Shadow Games

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Chapter 2

As Vin stomped his feet down the rain soaked sidewalk, he grumbled to himself. Finally he stopped and glanced sideways at a rat sitting atop an old trashcan in a pool of sickly yellow light.

“Why her?!” He bellowed at the rodent and sneered as it remained silent. He stared at nothing but the air around him as he muttered under his breath, still energy drunk from his binge.

“She’ll just get hurt, then I’ll feel bad... worse. Then I’ll just have to murder more people.” He said exasperatedly as he continued his monologue.

“Ya know Mickey…” Vin started as he sat down on the curb becoming eye level with the rat. “Life was sooo much easier before I opted to care for any one. So much easier when all I had to worry about was fighting my way out of the pit.” He looked over at the rat as it backed away from him warily.

“What? Oh… right, you’re not a mouse. Ok then… Rico. Rico the rat.” Rico stared at him with his beady little rat eyes and continued nibbling on his crust of bread. He’d deemed the strange man a non-threat. Vin rested his forearms on his knees and stared out into the street.

“I don’t want Sephie a part of my downward spiral. Despite the loads of fun I’m bound to have on my road to crazy town, I know she’ll go down with me. I’m not sure what I’ll do though. I’m just living day to day, losing one marble at a time.” He rubbed his calloused hands together and sighed. The nagging pain dulled as he let himself go numb. As he sat and stared out into the trash strewn street and thought, he pulled a bag of peanuts from his pocket and opened it up. He popped a few in his mouth then offered some to the rat.

“I’ll just have to step up my self-destruction before Sephie finds me.” He murmured matter-of-factly as Rico warily watched him place the last of the peanuts on an overturned Styrofoam plate. He stood and dusted his hands on his filthy jeans.

“Well it was a nice chat, Rico. Have a good life.” He smiled and tipped his head to the rat as he stepped off the curb and splashed down into the filthy water in the gutter, sending it up the leg of his pants. He never batted an eye as he started out into the night.

As he walked the sound of soft scraping footsteps pulled his attention to the shadows. He paused, standing in the middle of the empty street and looked around with a cocky grin.

“You found me quickly, Seph. You’re getting good at this.” A form twitched in the shadows and the hair on his arm rose as the crackle of energy danced across his awareness. He squinted, waiting for them to step completely through from the shadow realm.

“Oh come on, I’ve already sensed you… the jig is up, come out here.” He spat as suspicion started to build. From out of the shadow of the closest building stepped a young man and Vin’s shoulders slumped. He looked skyward and sighed dramatically. “Why can’t you people let me go crazy in peace?” He murmured to the stars.

“Maybe because you’re supposed to be dead and people got curious as to why you’re not.” The man said with a cocky grin of his own and wiped a hand over his dark hair. His smooth dark skin creased with anger around his dark eyes. Vin examined the young man nonchalantly for a moment.

“Blinx, anger doesn’t suit you at all.” He laughed a little more manically than he had intended. Blinx nodded and his face went back to its usual neutrality as his eyes burned holes in Vin. He nodded his head in a swift, stiff motion.

“I sensed you were awake again, my teacher.” Blinx said with as much formality as he could force into one sentence. Vin’s lips curled up into a sneer.

“Yeah… this won’t due.” He murmured as he reached up to draw one of the swords slung across his back.

Before he could think of the implications he drew it and closed the distance between himself and the man, slamming the sword cleanly through his leg. A twinge of guilt rippled through him as he yanked it back roughly. Blinx hissed in pain and staggered back a step, curses spilled from him as he wrapped an impromptu bandage around his leg.

“Son of a….” He grunted as he tightened the knot. “What the hell, Vin?!?!”

Vin chuckled and rested the tip of the sword on the ground. “Always be what, Blinx?”

Blinx’s eyes squinted in anger as he looked up at Vin, pain and rage swirled through the darkness there. Vin reached over with his sword and poked at the bandage and Blinx bit back an angry scream.

“Alert!” He spat at Vin through clenched teeth. “Always be alert!” Blinx snarled. Vin tsk’ed and started to wipe the sword clean on his grimy pants.

“And it seems you’ll never learn.” Vin shrugged and re-sheathed his sword. Blinx stood straight, keeping weight off his injured leg.

“What happened to you? Where’d you disappear to for so long? Did your son finally find you?” He asked, forgetting the blood quickly seeping through the cloth around his leg. Vin cringed, growling low under his breath.

