back of her hand. A masochistic part of Ferelith treasured letting Vera know precisely what she thought of her despite the pain. As she got to her feet, Ferelith caught Oleander’s eye and heard her speaking in her head. They may hate each other, but their common enemy would forever be Vera.
Whatever happens don’t tell her anything, Lil.
Ferelith tried to convey as much disdain in her eyes without drawing Vera’s attention. Get out of my head, witch. She ignored her sisters’ plea and faced her grandmother who now stood in front of her. “You can hit me all you like. I can’t tell you what I don’t know.” Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you squat.
“You know more than you’re saying.”
Desolate jade eyes, ringed by jet black kohl bore into Ferelith, blasting streams of apprehension down her spine. She closed her eyes and cringed, repulsed by the touch of Vera’s hand caressing the rising welt on her cheek.
“Just like your mother.” An emotionless smile teased ruby red lips.
“If I was like my mother I’d be dead.” Ferelith scored a direct hit. Ardently pleased Vera’s eyes faltered and her hand dropped away. “What’s a daughter compared to immortality?” She braced for another blow, sucking in a breath and holding it.
Her grandmother spun away, skirts swirling wide. “You will tell me when you see this angel again.” She pivoted back, her hard eyed glance to her sisters a threat Ferelith didn’t need verbalising.
Ferelith wiped another spot of blood running down her lip. “You think threatening them will intimidate me?” She scoffed. “We hate each other, remember?”
A ragged groan echoed around the room and from behind Ferelith, Oleander glided passed, her arms and head thrown back, her face ashen and glistening with sweat and pain. Fereliths own eyes met Oleander’s as she floated beside her. All sound dissolved and the skin over her cheeks burned and her jaw ached. All familiar cues her temper was rising. Oleander’s voice was the single distinct point of reference in her head. Pleading. Anguished.
“Don’t tell her anything.”
“You’ve never wanted them hurt. Even after everything they’ve done to you. That makes you kind of… stupid.” Vera materialised a long emerald tear catcher in her palm, removed the topper and held it against Oleander’s cheek, her eyes eager as the tears slid inside.
More memories. More pain. The magic inside condensed to raw power.
“I will drain every tear, drop of blood and ounce of moisture until only a shell remains. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your sisters’ deaths on your hands, it would be a… terrible burden to live with.” She knelt down and dipped her finger into the shiny slick of tears on the floor and sucked on the end of her finger. “Such a waste. Witches tears are the sweetest.” She stood, her mouth pinched and hard. “Your hate sustains me.”
She made it sound like a badge of honour. Ferelith swallowed back a wedge of bile. Oleanders entreaty and pain filled eyes swayed her to hold her tongue. Vera circled her sister like a vulture, finger nails leaving bloody furrows along her arms and legs.
Do you remember the poem mum used to read to us?
It took a fleeting second for Ferelith to recognize Merritt’s voice in her head.
The angels will lead them? More urgent now. The angels Lil.
Distracted by Merritt and out of practice hiding her reactions, Ferelith didn’t see Vera turn toward her.
“What troubles you? Tell grandmother.”
Vera’s voice, deceptively loving, didn’t fool Ferelith. She’d been down this road many times before.
“Oh let me see, abducted, abused, you slaughtered my mother, I hate you… did I leave anything out?” Like you’re bat-shit crazy?
“The young. So impetuous. Your mother always said how much she loved her daughters, though some…” She glanced at Oleander and Merritt, her eyes glinting with arrogance and beneath it, the will to cause pain should Ferelith react further. “Were loved more than others.”
Ferelith snorted and pointed at Oleander hanging in mid-air, her whimpers of pain increasing along with her own distress. It took all her willpower to remain calm in the face of Vera’s cruelty, because if she knew Fereliths true thoughts, she’d make the punishment far worse. And still, she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
“If that’s you showing loving favouritism, I’ll pass. Are you trying to scare me or kill her? Because you’re only accomplishing one. What will you do without your lackeys I wonder?”
Released from the spell Oleander fell to the floor with a grunt and crawled to Merritt who helped her stand. She swayed on her feet and held Fereliths gaze for a mere second displaying neither thanks nor relief. Oleanders scary blank expression caught her heart. Been there done that, have the scars to prove it. Ferelith held in a sigh of relief she didn’t want to feel.
“You’re pale child. Are your powers sustaining you?”
Vera oozed false compassion and Ferelith wasn’t fooled. “Just fine, thanks.”
“Let me help you. You’d be stronger and more powerful than you ever imagined.”
