The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 67

A woman wearing an elaborately pleated green silk gown swept across the dance floor and favored Callindra with a dazzling smile and a graceful curtsey.  “Lady Sol’Estin, I am Miss Dinneh, may I join you?”

Callindra smiled back and gestured toward the seat across from her.  “Of course, Miss Dinneh, please have a seat.  Reed, won’t you pour her some refreshment?”

Reed barely missed a beat, pouring a goblet of mead and placing it before her with a flourish.  “With your leave, my Lady?”  He said, waiting for her nod before vanishing onto the dance floor, already taking a laughing girl by the hand.

“What brings you to my table?” Callindra asked, sampling her mead.

“I am an emissary from the Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”  She replied, lifting her goblet in salute.  “I am here to bid you welcome to this last bastion of civilization in a world gone mad.  The Lady graciously offers to shelter you beneath the wings of her benevolent protection.”

“I confess, I find you a much more congenial companion than the last messenger the Lady sent my way,”  Callindra said, nibbling on a small sweet bread.

“Our sincere apologies, we were unaware that you possessed a Title.”  She winced,  “My Mistress wished to ascertain if you were an imposter and may have sent a rather less polite representative to see what sort of reaction would result.”

“Judging by your appearance here, I gather I passed her test?”  Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“She sent me here to offer an invitation to a ball she is putting on two days hence by way of apology.”  Dinneh said, “I am here to bring your response back to her.”

“I gratefully accept both apology and invitation,”  Callindra said, smiling to keep the look of panic off her face.  “I look forward to meeting your Lady and her court.”

“Wonderful,”  Dinneh said, rising gracefully and dipping another curtsey.  “We shall be honored to host the Sol’Estin.”

Callindra kept her face impassive until the other woman had moved out of sight.  Someone had let her secret slip, and if there was anyone from The Order in the Undercity, she would be in danger.  More than that, she had told Rrayu specifically not to tell anyone and nobody other than her friends knew of her title.  It was time to go and have a chat with her maid.

She climbed the stairs with determined strides and flung open the door to her chambers.  “Rrayu, come here right bloody now and by the gods and demons explain to me why you revealed my Title to Ellen Eth!”

“Please, my Lady, I swear I did not say anything!”  Rrayu entered the sitting room, wringing her hands in supplication.  “I have not even made a report yet; I could not have betrayed your secret!”

Callindra looked at her with skepticism, “Where else would Lady ‘Orien’s agents have found out about it?”

“I don’t know my Lady, but please believe me; I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”

A thought struck Callindra, and she knew her maid was telling the truth.  “It was that man.”  She said in a flat voice.  “He must have been from The Order.  I should have known by how he carried his sword.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part I

“What’s the matter Jackass?” Bryce asked, kicking Jack in the stomach.  “I thought you liked dancing.  We’re just asking you to dance for us!”

Jack tried to draw in a breath but only succeeded in making a pathetic noise and throwing up.

“Bryce, that’s disgusting.”  Jeannie made a face, “I thought you were going to have a fight not just pick on some stupid little kid.  God, that puke reeks.”

“Hey, I thought he’d be more of a challenge.”  Bryce said, “Let’s go, babe.”

The two of them turned and walked away, leaving Jack laying in a puddle of his own sick.  Tears of humiliation streamed down his cheeks, this made an entire month of beatings in a row, and they’d only been getting worse.

He’d tried to eat his lunch, but Bryce had found him sitting behind the bus garage. Carson Academy was an elite school and he’d thought things would be different here, but they’d only gotten worse.  Jack finally got his breath back and sat up, wiping his mouth.  He went to the only place he knew they wouldn’t bother him, the library.

The door opened and he smelled the familiar scent of paper, ink, and the peppermint candies the librarian always had.  Jack walked in with his head down, turning toward the fantasy section.

“Oh Jack, are you OK?” Miss Fitzsimmons asked, “Looks like someone got the better of you .”

“Fine,” He muttered, trying to avoid her.

“Here, have a mint.” She offered a tin of Altoids peppermints and he took one gratefully.

“Thanks.  I think my lunch just didn’t agree with me.” He said.