“Did you send him after me?!?” Vin growled dangerously as he took a step forward, his hands balled tightly into fists at his sides. Blinx blinked and hobbled back a step.

“N-no one sent him after you. He’s always had it in his head to search you out, ever since you disappeared.” Blinx back hit the wall when Vin’s hand darted forward and snatched a fist full of his shirt and pulled him close.

“Who encouraged it? Who gave him supplies… directions?!” Vin screamed and Blinx stared at him, floundering for an answer.

“No one I know of helped him. Where is he?” Vin stared down his former student, seething, then shoved him roughly away. “Dead…” Vin spat. “Reversing the curse that allowed him to live.”

Blinx rubbed his chest where Vin’s hand had been and shook his head.

“I don’t know anything about a curse.”

Vin blinked and looked back up at the sky frowning in thought. “No one did, but the one who twisted it and made the deal with me.” He whispered thoughtfully.

“Maybe that’s who pointed him in the right direction. Someone looking to cause you trouble and collect his debt.” Blinx said with equal amounts of deep thought and question.

“Then I shall pay him a visit.” Vin said menacingly as he brought his gaze back to Blinx and looked him over.

“Blinx, you really should take better care of yourself, you’re bleeding everywhere.” Vin raised an eyebrow and shook his head as Blinx sighed.

“Did you spend all these years in an insane asylum or what?” He asked incredulously as he limped forward.

“Asleep.” Vin said absently as he looked around as if deciding where to go.

“That’s an awfully long nap.” Blinx grumbled then straightened, unsure of how to proceed. “I’m sorry about Vincent.” He murmured and Vin’s stance when rigid but he nodded his thanks to the sentiment.

“I am going in search of a demon. Would you care to tag along?” Vin asked as he ignored Blinx’s exasperated expression pointing out his leg.

“You freakin’ stabbed me!”

Vin rolled his eyes and crossed his arms making a ‘get on with it’ gesture as Blinx sputtered.

“Stop being a sissy, we know healers, your sister knows plenty too.” He laughed then cringed inwardly.

“Maybe it’s probably best we not go and see Seri.”

Blinx laughed tightly and started limping towards a more inhabited area.

“She’d probably kill you for not being dead all this time.”

Vin huffed and ran a hand back through his hair attempting to ignore the guilt that ran through him. His eyes roved over the night as he slowly shuffled alongside Blinx.

***

As they entered the busy street, Vin took a deep breath and his stomach lurched. All the souls around him crying out to be devoured made his mouth water. He glided to a halt and jammed his sweaty hands into his pockets. He had decided on the painfully slow trek to the lower business district, to put the spiral on hold while he sought out revenge for his son.

“What? No rampaging down the street?” Blinx asked, a sardonic smile gracing his lips. Vin looked at him expressionless, then pushed him over when he started walking again. Blinx cried out as he crashed into the trash cans lining the wall. People that were walking the streets stopped and took time to laugh instead of help the struggling young man. Vin shook his head and continued down the street.

He tried to push away the gnawing need to tear into the passers by. Keeping his head lowered he clamped his mouth and fisted his pocketed hands. He knew he’d binged enough for a year but the black pit in his stomach demanded more. A group of teens parted to let him through being careful to stay outside his personal space. Which would have been fine if they’d all been paying attention. A boy about half Vin’s size, his eyes locked on his phone, walked straight in to him. The force knocked him back as he dropped the phone, cracking the screen.

“What the hell...” He carried on but his voice trailed off when he met Vin’s eyes. The boy didn’t say another word as he backed towards his friends and together they fled. Vin stared after them, fighting the urge to pursue. The faster they walked the more they looked like prey to him. He turned his back quickly and swallowed a frustrated growl.

Take them... it would be easy... The voice whispered to him. He scoffed at himself and shook his head.

“Need to focus on more important things.” He mumbled to himself and continued on.

***

The garish neon sign in the window advertised psychic readings but those weren’t the services he needed. He pushed the door open to wait for Blinx inside, Vin cringed at the clanging of cheaply made wind chimes. The tinny cadence begged for him to rip them out from ceiling. A woman sat at the low desk, her head on her folded arms so that her flame red hair spread out over her face. Vin raised an eyebrow and looked around the shop, then back to the woman with a smirk. She seemed to be sleeping. He picked up the heaviest book within reach and hefted it so that it hovered over an empty section of desk, then dropped it without hesitation. The hardcover made considerably more noise than he thought and an amused chuckle escaped him as she jumped. She was a tangle of arms and legs as she fell backwards and crashed to the floor. Her hair spread out around her like a fiery halo.

