The Jade Court Part VI – Failure

“We can’t keep having these losses boss.”  Lon finished, shaking his head.  “Five of our last six deposits got jacked, Shinji and Li got shot in the head in broad daylight and someone got into one of our bases last night and did something.  Something weird.  Must have been like a biological weapon or something.”

Tanaka poured him a glass of whisky, lit two cigarettes in his mouth and passed one over.  “What do you mean weird?”

“They’d been melted boss.”  He shuddered and took the drink with a nod of thanks, “I ain’t seen nothing like it.  Like their flesh had been turned to jello.”

Tanaka poured whisky for Asahina and himself and took the opportunity to exchange a glance with her as she took the glass.  She nodded slightly, it was magic.

“I dunno what to tell you, boss, I’m sorry.”  Lon bowed his head, “I’ve failed you.”

“You should have brought this to me sooner Lon.”  Tanaka said, “But I made you a captain because of your independence, so the failure is mine, not yours.”

Lon kept his head bowed until Tanaka slapped him lightly on both cheeks, “I need you at your best, not feeling sorry for yourself.  Get back out there and keep your men vigilant.  You can rely on me to handle the rest.”

“Yes boss.  Thank you boss.”  Lon said, standing and bowing deeply before backing out of the room.

“What do we do about this?” Tanaka asked Asahina, “Can you do anything to defend against whatever magical attack this is?”

“Let’s look at the facts.”  Asahina said, “It appears most of these attacks have happened at night, other than the ones that seem to be from sniper fire.  Since it seems Lon didn’t vary his patterns much, I think it may be time to put out some bait and see if we can catch ourselves a rat.”

Tanaka’s mouth spread into a humorless smile.  “An excellent idea.”

The trap had been set, the bait dangled out for their enemy to see and all had been in readiness.  Tanaka had been waiting on a rooftop with a sniper rifle and night vision scope.  Asahina had been across the street on another rooftop, waiting to attack or defend with her magic as needed.  Men had been positioned in cars and cafes, waiting to move in when their attacker fell into the trap.

That’s when everything went wrong.

Tanaka sent a perfectly spaced pair of bullets into the head of the first would-be assailant.  He quickly turned his scope toward another figure and shot it in the chest, knocking it backward.  Asahina’s voice sounded in his earpiece.

“Tanaka!  Get out!  GET OUT!”

He saw the flash of magic from the rooftop where she was stationed and saw a half dozen figures converging on her location.  Before he could get a clear shot, a scrabbling sound made him look down.  Figures were clawing their way up the side of the building with unnatural speed.  Cursing under his breath, he dropped the rifle and took out his phone.

“I’m extracting, route three.”  He said.

“Negative sir!” The voice on the other end said, “We’re being hit, use-“ The voice cut off to the sound of screaming and awful crunching sounds.

The first of the things climbing the building pulled itself over the edge of the roof and Tanaka put a bullet through its head, but the thing only seemed to find it a momentary inconvenience.  A thrill of fear went down his back.  He turned and ran, pulling a pair of grenades from his belt, tossing one behind him and dropping one as he ran through the door.

When the explosions shook the building he didn’t stop running until he was at the underground parking garage.  He paused, catching his breath and loading a fresh magazine into his pistol.  Looking through the small window, he could see several people who he was certain were waiting for him or his associates.

Tanaka opened the door and walked briskly out, ignoring the men who moved to flank him.  When the first one was close enough to be an easy target, he shot both of the man’s kneecaps out.  He knew the bullets wouldn’t kill whatever the things were, but nothing could run with the use of its legs.  The momentary distraction was enough for him to run to his car.  Silently cursing the necessity, he abandoned his men and ran.

The Jade Court Part V – Respect

Sai’Li paused at the entrance to the boardroom, stepping out of her sandals and padding on stocking feet to the spot at the low table they had set out for her.  Everyone stood as she approached and they exchanged cautious bows and pleasant introductions before kneeling on the cushions.  An attendant offered tea which she accepted, setting the porcelain cup on the table.

“Your invitation was most courteous and your hospitality likewise.”  She said from behind her fan.  “May I know the reason you asked me here?”

Tanaka opened a lacquered box on the table and withdrew a cigarette.  He offered them, but Sai’Li instead reached into her sleeve and withdrew a jade and gold kiseru.  She carefully tamped tobacco from a small golden box into the bowl and leaned forward to allow Tanaka to light it for her.  The smoke smelled sweet and exotic, making Tanaka’s cigarette seem harsh and uncivilized.

“It seems as though there’s a bit of tension between you and the Yashida clan.”  Tanaka said, “I’d like to put that to rest.”

“Disagreements are bad for business.”  She said, exhaling a stream of smoke and taking a sip of tea.

“We sent two of our people to see you.” He said, “They never reported in.”

“Is that all this is about?”  Asked Sai’Li, “I do have to congratulate you on the loyalty of your subordinates, they have been refusing to break their word despite not being allowed to depart while still in your service.”

“You have them?” Tanaka demanded, “Release them to me at once.”

“Now my dear Tanaka, I cannot allow disrespect to go unnoticed or unpunished.”  She chided, “They are being treated well and I expect we shall have the opportunity to reunite you soon.”

