No Way Back
Book 2 : Of Wolf and Man
part one October, 1834
His drover’s coat caught the wind and billowed out as he raised his arm and tipped his hat to a woman approaching him on the pavement. She didn't alter her expression or say a word, only bent her head further forward and watched him warily as they neared each other. He didn’t expect much different, being an uncivilized Westerner in Jersey. His coat brushed her skirt and she scooted away.
He passed a lawyer's storefront, then a household goods, finally reaching a nondescript office building a few stories high. It wouldn't pass for a manufacturing plant by any estimation of the word, but what he was looking for wouldn't be found on a production floor.
The door scraped into the arced groove in the wood floor as it opened, and he loosed his blue tie. It was miles better than the rundown ranch house in the scrub brush of Texas cattle country where they'd held their last meeting months before.
Up to the second floor and to the left at the top of the hand-rail, he knocked on the glass paned interior door. He waited for a few moments and then rapped again. The sound of feet shuffling across the room was followed by the door opening a crack. A small, thin man in a printers cap stared at him from behind round spectacles.
“Colt here?” he asked.
The old man looked behind him and hesitated, then looked at the floor and nodded as he opened the door the rest of the way.
As he passed through the doorway, he took in the frailty of the man and quickly realized that he was holding a loaded shotgun behind his back. He adjusted his step to a softer one and watched the man close the door behind him.
He glanced up into the mouth of yet another rifle. The young man that he had come to see was pointing it right at his heart. Just shy of boyhood, he already had years of hardship weighing in his eyes.
He slowed to a stop in the middle of the room and lifted his hands slightly, more as a gesture of peace than of surrender. When seconds ticked by and nothing happened, he tried a word or two. “It’s good to see you, too, Sam.”
Sam responded with a swift movement of the barrel, pointing down and to the right and then raising it again.
Taking a wild guess, he advanced toward the chair in the general direction of Colt’s motion, but was stopped with a warning.
“No, Luther. First the pistols.”
He circled his hands slowly to show cooperation and then pulled the long tails of his coat back behind him. It was tiring, moving at this pace. He used two fingers and a thumb to empty the front holster. With his left hand he removed his sidearm in a similar fashion, then he reached behind him and pulled the last one cautiously from his belt. He walked forward to set them all on the desk. For good measure, he took two steps to Colt’s right and stood waiting.
Colt gave the small pile a cursory glance and battled a small twitch that formed at the corner of his mouth. He slung the rifle into the crook of his arm and and waved at his assistant to lower his weapon and leave. “So, give me a report. Did they work?”
Luther only offered a sideways nod. “I tested them all.”
Heartbeats drifted by as Colt stood and rounded the desk. Reaching toward a metal case of tools, he removed a magnifying lens and slung the strap over his head, abandoning his former wariness for methodical disassembly and examination. “Field tested?”
Struggling for a diplomatic answer that would hide his twinge of annoyance, Luther couldn’t find one. “As if there were any other kind of testing?”
“Well, you’re still alive, that must count for something.”
Luther grimaced and tried not to laugh.
“Did the silver hold up like we expected?”
Colt looked at him with one eye exploded in the lens of a magnifier. “Well? Tell me what happened.”
He reached for the model Colt was examining. “This one is a piece of junk. It won’t take the silver where I aim it. Too light. Same with lead. It’s too heavy. Firing fails most of the time. Hard to aim and even harder to shoot.”
Colt’s waxy jaw slung its way from side to side, “Probably the powder you’re using. You get overeager?”
“I used what you told me to. And this one,” he picked up a version with a smaller sight, “it will group shots at 25 yards... if you have all afternoon.”
His diatribe was met with a long, deliberate stare. Then Colt’s hand passed over the desk toward a whiskey bottle and he poured its contents generously into two glasses.
“But this one?” Luther lifted the empty stock of the model with the longest barrel, “It’s balanced. There’s enough space between cylinders not to go off half cocked. And,” he snatched the empty cylinder from the desk, snapped the gun into firing mode in less than two seconds and handed it to Colt, “I notched the hammer. It lines up with the front sight. The trigger needs work. But it’s good. It’s fast.”
Both tumblers of whiskey went down Colt’s throat and he coughed. “It’s only five shots.”
“Five is better than one. Besides, five is all I can load in the others. Too risky. We need better loads, or we need to go with five.”
Their tenuous staring contest finally broke Colt down and he shoved the gun back at Luther. Then he leaned back toward the window stubbornly. “Tell me where she is.”
“Sam, if we’re gonna work together on this and find the hell-spawn that attacked your family, you gotta stay focused. It’s revenge you want and I can help you get it. But we need this gun. You decide.”
Colt’s hard fist slammed down on the desk and made all of the metal parts jump, including a loaded cylinder that began to roll away. Luther caught it before it could hit the floor and discharge. “I’ve lost everything! My sisters are dead. Kate’s dead to me because of you, Luther. You tell me ...” Colt lost his momentum and he wiped a hand over his face. “Tell me she’s alright.”
