Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
My inner dragon surfaced, gold eyes burning in the back shadows of my mind. He sniffed.
, I answered.
Then I hit Shiva and Deedee, tangling up with them, crashing to the hallway floor. They’d picked a hell of a time to traipse out into the hallway. Fortunately, Shiva broke my fall, my face landing between her rock-hard tits. I hoped I wouldn’t bruise.
“Hey, get off!” Shiva protested.
“I’d love to.” Grabbing her breasts, I levered myself back to my feet. The groping was purely accidental. Honest.
Shiva threw a punch at my retreating head. The wind of the blow was fierce as she missed.
“So much for wanting me to get off,” I said.
On my feet, I looked past Deedee’s shapely ass and saw the amber light with the necklace dodging the rematerialized yellow-green glow of the nagi ghost. They seemed to be fighting over the necklace. The aerial maneuvering veered to the side, heading for the rest of the cast members.
“Cafeteria!” I shouted. “Let’s go.” I leaped over Deedee and led the way as Holy and Thorn followed. They skidded into Deedee and slammed her into a wall. She groaned and went limp. This was just not a good place for her.
“If you’ve a taste for rattlesnakes,
you’d best be an eagle.”
I burst into the cafeteria, leaving the rest of my companions to catch up when they could. I expected Shiva and Holy to arrive soonest, with Thorn close behind—not that I could afford to wait. If the nagi-ghost made it out some gap in the boards, or through a broken window somewhere, recovering the necklace would be a challenge.
The yellow-green ball of spectral light sped in a circle, shooting past wall after wall. Teresa and Malevolence stood in the center of the room, just watching. I saw no sign of Christie.
Clifford and Crusher came out of the kitchen area with armloads of can goods. They put them on the serving line and chucked them at the ghost. The missiles thudded off the walls. Some of the strikes came close; others missed by yards. Clifford’s tosses were particular wobbly.
I guess can-chucking isn’t his sport.
He pulled back a jumbo can of sliced peaches and heaved it like a shotput, screaming. “This will teach you to possess the woman I love!”
“Passionate,” Malevolence said.
“Good for ratings,” Teresa said. “I couldn’t have scripted anything near this good.”
I yelled at Clifford and Crusher. “Hold your fire, I’m going in.” I needed wings. I could have grown dragon wings from my back, but that would take a while, and give away too much of my true nature to those here—and those watching in the monitor room.
Plan B, then.
I called on my shadow magic. Darkness pooled into my palms, obedient to my will. I put my hands together, mingling the darkness, shaping it.
The last flung can clipped a wall camera, dropping it to the floor. The nagi-ghost turned and took a course toward the kitchen. The necklace trailed the ball of light, a fluttering tease. I needed to have perfect timing.
I crouched, a martial arts stance with a low center of gravity, knees deeply bent. The shadow force I’d summoned grew into an extra-long katana; technically an
. The gently-curved five-foot blade was poised to strike—and strike I did, jabbing upward.
The ghost ball was cut in half. Stalled, the ghost halves wobbled overhead, the pieces dimming with lost energy due to the damage I’d inflicted.
The necklace fell at my feet.
The ghost halves extended filaments that tied together, pulling themselves back into one piece again, but the shock and loss of strength I’d caused made it fade out, going immaterial until it could recover.
I reabsorbed my shadow sword, bent, and retrieved the snake-tooth necklace.
By then Shiva, Holy, and Thorn were crowding up to me. Teresa slipped out of the cafeteria. She probably wanted to see the recordings made by the cameras. Clifford and Crusher were going around, rounding up the stray cans.
Malevolence pushed through the throng of women and came up to me. “What happened to that long-ass sword?”
I offered her a practiced expression of puzzled innocence. “Sword? What sword?”
She glowered. “I know you had a sword. Where did it go?”
“Oh, that sword. I put it in my invisible sheath. That’s why you can’t see it.” I slapped the air near my right hip and pantomimed running my palm along something hanging there. “I never leave home without it.”
