Betrayals, past, present and future.
He licked his teeth. They were stained red, dripping as Athena’s eyes went glassy and blank; she still tried to speak, but no words came from her torn throat. She twitched, looking out at Nike, their eyes meeting for the last time. Grey and gold. She remembered screaming, frothing with rage and thrashing against her bindings as if the Destroyer itself were upon her. Cold iron dug into her skin. She had no flames, no bloodweaves and burning venom drooled impotently from her mouth.
Athena was twitching, dead but for the firing of random nerves. Nike didn’t know that, and so she thought her mentor was still alive when her brother began to feed.
La Boisson Royale was an upscale coffee house, frequented by writers, directors, actors, actresses and their hangers-on, its overpriced drinks appealing to self-styled gourmets with more money than taste. Kingsley was sitting on the upper mezzanine, browsing a newspaper, with a house iced special that had long since gone warm. On the lower level, his ‘partner’ sat in a booth, tapping her fingernails against the tabletop in a manner that, judging by the glares of the other customers and waitstaff, would shortly provoke a bloody uprising. Her masque was Hispanic this time, with a full head of wavy raven tresses cascading down her back. Her brown eyes were quick and curious. She was very beautiful, a fact that had not gone unnoticed by the other men in the restaurant. She’d already received one complimentary espresso-mocha-grande-latte-whatever, to which she had batted her eyes and smiled.
Luckily, the poor dumb bastard had received some kind of emergency call and had had to hurry out before he could act on her seeming flirtation. She knew Bill was watching. She would have flirted more, maybe even letting her would-be suitor touch her, just to get a dig in at Bill. Malicious. Mercurial. He was still having the dreams. They weren’t always the same, but there were two constants: One was fire. The other was birth. He wasn’t sleeping well. He tried to console himself by telling himself that the thought of Niyati raising a... what? Brood? Litter? Clutch? Well, the thought of her procreating at all was probably giving those Court assholes even worse nights.
He’d spent every free moment looking through Du Puis’ Chronicle, trying to find something – he didn’t even know what – looking for any scrap of information, anything at all about their breeding cycles. His guts churned with acid and Bill fumbled an antacid into his mouth. God damn it, he thought in equal parts anger and desperation. I’m not supposed to be dealing with this kind of shit. I should be chasing adulterers and bail-jumpers, not getting involved with psychotic templar assholes and freaky pyrophiliacs. Andy and I should have just stayed out of it. It wasn’t our business. If he was smart, he would have backed out long ago and gone back to stalking husbands and wives for their suspicious partners. The jobs were boring, but they were safe. He should have done that.
He should have found something to quell that nagging inner voice that told him to stay, even if meant drowning it in drink. Now, though...
The door chime rang as another customer entered the shop and Kingsley surreptitiously looked down at the entrance, his guts folding in one themselves. Now, though... now it was definitely too late.
Aetos fell to his knees, clutching at the spear buried in his guts. He gurgled, blood running over his lips. His tail twitched weakly in the mud, his wings hanging slack his sides. “This...” he forced each word out, fighting for each one. “This is wrong.” He looked up, defiance in his remaining eye. “Betrayer.” He spat the word into the churned earth.
The flat of a blade lifted his chin and Aetos met his brother’s gaze. “Not me,” the dying fireborn whispered.
“Not me...” Aetos repeated.
“Tsk. I thought you were made of sterner mettle.”
“...but another,” Aetos finished. “Not me, but another. Another kills you. Traitor. Keerthi. Mayon. Necia.”
His murderer smiled. “Keerthi begged for her life. Mayon never so much as raised his sword and I’ll be paying little crimson a visit in due time. So who else is left, brother?”
Aetos spat in his ‘brother’s’ face.
“That’s right,” the black-skinned drake said. He swung his sword around in a gleaming arc, beheading his fallen kin. “No one.”
They held hands in greeting like old friends, he kissing her cheeks in welcome, but inside...
As soon as the waitress took his order and was safely out of earshot, she spoke. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”
“You wound me, poco carmesi,” he said. “How many decades have gone by, and still you bear me such enmity?”