“Your lunch didn’t give you that black eye.” Miss Fitzsimmons said, “But I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me, Jack.  What are you looking for today?”

“You don’t have the latest Callindra Chronicles yet do you?”  He asked hopefully.  “I heard it was going to be released this week.”

“Our book shipment is supposed to come in tomorrow.”  She said, “I’ll set it aside for you if we get it.”

“Thanks,” He said and walked back into the stacks.  Only once he was alone did he allow the tears to come.  Slumping against the bookshelves Jack sobbed into his arm until the fear and pain were gone.  He took a deep breath and wished he had something to wipe his nose on.  A crackle of paper under his hand made him glance down.

A corner of yellowed paper stuck out from underneath the bookshelf.  Jack tugged at it and pulled a piece of parchment that looked ancient out from where it had sat for who knew how long.  Although it seemed very old and it was written, not typed, he could read it easily.

‘How to get exactly what you want.’ Was written in elegant cursive across the top of the page.  Below was a set of fairly simple looking instructions for how to summon your own personal demon.

“What is it you desire?” A beautiful young woman in a simple black dress and four-inch stiletto heels casually crossed her legs exposing half her thigh.

Jack had thought about this for days.  He hadn’t really believed it would work, but if it did, he wanted to make sure he got exactly what he wanted.  Now that the ‘demon’ had arrived in the pentagram he’d drawn on his bedroom floor sitting on a three-legged iron stool he just stared.

“Oh dear, have I left you speechless?” She leaned forward, exposing a lot of cleavage. “Is this all you want little boy?  I’m more than happy to oblige.”

“I want,” Jack began, pausing to clear his throat, “I want people to do what I tell them to.”

She sat up straight and smiled, “Oh yes, that’s certainly possible.  All you have to do is agree to take me with you.”

“What?”  Jack blinked, this wasn’t what he’d expected. “I thought I had to sell my soul for a demon contract.”

“Only half of it boy.” She smiled, “I just need you to make room for me to ride along.”

“You’ll be with me?” He asked eagerly.

“Oh yes.  I’ll be with you forever.” Her smile seemed unnaturally wide, but all he could see were her eyes.

“I agree.”  He said, spellbound by the seafoam green of her eyes.  Then the pain began.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 66

With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and led them downstairs.  The eyes of hundreds of people followed them as they entered the common room.  An obviously freshly scrubbed barmaid led them to a table without them having to ask.

“I love the music.”  Trying to soothe the nervous maid as she leaned Shadowsliver’s naked blade against the table.

“Yes, Lady.” She said, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  “Drinks?  Food?”

“Please,”  Callindra replied, inclining her head in what she hoped was a regal manner.  Reed was obviously trying not to laugh.  She pulled a handful of gold coins from a belt purse that shouldn’t have been able to fit her fist, let alone that many coins, and put them on the barmaid’s drinks tray.  “Bring us some of whatever that heavenly roasting scent is, any vegetables you might have, some mead, some ale, and a round for the bar as well.”

This last pronouncement brought a ragged cheer from the patrons close enough to hear her.  She smiled in what she hoped was a magnanimous way.  The barmaid looked at the gold and glanced behind the bar.  Hagar nodded, and she smiled, striding away to a chorus of calls for drinks.

When the food came, it was far better fare than they’d had in months, and the drinks were as good as any they’d tasted.  The music continued, including some dance numbers, which added to the carnival atmosphere.  A few people started to dance and soon first Reed, then the other men at the table were pulled onto the dance floor.  Callindra sat, half wanting to join in and half relieved that she wouldn’t have to.

“If you put up your steel, I’d love a dance, Lady.”  A man dressed in clothes that, although clean, had noticeable wear marks from where armor straps were usually cinched.  He was extending a hand that had clear sword calluses on it.

“Ah, well, that’s not really possible,”  Callindra said, feeling a bit out of place in her fine clothes.  “We’re a bit joined, and I don’t have a sheath.”

His eyes followed the chain on the hilt to her right wrist with interest.  “Why no sheath?  That seems awkward.”

“That would be a long and dull story, why don’t you join me for a drink and tell me about yourself instead?”  She poured him a tankard of something random and gestured to an open seat.