“You are hardly in a position to negotiate.”  Snarled Tanaka, “You came here without any support, for all that pet tiger of  yours would be able to do against us.”

Her fan snapped shut with a crack and she fixed a glittering green eyed stare on him.  “Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am in any way threatened by what little resistance you can offer.”  Her kimono shifted color, becoming a pristine white with delicate black and gold spider webs covering it.

“You aren’t going to distract me with petty tricks and idle threats.”  Tanaka said, “If we do not allow it, you will not leave here alive.”

“You do not have a choice whether I live or not Tanaka.”  Sai’Li blew more scented smoke into the air.  “I’m sure little Asahina has told you what I am.”

“You expect me to believe that line of shit?”  Tanaka laughed, “I’m not-”

“I do not tolerate disrespect,” Sai’Li said calmly, taking another sip of her tea.  “Please moderate your language.  I am not offering any threat, nor do I intend to do so.  Also, I am your guest who has kindly agreed to travel in order to meet you in person after you rudely sent your subordinates in response to my earlier request.”

She drew more smoke into her lungs and let it trail out from her nostrils.  “Furthermore, I am sitting before you alone.  A single woman surely does not provoke such a fearful reaction from a strong and powerful man like yourself who has a half dozen armed gunman itching to see what the color of my blood is.”

Tanaka brought himself under control with a visible effort.  “Apologies for my outburst.  If I may be so bold; as a gesture of good will would you return our retainers to us?”

“Perhaps.”  Sai’Li tapped the ashes out of her kiseru and refilled it, lacquered nails clicking on the jade as she tapped the tobacco in.  “I wish to ascertain your loyalties first.”

“I am loyal to my family,”  Tanaka said.

“Who does your family owe loyalty to?” She asked, letting him light her kiseru.

“We are our own family.”  He said, “We do not owe loyalty to anyone.”

“Is that what you believe?” Sai’Li raised an eyebrow, “If you read your histories I think you will find something different.”

Tanaka opened his mouth to answer, but Sai’Li moved her hand blindingly fast.  Her fan snapped open between his head and the window.  The sound of a bullet ricochet was followed almost immediately by the sound of a rifle shot.  The delicate looking silk of her fan was unmarred, but the bullet clattered to the table mangled and bent.  The guards leaped into action, two tackling Tanaka to the floor, one shouting instructions into an earpiece and another drawing a pistol and pointing it at Sai’Li.

Asahina waved a hand, stepping between the windows and Tanaka.  A second gunshot glanced off an invisible shield that surrounded her before a bolt of black energy lanced from her finger to punch through the window of a building across the street.  Tanaka snarled curses and his guards stood up but kept themselves between him and the window.

“It appears you have some things to deal with,”  Sai’Li said calmly, tapping the ashes from her kiseru and stowing it.  “As a benevolent gesture, I will return your people to you.”

She stood and took a ring off her finger, stretching it into an oval five feet tall.  Looking through it, Tanaka could see a well appointed room with barred windows that looked out onto a cliff over the ocean.  Ichi and Shinobu turned from the window to look at the portal in surprise.

“Your master has convinced me to be lenient.”  Sai’Li said, “You are free to go.”

After they stepped through the portal cautiously, Sai’Li collapsed the ring and put it back on her finger.  She turned to leave, “Come Ignis.”

There was suddenly a six hundred pound tiger in the room.  It looked around at them all contemptuously before it began to fade from view again, starting from its tail until only the mouth and eyes remained.  Those faded as too as they walked through the door.

The Jade Court Part IV – Invitation

“I appreciate you calling me with this Asahina.”  Arclight said, “What has this so-called ‘Jade Lady’ done thus far?”

Asahina sipped whisky and frowned at the small figure standing above her communicator focus.  Arclight was one of her contacts in the British Council where apparently taking a new name as a Journeyman mage was still in fashion.  He didn’t sound very worried about the situation; but then again, he didn’t have much reason to be.

“I told you what she has been doing.”  Asahina said a trifle impatiently, “She’s taken over an entire island, infiltrated every aspect of its business, politics, and set herself up as some kind of queen on Izu Oshima.  We sent some people to talk with her and we lost contact with them as soon as they debarked from the airplane. That was eight months ago and we haven’t heard from them since.”

“So she is very good at organizing support, has a bit of money, and is probably a mind mage of some sort.  You don’t have any evidence that the pair you sent to meet her met bad ends at her hand do you?” Arclight said, “I don’t see what’s gotten you so worried.  This isn’t like you.”

“One of them was a former apprentice of mine.”  Asahina said, “She was an accomplished death magic user and I can’t imagine her getting in over her head if there was combat involved.  Her ability to see through the intricacies of political rivalries took her a long way in our society, so I find it hard to believe she’d be caught out by any sort of gamesmanship either.”

“Which begs the question of what could have possibly kept her from reporting back for a day, much less half a year.”  He said, “Also not like you to let your people go missing for that long without following up.”

“We have.” She said shortly, “That’s why we know how deeply she has sunk her fingers into every aspect of Izu Oshima.”

“Have you thought about going there yourselves?”  He asked, “It’s not likely that she would take overt action against a recognized Council mage and someone with Tanaka’s contacts.”

“You don’t know much about the Jade Court do you?”  Asked Asahina.

