He should be tired. How was he not tired? That’s how it usually worked for guys, wasn’t it? They have sex and pass out. Thomas didn’t know a woman who didn’t complain about the habit. Yet here he was, down in the basement buzzing with energy. As much as he wanted to stay next to Rhae, he couldn’t. He had to come down here if she was to get any rest.
Each time he closed his eyes, his own aura glowed with the impossible color of moonlight. He felt alive and connected to life, the universe, and everything all at once. The desire to run, dance, and shout overwhelmed him, yet all he could do was bask in the quiet joy of his soul. His mind raced with so many thoughts. He couldn’t catch them all. They flurried before him like snowflakes. Creativity sang through his veins. His blood begged him to design, build, and create. So here he was, engraving entirely new schemas into the metal as conscripted by the cosmic forces whispering in his ear.
Everything finally made sense and came together as he filled in the missing parts of the runic grids. He was able to design Rhae’s in such a way it could be operated automatically without effort, no magick talent, and respond to either his or her touch only. The magnum required a more complicated system. It would respond to Rhae in times of need but he also designed it to become more fluid for his needs his hand. When finished, the weapons were works of art. Each one decorated with fine engraved filigree embedded with runes. The gemstones at this point would further enhance the work, but were no longer critical.
The runes no longer felt alien or foreign to him. In fact, more came to mind that he didn’t remember reading. Studying his hands, he saw the runes float in his moonlight aura. Could he pluck them out and use them? He had to test this out. Grabbing his trench coat, he headed outside.
From the bedroom window upstairs, Rhae watched Thomas light up the darkness around him as he cast one runic spell after the next. Defiant pride swelled in her heart. Sometimes he flung a rune out from thin air like a card. Other times he drew them with his finger in trailing lights. With a quick flick of the wrist, he could even have them suddenly appear around him in orbiting rings like they did with the bike. All of his efforts were fluid and graceful.
“You did it, Thomas,” she said, “You finally figured it out.”
Placing her hand on the glass pane, she smiled sadly. She knew that now he had awakened, the would be kings and gods of the cosmos would come for him in time. Like Lynnette and Celeste, he too was of the Phoenix bloodline. An awakened child such as he was always a target. It was unavoidable.
“I’m going to protect you,” Rhae said, turning away from the window as the phone in the kitchen. “I’ll die before harm comes your way.”
Thomas reached the phone before Rhae did. He wrapped a comfortable arm around her waist as he answered it.
“Hello, Thomas speaking.”
“Ryker here,” he said. Keening ripped through the background. “I need you here now. They’re here, chasing a ghost child.”
“Where?” Thomas already knew, but he had to be sure.
“We’re coming,” Thomas said.
The trans-dimensional runes worked flawlessly to bring them on the bike well beyond the other side of town. They cut a twenty-minute drive down to five. Thomas still felt that it left them will little to spare. Fog roiled the street, angry and hungry for them. Leaving the bike behind, the two of them sought the direction of Nessa’s shrieking over the keening and tittering. Rhae fired two shots at a pair of incoming brood. White light exploded from them, leaving behind spatters of melting parts in brackish goo.
“It works,” Rhae said.
“Okay,” Thomas said, drawing a rune of light on her forehead. “Seems they can see us through the fog anyway. No sense running blind in this.”
“I’ve got you,” she said as he drew the same rune for himself.
Thomas turned in time to fire runic charged shots at three, but had to duck down so Rhae could shoot the fourth one leaping at him. Twisting around, he shot another behind her. Casting the orbital runes wide, he cut through the fog to clear the street. They found Ryker and Lisha fighting off a swarming pack. He picked off the two closest to them before reloading while Rhae covered him. Each pair worked in synch as they made their way towards the middle.
“My gun is useless,” Ryker said.
Thomas held two fingers up, pressed together, to his forehead for a moment. Quickly he made a flicking motion with that wrist and Ryker’s gun lit up with a blue filigree design similar to the one on Rhae’s shotgun.
“It won’t last,” said Thomas, “so make it count.”
“Right,” said Ryker.
“Where’s Nessa?” Rhae said, scanning through the fog beyond the orbiting runes.
“We lost her,” Lisha said.
“What do you mean you lost her?” Rhae said, spinning around.
“Those creatures separated us,” Ryker said.