“Wise ass,” Shiva muttered.
I shook my head. “No, all of me is intelligent.”
“What are you going to do with that necklace?” Thorn asked.
“Sleep on it. Something will come to me, I’m sure.”
Holy gave Thorn a sweeping stare. “I still don’t know who you are.”
“Thorn,” Thorn said. She didn’t elaborate.
I guess that’s my job. “
She’s a friend of Deedee’s from just down the road. Make her feel welcome. I have her on retainer and she’s under the protection of our clan.” My glance slid to Holy. “You stay with me. Shiva, you stay with Thorn at all times. Clear?”
“Clear.” Uber-spirited, Shiva went rigid, all but saluting.
Holy shrugged. “Whatever.”
Malevolence draped an arm over Thorn, whom she still thought of as a younger girl, believing the fey glamour. Thorn’s face warmed with the attention of her musical idol. Malevolence said, “Hey, let’s have a girls’ only sleep-over. We’ll use my room. I’ll just kick Dad out. He can find somewhere else to sleep for the rest of the night.”
Like a hospital, maybe.
I wondered if he were still passed out in the hall outside Lillian’s door, in need of burn ointment.
Oh well, not my problem
“Not much of the night left,” I said, “but I can use a little sleep myself. Holy, c’mon. You’re with me. Shiva, if something happens, stay with Thorn, but give me a call.”
She nodded. “Right.”
I headed across the cafeteria with Holy beside me. She asked, “Where are we going?”
“To find Christie. I’m betting her room will have all the creature comforts I need.”
“She’s probably already using her bed.”
“She can share,” I said.
“So what do I do? Just stand around and watch you two sleep?”
“That’s your job, right?”
“Now that we have two targets to protect, we need more people on this detail.”
I stopped outside the cafeteria. “You know, you’re right.” I pulled out my phone and speed-dialed a number. The connection finally went through.
A female voice broke from the earpiece. “Caine? Do you know what time it is?”
“Hi, Izumi. I need you to portal here right away.”
There was a delay. I heard the sound of her shifting on her bed, then the sound of a lamp switched on. “Where are you calling from?”
I told her. “How soon can you get here?”
“What’s in it for me?”
“What kind of a question is that? You’re my sugarplum fairy, aren’t you? I seem to remember a coronation and everything.”
“Yeah, and my mom keeps wanting to know when you’re going to manage to knock me up. She wants grandchildren.”
Kids are delightful, when they belong to someone else. “Having kids requires a great deal of sex, you know. Too bad you’re not here.” I hung up on her and put the phone away. “That will probably work.”
“How are you still alive?” Holy muttered.
I slanted her a killing stare. “You said something?”
“No. Nothing at all.”
Moving toward the stairs, I shuddered at the thought of a bunch of rug-rats with my DNA running amok in the world. It would be the end of civilization as we know it. The idea made a zombie apocalypse sound like a really good idea.
We went to the floor with the monitor room. I figured Teresa kept her crew handy to that location, separate from the stars on the first floor.
Passing the monitor room, my heightened dragon-half hearing easily picked up Teresa’s voice—more of a delighted cackle at first. “This is pure gold. This is going to be our best season yet.”
I paused outside the door to gather intel.
A male voice said, “No one’s going to believe some of this stuff isn’t CGI. Damn, even I don’t believe we captured this without a blue screen.”
Teresa cackled again. “As long as the ratings are good, who cares?”
I could smell old traces of Christie, but nothing fresh, telling me she was off duty. I moved on until I smelled her scent strongly through a side door on the left.
“Here we are.” I put my hand on the knob.
“You’re not going to knock? Just barge in?” Holy asked, frost in her voice.
“I’m being considerate. She could be asleep.”
“Then the door will be locked.”
I tried it. The door
locked. I used a little extra-human strength. The trim of the door gave way before the lock itself shattered. I raised my voice in mock surprise. “Oh, look! The door seems to be broken. Good thing we’re here to keep her safe.”