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment before sitting, his foot moving to kick the scabbard of his longsword aside as he sat.  Callindra blinked; she hadn’t noticed that he was wearing a blade. It moved like it was a part of him.

“Lady Callindra!”  Reed sat down, his face flushed from drink and the exertion of dancing.  “Who’s yer friend?”

“Apologies, I fear I neglected to introduce myself.”  She stood and offered her hand to the man, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“I know who you are.”  He said, rising himself.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  He spun and moved off into the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?”  Reed asked, “He seemed like a rude bastard.”

“I don’t know.”  Callindra said, “But I’m sure he’s going to be trouble.  He was asking me to dance as a pretext to get me to leave my sword behind.”

“You’re talking even fancier with the fancy clothes on.”  Reed grinned, “But you still get suspicious of anyone who tries to part you from that blade.  I think you’re just getting jumpy, relax and have some fun.”

“I somehow doubt having fun would be seen as very ladylike,”  Callindra said with a sigh, remembering Rrayu’s voice telling her about posture and poise.  “I’m supposed to keep up appearances, you know.”

“You’re carrying a sword chained to your wrist.”  Reed scoffed, “Nobody’s gonna think you’re much of a delicate flower.”

“I can tell you’re not a woman.”  Callindra said, “We’re rarely taken as seriously as we should be, especially when we’re dressed in pretty clothes.”

Reed looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face.  “Damn.  You gotta point there.  Your sword doesn’t look normal, and that chain looks a lot more delicate than it really is too.  I guess most guys would probably think it was just for show.”

“Precisely, young master.”  Callindra picked up her goblet of mead and looked at him over the rim before taking a sip.  “Just as they likely misjudge you due to your age.”

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 VI

Purdue sat at her desk, desperately wishing she could have a cigarette.  Of course, smoking wasn’t allowed in the office anymore and the IA officer assigned to her probably wouldn’t have let her smoke anyway.

“Inspector Purdue, I am Investigator Lawrence.”  The powerfully built man in the off the rack suit tapped the stack of papers carefully straight and set them exactly squarely on her desk.  “I have been assigned to look into your so-called ‘wing murders’ case file.”

“Lawrence, glad to see you.”  She said, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, we’re wondering why there’s such a lack of progress.”  He said, laying a perfectly sharpened pencil next to the files.  “You’ve been working this case for six months now?”

“Eight months actually.”  She said, “The first incident I looked at occurred two months before we discovered this was a serial case.”

“Eight months.”  He smoothed his hair carefully and looked at her, “You haven’t produced any real results in that time?”

“Nothing in the case makes sense.”  She took her cigarettes from her breast pocket and tapped one out of the pack.  “I haven’t been able to draw any conclusion from what I’ve found at the crime scenes.”

“But surely after this amount of time you’ve begun to form some kind of idea about who is behind this series of murders.”  He said, “Please humor me and give me some insight into what you have discovered.”

“Officer Lawrence, I assure you that my official statements encompass the entirety of my knowledge about the case.”  She put the cigarette between her lips, “I wish I had more information.”

“I’m happy to step outside if you want to smoke,”  Lawrence said.

“Fucking serious?”  She smiled and stood, “I really do need a cigarette.”

“Of course.”  He said, standing and opening the door.

They walked out to the alley behind the station and she lit her cigarette.  Purdue turned and looked him in the eye. “So, what do I have to get IA off my back?”

“We need results, Purdue.”  He said, “I know the chief has warned you, but the Mayor is hitting this one hard.  He can’t afford to look weak on crime, and this case is getting a lot of media attention.”

“The only problem is that it’s all impossible.”  She blew twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “The last three?  There’s no way anyone could have placed them there without disturbing the snow, but the only footprints were from the person who discovered the bodies.”

“She’s not a suspect?” Lawrence asked, leaning against the wall.

“Jessica Chang is about five feet tall and weighs ninety pounds soaking wet.”  Purdue shook her head, “There’s just no way she could have carried an adult corpse, and even if she could have, there weren’t any footprints around the bodies anyway.  No footprints where the sick bastard drew those wing outlines, not between the bodies, no evidence that anyone had stepped on the corpses themselves and furthermore, not one of them had an injury that the medical examiner would call fatal.”