Luther blinked. “She has been born into my family. She is one of us because it was the only way that I could keep her safe. We can’t be possessed. You know that.” Placing his fists on either side of the gun, Luther leaned closer. “She wants you to come back, Sam, you and your brothers. Family should be together. And hunting demons is the best way to design a gun that kills a demon.”
Colt shook his head violently. “No. I can’t. I’m never going back there.” He stood and rested the tips of his fingers on the desk contemplatively. “If we make this work, you have to promise me something.”
Luther lifted his head warily, then glanced down and nodded. “Okay.”
“When you know it works, you ... use it. You use it and put her out of her misery.”
A nearly loaded gun in his hands, Luther squinted. “Kate’s a member of my family now, Sam, not some rabid dog. She’s not in any misery.”
“I don’t care what you think of me. We have a job to do. There are bigger fish out there, and you and me is how it’s going to be.”
Luther pulled a leather-bound book from the pocket of his duster and laid it out on the desk. The pages were yellowed with age. The worn cover had been branded with a symbol of a six-pointed star inside a circle and embossed with silver letters from another language. Luther traced the indentations with a finger, then opened it to a marked passage and stabbed at it emphatically. “I wouldn’t give you the key to my own destruction if I didn’t need your help. Now, are you with me, or not?”
Young Colt’s face wavered as his eyes gazed over the drawings and strings of unfamiliar text. A litany of instruction for sealing every profane and unchristian entity imaginable into a mouth of Hell, forever. “Where did you find this?”
“It belongs to a friend. He’ll be back someday. But for now,” Luther replied, “if you want revenge? You come back with me. I’ll give it to you.”
Colt looked up hopefully.
“But first,” Luther flipped the pages of the book to the beginning, “we stay alive.”November, 2011 Spectacular embers of color drifted behind his eyelids, closed in the soft flutter of sleep. When he opened them, he was no longer certain where he was, if it was real or only in his mind, or if it made a difference in the end.
Stars floated above him. Beyond those the biggest star of all held its station, cascading down the brilliant energy that would engulf everything in flames, if only it could remember how, if it weren’t for the great distance, if it weren’t for being sent so far away.
He sat up. He was in the woods. He was always in the woods, surrounded by trees, shrouding him from the sky, from the stars and the sun, from everywhere he wanted to be. His hands chafed over his jeans, over legs too fleshy and thick to be right, to feel like his own. Weighing him down. He missed the flying dreams.
One hand reached his waist absently as he stared above himself, looking beyond the sky among the leaves. Something beside him shifted away as his hand scuffed it and he grabbed for it instinctively. Something thin. Hollow. His hand covered it and he stole back his eyes to look down. The box. The latch was set. It weighed almost nothing, but then again, it never had before. He picked it up. He took it with him.
The trees followed him, clinging to his shirt, his arms, his feet as he trudged upward holding the box. They were unwilling to let him go, didn’t want him to leave. He loved the shade. He loved the trees. He ran his hands over them as he passed. But he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t live there, with them, for always. He leaned into a fallen place, sat down against earth and life that had suffered in the weight of water, a grave water, a creek bed, and undid the latch on the box.
The ash rinsed over his hands, sticking to him in a way that felt unnatural, trapped against the moisture of his skin, buried in the depths, buried in the close woods canopied with leaves. Nothing else was in it now, only the ash, only what remained, trapped in the forest, eager for breath and for air. He couldn’t just leave it there. He took a handful to release it and the grains whispered between his fingers. Not here. Musty clumps fell from his hand back into the tamarack. Splinters of the past pricked him. The blood clung to him. He closed the box.
Up the hill he walked, no trails to guide him, only the waving grasses and the brush of the wind guiding him out, up, into the next gully and across the divide again. He rested a few times and gazed silently at the landscape as it began to open to him.
Voices appeared and disappeared like ribbons of lights, like aurora. They fanned across his brow like wind and song, not deciding for him what they were. Things remembered. Things forgotten. They sought him out from the horizon and made sounds in his chest, a chest with no heartbeat, no movement save the cadence of his step, and they throbbed and fell and disappeared into the box as he watched.
He crested the hill. The stars were there to meet him, all of them were there. He stood before the sun as discordant beams of light and sound pulled at him to return, come back, stay.
He unlatched the box and opened it. He gathered it in his hand and held it, knowing there was no way back, not in this life, nothing saved for the next, only dead memories, only things forgotten and left behind. The ash crackled in his grasp and he held it out to the sun. The sun would remember. The stars would sustain him, as they did everything, with everyone. He let go.
Blake woke up where he had laid down, under an eroding overhang of earth covered by the roots of trees, exhausted from carrying Kate out into the safety of the hillside with him. He brushed the cover of leaves away from her body and felt her pulse, faint but regular.
The stolen clothes he had strained into for warmth had torn open his tenderized flesh. Progress was slower without his gear. To make it even worse, the farther away they got from the fleeing captives, the weaker he felt. He passed through feverish dozes to find new, dried patches of blood on his shirt.
Kate helped where she could. She had tried to bind his shoulder, back and legs with the softest of the shredded clothes and brought water for him, but she was too weak for much else. He watched her sleep for hours while every muscle in his body fidgeted in pain and his swollen skin closed over deep scabs that itched. *
Her eyes opened to the distant sky. Hazy, blue light poured over the heart branches of the trees and left them thin and cool and empty. She shivered. A warm hand landed on her face, wiping dampness from her eyes, caressing her cheek and smoothing errant stands of hair away.
