August 16th 2014 – Molly
Riding a giant panther through the woods was an interesting experience. It was hard to see much of anything, and Adrianne didn’t really make a point of avoiding anything she could drag me through. I gave up on seeing where we were going pretty quickly and just settled for burying my face in her fur and trying to let as little of my body stick out as possible. It was one of those experiences that force you to pause and consider the choices that have led you to this point in your life. In my case, many of those choices hadn’t perhaps been the best. That said, I’m not really sure where I would have gone differently, at least without the benefit of foresight. If I actually knew everything I know now back then, I probably would have just flown to another city in Europe, lost my pursuers, then flown back to a different airport. If I had fully though through the blackmail potential of what had happened at the airport, I wouldn’t have sold that information so cheaply. And if I’d known the car was going to be attacked, I would have eaten faster. I was still hungry, and sore, which was pretty reasonable considering I hadn’t eaten for the better part of a week. For perhaps the millionth time, I wished I could create food with magic.
I’ve always wanted the ability to conjure food out of thin air. It’s one of those abilities that’s kinda the hallmark of a real professional wizard. Any amateur can toss around fireballs, but a real wizard tosses around fireballs then conjures biscuits for the adventuring party. Back when I was an apprentice I spent several weeks bugging my master to teach me how to do it. After weeks of badgering he gave in and told me he’d teach me. The next week he enrolled me in community center cooking classes. I assumed it was some sort of karate-kid nonsense that would culminate in him explaining that I had to get an appreciation for doing it the mundane way before he would teach me the magical shortcut. That was a stupid assumption. After I graduated from the 12 week course, my master presented me with a massive textbook discussing the subject. As it turns out, you can’t actually summon food, you need to cook food, place it in stasis, then hold it in some sort of extra-dimensional space or transfigured state. It’s also entirely too much work for most sane people, which is why only wizards with too much time on their hands bother with it.
Apparently there’s this concept called the law of conservation of noms (Yes, it was formulated post-internet). It’s usually stated as: “Thou shalt not attempt to conjure food under pain of accidentally transfiguring part of thine body into food, or other such unpleasantness.” I was pretty pissed for a while, but at least now I know how to cook. I still have that textbook in a storage locker, just in case I ever get bored enough to master that particular branch of magic. Just remember, if you’re ever being hosted by a wizard and he conjures food out of mid-air, that’s a sure-fire sign he’s a crazy powerful sonofabitch with way too much free time. That and beards. A long well-maintained white beard on a wizard means he’s so far out of your league he can beat the shit out of you even though his facial hair is so long he tucks it into his belt. I may or may not have learned the last one the hard way. Bearded mages are no joke.
Eventually Adrianne slowed down enough that I could open my eyes without risking getting them gouged out. The woods had thinned substantially, now they were more of scattered copses of trees. I could intermittent lights in the distance, probably the headlights of cars traveling down a road. Adrianne kept running for a few hundred more yards, slamming to an abrupt stop just in front of a dirt road. A few hundred feet away there was a house. It looked, for lack of a better word, trashy. It looked like one of prefabricated kit houses, except from the sixties. The paint was peeling, boards stuck out of the porch, and an obvious hole in the roof wasn’t quite covered by the plywood and tarp it’s inhabitants had lashed on it. If it wasn’t for the shitty repairs and the yard full of trash, I would have assumed it was abandoned.
Without warning, Adrianne bucked. She popped her shoulders back and leaned onto her hind legs, throwing me off. I landed face down in the grass. I heard a coughing noise that sounded suspiciously like a large cat trying to giggle coming from behind me.
“What the hell was that for!” I shouted, turning to face the annoying panther.
And I found myself facing, well, myself. Instead of a overgrown panther, I was looking at an exact copy of me. Well, an exact copy with feline pupils. And no clothes. And messier hair. Other than that though, it was a remarkably good likeness. I tilted my head. She tilted her head. It was like looking into a mirror. I reached up and ran a hand through my hair, checking if it was as disheveled as my clone’s. It was. My clone, Adrianne, mimicked the motion perfectly.
“Bored now.” Adrianne said. With the same blurring and jarring motion that had accompanied the wolf-panther’s transformations, the girl in front of me changed. Clothes, for lack of a better word, grew out of her flesh, coming to rest loosely against her body. Her hair lengthened and darkened while bones flowed and reshaped under her skin. Her body grew a few inches taller and filled out a bit. In a few seconds, she had become a pretty girl of average height, who looked maybe twenty or twenty one. Her hair was black now, and longer. The only thing that hadn’t changed were the crimson eyes with their feline pupils.
“How do I look? Did I get the clothes right, or are they boy clothes? I can never tell with modern fashion, last time I woke up girls still weren’t allowed to wear britches. That was silly, I’m glad you people finally fixed that, even if it took you a few thousand years.” Adrianne said.