“I did read that report.” He admitted grudgingly, “The coroner’s office said, and I quote, ‘The superficial wounds below each shoulder blade are only skin deep and show no sign of toxicity.  None of the bodies lost enough blood to cause death. ‘There is no evidence of murder, it is as though their bodies decided to peacefully shut down.’ and that’s just impossible.”  

“None of it makes any sense.”  She said, stubbing her cigarette out and dropping it into the butt bin.  “If I tried to say someone used magic to stop people’s hearts and then teleported them to the center of the street I’d get locked up.  I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of that paperwork.”

He laughed, “I hear you there, but you have to give us something Purdue.  I certainly don’t envy you right now.”

“I’m not just going to make something up so that the mayor looks good.”  She held the door for him and they walked in out of the cold, “I have one last lead I’m going to chase down, provided you don’t think I’m somehow mishandling the investigation?”

“You’re a good cop Purdue,” He said, “I want to make sure you understand that I respect the work you’ve done in the past.  I don’t know that you’ve done anything wrong here, but nobody can deny the lack of results. I trust your lead will pan out in the next couple of days, I’ll get out of your way and let you do your job.”

He turned and walked past her office and into the maze of cubicles, amicably greeting a few of the people he passed.  Purdue pursed her lips, he wasn’t making an overt threat, but she knew a warning when she heard one. It was time to call in that favor from Nebby.  She had something very specific in mind. He was going to hate it.

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.

The Angel Murders Part III

“Bad day, babe?” Allison Purdue took her wife’s coat and handed her a cold beer.

“You’re a lifesaver.”  She said, taking the beer and killing half of it in one swallow.  “Not so much a bad day as the culmination of a month’s worth of bad days.”

“Lacy, you need to take a break.”  Allison said, “Come on, I made your favorite extra spicy enchiladas.  You can tell me all about it.”

‘Yeah, tell her all about it!’ Nebecenezer chimed in cheerfully, ‘She needs to know all your crazy theories!’

“I can’t tell you about it.” Lacy Purdue said with a long-suffering sigh, “It’s still under investigation.”

Allison guided her to a chair and put a plate of food in front of her.  “You don’t have to tell me anything specific, just let me know what’s bothering you the most.”

Lacy took a bite of food and let out a moan of pleasure, “You are a Goddess in the kitchen.  OK, I’m almost certain that the thing killing people in my latest case isn’t human.”

“I know it’s normal to think of your enemies as different from you.” Allison said, “Why do you say they aren’t human?”

“I realized the only thing that tied all the victims together.”  Lacy said, “They were all sinners beyond redemption. Every single one of them had some kind of criminal record that broke biblical law more than seven times.”

“Isn’t that a little thin?” Allison asked, “You’ve never resorted to something as ephemeral as scripture to make a legal argument before.”

“What if the things listed in the Bible were true?”  Lacy asked, “What if there is some kind of divine justice?”

“Don’t you think we’d be the first to suffer from the sword of God?” Alison laughed, “Aren’t we homosexuals supposed to be on the top of the naughty list?”

“Not according to the Ten Commandments or honestly really any bible passage.” Lacy said, “There actually isn’t anything in the bible about lesbians directly.  Even the passages about gay men are more or less understood to be about sexual abuse, not about consensual same-sex love.”

“So give me an example.  I thought the last victim was just a kid.” Alison said, “What could some kid have possibly done to warrant divine retribution?”

“I can’t tell you.”  Lacy said, her face a hard mask, “Not just because it’s part of an ongoing investigation but also because I want you to be able to sleep at night.  It’s bad enough this shit has to live in my head; I’m not going to subject you to it if I can avoid it.”

“Baby, I’ve heard everything under the sun from you by now.”  Alison said with a smile, “Nothing you could say at this point can make things that much worse.”

“He was just a kid.  He’s not that much older than our daughter, Ali.  Can you imagine Reese being a murderer or a rapist?”  Lacy shoved her plate away, only half empty. “This is beyond normal human awfulness.”

‘You would know, wouldn’t you?’ Nebecenezer asked gleefully.