“I was dreaming.” She squinted into the light and focused on his face, soft and close to hers as he watched her. “I remember your eyes being brown.”
“That was before.” He smiled comfortingly, then he shifted his hand away gingerly and groaned.
She pushed herself up to check his bandages and rubbed her eyes blearily. The smell of his blood on her hands brought a flush to her face. She grimaced and swallowed hard. Her hands cradled the worst of the wounds helplessly. “What can I do?”
He reached up for her face again. She could feel the warmth along his arm, feel the rush of life underneath. She gathered his hand into both of hers and tried to push him away. “No, Blake, I can’t. You
He shook his head to silence her. “That was our promise all those years ago, right? All of us? That no matter what happens, we keep each other safe. Right?”
She kissed the palm of his hand and nodded.
Taking a deep breath, he blinked quickly. “Go ahead.”
She locked his arm in place and bent her head down. Her fangs brushed against him like whispers, and carefully she bit down into the tender skin and started to drink.
His torso lifted off the ground at the sharp pinch and an unexpected surge of panic filled his lungs. Survival instinct hammered deep palpitations through his heart and a shout broke out of his throat that he barely muffled, forcing it instead into strained coughs. He fought to hold still.
Thin, dust-riddled fabric began to lace his vision. He watched it swirl through his veins and travel upward until it rose in her eyes, smoky and soft, landing where she held his gaze gratefully. When her eyelids shut and she turned her face away, he let his eyes close, too. His heartbeat pounded with a foreign, elevated rhythm that pulled him toward a choking darkness and he fell, abandoned and lost, too far away from any sound that measured time.
He came around slowly to her voice calling his name. The pinch returned and he searched groggily for the source. The tight press of her hands was still cold on the crook of his arm as she folded it protectively. She also hurried to wipe her mouth against her shoulder before he could focus completely, but the motion only smeared his blood across her cheek.
“Okay, your turn,” she said. Her voice was strong and bold now, like her old self.
His eyelids were heavy as he looked up at her, flush with life, and he offered her a sideways smile. “No way, can’t risk it. It would kill you, Kate, and I’d still need more, lots more. At best, it holds me over. I just need time.”
“Well, you’ve got precious little of that,” she argued. “Blake, please. I can’t stand seeing you like this. Why don’t you use your angel hookup to heal? That’s like Highway to Heaven for you, right?”
He gasped, then sat up quickly and crawled blindly deeper under the earthen overhang. He used his other hand to cover his deepest wound: the dark circle that had grown tighter from her drain on his strength. “Sure, absolutely. We can have both sides of a civil war slavering for a piece of me and tearing you to shreds. I’m a fugitive, sweetheart. Just thinking about them is the same as painting huge bulls-eyes on our chests.”
Kate moved to sit beside him and stared into his pale face quietly. Then she traded places with him to block the cold wind and piled the limbs and leaves up as high as she could around them both. She tucked her knees under her chin and watched him sink unwillingly into sleep. “Okay,” she whispered, “okay.” *
When the puffy bruises around his eyes finally drained away, he hunted, returning with small animals or a fish from the stream. Kate would take the life, he would take the meat. Mostly, they rested.
They hid in the woods for two days before deciding that nothing was going to come after them. On the night of the third day, cold settled on the ridge and he built a fire. As they sat around it, soaking in the warmth, a pair of eyes shone from the edge of the darkness, wavering. Blake watched from where he sat, waiting for the form to breach the light and join them. Kate rubbed her temples and groaned.
“Hey,” Blake touched her arm. “You alright?”
“I...” she began. She squinted and blinked into the fire, “I need to go. I need to go back.” She stood unsteadily and made it a few steps away from Blake’s reach before she fell hard, face cushioned by the carpet of fallen leaves.
Blake turned his attention to the pair of gleaming eyes as they made their way forward. “Can’t have them knowing all of our little secrets,” said the form in the shape of a man, the father of all vampires.
“Ahset,” Blake greeted him.
“Hearing you address me with civility and the title to which I was born pleases me, brother.”
“Now that you mention it, ‘Eight Ball’ never had the same ring to it.” Blake shifted inconspicuously into a more comfortable position, and reached underneath his seat on the ground for the hacking knife he had stolen during their escape. “Didn’t expect you would have hung around here.”
“I didn’t,” replied the dark man. He rubbed his hands together and crouched down before the fire, satisfaction swimming over features that enjoyed feigning humanity. After a moment, he said, “I returned to my home having expected that those clowns burned it. Instead, they left it full of rotting meat.” He peered into the fire thoughtfully. “Do you know how many pigs it takes to clean up that much meat?”
Choking back the visual that tried to eel its way into his brain, Blake shook his head, “Nope, no idea.”
A smile came and went in a flash, “I want my daughter.”
“Oh,” Blake responded, “That’s very thoughtful of you, considering you had so much concern for her safety a few nights ago.”