“What the hell? I... I was communing with the spirits!” She exclaimed as she attempted to detangle her ridiculously long scarf from the wheel of the desk chair. Giving up she huffed and opted to take it off and let it pool around her feet as she stood with her back to him. Quickly she tried to straighten out her clothes and fix her tangle of hair.

“Oh, can it, Scar. I’m not here to be swindled.” Vin muttered flatly. Scarlet’s hands stilled as her head came up slowly. Her soft intake of breath held as she turned with wide eyes. They were darker than the green he remembered. Vin let the corner of his mouth curl up into a roguish grin. Scarlet’s mouth went from an “O” of surprise to a thin line and her eyes became hard and angry. Vin took a step back as her fingers twitched and her hand balled to a fist. His smile finally faded as he raised his hands to ward her off.

“‘Can it, Scar’?! You’ve been missing for three years and you tell me to ‘can it’?” She screeched as she swung her fist, now engulfed in angry flames, to hit him in the face. Vin ducked and stumbled back a step with another chuckle.

“Oh come on! I was on a sabbatical.” He joked. Scarlet took another swing but he caught her fist and held her away, ignoring the flames that licked his skin. Emotional pain flooded her as she fought against him uselessly.

“What the hell, Vin?” She cried as she sniffed back her tears. Another stab of guilt followed by the pain of his loss swelled, nearly spilling out again. He pushed her away and she thunked against her desk.

“Don’t, Scar. Just don’t.” He muttered and she opened her mouth to argue but huffed and crossed her arms over her middle.

“Can I at least ask where you’ve been?”

Vin stamped down his anger again and gave her a sickly forced grin.

“No. But I’m not here for me any way.”

Scarlet lifted a thin brow and waited for an answer as her door swung in again and the horrible chimes rang out. Blinx limped in stringing curses together under his breath. He shut the door a little harder than was necessary and looked between Vin and Scarlet.

“Pardon me for intruding, but I think I’m bleeding to death.” He said through clenched teeth.

“What happened to you?” Scarlet breathed as she moved her chair to him, the scarf trailing along with it.

“I wasn’t ‘alert’ enough.” Blinx muttered bitterly and Scarlet turned with both eyebrows raised.

“Really Vin?”

“What?” He asked trying to look innocent. “He should’ve know better.” Vin said nonchalantly and started picking through a bowl of cheap bobbles. His relaxed demeanor helping to keep a firm grip on his sanity. Vin was slowly realizing it was easier to slip back into his life than it was to rampage. He picked up a fake coin then tossed it back into the bowl. The card in front of the bowl read ‘good luck charms’. He smiled genuinely reading the coin again then turned to watch Scarlet do her thing. She was kneeling next to Blinx having removed the improvised bandage. She shook her hands out and hovered them over his wound. Blinx sat there with his arms crossed moodily looking around the room, carefully keeping from looking in Vin’s direction.

“Did you know that your good luck charms say ‘wash the cat’ in Gaelic?” He rested his hip against the desk and watched Scarlet start to heal Blinx and ignore him. Her hands started to transfer energy and a soft glow mortals couldn’t see started to pulse between her and the wounded leg.

“What mortals don’t know won’t hurt them.” She murmured as her brow furrowed in concentration. Blinx sighed in relief as she drew her hands back, a sheen of sweat across her forehead.

“So now what?” She asked as she stood wiping her hands on her jeans.

“Now we thank you and leave you be.” Vin said blandly as he stirred the charms around again and picked one out.

“What? You’re not going to let me in on whatever you’re going to do?” Her smile curled her full lips but it was the hint of anger in her eyes that made Vin return it.

Vin sighed for what seemed like the billionth time that night and shook his head.

“I said no, Scar.” He chucked a ‘good luck charm’ in her general direction as she threw a book into the bag she had wrenched free of the space between the desk and a shelf.

“When are you going to realize that I stopped listening to you… like… years ago?” She said quietly as she picked up another book and read through a few pages before snapping it shut and tossing it aside.

She disappeared into a back room that was shrouded with what looked like more gauzy material. When she returned she’d shed her fake psychic attire for something more suitable for field work. Her jeans hugged curves that Vin definitely took time to appreciate. His eyes trailed up and smiled as she tied back her fiery mane and pulled up the arms of the long sleeved t-shirt. He was smiling at her efforts to ignore him and shrugged.

