Ruby’s arms ached under the strain of the plastic shopping bags that dug into her skin. What was the good of witchcraft if she couldn’t at least transport some food shopping back to the van? Jesus.
They were parked just outside the edge of town. It was a safety precaution that Ruby was generally adamant on enforcing. Still, she did wish that maybe they could park a little closer to the supermarket at least once. But it wasn’t really worth it, she reflected. Their jobs were dangerous, and staying out of town meant no-one knew they were near.
Which was often a good thing.
The day was hot, and the sun beat down on Ruby’s back, warming her dark skin through the light top she wore. As she strode determinedly along the tarmac, the plain white van that she called home came into view. She noted that Daemon still hadn’t fixed the wing mirror he’d cracked while showing off to Luce. She’d have to remind him about that, although he was loath to do anything about it. For a half-demon, he was extraordinarily petulant sometimes.
She still marveled sometimes at their luck at getting the van. Bigger on the inside, it was the center of all their operations, and she doubted they’d have killed half of the monsters they’d scored without it. Plus, it was a money-saver not having to pay for accommodation while on a case.
It had been a thank you gift from two powerful witches, who they’d helped to get rid of a nasty Evil Spirit situation in their coven’s sacred house. Ruby didn’t question how the spirit got there. She suspected a spell had gone a little wrong, but it was a bad idea to piss off Coven Witches, even if you were friendly with them.
Ruby fiddled with the doors for a second before they would open for her- she’d have to have a look at them later. The small, van-size space they led to was littered with random junk- blankets, a wooden chair, a few dusty sheets and bin bags, accompanied by a comforting musty smell that greeted her warmly. There was a door set into the right wall, which in a normal van would have led straight outside again. Instead, it took Ruby into a fairly spacious living area.
Daemon was lounged on the sofa, his eyes closed and his hands holding imaginary drumsticks, hitting at the air with embarrassing enthusiasm. The only sign that he wasn’t all human were his red eyes, and when they were closed he looked extraordinarily young. Specially considering he was at least a century old, he only looked twenty-something.
Through an archway there lay a kitchen and dining area, complete with large wooden table. Satsu sat up at it, her knife collection and a basin of mild soapy water in front of her.
Ruby dumped the heavy shopping bags on the counter, making Satsu look up. She stood and crossed over to Ruby and the bags, giving Ruby a quick kiss on the cheek before starting to unpack the shopping, “How was it? Anyone stare at your hair again?”
Ruby rubbed at the red lines on her bare arms where the plastic bags had cut into them, “Cashier raised an eyebrow, although I’m not sure if it was the hair or the quantity of pig’s blood I was buying.”
Satsu laughed and reached across to run a long-fingered hand through Ruby’s hair. Her voice was soft as she said, “I like your hair like this.”
Ruby’s hair was unusual at the moment. Its natural colour was black, but a couple of months ago she’d gotten a spell wrong, tried to do something far outside her power range. It had been terrifying, and a little painful, but thankfully the only permanent mark she bore from it was the harsh white and grey streaks that now ran through her hair.
Ruby smiled, “Any sign of my sister this morning?”
“She’s still in her room I think. I’ve not seen her up yet.”
“She better not still be asleep,” Ruby picked up the bag of pig’s blood and the herbs she’d bought, “I’ll just take these through to the witchroom.”
Satsu peered at the bag of blood, “How much did you get?”
“Enough for the new Sight Charms I want to make for us. The old ones are getting patchy.”
Satsu nodded, “Being able to see the evil you're fighting is always a plus.” Satsu started to set up the grill, “I’ll make lunch then. Bacon rolls?”
Ruby headed down the narrow corridor that lead to the witchroom. The room itself was square and in the middle a large pentacle was drawn on the floor. In the center of the star, a small altar sat, swathed in clean white cloth. The walls were covered in shelves of herbs, gemstones and holy water, among other, less pleasant, things.
This was the room in which all spells and rituals took place. It was Ruby’s sacred space, the only place where she performed magic. She deposited the pig’s blood into the small fridge by the door and re-organised her herbs to fit in the new ones she’d bought.
By the time she got back to the kitchen, the smell of bacon was filling the room and her sister, Luce, was sat at the table, her laptop open in front of her. As Ruby came in, Luce looked up, “Hey Ruby, think I might have a case here.”