“I hate to see you like this baby.” Alison said, reaching across the table to take her hand, “Why don’t you just take a shower and come to bed?”

“You go first.” Lacy said, “Thank you for dinner, I want to do up the dishes before tuning in.  I hate leaving you with all the housework. It’s only fair I do my share.”

“Come soon, I demand snuggles.  You missed dinner last night, and you have to pay the piper!” Alison said mock-severely, “I love that you want to help out around the house, but I want you to get your rest, and I want to feel your arms around me before I sleep too.”

Lacy kissed her deeply, running a hand down her back.  “I will be in bed soon, I promise.”

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.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 65

“We are what is left of a group of adventurers who went on a mission given by the Gods themselves.”  She quickly sketched out the bare bones of their travels and misadventures, trying to gloss over as many of the finer points as she could.  Rrayu sat quietly and listened, her eyes getting wider as the tale progressed.

“After killing that thrice cursed squid Connor managed to hold the ship together until we could debark and then we made our way here.”  She finished.  “We’re looking for survivors to see if we can gather assistance to somehow turn the tide against the Taken or reverse the magic that is causing the plague to happen.”

“You’re fighting for the Gods.”  Rrayu said, a bit of awe in her voice.  “I thought them all but gone.  Betimes prayers would be answered in the past but with all that’s happened and them letting it happen I’d all but lost hope.”

“It’s not like they’ve been much help to us either.”  Vilhylm said wryly, “Almost more of a hindrance in most ways.”

“You said your swordmaster is Luftin?”  Rrayu asked, looking at Callindra with such an unabashed look of wonder that she began to feel uncomfortable.  “You’ve met him?  And Jorda?”

“Well, I didn’t know who he was.”  Callindra said, “I was pretty awful to him at first and he didn’t seem much like a god.  Jorda was a much different story; she was much more like what one would think of as a goddess.”

“Not everyone looks upon the gods with reverence.”  Vilhylm said with a frown, “We must ask you to keep this bit to yourself.”

“What are you hoping to find here?”  Rrayu asked, looking between them.  “This city is lost, most of the people here are dead, why would you come to a place like this?”

Again they all looked at Callindra and she said for the first time something she had been mulling over ever since she saw Luftin devoured by Cerioth.  She took a deep breath and forced her left hand to relax on Shadowsliver’s hilt.

“An ally told us there was some power center for the Abyss here, I want to find that gods bedamned dragon and get some answers.”  She said, “It ate my Master, it destroyed this city, it has been present at many of the worst moments in this war.  If anything knows what Morde’s plans are it does, and I have heard it comes and patrols Starvale.”

The room fell silent as they all stared at her.  Even her companions seemed stunned by her words.  “We should also look at those spheres.”  She said, pretending not to have noticed their reaction.  “Anyone powerful enough to have created those is likely powerful enough to fight well against the Taken.”

Connor nodded slowly, “I also want to look at those things.”  He said, “Perhaps we can find more information about how they resist the power of the Taken and of that dragon.  Could be that there’s a way for us to harness that protection for ourselves.”

“You’re off yer nut.”  Reed said, “You wanna fight that bedamned dragon?  What do you think we can do that a whole city of mages couldn’t?”

“We can talk more once we’ve had time to think about it.”  Callindra said, refusing to give ground.  “For now I think we need to go be seen if we’re to keep in Ellen Eth’s good graces.”

“You can’t be seriously thinking about fighting that dragon.”  Kain said, “You won’t have a dam to collapse on this dragon will you?  I don’t know if we’ll get that lucky again.”

Rrayu’s mouth dropped open in shock.  “You’ve already killed a dragon?”

“I might have left that part out of the tale.”  Callindra said with a shrug.  She hadn’t wanted to mention Terevelen, since most people wouldn’t understand making an alliance with a necromancer.  “Perhaps that’s a story for another time.  Right now I believe we need to be seen downstairs.”

“I say we give ‘em a show.”  Reed said with a grin, “Enter with style, buy ‘em all a drink and talk a good game.  All we gotta do is get Ellen Eth’s attention, sounds like being flashy is the way to go.”

