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 III – Loyalty

Soft music drifted into the room, delicate and precise.  Tanaka Yashida and Asahina Ito sat at a low table, watching a video feed on a large screen mounted to the wall.  A young boy sat in a chair nearby, legs crossed and eyes closed in meditation. It had been six months since their information gathering attempt had failed, the moment Ichi and Shinobu had set foot on Izu Oshima they had lost all contact.  Asahina saw it as a diplomatic snare. Tanaka saw it as a declaration of war.

Using his contacts on the island, he had first tried to remove the Jade Lady from the hotel she had taken up residence in, only to find out that she had indeed purchased the Miharayama Onsen hotel.  She had also paid twice the market value with cash. He’d tried to get local suppliers to stop selling their wares to the hotel, but he’d only managed a temporary pause in their business.

From there, Tanaka had widened his efforts to disrupt life on the island itself.  He had undermined the reliability of the power grid by cutting auxiliary power lines, sabotaged the ferry and bribed the local traffic authorities to undertake major repairs on the only bridge that connected to the mainland.  The Jade Lady had responded by constructing solar and tidal power generation that made Izu Oshima energy independent and helping to revive the local farming and fishing communities. The need for people to leave the island dropped dramatically.

Eventually, the amount of influence they could enact to change things on Izu Oshima had dwindled to almost nothing.  Councilors and officials politely declined bribes, business owners ceased responding to threats, and even locals who owed him favors only grudgingly agreed to do small things in return for being released from their obligations.  He had finally resorted to magical means.

One of the people who Asahina had helped him recruit was an Adept who had an affinity with animals.  Together with Tanaka’s tech department they had outfitted a few dozen pigeons with small cameras and deployed them to the island for spying purposes.  Now they watched in disbelief at what was happening in the city of Motomatchi.

The Jade Lady was walking the streets in formal dress from centuries ago.  She wore a flawless kimono of white embroidered with sakura trees, wooden sandals with high platforms to keep her feet out of the road dust and carried a parasol.  A huge Bengal tiger walked next to her like an obedient hound, everyone seemed to take its presence in stride.  

She exchanged pleasantries with every person she passed, calling them all by name, giving some gifts and accepting small tokens from others.  Children occasionally begged rides on the tiger’s back in exchange for small dishes of liquor that he lapped up with apparent relish. The townsfolk weren’t being forced or intimidated into obedience, they actually loved and respected her.

“It can’t be real,” Tanaka said, looking at Asahina. “Looks like you were right.  She is using some kind of mind control.”

“As strange as it seems, I don’t sense any kind of magic.” She said, “But I’d have to get closer to be sure.”

They watched as the lady walked into a small town square.  A gang of young men with masks over their faces ran from alleys in front of and to either side of her.  Most of them had knives, but their leader and two others had pistols.

“Tsung, please move one closer so that we can hear,” Asahina said, and one of the images on the screen came closer to the square as one of the pigeons landed on a fountain.

“-you stupid bitch?” The leader was yelling, “I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, but you don’t get to tell us what to do!  You might have a pet tiger but that’s not gonna help you against bullets!”

“You are being most uncouth youngsters.”  She said, snapping her fan open in front of her face.  “One should show more respect for one’s elders.” A low rumble of a tiger’s growl rolled through the air.  It cut off when she put her hand on his head.

“The Tonda gang has run this town for longer than you’ve been alive.”  He pointed his gun at her, “We don’t take anyone trying to get a piece of the action.  We sent you warnings but you just wouldn’t let it go.”

“Izu Oshima is my island.”  She said calmly, “No gang of young fools can alter that.  Your guns cannot help you accomplish your goals. The only way you will be able to remain here is to agree to serve me and obey my commands absolutely.  I will not allow you to further trouble my people.”

The gang began laughing and their leader shook his head. “You’re outta your goddamn mind.  I’m gonna paint the walls with your blood!” His gun fired, and a bright splash of blood began to stain the Lady’s pristine white kimono.