The expression on the Ahset’s face remained unchanged. “She was in your care. Why would I question your ability?”
Blake feigned deep thought. “Let’s see, well, mostly because you never liked me, I’d still like to kill you, and the only reason you want her now is because she’s the last survivor of your kind to have seen the gun.”
A rumble that resembled a laugh drifted over the edge of the flames and into the dark. The man’s eyes glinted with blue light as his teeth appeared. “Yes, yes. You’ve killed me many times.”
“I enjoy it every time,” Blake responded. “Something in me says that you’d get bored without your regularly scheduled trips down under.”
A sarcastic smile spread slowly across his face. “Some things never change.”
“Nope, they sure don’t.” Without risking a full recon of the trees around them, Blake knew that the three of them were not alone.
The smile faded. “But some things do.”
Quickly, Blake measured and counted: the breaths in the forest, how many were a threat and how many were frightened animals, how badly the Ahset wanted him. He wondered if Eight Ball had truly calculated the risk of taking so many days to gather a company against him when he knew Blake would have spent that time recovering.
“Still wanna rule the world?” Blake scoffed at him.
The Ahset stood, regarding him calmly from across the fire. His hands draped unmoving at his sides in an animalistic stance. “Someone should. You are never here, Ahshem.”
Blake shrugged noncommittally. He knew he didn’t have much time. He lunged upward and kicked the fire, slinging the blade up to ride along the side of his strong arm. Heartbeat
The dark man raised his arms to shroud his face from the rising flames. Shouts arose from the vertical lines of bright and dark around them, assistance from all sides encroaching from the bars of the forest. Heartbeat
Compelled by the alpha’s power, Kate rose from the ground and raced past Blake. His left hand caught at the seam of her clothing as she flew into their arms. He spun to see the Ahset baring his teeth. Heartbeat
Blake took a deep breath and raised the knife higher, “Do it! Make all of your wishes come true!”
A flinch creased the Ahset’s smile before he raised his chin beguilingly and pursed his lips, sending a kiss across the burning air. Then he walked away into the night, leaving Blake alone. *
Blake’s muscles ached where the tamarack had been carved away from him, and he could feel the absence of it underneath his skin, a void of depleted power that demanded a recharge. He faced west, to the distant night stars that were shining down on the Campbell place. Dark brown eyes, gentle hands and warmth, the comfort of his ride and his rifle, what was left of his life before, were all in that direction. At least it used to be. Nothing there now but more ashes. His chest cramped painfully. Safety and power lay north.
He flexed his arm and traced the moving circle on his arm with his forefinger. It had expanded a little, and the lines of the compass pointed the way he already knew he had to go. He wiped at his eyes and turned away from the stars, blew out a forceful puff of air, and got moving.
He went back and ransacked the abandoned prison for anything that might be of use. Deep inside the twisted corridors he found a room with a bloody torture rack, a broken devils trap and a charred pile of bones.
He knelt slowly down over the ashes and pressed one finger lightly into the powder, barely enough to leave a print. Sulphur and bile rose immediately in his throat, and his vision turned red with the bloody screams of spirits and the souls of the damned. He swore and wiped his finger clean on the cement floor until the feeling passed, and he spit the taste away. “Crowley,” he half-laughed, “you stubborn bastard. Always gotta get in the last word.” The ashes said nothing, and Blake moved on.
Crowley’s private office proved to be a gold mine, and his eyes lit up like a little kid’s on Christmas morning while he looted the place. There was little in the way of first aid, but he cleaned up as best as he could manage. When he was done, he stepped out into the sunrise with a backpack slung carefully over his shoulder and a rolling hard plastic suitcase trailing behind him.
He hitched a ride east with Valerie Montgomery, an eighty year old grandmother of four. She dropped him off at a bus station, but not before leaving him with a stern admonition to be careful out there. He waved at her politely as she drove away, then bought a ticket east.
Blake stumbled up to the safe house at half past three in the morning, praying that the combination he remembered from childhood would still work. It did. He dropped his luggage and peeled stiffly out of his ragged clothes, feeling every pull against the edges of his wounds. He eyed the shower longingly, but contact with water just wasn’t something he was willing to risk yet. He eased himself slowly down onto the low cot and was asleep almost before he closed his eyes. *
Someone was poking at him, right in the barely-closed hole where Samuel had put a bullet through his shoulder. He snapped awake, choking back a strangled cry of pain. His eyes watered and he turned his head to confront his torturer, only to find a tall girl hovering over him. Her face glowed as sunlight fingered through her long, blond hair. She had her mother’s olive skin and curious, bright green eyes.
“You look like crap,” she said, taking her hand away. “Seriously.”
“Dammit,” Blake gasped, eyes watering with pain. “Is that any way to treat company?”
She shrugged. “Clearly you can handle it. Here,” she added, and she handed him a fresh set of towels. “Get cleaned up. You planning on staying a while?” When he nodded and propped himself up on his elbows, she moved to leave. “There’s clothes in the dresser. Come upstairs whenever you’re ready.”
He sat up carefully. “Thanks.”
The girl waved a hand through the air. “Mom said it was about time you showed up.”