I was a bit lost for words. Adrianne chattered on while I tried to wrap my head around just how powerful a shapeshifter she was. I’d never even heard of anyone growing clothes out of their skin before. For perhaps the thousandth time that night, I wondered just what the hell I’d gotten myself mixed up in. Maybe she–
“Well? Do I pass as a normal human?” Adrianne interrupted my train of thought.
I finally looked at her clothes. She was wearing a pair of jeans, and a dark green shirt with a giant print of a cat’s head the front. I suppose that counted as normal, if not necessarily fashionable.
“Yeah, but, uh you might wanna do something about the eyes.” I told her. Adrianne seemed to take a moment to consider this.
“Ooh, yeah, you’re right. It’ll be more fun if they don’t suspect anything.” Her eyes bulged a little, bugging out of her head for a moment, then quickly shifted to a dark green with normal pupils.
“Uh, it’ll be more fun if who doesn’t suspect anything?” I asked.
“You’ll see. Just follow my lead.” Adrianne replied. And with that, she started walking towards the house. I looked around. The waning moon provided just enough light to see that the road meandered along for miles in either direction. There were no other houses that I could see, and the highway I thought I had seen earlier was probably at least ten miles away now.
So, I followed Adrianne. I might not have any idea who she was or what her motives were, but she’d already had dozens of chances to kill me. If it hadn’t happened by now, I was probably safe. And who knows, my lifelong streak or terrible luck might just relent long enough for me to actually get paid. Stranger things had quite literally happened to me tonight.
“So, what were those things in the woods?” I asked as we walked towards the broken down little house.
“No idea. Tasted awful though, and it was even worse coming back up. It’s been ages since I last regurgitated a meal. Although, I’m not sure that arm qualified as more than a snack.” Adrianne started skipping along the road, kicking up small clouds of dust.
“Wait, when did you vomit it back up? I didn’t even notice.”
“That’s not surprising, you had your eyes closed and were clinging to me for dear life. Which was silly by the way, even if you got a branch in your eye, that fragment of a demon inside you would fix it up right quick. You missed a very pretty view too, I never knew there was a grove this close to Atlanta.” It took me a moment to parse everything Adrianne was telling me. I wasn’t sure which part of that sentence qualified as the most alarming. Groves near a major city, that’s a scary thought. Not that Adrianne knowing my unholy little secret was at all comforting.
“How do you know about that?”
“The grove? I smelled all the sex and blood, then passed close enough for a look. They were having a party, I would have asked if you wanted to stop by, but you don’t speak cat. You should learn to speak cat, it’s a useful language. Cats know everything that happens in a city. And they give you little presents, mostly small mammals, unless you ask for other things.” Adrianne rambled on, completely ignoring my actual question.
“Not that, the other thing. What makes you think I’m possessed by a demon?”
“Oh, you told us, remember? I was just a few feet away, and you weren’t exactly quiet. Don’t worry, I won’t tell them your dirty little secret. People are so more interesting when they’re possessed by demons, it’d be a shame for your story to get cut short early. I can’t wait to see the ending… Those always end tragically. Well, tragically for someone. Don’t feel bad, it’s not necessarily you.” The conversation died down as I digested what she had just told me. I really had absolutely no idea how to respond to any of what she had just said. Of course, that didn’t stop Adrianne. She kept going on about the differences between Fae parties and frat parties until we started to get close to the house. She seemed to consider the most relevant differences to be that Fae parties had better food and less rape, while frat parties had better music and more varied drinks. I wasn’t sure if any human would agree with that assessment, but I wasn’t about to argue. I didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with either sort of party. Or any parties. My childhood was not conducive to partying. As we reached the edge of the yard, Adrianne turned to me.
“I like you, you’re a good listener. I hope the church doesn’t kill you. That would be sad.” And with that, she skipped off towards the run-down safe-house.
“I like you too. You’re a good, uh, talker.” I awkwardly replied. I’d never had anyone tell me that before. And she seemed nice enough. Maybe a bit crazy and violent, but nice. I’ve never really had friends, but I could probably do worse than her. At the very least, she’d be useful to have around.
The house was even more dilapidated up close. The porch was a thriving ecosystem unto itself, with beetles and rats scurrying among the trash, and a lone cat watching from underneath the deck. The tell-tale scars of a termite infestation festooned the railings and balusters. The yard was filled with trash, mostly old broken appliances, boxes and broken bottles. The entire house buzzed quietly, as if the inside of the structure was infested with bees. Neither of us had shoes, but that definitely seemed to inconvenience me more than Adrianne. I gingerly picked my way through the mess of metal and broken glass, Adrianne just kept right on skipping. She skipped right up to the front door, and knocked.
The door opened immediately, revealing a tall and skinny man, with dark circles under his eyes. I could see his ribs through the fabric if his white tanktop, and his fangs poking out over his lower lip. Yep, that’s a vampire. This was a vampire safe-house. They were affiliated with the dominion.