“Until the end of time.” Niyati took a sip from her beverage, heated to almost scalding, despite the oppressive temperature outside. Behind the brown cow’s gaze of her masque, Du Noir could see the glint of her true eyes and the anger within them was enthralling, only serving to stoke his desire. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
“True enough,” He looked around at the baristas, trend-setters, entourages, stars and starlets all jabbering to each other. One in particular caught his eye and he nodded towards her. She was stunning; blonde hair hanging past her shoulders, tanned skin glistening slightly with sweat, even in the air-conditioned coffee house. She was an up-and-coming actress whose face had been plastered across more magazines then ‘Carmesi’ cared to count, but her name escaped the woman at present. To the fireborn, she was just another one of the seven billion humans infesting the planet.
Du Noir looked the celebrity up and down appraisingly, smiling charmingly as one of her hangers-on noticed and whispered something in her meal ticket’s ear. The starlet almost looked in his direction, but caught herself and whispered something back to her clinging compatriot. The other woman snuck a discrete glance at him, nodded and said something back to the starlet. He turned his attention back to his own dinner companion; she was nakedly staring at him, making no attempt to hide the fact that she was planning on murdering him.
“That woman,” he said, with a dismissive gesture towards the starlet at her tittering pack of sycophants. “Is, by most standards, quite beautiful. Rich and with every chance of becoming the next greatest ‘It Girl’ in this town, shortly the country.” He nodded politely as the waitress delivered his own drink, taking a brief sip from it. “Beauty, wealth, fame... even power. I’d sooner fuck a rutting pig. Oh, I could have her. She might be a brief diversion, but really... so fragile. Humans,” he said with a shake of his head. “they just come apart in your hands.”
She said nothing, but he could see the subtle cracking of her skin around her eyes and fingers. “Mind yourself,” he said, taking another drink of his chilled latte. “We’re in the age of cell phone cameras and paparazzi.”
Carmesi took a deep breath, steadying herself. She wanted to kill him. She wanted nothing more than to leap across the table and sink her teeth into his throat, drive her claws into his belly and start tearing, to soak herself in his blood. She wouldn’t, though. No matter how much she wanted to, she had to restrain herself. No matter what he said or did, she couldn’t touch him.
“It’s getter harder, isn’t it?” he enquired nonchalantly. “The masque. The... ‘dance of deception’. No, don’t bother to deny it. I can see it quite easily, thank you. You’re having trouble holding it.”
“It has been rather warm lately,” Du Noir said. “You’re starting a cycle. I can see it. I can smell it. You’ll be in heat soon.”
Her hands clutched at the edge of the table, the only thing keeping her from lashing out at him. A drop of corrosive saliva spilled over her lips. It hissed as it ate away at the polished mahogany tabletop. “I will kill you.”
“Please, there’s no need to be so dramatic. I’m not asking you to forgive and forget – although I hardly think I have much, if anything, to apologize for – I’m just... presenting you with options. For all you know, we may be the last of our kind.”
She smiled sweetly. “I would rather our race die out then bear any of your bastards.”
“Tch. So inflexible,” Du Noir took a fifty dollar bill out of his wallet and set it on the tabletop, standing to go. “I’ll let you think about it. When you’re writhing around in need, I doubt I’ll seem so bad an option.”
“Never.” Her dewey-sweet expression never changed, even though she slurred an epithet through a mouthful of poisonous drool.
He smiled, ignoring the insult. “‘Never.’ That word means so little to us, doesn’t it?” He turned to go, then paused, as if just remembering something. “The White Court... they’re here, aren’t they? I’d be careful, poco carmesi. They’re not ones to appreciate the maternal instinct.”
Du Noir gave his companion a respectful bow of his head feeling her radiate helpless fury as he took his leave. He stepped out into the street and thunder crashed, a sudden pulse of steaming rain pounding down, sending the cattle yelping and scattering for cover. In seconds, his Armani was soaked. Du Noir turned his face up to the skies and laughed.
The blade sang.
He clutched at his chest, at the gash that had suddenly appeared. A blade twirled in his opponent’s hands, a massive greatsword wielded as if it were a rapier. Gold eyes glared hungrily back at him. “All your little toy soldiers,” his sister purred. “Broken.” Knights lay at her feet, crumpled and hewn. Her chest rose and fell with each breath, steam venting through her teeth. Blood spiralled and curled around her feet, pulsing in sympathy with the beating of her heart. Grass withered from the heat, each of her footsteps leaving a charred patch of ground behind.