Blake suffered through an excruciating shower. The cold water chilled his core and left him feeling empty and aching, but the hot water stung every line that had been gouged into his back, turning the place where the tree had once lived into a source of constant pain. In the end, he spot-cleaned with a wash cloth as best as he could before giving up on it.
He settled on a pair of jeans that fit loosely and a T-shirt about two sizes too big before grabbing the backpack of goods he had liberated from Crowley’s. He exited the small apartment and climbed up the walk to the main house. He followed the drive around to the back, where a large machine shop stood in the midst of grass that desperately needed mowing. He entered the shop and stepped around several completed projects, picking his way to the center of mechanical chaos.
The mistress of the house was standing over a half-built motorcycle in the middle of the garage. She had a welder’s mask propped up on top of her head and she was glaring at the bike like it had personally insulted her. Blake smiled as he approached, the sight of her a welcome relief in a world full of strangers. “Carly. I gotta say, that kid of yours has a mean streak.”
Carly looked up and snorted a laugh. She shook her head, tight black curls bouncing all around the edges of her mask. “Her name is Nora. Blake, I swear. I thought you were dead.”
“Dead? I’m offended. I’d have definitely let you know if I was dead.”
She leaned across the bike and slapped him upside the back of the head. “That’s for ordering crap you never pay for,” she said sternly. “The reason it’s custom is ‘cos you’d be the only one it works for, got it?”
Blake raised both hands in surrender. “I’m here now. Do you still have the stuff or not?”
Carly rolled her eyes. “Yeah, whatever.” She moved across the room and reached beneath the counter, doing something with a hidden button system that Blake was pretty sure she ripped off from a Mission: Impossible movie. The hissing sound of hydraulics announced that Carly’s secret basement was open for business.
Blake followed Carly down the stairs, his eyes adjusting quickly to the dim light.
Carly was rattling off his list of reserved stock in a bored tone, ticking them off one-by-one on her fingers. “Got your two rifles, that new ID you asked for - nearly impossible to fake by the way, you’re welcome - and the piece-de-whatever-that-word-is, these.”
Carly brandished a small plastic container smugly in one hand, deftly dodging Blake’s attempt to snatch them from her. “Eh-uh, get off. Coin first, then toy time.”
Blake dug through his backpack and pulled out a long-necked amber bottle with dust still on the label. “How’s this for custom?”
She sniffed suspiciously, then took it, carefully inspecting the seal. Then she dropped her hand, letting the bottle swing back and forth at her side. She started laughing. “Where the hell did you run across 30 year old Craig? Or maybe I should ask who you stole it from?”
Blake opened the backpack to reveal several more bottles nestled carefully into old newspaper. “They were free salvage, I swear. You should be able to sell them for --”
Carly put her hand, still holding the bottle, on her hip. “Deal,” she cut him off, extending the small plastic case again. “Hand over the booze.”
Blake set the backpack carefully on the floor at her feet and took the case. “How do they work?”
Carly settled the lone bottle back with the others. “They’re contacts, genius. How do you think they work? You put them in your eyes.”
Blake shook his head. So few people could really make him feel stupid. “You’re an angel, really,” he said sarcastically.
She flashed him a rare smile. “Tsk. I don’t tell all of your secrets, do I?” Then she reached up and took his jaw in one hand. “Show me,” she ordered.
He blinked and locked his eyes with hers, letting the heat flush into his cheeks and flit across his irises. She frowned. “That how much juice you normally have?”
Blake shook his head. “I... uh. I’ve been,” he cast around for the right word, “indisposed?”
“Never mind.” She released him and tapped the plastic case. “No saline, and I mean it. Salt will rust them, and you don’t want that. They’ll dampen the lights and they can absorb some of the heat. But if you feel like you’re gonna Hulk out, don’t bet your life on them. You hear me?”
Blake cleared his throat. “Thanks, C. I really needed these.” She shrugged, putting a hand on the edge of her visor, a signal that their transactions had ended. “Hey, wait, one more thing.” Carly paused. “That Ducati upstairs - how fast does it go?”
Her eyes went wide, incredulous. “Nah, you’re kidding,” she said with finality. When he didn’t answer, she ripped the welding mask off and tossed it into a supply box with a crash. “Blake! You’re kidding me, right? Months - months you don’t show up here, you pay me in stolen booze, and now you want my Streetfighter?”
Blake suppressed a sigh. “How fast, Carly.”
She pinned him with a stare that could have stopped a stampeding herd of buffalo. “It has 155 horses, 9500 RPMs and it’s fuel-injected,” she rattled off. “Of course it’s fast.”
Blake grinned at her and waggled his eyebrows, watching in satisfaction as her eyes narrowed to slits. “Can I have it?”
Blake reached into the waistband of his jeans and produced a dagger that sparkled even in the dim light. “Can I have it now?”
Her jaw dropped. “Is … is that iridium?” He flipped the blade around and offered her the handle, but when she reached for it he pulled it back again.
