Rebirth (Tattooed Angels Trilogy 1)

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Chapter Two

The church reminded him of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, only with half the size and fewer embellishments. All he knew for sure about the place was it was built near the end of the American colonial period and it had been abandoned for longer than anyone could remember. Not even his mother could recall how long it had been sitting on its weedy throne.

Despite the church’s small stature, it still towered over the quaint neighborhood just as it had since its completion. The modern homes neighboring it left the old monument stuck in a past no one wanted to remember. Regardless of its battered appearance, it was a solid piece of architecture and it was the perfect place to be alone.

He couldn’t remember what it was that brought him here so long ago, but the peace he felt when he walked through its rotting wooden doors had been refreshing. Slipping past the one working door, he stepped inside the dust-covered wreck. The church had once housed several angelic statues, but time and neglect had crumbled most of them. Two stone guardians near the front had broken limbs, wings, and faces. Remnants of wooden pews scattered the floor. Behind the podium, in front of a shattered stained glass window, lay a crippled wooden cross in a bed of rubble, having failed to uphold the savior it had once supported so proudly.

This place would have been a sight to see in its prime. Only the finest materials had been utilized: fragments of marble, splinters of dark cedar. Hints of silver were also evident in the little bit of décor that remained intact. What had once been a virtuous white now lay in filth, grayed by dust. That decay added to the musky scent the air held.

Amid the wreckage, there remained a few places one could sit, and Hotan would spend hours there, lost in thought.

This is my place.

The neighbors questioned his coming and going from the church. No “For Sale” signs had ever graced the lot in the time since he’d first noticed it and, oddly, no one he’d ever asked knew who owned the property.

As he sat on the pew, staring at the broken gray world around him, he felt his muscles loosen. Leaving behind the conflicts of the day, he steadied his mind and his emotions, inhaling the pungent smell of the decaying church and finding harmony within it. After several minutes, he sighed and walked back out the front doors. He pulled a cloth tarp off something large, exposing the motorcycle he had parked off to the side. A blue-flamed Suzuki Hayabusa glimmered in the afternoon sunlight.

The school had thrown a tantrum when he attempted to register it as his senior year transportation. They revoked his parking permit at the very idea of such a thing, so he resorted to parking it here. Pulling on his helmet, he started the bike, gassing it soft so as not to disturb such a peaceful place. The moment the back tire hit the asphalt, he opened up the throttle and roared towards the waiting city.

Shellie gripped his waist in a firm hug as they pulled off the busy downtown street. The front tire splashed through the puddles littering the back alleyway. He had picked her up on his way to the club, fearing that Hisota’s confrontation at school was his way of telling Hotan that he was going to be a no show again. The bike leaned heavily against the kickstand as he waited for Shellie to climb off. He pulled off the full-face helmet, huffing as he shook out his hair. Looking over the parking lot, he saw no signs of Hisota’s bike.

Hotan bit his tongue as he dismounted his own bike, stomping past Shellie and through the back door of the club. Anger crawled across his shoulders as he tensed and threw his helmet at the lockers. The noise was thunderous; he had everyone’s attention.

“It’s ok; you know I’m perfectly fine with playing bass.” Shellie gave him her best smile. “We all figured he wasn’t coming after what happened at school.”

“It still pisses me off that he doesn’t take this as seriously as the rest of us.” Hotan looked at her with mournful eyes. “I can’t just replace him easily, either. The drama he’d create gives me headaches just thinking about it. All I can think is he’s going through some stuff, and he wants to do it alone. Just wish one of us knew what the hell has him so worked over.”

“Hotan, he’ll get over it just give him a few more weeks.” Kyle, Hotan’s best friend, flipped a drumstick in the air. “We’ve got Shellie till he gets his act together. The last thing we need is for him to pull his power card in here. But, I wouldn’t stop you from pounding his face in if it came to blows.”

“And whose face are we pounding in?” Chaz, the owner of the club 7even, had entered the room. He towered over the teens and grinned as he puffed on his cigar. “Still on for tonight, kids?”

There was a long pause as Hotan stared at Shellie and Kyle. They both nodded reassuringly. He looked back to Chaz.

“We’re still on. Guess it’s another night of me singing if you don’t mind.” Sighing, Hotan picked up his electric guitar and flopped down on the bench to tune it. “We’ll be out soon as we’re all tuned. I’ll let you know when to announce us.”

“Fine with me.” The cigar smoke billowed out of Chaz’s lips as he walked back the way he’d come in.

It was a typical Wednesday night with smokers filling in the bar top and a few of them scattered between some of the tables. The band didn’t always play on a slow night, but it was a chance to make extra cash when it came to Hotan’s concerns. Unlike his fellow band members, he didn’t have the luxury of living at home with Mom and Dad anymore.