“Oh I’ve noticed your blatant disregard for your safety.” He snapped more harshly than he had intended but didn’t bother to soften his tone. He could feel his rage boiling up from deep down inside of the bottomless pit in his stomach. Somewhere through the rage he had to admire her sheer audacity and he stamped down the rage and smiled again, this time it was a forced.

“You didn’t exactly ask permission before you left, why the hell would I ask for it now?” She mumbled as she grabbed her worn leather bomber jacket and shrugged into it. She flipped her hair out over the low collar and leveled her gaze on him. The flecks of gold in her eyes shimmered with power as she dared him to try and stop her. Vin met her eyes for trying to will her to change her mind, but he knew his efforts were futile.

He growled and dropped his eyes again. His chest heaved with his burning anger and he picked up a cheap knock off vase and flung it against the wall. He watched as it shattered into a million tiny pieces feeling no better for destroying the piece of junk.

“Fine.” He conceded. “But I really don’t know what I’m doing. As far as I know I’m just going to wander around… maybe slaughter some innocent people, ya know devour some tasty souls.” He smirked as shoved past her knocking his shoulder into hers. Scarlet was barely shoved to the side as she let out an exasperated breath and slung her bag onto her shoulder.

“Ass.” She called after him but by then Vin was well out into the streets again smelling the fresh air and the tantalizing aroma of souls just waiting to be plucked from their containers.

His hands shook as he stuffed them into his pockets and he swore softly under his breath. He felt his stomach lurch with hunger as a young woman walked by. Licking his lips he turned to watch her, but as all prey picking up the scent of their predator she started walking faster. He found himself grinning wolfishly as he started to stalk her. He felt his body take on a more fluid movement as he started walking back the way he had come and shadows wrapped themselves around him, making him all but invisible to her. The pursuit slowed to a crawl in his mind as he analyzed every move, every scent put off by this tasty morsel in front of him. He was so engrossed in the hunt that he didn’t feel a familiar pull at his awareness, the pull of someone slipping into the shadows with him. He came back around to Scarlet’s shop where the light from the neon sign was barely illuminating the sidewalk and ignored everything but what was now becoming a siren song. The girl instinctively picked up her pace and it made Vin’s heart begin to race and his blood pound through his body with the excitement of the chase. Someone grabbed at his jacket but easily he shook them off and turned to see who had disturbed his hunt.

He stopped,realizing he had unknowingly in to the shadow realm and been found. He growled as Persephone melted back farther into the shadows trying to draw him completely in. He barked out a bitter laugh that echoed through the emptiness of the velvet shadows.

“I’m not coming with you Sephie, just leave me be.” He growled and turned around dropping the shadows, severing the connection to the realm and the girl. Absently he started off at a brisk pace trying to pick up the same enthusiasm of his hunt when the clang of wind chimes rang out. He paid them no attention as his eyes locked onto the back of the girl that was now a block away. Everything slowed down again, his movements precise and fluid but his attention was wholly focused in front of him. So much so that he hadn’t realized someone had opened the shop door until he was smashing his face into the glass. It felt like his face had exploded and then he realized it was just smashed flat against the glass. Then he was falling backwards for what seemed like an eternity until his head smacked the sidewalk.

“Well that seemed to work out well.” Blinx murmured with more satisfaction than was warranted. He crouched down over Vin and smiled. “Now who isn’t alert?”

Vin growled out a curse and pushed at Blinx weakly.

“Where is she?” He muttered as he sat up and wiped blood and glass from his face. Blinx sat back on his heels and motioned over his shoulder as Persephone stepped out through the door.

“She popped out of the shadows in just enough time to uh… open the door for you.” He said as he tried to stop the chuckle that threatened to bubble up.

“Oh ha-ha.” Vin spat as he pushed to his feet. For a moment the world around him spun and threatened to tilt on its side as he reached out and steadied himself against the still open door. He tried to clear his vision before looking up again.

“Persephone…” He murmured as he still stared at the ground, afraid that if he did look up he’d do one of two things, kill the small girl or throw up. A quiet shuffle came to his ears and in his mind’s eye he could see the girl shifting nervously as a curtain of her long silvery hair fell over her eyes.

A lot of people underestimated Persephone but Vin wasn’t one of them. He knew exactly how much power that her little frame held back and how little effort she needed to exert to unleash it. Finally he got impatient with her silence and snapped his head up, but before he could say anymore he swayed. He looked at her standing there uncomfortably. Vin couldn’t seem to stay mad at her for too long as everyone stared at him. He sighed and shook his head trying to prevent himself from throwing up.