“Only a little.  Had a coffee with a Knight of the Cross one afternoon about ten years ago.”  Arclight said, “He seemed to think they were more mysterious than any of the other courts, but I took that in stride since by all accounts they more or less vanished around two hundred years ago.  Pretty easy to be secretive when you’re gone through the entire Information Age wouldn’t you say?”

“She has been here for more than half a year and the only reason I know what her face looks like is that we strapped tiny cameras to a flock of pigeons.”  Asahina said, “We don’t know where her fortune came from, but she rebuilt a CASTLE in three months, made the island energy independent in four months and by our current estimate will have made it food independent by the end of the year.  

“She sent one envoy to us requesting that Tanaka come to pay his respects.”  She drained her glass and ran her hand through her hair, “Other than that there has been no attempt at contact.”

“Seems to me you need to make an overture.” Said Arclight, “If you won’t go to her, perhaps invite her to visit you.  If she’s as powerful as you say she won’t turn down the chance to show how much stronger she is than you by coming to your stronghold.  At very least you won’t have to deal with her pet tiger if you don’t want to.”

Asahina laughed, “I still think that’s one of the most compelling arguments for her being a mind mage.  Even the most talented with animals don’t get the kind of control she seems to have with her beast.”

“Well, keep me informed.”  Arclight said, “I have another meeting to get to.  Best of luck.”

His image faded from the focus and Asahina poured herself another two fingers of Santori.  “Well shit. Now I have to convince Tanaka that this is the best course of action. We also need to prepare a warm welcome for our ‘Jade Lady’ just in case things go sideways.”

The boardroom was prepared perfectly, the staff had been informed and only the most loyal and trusted people were present.  Asahina looked around and smiled to herself, this was as perfect as they could manage. The clock chimed 11:00 and she saw the video feed outside the front office.  A black limousine pulled up and the driver opened the door.

A parasol opened before the lady exited herself.  The silk of the parasol was colored black with a beautiful pattern of sakura blossoms scattered across it and the kimono the woman who stepped out of the car matched it perfectly.  The spray of cherry petals looked like blood splatters as the Jade Lady stepped out on her platform sandals, holding the hem of her kimono out of the dust of the street.

She paused, adjusting her garments before stepping forward and allowing the driver to close the door.  Asahina flinched slightly as Shiriasau Sai’Li looked directly at the camera trained on her and smiled slightly before snapping a fan over her face and delicately walking toward the door with measured, tiny steps.

The doorman held the door wide for her and she paused to thank him with a slight inclination of her head.  “May I leave my parasol with you?” She asked, folding the item and offering it to him handle first.

“Of course.”  He said, accepting it and setting it behind the small desk at his station after she had entered.

For no reason she could directly define, Asahina began to feel anxious.  Was it really a good idea to invite such a being into the Yashida stronghold?  The elevator chimed and the click of wooden sandals on the marble floor echoed around the room.

The Jade Court Part II – Rumors

“What’s this Jade Court nonsense?” Tanaka Yashida asked, lighting a cigarette.  “Does this ‘Lady Shirasiau’ really expect us to come to her like supplicants?”

“There are different thoughts on that subject.” Asahina said, “According to the Council there was once an Eastern vampire court.  They were said to have been exterminated centuries ago, but there have always been rumors that they simply retreated into another realm to wait for a time when they could return.

“Others think that she’s just an imposter, albeit a clever one.  She has supposedly modeled herself after a character from the pages of fifteenth-century legend, complete with the pet tiger.”  She poured herself a glass of whisky, “My opinion is that she’s an opportunist. I’m sure she has some power, but it’s likely mind magic or illusion, nothing more.”

“Well, if that’s true what do you suggest we do?”  He asked, annoyed. “I didn’t hire you for cryptic history lessons.  What’s the wizard angle on all this?”

“As of now, neither the American or British Council bodies are concerning themselves with a single woman, no matter what her supposed influence is.” Asahina said, “So you’re free to operate without stepping into Council politics.”

“Good.  She’s taken over the top floor of the Miharayama Onsen hotel.  I even heard a rumor that she bought the entire building.” Tanaka said.  “I think it’s time to send someone to pay her a visit.”

“I suggest Ichi and Shinobu.” She said, “A good combination of strength and intuition.”

“My first lieutenant and your former apprentice.”  Tanaka stubbed out his cigarette, “I agree, that is a strong combination.”

“Ichinose, we must approach with caution,”  Shinobu said, looking at the building with a squint that told him she was using her mage’s sight.  “There has been magic used in and around this place, although I do not see any wards.”

“Mages.” He grunted and adjusted his shoulder holster.

“You should have brought your sword.” She said, “It would be more fitting here.”

The door opened and a young man in a perfectly tailored suit looked them over.  “May I be of some assistance?” He asked.

“We are representatives from Master Yamazaki, here to pay our respects,” Shinobu said.

“You may call me San Shu.”  The man said, bowing at the waist, “I am Lady Shirasiu’s assistant.”  He held the door and followed them into the elevator. When the door opened on the thirteenth floor, Shinobu caught her breath.