“Wild coincidence,” Holy deadpanned. “Guarding you is turning into a real education.”
“That’s because only my life matters. Ask any social justice warrior.”
I went in and made room for Holy to follow. The air smelled of dust bunnies, burnt metal from a soldering gun, and Christie of course. The space was windowless, large, with one corner hidden by four-sectional rice-paper screens. I assumed a bed was in there. I heard the voice of a TV and saw its light through the screens. Christie was the type who enjoyed watching TV in bed.
Another corner had a rickety dresser that looked like it came from a thrift store. Above it hung a four-foot Chinese paper lantern, a frosty orange color. It cast Halloween highlights across the walls and the work-tables occupying the center of the space. Three metal, backless stools were there in case of company. The work-tables were loaded down with tools, electronic components, and a coffee maker. I also saw a stack of steamer trunks. Something told me those contained her cosplay props.
Just outside the screens, against the wall, a small refrigerator hummed quietly. It was the mini kind of fridge used at many colleges. The power cord plugged into an orange extension cord that poked through a hole drilled in the baseboard of a wall. Holy peered about with the same curiosity I displayed, taking a few more steps in than I had. This let me close the door behind her.
The floor wasn’t exactly level. This caused the door to swing open a little now that the frame was broken. I fixed that by grabbing one of Christie’s screwdrivers and wedging it under the door so it stayed where I wanted it, ensuring privacy.
Holy crept on cat-feet across the floor, somehow avoiding creaky boards. She stuck her head through a gap in the screens, and pulled it back out. Facing me, she mouthed the words, “She’s asleep.”
I walked over. The floor groaned with my movements. I brushed Holy out of my way.
She whispered. “Why is she sleeping in a Power Ranger costume?”
“What makes you think she’s not a real Power Ranger? You’re a real demon, as unlikely as that seems.”
Holy used her normal voice. “Not everything on TV is real.”
Christie spoke in her sleep. “Is, too!”
We both looked at her a moment.
Catching Holy’s gaze, I told her, “Go down to Lillian’s room. Outside her door, there should be a basket of fey wine, three bottles. Bring them here. If any are missing, hunt them down and break the thief’s fingers.”
“I’m not going to do that!” Holy said.
“Some demon you are. Are you sure you’re cut out for this profession?”
“Just because I like people to like me doesn’t mean I can’t kick ass. I just like having a good enough reason.”
That made my head hurt. “Just go.”
“Fine.” She stomped off, and still the floor didn’t creak.
Weird. Maybe she’s half angel.
Holy moved the screwdriver, went out with it, and put it back under the door to keep it closed.
I went inside the screens. Christie lay on a twin bed, on top of a fluffy pink comforter. A little electric heater warmed the closed-in space. A nightstand at the foot of the bed held a 13.3 inch LED HDTV. An old black-and-white movie played. And Christie was indeed wearing her black Power Ranger costume.
I shed my clothes so that all I had on was a smile and the snake-fang necklace. The talisman might prove useful. I often experienced weird-assed dreams, events that later proved real. I couldn’t control this ability, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to wear the necklace to bed.
You never know.
As I stood at the edge of the bed, Christie rolled onto her back, her eyes in the mask slitting open. “I have to warn you, stranger, even though I have compassion for your understandable obsession with my perfect virginal body, I’m not going to make it easy for you to take me.”
Kneeling at the edge of the bed, I leaned over her. “You’re a virgin? I find that unbelievable in this modern age.”
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.” Christie’s voice went husky with need, and muffled by the mask she wore. Lying there, she assumed a battle pose that somehow failed to intimidate me. In a final act of provocation she wiggled cupped fingers in a come-and-get-it motion.
My grin widened. I straddled her. My cock engorged. “Fine, if that’s the way you want it.”
She pumped a gloved fist into my chest with the enraged might of a rampaging hamster.
I laughed. “You are strong, Ranger, but my lusty loins will not be denied.” I snagged her wrists and pinned them to the bed. Using one hand for this, I freed up my right hand, gripping the costume at her neck.