“Hey, I’m gonna take some of the money. Unless you spent it all. Then I get to hurt you.” Adrianne announced, and walked right past the tall vampire. Both of us stared at her as she walked into the dilapidated house. The vampire looked both confused and bemused. I wondered how often he had people just walk into his rick-shaw of a house. It wasn’t exactly an inviting place.
Adrianne disappeared down the hallway, apparently looking for a stash of money, leaving me alone and unarmed with the bemused vampire. He looked at me. I looked at his chest, since he was absurdly tall and I didn’t want to risk getting hypnotized. I almost tried to make smalltalk, but thought better of it. The man looked like the undead equivalent of white trash, what would we even talk about? Nascar? Pit bulls? Adrianne had said to follow her lead, so I shoved past him without an explanation. Even through the wifebeater I could feel that he wasn’t human, his skin had less give and was colder than room temperature. I barely managed to suppress a shiver when I smelled the fetid, coppery, odor that was his breath. I could feel him leering at me through my scrubs, and I picked up my pace just a little bit as I marched down the hallway, looking for Adrianne. I passed a few empty rooms, one of them filled with cardboard boxes and slats of plywood, another featuring a beaten-up couch and a fancy new flatscreen television that looked incredibly out of place propped on top of a broken refrigerator.
“What’s this now, did you girls get lost? If you want money that badly, I’m sure we can find something around the house for you to… do.” The trashy vampire drawled. Lechery aside, his voice made me want to punch him. Adrianne walked out of one of the rooms I hadn’t checked yet holding a shoebox. Her eyes were still green, but the pupils had again become feline. She looked even more annoyed than I felt.
“Put that down! You have no right to” – Adrianne cut him off with a punch to the stomach. Her face was contorted into a rictus of fury. She didn’t bother to put the shoebox down, instead just tossing it in my general direction before she started beating on the unfortunate vampire.
It was obvious from the moment they started grappling that the fight was completely one-sided. The tall vampire tried to grab Adrianne’s shoulders, but she spun out of the way and caught his arm instead. Adrianne pulled the already overextended vampire forward, forcing him to stumble, then stepped towards him and used his arm to pull him over her shoulder. The vampire went down in a heap, his height working against him. Then Adrianne started stomping on him. First the back of his knee when he tried to stand. Then his hands. Then the ribs. Then the collarbone. More ribs. Up to the head. Every stomp or kick landed with a loud crack Eventually he stopped struggling, and a pool of dark red blood began to soak into the old discolored carpet.
“You can keep what’s in the box. I swear I’ll get you the rest later. We’ll do the church next.” Adrianne said. I picked up the old shoebox. I’d never heard of the brand, El Bee shoes. Considering it was a vampire’s shoe box, they’d probably gone out of business before I was born. The box, however old it was, was filled with cash. Most twenties, rolled up and rubber banded. It definitely wasn’t ten thousand dollars, unless the inside of the rolls were filled with bigger bills, but it was probably several thousand dollars. Enough to consider a sign of good faith.
“So, was this even your safehouse? Or did you just steal from the vampires on a whim?” I asked.
“It’s ours. Well, someone’s. We’re Dominion. Or at least we’re usually allied with them. I can never remember the specifics, they change too often.” Adrianne replied.
“Then why did you hurt him? Wouldn’t he just have given you the money if you identified yourself?”
“Probably, but why wouldn’t I hurt him? He was boring, vulgar, and rude to me. He’s probably never had an original thought in his life or his undeath. Hell, he’s probably hurt dozens of people who’re worth more than he’ll ever be. Managing a safe-house is the easiest job on the planet, and he can’t even do that without stealing from his betters. So, tell me, why shouldn’t I kick the guard dog?”
“Because it’s nice to not rip people’s limbs off?” I ventured. Adrianne finally turned her head to look at me. Her expression was utterly devoid of any recognizable human emotion.
“That he did not meet the true death this day is mercy. To refrain from punishing him would have been a waste of an excellent learning opportunity. Why do you care?”
“I try to avoid beating vampires senseless and then leaving them to recover on purely practical grounds. He’s going to get back up a few days from now, and then he’ll probably go looking for vengeance. I could easily destroy him from a distance, but I’ll have to spend the next few years looking over my shoulder every time I go out in public at night. If he catches me in a crowd and comes at me with a knife or gun, my magic isn’t going to do shit.” I explained.
Adrianne pondered this for a moment. Then she stuck her fingers into his chest. She drove two fully extended fingers right into the left side of his back, through the intercostals, between the ribs, into his heart. His entire body tensed for a moment, then relaxed. The moment Adrianne withdrew her fingers, he began to desiccate. It wasn’t quite turning into dust, he evidently hadn’t been a vampire long enough for that, but in a few moments the tall vampire looked more like a human raisin than anything else.
“I like you more than I like him. Come on, let’s go to church.”