The room was huge, the entire top floor was one enormous room.  All four walls were windows, showing spectacular views of mountains and ocean; the steam from hot springs and thick jungle.  A garden of bamboo grew on one side, a steaming pool of water sat on the other and in the center was a raised dais upon which sat a large throne that seemed to be carved of a single piece of green stone.  The most striking woman Shinobu had ever seen sat on comfortably on the Jade Throne, wearing a red kimono embroidered with golden thread smoking a kiseru and looking down on them with an indulgent smile.

“Ichinose Irigani and Shinobu Kiri of the Yamazaki clan.  Tell me, how is your Tanaka?”

“Miss Shirasiau,”  Shinobu said, bowing.  A sound shook the floor beneath her with a subsonic rumble.  Although she couldn’t see the animal making the noise, Shinobu could tell it was big and feline.

“Please address her as Jade Lady if you wish to refer to her directly.”  Tan said, “Lord Ignis is a might protective.”

Shinobu’s eyes flicked around nervously, but couldn’t see anything.

Sai’Li exhaled a cloud of aromatic smoke and tapped the ashes out of her kiseru into a bronze brazier.  A servant took the pipe from her and refilled it with tobacco before handing it back. She put it delicately between her lips, drawing on the pipe while the servant held a match over the bowl.

“Jade Lady.” Shinobu began.

“Why did your master send you here?” Sai’Li interrupted, “Are you gifts?”

“Gifts?”  Shinobu was off guard, this was not what she had anticipated.

“What do you mean?” Ichi asked, reaching under his jacket.

“I told them all to come pay their respects to me.”  Sai’Li said, exhaling smoke from her nostrils, “I did not tell them to send their servants, so I am left wondering why they would do such a thing.”

Shinobu put a hand on Ichi’s arm, interrupting his move to draw his pistol.

“Child.”  Sai’Li said, “I have heard of these ‘guns’ that you favor in this age.  I am excited to see what you think they can do.” She handed her kiseru to the servant and waved him away.

Ichi held very still, not removing his hand from his gun. “My master did not send me here as a gift.  I will not be your creature.”

“No?”  Sai’Li asked, “Why did you come here if not to submit to my will?”

“We came here to offer our respects.”  He said, “Our family wishes to –“

“Do not lie to me, child.”  Sai’Li said, “Only curiosity has kept me from feeding  you to my tiger.”

“Just what is that supposed to mean?” He asked, “I have been sent here with my counterpart to give you the honor of the Yashida Clan.”

“What do you know of honor?”  Sai’Li asked, a gentle smile on her lips. “What would your master know of honor and duty when he sends you here instead of coming on his own?”

“I am willing to die for the honor of my master.” He said.

“Any fool can die.”  Sai’Li said, “What use are you to him dead?  I desire followers who are willing to live for me.”

“I will keep my oath to serve the Yashida Clan.”  Shinobu said, “They have not released me from that oath and I will not forsake my sworn word.”

“This is precisely why I told Tanaka to come himself.”  Sai’Li said, “As you took the trouble to come this far and are ignorant of the insult your master has given me, I am willing to allow you to leave.”

“I’ve heard enough.”  Ichi said, “We answered your request to come even though you treated it as a command.  We have sat through insults and arrogance that go beyond what my honor will tolerate. If you apologize I-”

He cut abruptly as Sai’Li snapped her fan open with a sound akin to a whip crack.  “Let me clarify. I did command your master to come here. It was not a request, nor should it have been treated like one.  One way or another he will come before me and he will have the same choice I give to everyone else who dares dream of opposing me.”

Her eyes locked on Ichi’s and he felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine.  “Serve me or die.”

Ichi drew his pistol with nearly inhuman speed and began firing in less than a half-second.  An orange blur moved between them and the bullets struck Ignis’s thick hide. The tiger roared and slashed claws tipped with jade and diamonds across his stomach.  Ichi dropped to his knees, trying to hold the wound closed and gasping in pain.

Shinobu threw her hands out and a lance of black energy flew from between them to strike Sai’Li in the chest.  A look of disbelief crossed her face and she stammered, “How can you? That should have killed you!”

“You are several centuries too late.”  Sai’Li said, “You cannot kill what is already dead.”

The Angel Murders – Father Henderson Part 2

The Thurifer swung gently, wafting Frankincense into the air and Ralph Henderson intoned sacred words, drank blessed wine and lit candles.  The incense smoke swirled into a vaguely humanoid shape floating in the center of the Maltese cross he had drawn on the floor in pure salt.

“Mortal man.”  A voice echoed throughout the rectory, “What is thine request?”

“I can’t believe it.” Ralph whispered, “It actually worked.”

“This realm pains me, mortal.”  The angel said, “Make your request that I may depart.”

“Please, give me the power to help  those in need.” He said, kneeling in reverence.  

“Do you accept this power of your own free will?” The angel asked.

“Yes,” Ralph said, trembling in anticipation.

The Angel’s hand touched his head and pain exploded in his temples.

“What is stopping you from helping those in need?” The Angel demanded.

“I don’t have the money or connections.” Ralph gasped.

“Why do you lack these things?” The Angel asked.

“I-” Ralph hesitated, “Being a priest doesn’t pay well and-”

“If you are seeking material gain and your cause is just what is to stop you from taking what you require?”