Ruby slid into the seat beside her sister and looked at the screen. It showed a news article with the headline, ‘MAN MURDERED AT MENTAL HOSPITAL’. Luce scrolled down to a picture showing an abandoned ward, “Apparently this guy was in there taking photographs and then next thing anyone knows, he’s dead.”
Daemon appeared in the doorway, his spiky black hair even more messed-up than usual, “Serves him right for wandering around an abandoned hospital on his own.”
Ruby carefully ignored Daemon, “Does it say how he died?”
“No, just lists it as ‘suspicious’ and ‘unclear’. Plus, I did some research on this hospital and it turns out a lot of people think it’s haunted. It was closed down because of some of the experimental practises that went on there. A lot of patients died there.”
“Any other deaths?”
“Yeah actually, a few people have gone missing in that area, never to be seen again.”
Satsu brought through a platter of bacon rolls and put it in the middle of the table, “Where is this place?”
“Barrow Gurney, just south of Bristol.”
“Well I don’t know about you but we haven’t had a decent case in months,” Daemon took a bite of bacon roll and carried on talking, “Picnic in an madhouse’ll be just what we need.”
Satsu nodded, “Might as well check it out.”
Ruby nodded her assent as well. What Daemon said had been true. They’d not run into anything interesting in a long time, half of their ‘cases’ had turned out to be mundane accidents or people fooling around. Besides, she’d been to lots of creepy places but never an abandoned asylum.
“Right,” she said, “Luce, do some more research. Find out who this ghost is. I’m guessing at least a Deadly Echo, probably not a Dybbuk. If it’s an Evil Spirit, it’s either a mild one or it’s just woken up. Daemon, you drive. We’ll go to the morgue, examine the body, figure out how he got killed. How long from here?”
Daemon yawned, “Three and a half hours, my guess.”
Ruby nodded and looked at Satsu, “I’ll dig out the fake id’s if you sort out the suits.”
Satsu grinned, “Let’s go,”
She strode out of the room, her bouncy ponytail swishing from side to side, the beads and ribbons woven into it clacking against each other. Daemon sighed theatrically and took a handful of bacon rolls before heading off in the direction of the cab.
Ruby looked at her younger sister, “You okay with this?”
Luce rolled her eyes, “Dude, yeah. Are you okay with this?”
Ruby held up her hands, “Okay, chill.”
* * * * *
Luce shuddered as the mortician’s assistant folded down the sheet that covered the unfortunate body of the photographer. Well, ex-photographer. She struggled to keep her face professional as she surveyed the damage. Ruby, standing beside her, cleared her throat and looked away for a minute.
The mortician’s assistant, a short man, not much younger than her, with a smattering of acne across his sweaty forehead, met her eye across the body, “He’s called John Tucker, thirty-seven years old. Found with his stomach opened and his guts pouring out like something from a horror movie. Course we’ve jarred all his organs and stuff but you can ‘ave a look if you like,” he pointed to the fridge in the corner. Luce tried not to grimace as the youth continued, “But we think the thing that killed him first was when his head got smashed open. It’s hard to tell, because when brains get exposed to air they dry up anyway, but we think his brain was dehydrated as well. You can see if you look just in here that it’s all shriveled up. Dead weird, right?”
Luce exchanged a glance with Ruby and peered into the dead man’s head. The mortician’s assistant looked nervous, “I mean, you’re from the government, right, you must see weird things all the time, but this. . . This seems like someone sucked his brain juices. It’s weird-”
Ruby nodded, cutting him off, “Yeah. Weird.” She looked slightly nauseous.
Luce looked at the man, “Would you mind giving us a minute?”
He nodded quickly and turned to leave. He took a couple of steps then turned back, biting his lip, “Mind if I have a look at your badges? I’ve never met real agents before.”
Luce showed him her faked id. And you probably never will meet real ones.
“Aww wicked. Maybe I’ll catch you later,”
He left. Ruby sank into a chair and closed her eyes, “Thank god. He was doing my fucking head in.”
Luce didn’t reply. She was too busy trying not to throw up as she examined the man’s body. They’d sewn up the stomach, which looked eerily deflated without the man’s organs. She slipped some disposable gloves on and started searching through the folds of skin.