He held his scimitar up in a guard position, but the wound was deep and he backed away. “I misjudged you,” he admitted carefully.
Her skin shimmered as she stalked closer to him, red and gold. She held the blade towards him, rivulets of human blood smeared down its length, her forearms, chest and face decorated with it. There was only murder in her lovely citrine eyes. She’d never been more beautiful.
And then they danced.
“This... this is blasphemy.”
“Steady,” Akram whispered to his men as they strode through a profaned temple.
The church of Our Lady of Mercy had been closed for almost two decades after a rash of bizarre accidents, culminating in the suicides of a parishioner and one of the clergy. Considered cursed, even the homeless and the drug addicts that had choked out this neighbourhood avoided Our Lady of Mercy. After tonight, they’d have even more reason.
Weeping angels stood silent vigil as the SWAT swept through the desecrated church and Akram felt a bead of sweat run down his back. This should be its lair. The Court had run geographical profiles of the ‘Heat Wave Vigilante’s’ kill sites and the church was close to ground zero. Nothing would appeal to a fireborn more than using an abandoned church as a lair, and this one had outdone herself.
Itself, al Faddil corrected himself. Itself.
That’s what they had thought, anyways. It seemed, however, that the blood-born bitch was playing with them.
The church stank of rotten meat, alcohol, sweat and piss. Spoiled blood rotted on the walls, blasphemies scrawled across every available inch of space; curses and imprecations against Yahweh and Allah, renditions of Mohammed and Jesus that ran the gamut from crude and cartoonish to those whose heresies were lavishly detailed. Targeting lasers swept over each new depravity, night-vision goggles rendering each insult in perfect detail.
The faces of saints had been burned and clawed away, stripped from statuary, painting and window alike. Here and there, it had kept the bodies of some of its victims, crucifying, hanging and posing them in further mockery of the faiths of the Court. Flies buzzed around the dead, maggots writhing in mouths and burst bellies. Even through his mask, Akram could smell the overpowering stench of decomposition.
“This is wrong,” Akram said to himself, not realizing he’d spoken aloud.
“She’s mocking us,” growled Sabir, pointing to a particularly insulting rendition of Mohammed. “She mocks our faith.”
“Yes, she does...” Akram mused. “But why?”
This wasn’t spastic rage he was seeing. It was calculation, cruel and cold. Not the frothing, spiteful anger that it appeared to be. He could feel her laughter here; there’d been no venom behind these heresies, only amusement. “You’re right,” he told Sabir. “She is mocking us. But this isn’t about our faith.”
“No?” The other man shone a light on the pulpit; a large crucifix had been hung upside down, the image of Christ despoiled. A hunched and hooded form was posed at the pulpit as if about to give a sermon.
“No,” Akram said with growing certainty. “She wouldn’t – doesn’t – care enough about our beliefs to do this. This is her... is its... way of calling us out. Of naming us as fools and idiots.” Even before his other teams reported their sections clear, Akram knew they would find no trace of her in this church. “She knew how we would look for her,” he sighed. “She knew we would come here. This – all this – is it laughing at us, at our fumbling in the dark.” He felt his lips twitch sardonically, running his gloved hands along various blasphemies. “Don’t give this power. Don’t let its little whimsies blind you. It wants you angry so that you aren’t thinking clearly.” He’d made similar mistakes and too many people had paid for it; Akram refused to let it happen again.
Sabir nodded choppily. The other Muslim was devout and the fireborn’s insults were calculated to cut to the quick of the faithful, but he saw the wisdom in his lieutenant’s words.
“A lot of effort,” Jessica Sanders commented. She was one of Akram’s new knights, freshly promoted to fill the losses his unit had suffered at the drake’s hands. Sanders was ‘double-duty’, with a position on Captain al-Faddil’s actual SWAT unit as well as serving at the Court’s pleasure under Lieutenant al-Faddil.
“They’re immortal,” Akram pointed out. “They have nothing but time.”
“Not as much as everyone seems to think,” a new voice announced.