Ralph’s eyes went blank and the pain spiked.  He answered with utmost honesty. “The law and lack of ability.”

“If your cause is true and just the law has no sway over you.” The Angel proclaimed, “The ability to take what you need shall be yours.”

The pain vanished and its absence was like a drug.  Ralph fell sideways, laying on the floor and panting.  There was a liquor store down the street. They sold alcohol, regardless of the lives it destroyed.  With the money from just one day of sales, he could feed the vulnerable in his parish for a week.

Ralph gathered some simple tools, pins, Allen wrenches, a screwdriver, wire cutters, and a flashlight.  The clothes he was wearing were already black. With a smile, the priest adjusted his collar, slipped on a thin pair of leather gloves, and slipped out into the night.

It was a matter of minutes to tease open the back door using the pins for picks and a small Allen wrench for a torsion wrench.  A glance at the security panel told him it was a simple model that would be easily disabled by cutting the ground wire. He twisted the panel open and snipped the wire.  The numbers kept counting down but he ignored them.

Ralph saw the camera pointed at the back door.  It took him a few minutes to follow the cables back to a closet and unplug the camera system.  He opened the system’s panel and removed the hard drives, slipping them into his coat pocket.

Moving to the safe, he knelt in front of it, gently testing the handle.  There was just enough play in it that he knew it hadn’t been set properly.  If a combination lock isn’t spun after the combination is put in, all one need do is put pressure on the handle and gently turn the dial clockwise.  When he got to 50, the tumblers clicked and the safe door opened.

“Praise God.” Ralph breathed, stuffing his pockets full of bills. “Thank you, Lord.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part IV

Miss Fitsimmons smiled at Jack as he walked into the library, “Hello there Jack, I haven’t seen you in a few weeks.  You’re looking well, how are things?”

Jack gave her a wide smile.  “Things are great. I just wanted to get a little time to myself.”

“I’ve seen you surrounded by friends.”  She said, “I’m glad things are finally turning around for you.”

“I never thought they’d be more annoying as friends than when they were hassling me.”  He said, “But turns out even friendly people can get on your nerves when they won’t leave you alone.”

“True, well go ahead and find respite in the stacks.”  She said, “I won’t bother you, dear.”

“You know, somehow I feel lonelier now than I did before.”  Jack shrugged, and walked back into the tall bookshelves.

‘How can you feel alone?’ Lorethla asked, ‘I am with you always.’

“Sure, but I can’t see you or touch you anymore.”  He said bitterly, “I know those people don’t actually like me.  They’re just doing what I say. You’re the only one who really likes me and I can’t even hold your hand.”

“You mortals are so tied to this place.”  She said, “There is so much more beyond the prison of your meat body.  The things I could show you if you were to give it up.”

Jack shivered.  Her voice was full of terrible hunger and desire that made his pulse race.  He couldn’t imagine what could engender such an emotion. He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

The smell of old books was familiar and comforting.  Jack drew in a deep breath through his nose and caught another scent; something like iron filings or rust.  It instilled a primal fear that seemed ingrained in his very bones.

‘Jack!  Run!’ Lorethla all but shouted in his mind.

He responded without thinking about it; sprinting toward the emergency exit at the back of the library.  Something was coming, and it smelled like old blood. The fire alarm started screaming when he slammed the door open and pelted out into the snow-covered parking lot, but Jack didn’t stop running.

The sounds of the city ceased and their absence made his heart sound like rolling thunder.  The gently drifting snowflakes stopped in midair all around him and Jack looked wildly around, nearly tripping over his own feet.  A figure floated behind him on huge white wings

“Jackson Alden Jones.” The angel said, “You have allowed one of the Ones Below to corrupt your soul.  You have brought it into the World Between and used the power it has granted for your own selfish ends.”

He tried to run faster, to escape into a small copse of trees, but when he was crossing the street, pain exploded in his back.  Jack stumbled and his voice joined Loethla’s in a scream of agony. The angel floated in front of him, his beautiful face smiling down.  Blood coated each of his index fingers.

“Now you face judgment.”  The angel spread his arms and more pain wracked Jack’s body as blood was torn from the two wounds on his back.

Jack’s body landed in the middle of the street, the bloody wings falling around him to paint the snow red in the precise shape of wings.  

The Angel Murders – Jack Part III

Tracking down the drug dealer Allen Stevens was a lot harder than he’d thought.  Partially because of his name being a fairly common one, but also because he didn’t have a publicly listed address.  After a lot of searching, he changed tactics and looked up the woman listed as his girlfriend in the court report. Katie Wolffe was a far less common name.

Jack was shaking with barely suppressed fear as he walked down the hallway.  His search led him to a rundown apartment building in a part of town he’d never been to before and probably never would have visited if he hadn’t been on a mission.  The sound of loud rock music came from the door, a steel-reinforced number with a sliding viewport. Raising his hand, Jack took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

The viewport opened and a man looked out through a fog of cigarette smoke.  His pale face made his bloodshot eyes look wild and dangerous.

“Whachu want, kid?”  He yelled over the music.

“I want you to shoot everyone in the room, and then kill yourself,”  Jack said, turning to walk back down the hall. He didn’t start running until the gunshots started.