“I’m sure the Ancient Ones won’t approve,” Ferelith said. “And, you know, I try not to feed off the energy of my fellow witches. Sets a depraved example for the kids.”
You couldn’t call it a smile. More a cunning smirk that split Vera’s lips from her teeth as she came to stand before Ferelith once again. Her lack of trust in any motive Vera had for doing even the most mundane of things had Fereliths eyes following her hand when it tucked a non-existent strand of hair behind her ear.
“You haven’t found your vial yet?”
Ferelith smacked her lips. “If I had, would I be here?” She stiffened noticeably as Vera’s icy hands touched her, rubbing up and down her bare arms, sending a shiver of fear and fury through her that increased her breathing. It was like having spider crawling over her skin.
“So much power.”
Ferelith leaned in, mocking. “More than you’ll ever know.” Vera smiled. All she needed was the forked tongue to complete the visual.
“Don’t be too sure about that.” She sniffed delicately. “Have you been consorting with pigs? Take care Ferelith. Never forget. Hope is a mistake.”
More warning than parting blessing and as it turned out the only remotely nice thing Vera ever told her. She was launched back to her apartment via the shower. Grabbing blindly for the taps and swearing at icy water sheeting her face, she stood dripping in the tiled cubicle wearing soaked pyjamas and cursing her family. Her hands balled into fists at her side she screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Angels will lead them. Don’t forget.” Merritt’s voice echoed in her head.
She stripped off, and turned the water to a warmer temperature to finish washing off her wrath and sweat. After drying, she stomped to the apothecary, chose a small glass jar of light pink jell and applied it under her swollen eye, lip and nose. It stung like crazy and under her eye a blue tinge spread. By morning she’d be good as new, but right now, right now she wanted to throw something. Dry clothes and a cup of tea quickly followed. As did the tears. She let them fall. Family was supposed to be a haven not a place where you found the deepest pain. But then, no one can screw you over as perfectly as family and step over your battered body on their way out. Those who knew you best, knew how to hurt you the most.
The angel re-entered her troubled thoughts, anything to take her mind off what just happened. Why would an angel hint they’d meet before when they obviously hadn’t? He acted like he knew her which was impossible. Handsomeness not withstanding they were manipulative and vindictive. Trouble. Big, gorgeous, silver eyed trouble. And why would Vera care? What is it about that angel that has her spooked? And her sisters. If she wasn’t mistaken they’d come to warn her even though they knew Vera watched their every move. Hence Oleanders punishment. But why? Why would her sisters risk it? Especially for her? After three years of no contact, why now? If was surely no coincidence Vera asked about the vial so close to her eighteenth birthday. She had always been hungry for it. The power. The demon she served, Cimmerian, also wanted it. Her own mother had given her life for it. For her.
The question repeated. Why now?
If nothing else witches were creatures of ritual.
Christians went to church. Witches cleansed. And Fridays, on the witch calendar, were all about banishing a dwelling of accumulated negative energy. Well documented to cause more disasters than a rampaging Elkor pixie, negative energy messed with your head, making you imagine things. Paranoia, schizophrenia and depression just the tip of the iceberg. Ferelith wandered from room to room, brushing the Magpie feather over the sage smoking in the tortoise shell bowl and murmuring an incantation. The smoke caught stagnant air in the room, twisting it down toward the bowl where it crackled and spat in a kaleidoscope of sparks.
She struggled to keep her sisters from her mind while she cleansed the large potted ivy plant, its delicate tendrils clogged with dark strands like cotton. She put it down and took a long pointed crystal, cleansed by the light of the full moon the night before, placed it in her palm and watched as it spun as she moved it over the evergreen plant. A knock on the front door interrupted the routine and her eyes most regretfully settled on Selene O’Malley, the interior designer who lived four apartments down. More than once Ferelith longed to turn her into a chamber pot but she didn’t know how. Now she pasted on a fake smile and held the coffee cup in front of her.
“Good morning, Selene.”
“Actually, for once I agree with you. Did you hear the old wino died?”
The familiar ache in Fereliths jaw meant she was grinding her teeth. “You mean Frank?” Poor Frank deserved more than the miserable existence he ended with and more than Selene’s best efforts to evict him from the only home he’d known for the last few months of his life.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.” Selene peered at her black painted finger nails.
“I thought of you today.” Ferelith nosedived into her temper yet again. “Then I flushed and felt better.”
Selene’s normally cool demeanour cracked. No, not cracked. Disintegrated. First, her lips wobbled, then her eyes blinked rapidly. Ferelith watched in horror as her entire face contorted into a series of hiccups and stuttering cries and finally tears. She had never seen this woman anything but emotionless and controlled.
