Light danced in the darkness. Blue, white, and amber flashed across window panes and drowned out the streetlights. Beneath them a mother cried and a father tried to make sense of the world’s madness. The police went door to door questioning neighbors. Their questions were always the same.
“Did he have any enemies? Anyone who wanted to hurt him?”
“Did he have problems at school?”
“Did he do drugs?”
“Did you know about the stuff in his room?” The last question was because of what they’d found.
The kid was into some weird shit, and that would become a focal point in the investigation. A few of the cops outside the house even whispered about this being a suicide.
Ava hovered above it all, her wings gently flapping and creating no breeze. Her insubstantial form took in everything and she wept quietly to herself. The worst part was watching the mother try to answer the detective’s questions about her dead son.
“No, Kyle didn’t have any enemies. He didn’t have many friends but I don’t know anyone who wanted to hurt him.”
“Kyle got straight A’s! The teachers said he wasn’t challenged enough, but he didn’t have academic or discipline problems.”
“No! Kyle didn’t do drugs! He barely took aspirin when he had a headache. He said it affected his ability to feel the world around him.”
“The stuff in his room,” she hesitated, “he was into fantasy: angels, demons, the undead, zombies, vampires all that stuff that kids like now-a-days. He might have taken it a step further. He read books dealing with the occult more than fantasy, but he wasn’t stupid. He didn’t do something that got himself killed.”
Ava couldn’t listen to it anymore. She floated through the roof, down through the floorboards, and into the crime scene. It looked like someone had put Kyle, aka the Dark Mage of Charlotte, through a wood chipper. Blood splattered everything, bits of bone and tissue were discarded around the room the way a high schooler would discard used clothes.
Tapping into her link to the Divine, Ava looked deeper. She looked closer. The surface things vanished. Everything the police would be looking at as evidence was blotted away as she looked at what the æther said. Aether never lied.
There were traces. Nothing more than specks, and they were faint. She bent low to examine them. There was mortal magic in the air. It clung to the æther in a symbiotic relationship. She smelled the fragrance of the earth, the salt from the sea, the freshness of the wind on an open plain. There was nothing wrong with that, but there was an undercurrent to it. It was a sharp scent that made her recoil.
She smelled sulfur. She smelled sin. She smelled… <Wet dog?>
Her mind jumped to a few possibilities, but she didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. It was dangerous to make assumptions in her line of work.
<It can’t be. I haven’t seen one in a century.> Despite trying to be unbiased her mind kept gravitating to one possibility.
If she was being honest with herself it was more likely that Kyle had summoned something that had killed him. <He was a necromancer.> There were a whole manner of undead things that could have done this too him.
“Ma’am.” Feet, a waist, and then Lucas’ head descended through the ceiling.
He didn’t give the grizzly crime scene a second glance. They’d all seen worse in the service of the Divine. <But that was war. He was a child.>
“Yes.” She pulled herself together and faced the Guardian.
“Word from the border, Ma’am.” He braced to attention. “A werewolf pack’s extermination is confirmed. The mortal magician fulfilled a contract tonight. A dwarf charged with monitoring the Nature Preserve confirmed it.”
<That makes things more difficult.> There was too much coincidence in a new face showing up and then a member of the magical community being slaughtered. She’d need to confirm the alibi herself, but it seemed like the newcomer was off the hook.
“Could the werewolves have done this?” Lucas had already moved on to the next likely suspects.
“Possibly.” Ava would need someone with more experience in these things to make sure. “Get the specialist.”
The “specialist” was easy to track down. He’d followed a pretty rigid schedule for the last two decades. It was the middle of the week, so that meant he would be getting done with his weekday drink at a local bar before heading to one of his kind’s more specialized watering holes.
She floated over the alleyway for ten minutes – out of sight and out of mind – until he exited the backdoor. He never exited a building the way he’d entered, but his unpredictability ended there.
“Cameron.” Divine light flooded the alley and the Soulless screamed.
The light burned his flesh and scorched the eyes in his socket. He scrambled backwards blind and steaming to find cover behind a nearby dumpster.
“Ah! Fuckin’ hell, Ava!” He had a thick Cockney accent to go with his fiend of the night good looks. “Ya could have just said hello. No need for the Divine wrath.”
“Your history of cooperation is spotty at best.” She smiled as her light dimmed and he peeked out from behind the trash bin.
“By cooperation you mean being a traitor to my kind.” He snarled, but it was because of the pain of his reknitting flesh and reforming eyes.
“If your kind has one talent it would be survival. You are just doing what you’re good at, Cameron.” She landed lightly a couple of feet from him and motioned for him to come out.
He didn’t budge.
“I won’t hurt you, you have my word.” She sighed.
Angels couldn’t lie. They kept their word, and that was enough to flush him out.
“What do you want?” He kept his eyes averted. Not out of respect, but to avoid getting them boiled again.
“I need you to take a look at something.” She waved her hand and the æther in the hallway shifted.