The keening faded to a deathly quiet as the fog receded. Thomas dropped his orbital runes and scanned the street for the white woman. She was there, standing in front of the church. Next to her, in the claws of a pack of brood was Nessa.
“I will have what belongs to us,” said the white woman.
Like the last time they met, she stood motionless with her katana drawn. Even porcelain dolls were made with more expressive faces than hers. What was wrong with her?
“You get nothing from us,” shouted Lisha. “Release the ghost child.”
“Now hang on,” Thomas said.
“We will not be denied,” the white woman said. “I have come for what belongs to us.”
“Like hell,” Lisha said.
“Wait,” Thomas said.
Ignoring him, Lisha unleashed a flurry of daggers. Each one struck true. Four of the brood fell into a pool of its brackish slime. The white woman signaled with a slight movement of the hand and the remaining brood began to tear Nessa apart. They ripped and snapped pieces off her like taffy. Her screams tore through the night and his soul.
“No,” Thomas said, running towards them.
He shot all six of his rounds, but it was too late. With ten of them upon her fighting for a shred, it didn’t take long. Her essence faded before he reached her. There was nothing left. Not a ribbon or scrap to bury. Dropping his gun, Thomas grabbed the white woman by the front of her yukata. Four of the brood tittered around them, waiting for orders. The white woman just stared at him blankly.
“Why? What is wrong with you?” he said, “She was just a child.”
Suddenly an image of his mother filled his head. Sounds of babies crying and keening surrounded him. The katana hit the pavement with a metallic clatter. Her eyes that matched his widened and blinked. Grasping his wrists, she forced him to let go. Scooping up her katana, she ran. Thomas fumbled for his gun and tried to follow her. However, the fog swirled around her and quickly reclaimed the street. By the time the fog cleared, he found himself at the edge of the woods with his quarry no where in sight. Cursing himself for losing her, he headed back to regroup with Rhae.
He found the three of them waiting for him. Thomas shook his head at Rhae and walked past her. It took three short strides to bring him straight to Lisha.
“What the hell was that?” he said. “You got Nessa killed.”
“I was trying to save her.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Thomas said. “You seem to know what she’s looking for.”
“Easy there pal,” Ryker said, stepping between them. “Aren’t most demons and ghost a bit crazy and misguided?”
“Nessa wasn’t,” Thomas said. “And most of them don’t go across dimensions looking for lost items either.”
Ryker’s face suddenly took a clouded expression. “That’s true. I knew that,” he said. “Nessa was Galen’s daughter, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah, I’m going to head over to the shop and let him know,” Thomas said.
Still looking troubled, Ryker patted him on the shoulder. “Let him know I’m truly sorry,” he said. “I need to fill out a report on this. I’m never going to here the end of it.”
“I’ll follow you over there Thomas,” Lisha said. “It’s the least I can do.”
“It’s probably for the best,” Ryker said. His eyes squinted at her, but then he shook his head and walked to his car.
“You keep your hands off him,” Rhae said.
“I heard you the first time, Tiger Mama,” Lisha said. “No petting the Snow Bunny.”
In a flash of runic light, Rhae sliced Lisha’s face with her combat knife. She had the knife sheathed before the paper thin cut began to bleed.
“Call him that again and I will kill you,” she said, walking away towards the bike.
Thomas didn’t even spare Lisha a glance as he followed in Rhae’s foot steps.
They parked the bike outside the front of the pawnshop. It would be dawn in a few hours and knowing Galen, he would up already prepping for business. The bell rang as Thomas opened the door. He found Galen sweeping up broken glass near the wall.
“Oh Thomas,” Galen said, “strangest thing happened. Less than an hour ago all the framed Kincade paintings crashed to the floor.”
“Nessa’s collection,” Thomas said.
Galen stopped sweeping and studied Thomas and Rhae. “Where’s Nessa?” he said.
“I think you should sit down,” Rhae said.
“No,” Galen said, dropping the broom. He rushed over to lock the door but Lisha arrived to enter.
“I’m sorry Galen,” she said, “We did everything we could to rescue her from the brood.”
Crestfallen, he looked up to Thomas for confirmation. “Thomas?”
Thomas glared at Lisha. “I think some of us could have tried harder,” he said.
“There will be no contention here,” Galen said. “Not in Nessa’s name. I trust everyone did what they thought was best at the time.” He gave Thomas a pointed look as Rhae rolled her eyes.
“You weren’t there,” Rhae said.