A hail of stones flew as Sai’Li fell to sprawl on the grass in an expanding pool of blood.  Dozens of the citizens ran forward, throwing more rocks, carrying bats, sticks and carrying other improvised weapons.  Shopkeepers still wearing their aprons, servers from restaurants, students, housewives, and fishermen filled the square, skirting around the tiger where he stood protectively over his mistress.

“You boys leave now.”  A man in a business suit said, pointing at them with a golf club.  “Lady Sai’Li has done more to ensure our prosperity in the last two months than anyone in my lifetime.  You always said you were helping us but I never saw you do anything but demand free drinks and cause trouble.”

A group of teenage girls ran up to Sai’Li, stopping nervously a few feet away from the still bristling Ignis. “Lady!” One shouted, “We need to help you!  If we don’t stop the bleeding you’ll die!”

The tiger looked at them with a baleful glare but moved to put himself between her and the gang.  More rocks flew and the gang leader brandished his gun, causing some of the people to flinch.

“I’ll shoot you just like I did her!” He yelled, “Nobody fucks with the Tonda gang!”

A rock struck him in the face and he stumbled back, blood running from a broken nose.  The businessman ran forward, smashing his golf club into his gun hand, sending it flying.  One of the others aimed his pistol but went down under a half-ton of angry tiger before he could pull the trigger.  The remaining gang members fled.

“Something’s not right,” Tsung said, his voice soft and dreamlike.  “No! They’re dying!”

The video feeds closest to the square changed perspective and the ones further away caught the motion of small bodies falling.  The birds that had been carrying the cameras had fallen over. The leaves of the trees in the square turned brown and began to fall off in the light breeze.

A white Mercedes arrived, and a group of figures sprang out.  The Lady struggled to her feet, and the man in the business suit seemed to be talking to her.  Despite her injuries, she bowed to him before allowing the new arrivals to help her into the back of the car, leaving a trail of blood behind her. 

“Well, that was unexpected,”  Tanaka said, running his fingers through his hair.

“Yes, she seems to have truly captured the hearts of those people.”  Asahina said, “I did not think that kind of tactic would be what she employed.”

“I was referring to how she tricked them all into thinking she had been hurt defending them,” Tanaka said, tapping a cigarette out of a pack and lighting it.  “After word of that little display spreads there won’t anyone in that city who wouldn’t die for her.”

“If she doesn’t die from being shot.” Asahina said, “That wasn’t a trivial injury.”

“She uses some kind of life magic.” Tsung said, “Or if it wasn’t her, someone else drained the life from everything around her.  The people were strong enough to stay alive, but the plants and smaller animals all died.”

“What does that?” Tanaka asked, looking at Asahina.

“Oh no.”  She said, her face going pale. “We thought they were all dead.”

“You thought WHO were all dead?” Tanaka snarled, “What have you been hiding from me?”

“I thought she was laying claim to the Jade Court out of ignorance or because none of them still lived to dispute her words,”  Asahina said, her face pale. “If my fears are accurate she may be an ancient evil returned.”

“What?” Tanaka looked caught between anger and surprise.  He’d never seen Asahina frightened before.

“Remember when we first met?  When I was hunting that creature and found out it had been stalking you?”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Remember how hard it was to kill?”

“Once you told me how dangerous it was and we ganged up on it with the proper tools, it wasn’t that hard.”  He said, but the memory of the thing she had called a Black Court vampire still sent a thrill of fear down his spine.  “Garlic, crosses, and stakes through the heart, a scene right out of Brahm Stoker.”

“That’s why the Councils around the world worked to propagate that story,”  Asahina said, pouring a glass of scotch with shaking hands. “That’s one of the only times the wizarding world has used the power of normals to defeat a supernatural enemy.”

“I remember your history lesson from last time.”  He said, “What’s this got to do with her?”

“The Jade Court left a few centuries ago.”  Asahina said, “They weren’t driven out, they weren’t forced to go, but it was right before the first war between vampires and mages began.  At first, we thought it was because they were weak, there never were very many of them and nobody knows how they’re actually created.