Several other people were running from the apartment building at the same time and Jack blended in with the crowd, keeping his head down.  A couple of people were talking into cell phones and sirens sounded in the distance as they pushed through the doors. Gunfire continued for another minute and while the others were staring at the building he slipped off into the alley.

“That was amazing!” He said, feeling the adrenaline singing through his veins.

“You were amazing.” Lorethla purred, “So decisive and dangerous.”

“They don’t know what’s in store for them.”  Jack clenched his fist, “A storm is coming and I am its harbinger.”

A week later, Jack was eating breakfast with his parents and watching the morning news.  He poured himself another bowl of cereal and watched intently as the anchor began the local news segment.

“The Chief of police is going to issue a statement this morning about a rash of violence that has been sweeping the city.”  The anchor said, “We now go live to the press conference.”

The camera showed the front steps of city hall as Colin Peters, the Chief of Police stepped forward to a podium.  Once the camera flashes had died down, he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“Over the last six days, we have been investigating an outbreak of violence.  Despite coverage that suggests this is some kind of vigilante justice, we wish to bring to light that although these killings appear to be drug or gang-related, women and children have been among the victims.  These murders are not the actions of a hero.

“Yesterday one of the victims recovered enough to give us a statement.  Based on that information, have several leads and are bringing some suspects in for questioning.  If anyone has any additional information that can assist this investigation we urge you to come forward.  Are there any questions?”

A reporter stood and was recognized, “Chief Peters, can you release the identity of the victim?”

“Not at this time, they are under police protection as we fear their life may still be in danger.” He said, motioning to another reporter.

“Why has it taken so long for your department to make any progress?” The next reporter asked, “Your department has a history of catching violent criminals quickly.”

“These are unusual crimes.”  He responded, “Without revealing details of the ongoing investigation I cannot say more than that the doors and windows have always been locked and the murder weapons have always been found onsite.  I have put our best inspector on the case, Inspector Purdue has a solid track record.”

Jack stifled a giggle and his mother turned off the TV, giving him a concerned look. “I’m sorry sweetie, we shouldn’t have had that on.”

He stifled the urge to tell her to turn it back on.  The last thing he wanted was to make his parents suspicious.  Especially when he needed to find out who the pesky survivor was and deal with them before they revealed anything they shouldn’t.

‘That Purdue is dangerous too.’ Lorethla said, ‘We may need to eliminate her as well.’

Jack put another bite of cereal into his mouth to hide the smile.  Nobody was going to interfere with his plans.

The Angel Murders – Jack Part II

“Hey Jackass!” Bryce bellowed, kicking his locker shut and nearly smashing his hand in the process.

“Bryce, how about you be my friend and carry my books to class?” Jack handed him a pair of textbooks and a notebook.

“Sure thing Jack,” Bryce smiled and took them from him without saying anything else.

Jack smiled and looked at the stunned faces of his classmates as he walked to his first class.  His new friend trailed obediently behind him, carrying his books.  

“Bryce, what the hell are you doing?” Jeannie said, dismay in her voice.

“Oh, Jeannie.”  Jack laughed, “Stop pretending you don’t want to be around me.”

“Gross,  I totally don’t want to be around you.”  She crossed her arms, “Come on Bryce, you don’t even go to the same class.”

“I’m just carrying his books, what’s the big deal?” Bryce asked, “I’ll meet you later.”

“You’re doing what he says instead of walking me to class?”  She spun on a heel and stalked away.

“Girls right?” Jack said, “Can’t live with ‘em.”

“Can’t shoot ‘em.” Bryce finished and they both laughed.

All day, Jack just had to nudge people with a suggestion and if he got his wording right they would do whatever he said.  At first, he was confused as to why Jeannie hadn’t done what he said, but eventually, he realized the problem was that she hadn’t been pretending that she hated him.  She really didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

 It was challenging; he didn’t want to be seen actually giving commands, but if he wasn’t specific enough they wouldn’t do what he said at all.  By the end of the day, he had the knack of being just specific enough to get what he wanted without anyone thinking he was making it happen.

“You’re really good at this,” Lorethla said, purring in his mind.  “I can’t wait to see what you do next.”

The demon had been stroking his ego all day.  He didn’t mind it, but he wished he could still see her.  Jack did have plans, big plans.

“I am going to be a superhero.”  He said, “I’m going to make everything better.  With this power, I can get rid of crime. I can make politicians actually help people.  I can do whatever I want.”

“Yes.”  She said, “You can do whatever you want.  I see great things in your future.”

There was a knock on the bathroom door, “Hey Jack, some of the rest of us might need to use the toilet sometime!” His sister said.

“Just go away, Amber!” He shouted back.  It wasn’t that he hated her or anything, she was just so annoying.  

“Of course, I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do!”  Lorethla said, “You’re going to change the world!”

“I’m going to change the world.”  He repeated softly to himself.

Jack searched through the matters of record, eyes lighting as he found what he was looking for.  A man just released on bail, charged with possession of fentanyl with the intent to sell. Most drugs were fairly harmless, but fentanyl was a tool of murder in his opinion.

“This is the one, Lorethla.”  He said, “This bastard is going to pay.”

“You’re so hot when you’re decisive.”  She said, and he felt her phantom lips on his neck.

