Celeste offered to let Thomas and Rhae live at her place, but they declined. It was simply too much for him right now. There were too many questions and he had too much to think about. In way he felt as though his mother wanted to shelter him and let him forget it all if that’s what he wished. And wish it he did. A part of him did wish in the deepest core of his heart to run away and forget it all. Yet something called to him the way flames beckon moths. He had pieces of something that only partially fit and it would seem that his family was a part of it all for some reason.
Like he knew why his mother appeared to be in her early thirties while he was in his early twenties. It was because he grew up on Terran where time moved differently there than it does on Earth. What he didn’t know was the true circumstances of how he got there with his aunt, how his mother survived, and where his sister was now. Despite what his aunt said he knew she had to be alive just like his mother. The thing was his mother wasn’t volunteering information and somehow he felt that he shouldn’t ask. Thomas got the feeling that whatever happen was the reason his aunt and mother were estranged to begin with. If that was the case, then why forgive her at the funeral? What the hell happened?
Even more importantly, what did any of this have to do with the Soul Eater brood? They did attack their middle man. They came all the way to Earth to kill Lynnette too. Was this connected directly to his family as a whole or only to his aunt? That gentleman priest knew her and gave him the creepy omen he missed until too late. One thing Thomas knew for sure was that he couldn’t sit around and wait to find out. He needed to devise a means to kill the Soul Eater brood and stop their master.
The idea of killing a person didn’t sit well with him. It didn’t matter if this person ultimately killed his aunt. Killing wasn’t in his nature. Back when they spoke to their middle man, they lied. His aunt was never that generous. They were always the ones that coughed up the money to grease the wheels to get the job done. The end result got what she wanted but she called him stupid and useless for it. He refused to kill someone over a bit of coin. When you hire the desperate and the starving what can you expect? Most of the time that kind didn’t really ask for that much more, so why kill them? But when you hire the best of the best to get a job done and then try to pinch them by not telling them everything so you can contract for less it doesn’t go well. Thomas lost count of the times he and Rhae gave up their own pay to cover Lynnette’s bullshit. Maybe this master had an old score to settle?
Thomas scrubbed his face with his hands before resting his elbows on his knees. Curled up on the couch next to him was Rhae, sleeping. He envied her. Getting up, he grabbed his trench coat and shades. After putting both on, he walked through the kitchen to find his keys on the table. Then he quietly stepped out the door into the freshly minted night. The chill damp air greeted him as he closed his eyes for a moment. Feeling more than hearing the soft breeze through the spruce, cedar, and birch he knew autumn approached. Reaching into the waist pocket, he retrieved a pack of black filtered clove cigarillos. It was a rare guilty pleasure to smoke one. Oh how his aunt hated the smell.
He smiled at the full moon in contemplation over this. Lighting it up the spicy smell of it alone soothed the senses. A puff wasn’t necessary. Watching it burn and seeing the strands of blueish smoke curl away from it enchanted him. Of course the taste of it was worth it too and one he didn’t pass up. Sitting down on the step of the porch, he avoided looking at the entryway to Lynnette’s office. Her office used to be lit up all hours of the night. Not anymore. All the windows were pitch black, cold, and uninviting. It felt unnatural and ominous. He took a long drag and thought about all her clients. What will happen to them now? Who will they go to now? Just exactly what sort of business did Lynnette do anyway?
“Well if we’re breaking out the bad now we might as well go all the way,” Rhae said and handed him a bottle of hard elderberry cider.
“I thought you were sleeping,” Thomas said, taking the bottle.
Rhae sat down next to him with a bottle of her own. “I was but I could hear you thinking.”
“No,” she said and elbowed him, “I don’t know what woke me up.”
Thomas waved the pack to her. “Want one?”
She eyed him for a moment and then took one. With a sly grin Thomas lit it for her. Rhae took a deep drag off it.
“Wait you don’t -”
Then she blew the smoke in his face like it was nothing. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“I didn’t know.”
“I hide it like you do, dumb ass.”
They sat in comfortable silence until both the cigarillos and the hard ciders were finished. A nice warm fuzz settled upon them both. Rhae leaned over on him and he wrapped his arm around her.
“So what’s the game plan now big hero?”
Thomas looked down at her face. Though her eyes were closed, she was serious.
He gazed out into the dark dooryard in front of them. “I’m not sure,” he said, “I think the first thing we need to do is get ourselves ready for the Soul Eater brood.”