“This is worth way more than just the bike. There’s a hunter named Gwen Campbell. Find her for me. Also, I need a satellite phone -- untraceable of course -- something to help me finish healing up while I’m here, and --”
She laughed, and her lips twisted into a dark smile. “You got a favorite flavor, Ahshem
He tilted his head, feigning deep thought. “Sure, sure … hm. Siren is good for a speedy recovery. Well, anything with a toxin, for that matter. Djinn, vamp … take your pick. No lamprey though, please. They taste like salt water.”
Carly rolled her eyes. “Roger that: One siren, deep fried extra crispy. Why do I feel like you aren’t done?”
“And I need a laptop, a good one.” He took a deep breath and waited for her to focus on him before continuing, “It’s time I made another copy of the book.”
The subconscious energy buzzing around her fell still. She held his gaze evenly. “This Gwen of yours. You think she’s the one?”
Blake nodded, and his throat tightened. “Yeah, I do. But she doesn’t know yet, so just find her. All I need is an address.”
“Fine. Anything else?”
Blake thought about it. “The Winchesters. Why they had Colt’s gun, and where it is now.” He held out the knife again, and Carly’s eyes fell to the shifting black design on his arm. He ducked his head to catch her gaze. “Help me?”
She took a slow, deliberate breath and cleared her throat, blinking rapidly before tearing her eyes from the circle to look back up at him. “So it’s time, then,” she said flatly. “You’re here for the duration.”
“I’m here for as long as you’ll have me,” he said firmly.
Carly snatched the knife without hesitating and forcefully blew a curl out of her face. “I’ll do everything I can on my end,” she said. “As for the Winchesters - I think Nora can give you some insight there.” She reached into the front of her blouse and pulled out a thin silver chain with a key hanging on it, unclasped it, and handed it to Blake. “Book’s in the safe. Better get started.” She reached out and brushed his cheek with her fingertips, feather-light. Then she waved her hand through the air. “Now get out of my shop, flyboy.”
Blake pecked her on the cheek, ducked her left hook, and went back upstairs.February, 2012
Dean had just opened the Arc Mobile tab for the third time and was staring at all the empty country maps when Sam’s phone went off, buzzing against the tabletop like a swarm of bees. Sam was curled deep into a comforter on the opposite side of the room. He didn’t so much as twitch at the noise. Dean hesitated a moment before reaching to slide the phone closer. He picked it up, and the angry buzz calmed down a notch.The caller ID said unknown number
. Dean shifted in his seat, trying to measure the wisdom of bothering a guy who was just now sleeping again after more than a year.
Sam stirred, and a sleepy, muffled voice drifted up through the sheets. “Jus’ answer it,” Sam groaned, “and stop thinking so loud.”
Dean smiled and pushed back his chair. “Go back to sleep, Sam.” There was no reply. Dean stepped outside before accepting the call. “Hello?”
The voice on the other end of the line sounded relieved. “Sam? Man, I didn’t think I’d get you. Listen, I need your help. Can we meet somewh-”
Dean frowned. “Who is this?”
The voice paused before asking cautiously, “Is this Sam?”
Dean cleared his throat and ground a knuckle into the sore point between his eyes. “Uh, no. Sorry. Look, man, if you need help, you should really call somewhere else. We’re a little tied up here.”
The guy made a sound that Dean easily identified as mild panic. “Look, I really
need to see him. Tell him Blake called, okay? He knows me. It’s important.”
Dean’s stomach clenched. “Trust me pal, he can’t help you with anything.”
The urgency in Blake’s voice died and was replaced with concern. “Is he alright?”
“Never better,” Dean answered, surprised that the guy seemed to care. Curiosity started to get the better of him. “How did you say you know him?”
“It’s a long story,” Blake said carefully, clearly not comfortable sharing with a total stranger. Dean couldn’t fault the guy for being uneasy, especially since he wasn’t planning on sharing and caring himself. There was a shuffling sound, and then a long pause. “This has to be Dean, right?”
“What the -”
“You’re a direct guy, so I’m going to give it to you straight. I know you don’t know me, but I used to hunt with your brother and I need the Colt. Far as I know, Crowley was the last guy to have it. Sam knows me,” he repeated, “And if you know where it is, please. It’s important.”
“Like hell it is. No.” Dean pulled the door shut behind him and stepped farther into the parking lot, using the extra distance as a shield between his brother and his past. “I catch you near Sam, and you won’t have time to ask him anything
Dean hung up the phone feeling shaken and worn. He rubbed his eyes and tried to think of how much to tell Sam about the call, if anything at all. The phone buzzed in his hand again, insistent. Unknown number
. “Screw you,” Dean muttered, and he popped off the back panel. The battery went in his pocket, and the rest went in the motel dumpster. Case closed.
When he returned, he didn’t turn the light back on, just felt his way back to his bed and crawled under the covers. Sam was sleeping peacefully not six feet away. For as long as he possibly could, Dean was going to keep it like that.April, 2012
Nora breezed through the safe house door without preamble and let the tray containing Blake’s lunch clatter loudly down onto his writing desk. “Whatcha writing?”
Blake set down his pen and carefully lifted a leather-bound book with crisp white paper and and a freshly burned brand; a six-pointed star surrounded by raised silver lettering. He set it on the top of a stack of several others that bore the same mark. Some were faded and worn, some were stained with blood so old that the covers seemed to be made of rust.