A polite knock on the door made him look up in annoyance.  He sighed and minimized his browser tabs. “What is it?” He asked, voice not revealing his mood.

“Can I come in dear?”  His mother asked, “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

“OK, mom.” He said, not wanting her to think anything was amiss.

The door opened and she walked in.  He was shocked by her appearance; bags under her eyes and hair hanging in lank, unwashed disarray.  She stood uncertainly in his doorway looking at the perfect tidiness of his room before looking at him.

“Jack, are you doing OK?”  She asked.

“Of course mother.”  He said, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Amber has been missing for two days.”  She said, a catch in her voice, “You’ve barely come out of your room all weekend and I wanted to come and check on you.”

“She’s gone?”  Jack frowned, “I talked to her just the other day.  She was yelling at me to get out of the bathroom.”

His mom came into the room and pulled him into a hug.  “Sweetie, we haven’t seen her since Saturday morning. The police are coming today to get information, we filed a missing person report.”

“I’m sure she’s just at a friend’s house or something.”  He said, waving a hand vaguely.

‘You told her to go away.’ Lorethla whispered in his mind.  ‘She obeyed.’

Jack froze for an instant, a cold feeling of dread shivered down his spine.  He swallowed hard, not daring to reveal any guilt to his mother. Before anyone figured anything out, he could find her and make it right.

‘Necessary sacrifices Jack.’ Lorethla whispered, ‘If you’re going to change the world, you can’t expect it to happen without some growing pains.  Don’t worry about her Jack, you don’t need her.’

He relaxed.  Nobody would ever know, and after all, he really didn’t need her did he?

The Angel Murders Part VII

“Happy birthday love!” Alison woke Lacy up with a kiss.

“I don’t wanna think about it.” Lacy groaned, trying to push her away.

“Well, I made you coffee with cardamom, crispy bacon, hash browns, and eggs sunny side up with a side of rye toast.” Alison said with a smile, “I brought a bottle of Tabasco and there’s plenty of cream and sugar for your coffee.

“I knew I married you for a reason.” She said, giving her a kiss back and sitting up.

“I’m pretty sure there were at least a couple more reasons.” Alison said with a wicked laugh, “But it’s too early for that kind of thing.”

“Says you.” Lacy grinned, “But I need coffee first.”

She took the first drink of coffee and almost dropped the cup. Over her wife’s shoulder, she could see an indistinct shape standing outside the second-story window. Twelve Twelve. The twelfth day of the twelfth month. The killer’s deadline had come and now it was her turn. The shape pointed at her and somehow she knew she had until noon.

“Baby?” She said, her voice sounding vulnerable even to her own ears. “Can we just say in bed for a few hours?”

“Hey.” Alison took her chin in her hand and raised it so they were eye to eye, “It’s your birthday, you get what you want.”

“Then I’m very much afraid this wonderful breakfast you’ve made is going to get cold.” Lacy spilled her coffee and didn’t even notice.

“Don’t tell me you’re going into the office.” Alison crossed her arms and gave her a stern look.

“No, I’m getting a bottle of wine.” Lacy said, “Also I need a cigarette and I don’t want to smoke close to the house. I know how you hate that.”

“If you’re not going to work then I’ll allow it.” She said, “You need to take a break from your job even if I have to lock you in the house.”

“I’ll be right back.” Lacy gave her a kiss and zipped up her coat. She walked briskly down the block, lighting a cigarette to steady her nerves. This had to work. It just had to.

As she had promised, she bought a bottle of wine for dinner. It was her favorite New Zealand chardonnay, a lactic fermentation that gave the wine a smooth buttery finish and went astonishingly well with grilled salmon. Purdue walked out of the liquor store and trudged through the snow into a small park across the street.

The air was cold enough that the snow squeaked underfoot and her breath came in clouds of steam. Nebecenezer was sullenly silent, but to show her appreciation she lit another cigarette. She arrived at a small stage in the center of the park where sometimes a small theater company would perform in the summer months and leaned against the railing to wait.

“You didn’t run or try to hide.” A pleasant voice said from above, “Just as I had anticipated. You’re the type to take things like this head-on. Quite refreshing actually.”

The creature above her was floating, not really flying since the wings that spread out to keep him aloft didn’t flap like a bird. They also appeared to be made of soft golden light instead of feathers and bones. His face was achingly beautiful; so perfect it seemed alien, which she supposed it was.

“Thank you for giving me the morning.” She said, not flinching, “Just in case it was my last chance to be with her I wanted to make it memorable.”

“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” He said, coming to stand in front of her, although his toes never touched the snow. “Even the others who came as close to you about guessing what was happening at least registered a little bit of shock.”

“It was the only explanation,” Purdue said, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “When I looked into the history of all those others you murdered they all had one thing in common. In the past, on the same day, they were killed they all had some kind of major life event. From that moment on they seemed to live perfect charmed lives, getting everything they wanted and experiencing unparalleled success.

“I wasn’t sure what could have happened to them until you started to come after me. The only thing I had in common with your victims was that I had ample opportunity to get the same things they had. If only I was foolish enough to leverage my own personal demon, I could have wealth, power and whatever else I wanted.