“Only if you all promise to only tell tall tales about yourselves and leave me out of it.”  Callindra said, “I have enough to deal with trying to be this ‘Lady’ you’ve all talked me up to be.

“Wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”  Reed said, not fooling anyone who knew him with his innocent expression.

The Angel Murders Part I

“Whaddya got for me?” Inspector Purdue ducked under the crime scene tape, lighting a cigarette.  “I was just about to eat dinner, this shit had better be good.”

“Right up your alley Inspector.” The uniform holding the tape said, “Your wife will forgive you.”

She took a deep drag on her smoke and looked at the figure sprawled in the snow.  “The fuck she will. Terese hates it when I don’t eat her home cooking. I hate it too.”

The boy was laying with his hands covering his face, the school uniform marking him as a middle school student from Carson, a prestigious local academy.  Purdue flicked the cherry off her cigarette and tossed the butt into a trash can. She sighed and pulled her phone from her breast pocket.  

“You did right to call me in, Jackson.  This is obviously related.” She began taking pictures of the corpse, and more importantly the outline of wings that projected from the body.  They were drawn in blood, presumably the victim’s blood, although the boy didn’t appear to have any visible wounds.

“Ya think?”  Jackson said, quirking an eyebrow.   “The chief said to bring you in on any of these fucking wing things.  Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“Whenever I figure it out, you’ll be on my goddamn list.” She said, bending to look closely at the body.  “Has anyone touched the corpse?”

“No.  I mean orders have been clear from the top down.   When we see the wing murders we block it off, take photos, and keep our hands to ourselves.”  He said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“As long as you’re sure.”  She said, taking a pair of gloves from her kit and pulling them on. “I don’t want to report something falsely.  We don’t want someone to go down for this who doesn’t deserve it.”

Reaching into the boy’s mouth with a pair of tweezers, she pulled an ancient-looking piece of parchment from under his tongue.  She unfolded it and scrutinized it for a moment before placing it in an evidence bag and sealing it.

“Jackson, get this to the lab.”  She said and waited until he had gone before taking an amulet from around her neck and placing it on the boy’s forehead.  For a few moments, the tiny golden rosebud sat perfectly still, and Purdue was just about to let out a breath of relief when the petals began to quiver and open.

“Shit.”  Purdue rocked back on her heels and took another cigarette from the pack with shaking fingers and watched the flower bloom.  A flutter of motion caught her eye, but when she glanced at it she didn’t see anything moving. “Is this the one?”

She crushed the cigarette out and flicked it at a trash can.  The shaking of her hands made her miss. Cursing, Purdue walked over and plucked the butt from the sidewalk.  A gasp made her spin around. The boy was sitting up with wide staring eyes.

“He. Is. Coming. For. You.”  The blood leaking from the twin holes just beneath each of his shoulder blades connected him to the shimmering outline of the bloody wings gently fanning around his body.  He collapsed sideways, the blood splattering down behind him.

“That’s not very helpful.”  She said, plucking the charm from his forehead,  “You’ve fucked over my crime scene too.”

“I sent that paper off for analysis.” Jackson paused, “What the hell happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”  Purdue lit another cigarette, “It doesn’t matter anyway.  Goddamnit, I’m dead anyhow.”

“What?”  He had his gun in his hand in a heartbeat,  “Did you find something on the body? Are you getting threats again?”

“Easy killer.”  She exhaled twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “Some things you can’t stop with a bullet.  Nobody is gonna kill me today, I’m just embracing the inevitable.”

“So what happened here?”  He demanded, holstering his pistol.

“The demon possessing half my soul awakened this boy’s last breath.  It was supposed to allow him to tell me who killed him or at very least give me valuable information about how to put a stop to it.”  Purdue lit another cigarette from the butt of her current one, “All he told me was that his murderer is coming for me. Hardly the most helpful statement since we don’t know who the FUCK has been doing this.”

“Jesus.”  Jackson shook his head, “If you didn’t want to tell me you could have at least made something halfway believable up.”

“Yeah.”  She shrugged, “Let’s go get some coffee and a doughnut.”

‘Chocolate with bacon sprinkles.’ Nebecenezer demanded.