Blake pulled the tray of food closer. “The next chapter of an anthology.” He smiled at the hand-rolled cigarette resting next to his ham and cheese. Carly wasn’t skimping on the room service, and because of her all of his wounds had long since healed.
Nora sat down on his cot and rested her chin in her hands. “What makes it an anthology?”
Blake selected an apple from the tray and answered her around his first bite. “It’s hundreds of years worth of short stories.”
She flipped her long hair out of her face and studied the backs of her nails, coated with fresh blue polish. “My mom says she knew you a long time ago. Is that true?”
“What was she like?” The young girl’s face was carefully disinterested, but Blake knew fishing when he heard it.
“She was beautiful. Even more than now,” he added hurriedly and Nora’s oh really
face. “She used to fly with me a lot.”
She wrinkled her nose. “In a plane?”
“Sure, kid. Let’s go with that,” he chuckled.
She smiled. “What about my dad?”
Blake’s laugh faded away, and he shook his head regretfully. “Never got the chance to meet him,” he said.
She nodded, seeming to accept that he was not going to say anything more, and lay down on his cot with her hands crossed under her head. She studied the ceiling for a moment and then asked, “Are you ever going to give me my books back?”
Blake glanced at the small pile of B movie novels littering the corner of his small room and tried not to wince. Those books contained way too much information, and none of it in a good way. “Probably. Why, you miss them?” he teased.
She seemed to consider it. “I miss Provenance
. And Bad Day at Black Rock
“Really? Why those?”
“I don’t know. Provenance
… I just like Sam in it. He cares about people, and he really knows how to listen. And Bad Day at Black Rock
is so funny. I like the part where he catches himself on fire.”
She raised her eyebrows suggestively, turning on the puppy eyes so hard that Blake almost choked on his apple.
“Anyone ever tell you how insatiable you are?” He set the apple down and picked up the smoke with his left hand, holding it out where she would have a clear view. He waved his right hand through the air and snapped his fingers. A small flame sprung to life from the tips of his fingers, and Nora clapped appropriately while he lit the cigarette and took a drag. The ashes nestled inside the paper filled him with a heady burst of power, and his eyes closed of their own accord while he savored the taste.
When he opened them again, Nora was watching him intently. He tried to pick up the thread of their lost conversation. “That’s my favorite part, too.”
She sighed and refocused her efforts, moving back to prying. “You’ve been writing in that all summer. Aren’t you bored?”God, yes
. He gestured to the laptop case leaning up against the wall. “I’m also moving it into the computer so it doesn’t get lost.”
Nora rolled her eyes in a perfect imitation of her mother. “You’re taking forever
“Well, I’m not the fastest translator or typer... ist in the world,” he protested.
She sat up on her elbows, eyes flashing with interest. “I could do it for you.”
Something fluttered in Blake’s chest, and he looked away, reaching for his sandwich. “I don’t think so, Nora,” he said gruffly. “These books aren’t for kids.”
She glared at him almost hard enough to be convincing. “I’m not a kid, I’m thirteen.”
Blake tipped his chair back far enough to reach the pile of novels on the floor and rummaged through them until he found the right ones. “Provenance
and Bad Day at Black Rock
,” he said, and he handed them across to her. “Thanks for the sandwich.”
She sighed and cradled the books in her arms as she walked to the door.
“Nora,” he called after her, and she looked at him questioningly. “I know you’re not a kid. You know about things that nobody else can know, and that makes you pretty special. But this
story,” he splayed his fingers across the ancient leather cover, unconsciously framing the six-pointed star, “it’s about things that nobody
should know. You trust me?”
She nodded slowly, then offered him a small smile.
“That’s why you’re my girl.”July, 2012
Blake was down by the lake skipping rocks when Carly seemed to appear out of nowhere. She was smiling a strained smile, and her face was pale. Blake shivered, and nervous anticipation settled deep in his gut.
She took a deep breath. “I can’t find Sam and Dean. I’m sorry.” She held up a hand to stop him from interrupting. “They’re hidden from angels. Even Castiel can’t locate them unless they call, and even if he could, my source is steering clear of him. So am I.”
“Balthazar,” Blake snorted. “I wouldn’t want Old Leather-Britches to blow your cover with Heaven’s modern-day Grant and Lee,” he said darkly. “You take enough of a risk just talking to that degenerate.”
Carly wrinkled her nose and squeezed his shoulder. “That’s a tired old road, Blake. We’re safe here.” He dropped the subject. If there was one thing he knew about her, it was that she was as strong-willed as they came, and there was no use arguing. “He did have one interesting piece of news. Sam and Dean Winchester were recently … reunited.”
Blake frowned. “I know. I saw them together a couple of times.”
“No, no,” she chided. “Not physically. Completely
. Seems that Sam went quite a long stretch there as a living example of how not
to practice astral projection. And get this - Balthazar figures Death to be the guy that sprung him.”
He blinked. “Sprung him from the … from the cage? Wait - are you telling me that in all that time I hunted with him, he never had his soul
“Bingo,” she said, tapping him in the chest with her forefinger. Then she shuffled her feet, suddenly very interested in studying the ground. “There’s one more thing, and you aren’t gonna like it.”