“I haven’t been able to find more than rumors, but it seems as though this was a strategic move based on divination or maybe even advice from a dragon.  Either way, it was not due to any weakness that I could find.”  

“So we should stock up on crosses?”  Tanaka asked, lighting a cigarette.

“I looked through all of our records back then.”  She said, “After we drove the Black Court from our lands I wanted to research the other courts so that we could defend against them if need be.  I couldn’t find one single instance of a Jade Court vampire being killed. Not one.”

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 – 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 II

“Where are you getting with these wing murders, Purdue?”  Dennis Lopez strode into her office with a pair of styrofoam cups of steaming black coffee.

She looked up from the file she was studying, “I just can’t figure out what the connection between them is Chief.”  Taking the cup he offered, she took a drink and shuddered, “God, did you brew this in one of your old boots?”

“Well, I have some bad news for you.”  He said, taking a sip from his own cup, “The mayor is running out of patience.”

“He wouldn’t give a shit except this is an election year,”  Purdue said pinching the bridge of her nose.  Almost absently, she drank half the cup of coffee in one long swallow.  It was so hot she exhaled a small cloud of steam.  She glared at the cup and Nebecenezer laughed in the back of her mind, the bastard.

“I’m not arguing with you there, but it is what it is.”  He shrugged, “I know you’re a good detective Purdue, but you’re the lead on this one and it’s getting a lot of attention after that kid got killed.”

“Interesting how nobody pays attention when it’s a few homeless people and a few people of color, but kill some rich white kid and suddenly it’s an epidemic.”  She picked up her jacket, “I need a smoke.  You wanna come?”

“You know I quit.”  He said, “I can’t stand the smell of tobacco smoke now.”

“Can’t resist it you mean.”  She tapped a cigarette from her pack and tossed it on the desk.  “I get it.  I know I should quit too, but it’s just one more straw on the camel’s back.”

Purdue walked out to the alley and lit up, drawing smoke deep into her lungs.  “Why can’t I find the common denominator?”

‘You know I could help you.’ Nebecenezer whispered, ‘It’d be easy.  All you need to do is ask.’

“Yeah, I know better you little bastard.”  She muttered through a cloud of smoke, “You’ve got enough of a hold over me.”

“What was that?” Lopez walked out the door with one of her American Spirits in his mouth.

“You quit.”  She said, “You don’t want to start again for something as stupid as this do you?”

“You ain’t telling me everything.”  He said, “You got a light?”

Purdue handed him her Zippo.  “You’re right, I’m not.  Are you sure you wanna know?”

He lit the cigarette, handed her lighter back, and looked at her with narrowed eyes.  “Yeah, I want to know.”

“I can’t prove it, I have no evidence, but my gut is telling me this is religious.”  She blew a smoke ring, “I know that might seem obvious what with the angel wings, but not everyone sees things in the same way.”

“What religion?  What sect?”  He coughed and sighed.

“I don’t know.”  Purdue said, flicking the ash off her cigarette, “Although Christianity is really the only religion with angels.  Other cults have winged humans, but really I don’t think it’s any of them.  What I can’t figure out is why angel wings would be involved with all the victims.”

‘I can tell you!’ Nebecenezer whispered mockingly.

“Maybe it’s some kind of cult, or some guy with a vendetta?”

“It could be any number of things.  There’s just not enough evidence.”  She stubbed out her cigarette and threw it into a trash can.  “Whoever is doing this is too careful.  All they’ve left is pieces of old parchment under the tongue of their victims.  No words or anything to identify what the significance of it is.  The only thing that forensics can tell is that the paper is likely torn from the same sheet, and that it’s old; around two thousand years old.”

“Who would use such an ancient piece of parchment and what kind of message would they be trying to send?” Lopez mused.

‘Pick me, pick ME!’ Nebecenezer crowed.

“Oh hell.”  Purdue said.  “This is bad.  This is really really bad.”