Instantly, Akram and his unit had their weapons raised. The voice had come from the hooded figure at the head of the church, what the captain had taken for another corpse. Slowly, the figure raised its hands, pulling back its hood. A handsome man with dark hair and eyes wearing a priest’s collar stared back at them. A wry smile pulled the corner of his mouth into a condescending smirk. “Welcome, my children. I don’t have a sermon scheduled today, but I will take confession if you wish it.”
His eyes glinted red as one of Akram’s men shone a light over the priest’s face, and half a dozen automatic weapons were trained on him. The smile widened. “Is there something the matter, my children?”
“Is it her?” Sanders asked, her eyes flitting over to Akram. “Is this her?”
“No,” Akram said quietly. “She has gold eyes.” He remembered them, glinting amidst the flames, Yuri screaming as she pulled the big man apart, the popping of muscles audible over the crackling fire. “This is a new one.” His finger tightened on the trigger.
“The ‘priest’ seemed completely unperturbed by the weaponry pointing at him. “Before you do anything hasty, I think we should have a talk, you and I.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” hissed Jessica. Small and vicious, that summed Sanders up pretty well. “You’re one of those things.”
“This is the standard you teach them to?” the drake shook its head. “How you’ve fallen. I remember a time when the Court’s knights were all warrior-scholars. Poets and writers, learned men and women. Now... what? Zealous little thugs in tactical vests?” He stepped around the desecrated altar, his hands out before him as if in supplication. “What has become of the White Court?”
“Don’t come any closer,” Akram warned.
“Of course not. I came to talk.”
“There’s nothing you can say,” Sanders growled, her eyes flickering over to Akram, waiting for the order to fire.
“I believe there is,” the false priest said, seating himself on the steps leading to the pulpit. “Though, I must say all this hostility is very disheartening. I remember a time when the Court and I got on very well.”
Sanders snorted. “Say the word, LT.”
“Wait,” an unpleasant sense of familiarity was tickling the back of al-Faddil’s brain. “What are you talking about?”
The drake sighed. “You see? Thugs in vests. How disappointing. Do any of you know your history? Do any of you remember a period of time when the Court wasn’t quite... white?”
A few of Akram’s team traded brief glances. “The Black Court,” he said, his stomach threatening to drop out of his gut. Not the official name, but one it had carried for several decades when they had been allied with...
“You’re him,” he said at last. “Du Noir.”
The ‘priest’ nodded, smiling. “At your service.”
“There’s still a price on your head. I know what you did. You betrayed us.”
“People keep telling me that...”
“I haven’t heard a reason not to order my people to take you down,” Akram said. “Anything else?”
“Why, yes. I’ve heard that you’re looking for a particular individual. You’re worried that she might be suffering from a certain... condition.” He smiled, much too wide for a human. “I can tell you that your fears are justified.” He stood, his hands clasped behind his back. He leaned towards Akram. “And I can give her to you.”
She was on her knees, panting and struggling to rise to her feet. Her greatsword had fallen from her hands. Blood dripped into her eyes from a cut on her scalp. Her hide was scored by slashes and lacerations, the deep wounds slowly but surely healing. She had won, for what little that was worth. Or, rather, she had survived. She’d been lucky.
She let out a low moan, crawling through the mud and gore of the upturned earth, snapping a locket off a dead knight’s belt. A blood-red sapphire, it glinted in the sun. Worth enough to buy the lowliest commoner lands and titles, the human had carried into battle as a trinket. As a trophy. It had belonged to one of her cousins.
She let out a despairing cry and clutched the locket to her breasts, crying out in pain. She screamed until she had nothing left in her and fell to the ground. “I didn’t know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry, I didn’t. I should have listened. I should have believed you. I should have.” She screamed again, but this time in fury, harsh and terrible. Steaming tears ran down her cheeks.
He was still alive. She’d gone at him with her all, and he’d survived. Wounded and bleeding, but still alive. If she’d been faster. If she’d been stronger... she should have been. She should have been. She’d been weak and she’d failed. He’d lived because of that failure.
“I wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She looked at the locket. It was coated in her blood, her talons dug into her palm. “I will be,” she promised. “I will be.”
Sugar, snips, spice and screams: What are little girls made of, made of? What are little boys made of, made of?
"...even posthuman tattooed pigmentless sexy killing machines can be vulnerable and need cuddling." - Shroom Man 777