“I don’t know if you were trying to give me a clue or just scare me with your notes, but I have to thank you for that. Without the warning about my anniversary of meeting Nebecenezer I might never have thought of how to survive.” She lit another cigarette, carefully flicking the cherry from the first before tossing it in a trash can.

“All the machinations in the mortal world can’t change your fate, Lacy Purdue.” He said, “The Almighty put us here to do his bidding and the words he speaks are law in the same way that gravity is law. However, as an agent of the divine realm, I am allowed to make you an offer.

“Since you have resisted the temptation regularly offered by the thing that taints your soul, you are allowed to forsake the part of you that caused the trouble in the first place and join us instead. Your dedication to upholding the rule of law is admirable, all that is left is for you to understand the portion of yourself that is keeping you from becoming perfect.”

Purdue laughed and looked at the angel. “Instead of giving up my free will, how about I make you an offer instead?”

“Bargaining won’t work.” He smiled sadly, “You see I am not burdened with the illusion of choices. You can say whatever you wish, but the options I am able to offer you will not change.”

She withdrew her pistol from beneath her jacket and pointed it at him, “Either you go away, stop murdering people in my city and never come back or I’ll kill you.”

It was his turn to laugh, “Even if you had the power to injure me, mortal, as I mentioned before, free will is not a problem I am forced to endure. I cannot change the options available to you.”

“That’s too bad. I have no intention of becoming god’s hitman.” She said and pulled the trigger twice.

The gunshots shattered the quiet of the park. The angel looked down in surprise at the two quickly closing holes in his chest as his feet touched mortal soil for the first time.

“My wings!” He cried, “What have you done to me?”

“Nobody murders anyone in my city and gets away with it.” She said, holstering her pistol and taking out her handcuffs. “I figured out your weakness by the placement of the wounds on your victims. A little help from Nebby let me momentarily bypass your invulnerability and two precise shots clipped your wings.”

He turned a horrified face to her, understanding dawning at last as she slapped the cuffs on his wrists. “Welcome to the mortal world. You’re under arrest.”

 

The Angel Murders Part V

Purdue stepped out of her squad, lighting the cigarette she already had between her lips, “Here we go again.”  She muttered.

“About time you got here.”  Officer Whitehead gave her cigarette a dark look.  “We gotta block off an entire street just because some psycho likes to finger paint with his victim’s blood.”

“A pleasure to see you as always officer.”  She said cheerfully, “Where’s the victim?”

“Victims.”  He corrected, “There’s three of them down there.”

She followed him under the police tape and looked around at the area as they walked.  A dusting of fresh snow covered everything, there were several sets of footprints on the sidewalk and a single set of vehicle tracks that went in and out.  The vehicle had stopped a hundred feet from the bodies and a single set of footprints walked to and from the bodies. There were no other footprints that came near.

“These are from the person who called it in.”  Whitehead said, “Nobody else has been here. How the hell the perp managed to get them here without leaving any marks is anyone’s guess.  I’m just a beat cop, you detectives get the fun job of figuring out the details.”

Three men’s bodies were laying in a triangle, their feet almost touching, their hands over their eyes and bloody wings almost touching where they unfurled from their backs.  Two of them were wearing clerical collars and the third wore an Armani suit.

“Any ID on these guys?”  She asked, walking carefully around the corpses.

“We got orders not to touch any of them.”  He said acidly, “They all got the wings. That means hands off.”

Purdue pulled on her gloves and removed the tweezers from her breast pocket.  Kneeling, she opened the mouth of the man in the suit carefully. Under his tongue was a familiar piece of parchment.  This one had a portion of a word on it. She bagged it with shaking hands and repeated the extraction from the other two.  

After pocketing the evidence bags, she found the men’s wallets, put them in their own evidence bags and handed them to Whitehead, “Get these to the lab please.”

“I ain’t your delivery boy.”  He grumbled, but took the bags and stalked down the street back to where the forensics van was parked. 

Purdue was about to take her necklace off when one of the men’s hands twitched.  She quickly knelt and put fingers to his throat. There was no pulse.

‘Don’t touch that.’ Nebecenezer said, ‘It’s dangerous.’

“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about I’m going to ignore you.”  Purdue muttered, “I don’t see anything dangerous here.”

‘What’ll ya give me?’ He asked.

“You’re the one who wants something.”  Purdue said, reaching her hand out again, “What will you give ME?”

‘What?’  Nebecenezer exclaimed, ‘That’s not how this works!’

“Yeah, it is.”  She said, lighting another cigarette, “Just because the tables have turned doesn’t change the nature of the relationship.”

The demon paused, making a high-pitched keening sound. ‘Fine.  I’ll give you one favor if you don’t touch them.’

“Excellent.” Purdue said, “I have just the thing.  I’ll tell you about it later. I won’t even ask why.”

‘Wait, no!  You have to make the deal right now!’ Nebecenezer protested, ‘I can’t have something like that just hanging over my head.’

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.”  She said. “Some of us have had to deal with that for years.”

Purdue took the evidence bags from her pocket and held them so the tears all matched.  She shuddered as the symbol drawn on the whole piece of parchment was revealed. The random-looking lines resolved themselves into an outline of a rosebud on one side and a set of roman numerals on the other.  

The numbers XII-XII were significant.  They represented her birthdate and one other anniversary.  December twelfth was also in three days.