“Hey it’s okay,” croaked Ruby from the chair, “I can do that.”
Luce rolled her eyes, “And exactly how much do you know about anatomy?”
Ruby didn’t answer. Luce sighed and continued her examination. It would be nice if Ruby wasn’t always trying to protect her, as if she was still a child. Technically, she was the youngest, but they were all adults. It shouldn’t matter anymore.
“Hey Ruby, look at this,” Luce pointed to some deep scratches on the man’s sides, “Look like claw marks to you?”
Ruby looked, “Could just be where he scraped against something,”
“Nah, too symmetrical to be that. Looks like something sort of sat on him as it. . .”
“Drained his brain fluid.”
Luce met Ruby’s eyes across the body, “Then this isn’t a ghost. Ghosts don’t have a corporeal form.”
Ruby rubbed her forehead, as she often did when she was thinking, “Well then we’re going to need to do more research.” She shook her head, “You know, it’s always far simpler when it’s a straightforward haunting. Find the person, burn the bones, done.”
“When is it ever that easy?”
Ruby sighed, “True. At least we have a case here.”
* * * * *
Ruby sighed as Luce shook her head, “Nothing. Well, technically there’s lots. But there’s no way to narrow it down. We need more info.”
Satsu looked up from the thick book she was trawling through, “Same thing here. Some of these texts say it could even be Shadowlings.”
“It better bloody not be,” said Daemon from across the room, “I’m not really in the mood for a family reunion right now. They’re not overfond of me.”
Satsu put the book down, “I wouldn’t worry. Last time I looked you didn’t have claws or a thirst for brain fluid.”
Daemon sprawled himself on the sofa, “Well yeah, but I’m only half. And you never know. I could be hiding all my demon-like tendencies to spare you from disgust.”
Luce laughed, “You’re about as demon-like as a rabbit, Daemon.”
“Exactly, I’m a fantastic actor.”
Ruby looked at Daemon. For a second she saw a strange expression cross his eyes. But then it was gone, and it was left to her to say what none of them wanted to, “Guess we have to go in on recon then.”
Satsu nodded with resignation, “We’ll wait for day though. No point going now when all Shadows are at their strongest.”
Daemon yawned, “I swear you try to handicap me at every turn.”
Satsu gave Daemon a look, then turned her gaze on Ruby, “There’s time for training before we sleep, if you want.”
Ruby stretched out her arms, “Sure. I love being beaten up by my girlfriend.”
“Must be the highlight of your day,” replied Satsu with a grin.
* * * * *
“Weapons or no weapons?” Satsu asked, weaving a new ribbon into her hair as she waited for Ruby to get changed.
Ruby pulled on a tight black vest, “No weapons. I keep losing mine in fights, then I’m stuffed. Also, less bruises.”
Satsu started stretching, going down into a deep lunge, “Bet you I can bruise you just the same without a weapon.”
Ruby grinned, “You’re so romantic, you know that?”
Satsu restrained a beaming smile as she stood on one leg, extending the other behind her in a graceful arabesque. Ruby did the same beside her, although she wobbled a little more than Satsu. Satsu let herself admire Ruby’s body, her lean, tightly muscled legs and her beautifully sculpted arms. She almost wanted to forgo the training to do. . . Other things with Ruby.
The art of fighting was like second nature to her. It was more than just disabling those who opposed you, either lethally or non-lethally. It was about strength and grace and mastering the hardest moves that were more flashy than useful. Still, in a fight with a supernatural creature, sometimes a double backflip kick was the only option you had.
Sometimes, as a child, she’d resented her mother for making her learn all of it- the endless lessons, the isolation from other kids, the bruises and scrapes it was hard to explain away at school. But now, she was infinitely grateful, and she certainly understood why her mother had wanted her to be strong.
Wanted her to be able to stop those who would hurt her.
Ruby gave her a concerned look, “You okay?”
Satsu blinked and looked at her, “Yeah, just thinking.”
“Keep doing that. If you’re distracted I might just beat you.”
“Well I better prove you wrong then.”
* * * * *
A/n. This is the first draft and therefore this chapter is a bit of an info-dump. If anyone has any suggestions on how to fix that, comments would be appreciated. Actually any constructive criticism would be awesome ;)