His speeding train of thought shorted out, and his breath caught in his throat. “Gwen?”
Carly’s smile turned brittle. “Turns out she checked in upstairs a few months ago,” she said, holding up a palm to halt his response. “Checked back out just as fast.” She looked straight at him, driving the revelation home. “We aren’t sure who did it, and I don’t think I have to tell you that whoever brought them back didn’t do it out of the goodness of their loving, celestial heart. She’s probably under surveillance. This could be a trap, Blake.”
The sudden rush between panic and relief was dizzying. Blake took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Does that mean you found her?”
She sighed gently. “You’ll never guess where she’s been this whole time.”
She spread her hands wide in a helpless shrug. “Your neck of the woods. Home. Near as we can tell, she’s with a new group of hunters. Samuel isn’t there.” She grabbed his arms at the elbows, shaking him out of his stunned silence. “She’s alright, Blake.”
“Then it’s almost time to go,” he said quietly. “I know I say this a lot, but - thanks for everything.”
Her hands trembled, but her face was unreadable. “Are you done with the book?”
“Almost. I figure a few more days, tops.” He sighed at her watering features. “Don’t do this, C. I’ve got nearly everything I need. It’s just how it is. Right?”
“I know,” she whispered. “Sam and Dean are Gwen Campbell’s blood. Maybe she can help you find them. Maybe they can help you protect her.”
Blake pulled her into a hug and kissed her cheek. *
They shipped his rifles and a small box of supplies ahead with instructions to hold them at the post office, and he packed the rest of his belongings into his pack and a pair of saddlebags.
He opened the safe and slid the book back inside. Closing the door on it felt like shutting away a thousand screaming voices, locking them into a cold, dark place where their power would be bound inside the leather that covered their words. He slid the laptop in after the book and turned the small silver key in the lock.
The Streetfighter was waiting for him at the top of the drive, loaded up and ready to go. Carly stood with his helmet under the crook of one arm and her other hand draped over Nora’s thin shoulders. She watched him approach with the resolute determination of someone who had planned for an unpleasantness for a very long time.
He handed Carly the key on its delicate chain. She clasped it back around her neck, settling underneath it like it carried the weight of the world. Nora shifted uncomfortably at her mother’s side and her bangs fell across her eyes, hiding her face.
Blake took one of each of their shoulders and shook them both a little. “Ladies, ladies. Come on, I was a horrible house guest. You won’t miss me that bad, will you?” Carly scoffed, and Nora flipped her hair and rolled her eyes. He smiled at them both. “That’s better.”
He took the helmet from Carly and ran appraising eyes over the bike, taking in the twisting golden flames that licked across the sleek black surface. “You know…” he tossed her an amused look over his shoulder. “You really didn’t have to repaint.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips and she shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m a fan of symbolism.”
Blake climbed on and adjusted his pack to settle comfortably on his shoulders. He nodded to them both and Carly returned the look before stepping back to give him room. He pulled on his helmet and had just began to button the strap beneath his chin when a hand tugged urgently on his jacket. He stopped and raised his visor, looking down to meet startling green eyes.
Nora grabbed his hand and turned it over. She pressed something small and smooth into his palm. “I put this together for you,” she said rapidly, under her breath like she was hoping that her mother wouldn’t hear. “It has all of the Supernatural novels on it. In case you need to do more research.”
“Thanks, kiddo.” He glanced at the tiny flash drive and tucked it securely into his jacket’s zipper pocket. “I’m sure this will help.” Then she surprised him by throwing her arms around him and burying her face into the side of his neck. “Woah, hey …” he twisted awkwardly on the bike and managed to wrap his arms around her.
She mumbled something against his shoulder. He ducked his head closer to hers and shot Carly a lost look; one that she reflected with a helpless shrug. “Nora, I can’t hear you,” he said, trying to speak quietly.
“Your book is on there, too,” she whispered. “I read it. I read it and you should have told me, you should have told -”
Blake pushed her away just far enough to look into her eyes. Chilling anger was simmering up through the crystal sheen of her unshed tears as she silently dared him to defend himself.
“I …” Sorrow and regret weighed heavy in his chest for the part he was playing in the destruction of whatever had been left of her innocence.
Nora reached for him again and hugged him fiercely. He let her. When she released him, all of her tears had dried and her gaze was as unyielding as steel. “I put it on there so that she can read it, too. You have to tell her. It’s not fair if you don’t. She deserves to know. Promise me.”
“Nora, I don’t think -”
Her eyes flashed. “No, you don’t
“I’ll make you a deal,” he said, motioning her in conspiratorially, “I’ll tell her everything when the time is right, if you take care of your momma and promise me you won’t be scared while I’m gone. Think you can handle that?”
She nodded, and the rigid lines of her shoulders relaxed. Before she could change her mind, he strapped on his helmet and started the bike. She stepped to her mother’s side, and he pulled away from the curb.
When he reached the end of the drive and looked back, Carly was gone, but Nora waved firmly. He fixed her face into his mind and turned the corner down the road, urging the bike toward home. Book 2, Part 2