Rhae straighten up and said, “You really think they’re coming back?”
“I don’t think they left,” he said, standing up. The gravel of the driveway crunched under his boots as he stepped towards the maple tree in the grass on the other side. Leaning against it he faced up at the moon. “My family is wrapped up in this somehow. I know it.”
Setting the bottles up on the porch railing, Rhae said, “Okay so what do we know about the Soul Eater brood?”
“My bullets won’t kill them.”
“My crossbow bolts don’t kill them either,” she said, striding toward him.
“Lisha’s daggers did kill them.”
“Made of white gold I think,” Rhae said. “Odd choice though seeming how soft the metal is.”
“No, it’s not the strength of the metal that killed them,” Thomas said, snapping his fingers.
“Experiment Number Five,” Thomas said. “I need to make a phone call.”
He hurried back inside the kitchen.
“Experiment Number Five for what?” Rhae said to the door. Shaking her head, she starting walking back to the house. “You’re not making any sense.”
“We have arrived,” Nessa said.
As usual she flew through the wall with exuberance, her arms out stretched. Her expressive joy on her face was as loud as her voice. Circling the kitchen table she giggled while Rhae rolled her eyes and plopped into a chair. The sound of the basement’s storm doors opening could be heard through the living room beyond the kitchen’s threshold.
“I take it the two of you are building something tonight?”
“Yup, yup, yup.” She beamed her best smile at Rhae as she daintily perched on the table in front of her. “Papa brought the bike.”
Rhae shook her head in wonder. Her ghostly form was always dressed in girly frills but clearly this child was the most tom-boyish wild thing she ever met.
Plucking at a curl in one of her ponytails, Rhae said, “I’m sure Thomas is going to need all the help he can get.”
“I’m the bestest help.”
“The bestest ever,” Thomas said, entering the kitchen. “You ready to turn the bike into a weapon?”
“Whoa,” Nessa said, floating up and around him, “What kind of weapon?”
“The kind that will make my gun kill the Soul Eater brood,” Thomas said.
“To stop them from eating people?” Nessa said. Her face grew somber as she set herself down next to Galen.
“That’s the plan.”
“I’d better get the coffee and crockpot started then,” Galen said. “Maybe bake some bread too, if you don’t mind?”
“Knock yourself out,” Rhae said. “I can’t cook and he’ll starve himself otherwise.”
The basement possessed little of interest. There was the flight of stairs leading up to the living room in the center of the room. From the far right of that were the stairs leading up to the storm doors. Straight ahead were a set of shelves with all of Thomas’ tool neatly arranged. Against the left wall stood his workbench, also neatly arranged and ready for use. Next to it was a large, beat up recliner. Tucked behind the center flight of stairs sat the oil furnace for the winter months and the electric water heater tank. Usually that’s all that’s found in here unless there is a project underway. Tonight, thanks to Galen’s generosity, Thomas’ bike was back down here in the left corner area between the workbench and the shelves.
They’ll need to remove the melted engine and install a new one so it can be ridden again. After that they’ll need to extract the trans-dimensional crystal from the melted engine and figure out how to incorporate it into the gun. He wasn’t sure if it would work but he already made his own bullets for the magnum. It’s likely he will have to craft special ones for it to work. Thomas wished that Lynnette had been more willing to teach him runic magick back in the day. It took him longer but he can make it work. So what if runes were the only thing that naturally works best with what he does? Does that really make him useless?
“What’s wrong Thomas?” Nessa said. She floated around to his front and tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowed with concern.
Thomas smiled and took his shades off. “Nothing really. Just worried this won’t work.”
Nessa cupped his face in her hands and squinted her eyes. “We’ll make it work,” she said.
“We always do,” Thomas said.
“That’s the spirit,” Nessa said and flew off to the shelves to fetch the tools.
Hours flew by as chalked runes covered the floor and tools were laid out. Not a word was spoken between the two of them, they just knew what the other needed or wanted as they busied themselves with their work. The melted engine hummed as Thomas extracted it from the frame of the bike and set in the center of the runes. Nessa opened a box as large as she was and started fluffing up the packing peanuts into the air with glee. Thomas just shook his head before examining the contents of the box. Bless his heart, Galen gifted him with a new engine for the bike. Lifting it from the box with a grunt, he carried it to the bike and placed it down on the cement.