“Selene come on now, I’ve insulted you worse on a bad day.”
“It’s not that.” She waved a scrawny hand. “Your insults are pathetic.”
As insults went it was one of her best. “Well, what is it?”
Selene pointed a black painted fingernail at her. “You’re a witch!”
It was a screech of monumental proportions, echoing off the walls and Ferelith peered down both ends of the hallway in case a nosy neighbour heard it. She grabbed a handful of Selene’s blouse and tugged her through the door and slammed it shut.
“Are you off your meds?”
She faced Selene who returned to her cool, calm and collected self the instant she came through the door. She straightened her blouse, brushed non-existent fluff off her sleeve and faced Ferelith, eyebrows bobbing.
“I’m good.” She blinked and her blue eyes turned a shade of green not found in mere mortals. “And you are dumb.” Oleander’s purple ombre fringe settled over her forehead, while jeans and a stiff necked white blouse replaced the skin tight dress and heels. Oleander stood in her living room drinking coffee. “I get points for originality.”
Fereliths suspicious eyes never left her sister as she wandered around the apartment, taking in the fire and raised her eyes in Fereliths direction.
“You and your fires.”
The dark amusement in her own voice surprised Ferelith. “Vera never gives up.”
“She doesn’t know I’m here she’s…conferring.” The word made her mouth curl.
Fereliths own mouth twisted in disgust. “What do you want?” Her sister stopped before the apothecary cupboard, her expression unreadable.
“When this left, it was like we lost mum again.” She looked over her shoulder. “May I?”
They loved their mother fiercely and none of them would use her memory to gain advantage, so Ferelith had no doubt Oleander’s request was personal. Their mother had concocted everything in it which made owning it the same as having a part of her close.
Instead of using her powers, Oleander touched the well-worn wooden doors, her mouth pulling back in a soft smile and she gently pushed the doors back, her finger tips lingering on the faded cobalt paint. She picked up various potions before reluctantly replacing them.
Ferelith did that same thing every morning. “What do you want Oleander?”
Oleander half turned, holding a small blue bottle. “Shepherds Oath. The earliest potion I…”
“Take it.” Ferelith interrupted. She couldn’t stomach sharing happy memories with Oleander. Too much pain attached. And much too dangerous to let her guard down.
“You’d give it to me?” She enquired over her shoulder and turned fully.
Ferelith didn’t want to deal with her sister today. “Tell me what you’re doing here then leave.”
Several seconds passed while Ferelith watched her sister with growing annoyance, rubbing the bottle with her thumb, her expression pensive. Not that she’d earn any brownie points for giving her the spell vial and if she did, they’d be hastily taken back with the next perceived slight.
Ferelith noted a bruise over Oleanders temple after Vera’s latest attack and asked herself why she hadn’t treated it. Even the nail marks were still there. Raised and stingy red. Comfrey salve or black tea bags would’ve done it nicely but she wasn’t going to suggest it.
“Vera let you leave the Coven. The angel… the one she asked about? I’ve never seen her this hysterically, scary angry about one of them and…you.”
“Me?” The words Vera and angry in relation to her made Ferelith nauseous. And apprehensive. “Go back a step. What do you mean she letme leave? She has no control over me or what I do. Not anymore.”
Oleander returned the bottle to the cupboard and faced Ferelith. “You need the Coven’s permission to leave and they wouldn’t give it, hence they don’t know you’ve gone and our darling grandmother has been lying to them the whole time.” She folded her arms. “You were fifteen years old Lil. They had no idea you’d left. Still don’t.”
Ferelith waited for her to finish the sentence. She wanted to yell at her to get out for making up that garbage. After three years Oleander still liked to mess with her. “You expect me to believe this?”
“Vera let you leave for a reason.”
Oleander approached her and Ferelith winced as her fingernails dug into her upper arms. “Ow. Get off me.”
Her sister appeared scared but after years of manipulation Ferelith had zero trust left in either of her sisters. She was familiar with their many faces: vindictiveness, cruelty, fake affection, and downright nastiness.
Her nickname twisted her gut. “What the hell do you want now Oli? Want to set my bed on fire again? Go ahead. Make yourself feel better about your own pathetic life.”
Her sister’s eyes flashed in response and her posture stiffened. “Vera has never voluntarily let anyone or anything escape her. She drained our mother dry, her own daughter, but you she let you leave? Why do you think that is?”
“I’m out and I want to stay out I don’t care how or why.”
Oleander shook her head. “Don’t be so stupid! You better start caring because you were never out.”
“And you came here to warn me.” Ferelith placed a hand over her heart. “What a loving sister you are.” Her voice hardened. “You’re so full of it!”