Hisota was putting his livelihood at risk every time he threw one of his tantrums. But refusing to show up was his power card. Hotan eyed both Shellie and Kyle from his spot on stage. They were ready.

“Good evening everyone.” Hotan’s voice was smooth and solid as he spoke to the crowd sitting silently just beyond the stage. “We’re going to start with my personal favorite cover, TOOL’s Laterlus.”

As he picked the starting melody out, he let his frustration melt away. Playing music and reminiscing in the church seemed to be the only times he found some sort of peace within himself. He felt like a real person instead of a constantly churning bundle of questions related to every facet of his existence. Every element of his life was broken or worse, lost forever.

Why would the world aim to destroy a person so much without some purpose or meaning behind it?

Perhaps he was overthinking this, but he had a nagging feeling that there was so much more he didn’t know, and it was all there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. The dream, his knowledge, and his instincts drove him to keep going, to find the reason why his life seemed cursed from the start. Despite everything, he’d made it this far. He was determined to find the answers he sought, no matter what.

When he dropped Shellie off, he held her chin and kissed her, slowly and tenderly. She was one of the very few people he trusted enough to share his feelings with, but there was still much that he kept to himself. He put his helmet back on and waited for her to close the front door before leaving the sleepy suburban neighborhood. The cool night air comforted him as he made his way down streets and highways. Going home was not an option just yet; he needed time to think. The day’s events weighed heavily on his mind; he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight. He found himself once more in front of the church as it sat in the shadow of the night.

He picked his way carefully through the trash and debris, awed by the beams of light that sparkled in the hallowed space. Odd shapes and shades of grey were scattered across the dust covered ruins. He sat in one of the pews, drinking in the stale musky air. The wooden seat creaked and moaned as he shifted his weight. Closing his eyes, it felt as if time had paused to take a breath with him. Nothing seemed urgent or pressing; instead, it seemed he had all of eternity to resolve his problems.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Hotan.”

Hotan’s eyes widened as fear knocked the air from his chest. Flashes of his nightmare came to him; he replayed dozens, no thousands of deaths. He wanted to run, but he couldn’t bring himself to blink or even take a breath.

“And here you are, right on time. You’ve walked right into the lion’s den.”

The dream has come true!

Jolting up from his seat, Hotan looked back at the entrance and met the wild glare of a large man. His voice failed him, his muscles locked him in place. Panic flooded into him as his gaze took in every detail of the man.

The broad-shouldered stranger had the bulk of a heavyweight fighter. Dreadlocks framed a maddening grin. He blocked the only exit Hotan knew of: This place of security had broken its oath to him; now it surrounded Hotan like a coffin.

A cold sweat dripped down Hotan’s temple as he watched the predator stalk its prey. Laughter boiled out of the beast-sized man as he drew closer. Hotan’s heart fluttered as his nightmare unfolded.

This can’t be real. This can’t be happening!

“I’ve searched for you for centuries. Now I can finally repay you for the hell you’ve put me through!” The man pulled out a large machete and swung it through the air, slicing the remnants of a marble statue with breathtaking rage. “I can finally take you down and end the curse with which you imprisoned my soul!”

“Who are you?” It was more of a desperate scream than a question. Hotan stumbled back, away from the stranger. But his heel slammed into a piece of marble and he toppled over backwards, filling the air with clouds of decades-old dust “How-how do you know my name?”

Am I really going to die here? Is this the end? I don’t want to die! Not like this, not without something good happening in my life first!

“Eh?” The man paused, dropping his machete slightly as his smile faded. “You don’t remember me?”

Panting, Hotan could only give the man a bewildered, terrified expression.

“Oh, that’s just peachy!” A devilish grin crawled across his face as a cruel, deep laugh spilled forth. “You won’t even put up a fight- your own spell will be the thorn in your side! Karma’s a bitch.”

“Please, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Hotan shrieked, but the stranger laughed harder. “You must have the wrong person!”

Someone! Please help me!

“No, you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.” He stepped closer to Hotan, towering above him like Death, his blade held high. “You haven’t awakened at all! Must be my lucky day. The fear pouring out of you is so sweet; I could drink from it all night.”

All Hotan could do was plead with the zealot, “Please! I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

“Hmm, where to cut you first?” The stranger ignored his outcry, smiling as he mused on, “Maybe I should start with your fingers and slowly work my way up the arms, what do you think, Hotan?”

Hotan’s eyes widened and his body felt like it was on fire. An intense heat filled him, spreading outward from his core. His terror shifted slowly into anger as he looked up into the eyes of his would-be killer. Body, mind, and soul felt unexpectedly complete, despite the warmth emanating from deep inside. Flames wafted up from a deep unknown. As it grew, he felt part of himself set to the side, ripping him from his moment of completeness. Someone else had taken the reigns.