“I hope you like it,” Galen said.
Turning around, Thomas saw him coming down the stairs with two steaming mugs of coffee.
“I do,” Thomas said, “Thank you. It will be put to good use.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Galen said, reaching the bottom step.
Giving Galen a broad grin, he took a mug and gestured to the recliner.
Galen shook his head with a wave of his free hand. He said, “I won’t stay long. I don’t want to keep you from your work. I just wanted to make sure you were properly fueled and refreshed. Dinner will be ready soon.”
Thomas took a swig of the blonde coffee, sweetened exactly the way he liked it. Galen remembered everything. How did he do that? As if Galen read his mind, a tiny smirk played the corner of his lips.
“The work on the bike is coming along smoothly,” Thomas said, “but I haven’t quite worked out in my head how I’m going to get the crystal to work with my magnum.”
“That’s the plan?” Galen said and went over to take the recliner after all. “What do you want the crystal to do exactly with the gun?”
Thomas took a seat on his workbench and let his feet swing idly. “A couple of things I think,” he said. “Mainly I need the crystal to enchant my bullets so they’ll kill the Soul Eater brood and anything else that can only be harmed by magick.”
Galen nodded, staring into his mug. “The crystal should be able to do that if they are properly ensorcelled with runes. I have books and Lynnette probably does too back in her office if you’re willing to raid it. You may also need additional gemstones to strengthen and enhance the enchantment grid,” he said. “What else do you need it to do?”
“I still need it for trans-dimensional travel,” Thomas said, “but without melting my damn gun.”
“You know,” Galen said, watching his daughter busying herself with the process of installing the new engine, “the magnum is a simpler machine. It’s less complex and less likely to interfere with the mechanism of the crystal. It’s a shame we hadn’t thought of this before.”
Thomas followed his gaze and watched Nessa. He remembered the time before she was a phantom. She had just as much energy and gumption back then too, but that was before the accident. Galen sighed and took Thomas’ empty mug from him. He stood up and headed back for the stairs.
“Hey Galen,” Thomas said, “I’m sorry.”
Galen turned back with a perplexed expression. “For what?”
“You know,” he said, waving his hand toward Nessa.
He walked back to the workbench and set the mugs down. “Look at her Thomas,” he said, “She is having the time of her life now. Nessa will always be here. For you, for me, and for anyone and anything else she loves and cares about. What more could a father ask for?”
“Grandchildren?” Thomas said.
Galen chuckled. “Do really need more than one of her?” he said, “And who knows what the future holds, Thomas? We can’t worry about what could have been in life. All we can do is focus on the now, Thomas.”
“Plan for the worst and hope for the best?”
“Always,” Galen said, picking the mugs back up, “if we don’t we lose our way.” He returned to the stairs before looking over his shoulder. “I’ll bring down the books for you after dinner. Looks like the bike is just about done now.”
Hours, days, and a week tick by and Thomas continued to pour through the books and scrolls to find the runic grid design he needed. Crumpled sheets of paper littered the floor at his feet has he sketched and tested various schemas. Several scorched marks on the cement reminded him he still had much to learn. Occasionally Nessa came along to clean the clutter away. Once in awhile Galen or Rhae called on him for meal times. A steady supply of coffee rolled in and more often than not he slept at the workbench. Two more days passed before he lurched up the stairs and stumbled into the kitchen. Baggy eyes couldn’t hide the sparkle and delight as he waved the sheet of paper above his head.
“This is what I need Galen,” Thomas said, “Can you get it for me?”
Galen took the paper from him and read it. “Ametrine, amber, amethyst, hematite, jasper, opal, and red tiger eye. Excellent choices,” he said. “And yes I do have these in my shop. By why do you need a stone grinder?”
“I need them ground into a dust, mixed together, and then inlaid into the runes carved into the gun,” Thomas said, “I think.”
“That might take some time,” Galen said. “In the meantime, while you wait for that you should test your runes first using the stones. Preferably outside.”
Rhae snorted and Nessa giggled.
“Kaboom,” Nessa said and flew outside to the dooryard. Moments later she came back in. “We have company.”
“Who?” Rhae said.
Nessa shrugged before saying, “Some lady with super dark skin and no hair.”
Rhae rolled her eyes, got up from the kitchen table, and left for the living room to shut the basement door. “I’ll be in here. Holler if you need me.”