The garbage, trash bin, and weather-stained brick of the buildings was still there but it sunk a little deeper into the fabric of reality. It was replaced by an identical version of the crime scene of the Dark Mages’ death; accurate down to the last drop of blood.
Cameron’s breath caught as he surveyed the new scene. The amount of power it took to essentially conjure a pocket reality was immense, and Ava did it without breaking a sweat. Such was the power of a Dominion.
“What am I looking for?” he audibly gulped as Ava stepped forward to the reconstructed corpse.
“In your estimation, what did this?” she kept it vague, not wanted to push his opinion in any direction.
Cameron walked up to the ætherial corpse and stared at it. “Would have been better if you didn’t barbeque my eyes.” He grumbled as he blinked furiously to get his eyes to heal faster.
He got back up and judged it from a different angle – then another. He scratched his head and took a deep whiff of the scene. Ava had recreated everything about the scene including the scent.
“And,” she prompted him after several minutes.
“Honestly,” he looked nervous as he looked over his shoulder at the angel. “I don’t know.” He braced like she was going to hit him with another burst of light.
“What makes you say that?” She took a different approach.
“I don’t recognize the bite marks.” He hurriedly explained. “It’s too small to be a werewolf. It’s possible it could be some shifter, but they can be any number of things so it’s hard to tell. It’s not my kind, we just puncture, and I’m not versed in the variety of Fae beasts that sometimes hunt in our realm. So, I just don’t know.”
The Soulless hadn’t fully answered her question, but he gave her enough to go on.
“Thank you, Cameron.” She unfurled her wings and floated into the air. “I will turn a blind eye to any minor infractions you commit over the next seven days.”
“Ava.” He bowed, unable to hide the raucous grin on his face. “I’ll behave.”
“Be sure that you do.” She turned insubstantial, vanished from sight, and shot across the sky faster than anything man could make.
She aimed south east and let her mind wander as she flew. She beat her wings faster to gain speed and reach her destination quicker. Time was of the essence.
<It has to be.> She didn’t want it to be, but it was hard to ignore the facts. <He’ll know.>
She left the equivalent of and ætherial skid mark across the sky above Charleston as her target intercepted her.
“Ava, back so soon?” Emmanuel, Charleston’s Dominion, gloated as he stopped in her path.
“I need you to take a look at something.” She didn’t wait for him to acknowledge before dropping to the ground and recreating the scene of the crime. “What do you think?”
All haughtiness disappeared from Emmanuel’s face as he surveyed the carnage.
“Hellhound.” He confirmed her own suspicions. “Do you know what this means?”
“Yes.” The weight of her increased responsibilities settled on her shoulders. “Either the Dux operating in your city has accumulated enough power to expand, or I’ve got a new Dux in town.”
“We should pass this up the chain to Uriel.” Ava had been against the course of action before, but now she suggested it.
“Yes.” Emmanuel was deep in thought now. He didn’t like this any more than she did.
Two Duxes in such close proximity was bad for the Divine and terrible for the mortals under their care. They needed to mount an effective response immediately.
<But first I need to figure out who they are.> She had contacts she could leverage and favors she could call in.
She’d be doing all of those before the end of the night.
Vicky sat in her office doing taxes of all things. She’d learned long ago not to skimp out on giving the government their due. She beaten death, but taxes were something she didn’t dare try to avoid.
A knock on her door pulled her out of her calculation of deductions. “Yes, Elisa.”
Her assistant opened the door and stepped aside. “Cameron requests an audience.”
Vicky didn’t particularly like the British transplant to her coven, but the man had a way of getting bits of information that could prove valuable in the right hands.
“Send him in.” She sat back and closed the laptop she was working on.
Cameron stepped in looking a little worse from wear. His skin was still a fresh pink instead of the lifeless white of the Soulless, which meant he’d recently been severely burned. It was a common misconception that vampires could be killed by burning them, but that only worked during the day, and if it was tried at night it was best to remove their head or stake them to the ground so they couldn’t run away.
Whoever had tried to deep fry Cameron hadn’t been trying hard enough.
“Cameron, you look crispy.” She smiled, showing fangs as the man entered.
“Courtesy of our local Dominion.”
That wiped away any semblance of a good mood she’d been fostering. Hunters were one thing but fucking angels was an entirely different ball game.
“I just want to give you a heads up that they’re looking into the Dark Mage’s murder. She had me look over the scene. The kid was torn to pieces by something I haven’t seen before.”
Vicky hid her expression well enough that Cameron didn’t pick up on anything. He might not know what did it, but she did. She’d seen the ugly mutt ushered into creation only a few days ago.
“Thank you, Cameron. I will pass on this bit of intelligence, “she smiled. “Have a drink, on the house.”
The Brit’s face lit up and he exited with a bow. The minute he was gone she called for Alfred and had him bring the car around. Taxes would have to wait. They were in much deeper shit than anything the US Government could do to them.