“Why are you here?” He muttered instead of lashing out at her. Persephone tugged at her sleeves before standing straight. The light sparkled through her eyes and Vin found himself entranced in those gray depths. Before he could completely lose himself to her pull, one which would have him agreeing to her sort of ‘therapy’ he growled softly. Finally she blinked and sighed, defeated if only temporarily.

“Is it so bad that I want my friend back? Really, Vin… I just want to help you. Why won’t you let me?” She pleaded quietly, but her posture showed how hard she was working to not full out beg him.

“I neither want nor require you’re ‘help’.” He spat and turned on his heel to walk away. For a moment the world took its time catching up but as soon as it did Vin started to stomp off moodily.

“I know who sent your son to get you.” Persephone murmured and he halted so fast that he nearly kissed the sidewalk again. Slowly he turned around to find everyone watching her. Scarlet’s mouth had dropped open as she stared wide eyed and Blinx’s usual cool, dead expression was tinged with shock. Vin didn’t move for a long time as he stared back at her, his face he knew was a mask of cold rage. He knew that he was going to kill the person she named and knowing it would get his feet on the right path.

“Well?” He prompted in a dark voice. Again Persephone fidgeted nervously and looked around to the others for some sort of help.

“I…” She looked around again as she shuffled a step backwards. “I… can’t…” She cringed as he took an angry step toward her but was brought up short as Blinx stepped between them. His eyes cut to the younger man and he bore his gaze down on him. Blinx barely flinched but Vin still saw the hesitation there. He looked back to Persephone, who was now close to Scarlet’s side. Scarlet’s stance was loose but ready and Vin muttered curses under his breath as he turned around and smoothed a hand down his face. He couldn’t turn around again and face her so he addressed the empty air of the street.

“And why the hell not?” He grumbled through his clenched teeth.

“I’m bound. I couldn’t utter the name if I tried.” She sniffled softly as she silently begged him to understand. “I wish I could…”

As the last part word left her mouth it was barely more than a whisper. Vin felt the familiar tug of shadows opening a door way to his realm and he clenched his fists.

“Don’t you dare!” He bellowed as she spun around. “Don’t you dare drop this on me then turn tail and run.”

Persephone, looking like a frightened rabbit, stood stalk still and her hands shook as she stood straight, a tear slid down her cheek. He could see that she was trying to keep herself from breaking down, maybe even from falling completely apart. She hadn’t opened the portal and even Blinx stood transfixed, looking for someone to enter the mortal world. Vin’s eyebrows drew down partly in confusion and partly because he knew someone was waiting there.

“Show yourself, we know you’re there.” He bit out as he took another step forward and Blinx moved to flank him. He looked to Persephone and saw the fear shine from her eyes as she stood paralyzed. He wasn’t sure if it was from fear or the resignation that took her over. Before he or anyone else could move Scarlet was knocked aside and Persephone was snatched from the mortal world and dragged into the shadow realm. The last thing Vin saw as she screamed was her gray eyes wide and full of fear. Both he and Blinx dove into the shadows to follow.

Even with as experienced as they both were, it was almost impossible to follow someone through the shadows that didn’t want to be followed. Vin tore through path after path trying to find a hint of the little empath and the one that took her, but he soon found that they were gone. As he stepped through to the mortal world again he was back at Scarlet’s shop where she sat on the sidewalk waiting. She looked up at the men as they materialized her eyes hopeful but her shoulders slumped as she saw only the two of them standing there.

“We’ll get her back… from whoever…” She said defiantly as the gold flecks in her eyes sparkled with fiery power. Being a phoenix, Scarlet had the ability to heal herself and others with her power but by the same right could burn someone to ashes with a flick of her wrist if she wanted. Vin had personally seen her incinerate an opponent in the blink of an eye. The woman was dangerous and he never took for granted that she meant what she said. So with his jaw tight he nodded.

“I don’t even know where to start…” Vin admitted tiredly. “A whole day back in the world and I’m already ass deep in trouble, seems about right.” He said bitterly and rolled his shoulders.

“We can use my father’s resources…” Blinx contributed then waited silently, leaving the statement to hang in the air. Vin ground his teeth knowing that showing up there after three years was going to stir up a little emotion. He knew he left Serina alone after so much tragedy with a promise to return. Blinx may have been right, she might kill him for not being dead. But it had been for his son, and if he could go back he’d make the same decision again. His chest felt like it was about to cave in when he thought about Vincent but he swallowed back the lump in his throat and closed his eyes. James had the best resources anyone could ask for, he’d just have to deal with things as they came.

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