Flecks of color began to appear as he glared into Geliah’s amber eyes. The sudden release of power had changed Hotan somehow. “Back off, Geliah. I will defend myself if you do not cease this nonsense.”

What is happening? Who else is here with me- who is speaking for me? This isn’t me. I don’t understand…

“You always were the party pooper, Hotan.” Sighing, Geliah’s wild grin vanished as he stepped back and allowed Hotan to stand. “This can’t be healthy for you. The fear I felt a moment ago was not yours- why endanger an innocent? Doesn’t seem like your style. What would your big brother have to say about-”

“Silence!” Hotan’s eyes had shifted to bright green, and black lines snaked across his body.

“Bah!” Geliah’s skin reacted in a similar manner, like a chameleon changing its skin “No offense, but I should have never been able to break that spell of yours.”

“Do not question matters beyond your comprehension.” Hotan’s jaw muscles twitched as he spoke, “My soul slumbers within this new body, for it has no place in this world anymore. You should have stayed asleep, Geliah of Fear.”

“You want me to tell you why your spell fell apart?” A wicked grin came across his face as he brushed back his dreadlocks.

Blue flames rose from Hotan’s skin as he glared at Geliah. “I am reborn. I no longer exist. Only my essence remains.”

“That’s all that’s left.” Geliah scoffed in disappointment. “I was hoping for a good fight.”

What are they talking about? This has to be another dream- I have to wake up!

“I would gladly give up the last of my life to save this child from my past mistakes.” Geliah ignored the heat of Hotan’s glare.

“A shame you feel that way. Let me end this last piece of you then!” Geliah gave a primal scream as he swung the machete. “Now die!”

“Stop!” Hotan’s voice echoed throughout the church as he caught the blade with bare hand. Glowering at Geliah, he tightened his grip on the blade.

Paling, Geliah had not expected him to catch it barehanded and unscathed. He took a step back, fearful of a counterattack.

The blue flames painting Hotan’s skin rose higher as rage filled his green eyes. The sword rusted and crumbled to the floor, leaving no mark on the hand with which he’d caught the blade’s edge. A massive flash exploded from Hotan, blowing Geliah off his feet. The shock wave pushed him across the marble floor and pinned him against the wooden doors. Another wave pulsed out, and as it touched the ruins of the church, it seemed as if a miracle was happening.

Missing marble materialized, its shine intact. Old woodcarvings appeared as if recently finished. Angelic statues held their once missing shields in newfound limbs with pride. As the wave rolled across, it returned the church to the peak of its glory. The pulse of power receded, leaving the final repairs doused in blue flames.

Did that come from me or the other Hotan? How is this possible? This can’t be real. It can’t be!

Behind Hotan, Geliah watched as the stained glass window pulled itself back together. A large wooden cross rose again to its rightful place. The statue nailed to the wooden cross stared down at the two of them, passing judgment. They stared at one another as they convened in the unbroken cathedral. The sanctuary glowed in its newfound splendor as moonlight scattered the window’s many colors around the room. Geliah growled as he stood.

“Is that it? What a wasted display of power!” He snickered. “I didn’t come here to watch parlor tricks!”

“Geliah!” A new voice called from the front of the church.

Its owner was a tall, thin man with silver hair in a white business suit. His silver eyes held Geliah and Hotan in place as he walked towards them.

Another one? Where are these people coming from?

The new stranger cleared his throat. “You know what you are doing is forbidden. Did I not warn you that there would be consequences for such actions? Did I not tell you never to force awakening on anyone else?”

“Oh look, it’s the Vulture of Judgment.” Geliah’s jaw visibly clenched. “We both know you can’t pull power on me like before, Talib. Go pass your judgment someplace else.”

“I wish to make you an offer.” Talib straightened his tie a moment before glancing back at Hotan. He nodded. “You are looking for a good fight and the ability to settle a score. I will give you the chance to do that, but under my terms.”

It’s as if he knows what the offer will be. But who are these people? Why am I not in control of my body? This is all so surreal.

“You’ve got my attention.” Geliah raised an eyebrow. “What sort of a deal did you have in mind?”

“Give me one year to prep the young boy. If you kill him, you get what you desire, wiping all traces of Hotan off the earth. If you fail to kill him or if you break our deal, there will be a devastating punishment in store for you.”

Geliah considered the proposal- It certainly had its benefits. After a long moment of silence, he grunted.

Talib cocked his head. “Is this not what you want? A chance to kill Hotan without interruption?”

“Fine, it’s a deal.” Without further confrontation, Geliah slipped out of the newly repaired doors of the church.


“Thank you, alef chet…” Hotan felt the thud of his body hitting the cold marble floor as darkness took him away.

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