Oleander stepped back her usual taciturn demeanour returned. “Distrust me all you want, but don’t ignore me. Summon the angel. Find out what he wants.” She held out her hand and Shepherds Oath appeared in her palm.
“Oh yeah, I’ll just summon an angel. How hard could it be? And I’m supposed to trust you, why?”
When Oleander glanced to the apothecary cabinet Ferelith followed her gaze, frowning at the unspoken suggestion the means was in the cupboard. Why would Oleander risk coming here if not to further Vera’s end game?
“For our Mum. And Lil, try and be a witch for a change.” She vanished.
Oleander wasn’t one for flashy displays of magic Ferelith conceded, unlike Merritt who waved her arms around like an epileptic on steroids when she departed a room.
Ferelith groaned and flopped onto the sofa. “Try and be a witch? Goddess you’re so annoying.” Fereliths growl echoed around the apartment. She pondered Oleanders visit. For mum, she’d said. Using their mother’s memory to gain any kind of advantage was something none of them had or would ever do. In the world they grew up in their mum had been a loving rock. Protector and bringer of cuddles. The only thing the sisters had in common. The one and only person they would never use to mislead each other.
If she believed Oleander then her Vera free life was a lie. Manipulated into participating in a game she didn’t know she was playing? She would never take mums name in vain. An untrained witch was as useless as tits on a bull, her mother used to say. Why was I allowed to leave? Short answer. Vera wanted me unprepared. And with most of my magical training missing I am the proverbial bull with tits. Long answer? That was harder.
Her gaze travelled to the cabinet again. Inside were hundreds of years of curses, enchantments and blessings accumulated by her ancestors at her fingertips. The time had come to use them for more than treating haemorrhoids.
“Be a witch? Okay…I’ll show you a witch.”
Confidence notwithstanding, a nagging doubt persevered in the back of her mind. What kind of witch could she be with half her training missing? Probably a dangerous one. Most of the potions in the cupboard were unknown to her and fear stopped her testing the rest. Treating haemorrhoids and summoning an angel were two decidedly different kettles of witchcraft altogether. One gave her money. The other could get her killed.
Her mother’s spell books kept her busy for hours until she came across a beckoning spell rumoured to command angels. Rumour. Great. It wasn’t complicated which should have been a massive red flag but time wasn’t on her side. Not knowing what Vera was up to made her more nervous than an untried spell. And with that confidence inducing thought, Ferelith lit the massive red candle on the coffee table and commenced the incantation. Standing stock still, palms upward, she breathed deeply to centre herself, drawing energy from the ground beneath her feet, pulling it up to swirl around her. Higher still she beckoned it, giving it colour and a life of its own. She pushed it into the centre of the pentagram where it crackled and burst like champagne corks on New Year’s Eve. The strength of it built along her arms, making them shake, the muscles corded. The effort to keep her hands steady started up a sweat that ran down her brow and into her eyes. She blinked the stingy saltiness away and continued to breathe in through her nose and out through pursed lips until finally the spell stabilised, swirling within the pentagram in a mass of colour like an upside down and back the front rainbow.
Ferelith blew out a puff of air and smiled. “Holy shit, I did it.” She laughed and bent over, hands on knees to survey her first summoning spell. “Ha, nailed it.”
After one final ear splitting crack that blew every window in her apartment and showered her with glass, there he stood inside the pentagram. His silver eyes burned a fierce molten. Knuckles stained by tattoos bunched into large fists at his sides. His face, harshly beautiful in daylight, came a close second compared to the rest of him. Minus a shirt his chest took centre stage, large and well-muscled, while buttoned jeans hung low around his hips leading Ferelith to imagine all sorts of things. All of them inappropriate.
“Lycoris Squamigera,” he said, eyeing the lilies crisscrossed over the pentagram around him. “Not unwise.”
Along the lines of the circle Ferelith had placed flowers to double the binding spell. “I need answers.” Her dry throat contracted taking in his many muscles the snaking tattoos and goddess, those eyes of his.
He folded his arms, muscles bunching even more and he smiled, as if a thought occurred to him or he knew a secret to use against her. Ferelith ogled at the absolute beauty of it and despaired. He presented a very sensual image and she couldn’t believe a being this gorgeous was standing in her living room half naked.
She focused her attention back on him. “How do you know me?”
“You have no idea little witch.”
Little witch? “Obviously. That’s why I asked. Are you slow?” Sparks erupted deep within his eyes. Fascinating.“My family are the Burrows. You know what they’re capable of.” She took a step forward. An indiscernible expression covered his face. “You need to be afraid.”