“And good thing too,” Galen said. “My judgement would have been clouded and I too might be dead.” He sighed, rubbing his chest. “Who’s up for some ice cream?”
“At a time like this?” Lisha said.
“Yes,” Galen said, heading for the kitchen. “Nessa deserves a proper wake and children get ice cream, not booze.”
“How much are you willing to bet he made that up?” Rhae said, walking past Thomas.
“Just go with it,” he said, following her, “He ate ice cream last time too, remember?”
Thomas slid the ottoman to the center of the parlor before sitting into his usual chair. Rhae found and placed a vase of fabric flowers on the ottoman. Next to it she placed the small painting of her with her mother from years ago. The door’s bell rang again but who would be calling this early? Ryker hadn’t said he would be meeting with them and surely he couldn’t have finished with his report so soon.
“I’ll get it,” Galen said, handing them each a pint of ice cream. “Wait for me.”
“I heard the news Galen and I came to offer my condolences.”
“News travels fast,” Galen said, “I only just heard myself.”
Rhae exchanged looks with Thomas. The voice was a bit muffled through the wall, but it was clearly the gentleman priest from Prasiyawa. Lisha stood up and quietly stepped toward the kitchen and lingered there.
“I’m apologize my friend,” the gentleman said, “I haven’t given you proper time to mourn.”
“No need to be sorry,” Galen said. “Come join us. We are holding a wake for Nessa as we speak. You are welcome here.”
“That’s kind of you. What spirits are we partaking?”
“Of course, Nessa was a child after all.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” Rhae said. “What world does that come from?”
Thomas shrugged. “No idea.”
Galen and the gentleman soon entered the parlor. With his usual grace, Galen offered a place for him to sit. This time he unearthed a small cushioned bench.
“Peccant, I’d like you to meet Thomas and Rhae,” he said. “Thomas and Rhae, this is the traveling Sin Eater, Peccant.”
“Sin Eater?” Rhae said, raising an eye brow.
Peccant bowed his head. “I perform services for the dead,” he said. “It is my job to take on the sins of those that have passed as my personal burden so that they may travel into the after life freely.”
“That’s an odd custom,” Thomas said.
“It is a dying art,” Peccant said, a corner of his mouth turn upward wryly. “But, it is necessary for those that have burdened themselves gravely. A soul like that will never find its way and roam in a path of destruction otherwise. It must be tamed and returned to order.”
Galen offered Peccant a pint of ice cream as well, which he accepted. As Galen sat in his rocking chair, he said, “Some say that the Soul Eater brood are the lost dark souls seeking to fill the emptiness inside themselves.”
Rhae licked the ice cream off her spoon. “Do you believe that Galen?”
He ate his ice cream thoughtfully for a time before answering. “I don’t know what to believe to be honest,” he said. “There are so many stories, and this is only one of them.”
They fell silent as they finished the ice cream, sharing their sorrow together as Nessa would have wanted them too.
“So young Master Thomas,” Peccant said, “I wish to offer my condolences to you as well.”
“Excuse me?” Thomas said.
“Lynnette,” he said. “I truly wished her no harm. She was a lovely woman.”
Galen gave Peccant an uncomfortable sideways glance and then stared at the bottom of his ice cream carton.
“Thank you,” Thomas said, “It was an unexpected death.”
“Did anyone service her passing?”
“A celebrant presided over the funeral,” Thomas said.
Peccant gave him a shrewd eye. “No my boy,” he said, “did someone clear her of sin.”
“Oh,” Thomas said. He recalled his mother’s odd behavior at the funeral. Now it made sense. “Yes, Celeste Whitaker.”
“Of course she had,” he said. “She burned it all away with her light.”
Pondering the news, Peccant stood and paced the room. Galen got up to collect the empty pints of ice cream and spoons. Thomas and Rhae handed over theirs as they sat quietly in thought. They could hear Galen busy himself in the kitchen.
“Thank you,” Lisha said.
Peccant froze. “Who is that?”
“Oh,” Galen said, “I completely forgot to introduce my client here. Her name is Lisha.”
The Sin Eater strode into kitchen, fuming. “You,” he said, “I will have back what is mine.”
“Burn in hell,” Lisha said. She popped open the back steel door of the kitchen and ran off into the breaking dawn.
“Thief,” Peccant said, stepping out the door. “I will have what’s mine.”
Like an inky black cloud, the Soul Eater brood began to pour out from his robes.