“I’m terrified. Let me out, I’ll show you how much.”
His smile, masculine and sexy as hell, trickled down her spine to pool between her legs. This alone terrified her. She’d never had those feelings before. He’d gone from lethal anger to sexy in the blink of an eye leaving her off balanced and awkward. Ferelith was sure her vagina smiled and positive her face burned. Her eyes narrowed while she watched him make a complete turn of the pentacle, checking for a weakness. Her heart pounded. Would he find any? The rapid rise and fall of her chest told her may be gorgeous and her vagina liked him, but she wasn’t stupid.
“Hey, I’m a teenager and you’re like, what, a thousand years old? Inappropriate old man.” He looked slightly offended. Good.
“How long are you going to keep me here?”
Ferelith opened her mouth. She hadn’t thought how to send him back. Prior to him the only thing she’d summoned? A pencil. Under her mother’s supervision. When she was eight. “When I’m good and ready to send you back, I’ll send you back,” she bluffed and tried hard to hold his gaze.
His jaw twitched. “You have no idea how to send me back.”
“Yes I do.” How does he know I can’t send him back?
He shook his head. “Not a clue.”
Pain hit. Ferelith doubled over, her mouth gaping in a soundless scream, eyes wide. The angel evaporated from her sight to be replaced by the type of pain no words could describe. Lightening shot through her body and she lurched to the dining table and gripped the edge to keep herself upright. Pain like razor blades lanced down her arms that spasmed, sending items on the table flying off. Something tunnelled under her skin, like a razor backed worm, it ripped through her veins making her tear at her skin, digging for the blood underneath as if spilling it would bring the pain to an end. Ferelith didn’t know she was screaming. Unbearable pain congealed her blood and turned her brain into a dusty sponge. In a tiny part of her mind not blistered by agony she recognised Vera’s beckoning spell doing double duty as punishment. Vera wanted her to suffer first.
Suddenly the angel’s large hands were cupping her face, bringing her anguished eyes to meet his. Mercifully the agony subsided, her vision narrowed, focusing on the twin silver pools of his eyes. She leaned against him, her head resting on his chest, perspiration soaking her clothes. The summons from Vera had gone the worst way possible. Being so soon after Oleanders visit meant only one thing. Vera knew. A fragment of her mind turned to Oleander and her own dire situation. The deep boom of the angel’s heart vibrated through her body and Ferelith looked up into his face.
“How did you get out?” she asked, between bouts of breathlessness. Skin to skin contact made her feel all kinds of warm and protected. And other ill-timed things. Oh my Goddess, this guy is so old, what am I doing?
He jerked his head toward the pentacle. “That adorable little pentacle couldn’t hold an idea let alone someone like me.”
I worked hard on that, she thought, a little peeved. Later she’d feel insulted for the adorable little pentacle quip, right now she was grateful. “You allowed yourself to be summoned.” A statement not an accusation. She should be scared but she wasn’t. Desire, fear and uncertainty rolled into one. A heady combination. And a first for her.
One breath-taking eye winked. “You’re not the only one who wants answers.”
Ferelith moved out of his arms. The one person in all the world capable of thwarting Vera was an angel. Go figure. Imagining Vera’s reaction and despite herself, worried for her sister’s safety, Fereliths gazed settled on the ruby ring. Goddess, how she abhorred it.
“How did you stop her?” she asked.
“Vera. My grandmother.” Ferelith raised her eyes to his and her heart give a tug. It scared her having this strong of a reaction to someone she didn’t know. Let alone an angel.
“That was your grandmother?” His eyebrow quirked. “She can’t text?”
Ferelith managed a short bitter laugh. She held up her hand, indicating the ring. “It’s enchanted. No phone needed.” And the embodiment of my slavery, she wanted to add. Angels weren’t helpful without reason. She shifted to the side, further away from him. “Why’d you let me bring you here?”
“We’ve met before that night in the alley.”
Not the answer Ferelith expected. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“Not in this lifetime, no. A thousand years ago.”
Ferelith laughed outright. “A thousand years ago? Right. Vera told me about angels. Their cruelty and perverse delight in human ruination. Your mind games.”
“The Vera who killed your mother and enslaved your sisters? That Vera?”
Though common fodder in the witch world, such allegiances weren’t public knowledge among super naturals of different dominions. The fact he knew spoke of heavenly involvement. If Ferelith had the choice between Heaven and swimming in a murky swamp filled with crocodiles, she’d choose the swamp.
“You know about…how do you…?” Stuttering now?“What do you want?”
“You summoned me, remember?”